One of the more beautiful and lesser known parts of Japan lies about 100km south-west of Tokyo. The Izu peninsula is a gorgeous combination of beaches, mountains, farmland and parkland but very few western tourists make the trek down here.
And that suits some of the residents just fine. Izu peninsula is home to some of Japan’s best wasabi farmer, and they’re very happy to stay out of the limelight.
Nestled in the mountainous heart of the Shizuoka prefecture on the Izu peninsula, the farmers here have been working with wasabi for over 250 years. The seeds were originally brought to the area in exchange for shiitake mushroom growing knowledge shared by Kanshirou Itagaki, who was paid with wasabi plants.
The farming methods used are very traditional, and date to around 1892 when Kumatarou Hirai revolutionised wasabi farming by designing a terraced planting system that allowed the irrigated water to flow through the wasabi field like a natural running river. This allowed the wasabi to grow in a more natural state and helped limit crop loss.
Due to a catastrophic typhoon in 1958 that wiped out the regions wasabi industry, the wasabi grown these days mostly comes from Wakayama prefecture, and are mostly made up of Mazuma wasabi and Misho.
Asian Inspirations were lucky enough to visit the Wasabi fields of Ikadaba and get a firsthand look at how wasabi is farmed and how the locals are so protective of their beautiful slice of the world. The fields themselves cover an area of about 15 hectares and contain some 1500 plus wasabi plants of the Mazuma and Misho. Our guide – Hiroko Inamura – is a very proud local and extremely knowledgeable about wasabi and farming.
Ikadaba remains largely untouched by tourism. The farmers loathe to let their fields become tourist attractions, largely because they fear contamination and damage to their very fragile crops. Hiroko told us that development in the area is also kept at a minimum to limit the environmental impact.
Of the two types of wasabi grown in Ikadaba, Mazuma is considered the best quality. It takes between 18 months and 2 years to fully mature and is used in only the finest restaurants. Misho is ready to be harvest in less than 18 months and is much cheaper and more commonly found in powder form.
The wasabi fields are privately owned by several farmers and are managed with a strict agreement of trust. A farmer would never cross onto another farmers field, and stealing a neighbours wasabi plant is viewed as the height of treachery.
If you’re looking for a slightly more touristy experience, you can head to nearby areas like Amagi and Kawazu, which cater for tourists – mostly Japanese – but won’t give you the same authentic experience we were lucky to get in Ikadaba. If you’re interested in a private tour of Ikadaba, contact us for more details.