Monday, August 9, 2010

Golden Week Farming Adventure in Kumamoto (Part One)

Every year in Japan during the first week of May, there is a string of three national holidays stuck to a weekend that creates the five-day long public holiday known as Golden Week. Most of my friends took the previous Friday off, as well as the following Thursday and Friday, to make a 10-day long holiday. Some went to Thailand, others went to Laos or the Philippines. I had to work that Sunday and Monday for the parade, so I didn't get to take that luxuriously long vacation. But I did have plenty of holiday saved up, so come that Tuesday I hopped on a highway bus from Fukuoka to Kumamoto to do a week-long farm stay in the shadow of Mount Aso. This mountain is pretty significant to the island of Kyushu, as it erupted terrifically several times in the last gajillion years and basically shaped the island as it is now. The Mount Aso region is one of, if not THE biggest calderas in the world. What is a caldera you might ask? Well let me tell you, it is NOT the crater of an erupted volcano filled with acid blue noxious liquid. It is the ENTIRE remainder of a volcano that, when it erupted, nearly destroyed itself. So there's Mount Aso, a mountain with five main peaks, the valley of the caldera that encircles the mountain, and the outer mountains that encircle the valley. Basically, before it erupted, Mount Aso was a single gigantic super volcano more than 25 kilometers in diameter, and the outer mountains are the remainder of the base of the original volcano, before it essentially imploded. Ok, so I'm not too keen on the science, but in any case, it's pretty damn impressive. This was also my first trip to Kumamoto, the nearby prefecture south of Fukuoka that is famous for its raw horse meat and this beautiful mountain area!First glimpse of the mountain. My host's live in Minami-aso-mura, which means "Southern Aso Village."
Modern homes in the countryside.
Looking up towards the outer mountains. The big sign is for a lovely hotspring that I most definitely partook of later during my stay.
The first day of my stay I didn't really farm much, but helped the women of the family make shojin ryori, which is vegetarian temple food. Turns out the grandfather is a temple priest of sorts, and the family runs a small local temple.... right next to their house. This is the youngest granddaughter Sakura-chan, who was quite adorable, if not incredibly snotty from a cold.
Tea and tea-flavored mizuyokan, a simple desert made with sugar and gelatinous seaweed.
It was a pretty old house. By the way, this isn't the one I stayed in. This was my host person's parents house. Cool old stove with shiitake mushrooms drying overhead.
Japanese people don't live with much space but they sure do pack a lot of crap into that space.
Making this fabulously delicious healthy dish with tofu, tons of ground sesame, and spinach. You have to stir it like crazy. I wasn't doing a good enough job so Sakura-chan's mom took over.
View from the family temple.
mizuyokan setting in cold water
Homemade chunky miso in a huge plastic bag. People who live in the country are serious about fresh, handmade foods.
The setup was kind of complicated. I think this was for a family who was having a remembrance ceremony of sorts.
Everything had to be meticulously placed into the dishes. You can't get any on the sides of the bowls and plates. I have got some mad chopstick skillz.
The drying shiitake yom yom.
Good morning, beautiful. View from my window :)
Adorable post office.
View from the greenhouses.
The crappy family temple. Sorry, but this is the crappiest temple I've ever seen in Japan.
Their house was pretty old and pieced together. There were some very questionable soft spots in the flooring, ewwww.
Cute garden.
Rain today.
And loads of fog and atmospheric clouds, ooh.
Today we did no farming, but ran errands like taking Megumi (or Megu-chan as we called her) to her doctor's appointment, picking up stuff for our BBQ, etc. Megu-chan is three, the youngest of four siblings, and incredibly cheeky. But we got along swimmingly.
Children in Japan often do not wear seat belts. It's quite terrifying.
I'm proud of this shot. Windmills on the way out of the valley, heading towards Kumamoto City.
Of course, she wouldn't leave unless her dad bought it for her.
Then they took me up the mountain!!! The rain cleared and it was a glorious day! That's looking towards Kumamoto and the Ariake Sea, across which is part of Nagasaki Prefecture. Kyushu rules, dudes.
As you can see, the caldera is BIG. That's looking across the northern part of the valley.
The Komezuka, meaning "Rice Hill," which is a beautiful, naturally formed hill. Yes, that adorable indentation is 100% natural! No nip/tucking, all Mother Nature.
The craterrrrr! We couldn't go to peer inside because the noxious gases were blowing in a dangerous direction. Apparently this happens all the time but I was pretty bummed. Wanted to see into the heart of the volcano!
Flatlands, on top of the mountain (five peaks, remember? not just one...).
On the road (still on top of the mountain).
Beautiful day for mountain adventuring.
Mount Aso is known for its dairy cows and a special kind of cow known as aka ushi ("red cow") that has less marbled fat than Japanese cows typically do, but is very tender. We had some at the BBQ that night. Absolutely delish. This is where some of them graze. ON TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN.
Yummm, I mean, moooo.
Again, looking west over the mountaintop pastureland towards Kumamoto City.
It was beautifully verdant. Springtime in Japan!
More lovely green and cows.
Those mountains in the distance are the southern outer mountains, near where my host family lives.
And there she is, Minami-aso-mura!! Gorgeous valley hamlet village town thing We came down the mountain to lots of rice paddies.
So quaint, so lovely.
In addition to running an internet business and his family's pepper farm, my host dude runs this tiny tea, baked goods, ice cream, coffee, etc. shop in the Minami-aso-mura tourism center.
Specially imported Sri Lankan tea. I bought some for my Kyoto host dad, of course.
Baked goods made with flour ground from their own organically grown wheat. Rad!
This place was funny. We picked up some meat here for our BBQ. The sign says "No high quality meat sold here." What they mean is the specialize in horumon, which is cow offal. It is particularly popular in Kyushu, and Fukuoka is famous for its offal hotpot known as motsunabe. Interesting Japanese lesson: a lot of people are confused about the word horumon because it sounds like how the Japanese say the word hormone, which is horumo~n. But horumon the offal version comes from the Osaka dialect words horu mono which means for "thrown out thing," since offal is often thrown out instead of consumed in other parts of Japan. Horu is a verb that is only used in the Osaka region, hence the confusion. Yay! By the way, if you get "good quality offal" (which this place actually does sell), it can be quite tasty.
A wooly worm, known as a "bear bug" in Japanese. Cute but apparently not pleasant if you touch them.
Can't wrap up a fun and relaxing day without a trip to the hotspring prior to a BBQ!
Sunset over the rice paddies, one of my National Geographic shots.
We also got pigs' feet. They are mostly tender fat, the collagen stuff that Japanese women are mad for.
My pig's foot.
It was ok, not offensive really, just not something I would go nuts over. It was also so hot that it was nearly impossible to hold. What weird thing will I eat next?
Japanese kitchen. Organized chaos? No, just chaos. More to come!


❤ スキ ❤ (\ " 3 " /) ❤ 수키 ❤ said...


Would like a favour from you.
Do you know of any dairy or beef cattle farm in that area that speaks English. I would like to learn and volunteer a week on a cow farm but my major obstacle is speaking japanese

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