She is the owner of ‘Herbland Season’ where you can have a day farming experience. The view from its terrace over the pretty herb garden is gorgeous. She is a qualified aroma therapist and offers mini lectures on herbs.
Q What is your memorable moment of Sakata lagoon?
Many swans came in winter.
I was born in this neighbourhood. My mother had a farm here. When you walked down the slope and you would have come to a bush, and pushed through among leaves, there it was, the lagoon appeared. There used to be rice fields instead of the park in those days. There was a route for local children’s marathon competitions. When I was running, I felt pretty relaxed because of the familiar surroundings. Especially it was nice in floral seasons. In the winter with snow, children gathered around with a fertilizer-bag each in hand, and dashed to the small hill. We enjoyed a sleighing party. We heard swans‘ cries so close then, but at that time, we didn’t think anything of it because we were too busy playing. However looking back now it was just like a scene from a fairy tale.
Q How long have you lived in this place? When did you start ‘Herbland Season’?
This land was untouched. I started with a vegetable field first, then I built a house to start a farm where you can experience farming in mind in 2000. At that time there were lavender trees and some vegetables only. One day, a magazine publisher offered me a project called ‘Let’s go to Nagashima-san’s farm to pick some lavenders’. To my surprise, I was inundated with applications for the first day, and the next day, so eventually it was fully booked. The organizer said “Would you like to extend the offer because it has been quite successful.” It became increasingly popular since the article was published in the magazine. I thought long and hard to satisfy visitors. All of a sudden I had an idea to open a hands-on farming. –– I made a program for visitors such as picking flowers and bringing home 100 stems of flowers, and having fresh herb tea with handmade cookies. But even at this stage, I was neither convinced nor committed fully to the business. However the program was a big success. I was asked to hold a similar event again in the following year. It was the first time I earned my own money and felt extremely pleased with myself.
I built a small vinyl house with the money I made, and then grew more herbs from cuttings and gave them away to my friends. I felt comfortable with managing the business because it was my side job. One day somebody told me “Why don’t you sell seedling to visitors?”, so I started to look for a good location for my shop. I wondered which side of the lagoon would be more suitable.
The entrance to ‘Herbland Season’ and the view from its terrace.
Q There is a place with view on the other side.
There used to be a farm for watermelons. It was called ‘Lotus Hut’ and I loved it. When I have a break, I am really fond of looking at the lagoon covered with lotus flowers from there.
Q When did you start farming?
I started farming over 20 years ago. It kept me healthy for all those years.
Actually when I decided to marry a farmer, my friend warned me that life could become hard. (but I got married anyway.) Because I adored pastoral stories like “Anne of Green Gables” or “Little house on the Prairie”, I was told that I was dreaming too much. As a trial, I helped one of my friend’s melon farm every early morning for a while, and I felt quite confident about farming.
There are local vegetable farms around the Sakata lagoon.
‘Herbland Season’ used to be one of them.
I found it in a hard way what it was like. There is a locally saying “Never give away your daughter to a famer in Akatsuka, even by shaving her hair to prevent it”. Akatsuka is famous for its farming products so you were expected to work from early morning to dark. I sweated tons through physical work. After 10 years of hard physical labour, I became really healthy surprisingly. My eyesight even got better looking over the vast field everyday.
On the other hand, some strong wind could destroy the harvest in one night. One day everybody went out in a storm to protect watermelon from gust. They stopped me because I was pregnant at that time, in my desperation I went there to help anyway. Almost all melons had been damaged.
The lagoon’s back side is like a woods and is obscure from paths that is way there is a bird sanctuary. There are some tree-shaded pavements around Sakata lagoon.
Q How did you manage to protect crops from strong winds?
We were afraid of them all the time, because strong winds brought sands and hit our vegetables. We could have suffered a big loss over a night. Sometimes I wanted to plead to God for some help.
In such time, my grand-pa in low (who passed away a long time ago) told us “There is always next year”. I understood the meaning after 20 years of experiences as a farmer. “Good and Bad things happen but that’s life”.
‘Katafune’ boats floating on the lagoon.
On the contrary, my grand-pa used to say “Some wind is worth million dollars”. Because having worked so hard under the hot sun, you went under a tree-shaded for some rest, and then suddenly you felt cool breeze on your entire body, that was worth millions. Only farmers know.
I’ve learnt so much from my grand-pa and grand-ma. Both of them were great cooks especially with local products. My grand-ma was born in Meiji era, it was the time when everyone was expected to be resourceful and creative with food, so she had a policy saying, “Use what you have in the house, and make good use of local foods”. It was as simple as that. She became the master chef in cooking all kinds of fish from the lagoon. My grand-pa used to cook young lotus canes and made ‘Kobai’ wichi, which is a local delicacy in summer. It is really yummy. They tastes good and also good for health. That is why farmers are not likely to buy “ready meals” from super market, I think.
I used to have fishes from the lagoon cooked regularly. For example, small fish fritter made with a pinch of salt, mixed with starch and flour. My grand-pa used to feed homemade baby food to his grandchildren. It was nice crumbled fish flitter. He also went to some event and showed his prowess skill in cooking such as slicing a large fish for sashimi, which was considered manlier in the Japanese cooking. My son still remembers the taste but can’t remember how his grand-pa prepared it because he was too young unfortunately.
There are many herb tea selections.
Q Fresh water fish tastes different from sea fish.
True. Local cuisine is quite unique so it is hard to find it even in restaurants. There is a certain method in the way dishes are made. My neighbours who remember the method thought me how to cook some dishes. I made some rice balls. The rice was cooked with some vegetables and mushrooms mixed with some seasonings, wrapped with a lotus leaf separately and steamed. Lotus leaf prevents sogginess, and have bactericidal effect with a pleasant flagrance. It’s a clever traditional way to wrap rice.
Q You have herbs which may go nice with local food.
I make ‘escabeche’ with small fish from the lagoon, fried and marinated with herbs like dill. It is a popular dish on the menu. Even winter, I can use dried lotus leaves and serve a rice ball wrapped in lotus leaf. I know that visitors come all the way here not expecting fine dining in the restaurant, but I try to please them with local food.
Q It must be good for your body.
Farmers tend to be healthy from physical work, and there is no stress like office work. There are many opportunities in this business because it is the sixth industry*1. Now I think this is my destiny to introduce herb farming and its benefits for visitors.
Also I have a feeling that Sakata lagoon embraces me. Many visitors say ‘When I come here, feel so cozy and relaxed’. That is why Sakata lagoon has been loved even when it was overgrown with weeds. I have many people to thank, in return, I’d like to stay and continue with the farm work appreciatively.
Q Now ‘Herbland Season’ is like a salon or community place in Sakata.
I hope it is going to be the place where everybody can come. ‘Herbland’s ‘land’ means also ‘place to get together. We can expect not only visitors for sight-seeing, but club members for picking trash, disabled people, music lovers and etc.
Q ‘Herb farming’ is not an easy business as it seems but you have ‘trial lesson’ for beginners.
Yes, it’s not so easy. I was stung by a bee 3 times this year. Because it is pesticide-free in the herb garden. There are insects, birds and many wild creatures. My insurance took care of the bee incidents but I need to be careful with honey bees around here.
Q I heard a complete organic farming is tough.
I’ve had many frustrated moments, but I thought that it was important to keep on going and challenging. I’ve developed a product called “Herb Care”*2 which is a non-chemical bug spray for gardening plants. It is an organic insect repellent so people’s gardens, not for commercial use due to its speed of effectiveness. I sell them through the website.
Q I hear you aren’t selling herbs, but offering courses for learning about herbs.
Yes, teaching about herbs is our business. For example, some visitors from Tokyo came in a package trip including staying in the hot spring nearby and taking a course for learning about herbs. We had a course called ‘Yomogi (Tansy)’ recently, making Tansy dumpling and Tansy dyeing, and studying about treatments with it. Everyone was pleased with the experience then, but my grand-ma said “Why do you serve such common little herb to guests?” I said “Well, they could have a fine dining in Tokyo but they came all the way here to taste such common herb” instead. My grand-ma was amazed. My grand-ma’s pickles are popular, I serve them too.
Q All the setups were received favors from the lagoon, weren’t they.
Sakata lagoon seems to have some kind of a power to purify, I think. “This is the place to come and wipe away any sadness from our hearts, and the lagoon embraces us”. –– Someone told so.
Q I agree this is the place where makes us feel refreshed. Thank you very much.
5073 Akatsuka Nishi-ku, Niigata-shi, Niigata-ken 950-2261
OPEN: 10:00 to 17:00
CLOSED: Wednesdays and winter season onFebruary
*1 Service configuration - Agriculture or fishery industries have been expanding business model such as food-processing, pick- your-own farm shop or course of lectures.
*2 The bug spray herb-based “Herb Care”. ‘Herbland Season’ is selling through the website.
Sakata Lagoon (information)