Little by little, vegetables specific to subtropic climates start to pop up here and there as we close in on our destination, Boso Penninsula’s southern region, just a short distance from Tateyama city in Chiba prefecture. You start to get the feel of the southern regions, just after a late-season rain has let up. Many who live in the city come down on the weekends for surfing off the coast of Tateyama, or to relax and enjoy the beautiful sea and mountains.
Ever eaten raw corn before?
We visited beautiful Anzai farm in Tateyama, where they grow a variety of produce.
This time, we came in search of seasonal corn. Anzai farms conduct a range of farming businesses like direct sales, farm experiences, immigration and welfare support, event appearances, and more.
Mr. Anzai, president, greeted us warmly and immediately handed us a freshly picked stalk of corn. “Ever eaten raw corn before? Never? Well that’s no good!”.
This specific corn is called mirai. It has a sweetness that expands and fills your mouth. It is not just sugary, but has a juicy texture as well, making it a much loved ingredient by cooks and gourmet chefs alike. Easily made sweetcorn varieties have increased in number lately, but mirai has a particular sweetness that attracts people.
Larger sized corn is generally not very sweet, and sweeter corns are not very large, and therefore do not sell as well, so there was a market for a larger, sweeter corn. The farmers’ passion and experience, with small improvements day by day, mirai was born in a South American farm town.
Currently, at Ansei farm, they are developing four types of mirai, and choosing the best one for each season. It is not fertilized very strongly, making it very delicate so it will not grow if the weather is too hot. Mirai’s season is between mid-late June to late July.
The perfect soil for corn ? Tateyama
During the “bubble” period of Japan in the 1980s, Ansei was working at one of Tokyo’s most famous department stores. However, he was drawn back to his hometown of Tateyama when his parents’ health began to fail. It was then he began his life as a farmer, though it was not easy.
Still, the unique climate and soil of Tateyama, along with perseverance and technique, brought him to success when it came to growing corn.
The primary reason for raising this delicious corn in Tateyama lies in the soil. It drains well, so the soil is usually quite dry.
“With little water content, vegetables work harder to sew their own roots. When there’s less water, the sweetness condensates in the same way it does with fruit. If there’s too much water, that sweet flavor just doesn’t develop well.”
The second reason Anzai chose to grow corn in Tateyama is the amount of daylight the area gets. Crops that fall under the poaceae family, like corn, require a lot of sunlight. Tateyama boasts an impressive amount of sunlight.
“People have this impression that the southern regions get the most sunlight, but places like Koufu in Yamanashi and Kakegawa in Shizuoka, all of which are located in central Japan, get plenty of sunlight to grow corn.”
The reason why Mr. Anzai started making corn in Tateyama is that the daylight hours were the decisive factor.
The third reason is the difference in temperature between day and night. The larger the difference, the more nutrients and flavor it will develop. The temperature difference is greatest in July, perfect for growing sweet corn. There are also considerably fewer insects so there is no need to use pesticides.
While it may be the perfect soil, growing this corn does not come without constant struggle
“Corn seems simple, but it’s tricky. That’s the interesting part. There’s no easy way to go about it,” Mr. Anzai says with a laugh. When the flowers begin to bud and the little hairs begin to develop, he watches the development process of each stalk day by day, alternating between hope and disappointment.
I want to deliver this corn as early as possible
For Mr. Anzai, the business of growing his corn does not just revolve around yearly seasons, but the “seasons” of each day, and how to get that seasonal corn to dinner tables as quickly as possible. It’s all about season.
“There’s more to vegetables than the edible parts. The stalk and leaves are alive too. Nutrients derived from photosynthesis pass to the vegetable itself during the night, so all of those nutrients that are spent on growth in the afternoon are still stored in the vegetable during the morning, making that the best time to pick and eat them. The sooner you eat it, the better it will taste.”
“Unlike tomatoes and fruits, you cannot afterripen (a process of promoting germination after harvest to make fruits and vegetales taste sweeter) a stalk of corn.” The moment corn is picked, it begins to lose its sweet taste. “Long ago, people used to say 3 days is all it takes to lose half the sugar content. That’s why I want people to eat it as soon as possible and that’s why I quit using market circulation”, says Mr. Anzai, who takes his own harvest to the morning markets and competes with other farmers to sell his corn. It takes a day and a half, at most two, for a broker to get everything set up in a supermarket. By then the corn has lost a lot of taste.
“The very morning I pick the corn, I pack it up and send it off by next-day delivery to some of my customers. I at least want it on their dinner tables within 24 hours.”
For Mr. Anzai, there is no effort spared when it comes to bringing customers the best quality food. His job is not limited to growing food, but all the work and care it takes to bring seasonal foods to his customers’ tables. His passion makes him the exemplary Japanese farmer.
At the entrance of Ansei farm sits Hyakusyouen, a farm stand where you can buy produce direct from the source at a price that the farmer decides. He lines up the vegetables he picked that very day, including his famous corn, and sells them at reasonable prices.
He also offers farm experiences where you can pick them yourself and eat them. We encourage all of our readers to take a trip down to Ansei farms and taste the produce for yourself.