If you’ve ever eaten sushi, you know about wasabi. It’s green and sort of spicy, the kind of spicy that burns through your nose. Pretty awesome, right?
It dawned on me that after many years in Japan, I knew very little about this plant.
I mean, was it even a condiment? How’s it grown? Where does it come from? How much does fresh wasabi really cost? Is it a root?
I had a lot of questions. Daio Wasabi Farm in Nagano had all the answers, and it’s open to the public.
Daio Wasabi Farm
Daio is in Nagano Prefecture, a three hour drive or train ride from Tokyo or a 2 1/2 hour train ride from Nagoya. Nagano is one of the best places in the world to cultivate wasabi and try it fresh. This place is huge! Daio has covered an entire river bed to give the wasabi plant shade. That’s right, wasabi is grown in the water. Each bush is always submerged and wasabi is not a root at all – it’s the stem. This is why calling it “Japanese Horseradish” is wrong because it’s not a horseradish at all.
Let’s pick a fresh one from the farm
You can see that the wasabi farm is pretty much in the middle of the river.
Rocks hold the roots in place.
Here’s a freshly pulled wasabi plant. Where’s the wasabi?
I took it to the river to wash off the earth and tear off the roots and leaves.
Gradually the wasabi stem, the one I recognize on product labels, becomes clear.
A freshly pulled wasabi stem. The vapors from this things are so strong that the cameraman is backing up a bit.
Is wasabi a root?
No. Because it’s submerged in water, it is technically a stem. It’s also called Japanese horseradish, but it’s is also not horseradish. There’s a lot we just don’t know about wasabi!
Why is it so expensive?
Wasabi needs a cool place with constant fresh water. Japan’s volcanic countryside is the perfect place. Also, each wasabi take 12-18 months to grow, sometimes up to 2 years. The kicker is that no one knows how big a wasabi stem will be until it’s pulled. You could get a a little lump or a monstrous vegetable! The big ones can go for over 10,000 yen in Tokyo. Internationally, the price is even more. The wasabi stem need to be kept moist at all times or it turns black and spoils fast.
This variety of wasabi is called “hon wasabi” and is used most commonly with sushi. It’s also popular with foods like steak and washoku dishes. A little known fact is that the wasabi flavor only lasts for 15 minutes after being grated. That is why sushi chefs put it under the fish on the rice. It preserves that kick a little longer.
Some consider wasabi to be one of the “superfoods” with a ton of health properties.
It could be true. All I know is that those wasabi vapors really kick you in the face every time.
There’s got to be something good about that, right?
Entrance is FREE! Feel free to walk around and enjoy. There’s a map on the website.
Food prices are very reasonable.
Wasabi Sandwich: 360 yen
Wasabi Beer: 520 yen
Wasabi Soft Ice Cream: 360 yen (cup or cone)
If you want to buy a fresh wasabi stem, prices start at 500 yen for a small one and go up to 3000 yen for a very big one! This is a big discount over Tokyo prices and yes, it’s also much fresher. If you are ever going to buy wasabi, do it here.
Other things to do
There is a shrine on the far side of the farm.
If you walk to the left by the river, there’s a water wheel and old wooden building where many films and tv shows are shot. It was also the scene in Kurosawa’s film DREAMS (1990).
How to get there
With a Japan Rail Pass
From Tokyo: Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano (1hr29min / 4 stops) > Change to the JR Shinonoi Line and get off at Akashina Station (1hr17min / 11 stops) > Take a taxi 10 minutes or hike for 45 minutes to Daio Wasabi Farm.
See in Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/DzxD3
Without a Japan Rail Pass
From Tokyo: Take the JR Chuo Line Limited Express from Shinjuku Station to Matsumoto (2hrs 35min / 8 stops) > change at Matsumoto to the Oita Line to Hakuyacho Station (28 min / 9 stops) > grab a taxi (10 min / 3.7km) or walk for 35 min to Daio Wasabi Farm.
See in Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/xW0yw
Take the CHUO EXPRESS HIGHWAY from Tokyo (238km / 2hrs48min with no traffic)
See in Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/qvC6E