Kurokawa Onsen Morning Picnic! In the rain!

Okategoriserade

Hello!! Happy Sunday!IMG_0329
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.

DSC07995
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!

DSC07958
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.

DSC07962.JPG
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!
DSC07970
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.
DSC07975
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!

DSC07971
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!

DSC07981
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!

DSC07987
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!

DSC07988
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?
https://www.instagram.com/p/BzFMvlOBT82/

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.

DSC07990
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!

DSC07989
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.

IMG_0328
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!

Love,

Max

 

Gardening for dummies

Okategoriserade

DSC07906
Hello and good evening! Max here, or at least my dirty feet… What happened here? Why do my feet look like I’ve been living in the wilderness for the entire week? Well, you might have guessed it from the title and header but once again I’ve decided to challenge a part of life in rural Japan head-on, the hard way, and even if not a total failure, I guess calling it a success would be quite the overstatement. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

First things first, I have this little charming garden where I often spend lunch brakes and mornings on my days off.IMG_9276
Nice right? It hasn’t been tended to for many years though since my home has been empty for quite some time. In this picture, the charming old grass-cutter-man (↓) living in my neighborhood had just decided to cut all the weed for me so in this picture it doesn’t look all too shabby.
IMG_9602のコピー.JPG
By the way, here he is. He is so kind!!! And very talkative! But I don’t understand even half of what he is saying, even so, it’s not rare that we somehow manage to keep a conversation going for 10 minutes or more.

Anyway, lately the lawn looks more like this!IMG_0292
It grows like crazy, and the rainy season has barely even begun so if I’m not careful my beloved sun-bathing-spot will soon be turned into a wild and uncontrollable jungle! And since a friend of mine offered to help me out and start my own little vegetable garden, I thought that the least I could do is lay some groundwork and take this opportunity to step up my garden-game. So what do you do?

You go shopping!
IMG_0295
From the left! Grass fertilizer, lawn soil, the most old-fashioned hand plow you could find, an equally ancient rake and of course, a few bundles of the finest pre-grown lawn your local home store has to offer! No idea if this is the normal way to go about it but this is what I could find!

After that, you grab your ancient tools and start an endless frenetic fight against nature.
DSC07891
Luckily for me, my boss who stayed with me for a few days just got home for his lunch break and decided to lend me a hand!
DSC07887.JPG
But as you soon notice, this is some hard and painful work, especially while slowly being roasted by that big burning fireball in the sky. Whoever came up with that thing?

Even Koko looks skeptically at our slowly progressing struggles knowing better than to step away from the safety of the cool and refreshing shadow.

DSC07897
But if you want a nice garden than there is nothing else to do than keep hacking away at mother earth! So, maybe I should mention why this is necessary? There are tons of stones, weeds, and roots in the ground that you need to clean away. Both to ensure that the grass will be able to sprout its roots down into the earth, but also to make sure that your beautiful lawn won’t be overrun by weed in a second. You should probably aim at plowing the soil to a depth of at least 15-20 centimeters.

Work work! I must have gone over this little strip of land for at least 4-5 times. Probably more! At some point, I stopped counting… But slowly but surely, all my sweat and tears started to reap some results!
DSC07899DSC07905DSC07904DSC07902IMG_0296
IMG_0297
Not too bad right?! Is it only me who feel like crying a bit from seeing this marvelous progress? This is at minimum a good 3 hours of straight plowing with that old hatchet that even the ancient Egyptians had sense enough to stop using…

After we feel satisfied and have flattened the soil a bit with our feet, we can finally start to play with all the weird stuff we bought!DSC07908
Well, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert when I’m actually not so I will be brutally honest and admit that I’m not exactly sure what this is. All I know is that it’s a special magical soil that contains fertilizer and is used to grow lawns.

You spread this out where you want to grow your lawn and then you watch happily as your beloved cat finally decides to help out by flattening the lawn soil.

DSC07911
When done, it should look something like this. You can probably do it more neatly than I did but at this point, I was pretty tired and seeing that light at the end of the tunnel might have made me start cutting some corners. If you want to complain do it after plowing a lawn by hand for 3-4 hours!
64697051_2409210029323828_7541461804359090176_n
Next step is to finally start applying our lawn!

DSC07912
Voila! It looks a bit sloppy? It doesn’t really matter that much apparently! No, this is not only me making excuses! The closer your place them the faster the lawn will flourish but if you want to cover a wide area you can even place them in a check-pattern and in time even the uncovered spots will turn into a beautiful green lawn.

Next item!
DSC07915
On to our next item which, confusingly enough, also is lawn soil… Yes, confusing… This one doesn’t contain fertilizer though. Apparently, this should be applied on a regular basis to prevent dryness, improve sprouting of seeds as well as helping the grass absorb and distribute water.
Spread this over the grass evenly but make sure not to cover it completely!

Lacking better methods I used this spade with holes in it to gracefully spread the soil but I’m sure you can find a better and more professional way to accomplish this task!

And finally! At long last! You get to do the easiest and most satisfying step in the process…64915129_2054036371568448_6383195599499427840_n
Watering that beautiful lawn of yours! Normally this would be it, keep watering and wait for your green paradise to bud and sprout, but not for me, I couldn’t really accept that empty corner to the right… And I felt I had a good flow… So I kept pushing on!!!

DSC07920
I bought myself some pieces to build a wooden deck! And of course, more lawn!

DSC07923
Yeay! Back to plowing again!

Oh… and you might have noticed the problem already?
DSC07925
Yes… They only had 3 pieces of the wooden deck at the local home store so, in the end, I will still have to live a week being haunted by that empty spot as I wait for Komeri to fill up their stock… But seriously, having all of their products in uneven numbers only? They must be out to hurt someones esthetic feelings…

So for now, I will use my non-existent Photoshop skillz and…
fakeitt
Literally, fake it till I make it! But still! It has some potential right? Imagine a little garden of vegetables growing around the lawn and a grill to arrange some sweet BBQ’s!! Psyched!

All’s well that ends well!… Or??? By now, maybe someone has reacted to my unfitting choice of clothes for garden work? Well… Apart from blisters and bruises on my hands, aching pain in all my muscles, I also noticed after finishing up that my legs are a… Well… It is probably quicker to have a look…

Yes! A bloody mess! This is most likely the result of me being attacked by every insect that was living peacefully in my garden until I suddenly decided to go berzerk on their eco-system with a weapon of mass destruction. Well, I can’t blame them… But wow, it itches… a lot…

So what do you do when your body feels like a piece of meat that has been pounded for hours, your hands are covered in dirt-filled blisters, your body is over-heated from hours of hard work in the sun, your legs have suffered the vengeance of innumerable unknown bloodthirsty insects?

You go to Piero and refill with some high-carb food and ice cold beer! Makes it all worth it!
But don’t be deceived, there was further suffering awaiting me right around the corner. At 3 o’clock in the night, I woke up with a strange fever, probably the result of a light heatstroke… Couldn’t sleep for another 2-3 hours. I’m telling you, garden work is dangerous and painful! Tread with care and don’t repeat my mistakes!!

Well, that will do for now, I hope you enjoyed following my pain and my struggles! And, for the record, I’m all fine now so don’t worry!

See you next week!

Sincerely,

Max

Veggies, Meat, and vast Grasslands!

Okategoriserade

IMG_0085
Hello!! Max here being mounted by my delightful but slightly bossy owner Koko! Today will be a shorter but nonetheless pleasant post. I actually just got back from a very nice and delicious BBQ-lunch in the middle of the vast grasslands (sougen/草原) of Mt. Aso and thought I’d share some pictures.

The mastermind behind this genius idea is..

Aneco!! Aneco is an organization that aims to spread the joy of enjoying high-quality food while being immersed in the vast and beautiful landscapes of Mt. Aso. And their specialty is nothing other than BBQ which caters perfectly to my Swedish heart!

IMG_0184
The place for today’s feast was right next to the impressive Komezuka which is a beautifully shaped cinder cone with a history of around 2000 years. A cinder cone is what you call a formation born through pyroclastic fragments such as ash and cinder building up around a volcanic vent. Symbolically, the perfect place for a BBQ!

IMG_0151
It can be complicated to arrange a good BBQ abroad since you don’t have any equipment right? The best thing here is that you don’t need to bring anything except a good mood and an empty stomach! Everything isn’t just prepared for you, it’s prepared with unbeatable class and style! I can even brag that the wooden plates are produced using Oguni cedar right here in Minamioguni.

IMG_0154
Oh, and if you didn’t notice it in the last picture there are even hammocks prepared for anyone who needs a calm place to digest the food! Or alcohol?
Speaking of alcohol…
IMG_0182
They also had this new specially designed Kirin beer featuring the artwork of a local painter and his depiction of Kusa Senri in Mt. Aso. Written to the left is Kumamoto’s new slogan. The slogan is actually a pun so, of course, I have to try and translate it even though it’s doomed to fail miserably. Here we go,  “More, mooore! KumaMO(RE)to!”… Okay, it was silly of me to even try… Anyway, the beer is available to buy from the 18th of June so make sure to check it out!

IMG_0157
Let’s move on to the main event! A Weber kettle grill is a familiar and soothing sight for many Swedish people as it probably is the major way of preparing food during the summer months.

And what do we have hiding inside??IMG_0150
Different delicious parts of the Aso specialty, Aka beef. And to accompany it, an array of locally produced beautiful vegetables. All of it giving off a wonderful appetizing smell that made me feel sorry for any non-participators passing within a kilometer of our little camp!

IMG_0169
Today’s participators (minus me taking the picture)! 5 hungry guys who gathered from different parts of Kumamoto to enjoy some good conversation, staggering scenery, AMAZING food, and….. non-alcoholic beer… Well, you can’t have it all!

IMG_0163
Let the feasting begin!!!

IMG_0167
Carefully and beautifully arranged right before your eyes, just enough so that you can enjoy it newly cut and smoking hot! But more than anything, the taste!!! Perfectly grilled, perfect amount of smokiness, sooo tender and wow, the seasoning was out of this world!

IMG_0173
Did you feel a bit worried about the size of the portion? Don’t worry I think I had my plate refilled at least 4-5 times with new veggies and meat. This way you get to enjoy different cuts of meat and they make sure that the last part of your meal doesn’t get cold while eating. I guarantee that no one will leave an Aneco-BBQ with an unsatisfied stomach. Actually, when I thought the food-part was over, they even brought out tacos for dessert!

Oh, and there was one final surprise as well…

 

 

 

The possibility to enjoy a bird-perspective of Mt. Aso, Komezuka and the fresh grassy meadows stretching out in all directions as you are being tucked away closely in one of those cozy hammocks. A very nice finishing touch utilizing the evergrowing power of drone technology! Truly felt like flying!

Well well, as I said, a shorter post this time! But I had a great time during this 2-3 hour event. And for the cheap price of 3000 yen (less than 30 dollars), I would say it’s a bargain! Thanks to the nice people of Aneco for their wonderful hospitality and thanks to my fellow participators for making this a fantastic Sunday lunch!

Anyone who wants to know more about Aneco and their events should check out their webpage (only in Japanese though!): https://aneco.jp/

Thank you as always for reading, it means a lot to me! Until next time!

Sincerely,

Max

Captain of the sea, Magne in Minamioguni!

Okategoriserade

IMG_0063
Hello friends, family and other readers who might have happened to find their way to my world of slow living, Max here getting all steamed up and cozy!

This time I will share some pictures and words from a rather unexpected visit. A captain of the sea from my neighboring country of Norway happened to be stranded in Minamioguni for a couple of days and since news travels fast in this small town of mine, circumstances led me to have the pleasure of showing him around for a day!

Let me introduce him! This is Magne!
S__462635015
Magne is 69 years old, born in Norway but a traveler and adventurer by heart. As I mentioned Magne is a man of the sea, tall ship navigator, shipping consultant, and master mariner. Now he is retired but Mange has worked as the captain of cargo ships of different sizes and traveled the world through his work.  This time he came to Japan by plane though!

So, how did Mange end up here and how did we meet? Well, our first meeting looked something like this…
IMG_0009
Yoga! A friend and neighbor of mine (also mother to the cute little thing face-planting the tatami mats next to me in the middle of the picture!) informed me that her friend Etsuko-san, the peaceful woman to the bottom right of the picture, would have a visitor from Norway this weekend. Etsuko-san has also lived abroad for many years, even in Sweden(!), and loves exploring the world. They actually got to know each other at sea as Etsuko-san has worked many times as the chef on Magne’s ships! Yesterday (Saturday) Etsuko-san had to work which led to me and Magne being set up on this blind date. We also managed to find a third participator during the Yoga-session, Akiyo-san who has studied abroad in L.A for about a year! And yes, you can find her in the picture! The pair of feet and grey pants to the top left!
With introductions out of the way, let’s head out!

Destination 1.DSC07712
Tateiwa suigen! I know, I keep coming back to this place but trust me, it’s worth it! For those who might have missed it, this is a place in Minamioguni who hosts one of the major spring sources for the longest river in southern Japan. The clear natural spring water that gushes forth from the ground here is shockingly clear and there is nothing I would rather drink on a hot and humid summer day!

The original idea was to enjoy this spectacular water by having the summer specialty of Tateiwa suigen called ‘Nagashi soumen’, which is cold noodles that you eat straight from flowing water. Like this!

But in life, things tend to not always go as planned. Upon our arrival, we found the restaurant-area, which actually is the inside of a greenhouse, to be locked and lights turned off. I gave a call to a man named Shujiro-san, who is one of the locals in charge of the restaurant, and got the shocking and heartbreaking news that because of the bad weather during the morning they had decided to take a break for the day.

But since we had come out here we decided to ignore the sounds of our tummies crying out their disappointment for a while and take a walk around the area and enjoy the countryside scenery.
DSC07697
But not before checking out my favorite hidden photo gallery which also is inside a greenhouse. Oh, and if you look to the bottom left you can see that this gallery even features the latest and most high-tech of massage chairs!

You might feel worried about us for having to walk on empty stomachs? Then let me ease your fears! A great thing about the countryside is that food tends to appear when you need it the most. As we walked we soon found an unattended sales spot for vegetables along our path!
DSC07701
This is where local people place the vegetables they have grown and you can pick whatever you want as long as you leave 100 yen (1 dollar) a piece. Mange picked out some tasty looking carrots that would have to serve as our appetizer.

DSC07702
A quick wash in the natural spring water…

DSC07704
Dinner is served! I mean… Lunch is served! And if you start feeling thirsty?

DSC07708
Feel free to gulp away straight from the spring!

DSC07710
Or do both at once?

S__462635019Invigorated with new power and new smiles through the mystical mountain water and a few splendid carrots our team of three decided to keep pressing on. And little did we know that our main dish and dessert was waiting just around the next corner!

DSC07716
As we followed our path we suddenly happened to run into the earlier mentioned Shujiro-san. Maybe he felt a bit bad for us since they had closed down the business for the day so he invited us to drop by his house for a moment.

DSC07714
Here Shujiro-san offered us to feast away to our heart’s content at the “Gumi”-berries growing behind his house! I had never heard of this sour-sweet berry before but apparently, it’s translated into “Silverberry”. An unexpected but fun little surprise that further helped to calm the raging storm in our bellies. And look at Magne, like a duck to water!… Get it?? Water! Because he is a ship captain!… Sorry… Moving on!

Our buffet of summer delicacies doesn’t end here though!
IMG_0018
Shujiro-san also decided to peal some bamboo shoots and do a 1-minute BBQ using a hand-held burner! For some reason, I was the only one who had to eat it raw but I heard that the roasted one tasted delicious!

DSC07723
Magne quickly became friends with and got a lot of love and attention from Shujiro-san’s sweet little minions as well!

We might not have gotten quite the experience that we came for, but thanks to the hospitality and kindness of Shujiro-san we got another, more unusual and maybe even better experience! Thank you! When we left Shujiro-san’s place to head towards the beautiful nature of Tateiwa suigen we got recommended a shortcut through Shujiro-san’s rice fields.

DSC07729
Which also turned out to be quite the lovely little stroll!! And if you are wondering what’s catching Akiyo-san and Mange’s attention?… Well, look closer!
DSC07727
???DSC07733
Can you see them?? It turns out that the rice fields also serve a second purpose as a mini-safari!

Finally, we arrived by the river stream that passes through and nurtures the lush nature of Tateiwa suigen. Here we got to thoroughly enjoy this moss-covered and blooming natural paradise.DSC07740

DSC07738

S__462635025
Magne who is a great nature-lover and Akiyo-san who came to Tateiwa suigen for the first time were both very pleased with the tranquil atmosphere and natural beauty that is so typical and plentiful in this little rural oasis. Strongly recommended on hot summer days since the altitude and the fresh spring water keeps the humidity at bay! You get it?… Bay! Since Magne is a… I’ll just stop… Moving on!

After leaving Tateiwa we finally headed for a very late lunch! But we had to take a quick stop and show Magne the hot spring known to be the most embarrassing in Japan! DSC07744
As you might notice it is sitting in the river next to a frequently used road in the middle of a normal residential area. And NO!! Bathing clothes are not allowed!

IMG_0025
Finally, we got to settle down for a very much needed break! For a vegetarian like Magne, there is no other restaurant that I would rather recommend than Kaze no Mori which I have mentioned here before. And a day like this one, the lovely terrace and the possibility to eat outside just make Kaze no Mori all the more ideal!
IMG_0022
Where else can you let yourself be soothed by the idyllic view of the rice fields being plowed while enjoying your lunch? I would have loved to share some pictures of the food but in all honesty, I was so hungry that when the thought of taking pictures crossed my mind, every single bit of delicious seasonal vegetable was already digesting firmly in the depths of my tummy.

After a nice lunch, we went to burn some calories!

The calm and healing forests of Tateiwa is one aspect of the nature that Minamioguni has to offer. Another is the vast and breathtaking grass-plain of Se no Moto Kougen! No better place to go for an afternoon ride!

IMG_0037IMG_0040IMG_0042
Apart from the stunning landscapes, would you like to know what the best thing is? The bicycles are electric! Which makes it possible for even the most out-of-shape beer-lover and fried food-maniac (like me!) to ride with the pros and enjoy both uphill and downhill!

S__462635018The post will end around here even though the day didn’t! After this point, I guess I got so swept up by the moment that I forgot to take pictures (You will have to settle for me eating a carrot!). I could write an essay about it but I wouldn’t want to bore anyone. In short, Akiyo-san had to leave for home, Magne and I took the car to the house of a lovely lady called Sumako-san where we enjoyed a fabulous dinner and some after-dark firefly sightseeing. Then, as you always do, we rounded off the day with a beer at Piero where Magne got swarmed by curious and fairly drunk elderly Japanese men before I managed to evacuate him safely and reunite him with Etsuko-san.

It was great to meet Magne who is such a fascinating person. He has lived a life of traveling and lived in more countries than I can probably even mention. His kind and gentle approach, which I believe is a result of having lived a life of interaction with many different people and cultures, was really inspiring to me. And come one, I can only wish to be in as good shape as Magne is when I’m 69. So happy to get to know a person with such a big heart and such a positive approach to life. Oh, and it was nice, and a bit weird, to be able to use Swedish for more than an hour or so on skype for the first time in over 6 months!

Since Magne is the visitor from abroad, most of the focus of this post has been on him but if it wasn’t for Akiyo-san the day wouldn’t have been as great as it ended up being! It is amazing that the three of us met for the first time, spent an entire day together and it felt like hanging out with old friends! Since Akiyo-san is from and lives here in Minamioguni I look forward to seeing her again soon! And thank you Akiyo-san for sharing some of the great pictures you took!

Wow, this is getting long…

Time to sleep…

Goodn…zzzZ

 

 

Unraveling a few mysteries about Shochu!

Okategoriserade

IMG_9933のコピー.PNG
Hello everyone! Max here enjoying the spring, nature and… whaaat?! A new look to the blog??? And a new name?? Well, I decided to upgrade the blog a bit and with that came an actual domain name. I feel very special! To be honest I spent quite a few sleepless nights desperately trying to come up with a name that would reflect the contents of the blog and at some point, I’m pretty sure I had a panic attack.
For me, the unrivaled upside of living in the countryside is the possibility to live close to nature, enjoy relaxation, human connection and doing mostly nothing at all when I have the chance. In other words, enjoying a slower pace of life. Thus, the name I settled for is, as you can see, “My Slow Living”! I hope you like it as much as I do! 🙂

Anyway, let’s move on to the theme of this post! The Japanese liquor called Shochu, and what makes it different from what we in the West know as “Sake”. IMG_9952.JPG
What we see in this picture is 3 bottles of Shochu. A word that most people outside of Japan and Asia have little familiarity with. Most people in the West would see these bottles and think “aaah Japanese Sake”! Which, in a strange way, is correct while also being dead wrong. In Japan, the word “sake” literally means alcohol and can be used to indicate wine, beer, whiskey, or any form of alcoholic beverage. What the western people call Sake is known as “Nihonshu” which translates to Japanese liquor, but let’s keep calling it Sake because it’s easier! So what is the difference?

(Shochu trivia nr 1. Shochu is actually the most consumed alcohol in Japan after beer!)

スクリーンショット 2019-06-02 20.22.52.pngSake is made fermentation which is achieved by adding koji (a form of rice mold) and yeast to rice. Shochu initially follows a similar process but there is one major difference. In the same way as whiskey and many other stronger liquors, Shochu also goes through distillation. In other words, you boil the liquid to separate alcohol and water, then the alcoholic vapors are cooled back into a liquid form which results in liquor with a higher alcohol percentage. Another major difference is that Shochu doesn’t only use rice as its raw material but is often made from sweet potatoes, barley, and other ingredients. (Picture source)

I might sound really knowledgable with all these information bombs and fancy words I keep dropping but to be honest, it is all new to me as well! Until recently I thought Shochu and Sake were made the same way but Shochu was from China and Sake from Japan (Yes, you can laugh). So how come this sudden interest? Well…
スクリーンショット 2019-06-03 0.51.39.png
Shochu is mostly made in the south part of Japan known as Kyushu. In Kumamoto where I live there is an area known as Hitoyoshi Kuma which is known for its clean and clear water. For this reason, many makers of Shochu have gathered there to utilize the natural environment in their strife toward the best Shochu. This has led to an acknowledged brand of Shochu that uses rice as raw material and is called Kuma-shochu (pronounced kuma-jochu) has emerged.
In this town, at a small Shochu factory called Jufuku is where my interest in Shochu shot straight through the roof. (They are the producer of the middle bottle in the picture above which is called Musha-gaeshi. It is my unrivaled favorite and the Shochu that stole my heart! <3)

The series of events that led me to this factory started with the making of this Kumamoto promotion video.

The team that did the shooting for this video consisted of me and 3 other members. I was mostly there to carry the tripod and provide Viking-power in desperate times though! We arrived in Hitoyoshi Kuma in hope to find a Shochu factory that would participate in the production. And there was one name that kept coming up wherever we asked… Jufuku distillery!
You can see Jufuku distillery at 1:22!

(Shochu trivia nr 2. There is 3.5 times more Shochu produced in Japan than there is Tequila in Mexico!)

DSC01319
Here we have the facade of Jufuku distillery (From here on Jufuku)! Established in 1890 this small distillery is a strict family business that can boast with a history of almost 130 years!

As we entered the first person we met was the proud owner and representative of Jufuku… Kinuko-san!
IMG_9860
This is me and Kinuko-san (and Gon-san with the bottle in the back!) at an event last weekend (I’ll get back to that so don’t worry!). Kinuko-san is one of the most impressive persons I have met. She took over the business and have been running Jufuku and making top-quality Shochu in an era where many women would be criticized and looked down upon for such an endeavor. She has had to handle everything from prejudice to Japanese mafia suddenly bursting into the shop, all while also running a business and being a parent. And what remains at the end of the day is an incredibly warm, cool, funny and wise woman that I respect deeply! Seriously, someone needs to write a book about this woman’s life!!

There is another thing that is special about the Shochu made at Jufuku.IMG_6855
At Jufuku they are very passionate about making everything by hand. The work of preparing and processing the raw material (rice) requires a loooooot of physical labor and many distilleries have thus introduced machines that make the process easier enabling larger batches of Shochu to be made. This is not an option at Jufuku and since they are only two people actually making Shochu at the moment the amount of bottles that can be produced is therefore also limited.

Oh, it seems like I have forgotten to introduce an important player at Jufuku!LRG_DSC01343
Meet Ryota-san! Kinuko-san’s son, the current master brewer at Jufuku, and the living example that making Shochu requires a looooot of strength! (But according to rumor, his bulking body is more a result of regular visits to the gym than the distillery!)

(Shochu trivia nr 3. Historically Shochu was a form of Japanese moonshine with no real aspiration to sell on a broader scale.)

LRG_DSC01385
Even though it was the first time we visited Jufuku, Kinuko-san asked Ryota-san to show us around the distillery. As we listened to Ryota-san talk, his love for Shochu literally beamed out of him and I doubt that anyone can come in contact with his strong passion and not come out on the other side as anything but a dedicated Shochu-lover. 

 

 

 

At Jufuku they don’t only refuse to use machines that would simplify the process out of some old Japanese stubbornness or samurai code of honor or anything like that. It comes from a pure ambition to pour love and respect into every single grain of rice that is used to produce their Shochu.


Every single step of the process is done by hand which makes every single bottle produced into a fine work of art that represents the skill, preference, and emotion of Jufuku distillery.

(Shochu trivia nr 4. The alcohol percentage of Shochu is often around 25% but can go as high as 40% and taste almost like Whiskey.) 


By the way! As you can see, this is not Kinuko-san to the left! Since age makes it tough to keep doing the hard manual labor of brewing Shochu, Ryouta-san’s cousin is now helping out instead. Thanks to him we can keep enjoying wonderful Musha-gaeshi without wearing out Kinuko-san’s body!

LRG_DSC01254
I can still remember clearly how Ryota-san told us how they don’t see the making of Shochu as a simple process of creating a product. At Jufuku they see it as parenting. The mold and yeast used to make alcohol are living beings. Once the fermentation-process begins you can choose to leave it alone and not care for it and as long as it survives the result will be an alcoholic beverage. But it won’t live up to its inherent potential and grow to be the best Shochu it could’ve been. That is why Ryota-san’s job is to provide a good nurturing environment that enables the Shochu to grow and mature into a fine high-quality Japanese Shochu.

LRG_DSC01273
But as many of you know, parenting is hard work! During the brewing process, Ryota-san lives at the factory for half a year, wakes up during the night to control temperatures, wakes up early in the morning regardless of the cold winter season, has no days off, and keeps pouring his utmost into Jufuku and Musha-gaeshi and Japanese Shochu. And the result? Well, you just have to make sure to taste it for yourself! But I can promise you this much, you won’t be disappointed!

There is a lot that could be said on the process of making Shochu but I am no expert so if you want more details you should check out the link I referenced for the sake vs. shochu-picture earlier!

My first visit to Jufuku distillery also led me to another important encounter!
kaminari_04
At the time I still lived in Kumamoto city. When Kinuko-san heard this she quickly recommended the Izakaya concurrently Yakitori restaurant concurrently Shochu bar, Kaminari Sakaba. Which also happened to be so close to where I lived that I could almost place an order while keeping one foot still in the apartment. At least if I shouted… definitely if I called! (Borrowing the picture from the official website!)

Anyhow! Of course, I had to pay a visit! Which led to me getting so hooked that I kept going 1-2 times a week during my time in Kumamoto city.IMG_9841
Here we have Yabe-san! The proud owner and master of Kaminari Sakaba. If Ryota-san is the Luke Skywalker and Kinuko-san is the Ben Kenobi of Shochu, than Yabe-san is none other than Master Yoda himself. He previously lived in Kagoshima working as a brewing master, he has now retired from the front-lines and opened up his small Izakaya in the backstreets of Kumamoto, he doesn’t wag his tail at big business and mainly promotes small Shochu factories that he himself has visited and acknowledged. He is funny, caring, knowledgable and teaches you a lot of things. Oh, and prominent people in the Shochu industry travel from afar to seek his wisdom! I’m telling you, apart from the green skin and ears, this is as close you get to a real-life Master Yoda.

Oh, and he has one skill that Yoda could only dream of…IMG_8037
He makes some of the best Yakitori I have ever tasted!!! ❤ ❤ ❤ And the seasoning goes perfect with Shochu! Just the thought of it brings tears to my eyes… Seriously, I’m crying right now…

So! Finally back to the reason that I decided to write this post now…IMG_9859
Last weekend (26/5) was seriously like a dream come true, the ultimate collaboration, the best of the best, Jufuku distillery x Kaminari Sakaba-event! Without the slightest hesitation, I jumped into my fateful little cube-shaped car and burned down the mountain into the big city! Actually for the first time (non-work related at least) since moving to Minamioguni.
And what can I say, I had high expectations but I was not disappointed in the least. Best night in a long time! Surrounded by amazing people I know like Kinuko-san and Ryota-san! And of course Yabe-san!

IMG_9846
I also met new friends like Gon-san here who is a friend of both Jufuku and Yabe-san. She is also a passionate lover of Shochu and works as a writer… Guess what she writes about! …? SHOCHU!!! 😀 Gon-san is so friendly and open, and more than anything, extremely knowledgable about Shochu! I would give a lot to be able to just have a single percent of all her Shochu-wisdom.

Another friend stopped by for a visit as well! We didn’t take any picture at the event so I’ll go ahead and link his Instagram instead.

Kenji-san, or Juri as he is also called, is a skateboarder who also participated in the promotion video we made for Kumamoto (street version). The picture I chose from Instagram is from the actual recording and on the next picture in his instagram-post you can even see our little film crew of four.
Kenji-san is yet another person I respect a lot! It is rare to find a person so loved by a city. When you walk around in Kumamoto with Kenji-san people keep calling out to him wherever you go. And not in the oh-look-a-celebrity-way, but in a familiar and loving way that displays true connection. So I was super happy that he decided to show up and look forward to the next time!

IMG_9953.JPG
Anyway, I had a truly amazing night and I’m glad that it gave me an opportunity to write a bit about Shochu, Jufuku distillery and Kaminari Sakaba! Because all of the people I have mentioned in this post are people I truly respect who have had a positive impact on my life. Sometimes life truly feels like a weird chain of coincidences and when you trace back the steps that were required for you to meet someone, it soon becomes obvious how little would have needed to change for the two of you to pass each other by in life and never meet at all. That is why I feel so blessed to have gotten to know these people and privileged to call them my friends, even if they are new friends!

Thanks for everything and I hope to see you soon again! You are always welcome to visit here in Minamioguni as well!

Finally, let’s end this post with my beloved Musha Gaeshi-apron that I proudly have displayed on my wall at home!
IMG_9951

(Shochu trivia nr 5. Most Shochu is very low on calorie which makes it a good choice if you are worried about that belly! Shochu is also said to have health-benefits in proper amounts! So what are you waiting for?! Start drinking Shochu!!!)

Sincerely,

Max

 

Weekend exclusive and…My new pets???

Okategoriserade

The new (wannabe) anchor (pretending to be) reporting live (actually not even that…) from Minamioguni!

So what do you do with your free time when living in a small town in the middle of the mountains? Is there anything to do on the weekends or is watching the grass grow the only way to make time pass? Well, of course not! Here in Minamioguni there are heaps of things to do on the weekends. So this time I will share some of the finest weekend exclusive spots that Minamioguni has to offer!
And right about now, you might wonder, “wait what about the new pets thing???”. Don’t worry! I will get to that at the end of the post so keep reading!

First of, the bakery Kongari Panya-San! The name literally means ‘Well-baked bakery’ and is run by a married couple who only opens up the store on weekends.24
You can see the small sign announcing that the ovens are in action as it peaks out through the thick green leafage.
23
They even have a lovely small porch with a few seats where I definitely would have enjoyed my breakfast if it wasn’t for the raging storm and pouring rain.
22
Once you step inside the small bakery you are enveloped in an overwhelmingly pleasant aroma of freshly baked bread that cues an uncontrollable flow of saliva in your mouth. I arrived at 9:00 in the morning, just an hour after opening, and still, some of the most popular picks had already sold out! So if you are looking for a good reason to get up early on a Saturday or Sunday, Kongari Panya-San might provide the proper motivation!

25
And here is my harvest! From the top-left, Sesame seed-cheese bun, next to it we have one of my favorites, custard cream bun, or as we used to call custard cream when I was little, grandpa’s cough! Yummy… Anyhow, to the bottom left we have a perfect example of pure genius, sweet-potato bun! Soo good! And lastly, a good-old cheese bun!

It was my first time going to Kongari Panya-San but it was well worth the visit and everything tasted so good that I don’t even feel bad about shoving bread after bread down into my tummy! I truly understand why it’s so popular and look forward to a second visit, but hopefully with better weather so I can enjoy the porch properly!

Let’s head on to our next weekend-exclusive destination! This could even be a one-day trip because guess what? Next, we are heading to lunch!37
Where are we?? In the middle of nowhere? I can barely even see any houses? Are we supposed to eat straight from the rice-fields or what? Is that only allowed on weekends or something?
Wait! No, no, stop! Look behind you!

38
Bushes, great! So we are eating leaves now?
No, no, look closer. See that opening? Why don’t you step in and let yourself be absorbed into a magical world that makes you feel like you accidentally stumbled straight into a movie by Studio Ghibli. Ah, no need to wait while I’m rambling away, go ahead!

39
Hah! What did I tell you? Pretty sweet right?! Welcome to the lunch restaurant aka cafe ‘Mori no Jikan’! The name means ‘Forest time’ and is true to the atmosphere of the restaurant which is literally hidden in the forest just beyond where eyes can reach.

36
A few steps in you will find this hand-written sign. To summarize, it explains among other things that this is the forest. And in the forest, there is no insecticide so you might meet an ant or some other friendly bug. And if some leaves are caught by the wind, they might sail down and slip into your cup. Do you know why? Because this is the forest! The sign also kindly points out that there are seats inside if someone might feel uncomfortable with the natural happenings of the forest.

26
And speaking of the forest, definitely no exaggeration! The green garden captures both the wilderness of nature all while overflowing with love and detail from the hard work that must have been put into creating this healing space. The trees and bushes encapsulate the garden like a natural dome which enhances the otherworldly feeling even further.

28
And right in the middle of it all sits this lovely little building that radiates with warmth and truly seems like something that suddenly manifested straight out from a fairytale.

DSC07396This is where I had the pleasure of enjoying my visit, right next to the open hearth. Hard for me to imagine anything cozier than this! Fun fact about Jikan no Mori, it recently re-opened after being closed for a while. Why did a place like this ever close you might ask? It got too popular for Kumi-san (the mastermind behind Jikan no Mori) to keep up which forced her to close. Kumi-san values the relaxing atmosphere which is why the restaurant can’t get overcrowded. To stave the hoards of customers this time around Kumi-san has decided to take pizza off the menu. Probably a wise choice!

30
I don’t even know what this is, I just liked the picture. “If you have time to post random pictures then what about the food??” you might say! Well then, without further ado!

31
You know, I’ve always found that savory waffles are amazing, and it’s something we eat fairly often in Sweden. The thought has hit me many times that It would probably be a hit here in Japan as well. Well, someone beat me to it. A crispy waffle with savory pork meat, poached egg, and a killer salad! It’s hard for me to gauge the taste because I think anything consumed in this atmosphere will taste great. But as far as what my taste-buds told me this tasted fantastic! Especially the salad combined with the waffle really hit right home. I forgot to take a picture but there was actually a mushroom soup before the waffle which was stellar as well. And remember, I’m the person that until recently couldn’t eat mushrooms at all!!

34
Since I didn’t want to leave I decided to order coffee and dessert as well! Japanese custard pudding. It is a classic in Japan and you can find it pretty much wherever you go. But I can say with certainty that you won’t find a pudding like this anywhere else in Japan. It is homemade by Kumi-san and we actually sell it at my workplace (the farmers market) as well! So I have tasted it before and it’s soooo delicious! Tasting the full round and rich flavor of this pudding as it melts in your mouth is out of this world. I didn’t know pudding can be this good before I had this!
For anyone visiting Minamioguni on a Saturday or Sunday, this place is a must!

The last weekend exclusive I want to share with you is more like a bonus!
40
I mentioned my workplace the farmers market Kiyora Kaasa earlier. This weekend two colleagues of mine arranged an event where they tempura-fried locally grown maitake mushroom and asparagus. My two favorites!!! <3<3<3 Yes I visited both days, I could never let tempura-fried maitake and asparagus go uneaten in my vicinity! I wish they would do this every weekend, or every day even! But even though this was a one-time event, there are events every month at Kiyora Kaasa so always worth to stop by. If not only so you can say hi to me!

We are finally here, time to unveil my new pets! Sorry to keep you hanging for so long. Well then, start the drumroll!

Drumroll…

behold!

IMG_9653
??? What might this now be? Well, let me share some light on this mystery! In this breeding-box rests what is to become two…

Second drumroll…..

Tadaa!!!
kabuto-9
Japanese rhinoceros beetles!
These are quite common in Japan and are very popular with children!… And apparently 30-year old Swedish guys. If you have experience with Japan you have probably come across these one way or another. To express how central they are in Japanese culture I will borrow the powers of math.
(Summer)+(Children)=Catching Rhinoceros beetles. You see now?
So when they suddenly started selling boxes with the word ‘Kabutomushi'(the Japanese name) at my workplace I obviously had no other choice than to invest! And who knows, maybe they can become friends with my cat Koko-chan?

So wait a minute, what is actually in the box?
Well…
monarch-caterpillar-lone-summer-chrysalis-pupa-cocoon-indoor_n3uwt44ux__F0000
When I bought them I, of course, understood that they hadn’t hatched yet and imagined something like the picture above. A normal and non-threatening cocoon or pupa-like thing that would before long burst releasing two awesome and cool-looking rhinoceros beetles into my loving embrace…

Well, I was wrong… As I got home I googled to see if I needed to do anything special to keep my new family members happy until their arrival.

What I saw shook me to my core…

Well, have a look for yourself…
scarystuff
WHAT THE HELL HAVE I BROUGHT HOME?!?!?! This is neither cool nor un-threatening! Giant alien space-worms ready to eat my brain!!! And there is two of them!!! I looked closer at the box and true enough…

IMG_9654
There they are, the disgusting little bastards!!!

IMG_9659
Uuuuh! And they keep crawling around in there as well!… It gives me the creeps…

But now that they are here I have no other choice but to welcome them into the family with love and care… Even though it will require quite some effort… Look forward to reports on their continued growth here on the blog!

That will be all for now! Hopefully, I won’t have nightmares from writing about this right before bed.

See you next time!

Love,

Max

Sunshine on Japan’s biggest volcano!

Okategoriserade

DSC07175
Hello hello!! The sun is out from hiding and the weather is back to its normal sparkling and wonderful self and for some reason, I’m still hanging out at waterfalls.

Since last weeks post was heavily dominated by dark clouds, thick mist, pouring rain, and too many umbrellas, I thought I would share some pictures of how much better Minamioguni and Mt. Aso looks when draped in the sunlight! And while at it I will drop some knowledge bombs about the bred and butter of Mt. Aso, the giant volcanic caldera!

IMG_7056
First of all, I would like to point out that I visited Minamioguni for the first time in February last year and then moved here in December. This means that I have more or less only seen Mt. Aso with its yellow highlands,  Japanese pampas grass that shines like gold in the sun and of course, the dark crimson colored cedar trees that make up the heart of the landscape. In short, like the picture above! Minus no cedar trees!
DSC07115
This fact makes it very exciting to be able to follow the process as the solemn sleeping mountain suddenly comes to life and lush green vegetation practically bursts out all around you in wild and unlimited harmony.

IMG_9513のコピー
And I can’t get enough of the water-filled rice fields that symbolize the arrival of spring and summer here in Japan. Especially that time when the sun starts to settle in for the day and slides down to a lower position in the sky. These hours right around 4-5 p.m are absolutely stunning and it’s truly a pain when you are out driving because you can’t help but stop and take pictures everywhere.

So what does the Aso caldera (whatever that even is??? Don’t worry, I will get to that!) look like in this beautiful weather? To make sure I don’t shock anyone I’ll start off with a slightly cloudy picture.IMG_9584のコピー
As I said, a bit cloudy but I still liked the picture! But anyhow, what is even a ‘caldera’? Is that a Japanese misinterpretation of the word crater? Which at least was my first thought when I heard the word. For people who don’t spend their lives endlessly pondering the deep mysteries of geosciences, you could pretty much put an equality sign between the two. ‘Crater’ is a word that is widely used to indicate some form of larger depression, often caused in relation to an explosion. The caldera, on the other hand, is more specific and indicates a large depression caused by a volcanic eruption that leaves a giant empty chamber underground. The chamber collapses, the ground sinks and voilà, a caldera is born.

DSC07195のコピー
The mountains you see in the distance are called Aso “Gogaku”, or the five peaks of Aso. The five mountains are what remains from the 4 giant eruptions, or pyroclastic flows for the nerds, that occurred between 270.000 and 90.000 years ago and gave shape to this caldera. The five peaks of Aso are actually located right in the middle of the Caldera and the depression continues on the other side from what is visible here. Which is easier to understand if you look at this next picture!

スクリーンショット 2019-05-12 21.21.49
In the middle, we have the still active volcano which for the record is the largest one in Japan and keeps scaring the shit out of me every now and then when it decides to rumble and fart out some volcanic dust. The local people are far from scared though. If anything, they seem happy that Aso is healthy and does some free PR for Kumamoto.
The Aso caldera itself is 25×18 kilometers in size, which even though it is an impressive size, it’s far from the largest caldera in the world. Actually even in Japan, it’s only the second largest. But the Aso caldera has something else that makes it very special and unique in the world! Can you guess what?

IMG_9572のコピー
As you can see in this picture, especially to the left, there are crops down in the caldera. And even though it’s far and hard to make out, you can even see Aso city down there. This is what makes the Aso caldera truly special. It is highly unusual with a caldera where the interior is stable and fertile enough to cultivate the lands and build cities. So why is this possible here? That is because the people of Aso have worshipped the volcano as a god of nature since ancient times and through the generations kept putting effort into fertilizing these lands. Thanks to those efforts the Aso caldera is now flourishing with life and has even been recognized as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System. The Aso caldera is really overwhelming in its beauty and no picture can sadly ever do it justice. I can only say from the bottom of my heart that I wish that everyone gets to visit and experience it fully at least once!

Well well〜 Let’s move on from the Aso caldera for now! So what is one great way to truly enjoy all this overflowing and spectacular green summer magic? DSC07157
You can go mountain biking with a good friend!

DSC07143
Hopefully in an area like this!

DSC07183
Or maybe even a place like this could be something?

DSC07149DSC07152
And right when you feel a bit hot and sweaty maybe you find a waterfall like this one here?

DSC07159
And who knows, maybe you even decide to try and get a bit closer to the waterfall and suddenly find yourself in a scene that could’ve been picked straight out of Jurassic Park.

DSC07162
Then maybe, but only maybe, just as you think of having a swim you notice a thousand mosquitoes and decide that it is a bad idea to get nude when you’re still waiting for your second vaccination against Japanese mosquito-born-super-scary-encephalitis a.k.a inflammation of the brain.

DSC07173DSC07171
So instead you settle for some posy pictures and then get the hell out of there because you know… You value your life and all that.

IMG_9561
Finally, you might feel so exhausted from your adventures that you have a nice afternoon nap… far away from any flying blood-suckers…

Or at least that is what we did!

So there you go! This is how nice Minamioguni and Mt. Aso actually can look when the sun stops slacking off and does its job properly. I hope you enjoyed it! I have a feeling that outdoor activities and beautiful landscapes will increase here on the blog now as summer arrives so if you are into that stuff, keep your eyes open! And if anyone is passing by Kumamoto, this is a perfect time to visit Aso. I’m waiting for you right here!

Sincerely,

Max

Rain, gourmet and sudden horror

Okategoriserade

4Hello everyone! As promised, I’m back from taking a break last week! Usually, I post on Sundays but since today is the last day of Golden Week here in Japan I decided to post today since it’s my ’emotional Sunday’.

Wait, some of you might wonder what this “Golden Week” is? When most people think of Japan they think of crazy work ethics and more or less no holidays. That is not entirely false but it isn’t the entire truth either. What most people don’t know is that the Japanese calendar actually is loaded with national holidays (thankfully)! The Golden Week begins on April 29 every year and hosts 4 national holidays in one week which together with weekends often result in a hefty breather for many of the people living in Japan. This year it was a good harvest with a stunning 10 days off in a row! Oh, and a fun fact! The emperor’s birthday is always a national holiday. And since it would be rude and potentially cause a riot if you suddenly removed a national holiday this doesn’t change even if the emperor changes. This all means that slowly but steadily the Japanese national holidays keep increasing! In a far future, Japan might be the most laid-back country in the world!

So how did I spend this unbelievably long holiday? I had the pleasure of having my girlfriend Madoka visiting here for the first time! She stayed from the 28th of April to the 3rd of May so this time I will share some of our experiences here!

Most importantly apart from being together! Did we get blessed with wonderful and superb weather to make the most of all the outdoor activities and beautiful nature that Minamioguni and the Japanese countryside has to offer?… NO!!! Not even nearly…

スクリーンショット 2019-05-06 16.11.10
As you can see from the number of umbrellas on the picture above the weather gods didn’t exactly smile on us. And for the record, Madoka boarded an early plane leaving 8:45 on the 3rd to go home. Just so you don’t get the wrong idea and think that we at least had 2 good days at the end of her visit. But no time to despair! Nothing else to do than to try and make the most of the experience!
1
But it wasn’t easy… Especially when what usually is a breathtaking view that makes your jaw hit the floor has morphed into a thick white wall that hides anything worth seeing. I’m not crying! But there has to be someplace which you can enjoy even when the rain pours and mist lays thick?
Looking out over large scenery might be impossible but how about something a bit closer? Like a waterfall?

2のコピー
This is Nabegataki! A natural wonder and one of the major tourist attractions of the neighboring town Oguni. And Nabegataki definitely turned out to be a good choice when the weather tries to force you into submission. No mist and the rain even made it all very atmospheric by enhancing the beautiful lush green of the leaves and the moss. Oh, I don’t know if anyone noticed but Madoka is not very keen about having her picture posted on the internet (very normal in Japan) so I have taken myself the freedom of replacing her face with this fabulous portrait I made!
3
The cave-like shape that is covered by the curtain of water is thought to be a result of Mt. Aso’s super eruptions occurring from 270.000 to 90.000 years ago (4 eruptions). The pyroclastic flow carrying volcanic rocks, debris, dust and such formed a layer over a river and solidified into a compact layer of hard rocks. Over time, the softer layer beneath (that originally was the river) was eroded forming this concave shape allowing you to actually walk behind the waterfall (see the first picture of the post).
23のコピー
Look how happy she is! This is how happy Nabegataki makes you! Even though it’s cold and rainy outside! On the topic of waterfalls! Another one, this time in Minamioguni, that we visited was Meotodaki! The name literally translates to “husband and wife waterfall”. Can you guess why?
13
Yes, exactly! It is because of the two waterfalls that meet up and mix together into one river. Just like married couples who entangle their legs and arms to ensure that they always move together! Or wait? That isn’t right… Anyways! This place is also quite beautiful and worth a visit! Especially when the weather doesn’t offer prime conditions. The rain even makes the impact of the river and the waterfalls even greater since the amount of flowing water increases as well. But be careful on really stormy days since the water level can rise suddenly and quickly!

Another great thing in Minamioguni that isn’t affected by bad weather is the food! As I’ve mentioned countless times the food here is amazing and we truly enjoyed that fully. For example!
21
On the 29th there was an event at my workplace where seven wonderful local farmers arranged an all you can eat lunch buffet! For 1200 yen (roughly 10 US dollar) you could choose from 25 separate dishes and eat to your heart’s content. And of course, everything is locally produced and even prepared by the farmers who actually grow the vegetables. Madoka was literally shocked at how good everything tasted. And let me stress that she is Japanese and have lived with Japanese food her whole life and still expressed that this was a whole new experience for her and how moved she was by the amount of care and love that was put into every single dish.

On the topic of food! Let me tickle your taste-buds and introduce some more of the amazing flavors that are hidden in the Aso mountains! For many people good weather and holiday = BBQ! And on the other hand, bad weather and holiday are equally painful since you are missing out on a possible BBQ. But not in Japan, because here we have indoor-BBQ, also known as Yakiniku!
5
And in Mount Aso it’s not some random beef with lots of unhealthy fat that has been transported far distances and bred only for the purpose of eating. The Akaushi cow, specific to the Aso area, is low on saturated fat and the breeding is a part of maintaining the grasslands of the Aso mountains. The grass-covered plains of Aso, of course, creates a very unique landscape but it is also a part of preserving an ecosystem that in turn protects many endangered and scarce species of animal and plants. So in short, in a world where you need to question what meat you consume, Akaushi is definitely one of the choices that let you keep some of your karma.

6のコピー
And as you can see, Madoka is very happy about her indoor BBQ! This restaurant is located in Minami Aso village and is called Akaushi no Yakata. Here you can enjoy the often quite expensive Akaushi at a fair price while you gaze out at the beautiful surroundings of Minami Aso village which is located right in the Aso caldera. This 2-person set costs about 5200 yen or 46 USD which isn’t too bad if you split the cost!

Let us head back to Minamioguni for one last recommendation on one of my favorite places to have lunch!
DSC07045
This small restaurant called Kaze no Mori, roughly translating to ‘the forest of wind’, is a lovely little restaurant owned and run by a local married couple. They grow most of the ingredients by themselves and are very particular about chemic-free vegetables. What they can’t grow themselves they buy locally. What is more amazing is that they even make the seasoning themselves since they have their own herb garden. I have wanted to bring Madoka here for so long and have her taste this perfect example of the magic that can be born from cooking. Every bite pulls you deeper and deeper into a sense of harmony and deep satisfaction. Healthy and tasty beyond words! Everyday? Yes, please!
12のコピー
What makes it all even better and enhances the deliciousness of the food even more(if that is even possible), is the wonderful view! We even had a short break in the rain here which allowed us to sit outside. Saying it wasn’t cold would be a lie but we stacked up with some blankets and it was well worth it to enjoy the superb atmosphere! And once again, look at that smile! It’s worth more than a thousand words!

When the weather report finally promised a clear sky I got too excited and forced Madoka to wake up 5 in the morning to go watch the sunrise!
14
In the end, the mist was really thick preventing us from experience it in its full glory but at least I managed to get this one picture that wasn’t all too bad. By this time Madoka had returned to the car and was fast asleep in the passenger seat though.

But little did we know that our early morning excursion would lead us to something far more impressive than some old sunrise. Maybe impressive isn’t the right word? What was that word I was searching for…? Ah! Disturbing! We took a wrong turn which led us on a slight detour. A detour we would never forget. Because that is when we suddenly found something truly scary and disturbing waiting for us right by the wayside. Well… Have a look…
15
What are these countless shapes lining up along the road? Animals? Birds? We looked closer…
16
Endless amounts of bush sculptures! Or topiary, as I now have learned that they are called. Notice that apart from the ones in the foreground these odd and eerie shapes keep stretching far into the background. There must seriously have been at least a thousand of them appearing suddenly in the middle of nowhere. This is no simple hobby, this is someone’s life work. I had no idea that the Japanese version of Edward Scissorhands lived right here in Mt. Aso. And to be honest, the quality of the work varies from very impressive to right out creepy. For example, how about this next topiary which I believe is meant to encapture the beloved cute mascot of Kumamoto, Kumamon!
For those who don’t know, this is Kumamon!
7

Cute right? And here we have double Kumamon running hand-in-hand towards the sunset, presented by Japanese Edowaado Scissorhands!
17
Aaaaaaah!!!! Not so cute… I wouldn’t want to be chased down a dark alley by these two in the middle of the night. And what is up with that big fella to the right? So many questions and so few answers. But that is how life often seems to be here in the land of the rising sun.
Let’s move on before I get cursed by these lovely bush creatures. I say move on but I think I will be satisfied here for now!
26
Lastly, I leave you with a picture of Madoka looking out over the neverending beautiful landscape of Minamioguni as seen from the top of Oshitoishi Hill. Our final day we were actually blessed with some nice weather and could enjoy this wonderland the right way! Or to be honest, we actually had plans to go to the neighboring prefecture and meet up with some friends that day… But at least during the morning hours, I got to show off the beauty of my beloved Minamioguni as it is supposed to be seen, showered in sunlight instead of rain.

Of course, this is only some of the things we did and the places we visited. But if I included it all the post would be too long and I don’t want to exhaust you all!
There is so much more here in Minamioguni and Mt. Aso that I want to share with you Madoka. I loved seeing you smile at all the things here that make me smile. So I’m hoping for revenge soon! With better weather!!! Thank you for coming! ❤

And another special mention before I finish! A big congratulation to my mother on her birthday!!! Thank you for always supporting me and watching over me in everything I do. It’s too bad that I can’t share it with you but I hope you have the best birthday because you truly deserve it! Big Love! ❤ ❤ ❤

Sincerely,

Max

Change, nature, and new friends

Okategoriserade

DSC_0047
Good evening to the world! Max here showing of what has commonly become known as the “Viking pose”. Don’t ask me why! I take no blame!

First, before anything else! I will report on some “just in”-news, smoking hot fresh out of the radio! Literally only a few minutes ago!
Minamioguni just got its first ever elected female member of the local city council! Let me present Morinaga Hitomi-san!
57088247_2249131181842155_7640090990962802688_n
Rural Japan is truly wonderful and there is so much that I respect here! I can from the bottom of my heart say that I grow as a person every day thanks to the fact that my own beliefs, that, of course, are shaped by my upbringing in an urban environment, continuously gets challenged. And in the same way, there are obviously backsides to the small community of the countryside as well. In smaller isolated towns progressive change often comes at a slower pace. This results in traditional values that often lead to very defined gender roles. The smaller the community is the harder it is to break these trends as the fear of acting against the group is something deeply rooted in humans. Morinaga Hitomi-san is the first woman ever to run for election in Minamioguni and consequently also the first to be elected. I truly respect her bravery and passion and I can’t express how happy I am that she got elected. And what is more amazing is that in an election of a total 10 representatives she got in 5th place! This even though she is a woman, young and someone who is not originally from Minamioguni. This is proof of a natural power that pushes toward progressive change and more open conversation that will allow for all the different small voices that reside in this wonderful town to be heard. I believe that this is one big step, both for gender equality, but also for Minamioguni as a whole. This city has so much potential and these small advances will create ripples in the water that grows bigger and bigger and eventually lead to significant change and an ever more prospering Minamioguni. Thank you Hitomi-san for inspiring hope and showing people that there are things to be gained from taking up the challenge!

With that said, let’s go back to something far less inspiring! My everyday life! But this first thing is actually pretty cool so you should keep reading!

To be honest I have put on quite a few extra kilos by stuffing myself with all the fantastic food to be found here in Minamioguni. Half reluctantly I accepted my fate and recently started to put some effort into exercising. Especially bouldering! This Thursday I went to the small, but oh so sweet, bouldering gym in the neighboring town which I try to do at least twice a week. There is no stationed staff at the gym but this time I met one of the staff for the first time. And she turned out to be a two times representative of Japan in the world championships! She participated in 2014 and 2015 and got as far as the semi-finals! Her name is Hosono Kaori and is now active as a freelance instructor who lives in Oguni but travels Japan and teaches bouldering wherever she is requested. I didn’t only get a private lecture but when I asked if you can buy a chalk bag anywhere close-by she gave me one of hers! How nice is that?! Thank you so much for your kindness Kaori-san, I have made a new friend and you have made a new fan!

Camping! Camping is truly an underestimated activity. There is something unbeatable about the feeling of cooking outdoor surrounded by nature, gathering together with friends around an open fire, and of course, being watched over by an infinite amount of dazzling stars and a bright full moon. This Friday was just such a night! My good friend Kouta-san finally introduced his girlfriend Tan-san who is from Singapore and visited Japan for a couple of days. They planned to camp and invited me and another friend to stop by and have some food and drinks together.

DSC06874Here we have the lovely couple under the bright moon!

DSC06817
Kouta-san is a true master of how to enjoy the outdoor life that is so central if you want to make the most of the countryside! I am very grateful and happy to have made such an amazing friend here in Minamioguni. And it was really great to see him and Tan-san. She is if anything even more of an outdoor person than Kouta-san is and they compliment each other really well. Tan-san is one of those people that it feels like you have known for a long time even though you meet for the first time. Of course, the atmosphere and the campfire might have helped a bit but more than anything I think it is because Tan-san is such an open and positive person which makes it impossible to not become friends in an instance. Tan-san is right now preparing to move to Japan and trying to find employment here. I have gone through the same process myself and I really hope that I can be of help so that they can be reunited as soon as possible!

Another thing that never stops blowing me away about Kumamoto and Kyushu is how beautiful the scenery is! What is the best way to relax after a hard work-out? Let me tell you! DSC06888
It’s to sink into this outdoor hot spring while you let your eyes wander over the wide open grass plains and the beautiful blue sky! Seriously! This is it…

After exercise and relaxation, I decided to go for a 1 hour trip with the car to a town called Hita located in Oita prefecture to do some shopping. What was the road like? Maybe you imagine some lame highway? No, no, no… Not here!
DSC06890
This is more or less what it looks like all the time! Come one! This is seriously dangerous!! It’s truly hard to keep your eyes on the road because the scenery you pass by is soooo beautiful!
DSC06895
And another frustrating thing is that the beautiful landscape keeps forcing you to stop the car and take pictures every 5 minutes. I guess you get used to it after a while… Or do you? At least I haven’t even though I’ve been living here for about 4 months now. And to be honest, I hope I never get used to it. This nature is truly a miracle and should not be taken for granted!

Oh, and as you ride along the road you suddenly find places like this!DSC06905
This is called ‘Koinobori’, “climbing koi fish”. Originally these are given to families when their children are born and decorated outside the houses resembling flags dancing in the wind. At Tsuetate onsen which is a hot spring town, they do this rather unconventional but impactful decoration with koinobori every year around April!

To end this post I’ll share some pictures I took today at Tateiwa suigen. Even though I love the natural spring source Tateiwa and have mentioned it here on the blog before I keep finding new stunning spots all the time! This is a mountain which is taken care of by an acquaintance of mine called Toru-san and his family. They have made it into a park for the flower “Shakunage” which blooms in April every year. The area around their house boasts a stunning 30.000 Shakunage flowers that all bloom at once creating a magical mountain garden that bustles with life and natural energy. They have also made a trail that lets you stroll the mountains while enjoying the feeling as spring gradually transitions to summer.1345
Maybe pictures of flowers don’t do that much if you haven’t actually visited the place yourself but I wanted to share them anyways! Still, I can’t help but be amazed at how Minamioguni keeps providing new stunning places one after another! In a city with 4000 inhabitants! And it still feels like I have only seen a fraction of all there is to discover!

Thank you as always for reading the blog! Next Sunday I will have the pleasure of my girlfriend Madoka visiting me here in Minamioguni for a couple of days. This will most likely result in me not being able to write a post next Sunday since I will go meet her at the airport. So expect me back the Sunday after that!

See you!

Max

 

 

Great escape, making miso and forest adventures! Oh and more sakura!

Okategoriserade

Hello!! Max reporting in from Minamioguni!DSC_2483.JPG
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.
IMG_9147.JPG
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…

DSC_2400
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!

DSC_2523
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.IMG_3962.JPG
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…
IMG_9128のコピー.JPG
Somehow I managed to end up right here. Right under the blooming sakura. And I’m not alone either!
DSC06462.JPG
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…

392F910C-69FC-4B85-9005-9105F73BF3C3
…to getting to learn how to operate forest machinery…

8A4EEC74-547D-4702-88B7-59F1EDDF7237
…to go to this towering elegant forest…

7D293215-1C0F-4A3B-986A-3640FECB5312
…to pick up some lumber that will be cut into planks at the sawmill. And finally…

6F09A61C-BC1E-479D-B399-332995C618B6
…to help out with some good old wood-stacking back at the sawmill!

8F5536AB-0F87-4C37-B408-CA2119AB5590
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!

Max