JOURNAL / JAPAN etc.(English)

JAPAN [Gunma]
Japanese Ingredients for the World’s Top Kitchens #16


Keeping Ancient Rice Varieties Alive


text by Michiko Watanabe / photographs by Daisuke Nakajima / English text by Susan Rogers Chikuba

Though the times are always changing, there are certain timeless ingredients from Japan that will never go out of style. Yukio Hattori, president of Hattori Nutrition College in Tokyo, introduces unique labors of love—items grown and produced with care and integrity by hardworking suppliers across the country.

Rice, wheat and soybean growers Mayumi and Osamu Urabe switched to organic, ecologically sustainable farming practices in 1990, spurred by Mayumi’s long illness. “I wanted rice and miso that would help my body heal,” she told us. “It was hard to find reliable sources, so we decided to grow these staples ourselves.” They then incorporated their 20-hectare farm to ensure that it would continue on after them.

To pass sustainable growing techniques on to the next generation, the Urabes hire young people with little or no farming experience. Operating the combine here is a 28-year-old woman. 

Wild-rice grains are filled with a milky essence that gradually hardens as the stalks grow. 

As Mayumi’s strength returned, the Urabes received a few varieties of wild rice seeds. “They’re hard to grow,” she says. “The grasses reach shoulder height and are easily bent by storms. Yield is low. But the plant is resilient and its grains are loaded with minerals. It’s vitality itself.” That and food security are things we all need to be thinking about, she adds, noting that Japan’s population has soared 285 percent since 1950.

Urabe Noen serves as a Kanto-area collection point for surplus organic grains, which are blended for market. 

The wild-rice varieties are packaged in small amounts and sold at roadside rest areas to make it easier for consumers unfamiliar with them to try. 

Mayumi Urabe stands next to a stalk of black rice.

◎Kodaimai Urabe Noen
337 Ayugawa, Fujioka-shi, Gunma
Facebook : Kodaimai Urabe Noen

(The Cuisine Magazine /January 2019)