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[Columns]Hino-cho, home of the original variety of hinona, and its growing number of hinona producers are busy preparing for another hinona season

 Pickled hinona is a popular autumn and winter side dish in many Kansai region homes. This delicious dish is made from hinona, a vegetable traditionally believed to originate in Hino-cho, Gamo-gun, Shiga Prefecture, though in recent years it is grown outside Shiga as well. Leveraging the nationwide growth of hinona’s recognition, there are moves to actively grow and manufacture the original strain of hinona and hinona pickles in Hino-cho, the birthplace of hinona, in the hope of expanding the hinona pickle market and revitalizing the local community.
   Hinona was already in production in the Muromachi period (c.1336–c.1573). Production reputedly began after a local feudal lord discovered a wild vegetable suitable for pickling and presented it to the emperor. A type of radish, the hinona has a root typically 20 cm long and 1 or 2 cm in diameter, plus leaves, which are also edible. The skin color of the root is white that turns reddish purple toward the top. Hinona is eaten almost exclusively as a pickle—picked in salt, rice bran, or vinegar, and is considered unsuitable for cooking. The pickles are loved for their crunchy texture and wholesome flavor, which is quite different from other pickled root vegetables such as daikon or turnip. Pickled hinona is a popular accompaniment to tea, ochazuke (hot tea poured over cooked rice) and sake.
   Pickled hinona can be bought at shops and supermarkets. Freshly harvested hinona is also available from greengrocers and supermarkets, especially in Shiga Prefecture and other parts of Kansai between November and January, their vibrant color announcing the arrival of hinona season. It is fairly easy to make pickled hinona at home. A bunch of fresh hinona costs just 200 to 300 yen, and once picked in salt or rice bran, they are ready to eat in a few days. Unlike the root, the leaves have a slightly bitter taste, which can be made milder by rubbing them with salt or briefly boiling them beforehand. Unlike daikon or hakusai (napa cabbage), hinona does not require large containers to pickle, and so are suitable for today’s kitchens, where space is tight.
   Because it’s good to eat, friendly on space and easy to prepare, making pickled hinona at home can be addictive. It is starting to gain nationwide recognition in recent years, and production of hinona is also spreading to prefectures such as Kyoto, Mie, Nagano, Niigata, and even parts of Kyushu. Hinona grown outside Hino-cho are often breeds improved to suit their adoptive environments. Hino-cho, on the contrary, is actively growing and marketing the original breed of hinona. According to JA Green Omi Hino Higashi Branch (phone 0748-52-2212), which consolidates and distributes hinona produced in Hino-cho, and Hino Town Hall, the number of the town’s hinona producers had at one time dropped to 13 due to labor shortage and other factors. Today the number has rebounded to 40, with a production area of 6 hectares and a shipping volume of 40 tons per season. Producers are also partnering with hotels in Otsu City to develop new hinona products such as pickles and salads. Hino-cho’s local authorities are looking to strengthen efforts to increase producers and shipping volume by organizing seminars for growers, pickled hinona competitions, and other measures for encouraging hinona production and for marketing hinona and hinona products. As autumn deepens and hinona season nears, I hope that the growing popularity of unique local vegetables and the efforts of the local community will contribute to Hino-cho’s local revitalization.(各務 英明)