Friday, July 27, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: July 28 and July 29


Hiroto Matsufuji at the July Earth Day Market!
Summer has officially arrived in Japan, and here in Tokyo it's really hot. I'm already day-dreaming about our upcoming trip to Hokkaido  and the resulting cooler temperatures. Meanwhile, I'll savor the heat-loving vegetables here in the middle of the country, distract myself by meeting some cool farmer-types, and do more than a little eating. See you out there!

Gyre Market
Saturday, July 28 and Sunday, July 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 July
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 July
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek 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 July
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 July
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, July 25, 2012

A Guide to Buying Food in Japan: Learn How to Not be Afraid

Wakame - big, green, and delicious!
As someone who regularly visits farmers markets here in Japan, eats at an inordinate number of local izakayas and ramen shops, and works at an organic farm in Tokyo, I meet any number of new foods on a regular basis. Sometimes, when presented with an object that looks entirely unfamiliar with a smell I normally associate with food gone bad (think of the oh-so-slimy and so-good-for-you fermented soy beans called natto) I shy away.

It's a natural instinct to be slightly afraid of what we don't know. After all, it is one of the ways species survive. If it's unknown, it might kill you or help you. How to decide?

Carolyn R. Krouse's A Guide to Food Buying in Japan is one way to begin learning about the food around us and make tentative forays into the unknown. It's short and sweet, and a great springboard for shopping, eating, or just general wandering on the shotengai (shopping street). Read my full review over at eco+waza and fear no more!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tsurumurasaki: A Funky Leafy Vegetable from Japan



During our first year in Japan during a trip to Brown's Fields I met my first farmer-surfer. Ioyori-san moved from Tokyo to Chiba to be closer to the ocean and be able to farm. (She's since moved much further south, though.) I asked her what she was growing, and her long list included a plant I didn't know: tsuru murasaki. She described it in detail, drew pictures, and told me how to cook it. I was fascinated and made a note to ask about it when I got back to the farm in Tokyo. Ioryi-san and I traded business cards, and drifted off to eat and tour the area.

Later as we took our last photos of mulberry trees and rice fields and contemplated the long train ride home, Ioryi-san pulled up in her car and dashed over to us with a small plastic bag. Inside were two seedlings of tsuru murasaki. "Try it and see what you think," she said.

Kept in pots on the balcony, those two little seedlings were felled by the double-whammy of a Tokyo summer and the neglect they experienced while we were hiking in Hokkaido. The leaves we regularly harvested for our house salads were delicious and welcome. (Summer in Tokyo provides a wide variety of vegetables, but not many of them are leafy and green.) Until this year, I never saw seedlings at local nurseries, but did find the leaves occasionally for sale at nearby farm stalls where just beyond it could be seen trellised and exuberantly growing.

Since then, I've met more farmer-surfers and more crazy vegetables. Last month, though, I spotted a small display of tsuru murasaki while shopping for something else at a nursery and snapped up two to set out in the new lasagna bed.  A vining plant that also goes by the name Malabar Spinach Basella alba<> and Basella rubra , tsuru murasaki is a prolific grower that can reach heights of 14' or so. It prefers to be planted out anywhere from mid-May to mid-July, and can be harvested until cold weather knocks it flat. It might be a good choice for a green curtain, but a sturdy net and poles would be required. The vine is rather thick with a number of spreading tendrils, and full of weighty leaves that resemble Swiss Chard in miniature.

With a taste reminiscent of spinach, tsuru murasaki is often eaten in salads, tempura, lightly steamed with a bit of soy sauce, or tossed into soups. Regardless of how it's ingested, this nutritious bit of green leafy goodness when there is little of that to be had. (It's also said to be good at managing blood sugar levels for diabetics.) That said, there's plenty of other great things to eat in Japan in summer (just visit any farmers market), but for salad fanatics like us, the leaf is what we love best!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: July 21st and July 22nd


Kamakura Farmers Market potato bonanza!
A very nice selection of markets this weekend awaits shoppers ready to brave whatever summer weather there is in store. Zucchinis will be coming to a close soon, so if those are a favorite you should consider heading out. Sweet peppers should be just coming onto the scene, and favorites such as tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers should still be going strong. Rumor has it that miyoga, moraheya, and a few other delightful vegetables should soon be arriving, too, but not just yet. The first few leaves of tsuru-murasaki, though, may be appearing, and that's something worth celebrating in itself. See you there!

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, July 21 and Sunday, July 22
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!

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, July 21
A new market I spotted while riding the train on a Saturday morning into the city center. 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
Map

Saturday, July 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 - ?

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

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in July
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 July
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek 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 July
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 July
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, July 18, 2012

Sakaemura at the UN University Farmers Market


Kanako Watanabe and Kaoru Kimura at the Sakae Mura table.
The farmers market at the United Nations University is easily one of the biggest affairs of its kind in Tokyo. A two-day extravaganza of food, food products, and a few other miscellaneous items it could be likened to a miniature festival celebrating Japan's food traditions that just happens to take place every weekend. (This coming weekend, by the way, is the monthly night market. A unique innovation in terms of farmers markets, it promises cool evening breezes, good food and good food shopping, along with a little music. I'd recommend planning an outing now, in fact.) Each time I go I meet farmers growing good things and doing good work from all over. It's terribly inspiring and satisfying.

This past weekend, though, found me searching out one particular booth. Kevin and Tomoe, our friends over at One Life Japan, mentioned their village sponsored a table there where Tomoe's most yummy bread would be for sale. I was on the train in seconds flat. Here's the story of what I found.

Once a month Kanako Watanabe heaves boxes of fresh vegetables, rice, homemade bread, tomato juice, and whatever else Sakae Mura, the village in Nagano Prefecture that she now calls home, can offer up into her vehicle and begins the four-hour drive to Tokyo. Mountains and fields roll by as buildings slowly get taller and the space between them gets ever smaller. She arrives at the United Nations Farmers Market around 9am to start setting up her table. Joined by a friend or two, she'll restock the table, chat with visitors, and (hopefully) drive back with mostly empty containers for company at the end of the day.

Employed by Sakae Village Network, a relatively new and innovative NPO, Watanabe's monthly visits to Tokyo are part of Sakae Mura's larger vision for itself. Created only a handful of hears ago, the NPO strives to find and foster sustainable development ideas that will create economic opportunity for those currently living in the village. Set in a small valley surrounded by mountains with a river tumbling along the center, the village boasts tremendous scenery, plenty of hiking, sansai, and more than a few monkeys. Most of its residents are farmers, and can be seen out working in their fields at any time of year.

The NPO also hopes to attract new people to the village where 70 is the average age. By promoting economic opportunity and show-casing themselves in larger venues, the village hopes to catch the eye of people looking to get out of the city, to try their hand at something new. Buy some zucchini (beautifully shaped and dark green, by the way), a loaf of organic bread (made using organic whole-grain brown rice), and next thing you know you're moving out of hot and stuffy Tokyo to a quiet village in the mountains of Nagano to try your hand at farming and developing a killer jam recipe.

Sounds reasonable to me, but then I'm a geek like that.

Look for this sign at the UN University Farmers Market















Meanwhile, head on down to the UNU Farmers Market in August (watch for the schedule here!) and ask at the information booth for the Sakae Mura table. You'll find reasonably priced vegetables, rice and other nifty things, and who knows? Maybe next time you read this blog it will be from a little village where monkeys pester, terraced rice fields dominate the landscape, and the snow will be up to your roof!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: July 14 and 15


Paradise Alley bread, Kamakura Market
The heat is certainly on along with the humidity, and that means vegetables galore. Grab a copy of Carol Krouse's food buying guide, a shopping bag, and hit the road. While I love winter in Japan for the heaps of greens and yummy root vegetables (and the cooler temperatures!), summer is no slouch, either. Head off on a culinary expedition and see what you can find!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, July 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.
Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July 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 July
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 July
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek 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 July
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 July
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, July 11, 2012

Kamakura Farmers Market: Giant Buddhas and Good Vegetables

Kamakura Farmers Market entrance




A little more than an hour train ride south of Tokyo sits Kamakura. Like Kyoto and Nara, Kamakura is a former capital full to the brim with temples, shrines, and a bounty of historical sites lining its winding streets. Nestled in a cozy bay with beaches and a giant Buddha tucked amongst the rest, it's a city that invites multiple visits if not at least one. And those seeking a farmers market well-stocked with traditional vegetables, skilled growers ready to share recipes and chat about their wares, along with some nifty prepared foods to rejuvenate themselves after so many temples surely won't be disappointed, either.

Kamakura Farmers Market - right side full of signs


Started nearly twenty years ago, the Kamakura Farmers Market or Kamakurasui Nyogyou Rensokubaijo, runs seven days a week nearly year-round. A ten-minute walk from the station, the market is located in what at first glance looks like nothing so much as a run-down warehouse where a slightly senile sign collector resides. Having a neighbor like Patagonia on one side only further enhances its eccentric qualities, but those interested in vegetables, good traditional food, and a look at locals doing what they do best - producing whole foods your taste buds don't even know they fancy yet - should not be deterred.

The market is an outlet for a locally created brand - Kamakura Brand - of traditional vegetables and goods that is complete separate from Japan Agriculture (JA) and well-regarded for its high quality. It is also well-stocked with farmers. Four different groups come to the market on a rotating schedule that roughly averages out to just about every four days. (Hint: If you find someone you like, find out when they will be back again.) Each grower brings in the fruit of their fields harvested that morning or shortly before as it comes into season.

Our visit on a grey Sunday meant slightly lower numbers of vendors, but it also meant a better opportunity to chat and peruse. Plenty of local shoppers seemed also to be on hand talking with the farmers while picking up a few things. Tourists, like our little group of four, ventured in tentative at first but were soon emboldened by friendly farmers, reasonable prices, and the occasional new vegetable. (One women I heard chatting with a farmer had never seen daikon thinnings before, and was grilling the grower on preparation specifics.) As I waited to purchase a purple basil seedling (I have mentioned my penchant for purple before.) and listened to their conversation, another group of ten were towed past by their clipboard endowed guide.

Yoshiaki Ishou
One organic farmer I talked with, Yoshiaki Ishiou, said his grandfather had been selling at this market since the local cooperative first opened the doors. I imagined someone like him - tanned and wiry from long days in the field - standing at a similar table heavy with seasonal bounty. Drawn like so many others to his table by the bright yellow and orange Italian salad squash, it was a little tricky to get a word in between sales and customer questions. When I mentioned that the farm I work on in Tokyo sells some of our produce to Ito Yokado (a large supermarket chain in Japan) he gave me a taste of the kind of passion and local pride that surely helped found this market and the brand.

"Ito Yokado has no face. This vegetable," he said picking up a yellow salad squash from the table, "is my face."

I bought one on the spot as any grower with that much belief in his work and land must be producing something worth supporting. A new ingredient for our salad seemed like the least I could do.

Kamakura Farmers Market
Open daily
10am - 5pm*
Map
*No official hours are posted, but these ought to be a safe bet.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: July


A Kamakura farmer with most delicious salad squash!



















Summer's heat is settling in and that means tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash (zucchini and friends!), green beans, and eggplant galore. Throw in a bit of miyoga (a soft-flavored Japanese ginger) and you've got all the makings for a cold soup to satisfy any appetite on a hot day. Seriously, what are you waiting for?

SUN Grocery in Shinjuku
Saturday, July 7
11am to 3pm
A once-a-month outreach effort by the students running a neighborhood grocery featuring fruits and vegetables from independent farmers.
Map

Sunday, July 1 and Sunday, July 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.
Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July 15
Saturday, July 28 and Sunday, July 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

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, July 21 and Sunday, July 22
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!

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, July 21
A new market I spotted while riding the train on a Saturday morning into the city center. 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
Map


Saturday, July 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 - ?


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

Sunday, July 8
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing.
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!

Every Saturday and Sunday in July
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 July
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek 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 July
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 July
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, July 4, 2012

Oops! Magazine: A Few Ditties Here and There

Tamagawajousui Path Hydrangea
The past few months I've had the great pleasure of writing for Oops! Magazine in Vancouver. A bi-monthly publication targeted to the Japanese population there, the magazine covers a wide variety of topics from the arts to food to news. My stint writing the column "From Japan" gave me the chance to focus on some of the little things I've observed since moving here just over four years ago including ekiben (train station bentos that vary by region and city), little gardens, laundrya bit about ramen, and more. They're all short pieces, but have a look around to see what you think.