Down in the most southerly of Japan’s prefectures, the hot summers invite a cooling menu with chilled somen noodles an all time favorite. Kagoshima Prefecture is the birthplace of a unique eating experience where customers’ chopstick skills are put to the test as they catch the fine somen noodles as they flow past at their own table. If Ibusuki Sand Onsen, Lake Ikeda, or Kaimondake volcano are on your itinerary, Tosenkyo somen nagashi restaurant is the place to head for lunch.
Nagashi somen, which translates as “flowing noodles”, is a traditional practice of eating noodles in summer where a bamboo gutter is set out like a water slide and noodles are sent down to be caught with chopsticks on the way past. Kagoshima Prefecture has reinvented this centuries-old summer custom to work at your own table in a restaurant: Each table has its own circular version of the bamboo gutter filled with crystal clear water which somen noodles - fine, white wheat flour noodles - are placed into. This otherwise plain dish becomes a much sought after treat once caught and dunked in the irresistible somen dipping sauce.
While Kagoshima is the setting for a number of somen nagashi restaurants, Tosenkyo remains one of the most celebrated spots in the whole country to eat this summer specialty. Located in the very south of Satsuma Peninsula just a stone’s throw from Kaimondake volcano, Tosenkyo not only offers a unique eating experience but also a beautiful setting alongside a peaceful woodland area.
Tosen Gorge, which customers pass as they enter the restaurant, is among Japan’s most famous springs and is the source of the water that is said to make the Tosenkyo restaurant’s somen noodles so delicious. Allegedly kept at a constant 13 degrees, the water is pumped from the gorge up into the somen nagashi tables to provide the cool, crystal clear water that keeps the noodles fresh and firm. Prior to a sit-down, visitors are free to roam the grounds where Kawakami Shrine sits serenely on the gorge alongside a plenitude of greenery, blooming flowers, and small stone statues.
While highly esteemed, the atmosphere in Tosenkyo is relaxed and informal inviting a diverse clientele of both locals and visitors from afar. Orders are made in the wooden stalls at the entrance from the garden where you can request just a portion of noodles with sauces or add on some extras which will all be brought to your table. Salted trout is the restaurant’s specialty while other fish dishes including sashimi , as well as everyday additions such as onigiri , soups, and yakitori can be added to the mix. The somen dipping sauce is a delicious combination of sweet and salty tsuyu sauce with optional spring onions and wasabi that your captured noodles are to be dipped in before consuming. With the drinks corner inside the restaurant, icy chilled beers and soft drinks are easy to order on repeat to perfect your summer afternoon in Kagoshima.