Spring usually comes in early May in Hokkaido, and it is high season to pick sansai, or edible wild mountain plants. Among them, the Alpine leek — kitopiro in Japanese and pukusa in the native Ainu language — is the most attractive.

With its intense garlic-like flavor, the plant is an important ingredient in Ainu cuisine. Traditionally, women gathered the wild plants while the men were out fishing and hunting.

Ainu cuisine? Even for Japanese people, it is hard to imagine the food of the north's indigenous people, repressed by Japanese rule for over a century until relatively recently. The majority of the remaining Ainu population is to be found in Hokkaido, but its recipes can be found in Tokyo's Okubo district, served at HaruKor — probably the only restaurant in Tokyo that specializes in Ainu cuisine.