Ryokan Fujimoto, Homely luxury at its best!

After my last stay at Ryokan Sanga, I got the opportunity to continue my hometown travels in exchange for documenting my experiences in English! My first stop is Ryokan Fujimoto! Ryokan Fujimoto turned out to be a fantastic experience that far surpassed my expectations with its homely but still refined take on luxury. Come along for the ride and explore Fujimoto with me!

Even though Minamioguni is a small town, it is home to 5 different onsen (hot spring) areas and hosts some of the best Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in Kumamoto. The most famous one is the infamous Kurokawa Onsen which attracts visitors from wide and afar. Other than Kurokawa Onsen we have Ta-no-Haru Onsen, Mangan-Ji Onsen, Ota Onsen, and lastly Shirakawa Onsen. Each of them has their own unique flavor and many who fall in love with Kurokawa Onsen often move on to find their own favorite getaway among these petite hidden-away ryokan. It is in Shirakawa onsen where we find Ryokan Fujimoto, a small family-run ryokan with only eight rooms guaranteeing you a relaxing and private experience.

Before we head in, we need to start off with a mandatory shot in front of the atmospheric entrance framed by meticulously cut greenery.

Once you step inside you will find yourself right infront of the reception were the staff will greet you before guiding you to your room.

Speaking of the room! Super clean and spacious! The crisp modern design mixtures classical Japanese design with elements of western atmosphere. Pay extra attention to the high ceiling decorated with beautiful wooden beams. As you can see in the previous picture as well, this design can be found in many places around Fujimoto and creates an airy feeling.

It didn’t take more than a few minutes for us to throw ourselves at the beds! Very comfortable!! Definitely a big plus for people who might not be used to sleeping on the futon mattresses that are laid out directly at the floor. But be aware, these beds are dangerous and will make you miss the check-out time!

The large window that looks out over lush nature and atmospheric rooftops is beautiful enough to be mistaken for a piece of art. Hard to keep yourself from taking pictures! As you might notice?…

A closer look out outside displays this scenery. You can’t help but imagine the startling beauty that must be displayed when the abundant maple trees change into vivid red and yellow during autumn.
It’s also worth mentioning, you might not be able to see it, but you can hear the calming sound of the river which integrates into and becomes a part of Fujimoto while relaxing in your room!

Sorry! We got so excited by the room that we almost forgot to change into our Yukatas. Without exaggeration, this Yukata was the most comfortable I’ve worn to date!! The fabric is slightly thicker then usual and the closest way I can describe it is as an ultra-light jeans fabric, which might not sound very nice… But trust me! I’m having withdrawal-symptoms from not wearing this daily.

Another lovely detail at Fujimoto is that they have a small library! This space have also been used as a bar, explaining the bar-counter, but is now strictly used as a library. Here you can also enjoy your after-dinner coffee while leisurely browsing through any of the…

Japanese books! Couldn’t find much English literature… But one book in Korean! Better start practicing your Japanese reading skills!

Many children’s books though!
I even had the great pleasure of finding my favorite book as a child!
‘Where The Wild Things Are’
Ayu patiently listened to me (or at least pretended to) as I passionately retold the story of the main character Max’s (Guess why I liked the book as a child!) adventures!

Finally, time to explore Fujimoto’s onsen! The corridors and pathways leading to the hot springs are scenic enough by themselves and you will find yourself stopping to pose for pictures and just simply enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Here we have the entrance to the shared/public baths. I’m calling it public, but Fujimoto isn’t open for non-staying guests so it will only be shared by other overnight guests.
Red for ladies and blue for men! The bathing areas have their own unique charms and which one you get access to change on a daily basis. Down below we will have a look at the men’s bath for this day!
※Special permission to bring in a camera and take pictures in the bathing area, which normally is prohibited, has been acquired.

There are indoor-baths, sauna, showers and many other things to enjoy, but I’m going to skip all that and jump straight into the crème de la crème! The open-air baths!

Lovely, steaming, and shimmering blue hot springs surrounded by spectacular moss-covered buildings, trees, and a wall of green refreshing leaves. This bath alone would have left me more than satisfied but as I sat there I noticed what seemed like a small set of stairs heading down towards the river…?

A quick peek that revealed paradise!

This hidden bath right next to the river is everything a onsen-lover could ask for! You can pretty much stretch out your hand and dip it in the river as you let your body soak in the hot onsen-water.

Every single detail of this bath just reeks of atmosphere and I could easily sit here an entire day and just let time slowly flow away together with the mountain stream.
This is a onsen you won’t forget any time soon!

Another part I really liked about Fujimoto are the private baths! The baths themselves are of course great, but what takes it to the next level is the system to use them!

There are four baths in total. At many ryokan, you make a reservation to use a specific bath for one hour. At Fujimoto you simply pick up a ‘door tag’ at the reception. This tag can be hung outside any of the four private baths to occupy it. This allows you to freely go between the different onsen without considering time or making new reservations. A very fun and exciting way to enjoy ‘onsen-hopping’ within the Ryokan!

If you are short on time, I have to recommend either of the two open-air baths that you will find at the far back of the private bathing area. Above you can see the wooden cypress tub.

And here you have the stone-cut tub! Both of them are right by the river and can’t be described as anything other than magnificent. If I have to choose one I will probably go for the stone-cut tub. The open space without walls or anything blocking the scenery really lets you blend together with nature for a supreme hot-spring experience.

Clean, refreshed, ready for a quick nap before dinner!

Dinner is enjoyed at the clean and fashionable restaurant area. Blinders have been added to create a personal atmosphere and keep some social distance in times of Corona virus.

So! Let’s get down to business! Food!

Let me summarize. Fujimoto’s food is an absolute treat for both your taste buds and your eyes! The owner himself is the one to conceptualize, pick out the ingredients, and prepare every meal! Everything is homemade and Fujimoto is particular about using locally cultivated ingredients wherever possible.

For example! How about these wonderful slices of locally produced free-range chicken and grass-fed Akaushi wagyu beef?
You might react to the fact that the chicken isn’t cooked all the way through? I would refrain from eating that on many restaurants, but here, it is handled with most care and is totally fresh so it should be safe to eat! Still, if you feel worried, don’t force yourself!

This one on the other hand! Slowly grilled for 30 minutes so nothing to worry about! The fish is called Yamame, which translates to “mountain lady”, and is a common river dweller in the area. Squeeze some lemon and enjoy some of the best grilled fish you will ever have.

Next we have one of the main events! The white hot pot! In Japan, hot pot, known by the name of ‘Nabe (鍋)’, is a very popular dish. Not only nabe, but Japanese cuisine often pursues a mixture of vivid colors in its presentation. But this nabe challenge that trend by going for a mixture of more or less completely white ingredients. And it’s a complete success! The most amazing part was the white maitake mushroom. It’s a quite rare ingredient that lives up to its reputation with it’s gentle and refined flavor.

Since I’m no food-critic and my ability to describe food with fancy words is limited, I’ll finish off with this compilation of pictures showing tempura fried vegetables, nabe/rice/pickles and the dessert.
I would like to point out something before I move on though! Fujimoto’s food truly took me by surprise. Often, mixed into this type of course, there is some small dish that doesn’t fit my taste or feel like it’s there as a seat filler. But here, everything was incredibly tasty, and you could truly feel the love that had gone into every dish. If you are a food-junkie, then eating at Fujimoto is worth every single penny!

After dinner, we sat down at the fashionable bar counter for a coffee and small-talk with the owner. We learned that Fujimoto has been in business for 24 years and is run by him, his elder sister, and their grandfather who helps out from time to time. In other words, everything is handled by these 3 people alone which is mind-blowing!

The bar is currently not being used but we where lucky to get a drink served by the owner himself! Happy Ayu and happy Max!

But even if the bar is out of operation, you can always buy a beer at the mini-fridge! Put 500 yen in the cup and grab yourself a Corona! I love this part of Japan, no supervision, just trust and faith that people do the right thing.

Let’s have a look at the breakfast as well before we wrap up.

The breakfast buffet is one of the main attractions of Fujimoto! Because of covid-19, they considered removing the buffet, but it’s very popular among visitors so they decided to keep it. Fujimoto is a small ryokan with a limited number of guests and they make sure to disinfect everything properly. I personally agree that buffet is great since it lets you customize a breakfast that fits your own taste. Especially for foreigners like me who might not be used to the Japanese breakfast.

Speaking of things that foreigners might appreciate… Newly brewed coffee!!! ❤️

Furthermore, bread and a toaster!!! Just the fact that this is available for people who are sensitive about their food is such a simple but great detail. Thank you!

With that said, we both went for the Japanese style, and even though I could customize my breakfast, I took way too much and probably increased my waist measurements by a few centimeters! Apparently, most visitors skip lunch after having had a round of Fujimoto breakfast.
It tasted absolutely splendid though and the tranquil rural scenery outside was the perfect finishing touch!

To summarize our experience at Ryokan Fujimoto, it was the perfect mix of luxury and homeliness. The homeliness comes naturally and seeps through every part of Fujimoto, most likely thanks to the fact that it’s a small-scale business and the entire staff is made up of brother, sister, and grandpa.
The luxury is born from an unbelievable attention to details, a never-ending pursuit of perfection, and what I believe is a natural talent for creating superb atmosphere.

So, who should visit Fujimoto?
If you are a lover of food, want a slightly more secluded ryokan-experience, looking to experience rural luxury that doesn’t get ‘fancy’ or ostentatious, and are in search for that open-air onsen which will fulfill all of your dreams. Then you are the perfect person to visit Fujimoto!

I hope you enjoyed this report and get the chance to come visit Minimaioguni in Kumamoto soon so you can experience Ryokan Fujimoto for yourself!

Sincerely,

Max

For more information, look below!
Website: http://fuji-moto.com/trans/
Contact: info@fuji-moto.com
Location:

Healing for the mind, body and soul! Ryokan Sanga in Kurokawa Onsen.

Hello. friends!
I’m back for more and this time I will introduce a location that holds a special place in my heart.

o2c197c33a4853a372ce3af56891e6203_54257076_200609_0070So, where might this be?
Let me tell you!

IMG_5237This is Sanga Ryokan in Kurokawa Onsen! In order to recuperate after Covid-19, many of the onsen establishments in my town offer special deals and discounts aimed at locals to encourage hometown travel.
So I took this opportunity to stay at Kurokawa Onsen for the first time! Kurokawa Onsen is made up of around 30 separate ryokans, but for me, the choice was clear! When I came to Minamioguni for the very first time in February 2018, Sanga was the first onsen I visited. Since then I have come here both privately and through work many times and grown to love this place. So it only felt natural that my first actual stay would be here as well!

So, let’s get right into it!

As you enter you are greeted by the warm staff and get to sit down in the atmospheric lobby enjoying some tea and Japanese sweets as the staff explains everything you need to know to enjoy a night at Sanga.

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This was our room called Hisakaki!
Clean and classic Japanese style with tatami mats and everything you need to immerse yourself in the complete traditional Japan-experience.
Right outside the window flows Ta no Haru river soothing you with the soft murmuring of the stream.

Our room also had another feature!IMG_5057
Yep! Our own private onsen right in the room!! These rooms costs slightly more, 18,000 yen a night while the cheaper once are set at 15,000 yen a night. This extra feature is awesome and feels really luxurious. But even if you don’t want to pay the extra money, rest assured because Sanga has a wide variety of baths for you to enjoy! Let me show you a few!

This is “Hinoki”, a privately rentable bath with a tub carved out of cypress wood. It is more spacious than it looks and is perfect for couples or families. I loved the fact that you could actually feel the grains of the wood as you sit in the bath giving it a very natural and relaxing feeling. And remember, these “rentable baths” are limited to staying customers and can all be reserved for free at the front desk!

Next, let’s have a look at the shared open-air baths!
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Firstly we have Shiki-no-yu which is the female-only outdoor onsen! These baths are available to non-staying guests as well but they are very spacious, and depending on the time, you will have a good chance to get it all to yourself.

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This is the male-version, Moyai-no-yu. Or to be more exact, it is actually a mixed bath, but I’ve never seen anything but men in here so it’s more or less a male bath.

Next we have one of the absolute highlights!IMG_5081
Rokusyaku-oke! Which, for the record, also is a private bath only available to staying guests!

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Surrounded by lush green nature, you get this large tub and open space all to yourself! It’s located slightly away from the main building and the other baths which truly gives you the feeling of being in your own private space, closed off to the rest of the world.
This bath alone is reason enough to stay at Sanga and I already look forward to experience it again during another season!

These are only a few of all the onsen that Sanga has to offer, and if you have money to spare, you can even enjoy private open-air baths in your room!

But Sanga is about more than only the onsen.
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Sanga has truly managed to create an otherworldly feeling and it is an amazing experience to just stroll around the small village-like area surrounded by moss, greenery and atmospheric buildings that make you feel like you have traveled back in time.

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Every angle and every detail make for great photo-spots so I encourage to keep your camera close at hand.

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Slowly, as darkness sets in, the area takes on a new appearance as it is lit up by small lanterns along the pathways.

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If you start to feel a bit chilly, why don’t you take a break by the footbath?

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Or you can sit down and warm yourself as you listen to the crackling firewood.
For a Studio Ghibli-fan like myself, the atmosphere of Sanga is like being in paradise. Do I need to say anything else?

So, let’s get into another of the main parts of staying at a Ryokan.

The food!!! 🍣  🍖  🍚  🍅 🥢

I’m no expert-food-critic so I’ll let the pictures do the most of the talking!
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If you think that a stay feels a bit expensive, remember that it includes a high-quality course dinner featuring local specialities made with seasonal ingredients from the area. You will get to enjoy everything form steak to sushi and even hot pot!

Every single dish is prepared with utmost care and presented beautifully. I had heard before that Sanga has great food, but even though my expectations were high, it did not disappoint at all. If you enjoy Japanese cuisine, this is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience it!
I also love the fact that you get it all prepared in your room making the experience very relaxed and comfortable!

Oh, wait, a high-end course dinner isn’t everything!
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The stay also includes a spectacular breakfast! The shining star of the breakfast must have been…o2c197c33a4853a372ce3af56891e6203_54257076_200609_0013
Steamed vegetables!!! Steamed food truly brings out the full flavor of the already delicious locally sourced ingredients. I could eat this for every meal every day!

Some people might feel unused to this type of breakfast that includes rice, fish, vegetables, miso soup and other stuff that usually might make you think of lunch or dinner. But! Here is the big but! Remember that the Japanese have the longest average life-length in the world! This healthy and well-rounded breakfasts might be one of the reasons!? Keep an open mind and see this opportunity as the unique and fascinating experience that it is! And who knows, it might even prolong your lifespan with a extra year or two!

One more important thing before I finish!IMG_5137
Also remember to take one of these cheesy and generic yukata-pictures in front of the window in your room! It might feel silly, but it will definitely be a memorable picture! I’ve already printed out an oversized version of this one to hang on my wall!

So, all in all, Ryokan Sanga is a great place to stay a night! I truly enjoyed every part of my visit and it only made me want to come back for more. I can’t wait to stay in the winter and slip into the open-air onsen surrounded by a thick layer of snow, or sit down in Rokusyaku-oke’s round bathtub as the leaves change into the bright vivid colors of autumn.

I also want to direct a special thanks to the wonderful, attentive and heartwarming staff of Ryokan Sanga, it’s thanks to them that all the separate parts come together into a wonderful whole and turns Sanga from a great experience into an unforgettable one!

Covid-19 is still a reality and it’s hard to encourage traveling since we all need to be careful and do whatever it takes to limit the spread of the virus. But hopefully, in a soon foreseeable future, you will be able to experience Sanga as well!

For more information on Ryokan Sanga, check out their official website which is available in English as well!
https://www.sanga-ryokan.com/en/

Thank you for reading this far, stay safe, love and hugs!

Sincerely,

Max

A few words regarding Covid-19

Hello everyone,

There has been a long silence here and I deeply apologize for that.
Spring has arrived safely here in Aso, Kumamoto and the fresh grass is greener and more beautiful than ever!

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that even life in this small mountain village has been a bit crazy with the Covid-19 pandemic. And even though things finally seem to have calmed down slightly, we are still far from being in the clear.

The tour business that I spent most of last year building up and launching has, of course, taken quite a hit. Right as we went into selling our product, we were lucky enough to get some attention, had our first few inquiries, and believe it or not, even a couple of reservations! During this crucial time, Corona swept over the world only to leave a deep and silent void in its path. Needless to say, neither inquiries nor reservations resulted in anything.

Obviously, my struggles are nothing compared to the pain and suffering caused around the world at the hands of this vicious virus, and everything that needs to be done to stop its onslaught should be done. That is why, even though the strain that is put on the travel industry is literally unbearable, it is unavoidable and completely necessary.

With that said, we have once again opened up to accept reservations for tours but to be completely honest, we don’t expect any visitors until at least next year. And that is fine. This time should be about carefully figuring out the path forward.

Let me also touch a bit on Japan in a broader sense.
Japan which has had an explosion of tourism since 2015 has now plummeted and in April, normally the busiest time of year, 1256 foreign travelers entered Japan. This is a 99,9% (!!!!) drop since last year. I think this number fairly well displays the gravity of the situation. Especially considering the fact that Japan is a land that, more than ever before, depends on tourism to support its struggling economy.

In Kumamoto prefecture where I live, we still only have 48 confirmed infections and 3 deaths making us blessed compared to many other areas. Personally, I do believe that the unrecorded number of infections is far higher than the official numbers. But still, the fact that their have been few deaths is something to be thankful for.

The “State of Emergency Declaration” has been pulled back since first June and slowly, life starts to return to normal. I guess a more correct phrashing would be that everyone is desperately trying to grasp at what the new “post-corona-normal” is. Everyone fear the second wave and are trying to adapt with the correct countermeasures to both prevent further spreading of Corona while also allowing people to live a life outside of their homes.

This is a situation that has never been seen before and it’s hard to guess at what the future holds. When the situation truly calms down, hopefully, the world will be ready for a responsible form of travel. Small groups, awareness of local impact, exchange of ideas, a form of travel that promotes sustainable development, and preserves cultures and resources.

I will finish this before it turns into a rant, but I’m still here, Aso is still here, hopefully you will also be here in a not too far away future.

Stay safe, stay healthy!

Sincerely,

Max

 

3 days of Minamioguni adventures!

Woop woop! I’m still alive!!! Sorry for the looooong time away! I’ve been a busy bee and even though I’ve had some time off here and there, that time has been spent face down in my bed.

So, let’s start off by saying that we have finally launched our website for the guided private tours we will do here in Minamioguni! Check it out!
https://satoyama-journey.jp/

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And on that note, at the end of last month, we invited three visitors who came all the way from France and Greece to act as test subjects for 4 whole days here in Aso (3 days in Minamioguni)!

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Let me introduce our guests! Feel free to skip me to the far left! First, we have Angeliki from Greece, then, Kelly from France, and to the far right Angeliki’s husband Nikola who is born in France but lives together with Angeliki in Greece.

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This also happens to be right at the start of our first day together and we are just about to set out on our first adventure. This tour focuses on enjoying the changing scenery of Minamioguni as you bike down the mountain while learning about the culture of this small town.

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Blessed with perfect weather we biked surrounded by green meadows and the Japanese pampas grass that dominates the scenery during this time of year. In the distance, you can see the five peaks of the volcano Aso towering proudly. If you look close enough you can even see a hint of the smoke rising from the active crater.

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After passing through grasslands and forests we arrive at a small community called Yoshiwara for our first break.

DSC_0028And here, the sweet and beautiful Noriko-san came out to greet us! 😍

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After dropping off our bicycles, time to hit the fields and gather some ingredients for our lunch!

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This is Noriko-san’s husband, Yukiharu-san! He taught us about the ample art of digging Satoimo from the ground. Satoimo? Well, the closest translation would be something like “village potato”! You find them hidden away beneath those large leaves that you see behind Yukiharu-san.

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And here we have Kelly harvesting some fresh spinach!

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After gathering our ingredients it was finally time for cooking!

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Noriko-san taking the lead, teaching traditional home-cooked Japanese food.

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Everyone taking part in, and enjoying, the preparation of our newly picked vegetables!

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The finishing touch in any Japanese dish is, of course, the Miso soup!

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Voila, today’s menu is:
1. Gameni, chicken stew with burdock, satoimo, carrots, lotus root, etc.
2. Shirae, spinach salad dressed with tofu, white sesame, and white miso
3. Home-made tofu
4. Miso soup
5. Pickled vegetables
6. Fresh rice from this year’s crop
And of course, everything is made from locally sourced vegetables!

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After lunch, we leisurely keep biking down the mountain, stopping and exploring whatever catches our interest.

Which can be anything from small mysterious shrines by the wayside to some adorable ponies craving our attention. The course continues down into the center of Minamioguni where it finishes at around 6,5 hours.

Since I’m trying to cover many days in one post here I’ll focus on the highlights and take the freedom of jumping straight into day 2!
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This time we will head into the mountains!

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More specifically, the forest! Our second tour which has been featured slightly on the blog before zoom in on the theme of forestry. Minamioguni has a deep history of forestry, especially growing Cedar trees. But the situation is complicated, and the forestry industry faces many challenges.

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The first person who will teach us about this during the tour is the head of the forestry association in Minamioguni, Sato-san.


Together, Sato-san and I cooperate to teach the in’s and out’s of how you fell a tree and explain why felling trees are actually an important part of protecting and keeping the forest healthy.

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After that, we use that same tree to create simple log constructions in the forest.

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For example, we might create something like this little log table where we enjoy a break and some hot coffee enveloped by the relaxing atmosphere of the forest.

After having worked up an appetite through our forest adventures we head to our next destination to restock on energy!
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Akio-san and Haruko-san, my favorite couple in Minamioguni!

As expected, our guests were blown away by their heartwarming hospitality and the amazingly tasty local home-made food! And as always when you visit Haruko-san and Akio-san at Irifune, you will gain a couple of kilos and literally roll out of the restaurant.

DSC_0227For the second part of our forestry tour, we visit the local lumbermill run by the Anai family. This is Rina-san and Shunsuke-san, they are some of the first people I had the pleasure of getting to know in Minamioguni and they cheered me on while I tried to apply for my working visa so I’m very happy to collaborate with them in this tour!

Shunsuke-san takes us on a small tour of the lumbermill talking about their feelings towards forestry, this town, and of course, explaining about the process that turns a tree into lumber.

After this, we head to their small workshop where Rina-san introduces one way to bring new value to the local forestry. They do this by making aroma oil from the needles of the cedar tree that otherwise only go to waste or might even damage the vegetation of the forest floor.

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This oil which contains the wonderful fragrant of cedar can be used for many things. One is to make these very fashionable aroma candles!

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Which we, of course, try out as well! This activity is fun, creative, and interactive. Our three adventurers became very focused on their tasks as they used dried flowers and such to design their personal candles which they then get to bring with them home.

On to our final day! And this time the theme is water!DSC_5608
Water is plentiful in Kumamoto and Aso! There are tons of natural springs that produce crystal clean mineral water around Aso. Thanks to a very intricate and fascinating water system Aso provides over a million people with their drinking water solely from groundwater. This water is the foundation for life in Aso and it seeps into every aspect of life here. Oh, and the water is good for posing as well!

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Anyway! What better place to start a water-themed tour than the idyllic Tateiwa suigen which hosts one of the river sources for the longest river in Kyushu!

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This natural water spring produces an overwhelming 380 tons of water every day and is protected and maintained by the 13 households that live in its vicinity.

To start off our exploration of this area we see what the water god has in store for us through water fortune-tellings. Dip the sheets in the water and watch as the words magically appear!

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Keep exploring! We walk along rice fields enjoying the rural landscapes.

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Capture some fish for our lunch at one of the local’s house.

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Learn more about the water of Aso as we walk through the serene moss-covered nature.

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After a while, we meet up with another local, the lovely Tamiyo-san. She teaches us about vegetables and lets us pick some more ingredients for our lunch.

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Everything from salad…

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…to root vegetables and even peanuts! It’s a great feeling to get down and dirty in the earth and pick your own food!

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After having explored and gathered all the ingredients we need for a plentiful lunch it’s time for a Japanese local cooking-school!

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The result, a feast fit for a king! There was so much food that it was nearly impossible to finish it all! But our hands just seemed to keep shoving food into our mouths until our stomaches were on the verge of bursting!

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And here we have three happy visitors enjoying everything from newly harvested rice, salad, newly caught fish, tempura fried vegetables, local traditional soup, dengaku and much much more!

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And here is our team of travelers together with our local hosts who help to make these awesome experiences possible!

After a short stop by a hot spring, we continue to pursue the truth behind these tasty looking shrooms!
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This is Shiitake grown on natural wood!

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And this shiitake is grown right here at Shimojo mushroom garden!

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And the young mastermind behind all of this and our host for our final stop is none other than Shimojo Ryosuke-san.

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Ryosuke-san teaches us about the process of growing shiitake mushrooms on natural wood. This is the original method of growing shiitake but in modern Japan, it actually only covers about 7 % of the total shiitake production as most shiitake today is grown on artificial wood.

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You might wonder what shiitake mushrooms have to do with water? Apart from the fact that a steady supply of water is a necessity to grow shiitake on natural wood, Ryosuke-san also uses water very innovatively to accomplish something normally impossible. But for more on that, you need to come and visit and see for yourself!

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After learning about the fascinating and long process that leads to these plump and flavorful looking mushrooms bursting out from the trees we, of course, need to do some tasting!

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And Ryosuke-san is always quick to bring out one of these small grills called shichirin! According to Ryosuke-san, charcoal-grilled shiitake with a bit of soy sauce on is the best way to enjoy the flavor. And I have to say that I agree!

We had a day 4 as well where we went around major tourist spots in the Aso area checking out the volcano, the caldera(see the first pic), famous waterfalls, and other goodies as well but I won’t go into that now! This post is long enough as it is!

But let me end with this picture that Kelly took during their ride to the airport.DSC_0583
Our visitors were very lucky with the weather. They even got to finish their visit with the sight of the sun rising over this stunning sea of clouds!

With that said, I want to thank our three guests for coming all the way here! They were on a tight schedule and had not much time for relaxation after their long flight. In spite of that, they took part in the tours wholeheartedly, not only enjoying the contents as guests but also by giving a lot of helpful and insightful feedback. Thanks to all their feedback we can improve the tours we provide here even further to ensure that visitors have the best experience possible.

But more than anything, it was simply great to get to know all three of you! All of you are amazing and inspiring people and I really feel blessed to have met you!

Kelly, Angeliki, Nikola, thank you for 4 wonderful days!

I hope to see you soon again!

Sincerely,

Max

Life of a lumberjack!

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Hello! Max here enjoying fresh and chemical-free vegetables straight from my own garden! And if you are wondering, Yes! This is me bragging!

Today I’m going to give you a look into one of the tours we are planning at work. This one follows the theme of forestry and the other day we did a test run for part of the tour which will include a light hike and let our future guests experience a vital part of the Japanese mountain life, namely the activities of a lumberjack.

And what was intended to be a test run without any actual guests suddenly got upgraded to a real trial tour thanks to a surprise encounter!

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Let me introduce, from the left, Catty, Long Long and Alex! This nice family from Hong Kong who loves Japan and has even visited Minamioguni before coincidentally turned up at the tourist information center where I work right before the test run. They were looking for some kind of workshop or experience-based activity so we decided to invite them to join our little forest adventure!

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Which they happily did without hesitation!


For starters, we headed into a forest located close to the famous hot spring area Kurokawa onsen. The forest is known by the name ‘Seiryu-no-mori’ which means, the forest of clear streams. There are three water sources located in the vicinity where fresh spring water gushes forth into beautiful clear mountain rivers that then intertwine to provide water for the longest river in south Japan, Chikugo river.

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Large parts of Minamioguni’s forests are planted Cedar forests but in Seiryu-no-mori you can see the original flora with a variety of over 70 different species of broadleaf trees and other vascular plants. During October/September the wide variety of trees and leaf that transforms into a vivid mix of orange, red and yellow makes Seiryu-no-mori a popular spot to watch the autumn leaves. But our main destination this time is located slightly deeper into the mountain.

At the back of Seiryu-no-mori there is a cedar forest that is the property of Minamioguni town but for the last 30 or so years, there haven’t been enough resources to tend to it properly. The town has allowed us to use this forest to let visitors experience forestry and at the same time, little by little, help out with tending to the needs of the forest and in so supporting the town. Hopefully, this can become a cycle that both introduces people to the charm of the forest while slowly improving the state of this majestic mountain.

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We are finally here and I should introduce our teachers. In the picture above explaining the secrets of the woods is the head of the forestry association in Minamioguni, Sato-san. Crouching to the left is Honda-san, the top of the department of forestry and agriculture at city hall. In other words, we had two true masters showing us the ropes.

And Sato-san was quick to show off his skills! Did you think I would leave you with nothing but a picture? No, no, no, this needs a video to convey the impact!

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A quick count of the rings told us that the tree was 49 years old! You can also see that when the tree was about 13 years old, a thinning of the forest was made. This means that the forest is cleaned, unnecessary branches cut and trees felled in order to make the trees grow better and become healthier. This can be seen through the fact that the rings are a lot wider after 13 years. After this, there have been no more thinnings in the area resulting in the growth slowing down and the rings becoming thinner and thinner.

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Sato-san and Honda-san soon got into starting to cut up pieces for the log bench that we intended to make. In the top left corner, you can see how Alex looks on longingly at the chainsaw yerning to try it out.

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So, of course, we had to let him! This time Long long is the one looking dreamingly at the chainsaw but I think he needs to wait a few years before it’s his turn.
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Felling trees is dangerous business and chainsaws are dangerous tools so don’t try this at home without an educated specialist at your side!

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Finally, we used the logs to construct this simple but nice bench!

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And some small stools for Long Long to get up as well!
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Daddy loves posing with his new toy!

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Our little homemade bench turned out to be quite the popular photo spot! Long Long looked a little sad, maybe because he didn’t get to try out the chainsaw so we improvised a slightly more fitting experience for him.

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Sato-san cut the tree that Alex felled into smaller pieces…
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And we used them and the stump from the first tree to practice wood-chopping!

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Long Long turned out to be a true talent! Maybe we have a future lumberjack in the making?

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Catty also showed off some impressive skills in the art of wood-chopping!

After having played for about an hour in the forest we started our walk back through the beautiful nature. Since we originally didn’t expect any guests at this time the forest was pretty overgrown but Honda-san and Sato-san ran ahead of us swinging chainsaws like madmen cutting a path for us through the thick vegetation.

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Alex, Catty, and Long Long really seemed to enjoy this slightly different experience and had no problem hiking through the, at times, rough terrain. If anything they expressed that being able to enter a “true” forest like this was a rare and exciting experience for them since Hong Kong is very urban. That being said, they were happy to take a break and sit down for a moment on our way back.

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And the best way to end the day? Cool down after 2,5 hours of intense forest adventures by jumping in and dipping your feet in any of the mountain rivers passing through Seiryu-no-mori. Oh, and if you are wondering, who is that random shirt-guy?? It’s my colleague Kodera-san who was nice enough to take all the pictures!

Big thanks to Long Long, Catty and Alex who were brave enough to follow along on what must have seemed like a rather sudden and unexpected proposal! Thanks to you guys the day were fantastic and I learned so much by acting as your guide and translator! I really hope to see the three of you soon again. Maybe in Hong Kong, maybe back here in Minamioguni!

See you soon!

Sincerely,

Max

 

 

 

Summer times! Tateiwa Suigen Festival!

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Hey and hello! The rainy season has finally ended and the summer is here in full force! Which also means overwhelming heat and a constant flow of sweat trickling down my back and forcing me to do laundry almost every day!

Something that goes along with Japanese summer is ‘matsuri’! Matsuri means festival and they come in many shapes and forms. Today I would like to share some pictures from the yearly festival held at Tateiwa Suigen here in Minamioguni.

I have mentioned Tateiwa Suigen many times but let me give you a quick reminder! Tateiwa Suigen is a beautiful area in Minamioguni consisting of slightly more than 40 households. The area is known for its spring source that produces many tons of natural mineral water each minute and doesn’t only provide the tap water in my home but also helps create one of the major rivers that provide water to a large part of south Japan.

If you type in Tateiwa Suigen in your navigator you will be guided to the Tateiwa Suigen “Park” where anyone is free to draw water and pay their respects to the water deity, the god of water in Japanese Shinto religion (sorry for offseason pictures but please bear with it!).

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This same place is also where the festival is held! (And we are back on the right season!)

Let’s get started!DSC08445.JPGDSC08452DSC08457The festival which is held between 10:00 and 15:00 (excluding the afterparty!) begins with a Shinto ritual where officials, locals, and visitors can take turn paying respects to the water deity.

You might have noticed the yellow buckets placed where the water gushes forth in the pictures above?DSC08504
They are filled with drinks being cooled down by the natural spring water which keeps a constant temperature of 14 degrees all year long! And yes, there is beer and other alcohol in there. You might have heard that the Japanese are weak when it comes to alcohol but that doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy knocking back a beer or ten! Especially when it’s festival times!

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The cool spring water isn’t only good for keeping drinks cold but also perfect to keep your body temperature in check in the summer heat!

The festival is just as a festival in the countryside should be, a slow event where people relax in the shadow of the trees, enjoying time with family and friends, eating good local food and drinking good sake! And I shouldn’t forget, even though I said it’s a slow event, it’s packed with performances and entertainment!

First off, Yoshiwara Kagura!

Kagura is the oldest among Japanese dance performances and its recorded history dates over 1300 years back but is thought to be much older still. The dance tells the stories of Japanese mythology and was originally performed to please the gods themselves. This is just a short clip to give you a feeling!

Yoshiwara Kagura, as the Kagura performed in Minamioguni is called, has actually been appointed as a Nationally Designated Important Intangible Cultural Asset. Yoshiwara Kagura is an important cultural heritage that the people of Minamioguni passionately work to preserve and protect.

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Maybe the young generation who grow up watching these atmospheric performances will be inspired and take part in carrying this tradition forward for another 1000 years.

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Here we have another “traditional”(???) performance, the so-called, Shovel-shamisen! Shamisen is a traditional three-stringed Japanese instrument but this is the first time I’ve seen a Shamisen performance with shovels and spoons… But in a way, I would say that this makes it even more impressive!!

It doesn’t end here though!

What could be more fitting for the summer heat than Hula dance?!

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I feel we might be slipping further and further away from Japanese traditions… But who cares!? It’s entertaining, it’s fun, it’s MATSURI!

But don’t worry, I have another thing to share that fits right into Japanese traditions! And even though it’s popular around Japan there is no better place to experience it than Tateiwa Suigen in the summer!

Soumen Nagashi! Soumen are thin wheat noodles that are popular to enjoy cold in the summer. And to make it into as fun of an experience as possible you make a looooong bamboo slide, connect it to a never-ending stream of natural spring water and then you let the noodles flow! Time to show off your chopstick skills and catch some noodles!

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And if you feel stressed about fumbling with the chopsticks and not getting your money’s worth, then no need to worry! You can always swallow your pride and start scooping from the buckets at the end where all the missed noodles gather up!

Finally, to finish the day off…


How about a classic round of bingo that brings people of all ages together in a fierce competition to get your hands on some juicy prices!

And as you can see, we had winners in all age groups!

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But no matter how much I waited and kept hitting numbers I couldn’t seem to go all the way. The kids kept winning one after another and all I could do was watch sadly as they ran off excitedly to get their hands on my prizes… I mean, THE prizes… Sorry!

Until… Finally!! When the staff started to pin-point people who still hadn’t got Bingo to ensure that no one was left behind… BINGOBINGOBINGOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Happily, I ran off to get my…..
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Pack of tissues!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YES!!! I have never been so happy to get a pack of tissues in my life! The blue color even matched my tears of happiness. I promise to only use them for special occasions! ❤

And with that said I will settle for today! Today’s festival was an event that I have been looking forward to a lot and it certainly didn’t let me down. These are the kind of days you live for. Relaxing times with nice people, beautiful weather, good food, kids playing all around you! Tateiwa Suigen Matsuri is held every year in Minamioguni so if you have the chance next year you should come by. It doesn’t matter if you bring your family or if you come alone, you are bound to make new friends and have a great time! And I will definitely be there so you already have one person to talk too!

Oh, and one more thing, I mentioned it last week as well but I’m having quite the hectic period now so I can probably at most post once every two weeks or so! Sorry about that and I hope to be back on a weekly scheadule as soon as possible!

Love and thanks as always for reading!!

Sincerely,

Max

Random life updates from rural Japan!

Hello everyone!

DSC_8890Missed a week! Sorry about that, but as you can see I’m alive and kicking! I will blame my slight absence on the fact that I have spent all my free time lately on studying. And as an effect of the studies, obsessive gardening… I’m taking a big exam at the beginning of September to (hopefully) become certified as a Travel Agent Manager. But to be completely honest, It’s quite the challenge…

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It’s 700 pages of this that I’m desperately trying to wrap my head around until the end of this month. By doing so I can hopefully spend at least one month plowing through questions from past exams before it’s time for what is bound to be a brutal execution of my self-confidence. And as you might understand, as I try to make sense of this my frustration slowly builds up and when it starts to boil over I throw myself at my garden to release some stress! Rinse and repeat!…

But thanks to that, at least my garden has evolved quite a bit since my previous post! So let me share the fruits of my frustration!
Last time I got to the point of planting a lawn and building 3 quarters of a wooden deck! After that, I have moved on to the original goal of my endeavors, vegetables!

A quick browse through the pictures will show me buying fertilizer for the earth and a bunch of young plants to start my personal veggie paradise. You can plant seeds as well but it takes a lot longer and should be done earlier in the season. And heck, it’s more fun and impactful to plant seedlings anyways! Next, I mix the fertilizer in the earth and build rows where I plant the vegetables. This prevents the plants from being drowned in case of heavy rain!

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Here you can see my sweet little garden with my two rows of vegetables! And for the record, I’m trying to go with the local style and grow chemical-free vegetables so let me share some tips that I’ve been able to pick up! You might see that there are some yellow and orange flowers mixed in with my plants? These are Marigold flowers that emit a fragrance which apparently keeps insects at bay! Another tip I got was to mix rice bran, a by-product from when you turn brown rice into white rice, into the earth. Apparently, the rice bran will go through a fermentation process as the sun comes in contact with the earth, in turn, this will heat the earth to the point that it becomes uninhabitable to many insects! Amazing right?

Oh, and yes that is a parasol… And yes, I bought it in a fit of rage over not understanding a chapter in my textbook… I have a problem, don’t I?

Here is a bonus!

 

A fresh look at my garden, from only a few moments ago! My intense studies haven’t only resulted in me expanding my lawn but also granting my cucumbers possibility to climb and reach for the sky! And as you can see, those sad yellow grass patches that I planted first are slowly starting to get some green sprouts as well! More updates to come!

What more can I share?
Oh, do you remember the super creepy maggots that I brought home a while back without the slightest idea what I had actually bought?? Let me give you a quick reminder! It looked something like this!
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Now they have evolved to a slightly less disgusting, but still fairly disturbing form! Check it out!

And do you know what the creepiest part is? If you happen to touch their little cage, they move! Even though they are in pupa form! Viewer discretion adviced!

 

Apparently, they should pupate while still being burrowed in the earth. The fact that they have crawled out is probably because the earth was too dry. This means that I, as their parent, have to shoulder the responsibility of building an artificial “Pupa room” from where they can enter this world safely. In other words… I will need to touch them… As they squirm around… *Shivering* Stay tuned for updates…

So, is the situation truly so bad that I have no new places to share??? Do not fear, I do have something!

The other day I went to a Japanese sake event in Aso city with a couple of friends!

 

Here you can see my two friends and I taking a break to pose for some nice pics in front of the Aso caldera! Yeah, yeah, what about the event?

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Top-class dinner, more than 250 guests, the chance to win prizes, and of course, an open bar with all the Japanese sake, or any other alcohol, you could imagine! How much did this cost? 6000 yen (about 55 US dollar)! Expensive? I would disagree! The food was both plentiful and truly delicious. At least in Sweden, a course like this alone would have probably cost around 6000 yen or more. Then you add an open bar with fancy brands of alcohol from all around the country and prizes that were given out to at least a third of all the guests! A pretty good deal I think!

Oh, and I even got the best prize of all!!! It wasn’t really a prize but it felt like the jackpot!66047001_700730220370670_8119901943880482816_n They happened to have the limited aged version of my beloved Musha Gaeshi from Jufuku Distillery!!! This might have been an event for Japanese sake but once I found this I kept drinking Shochu all night, I might even have emptied this one myself〜

When the Sake event ended and everyone was fairly red around the cheeks and light on the feet we went to another nice place! A very very nice place! If you are spending a night in Aso city and feel unsure where to go for a drink then this is the place!
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The wooden architecture of the entrance surrounded by carefully planted trees and rocks make for quite an atmospheric and inviting view in the dark night. This is Sozankyo! A traditional Japanese inn, or Ryokan as it’s called in Japanese.

But Sozankyo isn’t only a top-class Ryokan with stellar reviews on TripAdvisor…DSC08040
…since about 2 years back they also host an amazing roof-top bar! Here you can sit outside and enjoy a nice breeze as you sip on a cocktail and gaze out over the nightlights of Aso city.

And if you ask nicely, they are happy to turn off the lights so you can enjoy the starry sky to its fullest!
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Actually, there is a reason why they are so happy to offer this service. When the big Kumamoto earthquake happened in 2016 there was a large scale power outage in the area leaving many parts of Aso and Aso city in the dark. Sozankyo is located in one of the areas affected by the blackout. When the rumbling had stilled and all went quiet, the owner of Sozankyo looked up at the sky and was struck by the overwhelming beauty of the undisturbed starry sky. That is when he decided to build a bar at the roof of Sozankyo. Both as a reminder of the earthquake and to share those beautiful stars that provided hope in a time of struggle with more people. Now electricity is (thankfully!) back which means that you probably won’t be able to see the same sky that the owner saw as he was surrounded by complete darkness that fateful night. But to come as close as possible they are happy to at least turn off all the lights at Sozankyo’s roof bar and let you bask in the beauty for a moment.

Talking about stars! It was a clear night and on our way back home we could even see the milky way!
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Oh and just a reminder, I’m showing off these night sky pictures but remember that they are taken with a small digital camera using no tripod or fancy settings (since that is beyond my knowledge). So whatever you see in the pictures, double it in your mind and you will probably be pretty close to the real thing!

With that said I should probably finish the post for now? Or? Well… I could tell you about that time I did sumo wrestling on sacred ground while dressed in a shirt and overalls…
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…but let’s save that for another time!

And if I’m a bit slow on the updates for a while, remember that I’m either crying over my textbooks or beating my head against a tomato plant out in the garden so send me some love and encouragement! ❤

See you next time!

Sincerely,

Max

Kurokawa Onsen Morning Picnic! In the rain!

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!

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見渡すかぎり草木の緑が映える万緑のころ。びょうぶ岩露天風呂で季節を感じながらゆっくりと温泉を楽しめます(宿泊者専用)。  気候や時間帯によっては鉄分が酸化して、透明な湯がエメラルドグリーンの湯色に変化。黒川温泉でも珍しいにごり湯を楽しむことができます。  #黒川温泉 #南小国 #阿蘇 #露天風呂 #景観 #温泉 #旅館 #絶景 #湯巡り #里山 #温泉旅館 #純和風旅館 #温泉旅行 #温泉巡り #絶景露天風呂 #黒川荘 #kurokawaonsen #aso #hotsprings #ryokan #japantrip #bestjapanspics #Kurokawasou #onsen #Japanesestyleinn #superbviewhotspring #greatview #awonderfulview #beautifuljapaneseculture #mystichotsprings 

A post shared by 黒川温泉/KurokawaOnsen (@kurokawaonsen) on

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!
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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.
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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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And I even made some new friends, you see that woman in white looking at me like I’m a crazy person? She is currently living abroad but came back to Japan to stay at her friend’s place while doing a project. The friend, which is sitting to the right of her, is living in the neighboring town and turned out to be a master of… Katsuobushi! And what the hell is that? Have you ever tried Okonomiyaki?

Looks familiar? If it does, then you probably also know those thin pink flakes that are used as the final topping and keep wiggling about on top of the Okonomiyaki. That is Katsuobushi!
Katsuobushi, as I learned, is actually fermented, dried, and smoked Tuna which is then shaved to create the thin flakes.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.
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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!
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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.
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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!
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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.

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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!
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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.

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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!
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Next step is to finally start applying our lawn!

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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!
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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!!!

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

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Yeay! Back to plowing again!

Oh… and you might have noticed the problem already?
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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…
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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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…
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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!

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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!

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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!

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Let the feasting begin!!!

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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!

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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