Now Reports

Silvio Carannante


Silvio Carannante
Hometown: Naples, Italy
In Japan: 7 years
Identity: Farmer

Necessity is the mother of invention, or so the saying goes, and that helps to explain how Silvio Carannante now spends his days growing vegetables in Fukatsu, Fukuoka. Silvio came to Fukuoka to be with his wife Aki, a native of the area, and initially worked as a cook. There there was plenty of oil, pasta and some cheese available in Fukuoka, but he had a difficult time finding good Italian vegetables. It happened that his wife’s family’s friend was a farmer and after some testing they discovered they could grow some very tasty Italian vegetables. Not only that, but once word got out, other chefs wanted those veggies too! In about two years Silvio and Aki have become farmers full-time and are loving it! They now grow over 100 varieties, most of which are biodynamic. Friarelli, a broccoli-like Italian vegetable is one of their specialties. On weekends you can buy them at their tiny shop, but most sales are made online, to approximately 70 restaurants as far away as Tokyo. We expect to see more growth from Silvio and thank him for his contribution to Fukuoka.

WIN! Silvio is giving away a big box of fresh veggies – enter the lucky draw here and answer the question “What present / contest are you applying for?” with “Box of veggies”. Good luck!

Tell us about your background, how does an Italian end up working in the fields of Munakata?
I’m from Naples, Italy: the city of love. It’s a place that gives you passion for life. And why I’m here is because of my wife (the main reason most foreign people to come to Japan, I think). We met in Italy while she was having an art exhibition. Then after around a year and a half together we decided to come and live in Japan. Prior to this, we had gone to Africa for a few months for a job, working in a hotel in Kenya. She was managing an Asian fusion sushi bar on the beach, and I was managing a bar on the beach – it was a different business but in the same building. But we had a very hard time after we left the jobs there, so we went back and spent a few months in Naples. It was a very cold winter and she started missing the family so I said “I’ve never seen Japan, let’s go there! Let me see.” That was seven years ago. Her family is from Fukuoka that’s why we moved here.

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And why I’m here on this farm now? The owner is my mother-in-law’s friend. He has been a farmer for years. When I came to Japan I started doing the job which comes easy to me – cooking – and I realized “Wow. There is nothing here to make Italian food except oil and pasta and some cheese. No vegetables, nothing to give the real essence of Italian food.” So, with this farmer’s help, we experimented and planted some seeds, and then one day he called me and said “Silvio come over, the vegetables are ready”.

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And around that time I started making friends in Japan, and they were saying “Why don’t you give me some to try?” From there, I started getting introduced to other people, including some chefs and things started getting bigger and bigger over a period of about two years. So I quit my job as a chef and dedicated myself to the farm which, I discovered, is beautiful.

Tell us more about your work in Fukuoka before farming?
I started out in Akasaka when we got to Japan – I worked for a few months at a restaurant inside the Fukusaya Building. After that I had other jobs in Munakata and Kokura, but when I started with the vegetables I couldn’t manage everything. So I quit my job and I’m 100% involved in the farm right now. We also do some food events, which brings a lot of excitement.

What’s your typical day like?
I wake up in the morning, warm up the milk for my goats. I’m breeding goats and also some dogs, so I take care of them in the morning. Then we start to harvest and package the crops, take care of the farm, and send the boxes. That’s every day.

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Do you take any days off?
Usually when we are overtired and overstressed we decide “Let’s take off tomorrow, let’s get out of here” and we go for a couple of days to Okinawa or a day’s escape in Aso. There are other farmers in Aso, and we are studying biodynamics. We escape for no more than two days because it’s not possible to leave the farm for longer.


Did you do any farming in Italy?
Never, never, never! I was always in the hospitality industry. I started farming here.

The sad story is that when I started to work in Japan, cooking in restaurants, I was very stressed. I felt like they were squeezing me like a lemon! You know, starting in the restaurant at 8 o’clock in the morning, finishing at 1 o’clock at night with only a one hour’s break all day. And because I was a foreign guy they asked a lot of me, and I was very stressed. I couldn’t manage this way – I was feeling so much pressure, people expecting so much from me and pushing me to my limit. At that point I decided to get out of the hotel/tourism business in Japan, so I took a 10 month break working on a farm that produces Taiwanese takenoko.

After the 10 months on the farm, I took another job at a restaurant in Munakata. But at the same time I had started doing these vegetables, and was providing them only to Antica Osteria Toto and Il Sol Levante. I was working on the farm during my breaks. Now we working on six hectares here. We have our own one hectare farm since last year. We are converting this farm – making it biodynamic. We are producing mostly bio vegetables except for a few.

Who are your customers?
Mostly restaurants – Italian and French places. We provide to around 70 restaurants, including Pizzeria Da Gaetano, Il Sol Levante. in Fukuoka. Also some big hotel chains (I won’t say the names). Providing to restaurants and hotels is my pride, because I come from a background in this industry. I’m 36 years old, but I made my first coffee at the age of four. My father owned a restaurant but he quit there when I was one year old and they opened a bar, so I’ve always been inside this circle.

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So for me, even though I’m a farmer now, I never really quit my other job. Before I was a chef inside the kitchen and now I bring the vegetables to the kitchen. The chefs ask me some advice (even if they don’t need advice from me!) – and that gives me some excitement. I feel like I’ve still got one foot in tourism, one foot in farming – I’m working in both directions.

What are your most popular vegetables?
I think the most popular is friarielli, it looks like the Japanese nanohana. It is very, very famous in Naples. We make so much friarielli here and harvest for a four or five month period. During these months, we send friarielli all over – even to some restaurants in Tokyo that we usually don’t work with – because I don’t think anybody else in Japan makes it yet. They order lots of this stuff!

So you have customers outside of Fukuoka?
Actually, most of our customers are outside Fukuoka! In Fukuoka we don’t have that many customers. The majority – around 60% – of our customers are in Kinki region, especially Hyogo Prefecture, but we have some in Kobe, Tokyo…

What other types of Italian vegetables do you grow?
Over the course of one year we produce over 100 types of Italian vegetables. We like working with seasonal vegetables, and we follow nature.

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What is the appeal of your vegetables? Is it that they don’t exist elsewhere in Japan?
(laughs) I don’t know! There are so many people making European vegetables in Japan- I visited some farms and studied them a little bit. Maybe because we put our heart into it. People appreciate what we are doing.

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And we approach the restaurants directly – so we introduce the vegetables in a “real” Italian way. Sometimes I go into the kitchen with them when the restaurants are closed, and we’re cooking and tasting things – so there is a cultural exchange with the Japanese people. Afterwards, they take our product and they make it their own – putting their hearts into their dishes, coming up with their own creation.

What are some interesting uses have you seen of your vegetables?
One guy made a soup with fugu and friarelli and I was totally shocked! (laughs) Because I come from Europe, I have seen how it is used and I know that Italian people do not use this vegetable with fish. But the combination was great, unbelievable. At my house I challenge the rules about mixing vegetables and seafood, and the results are very nice.

What have your biggest challenges been?
(laughs) Every day! Since we started here, every day is a challenge because these are Italian vegetables – they come from European seeds and they don’t fit with the climate in Japan. I don’t find problems with the soil, but the climate. So we have to adapt all the time. We have challenges every day, but it’s fun.

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What about working as a foreign farmer in Japan? Any challenges there?
For me to be a foreigner is a big advantage. An Italian selling Italian vegetables is unique in Japan.

What are the things you enjoy about your work now?
Generally I’m not a stressed out guy, but I was working in a bar for years before coming to Japan – with maybe 500 or 600 people completely drunk in front of my bar every night. I would wake up at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, go to sleep maybe 6 or 8 o’clock in the morning – and I was living this life for about 10~15 years. When I met my wife, it was a good break. I figure that’s why she came into my life. So after one year working here at the farm, I started to touch the ground and I realized “Gosh, this is my life” No more stress, no more rush…

What are your plans for the future?
My plans are to keep my roots, sharing the essence of my culture from Italy. Of course we are talking about food culture first and foremost – but it’s not just that. There are other things which I want to build up here. In the near future we are thinking of buying an old house near the farm and I want to open “Agritourism” or a farm stay – with a restaurant and rooms to stay on the second floor. That’s why I have the goats, because I want to make my own cheese, and we are making preserves the Italian way.


My father taught me something – it doesn’t matter whether you are working in a 5-star restaurant or local izakaya, you have to share your emotions with your customers no matter what. Be involved and love your job. I love my job. Sometimes I miss working behind the bar and feeling like I’m on stage – but farming is beautiful.

But this job has become unexpectedly busy and we appreciate this, so we are trying to make it better and better. We are trying to make it into a bio farm – with animals making compost. Now it is not possible to have a cow to make six hectares worth of compost – so we use chemical-free compost from Munakata – but that’s the direction we want to take it. We don’t use chemicals, no pesticides, no herbicides. Our goal is to respect the environment, and create bio foods.

Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn185, May. 2014)

Fukuoka City
Published: Apr 25, 2014 / Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017

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