Matsuzaki : The Home of "Sakuraba"
Sakuramochi rice cakes are traditional Japanese sweets that have heralded the coming of spring in Edo since ancient times.
An essential ingredient of Sakuramochi is "Sakuraba", Sakura leaves pickled in salt whose appeal lies in their rich aroma and taste.
Located virtually in the center of Japan, Izu-Matsuzaki is the main production area for "Sakuraba",
boasting Japan's largest production volume and a 70% share of total production nationwide.
While Somei-Yoshino cherry trees are popular in flower-viewing season for their beautiful blossoms, the leaves used for pickling are from a different Sakura variety grown especially for its leaves - the Oshima Zakura, a cherry tree especially rich in coumarin, a fragrance component peculiar to cherry trees.
In Izu-Matsuzaki, Harvesting of "Sakuraba" leaves from trees growing naturally began in the mid-1920s, and field cultivation began in earnest in the mid-1950s.
"Sakuraba" leaves are harvested annually between May and September, and when they are being pickled in salt, the town is enveloped in the aroma of "Sakuraba" leaves.
"Sakuraba" Production Process
The production process begins in early May,
when the mature "Sakuraba" leaves are carefully hand-picked one-by-one.
The harvested leaves are divided according to size into bundles of 50 leaves each.
In Izu-Matsuzaki, this task is called maruke.
The "Sakuraba" bundles are laid concentrically around the bottom of a barrel and then sprinkled with salt.
This layering process is continued until the barrel is full.
This production method dates from ancient times,and because freshness is paramount,
the leaves are pickled on the same day as they are harvested.
In the past, the "Sakuraba" leaves were pickled in Japanese cedar sanjukkoku barrels (large barrels measuring 2 m high and 2 m in diameter),
with one barrel holding 40,000 leaves - some 2,000,000 leaves pickled in all.
When a barrel is full, a heavy stone is placed on top of the leaves and they are left to pickle for six months.
The pickling process is complete when the leaves have acquired a lustrous amber color and their characteristic aroma.
The leaves are then vacuum-packed in small amounts, packed in 18-liter drums, and shipped.
"Sakuraba" Spreading around the World
"Sakuraba's" unique aroma and saltiness are an excellent match for various foods.
In addition to Sakuramochi rice cakes, "Sakuraba" are used widely in Japan in a diversity of foods and dishes - buckwheat noodles and youkan jelly, breads, cakes, cookies, and even ice cream - in addition to traditional Japanese cuisine such as onigiri rice balls and tempura fried foods.
"Sakuraba" can also be enjoyed with cheese and Prosciutto, or even in herbal teas.
Exports of "Sakuraba" to Brazil, Italy, France, and the United States have been increasing in recent years.
In collaboration with the traditional cuisine of these various countries,
new "Sakuraba" dishes are being born one after the other as the leaves are incorporated
into not only sweets but also meat, fish, and vegetable dishes.
Matsuzaki Town Tourist Association http://izumatsuzakinet.com
Mt.Fuji seen from Matsuzaki Town
Namako Wall Street
Ishibu-Tanada Rice Terraces