‘Satoyama’ is a broadly used Japanese term which can imply sustainable living in harmony with nature, artisan’s philosophy and skills when working with natural products, or more literally the border zone between mountain foothills and flat arable lands.
We discovered in abundance all aspects of Satoyama whilst staying at Tokuheiran in Keihoku, as well as the most incredibly warm, funny and nurturing homestay hosts Hideo and Yukako.
Multi-talented Yukako (who formerly worked in a Michelin starred restaurant) had prepared a fabulous hotpot for us to enjoy on our first night which also served as a fond farewell dinner for Simon. It was a ‘cook-your-own’ affair with oodles of fresh vegetables to add to rich stock, tasty meaty bits, eggs and udons.
Sleeping was tatami style in our most traditional setting yet, with original hand-painted screens to separate sleeping areas, and family shrines located in corners of each room to watch over us.
The resident dogs were a huge highlight of our stay.
Daizu has a sad story with a happy ending. All the major towns here in Japan have pet shops where dogs from puppy mills are sold (unless they grow too big unsold in which case they are culled). These puppies (and kittens) are taken away from their mothers, packed in boxes, shipped to auction centers, then to pet stores. Daizu was rescued from a pet shop by Hideo and Yukako with various dislocations to his hips, so he has an awkward but cute ‘swinging’ gait.
The girls were so great with the dogs, and showed such responsibility that when Yukako and Hideo had an early morning appointment, they entrusted the morning walk and feeding to Bella and Emily who managed it perfectly.
Our first Sunday (while James and Simon were sleeping off whiskey hangovers on a boy’s jaunt to Osaka), Yukako, Bella, Milly and I took to the skies. Literally! When Yukako suggested that we go paragliding with her we immediately said yes without really considering what we had signed up to!
We had chilly waits for sleet storms to pass and the right (dry) updrafts to make our flights possible and safe.
Here we are sporting slightly nervous pre-flight smiles!
Take off instructions were simple: keep running (until you are definitely in the air), and don’t look down.
I found myself flying through the air before I had time to panic, and the girls bravely launched themselves like lemmings after me.
Daily life at Keihoku took a lovely relaxed cadence. While the girls did school in the mornings, James and I practiced yoga with Yukako, and took advantage of the quiet time to plan and book the final ‘trimester’ of our trip.
Apart from when it was actually snowing (!), afternoons were spent exploring the glorious countryside around us by foot or by bike. The topography consisted of long ridges of wooded hills segregated by stunning valleys hosting fast flowing rivers and bordered by paddy fields.
Japan is so beautifully neat we even passed a lady cleaning the road outside her property.
As the end of our first week coincided with the last day of term, we bid a sad farewell to Rob for the Easter holidays.
It was a ‘family’ celebration sendoff with Yukako and Hideo joining us, fuelled by more delicious hotpot, and washed down with a sake tasting (Rob have you forgiven James for that yet?)
To round out a fab night, Rob joined the girls for a midnight feast and a sleepover – coolest teacher in the world!
I wouldn’t change a thing about our stay in Keihoku, including the ‘stink bugs’ because whilst they triggered some hysterical shrieking, they were equally hysterical in a humorous way. So stink bugs stink, really stink. They would show up in the most unexpected places at extremely odd times. The way to avoid them releasing their odour was to trap them on some masking tape and seal it up (we added the ‘stamp-on-them’ step for reasons of humane stink bug extermination.
Another highlight of our week was a rainy walk that Hideo guided us on to Takimata waterfall.
We passed by a cave where a Shogun’s nephew had lived in hiding for 2 years
And we enjoyed a series of shrines and statues erected by a local landowner as a way give back to society and avoid passing his wealth to his children (the local tradition being for children to find their own path not inherit an easy life).
Adzuki kindly shared much aroma-de-wet-dog with us in the car on the way home.
Another rainy day outing took us to the very charming local thatched village…..
…. and we stopped for a traditional meal on the way home.
We also visited an indigo factory, design studio and museum which was interesting, but frankly also very smelly – who knew?
Bella and Emily enjoyed a local craft house creating their own stained glass pennants.
Sashimi night was a triumph. Yukako showed us how to slice the freshest fish, to mix the perfect sushi rice, and how to create our own handrolls with the crispiest seaweed you could imagine. I didn’t know it was possible to overeat so glutinously and gloriously on sushi, but we did that night!
I never know that Othello is a Japanese game, but turns out it is, so it was fun to rediscover it with that local connection.
Our farewells were very sad and very heartfelt:
Thank you to Hideo and Yukako for sharing your home, your dogs, your food, your humour, your yoga, for pulling me and my car out of the ditch, and for sending on all the things we left behind. You are amazing and we hope you will visit us in London one day.
And a few last doggy tributes to see of this post: