It's eight o'clock in the morning on a Saturday in early September. A small pickup truck loaded with eggplants and carrots leaves from a farm in Hiragino, northwest of Kamigamo in Kyoto's Kita Ward. "It's preharvest so there's not a lot to go around," says the 62-year-old farmer at the steering wheel, Kenichi Okumura.
In Kamigamo, vegetables are still sold the good old-fashioned way -– by peddling. Okumura has known his customers for decades, driving his pickup from house to house in a small neighborhood. "Okini," he will say after each stop, or "Thank you," in the dialect of the Kansai region, including Kyoto.
Okumura's batch is a colorful one. He gets asked how to best cook carrot leaves, to which he says mix with sesame sauce. For Chinese cabbage greens? Stew in "dashi" soup stock with deep-fried tofu and drop some egg in to finish. After 15 customers in around an hour, Okumura has sold out for the day.
In the old days, peddlers were exclusively female. "The men worked the farm, and the women went out and sold the harvest. Even on a busy day, the women did the job by themselves," Okumura said.
Half a century ago, Okumura's grandmother used to pull around a cart to sell the crops before his mother purchased a pickup. Okumura's wife did so until 20 years ago, when she could no longer continue because of other commitments. Okumura then took over, and has been carrying the torch ever since.
With the aging of Japanese society, there are fewer and fewer people who do what Okumura does. In Hiragino there are now only around 10 farmers still selling their harvest by hand. "Since I started doing this, five or six have quit," Okumura said. "When your legs and back start to go, it's hard just to get in and out of a car. I do wonder how much longer I can keep this up."
"We used to get several of them coming around, but now it's just Okumura-san," says 75-year-old Kiyo Fujiki, a coffee shop owner in Kamigamo, who waits for Okumura to drive by on Saturday mornings. "Fresh vegetables are exceptional. There's no comparing the taste or flavor with what you buy at the supermarket."
Another customer, Keiko Okamura, 73, echoed Fujiki's sentiments about the quality of Okumura's produce. "I decide what to cook based on what he sells to me," she says.
Okumura only sells crops in season, meaning what and how much he sells can be easily swayed by the weather. He also cannot always give customers what they are looking for, in the way a supermarket can, but Okumura still takes pride in what he does in a world of convenience where anyone is only a click away from buying anything.
"I don't have to worry about volume or a delivery date so I can just focus on growing the most tasty vegetables I can," he said.