Although the Japanese can get any food at any time, seasonality still plays an important part in their food culture. I was there in October, which is apparently chestnut season, as advertisements for chestnut ice cream and other chestnut delicacies. This first photo is an advertisement for chestnut ice cream at the dock for the boat across Lake Ashi in the Hakone region (1.5 hours south of Tokyo). I didn't get a chance to try this version, but later had a scoop from a place in the Machida Odakyu line train station. It had subtle chestnut flavor and the right amount of sweetness, making it the best chestnut item I had while in Japan.
Chestnuts also make appearances in the fancy foods that are sold in specialty shops and in the food floors of shopping centers. This photo shows examples from the Nanjuya Nanohana store (that name might not be correct, it's my best recollection) on the main shopping street of Hakone-Yumoto (the terminus of the Odakyu "Romancecar" line from Tokyo). I'm not completely sure what these sweets are — probably chestnuts or chestnut paste in a rice-flour based wrapper, and probably a dose of sweet bean paste for good measure. As much as I love Japanese food, I haven't taken a liking to many of the sweets.
Japan is a relatively small island with a large population and mountainous terrain. Therefore, to help the nation increase its food self-sufficiency, agriculture must go wherever it can.
Th next photo is from the city of Kawasaki, which is directly south of Tokyo. It shows two lots dedicated to growing vegetables in the middle of a dense single-family housing development. There were several of these between my brother's house and the train station, most growing row crops and one having a small persimmon orchard. My brother didn't know the status of these lots, whether they were being farmed because the developer couldn't make a profit building on the land, or whether something else was going on, like a legally required set-aside for agriculture.
Alongside the train tracks in the regions south of Tokyo (the Japan Rail Yokohama line, the Odakyu line to Hakone), numerous farms dot the landscape, many of them visible from inside the train. The two photos below were taken inside the train on the JR Yokohama line, a line that connects Hachiōji (a western Tokyo suburb) with Yokohama (and the train that goes to the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum), and an area completely surrounded by the Tokyo-area megolopolis. I don't know the history behind the sites, but I suspect that some of the land is devoted to farming because it is in the flood plains of the nearby rivers. Flood plains, of course, make a risky site for offices, factories or housing, while potentially having rich soil. There were a variety of configurations, with some land (like the first photo below) devoted to row crops, and others (like the second photo below) also having greenhouses and orchards.
Unfortunately, there is a lot that I don't know about these urban and suburban farms. How are the lands farmed? How much food is produced? Do shoppers prefer to buy locally grown? Perhaps someday I'll find the answers to these questions and more.
Cross-posted at La Vida Locavore
Random link from the archive: Bitter Melon Greens
Technorati tags: Japan : vegetarian : Food