What Udon?

Posted by on Nov 11, 2011 in Kagawa, Travel Volunteer Journey | 5 Comments
What Udon?

My great auntie Dolly would never have tolerated it. In her hey-day she tolerated little: holding a knife and fork incorrectly, talking with one’s mouth full, inappropriate napkin deployment… Born at the end of the First World War, she worked in some of London’s best hotels after the second instalment, and grew up with a very different understanding of acceptable behaviour than anyone I’ve ever known. At her worst, she was a hawk, and a harridan, and for a number of years my brother and I were terrified of visiting her. I think my mother was too. She softened over the years, though, and eventually – once we youngsters had reached adulthood – she actually became pretty good company.

But even at her most mellow, I cannot imagine for one second she would have put up with slurping food while we ate. No, having had been flayed with admonishments, we’d likely have been sent out in the back garden, left alone to contemplate our woeful lack of manners.

History should think itself lucky that great auntie Dolly never made it over to Japan: it would have been a diplomatic disaster. In her pomp, she would have cleared a restaurant of noisy noodlers, snapping at their heels with words of chastisement.

What she wouldn’t have understood – and what we are only now coming to terms with – is that in Japan, no matter how rich or poor a person is, no matter if they’re wearing a tailored suit or tattered rags, the only way to eat good food is loudly, and with gusto.

For silent munchers like us British, it’s quite a thing to get over. Initially, listening to someone suck down their lunch was no easier than listening to the dreadful Chinese practise of clearing partially blocked airways with phlegmatic flair. But the Japanese slurping is not caused by ignorance, nor carelessness: noisily supping at the flapping, slapping noodles is a good thing. It shows satisfaction, contentment and a desire to eat more. After two months in Japan, we’re just about adjusted to the noise, although we’ve stopped short of actually making it ourselves. I have, however, mastered the art of getting noodle broth to spatter over my entire face, like a soup-vampire gone feral.

Not that anyone noticed today while were in Sakaeda, an outstanding traditional udon restaurant in downtown Takamatsu. Nope, there, with orders being shouted, and people rushing to and from communal tables, everyone was very much concerned with their own meal. Taking the patrons as a cross-section of Kagawans, they’ll each eat an average of 260 bowls of udon a year, consumed in Sakaeda, at home, or at any of the other 899 noodle restaurants in the prefecture.

This place is especially busy, however, with a long reputation for providing delicious Sanuki udon (the local speciality) at rock-bottom prices. A medium sized bowl, with one piece of gigantic tempura (deep-fried anything) only costs around 250 yen (£2) which, in Japan, is little short of miraculous.

Actually, all of Kagawa is mad about udon, and tourists in Japan’s smallest prefecture are bound to try it at some point during their visit. That seems only right as it is believed to have originated in this area. For first-time visitors to Japan, sorting out what noodle is what can be initially daunting. Really, though, there are three basic types: soba (a near-purple buckwheat noodle primarily eaten in mountainous areas and the north of Japan), ramen (the classic near-yellow noodle made from wheat flour, and often found in potted insta-snacks) and udon (a fat, white offering made from flour, then rolled and cut by hand).

Here in Sakaeda, the practise is to pick up the noodles, then add your own toppings (we liked the ginger and sesame the best) before covering the lot in a soy broth. It’s by far the most filling of the different types, and seems to be the longest of all the noodles, meaning that more and more slurping is required to get rid of it. That said, when your mouth is chocked full with the plump juiciness, and bits of stray lunch are clinging to your hair and eyebrows, it’s hard not to feel incredibly satisfied. So what better way to convey this to all in the room? Great aunt Dolly forgive me – SLURP!

Our time in Kagawa prefecture was made possible by:

A list of people in Kagawa prefecture so long it almost doesn’t make sense. Tamiko Motoyama, Mr Okura, Ms Machiko Isiakawa, Ms Kuniko Tanaka, Mr Kitsukawa and at least half a dozen others who guided, drove and helped us around for the past two days. They very kindly arranged a meeting with the city’s mayor and his deputy too, which was a great surprise.

Guiding here is much harder than it sounds: Kagawa may be the smallest prefecture in Japan, but it has much more in it than a lot of its larger cousins. If anyone is planning a second trip to Japan, or perhaps doesn’t fancy the crowds that fill Tokyo, Kyoto et al, then we recommend simply coming here. There’s world-class art, an absolutely fantastic garden (which only isn’t regarded as one of the best in the country because of some idiotic politics during the start of the Mejii restoration), and the longest shopping arcade in the entire country. Added to that, there’s some of its most visited shrines and temples, and the excellent noodles, of course. Basically it’s all of Japan, in miniature.

Kiyomisanso Hanajukai, an outstanding ryokan-style establishment that sits atop a hill in the middle of Takamatsu, Kagawa’s biggest city, like a giant octopus. As a result, the views are absolutely staggering – comfortably some of the best we’ve had in the entire country. The rooms aren’t half bad, either: spacious affairs with loads of sliding doors, and a private hot tub that also lets you enjoy those superb panoramas.

Iroha Kaikan Hall, part of the Zentsuji Temple, which gave us a chance to stay with pilgrims again. Staying in a place like this isn’t really about luxury, but something more spiritual. Hopefully when we’re woken at 5:45am tomorrow, we’ll be able to work out exactly what that is when we take part in a early morning ceremony.














喜代美山荘 花樹海さん、お世話になりありがとうございました。高松市を一望できる美しい旅館で、その景色もさることながら、本当に最高の滞在を楽しませていただきました。お部屋にあるパノラマお風呂や広いお部屋で旅の疲れを取ることができました。



  1. thesoulofjapan
    November 12, 2011

    This is the experience of lifetime. Enjoy it and learn about the real Japan.

  2. cdb
    November 14, 2011

    I’m more of a ramen person myself, but you’ve convinced me to give soba a go. Soba goes in the list.

  3. "Tokyo Five"
    November 14, 2011

    I love Udon…my favorite is “Curry Udon“. I recommend it.

    And, if you have a chance, feel free to visit (and comment on) my blog about life in Tokyo. (Have you visited Tokyo yet?)
    It’s here:

    Thanks. (And nice photos!)

  4. Eunice
    November 15, 2011

    Sanuki Udon – a solid choice! They sell them frozen in packs of 5 here in Canada. I usually get a good broth rolling, add veg + meat, drop a raw egg + onions on top and you’re ready to go for a delicious lunch!

    Love the pic of the guy dispensing broth straight from the vat – genius!!

  5. mikli
    November 22, 2011

    I am Kagawa residents.

    Japanese “UDON” highest!

    I was allowed to introduce by my blog.