The city of Tamba Sasayama is a former castle town in central eastern Hyogo. Like many Japanese cities and towns, it called a Little Kyoto in tourism campaign because of its preserved historical townscape strongly influenced by nearby Kyoto. But there are many “little Kyoto”s so why visit this one?
The city home to home to a creature that strikes terror into the hearts of all that encounter for it is one of most dangerous animals in Japan. This creature is the wild boar or Inoshishi in Japanese.
Their similarity in appearance with docile domestic pigs may lead to be they are harmless but that is not the case. They are extremely aggressive and territorial, capable of growing to massive sizes and have sharp tusks that can disembowel a person. However, their dangerousness is counteracted by one key fact, they are delicious.
Eating of Japanese Boars
The plethora of nearby mountains coupled with the isolation of the city make it the perfect breeding ground for boars so it one of the few places in Japan that have developed a culture around eating boar. In the past, wild game was eaten by peasants who used game as a supplemental source of food especially during times of food scarcity.But officially, the consumption of meat was banned by the Japanese government for hundred of years because of doctrines Buddhism which forbid the killing of living things. In addition, the “modernization” of Japan which made food more secure meant less people needed to rely on game meat for survival. But for the people of Tamba Sasayama, the eating of boar meat endured despite the challenges.
Thankfully, cities like Sasayama help keep alive the tradition of eating game meat. Recently, game meat is Japan is marketed with the French name Gibier to dissociate from negative connation of it as “country food” and to transform it into a sophisticated food. Having low-fat content and being less resource intensive when compared to livestock make it popular among the health and eco conscious urbanites of Japan.
Boar eating culture of Tamba Sasayama
The most famous boar dish is Botan Nabe, a boar meat hot pot and is the most well-known dishes from Tamba Sasayama. Nabe is the Japanese word for hot pot.Boar meat was called Botan or Peony flowers because consumption of meat was banned in the until the start of the Meji period(1868) and had to eaten and sold in secret. Boars were also called Yamakujira or land whales because eating fish which whales were considered as was alllowed under buddhism. Horse meat was known as Sakura or cherry blossoms and venison was Momiji or maple tree leaves. It said in the early 1900s the dish spread from Tamba Sasayama to other parts of Japan by soldiers stationed there who wanted to bring the dish to their hometowns.
Botan Nabe is a popular winter dish that is sold at many restaurants in Tamaba Sasayama. You will have no trouble finding a place to try it during your visit. The boar eat nuts, mushrooms, and other food in the mountains near Tamaba Sasayama to pack on fat for winter. It is said their diet and the sudden and dramatic changes in seasons in Tamaba Sasayama are the reason for their meat being so delicious. The meat was so popular it was served in school lunches and shipped all over Japan up until the 1970s when overhunting significantly reduced the local boar population.
Japanese Boar festival in Tamba Sasayama
There used to be a festival that celebrated boars and boar dishes in Sasayama. There was even a race with baby boars that was the highlight of the festival. Unfortunately, the event was canceled because of the difficulties of getting the baby boars as hunters are aging and the desire to take the festival in a different direction. But I have not found an alternative festival in my research but I do hope there is something to celebrate boars and their importance to the city.
I would like to see the return of the festival that focuses on showing respect for the boars and highlighting their importance to the city without the use of live animals. Instead, there could be stands with dishes made sustainably from boars and ones selling boar themed crafts. There could also be art exhibitions made by local schools on these fierce beasts of the forest. Overall, the city of Tamba Sasayama shows us that boars don’t need to be feared and can help us in modern times move towards environmentally friendly and healthy forms of meat consumption.
Tamba-Sasayama can be reached from Osaka in about an hour by train.