Hello! Did I scare you? I hope not! Anyhow, I might be a bit under the weather this weekend but that won’t stop me from sharing this beautiful face with the world! As I mentioned last time I have a ton of stuff to share from last week so I’ll continue the report in this post. Oh, and I should warn you! A flood of pictures is rapidly approaching so brace yourself. Since there are many pictures this time I’ll present them a few at the time! Enjoy!
Do you remember this green jacket and that handsome face? It is my mentor, teacher, and master in all guide related, the one the only, Mori Seita-san! In January I visited Mori-san in Shiga and took part in his tours while learning and absorbing the tricks of the trade. This time he was kind enough to pay me a visit right here in Minamioguni from 12-14 of February. Does the title of the post start making sense now? This time I showed Mori-san around in Minamioguni and got his valuable insight into a few of the different places I have found and fallen in love with since moving here. Disclaimer, I’m far from any master and doing this also made me realize how much more I need to study and learn to be able to accomplish what Mori-san does on a daily basis.
Anyway, Mori-san and my colleague Ichihara-san arrived quite late in Minamioguni, around 15:30 so the first day wasn’t that eventful. A quick stop by Kurokawa onsen since it’s a must for any first-timers. Then we enjoyed watching the sun setting over the beautiful never-ending grass fields of the Se no Moto plateau before heading towards our lodging for the night. Which happened to be Irifune, the place I introduced in my last update.
A frosty and crisp February morning greeted us as we woke up, the sun was shining and barely a cloud in the sky so nothing to complain about. We went for a quick morning stroll to pay our respects to the Konpira-sugi, the 1200-year-old Japanese cedar tree that I mentioned last time. As we were leaving we couldn’t find Haruko-san and the schedule was tight so Mori-san had to settle for a commemorative two-shot with Akio-san. He seems happy anyway!
The first main destination of the day was a place called Tateiwa suigen. This is one of my favorite places in Minamioguni! Feels like I say that about everything lately, but it’s true! So what makes this place so special? Well, first, let me tell you about a river. It’s a pretty long one. About 143 kilometers which make it the longest river in Kyushu stretching through 4 different prefectures. And guess what, one of the major river sources and origins of this river is right here in Tateiwa suigen. This makes the water incredibly clean and tasty and you can find rare things such as wild wasabi and watercress which you only will find in the cleanest of waters. And of course, with clean water comes, clean people? No, but seriously, the people who live in this area are super friendly! They also have these awesome polytunnels, usually used for gardening, but here designed to make you feel like you’re in a secret hideout. In here they arrange parties, food events, galleries or just hang out when they need to relax for a moment!
Oh, sorry, I forgot! The name of the river is Chikugo river!
Next, we did a spontaneous stop by a place called Suzume Jigoku! Cue eerie music!… Oh, you wonder what suzume jigoku means? It means… Sparrow hell!! Now cue eerie music!
This is actually a place where geo-thermally heated water (heated underground by molten rocks and such) is being pushed up through the earth’s crust so you can actually see the hot water bubbling up from the ground. The spooky name comes from the fact that smaller animals, such as sparrows, that breathe in the volcanic gas which contains sulfurous acid and comes out with the bubbles have been found dead on numerous occasions. The pictures might not make you gasp in exhilaration but it’s actually pretty cool when you see it.
And if that didn’t satisfy you, there is always the stunning view from Hirano observatory close by!
Moving on! Here we visited a place called FIL studio which is run by two of the nicest people I have met, Rina-san and Shunsuke-san. Rina-san and Shunsuke-san were two of the first people I met when I came to Minamioguni for the first time last year. In their studio, they use Oguni cedar to create everything from aroma candles to high-class furniture. They are so passionate and caring in the work that they do, and something that always shines through to me is how much they think of the people in their surrounding. I could write a lot more but maybe I should save that for a different post. This time Rina-san taught us how to make some beautifully decorated and nice smelling aroma-candles with oil made from the leaves of Oguni cedar. So fun and inspiring!
The last destination for day 2 and our lodging for the night. This is a place called Gonbee Mura, “mura” meaning “village”. This was actually my first time staying here as well and I can only describe it as a wonderful experience. Yukiharu-san and Noriko-san provide one of the most complete lodging services if you want to experience the Japanese countryside. Here you can stay in either a normal tatami-room or in a more camping style. They even have tents set up inside a polytunnel. But what really makes this feel so cozy is the fire! “Fire?”, you might ask! Most everything is done with wood and open fire. Cooking the rice? Yep, it’s firewood! Time to eat, let’s open the middle of the dinner table and make an open fire to cook our food! Oh, you want to have a bath before bed? Yes, It is heated through open fire as well! I could never have imagined that it felt so good to be cooked alive!
Oh, and one last thing that made this fantastic experience perfect was that Yukiharu-san and Noriko-san sat with us and ate and drank together which made all of us feel right at home!
The last day! Time flies fast, to say the least. As you can see this time we jump straight into a full-on farming experience which was made possible by the help of my friend and haiku-teacher, Kita Chizuru-san. She and her husband are, as most people here, so nice and sweet. Chizuru-san has also invited me to different events and treated me so kindly and for that, I am forever grateful.
They are full-time farmers and their vegetable fields are located beautifully on a slightly elevated high-ground. This gives you a superb and soothing view of the rural Japanese landscapes as you pick tasty and fresh veggies straight from the ground. This is true therapy for the heart.
We also picked Shiitake mushrooms and used this awesome potato-peeling wheel, imoguruma. You put in the potatoes, lower it down into the river, then the water and the rotation of the wheel will peel and wash your potatoes at the same time. I only wish we would have had this back in Sweden for all those midsummer-parties where you had to prepare a million potatoes. I still have nightmares about it sometimes…
After we finished gathering and preparing all the ingredients we did the cooking together as well. And lastly, of course, we ended the experience by sharing this great feast together!
It is truly a special feeling when you not only prepare the food, but you actually harvest the ingredients directly as well. It gives a strange sense of satisfaction to see with your own eyes where the ingredients come from. All in all, it took about 3 hours but it was so much fun that it felt like it was over in a heartbeat. And the food was delicious as well.
The last activity during Mori-san’s visit to Minamioguni was a light bicycle tour with a friend of mine, Hashimoto Kota-san. Here we have another extremely open and friendly person. When Kota-san meets someone for the first time it feels like his spontaneous reaction is to run up and give them a big hug. The first time I met Kota-san it felt more like a reunion with a childhood friend. Since I moved here I think he is the one who has called out to me the most suggesting that we do things together and such. It really means a lot when you are new somewhere! Thank you! But enough with my love-letter to Kouta-san.
More than anything he is a fantastic guide and it’s an unbeatable feeling to cruise through the old buildings and lush nature of Minamioguni on a bicycle, all while Kouta-san makes you both laugh and wonder as he teaches you about everything you pass on the way.
Okay, I’m done! So much writing and I even did my best to keep it to a minimum. It was so great to have Mori-san visiting here and it felt like I learned so much in this short time. Not only by having Mori-san here and gaining his perspective on Minamioguni but also by actually planning and being in charge of this visit and everything that happened during it. I definitely still have a lot to learn, both knowledge and experience-wise, but it was really fun and I think it will get even more fun the more I learn. Mori-san, thank you so much for coming all the way here and I look forward to seeing you again soon. And more than anything, a big big big thanks to everyone who helped out and welcomed us during these 3 days! Wouldn’t have been possible without all of you. Lots of love!