Mar. 24, 2016
Japan Farming in the countryside and an old Japanese house
Blog by Irina Schmidt, student
“Traveling to foreign countries, I always like to leave major tourist destinations behind and visit local areas to get a better and deep impression of the culture. When I found STAY JAPAN（ex-Tomarina）, I felt like I could achieve exactly that.”
Starting from Tokyo station, my friend and me left with a local JR train for Chiba prefecture. We were kind of surprised how fast we actually could get there with the train, cause it took us just about an hour.
With the day time getting later and us approaching our destination, we surely found us noticing we are not on Tokyo anymore. We were definitely heading to the countryside, as we looked outside the window and saw the flashy city lights disappear into the darkness. Of course, when we arrived at the station, it was not pitch black. You could see the lights from the city center and the small station shopping street welcome you to “Mubara”. After shortly going shopping for our dinner, we were about to head for our place to stay for that night.
Surprisingly, but not surprisingly, we came to know that since it was a national holiday we missed the last bus. Nonetheless, there were still taxis.
After getting into one, the driver took us through the small village and through the fields to our destination. Getting off the taxi, it was clear we kind of landed in the middle of nowhere:
The little Japanese cottage was located in a place with few houses around, but mostly fields. Since it was already dark, and considering the location, you maybe can imagine the view: A lonely old cottage in the countryside, only a few people around, two young students and the wide darkness spreading around. The perfect set for a classic Japanese horror-movie I’d say.
However, seeing the taxi disappear in the distance, we decided to get inside the house to warm ourselves up. At first, our thoughts towards the house were rather skeptical mainly because no one was there, the lights were off and we only could look for the key with the lights of our smartphones.
But actually, after finding the key, entering the house and finally turning the lights on, it was like we found ourselves in a warm, welcoming and friendly place to stay in this night (and with warm I mean the atmosphere, not the temperature: we first had to turn on the heaters inside the tatami rooms to heat the place up)
Anyways, after leaving our luggage we started to explore the house. In contrast to the outside view, the inside made us forget where we actually were.
Entering through the main door, we got into a room that is the hallway and a small cafe at the same time. And by cafe, I mean not just a bar, a REAL CAFE which we later came to know the owner runs occasionally on weekends or holidays for the villagers and friends they bring over from busy Tokyo. But well, not so special, I mean who has NOT a cafe in his vacation house? Duh.
However, the cafe was made in a simple but chic vintage design with a self-made front desk, a small sales stand with self-made syrups, jam and alike and old chairs and desks for the customers to sit at. In the back we also could find a book rack filled with magazines and books the owner collected over time.
So much details
Altogether, and with the small but noticeable decorations, the room created a cozy and chilly atmosphere almost inviting everyone the sit down, have a cup of coffee or tea and just relax while skimming through some of the magazines from the shelves.
On the opposite side, there was the entrance sliding door to the two tatami rooms we could use for sleeping. And they were gorgeous.
Compared to ryokans or traditional Japanese style hotel rooms you could see and feel the originality of the rooms, that they were authentic, personal and were actually a part of the everyday life of Japanese people in the past.
The two rooms had also little decorative items on the shelves and racks inside them making the whole thing feel even more like staying at your long lost Japanese grandma’s place.
cozy Japanese-style room
With the time getting later and our stomachs emptier, we decided to prepare our dinner. But wait, did I mention a kitchen earlier? No. Where’s the kitchen?
Obviously, there were no other rooms we could enter in the main building left, so we came to consider some of the separate houses outside needed to include the kitchen. Strolling around the property, we found several other little houses in the dark including the shower and make-up room, a separate house for storage, an empty rabbit hutch… and a mysterious rather big house with appeared to have no entrance. Really, we looked from every side. There were a few windows, indeed, but nothing that seemed like a door.
Hungry and a bit scared as we were, we ended up calling the owner for help. As it turned out, the kitchen was really inside the mystery building. And in fact, the huge metal front of it was a sliding door. Well, who knew, right?
Cooking(Actually making instant ramen :D)
The only thing left was an open fireplace and snow
After having prepared our dinner for the evening, we went back to the main building’s tatami rooms which have gotten cozily warm in the meanwhile. Sitting down at the low tatami-room table on the typical Japanese sitting cushions, we looked around the room and very soon felt like already at home. After eating, we started to talk and made ourselves comfortable on the nicely smelling tatami floor. The time went by very fast as we kept chatting till late in our little warm shelter that protected us from the freezing cold and dark night outside.
Exploration & good night
It got late, but before sleeping we decided to go outside once more. In the middle of the night? In the Japanese countryside with nothing around but plain fields?
Yes. If there is one thing that you can find in Japan, no matter what time it is and where you are, then that’s an open convenience store.
It took a while until we made it to there, but only after we strolled through the dark fields, walked past dark houses and also small lonely shrines. With no one around anymore and only a few cars passing by on the highway, … well, it was the most tense walk to a convenience store i ever had.
Back at the house, we slowly decided that it was time to go to sleep, so we unpacked the futon sets that were stored in one separate room and made ourselves comfortable next to the warm heater in one of the tatami rooms. After the long day it was not hard to fall asleep, so we both dozed off in our cozy futons and so actually stayed a night in an old traditional Japanese house.
Day 2 — Harvesting experience
The next day, we woke up early in the morning to get ready and have quickly breakfast before the owner would come to the house and take us on a HARVESTING trip.
As a child of the countryside, I was not too excited about this workshop kind of thing, but since my friend was interested in it and it was more or less inside the whole lodging experience package, we just gave it a try.
After eating, we waited for the farmer to arrive and so had a little bit of time left to look around the house at daylight. The outside of the house was not creepy anymore since now you had a pretty good overview of the surroundings. It was a cold winter morning but it was nice sitting inside the warm house at a small table with opened sliding doors so that you could look outside.
Overlooking the house, I really could imagine coming back here in the summer. You know, it reminded me of a lot of animes set in the Japanese countryside. A child sitting on the porch, eating watermelon in the hot summer, overlooking the fields and forests with the bright and refreshing sound of a Japanese furin wind bell ringing when a weak breeze comes along. That’s what this place seemed to become in summer time.
And indeed, opening the glass sliding doors to the outside, you could chill inside the house or outside on the garden furniture while having a cool drink and chatting with the people from the cafe. And not to forget, the ocean is located quite in the walking distance of this house, so you easily could go swimming or even surfing and then come back to your lodge and relax for the rest of the day. For me, that sounds perfect.
However, after a while the farmer arrived in his truck and brought along his small and cute son (who was kind of shy towards us but was being totally comfortable running around the house and the cafe). After a short chat, he lend us gumboots and took us right off to the fields which were quite directly in front of the house where we walked around the past night.
He explained to us that due to the current season there is only a limited pick of what we could harvest right now and showed us around his fields. Actually, these were not the only ones he is looking after, but he also is in charge of a small honey farm and several other vegetables and fruit fields. Cool.
Then, we arrived at the first field and the farmer showed us how it’s best to harvest the vegetables. It was surprising to see that the vegetables were not just the regular cabbage or turnips, but the farmer explained us that because he is only cultivating on small fields he decided to grow unusual vegetables like for example the colorful carrots or purple turnips we tried to harvest. Usually after harvesting, he produces his own goods at the cafe or sells the crops to local restaurants that order more exclusive ingredients for their dishes. For sure, a business that will find a lot of customers.
After the harvest, we returned back to the cozy cottage and the farmer offered us to have a cup of self-made hot Japanese basil syrup tea with Yuzu citrus fruits.
Yuzu-tea with organic vegetables!
He then also cut our harvested crops into finger-food like portions and served those to us with Japanese dip: Miso and Sesame past. Wow that was good. Both carrots and turnip were actually a little bit sweeter than usual ones and not as bitter. Dipping them into the miso and sesame paste made it a nice healthy, and self-harvested snack before we took off for home afterwards.
The farmer was so kind and offered to drop us off at the station since he had other business in that area and we thankfully accepted that. After jumping into his van he drove away from our home for one night and went off through the fields towards the little town. On the way back, he took us by a small bakery shop that some of his friends were running. OH GOD THE SMELL OF FRESHLY BAKED BREAD AND BUNS (here you must understand my long craving for fresh bread as a german). That just ended this trip perfectly.
Dropping us at the station, the farmer wished us farewell and drove off. We immediately looked for a way to get back to Tokyo and found that there was a highway bus running in a few minutes so we took off and left Mubara.
As you might read between the lines, I was positively surprised of how nice this trip was in the end. At first I was not quite sure about where we were going, what was waiting for us and whether or not is was worth the journey. In the end, it was. I guess we were lucky having the chance to stay in an authentic old Japanese house with its own history and personality making the stay itself way more interesting than a common hotel where everything is just placed there to fulfill its need. In this house, we got so much more. A unique experience, a little bit of adventure and most importantly, a deep insight into the life in a remote and stable place somewhere in this world, somewhere in Japan.