Amelia Freidline, Copy Editor
Amelia Freidline, Copy Editor

A little mushroom is enjoying huge popularity in Japan right now, and in a different way than you might expect.

The nameko, which the Wall Street Journal describes as “a gelatinous, light-brown, tack-size variety for the ordinary Joe,” was already one of the most widely cultivated varieties in Japan.

Now it’s wildly popular in Japanese pop culture thanks to a smartphone game called Nameko Saibai Kit, or “the kit for cultivating nameko.”

From the YouTube videos I’ve watched, gameplay seems simple: Your nameko grow on a log. When they’re ready, you harvest them. A good harvest allows you to upgrade your cultivation equipment, which in turn helps you cultivate more and rarer nameko varieties.

The Journal reports 32 million people have downloaded the game since it was released two years ago. For comparison, the mobile game Angry Birds has had more than a billion downloads so far.

Still, 32 million players is quite a few — that’s about equal to the combined populations of Texas and Missouri.

Imagine the opportunities for tie-ins.

Los Angeles-based Paramount Farms featured Angry Birds in its Wonderful Pistachios Get Crackin’ 2011 ad campaigns and also partnered for a pistachio-themed version of the game.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Chiquita Brands International did something similar that year when it teamed with Nintendo Wii for the video gaming system’s Donkey Kong Country Returns. The company also partnered with Sega of America Inc. in 2010 for the Wii game Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll, and Chiquita bananas were featured as a component of gameplay.

What if, in American versions of Nameko Saibai Kit, a Forest Nameko mushroom from Sebastopol, Calif.-based Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., were to pop up on a player’s growing log?

I can imagine preparation tips sprinkled throughout the game as gamers harvest the fungi. “Like playing Nameko Saibai? Here’s where you can find them and how you can fix them yourself!”

In January, The Packer’s Western correspondent Tom Burfield reported sales of specialty mushrooms such as the nameko and other Asian varieties are growing as consumers seek out different flavors and see mushrooms as a healthful way to extend or cut down on meat.

While the game might not enjoy the fervor here it’s seen in Japan so far — nameko merchandise, candy and a giant walking nameko along the lines of a theme park character are just some of the ways the country has capitalized on a mushroom cultural craze — tie-ins with companies that sell specialty mushrooms might be a good way to get the normally fungi-phobic to try something new.


In other news, now that summer has finally arrived here in the Midwest, so has the you-pick fruit season.

In mid-June our household was graced with nearly 15 pounds of fresh strawberries picked by friends and family at a farm outside of the Kansas City metro area. Even after making pies and jam we had a lot left over for fresh eating, but the fruit was so sweet and juicy we never tired of it during the week it took us to polish off all the berries.

After eating strawberries like that it’s tempting to want to grow our own. However, as Markets Editor Andy Nelson pointed out in a recent column about Wal-Mart’s research funding for local strawberry programs, getting the berries to grow successfully in Kansas is often a hit-or-miss proposition.

I have a feeling local berries, like other local produce, will become a summer treat, and we’ll happily eat California, Florida or Mexico berries the rest of the year.

We also spent a recent Saturday morning at another area you-pick operation picking blueberries. In addition to going home with almost 10 pounds of plump, deep-blue fruit, one of the highlights was watching the interactions between kids and their parents as they picked.

“Only pick the ones that are blue all over.”

“See the dark blue ones? Those are the ones we want.”

“Dad, where do blueberries come from?”

I’m not sure what that question actually meant, considering the young man who asked it was standing right in front of a blueberry bush. However, it reminded me how important it is for kids (and adults) to see where fruits and vegetables are grown, how they grow and all the time and labor that goes into harvesting them.

Blueberries don’t just wind up in clamshells in the grocery store all by themselves, after all. They’re only there because growers, fieldworkers, shippers and who knows how many other people took the time and care to get them from the plant to the produce aisle.

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