Seasonal Food Cycle

Aug 31,2016
We've just finished entertaining as a guest a big typhoon that brought heaps of rain and wind to our environs, but now the land is dry and the sky is blue. There's also been the first vague hint of an autmn nip in the air, which I most welcome. It means we no longer need to run the air conditioner at all.

It also gets me thinking about the availability and shifting cost of food throughout the year. Shopping in any prefecture in Japan seems to be a rather dazzling ritual for westerners in particular, who are used to not only much larger and more spacious supermarkets, but also to price controls and options for savings mostly available through coupons and special offers. Westerners who first get off the plane don't know how different it is. Some take years to figure it out, and others never seem to. For one thing, different items are discounted on different days of the week. Any particular store might have its own special day to mark down frozen foods, say, or eggs. Perishable items like fish and meat may be marked down later in the day. There also may be one day each week when the normal number of 'points' earned for purchases--these are applied to one's membership card to the particular store, and can later be used instead of money--may be increased fivefold. This is common knowledge to people who have grown up shopping here, and ends up being sort of common sense, so no one thinks to tell any of the benighted sojourners about it. As a consequence the hapless foreigner ends up living much less well, while spending much more, than the average local.

(There are other idiosyncratic loopholes, too, like the option of 'bargaining' for computers and other big items at regular stores, but I'll confine this to food for the moment.)

Further, all fresh produce has a season, and there are no price controls. Thus all the prices of fruits and vegetables, and sometimes even rice, fluctuate wildly depending on the time of year. When I one day figure out what the season for each item specific item is, I'll compile it all into a grand master list to guide hypothetical readers through the best dietary choices for each month of the year. I'm not in too much of a hurry, of course, because the people who need this information aren't going to be coming here to get it. But it could come in handy as fodder if I ever go on to write a blog that people actually read. So here's what I have for the time being.

Tomatoes and cucumbers are widly cheap in summer. (Cucumbers, incidentally, are the same vegetable in Japan and the US. I didn't know this at first, because they are picked much, much younger here than there, so Japanese cucumbers are small, thin, and wrinkled-looking, rather than plump, smooth, juicy and full of seeds.)

Now the season is black grapes and Asian pears. The latter are said to have a fibre that's bad for the skin, and it's advised to not eat too many of them; but they are one of Tottori's main products, so Tottori clearly wants people to eat as many of them as possible. So we're kind of stuck. The former have a thick skin that Japanese people refuse to eat. The plant is doused with pesticides because farmers know everyone who is going to eat them is just going to peel off and discard the most contaminated part. But I can't bring myself to peel grapes, and so I mostly avoid eating them altogether. I'm just glad the aren't peeling blueberries.

Winter will be the time for apples and tangerines (or whatever you want to call mikan when speaking English; there's considerable debate about it).

Imports like bananas, avocados and bell peppers (always imported from Korea, ironically; we grow them in our garden) are always expensive, but there is a degree of fluctuation.

Watermelons and other melons are also seasonal, but this simply means that in summer they are available. They are never priced reasonably enough that anyone sane would recommend purchasing them. Sometimes they go for uipwards of \5000 for a single melon. People buy them, obviously. Which may lead international readers to wax befuddled at what sort of incredible country Japan must be that it can lead consumers to lose their senses like that.

I can't say much about leafy green vegetables, because most of what we consume in that department is in the form of kale, which we grow ourselves and pick by the kilo all year long precisely because it isn't sold in any stores around here. Ditto for arugula, which we keep in its own little greenhouse. Occasionally we by some spinach or lettuce, but not often enough to notice the expense.

There will be a more complete, and better-constructed, article after I spend a year collecting information.

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