Gassandake Pt. 1
Gassandake bamboo (bamboo shoots that are harvested on Mr. Gassan) Mr. Toshikazu Sato, a representative of Sato Farm Gassandake bamboo shoots, with their soft white flesh, crunchy texture and rich flavor, are a type of bamboo shoot and blessings from the mountains that can be enjoyed during only a short period of early summer in Tsuruoka. We interviewed Mr. Toshikazu Sato, who is a representative of Sato Farm. He has been cultivating Gassandake bamboo shoots in the Toge, Haguro area for more than 20 years. The Gassandake bamboo, which is also known as Negamaridake bamboo or Chishimazasa bamboo is a type of alpine bamboo. This bamboo is mainly found in the mountainous areas near the coast of the Sea of Japan. Its range spreads from Hokkaido (the northern island of Japan), through the Tohoku region (the northeast part of Japan) and extensively in Tottori Prefecture in the west of Japan. “If you don’t take good care of Gassandake bamboos, you can’t have good ones,” said Mr. Sato. The Gassandake bamboo shoots that grow wild can be harvested in June, when the snow on Mt. Gassan starts to melt. Mr. Sato climbs up over the 9th station of Mt. Gassan to harvest them. Until then, the representative of Sato Farm works hard to ship the bamboo shoots in early May that have been cultivated in his grove at the first station of Mt. Gassan. Mr. Sato started Gassandake bamboo production more than 20 years ago, after obtaining five roots of Gassandake bamboo harvested on Mt. Gassan from then Haguro town that provided shoots to some of the farmers. But, it is just a last decade or so that Mr. Sato successfully managed to harvest the Gassandake bamboo shoots with a constant yield. It took several years for him to prepare a good soil, leave young good bamboos in the soil and spread the roots underneath his grove in order to cultivate the flavorful Gassandake bamboo shoots that grow wild, said Mr. Sato. Taking a closer look in to a grove of two- to three-meter high bamboo, one can see Gassandakebamboo shoots about to grow from a well-mowed soil covered with fallen bamboo grasses. “This mulch from the vegetation is important,” said Mr. Sato. A bamboo shoot is a bud that comes out of a joint of the bamboo root underneath the soil. Quality and moisture content of the soil, sunshine and ventilation can affect bamboo growth. This well-balanced sunshine in this grove is a result of Mr. Sato’s fine-tuned pruning. Only because of snowfall does good Gassandake bamboo grow. A joint of Chishimazasa bamboo shoots, a type of Gassandake bamboo, in fact, is closely related to snowfall. This joint is covered with snow in winter, which helps protect the new bud from cold and becoming dry. Also, the joint of Chishimazasa primarily grows at an angle from the surface. Because of its flexibility, the joint bends but does not snap short even if pressed with snow. Actually, it straightens back up to its original growth. That is, only because of the snow does the Chishimazasa bamboo grow well without dying. Indeed, perpetual snows that lie until summer on Mt. Gassan and long accumulated mulch from the vegetation can grow good Gassandake bamboo shoots. The color of the skin of Nemagaridake bamboo shoots on Mt. Gassan differs depending on where it is harvested. In addition to this reddish purple color, shoots of green, yellow-green and yellow among others can be found. According to Mr. Sato, there is an unspoken rule among mountain farmers with regard to where to harvest and where to sell bamboo shoots, which maintains an orderly cultivation on the mountains. Eating bamboo shoots with gratitude for the mountains Bamboo shoots can easily lose freshness and special care is needed when harvesting, said Mr. Sato. For natural ingredients, he goes down the mountain only after putting snow over the harvested bamboo shoots, so that an astringent taste or a scum cannot be developed inside them. Instead, the cultivated bamboo shoots are put in a cold box right after being harvested to keep freshness. We asked Mr. Sato what the best culinary method to eat the bamboo shoots is. The best method is, he answered, to make a cut first without peeling the skin and grill it with charcoal fire or in a microwave oven. Another method is to make a takenoko-jiru (miso soup with bamboo shoots and deep-fried tofu), he added. In the Toge, Haguro area, sake lees are not added in the takenoko-jiru to retain a flavor of the Gassandake bamboo shoots. Following the 10th June, Mr. Sato will go on to Mt. Gassan after a long interval and he hopes to harvest 30 to 40kg of Gassandake bamboo shoots at one time. Mt. Gassan has been deeply associated with people’s daily lives as the mountain of a religious faith. Mr. Sato invites us to appreciate the blessings from the mountains.