KAGOSHIMA -- Each region of Japan has its own locally rooted food culture. One such signature food in Kagoshima Prefecture is "tori-sashi," literally "chicken sashimi." People can buy it at supermarkets and poultry shops, but apparently it can now be purchased from a vending machine, so this Mainichi Shimbun reporter decided to have a look.
Tori-sashi is fresh chicken lightly roasted over a flame. Chicken parts such as thighs and breasts are often served with grated ginger and garlic, and dipped in the sweet soy sauce unique to southwestern Japan's Kyushu region. It is one of the standard menu items at izakaya pubs in Kagoshima Prefecture, and goes well with the area's famed sweet potato "shochu" spirit.
It is not clear when people started to eat tori-sashi. However, chicken dishes have been a part of the local menu since ancient times. In the Edo period (1603-1867), the Satsuma clan that ruled the Kagoshima area actively engaged in cockfighting, and it is said that the defeated roosters were slaughtered and eaten. Chickens were also raised at home, and the prefecture's official records on poultry farming history mention that in the Edo period, "It seems that chickens were prepared for special events, and the breast meat was made into sashimi and enjoyed as a dish to accompany sweet potato shochu."
Tori-sash is mostly raw, so food poisoning is a concern. In 2020, there were 182 reported cases of food poisoning in Japan caused by Campylobacter bacteria, which is common in chicken. However, only one of those was in Kagoshima Prefecture.
The secret of this safety record is the strict prefectural hygiene regulations for tori-sashi. Campylobacter is often found in the internal organs of chicken, so those organs are removed during slaughtering and then the meat is cleaned. Also, the entire surface of the meat must be lightly roasted to sterilize it, and special cutting boards and knives must be used. Only products that have been treated and processed according to these standards can be sold.
The tori-sashi vending machine is in the city of Minamikyushu on the Satsuma Peninsula, about a 40-minute drive south of Kagoshima city. Consumption of the iconic chicken dish is especially high in the area, even for Kagoshima Prefecture. Along Route 225, there was a hut with a sign that said "vending and direct sales 24."
When I entered, I found a vending machine with a glass front, lined with packs of tori-sashi made from "Kurosatsuma chicken" -- a local breed. The large pack (360 grams) costs 1,200 yen (about $10), and the small pack (150 grams) costs 500 yen (about $4.50). A 500-gram package, which can be sliced to the desired thickness, is also available for 1,600 yen (about $14).
The vending machine was installed by Shinya Wada, 38, president of Shinei Farm, which raises, processes, and sells Kurosatsuma chicken. He used to sell tori-sashi at a direct sales shop, but he couldn't open until 11:00 a.m. because he had to prepare the chicken after early-morning processing. Every time a customer came in, he would stop to prepare the chicken to help them out. He had to start work very early in the morning as well, so he closed up shop by 5 p.m. at the latest every day.
Meanwhile, regular customers had been asking him to stay open longer, while his sales to restaurants fell due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although he had been getting more mail-order business, Wada thought, "I want to cherish my local customers. I want them to eat fresh tori-sashi," and that's when he came up with the idea of a vending machine.
In keeping with the prefectural sanitation standards (temperature control at 10 degrees Celsius or lower), the shop showcase is refrigerated at 5 C. Wada searched for a vending machine that could also be kept at 5 C, even though it would be unmanned. He then ordered a vending machine with a conveyor belt that carries the products horizontally to the pickup slot, so that the plastic-wrapped packages do not tilt over and ruin the chicken.
Wada renovated his shop and started selling tori-sashi through the vending machine in April this year. Of course, it is open 24 hours a day. The machine is filled with fresh products processed that day, and free ice is placed next to it for customers to take home. In addition to office workers on their way home, there are also many families buying fresh tori-sashi late at night. The vending machine also sells soy sauce and eggs.
Wada feels that the vending machine is working well, and said, "I want more people to know about the healthy taste of Kagoshima's local chicken."
(Japanese original by Junko Adachi, Kagoshima Bureau)