Japanese maple trees are known for their beautiful red and yellow autumn foliage called "momiji". It might come as a surprise to many when you hear that some people also use Japanese maple trees to produce maple syrup.
People in Nakatsugawa produce maple syrup of exceptional quality from locally gathered maple water. The water is gathered from a kind of maple called itaya-kaede. These trees are found all over Nakatsugawa, but there is a big stand of older trees deep in the mountains. The harvest period is about a month, between the middle of February and the middle of March. Harvesting maple water is extremely tough in a place like Nakatsugawa where the snow in mid-winter is often around 3 meters deep. But local people work together and rise to the challenge.
The workers use snowmobiles to get to the stand of itaya-kaede. Snowmobiles are not easy to handle but many people in Nakatsugawa are experts. It is not surprising to see septuagenarians and octogenarians in the harvesting group. The head of Iide Kaede no Mori, the committee that manages the production of maple syrup, is Mr. Chuzenji Zenzo, who is 81 years old.
Once they reach the maple tree area, they start with a short prayer and bow in gratitude to the trees. The snow around the base of each tree is cleared away to offer access to the trunk. The next step is to drill a hole and connect a tube to gather the maple water, which only flows at this time of year. The water drips out very slowly, so the collecting tanks are covered with snow and left for a few days. Then the workers return to take the full tanks home. Each year, they gather about 3000 litres of maple water this way.
The maple water is boiled down carefully for over two days, until only about 1/40th of the original volume remains. No sugar or other ingredients are added. It is a completely natural product, free from all additives.
And that’s how "Made-in-Japan" maple syrup is produced in Nakatsugawa.
If you'd like to try Nakatsugawa's natural maple syrup, it's available for purchase at our store!