Living Close to the Veg
August 1, 2016
For newcomers to the world of Japanese cuisine, vegetables may not necessarily be among the first things that spring to mind as a lynchpin of the nation's diet.
From sushi and sashimi to yakizakana (grilled fish) and tempura, any such list is likely to be topped by seafood. And considering Japan's status as an island nation with around 30,000 kilometers of coastline, that should come as little surprise.
The fact that mountains account for over 70% of Japan's landmass may suggest to you that the country's geography simply isn't well suited to farming. Also, because of low agricultural exports, there is little physical evidence of Japanese produce in supermarkets around the world. So you could be forgiven for thinking that vegetables don't play a large role in the nation's dining habits.
Well, think again. Japan may indeed be mountainous, but its farmers overcame this "steep" hurdle long ago with the advent of terraced fields. Though more commonly associated with tanada mountainside rice terraces, stepped dandan-batake fields have also provided a solid platform for the growth of various vegetables.
Furthermore, the very geological basis for Japan's undulating topography is a boon for growers. The Japanese islands sit on a convergence of four tectonic plates. And while this is of course the reason for the country's seismic instability and numerous volcanoes, it also means that vast swathes of land have benefited from fertile volcanic soils since time immemorial.
Weather is another factor crucial to agriculture. Japan displays great climatic diversity across the roughly 3,000-kilometer range of its archipelago, from subtropical Okinawa in the southwest, to subarctic Hokkaido in the north, and almost everything in between, across as many as 11 different climate zones.
Throw in distinct seasonal variation, and what all this means for Japan's vegetables is variety. With the vast majority of the nation's produce consumed domestically, veggie-loving visitors can rest assured that they needn't look too far to discover a host of appetizing dishes featuring items that they may never have seen, or tasted, before.