It's Lunch Time

Japan Hour

Japan Hour - Summer
It's Lunch Time


Japan Hour:

It's Lunch Time

Join us as we travel around Japan to find out what the locals eat. First up is a trip to Azumino City in Nagano Prefecture. It is known for its production of wasabi grown in pure spring water. It is located at the foot of the Japanese Alps. The water that is formed from the melted snow has been ranked first on Japan's 100 Best Waters list. The area also boasts the highest volume of wasabi grown using this type of water.

We visit a greenhouse where cashew strawberries are grown. This strawberry farm is owned by the Kawakamis. We learn that normal strawberries grow from winter to spring. But these cashew strawberries have been selectively bred and their season lasts from summer to autumn. They are known for being relatively sour and are often used as toppings for cakes.

We request to see what Mr and Mrs Kawakami are having for lunch. They kindly oblige so we go to their house which is near the greenhouse. Their meal includes leftovers from the previous day’s dinner. There are two types of curry - a sweet one for Mrs Kawakami and a spicy version with red pepper spices for her husband. Both curries are made with potatoes, onions, carrots and pork shoulder. Mr Kawakami used to be a white-collar worker whereas his wife previously grew tomatoes. Both of them decided to start growing strawberries when Azumino City started subsidising strawberry farming about two years ago.

We next search for Azumino's famous wasabi. The water flowing through the wasabi fields is also melted snow from the Northern Alps so it is very cold. Even in summer, the water is below 15 degrees; it is said to be perfect for growing wasabi. We meet Mr Matsumoto, a third-generation wasabi farmer. About 200kg of wasabi is harvested per day at his wasabi field. To ensure the water does not get muddy, the wasabi is grown on sand instead of soil. The harvested wasabi is brought to an indoor workplace, where the roots are removed by hand.  

We later speak to Manabu Miura, who runs an aquaculture facility. He farms Shinshu salmon and char. Shinshu salmon is a brand of fish from Nagano that is bred from rainbow trout. Since it is cultivated in pure spring water, it can be eaten raw. We make our way to his store, which is five minutes away by foot. Established in 1878, Maruyama Koiya is a shop specialising in freshwater fish; it even supplies fish to local hotels and restaurants.

Mr Miura agrees to show us his meal so we go to his house. The dishes are prepared by his mum and wife. They include Shinshu salmon sashimi, grilled salmon belly, tempura made from pumpkin and green peppers grown in their own garden, and onion and sakura shrimp tempura.

Our next destination is Katashina Village in Gunma Prefecture. Popular for hiking, it is 800m above sea level. Katashina Village is known for its tofu made with Oze spring water. We explore Corn Street, where there are about 10 direct sales stores selling corn. What is special about corn from Katashina Village is its high level of sugar. The temperature difference between night and day and the well-drained volcanic soil are what makes the corn so sweet. The corn can be eaten raw but the best way to bring out its sweetness is to grill it with charcoal fire.  

After this, we drop by another shop. Shunichi Hoshino and his wife Katsuko grow their own vegetables and sell them at this direct sales shop. They also run an inn beside it; Mr Hoshino built the inn at a cost of 60 million yen 27 years ago. We go to the inn’s kitchen to see what is being prepared for the Hoshinos’ meal. Dishes include stir-fried sweet corn with golden oyster mushrooms; stir-fried pork back ribs and zucchini with butter; and broccoli from Mr Hoshino's field.

The next person we meet is 77-year-old Mrs Tomaru, who has been growing tomatoes in Katashina Village for 30 years. She grows Gunma Prefecture’s Oze brand of tomatoes, which are firm and full-bodied. She set up a blog eight years ago, where she writes about the tomatoes she harvests, events in Katashina Village and her personal life. She updates the blog daily using her smartphone. She is also active on Twitter and has nearly 200 followers.  

We are keen to see her lunch so we go to her house, which is five minutes away by car. She prepares rice with Oze tomatoes and homegrown vegetables; tomato and green shiso salad; miso soup made with eggplant and green beans; and lightly pickled cucumbers.   

1) Do try Azumino’s famous wasabi when visiting the city
2) Tofu, corn and tomatoes are among Katashina Village’s popular food choices