Day 5: Into the Woods

Today we said goodbye to the families that ran the minshuku Japanese-style inns.  We only knew them for a single night, but I felt so comfortable and welcome, as if I had been there for weeks.  We were treated to a Japanese breakfast in the morning, along with an impressive blanket of snow from the night before.  The landscape was absolutely gorgeous.

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The wife of the Yoshinoya Family Head.  Can you believe Obaa-san is 104 years old?
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Snowman!
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Yoshinoya no Ojii-san and Obaa-san.

Our experience with the landscape would only grow as we made our way from the minshuku, deep into the Kutsuki Forest.  The forest is filled with indigenous plants and animals, though most of them are hidden away until the spring comes.  We were brought to the visitors’ center in the middle of the woods, where we were split into 2 different groups.  One group would go out for a guided tour of the grounds, while the other would stay inside the center and make their own pairs of chopsticks.

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This tree was planted by the groundskeeper 30 years ago.
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Nina and I just had to make snow angels!

My group took the forest walk first.  The snow had piled up into a good 5-inch blanket, but that didn’t deter us from walking around.  Our guide showed us around the grounds, which used to be rice paddies before the forest reclaimed it.  The area is a popular area for campers during the warmer months.

On the other side of the grounds, an international garden of trees stood.  The groundskeeper said he goes to the city every year to find new trees to plant.  He has been working in the forest for more than 30 years!  Most of the trees on the grounds were planted by him.

After our walk, we returned to the visitors’ center and swapped places with the other group.  In the main hall, we were given sticks of Japanese Cypress to make our own chopsticks (o-hashi) out of.

Using a wooden apparatus, we shaved away at the sticks until our chopsticks formed.  After this, we sanded them until they were smooth, then wrote on them with soldering irons.

To finish the process, the sticks were covered in a coat of sesame oil to prevent moisture from getting soaked into the wood.  We’ll have to reapply oil to the wood every 2 weeks or so for maximum life expectancy.

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We got to keep the shavings too.  Apparently, the Japanese Cypress’ wood is good for its aroma as well.

After Kutsuki Forest, we bid farewell to the groundskeepers and staff, then hopped on the bus back to Kyoto.  There we’ll be prepping our presentations for the Japanese Ministry to share our findings and our action plans moving forward after the program ends and we return home.

Tomorrow is our last full day here.  Here’s to making the most of it!

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