A furry friend and the big 30!

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Good evening! Or day! Or whatever phrase fits your local time! Max, here again, a bit older, a bit rounder, a bit wrinklier, but happy as always! I’ll keep going with the format from last week with me sharing a few pictures representing each day. Hope you will enjoy it! Oh and let’s start it off with the surprise I mentioned last week!

Meet my new roomie!

Monday! This is Koko-chan who moved in with me exactly one week ago! Since I didn’t want to harass her with a camera the first thing as soon as she came here I decided to hold on to this big news for a week. Now Koko-chan is a bit more used to the new environment and gladly poses for pictures! Koko-chan is almost 1,5 years old and a proud mother of six. Her previous owners couldn’t bring her along when they had to move which resulted in Koko-chan moving in with me. She is a very sweet, smart, cuddly, talkative and mischevious little lady. One of the first things she did after moving in here was to remove all the bubble wrap I desperately put up on the windows to improve insulation. Thank you Koko-chan for putting your touch on the interior design!

Tuesday! I visited one of my favorite places in Minamioguni, the natural spring source Tateiwa Suigen. Both nature and the people in this area is wonderful. I visited for work and what was supposed to be a 1-hour visit ended up lasting for 2 hours just because it was so nice to sit around talking. But don’t think it ended after talking for 2 hours! After that, I got invited for a short stroll to pick some fresh wasabi. Have you ever seen fresh wasabi? If you haven’t, don’t blame yourself! It is pretty rare and only grows around the cleanest of water. It would be an understatement to say that I was surprised at what we found. A paradise of beautiful wild thriving wasabi! Yes, all those green leaves you see in the right picture! You can eat them right of the ground and believe it or not, they taste just like wasabi!

Wednesday! Combined farewell party for the intern we have had the honor of getting to know since the beginning of February, as well as a birthday party for a colleague and me! And of course, the gathering is taking place at the best place for food and drinks that Minamioguni has to offer, Piero!! ❤ And what is more amazing, Miyuki-san decided to open up a 40-year-old bottle of whiskey that was given as a present when Piero opened about 30 years ago!! Thank you so much Miyuki-san! Your kindness knows no limits!

Oh, and a word about the intern, Shino-chan. Such an impressive person! 20-years old and in her second year of university. What does she do with her spring break? She decides to leave Tokyo behind and come for almost 2 months to Minamioguni. Totally unrelated to her studies! Just because she wants to learn more and improve herself. I think that is both brave, inspiring and worthy of lots of praise. And even when things have been tough, she has stayed positive and focused which makes here strong as well! It has been a pleasure to get to know you and I look forward to seeing you again. Maybe here, or maybe in Tokyo!

Thursday! The day is here… I finally turned 30! At my birthday I got called into Kumamoto city for dinner with some colleagues and the clients for the Fired up Kumamoto campaign. It wasn’t how I imagined spending my 30th birthday but they are all amazing people so I didn’t really mind. But little did I know that secret plans where set in motion… Suddenly the restaurant turns dark and a cake is brought in to the sound of everyone singing happy birthday. I look confused at the cake that says “Happy birthday from mom and dad” in Swedish. My confusion doesn’t last long before I get a phone with a live-feed from Sweden with my parents put in front of me and slowly the pieces of the puzzle start to fall in place. My parents had planned together with my colleague Taro-san arranging a long-distance birthday surprise! I was so happy that everyone took time and effort to make this surprise possible! I truly didn’t suspect or expect anything so I was really happy and felt so blessed to be surrounded by such nice people! ❤

Saturday! Wait, what about Friday? I’m going to use the birthday-card here and request that you forgive me and I get a break on Friday. Sorry! Let’s keep going on Saturday instead. In Japan, the budget year for companies is from the first of April to the last of March. This means that most of the pressing deadlines had to finish by this Friday (also a reason why I don’t have anything to report since I worked like a mad man most of the Friday). But this also means that I had some time to lower the pace a bit and enjoy a slow and relaxing weekend. Going bouldering, washing, cleaning the apartment and such. I even had time to hand wash the car! And in the middle of everything I got a sweet birthday bouquet from Tokyo! ❤  Thank you, Madoka! ❤

Sunday! To keep on the theme of a slow relaxing weekend, but with a bit of activity, I also managed to get some necessary training done! As you turn 30 I guess you need to start taking care of your body. So I went running in the nice early spring weather. The beautiful Japanese rural landscape is perfect for jogging. It is so beautiful that you even forget how painful it is to start being physically active after a long period of beer, fried food, and over-all laziness! And especially this season with the cherry blossom just a moment away from bursting into bloom makes it even better.

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Another nice thing with physical activity in the Japanese countryside is that you can slip into any of the nice local onsen to revitalize your body after a hard workout! A fantastic way to soothe your aching muscles! ❤


Since this was the week I turned 30 I would like to say a few more word in relation to that. Bare with me. Leaving your twenties behind and stepping into the big thirty is a major event for most people. For me, 30 was big for another reason as well. I had decided for myself that if I couldn’t move to Japan by the time I turned 30 I would give up on this dream, stop obsessing over Japan and focus whole-heartedly on life in Sweden. Thanks to some luck, coincidence and the support of wonderful people I have met along the road, the dream of moving to Japan miraculously came true last year in October. If that hadn’t happened I probably would have entered my thirties with a significant feeling of disappointment. But now I can head into my thirties with excitement ready to do my best and enjoy the goal I have been working towards since so many years back! Well well, enough of my ramblings!
But I truly want to thank everyone who helped me get where I am today! ❤ Big thanks and love to all of you!

And see you next week!

Sincerely,

Max

Local TV, Tokyo, and cherry blossom

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Hello! Last week I mentioned that I would try a new way of writing the blog! This way it will be more like a diary with one update for each day entailing something that stood out to me. So instead of one long theme for the post, there will be 7 small peeks into my daily life. Hope you will enjoy it!

Monday! So what’s up here? Matching outfits? Bowtie? Actually, my colleague Kaji-chan and I are planning a short show where we introduce different spots in Minamioguni. The show will hopefully be shown on local TV here in Minamioguni. And of course, a texted version by yours truly will be uploaded to YouTube as well. This Monday we went out to do our first test-recording! It’s only the two of us so expect some amazing and charming B-quality production! Will keep you updated!

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Tuesday! As a tour guide in the making, I thought that I should polish my knowledge on the history of Minamioguni so I asked for help from my colleague Yayoi-san who is a walking encyclopedia with a special interest in history. This led to a study circle slash dinner at our other colleague Chiaki-san’s home. Chiaki-san’s husband Kousuke-san is a teacher which, together with Yayoi-san, made the perfect team to beat some much necessary knowledge into my head! I intended to take a picture of the gathering for the blog but I got too absorbed in the conversation and forgot it completely! Luckily enough I got to bring some of the leftovers from Chiaki-san’s fantastic cooking home with me which will do perfectly as the picture of the day! Yummy!

Wednesday! These pictures that might seem very random is actually taken while I was waiting to board the plane to Tokyo! Yep, this week I went to Tokyo to meet my girlfriend and came back just a couple of hours ago. So what is up with these pictures? Japan’s fascination with Sakura, or cherry blossom, has always fascinated me. Sakura is truly beautiful but I can’t help but find it funny how suddenly 50% of all news is about when and where the sakura will bloom. The serious looking man to the left, that might easily be mistaken for a politician or CEO of some big company, is actually reporting on the fact that only 4 of 5 necessary flowers have yet to bloom meaning that it is sadly yet too early to declare the blooming official. Obviously to the big disappointment of all the news channels gathered in hope of catching the magical moment live. Anyway, Japan is crazy about Sakura!

Thursday! My girlfriend is funny, she loves spicy food but she can’t handle it at all. She brought me to her favorite Chinese restaurant to introduce me to her favorite spicy dishes. And it was truly an experience to remember, not only because the food was over-the-top tasty! But also because Madoka, as her name is, had her faced turned against the wall coughing in agony during most of the dinner. This is standard when she eats spicy food but she keeps insisting that she loves it so who am I to question!

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Friday! As we were out strolling in Tokyo, suddenly there was a beautiful light beaming down through the backstreets we were exploring giving birth to a very nice atmosphere. At once I bring out my camera to capture this beautiful moment… Right as the shutter of the camera is released a random middle-aged man turns around with impeccable timing creating this magical one-shot. The mystery in his eyes and the glowing halo of light shining from behind him. What is he thinking? I will never know..

Saturday! Madoka and I enjoyed a date night at the beautiful metropolitan park Rokugi-en where they just started an event illuminating their three major cherry blossom-spots. We didn’t actually expect much since the blooming just began. But to our big surprise 2 of 3 spots where in pretty much full bloom! A very appreciated miracle that allowed us to enjoy a romantic sakura moment even though we were a bit early. It was truly a beautiful place and you can even sit down and enjoy some warm umeshu or Japanese sake if you feel a bit chilly. Recommended if anyone is in Tokyo! But you should hurry before everyone notices how much it’s already blooming!

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Sunday! Back home to good old Kumamoto and mount Aso! Tokyo is thrilling and I had a great time. Especially since I got to meet up with Madoka for the first time in 1,5 months. But I can’t deny that returning home to this breath-taking view is the best!
Oh, and actually, there is another special thing about this Sunday that I thought of reporting but I’ll save it for next week so look forward to it!

So how did you enjoy this way of writing the blog instead? If you have any feedback feel free to leave a comment. I will try this for a couple of weeks at least and see how it feels.

Well, that is it for now! See you next week!

Sincerely,

Max

Pickles VS. Max – Round 2

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Hello! Max here! Sorry for a slight break in the updates again! I’m going to try a new pattern from next week that might make it easier for me to keep on schedule! Look forward to it! Anyway, let’s get into the theme of this week! What am I doing in this peaceful picture? Well, I might be calming my heart and mind to prepare for the fight of a lifetime… If some of you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you might remember me sharing my miserable failure of an attempt to make pickles some time back? If not! Here is a reminder…

So as you can see I tried making pickles using salt, chili and the leaves from turnip greens in a plastic bag. But since I didn’t know the right amount of chili I used the entire pack which turned out to be about 10 times the normal amount… Generating in the worlds spiciest pickles!!… That being said, they never even saw the light of day. Usually, when you make pickles you need to put weight on the vegetables to extract stored up water. I failed at this as well and more or less just left the bag in the refrigerator so the leaves didn’t release any liquid at all. Well, in short, I got beaten to a pulp in the first round against pickles… But never give up! A new chance came around igniting hope into my broken heart!

This is Takana! Also known in English as Mustard leaf. Takana, especially pickled Takana known as Takana-zuke, makes appearances in many different Japanese dishes. One of the most famous ones is as topping for the globally popular dish Ramen! Takana is also used widely in Kumamoto where ‘Takana meshi’, a rice dish with pickled vegetables, is a local specialty!
The best season for Takana is from December to March and as you can see in the picture above, a mountain of Takana arrived at my workplace Kiyora Kaasa in Minamioguni. Finally, I thought! This is a sign from the heavens, time to take my revenge and make some edible pickles!!

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This time I abandoned the plastic bag method and bought a proper pickle-bucket, specialized for making pickles. All you need is a plastic bucket, salt, and chili. Oh, and some kind of vegetables of course! Let’s get started!
Disclaimer! This is not a recipe, this is only a beginner recording his struggles as he tries to overcome the mountain known as “pickle making”. 

I started by cutting off the leaves using my beloved kitchen knife made by true swordsmiths from the fantastic smithy Moritaka Hamono with a history of over 700 years. Oh sorry, I’m bragging〜! 😀 But seriously, anyone passionate about kitchen tools should check them out! They deliver abroad and the prices are reasonable! Anyway! What we will use here is the stem of the leaves!

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After this, I washed the Takana closely and then left it in water for about 30 minutes!

Then you simply start to layer Takana, salt, and chili until you fill the bucket. The chili should be cut a few times if you want some nice spicey flavors. But be careful not to use too much salt! I probably used a bit too much! Obviously, the amount of chili depends on the amount of vegetables. For 4 kg of Takana I used about 8 dried chilis!

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Here we have the bucket filled with Takana, salt and, chili! Everything is going smoothly! Or at least so I thought… As I mentioned earlier the last and most important step is to put weight on the Takana, or whatever vegetable you are using, to press it together and force out the stored liquid inside. And that is when I remembered… I have nothing heavy enough to use as a weight!! Often you can buy weights especially for making pickles at stores selling home products here in Japan but since the time was late (countryside-late: 20:00 o’clock) all stores had closed looong ago.

Would I give up once again? Would round 2 go to pickles as well? Beaten twice by petty vegetables? Hell no!
Only one thing left to do, grab my flashlight, pull on some sweet wellingtons and head out into the dark cold night of rural Japan to search for something heavy that could help me take revenge on pickles! After 30 minutes of fumbling in the dark, this is what I found by the river bank…

LRG_DSC06100It might not look like much but this is actually pretty heavy! At least 10 kilos! But more than anything, this is my savior! Without you, my dreams of pickles would have crashed and burned once more! Thank you random weirdly cylinder-shaped rock!

10Here I have more or less passed the baton to my new found partner in crime that will spend a good week putting weight on the Takana until it magically transforms into nice and edible pickles! My role from this point on is mostly supportive by pouring out the water that collects in the bucket and mixing and stirring its contents. After doing that for a week, supposedly, edible and hopefully delicious pickles are what will be left in the bucket!

One week later…11This is what it looks like after a week! Hard to judge I guess but I think it looks pretty good! Time for tasting!
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VERY SALTY!!!! 😀 But edible! And apparently, you can wash it in water before eating to rid some of the salty taste. Or store it in the fridge for a month and the taste should settle. At least it’s major process from my first plastic-bag-30-chilis-catastrophe!

Oh, and the most fun part of this entire thing was this last step to conserve all these pickles that I obviously can’t eat by myself! How did I do that you might ask?

By using the vacuum packaging machine at work!!! Oh, I could spend all day everyday vacuum packaging things! To be honest, I heard that I could use this if I made Takana pickles and it would be a lie to say that it wasn’t a big part of my decision to re-challenge my archnemesis, pickles.
But on a more serious note, it’s really fun to learn about all the different traditional dishes of the area and challenging new things that I would never have tried if I didn’t live here. And everyone around me is so nice and gives advice and take an interest in my different endeavors. Thank you so much!

As I mentioned in the beginning. Next week I will try something new and present my entire week in one picture and a corresponding text for each day. So there will be seven pictures in one post at the end of the week that will present things that stood out to me during the week! It will probably be a variation between high and low but I think it can be a good format that will be easier to keep up! Look forward to it and see you next week!

Sincerely,

Max

Switched roles? The student becomes the master!

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Hello! Did I scare you? I hope not! Anyhow, I might be a bit under the weather this weekend but that won’t stop me from sharing this beautiful face with the world! As I mentioned last time I have a ton of stuff to share from last week so I’ll continue the report in this post. Oh, and I should warn you! A flood of pictures is rapidly approaching so brace yourself. Since there are many pictures this time I’ll present them a few at the time! Enjoy!

Do you remember this green jacket and that handsome face? It is my mentor, teacher, and master in all guide related, the one the only, Mori Seita-san! In January I visited Mori-san in Shiga and took part in his tours while learning and absorbing the tricks of the trade. This time he was kind enough to pay me a visit right here in Minamioguni from 12-14 of February. Does the title of the post start making sense now? This time I showed Mori-san around in Minamioguni and got his valuable insight into a few of the different places I have found and fallen in love with since moving here. Disclaimer, I’m far from any master and doing this also made me realize how much more I need to study and learn to be able to accomplish what Mori-san does on a daily basis.

Anyway, Mori-san and my colleague Ichihara-san arrived quite late in Minamioguni, around 15:30 so the first day wasn’t that eventful. A quick stop by Kurokawa onsen since it’s a must for any first-timers. Then we enjoyed watching the sun setting over the beautiful never-ending grass fields of the Se no Moto plateau before heading towards our lodging for the night. Which happened to be Irifunethe place I introduced in my last update.

A frosty and crisp February morning greeted us as we woke up, the sun was shining and barely a cloud in the sky so nothing to complain about. We went for a quick morning stroll to pay our respects to the Konpira-sugi, the 1200-year-old Japanese cedar tree that I mentioned last time. As we were leaving we couldn’t find Haruko-san and the schedule was tight so Mori-san had to settle for a commemorative two-shot with Akio-san. He seems happy anyway!

The first main destination of the day was a place called Tateiwa suigen. This is one of my favorite places in Minamioguni! Feels like I say that about everything lately, but it’s true! So what makes this place so special? Well, first, let me tell you about a river. It’s a pretty long one. About 143 kilometers which make it the longest river in Kyushu stretching through 4 different prefectures. And guess what, one of the major river sources and origins of this river is right here in Tateiwa suigen. This makes the water incredibly clean and tasty and you can find rare things such as wild wasabi and watercress which you only will find in the cleanest of waters. And of course, with clean water comes, clean people? No, but seriously, the people who live in this area are super friendly! They also have these awesome polytunnels, usually used for gardening, but here designed to make you feel like you’re in a secret hideout. In here they arrange parties, food events, galleries or just hang out when they need to relax for a moment!

Oh, sorry, I forgot! The name of the river is Chikugo river!

Next, we did a spontaneous stop by a place called Suzume Jigoku! Cue eerie music!… Oh, you wonder what suzume jigoku means? It means… Sparrow hell!! Now cue eerie music!
This is actually a place where geo-thermally heated water (heated underground by molten rocks and such) is being pushed up through the earth’s crust so you can actually see the hot water bubbling up from the ground. The spooky name comes from the fact that smaller animals, such as sparrows, that breathe in the volcanic gas which contains sulfurous acid and comes out with the bubbles have been found dead on numerous occasions. The pictures might not make you gasp in exhilaration but it’s actually pretty cool when you see it.
And if that didn’t satisfy you, there is always the stunning view from Hirano observatory close by!

Moving on! Here we visited a place called FIL studio which is run by two of the nicest people I have met, Rina-san and Shunsuke-san. Rina-san and Shunsuke-san were two of the first people I met when I came to Minamioguni for the first time last year. In their studio, they use Oguni cedar to create everything from aroma candles to high-class furniture. They are so passionate and caring in the work that they do, and something that always shines through to me is how much they think of the people in their surrounding. I could write a lot more but maybe I should save that for a different post. This time Rina-san taught us how to make some beautifully decorated and nice smelling aroma-candles with oil made from the leaves of Oguni cedar. So fun and inspiring!

The last destination for day 2 and our lodging for the night. This is a place called Gonbee Mura, “mura” meaning “village”. This was actually my first time staying here as well and I can only describe it as a wonderful experience. Yukiharu-san and Noriko-san provide one of the most complete lodging services if you want to experience the Japanese countryside. Here you can stay in either a normal tatami-room or in a more camping style. They even have tents set up inside a polytunnel. But what really makes this feel so cozy is the fire! “Fire?”, you might ask! Most everything is done with wood and open fire. Cooking the rice? Yep, it’s firewood! Time to eat, let’s open the middle of the dinner table and make an open fire to cook our food! Oh, you want to have a bath before bed? Yes, It is heated through open fire as well! I could never have imagined that it felt so good to be cooked alive!
Oh, and one last thing that made this fantastic experience perfect was that Yukiharu-san and Noriko-san sat with us and ate and drank together which made all of us feel right at home!

The last day! Time flies fast, to say the least. As you can see this time we jump straight into a full-on farming experience which was made possible by the help of my friend and haiku-teacher, Kita Chizuru-san. She and her husband are, as most people here, so nice and sweet. Chizuru-san has also invited me to different events and treated me so kindly and for that, I am forever grateful.
They are full-time farmers and their vegetable fields are located beautifully on a slightly elevated high-ground. This gives you a superb and soothing view of the rural Japanese landscapes as you pick tasty and fresh veggies straight from the ground. This is true therapy for the heart.

We also picked Shiitake mushrooms and used this awesome potato-peeling wheel, imoguruma. You put in the potatoes, lower it down into the river, then the water and the rotation of the wheel will peel and wash your potatoes at the same time. I only wish we would have had this back in Sweden for all those midsummer-parties where you had to prepare a million potatoes. I still have nightmares about it sometimes…
After we finished gathering and preparing all the ingredients we did the cooking together as well. And lastly, of course, we ended the experience by sharing this great feast together!
It is truly a special feeling when you not only prepare the food, but you actually harvest the ingredients directly as well. It gives a strange sense of satisfaction to see with your own eyes where the ingredients come from. All in all, it took about 3 hours but it was so much fun that it felt like it was over in a heartbeat. And the food was delicious as well.

The last activity during Mori-san’s visit to Minamioguni was a light bicycle tour with a friend of mine, Hashimoto Kota-san. Here we have another extremely open and friendly person. When Kota-san meets someone for the first time it feels like his spontaneous reaction is to run up and give them a big hug. The first time I met Kota-san it felt more like a reunion with a childhood friend. Since I moved here I think he is the one who has called out to me the most suggesting that we do things together and such. It really means a lot when you are new somewhere! Thank you! But enough with my love-letter to Kouta-san.
More than anything he is a fantastic guide and it’s an unbeatable feeling to cruise through the old buildings and lush nature of Minamioguni on a bicycle, all while Kouta-san makes you both laugh and wonder as he teaches you about everything you pass on the way.

Okay, I’m done! So much writing and I even did my best to keep it to a minimum. It was so great to have Mori-san visiting here and it felt like I learned so much in this short time. Not only by having Mori-san here and gaining his perspective on Minamioguni but also by actually planning and being in charge of this visit and everything that happened during it. I definitely still have a lot to learn, both knowledge and experience-wise, but it was really fun and I think it will get even more fun the more I learn. Mori-san, thank you so much for coming all the way here and I look forward to seeing you again soon. And more than anything, a big big big thanks to everyone who helped out and welcomed us during these 3 days! Wouldn’t have been possible without all of you. Lots of love!

Good night!!

Sincerely,

Max

Experience Minamioguni, mini-version!

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(18/02 edit: Noticed some major errors when I read the post again! Sorry and fixed!)

Hello! Sunday again and I’m here with another update! This has been one intensive week packed with new and fun experiences. To start it off, this Monday, the 11th of February, I had the pleasure of arranging my first event here in Minamioguni. Eight university students, who right now do their internship at the company Recruit (https://recruit-holdings.com), and two of their supervisors, came from afar to pay a visit to the small but lovely Minamioguni. The reason for their visit was to gain inspiration for their final project during the internship. The project itself was to present an idea of how to boost foreign tourism in rural areas of Kyushu (Japans southernmost island).  I had the honor of putting together a 3-hour package that would let them experience the food, culture, and nature of the Japanese countryside.

Of course, I could not even dream of providing this experience by myself so I jumped on my shiny red bicycle and rode off to consult with two of my favorite people in Minamioguni! Akio-san and Haruko-san. This lovely married couple runs a small farmstay establishment called Irifune in an old rebuilt granary. They mostly host middle-schoolers (but anyone is welcome) and teach them about farming and life in the countryside. In addition to that, they also have restaurant permit and gladly serve hungry visitors such as myself. In fact, Haruko-san was one of the first people I met in Minamioguni when I first visited last year. Her hospitality and warmth were one of the big reasons that I fell in love with this place.

Together with the help of Haruko-san and Akio-san, we put together a 3-hour experience that I’m proud to present through pictures down below. Sadly my camera decided to rebel at me during this day resulting in less than perfect pictures. Sorry!

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Since our guests arrived at 12:30 the day naturally started off with a bountiful lunch consisting of Haruko-san’s famous homemade food made from local ingredients, mostly grown by Akio-san and Haruko-san themselves. Above we have a local favorite, Haruko-san’s duck hot pot! I think the picture says enough!

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And this is what it looks like after it’s done! Oh, and Haruko-sans food isn’t only famous for its supreme taste but also for the never-ending amount of food that seems to keep on coming endlessly.

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Here we have our guests happily feasting away on the locally produced, home-made, countryside cuisine! And you can see Akio-san in the middle happily attending to the guests while charming them with his bright smile and sometimes questionable humor.

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I and my superior Kitaoka-san ate together with our guests and it was a great opportunity to get to know everyone a bit. Our young guests were so nice and excited about their visit to Minamioguni. They had been traveling for a few days but this was their first opportunity to actually meet and interact with local people which they were all thrilled about.

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Typical Japanese politeness pouring tea for each other.
It was quite challenging to find space to eat the food because our young university students were so into gathering information about their project that they kept shooting at me with one question after the other. And their passion was so encouraging that I couldn’t help but prioritizing giving answers, even over Haruko-san’s food!

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After both a spiritually and physically fulfilling meal, we had our young explorers dress up in some dashing wellingtons and gather up outside to prepare for some light outdoor adventures. Time to greet the god of the forest, Konpira-sugi!

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Minamioguni and Oguni are famous for the so-called Oguni-sugi which is a variety of Japanese cedar unique to this area. And here we have the number one representative, Konpira-sugi which is a 1200-year-old cedar tree sitting proudly about a 15-minute walk into the mountains from Akio-san and Haruko-san’s place. Akio-san is actually the owner of the land where Konpira-sugi stands and such its guardian. His ancestors bought the land during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) and Akio-san is the 9th in line to watch over and care for this majestic tree.

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If it’s hard to gauge the size of this beast you can compare the width of Konpira-sugi to me standing next to it in this picture. Konpira-sugi is roughly 28 meters tall and as you can see it has suffered quite some damage over the years. You know the old saying that “lightning never strikes the same place twice”? Well, Konpira-sugi must have had some bad luck because it did here. Once around the year 1700 (exact date unsure) which split the trunk into two separate branches, and once in 1929 starting a fire in the cavity created by the first lightning strike. Thanks to the desperate efforts of the local people the fire was put out and even though Konpira-sugi got burned badly, the tree still lives on thanks to the care of the people of Minamioguni.

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And thanks to those efforts, young and old people of today can still enjoy visiting this perfect example of natures beauty and give Konpira-sugi a big hug while absorbing some of its natural energy and power!

But trees aren’t only for hugging!
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They are also for growing mushrooms! More specifically Shiitake. Shiitake is one of the most common mushrooms used in Japanese cuisine and it is normally grown on the Kunugi tree, in English known as Sawtooth oak, which is a tree originally native to East Asia. Since Shiitake is very commonly produced in Minamioguni it has been the last boss that I’ve had to overcome in regards to my mushroom-fear. Now… I’m mostly over it!

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The process of growing Shiitake is commonly done through Genboku saibai which is cultivation using unprocessed wood. The process is rather long, spanning over about 2,5 years from cutting down the tree to actually being able to harvest any Shiitake. But once they start popping out, the branch or trunk will keep producing mushrooms for 2-4 years depending on its size.

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This sight of upraised branches and trunks is actually the last step of the process which is done about half a year before you can actually start harvest any Shiitake. Even though February is right before the best period for harvesting Shiitake begins, our guest thoroughly seemed to enjoy the experience of searching out some sweet and juicy shrooms.

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Oh, fun fact! Shiitake can mainly be harvested during two seasons, spring and autumn. The words for spring and autumn in Japanese is haru and aki. Do you remember the name of our lovely hosts who grow all these Shiitake? Haru-ko and Aki-o! 🙂

On to the next event, big surprise, it involves trees!
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Another part of living with the mountains and the forest in Minamioguni is tending to the trees, which is mainly done through something called Eda-uchi, branch-hitting, or branch-cutting. By trimming of young branches at an early stage from the trees you will prevent the formation of knots around the base of the branches as they grow larger. If you don’t do this the branches will eventually fall off naturally leaving a so-called dead-knot which is an area where the tree is weaker and will often end up causing holes in the planks when the wood is processed.

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Forestry is one of the main industries in Minamioguni. Since Japan for a long time built most of its structures using wood the high-quality cedar trees of Minamioguni sold for very high prices. That is why making sure that the trees on your land grew into strong beautiful trees fitting for building houses and structures was vital. Lately, the cedar trees have dropped in value but even so the tradition of eda-uchi lives on. And it might be even more important now to ensure that you get the best price possible for the trees you sell.

Our young challengers gladly took on the task of cleaning up Akio-san’s forest.
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This was clearly a win-win situation as our young guests enjoyed relieving some stress by trimming these trees into shape with scary-looking axes and knives while also relieving Akio-san from some of his physical daily work.

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Ops, it seems I couldn’t help but join in for some of the fun as well! But to be honest, I was pretty lousy at it.

After our little venture into the forest, we headed back to Akio-san and Haruko-san’s place to finish the day off with some talking and the opportunity for everyone to ask my superior and me any questions they thought might help them with their project. All while Akio-san fried up the freshly picked Shiitake in soy and mayonnaise creating the perfect junky snack!
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Lastly, to round off the day in Japanese style, we stopped by the farmers market Kiyora Kaasa since everyone wanted to do some souvenir shopping! Thank you!
And thank you all for coming and visiting Minamioguni. I really hope this gave you some insight and inspiration for your project.
It was truly great to spend 3-4 hours with all of you and get to absorb some of your passion, curiosity and positive energy. It was also an important learning experience for me since it was the first event I was in charge of planning and executing.  I will definitely learn from this and keep improving. But more than anything it was just really fun to share Minamioguni that I like so much with all of you and see how you all seemed to enjoy it just as much as I do. I truly hope and wish that I get to see you all here again someday. Or who knows, maybe somewhere else! And good luck with your project and all other future endeavors that life might throw at you! 🙂

Sincerely,

Max

 

The pink palace, Piero!

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Hello everyone!
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As I promised today I will be writing this blog post from one of my favorite spots in Minamioguni. Yes, with a beer in my hand! One thing I love about Japan is the awesome bar culture. I love drinking at the counter because even though you end up sitting next to complete strangers everyone is open and nice and you often quickly become friends. It’s a great way to meet new people you wouldn’t have met otherwise and through them get a glimpse into many different life stories. To be honest, when moving to Minamioguni I was slightly worried that there might not be a local place that could calm my counter-cravings. But oh, how wrong I was!

Let me introduce you to the pink all-star of Minamioguni, Piero!

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This cute pink exterior belongs to the local watering hole in Minamioguni, Piero! When I asked Miyuki-san, who runs Piero, about the color she told me that they repainted over 20 years ago and her husband insisted on salmon pink. Apparently, the choice wasn’t appreciated by everyone. Her grandfather felt so embarrassed about the color at first that he refused to enter the building at all, even though he lived on the second floor (bottom floor restaurant, top floor family living area). It seems he got used to the color after a while but Miyuki-san says, with a giggle, that she has never seen a worse mismatch then the sight of her grandpa poking his head out from the window on the second floor of this pink palace.

About Miyuki-san! Let me introduce her and some history about Piero.

This is Miyuki Ino-san who has been running Piero for 36 years! A lovely and sweet lady with a blinding smile and laugh that can melt any heart. Let me give you an example of how nice she is. The other day she heard that I would stop by after work with a colleague. What did Miyuki-san do? She rushed off to restock on ingredients to make sure she could make my favorite dish. True Japanese rural hospitality! Oh, and she is hilarious as well. The other day when I visited Piero she happily told me about how she mistook parmesan for fish food and gave her fish quite the luxurious dinner. And for some reason, the aquarium is cleaner now than ever so either parmesan has hidden effects or the fish decided to show their appreciation by putting some extra effort into cleaning.

So I mentioned a husband, let me clarify a bit.
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Miyuki-san’s husband Youichi-san is actually the one who started Piero 37 years ago. Miyuki-san came as a customer and only one year after opening Piero they were married. Miyuki-san describes her husband as a very silent man but he had a certain air about him. Even though he didn’t talk much he seemed to have a calming effect on people and maybe that is why people gathered around him. According to Miyuki-san, her husband wasn’t much of a businessman, to say the least. He barely charged his customers more than a symbolical sum, regardless of how much they drank or ate. When they got married Youichi-san’s father (the grandpa in the window) apparently asked Miyuki-san to take charge of the economy and save Piero from imminent bankruptcy. And so she did, she even decided Youichi-san ‘s pocket money. And Youichi-san always spent it perfectly, never too much, never too little. Just the amount he was given. That was the kind of man Youichi-san was.

About 20 years ago, just after the picture above was taken, Youichi-san became sick with cancer and after a while, he sadly passed away. Miyuki-san and Youichi-san ran Piero together for about 16 years and since then Miyuki-san has kept her husbands legacy alive by managing Piero while also raising 3 children alone. And not only that, but she has also been involved in volunteer work and done her best to support her community. She is truly an impressive woman who gives so much to the people in her surrounding. Not because she expects something back, but because she feels that this is her way of achieving happiness and being a good role model. And this comes around as people in her surrounding get affected by her good actions and do what they can to help and support her as well. Even though I’m new in Minamioguni and haven’t visited Piero more than 5 times at most, it is obvious to me that Miyuki-san’s customers care as much for her as she does for them.


Let me move on to the next part of this post and present another reason why I’m in love with Piero. Or more exactly, three reasons! This is the holy trinity of food that Miyuki-san produce. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these 3 dishes visit my dreams on a weekly basis. Believe it or not, It’s not all about the beer!

From the top:
1. Tempura fried maitake mushroom
2. Butter squid
3. Chicken wings (Tebasaki)
1The tempura fried maitake mushrooms might be the one dish to rule them all. And also, the first mushroom that I truly felt from the bottom of my heart was delicious (I have until recently had a life-long and highly personal feud with all kinds of mushroom). A perfectly crispy tempura batter encapsulating juicy and superb maitake. You could say that this dish has been my gateway drug into heavier mushrooms. Only legal mushrooms though!

18The butter squid was yet another nearly religious experience for me. I have always found the taste of squid nice but the texture a bit hard to chew. But this here is something completely different. The light salt and butter taste combined with a soft squid that melts in your mouth can only be described as heavenly. Squeeze some lemon over it and you will have found yourself a shortcut to nirvana.

19Lastly! The chicken wings, or ‘tebasaki’ as it’s called here. Tebasaki is a popular dish in Japan and most Yakitori restaurants (restaurants mainly specializing in skewered and grilled chicken/bird dishes) serve it. But I’ve never had tebasaki even close to the ones served at Piero. The outside is sooo crisp and salty and the meat inside is sooo juicy and tender. And believe me when I say this, together with a cold beer this is almost, in lack of better words, an erotic experience.
Ah…. Now I’m hungry again…

This post is getting long! And to be honest, I did start writing at Piero but it was harder than I imagined to talk and write at the same time so I’m now eating away at my sleeping hours at home to keep my promise and upload this post today!
I’ll finish off with some pictures that I hope will convey the nice atmosphere at Piero!
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Oh, this last picture needs some explanation though! In Japan, it isn’t unusual that you buy a bottle of liquor, in this case, Japanese shochu(↑) that you keep in the bar. Hence the original name for it, “bottle-keep”. According to Miyuki-san, I’m the first foreigner who has kept a bottle in the bar since they opened Piero 37 years ago. It’s not how I imagined that I would put my name down in the history of Minamioguni but at least it’s a start!

So this is Piero! A great little restaurant, bar, cafe or whatever you need it to be! Loved by the locals of Minamioguni and at least by one weird Swedish guy. I’m so grateful to have this little spot where you can wind down with some good food, drinks, and conversation after an intensive week at work. If you stop by Minamioguni you should definitely drop by. I even give you full permission to drink from my bottle as well!

Oh, and thank you Miyuki-san for everything you do!

Good night!

Sincerely,

Max

 

Oyster+winter=Minamioguni?

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For some reason, in the middle of the mountains, a small town decided that February, the coldest month of the year, was the perfect time to arrange a BBQ oyster event… And yes, that town was Minamioguni! About 300 kilos of oysters later, that even is finally over! It was a lot of fun, it was really tasty, it was at times cold enough that I actually considered hibernation, but overall, I must say the event was a great success! And that is definitely thanks to all the awesome people that defied the cold to gulp down some slimy sea creatures and at the same time managed to warm up this frozen Suedes heart with a whole lot of Minamioguni love and friendliness. Thank you! ❤

This time I will go low on the text and mostly share some pictures! But you can look forward to another post hopefully tomorrow already! I will share one of my favorite spots in Minamioguni.

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Preparations are almost complete, three dirty and stinky tents borrowed from the neighboring school.

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The coal is burning (by the way, this has been my number one heat source for 3 days now), only one thing missing!

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Oysteeeeeer!!!!! I tried one raw as well, it tasted amazing and no sudden need to empty the bowels whatsoever.
By the way, I have noticed something during these 3 days. The Japanese people are fine with eating raw chicken, raw liver, poisonous blowfish and all the other dangerous stuff they happily consume but for some reason, almost everyone is extremely afraid of raw oyster? Apparently, it must be worse than potential death…

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Anyway, slam them oysters on the grill! Oh, and as I have learned during these days you should grill them with the convex side facing down, in other words, opposite from how they are facing in this pic. Why? Once they are done they will pop open (and squirt oyster juice in your face, yes, every time) so if you place them up-side-down the tasty juice will stay safe in the bowl-shaped part of the oyster.

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A lovely lady rocking that grill!

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Well, as expected we didn’t necessarily get rushed by a hoard of oyster-craving people. But we did, mostly, have a constant stream of customers!

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Even as it started to get darker. The lamps gave some sweet atmosphere though!

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And after a while, one of the masterminds behind this event, Arai-san brought out some wild boar meat. Locally hunted and prepared by Arai-san himself.

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To be honest… Maybe I shouldn’t say this… But… This tasted even better than the oysters! I can’t stress it enough, wild boar is very underrated.

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Some nice and cozy vibes from the oyster tent!

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A friend of mine Kota-san decided to mix it up and bought some veggies as well. Looks pretty damn tasty, wouldn’t you say?

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And judging from Kouta-san’s suspicious smile and craving eyes it seems he agrees! A left hand has never been more ready to eat.

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Oh, and the lady to the right, Hamasaka-san, is my new neighbor! I met her for the first time on the first night of the event. And then the second day of the event… And the third day! Yes, 3 out of 3 possible days! But to be fair, she only had oyster the first 2 days. Anyways, she is super nice so I look forward to getting to know here better!

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And finally, a sweet close-up of some tasty-looking oysters cooking on the grill. The event was a success, I met lots of friends, and got to know new people, and learned a lot about oysters, and wild boar!

Tomorrow (hopefully) I will share one of my favorite spots in Minamioguni, and the holy trinity of food that right now rules my world and my mind, haunts my dreams, disturbs my concentration at work, slowly but steadily eats its way through my wallet… No, it’s actually cheap as well which makes it even better! Anyway, more on that tomorrow!

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed the pictures!

Sincerely,

Max

Back from radio silence!

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Hello hello! Can you hear me? This is Max calling out from Minamioguni, I’m still here, I’m still alive! Sorry for the long radio silence! If I were to give an excuse, I can only say that, as expected when living in Japan, I’ve been very busy at work! On that topic! I thought I should shed some further light on what I’m actually doing here in this remote rural town.

As I’ve mentioned before this town is most famous for its onsen, especially an area known as Kurokawa onsen. Kurokawa onsen attracts both tourists from around Japan and abroad. Which is great! But the problem is that most people who visit Minamioguni only get to see this one part of a wonderful town that has a lot more to offer. Furthermore, since the big earthquake in Kumamoto 2016, the number of tourists have dwindled drastically. Obviously, this impacts the town negatively, especially in a situation where many young people already leave the countryside for bigger cities. But the people of Minamioguni love their town and don’t give up easily.

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That is why the tourism association of the town decided to put an effort into turning this negative trend around and started a company called SMO Minamioguni, https://minamioguni.jp (Japanese). SMO Minamioguni’s goal is to spread information, increase awareness, arrange events and overall promote tourism in the area. By doing so this lovely mountain village and its traditions can hopefully be preserved and protected for future generations. This is where I come into the picture. Since the Japanese countryside can be hard to approach if you don’t speak the language my role will be to introduce tourists, mainly from other countries, to the people of Minamioguni and try to give an insight into their lives. For a long time, living in the Japanese countryside has been a dream of mine, so I obviously jumped at the chance to be a part of this effort. But wait, “Introducing tourists to the people?” Maybe this doesn’t give that much of a clear image. So let me share some pictures from my participation in a similar private tour in Shiga prefecture (close to Kyoto) that I took part in last month.

Firstly, let me introduce you to my mentor, Mori Seita!

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Mori-san, as I call him, have been doing private tours in Shiga for about 6 years. I was introduced to Mori-san by a colleague who lives in Shiga and Mori-san agreed to help me with my endeavors to start up a similar business in Minamioguni. Mori-san’s strong feelings towards Shiga and its inhabitants shines through the tours he conducts and the knowledge he possesses is truly inspiring. Mori-san conducts tours in smaller groups, in some cases only a single person, where he introduces people to different areas of Shiga and the locals who live there. As Mori-san describes it, he wants to conduct relaxed tours that convey the feeling of introducing friends to each other rather than a typical guided tour defined by one-way communication. I’ve gotten myself a great role model if I may say so myself!

So let’s get into the pictures!?!

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(Of course I’ll share the picture I’m taking!)

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As in the case above, a part of the tour can be as simple as ascending a small mountain to have home-made lunch at a local farmers house and enjoy the superb view. Calling it “simple” might not sound very flattering but I actually think that this simplicity is what makes the experience truly amazing. This isn’t some well-polished tourism attraction. This is solely about coming in contact with people living a different life and sharing real and true experiences through meaningful interaction. And come on, who can’t help but fall a little in love with this lovely lady!

Let’s keep going!

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Another part of the experience can be visiting a lovely couple who does pottery and enjoy a cup of tea, some cuddle-time with a less than entertained cat and a lesson in the basics of pottery. Apparently, I’m a natural talent! Or at least that is what I have decided to tell myself…
During his tours, Mori-san brings you to places that are both interesting, beautiful and unique which of course makes them both fun and stimulating. But more than anything the encounters with local people constantly feel like the center of the experience. This is something I admire deeply and I truly hope to be able to accomplish something similar here in Minamioguni. That is why I now spend as much time as possible trying to get to know Minamioguni and its people more and more. By doing that, I can hopefully make friends that want to be a part of this project and can allow me to bring visitors who are curious and want to learn about their lives here in rural Japan.

And for the record! It feels like I make new friends every day thanks to the people of Minamioguni who are so warm and loving. For example, the picture above is from the other day when I was invited to a small event at the lovely Shigeko-san’s house for some harvest work in the fields, an intense battle with a non-compliant fireplace and some lessons on edible weed. Oh, and of course a stellar dinner! Shigeko-san is an amazing lady and when I have time I want to write an article only about her!

Well, before I unintentionally start writing that article here out of pure excitement I’ll end this post for now. I hope this has given slightly more of an idea about what I’m actually doing here in Minamioguni. And I want to give a big thanks to Mori-san for all his help and three fantastic days in Shiga.

Oh, and one last word! I’m truly sorry about the long silence! I will try to get back on schedule with weekly updates from now on!

See you next week!!
Sincerely,
Max

 

Winter is coming…​

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Winter is coming… Never before has the motto of House Stark rung truer and felt more relevant to me.  This is me, praying for a mild winter.48932549_2145913809007092_3418163663985442816_n

So what about this fear of winter? At least the picture above doesn’t look that bad, right? Well, let me tell you! For starters, how cold does the winter in Minamioguni even get? From my research, the average temperature in January and February is around 1,6°C but with fairly regular cold spikes of about -10°C. Many might think that this sounds quite pleasant and my apparent worry is overblown. But that is where you need to think again. In Japan, the humidity is very high, in other words, there is a lot of moisture in the air. This makes it feel really freakin cold. And many Japanese homes, of course not all of them, use more or less no insulation resulting in little to no difference between the inside and outside temperature.

As you can see in the pictures above this results in the inside of the apartment, windows, doors, walls, etc becoming really wet and moist. Literally dripping with water. This can often lead to frost inside of the apartment and mold growth which is why proper measures need to be taken!
And actually, there is one more scary thing. Even scarier than mold in your closet! If you are not careful the water pipes can apparently freeze and rupture during cold spikes… But before we go into that! Let’s see what you can do about the humidity and frost/mold-problems.

First, you need to go shopping!

Above we have the following:
1. The blue packages are different versions of dehumidification agents. Since I had no idea what the best one was, the logical choice was to buy everything they had. Now I’m a proud owner of dehumidification agents for putting in your closet, hanging with your shirts and placing randomly around your apartment. These will absorb the moisture in the air and help prevent frost and mold inside the apartment.  Thankfully they are relatively cheap!

2. In the red paper bag, we have newspapers that a nice colleague of mine gave to me. To be honest, this one still confuses me to most. As I understand it you should put it inside closets and preferably cover the entire floor with it to absorb moisture and prevent cold air from rising up through the tatami-mats/flooring. For now, I will settle for spreading it out in the closets.
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3. The long and narrow ones with orange labels are actually bubble wrap for windows. Wait, what? Is at least what I thought. But yes, you are actually encouraged to but bubble wrap on your windows to keep the cold at bay. The process looks something like this!

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First, you spray the window with lots of water!

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Then you take the sheet of bubble wrap that you have cut into the proper shape and press it to the window where it will use the water as an adhesive and stick.

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Here you can see the difference, left side with bubble wrap and right side without.

Another thing that can happen with the high humidity and frost inside the apartment is that the floor gets really wet and ruins mats, mattresses or other fabrics that are in direct contact with the floor. That is why it’s important to place these aluminum sheets both to prevent the heat from escaping but also to avoid your precious fabrics from getting damp and smelly.

To be honest this part was mostly about me wanting to show off my awesome kotatsu! The best invention Japan has ever made and alone reason enough to live in Japan. For the ones who haven’t seen a kotatsu before it’s a table with an electric heater attached to the inside of the table top and a cozy blanket that keeps the heat from escaping. The kotatsu is definitely worthy of an honorary mention as the single most important item needed to survive the Japanese winter.

So let’s move on to the main event! The scary risk that your water pipes might rupture leaving you without any water in the middle of winter and a big juicy reparation bill to pay. During the cold spikes of around -10°C there is a risk that the water left in your pipes will freeze, expand and thus rupture the pipes themselves. To prevent this there are 3 important things you should do and I will present them down below!

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You should always leave your water on! This is the most basic way to prevent the water from freezing in the pipes. And when I say always, I mean always! Yes, when you sleep. Yes, when you go to work. At least when the temperature goes down below 0 this is a must. But when it gets really cold I have heard that even if you do this the water might freeze as it is running.

Number 2! Protect your water pipes!
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Here you have an array of tools to wrap and protect the water pipes on the outside of your building.

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First I wrap the pipes in heating tape, It’s called tape but has no adhesive, thus the normal tape. And for the record, I have no idea whatsoever what I’m doing here so I assume that a professional eye might find my attempts at using these materials entertaining at the least.

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Lastly, I used an aluminum pipe cover and cut out pieces of a fitting size to cover the heating tape. It might not be beautiful, it might not help at all, but at least it’s something! Let’s pray that this prevents my pipes from exploding during the cold winter nights!

Finally, there is one more thing you need to do. But only when going away for a longer period of time.
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Turn off the water completely! Shut it down! And the important thing to remember is that after you turn off the water, you need to open the taps to make sure that there is no water still remaining in the pipes. If you don’t do this your endeavors can be a waste since the remaining water might freeze and ruin your pipes anyway.

So there you have it! These are my winter preparations. And as I said earlier, It’s my first time spending winter during these circumstances and I have no idea if I’m doing it right or not. But what I have presented here is the information I have managed to collect and put into action. If I have misunderstood something completely, feel free to point out. Especially if it can increase my survival rate this winter!

I’ll send you off with this totally unrelated picture I took the other day, only because I like it so much.

Other than that, I want to wish you all a happy new year!! See you next year and let’s make it a good one! Love and peace! ❤
Max

A not so Christmassy Friday!

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Hello again!! Christmas is almost upon us so I thought I’d share something to read for the one who needs to forget about the Christmas-stress for a moment. And, for better or for worse, this post contains a shockingly low amount of Christmas feeling.

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I have safely survived my first week as a citizen of Minamioguni and would like to share some highlights from a pretty great Friday I had the pleasure of enjoying the other day. Some of you who follow me on Instagram (@Julebrygd) might have seen this post?

I thought I would use this post and provide a few more details and pictures from this great day. I hope you will enjoy the ride as much as I did! But firstly, I should say something about my job. Right now I’m working at a place called Minamioguni SMO, which is an organization promoting tourism, arranging events and much more. The goal of the organization is the growth and expansion of Minamioguni and the surrounding area around Mount Aso. And of course, more than anything, the pure wish of sharing this amazing place with more people, and enrich the experience of those who decide to visit the Aso area.
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With that said, this Friday, my colleague Mayu Kajiwara, a.k.a Kaji-chan, brought me along for a small excursion that turned into quite the adventure. Our initial plan was to visit the cozy soba noodle-restaurant Shala and take some pictures for an article (mostly as an excuse for a tasty lunch). When we arrived at Shala the restaurant was pretty packed; to avoid disturbing the other guests with our little photo shoot we decided to kill some time. I didn’t have much for breakfast so I can’t deny that a couple of tears crept down my cheek as we pulled out from the parking space.

So where did we decide to go? We headed to an area of Minamioguni called ‘Ta no Hara’ which is home to a shrine called ‘Kohagiyama Inari Shrine’, famous in Japan for its ability to help people find love. In the area, you can also find a variety of restaurants, ryokan, and onsen. Our goal this time was to work up some appetite at the top of mount Kohagi and at the same time take some pretty pictures of the view. Thanks to Kaji-chan knowing the people who own the land we could enter some areas usually off limits.

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We did go by car most of the way but after a while, it gets really steep and really narrow. Too narrow to even turn the car around. So we had to walk the remaining path to reach the peak. Here you can see Kaji-chan fighting not to be blown away by the wind on the steep uphill pathway. And actually, there is one more thing that makes this walk quite challenging…

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Most of the time the area is populated by cows… Which in turn, of course, leads to cow dung… LOTS of cow dung! I can assure you from experience that ascending this mountain while dodging an abundance of cow excrement requires both mental and physical ability.

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But the trek was well worth it. Because the view is stunning! The open wide landscapes and the yellow grass fields typical to the Aso area is truly a sight to behold. It is a mystery to me that this area with its great and breath-taking nature isn’t more well known. I really wish to share this experience with as many people as possible!

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We were lucky with the weather as well. Right as we reached the top the weather started to clear up letting the sun shine its beams through the parting clouds creating a magical sight. My colleague Kaji-chan was mesmerized as well!

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After enjoying ourselves for a while we started our descent and as we turned a curve we suddenly found ourselves face to face with this rather unexpected sight. A herd of sheep, out for a walk, by themselves! I think both we and the sheep were evenly surprised by this random encounter.

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For about 10 minutes we had the pleasure of watching the cute behinds of these lovely sheep as they were strolling along ahead of our car. It would be an understatement to say that we were very excited by the charming swag of these sheep rumps!

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After a while when the road opened up our newly found friends greedily jumped on the chance to start devouring some grass which gave us our first opportunity at some shots of something else then their bums.

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Suddenly our excursion had turned into a sheep-safari. A slightly different Minamioguni-experience!

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Watching the sheep herd munch on all that tasty-looking green grass encouraged us to set out towards our original destination. Soba-noodle restaurant Shala!

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Shala’s interior design feels like a fusion between classic Japanese and modern design. The atmosphere is very calming and every table is right by a window ensuring that you can enjoy the beautiful nature outside.

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The food at Shala is great! It’s actually my second time eating here and it has been amazing both times. This time I went for one of the more exclusive dishes(since it was Friday and all) called ‘kamoebi’. A straightforward name that would translate to Duck-shrimp. The dish consists of handmade ‘zarusoba’ which is noodles served together with a cold dipping sauce. The duck-shrimp part comes from the accompanying duck hot pot and tempura-fried shrimps. The possibility to switch between the hot duck soup and the cold zarusoba was really nice and gave a lot of depth to the dish. I definitely look forward to eating it again!

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The rumored duck hot pot! The broth that absorbed the flavors of the duck and the vegetables tasted sooooo good. Perfect for heating up a body chilled by the cold mountain winds!

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And to finish it all of a nice little dessert! After finishing a plentiful lunch and the photo shoot we utilized our now balloon shaped bodies and rolled happily back to the office. By the way, about the office…

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It’s actually in connection with the towns farmers market called Kyora Kaasa. At Kyora Kaasa you can buy vegetables and other locally produced products, often at a very good price. They also sell souvenirs and other goodies.

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The vegetables sold at Kyora Kaasa are as fresh as you will find them since they get delivered directly by the producers straight after harvest. As far as I know, no chemicals are used during production and the veggies that don’t get sold are transported away and used as fodder for animals. It is a great feeling to eat locally produced products and know that nothing goes to waste. Oh, and the staff! They are super-friendly and amazing as well! Down below we have one example of their friendliness!

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This Friday I got some early Christmas presents to bring home with me after work! Shiitake mushrooms to the left. Yama-imo which is apparently called ‘Japanese yam’ in English. The name would translate to mountain potato though. It’s the long brown one in the middle. The purple one is ‘Umeboshi’, pickled dry plum. Super tasty with rice but very(very very) sour so prepare to use some new muscles in your face if you eat one. Below the umeboshi, we have soy-pickled grapes, first time for me as well! And lastly, one of my personal favorites, hakusai (napa cabbage)!

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And to finish this great day, I went to a local pub/restaurant called ‘Piero’ which I had heard served the best tempura-fried maitake mushrooms. And I can tell you that I did not go away disappointed. This one is truly addictive! The light crispy and flavourful tempura batter that envelopes the juicy and tasty maitake topped off with a pinch of salt makes for the perfect taste experience. I could eat this all the time and never get tired of the taste. Oh, and together with a beer, this is all anyone could ask for to end a great day!

This was a long one! I hope at least a few of you managed to stay with me all to the end. Since it was mostly photos I hope it didn’t get too heavy! I do feel a bit bad about the fact that even though it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow, nothing in this post reflects that at all! I’ll hope this last picture helps a little bit. This is called ‘yuakari’ and is a tradition in Minamioguni since 7 years back. These spheres are made out of bamboo and turned into lights that are used to decorate the town from December through March. At least in my mind, they remind of Christmas ornaments!
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Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!!!
Sincerely,

Max