The Ishikawa Prefecture on the western coast of Japan is a peculiar biodiversity hotspot which hosts ancient preservation and fermentation techniques, some of which are still not completely understood by scientists. However, they will likely die out if new generations don’t take over.
Slow Food Japan is offering a fully covered three-week internship for two University of Gastronomic Sciences students/alumni in the Ishikawa Prefecture, with the aim of educating young gastronomes on the area’s unique food traditions and indeed, saving this precious heritage which is still largely unknown.
Remi Ie, the president of Slow Food Japan, first announced the scholarship as part of a meeting in the Fish Community Space at Slow Fish entitled New Eyes to Strengthen Local Communities. Remi presented the region’s seemingly strange and wonderful food products and called attention to the need to preserve this legacy.
The two chosen interns will be trained on the gastronomic traditions of the prefecture, such as sake and fermentation. During their stay, the students will also work on finding a way to present Ishikawa’s food culture abroad, and become ambassadors for Ishikawa gastronomy in their home countries.
During the discussion, Remi spoke of the peculiarities of the prefecture: Ishikawa is likely home to one of the oldest professions for women: diving. Here, women divers known as Ama manage the fishing and harvest of highly poisonous puffer fish eggs, which are then fermented in rice bran for several years. The poison is expunged through this fermentation, though the process is still not completely understood.
Locals have always had a strong awareness of wild management, which arises from their spiritual connection to the landscape. Other specialties from Ishikawa include ishiri (fermented fish sauce made from squid organs), pickled blowfish ovary, wagashi (handcrafted confectionariy) and ofu (gluten puff balls).
In Japan, fishing licenses are hereditary, passing from father to son. The fishing communities also work locally, in a similar manner to Slow Food convivia. Because of the strength of these local bodies working under the same roof, local fishermen can resist being bought out by corporations. But according to Remi, our focus should be on raising the next generation to preserve these ancient techniques.
The decline of the youth, a general demographic problem in Japan, is threatening both the future of agricultural and the fishing traditions. In this respect, the role of gastronomes is crucial in spreading awareness of Ishikawa’s food traditions.