Jan 27, 2012

Kakunodate Winter Storytelling : A 30-Minute Time-Travel Through the History of "Little Kyoto of Tohoku".

Kakunodate Fuyu-Gatari makes your daytrip even more unforgettable! This 30-minute storytelling session at an authentic samurai house sitting around antiquities can take you on a time-traveling experience!

The storytelling session, Kakunodate Fuyu-Gatari, has been held every weekend twice a day from 11:30 and 13:30. It has been a popular tourist activity so that almost all the sessions are fully occupied.

Last weekend, as JR offered a promotion package deal, Kakunodate Town was crowded with tourists coming from all over Japan. Both morning and afternoon sessions easily exceeded the 25-people limit! The organizers crammed in a few more “zabuton,” seating cushions, so that the people sat side-by-side warmly, albeit packed like sardines as we say in sushizume (sushi-packed) condition!

The Iwahashi Residence (岩橋家)

Story Unfolds – from Lifestyle, Food, and the History of Kakunodate Town

The story is told by a certified historical guide. On this day, the teller was Mr. Tamura, vice president of the guide union. As we gathered in a small room at the Iwahashi Residence, the guide unfolded stories from how the life style is like in the deep north during the coldest time of the year.

“These things,” pointing at the hanging rice crackers and radishes on the back, “are the very blessings of our severe winter. Although the heavy snow may seem overwhelming and to give us nothing but a trouble, we actually are not always bothered and fed up with the long winter,” continued Mr. Tamura.

“Over the generations, the severe winter has nurtured a unique tradition of our food culture. Say, these dried rice crackers are called hoshimochi and are still popular today. The natural sweetness is addictive! And, daikon radishes are dried like this and were later smoked to be made into our famous Iburigakko. If it weren’t for the severe winter, we wouldn’t have had this profound tradition.”

Then, Mr. Tamura stressed that each family inherits a secret recipe for such pickled vegetables – the ratio of sugar and rice bran along with the temperature and humidity condition greatly contribute to the unique taste. “Today, we would like you to try the Iburigakko of the Iwahashi family and see if you like it.”

Dried Radish and mochi (left top), Mr.Tamura explaining an snow related tool (right top),
 Iburigakko (left bottom), and the certificate.

A Brief History of Kakunodate Town from the Ashina to Satake-Kita Family

Mr. Tamura continued on and told us the history of Kakunodate Town – dating back to the original settlement by the Ashina family and their close connection with the great lord, Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

The Ashina family has suffered from a serious misfortune in succession. One after another, the heir to the prestigious family deceased at young ages - most notably, Sentsurumaru (千鶴丸), who became the heir at age 1 when his father died young at age 20 but soon died at age 3 because of an injury to his head at the nearby temple, Tenneiji (天寧寺).

“The temple is still present today. In fact, the rock that the boy hit his head was later used for the pedestal of a Statue of Mercy (Nyoraizo), which been dedicated to his pitiful soul. Please do stop by at the temple to take a glimpse of it.”

(Tenneiji Temple, Left)

Later, the town was taken over by the Satake-Kita family with the feudal lord, Yoshinobu. However, they also suffered from misfortunes in succession. At the last straw, a nephew of the lord Yoshinobu, Yoshichika, was taken from Kyoto to become the heir to the family.

The story told by the historical guide was meticulously intertwined and come together as we realized that history leads to how the people live today. The 30 minutes surely takes your mind away and inspires you to visit more places in Kakunodate town.

After the story session, you will be given a certificate which proves your presence in the session – all written in Akita dialect! Another 10-minute tour was held by another guide, who showed us how the wisdom and ingenuity of old men have been excised in the simple housing architecture!

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