Saturday, June 30, 2018

Potato Harvest


Andes Red harvest underway.
I still suffer from what I like to call seasonal jet lag. Potatoes are, to my Midwestern mind, an autumn vegetable grown primarily to be stored up for the winter months and turned into any number of delightful dishes.

However, in my part of Japan, potatoes are a summer crop. They are planted in February (seriously) and grown until sometime around now. Harvest dates vary by variety, but basically all potatoes in this neck of the woods are out of the ground by now.

Bergamot in bloom.
It's still totally crazy to me, but somehow I struggle through and start making Maan's Potato Salad.

Those pictured above are a variety called Andes Red. They have a lovely red skin and yellow flesh. Andes Red breaks down into a creamy soup, but it also holds it together nicely for a chunky potato salad, too. These were grown from purchased seed potatoes. Those I'd saved to grow on last year...didn't. I was disappointed, but I forged on to the local nursery and once again struggled through. (I really love that potato salad.)

My guess is that I harvested about seven to eight kilograms of potatoes that afternoon, and they are beautiful. My only wish, of course, is that I'd planted more. (Did I mention how much I love that potato salad?)

Friday, June 29, 2018

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1

Tasty craft beer options at Osonbashi Marche!
Rainy season is still lingering, but even after the reprieve from showers this week, we are reminded that in its wake comes the heat and humidity of summer. I'm not so excited, but my garden appears to be enjoying itself immensely. Too much, actually, but more on that later. Fields, furrows and kitchens around the region are full to bursting with foodly goodness, so head on out to one of these great markets and see what you can find. Ingredients for cold soup or a heady summer cocktail, perhaps? The news, if not the weather alone is certainly motivation for the latter. See you at the market!

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
This market is an absolute treasure of a small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in or nearby another one of Japan's former capitals. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal-infused bread while you're there. They also make an excellent cup of coffee.
7am until sold out
Map

Ebisu Market
Every Sunday
A small handful of years ago, the Ebisu Market became a weekly Sunday event. Part of the original Marche Japon movement, this market carries on with a nice selection of regional farmers, seasonal veg, baked goods, and the addition of arts and crafts. It does bill itself as all organic, and there are some; however, I recommend asking vendors to be sure. I also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen to fortify yourself with some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that started out as the flagship market for Marche Japon busted out on its own a few years back. Now one of the most happening places on the weekend, the market features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Winter vegetables can be found here, but produce offerings do vary in amount by season. There is a most excellent selection of food trucks whipping up everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken and falafel! Oh, and don't forget the craft beer truck, too!
10am to 4pm
Map

Hills Marche Farmers Market
Every Tuesday and Saturday
The Ark Hills Marche in Roppongi is perhaps one of the best things going in this part of Tokyo. Originally created to serve residents of the nearby high-rise, it is a bountiful and booming event. Don't miss the chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji, take in a little music, and sample a variety of other seasonal delights.
Saturday, 10am to 4pm
Tuesday, 11am to 7pm**
Map

Yurakucho Farmers Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, the Yurakucho Market takes its cue from the antenna shops located nearby and 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 do come weekly, though, with some excellent treats.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakucho 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 I'll add it to the list!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thursday Snapshot: Sunset Over Koboyama

Sunset over Koboyama by R. Bailey
When a break in the rainy season comes, it is received with gratitude and enthusiasm. On the evening of this spectacular sunset, we were not the only ones rushing outside to try and capture some of the grandeur above us. We stood with friends and watched the colors turn and mix overhead as shadows lengthened and the Tanzawa gradually faded away. It was the perfect pre-dinner show.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Visit to Wasabi Chaen, a Local Tea and Wasabi Farm


Wasabiya Chaen's sign at the end of the driveway.
The rain was just starting to come down as our group set out for a little wasabi and tea farm in the mountains near Hadano. After living in Japan for a little more than nine years and as someone who writes about food and farming, I've been to more than a few farms. I'd harvested tea in Saitama and Nara, but I'd never yet laid eyes on a patch of wasabi. Rain or no rain, I wasn't going to miss this chance.

"We're going to be in the clouds today," one member of the group commented as we drove. Ahead of us, our side of the Tanzawa range sat blue-green and heavy with clouds. Rain drops scoured the windshield as we wound our way slowly out of the city for the farm.

Started by the Yamaguchi family roughly 100 years earlier, the farm is only 20 minutes away from Hadano, but as the road narrows to follow a tumbling mountain river lined with ancient cherry trees, every vestige of the city is soon left behind. Terraced rice and tea fields soon appeared with farmhouses dotted in between. Forest filled the steeper slopes behind them, and as the rain increased in intensity, we pulled into the driveway of Wasabi-Chaen.

Takako Yamaguchi
Set 300 meters above sea-level, the farmhouse and fields hug the slope. From the driveway, we could make out the dim outline of Hakone in the distance. Takako Yamaguchi, the grandmother of the family, told us as we toured the fields that when the weather is clear, Mount Fuji is visible, too.

Five generations of the family have worked these fields, and soon a sixth will take the reins, Takako tells me. "I'm very happy," she simply said, her tanned face breaking into another smile.

River level look at the wasabi growing space.
Near the farmhouse in a shaded spot along a small river is the wasabi field. Planted directly in the river bed in March just after the harvest, the plants grow in the flowing water. Clean water is integral to their growth, Takako's son told us, also letting us know that wasabi requires about a year and a half to grow. "The fireflies," he added, "also enjoy the wasabi."

Wasabi enjoying the rain.
Firefly larvae find the tender outer layer of the wasabi root particularly delectable, and so they nibble away. The solution the Yamaguchi's found is to toss some watermelon rind in with the plants. "The fireflies like it even more than the wasabi," he said, and I imagined it must not be such a tough task to eat enough watermelon to produce the rind.

Our treats at the end: homemade yokan, Kiridakari tea, and chiffon cake.
Our visit ended with a walk-through of their processing facility, where we witnessed freshly harvested leaves making the transition to tea by steaming, pressing, and drying. Finally, we ended in a little front room of the house where we were served steaming cups of green tea and Takako's homemade yokan and her daughter-in-law's sponge cake. As we sipped and enjoyed our treats, the rain let up and the gray sky seemed to lighten just a bit. A good day, I must say.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sunday Reading

Poppies by Caroline.
The rain continues to pour down, so in between attempts to get to the garden, foraging walks for foraging for yamamomo (Chinese bayberry),  and writing, I've been doing some reading. Here are a few that particularly caught my fancy.

Suicide, Alcoholism and Anthony Bourdain
Can We Talk About Alcoholism and Anthony Bourdain? at the Chicago Tribune is a piece I've been waiting for since news of his tragic and untimely death appeared. He was hard for me to watch as I saw a person who was working hard to present himself as the most gregarious, most interesting, most outlandish when really there was a deep sadness about him. This piece clarified that for me in a way, especially as alcoholism and addiction is something that my family knows far too well. (Thanks to April Leaf for pointing this one out.)

Harvesting and Life

Tasting The Sweetness Of A Norwegian Summer at The New York Times is an old piece I stumbled across in the leftover paper of our moving process. I smoothed out the paper to find this little gem by Hope Jahren reflecting on berries, life, and seasons. It was wonderful and surprising and vivid.


Perspective and Outlook

Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives at Brain Pickings is a long read and worth the effort. I also think I may have to read it again. Whether we see our mistakes as utter failings or as opportunities for growth, impacts everything from our relationships to our overall success in life.

Climate Change

Global Warming Likely To Expand Radius of Gale Force Wind of Tropical Cyclones at Japan For Sustainability is not surprising but still disappointing news for farmers and regular citizens alike. Winds can devastate crops by either knocking them down or causing severe damage to plants. The fact, too, that typhoons (Japan's version of the hurricane) regularly arrive throughout the year and with higher intensity, means we all need to be bracing ourselves for higher food prices and extra work in the fields.

Frankenstein and Technology

It'll Take More Than A Few Angry Villagers To Kill Off 'Frankenstein' at NPR reflects on why Mary Shelley's classic horror tale continues to resonate with readers today. I only read it myself a few years ago and must admit that in that mid-19th century story I saw many of the things we worry about today in regards to technology run out of control. Hopeless or hopeful, whatever your take on it may be, this article and the book are both worthy of your time.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 23 and Sunday, June 24

Satoh Nouenat Osonbashi Marche with their lovely peaches!
Things slow down this time of the month in terms of markets, but don't let that stop you from heading out to one of these great foodly shindigs to see what is seasonally shaking. Lots of summer vegetables are pouring in, and as the rain keeps falling and temperatures rising, harvests will continue to increase. So, don't hold back on things like basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, and anything else you see at those delightful stalls. Pickles are always a good choice, if you ask me!

Kamome Marche
Saturday, June 23
Set on the upper level of the Yokohama Bay Quarter, this little market offers nice variety given its size. Vendors from Yamanashi, Yokohama, and other parts of Kanagawa brave the steady ocean breeze and offer everything up from fruit to wine to fresh vegetables.
11am - 5pm
Map

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
This market is an absolute treasure of a small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in or nearby another one of Japan's former capitals. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal-infused bread while you're there. They also make an excellent cup of coffee.
7am until sold out
Map

Ebisu Market
Every Sunday
A small handful of years ago, the Ebisu Market became a weekly Sunday event. Part of the original Marche Japon movement, this market carries on with a nice selection of regional farmers, seasonal veg, baked goods, and the addition of arts and crafts. It does bill itself as all organic, and there are some; however, I recommend asking vendors to be sure. I also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen to fortify yourself with some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that started out as the flagship market for Marche Japon busted out on its own a few years back. Now one of the most happening places on the weekend, the market features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Winter vegetables can be found here, but produce offerings do vary in amount by season. There is a most excellent selection of food trucks whipping up everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken and falafel! Oh, and don't forget the craft beer truck, too!
10am to 4pm
Map

Hills Marche Farmers Market
Every Tuesday and Saturday
The Ark Hills Marche in Roppongi is perhaps one of the best things going in this part of Tokyo. Originally created to serve residents of the nearby high-rise, it is a bountiful and booming event. Don't miss the chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji, take in a little music, and sample a variety of other seasonal delights.
Saturday, 10am to 4pm
Tuesday, 11am to 7pm**
Map

Yurakucho Farmers Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, the Yurakucho Market takes its cue from the antenna shops located nearby and 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 do come weekly, though, with some excellent treats.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakucho Station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Osonbashi Marche
*This appears to be on hold for the moment. I'll update as I find out when it will happen again.
This new market in Yokohama is one I have only seen a poster and website for, but not been to yet. The venue should be beautiful, and I have no doubt the offerings will be good. Keep in mind that it is relatively new, so it might be small. However, markets don't get bigger and better if you don't go to them and support the people there. I can't go this month, but I'd love to hear from anyone who does!
10:30am to 3:30pm
Nihon-Oodoori Station
Look for the exit for the International Ferry Passenger Terminal and follow the signs.

Know of a market? Give me a shout, and I'll add it to the list!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thursday Snapshot: Baby Gingko Trees

Baby gingko trees enjoying the rainy season.
 Out once again for a walk on a rainy afternoon, I noticed some seedlings pooled around the base of a zelkova tree. A closer look showed me that they were the youthful offspring of a nearby ichou (gingko) tree. The nuts, ginnan, fall in a smelly mess each autumn and are often harvested by locals as a seasonal treat. These little seedlings represent, of course, those that got left behind.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Yamamomo Foraging



Yamamomo berries
Foraging is something that I occasionally do in Japan, and yamamomo are one of the best reasons to brazenly defy norms. Chinese bayberry is an evergreen tree found in parks throughout our little region. The bright red fruit first caught my attention for its lovely color and the sparkle of its skin. Setting reason to the side, I tried a bite and found it to be tart and sweet all at once with something of a pine taste, too. I was hooked.

A not very good photo of the tree, I'm afraid.

Since then I have stood under many a tree in a public space and nibbled or waded into shrubbery at the base of these tall trees to get at a particularly delectable looking bunch. A friend gathers hers each year religiously and dries them for use later in desserts or as snacks. I often dream of making a jam or shu with them, but so far have left those ideas only as dreams as I stand under the tree.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Dokudami: A Useful and Pretty Little Weed


Dokudami with bergamot leaves in the garden.
There are some plants that seem to simply appear no matter what a grower does. Sugina (horsetail) and dokudami (Lizard's Tail) are two that are incredibly persistent. They are some of the first plants to appear in soil that has been cleared of other vegetation or structures, and their extensive root systems let them rapidly spread.

Many gardeners express extreme frustration at them, but I take a slightly different approach. I try to work with them. I often feel that if a plant feels that much need to be there, maybe I should make some room for it and see what's going on.

Dokudami has a long and well-established relationship with humans in this region of the world. Part of the traditional medicine cabinet, dokudami leaves are often dried to make a tea that helps with digestion, constipation, and high blood pressure among others. It is also included on the Japanese Government's List of Approved Kampo (Chinese Medicine) plants.

One friend described how her mother used dokudami as a home remedy for insect bites and pimples. "She washed the leaves, and then gently rubbed them with salt," she said. Then her mother placed the leaves on the affected for one night as a simple kind of poultice that drew out whatever was the source of the trouble.

Happy dokudami blossoms on one edge of my garden.
The same friend also enjoys the fresh leaves as part of her nightly bath. Again, she washes the leaves, places them in a net bag, and throws them in the hot water. "When soaking in the water, I rub the leaves lightly to help remove the leaf extract," she said. "Now is the best season," she added, "although the smell is strong."

Indeed, the smell is strong, and in some cases seems downright fishy in essence. The leaves, roots and stems of dokudami are edible and are part of traditional dishes in Korea and India.

Dokudami is also a happy resident in my Kanagawa garden. It fills in blank spots in my northern bed with ease, which is a mixed blessing, of course. While I am grateful for the living mulch it provides and the pollinators that enjoy its flowers, I have to admit that it took some effort to keep it from running rampant over my onions and arugula. (Once established, dokudami is a challenge to remove. Reminiscent of mint, the plant spreads by cuttings, so if one is not a patient weed puller, it is possible to end up encouraging it rather than eradicating it.) However, I would rather have my soil protected and covered than not.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday Reading

Ceramic teapot at Wasabichaya in Hadano.
One benefit of the rainy season is that it becomes a little easier to sit down and do some reading. At least, that's what my office assistants keep telling me. It's always hard to choose, but here we are with another week of reading highlights.

Japan

Disaster-hit Fukushima Struggles to Secure Forest Industry Workers Efforts Slowly Bearing Fruit at The Japan Times 
This is a great story, despite its awkward headline, of long-term recovery work beginning to pay off for that most lovely northern prefecture in exciting ways.

In Search of Japanese Roots at Discover Magazine
Jared Diamond's piece may be somewhat dated, but general principles are sound and offer a fascinating insight into the culture, place, and people of this country.

Seeds

Biology and Medicine at Discover Magazine
Another Jared Diamond piece that still packs a punch after all these years, this one discusses how our ancestors came to set seeds in soil rather than just walk and munch.

Saving Seeds and Genes to Save Lives at Scitable, Nature Magazine's Collaborative Learning Space for Science
An interesting piece about the importance of saving seeds and the genetic diversity they represent, the article makes a good case for biodiversity.

Climate Change

Trees That Have Lived for Millenia Are Suddenly Dying at The Atlantic
I cannot say this isn't an incredibly depressing piece, but it is an important one. Understanding why these trees are dying suddenly and in large numbers is an important warning for us all.

Grief

The Unpredictability of Grief at the Covey Club
Erika Dreifus shared this compelling read about grief and how it entwines itself into our hearts and minds. Sad but also uplifting, the story made me think of how there are so many other things we think we have resolved or come to terms with only to discover in a single moment that they are as present as ever.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Annual Events in Japan

Annual Events in Japan by Noriko Takano
My post the other day on ajisai reminded me of two books I'd bought a handful of years ago. Annual Events in Japan: Spring and Summer, and Annual Events in Japan: Autumn and Winter by Noriko Takano are children's books that are charming and informative.

We join the Rabbit Family as they make their way through the year and enjoy the traditions and practices of each season. Each month is introduced with the translation of its kanji name, i.e. September is Nagatsuki (Month of Long Nights) and short explanations of holidays, house cleaning activities, seasonal foods, and translations of other small details that for many long-term residents have been nagging questions we never quite get around to researching.

While obviously aimed at children, the adults among us will also find the books a useful reference throughout the year. Enjoy!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 16 and Sunday, June 17


Kamakura Farmers Market growers and their tasty veg!

Rainy season has arrived and even brought a typhoon along to join the fun. Growers and producers, however, are still hard at it in field, furrow and kitchen, so don't hesitate to head on out. This is, after all, the most farmers-markety weekend of the month, so it should be simple to find one near or relatively near and get some good grub. What better way to ward off the rainy season blues than a hearty soup or some wonderful pickles! See you at the market!

Kichijoji Harmonica Yokocho Asaichi
Sunday, June 17
Early birds on Tokyo's west side should count themselves lucky to find this little market in the warren of shops just north of the station. While fruits and veg are a bit lacking, the market is big on craftsmen and women doing interesting work, excellent baked goods, miso, rice, and other tasty treats. It's worth noting that a number of places offer breakfast deals in the market!
Look for my review in Outdoor Japan's Spring Traveler!
7am - 10am

Koenji Farmers Market
Saturday, June 16*
Spotted a handful of years ago while riding the Chuo Line, this little market is still going strong. A circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre marks the spot where friendly folks with good food and interesting stories await.
*A wee bit of a best guess here as they haven't updated their blog yet. Do check before making the trip over there.
11am - 6pm
Map

Nippori Farmers Market
Saturday, June 16 and Sunday, June 17
This charming market in the heart of old Tokyo abounds with a sense of community and friendliness as well as good food. Small but lively, particularly on Saturday, it features a monthly geographical theme although regular vendors include Tohoku growers and some of the best steamed manju in the world.
No map, but just head out the East Exit and look for the green awnings
10am to 5pm

Osonbashi Marche
Saturday, June 16 and Sunday, June 17
This new market in Yokohama is one I have only seen a poster and website for, but not been to yet. The venue should be beautiful, and I have no doubt the offerings will be good. Keep in mind that it is relatively new, so it might be small. However, markets don't get bigger and better if you don't go to them and support the people there. I can't go this month, but I'd love to hear from anyone who does!
10:30am to 4pm
Nihon-Oodoori Station
Look for the exit for the International Ferry Passenger Terminal and follow the signs.

Yokohama Kitanaka Marche
Saturday, June 16 and Sunday, June 17
One of the best markets going in the Yokohama area, and it's perhaps no coincidence that they are only moments away from Baird Beer's Bashamichi Taproom. Started by the same folks who created the Market of the Sun, the Kitanaka Marche to be growing steadily with tasty offerings of fresh seasonal veg, fruit, baked goods and preserves. Read my other review over at Outdoor Japan's Traveler Magazine for the full scoop.
10am to 4pm
Bashamichi Station, Exit 2*
Note that the market has moved, so come out of the station, turn right, and take the next right turn. Keep walking past the construction site and keep an eye out for the white tents running along next to the river.

Oiso Farmers Market
Sunday, June 17
This little gem of a community shindig is one of the best things going outside of the Earth Day Market. Started a handful of years ago, it blossomed into a full-on monthly festival that just happens to feature Shonan area produce in its fresh, seasonal form as well as pickled, dried, and prepared-hot-in-a-bowl varieties. In summer, it transforms into a night market, while year-round a much smaller version takes place every Saturday. Lee's Bread alone is worth the journey. Read my full review at Outdoor Japan's Traveler Magazine.
10am to 2pm
Oiso Port Building

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
This market is an absolute treasure of a small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in or nearby another one of Japan's former capitals. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal-infused bread while you're there. They also make an excellent cup of coffee.
7am until sold out
Map

Ebisu Market
Every Sunday
A small handful of years ago, the Ebisu Market became a weekly Sunday event. Part of the original Marche Japon movement, this market carries on with a nice selection of regional farmers, seasonal veg, baked goods, and the addition of arts and crafts. It does bill itself as all organic, and there are some; however, I recommend asking vendors to be sure. I also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen to fortify yourself with some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that started out as the flagship market for Marche Japon busted out on its own a few years back. Now one of the most happening places on the weekend, the market features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Winter vegetables can be found here, but produce offerings do vary in amount by season. There is a most excellent selection of food trucks whipping up everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken and falafel! Oh, and don't forget the craft beer truck, too!
10am to 4pm
Map

Hills Marche Farmers Market
Every Tuesday and Saturday
The Ark Hills Marche in Roppongi is perhaps one of the best things going in this part of Tokyo. Originally created to serve residents of the nearby high-rise, it is a bountiful and booming event. Don't miss the chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji, take in a little music, and sample a variety of other seasonal delights.
Saturday, 10am to 4pm
Tuesday, 11am to 7pm**
Map

Yurakucho Farmers Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, the Yurakucho Market takes its cue from the antenna shops located nearby and 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 do come weekly, though, with some excellent treats.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakucho 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 I'll add it to the list!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday Snapshot: Ajisai and the Rainy Season

This  year's ajisai (hydrangea) bloom.
June is rainy season, and it is also when ajisai (hydrangea) make themselves known. I cannot help but mention them each year at about this time. They are remarkable to me for a variety of reasons, not least because Japan is the place where I came to appreciate them.

It was hiking in Hokkaido, deep in the heart of Daisetsuzan Koen, that I spotted my first wild hydrangea. Hiking down a steep valley to a wild onsen recommended by a friend, I paused to catch my breath. I looked up and saw among the various plants and flowers clinging to the rocky walls a lone hydrangea. It's blue purple blossom waved with the wind that moved down the valley with the stream we were following. It was one of the loveliest things I'd ever seen, so unlike the giant white basketball blooms I'd seen and disdained back home.

Since then, I look for them and look forward to this native plant's show each year. And take my annual round of photos, marveling at their colors and shapes, happy for the chance to see them again. And if you're hiking in the mountains this summer, keep an eye out for this lovely blooms.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Women of a Certain Age: Review

Image courtesy of Freemantle Press

I was recently offered the chance to review a book of essays written by women about the later years of life. Women of a Certain Age, (Freemantle Press, March 2018) proved a compelling read, not just because I'm a woman, but because it is a glimpse into the human experience that I think is rarely put in the spotlight. I am grateful the opportunity came my way. Read my whole review here and see the link there for how to find your own copy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Kanagawa Garden Update: June

The garden from the west side.
Now that our move is over and the kittens are, for the most part, settled in, I've been able to return some attention to my garden. It's a further walk now - about 30 minutes versus the previous 10 minutes - but I plan to keep it for the foreseeable future. I'm attached to my fellow gardeners, and I've put a great deal of effort into building up that soil. It isn't perfect, of course, a subject I'll write more about soon, but it is pretty wonderful.

The North Bed - West to East

As the temperatures and humidity rise, things get a bit wonky in the garden. Everything starts growing like crazy, and keeping up with that level of enthusiasm is challenging. My tomatoes have sent runner branches hither and yon, something I suspect is normal for heirloom tomatoes. This is perhaps the third or fourth year that I have grown them from seed, and I am suspicious that as an American tomato they may prefer not to be pruned. They seem very happy in their chaos, and a little research tells me that they would like to be staked or supported in their endeavors only. Messiness seems to be the American way in this case.

My habit of letting my greens - kale, norabo, etc. - go to seed and then laying those branches on the soil to compost resulted as always in an abundance of baby plants. We are still eating and enjoying them, although the humidity, aphids, and cabbage worms are getting the better of them. However, those plants made a nice carpet mulch for the tomatoes and later offered some protection from the weather. I'm now pruning/eating the larger greens to allow in more light and air.

The onion harvest is done, and that bed is in good shape. The soil is rich with worms and critters, and will be a happy home for a fresh round of greens come the fall. I'm giving serious thought to carrots or some of the soramame gifted at the seed saving workshop. I've grown neither of them before, but I am sure it will be an interesting endeavor.

The arugula has gone to seed, and a bundle of the branches now hang under the eaves of our veranda to dry for next year. I still have some purchased seed left over, but I'm hoping to develop a strain that is particularly happy in this region.

Bergamot blooms in full swing.
The yakon, bergamot, and swiss chard are in good shape, too. The latter, of course, is winding down, but I'll let it do it's thing until it sets seed. Everything grown this year is from seed saved last year, which feels like quite an accomplishment. I also noticed yesterday a Lacinato kale plant adding its lush greenery to the scene in that corner of the garden, which also made me quite happy.

I've also seen young shoots of tsurumurasaki here and there, the great-great-great-grandchildren of a couple of plants I bought a few years ago. I welcome them, too, as we enjoy their tender leaves in salads, cold soups, and sandwiches.

The South Bed - East to West

The popcorn plants stand shoulder high now and have yet to tassle. I always forget just how tall these plants get. I'm always impressed at the strength of their roots and how the shape themselves to the wind. Granted, the unseasonal typhoons that are now the norm are a challenge, but I remain hopeful.

The popcorn standing tall.
 At the base of these, too, I laid the tall branches of greens gone to seed, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. You can never have enough greens, if you ask me. I'm also letting the strawberry runners wander here and there on this side. I won't let them take over as they did a few years ago, but I'm still happy to see them and feast on them in the spring.

Finally, at the far west end of the south bed are the potatoes and what I believe is myoga. The potatoes are ready to be harvested as the branches are dying off and falling over. That will be Friday's big job, and the myoga will remain where it is until I sort out in more detail what I am supposed to do.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Sprouting Daikon Top Means Edible Greens



The little sprouting daikon top: a portrait.
I remember visiting my good friend Junko one day and noticing a shallow bowl filled with water and three kabu tops sitting there. The leaves of the kabu were still attached and a vibrant green. "They're easy to keep like this," she said and went on to explain that they would get new leaves, too. 

It seemed like a great idea, but I didn't really think much about it for some time. We usually eat all of our vegetables - tops, leaves, etc. - so it wasn't until recently I remembered her idea and gave it a shot.

The container with the tomatoes and the daikon in the back left corner.
I'd bought a lovely red daikon at the UNU a.k.a. Aoyama Farmers Market from Mercato back in April. We'd eaten most of it, but the top still had a few tiny leaves. I found a shallow bowl and plopped it in. Soon, new leaves were sprouting. It wasn't too exciting, so I left it be. (That really means I simply forgot about it.) My husband moved it to a small flower pot on our patio, and there it stayed until about two weeks ago. When it rained and when I remembered, I gave it water. Miraculously, it lived. When I picked it up, I noticed roots coming out the bottom. My next thought was...

...why not?

I planted it in a back corner of a planter with two cherry tomatoes and some random green seeds.

The other day when I went to stake the tomatoes and arrange a net for a green curtain, I was sure there must have been more seeds spread about on the soil than I thought. Then I realized my error.

The base of the original daikon happily growing.
Those leaves belonged to that little daikon top!

Lush and green, the little guy is holding its own in that back corner. Where we go from here, I don't know, but I'll be enjoying them in our house salads for some time, I think. It also seems to want to throw up bloom or two, which will mean seeds. I'll be collecting those, of course. Such enthusiasm should be honored.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday Reading

Stubbers "helping" me stay on task.
The new office assistants are keeping me hopping, that's for sure. Last week must have been a fluke of peacefulness, because it's been a steady run of laundry, food, and play time all for them ever since. It's a miracle I got to read anything this week. Here's a few items I got to savor in between kitten attacks.

Food and Farming

What 'No Antibiotic' Claims Really Mean at Consumer Reports lays out in detail what that means in different contexts. The related links on food labeling are also worth sitting down with, too.

Nature in Various Forms

Hundreds of Shoes Form Memorial in Puerto Rico After Maria Death Toll Spikes at Huffington Post is a vivid portrayal of the grief and frustration these U.S. citizens continue to face nearly a year after the hurricane struck. Check out the good work being done by the Land+Heart Project in Puerto Rico to see one of way of how to help.

Invasive Beetle Threatens Japan's Beloved Cherry Blossoms at The Japan Times tells of the threat posed to the nation's beloved trees by the red-necked longhorn beetle. A stowaway on imported lumber perhaps, the beetle is munching its way along.

The team and I recently listened to Krista Tippett talk with Michael McCarthy for a recent episode of On Being, and then I found this amazing piece, Nature and the Serious Business of Joy, at Brainpickings. Deep, complex, and beautifully written, the article is worth the time it takes to read and ponder.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Onion Harvest Drying

Onions drying on our veranda.
The onion harvest is in from my Kanagawa garden. I planted about twenty-five red onions in December or January (I can't recall exactly, and my office assistants won't let me up.) in a bed layered with leaves and manure and then mulched with wara (rice straw).

The mulched onion bed in January. If you squint, you can see them...
It didn't feel too promising, I must admit, in the early days as they battled the cold, dry winter, but they held on until the weather warmed.

My brave little onions stretching for the sun.
Then they sent up their strong green leaves and set my mouth to watering as I anticipated pickles, salads, and chutneys. Friends, of course, anticipated the same as well as one or two to call their very own.

I harvested them a little late - Saturday, June 2 - but before the rainy season arrived in earnest. Now, they are lounging on our veranda in between showers and underneath the laundry.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 9 and Sunday, June 10

Meet up with this Kokubunji farmer at the Ark Hills Marche in Roppongi! 
It's that time of year when it's best to travel with an umbrella! Rainy season is upon us, but that only means the markets will be even more bountiful from here on out. Seriously, what else is one to do with all that moisture and humidity? Head on out to see what great treats are there, and don't forget that blueberry season is just around the corner!


Market of the Sun
Saturday, June 9 and Sunday, June 10
One of Tokyo's newer markets, Market of the Sun (a.k.a. Taiyo Marche), professes to be one of the largest. A short walk from Tsukiji Market and its wonderful surrounds, this market is worth a visit for its lovely selection of foodly and crafty items that rivals the goodies found at the UNU Market.
10am to 4pm
Step out of Kachidoke Station at Exits A4a or A4b and look for the tents.

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
This market is an absolute treasure of a small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in or nearby another one of Japan's former capitals. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal-infused bread while you're there. They also make an excellent cup of coffee.
7am until sold out
Map

Ebisu Market
Every Sunday
A small handful of years ago, the Ebisu Market became a weekly Sunday event. Part of the original Marche Japon movement, this market carries on with a nice selection of regional farmers, seasonal veg, baked goods, and the addition of arts and crafts. It does bill itself as all organic, and there are some; however, I recommend asking vendors to be sure. I also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen to fortify yourself with some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that started out as the flagship market for Marche Japon busted out on its own a few years back. Now one of the most happening places on the weekend, the market features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Winter vegetables can be found here, but produce offerings do vary in amount by season. There is a most excellent selection of food trucks whipping up everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken and falafel! Oh, and don't forget the craft beer truck, too!
10am to 4pm
Map

Hills Marche Farmers Market
Every Tuesday and Saturday
The Ark Hills Marche in Roppongi is perhaps one of the best things going in this part of Tokyo. Originally created to serve residents of the nearby high-rise, it is a bountiful and booming event. Don't miss the chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji, take in a little music, and sample a variety of other seasonal delights.
Saturday, 10am to 4pm
Tuesday, 11am to 7pm**
Map

Yurakucho Farmers Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, the Yurakucho Market takes its cue from the antenna shops located nearby and 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 do come weekly, though, with some excellent treats.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakucho 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 I'll add it to the list!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thursday Snapshot: Ripe Ume Everywhere

Ripe ume loitering on university grounds.
'Tis the season for ume, and these blushing beauties were found on the grounds of a university near my house. I'm tempted to go back and harvest a bunch and see how they might be for jam. It depends, though, on the dictates of my new office assistants, the weather, and my gumption. This list of ume recipes is calling, though...

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Bamboo Carvings at Mishima Skywalk

Detail of Mount Fuji from the bamboo carving at Mishima Skywalk.
 During our garden club outing, we visited the Mishima Skywalk. Finished just this past year, the Skywalk is essentially a giant bridge with views to Suruga Bay and Numazu one direction and Mount Fuji the other. It was fun, but what I was particularly intrigued by were the bamboo carvings set up at the far end.

A not-terribly-attractive photo of the illuminated carving.
A series of stacked bamboo logs had patterns cut into them to form pictures or just a pleasing effect reflective of the natural setting. One, depicted here, featured Mount Fuji, while the other had flowers and suns with lights strung inside. The logs were staggered, and once illuminated would form a unique sculpture.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Bamboo Fence for Erosion Protection


Erosion control and wind protection mini-fence.
A recent trip to the former summer villa of the Japanese Imperial Family found me wandering the garden, and while there I stumbled on this nifty little erosion protection fence. The villa is quite close to the seashore in Izu, protected from ocean winds and weather by the surrounding pines. However, these little fences offered a little extra protection for the lower, perhaps more fragile flowering shrubs and plants that lined the walk.

Fence close-up.

These little fences are woven flat pieces of bamboo and occur in staggered waves.

A not terribly attractive overhead view of the fences and edging.
They must buffer the wind just enough so that the plants don't get utterly beat up, and the sandy soil stays in place. They are also quite attractive and made from materials found on site. I also liked the edging made from old ceramic roof tiles.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Seed Saving Workshop with Yamayuri Co-op

Hidehito Komaki talking about seed saving.
This Sunday I attended a seed saving workshop with a group of friends. Sponsored in part by Yamayuri Co-op, the workshop was held at Hidehito Komaki's farm where he showed us how to save seeds from soramame (broad beans) and cabbage. Both, he told our group of about 70, were varieties he'd been saving seeds from for about ten years. 

Komaki spoke of the relationship that develops over time between seeds, plants, soil, and people. The soramame grown from his saved seeds were larger and harder to pull out of the ground than those in an adjacent row grown from seed grown for the first time this year. Komaki believes that the plants learn their soil and their region, and that the farmer and those who eat vegetables from those locally grown seeds also become part of a unique system.

It may sound a bit like hocuspocus or, as my husband likes to call it, "hippy crap", but Komaki certainly isn't the first or only to espouse these kinds of ideas. Masanobu Fukukuoka, considered the father of natural farming, came to the same conclusion as have many others since, including Michael Phillips, Michael Pollan, Gary Paul Nabhan, Janisse Ray, Carol Deppe, and John Navazio to name but a few. Scientists are also learning that saved seeds well-adapted to their regions may help stave off some of the nastier effects of climate change such as famine. Saved seeds that adapt to growing in hotter, drier climates or wetter, more humid climates will still allow us to eat as we figure out how to move forward.

Gathering soramame pods during the workshop.
Perhaps even more importantly, Komaki added with a smile, "They taste good." (We also got cooking instructions for the soramame, of course.)

We wandered over the field gathering up blackened pods that one young member of our group quite aptly described as similar in appearance to rotten bananas. Komaki advised us to let them dry in the pod until they rattle. "The seed absorbs all of the nutrients from the pod," he said holding a blackened soramame in his hand as he spoke. "They are so rich in vitamins and minerals that they are like medicine."

Soramame pods. The lower is for seed saving as it has that rotten banana look.
A former chemist, Komaki has tested his vegetables and fields for nutrient content. His vegetables, he told our group, are three times and five times higher in minerals and vitamins, respectively, than non-heirloom varieties. Later, when we moved to the cabbage field, he described his method, similar to satoyama, of adding leaves to the soil from the adjacent mountain once a year. One result, he said, is that the level of enzymes in his soil were two to three times higher than other fields.

We all came away with soramame and cabbage seeds for drying in preparation for the next growing season. He also offered up some of his onions, one of which is a local variety called Shonan Red, for us to enjoy while our seeds dry and we plot our next growing adventure.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sunday Reading

Frank and Stubbers supervising in the feline way.
My new office assistants demand that I keep a more consistent production schedule. I write every day, but I don't necessarily produce work to share. Well, at least, it isn't ready to share immediately. They suggested I write about some of the things I'm reading recently, and I thought it was a good idea. They have also suggested that I write a post each day this month, something like a Blogathon that I've done in the past, but more personal. The three of us thought this was a good idea to help them better understand my work and to get to know each other better. (They, of course, are napping in my lap at the moment, but that's part of their job description.) Here's what I offer for some lovely Sunday Reading after the farmers markets, of course!

Food and Farming

Waste Land, Promised Land at Orion is a powerful story of urban farming, immigration and climate change. I saw so many similarities between my ancestors and the people in this story. Hopes and dreams and hard work with a good mix of friendship and helping hands are some of what I love best about my country.

Japan's Public Policy is Killing Rural Entrepreneurship at the Japan Times offered insight into something I often think about as I talk with farmers or visit rural places. There are so many wonderful rural places here with so much to offer, yet they often seem to be failing or falling by the wayside. An aging and decreasing population are always part of the swirl of reasons, but Amy Chavez also points to policies that also aren't very helpful.

Farm-to-table Shouldn't Just Be For Rich White People at Huffington Post by Julia Turshen says what many people are thinking and says it well.

Writers and Writing

Overlooked No More: Julia de Burgos, a Poet Who Helped Shape Puerto Rico's Identity at The New York Times is part of a series the paper is doing on influential people that got overlooked in the past. While de Burgos' story is a mix of tragedy and success, I found her inspiring for her determination to be true to her art and herself. It wasn't easy for her as a woman in the 1930's, particularly as one who was a poet and Puerto Rican, but she held her ground. Poets are a force to be reckoned with, I say.

Inside the Mind of a Villain at Writer's Digest caught my attention for many reasons, not least of which is my novel. I really struggled to understand why my antagonist was such a pain in the neck. Seriously, why would someone be so mean? Obviously, I know people are capable of not being nice, but I admit that I struggle to understand why they would be evil. This article was helpful and full of excellent resources for further reading.

Plants and Stuff

Exploring the First American Silva at the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog is a beautiful and fascinating post about one of the first books to be published about American forest trees. Visually stunning images only whet the appetite for this tantalizing book.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

New Office Assistants


Left to right, Frank and Stubbers, the newest members of the Japan Farmers Markets Team.
I usually save special photos for my Thursday Snapshot section, but this seemed a good opportunity to share some news. Please welcome Frank and Stubbers to the Japan Farmers Market crew. Only two months old, they keep on my toes and glued to my chair all at once. Cat gravity, as we call it here at JFMHQ, is strong with these two.