Monday, December 5, 2016

Shimane Prefecture: My Latest Travel Piece Exploring Japan

Matsue Castle in Shimane Prefecture.
A recent trip to Shimane Prefecture on Japan's western side proved to be one of the most fascinating experiences yet. These trips are never long enough, and I'm always left wishing I had just one more day or a little more time to see just one more thing, ask one more question, hear one more story. Shimane was no exception. A remarkable little corner of Japan steeped in history and tradition, legend weaves itself through history and daily life. Read my article for the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and then head off to discover it for yourself.

Friday, December 2, 2016

December Farmers Markets in the Tokyo and Yokohama Regions

Atsu Suzuki from Nice Time Farming at the Nagoya Organic Farmers Market.
Winter may be arriving in fits and starts, but the fields are pouring forth some of the best produce yet. Look for rice harvested this fall along with daizu (soy beans) in all colors, shapes, and flavors, as well as vibrant winter greens and the first wave of sunny citrus. Holiday shopping, it should be noted, is made easy with a visit to any of these markets. Presents or simply stocking the cupboard will be a delight!

Market of the Sun
Saturday, December 10th and Sunday, December 11th
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets at two years old, Market of the Sun (a.k.a. Taiyo Marche), professes to be one of the largest. A short walk from Tsukiji Market and its wonderful surrounds, this market is worth a visit for its lovely selection of foodly and crafty items that rivals the goodies found at the UNU Market.
10am to 4pm
Step out of Kachidoke Station at Exits A4a or A4b and look for the tents.

Kichijoji Harmonica Yokocho Asaichi
Sunday, December 18th
Early birds on Tokyo's west side should count themselves lucky to find this little market in the warren of shops just north of the station. While fruits and veg are a bit lacking, the market is big on craftsmen and women doing interesting work, excellent baked goods, miso, rice, and other tasty treats. It's worth noting that a number of places offer breakfast deals in the market!
7am - 10am

Koenji Farmers Market
Saturday, December 17th
Spotted a handful of years ago while riding the Chuo Line, this little market is still going strong. A circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre marks the spot where friendly folks with good food and interesting stories await.
11am - 5pm
Map

Nippori Farmers Market
Saturday, December 17th and Sunday, December 18th
This charming market in the heart of old Tokyo abounds with a sense of community and friendliness as well as good food. Small but lively, particularly on Saturday, it features a monthly geographical theme although regular vendors include Tohoku growers and some of the best steamed manju in the world.
No map, but just head out the East Exit and look for the green awnings
10am to 5pm

Yokohama Kitanaka Marche
Saturday, December 17th and Sunday, December 18th
One of the best markets going in the Yokohama area, and it's perhaps no coincidence that they are only moments away from Baird Beer's Bashamichi Taproom. Started by the same folks who created the Market of the Sun, the Kitanaka Marche to be growing steadily with tasty offerings of fresh seasonal veg, fruit, baked goods and preserves. Read my other review over at Outdoor Japan's Traveler Magazine for the full scoop.
10am to 4pm
Bashamichi Station, Exit 2*
Note that the market has moved, so come out of the station, turn right, and take the next right turn. Keep walking past the construction site and keep an eye out for the white tents running along next to the river.

Oiso Farmers Market
Sunday, December 18th
This little gem of a community shindig is one of the best things going outside of the Earth Day Market. Started a handful of years ago, it blossomed into a full-on monthly festival that just happens to feature Shonan area produce in its fresh, seasonal form as well as pickled, dried, and prepared-hot-in-a-bowl varieties. In summer, it transforms into a night market, while year-round a much smaller version takes place every Saturday. Lee's Bread alone is worth the journey. Read my full review at Outdoor Japan's Traveler Magazine.
10am to 3pm

Every Saturday
10am to 12pm
Oiso Port Building

Earth Day Market
Sunday, December 4th
I could wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming and global food security. However, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing. Come find some good food and fun!
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine
Map

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
A small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in yet another former capital city, the Kamakura Market is a treasure. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal-infused bread while you're there.
7am until sold out
Map

Every Sunday
Ebisu Market management are going all-out this month and hosting a market every Sunday. They've been recruiting more staff and hunting up vendors, so head on out to be part of the action. A recent visit showed this always lovely market remains charming as ever with an excellent selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables, scrumptious looking snacks, and crafty items. I'd also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen when you're done for some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm

Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and all the other fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, too, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)

Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Gardening Beyond the Election

Pea shoots and onions in November.

I wrote the other day that I was as prepared for a negative result from this election as I was for my beet seeds not to sprout. I was mistaken. On some very deep level that I was not aware of, I was prepared for neither outcome.

I am sorry to report that the beet seeds have not yet appeared, which has me worried that my dreams of beet pickles won't come true. They are a taste of home that I love - earthy, rich, and a little bit spicy - but I may have to plant again. I suspect the caterpillar I spotted the other day while watering feasted his way along the rows, working in the coziness of sun-warmed soil. I am working on a solution even as I remain a little bit hopeful.

While I'm not a fan of said caterpillar just now, I know need to understand who he is and why he's there. I'm not angry at the caterpillar, but I am disgusted with a common system for dealing with him. "Just spray," says one of my fellow gardeners, and I say no.

"I'd rather try something else," I reply, and she nods perhaps a bit skeptically. I promise to tell her what I learn.

The caterpillar is there for a reason that I must discover and understand. Ignoring him or blasting him with a chemical does more harm than good to my soil, me, and the other creatures that help me garden. Ultimately, it only makes the caterpillar's offspring stronger. I need to figure out why he is there, what he is doing, and how to work with him. I need to find a way to balance his presence with the presence of others. I don't want to destroy everything because of one hungry critter in my soil.

At the moment, I do other necessary things and think. I weed, work on building up the soil in another part of the garden in preparation for the red onions that will go in the ground on Sunday. I harvest some winter greens, enjoy the sight of the first pea shoots breaking through the soil, prepare the potato bed for February planting, and think about how best to be ready for summer. I map out where the popcorn and tomatoes will go as well as the zucchini, beans, peppers and squash.

Similarly, I was not fully prepared for the result of this election. I could not imagine that so many people would choose the way they did. I wept that day and have each day since, because my vision of a better America, and even of America itself, feels far away. Unlike the garden, though, I'm watching things unravel at home in a steady and horrible way. Like my garden, I am looking for a solution even as I strive to remain hopeful.

Like my garden and my soil, this situation is my responsibility. It is my duty at this time to find a way forward that respects others and protects the integrity of each member of my community. Mostly, I try not to despair as my heart breaks, and I feel my own anger rise. I do not want to entirely give up on my country. There are things about my home I never knew I held dear beyond my family and friends. I am proud of our imperfect history and of many things that are American. I do not want to turn away entirely, even though there are moments when I think it might be a good idea. However, that is another form of despair, and despair leads to inaction or to anger and regrettable action. None of this is helpful.

It's clear to me that we have damaged each other enough, but I don't think it's over yet. I know that we need to come together and collaborate, but I'm still grieving and angry. Soon, though, I need to put that energy to good use finding a way forward. It's up to me to help with that, because I didn't do enough before. I wasn't paying enough attention to what was all around me when I visited home, what I heard again and again from both sides. I know, too, that there are no guarantees. I also know I will find people so entrenched in their beliefs that they will be more obstacle than aid. However, if I don't try, I am casting my vote for destruction. There is still a chance. I don't want to make the same mistake again.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Hadano Early Winter Garden Update and Ramble

Living mulch of volunteer kales and norabo between cabbage plants.
A new season is well underway despite unseasonably warm temperatures. I just removed the rogue eggplant (planted by a friendly neighbor gardener without my knowledge), which means nearly all of the summer vegetables are gone. It seemed a good time to offer an update on the garden.

The cabbage and broccoli seedlings are lifting the row cover up some, and soon I'll have to remove it. Under their broad leaves an assortment of kales and norabo spread a green carpet that I harvest almost daily. I'd laid the dried stems from this past season's plants on the soil and let them compost. This was exactly what I had hoped for: a living, edible mulch pretty as a picture. The leaves are well nibbled by other creatures, but I'm happy to share a little.

A nice volunteer crop of parsley has sprung up where I again laid the dried stems from a spent plant. It has popped up in a few other places, too, and those that jumped my bamboo fence have been brought back into the fold.

The second round of chioggia beets in well-sprouted, so I added two rows of a long cylindrical beet at the east end of the broccoli. Why not? The worst that happens is they do not sprout or are eaten by the furry caterpillar that emerged when I watered them. The best, of course, is a round of delectable beets on my table in the next few months.

I was inspired by an older couple out in their garden the other night. She passed him pea seedlings pot by pot as the sky turned pink and watched as he carefully set them in the soil.  I then dug out a bag of purple podded peas I got while on our Shimanami Kaido trip. The seeds are a couple of years old and have been imperfectly stored at best, but I am optimistic. The other peas I planted may be preparing to sprout, but it has been two weeks and there is little sign of them. Just like this election, though, I am hopeful but prepared for the worst.

The cosmos and straw flowers are blooming nicely. Cosmos in Japan are a signature autumn flower, and so I planted two because they remind me of home. I think of my mother's garden and my own Michigan garden, both far away in time, place and memory. However, those wide happy blossoms never fail to raise my spirits.

Straw flowers have, I believe, no particular significance here, but they are happy and bright. Too often, I think, gardeners and farmers forget that joy is integral to our work. We take satisfaction in the plentiful harvest, tidy rows, and well-laid plans, but it is just as important to remind ourselves of the inherent beauty we cultivate and are capable of crafting together with Mother Nature. I need to grow things that are pleasing to the eye and refreshing to the soul. They are like a tiny oasis for my heart in a place that already feeds me in multiple ways.

Friday, November 4, 2016

November Farmers Markets in Tokyo and Yokohama Regions

Tohoku and Kumamoto supporters at the Kichijoji Harmonica Yokocho Asaichi!

While Fuji-san sports an early winter coat, the rest of the world is savoring the sight of bright orange kaki (persimmon) for drying or for straight-up-off-the-tree-nibbling. New rice is in from the fields, and sake is brewing away, too. It's time for steaming nabe and dreams of dark, leafy greens waving from the fields. It is, in short, the beginning of a glorious season here. Don't miss a bite of it!

Saturday, November 12th and Sunday, November 13th
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets at two years old, Market of the Sun professes to be one of the largest, and this month looks to be all about the grape. A short walk from Tsukiji Market and its wonderful surrounds, it's worth a stop for a selection of foodly and crafty items that rivals that at the UNU Market.
10am to 4pm
No map, but step out of Kachidoke Station at Exits A4a or A4b

Kichijoji Harmonica Yokocho Asaichi
Sunday, November 20th
Early birds on Tokyo's west side should count themselves lucky to find this little market in the warren of shops just north of the station. While fruits and veg are a bit lacking, the market is big on craftsmen and women doing interesting work, excellent baked goods, miso, rice, and other tasty treats. It's also worth noting that a number of places offer breakfast deals in the market!
7am - 10am

Saturday, November 19th
A market I spotted while riding the train a few years ago on a Saturday morning into the city center is still going strong. That circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre could only mean one thing! Sure enough, I found a small group of area growers and producers, and the bounty surely continues!
11am - 5pm

Saturday, November 19th and Sunday, November 20th
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. A small but lively market, particularly on Saturday, it is well worth the trip. Plus, Tohoku growers are on hand sharing their best-of-the-best, so come on out to be part of the recovery and get something good to eat.
No map, but just head out the east exit and look for the green awnings!
10am to 5pm

Saturday, November 19th and Sunday, November 20th
A brand new market opening this month in Yokohama that looks quite promising. Their Facebook page says the Market of the Sun folks decided to start it up, and it's definitely good. Read my review over in Outdoor Japan's Traveler Magazine!
10am to 4pm
Bashamichi Station, Exit 2


Sunday, November 16th
This little gem of a community shindig is one of the best things going outside of the Earth Day Market, and I don't say that lightly. A nice little community affair started a handful of years ago, it blossomed into a full-on monthly festival that just happens to feature Shonan area produce in its fresh, seasonal form as well as pickled, dried, and prepared-hot-in-a-bowl. In summer it turns into a night market, but in fall it will swing back to regular daylight hours. More than worth the trek down to see what's going on!
10am to 3pm
Oiso Port Building

Every Saturday
Oiso Port Building
10am - 12pm
Saturday, November 19th and Sunday, November 20th
**Inokashira Park in Kichijoji**
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming and global food security. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing. Come find some good food and fun and enjoy!
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!

Every day
A small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in yet another former capital city, the Kamakura Market is a small but wonderful venue. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal infused bread while you're there.
7am until sold out

Every Sunday
Ebisu Market management are going all-out this month and hosting a market every Sunday. They've been recruiting more staff and hunting up vendors, so head on out to be part of the action. A recent visit showed this always lovely market remains charming as ever with an excellent selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables, scrumptious looking snacks, and crafty items. I'd also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen when you're done for some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm

Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and all the other fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, too, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)

Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Weed Killing Without Chemicals

This swallowtail caterpillar is motivation to find chemical-free weeding methods.

I have mixed feelings about weeds and tend to use them as mulch or compost in the garden. However, there are plenty of other ways to deal with them, too.

Attainable Sustainable makes a number of great suggestions including mowing, smothering, making good use of chickens, and eating them (the weeds, not the chickens, necessarily) among others. You can read the full post here and my thoughts on purslane, the edible weed, here.

Joan Bailey writes about food, farming, and farmers markets with a little bit of travel thrown in for good measure. Get in touch to learn more about food in Japan or read some of her other work here.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Finding Heirloom Seeds in Japan

Drying pods of heirloom Hutterite Soup Beans.

Since moving to Japan eight years ago, one of my greatest challenges as a farmer-gardener has been to find heirloom or open-pollinated seeds. The majority of seeds available are not GMO (genetically modified organisms) as Japan, at this point, doesn't accept this material. Most seeds, though, are nearly all F1 varieties.

Heirloom and F1 Varieties
In plant breeding, F1 is the name given to the first generation of a cross between two true breeding parents. For example, if I decide to cross an Amish Paste Tomato with another heirloom variety tomato such as Emmy, in hopes of getting a gold paste tomato, the resulting generation of fruit is F1.

In order to get that tomato of my culinary dreams, I'll need to choose members of that first generation that are headed in a direction I like - early ripening, medium-sized fruit, good taste - and save their seeds. I'll plant them and repeat the process again and again over time until I get the one I want. (I will, of course, be eating my mistakes as I go, which isn't all bad.) The result is a vegetable that I like, that is tailored to my soil and climate, and that I can share with neighbors, friends, and even total strangers who also daydream about a golden paste tomato.

Today, though, F1 often stands for plants that are not the first generation of a cross between two true breeding parents, but rather somewhere further down the line from that original pair. Seeds saved from these F1 hybrids will not grow true. (Seed can be saved and eaten, but it just won't be the same as that first one. Patient gardeners can hack their way through the hybridization process to get something they might want. Those who want to try their hand at that should check out Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe.)

Open-pollinated or heirloom varieties, though, do grow true. If you plant, for example, an Amish Paste tomato, save the seeds, and plant them the next season, an Amish Paste tomato will grow. These varieties have survived and been passed down from generation to generation, literally from hand to hand, because they are reliable, taste good, store well, and are integral to local foodways.

Japanese Heirloom Seeds
Japanese heirloom seeds can be found in Japan through two main organizations. Tane no Mori specializes in organic seeds of traditional Japanese vegetables, but also European and American ones. This seed company is popular with a number of organic growers and producers. They also run a number of events and a monthly market near their home base in Saitama Prefecture.

The largest selection, though, is available from Noguchi Seeds. Also headquartered in Saitama Prefecture, Noguchi Seeds offers the widest selection of traditional varieties I have found yet. Many are Edo yasai (Edo vegetables) that were once common and even famous, but are now not well-known at all.

Other sources I use are asaichi (literally translated as morning market, these are traditional farmers markets) and western-style markets, michi-no-eki (roadside stands) and chokubaijo (vegetable stands). Many of the growers selling at these places continue to save their own seed and grow it. It's worth asking!

Joan Bailey writes about food, farming, and farmers markets with a little bit of travel thrown in for good measure. Get in touch to learn more about food in Japan or read some of her other work here.