Friday, April 27, 2012

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: April 28th and April 29th

Staff at Koenji's little monthly market happy and smiling despite a chillly day!















The month rounds out with the Gyre Market and a handful of others to keep us in good stead before May is arrives. Crops at the farm are almost all in and my garden should be steadily rolling along towards summer, too. Head on out to see what this middle season has to offer!

Gyre Market
Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in April
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in April
A recent first visit to this market was well worth the trip for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji.
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in April
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in April
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the 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!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Most Beautiful Thing

My garden this spring. Beautiful in a homely sort of way these days.















I've actually been thinking about this for a long time. And it was surprisingly hard to choose one most beautiful thing. Really, there are so many things - large and small, living and inanimate -  in my life that are beautiful, ranging from the tiny little bee I spotted in the calendula this morning to the blueberry blossoms on the patio to my rain-spattered violas. And then there are the people in my life, of course, beautiful in such a myriad of ways that it would be impossible to choose just one. (Although, surely, my husband will make a case for being at the top of the list.) In short, I realized as I mulled over this post inspired by Fiona Robyn over at Writing Our Way Home and her My Most Beautiful Thing Blogsplash, that I had enough most beautiful things to write about one every day for a month if not a year.

My final choice, of course, will be no surprise: my garden. Imperfect as it is at the moment (it is spring and it has recently been a bit neglected) it is without a doubt my most beautiful thing. The bright yellow blossoms on the haksai (Chinese cabbage) smell softly like honeysuckle, and the sight of so many bees and other friendly pollinators congregating there gives me pleasure beyond belief. The vivid red stems of the Swiss Chard glow with sunlight and I can almost taste Maan's soup as I gather a bundle to take home. The new leaves of the beans planted a little over a week ago harvest light in their little living solar panel way, and I look forward to seeing the orchid-like blossoms that come with summer's approach. The rhubarb stands tall and thick as it tries to get my attention near the blooming strawberry plants. "How about some jam?", they ask as I ponder my schedule and mentally tally the canning jars on the bottom shelf in the kitchen.

Below ground, too, is plenty to give me pleasure. The worms wriggling with shock at the sudden intrusion of sunlight as I planted seed potatoes (blue and pink varieties!) mean my soil is busy with life and that those nasty nematodes may be on their way out. The smell of the soil as I covered the potatoes over again and marked each spot with a broken off twig is equal to that of my mother's coffeecake on a Sunday morning for the happiness I feel at the first whiff. Both mean good things for the future that can be shared, and that's a source of pleasure all its own, too.

My garden in Japan is a joy, too, because of Takashi-san and C-chan, the farmers I work with and who let me carve a little growing space out of a corner of their fields. We work together at all hours over the course of the year in all seasons to plant, to harvest, to weed, and to prepare the fields for the next round. Tokyo is warm enough that the growing season simply never stops, so we carry on because the vegetables and the farm's faithful customers need us to. It's gratitude and happiness I feel to have such good companions and teachers.

Granted, my most beautiful thing doesn't fit in a drawer or pocket (although I seem to bring plenty of it home sometimes on trousers and gloves!), is always changing, and sometimes makes me want to pull out my hair, it is undoubtedly what I love best.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: April 21st and April 22nd


Markets are a wee bit sparse this weekend, but perhaps that simply means there's no excuse not to head out to the UN University Night Market at long last! Warm breezes and ever longer sunny days mean that summer is coming right along to serve up tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, and a full basket of other treats that will help us stay cool with pleasantly full tummies. And give some thought to potting up some of your own. Lots of vendors will have seedlings on hand this time of year, too! Balcony fresh blueberries, anyone?

Kichijoji Market
A terrific two days of seasonal vegetables, fruits, homemade treats, and even some fun activities for those whipper-snappers!
Saturday, April 21 and Sunday, April 22
10am to 5pm
Map

Every Saturday and Sunday in April
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Saturday, April 21
A unique event in the heart of the city that a vegetable loving geek like me wouldn't miss for the world. What better way to get the healthy vitamins and minerals you need to sustain an evening of karaoke and izakaya hopping?
8pm - ?

Every Saturday in April
A recent first visit to this market was well worth the trip for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji.
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in April
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in April
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the 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!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: April 14th and April 15th
















Surely if you didn't get enough cherry blossoms last weekend then this weekend ought to more than sate the appetite for pink flowers in trees. Early birds will want to head to Kichijoji for the farmer's market as well as to save themselves a prime spot under the blossoms. Folks heading to the Nippori market should take the time to visit Yanaka for a walk through the cemetery there for some spectacular blossom viewing as well. (Pick up some of those yummy manju to munch as you gaze upward into the pink haze...hmmm, now I have an idea for the weekend!) Regardless, get out there to soak up some spring blossoms, some good food, and do your bit for the local economy!

Photo Note: Pictured here are two employees of Aizu Wakamatsu commissioned by their city government to come down and help the farmers and producers selling at the Nippori Market. Ganbatte, Tohoku! 

Ebisu Market
Sunday, April 15
11am to 5pm
A nice sized market held on the terrace just in front of Ebisu Garden Place that will always be special to me for introducing me to dried natto and tea seedpods.

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, April 14 and Sunday, April 15
10am to 5pm
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. My first visit was wonderful despite cold temperatures and a smattering of rain. 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!

Saturday, April 14 and Sunday, April 15
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in April
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in April
A recent first visit to this market was well worth the trip for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji.
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in April
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in April
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the 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!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Back in the Garden

Early April, 2012 in my Tokyo garden.















A friend recently said that he thought some of my best writing was about gardening.

"It's when I really hear you," he said.

And for some time now I've not written much about the garden. The last year was intensely busy and the garden took a back seat. Truth be told the garden wasn't even in the back seat. It was in the trunk under an old blanket. I'd visit to harvest and then quickly leave. Spending more time than that meant thinking about chores I didn't have time to do, plants that were neglected, things I didn't have time to buy. Rather than a joy it became a sorrow to be there, and it seemed best to hurry away.

This year I'm still busy, but marginally less so. I'm making room for the garden again. And for marmalade. And reading. I need that dirt under my fingernails (and subsequently a new nail brush) and a few good rounds of weeding to bring me back around to the physical and metaphorical space I want to be in again.

So back in the garden I am with camera, notebook, pen, dirty fingers, and knees. Weeds and birds are all around this breezy spring afternoon, and I'm more than pleased to see the praying mantis egg cases in the mint and bamboo canes. Those damned aphids are back, too, but a good round of squishing paired with harvesting of my kale for ourselves and friends ought to improve air circulation and set them back a bit. A handful of winter greens - komatsuna, karashina, and mizuna - are flowering as usual, but the scent is thick and sweet and the yellow blooms bring in little pollinators for a feast I'm happy to provide. The mint and bergamont are running away with the show, and I've just managed to free one of the emerging rhubarb plants from their grip. Tulips stand at the ready with buds ready to burst into color at the first chance while crocus leaves gather fuel for next year nearby.

The tatami mats are decaying pleasantly in place, and I'm already plotting what little gift to take over to the master this year for a fresh round. Some of those broccoli side shoots with a few sprigs of lavender or mint? The lasanga bed remains unattractive and I feel a bit unsure of the wisdom of creating it although the garlic looks happy and the worms I saw earlier seem a testament to its soil-building ability. Although, as I work along I can hear a passerby comment that they don't know what it's all about. I've learned the blessing and the curse of urban gardening and farming is the audience. As much a part of my garden as the praying mantis, stray cats, aphids, birds, butterflies, and the occasional lizard, the public is there. I try to think of them as good language practice even if I don't always like what they have to say.

The afternoon light shifts to orange and the shadows grow long. I look up to see the full moon rising over the buildings lining the station street a block away, and I hear the five o'clock bell toll. There's lots of work to be done yet, and I know as I pack my tools away in one bike basket and a small harvest in the other that I'm already behind. The beans aren't in and if I'm going to plant those blue potatoes I bought at the Nippori Farmer's Market I'd best get busy. The compost bins need to be turned, a bed cleared and prepped for the popcorn, and the tomato seedlings need to come back in for the night.  But it's alright. It feels manageable. It feels good to be back.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: April 7th and April 8th


Nippori market vendor selling colorful and scrumptious potatoes!















Visitors to farmer's markets this weekend will be greeted by the first rush of cherry blossoms this year. After a storm to beat all storms on Tuesday evening, a trip to a farmer's market with a sighting or two of some of those spring lovelies ought to reset the balance a bit. Hit up SUN Grocery in Shinjuku for some treats and then head on over to Shinjuku Goyen! And don't forget, if you know of a market large or small drop me a note and we'll get it on the calendar lickity split!

SUN Grocery in Shinjuku
Saturday, April 7
11am to 3pm
A once-a-month outreach effort by the students running a neighborhood grocery featuring fruits and vegetables from independent farmers.
Every Saturday and Sunday in April
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in April
A recent first visit to this market was well worth the trip for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji.
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in April
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in April
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the 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!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kogane-ya: Savor Local Flavor and Support Local Economy


Kogane-ya store front, late afternoon.
 One of my firmest beliefs is that food and farming possess real potential as economic engines. Readers of this blog won't be surprised to see that nor will they be surprised to learn that the group I see as a positive force for the future are small farmers and producers. Small farmers and farmer's markets offer up jobs and economic stability along with tables full of seasonal fruit, vegetables, and locally produced goods. Small farmers and producers are invested in their community because the community is their home as well as their customers. By supporting them I'm helping keep jobs in my community, good land growing food I get to eat, and getting to know a new recipe or two. 



Businesses represented at Kogane-ya.
All of this brings me to Kogane-ya. An unassuming little shop on the south side of Higashi-Kogane station, the name literally translates as "Kogane store." Initially drawn there one evening by the warmly lit interior and a lovely display of vegetables out front, I ventured in to warm up and take a closer look. Inside was what at first glance felt like a rather haphazard selection of items – senbei, tea, loaves of bread, a selection of soaps, soba and udon noodles, ceramics, and eggs – until our chat with the man behind the counter revealed we were in an antenna shop.

An antenna shop  in its usual form features products and produce from a particular prefecture. Every item for sale is made or produced in the prefecture in question, and often a small cafe on site serves up a selection of local dishes again made with local ingredients. Visitors can find everything from Hokkaido cheese to Miyazaki's tropical fruits to Okinawaan shochu to share as a special gift or simple sample for themselves.

Kogane-ya does this exact same thing, but showcases instead good and products from this little Tokyo suburb located roughly forty minutes west of Shinjuku. Nearly 70 local businesses, including 11 farms, are represented on shelves well-stocked with everything from the previously mentioned items to locally made meats, rice, desserts, honey and jam. Throw in some jewelry, and a variety of other handicrafts and some good gift shopping can be accomplished while picking up groceries. Hungry? Settle in at one of the many tables in the sunny upstairs cafe to enjoy a cup of coffee, one of the daily lunch specials and watch people flow by on the street below.

Kogane-ya
Hours: 10am to 8pm
closed one day a month from inventory
Directions: A five minute walk from the south exit of Higashi-Kogane Station, look for a small wooden store on the left across from the convenience store.

Want to see more antenna shops? Check out these posts at FoodSakeTokyo and head on out!