I departed at Kinugawa Onsen Station on the Tobu Kinugawa Line and rode the local bus going towards Meotobuchi Onsen for about an hour. The bus travels along Highway 121 which is parallel with the train tracks. A little past Kawaji Yumoto Station and once the bus hits Ikari Dam, it changes its route and goes through a tunnel towards Kawaji Dam. Looking out of my bus window I can overlook Yashioko reservoir and then passing through another tunnel Kuriyama Village appears. On a bit chancy road, the bus passes Kinugawa Gorge and goes towards the more remote Kawamata Dam onto Meotobuchi Onsen hot springs.
Viewpoints at Kuriyama Village
Kuriyama is called the last unexplored area in the Kanto region. The bus crossed over Nokado Bridge and I got off at Ieyasu no Sato Minshuku Mura depot. I was fortunate to have Hiroyuki Aoyama, the representative of the team that is involved in economic revitalization activities and web production of Kuriyama Village, as my guide to the best spots in the area. The first place we visited was Setoaikyo. The misty scenery under the rainy season skies was like a Japanese ink painting and the bridge could be seen standing afar in the deeply rugged valley was impressive. We strolled down the path towards the dam. The entrance served as a museum and upon descending the exit stairs, the tall arch shaped Kawamata Dam impounding the deep valley of Setoaikyo appeared before us. From the dam we drove to the geyser at the entrance to Kawamata Onsen hot springs. Water vapor rises from the rock under the bridge over the entrance of the hot springs but this isn’t the geyser. Positioning ourselves at a footbath on the opposite side of the bridge we patiently watched a box shaped spout for an hour or so and suddenly the tranquility was broken with a roar of the eruption of the hot water ejected high. As suddenly as the geyser erupted the intermittent discharge ended, however there was no doubt that I had experienced an impressive natural phenomenon. (You can see the geyser in the video).
Minshuku Fukufuji, Ieyasu no Sato (Ieyasu’s Village)
Taking the prefectural road from Kawamata Onsen to Nokado Bridge, at the entrance of a side street you will find a towering black wooden gate. At the top of the gate is the Shogun Ieyasu’s Aoi/hollyhock family crest and on the side is a sign saying Ieyasu no Sato (Ieyasu’s Village). At the end of the Edo period at the time of the Boshin Civil War , the Aizu clan was worried that the object of worship of Tokugawa Ieyasu (the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate) where it lay in Nikko Toshogu Shrine would be defiled therefore they planned to be move it to Tsurugajo Castle in Aizuwakamatsu. However on the journey to Aizu, they received news of the fall of the Tsurugajo Castle and the object of worship was supposedly kept temporarily in this area. From this happening, village was named “Ieyasu no Sato”.
We drove a few minutes along the mountain road that continued from the gate and the village appeared in front of our eyes. We arrive at Minshuku Fukufuji that is located in exactly what you would imagine the Nokado hidden village would be. Minshuku Fukufuji is registered as farm stay inn with our company and its orwner is also elected one of the top 100 mothers for her hospitality and lodgings. Immerse yourself in a deep mountain of atmosphere and taste the blessings of the earth cooked at the irori sunken hearth at this small, intimate inn.
Dining on riches from the mountain by the irori sunken hearth
Fukufuji takes pride in its dinner which is eaten by the irori sunken hearth at tatami dining room which can be partitioned. Multiple skewers of beautifully rustic food are placed around the ashed-over charcoal to grill. The skewered Bandai rice cakes made of non-glutinous rice were almost like Mitarashi dumplings, grilled with a sweet and salty soy sauce glace. Quail meat, iwana whitespotted char fish and a delicacy taken only from clear watered streams, salamander. With no hesitation, I ate the lightly salted salamander whole and it was a smooth meat without overpowering flavors. May I strongly recommend the minced meat mixed with a family owned secret concoction of miso paste, Szechwan peppers and other spices! This is mixed and stuffed into an Issho bera bamboo scoop and grilled. The ingredients intensify the flavors of the meat. The most exquisite pairing is the marriage of the small nibbits of meat slightly charred by the charcoal fire pulled off with your chopsticks and in between, take sips of sake warmed in a bamboo cylinder. Raw deer meat and homemade doburoku sake, wild vegetables collected nearby, homegrown scarlet runner beans and to finish off the delicious meal I was served handmade buckwheat noodles made with local buckwheat flour. I satiated with the delicate nuances of local cuisine of Kuriyama.
The owner of Fukufuji, Michiko Oguri, who is one of the top 100 inn “mothers” is affectionately called Mitchan by her regulars. The predecessor of Fukufuji, Michiko’s father-in-law, used to make a living in forestry and employ many people. However, with the decline of the forestry industry and loss of work, he opened a farm stay inn that was at that time a boom. Before long, the management of the inn was on track and Michiko came from her hometown in Kooriyama to marry. At the time, people involved in the construction of the dams and tunnels stayed at their inn.
Mitchan who speaks with a Tochigi and Fukushima accent is a very straight forward and warm-hearted person with no hidden agenda. She immediately will make you feel at home. The repeaters all say out “I’m home!” when they reach the inn and you can tell how much everyone loves this inn by looking at the walls of the café covered with photos of their guests. These guests are a valuable asset of Fukufuji.
Presently the village has three inns, employment is low therefore it is difficult for younger people to return to their homeland. However in this environment Mr. Aoyama of “Kuriyama Go”, and the group that is involved in activities to publicize Kuriyama, and Michiko are energetically conducting revitalization activities. She is also considering collaborating with the different communities within the old Kuriyama village.
For instance, providing package experiences where they collaborate with the wild vegetable picking area and stay at her lodging. To do so, they have to address the issue of having to provide an environment where a younger generation would desire to relocate to their area. You can feel how much she cares about her hometown, Kuriyama.