In Japanese, the Kanji 和 – Wa is connected with that strong sense of peace and harmony that bind people together in what is called a community (not by chance, it’s also used to define Japan or Japanese). But, as in all the Japanese words, when you put them close to each other-two different kanji-you can obtain other meanings.
In the case of 和, together with the character 食 (eat or eating), you will discover one of the most important words of the Japanese Gastronomy: Washoku – the traditional Japanese food. With a group made up of some members of the Japanese Gastronomy Club of The University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo, and one lecturer on “Food Studies” at the University of Osaka, we took part on a study trip organized by GEN around Kanazawa – Ishikawa Prefecture. Searching for the meaning of Washoku, we discover a land of homemade cooking, fermentation, researching traditions and social responsibility to transmit them to younger generations.
REBUILDING THE COMMUNITY FROM AGRICULTURE
As most of the agricultural areas in Japan, Ishikawa is struggling with an abandonment of the fields and lack of traditions. But as is true in that “after a crisis, there is always an opportunity”, what we found talking with locals, is a strong desire to rebuild that sense of community that used to live in the past.
From Kanazawa, we took a bus for Hakui, close to the Noto Peninsula. Here, a group of farmers under the name of “ShiZen SaiBai” is working in order to make a change on how Hakui citizens cultivate and eat. Inspired by the philosophy of Akinori Kimura (the man of the “Miracles Apple”), they are motivating the younger generation to come back to the fields, promoting a kind of agriculture that follows the flow of nature.
No pesticide, no fertilizer.
How do they do that? Education is the key answer. With lessons in the classroom and in the fields, they help the new generation of farmers to start their own activities, creating a “bio-community” that shares knowledge, land, and instruments to grow their new businesses.
This project started in 2010, and, after many challenges against big corporation and the struggle of the low crop yield (40 tons of organic rice against more than 80 produced with pesticide), they are now producing an organic rice that is considered one of the best in terms of quality in Japan: Mikohara Rice.
“This success, for us, is more than economical. We hope it will inspire farmers to convert their land; in this way, we will be all able to produce good and healthy food”.
SOGEN: MORE THAN A SAKE BREWERY
If our first visit shows us a modern movement of Ishikawa, with the second one, we explored the historical and traditional part of this prefecture, visiting one of the oldest Sakè Breweries in the area: Sogen.
Reaching the village of Sozu takes time. It’s an isolated area, land of fishermen, that faces the sea of Japan and is surrounded by nature.
Under the first snow of last winter, we were welcomed by Satoru Tokuriki, the owner, known all over the country as “Maitre of Sake” for his passion and experience. Abilities that allowed him to receive different awards like the 5 starts, at Vinitaly 2018, with his “Sword of Samurai”.
Sogen was founded in 1768 and since then, has specialized in the production of Ji-zake (地酒), a long processing local sake which taste reflects the land of Sozu. What are the secret ingredients of Sogen? The clean water from Kurominesankei, the local rice Ishikawamon, and the skills of experts hands.
With Tokuriki San, we visited the brewery where we were lucky enough to see the “baby sake” growing and fermenting in big tanks. Every floor of the building, starting from the top, is connected to a specific production process. But the last one, the storage, is located in an unusual place.
Because of the area’s struggle with depopulation, the main train line was dismissed. In 2013, Sogen decided to restore a portion of the Tunnel Line that passes really close to the brewery, making it the perfect place to store sake in a natural environment. Beyond the entrance door, you will feel like being in a wine cellar, with the exception that there is a train line running through it!
But Sogen is more than a brewery. Sakaguchi San also explained to us the important social involvement of his company in the region.
In order to bring new generations close to the centenary culture of sake, the first year students from local high schools are invited every year to participate in the sowing and harvest of rice. Once the production is complete, they create their personal label and store the bottle in the cellar.
Five years after their graduation, they are invited to come back to Sogen where they share a celebratory “Kanpai” with the results of their five years of hard work.
“Young generations are losing interest in sake but here, in Sogen, we try to let them understand how important it is for our culture, starting from the production.”
As Sogen Sake is the representation of the land where it is produced and is appreciated all over the world, our next stop showed us how another traditional local product can perfectly match our modern taste. Since we started our journey in Ishikawa, there was one place in particular that everyone suggested us to stop by, in order to experience a different taste of local food: the Flatt’Family.
BEN E CHIKAKO
Ben and Chikako are an Australian – Japanese couple. They met in Sydney, where he was working in an Italian restaurant and she was teaching Japanese. Coming back to Japan, they started working with Chikako’s dad, master of Ishiri production, where they later opened their own Minshuku and restaurant.
Ishiri is a traditional fish sauce made of the intestine of Ma-Ika (Japanese squid) fermented for 2-3 years. It’s a seasoning with many beneficial nutrients that gives a strong and tasty umami flavor to the dishes. In this area of Ishikawa, it was used even before Soy Sauce.
Many people buy Ishiri in the grocery store. Ben, with the help of his son Tomo, produces his own, giving a unique and special flavor to his dishes.
The result? A modern menu with the flavour of the tradition.
蕪とゆず味噌のスープ (Soup of Turnip and Yuzu Miso)[/caption]
鰤のカルパッチョ (Yellow Tail Carpaccio)
ガーリック椎茸 能登 (Garlic, Maitake from Noto and Ishiri Sauce with homemade bread) 香箱の手打ちパスタ (Handmade Pasta with Kouhako Crab)
スズキのグリル (Grilled Sea Bass)
カタラーナ (Crema Catalana)
THE FACE OF KANAZAWA
At the end of our journey, I was grateful.
We traveled from south to north of the prefecture, meeting the smiling face of people that brought heart and soul into their work. Like the owner of Kombu Shop, Ms. Shirai, who showed us the different kinds of seaweed and how to use them in daily cuisine; the charismatic president Seiichi Yamamoto of “Yamato Soy Sauce and Miso” that taught us the importance of eating fermented foods in daily life.
“If you want to feel young and powerful for all your life, remember to eat one soup and one plate with a fermented Kouji inside”
Or Rihachi Takazawa, Miso producer that welcomed us in his house where, with a lively group of middle-aged ladies, he takes care of the production of か ぶ ら 寿司, a type of traditional fermented sushi made of yellowtail fish, turnips and carrots that required one week to be ready ( the Slow Food version of the sushi we are used to eating!).
Rihachi Takazawa Seiichi Yamamoto explained the production of Miso to us
Women making the traditional Sushi か ぶ ら (Kabura)
Woman making the traditional Sushi か ぶ ら
Since I came to live in Japan, I’m also discovering, everyday, the less famous and smallest corner of this country has a story to tell, a tradition to pass on.
Ishikawa Prefecture is an example; a small jewel of Japan where there is still so much to discover.