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Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Uprooting shoots is rite of spring

Staff writer

YAWATA, Kyoto Pref. -- Although most varieties of vegetables are now available regardless of season, freshly picked bamboo shoots remain a true sign that spring has sprung.

Noriko Okumura sells fresh shoots on the roadside in Yawata, Kyoto Prefecture, as her husband, Yoshiharu, digs up shoots in his bamboo grove nearby (below).

Yoshiharu Okumura, 51, belongs to one of the some 50 farming families here that are literally digging in for this year's bamboo shoot season. Yawata and neighboring Nagaokakyo are famous for bamboo shoots, which sell for between 1,000 yen and 30,000 yen per 4 kg.

Okumura expects this year's harvest to be less than previous years due to a lack of rain last month.

Digging up bamboo shoots without damaging the roots requires experience and skill. Only the top of a shoot appears on the surface of a typically dark bamboo grove, so it is difficult to tell the size of the shoot and direction it grows.

Okumura swears by a straight hoe when digging for shoots although a bent hoe is more commonly used.

While the harvest season is between April and early May, Okumura has to tend to his grove throughout the year. Bamboo that is seven or eight years old needs to be cut down to allow for new growth, so Okumura marks all his bamboo with the years when they are to be cut down.

As bamboo shoots lose their freshness soon after they are harvested, many farmers in Yawata sell fresh shoots on the road near the groves.

Many people, including city dwellers, look forward to this rite of spring, Okumura said.

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