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We had a chance to experience Japanese rural life in Koka, Shiga Prefecture. This is usually only for groups (mainly school trips), but they made an exception for us.
We started the trip by meeting our hosts, Mr. Tsujibayashi and Ms. Kinoshita, who have been living in Koka for many years.
The first stop was Ms. Kinoshita's friend's thriving vegetable garden, where we picked togarashi peppers...
... and Goya (bitter melon). By the way, these purple peppers turn green when exposed to heat!
Pulling up carrots was not as easy as expected! :) Luckily we can all laugh at the struggle.
Those are some sweet potatoes! Big smile and victory pose, because the first two we tried to dig up had been eaten by moles. Also, check out the persimmon tree in the background.
As we walked, she pointed out a number of houses that were now empty, since people had moved to the city. I told her how much I love rural Japan, and began to wonder if I might make a home here someday.
Our walk led us to a patch of edamame. Even though I've eaten them since I was a kid, this is the first time I've seen the actual plant!
A speed lesson in Making "Ohagi", a Japanese sweet! We half pounded rice, rolled it into balls, and covered them with pounded red beans. With fresh ingredients and warm rice, this was nothing like the convenience store version.
The next morning, we soaked up some warm rays while gazing out at the Japanese garden. This little bench felt like something out of a Miyazaki film.
This is one of two tearooms(chashitsu). The house was built during the Kyoho era(1716-1735) of the Edo Period. In other words, it's about the same age as America!
Giddy as a kid as I learned to make these delicate little origami umbrellas.
The highlight of the whole experience had to be this informal tea ceremony. In the dimly lit tearoom, with the smell of aged wood and taste of sugar complimenting bitter matcha, the world seems to slow down. Things that stress me back in the city seem less important, and I am thankful to be here, alive, right now.
Mr. Tsujibayashi brought me to Tsuchiyama, a region of Koka, famous for its tea. Indeed , you can see neatly trimmed tea fields everywhere. I really enjoyed the view.
Has been ages since I had to plant anything. First we prepared the earth using a motorized plow(really cool!! Felt like a dirt bike without wheels). Then we spread a plastic sheet and punched holes on it with this tool. That was actually harder than I expected.
After that we planted strawberries! Sadly, they can only be harvested in May. I didn't know it took such a long time.
So, what is going on here? We are trying to get a yama imo(Japanese yam). It was hard work, but we did it! Then we used it to make a traditional dish, "Tororo imo".
On the other hand, harvesting "satsuma imo"(sweet potatoes) was piece of cake . Mr. Tsujibayashi told me that is why even children can plant them. Later we used it to make tempura. Yummy!
We cooked okonomiyaki(Japanese pancake) for lunch using shrimp, yama imo, cabbage and pork slices. After eating(it was delicious), we had some coffee and enjoyed a nice conversation.
It was a short stay, but I had a lot of fun, Mr. Tsujibayashi also showed me things about the Japanese daily life that I had only read about, and even gave me hints on how to improve my Japanese home cooking. Thank you Mr. Tsujibayashi.