Seeds For Life: Interview With Noguchi Isao
Over at Consumers Union of Japan, we published the first part of an interview with Noguchi Isao, who runs a small, independent seed shop in Hanno, Saitama:
In 2004, Noguchi’s seed shop got an unusual request from a TV program. The reporter and actor Fumio Watanabe contacted the shop, saying he wanted to eat “old” style vegetables. The staff of the program initially visited the shop in Hanno city, and they talked at length with Noguchi about heirloom varieties and veggies with names like Hanshiro kyuuri (half white cucumber that was popular in Tokyo in the Meiji era) and Izumi mizunasu (water eggplant from the Izumi area of Osaka which is particularly suitable for pickling).
A photograph of the famous actor together with Noguchi was displayed in the shop window. This prompted a customer from a local newspaper to ask if Noguchi was always enjoying such delicious heirloom vegetables.
Of course, as the old saying goes, “seeing is believing,” or “a picture is worth a thousand words.” In Japan, Noguchi explains, the saying is “hyakku bun ha hitokuchi ni shikazu” or, loosely translated: “One bite is worth a hundred words.” He sees it as his mission to educate people about the great taste of “old” varieties of vegetables, and the importance of using heirloom seed for local varieties that are well suited to the climate, the geological features, and the soil.
Since ancient times, farmers would carefully select seed from vegetables that grew well and tasted wonderful, in addition to other characteristics including shape and color. By continuously saving such seed, season after season, the regular native seed (sometimes called heirloom varieties to emphasize that they are regarded as an important cultural heritage) that became trusted as stable varieties over long time periods.
(Photo from the 1950s or early 1960s of the old Noguchi seed shop, from the Noguchi Seed website)