Taste the history of Izumo

Sitting just north of Hiroshima Prefecture, running along the Sea of Japan on the southern tail of Honshu is Shimane Prefecture. The second least populous prefecture in the country, Shimane feels like a well-kept local secret, home to sacred histories, rugged mountain terrain, and rolling coastlines. If you’ve had the pleasure of exploring this serene corner of Japan, you’ll understand why it’s the meeting place for the nation’s eight million Shinto gods, which  – according to folk legends – make the annual pilgrimage to Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine to determine the fate of the population. If there’s one shining star in the spectacular cluster of attractions that make up this prefecture, it’s Izumo. Izumo is a city not only home to the country’s second most important shrine, Izumo Taisha, but also home to a vibrant artistic culture, incredible culinary talent, and deeply held traditions.

The Tezen Museum is one of Shimane prefecture’s premier art destinations, it was founded in 1993 by Izumo’s long-serving Tezen family, one of the most influential families in the Izumo region. In 1686 the founding patriarch of the family settled on this property and ran a sake brewery here until 1868. He built the complex to be close to Izumo Taisha, where he brewed sake for sacramental use as well as for the locals to enjoy. The museum today is made up of two main exhibition areas, one in a rice warehouse, and the other in a liquor storehouse but was later used as an elementary school until 1903.

As well as local art, the Tezen family also preserved historical documents, including detailed recordings on dishes that were served to the region’s officials when they visited Izumo and stayed at the Tezen residence. For exclusive luxury events, the Tezen family has curated a culinary experience unlike anything else you can find in Japan. Using the ancient historical records as guidance, the family and their staff source all ingredients once served to the feudal lords to recreate these dining experiences, serving the high-end traditional meals as close to their original form as is possible.

To stay true to its authenticity, the menu was crafted in collaboration with a local chef duo – father and son in fact- and scholars and experts who specialize in the history of this area and the era in which the meal was first served. Given the locality of the dishes and the fact that only the Tezen family have immediate access to the records of what was once served in their home, it’s an in-depth culinary dive into a local history only available here, and nowhere else. Most of the ingredients served are the same as the original dish.

The meals are served in the dining area of the Tezen home, intimate but luxurious, the room is lined with displays set just as they would have been during the Edo Period days. Ambiently illuminated by candlelight and with gold emblazoned and delicately painted folding paper screens hanging from the walls, stepping into the dining space is the closest experience to time travel one can have. Guests are invited to sit on the low seating and enjoy the atmosphere of the space and its historical weight while the multi-course meal is served over an almost two hour period.

An example of the meal experience is the multi-course offering remade from the official records of an official’s visit in 1789. This menu includes an ‘ochitsuki’ (welcome dish) consisting of sweet red bean soup ‘zenzai,’ and ‘narazuke,’ melon pickled in sake leaves. The ‘honzen’ or main serving and ‘ninozen’ second serving features grilled snapper, oyster dumplings and locally-harvested shoro mushroom truffles and boiled fish paste served with wasabi in a ‘kudzu’ starch soup.

The culinary centrepiece of the night though has to be the delicate smaller dishes like the ‘kunenbo’ sour citrus jelly and simmered kotake mushroom and grilled yam, all lovingly displayed on traditional ‘suzuri-buta’ lacquerware lid. The meal experience is finished with an abbreviated traditional tea ceremony held in the adjacent room, a fitting end to an incredible experience.

The motivations for the Tezen family’s reason for putting on such a detailed and lavish affair are honest and simple. They want to showcase a moment of Japanese history in its most authentic and offer guests a taste – quite literally – of Izumo history. Almost living a living, breathing, immersive museum it’s one thing to learn about Izumo’s history, but it’s a whole other thing to experience it first hand.