Translating the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Industry
I like to think of my job as another form of translating. I’m not just translating the things said to me by Japanese growers or information I read in articles and statistical reports written in Japanese, but I’m translating experiences. The difficulty in translating experiences is quite a novel one, because with translating a comment someone has made to me, I am just taking those words that I know in Japanese and attaching them to corresponding words that I know in English which convey approximately the same meaning. But with experiences, I have to work around the fact that prior to coming to Japan, I did not have any experience working at a commercial exotic mushroom farm in the U.S. (where I am from). To translate these experiences, I have taken an approach of explaining them in detail as they are while learning about different cultivation norms in other regions secondhand and using those to make key comparisons. No translation is a perfect 1:1 equivalent, and much like mushrooms seem to grow differently despite the best efforts of growers to maintain every variable exactly the same, so do translations resist the best efforts to be totally consistent. Likewise, each mushroom grower has different needs, especially in large countries like the United States, which has stark differences in regional climates and demand. Thus, a major challenege of an international industry journal for mushroom cultivation lies in finding a happy medium that is useful, accessible, and interesting to as broad a swath of the industry as possible.
As the international network grows, and COVID19 restrictions are fully relaxed around the world, I hope to study and showcase growing operations around the world in the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal alongside Japanese farms, because true translation is the art of comparison. While this is the Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal, that does not mean the journal is a niche project which will as a rule only deal with content from Japan: the Japanese in the name represents the starting point and foundation of the journal. When it comes to exotic mushroom cultivation, Japan’s only rival in terms of technology, scale, and experience is China, and the Chinese mushroom industry has been far more active internationally than Japan’s mushroom industry. Unfortunately, Japan’s mushroom industry, like many other industries in Japan, has until very recently been totally preoccupied with the domestic economy, hence there has never been a concerted effort to network internationally. Until the last ten years, there wasn’t much demand in “Western” markets for exotic mushrooms, other than modest shiitake and oyster mushroom production that began in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Now however, interest in mushrooms is exploding, and the industry is booming. New small start-up growers are popping up everywhere, and previously small growers are ambitiously expanding their production. What is lacking, is the infrastructure of media, professional networking, equipment suppliers, and organizational support. Much of what little does exist in Western markets is heavily geared towards button mushroom cultivation, and many growers are left without resources for the problems that emerge in cultivation or references to tackle the vagaries of scaling up production. The Japanese Exotic Mushroom Journal aims to use Japan as a foundation to connect to a global network of producers, suppliers, researchers and even hobbyists, a network that can support and promote the exotic mushroom industry during a time of tumultuous growth and rapid change. I look forward to a future where exotic mushrooms are as common and as affordable as they are in Japan across the globe and the exotic mushroom industry is a major part of sustainable agricultural systems. With cooperation and shared innovation, we can bring that future into fruition.
~Jake Waalk, Chief Editor