"Tororo" (grated yam) restaurant Chojiya, standing on the former site of Mariko-juku--one of the many stations of the old Tokaido route--has a rich history that its owner intends to carry on.
Kaoru Shibayama, the 64-year-old proprietor, invited people who helped him rethatch the restaurant's emblematic roof to a party there on May 19.
Shibayama summed up his determination by saying that he hopes the restaurant "may build history lasting the next 100 to 200 years."
Mariko-juku was once a bustling place where the feudal lord’s processions and many other travelers came and went. But as the means of traveling between east and west was taken over by the railway, and the bullet train and expressways began operating in the 1960s, the flow of people began to change significantly.
Compared with 15 years ago, the number of children aged 14 and under has fallen about 20 percent in the Mariko district. The population is aging steadily. Hoping to regain the bustle, Hiroyuki, Shibayama’s 39-year-old successor, is working to revitalize the area with the local farmers and shop owners.
In addition to organizing the "marche" market, where vegetables and jams made from locally produced fruits are sold a few times a year, they have also created a direction board with some local junior high school students.
"You can’t move people just by highlighting the history and tradition. We want to create a mechanism that seems fun and can draw people in," says Hiroyuki.
While he was striving to rebuild the restaurant with his father, Kaoru, Hiroyuki met his contemporaries who had also inherited their family businesses in the former stations along the old Tokaido route. In anticipation of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, he exchanges information with them so they can draw foreign tourists to the old Tokaido route.
An ukiyo-e by Utagawa Hiroshige depicting the Mariko-juku of old gives great moral support to the Shibayamas. It shows a woman proprietor carrying a baby on her back, two travelers sipping "tororo" soup, and a farmer-like man who had delivered the "jinenjo" yam. They want their restaurant to be a place like this that offers hospitality to those who gather there.
This week’s recipe is "age toro," deep-fried tororo that is loved by all ages. The flavors of the jinenjo yam layered with the shiitake mushroom and "tatami iwashi," processed food made from baby sardines dried in sheet form, plus the rice cake-like texture, whet one’s appetite. It also goes well with alcoholic drinks.
100 grams jinenjo (or yamatoimo)
Seasoning A (1/3 tsp soy sauce, a little less than 1 tsp ready-made sauce for grilled eel [unagi no tare])
2 shiitake mushrooms
Roasted dried laver (yakinori)
Oil for frying
Grate jinenjo (peel if yamatoimo is used). Mix with Seasoning A.
Cut dried laver and sardine sheet into 5-cm squares. Prepare two each. Cut off stem from shiitake.
Heat oil to 170 degrees. Drop yam mixture separately on shiitake, dried laver and sardine sheet and fry until brown.
(This is a recipe intended for home cooking. Jinenjo is in season during winter. Chojiya purchases a batch at harvest time and keeps it in temperature-controlled storage to serve it year round. When preparing the dish at home this season, it may be replaced by yamatoimo yam.)
* * *
From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column