Furusato Farmstay (two night stay)
See the bottom of this post for booking details.
We met our hosts, Mr and Mrs Kawai, at the entrance of Kakunodate station at 3:30. After driving us around Kakunodate for a little while and taking my daughter to see an Akita inu (dog!), we drove the twenty or so minutes to their home, called Furusato.
Furusato is located in Semboku, an area known for onsen, snow events, mountains and Tazawako which is a caldera lake that also boasts being the deepest lake in Japan.
When we entered the house, we took off our shoes at the genkan, the entryway in front of a door where you remove your shoes and put on house slippers. Despite being aware of what you do here, I was a little thrown by the long piece of wood and ended up doing a no-no by stepping on to the genkan shoe-floor with my socks. Dee even pointed out that I did it wrong which our hosts found amusing!
The house was beautiful. Wooden floors, so much space and the tatami mats in the bedroom and formal room. Furusato has welcomed many guests from around the world and you could see evidence of this everywhere, with gifts, photos and displays as well as some lovely autumn decorations:
We were shown to our room (we left our house slippers outside the bedroom door as the tatami mats were socks-only), where Mrs Kawai had prepared some fried goodies for us as a welcome treat which she served in our room. From there we just relaxed in our room until dinner:
We went in to the family kitchen to help prepare dinner. Dee and I helped with making misotampo. We used a special piece of wood with one end cut on an angle to press the rice:
We then wet our hands and made a ball of rice which we moulded around chopsticks in to a sausage shape. It’s not as easy as it sounds but we got the hang of it. Then you roll it carefully so it evens out a bit:
The rice is then grilled (traditionally this is done over coals I believe or near a flame but in the kitchen we used the grill). From this point the grilled rice can be broken in to a few pieces and placed in a stew, but we brushed our rice with a good dose of home made sweet miso sauce which was so so good:
There was so much food at dinner! A delicious stew made with carrot, potato, tofu and noodles, silky tofu with a soy sauce, sauteed sprouts and veg, salad and fruit:
I was so full, the food was amazing and I was happy we got to help prepare it. I was told to relax and not help with cleaning up so we watched a bit of TV (the new Emperor’s coronation ceremony commentary) before Dee went back to the bedroom to rest a bit before bathing and bed.
The next morning after a lovely sleep in our cosy beds, we were treated to a breakfast feast of salad, umeboshi, sweet black beans, pickled veg, rice, tofu miso soup, stewed apples and bananas:
Another meal where I was stuffed!
After breakfast, Mrs Kawai took us to Dakigaeri gorge which was stunning. The water was a beautiful shade of turquoise, the leaves were in their autumn hues and we crossed the Kami-no-Iwabashi bridge, which is the oldest suspension bridge in Akita prefecture having been built in the 1920s:
There were quite a few tour groups and some stalls set up selling fresh food and goods. Mrs Kawai’s friend had a coffee stand and another friend sold jams made with fruit from her garden. We also passed the Dakigaeri shrine:
We went home for lunch, a delicious tofu, mushroom and noodle soup:
Furusato was expecting a group of middle school students from Sendai, so after lunch Mrs Kawai’s friend Isobe took us for a drive around Tazawako and to a souvenir/market shop. Tazawako was yet another beautiful piece of nature to look at, and we stopped the car a couple of times for some photos:
Here is Tatsuko who stands at Tazawako. According to this page at voyapon.com Tatsuko was ‘a girl of incredible beauty who desired that she would stay beautiful forever. She prayed at a particular shrine for 100 nights, and received instructions from a god that she should drink from a sacred spring. After searching the mountains for the spring, she finally found it and took a sip. But she was so thirsty, she kept drinking and drinking, mindless of the fact that a large storm was forming overhead. She was temporarily blinded by the lightning from the storm and when she could see again, she realized she had been transformed into a dragon. As a dragon, Tatsuko lived in the lake and became its protector.’
We went back to Furusato for a rest before helping to prepare dinner. This time, we made futomaki using some home grown vegetables:
We also had fried tofu, fried eggplant with more of that wonderful home made sweet miso (yay!), inari sushi made by Mrs Kawai, miso soup, steamed greens and veg, edamame, beans tossed in miso sauce (SO GOOD), rice and fruit. I was a bit worried I was appearing greedy because the food was so good and I kept wanting to eat:
After dinner we sat around chatting in the living room, at one point Dee lay on the couch with her feet up and I quietly told her to sit up properly as this wasn’t our home (you never know the rules people have about putting one’s feet up on the couch), but I was told not to worry and we could both lie on the couch with our feet up if we wanted to, as Mrs Kawai kept saying to me “okaasan, you relax!”
The next morning was our last breakfast and I was happy to see some of the leftover eggplant and sweet miso! I don’t seem to have a photo of our final Furusato breakfast but like all other meals, it was wonderful.
After breakfast we went for a last walk around Furusato:
And before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye. Here are Mr and Mrs Kawai with their daughter. Mrs Kawai was pointing over at Dee being taller than all of them!
What a lovely family. It’s not always easy having people stay in your own home and we were strangers at that, so I appreciate very much being welcomed in to the Kawai family home and being so well looked after. Mr Kawai drove us to Kakunodate station and waited with us for twenty minutes until our train arrived.
I booked our Furusato stay through Semboku Green Tourism: https://semboku-gt.jp/en/stay/furusato/
I emailed questions in English, sometimes using Google Translate. This is for corresponding with the staff at Semboku Green Tourism– I wasn’t in contact with Furusato directly. I was able to discuss our dietary requirements without a problem. I asked if we could have lunch provided as we didn’t have a car or means to prepare food on our own and lunch was provided for a small additional fee. Payment was cash only the night before we left Furusato and I was given a receipt.
It was easier too because Furusato had previously had a vegan guest stay there, and this is where I first heard about Furusato. Here’s the video on YouTube made by Sharla in Japan. I had been looking for Akita prefecture videos on YouTube and watched this recommendation and as I was watching I thought hang on, that food looks vegan (which it was)! And so I was able to reference the video when making the booking, when it came to explaining our diets. In the video you’ll see the Kawai family and their home for yourself. This was helpful to me, traveling with a child, to get an idea of what we could expect.
The language barrier wasn’t an issue. I was able to speak enough basic Japanese (I’ve been learning for about eight months at this stage), and Mrs Kawai spoke enough English for us to get by and we both also used Google Translate. So please don’t worry if you can’t speak Japanese! And of course if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you will be okay! Please feel free to reference this blog post if you are veg*n and want to book a farmstay/homestay with Semboku Green Tourism. https://semboku-gt.jp/en/
If you have ever considered a farmstay/homestay, please check out Semboku Green Tourism! They have some profiles of all the farmstays signed up. I was drawn to Tohoku because I had read that only a tiny percentage of visitors to Japan go to Tohoku, as most go to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto instead. So I researched Tohoku and the decision to go there was pretty much immediate.
We had a lovely time at Furusato. We’d had a very busy week before with Tokyo, my problem feet were hurting and so being able to rest for a couple of days was perfect.
Thank you to Mr and Mrs Kawai and their daughter, their friend Isobe and Semboku Green Tourism for making our stay a memorable one.