Kanagawa Prefecture- 神奈川県


Location: Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture

Date: June 24, 2012

The culture of farming is so interwoven with the fabric of daily life in Japan that it is easy to not appreciate it. While running some errands in the Honmoku neighborhood of Yokohama the other day, we stumbled across an American school bus parked on a sidewalk. An unusual site, we approached it, only to find that there was a fellow propped in the rear exit of the bus, inspecting tomatoes.

For the past three years, Hayashi Gaku has been selling organic vegetables produced on farms in neighboring Kamakura out of the back of a school bus. The bus, originally from California, found its way to Hayashi through sheer coincidence, and he decided to turn it into a vegetable shop. Now called Marche 21, Hayashi sells the locally-produced, organic vegetables, allowing Kamakura’s small-scale, organic farmers to reach a wider audience without having to jump through regulatory hoops or employ too many middle men. Hayashi mentioned that after three years with Marche 21, he is about to launch a new project, an organic restaurant and store. He seemed pleased to note that his next endeavor will not involve the bus.

Hayashi’s Marche 21 might be considered by some to be a form of 直売所 (direct sale of produce from the farmer to the consumer), since his process effectively circumvents Japan Agriculture (JA) and other traditional outlets. More importantly though, his unique and successful approach suggests that the allure of organic vegetables is more mainstream than some might suggest. At present, organic grains and soybeans still comprise the vast majority of the Japanese organic market, but as awareness and interest in food safety and production evolve and change, will demand for organic produce increase? There will be a follow up post on organics later this summer, so please stay tuned.

To explain this shorter than usual post, we should mention that 47 Japanese Farms is starting a new chapter. We are moving from Yokohama to Tokyo in less than a week to begin our day jobs here. In our always too short free time, we have 34 prefectures left to explore! We look forward to peeling back more layers of rural life and agriculture in Japan with you. Also, we love to hear from you, so if you have suggestions, comments, or ideas for us, please leave a comment or email us at 47japanesefarms@gmail.com

Posted in government and agriculture, innovative agriculture, Kanagawa Prefecture, organic produce | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ishikawa Prefecture- 石川県


Location: Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture

Duration: One day. May 3, 2012

Impressions of the Journey:

We had a short and action-packed evening and day in Kanazawa, the capital of Ishikawa prefecture.  Arriving late in the evening with our friends from HappyMoss, we took a walk through Kanazawa’s old town of Higashichaya to take in the ambience of the old Japanese-style houses, or kominka.  We took a look at a shop full of beautiful laquerware and toured an ancient geisha house, which had one tatami room covered in gold-leaf.  Kanazawa is famous for its fine quality gold-leaf, an extremely thin layer of hand-hammered, pure gold.   Similarly impressive, the entire front staircase of the house was  made of red lacquer. Yet, Higashichaya topped this display of extravagance with an entire tea house made of gold-leaf on display in the courtyard of a kominka!  In Higashichaya we spotted several shops housed in  ancient Japaneses buildings, selling souvenirs such as gold-flecked sweets, cosmetics, liquor, laquer, glass goods, jewelry, and golf balls (we bought a gold-leaf golf ball for a friend, after being warned that the possibility of losing it during a game and being dissapointed was very high).

Our stay was short and limited to the city center, so we unfortunately did not have a chance to experience Kanazawa’s agricultural activities in the pure sense of the term.  However, we visited Kenrokuen, one of the “three most beautiful gardens in Japan,” which has been under cultivation for hundreds of years.  We saw gardeners, in traditional-style clothing, weeding the edges of a pond, and took a good look at several of the man-made streams and lakes scattered throughout the deep moss and carefully formed trees of the natural looking, but entirely managed, ecosystem of the garden.   This triggered thoughts of “satoyama” and “satoumi,” Japanese words to describe the complex interconnectedness of the human and the natural environment, which is so clearly evident in many places in Japan.

In recent agriculture lore, we heard the story of Hakui City, a small town in Ishikawa prefecture’s mountainous, rice-producing region. Like many other rural areas of Japan where rice farming is the primary industry, the town was suffering from an aging, declining population, and those farming the local Mikohara rice (literally “Rice from a highland where the son of God dwells”) were struggling to make ends meet. Then, a Hakui City Hall employee had a brilliant idea. He wrote a letter to Japan’s Embassy in Vatican City with a bold proposal. His letter caught the interest of a Japanese diplomat, who agreed to receive and pass along the Mikohara rice as a holy gift to the Pope. Needless to say, the media, and eventually, the public, heard about the “holy rice” from Hakui City and it has been wildly popular ever since. Word also has it that due to Hakui City’s success, younger folks who left the area are starting to return in the face of brightening job prospects. Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit Hakui City in person to shake hands with the resourceful City Hall employee who had this great idea, but it is a great example of how small, creative steps toward agricultural branding and product differentiation can truly transform rural Japan.

Just before leaving Kanazawa, we stumbled across a magical little bit of Japanese history.  Right across the bridge from Higashichaya, facing the main road, is a dusty old storefront with odd bits of clutter in the cloudy picture windows. We thought that perhaps we had stumbled upon an antiques shop, but inside, in a glass case mounted along a wall, two large metal cones were spinning on their axis, producing a humming that filled the air.  Richly colored green powder dusted the surfaces on the inside of the cones’ cabinet.  What could it be?

We had stumbled across Yonezawa Chaten, a nearly 150 year old tea shop.  This shop may have sold tea to the geishas at the geisha house we visited!  Shuichi Yonezawa, President of Yonezawa Chaten CO., LTD, kindly explained to us how his company transforms fine quality tea leaves from around Japan into the highest quality of Matcha Powder, used for daily drinking as well as for Sado, the tea ceremony.  Take a look at the video here to see how the old-fashioned tea grinding machines look.
Even in Kanazawa’s old city center, where the height of sophisticated ancient Japanese culture is preserved and celebrated, agriculture plays a key role.  There could be no Higashichaya – or Western Tea House – without tea, a carefully cultivated and crafted agricultural product.  We hope to follow up on this post soon with a more in-depth look at an example of a Japanese tea plantation.

As with many of our trips, our time in Ishikawa was way too short to scratch all but the barest surface of this complex, diverse prefecture. Kanazawa was a great city, with a strikingly cosmopolitan feel, despite bearing a heavy footprint of traditional arts ranging from gold leaf to Japanese gardens. Behind the glamor of the capital city, Ishikawa is home to a variety of traditional farming methods, including some approaches to salt farming that have caught the attention of agriculture and environmental researchers around the world. Then there are places like Hakui City, which have been pulled into the limelight from near obscurity on the merits of an excellent product that was excellent before it was famous. Sadly, we only saw enough of Ishikawa to have caught a glimpse of its potential, and so this trip’s kanji phrase is 氷山の一角、or “The tip of the iceberg”.

Posted in government and agriculture, innovative agriculture, Ishikawa Prefecture, moss, outdoor adventures, Tea, Traditional Arts | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Tokyo 東京都

Tokyo, Japan


Trip details:

Date: May 24, 2012

Special Thanks to: Pasona Inc. 


Because we at 47 Japanese Farms are always planning and thinking about our upcoming rural adventures, it is easy to forget that in our own backyard, here in Tokyo, there is some amazing agriculture going on. Last week, we were invited to an event at Pasona Inc., a human resources firm that is also ground zero for a host of innovative projects conceived by its creative CEO, Mr. Nambu. Upon entering Otemachi, we were wondering whether we would have trouble fining the Pasona Inc. office building, but as you can see from the above photo, the green cover of roses creeping along the sides of the building make it hard to miss. According to the a Pasona Inc. employee, the green cover on the building’s exterior reduces energy costs, specifically cooling costs during the endless Tokyo summer, by approximately 30%.

The inside of the building was equally impressive. After listening to a classical music concert performed by members of Pasona’s “Music Mates” program, we got a quick but breath-taking tour of the building’s “farm”, which includes everything from pumpkins to passion fruits, all grown on space-efficient shelves which run along the ceilings and walls of the building. Most of the produce is grown hydroponically, using no soil, and a special room tucked off in a corner produces a variety of hydroponic lettuce. Pasona previously maintained a rice field in the basement of one of its offices, formerly a bank vault, but it ended the energy-intensive project after last year’s Fukushima accident and ensuing energy concerns. Nevertheless, the use of meeting spaces as mini-farms was also fascinating. For example, the “Tomato V.I.P Room”, a formal meeting space with office furniture and a conference table had a healthy canopy of tomatoes growing from its ceiling.

The produce grown at Pasona is served in the the Pasona cafeteria at very reasonable prices, and employees who stay late working overtime have the option of eating there for free. Printed material on the lobby wall informed us that studies have shown the presence of greenery -even common houseplants- in the workplace cuts down on reported illnesses and on absenteeism, perhaps due to better air quality and better morale.  Overall, the well-designed and impeccably maintained greenery added a vitality to the workplace that was a stark and welcome contrast to the grey concrete jungle of Otemachi.

Fresh from our trip to Toyama prefecture, where we learned about the cost-effective use of moss as a energy efficient green cover on buildings, hearing about Pasona’s green cover and its associated cost savings made us wonder why more companies in Tokyo have not leaped at the chance for a simultaneous energy savings and morale boost, and “greened” the exteriors of their buildings.

Kanji: Perhaps it is an overused term in English, but Pasona’s attention to energy-efficiency and practicality in designing its indoor farm were admirable. The responsible management of resource use was evident in everything from the judicious use of space in the building, to the careful attention to the project’s effects on energy use and costs for the company. Thus, a fitting kanji for this trip is 持続可能、which means sustainability

Posted in energy efficient farming, Farm visit, innovative agriculture, organic produce, Tokyo | Tagged | 5 Comments

Fukui Prefecture- 福井県


Fukui Prefecture- 福井県

Location: Fukui City, Eiheiji, and Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture

Host: Taya Toru at Taya ‘s Farm

Dates: May 2-3, 2012

Impressions of the Journey:

Of Japan’s 47 prefectures, Fukui might be one of the most often overlooked and least visited. Far off the beaten track and famous throughout Japan for its Zen temple, dinosaur fossils, and the town of Obama, which put itself on the map in 2008 with its commemorative sushi , Fukui seemed like a perfect place to visit during the generally crowded travel period of Golden Week. Located in Japan’s snowy, rice-producing region, farmers in Fukui long ago realized that they needed to develop an off-season occupation they could earn money from during the harsh winters, when their fields were covered in a thick blanket of snow. Why they chose eyeglass production as that off-season trade is unclear, but even today, the prefecture is famous for its eyeglasses. In fact, Sarah Palin’s famous rimless eyeglasses were produced in Fukui City by a company called Masunaga.


While in Fukui, our primary stop was Taya Toryu’s Farm, Nouen Taya, a huge expanse of lush, green fields and greenhouses just a 20 minute drive from Fukui train station. Taya’s 2 hectare farm produces about 50 different types of produce, and, with the help of his 13 member staff, he ships baskets of produce to subscribers all over Japan once a week. Taya’s model is a good example of a recent trend in Japanese agriculture called chokubaisho (直売所), farmers selling directly to clients without using traditional channels (e.g. Supermarkets, Government-run “Japan Agriculture” stores, etc.). While this type of direct sale cannot always compete with supermarkets in terms of price, the farmers typically try to differentiate themselves in other ways. For example, with each basket of produce Taya sends a subscriber, he includes is a “produce guide” that explains each vegetable’s characteristics, suggested uses, and sample recipes. He also throws in a few free items, like dried radish or herbs. While this type of arrangement is fairly common in other countries, it is relatively new to Japan, and is an interesting expression of the direction Japanese agriculture and rural innovation might be headed in. For example, despite Taya’s  farm’s location in the sparsely populated, relatively economically depressed Fukui prefecture, he uses Facebook and other fresh, new methods to cultivate wealthy, health-conscious consumers in Tokyo and other large cities. He is now able to sell to them without having to deal with other players and institutions in the process.

While touring the farm, a few things stood out. While most of the produce grows in greenhouses, a variety of winter vegetables, like the Japanese daikon radish, grow outdoors and are generally harvested in the dead of winter. Due to Fukui’s heavy snowfall, winter farming requires a high tolerance for cold weather and wet socks, but the benefit is that Taya and his staff can produce vegetables all year without having to sell eyeglasses. In the greenhouses, Taya introduced us to an indigenous variety of eggplant that is only produced in Fukui. Several years ago, a farmer elsewhere in Japan was the only person still growing the ancient eggplant, and before he died, he entrusted Taya with the seeds. Taya was able to successfully grow a first generation of eggplant, distribute the seedlings/seeds among more than 30 other farmers, and save the eggplant variety from extinction.

Taya’s 13-member staff is a diverse and energetic group, hailing not only from Japan, but also Senegal and Indonesia. Another Japanese staff member recently finished up a two-year farming apprenticeship in Bolivia, and in an upcoming “47 Flicks” film, you’ll hear a bit of his story (and much, much more!) Taya has a relationship with an agricultural training institution in Indonesia, allowing him to employ Indonesian trainees for 2-3 year stints on his farm. Judging by the harmony of the multicultural group, the arrangement seems to be working well.


Before departing Fukui via overnight bus, we took a day trip with some friends to one of Japan`s true gems, the Zen Buddhist temple, Eiheiji. A training monastery surrounded by big trees and lush forest, Eihei-ji houses more than two hundred monks and nuns in residence. Visitors with Zen experience may participate in a rigorous Zen training after making prior arrangements and all visitors are treated as religious trainees. Before entering the temple, we were given a lecture by a monk-in-training about how to behave, what not to do, and where not to go. From what we have heard, the Zen training involves waking up at 3:30a.m. to start a long day of meditation, as well as cleaning and cooking duties to support community life at the temple. Even visiting as a tourist during peak tourist season, walking, shoeless, through the temple`s wide passages and halls, the place had a very contemplative feeling to it. The forest environs buzzed with a sense of history and tradition befitting a temple of its status. While it was a short trip and introduction to the practice of Zen Buddhism in Japan, it struck me that Eihei-ji is a concrete (and increasingly rare) example of the unique, living traditions/culture that many tourists and foreigners hope to see and experience when they come to Japan.

The first Japanese character in Eiheiji Temple`s name is 永、which means “lengthy” or “eternal”. In fact, not just Eiheiji, but other things we saw in Fukui were imbued with a sense of history and tradition that has spanned many generations. For example, the indigenous eggplant variety that Taya rescued is a vegetable that farmers in Fukui have cultivated for hundreds of years. Also, we paid a visit to Fukui`s (relatively famous) dinosaur museum, which was filled with dinosaur fossils excavated from the local area. Not only is the museum one of the largest dinosaur fossil repositories in the world, Fukui itself was, in prehistoric times, a hotbed of dinosaur activity. There are at least two species of dinosaur that have the word “Fukui” in their latin name. Far off the beaten track, both for tourists and for most Japanese people, Fukui`s personality is  well-guarded, and probably will stay that way. To describe the feeling of depth and complexity that characterizes Fukui, we have chosen 「永遠」、which means “eternity” as this trip`s kanji.
Posted in Agricultural Exchanges and Training, Farm visit, Fukui, government and agriculture, innovative agriculture | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Toyama Prefecture- 富山県


Trip Information:

Location: Rural areas surrounding Toyama City and Oyabe, Toyama Prefecture

Venue:We did a three day farm stay at Doyuunou Farm in the mountains outside Toyama City, and a one day field trip out to Oyabe to check out the Happy Moss moss farm

Duration: 4 days and 3 nights; April 28- May 1, 2012

Impressions of the Journey:

Happy Moss:

Dear readers: We just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for reading 47 Japanese Farms, and to solicit your thoughts on moss. In English, we have the saying, ” A rolling stone gathers no moss” . Growing up in the U.S., I always interpreted the “rolling stone” to be a good thing, symbolizing someone who was always moving, growing, and devloping. In Japan, the same saying exists, but “gathering moss” is considered a good thing. In Japan, moss symbolizes nature, history, and something that is unsullied by human hands. One often sees it in Japanese style gardens, sometimes indoors. What do you think? Is moss beautiful, or just a slippery nuisance? If you could have a moss garden like the one pictured above, would you want it?

Earlier this week, we visited Happy Moss, a farm exclusively producing moss balls and carpet squares in remote Oyabe, about an hour away from Toyama City. The moss is marketed and sold by for use in indoor and outdoor gardens, or as an eco-friendly countermeasure for reducing cooling expenses for buildings in Tokyo and other big cities. By laying a “lawn” of moss squares on the roof of a house or building, the average temperature of the area under the moss is reduced by about 14 degrees. As the moss is extremely hearty, such a roof could last about 12 years before needing to be replaced. The moss uses no dirt, so it is extremely light and fairly resilient in hot or cold weather.

We had the opportunity to meet Hiyashi-san, one of the moss producers who supplies Happy Moss, and he was kind enough to give us a tour of the moss farm. Hiyashi-san originally produced flowers that are used in Japan`s tea ceremony, but he began cultivating moss as a hobby and it soon became his primary occupation.

The moss is extremely hearty, and despite Toyama’s long and snowy winters, it does just fine outdoors. For the cold part of the year, the moss essentially hibernates, perking up again when the snow melts and the weather gets warm again. According to Hayashi, the biggest obstacle to producing moss is harsh wind, which can damage the ultra-lightweight moss quite easily.

Before heading out to Happy Moss, we started our trip with a three-day farm stay at Junko Hashimoto`s Doyuunou Farm, in the mountains outside Toyama City. Toyama is probably best known for the gorgeous Tateyama Alpine Route , but in our brief time there, we stumbled across so many hidden gems that it has emerged as one of the most interesting places we have visited in Japan to date. Hashimoto`s farm was one of these hidden gems, as it is nearly 100% energy efficient, set amidst terraced rice fields, and we got to spend an entire afternoon picking edible wildflowers (to be sold to a French restaurant in Toyama City) in a field overlooking the snow-capped mountains of the Tateyama Alpine Route.

Doyuunou Farm is primarily an egg and poultry farm, with 600 chickens, 200 aigamo ducks, 3 goats, a dog, a cat, and numerous young trainees from across Japan who live and work at the farm. A sad consequence of Japan`s demographic woes is that declining populations in rural areas of Japan have left a wake of unfarmed fields and akiya (abandoned houses) strewn across the landscape. Taking advantage of this trend, Junko Hashimoto has purchased over 60 rice fields for a pittance and, with the help of her farm trainees, she continues to farm them to preserve local farming traditions. She has also salvaged recyclable materials from many of the akiya and used them to restore a hundred year-old farmhouse, which she has converted into a dormitory for her trainees. The area`s low birth rate has rendered several local schools unnecessary, so Hashimoto and a few local non-profit organizations have taken it upon themselves to maintain the school buildings, using the facilities to teach seminars and classes, and to hold cultural events for the community.

Doyuunou Farm produces between 600-800 eggs a day, and delieveries are made to daily to local markets and restaurants using an electric vehicle. Eggs that break in the process of being gathered that are still salvageable are either consumed by the family or used to make chiffon cakes, a popular item tha tthe farm sells at several locations across Toyama. Addionally, the farm has a water wheel, a wood-burning stove, and takes advantage of several water-power and compost-driven techniques to achieve energy self-sufficiency. Located in the mountains, the farm is able to rely on clean mountain water for its needs.  It is an inspiring and amazingly sustainable business model.

In our Gifu Prefecture entry, we discussed the differences between kengyou (part-time) and sengyou (full-time) farmers, but in our time with Junko Hashimoto, she also spoke with us about a related phenomenon, 半農半X (“Half-Farmer, Half-X”). The X in “Half-X” refers to an individual’s profession or natural calling, and the basic idea is that a practitioner of this sort of  “lifestyle with a touch of farming,” grows food for his/her family while spending any remaining time pursuing X. Farming and pursuing the “X” at the same time allows the “Half-Farmer, Half-X”to find synergy that enhances the work product or social mission.  The concept has been gaining speed in Japan, and according to Hashimoto, many of her neighbors are younger people in their 30s and 40s who left big cities and formal office settings to find a more balanced, peaceful life in Toyama. Junko Hashimoto made a similar move over 20 years ago, when she left her job as a social worker in bustling Tokyo to live a more eco-friendly and less frantic life in the mountains of Toyama. Now an expert on most matters related to agri-business and energy-sustainability, she often gives lectures on related topics at seminars and conferences. So, even while a full-time farmer with a thriving business, she still finds time to pursue “X” by sharing her knowledge and experience, working with local non-profit organizations on education and cultural programming, and training young farmers at Doyuunou Farm.


Normally, I carry around my electronic dictionary on these trips and note new words or phrases we learn in our conversations with farmers and new friends. On this trip, in several conversations, the same word kept popping up in different contexts, mentioned by different people. More than I would have expected, people we met in Toyama, not just at Happy Moss or at Doyuunou Farm, but in other contexts as well, discussed how Toyama, its farmers, and its people, are trying to adapt their lifestyles and work styles to a more environmentally-friendly, balanced, and fulfilling model. A good example of this is Toyama City’s efforts to become a model for tourism and industry by creating a clean energy monorail and a free bicycle rental system, so that city dwellers do not have to depend on cars to get around. Hayashi-san mentioned that he constantly experiments with moss so that he can adapt his farming to meet Toyama’s ever-changing weather patterns. Junko Hashimoto also talked frequently about adapting aspects of her farm and business to take better advantage of changes in her community and the mountain environment where she lives. So, to celebrate the small tweaks and changes that folks across Toyama are making to promote positive change, this trip’s kanji is [馴染む] najimu, which means “to adapt oneself and grow used to”.

Posted in eggs/poultry, energy efficient farming, Farm stay, Farm visit, innovative agriculture, moss, organic produce | 2 Comments

Gifu Prefecture- 岐阜県

Gifu Prefecture

Place: Hida Furukawa and Takayama, Gifu Prefecture


Hosts: Special thanks to the Satoyama Expreience

Duration: March 24-25, 2012

Impressions of the Journey:

Thanks to the Satoyama Experience, we were able to spend a weekend in mountainous Gifu prefecture.  In Gifu we had the opportunity to interview Hajime Jimmy Tanaka, who runs a 400 cow cattle farm and produces the high-quality “Hida Gyu” beef that Gifu is famous for.

We left Tokyo early Saturday morning by bus, crossing the beautiful, fruit-producing regions of Yamanashi and Nagano in order to reach Hida Furakawa just after noon.  Hida turned out to be a quaint, quiet town with canals and old japanese architecture located in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. We traipsed around in the snow, taking in a photography exhibit and chatting with a few locals in the afternoon.  In the evening, we sat down together with Mr. Tanaka to enjoy a beautiful and delicious dinner (pictured above) made of locally produced Hida specialties.  These included hoba miso, a dish in which locally produced miso and vegetables are placed on a sun-dried Hoba leaf and grilled on a charcoal fire.

During our chat with Mr. Tanaka over dinner we learned that the Japanese beef industry, and Japanese beef (wagyu), are very different from their western counterparts. Japanese livestock farms, like their veggie counterparts, are typically much smaller in scale than cattle farms in the United States. As a luxury item, great care is taken in the preparation of Japanese beef.  While Japan’s Kobe beef is known worldwide, there are several types of wagyu, including Mie prefecture’s Matsuzaka beef and Gifu prefecture’s Hida beef. According to Mr. Tanaka, while the three types differ in name based on where they are produced, the actual beef is more or less the same since the cows used to produce the meat are all descended from the same original group of cows. Good wagyu was once described to us as “beef you can eat with a spoon”. Whether or not this sounds appealing, wagyu is certainly fattier, softer, and more expensive than beef produced overseas.

Hajime “Jimmy” Tanaka runs a Hida beef farm with 400 cows in Hida Furukawa. The cows are bred exclusively for their meat, and in order to enhance the flavor of the meat, the cows live a stress-free life indoors and get almost no exercise. Farmers have different methods for producing especially fatty meat.  Some of the more famous ones include massaging cows with sake, feeding the cows alcoholic beverages, etc.  Tanaka does not employ these methods, but they are not fictitious. Once a week a beef auction is held in Hida Furukawa, where restaurant owners from Nagoya, Tokyo, and other Japanese cities bid on 800 kilogram or so cow carcasses or live cows.

During a one-year agricultural exchange program to North Dakota, Mr. Tanaka worked on a 5000 acre cattle farm. In response to our question about differences between how Japanese and American farmers think about and treat their livestock, he said that in America people are more aware that when meat is eaten it means that someone had to kill an animal. This connection tends to be more hidden in Japan.  He believes that farmers’ attitudes about livestock vary from individual to individual, but Japanese and American ideas about the value of life and death are different, perhaps due to the influence of different systems of belief and/or religion.

Tanaka made an important distinction when we discussed Japanese agriculturists’ ideas about liberalizing trade that I would like to highlight here. He mentioned that farmers who are most strongly opposed to Japan’s involvement in the Trans-pacific Partnership (TPP) are the kengyou farmers – those who farm only part-time and generally farm for household use. Some of these individuals fear that they will lose their government subsidies if trade is liberalized, and since they are not farming for commercial purposes, they do not stand to benefit from improved market access or the other opportunities the change might present. Sengyou farmers – those who farm full time – are of mixed opinions, but Mr. Tanaka said that he and his colleagues in Hida recently had a discussion about it and decided that they we in favor of TPP because it would open up new opportunities in international markets.

The ratio of part-time farmers in Japan has been steadily rising over the past thirty years or more, and in Hida and its surrounding area alone, there are over 4100 part-time farmers but only about 900 full-time farmers. More people being involved in agriculture may raise Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate, but it also renders the nation’s agricultural community and its interests much more complicated and nuanced.


As we will likely delve into differences between full-time and part-time farmers more in the future, this is a good opportunity to deconstruct the two terms presented above, sengyou farmers and kengyou farmers. Kengyou [兼業] means “second business”, with the “ken” character referring to something that is happening concurrently. Sengyou [専業]means “principal occupation”, with the “sen” character referring to a specialty. The kanji are pretty straight forward.  So is the distinction between the two groups, but it seems nonetheless that they are often lumped in together and represented as having the same interests, when in fact they do not.

Posted in Beef, Gifu Prefecture, government and agriculture | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

“47 Flicks” Niigata Prefecture Movie– “47映画ーー新潟県”

As promised, here is our second “47 Flicks” feature, a short glimpse of our trip to Niigata City and Sado Island. Please let us know what you think!


Posted in Farm visit, Fermented Foods, festival, Film, Niigata, organic produce, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Niigata Prefecture- 新潟県


Niigata Prefecture 新潟県

Location: Niigata City, Niigata and various locations on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture
Duration of Stay: 3 days, 2 nights. March 18-20, 2012
Impressions of the Trip:
Along with about 15 others from the International Terakoya Chiiki Producer class we have been participating in for the past two months, we traveled to Niigata Prefecture`s Niigata City and Sado Island.  Our goal was to experience the local color and make recommendations to Niigata`s tourism board about how to attract more tourists and impart to them a lasting impression of the area`s values and local culture. It was an evocative and action-packed few days.
Our first day in Niigata City coincided with “Sake no Jin,” the prefecture`s annual two-day sake (rice wine) festival. This year, 94 of Niigata`s 98 sake breweries participated in the festival, and over 50,000 people attended each day. Last year`s “Sake no Jin” was canceled due to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan`s Tohoku region, but this year`s festival activity was thriving and impressive. Please stay tuned to our upcoming “47 Flicks” release for a glimpse of the event, which involved unlimited sake tasting for the price of a 2,000 yen (approximately USD$23) ticket.
Prior to attending “Sake no Jin”, we heard a fascinating lecture by John Gautner, a sake expert who offered some excellent background on sake production and tips on how to enjoy and evaluate sake. We learned that Japan`s 47 prefectures are home to 1300 sake breweries.  Hyogo prefecture tops the charts with 100 sake breweries and Japan`s highest sake production. While Niigata ranks second in terms of number of breweries, it ranks third after Hyogo and Kyoto in actual sake production, since many Niigata breweries are quite small. Only 1.7% of Japan’s sake is exported so few non-japanese have much experience with sake. Perhaps for this reason, we found that attending  “Sake no Jin” and seeing the diversity and number of sake products on offer here was a real eye-opener.
The rice used to produce sake is two to three times more expensive than regular rice, and the price and quality of the sake is at least in part determined by how much the individual grains of rice are milled.  Milling is a process that grinds down and eliminates the protein and fat-filled exterior of the grain, exposing the sugary center. One of the primary reasons Niigata is famous for sake is because Niigata’s rice is widely considered to be some of the best rice in Japan.
On our first evening in Niigata, we had the pleasure of chatting with Murahashi-san, one of Niigata`s most distinguished farmers, who, among other endeavors, has succeeded in growing organic rice. We asked Murahashi-san for his thoughts on Japan`s current deliberations over whether or not to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he told us that he was opposed on the basis that Japan`s small farms would not be able to compete in an international free-trade arena. On the other hand, Murahashi-san pointed out that many of the challenges faced by Japanese agriculture have less to do with the possibility of trade liberalization and more to do with other political, social, and demographic challenges Japan is grappling with.  While I am tempted to tease out some aspects of this discussion in greater detail here, we did not record our discussion with Murahashi-san, which was held in a very noisy room, over the last of many rounds of sake, and I don`t want to misquote or misinterpret anything that was said. Suffice to say, we concluded that Japan and the U.S. each have some very specific cultural attitudes toward farming and competition, and that compromises will have to be made on both sides, but that the TPP is perhaps a good idea over all.
We awoke early on our second day to take a morning walk around a beautiful, 4 hectare farm and wild bird reserve.  Guided by Miyawa-san, a Niigata farmer, we learned about some 220 varieties of migratory birds and over 500 varieties of plant life growing in the area. Against the backdrop of Niigata`s snow-capped mountains, it was a gorgeous setting. Niigata`s name means “new lagoon”, and in fact, we walked by several lagoons, each housing its own flock of wild birds, which also flock to the rice fields nearby to eat fallen grains. In one of the photos above a rice field with a popular anime character planted into it can be seen. The birds also did some decorating, leaving impressive poop patterns all over the fresh snow.
After an inspiring, if freezing, walk, we joined Miyawa-san and a few other farmers from the area at his house for a breakfast of rice, home-grown raw eggs, pickled bitter gourd, miso soup, and soybeans. While eating, we heard a fascinating talk from a local organic tea producer about his products and tea in general.  Tea is Japan`s leading organic crop, and compared to many other products in Japan, it enjoys a wide international distribution. After last year`s Fukushima reactor melt-through, farmers in several tea-producing prefectures in Japan had their products banned from sale/shipping because the tea leaves had absorbed cesium and exceeded the 500 bql radiation limit set by the Japanese government. We learned that tea leaves were given the same radiation limit as green, leafy vegetables, which some believe is unfair since an individual consumes only a small amount of tea (in grams) compared to one serving of green, leafy vegetables.
After breakfast we took a one-hour jet foil trip out to Sado Island, home to a former penal colony, gold mine, and Japan`s tradition of kodo, a taiko drumming community that spends much of the year on tour abroad doing performances and the rest immersed in intensive, austere training on the island. We had the opportunity to do a fun drumming workshop with one of the kodo players, and learned from some representatives of the kodo training facility that most of the kodo students and performers are not originally from Sado Island, but come there from other parts of Japan and, occasionally, from abroad. As with much of Japan, Sado Island is contending with an aging population.  According to a tourism official, only about 10% of the Island`s youth stay after graduating from high school. Without a university or thriving industry, young people who stay on Sado do not have much in the way of employment prospects. Interestingly, since many on Sado make their livelihood through fishing or farming, there is an active bartering culture. Some residents are thus able to get by with very little money. While on Sado, we had the occasion to stop by a local sakagura, or sake brewery, where we met a 31-year old apprentice who shared his life story with us. Originally from the Tokyo area, he came to Sado after high school for two years of kodo training, after which he traveled abroad and worked odd jobs before returning to Sado to work with sake and pursue other personal projects. He mentioned that his current lifestyle in Sado is possible mainly because of the connections he made as a kodo student, and that integrating into island life is not easy for outsiders who move to Sado without any connection to the community. This seemed like a paradox: on the one hand, Sado’s future seems seriously challenged by the lack of youth there, and the likely remedy would be a desire to welcome newcomers, particularly young people bringing skills, ideas, and a drive to revitalize the area with new businesses and innovative approaches to traditional industry. However, several people suggested during our brief time in Sado that there is a fear that outsiders will lead the island away from the traditional view of how things should be. Perhaps, in some ways, the case of Sado is a reflection of some of the lingering skepticism and fear around loosening Japan’s immigration policy, even when the country’s demographic and economic challenges are undeniably serious.
Niigata was a beautiful and fascinating place, with romantic landscapes and charming old architecture.  We look forward to keeping tabs on Sado’s evolving tourist industry – by visiting again, of course!
Since sake was a recurring theme on the trip, it seems appropriate to select a related term for this trip’s kanji. We learned that the traditional name for a chief sake brewer is toji, 杜氏, allegedly the name of the inventor of sake. The title of tōji was historically passed from one generation to the next, but today new tōji are either veteran brewery workers or are trained at special schools and universities.
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Chiba Prefectureー 千葉県


Chiba Prefecture 千葉県

Host: The Sakamoto Family

Location: Various locations in Chiba Prefecture

Duration: Day trip- March 4, 2012

Impressions of the Trip:
We spent a blustery Sunday last week on a road trip with our favorite neighbors, the Sakamotos. We set off in the early morning from Yokohama, driving first across Tokyo Bay through the Tokyo Bay Aqualine Tunnel, the world’s 4th longest underwater tunnel, connecting Kanagawa Prefecture and Chiba Prefecture. An  artificial island called Umi Hotaru, “sea firefly”, doubles as a rest area across the bridge, and we took advantage of the vista point to catch some great views of Tokyo. On a clear day, Mt. Fuji is also clearly visible. At the rest area, there were a number of outdoor sculpture exhibits. Perhaps the most interesting was part of a drill blade used to cut the tunnel. As you can see from the picture above, it was huge!

After driving further into Chiba, we made two noteworthy stops before hitting an onsen. First, though, a few notes on Chiba agriculture. The prefecture has notable spots that are well known for producing high quality peanuts and watermelon,  but the prefecture is better known as a bedroom community of Tokyo and home to Narita International Airport. Because our first attempt to uncover Chiba’s great mysteries and hidden gems was somewhat thwarted by the cold weather and the short trip, we plan to follow up with more from Chiba when we return at the end of June to run the Tomisato Watermelon Marathon, perhaps the only road race where participants are expected to stop midway to eat a watermelon before continuing.

Anyhow, one of our stops was at a pick-your-own flower farm, the first we have been to in Japan. This particular farm specialized in poppies and snapdragons, and consisted of several greenhouses cram-packed with fragrant flowers. Flower picking seems to be especially popular with kids below the age of ten, and we saw several young families walk out of the greenhouses with stunning bouquets. The poppy greenhouse looked like something out of Willy Wonka’s factory, with vibrantly colored flowers of  all sizes and colors. Visitors were each given a scissors and instructions on how to cut each type of flower, and then were free to explore by themselves. Each flower cost between 80-100 yen, roughly a dollar and change, so it worked out to be a pretty good deal as well.

Our other stop was Banya, a well known spot for fresh seafood in southern Chiba’s Boso Peninsula region. Not your typical Japanese restaurant, Banya consisted of several diner-like buildings strewn across a dock in front of Tokyo Bay. While waiting for our table, we watched fishermen working on the dock and played with a tank full of live nameko, or sea cucumbers. Sakamotosan ordered a nameko appetizer to introduce us to nature’s most phlegmatic of meats, and while is wasn’t as horrid as it looked, It was hard not to feel a pang of regret after having seen the live cucumbers only moments earlier. Conversely, the Banya sushi, particularly the fatty tuna, was amazing.


As it happens, our trip happened just before the annual “awakening of the insects”,which happens every year on March 6. Japan’s insects, particularly its cicadas and mosquitos, are loud and energetic, but typically a summer phenomenon. Now that it is officially spring, these insects are once again done with hibernation and ready to rumble. Thus, the kanji for this trip is 啓蟄、the awakening of the insects.

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47 Japanese Farms Progress Map – 47日本の農園の地図

The map below shows the prefectures we have already visited, marked in green. We still have quite a way to go!下の地図のみどりな部分をみったら、これまでやっていた県についての情報が伝われました。

The 47 Japanese Farms Progress Map. Areas marked in green have already been completed. がんばりましょう!2015年までに、すべての都道府県へ行き、地元の農業について書こうと思っています。

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