The place I chose for the second special feature of 地気食(CHIKISHOKU), which stands for the meaning of regions, seasons, and foods, is Tozawa Village, Yamagata Prefecture.
I’ve always thought that I must be fated to have been connected to the place since before.
Tozawa Village is one of the heaviest snowfall areas in Japan, with more than two to three meters of snow every year. Therefore it’s extremely difficult to live in winter. This year it was a warm winter once every few decades and there was not much snow. However, fortunately, or unfortunately, on the day we visited it was snowy heavily enough to be a snowstorm, and nearly a meter of snow was piled up in a day.
Mogami Riverboat descent and Haiku by Basho Matsuo
Speaking of Yamagata Prefecture, many people will remember Mogami Riverboat descent. There is a famous Haiku that is said Basho Matsuo composed after experiencing the riverboat descent during the Edo period (more than 300 years ago). You can still see the same scenery around the Mogami River.
“Samidare wo/atsumete hayashi/Mogami-gawa”
This Haiku means that “Gathering early summer rain, how swift it is – Mogami-gawa River”.
Tozawa Village in Yamagata prefecture is a heavy snowfall area where is unimaginable for people from the south.
Experience a feast（ご馳走 GOCHISOU） in the Japanese countryside as if visiting the hometown
In recent years, “Japanese farm stay experience” has been promoted as the government measure in Japan regardless of domestic or inbound travel, and Tozawa Village in Yamagata Prefecture is one of the major places of it.
This time, we visited “farmhouse Minshuku Yosoemon”. Mr. Tanaka and his wife run this inn together. It’s a wonderful place to experience the unique lifestyle of farmers.
They mainly receive urban guests and children on school trips who come to experience the lifestyle in the countryside, but recently many children from Taiwan on school trips are also received.
It was the third time for me to visit them. Every visiting, they welcomed me with warm hospitality and it made me feel calm. (I’m looking forward to their meals!)
This time also, I did experience a lot of extraordinary life in the countryside, so I’m going to share it with you in this article.
Daily life in local is the most valuable time
In Japan, as in Taiwan, the trend of nuclear families is becoming more common, and people in their 30s to 40s now have hometowns in Tokyo or urban cities, and the so-called “countryside” has disappeared. The farmhouse stay experience is as if you have your hometown in the countryside and just like returning to your parent’s home with your family.
When you make a phone call to your family, who is living in the countryside, and say, “I’m going home tomorrow”, then your grandfather or grandmother replies, “OK! We are waiting for you with making feasts!”
This is like your phone call means making a reservation and gives them a signal to prepare for accepting a reservation.
“馳走 (CHISO)” basically means “running around or running fast”. In the past, it wasn’t easy to get ingredients in shops as they are now. People in the past had to run around literally such as harvesting and hunting with riding around on horses to prepare for spreading the table with dishes.
There used to be some people to do this as their professional job.
Though no one rides around on horse to harvest and hunt nowadays ;-), Mr. Tanaka and his wife made a lot of heart filled preparations with taking a lot of time and effort for “their returned children” (which mean “us”)
It might not be expensive ingredients, but there are many delicious dishes such as… pickled wild plants that have been pickled from last spring, turnips dug out from under the piled snow, “Imoni” which is famous for local Yamagata cuisine, tempura, etc., I was already feeling “I’m stuffed” by the time. Amazingly, and additionally, Mr. Tanaka served me home made soba noodles prepared by him from the morning as the last dish. These were absolute “ご馳走(GOCHISO)”.
An experience where the heart communicates beyond the value of money
In addition to the wonderful meals, Mr. Tanaka had made a special snow wall in front of the house as we came. We together made squared shape holes in the wall with the shovel, and lit candles, and decorated the holes with pictures with the motif of a Japanese tale (this time “Crane’s Return”). Mr. Tanaka had prepared the special snow corridor just for us.
In the dusk, the pictures slightly reflected on the white snow wall were very beautiful, fantastic and impressive.
We had an experience of harvesting turnips from under the snow the next morning. “We are going to have a snowstorm experience this morning”, said Mr. Tanaka. When we went out with fear wearing the equipment, which was famous in the snowy country, it was snowing and windy outside. It was such a blizzard that we could hardly stand straight, but this was a very valuable experience of taking a walk in the situation, and I couldn’t help laughing while walking.
When we finally managed to arrive at the field, the heavy snow was easing up. We got started the experience. I pushed the snow piled more than 1 meter aside, and tried to dig out the turnips from under the snow with a shovel. As I was digging vigorously at first, I hurt the turnip with the shovel. Mr. Tanaka taught me “After you dig to some extent, you have to dig it by hands”. Keep digging the snow carefully by hands, I finally reached the red turnip under the snow. The experience was like treasure hunting. Since it was interesting enough for me to forget about the cold, I dug it out a lot without knowing it.
When we were shivering in the cold weather, Mr. Tanaka invited us into the hut made by himself for farm equipment and lit fire to the wood stove to make us warm. When we breathed a sigh of relief, he gave us another surprise… oh my goodness, he started baking squid legs on the stove! I was very surprised by this. As Mr. Tanaka said, “Give it a try”, I tried it and found it was very delicious! Even the moment was quite short, this experience made me warm not only physically but also mentally.
When I asked Mr. Tanaka, “What motivates you to continue to run this inn at a very reasonable price? ”, He replied, “I don’t think we are running this inn as a business. My wife and I are always talking like ‘do you remember the guy we had before?’ or ‘do you remember what happened at that time?’ and so on. We decided to do this as our last good memories of our life.” After he told me about it, I almost burst into tears with the feeling of being moved.
Every time I visited them, they proudly showed me the memories that we had last time and they recorded on their computer. They also showed me how to use Google Translate to chat in Japanese and Chinese with their tablet they recently started to use. What they showed me these things was funny and I felt they were adorable.
All of these are valuable experiences that we cannot experience in urban life.
Why don’t you go back to the Japanese countryside next time? I think you will spend precious time that cannot buy with money.