Skip to main content

Tochi in the Attic

Fourth in a series about our adventures in Nagano Prefecture with One Life Japan.

After thatching in Koakazawa we stopped at a woodworking studio in Oakazawa, a larger village a little further down the valley. A dozen or so gnarled and bumpy trunks of tochis (the Japanese Horse Chestnut, Aesculpus turbinata) stood sentry around the building and parking lot. The largest and oldest of these was reportedly 750 years old, and required about four of us stretching to our utmost to give it a good hug.

Valued both for their nuts as well as the wood, these woodland giants are often tucked away along wooded stream and river beds in lower mountain areas, making it a challenge to harvest. According to one of the carvers, close examination of a local road map can show where a great tochi once stood. As construction moved along someone spotted a tochi they wanted, and the road subsequently swung through that spot.

The carver showed us a recent creation - a table - made from a piece of tochi trunk cut lengthwise. The wood absolutely flowed with light - palest gold to chocolate - under our hands. Glimpses of the original tree remained in soft bumps of bark here and there on the edge, and in the crackle of grain where a burl formed on the outside.

The tochi seed, closely resembling its American buckeye cousin, is no easy nut to crack. Once gathered they require a fairly long processing period - about a month - to remove the bitter flavoring and loosen the shell before grinding can begin. A shortage of wood ash as people transitioned away from the traditional open hearth home along with the availability of easier to process and store foods marked the decline in the preparation of this traditional food. (We saw it most often in the form of tochimochis - rice "cakes" filled with tochi meat or a half rice half tochi rectangle grilled to perfection and eaten with soy sauce.) Now an aging population of tochi experts is taking with them knowledge of this traditional and natural food source.


One Life said…
Wow, great link about the Tochi at the end of your post there. Thanks! It even mentions Sakae Mura on the map as one of the last places.
Kevin said…
Just for people who don't read the link, the name of popcorn's post comes from the fact that tochi chestnuts last forever (they have found some from many centuries ago that are as good as new) People used to store them up in the years when the trees produces lots of seeds (it doesn't happen every year) and keep them in case of emergency, hence, as is stated in the article,

" Even today, reserves of food for times of disaster are referred to as “the tochi in the attic."
Kevin, Thanks so much for clarifying and for reading. This post was a little tricky to write, but I really enjoyed learning about the tochi. We learned so much on our trip with you (both times) I feel like I've got blog posts for a year. Hopefully, I write them faster than that, of course...
Martin J Frid said…
Wow, great post. I'm learning a lot from your blog ;)

I wrote about chestnut trees on Treehugger a while ago, and found the following poem:

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - The Village Blacksmith

Popular posts from this blog

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 unti

Satoimo: One of Japan's Favorite Slimy Things

Satoimo in all their hairy glory. This post first appeared in slightly different form on Garden to Table as part of the 2012  Blogathon . The website has since moved on to the ether, but the post is still a good one. After all, people here are still eating satoimo on a daily basis, and many others are just seeing these little potato-like objects for the first time. Enjoy! Satoimo is one of Japan's odder vegetables. Under it's rough, slightly furry skin is white flesh that is a little bit slimy even raw, and with a gentle nutty flavor.* Baked, grilled, steamed with dashi, or deep-fried satoimo stands well on its own or paired up with other vegetables and meats in a wide variety of soups and stews . (The leaves are also edible.) Satoimo stores well, and like any root crop worth the effort, stocks are just running low on this household favorite as the farmers in my area of Tokyo get ready to put a new crop in the ground in May. I cannot say I was a fan of this l

Goma Ai Shingiku - Sesame and Chrysanthemum Greens

Last week I had the pleasure of helping some friends work in their parents garden not too far away. Tucked behind the house, the garden sits on a former house lot. When it came up for sale about five years ago, my friend's father jumped at the chance. Open land in Tokyo can be hard to find and expensive, but for a retired professional looking for a little spot to till in the city it was an opportunity to good to pass up. Now, it is a garden to envy. As we came through the gate rose, lily, and peony blooms greeted us with great shouts of color while rows of vegetables stood tidily at attention on the sunny center stage. Small fruit trees along with one of the biggest sansho trees I've seen yet stood quietly here and there. Near waist-high sweet corn, bushy young potato plants, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, and beans were preparing their summer fruits, while a handful of still quite luscious looking winter vegetables like komatsuna, mizuna, and kabu held one last ro