Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni residents attend the Chestnut Festival in Miwa Town, Japan, October 18, 2019. The Miwa Town Chestnut Festival is held every year to symbolize the end of the chestnut harvest.
Mikie Watanabe, cultural adaptation specialist with Marine Corps Community Services Iwakuni, took 21 MCAS Iwakuni residents to Miwa Town, Japan to experience chestnut picking at the Chestnut Picking Festival. The residents started out in a chestnut field on the outskirts of Miwa Town. Fujiki Tatsuo and Hiroyuki Nishioka, both chestnut harvesters, introduced the group to chestnut picking. They explained the dos and don’ts for first-time chestnut pickers Nishioka showed everyone the proper way to pick a chestnut out of its outer shell with tongs.
“Chestnut picking can be very tricky. If you do it the wrong way, you could get hurt from the tiny pricks on the outer layer of the chestnut.” Hiroyuki Nishioka, a chestnut harvester
After the brief, the residents and Japanese locals took off to pick chestnuts. When they were done they put what they picked in baskets and received a bag of chestnuts to take home. There were also an assorted group of foods made from chestnuts that were available for the base residents to try, including; roasted chestnuts, chestnut rice, sweetened chestnuts, chestnut cakes and also chestnut chips.
Kazuo Uemoto, head chef at Ryougoku Yasaka, made bento bowls for the festival participants. There was fried chicken, fried fish, chestnut rice, assorted veggies and pumpkin cake in the box. He carefully explained each item before they ate their food. After everyone ate, they received extra chestnut rice to take home.
Jaclyn Kupka, a resident of MCAS Iwakuni said, “I didn’t even realize you could do so much with chestnuts, I didn’t realize they were so good either! No wonder all those Christmas songs talk about eating chestnuts”
After the residents ate, they headed to the chestnut factory, where chestnuts are sorted, washed, preserved and packaged. The two story building had a conveyor belt that brought chestnuts into the building after being washed and thrown into bins. They are then sent upstairs where the workers at the factory sort through the chestnuts and dispose of the cracked or immaturely picked ones. After that, the good ones are sent to be weighted and packaged. Especially large chestnuts are prized and are packaged in special edition boxes.
At the end of the day, base residents headed home with a variety of chestnut-based goods to eat and also with a new perspective of just how many things one can create with a chestnut.