History of Wasabi
|According to Japanese legend, wasabi was discovered hundreds of years ago in a remote mountain village by a farmer who decided to grow it. He reportedly showed it to Tokugawa Ieyasu, a Japanese warlord of the era. Ieyasu, who later became Shogun, liked it so much he declared it a treasure only to be grown in the Shizuoka area.
While cultivation of wasabi in Japan dates to the tenth century, and has since spread to Taiwan, China, New Zealand, Canada, America and elsewhere, this plant has a well deserved reputation of being tricky to grow, largely because it requires cold, pristine water with just the right balance of minerals.
Today, commercial enterprises farm wasabi in mountain environs in the Shizuoka prefecture on Izu peninsula as well as in the Azumino plains of the Nagano prefecture. Effective wasabi horticulture practices are carefully guarded secrets.
With so few producers worldwide, supply of wasabi japonica is quite limited, while demand for real wasabi is growing exponentially and prices reportedly are rising accordingly.
Following is the reported history of "Nishiki-Cho" Wasabi:Japanese history describes the defeat of the Heike clan in the Dan-noura war, from Bunji years 3 to 5 (from 795 to 797). The survivors fled to other parts of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Some of them settled near Mount Bahun, located in the upriver district of the Nishiki River. Here they sought a place where they could live in peace. They are said to have been involved in agriculture and hunting while some became craftsmen.
Tradition has it that Wasabi grew wild in the valleys of Mt. Heike, Mt. Mizuo, and Mt. Bahun, in the Kitani-Kyo watershed. The Heike survivors are believed to have gathered wild Wasabi to use as a seasoning for slices of raw yamame (a kind of trout), and raw venison. Many of these survivors were originally noble samurai and were familiar with the life and culture of Kyoto. With this knowledge of Kyoto cuisine, they ate pickled vegetables made from stems and leaves of Wasabi along with many other edible wild plants. This is one of the stories that has made Wasabi the most popular condiment in Japan.
Around the 9th year of the Meiji period, Ichiroku Hashimoto, living in Kitakonishi, first produced a commercial Wasabi product, "Kitani-Kyo" Wasabi. Although the sales figures are not known, he seems to have made a good living through this enterprise, earning one yen, which was an incredible profit for those times. By this business, Wasabi leapt to fame and its cultivation spread in the Kitani-Kyo area. Growing techniques at that time are said to be somewhat primitive; young Wasabi plants were transplanted in simple fields which were created on the banks of a ravine by roughly arranging stones, rather than the current style of preparing fields dedicated only to Wasabi.
In the 9th year of the Taisho period, a new technology of growing Wasabi was devoloped. Wasabi began to be grown in the conglomerate soils alongside mountain streams instead of in flowing water. In spite of the decline in the quality of Wasabi products, this technique attracted a great deal of attention among farmers because of the ability to produce in larger quantities. Wasabi grown using this method became known as Hatake-Wasabi. Fields for Hatake-Wasabi production were then adopted extensively. This forms the main mode of Wasabi farming in Nishiki-Cho. In the Taisho era, Wasabi products were usually harvested two years after planting.
In the year Showa 14, in the former village of Sugane, accelerated cultivation using normal fields was first introduced. This further reduced growing time, controlled diseases, and increased cost effectiveness. This style of cultivation provided the foundation for subsequent improvements in growing methods.