The spring mountain vegetable season has finished but that does not mean that the mountains of Snow Country have stopped providing. When the pink flowers of the utsugi shrub can be seen, the local foragers know that it is bamboo shoot season in the mountains. The exact season varies from year to year but is usually from early to mid-June in this region.
The Snow Country Tourism Association run a Bamboo Shoot foraging tour which meets at Echigo-Yuzawa Station. From there a car takes you up into the mountains of Mitsumata where there are still patches of snow visible even into July.
The guide is a local mountain man who spends every spare minute foraging – gathering vegetables in spring and mushrooms in autumn are his favourite times of year!
Off to the side of the winter ski slopes are vast expanses of the sasa bamboo that is so common in Snow Country. It is the same bamboo that provides the leaves to wrap the famous sasa-dango sweets. This bamboo grows close together and is difficult to penetrate. However, fight your way into its midst and you will be able to search for the plump, tender shoots that appear at this time of year.
The guide spends a bit of time showing you what you are looking for, and then once your eyes adjust, the treasure hunt begins. The short, fat shoots are the most prized, but there are lots of shoots with which to fill your bags.
Once your bags are full, you fight your way out back to the clear slopes and enjoy a picnic of bamboo shoot tempura, miso soup with bamboo shoots, and rice balls made from the local koshihikari rice. It is a fun experience and you certainly work up an appetite to enjoy the fruits of your labour afterwards.