Nozawana - the village pickle

by Kazuo Uehara, a local editor

Photo credits: Shinichi Kubota

Going Back to the Roots

unveiling ceremony, Shitennoji Temple, Osaka, 2016

According to a legend at Kenmeiji Temple, the origin of nozawana (a Japanese leaf vegetable) is said to date back to Buddhist priest Enzui of Kenmeiji Temple, who brought back some seeds of Tennoji turnips, a local specialty of Kyoto and Osaka, on his way home from a training trip in Kyoto in 1756. He planted the seeds in the temple farm, which led to a crop of a vegetable with a small root and large leafstalks, different from those of a Tennoji turnip.

With an elevation of 600 meters, Nozawaonsen is a cold highland that gets lots of snowfall. The Tennoji turnip grown in the warm land of Western country reacted to the sudden change in environment, and so the nozawana was born. Comparing current pictures of Tennjoi turnips and nozawana will show similarities, but you can also see that there are differences in the size of the turnips as well as the size of the leafstalks.

This chance occurrence led to deepened exchanges between the Tennoji Turnip Association in Osaka Prefecture and Nozawaonsen Village, and the monument was erected as a sign of gratitude for the traditional vegetable passed down by ancestors and for the bond between the two parties.

Recent research has led to a theory that in addition to a sudden reaction to a new environment, there was hybridization between the Tennoji turnip and another local seed, and that it is not a descendant of the Tennoji turnip, but a type of vegetable that is a different shape and cold-resistant.

The Beginning of Cultivation

The locals did not originally call this vegetable nozawana but kabuna. Records of fortune-telling using boiled azuki (red beans) carried out as part of the Dosojin Festival show that the fortune of crop conditions for kabuna were also foretold. The oldest fortune-telling record is in a notebook from 1862 toward the end of the Edo period. This record mentions names related to kabuna -spring uguisuna, turnip seeds and autumn turnips. It took about 100 years after the Buddhist priest brought back the seeds to finally see planting in Nozawa recorded in historical documents. What is interesting is that spring uguisuna appear together with kabuna seeds. At the end of the Edo period, the production of kabuna seeds for the purpose of selling them was flourishing, and it is believed this was related to the rising number of onsen visitors around this time.

In 1875, Nozawaonsen Village's product trade records show 2,810 bundles of kabuna, and 8-goku 5-tou of kabuna seeds.

In 1978, the "Nagano Prefecture Town and Village Magazine" reported that Toyosato Village produced 3,790 bundles of kabuna, and 9-goku 5-tou of kabuna seeds, with Nozawa accounting for almost all production. In addition, kabuna was mostly for home consumption, and 300 bundles were delivered to liyama Town. For kabuna seeds however, 1-goku 5-tou was for personal use, while the rest (8-goku) were delivered to Takada Town in Echigo (current ly Joetsu Takada).

Spreading Through the Sale of Seeds

It was clear that the planting of nozawana was flourishing to the point that a large part of the production of kabuna seeds was for the purpose of sales, and that it was spreading to other regions through these seeds.

It is said that the kabuna produced in Hosenji, or area adjacent to the south of Kenmeiji Temple, was the best, and the seeds gathered there were called Hosenji seeds and had a good reputation.

Since then, care has been taken not to mix seeds in order to maintain the purity of the seeds.

Since the Edo period, Nozawaonsen has been known by its neighbors close by as well as those toward Echigo (Niigata Prefecture) as a village offering onsen cures. In the winter when the flavor of pickled vegetables is at its best, there are very few onsen visitors, and although autumn onsen visitors got to taste boiled or lightly pickled vegetables, they likely did not have many chances to taste honzuke, or thoroughly pickled nozawana.

Since more guests bought nozawana seeds to take home, Nozawaonsen Villagers worked on the production of nozawana seeds at an early stage.

In 1933, the name was changed from kabuna to nozawana. This is likely because, as its production and popularity expanded, people from outside the village began calling it nozawana to denote the delicious vegetable from Nozawa, and the locals responded by also calling it nozawana.

The change of name from kabuna to nozawa is also likely connected with ski tourism in Nozawaonsen. In the winter season, skiers got a taste of pickled nozawana and began referring to it as nozawana. However, the names kabuna and kabutane still remain, and Kenmeiji Temple uses the names kabuna and kabutane to this day. There are some who use these names in the village as well.

In the Edo period the seeds of nozawana were purchased by onsen visitors as souvenirs, and from the end of the Taisyo period to the beginning of Showa, there was a rise in the number of ski visitors, as a result of which nozawana became known nationwide as a delicious pickled vegetable. What had been called "ona" or "ohazuke" (pickles) soon came to be known as "nozawana."

How Nozawana is Grown

Sowing the seeds of nozawana begins around 27 to 28 August. In recent years, there are more families that sow seeds in early September. It only takes three days after sowing for the seeds to sprout. After five or six days, the first thinning. out is done. These seedlings are briefly dipped in boiling water and eaten, but the people of Nozawa say "this tastes better than red snapper sashimi" and place great value on the first nozawana of the season. Thinning out is done about five times until mid-October, and the removed plants are used to make boiled nozawana and lightly pickled nozawana.

From early to mid-November the nozawana which have grown to about a meter long are gathered, and then washed in onsen water. Although this is the time when the first snowfall can be expected, the nozawana are carefully washed in a sotoyu (external bath) by villagers. It is said that washing the nozawana with onsen water gets rid of any insects.

The washed nozawana are then placed in large buckets for pickling according to each family's custom. Once the new year arrives, and right about when the Dosojin Festival starts, delicious nozawana pickles can be enjoyed.

Soon after mid-April, Nozawana flowers called "totachina" start to sprout young shoots right before the flower blooms from beneath the remaining snow. These shoots are beloved in Nozawaonsen as a spring delicacy.

Nozawana is mostly eaten pickled. Originally, many methods of storing nozawana were tried to get through the winter season, and this was one of them. There are many ways to eat nozawana.

Lightly pickled

Nozawana that has been pickled for only a short period. It is blue in color and has a crunchy texture.

Spreading Thoroughly pickled

The nozawana turns an amber color in mid-December, and has a soft roundness and a deep flavor. The amount that you will eat in one mouthful is taken from the pickle bowl each time, because exposure to the air will lead to oxidation and affect the taste and color. While everyone has their own particular preference, the area closest to the root is crunchy and popular.


While the seasoning may vary from household to household, this dish is made by cutting nozawana into three to four centimeter blocks, then mixing with salted kelp and chili, before adding a pickling sauce made with shoyu, mirin, sugar and vinegar. A light weight is placed upon it.

Two months after nozawana is pickled, lactic acid fermentation adds a sour flavor, and this is the best time for consumption. If fermentation proceeds any further, the nozawana begins to lose flavor. Frying this in a small amount of sesame oil as filling for a riceball, or to mix in with fried rice or pasta is recommended. It also tastes great when boiled in sake.

Which is your favourite?