Monday, September 7, 2009

A Peach of a Train Station

Third in a series about our recent trip up noth to visit the island of Hokkaido and our food adventures along the way!

We left Tendo early the next morning to begin the next long string of local trains that would get us to Aomori and the night express train to Sapporo. Pivotal in getting us to our friend, Ryan, in time for our planned departure to Daisetsuzan National Park, we were a little nervous about this train. We happened to be traveling during obon, a period when Japanese people return to their hometowns to visit family and friends, and pray at the graves of their ancestors. It was not possible to reserve a seat on the train so it was a question of being first in line to be sure to get a seat.

One of the tricky parts about travel of any kind is eating healthy. In our case, whatever time we had at assorted stations was used to ensure we found the right train and got on it before it left. Missing a train drastically resets the entire schedule of travel for the day, and could easily result in missing a connection. The majority of our food consisted of prepackaged snacks and convience store sushi and onigiri. (Please note that I was reading In Defense of Food during this trip, and feeling worse and worse about my food choices.) We'd feasted on Masae's healthy treats, but I already had a taste for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Imagine my surprise then when we stopped at Hachinohe and found vendors selling local wares - honey, cookies and mochi, fish, and jam - in the station! Many of these items were being proffered as omiagi - gifts to give to friends and family when visiting their homes or staying with them - and could be purchased in lovely packaging.

But the real gem, as far as I was concerned, was to be found outside the station. We came out for a breath of fresh air, and as I looked about me I spotted some vegetable seedlings outside a shop door. Always irresistable, I walked over to discover a veritable treasure trove of fruits and vegetables.

It turns out the store is run by a cooperative group of farmers, and one of them was one hand to chat with us for a bit about the store, her farm, and the fruits and vegetables on offer. (She graciously agreed to pose for the picture at left.) Granted, "chatting" might be a strong term here. Our Japanese is lackluster at best, but we were able to convey the fact that I work on an organic farm in Tokyo and that we love fruits and vegetables. She quickly began naming off different varieties of peaches - all huge and lovely looking - and describing the merits of each. The same thing happened with the cherry tomatoes. While we only caught an adjective here and there, what came through loud and clear was her love and passion for her work and the products at hand. We bought some cucumbers and a peach, and then she offered up tomatoes and another variety of peaches for us to try.

Antenna shops like this one, also known as chiho bussan kan, are becoming more and popular with farmers and shoppers alike. As I mentioned before, the Japanese like food and will travel to a region or onsen to sample its speciality. Antenna shops in Tokyo are on the rise, and it looks like the concept is spreading steadily in all directions.

The chance for fresh fruits and vegetables seemd out of the realm of possibility on the train, much less an opportunity to meet and talk with the grower, yet the next leg found us with peach juice on our chins and gazing at ever more mountainous scenery while savoring yet another great flavor of Japan.

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