Experiencing Staying In Old Private Homes In Countryside For The First Time (Part 1)

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Experiencing Staying In Old Private Homes In Countryside For The First Time (Part 1)

So this week, we will be staying in traditional Japanese homes in the countryside, where we will do everything on our own –preparing our baths, gathering ingredients in the countryside for cooking, chopping wood, starting a fire and cooking the traditional way.

Our first traditional homestay experience in the countryside takes us to Tokamachi city in Niigata prefecture in winter. Travel by train towards Niigata, a snow country famous for its rice. Incidentally, the name of this old traditional home is “Mirai”, which means “future”. It is 85 years old and boasts 10 rooms. Guests can enjoy a countryside lifestyle here for 3,800 yen (S$60) per night.

Upon entering the home, you will notice items symbolic of life in a traditional countryside home - swallow nests, a hearth, a pot hook to adjust the flame for cooking and even a foot warmer which uses coal briquettes instead of electricity. One of the rules of the house is that guests must make dinner using local delicacies, cooked in a large traditional pot in a furnace. The home has an outdoor bath which can accommodate five people. To prepare the bath, you first have to shuffle the snow which blocks the spectacular view of the mountains. Then comes the challenge of chopping the wood and heating up the bath. Do note that it can take up to five hours to heat up the water.

Another task is gathering ingredients for dinner. Head to a vegetable field covered with snow. It is believed that vegetables buried under the snow are sweeter than usual. It is a unique way of farming in a snow country. So you have to dig to find these vegetables hidden under the snow. Some of the treasures you will find include snow carrot – which is famous in Tokamachi – and radish. We’ll be cooking local Uonuma Koshihikari high-grade rice in a traditional pot. The freshly-cooked rice is then made into dumplings and grilled by the hearth on a stick. Other dishes include firm tofu using local soybeans; fermented soybeans; hot pot featuring radish, carrots and chicken meat; grilled tofu with miso paste; and daikon radish in kelp. The firm tofu is cut into thick slices, deep-fried in hot oil and later served with chopped spring onion and bonito shavings. Meanwhile, the soybeans are placed on a bed of disinfected straw and placed under the foot warmer for fermentation. After your meal, get ready to hit the sack. As hot water bottles are a necessity in a snow country, remember to boil some water at the hearth and pour it into water bottles.

For our next trip, we’ll be staying at a home in Chiba, Boso Peninsula which is over 100 years old. Only 1.5 hours away from Tokyo, this old home is a popular choice for a traditional homestay experience. We’ll prepare local delicacies by the hearth and even try a drum can bath. In addition, we’ll celebrate the Dolls Festival in a unique yet traditional way. First, travel by Isumi Railway to Otaki-machi in Isumi-gun. Otaki-machi is a castle town which is known as “the little Edo of Boso”. The Otaki Castle here was built by the famous warlord Honda Tadakatsu. Many old buildings still exist in the town. We’ll be staying in a traditionally-styled house with a thatched roof. The majestic thatched roof house, called Nakanoya, was built in 1902. It features a grand interior, high ceiling and spacious rooms with a hearth. There is even an attic that can be used as a bedroom. Renting a room costs 3,000 yen (S$48) per night. According to the rules of this old traditional home, guests have to prepare for the Dolls Festival and celebration.

To experience the countryside lifestyle, guests first have to don traditional “working” clothes. They need to put their futons under the sun and clean the house, after which it’s time to prepare dinner. Boso is known for its seasonal seafood, so head out to the neighbouring town of Katsuura. Chiba has the largest catch of lobsters in Japan, while Katsuura is famous for its bonito. You can also pick up some clams and alfonsino. Later, go to the Ubara Fishing Port, which is near Katsuura’s city centre. Then, walk through a small tunnel nearby and pass through a road with thick vegetation, after which you will see a particular seashore which very few people know about. Here, you can find raw Hijiki seaweed, for example.

Return to Nakanoya and try a rare bathing experience – using a drum can. You first need to build a makeshift furnace, and an opening must be made for the chopped wood. Putting the drum can on top completes the set-up. A drum can bath is also available upon reservation, but guests must still prepare the bath themselves. While waiting for the bath to heat up, start preparing dinner, which includes daikon radish and rice, among other dishes.


THIS WEEK'S TIPS:

  • It is believed that vegetables buried in the cold earth in winter taste sweeter than usual
  • Divide various tasks - such as cooking, chopping wood and preparing the bath – among your group during homestay vacations

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