Road Trip on Flower Nagai Line (Part 2)

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Road Trip on Flower Nagai Line

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Japan Hour (Synopsis Only):

Road Trip on Flower Nagai Line (Part 2)

We resume our two-day winter trip on Yamagata Railway’s Flower Nagai Line, which runs through the south of Yamagata Prefecture. On the first day, we stay at Hagi-en, where we feast on tuna sashimi, herring marinade, Chinese-style shrimp, beef imported from a ranch on the Zao Plateau and Yamabushi mushrooms, which are a speciality of Yamagata.  

On the second day, after we have breakfast, the hotel shuttle takes us back to Minami-Nagai Station. We head to Ayame-Koen Station, two stops ahead. We have over 1.5 hours till our train from here leaves at 11.20am. Ayame Park, which has been around for 100 years, is a 10-minute walk from the station. A million Japanese irises bloom here but since it is winter, there are no flowers due to the snow.

A local we meet lets us visit her home to see dumpling offerings which are arranged like blooming flowers. Residents in the area would decorate their homes with them and offer them to deities. For example, flower dumplings made of turnips would be offered to a deity on December 30. Similar dumplings are also hung during a local event to prevent fires and other disasters or for a rich harvest and good business.

We are invited by the same friendly local to a tea party with her neighbours. Tempura, herring roll, pickled radishes and other vegetables are served. We also find out that the residents believe it is bad luck to drink just one cup of tea and so they would always have two. Someone at the party suggests we visit Ayumu - where exhibitions are held - near Shikinosato Station. However, we later end up getting off at the station before Shikinosato, Ayukai Station. The next train from here departs at 1.15pm so we make use of the time to explore the area.

A resident tells us about a man who not only raises minnows, a kind of fish, but also makes honey. So we go to meet 80-year-old Aoki Tsutomu, who built a pond 30 years ago to raise minnows. He tells us they can sometimes grow to a length of about 30cm. He would either fry the fish or preserve them. Furthermore, Mr Tsutomu became interested in beekeeping in middle school and started making honey. We get to sample some of the honey.

After this, we finally head to Shikinosato Station to check out Ayumu. It opened in 2009 as Shirataka’s cultural exchange centre and various events take place at Ayumu to showcase art from the region. When we visit the centre, the works of 22 artists residing in Shirataka are on display. Including paintings, sculptures and crafts, around 60 items are showcased. Examples are an art piece made with Shirataka’s traditional craft paper - Miyama-washi - and Shirataka pongee, a type of fabric. Ayumu also has other event spaces, such as a music hall.

We want to have lunch so we ask the director of Ayumu to suggest an eatery. He tells us about a soba place called Kumaya. It is located a distance away from the town and is rather difficult to find so he offers to drive us there. The restaurant’s owner used to be an apple farmer and started making soba 13 years ago. He uses buckwheat flour grown in Shirataka to make the noodles. We order the morisoba, which costs 700 yen. We are also served a unique dessert made with persimmons which have been soaked in salt water for two months.

The director drives us back to Shikinosato Station and we take the train to the final stop on the Flower Nagai Line, Arato Station. During the journey, the train passes by the Mogami Bridge, which was built in 1887.

At Arato, we ask a local for recommended spots and he mentions a tea house called Ayu along the Mogami River. However, it is rather far away so we have to walk 4km in the snow to reach the place. Along the way, we get to admire the beautiful winter scenery. We notice ayu fish being dried in the cold air outside the tea house. In summer, one can sit in the outdoor sitting area of the eatery. We order some fried ayu and even get to try preserved ayu sake. This concludes our two-day adventure along Yamagata Railway’s Flower Nagai Line, during which we visited 10 spots recommended by the locals.

Tips:
1) Yamabushi mushrooms are a speciality of Yamagata Prefecture
2) Art lovers should visit the Ayumu cultural exchange centre near Shikinosato Station


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