Snowy Yamagata

Lately I’ve been touting the blessings of spring, but deep down, my heart belongs to winter.

A few weeks ago Dan and I took a weekend trip to Hijiori Onsen, a tiny town in the mountains in northwest Japan. We took the Shinkansen to the last stop, then a bus for an hour, and we found snow. A lot of it. 

The morning greeted us with fresh snowfall, so we took stroll through town. It was quiet except for the sound of the river.

I was happy to spend the afternoon at our ryokan, tucked under the kotatsu. Through the window I watched the snow fall and tried to study Japanese, alternating sips of beer and green tea. When I needed a break from kanji, I stitched. Occasionally we raced to the window to glimpse a pair of hawks fishing in the river outside.

Hijiori Onsen is a hot spring resort town, and our ryokan had 3 different baths. Our first afternoon, I had this one to myself. The next morning I sat in a copper tub with the windows open and let snowflakes flutter in.

We stayed two nights, and both dinners were absolute feasts. Regional specialties included beef yakiniku, duck nabe (soup), mountain vegetables, and really good rice. We cooked our beef and duck nabe over a table with coals set inside. On Friday night, dinner ended with a dance. More photos of our two days of kaiseki can be found here on Flickr.

The owners at Yuyado-Motokawarayu ryokan were extremely welcoming. If you get a chance, stop by and say hello.


Snowkyo ❅

It was a snowy day in Tokyo.

Most people here carry umbrellas when it snows, but my proud Minnesotan roots won’t allow it. I love when the snow hits my eyelashes.

But today’s snow was wet and thick, and 10 minutes after I left the house I was soaked. So I gave in and pulled out my flimsy pocket umbrella.

Two blocks later, a giant ice bomb fell from a nearby building and landed on my umbrella, destroying it.

I cursed the umbrella for its usefulness.

I still feel a little smug in my snow boots. You can’t beat me there, Japan.

My Heart Belongs to MN (Or, Musings on Lutefisk)

Minneapolis has been on my mind a lot these past few days.  No doubt the recent news of a gigantic snowstorm that dropped 17 inches (a half-ish meter) of powder in my parents’ yard has something to do with it.  (If you haven’t yet seen this video, you should check it out — it’s pretty incredible.)

I love snow.  I sometimes brag that, as a Minnesotan, I can naturally master the cold, but it’s all a lie.  I don’t like the cold (it is currently -2 degree F there now.  That is -19 degrees C.  Ouch.)  But you can’t have snow without it.  And I really miss the snow.

A friend shared a video of himself riding his bicycle to work in Minneapolis the morning after the storm — at 6:00 am the streets were totally quiet, and the crunch of packed snow under his tires and boots went straight to my heart.  The quiet of a post-snow darkened landscape is amazingly serene.  One of my favorite things to do in the snow is to just walk around in it.  Wearing Sorels in slightly plowed streets you can achieve premium crunch — the snow is packed just enough, yet you can keep your ankles dry (because really, once you wet your ankles it’s all downhill from there).

In the wake of my snow fantasy — yes, I know it is a snow-filled dreamland since I don’t have to shovel the driveway, pay gazillions to heat my house, or deal with wet ankles — I came across this MPR video about lutefisk, another ingredient to a true Minnesota winter:

This video put a huge smile on my face.  It is extremely well done and captures a charming sliver of Minnesota pretty accurately, in my opinion.  A few things to note while watching:

1. The explanation of flaky vs. snotty is spot-on.  I love how she assumes everyone knows what good walleye should look like.

2. Everything at the buffet is the same color.

3. The champ’s button — it says “Uff da.”  Exactly.  And his granddaughter is the definition of hard core.

4. I feel like I know every single person in this video — is that so wrong?

A few years ago my family gave up preparing lutefisk for Christmas dinner.  It is surprisingly expensive, perhaps because we opted not to lye-it-up ourselves.  My family finally admitted defeat. It was just too much money and effort to devote to a plate of wiggly stuff that most of the people at the table didn’t really care for anyway.

Though I know it might be dangerous to declare this in front of all my Aunts who I know are reading this (hi, Aunts!), if the tradition ever came back ’round, I wouldn’t be opposed.  My tastes have changed in recent years, and considering I now consume wiggly raw sea creatures almost daily, I might have a new opinion of the stuff.  That bottle of squeeze butter got me a little excited.

Just as long as you can provide a side of snow.