Food is one of the main things that visitors look forward to when they come to Japan. Each area of Japan has a rich food culture, and local produce of which they are very proud. Snow Country is no exception. Most people think of rice and sake when it comes to food and drink in this region but there is much more to experience than that.
The food culture here goes back a long time and was born of necessity. The harsh winter conditions meant that everything was blanketed in meters of snow for half the year. Families were all but snowed in over winter so their provisions for the season had to be stored in advance to see them through to spring. As a result this region is very skilled at pickling, preserving and storing food. Another important skill was living off the land – using the surrounding forests and mountains for both hunting and gathering. These skills are still very much in use and have been passed down through the generations. Spring and fall are prime times for foraging and gathering with mountain vegetables and mushroom being the main harvest.
New this year is a Gastronomy Tour from the team at Hatago Isen in Yuzawa – one of the best ryokan in town who also run a highly regarded restaurant.
They have a local guide who is an expert on all things edible (and inedible) in the mountains, and they have put together an interesting offering for food-lovers.
Departing from Hatago Isen in the early afternoon, you stroll through town on the way to some native forest at the foot of the mountain. Once there, the guide will take you around and help you search out the tasty treats that have been sustaining the people in Snow Country for centuries – both mushrooms and wild plants.
Head back to the ryokan to freshen up – there is a natural hot spring onsen spa on the premises, and the rooms themselves are a modern take on the stylish Japanese ryokan concept, so perfect for relaxing.
Your goodies from earlier are delivered into the hands of one of Hatago Isen’s top chefs. This produce that you collect with your own hands is the epitome of local, seasonal, and organic, and could not be fresher. The ryokan has a special intimate dining room called Sakura Dining, with a open kitchen so that you can see everything that the master chef is doing to prepare you dinner banquet.
Each course is carefully prepared and amazingly presented, as well as being paired with local sakes and wines that complement the flavors. This is a vary rare treat, a real Japanese gastronomic experience, and it goes without saying, a delicious feast.
After your meal, head to the irori – an inside hearth just off the lobby in the ryokan – to experience traditional Snow Country culture, before heading back to your room for a well-deserved sleep.
Now for the good bit. Hatago Isen are offering a special introductory tour to 12 lucky participants on November 14th/15th 2016 at a heavily discounted rate. In return they ask to be able to use the photos for promotional material, as well as asking for a little bit of feedback on your experience. The foraging tour, dinner in the private dining room, accommodation for one night, and breakfast the next morning are all included for 13,000 yen per person (a 50% discount on the usual rate.) If you are interested in getting involved, get in touch with the Snow Country Tourist Information at sugiyama(a)yuzawaonsen.gr.jp or via this address.