Hello!! Max reporting in from Minamioguni!
Do you know what this is? This is a Japanese confectionary known as Yomogi mochi and it has nothing to do with the title of this week! At least almost nothing. But before that, some of you might have noticed the lack of a post from last week?
Well, that was thanks to this little angel sleeping so sweetly and innocently on my belly. Which for the record has become very soft and nice since moving to Minamioguni. The belly by the way, not the cat.
Last Sunday I fully intended to update the blog after finishing my Sunday choirs. But that is when little miss Koko-chan who isn’t only sweet but also smart, somehow managed to open a small gap in the sliding doors that face the garden. Without consulting with me about dinner time or anything she left the security of the nest and headed out for adventures in the big wide world. I was fairly surprised and 100% in panic when I got home from the store to find the house empty. After a good 4-5 hours of diligent searching, I found about 10 rough-looking stray cats (that didn’t ease my concern) but not a single trace of Koko-chan. As it got dark I had no choice but to give up before some neighbor would call the police on me for sneaking around calling out “Koko-chan” in peoples backyards in the middle of the night. When I went to bed I left the gap in the door open and, believe it or not, just before 2 am a hungry Koko-chan burst into the house throwing herself over the cat food. There is nothing else to say then, thank god! But now she has gotten quite the taste for adventures and confused herself for an outdoor cat. Maybe it’s best to let her be outside as well? Hmmm… What to do…
Anyway, since two weeks have passed I will give you a few highlights! To start it off, the other day I had the opportunity to get a peek into the world of making Miso! Yes, the paste that is used as the base when making that delicious Miso soup we all enjoy to slurp down together with our sushi!
I was invited to help out/learn from a true Miso master, Sumako-san! The lovely lady in checks to the right! Sumako-san has so much character and energy that it almost feels like sparks fly in the air around her. Sumako-san has made Miso for many years and is a certified maker so her products are first class. There is only one problem… Her dialect is so thick that many Japanese people, let alone a poor half-fledged foreigner like myself, have a hard time keeping up with what she is saying. So I can’t really claim to truly have absorbed all the secrets of her Miso paste. Yet…
But I did get really good at kneading Miso into a bucket! And I did pick up some things though! Miso is made from soybeans often mixed with rice or some other sort of grain. The fermentation process is started through using a rice mold known as koji. Which for the record also is used when making Japanese liquor such as sake and shochu. The mixed soybeans, grains and salt are passed through a grinder turning it into a paste that you then have to pack tightly before leaving to ferment in a cool place. How long do you leave it? 6 months!! :O Remember to plan ahead if you plan on making your own Miso! I look forward to enjoying the Miso we made in… what? Like early October I guess?
But after all our efforts you kind of want something you can eat at once right? That is why we also made the above mentioned, Yomogi mochi!
Mochi is a very classic type of Japanese sweets made from rice and often filled with red sweet bean paste. The texture of the mochi itself is soft and slightly sticky and it fits really well with the sweet and nice red bean paste that you bake into it. This type is called Yomogi mochi thanks to the plant Yomogi which is used to give the rice cake its green color. So nice to eat it freshly made since the mochi is still warm which is quite unusual!
Finally, we finished off with a “simple”(read: super-tasty-and-anything-but-simple) lunch that Sumako-san threw together. I can’t stress enough how this is exactly the kind of experiences I wish to provide through my work and hope to share with different people from around the world. There is so much knowledge and fantastic people here and it is truly a privilege to be able to grow through coming into contact with them.
Next! Last year in February when I came to Minamioguni for the first time I heard that all the trees planted along the small river that passes through the town are actually cherry blossom trees. This is an actual picture I took at the time.
I can still clearly remember the feeling of excitement and uneasiness at the dream that slowly started to take shape as I watched these naked trees lining up along the river. As much as I wanted to hope and believe in this work opportunity and the possibility to live in this place, I also made sure not to get my hopes up in fear of disappointment. But from the bottom of my heart, I always wished that I would be able to relocate here and experience a proper hanami(=flower viewing, as it is called in Japan when you enjoy the blooming sakura with friends or family) by this river, under these trees.
And miraculously, one year later…
Somehow I managed to end up right here. Right under the blooming sakura. And I’m not alone either!
I have made more friends than I could ever have imagined and I feel so blessed to be able to fulfill this small dream of mine together with all these amazing people! I could not have imagined a better hanami than this! Here are some more pictures I shared on Instagram the other day.
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect day than this one. And a bonus that shows of how amazing Minamioguni is, as we were walking home from the hanami we met some friends just in the middle of preparing a BBQ in the garden of their house by the river. And of course, they invited us to join so a friend and I stayed and kept the party going. The perfect ending to a perfect day. Thanks to everyone who made it possible!
The last highlight for this time is actually from yesterday. There is this place known as FIL which is a studio that uses the local Oguni cedar to produce furniture, aroma and other products. The first people I met when I came to Minamioguni last year was the owners of FIL, Shunsuke-san, and Rina-san. They don’t only run FIL but they also run a respected sawmill and play an important role in promoting and supporting the forestry of Mt. Aso. Since I want to delve deeper into forestry I asked them to let me help out at the sawmill or with anything else that could help me learn more.
And nice as they are, they allowed a complete beginner like me to help out! Even though I’m probably more in the way than helping out at this point. So what did I get to do?
It was a day full of new experiences! Everything from felling this tree…
…to getting to learn how to operate forest machinery…
…to go to this towering elegant forest…
…to pick up some lumber that will be cut into planks at the sawmill. And finally…
…to help out with some good old wood-stacking back at the sawmill!
I even found a chainsaw from good old Husqvarna making me feel reminiscent of my beloved and missed home country Sweden!
Yet another fantastic day full of new experiences including everything from how to operate a crane to how to tie the best knot when you need to strap a whole tree’s worth of branches to the back of a truck. Once again this is a perfect example of what I wish the tours I will conduct here to be like. The contents itself doesn’t need to be all that special or well-produced, it might sound strange, but I truly believe that the opportunity to jump into the real everyday life of people here is the ultimate experience. At least that is what I have felt as of lately!
It is getting late here so I will settle here for now!
I hope you enjoyed this post!
See you soon!