Every time I go grocery shopping in the Depa-chika (the basement of a department store where they sell food) in Tokyo, I am astounded by how expensive the produce is, especially since I am used to prices in California. A single stalk of celery can cost $3, a stalk of broccoli $8, a mango grown in Japan can be as high as $100, and that is not for a tree but for a single fruit! A Brazilian friend who saw what can cost for such fruit cried, "But that's what we feed the pigs!." People in Tokyo can find the finest fruit and vegetables of every kind but they can come with a hefty price tag. You have to be a smart shopper to live in this city. My cousin takes regular trips outside of Tokyo to buy produce directly from the farmers. You can also have farm fresh products shipped to you but that's not cheap.
Satuma-imo and Sato-imo potatoes
A visit to the family grave gave us a chance to leave Tokyo and be in the countryside. With my son, Sakae, we went to Chiba, which is about an hour train ride from Tokyo. The famiy grave is in the middle of a pear farm near Matsudo in Chiba. This prefecture is the leading producer of vegetables in Japan.
Red daikon radish
In the old days, the farm women from Chiba, Chiba no Obasan, would come out from Chiba to Tokyo to sell vegetables and other farm products. They carried big handwoven baskets of produce on their backs. I loved the Obasan that regularly came to our house in Kamakura. What she produced out of the basket was amazing - fresh farm eggs wrapped in newspaper, daikon radish, spinach, carrots, potatoes, fermented soybeans,natto, bean cakes, even rice. She was like a magician. You don't see these traveling farm women anymore but the farms are still around, though much less than when I was a girl.
I left Shibuya at nine in the morning. It was past rush hour traffic but the trains were still packed with shoppers. As the train moved away from central Tokyo, we could sit and look at the view outside the window. We began to see less highrises, more single unit homes and patches of farm land.
We arrived in Chiba earlier than expected so we decided to explore the nearby market in Matsudo. As expected, the quality of the local produce was incredible. There were blushing pink fat daikon radishes and gigantic turnips with dirt clinging to their roots. They were probably just picked a few hours ago. I could smell the earth. Compared to Tokyo, everything was reasonably priced. Sakae saw many unfamiliar vegetables, including slimy mushrooms like nameko. If we didn't have any family commitments, I would have bought the beautiful cabbage, burdock, negi, and more. Oh well, it will have to wait till next time. At least, it was nice to get out of the city and breathe some fresh country air. I now understand why my cousin makes the weekly trips to Chiba to buy produce.