Around 90 minutes outside of the Tokyo metropolis, nestled deep within the mountains near Kawai, Okutama, are the wasabi plantations cared for by David Hulme. Hulme, an Australian who now permanently resides in Japan, is an avid mountaineer who discovered abandoned wasabi fields while hiking in the area. His curiosity led him to conduct further research into the culture of wasabi, and he was eventually drawn to the local forest, which was once home to a prominent sugi (Japanese cedar) and hinoki (Japanese cypress) timber industry. The timber industry intentionally introduced the non-native sugi and hinoki for their wood, but this spelled ecological disaster for local species, which were decimated in making way for them.
Wasabi (Wasabia Japonica) is a plant in the same family as horseradish and mustard. Real wasabi grows naturally along freshwater streams in Japanese mountain valleys and is rarely found outside of Japan. Notorious for needing very specific growing conditions—a constant stream of fresh water, indirect sunlight only, cool air temperatures (8°C – 20°C), and high humidity in the summer—it’s not exaggerating to say that wasabi is a plant that needs pampering.
Wasabi takes close to two years to reach maturity. The slow growth and restrictive requirements means that the supply of wasabi almost never satisfies commercial demand. In addition, the distribution system keeps consumer costs high and producer returns very low, with middlemen taking all the profit. Purchased directly from the grower, a 50-gram wasabi stem should cost around ¥500. But at high-end restaurants, a 50-gram wasabi stem costs up to ¥1000.
山葵需要经过近两年生长期才能完全成熟。它们的成长速度和所需的生长环境意味着它在市场上完全供不应求。除此之外，产业链上还存在着一种分配制度，它让消费者需要花费很高的价格，但生产种植者的回报却很低，中间商则从中获取所有的利润。比如，从种植者直接面向消费者的山葵干价格，应为 50g／500 日元。但是在特殊的餐馆和高档餐馆，50g 的价格可能高达 1000 日元。
Because of its prohibitive cost, the “wasabi” typically encountered outside of Japan is a substitute mixture of mustard, horseradish, traces of powdered wasabi, and green food coloring, a combination commonly referred to as seiyo wasabi (Western wasabi). The recipe leads to that signature fiery feeling in the nose that is almost sinus-clearing. True wasabi is aromatic with a gentle heat and is widely believed to have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects.
Hulme now leads tours for those curious to learn about the cultivation of the prized plant. He hopes that through his wasabi growing efforts, he can bring awareness of the local area to help his true cause—repairing the forest and reversing the damage caused by the collapse of the timber industry, which left the forest in a sorry state, covered with sugi, hinoki, and other species that have crowded out the native trees and bushes.
Hulme’s vision is to create a new, modern forestry industry based on native timbers. In caring for his wasabi plantations and teaching anyone eager to learn about the well-known condiment, he encourages a deeper understanding of nature and Japanese culinary culture. And along the way, he’s saving a forest.