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Fall Colors

It’s here! It snowed in the mountain pass, and has been really cold and rainy for the past few days. I’m just going to leave you with some shots from around Takinoue and our fall foliage. All pictures were taken by Aiko Ishimoto!

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Walking path at Kinsenkyo
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Kinsenkyo

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The waterfall at Kinsenkyo

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It’s beautiful, take a moment and get outside!

 

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Wild Foods- Kokuwa

Hokkaido and the rest of Japan has a culture of foraging and consuming the edible, not typically commercially-available, wild plants (known as sansai) that grow lushly all over the island. There’s an abundance of food, if you know where to look and can discern between various plants.

I think I’ve had an interest in wild plants and animals since a really young age. However, for the most part I grew up in the city, despite frequent visits to see family in more rural parts of the States. Really, it was when I came to Hokkaido that I started to really get outside, and learn more about my surroundings. During the time I’ve been here, I’ve been lead into the woods, besides rivers, and even just to street shoulders to learn about plants that I’ve doubtless seen hundreds of times, but never paid attention to.

Before I go any further, though, I need to warn you- I’m not an expert. Every time I’ve picked and eaten any of these plants, it’s been with someone who has much more experience than me in finding and identifying them, and I’ve been cautioned and shown lookalike (inedible and sometimes poisonous) plants many times. Sometimes, parts of a plant can be eaten while other parts can’t and are dangerous. So be careful, and go with someone experienced if this piques your interest!

Anyway! The most recent new plant I’ve learned of is kokuwa, also known as zarunashi (this translates as “monkey pear”). I’ve actually seen these laying on the ground and always figured they were some ornamental plant, and basically ignored them. So, when I heard a lumberjack friend telling me excitedly that he had cut down a tree with kokuwa vines and was able to get a lot of the fruits, I didn’t make the connection between that and the little green bulbs I’d seen before. He told me they were like tiny kiwis, and once he saw how interested I was, promised to bring me some the next day.

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This is what he brought me! A humongous bowl of these olive-sized green/brown fruits. And when he cut it open:

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Sure enough, it looks like a kiwi! The softer ones were easy to squeeze out from their skin, and when I ate some they definitely had a kiwi taste.

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These aren’t quite ripe- when they’re much softer and a darker green, they taste best!

This was the first time I’d ever seen or eaten this, so I did some research. Outside of Japan these go by the names hardy kiwi, grape kiwi, artic kiwi, baby kiwi, and others. They grow in Hokkaido where normal kiwis won’t, because they’re pretty tough and resistant to cold, and are actually related to the common kiwi fruit. But they’re kind of a super-kiwi; they grow extremely fast and aggressively, and will kill trees that the vines attach to. People like to make jams and alcohol of them- my lumberjack friend actually made a big jar of kokuwa-shu.

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A kokuwa vine

They have a lot of vitamin C, and you can actually eat the whole thing, though my friend doesn’t enjoy eating them that way. I liked it either way, and eventually moved to just eating the whole thing because it’s easier.

So! Here’s just one of many experiences I’ve had with overlooked plants in Hokkaido. I’ll bring some more soon!

 

 

 

Yukimushi

Winter is right around the corner. You want to know how I know this? Yesterday, I saw this guy:

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And what is that little winged puffball bug, you may ask? That, my friends, is a yukimushi– translated literally, a “snow bug.” They’re very small, about the size of a gnat, and have a fluffy white body, and make people think of falling snow. Most people in Hokkaido say that after yukimushi is seen, it will start snowing within the month. I’ve also heard it said, though, that it will snow in 10 days if you see yukimushi– but I don’t think I quite believe that. It’s getting chilly, but isn’t that cold yet!

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Yesterday when I was speaking with my tea ceremony teacher, I mentioned to her that I was excited for winter (skiing!) and that it had snowed on Asahidake last week. She told me she had been seeing yukimushi for a week already, and when I was surprised, showed me out behind her house. Sure enough, the air was filled with them!

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I couldn’t find an English name for them, but did find out they’re a type of aphid, and have a sticky body. They’re extremely sensitive to heat- even someone’s body heat can make them sluggish (sorry little guys I caught for these pictures!) and so show up only when the weather gets colder. They also only live for a week- the males don’t have mouths, so they can’t eat, and females lay eggs and then die themselves.

September is a little early to be seeing them- maybe we’re in for an early winter! Though I don’t think it will arrive within the next week. Either way, I’m excited for this gorgeous time of year.

 

 

Summer’s End

Hey all! Summer has flown by. I think it always feels short in Hokkaido, like the cold weather wants to crowd out warmer days. But I and the rest of the dosanko made the best of it, and really enjoyed the time we had. Here’s a few shots of classic Hokkaido summer here in Takinoue, as we start to shift to autumn.

 

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Grilled scallops at an oustide yakiniku party, yum.
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The hydrangeas were especially beautiful this year! I’m still delighted they grow wild.
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Me in a yukata on the way to Takinoue’s summer festival… excuse the messy genkan.
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Sunset from the top of Rainbow Bridge. I was actually chilly when I took this!

 

Right now I’m bundled up, because it actually reached 8C last night (46F).  Yesterday it snowed on Asahidake, the highest mountain in Hokkaido. I expect the leaves to start changing soon, and when they do I’ll be back with some more pictures!

 

Where to Eat- Restaurant Alice

There are a couple of really amazing restaurants to visit in Takinoue, and I’d like to tell you about Restaurant Alice!

Restaurant Alice is in Asahi-machi, only a few blocks from the Shibazakura Park. Restaurant Alice is very recognizable from the outside- it’s a vibrant green- and inside is quiet and comfortable.

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Most of the food from Alice is local, produced on an organic farm here in Takinoue.  Their menu stays pretty consistent year-round, with a lot of Japanese foods that are really delicious.

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From top right, clockwise: miso ramen, omu-spice curry, salad, kitsune udon, seasonal set, gyoza set meal

 

At Alice, they even make their own liqueurs from local fruits. I really like the ume, but the other flavors are really great too. There are some interesting ones that I haven’t seen anywhere else!

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Restaurant Alice is open for lunch and dinner. They also offer locally-produced items, such as foods, sauces and dressings, and even organic bug-repellent incense.

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Come drop by!

 

 

Where to Eat- Le Bella at Suehiro Inn

There are a couple of really amazing restaurants to visit in Takinoue, and I’d like to tell you about Le Bella!

Le Bella is the restaurant attached to the Suehiro Inn, very close to the Shibazakura Hill. The inside is really cute and warm, and there’s even a deck that sits overlooking the Shokotsu River. The deck even has standing heaters, to stay warm in the chilly evenings.

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The dining room

 

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The outside deck

They have a party room, which you can reserve for dinner. I have been to Le Bella many times for parties with friends and coworkers!

Le Bella’s food is amazing! While a lot of traditional Japanese food is available, the owner of Le Bella incorporates western cooking into her meals, so you can taste some amazing Japanese-fusion food! The menu changes seasonally, so there’s always what is best at that time of year available. You can even eat deer here!

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Clockwise from the top: Seasonal foods (deer-meat ajillo, avocado and prosciutto salad, bread, asparagus); deer meat katsu- curry; cold soba

Le Bella is typically open for lunch, but is available for dinner upon reservation. Come visit!

 

Helicopter Rides Over the Town

Last Sunday I spent my day at the Shibazakura Park, helping out at the information desk with the people who were visiting Takinoue. It was a lot of fun, I got to meet so many people!

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My view from the information desk last Sunday- and my cute nametag! 

One of the really interesting and fun things offered at the Park are helicopter rides over the town and park- and in a rare quiet moment, I snuck off to see what it was about!

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I had never ridden in a helicopter before, and was surprised at how smooth the takeoff and landing were. In the air was really peaceful and calm- although standing outside the helicopter is really loud, inside is quiet. But I think I was so excited that I wouldn’t have even noticed if it was loud!

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The Shibazakura Park from above

The helicopter ride lasts about 3-5 minutes, which seems short but is totally worth it! Adults are 5,000¥, children are 4,000¥, and up to 5 people can ride together at one time. Come check it out!

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My beautiful town!

Springtime Flowers!

This past week spring has hit full force here in Takinoue! Here’s a sampling of some of the flowers I’ve come across while walking around town in this lovely warm weather.

First, I took a trip to the shrine to check out, of course, the cherry blossoms!

These pictures were taken mostly at the Takinoue shrine, which is beautiful even without the sakura blooming!

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photo by Matthew Jones

Of course, the daffodils and tulips are gorgeous right now!

This white flowering tree is called kobushi, and it’s the first time in 10 years it has bloomed! They only bloom when we have a mild winter, so it’s very lucky to be able to see them this year!

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These are called ezoengosaku. They bloom very low to the ground, and I really love them.

There’s still a lot blooming, and this is only the start of spring! The shibazakura have started, too- I can’t wait for them to come in fully!

The Story of the Shibazakura Park

 

Takinoue’s shibazakura park is one of the most famous in Japan, and people come from all over to see it. The creation of the park began back in the Taisho era, with Takinoue’s aspirations to be known as the most flowered city of Japan.

 

The origins of the park started with a horse shoe maker named Kataoka Heiji. He was originally from Kochi-ken, but with the development happening in Hokkaido he decided to move to Takinoue with his wife. He was initially worried about the move to Hokkaido, but his wife had a fondness for the flowers of Hokkaido. She thought it was a beautiful area, and was looking forward to moving there. So, he agreed to come for her sake, and they moved to Takinoue in the 1920s. With their move, their shared dream of making Takinoue the most famous location for flowers in Japan also was created.

When they arrived, Kataoka intially continued his work with horse shoeing. He and his wife noticed the bad smell of the horse shoeing area, and they decided to plant flowers to mask the smell of it. His wife began to tend to the flowers there, and they often talked about them.

It was in 1919 that the development of what is now the shibazakura park started. In 1922, the townspeople of Takinoue purchased 1,000 sakura trees and planted them on the hillside. Takinoue started to become famous as a sakura-viewing place in Hokkaido. During this time, Kataoka became the caretaker of the sakura trees and the park, a job he took very seriously.

However, in 1938 Kataoka’s wife died. He felt like he hadn’t kept his promise to her about making Takinoue famous Japan-wide for the beautify of its flowers. He was very depressed, and struggled with it until the start of World War 2, during which time he was unable to care for the trees in the park. When the war was finished, Kataoka resumed his care of Takinoue’s flower park. In 1950 Takinoue began to hold an annual sakura festival, and people were coming from far and wide to view the blooming flowers.

There were soon two setbacks that occurred in that time. The first was an abnormally large gypsy moth infestation. They ate many of the plants and trees in Takinoue at that time, and the problem was so serious that soon the town resorted to burning trees in order to kill the moths. With the fires and burning insects, Takinoue began to lose some of its appeal as a fragrant-flower town. During this time is when Asakura Yoshie, another man from Kochi-prefecture, began to work with Kataoka. Together, with Asakura working with the local and Hokkaido goverment, they decided to renew Takinoue’s dream of becoming a flower-town.

 

In 1954, though, there came the second problem. A terrible typhoon, called the Toyamaru typhoon, hit Hokkaido. This typhoon caused island-wide destruction, and in Takinoue it knocked over about half of the sakura trees in the park. With this, Kataoka and Asakura decided to cease trying to raise sakura trees. They were both discouraged by their setbacks, but when Kataoka thought about his wife he decided to give it another go, and convinced Asakura to keep trying.

During 1956 Kataoka was out and noticed small pink flowers in a nearby garden. He was struck by how vibrant their color was and their beautiful fragrance, and decided that this was how Takinoue would take its place as flower-capital of Japan. Kataoka gathered up wooden orange-box of the flowers, and took them to Asakura to show him what he had found. The flowers couldn’t be killed by the insects or typhoons, so they decided to try it out.

Around this time, Asakura decided to run for mayor of Takinoue and announced his candidacy. Kataoka told Asakura that he would support Asakura in his election if, in return, Asakura would pledge to help him with his creation of Takinoue as a flower-city. Asakura agreed, and went on to win the election and become mayor of Takinoue. He immediately started development on the shibazakura park.

 

From 1959-1966 Takinoue expanded the area of its park by 5 hectares every year. By this point, Kataoka was getting older, and he died in 1968. Asakura and the townspeople of Takinoue carried on the spirit of Kataoka Heiji by continuing to expand the Takinoue Shibazakura Park, and it eventually reached 7-times the original size. Now, Takinoue has the most vibrantly pink flower garden in all of Japan.

Sapporo/Asahikawa to Takinoue Express Bus Special

Hello everyone!

Today I received information about a bus special that makes it easy to visit Takinoue from Sapporo or Asahikawa! It’s a special limited-time deal that runs from May 7th-June 5th, and includes round-trip bus fare and admission to the Takinoue Shibazakura Park. If you are planning a trip to visit Takinoue this spring, take a look! The 3rd and 4th pages of the document are in English too, so it’s very helpful!

Takinoue Moss-Phlox Viewing Express Bus Information