During our last days in Japan, we were in the countryside of Narita where we enjoyed the old wooden structures, eye catching shops, and the excitement of knowing we'd taste the most delicious eel and peanuts that the Chiba Prefecture are known for.
After finding a hidden gem of a man who takes people on tours of the local treasures, we hit pay dirt! This man was Katsumi, and he runs Narita Rainbow Tours. He came and picked us up first thing in the morning at our Airbnb and told us we'd be starting off by touring a local Sake Brewery. He played a movie for us which detailed the process of making sake while he drove us to the location. It was a quaint and award winning operation which has been passed down through the generations. And even though it was still morning, the sake rolled across the tastebuds as we tried different levels of strength and clarity. I also learned that all rice starts out brown, it only becomes white after scraping it. The absolute finest sake is made by scraping the rice down to a very fine piece, therefore wasting most of the rice and making it worth it's weight in gold.
Next, we headed to a Zen Buddhist temple in which the bell was forged in 1330. This was a wooden temple with a thatched roof and it showed more splendor than a golden palace. Katsumi told us the Japanese prefer twisted trees because they have more character, and I must say that gazing at a contorted plum tree hundreds of years old with all of its imperfections was a magnificent sight to behold. The simplistic beauty of this place down to the finest details such as the pots of fish that are self sustaining because the plants in the water give the fish all the oxygen they need to breathe and everything they need to live in their own microcosmic world, was a lesson within itself.
The next stop was to one of the only existing rice cracker stores which still make them the good old fashioned way. This shop was called Nishikura (stone warehouse) and the ladies were roasting them slowly and patiently. They gave us a hot sesame rice cracker with soy sauce to try, and it was so divine I could have cried!
A tour of the local market followed, and we beheld fruits and vegetables like we've never seen before. The apples were about half the size of a human head and the kiwi's, the daikon and the fungi...oh my! Katsumi bought a freshly baked sweet potato and shared his favorite treat with us. He told us that after he is done with work all day, he digs holes to search for roots near his home so that when he is done, he can enjoy the roots so much more because of how hard it was to get them. I feel it's the same way with our families and close friends, you must put energy into the roots that cultivated you.
Sawara was our next journey, and I was so excited to see the wondrous canal in what used to be the 'Venice of Japan.' This place was a teeming waterway before World War II. The locals lived off of the land and the children ran to school amongst wooden boards attached to separate structures. Unfortunately, after the war, the Americans encouraged them to build roads and their existing way of life slowly diminished. The elderly people regret this choice and the hotels in this town are only open for a little over a month a year when people flock there for the Iris fields. Katsumi said that here, they call beautiful women Iris and the most beautiful of all women, Peony. It was in this willowed town that thrived Inō Tadataka, the first cartographer to map Japan about two hundred years ago within one kilometer of accuracy by using the heavens and a sextant, he created his dream and changed history, and we got the pleasure of viewing his home along the canal. And in a brilliant twist of fate, Lynzie is a cartographer...how random is that?! After this tour, Katsumi then took us to a Japanese garden to feed the coy and enjoy the delicate balance of nature.
At the end of our sojourn, Katsumi took us to the Shinsho-ji temple where the fire of wisdom burns out the wood of illusion, where the temples are so stunning and ornate externally, shock you when you see they are even more visually pleasing on the interior. Every nook & cranny of that spacious temple is covered with hand paintings by artists from Kyoto who were so excited to come and create something new rather than their normal restorations. Shinsho-ji temple is dedicated to the God of Fire. Katsumi took us to witness the fire ceremony which is no longer allowed in most places like Tokyo for the general public to witness, for it would be too overrun with people. But here in the country we witnessed the monks walk in procession to the temple where we knelt and listened to the sounds of their bells, the lighting of a blazing fire, and even with the forewarning from Katsumi about when they were going to strike the enormous drum, it still struck you to your core. It was one of the most poignant and hypnotic moments of my life, and Lynzie and I had to agree it was one of the best moments of our trip. Afterward, we happened to be there for the one day a year that they hand out free rice porridge with beans for the patrons of the temple. It seemed like after that ceremony broke open our hearts and our minds, a simple bowl of porridge seemed like the most satisfying meal in the world.
The very last stop was on the Main Street of Narita where we shopped for the local delicacies like the peanuts from the Chiba prefecture, feasted on roasted chestnuts while shopping for Christmas presents for our loved ones at home, and checking out the master of the local delicacy of Unagi eel that are sliced live by a master of the art right in front of your very eyes. Katsumi told us that it takes ten years to perfect this intricate process. The owner of the shop takes his living so seriously that when a large earthquake hit the town, he grabbed his enormous clay pot of their special sauce and protected it from harm as he ran. And I must say, the Unagi eel with local sake from the Chiba prefecture was a delight as the eel melted in your mouth. We are very grateful to Katsumi for the meaningful experiences he so enlightened us with, but also for a friend we will always think fondly of.
And with that, we flapped our little wings and flew back home, grateful for our twisted roots.