Including the Shirasu-Daichi plateau, the majority of the land in Kirishima Geopark is an accumulation of volcanic ejecta—that is, particles from volcanic eruptions. Due to its drainage properties, the ground cannot hold water and so is not suited to rice farming. Although many think of the area as a barren land, for a long time people living here have skillfully used the environment to create unique local specialties.
Sweet potatoes, for example—which are thought to have been brought over to Japan from the Ryukyu Islands in the Edo period—have been successfully cultivated in the southern Kyushu area, which is home to Shirasu-Daichi, for many years. These sweet potatoes are firmly rooted in the local food culture, and have given rise to local specialties such as gane (a deep-fried sweet potato dish) and nettabo (a sweet potato mochi), as well as sweet potato shochu liquor. Sweet potatoes are also used as fodder for black pigs and other livestock, and so are an essential part of southern Kyushu’s food culture.
Kirishima tea plantations
Tea cultivation, meanwhile, works well in warm climates and on land with good drainage, and so is well-suited to the volcanic soil of Shirasu-Daichi. Moreover, the flat, expansive land formed by Shirasu-Daichi is perfect for mass cultivation. Mechanization has progressed and the area is now one of the leading tea-producing regions in Japan.
The southern Kyushu area is one of Japan’s foremost producers and suppliers of livestock—including beef, pork, and chicken—and boasts some of the country’s most popular brands of meat, such as Miyazaki beef and Kagoshima black pork. Despite not being appropriate for rice farming, Shirasu-Daichi has flourished as a region for animal husbandry thanks to the suitability of the land and the fact that it produces an abundance of good fodder in sweet potatoes.
Japanese Black wagyu steak
Chargrilled local chicken
Sweet potato shochu
Sweet potato shochu
A wide range of famous shochu liquors are produced here
With an abundance of volcanic soil that doesn’t allow for rice farming, as well as a warm climate, southern Kyushu was never a good location for sake production. Instead, the huge amounts of sweet potato in the area were used to produce sweet potato shochu, which has come to be synonymous with southern Kyushu’s food culture. There are numerous breweries within Kirishima Geopark creating a range of famous shochu using their own unique methods.
Along the coast in Fukuyama Town in Kirishima are huge numbers of big earthenware urns used to produce black vinegar. Black vinegar is made using steamed rice, koji rice, and groundwater, and the ingredients are naturally fermented and matured in the urns under the heat of the sun. These urns can often be seen at the foot of the edges of the Aira Caldera—which is known for depositing huge volumes of volcanic ash in Kagoshima—as the region is largely unaffected by northerly winds in the winter. These areas also benefit from lots of sunlight, a warm climate, and plenty of spring water nearby, making them ideal for making black vinegar.
Black vinegar urns
Dishes made using freshwater fish
Freshwater aquaculture around the Kirishima Mountains makes use of the abundant sources of natural spring water in the area. On top of carp, which has been consumed in the area for many years, more recently, fish farmers have been breeding large quantities of sturgeon, local salmon, and other new varieties of fish.
The volcanic soil that covers the Kirishima Geopark area is highly permeable, and the large volumes of rainwater that soak into the ground flow to the bottom of the mountains and turn into spring water. Numerous minerals are picked up in the process, ultimately creating delicious natural spring water that has become famous across Japan. This pure spring water has helped to drive success in sweet potato shochu, black vinegar, freshwater aquaculture, and more.
Natural spring water from Odemizu spring