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Kokoro Care Packages showcase Kanagawa's diverse food and cultural influences

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Kanagawa Prefecture, located just south of Tokyo, is Japan’s second most populous prefecture and is known for its beautiful nature and picturesque coastlines. Shonan, along Sagami Bay, is a top beach destination from Tokyo, with a laid-back atmosphere that attracts surfers and ocean lovers. The resort area of Hakone has some of the region’s best Onsens (natural hot springs) while the historic town of Kamakura is home to many Buddhist temples and the famous Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha).

Kanagawa’s capital, Yokohama, is one of Japan’s most active international ports. Since the late 1850s, visitors from abroad have been bringing their food and culture to the region, resulting in a melting pot of Japanese, European, and Chinese influences.

Kanagawa Prefecture partnered with Kokoro Care Packages to create a special Care Package of local Kanagawa food products that showcase the region’s diverse cultural influences and flavors.

Through this Care Package, people from all over the world were able to taste the regional flavors of Kanagawa - for some it brought back fond memories of a trip they once took there, and for others it was a way to travel to Kanagawa with their taste buds while trying new flavors.

The Care Package includes:

Kamakura Daibutsu Candy (鎌倉大仏あめ)

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These nostalgic candies are a miniature representation of the Kamakura Daibutsu, one of the tallest bronze Buddha sculptures in Japan. Cast over 800 years ago, it is one of Kamakura’s most popular and awe-inspiring sights. A modeler from Takaoka City in Toyama Prefecture was asked to capture the sculpture’s likeness and to spread the Buddha’s wishes for strong relationships and good fortune.

Children loved the sweet taste and shape of these candies while it brought back memories for the adults who had experienced seeing the Kamakura Daibutsu in person.

Natto Koji Paste (納豆麹)

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About 90% of Japan’s soybeans are imported, as local Japanese farmers have struggled to compete with cheaper, foreign-produced soybeans. Toyokuniya, a local family run farm in Kanagawa, is one of the rare domestic soybean farmers in Japan and grows an heirloom variety of soybeans called “Tsukui soybean” - so rare they’re known as “phantom soybeans.'' Larger than regular soybeans, tsukui soybeans have a rich flavor and natural sweetness, lending to a nutty taste similar to chestnuts.

When fermented, soybeans become a gooey and sticky food known as natto. Natto can be an acquired taste, yet Toyokuniya has transformed this traditional food using their tsukui soybeans into a delicious and savory paste which is a true local specialty.

“So unique and something I can’t find in America, even in Japanese grocery stores,” said one person who tried the Kokoro Care Package. People have enjoyed it in a variety of ways including on toast, on tofu, on rice, in onigiri, mixed with cream cheese on crackers, with meatballs and egg based dishes, and on sesame bagels with cucumber and cream cheese. And for those not quite used to the taste of natto, this was a great introduction. Said another person: “Natto has been the only thing in Japanese cuisine that I've had difficulties with, and I was very happy to receive this product. I think it's an 'easier' way to try to get used to it, and I would really love to like it.”

Iwai's Sesame Chili Oil (純正ごま辣油)

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For over 150 years, Iwai, based in Yokohama, has been using traditional techniques to produce their sesame oil. Their sesame seeds are carefully roasted before being pressed twice. The first press produces the finest oil called ichiban shibori, followed by a second press which extracts the remaining oil. The oil is then filtered to remove any impurities. The result is a richly colored yet transparent sesame oil with a nutty, caramel taste. For this special blend, Iwai combines their sesame oil with chili peppers which add a subtle spiciness and gentle heat.

Extremely versatile, this sesame oil is a nice variation versus other hot sauces and was used on everything from vegetables, soup, tofu, salads, stir fries, noodle, gyoza and spicy tuna rolls.

Wind Somen (風のそうめん)

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Somen are very thin white noodles usually only 1mm in diameter. The slender shape makes them light yet satisfying and allows for them to soak up the flavors of their dipping sauce.

Kaneko Seimen has been hand crafting their noodles in the rural town of Nakai in Kanagawa since 1877. While other companies have moved towards mass-production using refined, foreign white wheat, Kaneko Seimen continues to make their noodles using a whole grain domestic wheat called “norin 61”, which has a robust flavor and soft texture. Unlike dry, brittle noodles, these noodles are hung to dry, aided by the wind of blowing fans, in order to maintain a soft, fresh texture similar to raw noodles. One Kokoro Care Package recipient said: “Loved the texture and flavor! So delicate and yet still had a nice chew.”

Brown Rice And Miso Cereal Bar Flavored With Umeboshi And Dried Bonito (玄米 × 味噌 シリアルバー さっぱり梅かつお)

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Japan Energy Food created this unique cereal bar based on the traditional Japanese diet, including domestic brown rice and miso. The bars are then flavored with classic Japanese seasonings including umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums) which give “it a bit of tartness”, bonito (skipjack tuna) flakes and yukari (dried and powdered pickled shiso mixed with salt). The result is a subtly sweet yet umami-rich cereal bar that is representative of a complete Japanese meal and for some: “These are flavors from my childhood.”

Tochu Tea (杜仲茶)

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This unique whole leaf tea is made from 100% eucommia tree leaves. Eucommia has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries and comes from the Chinese rubber tree, eucommia ulmoides, which is believed to have been propagated for over 6,000 years. While the bark is usually used in China, this regional tochu tea from Kanagawa is made from the leaves of the plant.

Hekizanen, the local producer in Kanagawa, cultivates their eucommia plants on fallow land, which would otherwise lie dormant, using only organic pesticides to help revive and support the local ecosystem. Rather than drying the leaves in the sun after harvest, Hekizanen does not allow the leaves to ferment. Instead, they grind the entire nutritious leaf into a fine powder. The tea has a uniquely crisp flavor and is slightly bitter with a sweet, mild aftertaste. Comments from people who tried it: “It was nice, flavorful tea.” “Delicious and calming.” “Tastes great!”  “I LOVED it, just added hot water. Such a refreshingly different flavor for an herbal tea.”

This special curation of some of Kanagawa’s best regional products was created by Kokoro Care Packages. Kokoro Care Packages offers hand-crafted packages filled with premium-quality, all-natural Japanese foods delivered straight from Japan to 35+ countries worldwide. They work closely with local farmers and producers while connecting you to their stories, their communities and their traditions. They also include all the English translations making it easy to enjoy all these Japanese tastes and flavors. Their Care Packages are available in two options: monthly and seasonal Subscription Care Packages and their permanent Collections Care Packages. Learn more at www.kokorocares.com.

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