Photo/IllutrationA pot is transported slowly on a large trailer on Sept. 2. (Photo by Masato Nishida)

I recently visited a floodplain in the city of Yamagata, Yamagata Prefecture, to see a colossal, brand-new cauldron that can make 30,000 servings of “imoni” (taro soup with beef and vegetables).

Set to make its “imoni festival” debut on Sept. 16, this gargantuan pot will hold three tons of “satoimo” (taro), one ton of beef and 3,500 green onions.

Seeing it up close, I was blown away by its sheer size.

It even has a name, Nabetaro III, as it is the third-generation imoni pot bearing that name.

The original Nabetaro was introduced to the public in autumn 1989 by members of the Young Entrepreneurs Group of the Yamagata Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who came up with the idea of serving imoni to the public from the best and biggest pot in Japan.

It certainly created a sensation, with an excavator bucket serving as a soup ladle. But the pot itself lacked durability and had to be dismissed after three years.

The second-generation Nabetaro fared better and lasted a quarter-century with repeated repairs, but it finally retired last year.

Nabetaro III has a diameter of 6.5 meters and is bigger than its predecessors. Its birth owes to generous donations from local corporations as well as private citizens around the nation.

According to Takeru Satake, 45, a member of the Young Entrepreneurs Group, the toughest challenge was ridding the cauldron of its metallic smell.

This task involved 20 people, who collected a huge quantity of mugwort and boiled it in the pot on a riverbank.

The pot was transported slowly and carefully on a large trailer from the factory to the imoni festival site. This took place during the predawn hours of a Sunday, when traffic was expected to be light.

Imoni is a specialty of the Tohoku region, and the passion with which Yamagata people love this dish is quite extraordinary.

Primary schools teach their pupils how to make it. By the time the youngsters are teenagers and in high school or university, they head to riverbanks with their mates for imoni parties. And local businesses hold imoni outings for in-house events and for entertaining their clients.

Such convivial outdoor feasts could not help but be fun.

I saw the original Nabetaro on display on a scenic spot with a view of the Ou mountains. A plaque at its side bore the locals’ playful but earnest message to this effect: “Thou art our eternal and greatest hope for the development of tourism. Deign to bestow Thy serenity, harmony and vitality upon every visitor, for ever and ever.”

May Nabetaro III also continue to propagate Yamagata’s food culture broadly and forever.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 12

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.