Fujinomiya, city at the foot of Mount Fuji

Satoyama is not found in Tokyo. For Satoyama, the area between mountain foothills and farmland, you have to go to the province. This is easy to reach. Japan’s perfect and well-timed infrastructure makes it possible. The Shinkansen express train crisscrosses the entire country. The trick is simply to get off at places that are even on the classic travel route, but are mentioned far too rarely.

Der Shinkansen hält mit den Türen exakt an den am Bahnsteig markierten Stellen. Es gibt in Japan kein Gedrängel. Man schließt sich den sich bildenden Schlangen an / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Shinkansen stops with the doors exactly at the places marked on the platform. There is no crowding in Japan. One joins the queues that form / © Photo: Georg Berg

The arrow-fast Shinkansen also makes a stop in Fuji City on its way from Tokyo to Kyoto. From there, take the JR Minobu Line to nearby Fujnomiya. We show how to fill a day in the province with Japanese specialties: A virtual climb up Mount Fuji, a visit to the Shiraito waterfalls, making soba noodles with a world-famous local, and biking through the Satoyama countryside to a sake brewery.

Der virtuelle Aufstieg. Auf über 3.000 Quadratmetern dreht sich im Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre in Fujinomiya alles um den Heiligen Berg Japans / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Virtual Ascent. On more than 3,000 square meters, everything at the Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre in Fujinomiya revolves around Japan’s holy mountain / © Photo: Georg Berg

Mount Fuji can be climbed in Fujinomiya

A stop at Mount Fuji should not be missed on a trip to Japan. Especially if you are leaving Tokyo, heading south to Osaka or Kyoto. Mount Fuji-san is immaculate and, at 3,776 meters, the highest mountain in Japan. For many months of the year, the Japanese see their shy goddess, when she is not shrouded in clouds, with a snow-covered cone. Widely recommended is a view of the famous mountain from the Five Lakes, in Yamanashi Prefecture. Less well known is a stop in Shizuoka, the prefecture where Japan’s national shrine is geographically located.

Das Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre in Fujinomiya. Der kegelförmige Bau ist der Form des Vulkans nachempfunden, wurde auf den Kopf gestellt und spiegelt sich als Mount Fuji auf der Wasserfläche vor dem Museum / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre in Fujinomiya. The cone-shaped building is based on the shape of the volcano, was turned upside down and is reflected as Mount Fuji on the water surface in front of the museum / © Photo: Georg Berg

Fujinomiya is home to the Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre. The city is located at the foot of Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture. Fujinomiya is the city closest to the Bright Mountain of Japan. Only during a narrow window of time in the summer months is it possible to climb the 3,776-meter mountain. An experience that must then be shared with many others.

Das Museum des heiligen Berges Fuji in Kakegawa, Japan. Der virtuelle Aufstieg auf Japans höchsten Berg ist im Mount Fuji Heritage Centre das ganze Jahr über möglich / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Museum of the Sacred Mount Fuji in Kakegawa, Japan. The virtual ascent of Japan’s highest mountain is possible all year round at the Mount Fuji Heritage Centre/ © Photo: Georg Berg

A virtual ascent is possible all year round in Fujinomiya. Here stands the architecturally remarkable museum in honor of the sacred mountain. At the Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre, the mountain has literally been turned upside down. Its perfect cone shape has been recreated and clad in cypress wood grown on Mount Fuji. Inside, more than 3,000 square meters of space surround the sacred mountain. In a spiral, the visitor walks up Mount Fuji flanked by projection screens and large-format images in a walking simulation. There, they experience the seasons as well as the rituals of the pilgrims, for whom hiking to the summit is still a spiritual act today.

Die Shiraito Wasserfälle werden aus dem Wasser des Mount Fuji gespeist / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Shiraito Waterfalls are fed by the waters of Mount Fuji / © Photo: Georg Berg

Soba, sake, satoyama – typically Japanese

Translated, Satoyama means the area between mountain foothills and farmlands. They represent a typical Japanese landscape. Mountains, hills and mountain ranges are abundant in Japan and so is a lot of satoyama. On the way to the village of Yuno, just a few kilometers north of Fujinomiya, we pass the Shiraito Waterfalls. The waterfalls, which are also a World Heritage Site, are fed by the meltwater of Mount Fuji. Here, in miniature, one can discover much that is typically Japanese. Arriving in Yuno, we continue by bicycle. It goes through a fertile and agricultural area at the foot of Mount Fuji. The river Shiba supplies the rice fields around the village with water.

Mit dem Rad unterwegs, vorbei an Bewässerungskanälen für die Felder, auf denen Reis und Buchweizen wächst. Japaner nennen diese Landschaft zwischen Berg und Acker Satoyama / © Foto: Georg Berg
We cycle past irrigation canals for the fields where rice and buckwheat grow. Japanese call this landscape between mountain and field Satoyama / © Photo: Georg Berg

Soba – crazy about noodles

You think you know the typical Japanese food. Rice, of course, always and with everything. But the Japanese are just as crazy about noodles. There are udon noodles, thicker wheat noodles, there are ramen, thinner noodles made of wheat, originally from China and there are soba, typical Japanese noodles made of buckwheat flour. They are grayish in color and taste slightly nutty.

In Japan, you always come across people who devote their entire lives to one particular activity. A life without this one passion seems inconceivable and is also not intended. They continue to contribute and pass on their skills well into old age. We have such an encounter with Sumiko Sano. 85 years old, very friendly, hunched by age and very determined in her instructions when preparing soba noodles.

Mit dem langen Nudelholz wird der Sobateig zu einem dünnen Quadrat ausgerollt / © Foto: Georg Berg
The long rolling pin is used to roll out the soba dough into a thin square / © Photo: Georg Berg

A life for a craft

Sumiko Sano has been running a small restaurant in the village for 28 years. She took over the restaurant management from a lady who was also very old at the time. She is currently assisted by two women who are about twenty years younger and ready to take over the title and task in the near future. It has been like this here for generations. More precisely, for 19 generations and about 400 years, Sumiko Sano’s family has been growing buckwheat. Soba, or buckwheat, is harvested twice a year at the foot of Mount Fuji. Sumiko cooks the noodles of the same name in the water of the sacred mountain.

Sumiko Sano zeigt wie dick die Nudeln werden sollen. Was das Foto nicht verrät, ist die Geschwindigkeit, mit der das Messer durch den Teig fährt / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sumiko Sano shows how thick the noodles should be. What the photo does not reveal is the speed at which the knife passes through the dough / © Photo: Georg Berg

Mastering the production of soba noodles requires more than three years of training. It involves the composition of the buckwheat grains, whether or not some wheat flour is added, the quality of the water, the kneading technique and, most importantly, the thickness that the hand-cut dough should later have and how often the noodles are still rinsed with clear water after cooking.

Sobanudeln bereit für den Kochtopf. Dass hier auch eine ungelernte Kraft am Werk war, sieht man an den zum Teil viel zu dicken Streifen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Soba noodles ready for the cooking pot. The fact that an unskilled worker was also at work here can be seen from the strips, some of which are much too thick / © Photo: Georg Berg

Soba noodles boil for three to four minutes and are boiled a total of three times. With a ladle, they are put back into cold water and boiled again. At the end, they are rinsed at least three more times with plenty of water. Sumiko Sano walks quite briskly through the long thin soba noodles with her hands spread like a big fork.

Buchweizennudel Produktion. Mit gespreizten Fingern fährt Sumiko Sano durch die dünnen Soba Nudeln. Sie sollen auf keinen Fall kleben / © Foto: Georg Berg
Buckwheat noodle production. Sumiko Sano runs her fingers through the thin soba noodles. They should not stick under any circumstances / © Photo: Georg Berg

The grayish, slightly nutty-tasting noodles are served together with a broth. Depending on the season, the broth is either hot or cold and consists of dashi, dark soy sauce, mirin and some sugar. Soba noodles are eaten with chopsticks. And they should definitely be slurped loudly audibly. The strong suction of determined slurping allows enough broth to enter the mouth while eating. Scent and aroma can develop better this way. In addition, the sound, which has been banned from the dining table in Europe, is a clear signal to the cook that the food is delicious.

Die Welt zu Gast im Dorf: Am Ende des Kochworkshops dürfen die Teilnehmer noch einen Pin in der Weltkarte verankern / © Foto: Georg Berg
The world as a guest in the village: At the end of the cooking workshop, the participants are allowed to place a pin on the world map / © Photo: Georg Berg

Sake or “swords to plowshares”

With a good portion of soba noodles in the belly, we get on the bike and continue to a nearby sake brewery. There are sake breweries all over the country. A tasting of the products made there is usually offered around the year. Production consists of a two-step fermentation process. Polished rice, water, koji mushroom and yeast, these ingredients are used to create sake. At the Fuji Nishiki sake brewery, founded in 1688 and now in its 18th generation of family ownership, the boss leads us to the huge steel tanks. True to the motto “swords to plowshares,” the green giants were made from the sheet metal of warships after the end of World War II. A successful repurposing in times of need.

Die grünen Tanks für die Sake-Produktion waren früher Kriegsschiffe der japanischen Marine / © Foto: Georg Berg
The green tanks for sake production used to be warships of the Japanese Navy / © Photo: Georg Berg

Overnight stay in a Japanese vacation home. The Goten is laid out with tatami mats in the living and sleeping areas. The decor is Japanese stripped back with select decorative elements in the alcove, it has two bedrooms as well as two bathrooms and a kitchenette.

Ein ruhiger Weg führt in der Stadt Fujinomia zur typischen Unterkunft / © Foto: Georg Berg
A quiet path leads to the typical accommodation in the town of Fujinomia / © Photo: Georg Berg

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The stay in the prefecture was supported in part by the Shizuoka Tourism Association

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