Home-Made Malted Rice to Create Natural Condiments
GUNMA – Thick snow completely covers Showamura village, one of the most beautiful villages in Japan in mid-February. The graded green fields of summer have been repainted pure white with powdery snow. This snowy scene could easily be mistaken for that of Hokkaido. It’s vast, quiet and simply beautiful. On brighter days, silky blue skies come and go, creating a poetic contrast with the white fields. Its scene of elegant beauty is nothing but idyllic, stretching out under the endless sky.
At this time, plums start blooming in Tokyo. But only a two hour drive from the capital brings you to a totally different world that suddenly opens up right in front of you. The snow in this village is unspoiled, fluffy and powdery. If you scoop some into your hand, it’s like sugarless cotton candy. You might be tempted to stuff it into your mouth, as I was. When I stepped onto a patch of snow that had no footprints on it, I sank down to my knees. You can’t move anymore, but you feel like you have overcome the land! The night before our arrival at the village, it snowed to the extent that even the villagers were surprised.
Showamura village is located on the foot of the Mt. Akagi, and its altitude ranges from 250 to 750 meters. This area is a huge river terrace. It is near the headstream of Tonegawa river, the second longest river in Japan. The 320-kilometer river has eroded the land to both sides over time. Due to the current generated by the river, both the air and water are chilly. This village nicknamed itself “The Vegetable Kingdom” because it is known as a major production site of leaf vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), among others. In ancient times, after Mt. Akagi erupted, pumice stones accumulated here, over which black soil containing a lot of nutrients has layered. The land is well-drained, which aids the cultivation of vegetables. Such fruitful lands and the pleasant weather create an ideal cool plateau climate.
The company Atelier Asunaro, located in this scenic terrace village, produces natural condiments with a base of home-made malted rice. Asunaro is an ever-green needle-leaved tree indigenous to Japan. Hiroko Yoshikawa is the seventh generation of a farming family and has lived in big cities for a long time after graduating from university. She is married to a city man named Kazutaka. Four years ago, however, when Hiroko’s father passed away, the couple became worried about the widowed old mother left in this village. Kazutaka and Hiroko decided to become farmers to continue Hiroko’s family business. Now the couple, together with Hiroko’s mother, are running their business to produce malted rice and condiments.