Nicoletta Goes to Japan (part 4 - the end), or how I enjoyed experiencing different parts of Japan. Here, I am going from Tokyo to the white Hokkaido, then back to Tokyo before I say goodbye.
Song of the day: Harajuku Girls - Gwen Stefani
If you read Part 1 , Part 2 , and Part 3 of the “Nicoletta Goes to Japan” saga, you know that I recently returned from an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan, where I appeared on the TV show ‘Who Wants to Come to Japan‘. In part 4, I am at the end of my journey, but not before I visit an azuki farm in Hokkaido and spend some more time in Tokyo.
After a short but sweet glimpse of beautiful Tokyo, I was told we were flying to Hokkaido to visit an azuki bean farm. Hokkaido accounts for over 90% of the nation's production of azuki beans. Known for their quality, Hokkaido-grown azuki are an excellent choice for anko (red bean paste).
Perfect, to bring me right where they grow the beans that make the delicious filling of my beloved Dorayaki!
We left a grey and damp Tokyo to fly to Hokkaido. In specific, we were going to Obihiro, in the Tokachi region situated in the eastern part of Hokkaido. I knew we were going to find snow, what I did not know is that we would land in a snow storm! Icy winds and huge snowflakes flurried on my face as soon as we got out of the airport. But that was nothing! After a challenging taxi drive, we reached our 'destination' in the middle of nowhere. The director asked the driver to stop because we had arrived, but all I could see was white.
I was told to go out and start walking in the snow storm while the poor cameraman had to walk backwards to film me as I trudged unsteadily in the high snow. I could hardly keep my eyes open from the wind and the snowflakes, but I managed to see a house in the distance. Wish you could see the episode, lol!
Tokachi Toyama Farm
A house and some annexes appeared on my left, where I saw a guy on a tractor and a woman outside clearing the snow from the pathway that led to the entrance of Toyama Farm. I stopped, bowed, and used the polite 'Konnichi wa. Hajimemashite. Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu' (Good morning. Nice to meet you).
The lady had a soft and warm smile and she led me inside the house where I met a welcoming family in a lovely room with a huge window that looked like a painting. In the room, there was: the guy with his wife and adorable little daughter, the lady, and her elderly father. They were so nice and made me feel at home right away. After some time the family grew bigger because her two other sons arrived, one with his wife. We took a picture together and on the back wall you can see a blackboard where they had painted their beautiful farm and hung a poster with "Welcome to Toyama Farm, Nicoletta". I had a smile from ear to ear.
I knew very little about how my stay in Hokkaido would develop, but after some time I learned that I was going to be a guest of their farm for the night, we would cook dinner together, share the table, and the following day I would visit the farm and learn more about azuki beans.
I am so sad that I don't have pictures documenting more about this wonderful family and their incredible farm! In the two days I stayed with them I could experience cooking traditional Japanese food from the area, and learn the different ways you can use azuki beans. We had steamed rice with azuki beans, kabocha squash and beans, a bean soup, not to mention fish and vegetables, all local, and dessert with azuki bean paste both with the red azuki and the white azuki (shiro-an). I could also taste a store-bought Dorayaki, whose anko is made with the azuki beans they grow and sell. So good! I was missing my daily dose of Dorayaki, lol.
An Azuki bean Farm
After the snow storm passed, the next day was gorgeous. A blue sky stunningly contrasted the white snow, making it look like a painted landscape. The lady brought me outside, to the back of the house, and showed me the beautiful mountains in front of us, while a drone was filming the scene from the top. It felt surreal to be there, in that wide white space all around, and if it wasn't for the extreme cold, I could have stayed there forever.
The Japanese pride themselves on their fresh local produce and Tokachi is one of Japan’s leading bean producing areas. I got to see how the Toyama family takes care and gratification in growing three varieties of the best azuki beans, which are, apparently, the second most widely used legumes in Japan after soybeans. They told me how long before you can get an azuki harvest, and the crop rotation needed to prevent depletion of soil nutrients. I also witnessed how carefully they sort the azuki: they put the dried beans on a conveyor and with skilled eyes and fast fingers they pick out the ones with bad color and shape and those with broken skin. It is a task that cannot be continued for a long time because the eyes become tired. They will then further refine the sorted beans.
Tokachi Toyama Farm celebrated in 2017 its 100th anniversary of settling in Hokkaido. The Toyama family offers also the possibility to stay at their place. You can find their Airbnb here.
I made mochi in Japan!
I was lucky to make mochi in Japan, with the whole family, in the traditional way. It is quite the ceremony, mochitsuki (mochi making), and one that we did outside (!). It starts with an especially glutinous type of polished rice which is first soaked overnight then steamed. The steamed rice is then mashed and pounded with a wooden mallet (kine) in a traditional mortar (usu). Two people will alternate the work, one pounding and the other turning and wetting the mochi. They must keep a steady rhythm or they may accidentally injure one another with the heavy mallet. I can testify, it is heavy! They let me use the kine and I was worried I would smash it on somebody's hands, lol! The rest of the family was all around encouraging the beater and the turner and it was a joy to watch. All that hard work produces a finely grained sticky rice dough, which has to be molded into the end product. I only helped to make the daifuku mochi, the sweet variety, stuffing it with the red bean paste (anko) and white bean paste (shiroan), and leaving some sticky mochi to make ichigo daifuku which are filled with a layer of anko and a whole strawberry and that we enjoyed as an afternoon treat. Delicious!
Thanks to the lady who was a great cook, we also had mochi in many different savory dishes, all with a unique flavor.
When it was time to say goodbye, Erika took a picture of me and the beautiful Toyama family. Such a nice memory to have, I'll be forever thankful for the whole experience. (Yes, it was very cold if you're wondering from the picture... lol!)
Back to Tokyo
A not-too-long flight brought us back to Tokyo late at night. I had the wonderful news that the shooting went well, they were pretty happy about me and what they had filmed so far. They did not need the one and a half extra days they had scheduled for me. That meant that I was free to roam the streets of Tokyo the following Sunday and Monday morning! They had been amazing, helpful, funny, kind. Loved them all. However, after a week of strict schedule, I was ready to wander at my own pace. A quick photo at the airport with the director, assistant, and Erika the translator was a must.
The Thousand Faces of Tokyo
I tried to see as much as I could, but only a fraction of the thousand faces of Tokyo. In the company of the lovely Erika I experienced the busiest crosswalk in Shibuya, I relaxed in the serene Meiji-Jingu Shrine, before diving into the fascinating pop culture of Harajuku district, which is strikingly located right next to the shrine. During the day, we couldn't help but stop for sushi, a Milky soft cream, a 3d cappuccino art. I wanted to try the Japanese fluffy pancakes but had no room left, lol. So, instead, we walked up Omotesando and its tree-lined fashionable boulevard, back to Shibuya where we checked the food market located in the station and shared delicious Takoyaki (the walk helped make some room;-) ). After a picture at the statue of the famous dog Hachiko, we took the subway, and I went back to the hotel. The next Monday morning I was going to "fly solo", but I had some suggestions from Erika to where to go and, most important, where to eat.
It's time to leave Japan
It is time to leave Japan, but not before I check Tokyo Tower and Zojoji Temple that stands next to the Tower and which were within walking distance from the hotel. Not to mention, I still wanted to try more foods that were on my list. After all, I am a foodie, and food blogger, lol. Thus, lunch consisted of cold soba noodles and tempura in a place recommended by Erika and which was full of locals. Later, I had a snack, the famous Taiyaki, from Naniwaya. It is a sweet, shaped like a fish, with a thin and crispy yet soft layer, filled to the brim with a delicious red bean paste (anko, the 'soundtrack' of my trip).
Thank you to all the team of "Who Wants To Come to Japan" for making this possible, for helping my dream come to life. Thanks to all those I encountered during the trip. Courteous, respectful, gentle souls.
And thanks to you, that took the time to read my adventures. Sorry if it was too long.
That's it, for now, until the next time!