2015ChubuJapanTravel

Japan : Experience Matsumoto – Daio Wasabi farm, Matsumoto Castle, Alphine Route

Autumn 2015.

Sponsor : JNTO


 

Daio Wasabi Farm

When we think about Japanese cuisine, wasabi always comes to mind as a key condiment. We all know that electrifying rush through our nasal passage when we take in a little too much wasabi. But most of us have never actually seen the actual raw wasabi plant.

 

After traveling 32km north of Matsumoto, I arrived at Japan’s biggest wasabi farm, the Daio Wasabi Farm in Nagano prefecture. Daio farm produces approximately 150 tonnes of wasabi each year and is one of the main wasabi producers in Japan. Wasabi is a delicate plant that requires a very specific environment to cultivate. The 15 hectares Daio farm has been producing the best wasabi since 1915 and is located at a very strategic location near the Alps. In all of Japan, only three locations are ideal and they are Shizuoka, Iwate, and Nagano.

 

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by wasabi master Shigetoshi-san. He’s a man in his 60’s sporting a distinctive ash white beard, and he likes to dress all in black with a cute charcoal shade beanie covering half of his oval shaped face, nearly reaching his eyes. He gave me a warm smile and welcomed me in Japanese. I can’t help but notice the dragonfly pins on his beanie and black apron. He wears a leather belt over his apron.

“Here put this waterproof boots on,” as he walked me through a door that says “Staff Only”. Shigetoshi-san took me for a walk through the farm wearing Pua Chu Kang style rubber boots, as the water level is about 6 inches deep around the gravel bed.

 

After walking 30 meters into the wasabi field, we arrived at a section where the wasabi is mature and ready for harvest. Shigetoshi-san bends over and carefully inspects the wasabi by brushing his hands over the leaves and he carefully pulled one out by the stems.

 

 


 

He took out a knife from one of his leather pouch and started cutting off some of the small roots on the rooted long stems while explaining to me that wasabi grows on gravel bed that is flooded with running natural spring water.


 

The natural spring water must be 14 degree Celsius in temperature. Daio farm is located right at the northern Alps of central Japan and it is the best location for wasabi cultivation because the natural spring water from the Alps flows through this farm all year round and it’s temperature is at constant 14 degree Celsius. In this farm, 120,000 tonnes of natural spring water flow through the gravel everyday. Wasabi takes up to nearly 3 years to harvest and every part of the plant can be used.

He cut a small thin slice of the rooted stems and handed it to me. Moments later he took out a small wooden grinder from the pocket of his apron and started grinding the wasabi root on it.

 

“Now eat the sliced wasabi and then try the grinded wasabi, you will notice there is a significant difference between the sliced and grinded wasabi,” said Shigetoshi-san. He then explained how wasabi being served is crucial. A freshly grinded wasabi will taste different 5 minutes later. It is best taken as fresh as possible. And when you get the electrifying sensation in you nasal cavity, just open your mouth and inhale using your mouth. That will get rid of the “pain”.

 


 

 

Wasabi master Shigetoshi-san posing in front of his wasabi farm.

 

It was already getting dark so we started walking back to the souvenir shops. “Let me treat you to some homemade wasabi ice cream and introduce you to a cute girl who’s the idol of this farm.” By the time we got to the souvenir shops, they were closing but we were in time for the ice cream and he introduced me to Kana-chan who works in the ice-cream shop.

 

 

How to get there :

Take the JR Oito Line from Matsumoto to Hotaka Station (30 minutes, 320 yen one way, 1-2 trains/hour), from where the wasabi farm can be reached in a ten minute taxi ride (approx. 1300 yen one way). On weekends and holidays from mid April through October, there is a loop bus for tourists that connects Hotaka Station with the farm (10 minutes, 500 yen per ride or 800 yen for a 1-day pass). Outside of winter, rental bicycles are another alternative to consider.

Opening hours : 9:00 to 17:20 (until 16:30 from November to February). Open everyday.
Free admission.
Click on the map above for Google map location

 

Matsumoto

Today’s itinerary seems interesting. I will be checking out a few places of interest in Matsumoto. Matsumoto is a city with a long history and deep heritage with lots of attractions that go as far back as 400 years. It is located in between Kyoto and Tokyo in Nagano prefecture. It is 2 hours 40 minutes by Limited Express train from Shinjuku, Tokyo and 3 hours from Osaka via Nagoya.

 

Matsumoto is home to the oldest castle and one of the national treasures of Japan, the Matsumoto Castle. It has a 5 layers castle tower with a hidden 6th floor. The Matsumoto Castle has endured over 400 years of wind, rain, snow and it stood magnificently well preserved. It is surrounded by very beautiful surroundings.

 

Chart showing the different family crest of the lords of Matsumoto clan.

This castle was once home to 23 generations of 6 families starting from 1590AD to 1869AD. If you enter the castle you can feel the atmosphere of the Warring States Period. There are many displays of historical artifacts such as samurai armors and even muskets. If you fancy a climb, you can climb to the top of the castle and enjoy a view of the city and the Japanese Alps. Until today it’s original black wooden outer wall and stonewall remain carefully preserved.

 

 

 

 

You can also walk around the streets near the castle, which is known as the Matsumoto Castle town where the old buildings and houses will give you a feel of how Japan was like a long time ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to walk the streets so I’ll leave that for future trips.

Nagano is an amazing place to visit. It has so much to offer that it may actually require a few visits just to experience all it’s amazing beauty. There is something for every season. If you fancy snow, you don’t even have to travel all the way to Hokkaido. You can experience it in Hakuba, where it is well known for it’s powder snow and world class skiing resorts. You can also experience traveling in between snow walls as high as 12 meters tall on the highest road in Japan on Mount Norikura, visit natural hot springs, witness the rare sight of Japanese snow monkeys enjoying natural hot springs during winter, nature trekking, walk through old Japanese post towns, play golf or even experience summer snow in July and August. There are just too many things to list down.

 

Opening hours : 8:30 to 17:00 (until 18:00 around Obon and Golden Week)
Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time. Close on : December 29 to 31.

Admission fee : JPY 610

Click on the map above for Google map location

 


 

Miharashi Farm – Experience soba making

Our next stop was Miharashi Farm. In Miharashi Farm, you can experience a wide variety of activities such as fruit plucking, food making, crafts making, trekking, golf, and of course, dining in the restaurants or stay over nights in the hotel. As interesting as all these activities sounded, there was only time for soba making and apple plucking.

For the soba making class, it costs JPY 4200 per person and takes about 2 hours, including eating the soba that you make. The actual class is approximately 1 hour, where a professional soba master will explain and demonstrate how soba is prepared. You then get to prepare soba yourself with his close supervision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the soba is made, it is highly recommended that you cook it right away and have it served immediately. The soba tasted so delicious.

 

 

And there you go the soba that I made.

 

Exterior of the food making school

 

Miharashi Farm – Apple plucking

I then headed over to the apple farm for the apple plucking. It costs JPY 600 and you get to enjoy 1 hour of fruit plucking and eating. Yes! Pluck and eat as much as you like! They even provide an ingenious apple de-skinning device where you place the apple on it, turn the lever and all the skin is sliced off as the apple turns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click on the map above for Google map location

 


 

Tateyama Kurobe Alphine Route

Now that I am well-fed, it’s time to burn off some calories and get to the peak of Mount Hokendake. To get to the peak of Mount Hokendake, you need to travel to the base of the Komagatake Ropeway and transfer onto a bus that will take you to the base Shirabidaira cable car station located at 1661.5 meters above sea level. From here, the cable car will take you all the way up to Senjojiki station at the base of Senjojiki Cirque at 2611.5 meters on a single rope span. This is the longest single cable span in Japan with elevation rise of 950 meters in 7 minutes 30 seconds.

 

At the elevation of 2612 meters, Senjojiki station is the highest station in Japan. It has a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding Alps and on clear days you can even see the majestic Mount Fuji from here. Senjojiki Cirque was formed by glacier about 20,000 years ago and is in a shape of a bowl. Currently Senjojiki Cirque is mostly visited by local Japanese tourist and the surrounding environment is very well preserved.

 

You can dine at the dining hall where all the food is prepared using pure alpine water or treat yourself to some nice coffee in the coffee room. Before you head back down, you can buy some souvenir from the gift shop. The dining room already prepared lunch for me so I’ll have my lunch first! Itadakimasu!

 

 

I had limited time here so I rushed through my lunch and off I went to explore a bit of the Senjojiki Cirque. Even though it was 7 degree Celsius outside, I much rather be out there enjoying the scenery and capture as much as I can while I’m here.

 

 

It’s an awesome day today with clear blue sky and nice breeze. As we were short on time, I didn’t get to go far into the Senjojiki Cirque though I really wanted to trek all the way up to the peak. One day I will be back for that!

 

 

 


It has a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding Alps and on clear days you can even see the majestic Mount Fuji from here.


 

 

Shooting the Southern alps ( pix below )

 

 

View of the Southern alps and mount Fuji

 

Before I realized it, it was time to head back to the cable car platform for the ride down. I have to travel 263km to Maibara station to catch the shinkansen to Osaka.

 

 

View from the cable car heading down

 

 

While on the bus down to the base we came across some Japanese red face snow monkeys.

 

Info :

Click the map above for Google map location

 


 

I arrived at my hotel in Osaka past 9pm and was quite tired out from the whole day’s journey. The next thing on my mind is food!

 

Since I’m in Osaka I must at least try them at the famous Takoyaki CReo-Ru Okonomiyaki restaurant in Shinsaibashisuji. Kurasawa-san and Yozo-san took me there. What I didn’t know was Kurosawa-san knows the owner and he told him about us coming.

 

 

 

 

While I was enjoying my takoyaki, the owner himself Kasai-san came over to meet me. It was such a surprise.

The journalist and Kasai-san the owner.

 

Takoyaki Creo-Ru Okonomiyaki is very famous in Japan and in Osaka alone they have seven branches. They also have plans to venture outside of Japan. It is located right in the middle of the Shinsaibashisuji shopping street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After dinner, I just walked around Shinsaibashisuji and took some photos of the famous landmark in Osaka, the running man. It was late so there is one last important stop I must make before the end of this trip, Donquijote! Donquijote is a 7-storey shop where you can buy almost anything you want and it opens until 4am. Plus, they recently started tax-free shopping for tourists. Click on the map for Google map location.

All in all, it was a great trip but there are so much to see and experience. Central Japan and Osaka are places that you need to come back for a few visits. See you next time Osaka!