Any fan of sushi or Japanese cuisine in general will be familiar with wasabi – that green vegetable packed with intense flavour and often served as a condiment in paste form. Some love it, some fear it, but how many people know how its grown?
While in Japan last fall I was lucky enough to visit Daio Wasabi Farm in Nagano Prefecture. After spending the morning in Motsumoto, we drove approx 30 minutes north to Azumino. The drive itself was very scenic with mountains, green fields and cheery orange marigolds growing all long the road. For those traveling by public transit, take JR Line from Motsumoto to Hakato. During the peak season there is a shuttle making a regular loop from this station to the farm. The price is about 500 Yen per person each way. Bicycles are also available for rent near the station.
The farm has been operational since 1915, and its obviously popular with locals and tourists as there were a couple of tour buses arriving at the same time as us. Despite this popularity, the farm didn’t seemed too crowded. It’s a park-like space with lots of room to wander. Upon entering the farm you pass an area with educational displays regarding the farms history and methods of wasabi cultivation. There are also different types of preserved wasabi displayed in jars, along with the requisite guest book to sign.
The largest area of the farm is taken up by the crops of wasabi. This was fascinating to see as I previously had no idea how wasabi was grown. I assumed it grew in the earth like most other root vegetables like radish, turnip etc…so wrong!
The crops are actually grown under shallow streams of perfectly clear and absolutely clean water sourced from the nearby Northern Alps. During the hottest part of the year the crops are also shielded from the sun by overhead canopies. The gentle curving rows of crops mimic the footprint of a flowing river, and the trickling sound of the streams create a peaceful vibe even with lots of people around. The song of buzzing cicadas could be heard from the countless large leafy trees, which also provided shady relief from the September heat.
There is a small shrine onsite dedicated to local hero Hachiman Daio (the namesake) who is considered a protector of the farm. We also found several wasabi themed statues around the property that were fun to pose with for great photo ops.
You could easily spend lots of time browsing the gift shop, which sells a large variety of wasabi food products and novelties. The wasabi flavoured smoked cheese was delicious, and I love my adorable tiny wasabi miniature charm. If you plan traveling on through other parts of Japan and visiting with Japanese friends or hosts, this would be a great opportunity to pick some items for “omiyage.” This is a Japanese cultural tradition of giving small gifts from different regions you’ve visited…small souvenirs unique to a particular area. Many items are even available pre-wrapped in pretty tissue paper and in small sizes so they are easy to travel with. Your friends will certainly appreciate it!
We didn’t try anything in the farms cafe and I regret not sampling some of the dishes like wasabi curry, wasabi croquettes and wasabi ice cream. We did try the wasabi beer and it’s unique taste and appearance (it was green of course!) was enjoyed by all but it was a liiiiiittle bit strong by the end of the glass.
I am very pleased I had the opportunity to visit this farm. It is a lovely place to spend some time outdoors in the gorgeous Japanese countryside, learn something new and enjoy an experience that many travelers to Japan may miss. Definitely worth a stop if you are lucky enough to be in beautiful Nagano!