Culture of food preservation with a focus on vegetables in Yamagata Tozawa village to overcome heavy snowfall


Our life has evolved to this point. When you enter your house, you have a heating system, and when snow accumulates, it’s possible to remove it with snow blowers. In reality, however, living in snowy areas is more difficult than we might imagine. It’s the wisdom of life in the heavy snowfall areas to survive from sever winters using food preservation.

According to the conversations with elderly people in local, mainly vegetable suits for food preservation, and there are three types of methods; salt curing, drying, and storing under the snow.


Wild vegetables aren’t just for topping on Sansai soba noodles. It’s a necessary and precious source of nutrients in midwinter.

Speaking of wild vegetables in Taiwan, the Taiwanese might think 山蘇(Nest fern), 川七(Madeira vine)、龍鬚菜 (Gracilaria)and so on. On the other hand, speaking of wild vegetables in Japan, many of the Japanese might think the topping on Sansai soba noodles, but not many people might recognize what kind of wild vegetables there are.  What is common to Taiwan and Japan is that they grow naturally in the wild mountains and pesticides are not used to grow.


Unlike Taiwan, which has little change in the four seasons, Japanese wild vegetables are generally recognized as “spring vegetables” that can be harvested after the snow melts and have high values. And also, a theory popped up recently that detoxification effects are expected with the bitterness of wild vegetables, and many wild vegetables come to the market every spring.

(In recent years, some farmers have grown wild vegetables in the cultivation houses, and some wild vegetables are on the market before spring.) Also, for the Japanese living in the snowy areas, wild vegetables are not only to be eaten freshly harvested in spring but also to be preserved as an indispensable source of nutrients for cold winters.


Wild vegetables (called Sansai in Japanese)

Wild vegetables mainly salted are Warabi plant (bracken), Zenmai (fiddlehead fern), and Udo (mountain asparagus).  (In addition to wild vegetables, sometimes Shiitake mushrooms, Nameko mushrooms, etc., harvested in the fall are also stored in salt.



I was so interested in salt curing that I made a special request to “Mr. Tanaka”, who is different from Mr. Tanaka who is running an inn, to show me the factory. (There are many people whose last name are Tanaka here, by the way). The place was inside of Kadokawa Junior High School, which was closed several years ago.


Tips on preservation methods of salting and drying


Salting is a preservation method that uses a large amount of salt as a preservative. In the factory we visited this time, they put salt on the bottom of a large tub, and then placed Warabi plants harvested in the spring, put salt again, and placed Warabi plants, they repeated it and made some layers. Lastly, they used the wooden lid to put on the top of layers, put some heavy stones to hold it down, and save the tubs until winter.

Water gradually comes out from the Warabi plants. They taught me that the gray ring-shaped things in this photo were the scum in a solid-state.



Mr. Tanaka and others gathered these wild vegetables for themselves. Furthermore, they combine it with the ones gathered by other neighbors and process to ensure that it can be sent to the market in Tokyo.



There was another young man in the factory, named Mr. Suzuki. He came to Tozawa Village more than three years ago as one of the community volunteers of the revitalization project. After completed his term, the locals have been willing to accept him to stay, and now he became an indispensable person in the village.



In addition to the salting method, the grandmother, who took care of our stay at the farmhouse, was drying Zenmai in the sun (preserved by dehydration) at home, and she taught us how to do it.

Boil Zenmai in a bowl of hot water, remove the scum, pour a large amount of salt, rub it with both hands until the fiber becomes soften, dry it in the sun and drain the water to complete.


Preservation under the snow

The earth becomes the best refrigerator to live with nature

It sometimes cools down to near minus 10 degrees In Yamagata, and leaving vegetables outside will cause frostbite. It is difficult for a refrigerator to store so many vegetables, though.

In this situation, the wisdom of preservation method “storing under the snow” was born in the snowy areas to coexist with nature. In this method, vegetables are kept under the snow without harvesting to maintain the temperature around 0 degrees at which the vegetables are in hibernation state whereby the vegetables produce sugars from themselves to survive and become sweeter and more delicious than ordinary vegetables.



Snow Kadokawa Turnips (Yukishita-TSUNOGAWA-KABU)

The vegetables in these pictures stored under the snow are called Kadokawa turnips that have been handed down by people in Tozawa Village for generations. (This refers to varieties that can be bred for generations without artificial improvement.)


We stayed at a farmer’s inn, and the next morning, we had the opportunity to experience harvesting vegetables from under the snow.


When we arrived in the field buried in snow during a snowstorm, the farmer’s innkeeper, Mr. Tanaka, made a path with the snowblower, and we managed to get into the middle of the field. Normally, snow pile up at least two meters, but this year, fortunately, or unfortunately, we only needed to remove one meter of snow to get there. In the severe cold, using a shovel with wearing gloves, to dig out the TSUNOGAWA-KABU from under the snow was a sense of accomplishment beyond words.

You can eat Kadokawa turnips raw, but they are also often pickled with vinegar, salt, and sugar. Natural red pigment oozes out of turnip skin while being pickled. When you eat it, you will see that the whole pickle turns pink and the color is very beautiful.


After reading up to this point, have you been interested in wild vegetables even in a little? If you have a chance to visit a local city, I strongly recommend you to try a variety of wild vegetables and enjoy the acquired taste.