Dadacha beans are a type of edamame (green soybean) and one of the “indigenous crops” that have been carefully preserved by farmers since the Edo Period (1603-1868) in limited areas around Tsuruoka. Its outer skin is brownish and the beans hair on its surface is brown in color. The pod is narrowly shaped. After being boiled, the beans characteristically have an aroma like sweet corn. The harvest period is such a short time from mid-August to early September, although an early-grown type of beans is out for market earlier. It is said only Dadacha beans that are grown in these limited areas can have the unique flavor they originally do.
In early summer, we visited Mrs. Yuko Togashi at her residence in the Shirayama area, which is known as home to Dadacha beans. It was the end of June and it finally rained the day before following a rainless week, so everyone talked a lot about the blessing of rain that is good for farmers.
First, Mrs. Togashi invited us to her Dadacha beans workroom. “Please have a seat,” said Mrs. Togashi. We sat at a bean sorting machine in place of a desk and started listening to her. As a snack to go with tea, she served us early-grown edamame beans. “These are not Dadacha beans, so they might be less flavorful. But I feel happy because these are the first edamame of the season.” Mrs. Togashi has a gentle atmosphere. With only little conversation, we felt she softened our hearts but was also steadfast.
It is not so long before this Dadacha beans workroom will be going full blast. At its peak, about 15 staff members are at work. They harvest, pick, rinse, sort and pack Dadacha beans and all of this is done in the morning.
The machines in the workroom have never been more ready. They looked as if they were looking forward to the forthcoming loads of Dadacha beans. During the height of the season, Mrs. Togashi’s family starts working from 3am and the staff members start their work at around six in the morning. “We normally finish a day’s work before noon and we ship in the afternoon. So, relatively, I think it’s an easy shift to work,” Mrs. Togashi told us.
We asked her to tell us about her old days. “When I was a kid, I got forcibly woken up by my parents when the crops were in season despite summer holidays. My friends were all out swimming or something, but I had to help work day in, day out. So, I hated Dadacha beans. We used to feed cows and pigs. There were quite a few houses in my neighborhood that owned livestock. The pigs next to my house were so big and one of them ran away at night for water…”
Mrs. Togashi is the second child of the three sisters. “Of the three sisters, surprisingly, I didn’t mind frogs and earthworms. I liked climbing, too.” She was what is now called a naturalist. Every single word speaks about her aura of gentleness and grace toward living creatures and local landscapes. Such graciousness is also devoted to Dadacha beans.
Tons of Dadacha beans babies are due to grow
Kindly taken to the fields, we could listen to some impressive words from her. “Because it rained, they look very good. Sort of lively, you know. It’s the best time for them to grow well.” Young plants with vigorous leaves. If we take a closer look at the plant, we can find a tiny white flower and a baby pod. Bean hair on the surface, which is one of the characteristics of Dadacha beans, is also identified as expected.
“The flowers of the beans bloom from the lower part first and then from the upper part. The upper part can easily get sunshine and it soon gets ripened. I’m impressed with Mother Nature.”
This year, side branches did not grow well enough as expected owing to a water shortage and strong winds in May, which is likely to be a source of anxiety for Mrs. Togashi. However, the “early-grown Shirayama” that she asserts for its good flavor, is anticipated to be harvested just during obon (mid-August) this year, judging from the flower-blooming period, she told us pleasantly.
The work for Dadacha beans is not only done out in the fields. There is some work to do inside the house even in winter. The work is to sort and select good beans from seedlings that were planted for seed-picking.
In around November, Dadacha bean farmers select the bigger round-shaped beans for harvesting and bigger, flatter beans with wrinkles for seeds. For harvesting, they select the ones that are easy to germinate and to make a harvesting plan. For seeds, they select the ones that can inherit innate genes, according to Mrs. Togashi. She kindly demonstrated to us how the seeds were selected using some actual seed beans. Her selection motion was so quick and she was just like a magician that handles and shuffles playing cards for shows. We realized that her hands and eyes instinctively know the motion from her long experience.
The seed selection work and sowing were women’s work for years. Nowadays, however, no clear separation is made in terms of who does what. Comparatively, though, these jobs are well run by women, said Mrs. Togashi.
“Generally speaking, men are suitable for the work that intensively needs power such as planting and harvesting. On the other hand, all in all, women are engaged with beans all year around. I’m not so sure, but I feel there is an area of work that women are better at taking care of niceties. Who-does-what is important.” Mrs. Togashi gently smiled. She appeared to visualize her various work scenes.
Family and Dadacha beans
Mrs. Togashi now lives with her son’s family, including three grandchildren. She sounds so joyous when she talks about her three naughty grandkids – all boys.
“When the three boys are with me, they often help me with my work, competing each other. It helps me a lot and it’s good to see them so vigorous. When sowing seeds of Dadacha beans, I sow two or three seeds together at a time. That way, the seeds themselves compete to grow, which I think human beings and beans share as living creatures,” Mrs. Togashi smiled.
“I often think home seed-raising is hard work. When I get tired, I sometimes feel I’ve had enough, which normally ends up spoiling the seeds. People tend to look for an easy way out. When I’m busy with other house chores, it makes me feel so exhausted. So, I go out once in a while and meet with different people, which is stimulating. When I listen to other hard-working farmers, it motivates me to hang in.”
Mrs. Togashi’s parents like composing tanka (a traditional Japanese poem containing five lines of 5, 7, 5, 7 and 7 syllables, respectively) and they self-published two combined booklets. We had a chance to read some of the tanka. Themes such as nature of the Shonai region, festivities, family and their bean work are common. Their literary pieces convey affection for their lands to readers.
“I like my mother’s tanka. The landscapes described in the tanka really come into my mind.” Mrs. Togashi sounded as if she said that she understood what her mother had said and how she had felt as both women inherited the same work from their predecessors.
“To me, cultivating Dadacha beans is a way to make a living, of course, but that’s not all. I think I have to pass down what has been inherited to the next generation. I want to see people say that Dadacha beans are good,” said Mrs. Togashi. She was a woman of few words. She carefully chose her words and kindly spoke to us.
At Mrs. Togashi’s, when she ships Dadacha beans, she encloses the tanka booklets. The small booklets that will be Issue No. 30 when they are published next are compiled with a mind toward people who have been engaged in the Dadacha beans production and consumption. Needless to say, her parents’ tanka is also included. Continuing home seed-raising and publishing tanka booklets involve a lot of people with a lot of history. Assuming that Mrs. Togashi has a strong sense of responsibility, we observed that she would find it hard to deal with both works.
The brand of Dadacha beans is now enjoying a rise in nationwide popularity. We realized that retaining quality and quantity of the Dadacha beans, and meeting the needs of customers, are deeply rooted in Mrs. Togashi’s tremendous efforts.
After the interview, when we left her residence, we saw Mrs. Togashi far across the Dadacha beans fields and Mt. Takadate farther behind her. We can hardly wait for the upcoming full-blown summer and in-season Dadacha beans. We place high expectations on the Dadacha beans that are grown in these fields will be tenderly flavorful like Mrs. Togashi’s humble smiles.