You know wasabi, the green glob on the side of your sushi plate that gives your sinuses a super-punch? Usually you’re just eating dyed horseradish because the real stuff is so expensive. While in Matsumoto I was able to visit the Daio Wasabi Farm to see where it’s made!
In the morning I rented a bicycle from the town office. Renting out free bicycles is a great way to encourage tourism in your town. The only collateral they require is a phone number, then the bike is yours for the day! So I took it up north to the town of Azumino. Bicycling through the countryside was one of my favorite activities while living in Japan, so this simple thing induced loads of nostalgia. In this case I followed the river, but most of the time you can just set your sights on a certain direction and take any old street that goes in that direction. Even the Japanese countryside is fairly densely populated and compact, so you don’t have to worry about side streets bringing you for miles in one direction if you don’t make a perfect turn.
After a few hours of pedaling, I finally arrived at the right place. I stopped at a soba restaurant and ordered – can you guess? – wasabi soba. It woke my nose up alright. Then I crossed the street and entered the farm. The giftshop was full of people picking up souvenirs. Crowds are the best way to eat lots of samples without being noticed, so I took full advantage and enjoyed wasabi flavored chips, pickles, and crackers. The more exciting things like wasabi chocolate and cake only had a plastic display to show the contents. Outside the gift shop stood some shops where you can buy even more adventurous things like wasabi beer and wasabi ice cream.
Besides all the food and merchandise, the farm itself was a joy to explore. Wasabi needs clean, cool, running water to grow. The farm had rerouted some water from a nearby river and planted rows of the wasabi root in rocky soil. It was interesting to see them planted in a kind of chevron pattern, designed that way so that the water can continue to flow and not get bottled up anywhere. There were bridges over wasabi streams and shaded walkways, a temple high up on the hill, and a temple way back in a small cave. You could pay to have the experience of preparing raw wasabi, then eat it with a meal.
It was a bi-utiful experience, and I look forward to eating more wasabi with my sushi.