Rivals emerge to take udon crown from Kagawa

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kagawa sanuki udon

TAKAMATSU — A decade ago Kagawa Prefecture, home of sanuki udon, declared itself the udon prefecture. Now, Saitama Prefecture is making a name for itself as a rival for the udon crown.

Saitama is the nation’s second-largest udon producer after Kagawa, and in an effort to step up the playful rivalry, civic groups have begun encouraging people to eat more udon on social media.

Local governments and tourism associations have also been adding to their prefectures’ promotion of udon.

Kagawa was the undisputed top producer of udon based on surveys conducted by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry until 2009. Then in October 2011, the title of udon prefecture made its first appearance.

In a campaign that garnered national attention, actor Jun Kaname, who is a native of Kagawa Prefecture, was appointed “vice governor” of the newly named Udon Prefecture, with a promotional video declaring Kagawa’s name change making the rounds.

The number of tourists visiting the prefecture gradually increased from 8.71 million in 2011 to 9.68 million in 2019.

“The Udon Prefecture effect has continued to grow,” a prefectural government official said.

While there are many areas including Akita, Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures that are proud of their udon, Saitama believes it deserves to be mentioned among them.

In 2009, Saitama was second only to Kagawa in production volume.

In 2015, Akihisa Nagatani, a 40-year-old company employee from Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, founded an association whose goal is to make Saitama Japan’s No. 1 udon prefecture.

The group has posted on Twitter and elsewhere, “If each one of us eats two more bowls [of udon] a month, we’ll be No. 1 in Japan.”

Then in 2019, Nagatani published “Sugoi! Saitama Udon Okoku Sengen” (Awesome! Saitama udon kingdom declaration), featuring more than 20 types of udon offered at local udon restaurants.

“I wanted to do publicity for Saitama that was not self-deprecating, like the ‘dasaitama’ nickname,” he said, referring to a common joke that combines the Japanese word for uncool (dasai) with Saitama.

Local governments have also backed the effort.

Back in 2013, the city of Kazo in Saitama Prefecture designated June 25 as udon day in order to promote its local firm-texture udon. And a new tourist pamphlet released this year provides information on nearly 50 udon restaurants.

Further promotional efforts include the Saitama Prefecture Products and Tourism Association publishing a coupon booklet for udon restaurants in 2019, and the first 12,000 copies were quickly snapped up. When the coupons moved to a smartphone app last year, they garnered more than 100,000 views.

The person in charge of tourism promotion at the city government said, “We want to use [udon] to attract tourists after the pandemic.”

Kagawa, however, is not sitting idly by.

According to the latest Family Income and Expenditure Survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry (2018-2020) targeting prefectural capitals and ordinance-designated cities, the highest annual expenditure on udon and soba per household was ¥24,515 in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, which is more than twice the national average of ¥11,574. The city of Saitama ranked fifth at ¥14,333.

Teruo Suwa, 73, chairman of the Sanukiudon Kenkyukai, an association of noodle makers based in Miki, Kagawa Prefecture, is confident in Kagawa’s position.

“Nobody has more love for or eats more udon [than Kagawa],” he said. “I welcome the kind of spirit it takes to aim for No. 1 in Japan. This kind of friendly rivalry is good for the udon culture.”