Living Abroad: Local Eating in Japan

Learn about local eating in Japan. Eating locally and seasonally requires creativity and flexibility. But it takes on a whole new meaning when living abroad. This article will give you a new perspective on eating locally, plus unique tips for home energy conservation!

| October/November 2008

Local eating in Japan. Eating locally takes on a new meaning when living abroad. You have to learn to grow plants that flourish in a different climate, and your food preservation techniques might have to be adapted, too. Simply living comfortably — even staying warm in the winter — might be a challenge.

Living Abroad: Local Eating in Japan

October is a good month on the Kii Peninsula of central Japan. The forest is full of wild chestnuts and mushrooms; the kitchen gardens overflow with persimmons, figs, fall eggplants and peppers; and the new rice is stored for winter. The still-generous sea provides squid, bonito and mackerel (although Japan faces the same issues of pollution and overfishing as the rest of the world). All told, this land I’ve made my home seems endlessly giving and welcoming.

I never thought I’d live in Japan. I grew up in San Francisco, dreaming of one day having my own farm somewhere on the West Coast. Several years of interning and working on farms across America convinced me that my dream could become a reality. But then I met my fiancé, Keita Hanai, who is Japanese, and plans changed.

I doubt Keita ever imagined he’d be living in rural Japan with an American farming enthusiast. He grew up on a huge agricultural commune in Japan, growing organic vegetables and rice, caring for cows and fixing farm equipment. But by the end of his 20s, corruption and conflict had soured communal life, and he left to study log building in Canada. That’s where we met. I was working for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms at an apple, pear and cherry orchard, and he was helping to build a log house at the same farm. We fell in love and a year later moved back to his home region of Japan, Mie prefecture. (A prefecture is a district roughly equivalent to a state in the United States).

We lived first in the small city of Matsusaka and then, in early 2007, moved deeper into the countryside to an area unknown even to many people living in Tokyo. Here my fiancé builds handmade houses using the rich lumber resources of Mie’s mountains. I teach English part time, study and take care of our gardens.

Japan: My Evolving Palette

Moving to Japan has turned a lot of my ideas about sustainable living upside down. At first, I tried to transplant notions of country living straight from America to Japan. I brought seeds with me and tried to grow all my favorite vegetables, only to find many of them ill-adapted to the humidity of this area. I shed more than one tear over the lack of fruit suitable for pies and jams. I even acquired a little oven, a rare commodity, which I use to bake bread every week.

8/3/2013 7:58:18 PM

Any chance of getting in touch with you or your husband? My wife and I are moving to Japan in a couple years and we currently live in the countryside of NC. We're wanting to get a minka near Osaka or Nara and the connections I have in Japan are all Nihonjin and don't fully grasp what it is we're talking about.

Kyial Lightfeather
6/27/2012 7:31:01 PM

I just wanted to say thank you for posting this. It was a pleasure to read, and I couldn't help but notice where you said you live. Mihama-cho in Aichi prefecture by chance? I know there are several Mihama's and so it sparked my curiosity. I spent some time there and it was absolutely a wonderful lovely place.

Linda M
10/16/2008 10:37:37 AM

I enjoyed reading your beautifully written article. It is helpful to be reminded that there is not one right way of doing things. Also, thank you for pointing out the respect and honor we need to give to those who have gone before us! This is one thing most of America has lost. And as a result we are having difficulty in many regards, one of which is how to feed ourselves. Best wishes to you in Japan! May you learn from your ancients and pass it on to the infants.

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