Field Trip: Kuromojiya・黒文字や

Kuromojiya・黒文字や is a very old school cafe near me. How old school? You can still smoke inside. I used to come here for lunch with a friend fairly often but I came with a single goal in mind: dessert.

I got the kuromitsu kinako parfait・黒蜜きな粉パフェ, or black sugar syrup & toasted soybean flour parfait. If asked to describe my dream parfait, I’m not sure what else I could have included.

From left to right:

sweet red beans, shirotama (mochi balls), banana, black sesame ice cream, strawberries, waffle, kinako ice cream, black sugar syrup, kinako warabi mochi.

I love this place so much, its such a perfect, classic hidden gem.

Field Trip: Mume

Mume, a 2 seat reservation-only cafe that books up seemingly instantly has been on my wishlist since I moved to Fukuoka. I check every month, and every month there is not a single space in the calendar. By some miracle, when I checked last week there was a single spot late afternoon in a few days.

It did not disappoint.

Faced with the decision of which dessert I wanted to order, I made the correct choice to get both.

The beautiful grey bowl is filled with matcha zenzai・抹茶ぜんざい, this interpretation includes vanilla ice cream, coarse red bean paste, chewy white mochi balls, matcha pudding with a slice of plum swimming on top of thick matcha. It was served with cool hōjicha (tea) and a lovely little biscuit. It was beyond incredible, it was sublime.

However, the monaka・モナカ was true evidence of the divine. Without exaggeration, it brought me to tears. I love monaka, little cutely-shaped wafers with bean paste, but this was unlike anything I’ve had before. Inside the perfect flower, there was smooth red bean paste, softened fermented butter, and dried figs. The texture combination was actual perfection, the taste combination was so simple but impeccably balanced. It was hard not to order 15 more, but that is one of my favourite parts of Japanese wagashi; the seasonality, the impermanence, how special in the moment they are.

Hiking in Dazaifu: Sangun-san & Hōmanzan・三郡山 & 宝満山Edition

It’s been ages since I’ve been to Dazaifu! Hōmanzan is one of the most popular hikes in Fukuoka but there’s always lots to see.

What I wanted to do was start a few train stations north and walk my way down south to the temples. However, what I actually really wanted to do was eat umegae mochi・梅ヶ枝餅 for breakfast. This is about as quiet as it gets here. Plum blossom season is finishing up but I got treated to a lovely display of them.

After looking around the temples I made my way up to the trailhead. The way up is a lot of stairs. A lof of stairs. The elevation changes pretty quickly and you can use the views as an excuse to catch your breath.

The views at the top of Hōmanzan are some of my favourite in all of Fukuoka.

Onwards and upwards, there’s a few more peaks I hit on the way to Sangunsan.

I had blocked Sangunsan out of my memory but halfway there it came back to me. This is, without question, one of the ugliest summits of all time. It’s a defense base, there’s electric fences, barbed wire, and pylons. Whatever, the loop I do to complete it is very, very beautiful. Another thing I blocked out, getting really lost last time I went down to the waterfalls. This time I faired quite a bit better and stayed focused. The yellow symbol written on the rock means ‘mountain’; helpful!

Whenever I leave Japan I will truly miss stumbling into scenery like this. At this point, I’m a little under 6 hours into the hike and have only one focus: getting back to the main street before the snack shops close.

Good news, lots of snacks to be had! The pink thing is a strawberry mont blanc, from a super popular shop that magically had no line up so I rushed in. It was really good! There is a meringue underneath, topped with soft serve ice cream and finally strawberry paste. In the cup in ume ( sour plum) flavoured amazake (fermented rice beverage)・梅甘酒 that was truly amazing. It’s a really popular thing to eat and drink tea under the flowering trees but I was on a mission. I picked up a couple things to take home for later and went back to the very adorable train station.

You can see my route as always on Yamap!

Hiking in Itoshima: Tate Ishi・立石 Edition

Another sunny weekend! Rainy season is no problem if this pattern keeps up. A few people had told me about this very beautiful, mini hike in Itoshima that was a little windy so I was saving it for warmer weather. Itoshima is a bit of a beach town and it was great to explore around.

There are near panoramic view going most of the way up the mountain. Every 3 feet I stopped to take pictures, it’s really a prefect quick hike.

The terrain is unlike anything like I’ve seen in Fukuoka, you can see different rock sediment and its nearly all exposed rock. Most other places have more tree cover or are much softer earth.

These are all 3 different little beaches I popped into. Everything is so close and compact around here so it’s easy to see a lot.

Of course it wouldn’t be a hike without roadside produce! After I got off the course I waslked past some beaches and made my way over to the big rock/mini mountain. I think this is one of the most popular areas in Itoshima, every time I come to Itoshima with people we wind up here. I made my way to the other side of the rock to have lunch.

Maybe unsurprisingly I brought a sweet from Kichi Zoh with me. This one is special for June. It’s called minazuki・水無月 which is the name for June in the old Japanese calendar, before the Gregorian calendar was introduced to Japan. It literally means ‘month with no water’ which is hard to believe because June is rainy season. Interesting Japanese language tidbit, the 無・na typically means: no, none, without. However in old times it was also a possessive particle, so means the month full of water! Learning Japanese is a trip.

Anyway! The sweet minazuki is red bean on jellied mochi and was super good! I think I see more in my future this month.

As always, here is the course I took on Yamap.

Hiking in Itoshima: Tonbōyama・十坊山 535m Edition

Recently the state of emergency was lifted in Fukuoka so I finally organized another group hike. It was so nice to see familiar faces enjoying time outdoors again. We went out west to Itoshima for a nice, easy hike and it was just a lovely day.

There was so, so, so many mikan (citrus fruit) along the entrance and descent of the hike. On the way up we saw the cutest little train trolley for picking fruit that I have ever seen.

The trail up was really nice and gentle, with lots of beautiful greenery.

At the summit of Tonbōyama is a giant rock that is really fun to climb up. As soon as we got to the top it became a little cloudy but we still got to see the ocean and a nice panoramic view around up.

One thing I love hiking is all the little cute things people add (that are not harmful!) like this little sakura amulet tied to this tree, that has 5 trunks emerging from the base, like the 5 petals of a sakura blossom. Unfortunately it wasn’t in bloom, yet!

On the way down we walked in and out of little streams and got some mini waterfalls as the sun came out again.

Of course it’s spring and we got to see sakura blossoms (early), ume blossoms (late), and white camellias and so many others.

In Itoshima it’s really easy to do sea-to-summit (or the reverse) hikes and that is definitely part of the magic of the place. We finished off dipping our toes into the sand before heading back. It was a wonderful day and a great, relaxing hike.

In Japan March 14th is White Day, which is closer to a western Valentine’s Day. Now men give chocolates or presents to their one sweetheart, after February 14th women give chocolate to their friends, colleagues, crushes, everyone. It’s a little different, but at least there is no shortage of sweets. I’m a lucky girl and recieved these really beautiful sakura, tea, and strawberry chocolates.

Now just wondering what the next seasonal thing might be…

As always, here is the hike on Yamap!

Hiking in Yufuin: 由布岳・Mount Yufu and Onsen Edition

I’m about a week behind with my postings! Last week was a national holiday in Japan so I took advantage and made it a 4-day weekend. We decided to explore around Kyushu a little bit and started out in the onsen (public bath house/hot spring) town of Yufuin in Oita prefecture. I had read a little about 由布岳・Mount Yufu (or Yufudake) and wanted to give it a try in between near-constant snacking and relaxing in out in-room private onsen.

It was a beautiful sunny day, from the bottom. The top, not so much! But that was ok. It was a great up with beautiful views until I ran into the clouds.

It was very cloudy and windy but I ran into some nice people. When you go up Mount Yufu, there are 2 summits; east and west. I stuck to the east because the west is notoriously perilous and I was missing my hiking partner. But there’s always next time!

After the summit, I decided to take the road less travelled down. I ran into maybe 5 people and they all asked me why I hadn’t put on my crampons yet…. Well, I don’t own any, yet! It was quite snowy and they descent was full of chains and steep areas. Luckily I can now truthfully say I have gotten over my fear of ropes because I had so much opportunity to practice and get comfortable!

After the majority of the deep snow and ropes I sat down for a matcha set, though admittedly slightly different from usual. The scenery changed so much throughout the day; the mossy area was so sweet and calm.

The grasslands and rolling hills are incredible too, I can’t wait to see it in summertime. After the hike I was a little exhausted, it had been a bit more challenging than I thought for the descent so was very happy to get apple and cereal ice cream as a little treat nearby.

The next morning, after much relaxing in onsen, we went to Kinrin lake and then off to get more snacks. Yufuin was really cute, I’d love to go back sometime and explore around more. After this, we were southward bound!

How could I forget, here is my course on Yamap!

Valentine’s Day Sweets

It was uncharacteristically sunny and warm on Valentine’s Day so we got to sit on a little rooftop patio to enjoy little pink sweets. I went to Kichi-Zoh because I knew they would have the heart sweet, but when I saw the set I there was no way not to get it. In Japan on Valentine’s Day women give chocolate to their partners, crushes (本命チョコ・honmei choco・true feeling chocolate), male coworkers (義理チョコ・giri choco・obligation chocolate) and friends (友チョコ・tomo choco・friend chocolate). On March 14th men will give chocolate to their romantic partner or crush. It can be quite an expensive day for women having to buy obligation chocolate for every an in the office but with all the remote working that seems to have changed.

Back to the sweets! I did give my honmei choco but of course did not stop there. Kichi-Zoh had the pink rose with white bean in the center, a white heart with pink & white bean paste, and a white bean paste with black bean ‘snow-topped mountain’ (left plate) and also plum jelly and soba flour yōkan (right plate). They were perfect and I loved them. I’m eagerly awaiting candy sales in the week to come.

Hiking in My Backyard: Aburayama・油山 Edition

I have been meaning to do this hike since the first weekend I had moved here. It’s so close to my place I can walk there! I cheated and took the bus to the other side of the mountain though. On the way up I saw a rice vending machine for the first time since living in Japan! I didn’t realize how fast Fukuoka can get rural. The trail up was really beautiful though.

I think Aburayama gets a bad reputation for being family friendly, but it’s so huge and there is so much to explore I can’t imagine getting bored of it fast. Like Takao San in Tokyo, just because its accessible doesn’t mean its not interesting! I rarely go to visitors centers when hiking but it was nice to check out. They have nature exhibits, local mushrooms for sale, relay courses, and nice views of the city.

Despite its popularity, Aburayama is the worst marked mountain for trails I’ve been on in Fukuoka. My main goal was to find this waterfall and not a single person I ran into had heard of it or been there. After a few wrong turns I did find it, with this funny little statue in the middle of it. Waterfall was a bit of a strong term, but it was cute.

I got a few more nice views near the end at Mount Katae・片江山. City view aren’t usually my favourite but it’s fun to try to find places (could not find my place) and the ocean is a beautiful backdrop.

I decided to walk home from the mountain and found a cute little grocery store where they had local produce and sweets. I just love the eggs in a bag! And here is the view of the mountain close to home. It always looks easier from far away.

And of course no day is complete without a sweet. I found this uguisu dorayaki in the local grocery store. This is meant to look like uguisu, the little green bird that signals the start of spring, you can see its eye and tail feather markings. Inside was more zunda-an (green bean paste) which was amazing.

That was the last hike I’ll have before my super big, exciting ones coming up this week!

And of course here is my course on Yamap.

Happy Setsubun! V.3

Sakura ehomaki

The day has finally arrived to officially celebrate Sestubun! I think no one is happier than me. So here is a rare lunch photo: my ehomaki・恵方巻. Of course, special and specific to Sestubun. Ehomaki is a huge roll filled with different ingredients like egg, fish, pickled vegetables, etc wrapped in rice with nori seaweed. You can buy them at grocery stores, convenience stores, specialty shops, really anywhere; my grocery store had dozens of varieties. To ensure your good fortune and prosperity in the year to come you do not cut it (eat it all in one sitting!!), you do not talk while eating, and my favourite, you must sit facing the the God of Fortune, which this year is south by south east. It makes me so happy to think of everyone in Japan silently eating their ehomaki facing SSE and wishing for good fortune. Such a cute and funny thought.

devil’s pants, beans, and good fortune with matcha

And for snacks! I might have saved the best for last. A while ago when I was at TUGI, I asked if they were doing something for Setsubun and have been excited ever since. They have a set of: The Devil’s Pants, Beans for Throwing and The Face of Good Fortune.

I might have already eaten a bean.

The devil’s pants are usually yellow and black stripes so this is a bit like Santa’s hat to represent Santa. It is filled with tsubu-an (rough red bean paste) and was conceptually my favourite. Then of course little sweets in the shape of beans that are kinako (toasted soy bean flour paste) and were absolutely incredible. And lastly the one representing fortune is a milk-tea flavoured manju (baked dough with filling). I was amazed how much I liked that one as black tea is not my favourite but the flavour and texture were so sweet and delicate.

I added some salted pickled sakura blossoms for fun because, it was a lot of sweets.

devil and fortune higashi with candied beans

Last night I might have also had another beautiful Setsubun sweet set. These are sweet little higashi・乾菓子 from Suzikake. Higashi are dried traditional sweets, often extremely elaborate and have very low moisture content so can last a while. These did not last long though.

So happy start of spring! I hope everyone has a wonderful, healthy, prosperous year. This is truly my favourite holiday, but luckily there are always other things to look forward to that are still to come.