I have a friend whose family business continues to produce the best rice vinegar in Japan for over 100 years. The company has been assisting rice farmers, all of whom are over 65 years old, to grow rice organically in rice paddies placed at one of the highest elevations in the local in order to secure safe, uncontaminated water for rice production. Then, the vinegar company uses the rice to produce high quality alcohol, actually sake. They employ traditional artisan, time and labor intense methods. At a separate facility five kilometers from the sake producing factory to avoid bacterial contamination, the alcohol is placed in vats with bacteria that consume the alcohol and convert it to acetic acid – vinegar. The whole process takes over one year. The resulting rice vinegar features a richer aroma, color and flavor and higher nutritious value compared to its mass-produced counterpart. When the Slow Food Movement was introduced in Japan, the company immediately became a member, demonstrating that their artisanal food production meets with the standard of the Slow Food Movement. And as a member they wanted to spread the value of all traditional artisanal food production among other manufacturers and consumers. The company still produces the best rice vinegar and continues as a member of the Slow Food advocate, but they no longer want to be associated with mainstream Slow Food Movement that has now lost/changed its way in Japan.
During my stay this June in Japan, I came to the conclusion that “Japanized” Slow Food Movement is supported by three pillars. One pillar is large corporations which got onto a Slow Food Movement bandwagon to promote their products. The second pillar is local governments which are eager to revitalize local economies by promoting regional food culture, products and tourism under the slogan of Slow Food Movement. Their motivations are largely political. And the thrid group is promoting artisanal foods. My friend obviously belongs to the third pillar group. I am continuing to observe the development and direction of the Slow Food Movement in Japan as it appears to be moving away from the movement in other countries…..