The Tonojima cucumber is cultivated in the Tonojima area of Tsuruoka. It is one of the “indigenous crops” that have been carefully preserved by farmers in limited areas around Tsuruoka city since the Edo Period (1603-1868). Although it seems only a handful of farmers cultivate the vegetable more recently, it was once so popular in Tsuruoka that Tonojima cucumber was a general synonym of cucumber.
On a fine May 23th, we visited Mr. Ueno for an interview. As he told me when making the appointment, “farmers are busy around this time of the year.” He was no exception working hard to ship out spinach at a workplace right next to his home as we visited him. He was so kind to accept our interview in spite of this busy season.
Mr. Ueno’s memories of Tonojima cucumber date back to when he was an elementary school student. He has been together with Tonojima cucumber for more or less 65 years. “Continuing is not so easy.” smiles Mr. Ueno.
Tonojima cucumber is weaker against heat and diseases and has a smaller yield and a unique bitter taste compared to general cucumbers. For those reasons, the number of farmers gradually decreased, and Mr. Ueno was the only Tonojima cucumber farmer left. At last, he also decided to quit cultivating it 7 or 8 years ago.