Sensing Spring

Oumi sheds its winter skin, and new life bursts from the moist ground that has been storing warmth from longer sunlit days. 

In April, there are signs of wild, untamed, young life forms, which means it’s ripe for foraging edible plants in the mountains and fields.

Foraging at this time of year means picking fresh shoots and young plants that are brimming with potential. The most coveted plant may be takenoko, since takenoko rice is synonymous with spring. Their shoots can be found in the nondescript ground by bamboo trees. Experienced foragers look for a small bump on the ground, where the takenoko has moved the Earth just before the shoot has emerged from the soil surface. Once their tip rises above the soil, the shoots may appear a few centimeters tall, but they are known for their deep, layered and incredibly rock-solid roots. 

Each wild vegetable has its preferred environmental conditions. In the fields on untamed mountains, bracken grows amid yellowed leaves and wilted branches. Nearby, in a more moist area, ostrich fern can be spotted curled up, awakening and unfurling in the light. Meanwhile, on the forest floor a short drive away from Makino, yukinoshita with its orbicular leaves that are striped like watermelon grow on rocky, shaded areas. Just like strawberries, they spread along the plain from runners. 

To complement the wild plants for our meal is Lake Biwa’s wild ayu fish. These lake fish are much smaller than their river counterparts, since it’s harder to feed on plankton in Lake Biwa’s deep waters. They are fished in nets on small boats, sometimes by a single fisherman.

It takes a keen eye to spot wild edible plants growing anywhere from the watercress in the clear water at the temple’s entrance, to the yukinoshita growing in shaded forests. It means paying close attention to the land over time, and someone to guide you. As we gather around the dinner table at Fukudaya, we savour the bittersweetness and crisp texture of nature’s wild bounty.

Minakuchi Farm/Takenoko bamboo shoot, wild vegetables

Nakamura Suisan/Ayu fish