Ian Ropke writes:
Mackerel or saba comes into season this month. In the Heian period (794-1185), mackerel were delivered to Kyoto from the Japan Sea via the saba kaido—a 75-kilometer route connecting Kyoto with the port of Obama. To get the fish here, fifteen kilogram baskets packed with about twenty kilograms of salted mackerel were carried on horseback and on human backs overnight in a series of intense relays. The fish left Obama in the late evening and moved up the Kita River to Omi (on the west side of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture). From there, carriers crossed over two passes to Kutsuki village, where another carrier waited for the final leg to Kyoto. Passing through Ohara and Yase, the fish finally reached the market at Demachiyanagi at dawn the next day.
If you want to try some mackerel, why not try a bit of saba zushi (a Kyoto September delicacy)? In making traditional saba zushi, one side of the salted and vinegared fish is placed on slab of rice and covered with a strip of kelp (konbu). After being cut into rectangular slices, the whole thing is wrapped in a wrapping made from the flexible soft skin that covers bamboo shoots. Available in full slabs at any traditional sushi shop.
(Ed: Check out the Kyoto Visitor’s Guide Dining in Kyoto page for two recommended sushi shops:Yanagiya Honten and Hisago Zushi. Kyoto Foodie’s Peko also has an excellent article on Kyoto sushi and the sushi shop Izuju here.
Ian Ropke is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Osaka and Kyoto, editor of Kyoto Visitors Guide, and director of Your Japan Private Tours. You can read his previous articles for Deep Kyoto here.)