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Eating Wild Japan

Eating Wild Japan

Tracking the Culture of Foraged Foods, with a Guide to Plants and Recipes

A delicious collection of essays, recipes, and practical plant information exploring Japan's thriving culture of foraged foods.

From bracken to butterbur to "princess" bamboo, some of Japan's most iconic foods are foraged, not grown, in its forests, fields, and coastal waters--yet most Westerners have never heard of them. 

In this book, journalist Winifred Bird eats her way from one end of the country to the other in search of the hidden stories of Japan's wild foods, the people who pick them, and the places whose histories they've shaped.

"A beautiful and thoughtful exploration of the deep relationship--past and present--between people and wild plants in one of the world's richest foraging regions."—Samuel Thayer, author of Incredible Wild Edibles and The Forager's Harvest
















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"Winifred Bird's insightful essays and illustrated guide to Japan’s wild edible plants — the first of its kind in English — is next-level reading for Japanese food lovers. "

Travel and Leisure

"Eating Wild Japan satiates the mind, providing a detailed exploration of Japan’s intricate, ever important food culture."

The Japan Times

"Beautifully written, light, intimate and — at times — funny."

The Society of Environmental Journalists

"An in-depth, humanistic, and fascinating journey across the wilds of the country in search of foraging."

Nyri Bakkalian, Unseen Japan

"Bird is outstanding in illuminating the way food and subjugation have historically been tied together, causing the disappearance of foraging practices.”

The Asian Review of Books

"Not only a superbly-written and engaging read but plays an important role in spreading and preserving the knowledge of the Japanese wilderness."

Metropolis Magazine

"This investigative and engaging book educates, enthralls and entices the reader to explore what Japan’s rich woodlands have to offer."

Tokyo Weekender

“Winifred Bird has done all the hard work of researching, translating and learning from Japanese experts to compile the first English language book on this topic… Bird writes with clear passion for plants and people and so these important environmental and social issues are lightened with optimism… There is inspiration to be found here, whether you travel to Japan or not, to reconnect with the plants and food of your local area.”

Japan Society UK Review

"Eating Wild Japan isn’t just a book dedicated to lesser-known produce hidden in Japan’s countryside; it’s an exhibit on sustainable living, remembering the food of our past, and eating what is in abundance."

AJET Connect Magazine

"A charming escape, as well as a practical guide for those who choose to explore on their own."

Story Circle Network

"Winifred Bird has penned a delightful homage to those who practice the art of bringing wild foods deliciously to table. Eating Wild Japan triggered fond memories of outings with my mother-in-law in Shikoku unearthing edible shoots and roots that her kitchen wisdom later turned into a feast."

Elizabeth Andoh, author of Washoku and Kansha

"Inspired by an engaging countrywoman neighbor and nearly a decade living in rural Japan, Winifred Bird sought out experts throughout the country to write this book on wild plants and seaweeds. The characters are just as fascinating as the plants and the recipes for how to prepare them found throughout the book. And although not intended as an official field guide, the descriptions and background included for the entries in the Guide to Plants are extremely thorough and informative. Eating Wild Japan fills a hole that much needed filling in the landscape of writing on Japanese food."

Nancy Singleton Hachisu, author of Japan: The Cookbook

"A beautiful and thoughtful exploration of the deep relationship--past and present--between people and wild plants in one of the world's richest foraging regions. And filled with recipes that I am eager to try, for many of these plants, or their close relatives, are found in North America. Winifred Bird has captured the deeper meaning of wild edibles, both to the people who eat them, and to the wild landscapes these people cherish."

Samuel Thayer, author of Incredible Wild Edibles and The Forager's Harvest

"Winifred Bird has created a fascinating, thought-provoking, and delightful book. A must read for anyone interested in the role of wild edibles in Japanese culture and cuisine. A scrumptious story that made me want to eat and travel with Bird as my companion."

Gina Rae La Cerva, author of Feasting Wild: In Search of the Last Untamed Food

“Finally, someone has written a book on Sansai that can begin to answer some of my questions about different plants, how they’re consumed, and most delicious of all: a glimpse into the role they play in Japanese culture. Eating Wild Japan is a savory collection of essays into the world of Sansai, a sort of catch-all term for many traditional wild plants eaten in Japan. Lovers of foraging will find new things in its pages absent from North American and Euro-centric wild food literature.”

Chef Alan Bergo, author of and The Forager Chef's Book of Flora

“For actual and armchair travelers and for everyone who loves Japan—its people, culture, and authentic foodways—Winifred Bird's Eating Wild Japan is a charming and indispensable companion. There are many tasty recipes (most easily reproducible at home) and a fantastic guide to plants. But this is far more than a manual for cooking with gathered greens or seaweed. Bird's essays introduce us to the folks who protect and cultivate forests, fields, and shores as she walks us along the back roads and byways of quiet villages and outlying islands, gathering ancient, edible knowledge. Soon we're drinking green tea and snacking on dried persimmons, fiddlehead ferns, and local sansai tempura, made from weeds and wild mountain vegetables. Illustrated with simple line drawings by Paul Poynter, Eating Wild Japan will make you reconsider the essential connections between wildlands, conservation, and food.”

Caroline Fraser, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

“At once fascinating and practical, Winifred Bird's roving inquiry offers more than a curated guide to Japan's wild edible plants and their preparation. It's a blueprint for making our own journeys into distant foodways. The result is a deeper understanding of people and place--and a basket full of extraordinary ingredients to brighten the table."

Langdon Cook, author of Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table

"Eating Wild Japan is a thoughtful English-language introduction to the foraged flavors of Japan. This book transports you to a world guided by the nuances of the season, and after reading it you will never look at the landscape in Japan quite the same way again."

Alexis Agliano Sanborn, Director, Nourishing Japan & Co-Host, Seasons by Seasons Podcast

“This is a terrific book, and the only one of its kind. A fascinating and knowledgeable history, many insightful stories about the roles these plants play in people’s lives, a useful wild plant guide, and delicious recipes. You’ll want to try them all!”

Azby Brown, author of Just Enough: Lessons in living green from traditional Japan

“I long to encounter every enchanting forest, passionate preservationist, and bracingly bitter taste Winifred Bird vividly describes. I’m grateful to learn along with her about Japan’s traditional and contemporary wild food cultures that nourish connection to the nonhuman world—to incremental changes in season and climate—and to history. Her simple recipes offer insight into a delightful way of eating that you need not travel to Japan to try.”

Hannah Kirshner, author of Water, Wood, and Wild Things

"This is a marvelous book, a book to savor while dreaming about wild plants and tempting dishes. Winifred Bird’s gentle walks through Japanese foraging landscapes are infused with tantalizing stories and flavors. Instructive and wise, Eating Wild tells of foraging to inspire closer attention to the weedy, wild world around us."

Anna Tsing, co-editor of Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene (


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About the Author(s)

Winifred Bird

Winifred Bird

Winifred Bird is a writer, translator, lifelong cook, and lover of plants both wild and domesticated. 

Paul Poynter

Paul Poynter

Paul Poynter is an artist, tree climber, and woodsman living in Matsumoto, Japan.

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