The western-most cillantro production site Yonaguni attracts fans

The western-most cillantro production site Yonaguni attracts fans

Minoru Ogimi introducing his kushiti plants, cillantro grown on Yonaguni for over 40 years

February 28, 2018 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Mikako Shimoji

“Kushiti,” cillantro that has been used and enjoyed in dishes on Yonaguni Island in Okinawa is becoming a center of campaign to promote the herb. The Yonaguni town signed an ordinance to mark second Sunday of December as “Kushiti Day” last September. The town’s spokesperson said, “we want to pursue locally grown products to compete in the market,” sharing the hope to expand on-island production and export to off-island consumers. The so-called soul-food of Yonaguni, kushiti is known for its unique flavor specific to the island and is expected to trigger a revitalization of the town.

Yonaguni-style cillantro dish – kushiti salad with canned tuna

The town calls for “kushiti senryu,” a form of humorous poem, to celebrate the Kushiti Day in December as well as opening a cooking class to learn to cook kushiti dishes. In the “Long-Term Agricultural Operation Plan” published in 2010, the herb was included as one of the major crops for improving self-sufficiency as well as expanding exports. The path toward expanding its production scale is still being explored while current production remains mostly home-grown.

Kushiti on Yonaguni Island is known for its stronger fragrance and bitterness compared to those from other production sites. It is thought that the herb was brought from Taiwan through the island’s close trading relationship. In Yonaguni, a popular way of eating the herb is as a garnish on top of canned tuna after briefly rinsing them the herb. People splash soy sauce to season the salad. The herb is mostly grown without pesticides since they are mostly eaten raw. During its season from December to March, the herb is used commonly at home, for school lunch, and at bars. For people of Yonaguni, the herb is a “soul-food” during winter.

With the recent cillantro boom, the visitors who come to the island from other parts of Japan seeking the herb has increased. Usshi Ushida, a fourty-seven year-old owner of the cillantro restaurant, Pakuchi-House Tokyo, said, “I tasted a slight saltiness when I first tried the herb from the island. The flavor is different from those grown elsewhere. I strongly recommend cillantro fans to visit the island to try it out.” Masayuki Tajima, 46, a town government officer at the department of industrial promotion, explained that “when there are waves gashing the rock wall around the shore making splashes, we call it the ‘shower of Black Current.’ It might be that sea breeze influencing the flavor.”

Minoru Ogimi, 62, fell in love with the herb and has been growing it while preserving the seeds for over the past four decades. He said “I cannot grow the herb well unless I treat them like my children.” He has given away the seeds to other producers before, but the herb grown in other areas have different flavors from those grown in Yonaguni. He said, “The herb from the island has the smell of the island. If we don’t grow it on this island the taste would be different.”

(English translation by T&CT and Sayaka Sakuma)

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