The people of Tsuruoka love moso (pronounced as “mowsow”). Some Tsuruokans use moso for miso broth with sake lees, and for moso-jiru (miso-based soup with moso). Some edacious residents eat them almost everyday when moso is in season. Here, moso is one of the beloved ingredients to every inhabitant.
Yutagawa Onsen is home to moso production. We interviewed one avid moso farmer who plays a major role during the busiest season when the area is flooded with tourists.
On 18th May, when we could finally enjoy the warm, fine weather, we paid a visit to Yutagawa Onsen. It was the golden period of moso according to an annual crop calendar.
Mr. Ooi, who inherited his bamboo groves from his grandfather, has been engaged in moso production for well over 50 years.
Normally, according to Mr. Ooi, moso is in season in mid-May and farmers in the hot springs vicinity have hectic days harvesting the bamboo at its best, but this year, it was the worst harvest that he had ever experienced. The reason that he could come up with at once was the recent colder weeks than in a typical May.
“When the buds of moso were the size of our thumb earlier, they didn’t grow enough because of the boiling hot weather last September.” Mr. Ooi told us. “I suppose the summer heat affected them a lot. It’s got warmer these days, so we could expect to have bigger moso, but I still think it is unlikely, unfortunately. We could only expect this size of moso even if the weather warmed up,” said Mr. Ooi, showing his hand to demonstrate the size of moso he was expecting for the year.
To grow moso, the amount of snowfall (moisture), the warmth in early spring and the proper summer heat in the previous year are key and they are all interrelated.
The amount of snowfall this year was abundant. The weather during the last couple of days was good. In spite of such good conditions, moso didn’t grow. The reason for this, according to the assumption of Mr. Ooi, is related to a summer heat wave in the previous year.
“It is usually when we have just started harvesting moso in season that we exchange words among moso farmers like ‘My moso are still hand-sized ones,’ ‘So are mine.’ But this year, we still find hand-sized moso although it’s already in-season.”
This year’s yield is only an eighth of the regular season, according to Mr. Ooi.
How to Grow Bamboo Groves
About 18 years ago, Mr. Ooi transplanted six bamboo shoots to transform his persimmon fields into bamboo groves; five out of the six bamboo shoots died. In other words, he made just one bamboo shoot grow into the extensive bamboo groves.
It took 15 years for the roots of bamboo shoots to spread underneath the site and to be successfully harvested as good moso, and Mr. Ooi still works hard to develop the groves by leaving moso with deep roots in larger diameters in the groves and letting them grow as parent bamboo shoots.
"I want to listen to customers’ voices"
Mr. Ooi quit commercializing moso when he took over the bamboo production from his father. Instead, he now shares moso he harvests with the customers of his construction business.
Mr. Ooi feels happy when he can listen to customers’ voices directly, saying that unlike the moso harvested outside of Yamagata Prefecture, the ones harvested in the local area in the morning (moso harvested within six hours in the morning) tastes fresher and better.
Nevertheless, some of his customers mention that Mr. Ooi’s moso are too soft. To meet such demands of his customers, he carefully checks moso and gives it out without removing the base’s hard part.
How to Sort and Preserve Good Moso
A moso of which the tip does not come well out from the ground has a pinkish skin when dug out. This type of moso is rare and of a high-quality that cannot be found so often in Yutagawa Onsen.
Also, a moso of which the skin is brown with no darkening is stark white in its cross section and its freshness and softness are guaranteed. If the base of the moso is green in color, it is likely to have already been hard.
The first thing to be done to enjoy the good taste of fresh moso is to boil it as soon as possible. Mr. Ooi normally boils the fresh moso within 30 minutes after the harvest.
Moso, which can lose its freshness more easily than fish, needs to be peeled and boiled as soon as you get it, then, soaked in water and put it in the refrigerator, so that it can be preserved for about a week.
A key point is not to change the water. Once the moso is placed in water, just leave it in the same water. Changing the water can change the temperature of the moso, which can have unfavorable effect on its quality.
"I Want to Enhance the Visibility of Yutagawa"
Mr. Ooi who presides at the Yutagawa Shinto Music and Dances (Kagura) Preservation Association and also plays as an accompanist for the Association kindly extended an invitation to us, saying “Just come see the Kagura.”
Mr. Ooi, a passionate enthusiast of both moso and the traditional Kagura dance continues;
“My mission is to preserve the moso groves given by my ancestors. If no care is taken, the moso groves will become out of my control. I was born in Yutagawa. I know I was born in a blessed land. I can enjoy four distinctive seasons, you know. When spring comes, I can enjoy the pleasure of letting people eat good moso. I offer them, ‘please, enjoy our family’s moso.’ This makes me feel grateful for my ancestors. They found a good place to live in, didn’t they?”
In Tsuruoka, moso is often sold right out of the groves after being harvested in the morning. It is eaten without precooking, including removing the scum or astringent taste with rice bran. It can be eaten just after being peeled and boiled.
Mr. Ooi’s recommendation is moso-jiru (miso-based soup with moso), as it is others’ recommendation. According to him, a key point is to add broth made from dried shiitake mushrooms and sake lees.