Nagasaki Cabbage

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Nagasaki Cabbage

Nagasaki hakusai, tojinna

In Japan they say that by observing the ingredients put in the customary New Year’s soup (zoni), you can tell in what part of the country you are. In Nagasaki, for example, the ingredient traditionally used is Nagasaki cabbage (tojinna in the local dialect), which is also used to make nabemono (along with other winter products cooked in an earthenware nabe pot). This cabbage was introduced to Nagasaki, the only Japanese port operating until the mid 19th century, from China (probably the province of Shandong), in the Edo period (1603-1868). Its origins are uncertain however: work on vegetables conducted by the Institute of Research of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing, suggests that the Chinese cabbage from Nagasaki derives from the native Chinese species Hisagona (Brassica narinosa), while a paper on gardening Sougou Sosai Engei Kakuron, written by Saburo Kumazawa in 1956 classifies it together with Chinese Tahsai (Brassica chinensis var. rosularis). According to an account from the Edo period, Nagasaki Kenbunroku written by Kai Hirosawa in 1797, there were different types of tojinna in Nagasaki depending on the district where they were grown. Around 1877 large scale cultivation was started, but only Nagasaki managed to preserve the original ecotype due to its topography which prevented hybridization. In 1898 two varieties, one early and one late, were selected in an experimental plot in Nakagawa-machi, a district of Nagasaki. With increasing numbers of producers during the Taisho period (1912-1926), towns specialized in the two varieties: in the area of Nishiyamakiba, near the mountains, the early species was developed, and the late one was grown in the plains. The Chinese variety has a spherical shape whereas the Nagasaki cabbage has leaves that open outwards. The early variety has light green, very crinkled outer leaves. The heart is open and short. The plant has a semi-spherical shape and the leaves have a fairly soft texture. The vegetable does not resist the cold so has to be picked by December. The best time for sowing is early or mid September. The late variety has large, vivid deep green crinkled leaves. The heart is open. As it grows the core becomes slightly rounded. As it is very resistant to the cold and its scape (stem) develops slowly, it can be harvested from January to February. Both the early and late varieties are very tender, particularly in the initial stages of growth: the first leaves are picked and used for a light pickle (tsukemono), boiled (ohitashi) or used to make a frittata. As it gets cold the flavor of the cabbage is more marked and tasty: it is used for pickles (tsukemono), winter hot pot (nabemono) and especially for the New Year’s soup (zoni). Changing food habits due to western influences have resulted in a noticeable fall in consumption of tsukemono and consequent drop in the consumption of Nagasaki cabbage. Furthermore the decreasing numbers of growers makes it increasingly difficult to preserve the seeds. Various parties are endeavoring to defend the original ecotype: the growers, the agricultural consortium of Nagasaki, the city of Nagasaki, the study group with researcher Yorimitsu Nakao and the famous Japanese seed saver Masatoshi Iwasaki from Azuma (Unzen region). They are working together to maintain the development and cultivation of tojinna which is freshly picked every morning and transported to the market or shops specializing in direct sale. The traditional area of production is the area of Nishiyama-Kiba in the city of Nagasaki, situated in the southwest of the island of Kyushu. At present it is produced in the Nishiyamakiba, Tadehara and Higashinagasaki districts of Nagasaki.

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Territory

StateJapan
Region

Kyushu