Wasabi — green horseradish — is an indispensable relish for sashimi and sushi. Since the 1700s, wasabi cultivation has been a local industry at the foot of Mount Amagi of Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka Pref. In this region, wasabi is typically grown in terraced paddy-like fields that receive the natural blessing of ample clean spring water from the mountain. Wasabi in this area is known for its extremely pleasant flavor.
It’s said that readily growing wasabi actually takes one to two years. The thick mature stem of the plant, which grows primarily submerged, is grated and turned into a spicy relish. Freshly grated wasabi has a stimulating mustard-type flavor, which “goes up the nose” when tasting it. Some sushi chefs call wasabi “tears” because it brings tears to the eyes.
Nobuaki Inaba is the fourth-generation representative of a wasabi farm located in the Amagi region. He cultivates a wasabi-en (wasabi garden) named Kadoya that also features a restaurant. It’s constantly crowded with local people and sightseers because its simple cuisine — which makes bold use of wasabi — attracts a following.
Nama-Wasabi-Don, a dish served in Mr. Inaba’s restaurant, is a bowl of hot steamed rice topped with shaved bonito and accompanied with fresh wasabi and a little soy sauce. The flavor of the wasabi — its essential mustard-like spiciness, as well as green freshness and softly sweet fragrance — unfolds as you taste it, inspiring you to enjoy the delicious rice. This extremely simple bowl meal allows you to experience the true joy of wasabi.
“Enabling people to enjoy the true taste of wasabi is my longtime dream. That’s why I thought a long time about how I could help people easily enjoy the real delicacy of wasabi. In order to give our wasabi the main role in cuisine, it was important to minimize other food ingredients.”
Mr. Inaba provides some tips for greatest enjoyment of his Nama-Wasabi-Don.
He explains, “Please use wasabi from the upper part of the stem and try to grate it as finely as possible. This emphasizes the spiciness and fresh fragrance. Also, pour soy sauce around the wasabi, rather than over it. When soy sauce is directly mixed with wasabi, the fragrance fades.”
From childhood, Mr. Inaba was familiar with the family legacy of wasabi cultivation, and at a young age, he determined to continue his parents’ business. So his life has been devoted to wasabi from the beginning. For him, it’s a great pleasure to grow wasabi surrounded by the blessings of nature in the Amagi region.
Mr. Inaba says, “What’s most important for wasabi cultivation is the water alone. Only soft water is suited to it, and the best water temperature is around 12°C (54°F). Wasabi doesn’t grow ideally if these natural conditions are not readily met. This is the reason why we can find wasabi fields only in very limited areas, even in Japan.”
He has a passion for his mission — to pass on the true taste and appeal of wasabi. His firm commitment to this goal is apparent in his views.
He continues, “I’m honored to pass along traditional farming products inherited from ancient Japan to future generations. I believe wasabi is another aspect of Cool Japan.” He laughs. “Some people say they enjoyed wasabi here for the first time. Other people say they never realized wasabi could be so sweet. It’s a pleasure to hear these comments. I’m really fortunate to be engaged in this work.”
Wasabi is enjoyed after grating the stem using this grater. The rough surface attached to this wooden board and handle is... sharkskin. Closely spaced minute bumps on its surface serve as an ideal texture to grate excellently flavored wasabi.