Most Americans probably think of Japanese food as sushi, ramen, and chicken teriyaki. But of course, in actual Japan, there is a lot more to it. The small restaurants and street food stands serve various kinds of brothy noodle soups and mysterious pickled vegetables, breaded pork chops and barbecued meat skewers. Sweet and savory stuffed buns and dumplings, and bento boxes full of a dozen things most Americans, including me, probably could not identify.
We are spending a few days in the industrial city of Kurashiki to enjoy its non-industrial, historic, perfectly preserved village of Bikan. Bikan has been called “the Venice of Japan” (as if Japan needs Italy as a reference!) and “Japan’s most beautiful village.” It was once a merchant’s quarter in the Edo period, generally the 17th century. Its location on the road between western Japan and Tokyo (then called Edo) made it an essential asset in Japan’s national economy — so the Shogun himself managed it.