Friday, August 18, 2017

Delight of Crimson Red: Cooking Japanese bayberry

For “bounty hunters in forests,” August is the month to have a rest in Yokohama and Kanagawa.  In Kanagawa’s forests during a final week of August, the autumn begins with chestnut gathering. Until then, collecting natural goodies is generally in a pause for about a month. Before entering the summer recess, there is a task representing the end of spring season. That’s to collect Japanese bayberries. Japanese bayberries, or Yamamomo (Myrica rubra), is medium sized broad-leaved evergreen native in semi-tropical area of East Asia. Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures are almost the northern limit of the range of Myrica rubra. They thrive even in poor soil so that our ancestors planted them along the coast lines or hot and dry mountain ridges. They are dioecious of understating flowers in March-April.  Then, for a brief period of late June - early July, established trees bear numerous crimson-red fruits. Although they look like strawberries, it is actually a stone fruit with knobby surface. They taste sweet and sour with lots of carotene and potassium (about ½ of the same weight of bananas). I think in metropolitan Tokyo the fruit is a sort of known only by aficionados.

Myrica rubra

In southern region of Japan, the tree is more common. Kochi 高知 and Tokushima 徳島 Prefectures in Shikoku Island 四国 designate Yamamomo as their prefectural flower (Kochi) or prefectural tree (Tokushima). Especially in Tokushima Prefecture, in the 17th century Hachisuka samurai clan 蜂須賀家, the lord of Awa (Tokushima) Province 阿波国, ordered their samurai subordinates to plant the tree in their gardens and forests with the purpose of preventing soil erosion, and of substitute foods preparing for famine. As such, Japanese bayberries as fruits are the delicacy from Shikoku Island. But Kanagawa prefectural government also plants the trees in our parks along Shonan Beach. With a reasonable self-restraint, we can collect bayberries from the artificially planted trees in parks. Those who came from Shikoku Island trash the berries in Kanagawa. “Oh, those are shabby produce comparing with the fruits from my home town!” “My family’s Yamamomo is far sweeter.” Er, OK. Though, I think Yamamomo in Kanagawa’s parks are good enough to be tasty jam and other products. This week, I tell you how I prepared this year’s Japanese bayberries collected from a park near Hakone 箱根.

First, harvesting. It’s possible to start collecting pinky fruits when many of them are still green. They can be eaten already at this stage, but the berries are sourer. Naturally, more ripened dark-red version is sweeter. So, unless you aim for tangier jam or liquor, it would be better to wait for few more days. When the fruits are fully matured, they fall off from the tree naturally; for a large tree, the scenery feels like a rain of bayberries. If the ground is soft enough we can collect beautiful berries from the ground. Actually, at this stage I found it tricky to pick fruits from trees as it is easy to squash the flesh of berries with fingers ... Japanese bayberries can be eaten fresh but they have distinctively clinical smells so that they might be in the category of “acquired” taste. The ripening fruits also attract drosophila for blowing. So, it is highly advisable to soak the berries in salted water for at least 3-4 hours before eating or cooking. Drosophila eggs and larvae are not poisonous by themselves, but it’s a matter of … er, human mentality regarding food. Some say 1-2 hours is enough for deworming, but I took safer approach and left the batch overnight. Next morning, I found tiny carcasses of larvae sunk at the bottom of the salty water … macabre peace of my mind … 😅

Ripening Japanese bayberries.
At this stage even the red ones are still tangy.
Please compare it with the above photo.
This is for the fruits ripened.
They are falling like raindrops.
The harvested fruits are washed under the running water.
When washing, better taking off the stems
especially when you plan to make a preserve.
Soaking Japanese bayberries in 3-5% salted water.
With this level of concentration,
the eggs of drosophila definitely die.
Their tiny white larvae come out from the fruit
to escape the torture and be killed anyway by dehydration.
Dewormed Japanese bayberries.
After overnight soaking, I washed them carefully
to remove any carcasses of larvae and dirt.

Washed and dewormed Japanese bayberries run fast so that we have to process the fruit within 2 days of harvesting. The easiest is to make Bayberry liquor, sour and syrup. They’ll be done within 5 minutes each for preparation. Bayberry syrup is made of rock sugar and berries stored alternately in a distilled jar. It’ll be ready in 2 weeks or so. This year I made bayberry liquor and sour. For bayberry liquor, I put prepared bayberries and rock sugar alternately in a clean glass jar, then poured white liqueur. The most gorgeous alcohol to be used in this way in Japan is Okinawan distilled spirits, called Awamori 泡盛 … but they are not cheap in Yokohama. So, I use regular distilled alcohol of at least 35% alcohol percentage. For bayberry sour, distilled alcohol is replaced by white vinegar. After placing the prepared jars in cool and dark place, we wait … Bayberry sour will be ready within 3-4 days, but the taste matures if we can leave it for at least a month. For bayberry liquor, we should wait for at least a month, and leaving it more can make the taste mellower.

Bayberry liqueur after 2 weeks of preparation.
The smaller jar has 1 portion (g) bayberry,
1 portion (g) of rock sugar and 1.5 portions (ml) of distilled alcohol.
The bigger jar is 2 portion of bayberry,
1 portion of rock sugar, and 3.6 portion of distilled alcohol.
I plan to open them in late September.
Bayberry sour after 2 weeks of preparation.
It has 1 portion of bayberry,
1 portion of rock sugar,
and 1 portion of rice vinegar.
Some say apple cider vinegar adds flavor,
but I decided to use rice vinegar
in order for the taste of bayberry to stand out.
They’ll be opened at the same time for bayberry liqueur.

I also made bayberry jam. This process is more time consuming.

  1. Put the prepared bayberries in non-reactive pan and pour in just enough water to cover the fruits.
  2. Bring to boil the pan with medium heat and cook until the fruit is soft enough to be crushed.
  3. Strain the cooked bayberries to remove the stones. If you puree the bayberries finer, the end product is more “preserve” without much trace of fruit flesh. If you prefer rustic jam, just removing the stones would be enough.
  4. Measure the weight of strained bayberries. Return the pureed bayberries into the non-reactive pan and add sugar of 30-50% weight of berries. Bring to boil, and keep stirring to dissolve the sugar and to reduce the puree to the consistency of your choice. During this stage, maintain the heat at the highest point just preventing the contents to be burned. Don’t employ low heat and cooking for a prolonged time. The quicker your job, the brighter the color of the jam at the end will be. Also, the puree becomes sticky rapidly so that the more you cook, the more the consistency of the preserve is. It’s up to you when to stop cooking. Some recommend adding lemon juice with sugar, but I found my bayberries are acidic enough to coagulate rapidly without any help.

Cooking bayberries
Removing the stones from cooked bayberries.
The size of a bayberry stone is similar to an American cherry.
Reducing the mixture of
2 parts bayberry puree and 1 part sugar.
We have to stir constantly.
My bayberry jam
Another bayberry jam of mine.
For this one, I strained the cooked bayberries more.
It has become more jelly like.

The taste of my bayberry jam is tangier than store-bought strawberry jam. I added sugar in 50% weight of bayberry puree so that mine would be sweeter than that of 30%. Even though I notice strawberry jam marketed by Imperial Hotel is far sweeter … No wonder people say home-made jam is healthier. Now I am waiting for my bayberry liqueur and sour to mature. They’ll be on time to accompany with the autumnal harvest. 😋

Friday, August 11, 2017

Waste management: Packing lunch with bamboo shoot skins

Satoyama forest in Kanagawa Prefecture is really rich. Especially from early spring to late autumn, to do list of forest management includes harvesting the bounty from the forest. Take bamboo forest. Unless we thin bamboo shoots in spring, the forest becomes too dark and could be in danger of landslides for mountainous Yokohama and Kanagawa. We collect bamboo shoots vigorously from April to June and carry them home. A-hem! It’s not that we are gluttons. We have to collect them! Although this year we could not have a bumper crop of bamboo shoots as last year, I now have a decent stock of frozen bamboo shoots, both of Phyllostachys edulis and Phyllostachys bambusoides. At home, I boiled them in a pot with a plenty of water, with 1 tbsp baking soda for Phyllostachys edulis; Phyllostachys bambusoides does not need the soda. When they became tender enough to be poked with a skewer, I rinsed them under running water; this process is important especially for Phyllostachys edulis as they were boiled with soda that could leave bitter taste. Next, I sliced them and stored in Ziploc for freezing. One of my seniors at Lovers of Niiharu told me dusting sliced bamboos with sugar at freezing could keep the taste better. So I made a separated butch of bamboo shoots with sugar this year. They would be a part of 2018 New Year’s menu. 😋

A forest of Phyllostachys bambusoides in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Though Kanagawa Forest Instructors thin the place annually,
it becomes like this every June with new shoots.
Phyllostachys edulis, taking out the shoots of Phyllostachys bambusoides is just like thinning ordinary trees …
actually, we knocked them down by hand.
They were so soft.
The tips of young Phyllostachys bambusoides shoots are edible.
They were boiled in water and sliced for freezing.
Like this. 👻

This year I unpeeled the skins of bamboo shoots several times. I tell you, before reaching creamy-colored bamboo shoots, we have to take off bamboo hulls of probably larger volume than the edible part. I thought it’s a waste throwing them out. Before plastic wraps or Ziploc, bamboo skins were ideal food containers for lunch and other occasions. There are lots of Japanese senior citizens who tell their childhood memories of snacks wrapped in bamboo husks. If you visit Amazon or Tokyu Hands, they sell 10 dried bamboo skins for about $7 to wrap lunch. Well, I had tons of skins of bamboo shoots in front of me … I decided to experiment with the skins of Phyllostachys edulis shoots which is wider than those of Phyllostachys bambusoides and hence possible to act like a wrapping paper. The result was, “80% success.”

The image to wrap rice balls with a bamboo husk.
The way to use store-bought bamboo husks is explained here.
They are the bamboo shoot skins I tried.

I realized the outside of the hulls of Phyllostachys edulis shoots is covered with fine soft hairs, although those available from Amazon are glossy inside-out. But the hairs can be removed just by scrubbing them under running water. I cleaned them inside out with brush, and dried them for about a month. They shrunk their volume and became hard.

Before scrubbing.
They were this much hairy.
I am partial for this organic scrub brush made of palm.
After scrubbing, the skin becomes more or less smooth.
Drying the washed bamboo skins.
I expected the sanitization effect of sunshine.
The end product

Quick googling told me before using dried bamboo husks, we have to steep them in water for at least 3 hours. Although my bamboo hulls are hard when it’s dry, they can return soft within 30 minutes. They are in the end baby garment for bamboos, and so basically very supple. That’s convenient for quick soaking in morning, but it means they are softer than the commercialized product imported from China. It makes my bamboo wrappers a bit tricky to be folded. Normally, before wrapping anything with a bamboo skin, we cut an edge of the husk to harvest a string in order to tie the package. My bamboo twines are too weak to bind a packet … So, I’m using rubber bands instead. My volunteer seniors told me it would be worth while trying again with the fallen skins that can be harvested in late summer. Those are the bamboo husks of 20m high young bamboos. It could be stronger, they said. Hmmm. Let me try.

The beginning of soaking
It regains its original form
after 20 or so minutes.
Before wrapping, I cleanse inside out of
the bamboo skin with alcohol swab (just in case).
My rice balls to be wrapped.
The menu of that day was
“Rice balls with plum pickle and
julienned kelp stewed in sweetened soy source,
wrapped by salted Shiso leaves.”
They are now wrapped by bamboo hulls
and closed by rubber bands.

Regardless, the taste of rice balls wrapped in my bamboo shoot skin is definitely superior to the beautifully packaged rice balls in plastics sold in department stores. Bamboos contain acetic acid that can act as a natural food preservative in this humid country. Moreover, the rice balls that are warm when packed gradually cool down, and the bamboo hulls absorb the vaporization and prevent the contents from becoming too dry. Until lunch the rice balls are kept soft and delicious even in mid-summer, unlike tightly packed and refrigerated Onigiri in Kombini stores. My rice balls are delicious! Although I have not tried my bamboo skins for sandwiches, they would act in the same way. If you have a chance to obtain bamboo skins from Amazon or somewhere, please try. I guess they can make your packed lunch tastier.

Kanagawa is in high summer!

Oh, by the way the very tip of Phyllostachys edulis shoots is the delicacy for people who know such things. To harvest this part, you boil the shoot together with some skins and cut the tip at about an inch. Peel the harder husks of the tip carefully and obtain creamy layers inside. They are edible, good for spring salads. In Japanese, this part of bamboo shoots is called “Princess Hulls 姫皮.” It might be difficult to meet the princess in restaurants even in Kyoto. If you have a chance to harvest shoots, you’d better try them by yourself. 😇

Friday, August 4, 2017

Practice Sumo with me! Experiencing biodiversity in Mt. Yagura 矢倉岳

When you come to Odakyu Shin-Matsuda Station 新松田駅 in the morning, you soon notice there are lots of hikers. The place is the major entrance to Western Tanzawa Mountains 西丹沢, and Hakone Mountains. Last week, from Shin-Matsuda Station, we’ve been to one of the destinations in Hakone, the 21st Century Forest of Kanagawa 県立21世紀の森. This week, let’s go to Mt. Yagura 矢倉岳 (870m ASL) next to the 21st Century Forest. The mountain is sitting pretty in a triangular form seen from many places around Shin-Matsuda and JR Yamakita 山北 Stations. We Kanagawa Forest Instructor trainees have observed it every time we had training sessions in the area, and established a sort of affinity … We decided to call it “Omusubi-yama Mountain,” because it looks exactly like an appetizing rice ball neatly wrapped by nori seaweed that is actually an afforested area with coniferous trees over its slope. The mountain is not yet suffered much with deer. We don’t have to worry about land leeches even in summer. The view from the top is spectacular for Mt. Fuji and main peaks of Hakone Mountains, including Owakudani 大涌谷. The steepness to climb is not demanding as in Mt. Oyama 大山. A beginner hiker can spend a fun weekend there. The only thing to worry is, especially near the peak, there are lots of utility trails that can make visitors lose the way. So please bring a good map of Hakone with you. I recommend this one. Probably as Hakone is super-popular for foreign tourists, the latest version has some alphabetical indication for place names, if not in complete. It’s an improvement at least.

It looks like a rice ball.

<A weekend hike to Mt. Yagura>

Odakyu Shin-Matsuda Station 新松田駅 è 
Hakone-tozan Bus Jizoh-doh Stop (400m ASL) 地蔵堂バス停 è
Yamabushi-daira (720m ASL) 山伏平 è
Mt. Yagura (870m ASL) 矢倉岳 è
Ashigara Manyo Park entrance (730m ASL) 足柄万葉公園 è
Jizoh-doh Stop 地蔵堂バス停 è
Setting-Sun Waterfall (500m ASL) 夕日の滝 è
Jizoh-doh Stop 地蔵堂バス停

An access from Tokyo to Mt. Yagura is almost the same as our last week’s visit to the 21st Century Forest. First you go to Odakyu Shin-Matsuda Station 小田急新松田駅, and take a commuter bus service to Sekimoto関本by Hakone-tozen Bus 箱根登山バスfrom #1 stop of Shin-Matsuda Station (time table, here). Sekimoto Bus Terminal locates literally next to Daiyuzan Station 大雄山駅 of Izu-Hakone Line 伊豆箱根鉄道. Change the service at Sekimoto to Jizoh-doh 地蔵堂 (time table, here). Ride a bus to the terminal stop, Jizoh-doh, which is the starting point of our hiking. For weekend mornings, they have direct services from Shin-Matsuda Station to Jizoh-doh. As of June 2017, the bus fare from Shin-Matsuda is more than 100 yen cheaper if you can catch the direct service. Please try, as for the last week. Jizoh-doh is an entrance for hikers to experience pre-Tokugawa era Hakone Routes called Ashigara Ancient Route 足柄古道, and to climb up to the eastern mountains in Hakone, such as Mt. Kintoki 金時山. Near the bus stop, there is a small restaurant, Manyo Udon 万葉うどん, whose specialty are freshly hand-made udon noodles and oden stews. I guarantee their taste at reasonable prices. 😋

Hakone-tozen Bus #1 stop of Shin-Matsuda Station
Jizoh-doh bus terminal stop
A house with a clock seen from the bus top is,
with some reason, a public toilet at Jizoh-doh stop.
The time was accurate, FYI.
It’s also a free parking space.
Jizoh-doh means “Small temple for Kṣitigarbha,”
and inevitably the place has this small temple.
Manyo Udon restaurant

From the bus stop, please enter a small road running in front of Jizoh-doh and then Manyo Udon restaurant. We almost immediately meet with a paved road which is Prefectural Road #78, aka Ashigara Ancient Road 足柄古道. It is actually a very popular road for marathon runners, drivers, and bikers who want to run along the northern rim of Hakone Mountains. At the peak is Ashigara Pass (759m ASL) 足柄峠, where once the Barrier Station of Ashigara 足柄ノ関 and Ashigara Castle 足柄城 stood. Before the 17th century when Tokugawa Shogunate 徳川幕府 strategically located Hakone Barrier Station 箱根関所 on the south shore of Lake Ashinoko 芦ノ湖, the main route between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) went here. Ashigara Pass is on the border between Kanagawa and Shizuoka Prefecture 静岡県, and from there the Road #78 becomes Shizuoka Prefectural Road #365. The view of Mt. Fuji from #365 is spectacular when you drive. A snag is, Ashigara Pass is a typical tourism destination approachable with polished shoes and pin hells … i.e. a bit difficult place to enjoy meditative strolls. So, today, we don’t go there and keep ourselves within the forest. We simply cross Road #78 from Manyo Udon and walk a tiny bridge over Aino-kawa River 相ノ川 down there. A small trekking road in front of us meets with tea tree fields first, and then enters the forest. Within 5 minutes from the tea trees, there is a T crossing with a sign post. For today’s itinerary, we first go down to the right and coming back to this point from the left.

Cross Road 78, and enter a trekking road from here.
This gigantic maple tree is a guide.
A bridge over Aino-kawa River
Tea tree field.
Could you figure out fans situated around the place?
A good quality tea grows in mountains where
(1) the annual average temperate is 14-16°C,
and (2) the annual rainfall is 1300mm+.
In higher altitude,
spring comes later and summer is not that hot.
The first flushes grow slowly
and will stock more “umami” before being harvested.
The problem is late frosts that can destroy the product.
So, farmers locate fans around the field.
When there is a frost warning,
they circulate the air to prevent moisture
from staying one place to freeze.
We go down to the right here ...
And cross a small stream.

From the stream after the T crossing, the route is one way up for a while. Later, we realized the road more or less went along the edge of afforested coniferous forest that is the ‘seaweed’ part of Omusubi-Yama Mountain.  The forest floor is relatively dark due to tall cedars and cypresses. But we can find lots of Dioscorea japonica (mountain yam, recipes are here) naturally growing here and there. In late May, locals collect wild spring herbs in the forest. i.e., Deer problem is contained. Lots of signposts show the direction to the peak of Mt. Yagura, so climbing up is not much a problem. After one hour of gentle climb, we reach Yamabushi-daira 山伏平 and turn right to the forest of broad leaved trees. The road becomes steeper where within fresh greens from late spring to early summer several kinds of wild Deutzia crenata (Bridal wreath) are showing their neat flowers. We notice beautiful Mt. Fuji is watching us from openings between the tree canopies. Even though we can find some leaves bitten-off by deer, the place has lots of kinds of plants with many insects and small reptiles poking their heads to have a look of humans. After 20 minutes of going up, we arrive at the top of Mt. Yagura.

The trekking road after the stream
Yams! Yams!
Polygonatum odoratum!
When younger, they are also spring delicacy.
There are lots of signposts to the peak along the way.
People constructed deer barriers,
but guessing from their condition,
the problem would not be that serious.
The signpost at Yamabushi-daira.
To Mt. Yagura, we turn right here.
When we go straight for the continuation of afforested forest,
we reach to Hama-kyojohruin
浜居城址 and
the Central Open Space of the 21st Century Forest.
Let’s go up!
Hello, Mt. Fuji.
We decided to call Persicaria filiformis
(Antenoron filiforme)
“Batman plant.”

The peak of Mt. Yagura is a comfortable open space. To the northwest in a fine day, we can admire almost the entire figure of Mt. Fuji from the peak to her elegant slope line. Directly to the west is Mt. Hakone (1438m ASL), and in front of us we observe actively smoking Owakudani (1044m ASL) 大涌谷. If you consider walking the length of eastern Hakone Mountains from Mt. Kintoki (1212m ASL) 金時山, Mt. Myojingatake (1169m ASL) 明神ヶ岳, Mt. Myojogatake (924m ASL) 明星ヶ岳, to Hakoneyumoto Town 箱根湯本, it is a good place to strategize your itinerary since the entire plan of yours is spreading in front of you. The atmosphere invites us to have a nap … Some bring kites … Geologically speaking, the eastern Hakone Mountains from Mt. Kintoki to around Shasui-no-taki Fall 洒水の滝 is separated from Mt. Hakone by a fault. The plate tectonics pushed up sedimentary rocks from the ocean bed and made these mountains. Mt. Yagura is basically a mass of pultonic rock protruded about 1 million years ago from the sediment. Since then it has been eroded to have a rice ball shape. “Yagura 矢倉” in Japanese means a watch tower. For whom? Well, we return to the story of Ashigara Barrier Station. The ancient travelers thought this mountain as a divine sentinel standing behind the real sentinels at the checkpoint. Within the open space, there is a small shrine paying a respect to this watchman god.

The top of the mountain! … Napping time
We had a small banquet there. Cheers!
A peak on the right is Mt. Kintoki.
The left is Mt. Hakone.
The whitish depression on the slope
of Mt. Hakone is Owakudani.
The point where the mountain goes down on the right
is Hakoneyumoto.
A pequeñito shrine
Could you figure out Mt. Fuji above us?

From the top of Mt. Yagura, when you take a trekking road to the east, you reach to Yagurasawa Community 矢倉沢 where Tokugawa Shogunate located a sub-checkpoint for Hakone Barrier Station, called Yagurasawa Barrier Station 矢倉沢関所. Yagurasawa is on our way of the bus service to Zizoh-doh so that you can start climbing Mt. Yagura from there. Today, we return to Yamabushi-daira from the peak, and take a route to the west to Ashigara Manyo Park 足柄万葉公園. This itinerary is easier. Your first graders could manage if you encourage them right. The tricky part of the plan is choosing the right road at Yamabushi-daira when we descend. We came down from the peak, and noticed the place was a 6-road (at least) junction with crossing points zig-zagiing. The safest bet is, return a bit to the direction we came from Zizoh-doh, and find a signpost saying “Ashigara Pass / Ashigara Manyo Park 足柄峠・足柄万葉公園.” Once you choose the right way, it’s a simple one-way road gently going down. The well-maintained coniferous forest around us is mainly afforested. The floors are not so dark. In less than 45 minutes, we meet with a signpost “Zizoh-doh this way: Manyo Family Course 万葉ファミリーコース.” Here, you have two choices: one is to go up 5 minutes or so to reach to the paved road that is an extension of Road #78. The road is running along a ridge whose peak is 776m ASL. It is Ashigara Manyo Park with a gazebo of a good view to Mt. Kintoki.  In early spring the area is full of plum and cherry blossoms. Unless you return to the crossing of the signpost within the forest, the rest of your itinerary for this case is on a well-paved road for about 1 hour together with cars. Another choice is turning left to go down the trekking road which is the “family course” to Zizoh-doh. As its name “family” suggests, it’s not so difficult to walk this course. Although the road itself is sometimes confusing to be identified especially in the afforested coniferous area, fairly well-maintained forest floor allows us to figure out easily the next signposts “To Zizoh-doh” below us. Even when we notice we do not walk on the road, it’s just proceeding to the following signpost and making it sure the proper direction. Eventually, the road becomes obvious and wide enough for two people to stroll chatting. Soon, we return to the point at the edge of tea tree field. For about an hour from the signpost near Manyo Park, we return to the Zizoh-doh Bus Stop.

In Yamabushi-daira,
please find this signpost to Ashigara Manyo Park.
The road is like this.
The vegetation is diverse, don’t you think?
It continues …
This caterpillar looks like coming out of the cypress …
probably it’s a caterpillar of Coenobiodes granitalis ... Endoclita excrescens?
In about half an hour from the peak,
we can descend this much.
From this direction,
the seaweed for the rice ball is pasted along the side.
The signpost shows us the direction of
“Manyo Family Course.”
Descending down in the coniferous forest.
It soon becomes the forest of broad leaved trees.
This part is afforested with Stewartia monadelpha
(Tall Stewartia)
which is ubiquitous in Hakone area.

From Zizoh-doh Bus Stop, for about 15 minutes we walk a community road that is a continuation of a bus route. The scenery is Zizoh-doh community, a pastoral mountain village. This sleepy place has a place in Japanese history. Have you ever seen a doll or manga of an infant chubby Japanese boy? He has a mushroom hair, just like Ringo Starr circa 1965, and wears only a red belly band. His name is Kintaroh 金太郎 that is a baby name of Sakata Kintoki 坂田金時 born in 956 here, Zizoh-doh community. He grew up to be one of the important followers of Minamoto-no Yorimitsu 源頼光 who was the founding father of all the samurai clans. Kintaroh is particularly famous for his achievement to put down bandits who terrified Kyoto in the late 10th century. You see, that’s why the mountain over there is called Mt. Kintoki. And all Japanese kids know this song:

      Broadax slung across his shoulder, Kintaro-oh!
      He rides a bear just like a charger, practicing his horseback skills
      Giddy-up, giddy-up, trot, trot, trot!
      Giddy-up, giddy-up, trot, trot, trot!

      High above Mount Ashigara, deep in the woods
      He challenges each forest creature: practice sumo here with me!
      Ready, set, go: fight, fight, fight!
      Ready, set, go: fight, fight, fight!

      * Translatedby Katsuei Yamagishi. I’m sorry to say for Mr. Yamagishi
       … at least the first 2 lines of each section does not go well with the melody …

Hmmmmmmmmm, bears must be here. And, surely, we have seen drying of boar leathers in this community ...

To the Kintaroh place
Actually, he is the mascot of Kanagawa Prefecture.
More Kintarooooooooh!
The scenery around here was like this in May.
Their community garden is adorned with cute biscuit dolls.
They look like siblings of Kintaroh.
The birthplace of Kintaroh
Oh, dear …

At the end of the paved community road is a camping place called ezBBQ Country. They have a fairly good amenity, and at the end of their place is another hidden gem, Setting-Sun Waterfall 夕日の滝. We can just walk there going through the camping site to sit and watch the waterfall … forgetting any rat race in city. This waterfall is used for entry level trainings of under-waterfall meditation 滝行. It seems to me the program is very popular, and according to this calendar for the summer, many session dates are already full with reservations. (For the first timers, 9000 yen; from the second time, 6000 yen; standard wares for the process inclusive.) They do this even if it snows … I’m strongly tempted to make a reservation …

The entrance of ezBBQ.
They have bungalows and outdoor stone ovens for pizza.
To the waterfall
Setting-Sun Waterfall.
They call it as such since seeing from below in mid-winter
the sun set at the beginning of the waterfall.
Mid-winter is the New Year Day for the ancient lunar calendar in Japan.
These days,
lots of people are just sitting around the waterfall
and watching it calmly year around …
When we see Mt. Yagura from the birth place of Kintaroh,
it really looks like a rice ball wrapped by nori-seaweed …

If you find environmental problems in Mt. Yagura, please make a contact to
Kanagawa Nature Conservation Center 神奈川県自然環境保全センター
657 Nanasawa, Atsugi City, 243-0121 2430121 厚木市七沢657
Phone: 046-248-0323

You can send an enquiry to them by clicking the bottom line of their homepage at

For more general enquiry about tourism in the area, the contact address is

Minamiashigara City, Commerce and Tourism Section 南足柄市商工観光課 商工観光班
Phone: 0465-73-8031 (During weekends, 0465-74-2111)

You can send an enquiry to them from here.