Interview with Shinichiro Harakawa vol.2
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Interview with Shinichiro Harakawa vol.2

Text:Eri Ishida
Photo:Ariko Inaoka

Our third recipe comes from chef Shinichiro Harakawa, who two years ago, moved from Tokyo to Unzen (near Nagasaki), where he opened his restaurant BEARD. He moved there in order to better utilize as ingredients vegetables harvested from heirloom seeds produced by farmer Masatoshi Iwasaki. Also recently in the area, a new shop, Taneto, opened to better market Iwasaki’s vegetables grown from the well-preserved seeds. Harakawa-san talks to us about his new life in Unzen, as well as the rich community there nurtured around an interest in quality farming.

Related ArticleInterview with Shinichiro Harakawa vol.1:Encounters with heirloom seeds, each of which vegetable seems to have a “presence of its own.”
Related ArticleShinichiro Harakawa’s Special Makanai Soba “Carrot and Tofu Soba with Vegetable Broth”

I wanted to be one of those people who can share the same values across generations.
A community connected around a seed

You have visited many producers in various parts of Japan, and it is because of these viewing experiences that you’ve come to appreciate the intrinsic value of what Mr. Iwasaki does.

While working at The Blind Donkey, I was visiting producers with the intention of preparing cuisine that was 100% organic. All the farmers I met were wonderful folks, but I knew Iwasaki-san was really special. There was a friendliness not just to his character but to his produce that was almost sensory. But even before meeting him I was considering options to leave Tokyo during my various jaunts to the countryside.

The town of Unzen is surrounded by virgin forest on the mountain side. Because of the abundance of trees, there is a spring in the residential area, but Harakawa-san goes to the mountains every few days to fetch spring water to be used for cooking. This spring water is also used in the vegetable broth served at the beginning of each course.

Did that have something to do with the difficulty of acquiring freshly harvested vegetables there?

That’s part of it, but I also began wearying of the myth regarding Tokyo’s uniqueness. For example, many people think that just because a chef hails from Tokyo, he or she is unconditionally “great,” which of course is not necessarily true. Another example is how so much of the nation’s seafood ends up in Tsukiji Market, simply because it fetches the best prices there and which means the catch is not consumed locally.
If there are more places with regional culinary value, I believe it will create a positive trend for this country. There are many chefs doing bold cuisines in more local areas, and I wanted to be one of them.

Taneto is a direct-sale shop that sells native and fixed-seed vegetables, each with its own unique shape, that would generally be considered substandard in today’s homogenized supermarkets. They spent six years to completely relocate to Unzen and opened Taneto. With Taneto as a center, Okutsu-san is actively involved in activities to promote native and fixed seed farming, including “Unzen Seed School” with Iwasaki-san as an instructor, and Noriko teaches culinary methods in “Kitchen School.”

Organic direct sales shop Taneto 2138-1, Hei, Chizashi Town, Unzen City, Nagasaki 854-0403, Japan

I wanted to be one of those people who can share the same values across generations.
A community connected around a seed

It has been two years since you moved to Unzen, and it seems as if a rich community has developed around its food culture. Not just with BREAD, but the vegetable shop, Taneto, and Ryohei Tanaka, a young farmer who has inherited Iwasaki-san’s seeds.

Okutsu-san not only sells vegetables, but has been actively promoting better knowledge regarding the qualities of native, fixed- and home-grown seeds. Tanaka-kun has the spirit to persevere with home-grown seeds in this challenging climatic moment. He’s a native of Unzen who first became aware of the nature of seed-farming while abroad in Bangladesh during an overseas training program in social business for university students. Later, researching these methods online he discovered the existence of Iwasaki-san in his hometown, and so upon returning to Japan became a farmer under his tutelage. It seems like a miracle of fate that an enthusiastic young man like Tanaka-kun would have the good fortune to discover a mentor like Iwasaki-san in his hometown, still hard at work with so much to teach.

Ryohei Tanaka says it has been four years since he founded Tanaka Seed Farm, where he farms his own seedlings. He now grows about 60 varieties of seeds, including some he inherited from Iwasaki-san. While continuing the trial-and-error process of home-growing seeds, which is said to take five to ten years for the seeds to blend in with the field’s soil content, he says, “I also want to improve the environment around the field. I am also thinking of planting trees so that insects will feel at home. It is said that it is better not to have trees in the field because they block the sunlight, but I think vegetables will taste better in a space that is comfortable not only for humans, but for all kinds of living creatures.”

I feel glad that these values can be passed down from Iwasaki-san – a man in his 70s – to Tanaka-kun – a man in his 20s – between generations.

I believe there is a common wish among the people in Unzen related to Iwasaki-san to see his knowledge and values passed down to the next generation. I have children myself, but had not seriously considered this importance until I moved to Unzen. Perhaps, deep down, I came down to Unzen to do just that.