Under a dazzling summer sun, we set out to discover Fukushima’s seasonal delights.
Peaches: Summer fruit packed with sweetness
Our first destination was Abe Nouen (“Abe Farm”) in Sukagawa City in the center of Fukushima Prefecture.
With the summer’s harvests and shipment of peaches just starting, the farm was bustling with activity. After some hasty greetings, Abe Nouen’s manager Sachiko Terayama promptly began peeling some freshly picked pink peaches. We bit in. The sweet juice that flowed out immediately quenched our thirst.
Centering on peaches, the farm grows some 30 types of vegetables and fruit over the year. Summer is the season for cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, zucchinis, and potatoes. Ms. Terayama says that pumpkins are also grown in the mountains. Out of the produce, from Abe Nouen, the peaches are the star.
“We use a method in which we hand spray agricultural chemicals branch by branch. This is because machine spraying is uneven and results in more chemicals being sprayed than necessary.”
The peaches at Abe Nouen welcome in the season through the great amount of time and effort spent by Ms. Terayama.
The harvested peaches are carefully sorted and boxed, and then shipped to customers throughout Japan. There are many Abe Nouen peach fans who look forward to this delivery every year.
“Our farm places importance on shipping out peaches when they are thoroughly ripe. We leave them to ripen on the tree until just before they drop, and ship them out while their flavor is at its best. Nothing delights me more than to receive letters from customers saying, ‘As your peaches were so good last year, I’m ordering them again this year.’”
Terayama, who took over the farm eight years ago, not only sells produce on the farm’s ecommerce website, but also focuses on the production and marketing of processed food such as peach compote and fukujinzuke pickled vegetables. She also renovated the old house that used to be a workplace into a guesthouse to accommodate one group per night for hands-on experience in farming.
“Taking an active role in conveying the attractions of Fukushima produce, and marketing them… I felt that I had to take the initiative to send out information on Fukushima produce, especially after 2011’s earthquake and tsunami. The reason why I opened a guesthouse after the earthquake was because I thought it would be good for people from outside the prefecture to come here and eat food grown in Fukushima, and experience our atmosphere. A lot of different people come to this farm, and the farm is built upon our connections with people. That’s why the Japanese character we use for the ‘en’ in Nouen (farm) is not the usual one that is used. Ours means ‘connection,’” says Terayama.
The connections of Abe Nouen are sure to grow even further through the efforts of Sachiko Terayama.
Vegetables that can only be grown in Koriyama
As we heard rumors about a farmer who is doing something interesting, we headed toward Atamimachi in Koriyama City.
The farmer himself, Koushi Fujita, greeted us. In addition to farming rice and vegetables, Fujita is also an active “vegetable sommelier,” and by giving lectures around Japan, writing and other activities, he connects producers and consumers together.
“By learning about even vegetables’ functional aspects, such as nutrition, my awareness as a producer also changed. I have been giving talks since 2009, but there is a lot that I have learned from my customers, such as how these vegetables are eaten.”
Soon after Fujita began working in agriculture, he joined Aomushi Club, an organization of farmers producing vegetables under the Koriyama brand, which was locally established in 2007. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, he has been engaged in producing vegetables that are distinctive to Koriyama as a central member of the Koriyama Brand Vegetable Council, which was established to market Koriyama brand vegetables more strategically and expeditiously.
“Koriyama has a good range of temperatures, with hot summers and cold winters. Vegetables produced by the Koriyama Brand Vegetable Council suit this land and are also selected for their flavor and nutritional value.”
Currently, 11 varieties of vegetables are raised by the Council, and one new variety is added every year. Each of these vegetables have a unique name selected from submissions from the public; vegetables in season at this time of the summer include “Sasagekko” green beans, “Green Sweet” edamame green soybeans, with a strong aroma and sweetness, and “Sasuke Nasu” eggplant, which is soft enough to be eaten raw.
There are also food markets and restaurants in the city where you can purchase Koriyama brand vegetables to enjoy the fresh produce from this area.
Enjoy local produce in a food stand alley where locals gather
When the sun starts to set, the shopping and entertainment district spreading out from the east exit of Fukushima Station begins to bustle. In an unfamiliar town, it might be difficult to decide where to dine out in the evening, so here we would like to recommend Koransyo Yoko-chyo, a district near the station. This is food stand alley made up of small drinking establishments that consist of just counters.
The nine establishments here range from places serving yakitori-grilled chicken skewers and teppanyaki plate-grilled food to wine bars. It is fun to try out different things by going from place to place.
“‘Koransyo’ is ‘welcome’ in our local dialect,” says Masato Fukuchi, the manager of Koransyo Yoko-chyo. This district opened in July 2006, and it serves not only as a tourist spot but also as a training place for locals who are thinking of opening their own drinking or eating establishments.
According to Fukuchi, after honing their skills here, many tenants have gone on to open new eateries and drinking holes in the shopping district, successfully making them highly popular establishments. In this way, Koransyo Yoko-chyo is bringing about further vitality to the streets of Fukushima.
Having drinks at outdoor terrace seats is great in the summer. Each establishment offers local produce and/or local traditional food, such as Aizu horse-meat sashimi and Date chicken yakitori, and egg omelet prepared with natto fermented soybeans, which is a common home dish in Fukushima. And, of course, there’s the pride of Fukushima─namely, its local sake. But the best part of this experience is that you can get closer to the local customers and shopkeepers. By interacting with the friendly locals and cheerful shopkeepers, you can learn more about Fukushima while also enjoying its taste. Koransyo Yoko-chyo is a special spot where you can savor the true pleasure of traveling.