A few months ago I visited the town of Suwa, in Nagano prefecture north of Tokyo. Suwa is not only famous for its lakeside castle (blogged about here) but also interestingly enough the setting of the book “Autobiography of a Geisha“, the first wildly published modern publication of a geisha’s tale. Another famous native of Suwa is the Marutaka Miso store (丸高蔵), one of Japan’s premier producers of the Japanese speciality. If you haven’t tried miso, the taste can be a little bit difficult to explain. It is fermented bean paste, but the fermented part is not really noticeable in the flavor. Most people would say that it has a rich and very salty taste and is used most often in the famous miso soup that is often served in sushi restaurants around the world.
Marutaka Miso store is located half way between the castle and the station and the owners happily allowed me to take photos inside the store, even before I went on a shopping spree ending up with several kilos of miso (including their pitch black prized top variety) and several liters of soy sauce. Miso is not very expensive and it is great fun to sample different variants. The store often produces gold medal winners in national competitions and my personal favorite was a green pepper miso, very spicy and absolutely fantastic.
The building itself is only part of a larger complex in Suwa that includes a sake factory, a sake store and some other places scattered around town. Just outside the building there is a natural hot spring foot bath were customers and passers by are encouraged to dip their feet and get a little rest. There is also a rest area inside the store, where the kind staff is happy to let you rest. Winters in Suwa get quite cold so the store is a perfect stop for tourists on their way to the castle. The seats next to the cast iron stove is always popular!
In April, as part of my photography of the cherry blossoms around Japan I visited Suwa City in southern Nagano Prefecture, quite far north of Tokyo. The main purpose of the trip was to catch the sakura around the famous Takashima Castle that was once built on the shores of Lake Suwa. These days the shoreline have receded quite a bit from the castle, and the building we can see today is a reproduction of the original that was torn down in 1870 and rebuilt one hundred years later. Unlike the more even more famous nearby Matsushima castle, the Takashima castle is a light brown color, quite rare among the predominantly black or white castles of Japan. It is also famous for being the highest elevated flatland castle ever built in Japan. Suwa is one of those rare gems of small Nagano cities that easily get overlooked by people heading to the much more famous Matsumoto City or even Nagano City. There’s plenty of nice temples, interesting shrines and well preserved old buildings around the lake that I’ll blog about later on. Enjoy!
Some more details of the lovely early autumn morning I spent at the wasabi farm in Nagano prefecture. With the clean water, fresh air and abundant nature you can easily tell it is the perfect spot for growing the highly prized wasabi. The black cloth is there to protect the plants from direct sunlight in summer, simulating the natural growing conditions of this wonderful plant: in or near mountain streams shaded by lush forests and trees. There were also quite a few shinto shrines about the farm. Enjoy!
Here are some more photos of the wasabi farm I visited in Nagano a few weeks ago. The farm is quite large and has a few pretty woodlots, a river, even some old houses with watermills and a forested ridge. In some ways it felt almost like entering a nature reserve! If there is one thing you need to grow wasabi it is fresh, clean, water and plenty of it! The cleaner the water the better your wasabi is going to grow and this farm had access to some fantastic water. Look at these pictures and remember that this river is more than a few meters deep. They even had a rubber boat out with people keeping the water free from dirt and garbage. I’ll post more photos of the farm in a few days, so I hope you enjoy this starter!