Arima Sansho : a Japanese traditional pepper

written by
Aya Asakura
photo by
Aya Asakura

In the past many innkeepers in Arima Hot Springs owned and harvested wild sansho (pepper) trees from Rokko Mountains in Kobe and treated their guests with the sansho cuisine. To enter the mountains to gather sansho flowers and peppercorns and then savor their taste and fragrance was a seasonal tradition for the people of Arima. Japanese cuisine using sansho was called Arima-ni (boiled Arima-style) and Arima-yaki (grilled Arima-style) all over Japan. However, the Arima sansho tradition with deep links to that region eventually died out, as people stopped going into the mountains long time ago.


Mr. Kanai, an owner of the traditional inn in Arima, has started reviving the Arima sansho tradition and reproducing cuisine with Arima Sansho. He went into the Rokko mountains to search for Arima sansho and discovered there pepper trees with a fragrance distinctly different from that of the Asakura sansho sold in the markets. Then when he picked the pointed tip of the sansho to study it, it let off a lemony fragrance with a strong citronella component. It was clearly a unique type of peppercorn.


The most typical ways of consuming Arima sansho are in Arima-ni, Arima-yaki and Tsukudani. Arima-ni is a dish in which hotaru-ika (firefly squid), Harima clams or other fruits of the sea are boiled with Arima sansho. Arima-yaki is a grilled dish in which meat or fish is marinated with sansho peppercorns or in sansho powder. For example, residents of Kobe eat chicken, which has been dipped into a sauce and grilled with freshly sliced sansho peppercorns, as well as grilled salted saury sprinkled with sansho powder. The flower, peppercorn, leaves, and the bark of the sansho tree all respectively offer a different fragrance and texture. The highest class Tsukudani (a side dish boiled down in soy sauce) uses the sansho flower, which can be picked for only a limited number of days in early spring. The flower is preserved by turning it into Tsukudani and treasured when eaten.