Skip to main content

How to Find Organic Food in Tokyo (and Beyond!)

Organic kohlrabi at the Earth Day Farmers Market.
Recently, I've received a lovely run of emails asking how to find organic produce in Tokyo. It seems a number of folks are moving to the area or preparing to move, and are working on sorting out their grocery options. I decided to put my answers into a post here so others can find it, too. That said, if others have more ideas or suggestions or even other questions about food, farming, and farmers markets in Tokyo (or even gardening!) then let me know. I'm happy to help out as best I can. - JB

Hands down, the best way to get the least expensive organic produce is to head to the Earth Day Farmers Market in Yoyogi Park. Prices are incredibly reasonable and the selection is great. It's a great way to begin learning what is in season when in Japan (citrus in winter and bamboo in spring, for example) and how to cook with these items. Whether the item in question is tea or tomatoes, the tanned and smiling person behind the table is almost invariably the person who grew it. They come with a bounty of knowledge of recipes, growing tips, and general good humor. Plus, it is a very fun market with music, workshops, an excellent selection of food carts, and a nice mix of handmade soaps, clothing, ceramics, and more. It's a guaranteed good time.

The same holds true for organic fruit. Fruit, in general, can be very expensive in Japan. At the Earth Day Market fruit growers and producers are often featured or, at the very least, present on a regular basis. It's an excellent way to get to know the wide variety of citrus as well as the seasonality of other fruits. It's also a great way to support these growers, many of whom are young and/or new to farming. Fruit can be particularly challenging, so by putting something yummy on your dinner table you contribute to a better world. Seriously, how satisfying is that? The other benefit of heading to the Earth Day Farmers Market and meeting the grower is the possibility of setting up regular delivery to your home. It takes a bit of language skill, patience, and time, but most farmers will be happy to make that a reality. Such a relationship may also create the opportunity to visit the farm for events, which makes for more good fun.

Organic grains are also available at markets or in supermarkets. Quinoa, for example, can be ordered from Alishan or purchased at slightly upscale stores like Natural House, Seijo Ishii, and National Azabu Supermarket. (The websites are mostly in Japanese, but the products will have both languages or be decipherable by looking at the contents.) The Earth Day Market also has three vendors who sell a variety of grains such as barley, whole soba (buckwheat), millet, as well as red, black, and brown rices and a wide variety of heirloom soybeans. I buy most of what I want there, but if I want an interesting flour for making bread (in the rice cooker) I try my local soba shop or one of the above stores.

It is worth noting that organic growers can also be found at other Tokyo farmers markets. I strongly encourage folks to also head out to those and see what you can find. Growers and producers go to different markets for different reasons – scheduling, table pricing, number of visitors, and location to name just a few – just like customers. Go see what market is near your home and suits your personality and shopping desires. Offerings and vendors change throughout the year, so spend some time exploring and sampling.

Organic as well as locally grown produce and products can also be found at most supermarkets. They can be a bit more expensive, but again it's good to keep your money circulating locally. Imports are available and can be expensive. Assorted trade agreements make some things, like citrus, cheap despite the fact that Japan produces heaps of its own. If you want imports of specific foreign foods, it can add up; however, if you want a Japanese version or substitute, it can be cheaper. My husband and I simply switched our ingredients over to whatever was locally and seasonally available that we thought was tasty. There were some errors along the way, so be prepared.

Got more questions? Send them along. I'm happy to help!


Popular posts from this blog

Finding Heirloom Seeds in Japan

Drying pods of heirloom Hutterite Soup Beans. Since moving to Japan eight years ago, one of my greatest challenges as a farmer-gardener has been to find heirloom or open-pollinated seeds. The majority of seeds available are not GMO (genetically modified organisms) as Japan, at this point, doesn't accept this material. Most seeds, though, are nearly all F1 varieties. Heirloom and F1 Varieties In plant breeding, F1 is the name given to the first generation of a cross between two true breeding parents. For example, if I decide to cross an Amish Paste Tomato with another heirloom variety tomato such as Emmy, in hopes of getting a gold paste tomato, the resulting generation of fruit is F1. In order to get that tomato of my culinary dreams, I'll need to choose members of that first generation that are headed in a direction I like - early ripening, medium-sized fruit, good taste - and save their seeds. I'll plant them and repeat the process again and again over time unti

Satoimo: One of Japan's Favorite Slimy Things

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

Goma Ai Shingiku - Sesame and Chrysanthemum Greens

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