The Tanekura is a rare turnip variety named for the village of Tanekura in Miyagawa, a town in Hida city, the mountainous northern region of Gifu Prefecture. The plants grow to a height of about 40 centimeters, and the turnips themselves are about 15 cm long, with bright magenta skin and a white interior. This variety differs from the more widely cultivated Hida red turnip in having a cone-shaped or cylindrical root (Hida turnips are almost spherical) and red leaf stalks (Hida turnips have green stems). Because of its mountainous terrain, Hida experiences harsh, snowy winters, so turnips, which are easy to preserve, have always been an important crop here. From ancient times, agriculturalists in many parts of Japan used slash-and-burn agriculture, which is known in the Hida area as nagibata. The traditional practice of turnip cultivation, known as kaburanagi, involved planting turnips in the summer, in freshly burned fields (turnips grown in ashy soils were known to have particularly large roots and short leaves). The harvest takes place between September and November, and then the fields are planted with cereals. Some of the turnips are eaten fresh, and many are pickled so that they can be stored until late winter (it is said that they should be consumed when the snows begin to melt). Both the leaves and the roots are packed in salt and, as they pickle, the white interior of the roots turns pink—pickled turnips are one of the only colorful side dishes present on local tables during early spring, before other vegetables have come into season.
Tanekura turnips are prized in particular for their crunchy texture. This characteristic, along with the elongated roots, is attributed to the local conditions and to harvesting at the proper time, before the turnips become round and overly large and their texture begins to soften. The farmers of Tanekura have always taken care to plant their turnips in isolation from other varieties in order to prevent hybridization; it is reported that Tanekura turnips cultivated in other villages did not retain their distinctive characteristics, and tended to hybridize with Hida turnips.
A generation or two ago, many of the farmers in Tanekura grew the local turnips, but, due to rural depopulation and the age of the remaining farmerns (most are 65 or older), there are currently only 4-6 households that still cultivate the Tanekura variety and maintain the traditional seeds. Slash-and-burn agriculture is no longer practiced because, even though it does not require any complex technology, it is labor intensive and relies on each farmer having access to a lot of land, which is no longer affordable. However, local residents still take pride in their turnips, and some prefer not to eat pickled turnips of other varieties because they are not sufficiently crunchy. In order to prevent the extinction of the Tanekura red turnip, it is important to promote it over a wider area, especially among the younger generation, but also to ensure that the traditional cultivation and harvesting techniques are respected, to preserve this variety’s unique characteristics.