Friday, May 31, 2013

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: June

Yomogi cake by Erina at Hamma Farm.
Find it at the Nara Farmer's Market!
Today may still be May, but June is upon us. With that turning of the calendar comes the rainy season, ume, umeboshi, and all things humid and hot. And that means that tables at farmers markets will soon be swimming with tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, the occasional zucchini and more. Last weekend I even spotted some of the season's first garlic at the Earth Day Market - a lovely treat if ever there was one. Grab your basket or backpack or bag and head on out to gather this month's scrumptious harvest!

Sunday, June 2nd
Sunday, June 16th
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,  June 8th and Sunday, June 9th (Probably.*)
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
Map
*The Gyre Market schedule has been a bit wonky of late, so I'll update this as I get confirmation.

Sunday, June 16th
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!

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, June 15th and Sunday, June 16th
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, June 15th
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, June 15th
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?
5pm - 8pm

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
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

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
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!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Blogathon and My Writing Life

Inspiration blooms with the Blogathon.
Hanashobu as arranged by Mita-san's mother.
Each year, usually in May, I participate in the Blogathon. Organized by freelance journalist extraordinaire, Michelle Rafter, the Blogathon requires just one thing: a post every day. It's both as easy as it sounds and as difficult. There certainly were days where my Muse hid herself incredibly well,  but mostly the Blogathon got me rolling and writing. I elaborate on this in greater detail in a guest post on WordCount, Michelle's blog, about How the Blogathon Changed My Writing Career.

And that's what I wanted then and that's what I want now. The registration form asks participants what their number one goal is for this year, and I think mine is to push myself again this year, to find that nugget of interest that seems to appear each time. (The Blogathon is where the farmer's market calendar was born and where I found my usual three weekly post routine.)  Since that first one four years ago I've seen a number of changes happen in my writing life, many of them due to the Blogathon. Who knows what this year will bring?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: May 25th and 26th

Bamboo shoots ready to go in the pot at the Ibaraki Farmers Market in Roppongi!
As temperatures rise and the rainy season approaches tables at the farmers markets are just beginning to groan under the weight of the bounty beginning to arrive. Sansai, cool season favorites like cabbage and broccoli will be just beginning their spring harvest, and maybe a few of the first tomatoes, too! For those who crave fruits, strawberries should still be on the scene, although they will be winding down. Oh, and there's plenty more to be found, too, from jam to bread to cheese to wine to tea to beer to potatoes to rice and a whole variety of other grains weird, wonderful and delicious. See you at the market!

Sunday, May 26th
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
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
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

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
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!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tokyo Farmer's Market Review: 246 Common



Hello, Brooklyn Ribbon Fries.
Tokyo's newest market is, by now, nearly one year old. I first caught wind of it when Robbie Swinnerton wrote a review of it for the Japan Times. (He also referenced this website at the end, bless his foodly little heart.) I'd also chatted with one of the managers of the UNU Farmers Market about it as it's his group that's organizing it. It's been on the list of places to go ever since. Last weekend we finally made it.

Bustling 246 Common from a shady seat.
Tucked between, behind, and around, this little market offers a series of cafes and shops in a variety of building types, all of which are small with the indelible feeling that given good directions they could be folded up and tucked into a pocket for easy transport. The beauty of 246 Common is encapsulated in exactly that it feels like it could disappear at any moment. The exciting array of entrepreneurial experiments happening here center mostly around food with a florist, an eye wear shop, outdoor clothing specialist, and another shop selling interesting modern Japanese paraphernalia. The majority are cafes and bakeries with varied menus that invariably look delicious. Only one, Miname Aoyama Sanchome Kitchen, has indoor seating. The rest rely on the tables and chairs filling the center of the ring of shops of this little warren.

Seriously adorable bakery.
While we waited for our spicy Brooklyn Ribbon Fries, a spouse favorite, we soaked up the beautiful weather and did a bit of people watching. The crowd, a healthy mix of families, couples, singles, visitors and locals laughed, ate, and spoke a variety of languages. I snuck off to purchase a tiny loaf of bread from the cutest bakery ever, Pain au Sourire. The cart is wrapped in branches and looks as though it simply grew in place and one day opened its doors to customers enticed by the smell of sweet and savory breads.

Sweet little garden by the steps to good coffee.

Later, we ducked under a willow arch and up a few steps past a seasonal garden of violas, chard, kale, and lettuce all in bloom and ready to eat to find a quiet corner where strong coffee and cups of hot tea are served. Minimal shaded seating is also available here making it a perfect spot to rest and chat. As we walked away to visit the UN University Market, I couldn't help but think it would be an incredibly fun evening option, too.

Planning to go?
246 Common
Open daily, 11am to 10pm
Nearest Station: Omotesando
Map




Monday, May 20, 2013

Adventures in Mulching

Illicit grass harvesting team!
As I mentioned in an earlier post about living mulch for containers, I'm not using the usual black plastic this year in the garden. It never felt quite right to me, although the benefits of weed suppression, soil warming, and moisture retention were all apparent. It's plastic, though, and that means it's made from oil, that it won't easily break down, and can't be reused.

And it does nothing for the soil. It helps the plants in the short term and keeps my work load slightly lighter for the season, which are things I don't take lightly. I go away for the better part of August and September, and I come home each time to weed chaos. Plus, summer is hot, hot, hot and often dry. But unlike straw or even compost from my bin it doesn't feed the community that lives below the soil surface that does more work in my garden than I'll ever do in a lifetime. I don't take that lightly, either. After all the reading and thinking I've been doing, the visit to Hamma Farm only confirmed that I needed to find a way to support that living community. Organic mulch it is.

The problem, though, is where to find it. Word has it that leaves are out as radiation readings are still a bit higher than most folks are comfortable with. (One idea is that it is still washing down through the soil to where a trees deep roots will take it up.) Tall grass grows in the chestnut orchard, but the farmers recently mowed it to tidy for summer events. I used it to mulch the strawberries last fall, and it worked like a charm after a bit of drying.

Luckily, a small park just north of our apartment is full of a similar grass. I'd remembered it while lying awake one night thinking about different farming ideas and checked on it the next day. Sure enough the grass was tall, green, and gaily waving in the evening breeze. A few nights later with the faithful spouse, a good friend, our bike trailer, gloves, and scissors, we went harvesting. While we did get a few strange looks and a few barks from dogs perturbed that their favorite spot was occupied, we managed to fill the trailer and all three bike baskets in less than an hour.

The grass is now laid out in the garden to dry. Half of it is set on over-turned trays so air can circulate below as well as above and the other half is laid directly on the soil. I'm hoping to see if the trays make a difference in drying time and quality. Netting is placed over all of this to keep to both keep things from blowing around too much in our infamous Tokyo winds and try to take advantage of them for this project. Here's hoping!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: May 18th and 19th

Bundles of warabi, a type of sansai or mountain vegetable, at the Ibaraki Farmers Market in Roppongi.
For seasonal vegetable explorers, this is the weekend to gather up your gear and head on out the door. A bundle of delightful markets await with their charming vendors, free samples, and more tantalizing items to buy than a single backpack can carry. (Go with a friend, is my advice.) Nippori, as usual, will be rocking it both days, and the UN University Night Market on Saturday is no slouch of an entertainment alternative, either. And while Koenji is a small market, it offers a nice mix of local and regional fare. Wander off and see what you find!

Sunday, May 19th
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, May 18th and Sunday, May 19th
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, May 18th
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, May 18th
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?
5pm - 8pm

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
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

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
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!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Natural Farm Visit: A Very Short Report

Working the potato rows at Hamma Noeun. 
If I had to describe our visit to Kazuto and Erina Hamma's natural farm in a single word I would choose: amazing. Then I would choose affirming, enlightening, hilarious, thought-provoking, inspiring, satisfying, and mind-blowing. And then I might choose a few more, such as delicious and fun, but that little list will have to suffice.

Kazuto and Erina, a brother sister farming duo, use natural farming techniques to grow the best rice I've ever had, fantastic tea, shitake mushrooms, and heirloom vegetables. Set in a small rural village in the mountains of Nara Prefecture, their fields bloom with life and health above as well as below ground. Their soil is rich and springy, and the rows simply overflow with sansai (mountain vegetables), happy tea bushes, and daikon setting seed.

And for the moment, I'm going to stop there. I've sent out a pitch to a magazine to tell this story, and I don't want to say too much here before I know their response. Suffice it to say, though, I don't see things in the same way any longer. I hope to go back and learn more.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What I Live For: All the Little Things

A good strong cup of coffee at the Kamakura Farmers Market.
Satya Robyn, a talented and prolific writer out of the UK, periodically poses a question or idea for writers to respond to that is often related to a recent book of her own. I participated in this global conversation previously when I wrote about my most beautiful thing. It was fun and thought-provoking, and helped me find the motivation I needed just then to get back to work in the garden.

Satya's most recent group write answering the question "What do you live for?" took place on Friday, May 10th. It clashed with my weekly publication of the Tokyo farmers market schedule, so it got pushed back. Those growers and producers and customers need each other more than I need to post on time. Now, however, the new week is underway. Time to share what I live for.

This question turned out to be a bit more difficult than I anticipated. When I really sat down to think about what it was that I live for, what gets me out of bed or puts the spring in my step, it was difficult to pin it down. My beloved spouse is an obvious choice and goes without saying. Writing and farming are the other two, of course, that I think about most, that I wake up in the night with ideas and worries about that I have to jot down before they disappear. But somehow those didn't seem like exactly the right answer, either.

I think what I really live for, other than the aforementioned, are the other moments. Like when the sky turns a certain shade of orange with blue gray clouds rippling through it or when I have a particularly good conversation with friends, old or new. Then there's the hour spent with a good book. The well-turned phrase, whether in a poem or an essay by Joan Didion or a chapter on beneficial soil bacteria, can make me catch my breath. And let's not forget the pure pleasure of a bubbling pot of jars bright with jam or pickles, the smell of a new recipe cooking away, the pleasure of the experiment and even the taste of failure.

And there's more. The satisfaction of working a new knitting pattern in fresh yarn or a favorite color. A walk in the woods or a mountain hike. Summer bike rides and new vistas and old vistas and deep snow and spring flowers and prairie grass golden in the fall and rhubarb's bright red fist next to the yellow crocus and blueberries fresh from the bush. A good run, a strong cup of coffee. The look, feel, and sound of the pen on this page. (I wrote this out long-hand early this morning with that strong coffee next to me on the table.) Phone calls with my parents and playing with cats. Good beer by a friends wood stove and board games with another one's two sons. Old photographs of family and that bittersweet feeling they always leave behind. The geranium blossom and a bird landing on the balcony rail. The neighbor's cat in the window watching the bird. Scrabble with Grandma and bonfires on the hill. Sharp cheddar cheese and my mother's ginger snaps.

The list is clearly endless. The bees in the norabo blossoms and laughing with my farmers as we work. Learning a new word. There isn't just one thing that I live for, but rather it's the whole of life in all its glorious color and texture. I live for all of it, all of those things that appear like pretty shells and stones on the beach after each roll of the waves. I have my dark days, of course, but I realize now that I'm surrounded by a beauty so rich and varied that I'm smiling as I write. (And again as I type out these words.) On and on it goes, and I'm so grateful for them all and all the things I can't write here because, Reader, you'd fall asleep. So, before I give in and carry one with my list, what is it, Reader, that you live for?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: May 11th and 12th

A sweet little organic vegetable stand near Haibara in Nara Prefecture.
May is proving rather blustery this year, but no less sun-shiney than usual. Spring vegetables abound at markets, including a delightful array of sansai (mountain vegetables). I'm no expert in them, but I can say without hesitation that you shouldn't be shy about giving them a go. A farmer or vendor with sansai on the table (Midori at the UN Farmers Market is a perfect example!) will be more than pleased to tell you a tale or two about how they were found, where they grow, and most importantly for your rumbling stomach, how to prepare them. I discovered them four years ago while out carousing on a thatched roof with One Life Japan, and my taste buds have never looked back. Warabi (fern or bracken buds), fuki (the flower shoots of butterbur), sugina (horse tail), itadori (Japanese knotweed) and more are some of the wild delights just waiting for you. Get on out there!

Gyre Market
Saturday,  May 11th and Sunday, May 12th
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
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
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

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
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, May 6, 2013

Strong in the Rain Review in Metropolis Magazine


I had the great pleasure of interviewing Lucy Birmingham and David McNeill, co-authors of Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan's Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) shortly before they gave a talk at Temple University. It was a fascinating conversation about media, government, disaster, human reactions, and culture as they mixed together in the series of events triggered by the March 11th earthquake. The story is compelling but not easy. I wept and cringed and felt outrage as the pages turned, and it's left an impression that won't easily be erased. My full review with excerpts from the interview can be found over at Metropolis. Then head on out to a bookstore to read it for yourself.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: May

Pottery for sale at the Earth Day Farmers Market!
Oh, the lovely month of May is upon us with all it's charms: blossoms, leaves, birds, and more. the undercurrent of warm air means the rainy season, ume season and all its glorious concoctions, and the beginning of summer vegetables are just around the corner. Mark your calendar for one of these fantastic markets and don't miss a glorious moment!

Sunday, May 5th
Sunday, May 19th
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,  May 11th and Sunday, May 12th
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
Map

Sunday, May 26th
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!

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, May 18th and Sunday, May 19th
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, May 18th
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, May 18th
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?
5pm - 8pm

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
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

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
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!


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka

This week's trip to a natural farm is, of course, inspired by Masanabu Fukuoka. During our first year here I ordered two books: F.H. King's Farmers of Forty Centuries and Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution. I dipped into Fukuoka's book first as it was most closely related to Japan, I'd just started helping on the farm here in Tokyo, and I was eager to learn everything I could.

I didn't like it. C-chan, one of the farmers I work with, and I read it at the same time. Fukuoka sounded  mad, like some guy who'd spent way too much time alone in the field. He rambled on about life, not farming, about nature and how crazy modern society was, blah, blah, blah. I forced myself to finish and tucked it on the shelf with a breath of relief.

But what stuck with me were the descriptions of his fields, rich with life and sparkling with dew in the morning sun. I recalled how one year he'd noticed many spiders, and another year another insect seemed to dominate. I remembered how heavy his harvest was, and he developed his recipe for seed pellets. Each vegetable seed was encased in a mixture of dung, mud, and other ingredients that would give the seed all it needed to grow once it was tossed into the field. And I remembered how he talked about working with nature, seeing yourself as part of its whole and learning to integrate with it to not just survive but thrive.

And then Chelsea Green Publishing sent me a review copy of Fukuoka's last book, Sowing Seeds in the Desert. It started with some of the same philosophical blah, blah, but this time I heard it with an ear better attuned to Fukuoka's ideas as he applied them on a global scale to alleviate desertification, hunger, and ultimately global strife. You can read my whole review at Permaculture Magazine, but suffice it to say that I recommend it.