Cultivating Joy Through Chestnuts in Ibaraki

Growing chestnuts is an art of patience, a journey spanning years from nurturing a young tree to witnessing the moment it bears fruit.

“It’s almost like nurturing my own children. It’s just as fulfilling as raising a kid,” shares Shinya Saoshiro, whose life took an unexpected turn after an enthralling encounter with chestnuts in Iwama, Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Once a creative director, Saoshiro’s life transformed in 2009 when he fell in love with chestnuts during a visit to Kasama. Just a year later, he opened his own chestnut specialty store in Tokyo, which he named Waguriya.

Saoshiro spends half of his week growing chestnuts on a big farm in Kasama. The rest of his time is divided between being a Mont Blanc artisan at his shop and creating new chestnut recipes.

Ninety percent of the chestnuts he grows are Hitomaru chestnuts, a rare cultivar generally not available for purchase. He specializes in fragrant cultivars that grow quickly and cultivates them using environmentally friendly organic farming.

“During busy times, I have friends helping out,” he says. Despite a shortage of agricultural workers, he believes that sticking to natural agriculture is the key to overcoming this challenge.

Ibaraki, the largest chestnut producer in Japan in terms of both area and output, boasts Kasama as a significant contributor to the prefecture’s chestnut production. As per 2021 statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, the prefecture harvested 3,800 tons, constituting 24.2% of the domestic total.

“I want to convey the message about Kasama chestnut all over the world, but I want to do it first in Japan,” says Saoshiro.

His dedication to Kasama chestnuts not only cultivates joy but also preserves a rich legacy of flavor and tradition.

“In terms of creativity, I really don’t feel that I did a career change; I am now sort of creating chestnuts, so I believe it’s a continuation,” he enthuses. - Florenda Corpuz