Day 9;This second to last day was the most relaxed of all being the one with more free time to revisit places I had been, have time to buy souvenirs and rest early for tomorrow’s rice planting and wood cutting.
We started the morning with a typical ryokan breakfast at the top of the mountain with a view to the city and mountains covered in mist. I woke up at 4am to watch the sunrise though due to the time I completely forgot to take pictures. After I was not able to sleep as I ended up thinking about the day ahead, and also my friend was snoring. There is a hike from the ryokan up the mountain leading to a Shinto shrine which is an excellent spot for pictures, though at that moment the city was covered in mist as well. I said my prayers to the god of that mountain and made my way back to the city. We took the time to visit our friend Abe, from a few days ago when I stayed at his house to learn about the local life, on our way to the city.
A great way to spend some fun time in the sun playing water with the kids wakes anyone up. Abe-san was kind enough to invite us for lunch before we continued our journey back. Just behind their house is a forest hill, home to two wild kids of his and a lots of different types of insects to take pictures of.As I had time and a free day I wanted to explore some more hidden places of Ugo. So I found this cabin in the woods coffee house with its own Japanese garden. So of course I went in, sat down and ordered an interesting drink called “chococino” as well as a chocolate cake. As you can imagine I love chocolate and all around Japan it has been difficult to find a place like a coffee house that would sell genuine chocolate drinks with chocolate cakes. When I received the chococino I realised what it meant, chocolate cappuccino, meaning a very creamy chocolate drink. Boy did I love it.
With genuine cacao which still lingered at the bottom for extra flavour. Mixed with the wooden smell of the cabin looking out to the Japanese garden, it was the start of a great relaxed day. But it didn’t end there. The moment the cake came I made peace with myself and was about to tell my family I was not going home.After a chocolate break we went in search of Oda Nobunaga’s shrine which was built after his visit during the Warring States period of Japan when Nobunaga was unifying Japan. As a person interested in that period of time finding a rare shrine of Nobunaga in Ugo was a happy surprise.
Just behind the shrine is a Sumo fighting area which seems as if has not been used in a couple of months, however gave me the idea that this can be used for people travelling to Japan. I would definitely be interested in learning a bit about Sumo and why it is so special in Japan. Having the opportunity to actually try Sumy wrestling would put a check on my “things Japan is famous for” list.
To end the day I wanted to eat a simple ramen dinner and get a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s event. We went to a small ramen shop (which are always the most delicious) and ordered the recommendation of the owners. When it came I knew I was not going to be able to eat tomorrow. It seems I had ordered a 1.5kg ramen. It took about 1 hour to finish as it actually had a great taste, just that it was huge!Day 10;To end this 10 day experience the last event was rice planting and wood cutting, the real life of Ugo farmers during the planting season. A small plot of land had been reserved for this occasion. Nowadays planting is done with machines, however we wanted to experience the original rice planting techniques done by hand. It was both an exciting but also exhausting experience. I cannot begin to imagine how tough it used to be in the past before machines when all the rice fields (called Tanbo) were planted by hand.What gave me motivation was the fact that I was sharing this work with other people at the same time. Talking and keeping the work interesting which at the time when it was done by hand, it was a large group of people that worked the same Tanbo together before moving to the next one. A collective event.It took us about one hour to finish half of the small plot of land given to us and we could already feel how it drains our energy quickly. Nonetheless, the work is close to the farmer’s house and of course the whole family is involved which means it is always a lively event as well as the breaks between works. Taking a short nap, a few cold drinks to regain energy and endure the heat of the day was all part of the experience.After lunch it was time to take on the next event in a farmer’s life, wood chopping. Since the wood needs time to dry for winter season to use as burning wood, farmer’s start chopping now before summer’s heat. The trees were already chopped and we only had to slice them into smaller trunks for later chop them into thinner pieces. This was perhaps the event which gave the most satisfaction as one could use force to get something done. Not as easy as it looks, however one can get the handle of things pretty quickly. Again, we cut perhaps around 20 logs and felt the need for another break. The pile that remained seemed to never decrease and continuing to do this as well as rice planting became a clear realisation that these people are amazing to endure all this work every year.Farming ends around 6pm when there is no more sun to rely on to see. At around 4pm we finished chopping wood when one of the people trying wood chopping broke the axe’s handle. Soon after that we said our goodbyes and for me it was the end of an amazing 10 day experience into the life of rural Japan, the backbone of this country that is slowly being forgotten.