Staying in a Traditional Japanese House in the Countryside
30.10.2016 - 02.11.2016
We have fallen woefully behind in our blog and apologize for that.
It had never occurred to us to visit Shizuoka Prefecture (where's that?), but when I saw the Airbnb listing for a 90-yr-old traditional home in the countryside, I bit. At the time, our hosts, Daisuke san and Hila san (he's Japanese, she's Israeli) were renting the house nonly through early November because it has no insulation. So we got the last of the season booking for 3 nights. Here's what the house looks like:
In addition to running this rental house, Daisuke san and Hila san grow rice and, in April, harvest wild bamboo shoots. Hila san has now been in Japan for five years. She speaks pretty good everyday Japanese and is still taking lessons from a tutor who comes once a week.
The couple refurbished the run-down house with matching funds from the government. The structure and interior are probably pretty much what they were in the early 20th Century with the exception of space heaters (no central heating), a modern toilet, a stainless steel ofuro aka Japanese bath, running water and electric lights (not sure if they existed in the Japanese countryside in the 1920s), and modern kitchen appliances. The interior was lovely as these photos show.
Meals were optional, so we opted for them, since the village has no restaurants. However, our hosts were unavailable to do dinner on our first night, so Dick made scrambled eggs, with sauteed Japanese mushrooms, with raw carrots and cukes on the side. Yummy, but little did we know what our meals would be like once our hosts started cooking for us. I assumed we'd get something like grilled fish, a couple of veggie dishes, rice, some pickles, and maybe fruit or ice cream for dessert. Hah! Turns out that Daisuke is a very skilled cook. On our first night he made a 10 course meal for us: thumb=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/526039/thumb_DSCN0375.jpg] There were fresh persimmon sandwiched together with homemade fresh cheese; a hummus/Japanese squash mixture with raisins. My favorite of the night was abura age (fried tofu pouches) stuffed with a shiitake mushroom filling served with cooked carrot, daikon, mushroom, and spinach. Really, really delicious! Also we had newly harvested rice cooked with veggies and Japanese omelet, kabocha croquette with homemade tomato salsa, and salmon with green pepper and eggplant. Not shown are tuna tataki, custardy tofu, miso soup, a tossed green salad, and homemade banana ice cream. By the time of the we got to the rice, croquettes, and salmon, I was so stuffed, I couldn't eat any more. Dick soldiered on and finished his meal. We put the rest of mine in the fridge and shared it for lunch. Everything was delicious!
Taking pity on us, Daisuke served us "only" an eight-course meal the next night:
This meal included a mushroom/cheese stuffed omelet with broccoli in tzatziki sauce; a salad of chickpeas, daikon, wakame (a kind of seaweed), and a few other things with a tahini/ponzu dressing; minced maguro (raw tuna), avocado, and seaweed over rice, served with soy sauce and wasabi paste; a clear soup that contained clams and various veggies; kamaboko sitting in some kind of dashi (yeah, there's probably a different name for this kind of fish cake, but I don't know what it is). This one was made from sardines and was really yummy. Another dish was a mixture of Japanese sweet potato (satsuma imo), apple, and raisins, flavored with orange. And there was tempura. The eighth course, not pictured, was dessert--a perfectly ripe Asian pear chopped up and served in sweetened coconut milk. Again, all delicious.
Breakfasts were more Israeli style.thumb=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/526039/thumb_DSCN0336.jpg] They would include half a fresh cheese or omelet sandwich with fresh veggies, a few pieces of toast with either honey or jam or almond butter, a bit of "guacamole" like avocado, a small bit of omelet or hardboiled egg mixed with Japanese mayo, plus cucumbers and tomatoes.
Our first full day there, Hila san drove us around the area. Shizuoka Prefecture is where Mount Fuji is, so she took us to a viewpoint. It's kind of like watching for Mt Rainier. Sometimes you're lucky, sometimes you're not. It was clouding up, but we were fortunate enough to get a brief look at the very top of the mountain. Can you see it?
Then she took us to the bamboo forest, located on very steep slopes. The drive included hairpin turns that were so sharp that a few times, she had to back up once or twice. The bamboo all grows wild. You can see the joints of the bamboo are either dark or light. The dark ones are more than 3 years old. The one that are white (see the white powder) are younger. Bamboo shoot (takenoko) harvesting occurs each April when the wild boars starting eating the shoots. The tips of the shoots poking above the ground are only about the size of small finger nail. Hila san finds the shoots and marks them, and Daisuke digs them up. They get the best price for shoots with the roots still attached and that make it to the processing plant in Tokyo on the same day they are harvested. The work is long and hard and intense. They also harvest bamboo for arts and crafts.
The area is also good for tea growing. The tea farmers had just finished their third harvest, which is of lower quality than the first two. The third harvest is used for flavoring for such things as matcha ice cream and cookies. The last photo shows a backdrop of bamboo, then tea plants that have been allowed to "go wild" (they're no longer harvesting them), and then the recently harvested plants.
We also spent some time walking around the area. One place had huge fields of blooming cosmos. The only purpose we could see was for tourism, but there was no charge for walking in the fields. Dick took these photos of this charming couple and their little girl. We offered to e-mail these to them, but when we tried to do it, the e-mail came bouncing back. We tried several different iterations of the eaddress we were given, but to no avail. Still feel badly about it.
And of course, it was persimmon (kaki) growing time. People were hanging them to dry in the traditional way.
The village is called Tamatori. Tama means "round" and tori is "to bring." The reason for the name is that round rocks are found here.
We asked whether there were any other young people in the area. Hila san said there were only 2 other young couples. We also saw one school aged boy. Everyone else is elderly and, in fact, there are some vacant or abandoned homes. This, of course, is a common problem with rural areas all over Japan.
Our time here was one of the highlights of our trips to Japan. If anyone is interested in staying in the house, here is the website. http://www.yuivalley.com/ It's easy to get to. We took a train from Kyoto to Shizuoka city, then a local train (only about 12 minutes) to Yaizu, a bedroom town. Hila san picked us up at the station (it's also possible to take a bus), for the 30-40 minute drive to Tamatori.