The Columns

Study Abroad in Japan: Working With Nature Around the World, Jane Kim ’17, Kanazawa, Japan

— by on May 24th, 2016

Working With Nature

Imagine a typical farmers’ market back in the U.S. What do you see? Maybe several cases of various organic fruits? Some home-grown leafy vegetables? Maybe there are some fresh meat or eggs or dairy products, too? Maybe people are walking through the aisles, browsing through different foodstuffs, chatting, and enjoying the fragrant aromas from fresh produce.

Omicho Market is similar, except that the items are 70-80 percent seafood The market is open every day from early morning until the late afternoon, and its vendors proudly display their wares. There are squid, fish, octopus and crabs that are bigger than the size of my head. The air is tinged with salt and the smell of roasted squid-on-a-stick. Other than seafood, there are also mini-bakeries that sell curry croquettes, bread with red bean paste, and melonpan — bread with melon flavor! — which are quite different from the common American fare. There were also fruits, but they were much, much more expensive than fruit in America: there was a small watermelon for ¥2300 (about $21). This is because Japan is only about the size of California, and it simply does not have the agricultural space for cheap produce to be a viable option. And from what little agricultural land they have, they sell only the best fruits from the harvest.

Of course that is a very simplified explanation, but nevertheless, it is undeniably a significant factor in the lives of the people here. After having taken a good look around Omicho Market and having observed my host family’s regular meals, I found that the residents of Kanazawa are very attuned to the natural world around them. They are aware of where their food comes from, and the food that is brought to the table is directly affected by the condition of the Japanese agricultural economy. For example, one day, I came home to find my Okaa-san (my host mother; okaa-san means mother) struggling to bring a large plastic bag through the door. I helped her carry it in, and after we set it down, she proudly opened the bag to reveal some enormous, cone-like roots. Takenoko, they were called: bamboo shoots. She had dug them up herself, she told me, from a mountain bamboo farm nearby. And after that day, we had takenoko for every meal: takenoko soup, pickled takenoko, steamed takenoko, takenoko tempura (deep-fried bamboo shoots) and even takenoko cooked into our rice. I told her that I had seen row upon row of takenoko at Omicho Market that were as big as the length from my elbow to my wrist and as thick as my neck that were sold for as cheap as ¥500 (equivalent to a little less than $5). She explained that they were so cheap because the harvest was good this season. Last season, the takenoko were small and very expensive, and so they did not eat as much of it. This was an inconvenience for them because it took away one of their staple foods for the season.

But Japanese people, Okaa-san informed me, always persevere to work with nature, and not against it.