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Iwate Interview 01

Mikio Sugata

Turning Meat into Milk



The central part of Tōno in Iwate Prefecture is known throughout Japan for the Tōno Monogatari. The area is dotted with delicious restaurants loved for their taste, originality, and the personalities of their owners. Last night, we headed to Onohizume, an Italian restaurant with a creative streak that has been the talk of the town since opening in 2020. In a relaxed yet refined interior, original plates full of flair are served one after another. I also had a chance to chat to proprietor Mikio Sugata, who filled me in on the history and culture of Tōno. It turns out that Sugata’s family owns a farm. They employ a method of mountain dairy farming where cows are left to graze on mountain pastures, which helps to maintain the mountain and rear healthy cattle at the same time. This piqued our interests and so on the following day we paid a visit to the farm with Sugata.

 “We don’t need pesticides in natural mountain forests, so cattle chew on various kinds of grasses and grow up healthily. The cows enjoy a stress-free life as they meander through the vast mountain forests, and the milk they produce is delicious. Raising cattle on natural food means that the ranchers don’t have to cover the cost of feed. There’s a genuine desire to promulgate this method, which has been handed down from generation to generation in this land, so that many more wonderful farms might be managed in a healthy manner.”

Mountain dairy farming harnesses the unique mountainous areas of Iwate. The cows in front of us contentedly chew grass and tree bark, which makes for a natural virtuous cycle of healthy mountains and hearty cattle. Sugata draws milk from the cattle that he raises in his family’s hometown, and in the evenings cooks dishes using locally foraged fare at the restaurant.

 “Due to the structural nature of dairy farm management, owners are bound to suffer. That’s why we are pursuing our own methods,  so we can provide some positive inspiration for those considering trying dairy farming in Iwate, or who are already doing it. I am super keen for people doing their best in Iwate to dream big.” 

Sugata says that he would like to eventually move the restaurant to this ranch and make it a place where people can enjoy his cuisine while feasting their eyes on the beautiful scenery of Tōno. There are still many hurdles to overcome, but every day Sugata continues to pursue his dream, driven by a love of his hometown. Hearing such a story made me hungry for his cooking again.

text | Miguel Utsunomiya Photography | Shuhei Tonami