Budo Sansho aus Aridagawa, Wakayama

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Budo Sansho aus Aridagawa, Wakayama
Budo Sansho aus Aridagawa, Wakayama

What is Budo Sansho

Budo sansho is a spice specially produced in Japan that has a fragrant scent and then gives a tantalizing kick with a mildly hot taste when eaten. There are several varieties of sansho cultivated, including Asakura sansho in Hyogo Prefecture and Takahara sansho in Gifu Prefecture, however, the variety cultivated in Wakayama Prefecture is characterized by vines of large berries in clusters that resemble bunches of grapes, and as such, it is called budo sansho, (budo meaning grape in Japanese). Wakayama Prefecture is the region boasting the largest production of sansho in Japan, cultivating budo sansho. Further, cultivation centers around Aridagawa Town here, extending across the Aridagawa river basin. Compared to other varieties, another characteristic of budo sansho is its thick pericarp. In early summer, fresh and luscious green fruit forms.

Since ancient times, sansho has been utilized as a natural medicine and as a seasoning in various types of cooking. In Aridagawa Town, a range of initiatives have been taken by local people as central figures to expand the possibilities and applications for budo sansho. Locals are creating, for example, new seasonings, ingredients, sweets, cakes, and recipes; working in collaboration with food companies and chefs; and conducting other activities. Here, we introduce budo sansho and those initiatives.

The History od Budo Sansho
Wakayama Prefecture accounts for more than sixty percent of the volume of sansho production in Japan, and is the stand out number one production region of the nation, well ahead of those in second place and below. In Aridagawa Town specifically, the region of Shimizu (formerly Shimizu Town) once accounted for eighty percent of the total production of sansho in Japan, and is a prosperous sansho production area.

In old times, in the middle of the Heian period (794—1185) sanshowas subject to taxation, “Kii Province three sho (units) of shinsho” (Kii Province is present day Wakayama Prefecture, shinsho refers to sansho) was stated in the Engishiki (compendium of codes, procedures and laws) (statutes). Also, during the Shoka era (1257—1259), sansho was recorded as produce in the Koyasan monjo, so the region has a history of sansho cultivation of 800 to 1,000 years. Furthermore, it is thought that cultivation of Asakura Sanshobegan during the Edo period (Tokugawa; 1603—1967), after it was procured from the area that is now Hyogo Prefecture.

In the Tenpo era (1831—1845) at the end stage of the Edo period, Kane’mon Ioki discovered sansho with large berries in clusters resembling bunches of grapes in the garden at his house in Toi Village (currently Toi, Aridagawa Town), and since it had a strong fragrance and a hot zesty flavor, the variety was cultivated from then onward, and has become firmly rooted in the region. This variety is specially produced budo sansho that is still grown today. Ioki can also be written in different characters, as Iyoki meaning “tree with medical applications,” and it is said that because budo sansho was adopted for medicinal purposes, these characters have been adopted for the name of the Kane’mon house.

The town of Aridagawa is mountainous in nature, and seventy-six percent of the area is covered with forest. Located on the temperate Kii Peninsula, the region of Shimizu is located at high altitude, so it also sees snowfalls in winter. These geographical features and climate are suitable for cultivating sansho, and so, by utilizing ridges between rice fields and sloping land, sansho cultivation has ensued. Further, demand for sansho as a condiment and base ingredient for medicines increased dramatically following the Asia-Pacific War, full-scale cultivation of sansho began in fields and the cultivation area also was increased.

Japanese Spice Sansho 

The proverb goes, “Sansho has small grains, but still packs a peppery punch,” meaning that even something small can be strong willed or have great power. Sansho is given as a metaphor to warn against underestimating people; but literally, even though sanshohas small grains, if you add just a little bit, it can bring out the colors and enhance a dish.

Sansho is a deciduous tree originating in Japan, and is a plant from the same family of citrus that mandarin oranges and yuzu belong to. It is thought that sansho has been consumed since the Jomon period (10,000 BCE–300 BCE), as traces of seeds were discovered inside earthenware from that time. Hajikami, the former name of sansho, was recorded in the Kojiki (712; Records of Ancient Matters), in a passage that can be translated as, “the hajikami that grows below the fence makes the mouth go numb.”

Sansho, long used as a medicine and spice, is still put to use in modern times—the shoots and young leaves as a Japanese herb, and the fruit in Japanese spice. One of the charms of sansho surely is in the enjoyment of seeing it change form along with the changing seasons.

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