TSUKUBA, IBARAKI PREF. – A 72-year-old woman decided to fry up some croquettes 14 years ago to cheer up her hometown, which was in the doldrums at the time.
So Kyoko Yoshida was overjoyed when her croquettes — named Ryugasaki croquettes after her city in Ibaraki Prefecture — won an online local food popularity contest this year organized with more than 20,000 votes, making the name Ryugasaki known across the nation.
As a native of the city, which has a population of around 80,000, and head of a women’s division in the local commerce and industry association, Yoshida felt sad whenever she saw a shopping street with too few customers.
She first sold the croquettes in 2000 when the city built a library for manga, one of the few libraries of its kind in Japan, and it attracted visitors from far and wide.
Yoshida, who resolved to “make the best use of the opportunity,” started selling croquettes in the library’s parking lot.
She made them with the traditional taste she remembered from when she would buy them on her way home from school.
She has repeatedly tweaked the recipe by asking other members of the women’s division to bring their own homemade croquettes, while also seeking support from local restaurant chefs.
To promote the croquettes and make them a local specialty, she went to see the governor of Ibaraki and appears on TV.
Yoshida has developed several different kinds of croquettes over the years.
The creation that won the Yahoo Japan contest was a cream croquette made with locally produced rice flour and lotus roots. The minced lotus roots, of which Ibaraki is the nation’s No. 1 producer, help give the croquettes both a creamy and crunchy texture.
The only child of the owner of a local tire store, Yoshida ran the store after her father died and until her son could take over.
Since retiring, she and some friends have been making croquettes and other ready-made foods at a shop in Ryugasaki.
She said she lives her life based on two mottoes: “I’m the only one who can do it” and “act before thinking.”
Yoshida said her hope in making the croquettes was that “our children and grandchildren will be reminded of Ryugasaki when they eat them in the future.”
Her next goal is to “revitalize the whole city by showing that elderly people (like us) are working with energy.”