Haisai! To all of you reading this, do you love your homeland? Do you love your hometown, the place you are live in now? I love here Okinawa so much. The beautiful people, things nurtured by the rich nature, and learning from the history and culture generated from those is my source of livelihood. I am sure that you have such richness in your land too. I believe that by learning about them and passing them on to each other, we will surely have a bright future. If we lose the language and food of our native islands, we will lose our identity. That is why the “dining table” is so important. Although we are all far away from each other, let’s share information and love each other’s place more. Let’s talk together again!
Shogo Manna is a chef from Yanbaru, an area of northern Okinawa Island where there are many mountains and forests. Through a variety of activities such as a restaurant specializing in pork dishes using Yanbaru Island Pork; the “Yanbaru Harusa Project” which connects a variety of producers, chefs and citizens; and the “Sailing Sabani” project that passes Ryukyu culture down to the next generation, and through his encounters with Slow Food, what has Manna learned?
* Harusa means farmer in the Ryukyu language
* A sabani is an Okinawan wooden boat
Name ： Shogo Manna Community /Country ： Born in Motobu, Okinawa & raised in Nago, Okinawa, Japan Whrere I currently live ： Nakijin Village, Okinawa Age： 46 years old Current Initiatives/Title： Chef
People of the Loochoos / Ryukyus
The Ryukyu Islands have been inhabited by humans for about 32,000 years. The Ryukyu Kingdom was established in 1429 and existed for about 450 years. Since its reversion to Japanese sovereignty in 1972, Okinawa has faced many problems such as the increase in lifestyle-related diseases due to the strong influence of American culture, the emigration of young people to urban areas, and the destruction of nature due to the development of tourist resorts.
An Ecosystem Nurtured by the Mountains and Sea of Yanbaru
Located in the north of Okinawa Island, Japan, Yanbaru*1 is rich in nature, with the mountains nurturing a variety of ecosystems. The inner reef also nurtures the marine environment, and serves as a natural breakwater against typhoons; this is important for protecting the villages in the interior. It was recently recognized as a World Natural Heritage site, and while I am happy about this, I am also concerned about the destruction of the natural environment due to the intense flow of human traffic.
Two things that are central to my lifestyle are the Okinawan pork culture and the sabani (a traditional sail boat). Our local breed, the Agu, is said to be a cross between the domesticated Ryukyu wild boar and the pigs that were introduced through trade with China and Taiwan in the 14th-15th centuries. Since then, it has adapted to the local climate, and has been deeply involved in the lives of the people of Ryukyu.
After World War II, the number of Agu pigs fell from around 100,000 to almost 30 due to the breeding of highly-profitable imported breeds. This was due in large part to the Japanese government’s policy of promoting the industrialization of animal farming, thus separating the pigs from the people for whom they had played such an important role. Then, in 1981, some people of Yanbaru took the initiative and ,with the cooperation of the local community, they were able to avoid the danger of extinction by using the backcrossing method.
Nowadays, most of the Agu pigs are mass-produced under the Agu brand, which is registered as a trademark, but only about 20% of them contain the blood of the native breed, and only Nakijin Agu can be said to be the original lineage of the Agu breed.
1. Yanbaru is a mountainous and forested area in the northern part of Okinawa Island, with a chain of mountains based on rocks formed before the Mesozoic Era, higher mountains, valleys and rivers and covered with rich Itajii tree forests. The natural features of the northern part of the island, such as topography, flora and fauna, are quite different compared to the south-central part of the island, which is based on Ryukyu limestone. The area is about an hour’s drive from Naha Airport, and was registered as a World Natural Heritage site in 2021.
Everything is Edible except the Footprint - Pigs as Food Culture
I opened a restaurant called “Manmi” in order to pass on the history of the Agu breed and to share this part of our food culture. In Okinawa there is a unique culture where pigs raised at home are stored and eaten whole. The skin, fat, bones, blood, facial skin, and even the internal organs are eaten as meat. They even make use of the sound!
Together with like-minded people, we use the original taste of Yanbaru Island Pigs*2 as an entry point to convey the richness of Yanbaru’s nature and human connections, and the culture that lies behind it. We believe that it is important to convey this information to consumers in a simple way: by having them taste the whole pig here in Yanbaru, using vegetables and seasonings from Yanbaru, explaining the best way to eat the pig and the story behind it. I never stop asking myself, “Is there a way to make it even better?” Whenever possible, I speak to customers at the table and share my knowledge with them about cooking different parts of the pig. At Manmi, we always talk about delicious and fun stories related to pork.
The Sailing Heritage of Sabani
When I was 18 to 22 years old, I went out of Okinawa for work. Every time I returned home to the island, I was shocked by the changes I saw. Due to the rush of seawall and hotel construction, the natural beaches were being transformed into artificial ones and the natural coastline was rapidly decreasing in size. Tourist development and intensive farmland development have also had a great negative impact on biodiversity, and is one of the problems that still troubles me today. I still remember my being with my grandfather when I was a child, and the scenery I saw. I want to preserve the culture of the sea and the living corals that are connected to the land and people’s lives.
When I was 31 years old, I had the opportunity to ride a sabani for the first time. At that time, when I was trying to increase the popularity of my restaurant, I saw the sabani floating in Nago Bay from the window of my car as I drove back and forth to the city every day, and I was agonizing over why I, a uchinanchu (local), was not there on the boats.
So I took the plunge: I took a month off from the restaurant, and set out on a trip from Yonaguni Island to visit the Ryukyu islands. By experiencing the richness of the islanders and their wholehearted hospitality, I came to feel that real tourism is an expression of the warmth of the local people. As a person involved in food, I want to put the land at the center, rather than focusing on human beings. I want to convey the diversity of Yanbaru and the hardships of the current situation in a fun and delicious way.
“Yanbaru Harusa Project” and “Yanbaru Outdoor Handbook” Initiative
Since 2011, farmers, processors, and restaurants in the Yanbaru area have been working together on the “Yanbaru Harusa Project” to communicate the deliciousness of Yanbaru.
With the message “Yanbaru is delicious,” we are working on food actions to facilitate people’s interactions with local treasures rather than simply the commodification of the land. For example, we develop local products that can only be purchased in Yanbaru area and hold an incense festival where you can enjoy Yanbaru cuisine.
The Birth of Yanbaru Spice
Through a connection made with a senior local cook, I met a farmer who grows pepper. I thought “Yanbaru has delicious island vegetables, pork, seafood, salt fields, and sugar cane. If we can add spices too, we can offer an entire menu all made in Yanbaru.”
Yanbaru Spice was born from this idea: 58% of the ingredients are made from locally-grown ginger, chili peppers, spring turmeric, and autumn turmeric harvested in Yanbaru, and we are still evolving to make it a 100% Made in Yanbaru product.
Field to Nature - "Yanbaru Outdoor Handbook"
We also offer a tour called “Yanbaru Outdoor Handbook” to share our experiences and thoughts and the joy of learning more about the region. The Yanbaru Harusa Project proposes “Delicious Wild Play” to entertain visitors to Yanbaru. This is a tour to visit food producers together with the customers, to feel the joy of eating in nature, the wonder of nature, the appreciation of food, and the thoughts of the producers close at hand, and to enjoy it with all five senses. This is a program that provides services and menus for day-trips.
Encounter with Slow Food to Living in a Hammock
My involvement with Slow Food began with the Slow Food Fest in Ryukyu, held in Okinawa in 2018, and my understanding of Slow Food was further deepened in 2019 when I participated in Indigenous Terra Madre with the Ainu, an indigenous group from Hokkaido. Through encounters with the Ainu people and other indigenous peoples with various problems, we came back home to reflect on the “Ryukyu way of being,” including the social structure and educational issues that prevent us from fully realizing our own identity. What I see in our traditional food is the island’s character and its wisdom. The more I get involved in Slow Food activities, the more the pieces fit together, and the more proud I feel.
I am in the process of building a place called “Amesoko Nesoko” in an area called Amesoko in the mountains of Yanbaru, as a place where I can practice and learn from the knowledge and skills of seniors and ancestors. The circulation of air and water is also connected to the soil. And between them, there are humans. I believe that we can become richer by living with a greater awareness of this. Although I am the manager of my own restaurant business, I am currently living in a hammock with no fixed address.
I don’t want to say
“the good old days were good”
I want to say
“today is good, too”.
The house of Amesoko Nesoko doesn’t have a floor. It was about to be torn down when I found it, as there was nobody living there. There is just a Kamado (traditional wood-fueled cooking stove), traditional pots, a pizza oven gifted to me by a friend of mine, and the beautiful rain pouring down. We want to protect these things because they are about to be lost, and it is difficult to recreate them once they are gone.
Until now, it has been difficult for me to communicate with people of the same generation and the same industry. There are sections of Yanbaru’s government and business community that are selling the land and culture in search of “economic development.” At the same time, I sometimes come across the approach of “We can sell Okinawa for you,” from people outside of Okinawa.
On a sabani trip, you need time, but not money. You learn to communicate with your friends, re
spect the captain, support each other, encourage each other, and even learn how to talk to each other. By digging deeper into what we have now, instead of just saying “the good old days,” we can share and say “today was a good day too”, or “we had a beautiful day playing in the ocean.” I would like to learn these things in the present, and find the time to connect to the next generation and new friends who seek them.
Manna’s “Pride Food”
My pride food is definitely pork culture. In Japan, the eating of meat has only become a major trend since the Meiji era. Okinawa developed its own pork culture through exchanges with Taiwan and China. In the hot and humid subtropical climate, the meat is fermented in salted water to make “soochikah”, slowly cooked with brown sugar and awamori to make “rafti”, made with fresh blood to make “cheeiricha”, and the internal organs are made into a clear soup to make “nakamijiru”. There are many pork dishes. I can’t write much about it here, but you can feel the love for pigs in Okinawa and the Ryukyu islands in the touching post-war effort to repopulate them using pigs from Hawaii, an episode known as “Pigs from the Sea”. My pride food is the pork culture of the Ryukyu islands! Thank you to our ancestors in the Ryukyu Islands who developed and protected this culture!
Manna’s Personal History
1975 Born in Yanbaru
2004 Found “Manmi“
2006 Order his own sabani and took the sabani trip
2011 Start Yanbaru Harusa project
2018 Get to know about Slow Food at Slow Food Fest in Okinawa
2019 Join Indigenous Terra Madre in Ainu Mosir as a delegate from Ryukyu
2021 Launch Amesoko Nesoko