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Kochi Interview 03

Kenji Tanami, Kamikashimori

Brown sugar artisan
upholding a 200-year-old tradition
in the sugarcane production center of Kuroshio Town



A light crunchy texture, an elegant sweetness that spreads in the mouth, and a clean aftertaste—this mineral lump of golden yellow is handmade brown sugar. It can be enjoyed as is without being too heavy, and it’s great for cooking too.

Kuroshio Town is blessed with the gifts of nature starting with the dazzling ocean, shinning sun and flowing river. Irino brown sugar has been produced here using 200-year-old traditional techniques. From the cultivation and harvest of sugarcane to the extraction of sugarcane juice and the production of kettle-cooked brown sugar, the entire process is carried out by the producer. He certainly surpasses a farmer and probably comes closer to being a brown sugar artisan.

“Sugarcane is never sold as is. Processing it into sugar is a given, a part of the package. We even sell the finished product ourselves, so no, I wouldn’t say we are farmers. Whether growing or processing the sugarcane, every step is complex. There’s never a monotone moment.”

Kenji Tanami, of Kamikashimori, specializes in the production, processing, and distribution of Irino brown sugar. Kenji is originally from Chiba Prefecture. He tried his hand at a white-collar job but sought to live a life true to himself. With his wife, he migrated to Nagano, Miyagi, and Okinawa prefectures before arriving here in Kuroshio Town, Kochi, 15 years ago. He had initially discovered sugarcane in Okinawa, and then heard it was grown in Kochi too. He decided to pay the prefecture a visit and fell in love with the climate, and decided to move. He apprenticed with a sugarcane farmer for three years before going independent. “The best way to make good brown sugar is to grow sound, healthy sugarcane,” Kenji says. He practices pesticide-free organic farming with a special focus on circulation. After extracting the sugarcane juice, for example, a dry fibrous material remains. Kenji returns this bagasse to the field. “The only thing I take away is the juice.”

The climax of the producer’s job is the kettle cooking in December. After the sugarcane is harvested by hand, each stalk is passed through a machine to extract the juice, and that juice is then boiled down in large kettles. The local brown sugar association counts some 30 producers, but only four of them remain who carry out this step. Kenji is one of them. Kettle cooking starts at midnight and finishes at noon on the following day. It’s very hard labor. The four producers work in rotation all night long for days on end. Each kettle is used for one producer at a time so that the juices do not mix.

“Every producer makes his own distinct variety of sugarcane using his own special fertilizer and growing techniques. No one wants his product mixed with someone else’s. This is why sugarcane is so interesting. Even crops from the same region will have a different taste, color, and melt-in-the mouth feeling depending on the producer. My goal, for example, is a rich flavor with instant impact but that also fades quickly. My brown sugar is slightly sour when freshly made and grows mellow over time.”

Just before the juice turns into brown sugar, a syrup forms that the locals have long loved and named boka. Kamikashimori has developed this boka into a straightforward syrup and a processed food. The culmination of the gifts of nature and the artisan’s skills tastes sweet, gentle, and infinitely pure.

Kamikashimori, based in Kuroshio Town, is the producer of boka brown sugar and sugarcane syrup. Boka, grows pesticide- and chemical free sugarcane and brews it up using a 200-year-old traditional kettle-cooking technique.
In this issue we live as ‘modern nomads’ hunting and gathering our own food. And then setting up camp both Seaside and Mountainside to cook up our daily catch to a scrumptious perfection. Our two women guest for this issue are fishing professional Bun Chan (Ayana Ishikawa) and ‘traveling chef’ Nao Mikami.