Toranosuke Katayama, 73, is a self-taught cameraman of five decades and counting. Born in Nagano, home to one of Japan's three most celebrated soba dishes, he grew up with a distaste for the buckwheat noodles. Since discovering the fascinating but dying culinary world of soba through photography, he has become a researcher, author and producer of soba.
1. What is your mission? When I took on the world of soba for a work project, I realized the culinary culture of the dish was dying. I called temples where soba had been traditionally made, only to hear the practice had ended with older generations. Soba culture was not only declining in numbers but in quality too. Selective breeding and mass production of buckwheat came at the expense of good taste. Also, there is no international recognition of soba as there is for sushi, despite both having originated in the Edo Period (1603 to 1868). My mission is to maintain its good taste and have it gain world recognition.
2. Why is soba not as well-known as sushi overseas? To begin with, sushi from the Edo Period is entirely different from today's sushi. It was originally fermented in vinegar to be preservable before the dawn of refrigerating machines. Then, traditional sushi adapted to the development of technology and now we eat raw fish on rice. Soba never adapted, though. It stubbornly stuck to tradition.