Deep in a rural area of Miyoshi, located in Western Tokushima, we arrived at an information center where we met our host for a one-night farm stay experience. I did not know what to expect since this would be my first time doing a farm stay. This trip was sponsored by JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organization) and our company was invited to experience rural tourism. At first, I was skeptical of the whole thing, because it is usually not the first choice for many travelers.
The one who picked us up was Takeaki-san and we soon realized that he did not speak English at all, but used what he liked to called “gesture communication.” We refrained from speaking too much Japanese to see how our hosts found ways around the language barrier. His home is located near the observation spot, which has a great view of Ochiai Village. As we made our way to the entrance, we passed by their cute dog Ryu. The room we entered was warm and inviting. The place was much more spacious than what I expected. In the center was a hearth or irori (いろり) in Japanese. The heat emanating from the charcoal warmed our bodies as we started to relax.
His wife Seiko-san, started to bring out various ingredients for us to cook. She handed us bamboo skewers and said that we will be making dekomawashi. The dekomawashi we made used tofu, potato, and konnyaku (potato jelly). We set it on a grill in the hearth and waited for it to cook. Seiko-san started to light the other pile of charcoal in preparation for the sobagome zosui, which is a buckwheat porridge. Takeaki-san brought in some grilled river fish and placed them in the hearth to keep warm.
As we waited to for our food to cook we had some conversations about life in Miyoshi. He told us that his family had lived there for more than 300 years and his family crest had two crossed arrow feathers. He also told us that about 600 foreigners stay in his home every year. In order to communicate things beyond “gesture communication,” he utilized a translator on his phone. Some of the English made sense, but it had more of a literal translation than a conversational. I mentioned to him that I enjoy Japanese history and referred to some periods I learned about. When I brought up the Genpei War between the Minamoto and Taira clans he had some interesting information about it. He said that when the Taira clan lost, many of them fled to Shikoku. Pointing outside to the many homes, he said it is possible that the people living there are descendants of the Taira clan including his own.
Changing to a different topic Takeaki-san said that he is a magician. He had the biggest smile on his face when I asked him to show us a few tricks. The magic trick he showed us was breaking a chopstick with the paper sleeve it came in. When I asked him how he did it, he replied with “I’m a samurai.” Before he could show us more magic tricks, we had to apply a miso paste on the dekomawashi and stick it in the hearth like the skewered river fish. Everything looked so good as we finished making our salads and filled our bowls with sobagome zosui. Seiko-san had cooked up some meat and vegetables to complete our meal. I had never eaten dekomawashi, sobagome zosui, or skewered river fish before. As we began eating, all of it was delicious. The grilled river fish tasted similar to salmon, but had more of a subtle flavor. The miso paste, slightly grilled, added a nice flavor to the dekomawashi.
With a full stomach and empty plates, we said our thanks for the meal and helped clean up. After more tricks and simple conversations, we began to feel that it was time for bed and would continue the fun in the morning. Before heading into our rooms Takeaki-san asked us what we would like to experience in the morning. He started to list various things we could do and we had decided on making soba. Seiko-san told us that breakfast will be ready at 8 am in the morning. Our rooms had tatami floors and futons. The comfy futon and the melodic nature lulled me to sleep. It was nice being away from the sounds of trains, ambulances, cars and motorcycles passing by. In the morning, I was greeted by an amazing view of the area. The greenery was enhanced by the morning sun as the outdoor crops danced to the gentle breeze. There was something peaceful and calming about the sight.
At 8 am, Seiko-san placed a delicious meal in front of us, which consisted of grilled salmon, tamagoyaki (rolled eggs), sweet chestnuts, pickled vegetables, salad, and rice. As we ate Seiko-san started to prepare the necessary ingredients to make soba. Many of the ingredients we used came from their very own crops. Once the flour was ready, we washed our hands and started to knead the dough. If you do it right it will make a scrunching sound and unfortunately, I was not able to. Still kneading it required a good amount of strength and pressure. Seiko-san made it look easy, but she told us she had been making it for more than 20 years. When it was ready, it was then handed off to Takeaki-san in the back room.
There he started to roll the dough into a square shape. Spreading flour to make sure it does not stick onto the table and roller stick. He asked if I wanted to try rolling and I agreed. Placing my fingers on the roller felt weird as I tried not to have them end up in the dough. Completely failed in that respect as one of my fingers slipped and made a hole. Takeaki-san tried to repair it and said that it will not affect the taste of the noodles since he is a pro. Afterwards he folded the dough and placed this wooden plank on top of it. He proceeded to cut thin soba noodles and allowed us to cut a portion of the dough ourselves. I proved better at cutting the noodles out of the whole process. When we finished cutting the rest, Takeaki-san sprinkled flour on the noodles and placed an average 150g of soba into plastic bags.
We then brought the soba noodles into the kitchen, where a boiling pot ready for us to cook our portions. As we placed the soba in the pot, Seiko-san told us that a layer of foam is good for cooking the noodles. When the soba was done, we proceeded to the living room area, where we finished adding the soup and other toppings. Also, Seiko-san prepared some karaage (fried chicken) for us to go with our soba noodles. The room filled with our slurping sounds as we enjoyed the handmade meal. By the end of the meal we were full and ready to take a nap.
Unfortunately, it was time for us to depart and meet with the rest of the tour group. Before leaving, Seiko-san handed us a couple of onigiri (rice balls) and sandwich bag of dried green tea leaves. Bidding our final farewells, we made our way back to the rest of the group and looking back at the experience, it far exceeded my expectations. The freshness of the food was a great treat. When I came back to the city life, the food did not taste as amazing as the home cooked meal I had in Miyoshi. The warm hosts, fresh crops, entertaining conversations, and cooking sessions left a lasting impression that I hope more people will have a chance to experience.