Day 5 - Ainokura Village

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There were signposts at the car park of Ainokura Village directing you to the viewpoint, so we ambled up the windy wet paths to look down over the village. I imagine this must be quite a photogenic spot in the sunshine as we saw some chaps with seriously expensive camera equipment at this viewpoint.

We then walked down through the vegetable plots to the road below. This village was smaller and felt much more lived-in than Suganuma Village.

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We did not feel inclined to visit any more folk museums, but did want to find the place which made washi paper. This building was hidden around a corner, and inside was a chap sat cross legged on the floor painting ornaments. As we arrived, he got up and we got to make our own pieces of washi paper, using maple leaves placed between two layers of wood pulp. Washi paper is generally made from paper Mulberry trees by a rather long process. The end result is a sink of fine fibres, into which you put a wooden frame with a fine screen, scooping up some of the fibres to make your paper. He then pulled the wet layers of mush across a vacuum pump to remove most of the liquid (see photo below), then rapidly dried it. Then you have the most perfect souvenir; light, portable, and so Japanese!

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Part of our travel plan was to eat ice cream every day as we were Brits on holiday, and the Japanese make some wonderful ice cream!  I do not have any photos to show you, but I can show you what happened when we sat outside the shop in Ainokura eating our ice creams.

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The four Japanese gentlemen in this photo above wanted to join us in conversation. Even with Google Translate and a lot of enthusiasm, we could not manage much of a conversation though. But that did not matter as we had a great time. The guy in the middle with his hand in the air wanted to buy us some local delicacies. When Japanese people visit other regions of the country, they come home with souvenirs which are food-based, and always special to the location. These are known as omiyage. Firstly, he gave us a box of what I can only describe as prawn crackers (all individualy wrapped in the pink box), which Lawrence proceeded to demolish. Then we were presented with a dish on which was a brown blob of something, with salt and pickles. Much of rural Japanese food can be described as tasting ‘brown’, so we were a little dubious about this one. It turned out to be chestnut paste in motchi form (rice flour), and not bad tasting actually. I think they would have continued to feed us if it wasn’t time for us to move on.

After leaving the village in search of an ATM machine, we followed directions from Google Maps to our accommodation, and found ourselves back in Ainokura Village! Then we had to convince the car park guy that we had already paid to enter the village. We stayed in Gassho Minshuki Nakaya, shown below.

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Before dinner, I headed out to wander around the village again, given that the rain had stopped. It was very quiet and I got a real sense of how isolated these villages are. Yes, they look quaint and interesting, but it must be tough living here.

Thankfully, we did not have to eat our dinner sitting on the floor, but we did eat a very traditional Japanese meal. The fish was slowly cooked over charcoal in a pit in the centre of the dining room, and was served along with sashimi, tempura vegetables, green vegetables, pickles, miso soup and rice.

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There were six guests in the farmhouse, one of which was Dan who plays the trumpet in Broadway muscials and was cycling across Japan, in the reverse of the route we were taking. He is married to a Japanese lady, and teaches in a school due to be visited by musicians from Yokohama International School where our host works; such a small world!  By putting us all together in this dining room, it was easy to have a conversation with complete strangers, especially after a little sake. The Japanese couple spoke some English, and the guy was able to demonstrate just how unmusical the wooden-slated instrument (sasara) really was!

While we were eating, the lady owner of the farmhouse put out our futons and bedding on the floor in our room next door.  As some of the guests were getting up very early, we all had to go to sleep early as well. You cannot chat in rooms with paper walls and not wake everyone else up!  So, the end of another very enjoyable and interesting day, despite the weather.

© Helen Gray 2021