Water from Totsukawa, Udon from Scratch!

Unlike fruits, vegetables, and many foods in Japan, udon noodles don’t have a season. They are a popular item year round across the country, especially at lunch time, when many shops will be full of people slurping up the soft, white, delicious noodles. It was that slurping that caused my dad to raise his eyebrows when he first came to Japan and ate udon. However, it is actually a way that helps you taste both the noodles and the soup, and enjoy the aroma. Even if it is a little uncomfortable for you, I suggest you try it!

Atop the white noodles, you might find a variety of toppings, like beef, green onions, battered or fried shrimp, pumpkin, sweet potato, pumpkin, or a nest-like combination of sliced carrots and onions. I often order the udon topped with fried tofu, known as “kitsune udon” (fox udon), stemming from the belief that foxes like fried tofu. Regardless of which kind of udon I order, it is always consistently delicious, especially on a cold winter’s day.

Many people eat udon in shops or buy it at the grocery store, but we have an experience that allows you to try making it from scratch! Feel the dough in your hands, and learn how to make udon like a pro! Totsukawa Udon Komichi uses water from Totsukawa Village, Nara, bringing some of the fresh flavors of the mountains to you in the city. Please feel free to check it out!

Comfortably Appreciating Tea in Nara

One of the largest barriers for newcomers to tea ceremony is having to sit on a tatami mat with their legs folded under them. That is at least one of my distinct memories from my first tea ceremony. After about 10 minutes, the pain in my knees and ankles gradually worsened until, well, circulation was significantly cut and all I could feel was a slightly painful tingle. It is the traditional way of sitting for a tea ceremony, but unfortunately it can be difficult for some newcomers to the art.   That is why some teachers decide to meet their students half way. By moving the practice to a table top and chairs, students can focus on elements of tea ceremony more important than sitting. Students can learn about the flow, the utensils, and the heart and mind of cha-no-yu. They can learn how the season is reflected in the utensils, decorations, and sweets. They can focus on appreciating the beauty of these items, and the efforts the host must have gone through to prepare them. Doing all this, in a painless way none the less, helps ensure that everyone has a nice time together.   Nara is home to some of the most famous pottery and tea whisks in Japan, and produces lots of tea in its rolling hills, so its connection with tea ceremony goes back to the art’s beginnings. Perhaps one of the ways of keeping this tradition alive and well is to make it more accessible for newcomers, and we have a program that takes a step in that direction. Music Cafe Anges in Kashihara City offers participants the chance to learn about tea ceremony and whisk a bowl themselves in the comfort of a table and a chair. Participants don’t just learn about the process, but also the philosophy of this ancient art. With tea produced in Nara and traditional sweets from a popular local shop, it is a chance to comfortably experience a tea ceremony unique to this place and this time. If you are interested, please check the link below.

No. 516 Experience the Way of Tea – Casually on a Table

Yoshino Ramen Chronicles: Ramen Kawa

It took me three trips to Ramen Kawa in Yoshino Town to finally have a chance to eat it. The chef only makes 50 bowls of ramen a day, and with so many groups of bikers stopping by before lunch time, noon was just a little late. This time, I got there at 11:30.

Visitor be ware, there are no large flashing signs or even cut out sheets of cardboard to point you there. Coming up Hwy 169 from Kami-ichi, turn right at the intersection after you cross the Miyataki Ohashi bridge. Then another quick right down a curved slope, passing some vegetable gardens, and head down the narrow road. You will pass some houses, and maybe a construction site, as you continue for a few minutes. Though there isn’t any sign with the shop name, look for a large wooden house with a green balcony. That’s Ramen Kawa.

Ramen Kawa has only one kind of ramen and a total of two things on the menu. The salt-based ramen is what most people come here for, but you also have the option of adding a bowl of rice topped with tuna to your ramen. The salt-based ramen soup has hints of yuzu, a subtle citrus fruit that displays its bright yellow color every winter. The soft, fat slices of pork, green onions, sot-boiled eggs, bamboo shoots, and napa cabbage mix with the flavorful soup, deliciously filling my stomach without overwhelming it.

Ramen Kawa is very delicious, but it is its location that really sets it apart. Customers can sit and enjoy the flow of the Yoshino River and the abundant nature around them, all while eating delicious ramen or tuna rice bowls. The secrecy of the location, the limited number of bowls per day, and the effort it takes to get there also adds an element of adventure to the experience for me. I think you’ll enjoy it, too. Just make sure you get there early!

Yoshino is still somewhat undiscovered for many visitors to Nara. We offer some very unique experiences in this area that will allow you to learn about and feel the local culture. If you feel like a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, check out some of the experiences below:

No. 162 – Traditional Crafts of Nara:  Making Yoshino Washi Paper by Hand

No. 471 – Staying in a Private Guest House Surrounded by Yoshino Ceder (with a private hot spring bath) and Tea Ceremony

Experiencing the Flavors and Traditions of the Mountains

When it comes to winter food in Kawakami Village, hot pots of daikon radishes and napa cabbage, or warm bowls of sweet azuki red bean soup and mochi are what first come to mind. However, there is another winter specialty that is popular among both locals and visitors to Kawakami Village.

“Yokan” is a Japanese dessert made from mashed beans and gelatin, and often flavored and colored as well. Every winter, Asahikan in Kawakami Village makes its “yuzu yokan” from scratch. They boil the beans in a wood-fire pot, then rinse them and skin them before mashing them up to be used in the dessert. They continue to use a recipe and methods that have been passed down through generations, including picking the yuzu, a citrus fruit, from trees nearby. Flakes of the fruit’s yellow skin add a subtle flavor to the yokan’s sweetness, and a bright element to the already pink-colored dessert. As a 130-year-old traditional Japanese inn, Asahikan offers guests the opportunity to experience what staying in the countryside might have been like in a previous era. With its traditional architecture, including a stunning garden on its second floor, you can walk the same wooden halls and stay in the same tatami rooms as its many visitors have done for over a century.

If you are looking for some outdoor fun as well, we offer an experience in which you can stay at Asahikan, chop some bamboo from its mountain grove, and turn that bamboo into your own lunchbox. You’ll take that lunch with you when you go out to explore the wide variety of moss in our village, and then create your own moss terrarium. Young or old, all ages are welcome!

No. 457 – Local Food Experience in Kawakami Village



One Moment, First Moment

The first thing I learned about Japanese tea ceremony was the principal of “one moment, one time”. Every ceremony occurs on at a unique time, on a unique day, with unique participants, weather, sensations, and circumstances. It was this principal that drew me into the red sunset during my first tea ceremony atop a mountain in northern California. That one moment and time would serve as my inspiration to study and learn more about this ancient Japanese practice.
On the surface, there are specific rules and a set order. These things took me some time to learn and be comfortable with. Sitting in the traditional seiza position with my knees folded under me also took some time to get used to. However, in learning and practice, I gradually understood the concept of gratitude that is fundamental in the ceremony. The host is grateful for the guests taking their time to join the ceremony, and the guests are grateful for all of the time and effort the host has put into the ceremony as well. More than anything, I was always grateful for the moment and time I was able to spend with everyone on that tatami floor.
We offer some programs that allow you to drink tea in a historic Zen temple. The temple itself was designed specifically for tea ceremony, so this is a great place to learn about this traditional Japanese practice. This program can be enjoyed by anyone, but I think you will enjoy it even more if you study in advance. Whether it is your first moment or your hundredth moment, I am sure you will have a very special, unique experience.

No. 196 Tea Ceremoney at Jiko-in Zen Temple with Private Transfer