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Renowned for its fermented sushi, pickled foods and sake, Shiga Prefecture is justly nicknamed the “fermentation kingdom.”

In the northeastern corner of the prefecture, on the shore of Lake Yogo, is a hideaway that gourmets from all over the world make a beeline for: Tokuyama-zushi, a Japanese-style auberge specializing in fermented sushi, or narezushi. Menu offerings like the local delicacy funazushi — a fermented sushi made from crucian carp, cooked rice and salt — boast distinctive flavors that may take a bit of getting used to.

Slow food: In the summer, chef Hiroaki Tokuyama fishes for crucian carp in Lake Yogo, cures the gutted fish in salt for six months, then lets it ferment in rice for a whole year; once the fish has aged sufficiently, he freezes it until it’s time to serve.
Slow food: In the summer, chef Hiroaki Tokuyama fishes for crucian carp in Lake Yogo, cures the gutted fish in salt for six months, then lets it ferment in rice for a whole year; once the fish has aged sufficiently, he freezes it until it’s time to serve.

The secret to Tokuyama-zushi’s popularity is the creativity of chef Hiroaki Tokuyama, who sees it as his mission to alter preconceptions about fermented foods by serving them in novel ways.

Take funazushi, for example. “Funazushi is usually served in thick slices, and the mushiness of the rice bed can be off-putting,” he says. “I cut frozen funazushi quite thin and sandwich it between slices of crisply toasted bread, so it’s a real taste surprise.” The fish is not pungent at all, and the aroma of the bread subtly blends with the sushi’s rich, cheesy umami as it spreads slowly through the mouth.

Sensory dining: This fermented trio — caciocavallo cheese, fermented tomato sauce and mackerel narezushi — is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate.
Sensory dining: This fermented trio — caciocavallo cheese, fermented tomato sauce and mackerel narezushi — is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate.

Asked how he accomplishes such magic, Tokuyama modestly downplays his efforts: “It’s not me, it’s the fermentation bacteria that do all the work,” he says. “I ‘chat’ with the bacteria, keep close watch over the process and stop fermentation at just the right point so I can serve the dishes to my guests at the peak of perfection.”

After much trial and error, Tokuyama has truly mastered the art of fermentation. Those who beat a path to his door are guaranteed an exquisitely audacious adventure in flavor.

Tokuyama-zushi: Yogocho 1408 Kawanami, Nagahama, Shiga 529-0523; 0749-86-4045; tokuyamazushi.com; open 12-2:30 p.m., 6-9 p.m.; closed irregularly; multicourse lunches from ¥10,000, dinners from ¥15,000; reservations required

For more insight into Japan’s culture, arts and lifestyle, visit int.kateigaho.com.

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