Hello!! Happy Sunday!
In lack of better pictures to start off this post, I’ll share another beautiful selfie of me and my partner-in-crime Koko!
Today I will touch on a subject that I surprisingly haven’t delved all that deep into on the blog yet. Namely, Kurokawa Onsen! Obviously, I have mentioned Kurokawa Onsen since it’s the major reason that people visit Minamioguni but let me do a quick introduction anyways!
Kurokawa Onsen is a hot spring area in Japan that year after year is rewarded with high ratings as one of the best onsen towns in Japan. The area consists of around 24 Japanese traditional inns located in a picturesque mountain valley with a flowing river passing calmly through this small utopia. What makes Kurokawa Onsen so attractive is the efforts that have been made to preserve the natural and traditional atmosphere without large concrete buildings and hotels that often disturb the landscape in many other resort towns. The entire area of Kurokawa Onsen is made up by a mindful mix of wood, stone, earth, and lush overflowing nature that change its colors depending on the season creating a dynamic environment. But it’s not only the environment. The values of Kurokawa Onsen seem to be imbued with a sense of solidarity and unity that has been nurtured through common struggles and efforts through its history. Kurokawa Onsen’s history is quite a good story as well but I’ll save that for another time!
With that said, yesterday I took part in Kurokawa Onsen’s Morning picnic!
The Kurokawa Morning Picnic is one of many events that Kurokawa Onsen arrange throughout the year. Yesterday’s picnic was the first of five to be held through June to October. As you can see in the amazing video (don’t skip it, not even 2 minutes and worth every second!) above the concept is simple. A collaboration between local farmers/chefs and Kurokawa Onsen that utilize the staggering nature and soothing landscapes of Minamioguni. But yesterday’s picnic turned out to be quite a different experience. Incidentally, the opening event of this years Morning Picnic happened to aline with the start of the rainy season. And oh yes, the rain fell fiercely and without mercy! But luckily enough there was a plan B that was good enough to make the rain feel like a blessing.
Welcome to Gonbe village! Gonbe village, which I have also mentioned previously on the blog, is a very idyllic home owned by two of the most wonderful people who don’t only offer bed & breakfast-style lodging but also have re-made the mountain in the backyard to a huge camping area that attracts many visitors. The ability to choose between staying in the beautiful wooden main-building or sleeping closer to nature is one big attraction. But to be honest, wherever you choose to sleep, the warmth and hospitality combined with the surrounding lovely rural landscapes make a visit an unforgettable experience! So as you might notice, I’m a fan!
The day started off as Japanese as it can get! Before breakfast, we got to sit down on the second floor of Gonbe village for some morning entertainment. Sipping away at a locally made organic blend of rose and lavender herb tea beneath the very atmospherical thatched grass roof as you listen to the gentle patter of the rain outside was simply wonderful.
What made it even better and even more Japanese was that Noriko-san and Yukiharu-san, the owners of Gonbe village, performed the classic Japanese art of ‘Kamishibai’. This literally means ‘paper drama’ and is performed by holding up pictures and reading a story. The text corresponding to the picture currently being shown is written on the picture closest to the storyteller. When you have finished reading and move the picture in the front to the back, you will have the next piece of the story corresponding to the new picture being shown. You get the picture (pun intended)!
It was great to sit together and feel how kids and adults alike were drawn closer and being absorbed by the old mythological stories of Japan that was told with so much feeling and passion by Noriko-san.
Oh, and according to legend, the beautiful hand-made pictures are actually drawn by a secret unknown artist who works at city hall!
After the performance, it was time for the main event!
A beautifully arranged buffet with nothing but the best local delicacies prepared with the utmost care! Start off by grabbing your picnic basket and a wooden plate made from Oguni cedar. Yes, even the plates are home-grown! The basket contains freshly baked bread made from local wheat and homemade natural yeast, homemade dipping sauces, dressings, and jam! Oh, and not to forget, yogurt made of local high-quality milk from Jersey kettle.
After that, you are free to grab a colorful artwork of organic veggies freshly picked from the garden! You can eat these veggies just as they are and you will be brought to tears by how tasty they are. Then imagine that in combination with those home-made dressings and dipping sauces in the picnic basket! Or why not throw the bread on the grill outside for a moment and make a yummy vegetable sandwich? The possibilities are endless but every combination is bound to be a ticket straight to food heaven!
And would it be Kurokawa Onsen without an ‘onsen egg’? Yes, it’s actually an egg that has been boiled through the use of naturally heated hot spring water! I’m not sure if this actually affects the taste but it sure tasted fabulous!
And here we have my complete set! Don’t miss the potatoes and sausages straight from the grill at the bottom left of the picture! Very, very, very yummy! To be honest, there were sooo many delicious-looking things to eat that I had a hard time knowing where to start! So I started by taking some pictures!
My neighbor Miyako-san, who also happened to be at the event, looks confused at me wondering why the hell I’m taking pictures instead of eating… Well, fair enough, but I’ve got a blog to write… But still, I must say that sitting outside safely under a roof slowly enjoying a luxurious breakfast and good company as the rain pours down all around you was quite the magical experience. Of course, a picnic outside surrounded by wide-open nature and beautiful green landscapes is amazing. But this was different, a rare experience bringing about a cozy atmosphere that made people who had just met huddle together a bit closer. And all of this, thanks to the rain!
And I even made some new friends, you see that woman in white looking at me like I’m a crazy person? She is currently living abroad but came back to Japan to stay at her friend’s place while doing a project. The friend, which is sitting to the right of her, is living in the neighboring town and turned out to be a master of… Katsuobushi! And what the hell is that? Have you ever tried Okonomiyaki?
Looks familiar? If it does, then you probably also know those thin pink flakes that are used as the final topping and keep wiggling about on top of the Okonomiyaki. That is Katsuobushi!
Katsuobushi, as I learned, is actually fermented, dried, and smoked Tuna which is then shaved to create the thin flakes.
And in her handbag, of course, she carried a piece of Katsuobushi and the wooden instrument necessary to shave the not-very-fish-looking fish. Like a true master, ready at any moment to spread the joy of freshly shaven Katsuobushi to the world! This turned out to be quite hard but also very fun! Before we knew it everyone around us had tried the process resulting in enough badly shaved Katsuobushi to last a not so picky person at least a week.
I even got a bit of cool trivia about Katsuobushi. Apparently, once fermented, dried, and smoked, the tuna won’t rot or go bad for at least 100 years! Bam!
With that said, Kurokawa Onsen’s morning picnic isn’t only an event where you can enjoy fantastic organic and locally made food in a wonderful atmosphere regardless of the weather. Kurokawa Onsen’s morning picnic is also an event where you can meet new friends and learn new things! At least if you are lucky enough to end up sitting next to a master of Katsuobushi.
And I can proudly say that I managed to finish it all and was so full and satisfied that I lasted all the way until dinner!
I hope more people take the chance to partake in this lovely initiative by Kurokawa Onsen to involve and share more of the endless charm that Minamioguni has to offer! This year the remaining events will be held on the 27th of July, 31st of August, 28th of September and 19th of October. For more information check out: https://www.kurokawaonsen.or.jp/eng_new/
A big thanks to everyone involved who made my Saturday morning into the best rainy Saturday morning I could’ve ever imagined! And I definitely want to experience the sunny version as well so who knows, maybe I’ll see you there!
And with that, I check out for this week!
Until next time!