Travel: JAPAN Gokanosho mountains

Travelling through the winding roads of Kumamoto prefecture Japan to the mountain area of Gokanosho, I couldn’t help thinking how privileged I was to be there: clean air, clean water, and a fascinating history. (I even safely drank the tap water while staying there.) Currently less than one hundered Australians a year visit this area. The roads only went in 45 years ago. Mostly the road to the mountains is one lane (there’s lots of mirrors on the bends and you need to stop to let other vehicles pass.) Before the roads went in apparently all of the local travel was (in any weather) on foot by suspension bridge (and not the more robust suspension bridges that are in place today.) At that time sustenance during the winter would have included mountain bird preserved in salt. I didn’t get to try that but I did get to try some superb and authentic Japanese mountain cuisine.

On our way up the mountains, we stopped for lunch and savoured local buckwheat noodles and river trout. We somehow found room to share a steam bun after lunch. All so fresh and so delicious. And with not another tourist in view.

Photographs just don’t do justice to the stunning autumn landscapes, with rust and golden leaves painting a picture that is too beautiful for words. On arrival at the minshuku (homestay), we watched a demonstration of hand made soba noodle making (which was later the last course for our dinner.) And what a fantastic dinner that was around a fire (that not only cooked our dinner but also heated our sake in bamboo) inside the dining room.

It was about five degrees Celcius colder than Kumamoto city yet I was brave enough to take a bath with travelling companion Sally Lynch (Taste Trekkers) in the separate building outside. During my stay in Japan I just got to love the grand baths: showering first, as the bath is for relaxation. After the bath it is traditional to stay in your bath robe for dinner; that’s another thing I really liked: very comfy.

One of the things that impressed me throughout the whole journey around Kumamoto prefecture, was the Japanese celebration of the seasons. Even the ceramics upon which the dinner was served highlighted the autumn with beautiful beautiful autumn leaves. Needless to say that the menu was chosen to make the most of seasonal and local produce. With aquafarms on the mountain property, fish featured as sashimi and cooked over the fire. It was all just stunning (as was the company.)

Then it was off to bed in my room on a mattress that had been set down on the tatami flooring, the cosy bedding complete with a hot water bottle tucked under the sheets at the foot of the bed.

After a fabulous traditional dinner of many courses and lots of warm sake, I was ready for sleep and the next day of my travels in Kumamoto prefecture Japan.

If you get the chance, this stunning untouched area demonstrates the heart of Japanese rural and traditional culture and hospitality. I was so pleased to experience it while it is still authentic and unspoilt.

Breakfast by the way was also cooked over an open fire! The perfect finish to my Gokanosho homestay.

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