text by Michiko Watanabe / photographs by Daisuke Nakajima / English text by Susan Rogers Chikuba
In the heart of the Shimokita Peninsula at the northernmost tip of Japan’s main island lies Yokohama-machi, a rural township facing Mutsu Bay. Its official flower is nanohana, that of the rapeseed plant, an oilseed crop for which this area once claimed the largest acreage in all of Japan. Wishing to protect this land and its vibrant springtime blooms from development, Shigeru and Keiko Miya founded the Nanohana Trust in 2002.
“With a subsidy we were able to purchase an oil press, but we still had no means of refining the product,” recalls Shigeru of the group’s early days.
By 2007 they had obtained the first permit issued in Aomori prefecture for edible oil manufacture, and set about finding clientele. Planting, harvesting, threshing, winnowing, and drying are all done by hand. Of the five tons of rapeseed oil the Trust now produces yearly, two are virgin first-press.
By mid-July the seed pods are dry and ready for harvest.
The cut stalks are piled onto tarps, then beaten down and threshed by hand and foot in a full-body exercise.
Practiced hands make fast work of this first stage of winnowing.
Among the members of Nanohana Trust are musicians, painters, and local officials in addition to veteran farmers.
Further winnowing is done right in the field on a hand-operated vintage machine. The seeds are bagged and then spread out to dry in the sun the following day before pressing.
Keiko and Shigeru Miya are all smiles at the end of a successful harvest.