The town’s leading idea-maker and rice farmer is on a mission to make Iizuna famous
Nakamata Farm Takashi Nakamata
Although Iizuna is known for its apples, it is also certified as a Toku A district in which rice of the highest quality is grown. Takashi Nakamata, who has a 25-hectare Nakamata Farm rice paddy in Kurokawa District, Iizuna has been always pushing his rice farming with the desire to “Make Iizuna famous through rice.” He continues to create high-quality rice, which has experience being selected as an offering for the Niinamesai annual festival of the Imperial Court.
“The mineral-rich water which flows from Mt. Iizuna and the large temperature swings between day and night creates delicious rice. I want the name of Iizuna to become famous through my rice and have the town thrive.”
Nakamata used to work at the post office, and started farming full-time when he was 52 years old. He continues to incorporate many unique ideas in his farming, such as giving rice plants salt from Miyakojima, Okinawa Prefecture for mineral absorption. For this season, he is harvesting Koshihikari rice without the use of any pesticides, and is also challenging himself to growing a new rice species called Inochinoichi, which has larger rice grains than standard rice. Always looking for new ways to harvest rice, Nakamata laughs energetically, saying that “It’s more fun this way!”
A sake brewery in Nakano, Nagano Prefecture, got wind of Nakamata’s rice, and asked him to harvest the rice for sake for the Maruse Shuzoten brewery. With this, Nakamata started harvesting a type of rice for sake called Hitogokochi five years ago. The sake product Ikioi Masamune created with Mr. Nakamata’s rice is one of the main products of the brewery.
“It’s wonderful seeing your rice become sake. I also provide rice for school lunches and hometown tax donations, and am grateful for the many ways people come in contact with my rice. Although the aging population of rice growers is an issue, I hope to boost the value of Iizuna rice and lift the community as well.”
Handmade sweets and good designs—local craftsmanship in the community invigorating the town
UMAGLOVE Chihiro Sakamoto/Baba no Daidokoro (Grandma’s Kitchen) Taeko Seki/Okashi no Mado (Window of Sweets) Yoko Suzuki
Under the slogan of “Creating New ‘Businesses’ in Iizuna,” the Iizuna Business Challenge competition has been open to the public every year since 2018. Many unique ideas can be seen in this competition, which is also an opportunity for citizens aiming to create new businesses to mingle and connect with each other.
Graphic designer Chihiro Sakamoto, Taeko Seki of Baba no Daidokoro, and Yoko Suzuki of Okashi no Mado have been acting almost like a team after encountering each other as Iizuna Business Challenge 2019 participants, with regular meetings and having Sakamoto help with designs.
After participating in the competition, Sakamoto found herself swamped with design requests for local specialties, such as product packages and leaflets. No matter how good the quality of a product is, a product needs a sharp design to appeal to customers. Sakamoto’s refined design work has proved to be the savior for those engaged in produce processing and sales.
“I get ideas for designs just by talking with everyone. I’ve recently joined forces with an editor who lives in town, and we’ve created a team of young designers and editors to foster a young generation of creators,” says Sakamoto.
Taeko Seki of Baba no Daidokoro was originally an apple farmer. She started creating homemade apple chips 14 years ago, wanting to make natural snacks for children to enjoy. She had been selling the chips directly to stores under the name of Baba no Daidokoro, but renewed the packaging with Sakamoto’s design to create an increasingly eye-catching product.
“This product is different than other apple chips because it offers a crunchiness akin to potato chips. High-quality apples that are delicious when eaten raw are carefully selected for use. It is a product that allows customers to casually sample delicious Iizuna apples,” says Seki.
Okashi no Mado is a vegan sweets brand operated by Yoko Suzuki. Her well-researched recipes are known for their rich flavors even without use of eggs and dairy products. Suzuki proposed vegan souvenir sweets at the Business Challenge 2019, and won the grand prize. Currently, she has been selling shortbread cookies designed with the town’s mascot Mitsudon at direct sales stores. This product’s package design also received a brush-up from Sakamoto.
“I proposed creating healthy souvenir sweets using only plant-based ingredients. Along with the Mitsudon shortbread cookies, there are also Mt. Iizuna-shaped biscotti using local buckwheat flour, and granola with apple chips,” says Suzuki.
The town team of product manufacturers and designers have transcended age gaps and business genres to create new local specialty products.
Rebirth of the value of apples at the town craft cider brewery
Ringo School Cidery Tsukasa Ono
Brewing craft cider, a slightly fizzy alcoholic drink created by fermenting apple juice, has been gaining popularity within Iizuna these past few years. The trend started with the Ringo School Cidery, which was born within Iizuna Connect EAST, a facility made from a former school building. The owner of the Cidery, Tsukasa Ono, was born on a local apple farm. He worked outside the prefecture in IT while tackling his cider brewery project in Iizuna.
“My father had been contracted to brew cider since 2005, and this project started after I was moved by how delicious the cider was. Ever since then, I have been selling my family’s cider and launching the Japan Cider Master Association in 2015 to spread the word on cider, while also working full-time. As word gradually got around about apple cider, I started to think about creating a brewery in Iizuna.”
Ono’s cider brewery project won the grand prize at the Iizuna Business Challenge 2018. He acquired his license to manufacture fruit wine in February 2019, after the Ringo School Cidery was completed, and currently brews cider from August to the following April during apple harvest season. The brewery offers a lineup of a few sweet and dry ciders according to apple blends and yeast types.
Furthermore, the brewery also offers contract brewing services for apple farmers, and notes that there has been a surge in younger farmers asking about brewing. For apple farmers, cider is an item that allows them to create their own brand. Although farmers cannot put their names on apple fruit, they are able to communicate who grows apples to consumers through cider products, promoting their uniqueness and flavors through cider. Additionally, cider allows farmers to use damaged apples, and has a long shelf life—cider can potentially do away with many weaknesses of apple farmers.
“I’m hoping that more breweries will pop up in this region, so we can have some friendly rivalry while boosting the town through our products. We could be able to attract visitors with cider brewery tours, and manufacturing cider is a good example of interesting activities done in a rural town like Iizuna. I hope it will show younger farmers some ideas for taking on new challenges.”
Aiming to deliver more processed products to the dining table—local Shinano Jidori chicken raised in the laid-back Okushinano highlands
Shinanonouen Tadashi Yamaura
Shinanonouen is located on highlands at an altitude of 700 meters between Mt. Myoko and Mt. Madarao. Healthy Shinano Jidori chickens are raised in this area, where pleasant breezes pass through. In order to raise the chickens in a habitat that is natural as possible, Tadashi Yamaura has installed pipes that offer fresh, free-flowing natural water into the poultry house, and provides carefully-selected feed free of antibiotics and antibacterial substances. Of course, there is no force-feeding of the chickens here either. Shinano Jidori chickens are known for their high quality, and have been used at the Aichi Expo and famous hotels as well.
One major commitment of this farm is to mature chickens for 120 to 150 days before shipping them, although they have a standard growth period of 80 days. With safe, JAS-certified mixed feed and fresh water, the environment focuses on allowing chickens to move around freely. The rich taste and the moderate firmness of Shinano Jidori chickens lies in this environment.
“It costs more to raise chickens for a longer period of time, but raising chickens naturally will create tastier local chickens,” explains the farm representative Yamaura.
Along with meat for consumption, the Shinanonouen also has popular processed products such as sausages and grilled chicken skewers. The reason for their high-quality and diverse product lineup is their integrated production system which spans from raising poultry, butchering, to processing. At the processing factory, butchers take apart the chickens for processing with great expertise.
“It is rare for a farm to also have a poultry processing factory in Nagano. By carrying out all steps for manufacturing here, we are able to implement quality control, use fresh morning meat, and freely develop products. Almost all parts of chickens can be used, so almost everything is put to good use.”
Currently, the spread of COVID-19 has boosted the demand for eating at home. With this, the farm has been focusing on developing products that only have to be warmed to enjoy. Now we can also enjoy Shinano Jidori chickens casually at our home dining table.
The “food” treasures of the farming town Iizuna have been changing shapes and value with the ideas of many citizens. The future of the town, with its food and townspeople’s culture, looks exciting.
Writer : ASAKO INOUE / Photographer : CHIE MARUYAMA
|Address||1643 Oaza Kurokawa, Iizuna, Kamiminochi District, Nagano Prefecture|
Okashi no Mado (Window of Sweets)
|Address||2471-1345 Oaza Ageya, Nagano, Nagano Prefecture|
Baba no Daidokoro (Grandma’s Kitchen)
|Address||3572 Akashio, Iizuna, Kamiminochi District, Nagano Prefecture|
|Address||1101-11 Tokuma, Nagano, Nagano Prefecture|
Ringo School Cidery (Hokushin Gokaku Cidery Ltd.)
|Address||2489 Oaza Akashio, Iizuna, Kamiminochi District, Nagano Prefecture|
Agricultural Production Corporation Shinanonouen Ltd.
|Address||2725 Oaza Kurai, Iizuna, Kamiminochi District, Nagano Prefecture|
*The information in this article is current as of the date of the interview. Please contact the restaurant for the latest information.
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