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Venture Businesses: Shaping Japan’s Tomorrow

Farm-Fresh Ideas

A Rural Restaurant Run by Farm Women Serves Up Local Produce

New businesses run by farm women have been popping up in Japan’s rural communities in recent years, including specialty products based on local produce and restaurants serving hearty farm-style cuisine. Businesses like these contribute greatly to financial autonomy among rural women, invigorate communities and boost communication between the residents of urban and rural areas.

Nobuko Goto, the CEO of Natchan, the company that operates Babazu Dining (“Granny’s Diner”) in Nakatsugawa, Gifu Prefecture, is one such woman. Babazu Dining offers dishes made exclusively from locally grown fresh vegetables in season, presenting them in a buffet style.

The buffet’s menu changes depending on what has been picked that day. Since fresh seasonal vegetables are highly nutritious and the producers are known, diners are happy about what they’re eating. Vegetables typically rejected as unsuitable for the market because they aren’t picture-perfect are welcomed here. With women who know how to bring out the tastes of local produce doing the cooking, the restaurant’s many fans consist of health food lovers and people of all ages. Goto, who turned sixty-two this year, madeher living solely from farm work until 2000. She banded together with some twenty other farm housewives that year to launch Agrihouse Natchan, a direct-sales vegetable produce business, in a vacant storefront in a local shopping area. Agrihouse Natchan became a meeting place that connected farmers with consumers, and the local farmers loved it.

Around that time Goto met Tomohiro Nakada, the president of Saladcosmo, a company that makes agricultural products in Nakatsugawa. Nakada suggested setting up a restaurant run by women from the local farming community. Goto herself had once entertained the idea of operating a tearoom so she could interact with more people. Since she also had a chef’s license, she decided to give the restaurant a go. After talking it over with her direct-sales group, they decided to incorporate. Goto then traveled around Japan to observe how women ran restaurants.

In September 2006, she set up a company under the name Natchan, and Babazu Dining opened its doors three months later.
With many of her staff bailing out because they were too busy to handle both farmwork and restaurant duties, however—and some farmers murmuring complaints about Goto farming while starting a business on the side—running the company proved problematic. Spurred on by encouragement from her creditors, however, she decided to tough it out for ten years.
The turning point came in Babazu Dining’s fourth year, when the restaurant was featured on television. Customers started coming in from all over Japan, and the establishment’s sales shot up.

In 2009, Goto became the first resident of Gifu Prefecture chosen by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as a “Contributor to Local Production and Local Consumption.” The ministry recognized her for opening a direct-sales store to bring in vegetables produced by nearby farms, which created a direct link between farmers and consumers in Nakatsugawa and energized the local farming community.

Goto adamantly insists on cooking from scratch. “The large restaurant chains prepare all their food in one place, so the taste is the same in every location,” she says. “I think you get a warmth and a taste here that you just can’t find in a chain restaurant.”
Today, as usual, Goto is busy in the kitchen. As she says, “Service, even if it’s troublesome, is a matter of hospitality,” one can feel how much she wants her customers to feel at home and enjoy the food.

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