Happy pork from a small farm
Our fourth national park and the final destination of our grand journey in Kyushu was Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park. We made our way through Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures, from the dynamic Kirishima massif to the mellow Kinkowan Bay.
The first person we met in Miyazaki was Junichi Kato, a young Miso maker who sticks to traditional production methods. Mr. Kato was a web designer based in Osaka and Yokohama before he did a complete turnaround and relocated to Miyazaki, single-handedly established his company Cococu, and started farming out of the blue. He says his business in web design was successful enough, but all the while, he questioned the life of working nonstop on the computer. One day, he discovered the concept of slow food and decided to try his hand at farming. Today, he leads a happy life of half farmer, half web designer, basking in the bright sun of the quiet country town in Miyazaki.
“Miso has a fairly long shelf life. I thought if I ran a solo operation and handled everything myself, from processing to packaging to distribution, I could make use of my expertise as a web designer, too. Coming by indigenous soybeans gave me a final push. It’s a lot of work to do everything myself, from growing the soybeans to distributing the miso, but everyone who tries my product says it’s good. This is a great reward, considering I never got any feedback in web design, and I was never sure who was happy with my final product.”
Mr. Kato works on his farm in the morning, comes home, showers, and does some web design work. Then he goes to his workshop to package the products and do the paperwork. And then he comes home, cooks, and does some more design work. He says he enjoys the balancing act and hopes to contribute to the local story of agriculture passed on for generations. We delighted in both his story and the refreshing breeze blowing through his field.
With our trip nearing the end, we made our way to Kanoya City, Kagoshima, in search of the main ingredient for our final sandwich. Our destination was the family-run business Fukudome Small Farm, which keeps a globally rare breed of pigs called the Wessex Saddleback. Yoichi Fukudome received meat processing training in Germany for seven years, and today, he manages the farm’s processing division. The idea of becoming the only Wessex Saddleback farm in Japan occurred to him in Europe.
“Each time I came across incredibly good pork in Germany or Italy, I did my research and found that it was a historical breed called the Wessex Saddleback. I knew I would eventually be returning to Kagoshima to help manage my father’s farm, so my idea was to differentiate our business by growing not the usual Kagoshima black pig but the Wessex Saddleback. The fat is tender and rich, and yet it has a light flavor. Our customers love the distinct wild taste.”
On the premises is a butcher shop and deli for selling processed goods like ham and sausage, plus a restaurant where visitors can taste the rare pork. Mr. Fukudome’s father manages the business, his elder brother handles pig farming, Yoichi himself oversees processing, and his younger sister works with them. A family operation means teamwork is excellent.
“Being the only breeder in Japan was difficult in the beginning. We took the time to do our research and to stop and think. The pigs are growing in good health now in large part thanks to the favorable environment—the sunshine, the clean spring water, the spacious pen designed to reduce stress, and our original blend of feed. Because we raise the pigs with great care, we also make sure the meat doesn’t go to waste. After separating the primal cuts like chuck roll and rib, we make processed goods like ham and sausage. We even use the fat. Everything I ever dreamed of doing, I am doing it now.”
What keeps him going in the face of hardship is the happiness of his family and workers, says Mr. Fukudome with a sparkle in his eyes. With his invigorating words echoing in our hearts, we climbed into the van and got back on the road.
Our journey was drawing to a close. Kyushu’s four national parks form a complex network across the island’s prefectures and gave us constant sensory stimulation with nature worth conserving for posterity. Our road trip in quest of delicious food met with success and produced four delectable sandwiches encapsulating the scent of the sun and the soil, the whisper of the trees and the breeze, and the memorable stories of the creators we met along the way. The people on this fecund land lived life to the full, flinching at neither the biggest of typhoons nor the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Each of them glowed with a sense of purpose. Their toughness fueled our curiosity, and their courage to start something new seemed to rub off on us, too.
4750-133, Sadowarachoshimonaka, Miyazaki-shi, Miyazaki
3996-1, Kiyotakechofunahiki, Miyazaki-shi, Miyazaki
Fukudome Small Farm
81-1, Shishimecho, Kanoya-shi, Kagoshima
11099-3, Kitadacho, Kanoya-shi, Kagoshima