A Winter Staple | Hoba Miso, Grilled and Eaten on Magnolia Leaf

Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
(Month information was collected: December 2023)
Located in Gifu Prefecture, Takayama, which is also affectionately known as Hida Takayama, is a top tourist destination in Japan. Many tourists, both domestic and international, visit the city for the remnants of the castle town and the unique food culture that is influenced by the surrounding mountains. Miso is an essential ingredient in the Hida Takayama region. Hoba miso, a local dish of grilled miso on a magnolia leaf, was useful for surviving the deep snowy winters.

Hoba Miso, a winter staple in Hida


Hoba miso is a local dish where miso is grilled on a magnolia leaf. The Hida region, surrounded by mountains, has a thriving forestry industry. The dish is believed to have originated when a somabito working in the mountains grilled miso on a large magnolia leaf used as a plate.

*A somabito is a professional who is responsible for felling, hauling, and sawing timber.


The recipe for hoba miso varies between families but typically includes koji miso seasoned with sake, sugar, and ginger. Nowadays, people tend to buy pre-seasoned miso as preparing it at home has become less common. The magnolia tree thrives in the Hida region and sheds its leaves in late fall as frost sets in. The green magnolia leaves are cured in salted water for three days and then dried to be used in hoba miso. These leaves have a distinct aroma. During early summer, it is customary to prepare hoba-zushi by wrapping vinegared rice in these green magnolia leaves.


A dyed-in-the-wool Hida Takayama native, Kyoko Nishimura, says that she was raised on hoba miso. Since 1979, Kyoko has been running Kyoya, a restaurant serving local cuisine in the popular “old town” area, where the ambiance of the castle town survives.


“In Hida, the winters are long, so we can’t harvest vegetables before April or May. Nowadays, people can buy everything they need from supermarkets, but in the past, every family used to make their own miso and pickles to consume during the winter. Hoba miso made a nice side dish for rice, and we would often serve it with drinks when we had visitors over. We’d ask, “Would you like some grilled hoba miso as a snack?” It’s delicious eaten as is, but it’s also very aromatic and tasty when grilled on a magnolia leaf,” says Kyoko.


Kyoko prepared us a hoba miso, saying, “I’ll grill some for you.” Kyoya’s miso contains Korean perilla and is grilled with wild vegetables such as fern shoots and Pholiota nameko, shiitake, and plenty of green onions. The savory aroma of the miso as it grills slowly on a magnolia leaf is indescribable. When grilled, the leaf gives off its own scent that is absorbed by the miso. Kyoya also serves a dish that is popular among international visitors. The dish combines hoba miso with Hida beef and locally grown mushrooms.


Ways to enjoy hoba miso as recommended by a miso maker


Miso plays a vital role in the daily lives of the Hida people. The Kusakabe family has been producing miso and soy sauce since 1890 through their business, Kusakabe Miso Shoyu Jozo, a renowned old establishment in Takayama. We visited the miso factory to learn how miso is made in Hida.

Kusakabe Miso Shoyu Jozo is in Kamiichinomachi, which is part of the old town. The area is home to a cluster of traders, including sake brewers and paper hangers, and is closest to the castle in the castle town. As you step into the miso storehouse, the fragrant scent of miso fills the moist, cool air. The mud storehouse maintains a cool and stable temperature, even during summer. The peak time for making miso is late March, coinciding with the first signs of spring. After maturing in the summer, the miso is aged slowly until it is ready. A row of wooden vats over two meters high are used for making miso. The wooden vats, which have been in use for 130 years since the company was founded, seem to be steeped in history, and without them, Kusakabe’s miso would not be complete.


Kusakabe has a storehouse that includes a shop where they sell hoba miso kits made with their own koji miso. Hiroko Kusakabe, the wife of the fourth-generation Kusakabe president, taught us some delicious ways to enjoy hoba miso.


“You can buy the kit, but I would also suggest buying koji miso to create your own hoba miso. The key is to use a generous amount of green onions when grilling it. The sweetness of the green onions, when combined with miso, makes it delicious. In my family, we always bring hoba miso when we go camping. We grill it with camembert cheese or add it to scrambled eggs. In addition to being used in miso soup and as a seasoning, miso also makes a great side dish. Why not give it a try?”

Hoba miso, once a valuable winter food, is now a well-established soul food in Hida. We encourage you to try the savory grilled hoba miso with white rice.

Photographer : YUTA SUZUKI


Address 1-77, Oshinmachi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
URL http://www.kyoya-hida.jp/

Kusakabe Miso Shoyu Jozo K.K. Kakuichi Honten

Address 90, Kamiichinocho, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
URL https://www.hidatakayama.or.jp/shop/kusakabemiso/

Gifu Prefecture  Tourism Information

japan-guide.com https://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1220.html
Japan Travel https://en.japantravel.com/gifu