Woop woop! I’m still alive!!! Sorry for the looooong time away! I’ve been a busy bee and even though I’ve had some time off here and there, that time has been spent face down in my bed.
So, let’s start off by saying that we have finally launched our website for the guided private tours we will do here in Minamioguni! Check it out!
And on that note, at the end of last month, we invited three visitors who came all the way from France and Greece to act as test subjects for 4 whole days here in Aso (3 days in Minamioguni)!
Let me introduce our guests! Feel free to skip me to the far left! First, we have Angeliki from Greece, then, Kelly from France, and to the far right Angeliki’s husband Nikola who is born in France but lives together with Angeliki in Greece.
This also happens to be right at the start of our first day together and we are just about to set out on our first adventure. This tour focuses on enjoying the changing scenery of Minamioguni as you bike down the mountain while learning about the culture of this small town.
Blessed with perfect weather we biked surrounded by green meadows and the Japanese pampas grass that dominates the scenery during this time of year. In the distance, you can see the five peaks of the volcano Aso towering proudly. If you look close enough you can even see a hint of the smoke rising from the active crater.
After passing through grasslands and forests we arrive at a small community called Yoshiwara for our first break.
And here, the sweet and beautiful Noriko-san came out to greet us! 😍
After dropping off our bicycles, time to hit the fields and gather some ingredients for our lunch!
This is Noriko-san’s husband, Yukiharu-san! He taught us about the ample art of digging Satoimo from the ground. Satoimo? Well, the closest translation would be something like “village potato”! You find them hidden away beneath those large leaves that you see behind Yukiharu-san.
And here we have Kelly harvesting some fresh spinach!
After gathering our ingredients it was finally time for cooking!
Noriko-san taking the lead, teaching traditional home-cooked Japanese food.
Everyone taking part in, and enjoying, the preparation of our newly picked vegetables!
The finishing touch in any Japanese dish is, of course, the Miso soup!
Voila, today’s menu is:
1. Gameni, chicken stew with burdock, satoimo, carrots, lotus root, etc.
2. Shirae, spinach salad dressed with tofu, white sesame, and white miso
3. Home-made tofu
4. Miso soup
5. Pickled vegetables
6. Fresh rice from this year’s crop
And of course, everything is made from locally sourced vegetables!
Time to set out again!
After lunch, we leisurely keep biking down the mountain, stopping and exploring whatever catches our interest.
Which can be anything from small mysterious shrines by the wayside to some adorable ponies craving our attention. The course continues down into the center of Minamioguni where it finishes at around 6,5 hours.
Since I’m trying to cover many days in one post here I’ll focus on the highlights and take the freedom of jumping straight into day 2!
This time we will head into the mountains!
More specifically, the forest! Our second tour which has been featured slightly on the blog before zoom in on the theme of forestry. Minamioguni has a deep history of forestry, especially growing Cedar trees. But the situation is complicated, and the forestry industry faces many challenges.
The first person who will teach us about this during the tour is the head of the forestry association in Minamioguni, Sato-san.
Together, Sato-san and I cooperate to teach the in’s and out’s of how you fell a tree and explain why felling trees are actually an important part of protecting and keeping the forest healthy.
After that, we use that same tree to create simple log constructions in the forest.
For example, we might create something like this little log table where we enjoy a break and some hot coffee enveloped by the relaxing atmosphere of the forest.
After having worked up an appetite through our forest adventures we head to our next destination to restock on energy!
Akio-san and Haruko-san, my favorite couple in Minamioguni!
As expected, our guests were blown away by their heartwarming hospitality and the amazingly tasty local home-made food! And as always when you visit Haruko-san and Akio-san at Irifune, you will gain a couple of kilos and literally roll out of the restaurant.
For the second part of our forestry tour, we visit the local lumbermill run by the Anai family. This is Rina-san and Shunsuke-san, they are some of the first people I had the pleasure of getting to know in Minamioguni and they cheered me on while I tried to apply for my working visa so I’m very happy to collaborate with them in this tour!
Shunsuke-san takes us on a small tour of the lumbermill talking about their feelings towards forestry, this town, and of course, explaining about the process that turns a tree into lumber.
After this, we head to their small workshop where Rina-san introduces one way to bring new value to the local forestry. They do this by making aroma oil from the needles of the cedar tree that otherwise only go to waste or might even damage the vegetation of the forest floor.
This oil which contains the wonderful fragrant of cedar can be used for many things. One is to make these very fashionable aroma candles!
Which we, of course, try out as well! This activity is fun, creative, and interactive. Our three adventurers became very focused on their tasks as they used dried flowers and such to design their personal candles which they then get to bring with them home.
On to our final day! And this time the theme is water!
Water is plentiful in Kumamoto and Aso! There are tons of natural springs that produce crystal clean mineral water around Aso. Thanks to a very intricate and fascinating water system Aso provides over a million people with their drinking water solely from groundwater. This water is the foundation for life in Aso and it seeps into every aspect of life here. Oh, and the water is good for posing as well!
Anyway! What better place to start a water-themed tour than the idyllic Tateiwa suigen which hosts one of the river sources for the longest river in Kyushu!
This natural water spring produces an overwhelming 380 tons of water every day and is protected and maintained by the 13 households that live in its vicinity.
To start off our exploration of this area we see what the water god has in store for us through water fortune-tellings. Dip the sheets in the water and watch as the words magically appear!
Keep exploring! We walk along rice fields enjoying the rural landscapes.
Capture some fish for our lunch at one of the local’s house.
Learn more about the water of Aso as we walk through the serene moss-covered nature.
After a while, we meet up with another local, the lovely Tamiyo-san. She teaches us about vegetables and lets us pick some more ingredients for our lunch.
Everything from salad…
…to root vegetables and even peanuts! It’s a great feeling to get down and dirty in the earth and pick your own food!
After having explored and gathered all the ingredients we need for a plentiful lunch it’s time for a Japanese local cooking-school!
The result, a feast fit for a king! There was so much food that it was nearly impossible to finish it all! But our hands just seemed to keep shoving food into our mouths until our stomaches were on the verge of bursting!
And here we have three happy visitors enjoying everything from newly harvested rice, salad, newly caught fish, tempura fried vegetables, local traditional soup, dengaku and much much more!
And here is our team of travelers together with our local hosts who help to make these awesome experiences possible!
After a short stop by a hot spring, we continue to pursue the truth behind these tasty looking shrooms!
This is Shiitake grown on natural wood!
And this shiitake is grown right here at Shimojo mushroom garden!
And the young mastermind behind all of this and our host for our final stop is none other than Shimojo Ryosuke-san.
Ryosuke-san teaches us about the process of growing shiitake mushrooms on natural wood. This is the original method of growing shiitake but in modern Japan, it actually only covers about 7 % of the total shiitake production as most shiitake today is grown on artificial wood.
You might wonder what shiitake mushrooms have to do with water? Apart from the fact that a steady supply of water is a necessity to grow shiitake on natural wood, Ryosuke-san also uses water very innovatively to accomplish something normally impossible. But for more on that, you need to come and visit and see for yourself!
After learning about the fascinating and long process that leads to these plump and flavorful looking mushrooms bursting out from the trees we, of course, need to do some tasting!
And Ryosuke-san is always quick to bring out one of these small grills called shichirin! According to Ryosuke-san, charcoal-grilled shiitake with a bit of soy sauce on is the best way to enjoy the flavor. And I have to say that I agree!
We had a day 4 as well where we went around major tourist spots in the Aso area checking out the volcano, the caldera(see the first pic), famous waterfalls, and other goodies as well but I won’t go into that now! This post is long enough as it is!
But let me end with this picture that Kelly took during their ride to the airport.
Our visitors were very lucky with the weather. They even got to finish their visit with the sight of the sun rising over this stunning sea of clouds!
With that said, I want to thank our three guests for coming all the way here! They were on a tight schedule and had not much time for relaxation after their long flight. In spite of that, they took part in the tours wholeheartedly, not only enjoying the contents as guests but also by giving a lot of helpful and insightful feedback. Thanks to all their feedback we can improve the tours we provide here even further to ensure that visitors have the best experience possible.
But more than anything, it was simply great to get to know all three of you! All of you are amazing and inspiring people and I really feel blessed to have met you!
Kelly, Angeliki, Nikola, thank you for 4 wonderful days!
I hope to see you soon again!