January: Closing Snacks

My friend who knows me very well got me this Japanese sweets calendar and it usually stays in my office so I can glance at it and dream of sweets. I know I’ve had taiyaki (or taimochi) a couple times but I couldn’t help closing out January with its monthly featured snack. This is another montai・モンタイ from Ropponpon・ろっぽんぽん nearby. It’s not really a traditional one, the dough is made of cinnamon and mochi flour, so it is super chewy and soft and delicious.

Hiking the Bull Mountains: Totoro Edition

I went back to Onojo in the south of Fukuoka to go hiking in the Ushikubi・牛頸 area. Some of the trails create the outline of a bull, and Mount. Ushikubi・牛頸山 means Bull’s Neck mountain.

Here is the summit (447m), I love a mountain souvenir! There is a New Year’s wreath, a bucket with small sticks you can take as a summit souvenir, and in the box on the left you can write down your name and the conditions of your trip in the mountain diary.

I have not seen the Totoro films, or have any special attachment to him, but that did not stop me from adding around 3 hours to my trip to go visit him in the forest. It was so fun to see! It’s always fun when people do creative things in nature.

There were many peaks I hit on this hike, but they were not always obvious, with small markers but the trails were really beautiful. Not a ton of views but still nice.

Towards the end there were a lot of bamboo forests.

This is in and around Tenpaizan・天拝山, which is part of the Kyushu Nature Trail that I would love to spend more time on, maybe when the flowers start to come out. You are encouraged not to feed the cats (I saw a lot of) or boars (luckily, no). This was the first time I have seen ume・plum blossoms outside, I definitely never saw them so early in Tokyo. Makes me hopeful spring is here soon. I really love these old maps, I will have to come back later to find everything.

At the end there was a little garden and temple with a small local souvenir shop. You can buy hardboiled eggs for ¥70, but I went for hot fresh genmai amazake・玄米甘酒 with fresh grated ginger. For a sweet they had lunar eclipse manjus, little pastries with purple sweet potato paste inside. It was truly an incredible way to end the 6 hour hike.

I have a pretty big hike coming up so hopefully this was good practice for it!

And as always, here is my route on Yamap.

Spring Preview: Setsubun! V.1

oni and fuku namagashi with plum blossoms

Setsubun・節分の日 is my favourite Japanese traditional event. This year it is on February 2nd and it marks the start of spring in the traditional Japanese calendar. It is a wonderful, fun holiday that is a day cleanses the negativity of the past year/winter and and welcomes good spirits.

One of the key parts of Setsubun is the refrain: ‘Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!・鬼は外! 福は内!’ Or: ‘Devil go away! Good fortune come in!’ So a lot of what you see during this time is the pair- the devil and its counterpart. Rabbit Moon・兎月 has their namagashi version of both and they are so cute and funny! No choice, I had to get both. I can’t wait for more setsubun sweets and adventures this week.

Little Peeks of Spring

There’s not a whole lot of winter in Fukuoka, it’s not that cold and apparently the snow at the beginning of the month was quite rare. It’s not even February and the very first glimpses of spring are happening (if you focus primarily on the sweets calendar). This is an uguisu namagashi・ウグイス生菓子 from Kichi-Zoh・吉蔵 and it was truly amazing. Uguisu is a Japanese warbler, and their presence and song are known to be the first signs that winter is coming to a close.

Uguisu namagashi and sweet peas with baby’s breath

I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve had namagashi (non-baked sweets, often very decorative and filled with smooth red or white bean) and this was an exceptional. Kichi-Zoh does everything well but their namagashi are really something else, like make you stop everything else you are doing kind of good.

I had tried drying some citrus on my balcony but some uguisu got to them before I could. Well, I’m happy for them and am happy for me too because I got to see and hear them. Spring time desserts in Japan are some of my favourites so I’m happy to welcome the little birds and their sweet simulacra.

Leaving the House: Coffee edition

A rare sunny winter day, a friend and I took the opportunity to visit Tsuki Shiro・月白 (White Moon) in the neighborhood. It is truly unlike any other coffee or tea shop I’ve ever been to, and my words and photos will not do it justice. The space is a real experience, I will absolutely go back.

It was definitely my first experience to have a latte in a matcha bowl or chawan・茶碗. And why not? It was warm and wonderful. I look a quick picture before we took our drinks outside.

Their business card is printed on these dry leaves. There is not a single detail not thoughtfully executed. It was very sweet, it’s not often you can find a place that caters to coffee and matcha equally!

Leaving the House: Tea Trip

I love all my teas at home but sometimes its nice (if properly socially distanced in a well ventilated space) to try new things. Chaho Furyu・茶舗ふりゅう has been on my list for a while and was really lovely. We had a tasting of 2 different teas that are each served at 3 different temperatures.

The light green is the haku・白 and is from Yame, a very popular tea region. This is a bit of an albino tea (白 means white) and was very smooth and nice.

The one on the left is heki gyoku・碧玉, the first steep was done at 30 degrees and was really unlike any other tea I’ve had before. Very earthy and umami.

The second pour, a little warmer for the haku and over ice for the heki gyoku. It”s really incredible how intensely the flavour changes with the temperatures and steeping times.

The final round the haku was chilled which was really refreshing and nice. Of course it wouldn’t be finished without a sweet and they served peanut karintō which I always love (it’s fried brown sugar). The biggest surprise was they served the remaining heki gyoku tea leaves to be eaten with salt as the last dish! Sadly I forgot to take a picture but it looked like it does in the pot but with coarse salt. It was really amazing, definitely a first for me.

New Sweet Shop Find

plum-shaped daifuku

Out for a walk I found a new little place, Seichian・清致庵. I got something a little out of season (more common in the spring) but I don’t see it so often so I couldn’t resist.

It’s a 白あん梅大福・shiro-an ume daifuku, or white bean paste. The plum is a small, unripe and preserved in sweet plum vinegar before being wrapped up into a mochi. It was super delicate and soft. A good find if I’m in the area again.

Changing Perspectives

Staying at home as much as we all have been is monotonous, but I’m trying to enjoy all the little parts of home even if it’s just sitting on the other side of the kotatsu. Anyway, when you sit on the floor it doesn’t really matter.

This super cute sweet is anko (red bean) based and from this adorable shop Shoitō・処いとう. It is teeny tiny and run by this one woman who wraps all the sweets in paper. An interesting thing about her place: the sweets come in different sizes! The top row in ¥90 ($1?) and the same ones on the bottom are ¥60. The middle have a few of the same as well. I love having the small ones, because it’s a good excuse to get a few.