Exploring the Charms of Uwajima: A Journey into Tradition and Delicacy
A Serendipitous Invitation to Uwajima
On a warm summer evening in Osaka, as gentle rain falls, Naoki Inoue and I receive a fortuitous invitation to his cousin's dinner party. Little did we know that this casual gathering would ignite our curiosity and lead us on an extraordinary adventure to the enchanting town of Uwajima.
During the dinner, Inoue's sister-in-law, Ichikawa, shares stories of her hometown delicacy called "To-manju." The mere mention of this local treat instantly captivates our imaginations, and I find myself wondering about its possible Chinese origins, evoking images of the illustrious Tang Dynasty. Sensing our intrigue, Ichikawa enthusiastically suggests that we embark on a journey to Uwajima to unlock the secrets behind this delectable pastry.
Embracing Warmth and Hospitality in Uwajima
Fueled by curiosity, we bid farewell to Osaka and embark on a long yet rewarding journey to Uwajima. Finally, at 3pm on Saturday, June 17th, we arrive at Ichikawa's family home located near the picturesque town. Stepping foot inside, we are immediately enveloped in the genuine warmth and hospitality that Uwajima is renowned for.
Welcomed by Yokobata Toshikazu, Ichikawa's father, we quickly realize that our visit is about much more than indulging in To-manju. Yokobata, a retired station master for the Shinkansen bullet train in Kobe, has now found solace in organic farming back in his hometown. As we sit down, Yokobata's wife graciously serves us refreshing green tea alongside a platter of freshly baked To-manju, lovingly handmade by the talented women of the community.
Unveiling Uwajima's Treasures and Traditions
Inspired by the flavors and history intertwined within each bite of the To-manju, our curiosity grows stronger. Yokobata, sensing our eagerness to learn, takes us on an immersive tour of his DIY organic rice paddies, a testament to his passion for sustainable agriculture.
Amidst the tranquil landscape of the rice fields, Yokobata reveals the secrets behind their success. From utilizing chicken manure as organic fertilizer to incorporating mineral solutions that enhance the soil's microbiota, every step is meticulously crafted. The result is rice with robust roots and grains bursting with flavor.
As we meander through the fields, Yokobata shares about a heartwarming annual event. During the harvest, white cranes gracefully follow the threshers, taking the opportunity to feast on frogs and snails inadvertently disturbed by the machinery. This beautiful symbiotic relationship between humans and nature showcases the harmony and respect deeply ingrained in Uwajima's agricultural community.
In retirement, Yokobata also operates a nostalgic sightseeing train along the Yotsu line, affectionately known as "Japan's Slowest Shinkansen Bullet Train." This leisurely journey attracts travelers seeking respite from the frenetic pace of city life. It allows them to reconnect with the serene countryside of Uwajima, immerse themselves in its natural beauty, and rediscover inner peace.
Before bidding our farewells, we finally summon the courage to ask the question that had been lingering in our minds: where does the name To-manju originate? Yokobata's wife, with a smile, reveals that the pastry has its roots in Nagasaki, historically a window into China-Japan exchanges. She speculates that the name may indeed derive from the illustrious Tang Dynasty, adding an intriguing layer of history to this delightful delicacy.
As we reluctantly leave Uwajima, our hearts are filled with gratitude for the warmth, hospitality, and knowledge shared by Yokobata and his family. Our journey to unravel the secrets of To-manju has become a profound exploration of tradition, culinary marvels, and the enduring bond between man and nature. Join us as we continue to unearth the hidden gems that await in the corners of this captivating world.