Endangered Tradition: Plum Farmer’s are in Danger of Disappearing of Japan’s Rich Plum Culture at Roadside Stations | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Endangered Tradition: Plum Farmer’s are in Danger of Disappearing of Japan’s Rich Plum Culture at Roadside Stations

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Pickles” production is now subject to a permit system… making it difficult to sell handmade pickles…

The pickles industry is now on the verge of a crisis. The amendment of the Food Sanitation Law has made the production of pickles subject to a permit system, which requires facilities that meet sanitary standards, making it difficult to sell handmade pickles that have been exhibited at roadside stations throughout Japan and prepared by farmers at their homes or workshops.

The revised law went into effect in 2009. On June 1 of this year, after a transitional period of three years, the law will be fully implemented.

Old-fashioned “pickled plums” are in danger of extinction…and why?

The news featured many heartbreaking voices, including those of farmers who decided to close down their businesses, and I wondered if there was anything that could be done. With that in mind, I found the following post on X (formerly Twitter) on January 11.

‘If you already have/can get a new pickle manufacturing license, you can of course continue to sell your products. However, since there are various stipulations regarding pickling equipment, the hurdle is a high one, with a lot of cost burdens for those who were individually pickling at home. The Ume Boys spent 40 million yen to build a new production facility.

This is a tweet by Mr. Shoshiro Yamamoto , leader of the “Ume Boys” from Minabe-cho, Hidaka-gun, Wakayama Prefecture.

He dropped out of graduate school and started researching traditional pickled plums made with “salt and shiso.

Mr. Yamamoto grew up in a five-generation ume farming family and was doing research at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Hokkaido University. However, when his eldest son, who took over the farm, told him that he did not find it rewarding after growing ume because all the ume would have a uniform taste with sweet seasoning solution, he started research on simple, old-fashioned pickled plums pickled with only salt and shiso. He dropped out of graduate school and started his own umeboshi shop.

When we asked Mr. Yamamoto what he thought of the recent amendment to the law, he gave us a surprising answer.

He replied, “I think the amendment is a move to make it stricter by making it a permit system, whereas until now we were only required to report the production of pickles.

However, while we have not heard much about the case of pickled plums, there have actually been cases of food poisoning in the case of pickles that are not highly salted, such as pickled Chinese cabbage and pickled asa pickles, so I am partly convinced.

Dedicated kitchens will be needed… “It will cost at least 1.5 million yen.”

The major difference in the change from a notification system to a permit system is the requirement to have a dedicated kitchen. Specifically, the difference is that two sinks will be required and a toilet will be needed on the premises. The reality is that many people who used to pickle plums in a small space in their homes will now have to build a manufacturing and processing place separate from their residence to do so.

As for having a dedicated cooking area, I think there is no way around it, because with residences, people may have pets, and hygiene standards depend on their sensitivities.

However, the problem is that the majority of people making pickles are basically elderly people in their 70s or older.

Even among such people, for example, in the case of pickled plums, in Wakayama Prefecture, there are basically only full-time plum farmers, so many people are willing to invest in equipment, but outside of Wakayama, there are very few people who are doing it as a full-time job.

Under such circumstances, changing equipment would cost at least 1.5 million yen.

It would be very difficult for elderly people to spend 1.5 million yen for equipment investment and make a profit from it. In fact, I have talked to some businesses in Aichi, and they are all in the mood to give up.

Amid such a situation, the “Ume Boys” also receive inquiries from other prefectures, asking if they can send plums to be processed. Rather than going out of business completely, some are considering giving up manufacturing and connecting with ume farmers in Wakayama in the form of ume shipments, but there is also the problem of shipping costs.

In fact, there are so many varieties of ume in Japan, including those from Niigata, Mie, and Aichi, that even regions that are completely unknown to the rest of the country exist as ume-growing regions,” Yamamoto said.

I thought that if we invested in the equipment and set up the water supply, we could make it available to all the ume growers.

In fact, there are so many varieties of ume in Japan, including those in Niigata, Mie, and Aichi, that there are ume-growing regions that are completely unknown throughout the country.

If no one invests in facilities, the ume production area and culture of that area will disappear. It would be a problem if the pickles and culture of the producing area were to disappear.”

However, with the mood of resignation prevailing in the industry due to the large number of elderly people, Mr. Yamamoto says he thought, “We have no choice but to do something about it in accordance with the law. What we are doing now,” he says, “is to establish manufacturing facilities in each region that can be used by everyone.

Many of the farmers who have been denied permission due to a lack of equipment because of the revised law plan to continue growing plums and shipping them fresh to JA and other retailers.

If that is the case, the existing facilities will probably become available, so we are planning to install such facilities for 1.5 or 2 million yen, and then turn them into a processing plant after only the water supply has been installed.

There must be farmers who have large warehouses, so if we invest in the facilities, set up only the water supply, and make it a form of joint management, everyone will be able to use it.

We will then work with them to find sales channels and so on. There is also the issue of shipping costs, so if you have a certain amount of facilities, I think it would be best to do the processing at your own place.

In fact, he has been consulted by many elderly people in Odawara who have quit making pickled plums because of the legal revision, and he regularly contacts them and visits Odawara to find people he can work with.

Some local governments are offering subsidies for capital investment in line with this legal revision, but most of the subsidies are for one-half or something like that,” he says.

Still, we are grateful, but considering the age of the farmers, more than 50% of whom are in their 70s, few are willing to spend 1.5 million yen to keep going. And given their age, it would be difficult to get a loan from the bank.

The number of young ume farmers is increasing, as more and more young people who want to grow ume with the Ume Boys are moving to the area.

It is better to pickle local plums in the community and have them loved and eaten by everyone in the community…

Mr. Yamamoto’s current plan is to establish umeboshi (pickled plum) factories throughout Japan.

Since it does not require any major equipment, we would like to make it a jointly run processing plant by covering the investment in water and other facilities for elderly farmers who are thinking of going out of business.

Some people say they will send their plums to Wakayama so they can pickle them, but it is better to pickle local plums in the community and have them loved and eaten by everyone in that community. In the future, we plan to use crowdfunding to build manufacturing facilities throughout Japan.

Incidentally, the number of young ume farmers is increasing as more and more young people, including those who want to work with the ume farmers, are moving to the Ume Boys.

It seems that a bridge is gradually being built between the elderly who are about to give up and go out of business due to the change in the law and the young people who want to make “sour pickled plums” and grow them as their own brand.

On March 4, they also won the judges’ special award (grand prize) at “Premier Wakayama” organized by Wakayama Prefecture! Mr. Yamamoto is in the center of the photo.

Click here for the “Ume Boys” website.

Click here for the website of “Ume Boys,” a crowdfunding campaign for Inheritance of additive-free pickled plums! Creating umeboshi production facilities in ume production areas across Japan! started on March 15!

  • Interview and text by Wakako Takou

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