Toshio Hashimoto, a first-generation Japanese immigrant and auto mechanic living in Maine, grows shiitake mushrooms at his Rumford farm home. When he’s not doing that, he’s often hiking or playing the Japanese taiko drum. Rumford Falls Times/Marianne Hutchinson
Toshio Hashimoto is a first-generation immigrant from Japan who came to the United States with his wife in the mid-1970s to start his family. First, in Massachusetts, he worked as a head mechanic for a Toyota dealer in Boston, then moved to Maine in 1987.
In 1990 he got a job as a mechanic in Rumford at a Chevy dealer. When the dealership closed he decided to start his own foreign-auto repair business on his Rumford property. In addition, Hashimoto has been growing shiitake mushrooms by inoculating about 500 small logs every spring with a mixture of sawdust and mycelium and then leaving them to grow and produce mushrooms in his greenhouse and outdoors for a 10-month period.
After his careful work and the growth period, his logs produce about 500 pounds of mushrooms, most of which he and his family sell as deep-fried mushrooms in the fall at their booth at the Common Ground Fair.
Hashimoto is an avid hiker who enjoys hiking with Rumford’s Peak-a-Week hiking group and is a member of the Mahoosuc Mountain Search and Rescue team, which does winter training on Mount Katahdin.
Not enough? Hashimoto also plays the Japanese taiko drum and performs with a group out of Portland.
Name: Toshio Hashimoto
Occupation: Owner and operator of Toshimobile foreign auto repair and Shiitake Farm, his shiitake mushroom-growing business.
Why do you grow only shiitake mushrooms at your home farm, and what do like best about the mushroom compared to other kinds of mushrooms? Shiitakes have the best taste — and they’re fun to grow! When Japan started to cultivate wild mushrooms, shiitakes were the first mushrooms they grew. I feel like my identity to Japan is expressed best in growing these mushrooms, and I like the process of growing them.
Almost every September for the past 19 years you and your family have sold fried shiitake mushrooms at the Common Ground Fair. How many family members help you with the stand and what’s that experience like? There are five family members in total who work at the fair, plus two extra grandchildren who are there but don’t technically help. My wife, my two daughters, my son and I, and usually three or four of my daughter’s friends will help during the fair. The fair is just great. It’s a time where we get together as a family, work hard and get to show Mainers the quality and taste of our mushrooms.
In 2011 you almost quit growing mushrooms because your children were grown and on their own, and you didn’t have the extra help you needed to grow the mushrooms. At that time you went back to Japan for a pilgrimage to a Buddhist temple called Skikoku Henro. Tell us a little about your experience and how you felt after your pilgrimage. On my Shikoku Henro pilgrimage, I went 800 miles, walked for 40 days, and visited 88 temples. As I walked, I felt as though I was getting my life from the Buddha. I became more encouraged. My life was given to me, and I wanted to take care of the rest of my life. So when I came back to America, I had the energy to keep growing mushrooms, in a different way.
You also own a foreign auto repair business, Toshimobile. How and why did you become a foreign auto mechanic and businessman? I am an immigrant who came to a new country, and my wife and I started from nothing. I had a dream all the time of having my own land and farm. To reach my dream, I needed money. To make money, the best way for my skills was to be an auto mechanic. And since more Japanese and foreign cars were coming to the states, and I thought it would be good to work on them. Being a mechanic allowed me to realize my dream of owning my own farm.
You’re an avid hiker and you’ve hiked the likes of Mount Rainier in Washington state and Mount Hood in Oregon. You’re also a member of the Mahoosuc Mountain Search and Rescue team, with whom you practice winter training on Mount Katahdin. Has hiking changed a lot for you now that you’re in your late 60s and do you enjoy it as much as when you were younger? When you’re young, you pay attention to how fast you can climb. You don’t see the mountain. You’re testing your physical limits of strength. How fast am I? How strong can I climb? But now, speed doesn’t matter. When you lose your strength, you see more of nature. I’m still committed to my annual climb up Mount Washington in February and Mount Katahdin in June. As long as I can climb those, I can keep going.
You also play a Japanese drum called the taiko, which you practice and play in concert with a drumming group out of Portland. Describe what taiko drumming is like and why you enjoy playing the drum. There are many reasons, but taiko drumming is different than other drumming in than the beat is your soul. So your soul echoes to your listener.
Once a year you go back to Japan to visit your family homestead and to see your family and friends who still live there. What made you choose to live in Maine rather than stay or return to Japan? I’m a first-generation immigrant, and all my immediate family lives here. If I didn’t live in Maine, I might have gone back. But Maine is my home now. I can do so many things here. At my age in Japan, I would just stay home and garden. Here I can climb, I can grow shiitakes. But most importantly, my family is here.
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