Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: Sunday, June 30th

Sweet display of festive foods at 246 Common.
A lovely pair of markets not to be missed this last day of June. Sneak on out to see what fresh seasonal treats await. Who knows what new thing will be found to tempt your taste buds, to turn into jam or a pickle, or to simply eat fresh because there's no resisting something so lovely. See you there!

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 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!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: Saturday, June 29th

Mouth-watering bread at 246 Common
A lovely little round-up of markets for the last Saturday of the month. Head on out to Roppongi's bonanza of fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, cut flowers, and more or to the UN University's weekend long celebration of foodly fun. And, of course, there's always Yurakacho, a market near the traditional heart of Tokyo that deserves much more attention than it gets. Take your pick and see you there!

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

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!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 29th and Sunday, June 30th

Farmer's market loot in the bag!
June is rolling out with a little less rain and a little more heat, which is only appropriate. Roll yourself, then, on over to one of these great markets and see what seasonal treats await. Do pack an umbrella, though, as this time of year is slightly unpredictable!

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!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: Matsumoto Hanko

Antique hanko display in Matsushima.
Earlier this month the husband gave a talk at a conference in Matsumoto. I tagged along because I'd heard there were farmer's markets there, a castle, and it sounded like fun. Matsumoto is a pretty little town with an excellent castle, good restaurants, and a fantastic free bike program. It also has a charming shopping street where I spotted this display of antique hanko (stamps). Japanese people tend not to actually sign things, but rather stamp documents with a personal seal. These tend to be small and rubber and not very exciting, but these antique metal ones were lovely. And expensive. Hence, only a photograph.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

44 Years as Sister Cities: Ann Arbor, Michigan and Hikone, Shiga Prefecture

Once again the Blogathon has presented with the great good luck of a fantastic guest post. Ruth Kraut from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a fellow Blogathoner this year and a friend. You can read her great writing on all things educational over at Ann Arbor School Musings
-Joan


In November 1968, the State of Michigan and Shiga Prefecture in Japan became sister provinces.

A few months after that, in February 1969, Ann Arbor Michigan invited Hikone Japan to be a “Sister City.” At the time, Ann Arbor already had sister city relationships with Tuebingen, Germany and Belize City in Belize. Ann Arbor has the University of Michigan, and Tuebingen and Hikone both have universities.

In fact, the first article about Hikone in the Ann Arbor News from February 9, 1969, starts out:

“Watch out for the monkeys,” signs warn drivers near Hikone, Ann Arbor’s new sister city in Japan. Michiganians traveling in their sister state, Shiga Prefecture, may be reminded of the “watch out for deer” signs back home.

In July of 1969 a group of students from the Musical Youth International Band and Choir went to Shiga Prefecture, and a principal of a junior high school in Hikonedecided that it would be a good idea to send two English teachers to Ann Arbor. Those two teachers were the first visitors from Hikone to spend more than two or three days in Ann Arbor. Four years later, there was a goodwill exchange with 21 visitors from Japan.

Eventually, a public housing site in Ann Arbor was named Hikone as a nod to the sister-city relationship.


I asked two of the students who went to Japan last year, Hannah and Jane, why they wanted to go to Japan. They both agreed that they love to travel and wanted to challenge themselves. I asked them what surprised them the most about Japan, and Jane said, “I expected the schools to be extremely quiet and orderly, but they were really a lot like American schools.”

The Ann Arbor-Hikone relationship has changed over time, but its focus on exchanging ideas between students and teachers from the middle school years has continued.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Portland Farmer's Markets: Guest Post

One of the great things about the Blogathon is meeting other writers and bloggers. Nancy is a fellow writer and traveler and farmers market lover from Portland, Oregon. We swapped posts about market fun today, which means that now I really want to go to Portland. You can see my post over at her lovely website, Just a Backpack and a Rollie. Enjoy!

See you at the Farmers Market!  For many Portlanders, a trip to a local farmers market is a weekly tradition.   Earth friendly bags, baskets and carts in hand, they head out to meet  with friends, stock up on kale, scapes, and pea tendrils, pick a peck of peppers and sample the wares from apple cider to tasty tarts.
Portland Farmers Market - Eat Local
Portland Farmers Market - Eat Local
At last count there were more than 50 markets spread out across the Portland area.  Most open in early May and run through October.  Talk about bounty — we have dewy-fresh produce on offer somewhere every day - it's like living in the Garden of Eden, without the guilt.

Hubs and I visit like to "shop around" and we've been known to haunt more than one market on a weekend and even stop in on a Wednesday afternoon or Thursday evening market.  Sometimes, a trip to the farmers market is our shopping, dining and entertainment rolled into one.
Portland Farmers Market
Portland Farmers Market
Last Saturday we loaded the cooler in the back of the car and headed out to the Queen Mother of Farmers Markets - The Portland Farmers Market.  Located in the beautiful Park Blocks of Portland State University, tents are set up under the trees and stretch out over two blocks.  Of course, some vendors come and go according to season, but there are well over 130 vendors at this market offering everything from goat cheese truffles to Elk steaks.  Fresh Salmon, oysters, crab, halibut and tuna abound.   Take home some fiddlehead ferns, fava beans, black kale or gai soi and create something new and delicious for dinner.  We've had some winners and a few losers, but it's always an adventure in healthy eating.
Portland Farmers Market - spring onions
Portland Farmers Market - spring onions
There are tastings of everything from soup to nuts - literally.  With locally made cheeses, pestos, chocolates, pickles, kimchi, jams, wine, beer, or mead to choose from, you can make a meal just sampling your way around the market.  (Yes, we have).   Music?  Of course!  From violins to rock and roll, somebody is playing on every corner.  Throw in a couple of balloon artists, the poetry man, the digereedoo guy with his gaggle of awe-struck kids, cooking demonstrations, hot food vendors, fresh coffee from a bicycle powered cart, lots of tables, grass for sitting, and some very interesting people watching and you can see why, on a sunny Saturday on the first day in June, there were so many happy people hanging out at the Portland Farmers Market.farmersmarketbanjoplayers farmers market violins farmersmarketfarmers farmersmarketfarmerold
Yes indeed, it's farmers market season in Portland and Life is Good.
Now eat up your fava beans and you can have some salted caramel ice cream for dessert.
Cheers!
............


Nancy Thompson blogs about exploring life, retirement and the world with just a backpack and a rolling suitcase.  
She is a blogger, travel writer and a retirement re-inventor.  One of her essays was recently published in 65 Things to Do When You Retire: Travel from Seller's Publishing.  You can follow Nancy at Just a Backpack and a Rollie.

Monday, June 24, 2013

New Potato Haiku

New potato salad and lucky cat.
One of the Blogathon's standard theme days is haiku. The day serves as a sort of break, theoretically an easier push to create than a standard post requiring a certain amount of research and time. In the past I've written about an ornamental peach tree on the farm here in Tokyo, norabo blooms abuzz with bees, and a miniature rice field. This year I'm writing about potatoes, the unsung hero of the seasonal plate.

New Potatoes
Set free this morning.
Small. Round. Brown. Slightly dirty.
Steaming on my plate.

We harvested ours early this year due to a disease that seems to be sweeping the Tama area. My garden potatoes don't seem to be bothered by it, but I'm keeping a close eye on them. It might be that I'm lucky or that they're well hidden in the living mulch that surrounds them. Whatever it is - luck or greenery - I'm grateful. The blue and red varieties make my mouth water even now as I type, and the standard white ones will make a mean potato salad when the time comes.

New potatoes, though, are the tiny little potatoes that rest just under the soil. They come with the first lovely blossoms on the plant, and taste the best. For me they are my mother's table in summer where we ate cucumbers in cream with thinly sliced onion from blue and white bowls. Thick red tomato slices waited in a bright yellow serving bowl to be plopped heavy from my fork onto the plate where I'd sprinkle them with sugar and cut them like a piece of roast beef. The potatoes arrived as little round balls still steaming from the pan where my mother had boiled them. The gentle pop of the first bite, the hint of sweetness from the tomato juice that sidled up next to them while they loitered on my plate signify summer.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: Sunday, June 23rd

Delicata squash and Italian cauliflower at the Sapporo Farmer's Market.
Summer, 2012.
Another glorious day for a visit to a Tokyo Farmer's Market has begun, so don't be shy about heading out to any of these little foodly festivals. You're sure to find plenty of bounty at each one representing the best of the season. Early potatoes should be arriving as well as garlic and the season's first tea. Pop a few baked goods into the bag, settle on a new vegetable to try, and then choose which food vendor to wait in line at for a yummy snack. While you munch, surely you'll spot something else scrumptious to buy that you simply forgot to add to the list.

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 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!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: Saturday, June 22nd

Toneru Yama Honey staff at the Sapporo Farmer's Market.
Summer, 2012.
Oh, the day has dawned full of sunshine, which means markets will be hopping. Whether you arrive early or late, though, there will be no shortage of good food to be had. The Roppongi Market, on only today, is well worth the trek. While it might be in a slightly disreputable part of town, the market itself is one of the best. It's also just one of the fantastic foodly places that abound in this neck of the woods. Go on. You know you want to go!

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

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!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 22nd and Sunday, June 23rd

Carrots, anyone? 
A little wet, a little gray. A little sunny, a little cloudy. Such is the forecast for this weekend, but it doesn't mean the markets won't be bubbling over with rainy day fun and good food. Don't be shy about charging about with your umbrella to find lovely treats and plenty of the season's best rolling in. In fact, I might suggest this is the perfect time to go to a market. Many others might not, so you'll get the pick of the best!

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!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: Wishing Well

Wishing coins in China.
Last September we had the great pleasure of spending time with good friends in China. We spent a few days in Beijing, then went on to our friend's hometown. It was an amazing two weeks with unforgettable food, lots of laughter, and plenty of sight-seeing. We visited major sites, but we also spent a great deal of time simply wandering the streets of whatever city we landed in. We also tried plenty of random foods, which resulted in befriending the candy lady at a local supermarket. (I really like sweets.) She didn't speak a word of English and we don't speak Chinese, but we managed to build a kind of friendship via our daily visits.

One of our favorite days, though, was spent at a small temple and nature park our friends recommended. We hiked around, protected our bags from the monkeys, and said our prayers for future hopes. One idea was to drop a coin in a small fountain. If it floated, your wish would come true. Above are our two coins. Our friends wish, I believe, recently came true with the birth of their second son. I don't recall my wish. Whatever it was it has surely come out for the best.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Living Mulch Update

An early shot of the living mulch.
Awhile back I wrote about a novel idea called living mulch. In short, the idea is to spread old seeds at random on the soil either in early spring or late fall, rake them in, and let them come as they will. When it's time to plant something else, simply eat the space clear and plant, The living or edible mulch serves a dual purpose - keeping weeds down and filling my belly - which I find intensely appealing.

Since then I've read articles about it in Permaculture Magazine (subscribe if you haven't already) and tried it both in the garden and in pots on my balcony. Both places seem to be rather successful. The pots, however, do require regular watering. If not maintained, one ends up with dried living mulch. Not so bad, but not exactly attractive or what I was aiming for.

The garden, though, has been very successful. The potato patch where I decided to do this is now awash in greenery. To my pleasure and surprise, the space is covered with a variety of plants: beets, beans, a hearty sunflower, some stray corn (or popcorn) plants, a bossy squash, a delicate dill plant, and tsurumurasaki plants that self-seeded in the compost. Bees and other pollinators arrive at the buffet throughout the day, and a baby praying mantis sauntered awkwardly past while I crouched on the tatami to check on things.

The potatoes, so far, seem none the worse for wear. Their leaves are green and the flowers just keep coming. A watermelon planted down the way between the rows of popcorn wants to get in on the game and has sent a scout tendril in to join the fray. It is a riot of life. How exactly I'll harvest the potatoes when the time comes is another question, but I'm not terribly worried about it just yet. I'm too happy.

Some, of course, would see this as chaos and untidy. There is some truth to that, but I don't mind. The plants are healthy, even though densely planted. I do worry some about powdery mildew as it is the season for it just now, so I've added milk to my garden shopping list. I'll give everyone a good drink when it stops raining. (We had a mini-drought and now we're having a very official feeling rainy season.) And I've already started harvesting. The tsurumurasaki has gone into salads as has the dill and shungiku. The beets need to get a wee bit bigger before I harvest them, but I'm watching them like a hawk. It's exciting times.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fuji Five Lakes Adventuring

Mount Fuji from Kawaguchiko.
Each year in preparation for our trip to Hokkaido we head off to the Fuji Five Lakes region for a bit of biking, camping, and exploring. Bikes get folded up into bags and bundled on the train. We guerrilla camp and are up with the sun to sip hot coffee and eat breakfast as Kawaguchiko slowly wakes up. Just as the first cable car starts making is way up to a nearby viewing platform we are nearly to one of our favorite places in the world - the Sengen Shrine - and onward to Motsuko.

The trip never fails to thrill us with sights of the familiar and the new, the delicious and the strange. I can't recommend it enough. And to that end, here's a complete list of links to get you started on a homemade adventure of your own.

A few thoughts on where to stay and what to do...

Bike Touring in Kawaguchiko - A quick run-down of local sights to take in by bicycle. Our version of this has since changed, but this route is a good place to start.

Do-It-Yourself Eco-tourism in Kawaguchiko - Again, a first version of a now beloved trip, but still an excellent place to start. We keep this plan in mind in case of rain or a certain feeling of laziness.

Hiking Mitsutoge - A remarkable hike that brought us at the end to the Sengen Shrine with its towering trees and strikingly beautiful old temple.

And because no trip is complete without sampling local fare...

Houtou Udon in Kawaguchiko - One of the best meals ever and we return to the same restaurant every time to eat this favorite food.

Kawaguchiko's Fresh Vegetable Stand - There are no shortage of excellent eating opportunities in this area, and local growers make the most of the opportunity to get the attention of stomachs craving something other than ice cream and Fuji-shaped cookies. (Although, those are both quite good, too.)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Samurai Farmers

Yosuke Okuba at the United Nations University Farmers Market.
Two weeks ago I met Satoshi Umezawa at the United Nations University Farmers Market, bought some beets, and found inspiration. Moments later, drawn to his table by the citrus for sale there, I met the representative of another grower with another amazing story to tell.

Yosuke Okuba comes each week to sell fruit from his family orchard in Ehime, a western prefecture of Shikouku Island. Famous for its pilgrimage route as well as its many orchards, I remember marvelling during our WWOOF experience there not just at the sandy soil, but at the hillsides draped with orchards. Everywhere we looked there was citrus - mountains dripped with the orange fruit while the roadside stands bulged with fruit. Set against the bright blue sky of those January days and the ocean's deep blue of those January days it was a magical landscape.

Yosuke's family started farming there at the end of the Edo Period (1603 - 1868). Like all samurai they found themselves looking at a penniless future when the civil war ended and the old system was abolished. "They sold all their swords, bought land and became farmers," he said as we talked. "In the early years they grew potatoes and vegetables, but at the end of Showa Period (1926 - 1989) they began to grow citrus."  It was a lucrative new market full of opportunity. The Okuba's planted their mountainsides in citrus, keeping only enough fields in rice and vegetables to supply themselves.

At some point, though, his parents decided to step away from Japan Agriculture (JA). It was a risky decision as, especially in rural areas in those days, JA was a farmers primary connection to larger markets, to supplies, to experts in the field, to information about market trends.

"My parents," he told me, "would work all day and then drive their fruit to cities near and far to sell it." They pushed and peddled on their own so they could farm their way and probably receive more of the profit, too. He told stories of neighbors asking what his parents were doing, where they were going. He was six or seven then. He didn't really answer both out of youthful ignorance and a sense of needing to protect his family's interests.

Their efforts, it would seem, paid off. While the Okuba's don't do any on-line sales, they have no trouble moving their fruit and juice. All sales are word of mouth. "Our customers do the selling for us," he said. "They like our fruit and juice so much that they tell their friends. We only receive phone calls." His brother, looking young and hip on the brochure Yosuke hands me with my fruit, farms with his parents and helps other young farmers get established. People now come to ask how Yosuke's parents managed to find customers and his parents are glad to help them discover ways to keep their land in production. "We want to be able to do something for others," he said.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: Sunday, June 16th

Mushroom logs at a farmer's market in Matsumoto.
Today's simply rocking with markets all over the city. I'm always a bit hard-pressed on this middle weekend to decide which one to visit. The Earth Day Market is my reliable source for everything from rice to vegetables to tea to fruit for jam and marmalade. The Ebisu Market is where I find new things to try and visit with growers from Okutama in Tokyo's western regions. Nippori is where I find killer manju, awesome farmers from Aizu Wakamatsu, and always something new to try. The UNU Market and Yurakacho are regular markets where I always meet fun new people with good stories to tell. How to choose?

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.

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!

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!

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 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!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: Saturday, June 15th

Seedlings galore at a Matsumoto farmer's market.
Wet, wet, wet. Gray and gray. My umbrella is my new best friend, but I can't say I'm really complaining. It is amazing to see how happy everything is at the farm. The vegetables suddenly seem stronger, taller, greener. As is usual for this time of year they look as though they have something to say. And I might not like it, especially as I approach to harvest. (My imagination is going a bit wild this morning.) I digress. That does mean that tables at markets will begin to groan with the weight of the season. Don't be shy about getting a little damp and heading off to the 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!

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

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

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!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 15th and Sunday, June 16th

Just one of the wonderful booths at the UNU Farmers Market!
Oh, indeed the rainy season seems to finally be living up to the wetter part of its name. And in due time, too. Later spring and summer crops surely are soaking up every blessed drop of water. I'll not complain about wet shoes and dripping umbrellas on the train to ensure a sweet bite of corn or watermelon later on. Not too mention it might just get me another beet or two, too! So don a raincoat, grab an umbrella or just pack a waterproof bag and head on out to one of this weekend's fine, fine selection of farmer's markets!

Ebisu Market
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.

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!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: Fish-shaped Soy Sauce Container

Bento soy sauce container.
Nara Prefecture, Japan
We spent part of a recent vacation visiting and helping out on a natural farm in Nara Prefecture. Kazuto and Erina Hamma of Hamma Farm were glorious hosts and teachers who we now think of as friends. I learned a great deal while weeding with them both, which left plenty of time for talking. They graciously and patiently answered the questions I incessantly peppered them with, including why fish-shaped bento soy sauce containers kept appearing under the tea bushes. It turns out that the organic farmer who worked the fields before them used the namagomi (raw garbage or compost)  to fertilize the fields. A few of these little guys made it through the sorting process.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tsukiji Outer Market Tour with Yukari Sakamoto Article at JapanTourist

One of the many shops visited during the tour of Tsukiji's Outer Market.
Way back in the wilds of March, I took a much-longed for tour of Tsukiji. Yukari Sakamoto, chef and author of the book and website Food, Sake, Tokyo, guided a small group of us around the bustling outer market of one of Tokyo's most famous institutions. Words like delightful, engaging, fascinating, fun, delicious, surprising, and eye-opening all spring to mind as I recall this tour. I'd go again in a heartbeat, especially with Yukari as my guide.

Read my full review of it at JapanTourist, then go sign up for one.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Umeya: From the office to the field

Satoshi Umezawa and my beloved beets at the UNU Farmer's Market.
Most weekends I go to a farmers market. Whether I'm in Tokyo, Madison, Hida Takayama, or Hamamatsu, I venture out in search of local food grown by local farmers. So far, I've been lucky enough to find one everywhere I go. It's been simply amazing.

But that amazingness doesn't always translate into motivation. Sometimes, like yesterday, I just want to stay home and make jam and read. However, I was on my way. No whining. At least, not out loud. I adjusted my hat and trudged up the hill from Shibuya Station to the UNU Farmers Market.

Of course, it was amazing.

On my first traverse around the market stalls I spotted beets. In Japan, beets are remarkable. I rarely see them except in my own garden or dreams that result in my pillow being covered in drool. (A little gross, but I do love those little purple earthy gems.) I stopped on my second tour, the buying leg, to talk to the vendor and buy the last Detroit Dark Red and a Chioggia.

Satoshi Umezawa was nearly as enthusiastic about those beets as I was, and that's really saying something. He readily answered questions about where they were from (Kanagawa Prefecture) and when they were planted (March). We commiserated over the challenges of growing them here in Japan (early springs and super hot summers) but extolled the virtues of their greens (delicious and healthy).

Umezawa also immediately started giving me advice on preparing them. "Roasted is best," he said, but quickly offered a simple stove-top recipe when he found I didn't have an oven. "Saute them in a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt," he said. "It's wonderful." In turn, I offered my beet caviar recipe and he sounded intrigued. "Ehhhh," he said leaning back a little as he gave the standard Japanese sound for something new and interesting. We agreed the color would be excellent. (It is.)

It turns out that Umezawa is not a grower but instead represents about 15 growers from Kanagawa. When his job ended in November of last year he turned his mind to something new. Seeing all the farmers in his prefecture growing so much good food but struggling to find an outlet, he discussed the idea of bringing their produce to the Tokyo market for them. The farmers, ranging from young to old, agreed to try it.

Umeya opened at the UNU Farmers Market shortly thereafter and he's been coming every weekend ever since. Yesterday his booth was full of lovely vegetables - bright green cucumbers in a tub of cold water, Swiss Chard's jeweled stems and fat leaves, my beloved beets, lovely lettuces, carrots, ume, zucchini, two kinds of potatoes, negi (long onions), and even a few pale blue iris. Just like traditional yaoya (vegetable sellers) he offered a nice selection of everything one might need to make dinner.

I loaded up on beets, asparagus, and zucchini before leaving. It's not unusual to find a representative selling for farmers, especially at this market, but what I really liked about Umezawa was that he really knew his stuff. He spoke like a farmer because he spends time talking with the growers, working with them in the fields, visiting their farms. The produce is local, reasonably priced, seasonal, and delicious. I wasn't tired any more.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fallen

Taken during a hike last year near Komatsu. 
Following is a complete departure from what I usually write here. I never, ever write fiction. I dream about it, but it's not something I think is really for me. I'm not the kind of person who walks around with stories in her head that need to be told. I'm the kind of person that walks around looking at people and thinking their story needs to be told, which is slightly different.

And this is different again. I heard about this FlashMob thing, read the posting, and then didn't think about it again. I have lots of friends who do this, but not me. (See above.) Then on my run this morning this story popped into my head. I muttered it to myself while I sprinted (a relative terms) most of the way home so I could write it down. My new mantra is always carry a notebook and pen. You just never know.

Tomorrow, back to the usual stuff.
-Joan

Fallen
This was probably bad. How long had she been lying here? She could feel the grass under her. Usually she only spread her toes on it, but never had she been supine. She'd imagined it, of course, but never had the chance. "Lucky me," she thought.

She didn't need to open her eyes to know the last storm clouds scudded away chased by sun and a now friendly breeze. She could feel it on her skin, hear the softer wind in the nearby trees.

She remembered a crack, a gust of wind unlike any she'd felt before. The driving, driving rain. The tire swing a pendulum gone mad. She hated storms. Always had. As a child she'd dreaded the gray that turned to slate, tumbled and roiled. Sometimes it went green, nothing like the shimmery leaves of a nearby poplar. She watched big trees bend and toss with bravado. She tried thinking of wind and rain as friends, character builders that watered the earth, pollinated flowers, blah, blah. Fifty-eight years later she still hated them.

Tentatively, she felt along her limbs. Some pain, a twist. The greater pain seemed to be in her middle. "It's internal," she thought.

She could hear sounds from the house. She recalled seeing all the lights go out at once. Flash. Crack. Black.

"OK, open your eyes," she said. "You've got to know." Lids crusty with dried rain, dirt and a few bugs lifted. There, above her, against the blue sky, stood her other half. A long rip down the center matching her pain. The white and gold wood catching the light. "Beautiful," she thought as she heard the slam of the back door, a squirrel leaping among her branches up there.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Sunday, June 9th

All a-bustling at the UNU Farmers Market!


Gyre Market
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.

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

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!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 8th

Look for this sign just below the stairs leading to the courtyard where the market bustle begins!
The following markets on in the city today, but necessarily tomorrow. Don't miss them!

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.

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!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 8th and Sunday, June 9th

Yummy treats at the Roppongi Hills Farmers Market!
It might be rainy season, but it seems drier than usual. Hence, no excuse to not visit one of these great farmers markets this weekend! Summer vegetables should just be trickling in now, especially from Tokyo farms. This might a good time to find the first zucchini or tomatoes as well as pick up some ume for making batches of umeshu to enjoy later in the year. (If you can wait that long!) Grab a bag, a friend, and get out there to see what foodly adventures you can find!

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.

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!


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: Soba Blooms

Soba in bloom. Hokkaido, Japan.

A soba (buckwheat) plant in full bloom. Taken during our trip to Hokkaido last year, we were on our way to visit friends in Nakatonbetsu when we paused near this field of blooming soba. I'm a big fan of this noodle, and was pleased to get a good look at the full plant, flowers, and the coming grains. The little black bits below the flower are the soba grains still in their hulls.

Why a Thursday snapshot?
Each year with the Blogathon I try something new. One year I tried a "What I'm Reading" weekly post and another year I tried a weekly calendar of farmers markets in Tokyo. The latter worked very well for me and my readers. The former proved somewhat cumbersome for me and therefore faded out. I'm still reading, just not summarizing.

This year I'm going to try for a Thursday Snapshot. I take A LOT of pictures. I learned in the first Blogathon to always carry my camera, and so now it has a permanent place in whatever bag I've got for the day or even a short trip to the grocery store. It's that important.

The result is a ton of photos that don't necessarily have a home, although photos do make excellent reminders of things I want to talk about here. Sometimes I just think something is interesting or I'm trying a new technique.

 What do you think?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Make Your Own Mini Greenhouse

Prepping the soil in the greenhouse.
Photo courtesy of ecotwaza.com
Back in the wilds of April I planted a few seeds. This is not particularly remarkable given the time of year and my interest in all things growing. What was remarkable was that I planted them in an egg carton that I then placed inside a plastic bag that I then set in our sunny bedroom window. Then the things that shocks me every single time occurred: the seeds sprouted. They since turned into seedlings that have since been planted on our balcony for transformation into this years green curtain.

The egg carton greenhouse has also undergone something of a transformation. While cardboard is the preferred container for its biodegradability, I recently learned the merits of plastic. (I won't advocate the use of plastic specifically, but I will advocate the use of what you have on hand.) At a recent workshop I gave at an Eco Fair in Tokyo plastic is what I had. The many smiling faces should be evidence enough that it worked well.

We also wrote up the technique at ecotwaza so folks could try it at home for themselves. I'm hopeful to hear of other variations on the theme, too. And eager to hear stories of sprouting plants all over the city cared for by a fresh round of new farmers.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My Five Favorite Apps

Rice cooker green tea bread chases apple.
Nothing to do with apps. I just liked it. 
Over the course of the Blogathon participants are asked to focus on a small handful of themes. In the past it's ranged from five favorite books to haiku to movies. Each year my initial thought is "I have no idea what to say." Then somehow the ideas and words begin to flow. It's a nice way to get pushed outside my comfort zone.

This year the first theme day asks us to write about our five favorite apps. Well, I'm a farmer as much as a writer. Electronic devices and dirt don't mix; however, there are heaps of apps out there for folks like me. Farmers as well as gardeners can find tools to help them with every job under the sun and in the barn. While I remain rather old school for working in the dirt (give me a notebook, pen, and solid reference book along with a good pair of gloves) I do find a use for apps as my day goes along. Here are the five I use most.

Anki - Life in a foreign country doesn't necessarily require knowing a foreign language, but for me it makes a world of difference. If I want to know what a farmer is selling at a Tokyo farmers market, how to prepare it or how it grows then I need to speak Japanese. If I want to interview a farmer about their experience dealing with the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, then I need to speak Japanese. If I want to remember the new vocabulary I get at the farm or markets, practice the interview questions, or remember plant names, I turn to Anki. A spaced repetition software (SRS) flashcard program, Anki only shows me the cards I need to see when I need to see them. Daily study on my iPhone while riding the train, walking to buy vegetables or working out means I simultaneously build and reinforce my language abilities. I'd be voiceless without it.

Imiwa? - A Japanese dictionary that, again, makes a world of difference for me. Countless times on the farm as we talk while packing vegetables for the days sale a word comes up that I don't know. I pull out the iPhone, open the app, and look it up. Of the multiple possibilities that come up my farmers point out the exact one they mean. I mark it and add it to a running list that the app allows me to keep. Later, I make a flashcard for it in Anki and it gets rotated in to my daily study.

Evernote - This is a recent addition to my device life, but I love it. Evernote on the iPhone and Google Nexus 7 allows me to make short notes about new farmers, new vegetables, new vendors at markets, everything. I can pop the note in an existing notebook or create a new one. I can include a photo, a website, or even a document if I wish. I use it to store a standing list of interview questions for market managers and farmers, which is invaluable as I can never remember all of the questions. I use it to store links to articles I've written about farmers and markets so I can quickly show a new farmer or manager that I meet that I'm not just another weird foreigner talking to them for no apparent reason. (Well, I am kind of a weird foreigner. How many women can talk about farming and markets in a foreign language but struggle with basic small talk? Add to that my height and curly hair and I'm definitely odd.)

Hyperdia - The Japanese rail system is extensive, efficient and wonderful. Everything is bilingual (English and Japanese) so I've no trouble sorting out which train is going where at what time. However, sorting out a route to a final destination, especially if I need to arrive at a particular time, can be challenging. Hyperdia is a website and app that allows me to type in the station I will start from, the station I wish to end at, and even a departure or arrival time. The resulting itineraries offer me a variety of routes and times to choose from that vary in price, amount of travel time, and means of transport. (Hyperida will also include flights.) I snap a quick screen shot of the route I prefer and then head to the station. The itinerary often includes links to train timetables and intervals. If a connection is tight I can see when the next train is coming and plan accordingly. Or hustle to the station to not miss the only express train of the day.

Twitter - This one feels rather banal, but it's worth a mention because it has been incredibly useful in sharing information about farmers markets in Tokyo. Tweeting out the monthly and weekly calendar of markets, photos from the markets, information about tours of the markets, and information about specific markets has drawn attention not just to my website but to the markets themselves. That means increased sales for the farmers, healthier eating for the patrons, and an ever so slightly better world for everyone. Seems like a nice thing to me.

Got a favorite app? Do tell!