I awake in Kobe, the port city well known for its succulent and marbled beef. It comes from the Tajima strain of wagyu cattle, fed on sweet grass and grains. They are sometimes given a good brushing to illicit extra tenderness. Today is a time of preparation for our ambassadorial luncheon and a day to see organic and natural stores in Japan. The theme for the day is the wondrous sophistication imbedded in the culture, the food, the very way of life here in Japan.
We walk into town and the orderliness of the traffic and pedestrian interaction is evident. No one budges or creeps if the no-walk sign is on, no matter if there isn’t a car in sight. Entering any store or hotel lobby, people bow from the waist as an elegant and respectful greeting. I begin bowing in unison which conveys, I humbly respect you and your place in the world and you also respect me. I am in the midst of societal sophistication at its finest.
Entering a large department store was not what I had in mind to see local food. Monique leads me by the hand into the basement level. As I glide down the escalator my eyes open and my mouth waters. The entire floor is resplendent with colorful sushi, rows of yakitori meats, mounds of pickled vegetables, artistic bento boxes, and sweet mochi desserts. Each vendor has their own specialty item and food stall. It is reminiscent of Eataly’s in New York City only larger, more diverse, and definitely more exotic. Apparently all department stores in Japan have this gourmet basement concept and I am happy to discover it. I sample and eat my way through with sublime fascination.
We visit one of Natural House’s thirty five stores, the original organic and natural chain in Japan founded by Yohei Shirakawa’s father, a food visionary here. Organic products are everywhere and I spot several US brands. I walk out with carrot jelly, giant almonds, and body paste (?).
We are then whisked into the mountains by Yohei for a hot treat of natural sophistication. Warm waters of sulphur, iron, and effervescence bubble forth from these mountains called Arima Onsen or natural hot springs. We don kimonos and enter a world of swirling relaxation. After a good soaking we are treated to a ten course meal by a young geisha and of course we dine on succulent Kobe beef. What an honor!
The next day is not as relaxing and we definitely earn our previous days retreat. Today is the day of the USDA sponsored organic luncheon. As ambassadors of OTA and all USDA organic products Monique and I are here to commemorate the organic equivalency of the US and Japan regulations. We are here to stimulate trade and celebrate partnerships. What better way to celebrate than with an all organic luncheon made of certified organic products from the US and Japan!
Over fifty organic importers, retailers, culinary students, and media show up bowing and proffering business cards with both hands. I feel like I am at an organic speed dating session bowing and bowing, not quite understanding all that the business cards say. I pocket them, take notes, and get ready to speak.
The message we deliver is clear and welcomed by all. The US General Consul, Allen Greenberg, has invited us into his home to enjoy a marriage of US and Japanese ingredients in one sophisticated luncheon. We are grateful for the regulator equivalency which makes trade so much easier between our countries. Now we must all endeavor to educate consumers, fill store shelves with organic products, and insert organic into the traditional food paradigm. We want to preserve the sophistication of traditional Japanese cuisine while elevating it with organic ingredients.
The meal once again is sublime and has an international theme. US cheese and nuts, Japanese rice and vegetables, pizza, and fresh salads. I enjoy the food as much as I enjoy the company and the limelight. I rather like being an organic ambassador.
I reflect that no matter where one is in this wide world we can be an organic ambassador. Keep the message clear and consistent. Organic agriculture is the key to healthy people, a cleaner environment, and robust farming communities.
Let that message take you places.