Cities try Paris Marche concept

by Noriko Hamamoto

Kyodo News

Major cities in Japan are experimenting with their own version of the Paris Marche, featuring direct sales of farm-fresh products on weekends at markets where farmers and city folk meet face to face.

The Marche Japon project debuted in September in nine cities, including Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka, supported by a subsidy from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.

The markets offer products developed and grown by farmers using organic methods.

Hirokuni Hanami, a 31-year-old member of the Sambu Vegetable Network, a farm cooperative in Sambu, Chiba Prefecture, said one of the nice things about the market is that “we can tell customers how carefully we have plowed the field to cultivate vegetables.”

“Normally, we don’t have a place for face-to-face selling,” he said in Yokohama while treating customers to carrots, celery and ginger marinated in soy sauce.

Moreover, by talking to customers, Hanami said he can get an idea of what they want and factor this into his production process.

Naomi Shinozuka, a 33-year-old housewife, said she has come to the market a number of times because “it gives me peace of mind to be able to see the faces of the people whose products I buy.”

By her side, her 5-year-old and 3-year-old sons nibbled on some carrots.

The Marche Japon venture comprises businesses and other entities recruited by the agriculture ministry. Gourmet Navigator Inc., which operates an online restaurant search service, acts as Marche Japon’s national secretariat.

It has been actively promoting the Marche Japon concept by holding occasional markets in Hakodate, Hokkaido; Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture; and Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture; in addition to looking after the nine big city markets.

It has also unfolded a program featuring a “kitchen car” with a top-class chef on hand to prepare dishes based on regional foods.

Marche Japon has organized a variety of events, including one targeting pregnant women and other people interested in knowing more about the food they are eating.

Meanwhile, Marche Japon must now ensure that the project pays for itself; the subsidy from the agriculture ministry ran out at the end of March.