Take route 418 east away from downtown Yaotsu. On the way you’ll come across a parking lot in front of the Shintabisoko Bridge that stretches between two mountains. Park here to see a beautiful panorama stretch in front of your eyes. The roads are well maintained, making for a comfortable drive through the country.
Along the way you’ll find Shionami Mountain Farmer’s Market. Here you can buy regional specialties like local vegetables and handcrafts. Opened in April 2011, it is run by the local people of the Shionami district.
In the spring, you can buy mountain vegetables such as udo, bracken, flowering plants (acanthopanax sciadophylloides) and fatsia sprouts. In the summer, you’ll find tomatoes, eggplants, green peppers and cucumbers, autumn features sweet potatoes and taro, and in winter you can buy Chinese cabbage, daikon radish and spinach. The market is always full of local buyers.
Of course, it is the local farmers who bring in the vegetables. The farmers decide everyday how many vegetables they will bring and at what price they will be sold.
It’s also fun to hear the conversations that happen between the farmers and the market staff when they bring the vegetables each day. “The weather is good so I got big ones today!” “It’s small but the flavor is perfect.” Surely listening to these exchanges will also makes the vegetables taste better.
We asked a clerk what the three best-selling products were.
The first thing mentioned was, “That would be the tofu and deep fried tofu from Kutami Maruto.”Deep fried tofu and tofu from Maruto Tofu shop in the Kutami district of Yaotsu are extremely popular.
Ever since it was introduced on NTV’s ‘Himitsu no Kenmin Show’ its popularity has grown nationwide and it’s common that people come from afar to buy those popular items.
At the farmer’s market, the items are so popular that customers are limited to only two bags of deep fried tofu per person and even then they are sold out by lunchtime.
When we went to the market, we were able to snatch up the last bag.
“Also the seasonal vegetables. At this time of year, the shrank spinach is popular. It tastes better than what is sold at the grocery store, so there are many customers that come all the way out here to buy it. We really appreciate that.” Perhaps the big difference in temperatures caused by this mountain environment is good for growing vegetables.
The clerk also recommended their Free-range Chicken Eggs. The eggs taste delicious and their popularity has grown immensely due to word-of-mouth.
The market was opened so that people could learn about Shionami through its vegetables and to support local production and consumption. But the market carries more than just vegetables and local products.
One customer asked the clerk, “I’ve never seen this vegetable. How do you cook it?”
Another said, “This is how I prepared the greens I had bought last time and it was delicious.”
The clerk, looking joyful, said, “The customers also give us their recipes.”
'Okara' (bean curd residue) is kept next to the register with a sign, “Free of Charge”.
This market provides people with warmth and there’s no price on it.