October 28, 2014


One of the few precious Shishigatano squashes that I grew this year. 

This year I grew some of the rarest and most treasured of Japanese squashes - particularly an old variety called Shishigatani from the early 1800's, the Edo period.   On of the Kyo Yasai, which means the traditional vegetables of Kyoto, it is prepared in many ways, celebrated on greeting cards, posters and artwork, and eaten to help avoid the flu and colds in late summer. Named for the Shishi valley in the Higashiyama area near Kyoto. It's a great example of what one can grow at home which cannot be found at garden centers anywhere,  nor at farm stands or at the market. I am very excited to try cooking it in a traditional Japanese method, sauteed in dash, sugar, sesame and soy sauce.

 Few would say that the Shishigatani is attractive I suppose, aside from a Japanese person from Kyoto, or at least as squash goes - but perhaps in a wabisabi way, it excels visually. Green, warty and oddly shaped, the Shishigatani has a long history in Japan, particularly in the Kyoto area where there is even a temple dedicated to celebrating it's harvest - the Anrakuji Temple, where in July, it is eaten on a certain day so that one can avoid polio and paralysis. Kind of appropriate that I am writing this on the same day as Dr. Saulk's birthday now that I think about it.

At temples in Kyoto, this squash gets the royal treatment. With it's traditional belt of red wash paper and calligraphy,  eating this squash is said to help one avoid paralysis from polio.

The Shishigatani - Kyoto and the Kyoyusai

It's hard not to love each of the squashes sof Japan, and I really never thought of them in that way, as all squash hail fromCentral and South America, brought to Japan late in the 1700's where they found their way into the culture and cuisine in ways that, well, only the Japanese can do.  Most of us are familiar with the Kabocha types, the buttercup and , and obviously it has a completely different way that it fits into the cuisine there. Braise with soy and tofu, simmered in miso and mirin, fried into delicate starchy rings or crispy tempura - this brilliant orange flavorful squash is transformed into a seasonal delight which shares little with what is found on the streets and kitchens of Paris. Not that any proper Japanese person would mind sipping a bowl of Soupe de Potimarron au neurre noisette, but when it comes to proper squash appreciation, the award goes to the most cherished, and rare, of all - the shishigatani from Kyoto.  You can find seeds here at Kitazawa Seed Company.

On line images of the Shishigatani show just how thoughtfully the Japanese package these treasured curcurbits.

My Shishigatani are ripe, but green still, which means that they are good for eating, but they can also be allowed to mature to a tan color, when they can be used as traditional vases or decorations in the autumn.

In late summer and early autumn

Rarely found outside of Japan, the Shishigatani is worth growing if only for it's great story. But what a rare treat it can be to serve it to guests who may never have even heard of such a squash.

Although green Kabocha types are most common, there are red types too. The Red-Skinned Sweet Chestnut Kabocha is popular in Utsugi, Japan. Also known as the Aka Kabocha, and it is one of the 15 Kaga yasai, a vegetable cultivated in the province of Kaga. It is a traditional seasonal vegetable of Hukuriku, Japan.
Red Kabota types

From the French Portimarron to the Japanese red kuri, the red kabota squash are flavorful and red all the way through from their skin to their flesh. Each as a long history, at least back to the Edo period. Prepared in villages I'm many ways, most recipes include stewing them in a Dashi, with light soy and sugar, sometimes served traditionally with a sesame sauce over them.


  1. Those are great looking squash! More varieties for next year, cool!

  2. I was already planning to get the Koshihikari rice from Kitazawa, now maybe I will have to add a historic squash variety.

  3. Interesting article!

  4. Beautiful variety! I love the simple traditional Japanese preparation idea, much like how I eat most winter squash. Cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and bake with butter and brown sugar in the well in the middle. I love the bumpy skin on some of these. I really love the idea of letting them turn brown and using them like you would a gourd. They'd make great all purpose craft vessels, as decor of course but also as little birdhouses, feeders, and even adorable toad houses around the garden. I was thinking of making a butterfly house like this one, and I wonder if using the dried gourds like this could be fashioned into a functioning house the same? (Butterfly house idea: http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/page.cfm/317)

    I get the Kitazawa Seed Co mailer but I have yet to order anything from them yet for some odd reason- but for sure I'll be giving this variety a go next spring in my garden. Sounds like an overall winner, and growing Shishigatani would be an honor given it's history.

    Wonderful article, I learned a lot. Beautiful photos too. Thank you, was a treat to read today!


    1. Anna, you nailed it! Scoop it out and add butter, although I have never thought about brown sugar before, this must be due to the lack of natural sweetness you find with summer squashes?

      Jeff Morgan - Community Manager @ Moonworks

  5. What an interesting looking squash with an equally interesting history. I love growing unusual or heirloom vegetables in my garden so I might just have to give these a go. Brown sugar is wonderful when baked on squash as it caramelizes and adds a lovely sweetness to it. I generally chop up the squash into smaller pieces, put small knobs of butter on the pieces and sprinkle with brown sugar before baking. Might have to try it your way Anna and save myself the chopping!

  6. Wonderful Post, I highly appreciate those people who share some good information, because I like those people who actually share :).

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