Cultivating a Taste for Summer Vegetables
Because Japan's landmass extends north-south through a number of different climatic zones, farmers can cultivate a wide variety of different produce, reflecting the local environment and conditions. On this episode of Journeys in Japan, we look back at episodes from past years celebrating the variety of summer vegetables that are grown around the country.
We follow our reporters as they visit farms in 3 parts of Japan. We find Renkon (lotus root) being cultivated in the fertile soil and abundant water of Ibaraki Prefecture. We discover how Rakkyo (a kind of shallot) is grown in the sand dunes of Tottori Prefecture. And we introduce Kanpyo, a preserved food produced in Tochigi Prefecture, which has been part of the Japanese diet for over 300 years.

Renkon (lotus root) Ibaraki Prefecture -- Renkon salad

Lake Kasumigaura is the second largest lake in Japan. Along its shores, there is a wide expanse of lotus fields, and their beautiful flowers are in full bloom from late June to early August. The roots of the lotus plant, known as Renkon, are harvested between July and March. The summer Renkon is especially rich in vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, and is widely eaten by the local people at this time of year. The texture of Renkon changes according to the way it is cut and cooked. It can be chopped and stir-fried, incorporated in boiled dishes, cut into crunchy round slices, grated for use in dumplings, or thinly sliced and mixed into salads.

Rakkyo from Tottori Prefecture -- pickled Rakkyo

The Tottori Sand Dunes run for some 16 kilometers along the Japan Sea coast, extending about 2 and a half kilometers inland. Part of the dunes have been designated as a natural preservation area, as a habitat for the insects and flowers native to the area. In other places, the sandy terrain is used for cultivating Rakkyo, a kind of allium related to shallots. The Rakkyo bulbs are harvested from late May to late June, and are known for their pure white color and crunchy texture. They are usually pickled in rice vinegar, with sugar added. Rakkyo can be added to salads, finely chopped to prepare a tartar sauce, or used as a seasoning. The freshly harvested Rakkyo can also be used in salads or deep-fried as tempura.

Kanpyo (dried bottle gourd) from Tochigi Prefecture -- Kanpyo soup

During a two-month period in summer, Yugao (bottle gourds) are harvested and dried to make Kanpyo. The flesh of the bottle gourds is cut into long, thin strips, and then hung up to dry in the sun and wind for about 2 days to concentrate the nutritional content. Kanpyo was originally produced as a preserved food that could be easily transported. Before cooking, it is soaked and reconstituted in water, and then simmered in soy sauce and sugar. This makes a popular filling for sushi rolls. In areas where it is grown, the local people add cooked and seasoned Kanpyo to soups, salads and deep-fried dishes. Tochigi, north of Tokyo, is the prefecture that produces the most Kanpyo in Japan.