Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apple picking trip in Nagano, Japanese Alps

A few months ago I agreed to join Yoko (my Japanese teacher), Candy, Candy's mum and a few of Yoko's colleagues on an apple picking trip to Nagano (Japanese Alps).

Thinking I may have committed myself to a day up a ladder doing a days hard labour, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a mystery apple and pear "tasting" tour, phew, big relief!
Met Yoko et al at 6.45am at Kanazawa station which nearly killed me especially the FIRST day of silver week (a 4 day holiday in Japan) I've discovered that the Japanese really don't do relaxing that well. If this was England on the first day of a public holiday at this time in the morning it'd be a ghost town. Nope the station was packed, coaches lined up ready to take eager Japanese tourists on their day trips. One of the coaches was ours. I hadn't realised our group was part of a larger coach tour with our own compère and everything, but I was up for it. Me and mum had seen so many coach tours on our travels around Japan I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. Little did I know that we were about to cover half of Chubu in a day!

First stop was Komagane to see a beautiful old temple called Konzenji, set in a green forest with ridiculously tall trees. There was some commotion along the path leading up to the temple and I wanted to know why a whole crowd of people were pointing at this old wall and looking inside. I thought it might be some type of rare insect but nope it was moss. Yep apparently moss only grows inside walls here. Soooo random, but this is Japan...

Me and the girls in the buckwheat fields

Next stop was Inatajima to see the beautiful and brightly coloured red buckwheat fields, the crop they use to make buckwheat flour for soba noodles. We then visited a local produce market where they were selling locally made tomato juice, these huge grapes (called Kyohō budō, 巨峰葡萄 or "giant mountain grapes") apples, pears and figs.

Huge Japanese grapes, Kyohō budō (wow, is my thumb really that wrinkly?)

After a delicious nabe lunch we eventually reached the apple and pear picking farm in Matsukawa, a beautiful place surrounded by mountains. The picking (really tasting) went like this: we entered the apple orchard to an area where there were apples & pears wrapped up in paper but still hanging off the trees, weird!

We were allowed to pick 1 apple and 1 pear. Once picked, you then go to one of the little tables to wash, peel, cut and taste the apple not forgetting to remark "oishieeeeeeeee" (delicious) in a high pitched voice with plenty of enthusiasm! That's the Japanese way of apple picking!

Ready? 1,2,3 oishieeeeeeeeee!

We boarded the bus and were given omiyage (souvenir or gift) of a Nagano pear and apple each.

When we got off the bus again near Ida City it was to visit a mizuhiki gallery. Mizuhiki is an ancient art craft which uses a brightly coloured cord to knot and create decorative shapes and animals. Apparently the artform was used to tie up the hair of the samurai. In Japan you see mizuhiki on wedding money envelopes everywhere. This gallery had some pretty stunning and huge animals crafted solely from this cord. Amazing.

Before climbing onboard the coach it was time for the "who can grab the most chestnuts with one hand" competition. Yep, we all queued up to see how many chestnuts we could grab from a box full of chestnuts. I got 11. Very bizzare but then this is Japan and the Japanese seem to make the simplest of ideas so much fun.

Chesnut grabbing random!

Back on the bus heading home our compère announced it was Bingo time, woop woop. Haven't played for years and the prize was a free coach trip to Kobe. Ace! Once we all had a bingo card they pulled down the TV and this squeaky little Japanese voice read out the numbers, hilarious.

I didn't win but one of Yoko's colleagues did.

Brilliant day.

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