Location: Kameoka, 25 minutes by train from Kyoto City
Hosts: Masayuki-san and Yuuko-san of Yagisan Nouen
Duration: One day
Impressions of the Trip:
Before visiting Yagi-San farm in Kameoka, just 25minutes by train from the city of Kyoto, I had heard that Kyoto was famous for vegetables. Not knowing what this meant, Yagi-san’s spirited and friendly owners, Masayuki-san and Yuuko-san , took me on a tour of their vegetable farm before we proceeded to plant lettuce and prepare next season’s other leafy greens for planting.
As Kyoto City seems to be on most tourists’ itineraries due to its ancient temples and traditional architecture, it should be no surprise that Kyoto’s famous vegetables are also a relic of the past. Kyoto vegetables (kyo yasai), include 41 heirloom varieties that are produced in Kyoto. One of the most famous is the peanut-shaped Shishigatani pumpkin, pictured above. Kyo yasai are typically more vibrantly colored and grown seasonally. Masayuki-san and Yuuko-san produce several kyo yasai, in addition to about 70 other seasonal vegetables, taking only the month of April off, as it is the only month when no vegetable is at its best. Kameoka’s location in a valley results in extreme temperatures in both the summer and the winter, an ideal climate for vegetables. using no pesticides or herbicides, the family’s organic vegetables command high prices in both Kansai and Kanto, where they are mailed weekly.
Planting lettuce in the hot sun, we were pouring sweat and rushing to finish before the onset of a coming lightning storm. Yuuko-san grabbed a handful of choke-cherry like pods from some nearby overgrowth and we headed inside for a tea break. In her hand were tiny, perfect husk tomatoes, each a slightly different color and not one bigger than a marble. While the husk tomato plants have spread to several locations throughout the farm and grow in wild clumps, no one seems to mind. The unusual, sweet tomatoes are hugely popular among their customers–just one more example of Kyoto’s vegetables in action.
Working with Masayuki-san and Yuuko-san through the long, humid afternoon, we enjoyed several great conversations. In discussing Kyoto’s traditional vegetables, and the various ways in which they have been crossed and bred to produce new varieties, while also preserving the old, ancient types, a word that frequently reemerged was 交配, kouhai, crossbreeding or cross-fertilization.