Eating, Listening, and Coming Together in Shimoichi

Fields of persimmon trees. Farms. Big, slow clouds, and some nice wind. That was what I expected on my first visit to Shimoichi Town last weekend, and well, that was what we had. My only prior knowledge of this peaceful, mountain town was what I had translated for the Anpo Persimmon making experience. We will have the English version up soon, but for now, here is the Japanese page. On the drive up the windy roads, I finally saw Guesthouse Apricot!

My destination in Shimoichi Town was “Yoshino Hirohashi Smile Village”, a former school, now turned into a wonderful place to hold local events.  This time, the event was the Manabiya Music Festival 2019, with musical guest Nao Kodama.

Prior to the main event, many of us were nourished by the local vendors outside the building, serving up a perfected shrimp ajillo, fried chicken, konyaku, and local specialties like persimmon leaf sushi, chagayu rice porridge, and kusamochi.  As you can see in the photo above, I never pass up a chance to have some chagayu rice porridge. All in all, there must have been close to 100 people there, with many children participating in toy-making workshops before the concert.

Nao Kodama’s musical performance was superb. She soothed when she was soft, and she rocked when she rocked! Sun spilled in through the old school windows, and the smooth, sliding lap steel guitar must have beckoned neighborhood cats to come watch from outside. Sitting alone on the stage, she was a fresh, new presence in a school some might have considered forgotten. For me, the beauty of this event was how it found a new use (music) for a former school, and through this, introduced local food and culture to the many visitors who came that day. In addition to helping preserve the culture, it brought people together in an area with fewer and fewer residents. It was truly a pleasure to be a part of it.

If you’re interested in visiting Guesthouse Apricot, which is very close to this school, please feel free participate in one of their events, or contact them as well!

Making Anpo Persimmons and Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Picking Persimmons and Making Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Staying in the Mountains of Shimoichi and Making Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Sunday Driving in Gojo

After visiting a festival in Yoshino Town on Sunday morning, and seeing a concert in Shimoichi Town in the afternoon, my friends and I found ourselves with a little time on our hands, and went for a nice drive to Gojo City. We passed through communities with persimmon farms and lots of traditional Japanese houses, and made the smooth climb up the soft hills of the western side of the city until we came upon a park.The highlight of Goman-nin No Mori Park (or “50,000 Person Forest Park”) is without a doubt its spectacular view of the valley below. Climb up a long set of steps to an acorn filled path, and continue up to the lone deck perched over the park.

Along the ledge, a photo showed us which mountains lay before our eyes, and what they look like in winter. We could see Sanjo-gatake, the mountain behind my house. As I spend most of my time at the bottom of valleys with steep mountains, this long, clear view of southern Nara prefecture was incredibly refreshing.

Even in the late afternoon, this park still had a number of families enjoying one of these last warmer days of the season. With rental  spots for barbecuing and camping, along with wide patches of grass to run around on, it is a relatively quiet part of the city where people can relax and enjoy the outdoors.

There is also a shop where you can buy local vegetables, snacks, and souvenirs. There are many traditional, handmade items here that you probably can’t find near most tourist destinations.

As you can see, Gojo City is beautiful part of Nara Prefecture!  There are many other parts of the city to see as well, including the historic Shinmachi-dori, so I hope you get a chance to visit. If you have any questions or need recommendations, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Here is the park’s Japanese homepage.

The Aroma of Miyataki

From where I live in the mountains, the nearest train station, grocery store, and even convenience store are all in Yoshino Town. To get to any of those place, I drive down Nat. Hwy 169 and pass through Yoshino Town’s community of Miyataki. As I approach the large Yoshino cedar barrel on the side of the road, I always roll down my window so I can smell the sweet, delicious aroma of soy sauce being brewed.

The aroma comes from the Umetani Soy Sauce brewery in Miyataki, Yoshino Town. Their soy sauce is recognizable in this area, as I see its distinct yellow label with the characters for “Miyataki” in both household and restaurant kitchens. As soy sauce is such a fundamental ingredient in many dishes, it’s fair to say that this Umetani Soy Sauce plays a large role in local culinary traditions for a long time. Mr. Umetani is the fourth generation to run his family’s brewery, and he still brews their famous soy sauce the old-fashioned way here in Yoshino cedar barrels.

Mr. Umetani gave me a personal introduction of the wide variety of soy sauces they offer. In addition to the familiar yellow label, they have lighter and stronger flavors, as well as dipping broths for noodles and ponzu for when eating from a large hot pot. Mr. Umetani seemed most proud of their strong-flavored, natural soy sauce, so I decided to buy a bottle to take home.

It is autumn, and prime “mochi-maki” season. It is a season when many festivals end with the custom of tossing mochi into the air for people to catch or gather and take home. As a result, my freezer is full of mochi. I de-frosted a few, baked them in my oven, and dripped a bit of the strong-flavored, natural soy sauce over them. The flavor itself was warm, not too strong, and it was so delicious that I almost wanted to drink it.  Living here in the mountains, surrounded by cedar trees, it is nice to know that this rich flavor comes from the hard work of many local people across a variety of industries, going back many generations. I can eat this mochi with soy sauce everyday, which might make my freezer a little easier to organize.

Are you interested in learning about making soy sauce? We offer experiences that allow you to see first-hand how soy sauce is made, being wrapped in the aroma of the brewery, and having a chance to taste it fresh.

Tasting Tour: Soy Sauce and Tofu in Gose (Local Food Experience)

See Organic Soy Sauce Made by a Woman Master Brewer

Seasonal Flavors of Southern Nara

It’s persimmon season, and you’ll see these small, orange globes of sweetness for sale along the sides of roads and highways throughout southern Nara Prefecture. While I am happy enough to eat these almost everyday, their presence also means that the season of persimmon leaf sushi will soon be coming to an end. I wanted to enjoy this local specialty while I still could, and stopped by Matsuya in Kawakami Village yesterday.

Though there were plenty of persimmons for sale in front of the shop, the kind owner brought me a plate of figs from their personal tree. “The monkeys ate most of them last night, but we still had some good ones left,” he laughed as he walked back to the kitchen. I sipped my tea and took my time eating them while I waited for my chagayu rice porridge lunch.

My colorful lunch arrived after a few minutes. Included with its namesake chagayu rice porridge was the famous persimmon leaf sushi, ayu fish, local Nara pickles, and a variety of local wild vegetables. In addition to being delicious, I love this meal because it is a combination you can only find in southern Nara.

The persimmon leaves are still green, but they will soon be vibrant colors of red, yellow, and orange. While I love the beauty that this season brings to this delicious food, it unfortunately means we will soon have a long winter without sushi, and have to wait until the leaves are once again ready in spring.

We offer many programs that allow you to make local specialties, such as persimmon leaf sushi and chagayu rice porridge. Please feel free to ask us for more information!

Picking Persimmons and Making Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Staying in a Mountain Village and Making Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Making Anpo Persimmons and Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Stay in a Temple and Experience Yoga and Making Sushi

Hot Water, Tea, and Bamboo

The warm evenings of summer are in the past, and as the sun sets earlier and earlier, nights get cooler and cooler, I find myself searching for more and more ways of warming in nights and mornings.

I put the water on to boil and choose a clay bowl. I scoop out some green matcha tea with a bamboo chashaku, and spread just a little bit at the bottom of the bowl. Add the hot water, and it’s time for the chasen, a small, bamboo tea whisk that I quickly swish in tiny circles inside the bowl. The matcha tea mixes in the hot water, forming a thin layer of froth on the surface. I set the tea whisk aside and enjoy my bowl of green warmth.

There are many tools involved in Japanese tea ceremony, and those were just a few. However, among them, the chasen tea whisk is often considered to be a symbol of tea ceremony. The tea whisk is instantly recognizable, with its bamboo handle and fine teeth, fanning out in precise, straight lines, and then beautifully bending back to the inside. It is masterful work that looks simple. It is the art of design at its best. All from just one piece of bamboo.

Going back hundreds of years, Nara has produced many of Japan’s (and the world’s) chasen tea whisks. We have a program that actually allows you to make your own tea whisk with a master craftsman. As nights get colder and winter feels longer, wouldn’t you like to have your own tea whisk to make yourself a warm bowl of matcha tea?

Making a Bamboo Tea Whisk Experience

Yummy Yoshino: Hungry at Yamato Kami-ichi Station

Around this time of year, many people visit Odaigahara and other parts of Yoshino to see the beautiful reds and yellows of leaves. I see many people get off at Kintetsu Yamato Kami-ichi Station and wait for their bus deeper into the mountains. Just in case you are hungry, I want to share a little wisdom I received from the locals, as I think you too will enjoy eating where “everyone around here” eats.

Hikari Shokudo is a traditional Japanese diner located in front of the station. I took off my shoes, and stepped up and sat on a floor pillow next to the window.

Across the Yoshino River, the layers of mountains zigzagged over one another to Yoshinoyama and beyond. The busy sounds of the lumber across the river were a pleasant reminder of the Yoshino cedar this area is famous for. Locals recommend the maki-zushi sushi roll at Hikari Shokudo, but I felt like warming up with the Kayaku Udon today.


Filled with meat, fried crisp, and other fixing, eating here felt less like a restaurant and more like a home. The flowers, Eto animal decorations, and local photographs give it a warmth not found in chain diners. I know people who eat here many times a month, so I feel this place is essential for the local experience.

If you are short on time, or want something you can take with you, I recommend walking down the hill and around the corner to Kuninaka Meats.

This place is a popular stop for locals, thanks to the freshly fried beef-potato croquettes! At 60 yen a piece, you can easily buy a bag of them for you and your friends.

Take them with you on a hike to the mountains, or back to the city as a warm memory of Yoshino. I am lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of these beef-potato croquettes a few times, and they always make my day.

Visiting the Water Shed Forest of the Yoshino River

The mountains of Kawakami Village have 500 years of forestry history. However, even before that, during the Nanboku-cho period (1336-1392), the emperor of the Southern Court made their headquarters deep in these mountains, in an area called Sannoko. The Southern Court was eventually overtaken by the Northern Court, but the forest in which it was headquartered has been left nearly untouched, even to today.

One of the easier parts of the path.
Crossing a log bridge.

Yesterday, a visiting professor from England and I trekked through this forest, over log bridges, along cliffs, and eventually to Myojin Waterfall. “Hooray! Hooray!” he shouted when we reached the waterfall. The water slowly gathers in these mountains, giving life to moss and plants, and forming small streams, tributaries, waterfalls, and eventually the Yoshino River. This river flows through Kawakami Village, Yoshino Town, Oyodo Town, Gojo City, Wakayama Prefecture, and eventually to the ocean. It provides water and a habitat for many kinds of life all along the way.

A view of Myojin Waterfall.
Myojin Waterfall

I always love coming to this forest. Its combination of ancient history and overwhelming nature is very surreal. It is well out of range for any cell phone reception, so I can forget about my news feed, emails, and updates here. I just watch my steps, hold on to the ropes, and try to take it all in.

The forest is covered in many kinds of beautiful moss.

This forest is protected and requires permission to enter. However, it is still very accessible for visitors staying in southern Nara Prefecture. If you are interested in visiting the forest, please contact the MoritoMizuno Genryukan (Forest and Water Museum) or the Kawakami Village Office, and they can provide you with more information. I recommend having some climbing experience and getting comfortable with high places, as there are some steep cliffs. There are sometimes snakes, deer, and bears, so please do not go by yourself.