Text: Yu Hayami
I get to travel around Japan, discover beautiful places, learn about its history and eat delicious local cuisine! And that is exactly what I did in November 2018, when I visited Fukushima prefecture.
The 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tohoku was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan.
Fukushima prefecture was devastatingly affected by it. The earthquake destroyed homes and towns, but most of all, the area was greatly affected by fuhyo higai, or “harmful rumors.”
People around the country stopped buying produce from the area. Of course, this badly affected the farmers, fishermen, and other food-related producers.
On this trip, I was lucky to have met a few awesome people who were courageous to try new and different things to bring Fukushima back after these harmful rumors.
Shiraishi-san, who is the eighth-generation owner of Shiraishi Farms, showed me his field dotted with satoimo, a type of sticky potato. We dug up some satoimo and then he immediately proceeded to steam them for a few minutes. I still remember breaking the satoimo in half and being surprised at how beautiful the color of the satoimo was! Words cannot express how delicious and fresh it tasted! Yum!!
As we stood there savoring his satoimo, Shiraishi-san looked back on how sad he was to see his beautiful vegetables grown, with nowhere to go. After the earthquake, no one wanted to eat vegetables from Fukushima. Every day, he would go to his field, look at the land and the produce, and stand there in shock. But he was determined to bring back his vegetables and land to the same state as before the earthquake.
Shiraishi-san thought, “Who creates these harmful rumors? People do. If there are harmful rumors, why not overcome them by spreading good rumors?”
It was around this time that he started working with a local chef, Chef Hagi.
Together, they broke through the barrier of harmful rumors by providing delicious products from his farm. Products such as dressing made from sweet carrots, and great-tasting naganegi long onions which he grew in the chemical-free soil of his fields.
Chef Hagi also created beautiful dishes, showcasing vegetables that Shiraishi-san grew, at his French restaurant, Hagi.
Shiraishi-san sent me some broccoli the other day, and I must admit, I have never tasted anything so delicious as his broccoli before! Not only are they good, they are aesthetically beautiful too!
On my second day, I visited Aizu-Wakamatsu, which is famous for its rich samurai culture. I walked into Nagato-ya, a Japanese confectionary store that has been owned by the same family for over 170 years. The new owner, who I believe is the eighth-generation owner, spoke about the importance of keeping the history of Japanese sweet-making, but also how important it is to incorporate new ideas. She showed me two types of sweets. One is called Kagunokinomi, which is made from walnuts that are harvested locally. The walnut is wrapped in an, a sweet bean paste. It is not too sweet, and has a hint of bitterness from its cocoa powder coating. This one has been popular for over 30 years now.
The other is a form of Yokan, a Japanese bean paste confectionary. While most Yokans are just a reddish-brown color, this one is very innovative! Named “Fly Me to the Moon,” there is a new picture/design in each piece you slice. There is a blue bird flying toward the moon, and with each slice, the bird’s wings open and the shape of the moon changes. It really is so darling, and a sure hit if you send one to friends and family as a gift.
I was also impressed with the interior of the shop. The walls and doors of the shop were decorated using antique cake molds.
It was such a pleasure to see the new generations stand up to the harmful rumors, and even to look at the bright side of the disaster in 2011. Some said that if it were not for the natural disaster occurring, they would not have tried new approaches to things. This devastating experience brought everyone closer together, to work closer, to brainstorm harder, to get Fukushima back on its tracks again. There are so many things we can learn from the people of Fukushima, who are humble but have great inner strength.