Do you have 5 minutes to learn more about our charming VIP (Very Important Producer), Nagaoka-san? He shares his vision of organic farming in Japan, and of course, what makes the spice of life!
I wanted to build an appealing hometown
“Young people kept leaving the places from where they grew up, mountains and forests became rough... It was hard to watch.” Mr. and Mrs. Nagaoka returned to Aridagawa Town, the hometown they once left, in 2004. They came back because they wanted to do everything they could to stop the depopulation of the local area. “We needed an occupation to live a life in the mountains,” said Mr. Nagaoka. “I was thinking about what would be the thing that could thrive in this place, and the special product, budo sansho, which was familiar to me in childhood, came to mind.”
Toi, Aridagawa Town (former Shimizu Town) is the birthplace of budo sansho. Budo sansho is truly a luxury product. It is called a “green diamond,” and has a fresh scent, and a large, fleshy grain shape. But it was just one of many crops for farmers, and only a few people knew the potential value of sansho itself. Indeed, the processed products on the market didn’t sufficiently showcase the appeal of budo sansho at that time. A refreshing citrus aroma, vivid green colors, and a clean electrifying flavor. “I want to deliver these brilliant tastes to consumers directly. I’m sure they will love them.” This flash was the start of Nagaoka’s challenge.
The possibilities of budo sansho are infinite
After returning to his birthplace, Nagaoka started out alone in spreading the appeal of budo sansho. He sold packs of fresh sansho at a stand in front of the train station. People were interested in the bright green color and picked it up, but there were not so many people who bought it. “I don’t know how to use it,” they told him. After hearing that, he started to make processed sansho. He also tried cooking tsukudani and sansho miso in his kitchen and selling them, but it wasn’t easy to sell. The labor and time involved weren’t commensurate with income. His passion for creating an occupation in his hometown was his only anchor.
However, during those tough days, he made a happy discovery. He explains, “I began paying attention to what consumers wanted when I was talking to them.” His wife had watched this silent battle from his side and she quit her job, stating, “I want to work with you.” Her words gave him great motivation. They opened a coffee shop in the mountains and started to demonstrate how to eat sansho. “Sansho and dairy products are very compatible” Powdered sansho for cheese or ice-cream, boiled berries for carbonara. Many vaunted recipes came out of trial and error. Eventually, customers who tried the dishes hesitantly were surprised at the first taste, and then this set off a chain reaction, where they bought sansho to use at home. It was during these times that they realized again that budo sansho has infinite possibilities as a spice from Japan.
I want to build a budo sansho village
In Aridagawa Town, the origin of budo sansho, young people who are thinking about their lives seriously are paying close attention. A young man, Yusuke Shinohata, who wants to turn his dream of sending budo sansho to the world into a reality, decided to work at the Kanja Farm this spring. He once disliked sansho and would never have put in on food, but now says he absolutely can’t think of eating without sansho. “The flavor of budo sansho is truly brilliant. There is nothing better than eating tempura with freshly ground sansho mixed with salt.”
A big problem in Japan, namely, the aging of people working in agriculture, is also happening in Aridagawa. “We need more and more young power to raise the value of budo sansho and to grow the business continuously,” said Mr. Nagaoka and his wife. “You’ll realize this once you live here, here in the mountains, this is the highest place to live for a human being.” This unwavering confidence attracts many people. It has been 15 years since he took the first step. Mr. Nagaoka took on the challenge and built up the appeal of budo sansho through trial and error. And not only that, also built that in the hopes and dreams of people who gather there. “I want to make Aridagawa town a Sansho Village that people will come to from all over the world.” The smiles of these three were shining radiantly as they spoke about living every day and working toward a magnificent dream, which is “extremely fun.”