Hachiyagaki is a variety of persimmon native to the village of Hachiyamachi, Minokamo, Gifu prefecture.
Hachiyagaki is a variety is currently grown in about 15 prefectures. It is very highly regarded and suitable for drying (the fresh fruit has a high tannic content and an astringent taste, but when it has been dried it becomes sweet and tasty). In Hachiyamachi - located between Sekigahara, Guzyo, Hida and Ena - winters are particularly mild, the suitable climate for dried persimmon.
Dojou-Hachiyagaki used to be offered as a gift to the imperial court around the middle of the Heian period; it was highly appreciated for its flavor “as sweet as honey” which gave rise to the name Dojou (it means variety of persimmon) Hachiya (its native village, meaning the “house of the bees”).The name Dojou-Hachiyagaki, meaning 'persimmon offered in honor of the noble person' too, was coined in this period, distinguishing Hachiyagaki from other persimmon products outside the Gifu prefecture.
However, with the expansion of the sericulture industry and silk's status as a leading export, the persimmon fields were gradually replaced by mulberry and the cultivation of Hachiyagaki began to disappear.
At the beginning of the Showa period (1940's), Toshio Murase, a 20 year old small farmer, decided he would try to recover the Hachiyagaki. After a lengthy search, he found the original tree in the garden of an old family house. The old processing methods were also revived, thanks to old patriarchs of the village.During the war in the Pacific the government ordered an increase in food production and cultivation of cereals temporarily replaced persimmon, which had finally reached maturity. Then, after the war, cultivation of Hachiyagaki was resumed thanks to Murase's efforts.
Convinced that this special product had to be passed down to future generations, the young farmer founded an association for the promotion of Hachiyagaki in 1978. The Hachiyagaki mother tree in Murase's garden is now protected and is used to obtain the grafts that are distributed to members of the association.
There are precise rules governing production, from growing and harvesting through to transformation. Pruning and basic fertilizing are carried out from December to March: the crown is pruned and nutrition provided for blossoming and fructification.
After harvesting, from November to December, the fruit is left to complete its ripening for another 3/7 days.The fruit is then hung in the drier using a line called “Ren”. Within few hours of peeling, it is fumigated with powdered sulfur and it is dried in the shade in a well ventilated location for ten days. It is covered with a cloth during the night and in the event of rain.
After a period varying from 10 to 26 days after peeling, the fruit is dried in the sun in a location where the wind blows from the north. To prevent rain, frost or dew causing damage, a double layer cloth of vinyl and cotton is used to protect the fruit .While the persimmon is drying in the sun, it is repeatedly turned by hand (tegaeshi) to ensure all parts dry uniformly.
After the drying process has been completed, the surface of the persimmon is rubbed using a special technique (temomi), the fruit is removed from the Ren and examined. Good quality fruit is packed in a wooden box with straw, ready for sale.
The method of cultivation is very delicate and the processing requires considerable care, hence difficulties in finding willing young producers but in order to pass on knowledge of the Hachiyagaki processing method, the association holds an annual course about Hachiyagaki growing for students in the second and sixth grades of elementary school in Hachiya. The product is distributed to old people who live alone in Hachiyamachi.
In January the Hachiyagaki tea ceremony is celebrated at the temple of Zuirinji (in Hachiyamachi), the so-called Kaki-dera (the temple of persimmon), with many adults and children in attendance.
Photos — Archivio Slow Food