Day two in Tokyo and there is no rest for the hungry! I am traveling with Monique Marez who is the Associate Director for International Trade at the Organic Trade Association and we are on a mission to promote USDA certified organic products. I couldn’t be happier experiencing this foreign land through the lens of organic agriculture. First stop: the U.S. Embassy!
After another doily bedecked taxi ride we are ushered out in front of the U.S. Embassy. Japan is an ultra-safe country with an extremely low crime rate so it is shocking to see the armed guards and high security around the building. We meet with the Agricultural Trade Organization (ATO) representing the USDA here in Japan. We speak about promoting USDA certified organic products in a land that is not only the largest importer of food but is the 4th largest market of agricultural products from the U.S.! There is so much opportunity here for organic.
After this welcome we imbibe a bit of sushi and roll on over to the Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture (MAF), which is similar to our USDA. We meet with five eager representatives happy to hear about U.S. statistics and trends. We speak to them about Organic Day, a celebration of organic focused on educating the consumer about the meaning of organic. They tell us organic is only 1% of agriculture here and the average age of farmers 60+. There are many similarities and issues here the same that we have back home. How can we solve some of these crises in agriculture, food and farming? Organic may be the answer but traditional ways are still strong. The question remains unanswered for the time being. There is a glimmer of hope.
My next glimmer rests in seeing a little of the culture here and I steel myself away to go to the restaurant supply area of Tokyo called Kappabashi Street. It is an older, more traditional area of Tokyo and here I see store filled with knives, ceramics, chopsticks, linens and … and what plastic foods??? You know the kind seen in the windows of Asian restaurants depicting actual plastic replicas of what you are about to eat inside. It is the antitheses of organic but fun and exotic to see, almost like an art form gone awry. The colors, the textures, the fat glistening, sushi rolls overflowing with roe and watermelons with seeds in various forms of maturation are simply astounding.
If one was hungry going to these shops you would be sorely tempted to take a bite. But is it made from BPA??? ARG … I buy some anyway!
Making my way slowly back to my hotel I ponder the fact that food is rooted in culture but is also becoming internationally homogenized. Denny’s and KFC are everywhere here and the line to the newly opened Taco Bell is hours long. How do we value the relationship from ancestors to future generations, from soil to plate? Organic agriculture helps us remember our roots while grounding us in the health of our soils. Consumers here and throughout the world need to be educated on organic food systems.
All these ruminations on food made me hungry. We end the day with a brilliant dinner at HIGASHI‐YAMA – a beautiful and delicious restaurant featuring an evolution of modern-day Japanese cuisine. Here they are committed to blending the ancient roots of Japanese cuisine with modern day techniques, aromas and flavors. The meal is exquisite and begins with a simple palate of vegetables displayed in sake cups imbibed with the aroma of past sips. Baby corn gently seared, chestnuts tenderly torn, young succulent pieces of bamboo, tender slices of maiden white asparagus and grilled eggplant make up this painting. Each piece is savored with unique tastes that blend together to create a masterpiece in the mouth.
This is followed by a flaky white local fish swimming in a cloud of creamy mashed potatoes and whole corn. The main course is a local chicken perfectly seared and eagerly awaiting the dipping sauce, an almost raw egg laid in a pool of zesty shoyu, a kind of soy sauce. It begs the question which came first and leaves my plucky sense of food-combining in a quandary.
The final movement is an elegant dessert is of which I cannot tell you the ingredients. I only know it contained cream and vibrant green matcha tea flavors that exploded in the mouth like tea ceremony celebration.
I am satiated with the wonders of this Japanese meal. My appreciation of the culinary traditions of this land has left me with a sense of awe and delight. I am ready to end this first day and carry on the organic mission tomorrow.