Looking for information on foraging in Japan, or just interested in learning about traditional Japanese wild foods? Eating Wild Japan is a fascinating read, with a few caveats.
First of all, it has to be said that I read this book as an American forager. Our family forages hundreds of pounds of wild foods a year and they make up a big part of our diet. We forage wild asparagus, mushrooms, elderberries, acorns (once processed they make a fantastic flour), ramps, lambs quarters, apples, pears, gooseberries, raspberries, wood sorrel, dandelions and their flowers, nettles and much more. I wouldn’t want to live without foraged foods, not just because they’re free and incredibly healthy but also because they just taste so much better than most grocery store produce. We also forage for a lot of medicinal plants like plantain, elderberries, mullein, etc.
I was hoping to find a sort of kinship in this book and learn how people on the other side of the world use wild plants in similar and different ways from the ways we do. This book didn’t really hit that mark. There’s more talk of a few people doing really complicated ways of foraging and processing foods in traditional ways than just modern Japanese people subsisting on the delicious and healthy wild plants that are all around.
At one of our local foraging spots, we frequently run into Hmong families that harvest completely different greens than we do. One morning, my teenage daughter and one such family tried to communicate with each other about what they were each harvesting. For our family, it was spring ramps and nettles (one of the healthiest wild plants in the world, and surprisingly tasty once you blanch them and remove the sting or blend them in smoothies). My husband and daughter didn’t recognize the greens they were harvesting but they seemed very enthusiastic about them. I was hoping to learn more about the plants that might be loved in other places and go unappreciated here, or to even learn new ways of enjoying plants that are found in both regions.
There were a few recipes, which sounded tasty but which I have not yet tried.
This was definitely an interesting book. I was often saddened about how much is being lost in Japan in terms of both nature and traditions (Bird describes massive trees that are being purchased from rural families so companies can use them to make one-slab tables for very rich people from the giant trunks, for instance). It almost seems like a tribute to the past rather than a modern foraging guide for Japan. It is fascinating and well written, but probably not ultimately helpful for those interested in actually foraging either in Japan or elsewhere.
Eating Wild Japan: Tracking the Culture of Foraged Foods, with a Guide to Plants and Recipes is available in paperback or in Kindle format. Find it on Amazon (affiliate link) or at your local library or bookseller.
I read a temporary digital ARC of this book for review.