Bonding with My Host Mother – Shirakawa-go Trip!

Anh Nguyen
April 17, 2014

Last weekend, my host mother took me on a trip! We went on a three-hour drive to Shirakawa-go, a region famous for its traditional-style farmhouses. Shirakawa-go is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I was very excited to see the rural farmhouses that I have only seen in photos. We went to an outdoor museum, which had a collection of various types of farmhouses and the tools used for farm work in Japan. I was so glad to have my host mother with me: her explanations of the tools and the different areas of the houses made the visit much more informative.

The traditional farmhouses in the open air museum.

Shirakawa-go from above.

One advantage of travelling with a native is you get to eat good food! On our way out of the outdoor museum, my host mother took a look inside a nearby soba (Japanese buckwheat noodle) shop and told me that it was good. She was determined to go back to it after walking around the town even when there were other soba shops around. Sure enough: the soba was better than all of the soba I have had before. We laughed about it afterwards since the thing we could talk the most about after the trip was how good the soba was, despite the beautiful outdoor museum and the town. We both agreed that the phrase “Hana yori dango” (“dumplings over flowers”, a comment on people who favor food or the practical over aesthetic) applied to us pretty well!

You can watch soba being made inside the shop.

Strands of soba were cut from the flat piece of dough.

I had zarusoba – cold soba dipped in soy sauce mixed with green onion and wasabi. It was absolutely delicious. You can also add soba-yu (water from boiling soba) into the dipping sauce after you have finished the soba to make a drink.

I really wanted to have the experience of staying at a farmhouse, and so we booked a night at a farmhouse-style minshuku (Japanese bed-and-breakfast). We stayed at Magoemon, a place my host mother herself stayed at 35th years ago on a school trip! She talked to the current owner about it and asked after the owner’s mother. I love how the minshuku is small and family-run, and how the 8 of us guests were seated in a circle, in front of the irori (a traditional Japanese hearth used for heating and cooking food) during mealtime. We got a room with a lovely river-view. Meals were focused on vegetables, and everything was beautifully-prepared and delicious.

The view from our room.

Meals were served on trays placed on low tables. You can see the guests warming up near the irori!

The proper way to sit was actually kneeling on the zabuton (the cushions you see in the photo above), which was very tough because your legs would hurt after a while. My host mother taught me some tricks to hold the position for longer, such as placing your feet in a certain way, and shifting to rest on a different side from time to time. She also taught me how to eat raw egg with rice: you basically beat the egg with some soy sauce, mix it with rice, and eat. It was my first time trying raw egg, and it was much more tasty than I thought! I did not get a stomachache afterwards which is a relief.

Fish being grilled by the irori.

Dinner! And not everything from dinner, either: new food was constantly being brought out as we ate.

We returned to our rooms to find our futon (sleeping mats) already laid out for us.

Breakfast. You can see the raw egg on the right corner.

On the next day, we made a stop at Takayama, a town famous for its Edo-style houses. We went to the morning market and looked at all the shops in Takayama’s Old Town. My host mother loved looking at the antique shops and explained the items for me as she browsed around.

Takayama’s Old Town.

All in all, a wonderful adventure! I hope I could travel with my family one more time before leaving Japan!

Anh Nguyen

<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Anh hailed from Hanoi, Vietnam and is currently a sophomore at Haverford College, Pennsylvania. She plans to major in Computer Science, but decided to take a non-CompSci semester abroad before coming back to it in her junior year (after all, when else will she get the chance?). In her free time she enjoys reading, exploring new places and new types of food, people-watching, as well as reading food blogs, planning to make every single dish that catches her eye, and then completely forgetting about them. She is as excited to blog about her journey as she is about her Spring semester in Nagoya!</span></div>

2014 Spring
Home University:
Haverford College
Computer Science
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