Ok, I’ll be the first to admit, whenever someone tries to preach to me on the merits of organic farming and using organic produce, I get quite skeptical.
I always assumed that “going organic” was just another one of these faddy trends, and somewhat sad throwbacks to the long since extinct rebellious hippy culture of the 1960s.
However, on a recent weekend break, I think it’s fair to say, I had my eyes opened. In all honesty, I doubt I would ever have paid for the privilege of visiting an organic farm. However, if there’s one thing I have learned in life, it is “never say no to a freebie!” So, when an old friend of mine contacted me to say that she was too busy to take advantage of the pair of tickets to a countryside retreat she had one in a prize draw, I graciously accepted when she kindly offered them to me. So along with my companion, (who in addition to being an exceptionally attractive young lady also has the added attribute of being able to drive a car!) we set off for this “Organic Farming Retreat”.
“I think this whole organic thing is nonsense,” I told my lady friend, “but hey, it’ll be nice to spend a weekend away from the busy city for a change.”
My companion, who is, like many career women in Japan, grossly over-worked, wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment. “I’d keep an open mind about this organic stuff though,” she added. “Some of my friends say it’s really good for you.” I remained unconvinced, but since she was the one driving the car, I nodded in agreement.
In all, it took us about 4 hours, driving from Osaka, to reach “Eleven Village”, the guesthouse where we would be staying. The scenery was stunning. Located in the mountainous regions of northwestern Okayama Prefecture, Eleven Village is about one hour from Takahashi City in one direction and about 45 minutes from Niimi City in the other. Getting there without a car is possible, but with the bus service from JR Takahashi Station only running about 3 or 4 times per day, it’s infinitely easier to find if you have a car.
I have to say as well, the coastal highway from Osaka down to Okayama City makes for some beautiful scenery and the smooth roads and free-flowing traffic make things a lot less stressful for drivers too. The mountain roads linking Niimi with the village however are another story. Long, blind curves, single track roads, not to mention some rather “eccentric” approaches to signaling, breaking and turning from some of the local area’s elderly drivers, makes for what is at times a somewhat scary experience. However, once you remove your heart from your mouth, the scenery of beautiful mountains, bamboo forests and gorgeous rivers that accentuate the countryside backdrop are guaranteed to warm your heart.
Photo: Takashi Matsumoto on FlickrWe arrived about 4pm in the afternoon, just in time to see the moon rise. It was undoubtedly one of the clearest and brightest moons I had seen in a long time, owing in no small part to the almost complete absence of light pollution in such a rural setting. What made this moon rise all the more spectacular was the fact that it wasn’t due to get dark for another 2 or 3 hours! There’s something inescapably romantic about watching a stunning sunset whilst the moon is already visible in the dimming sky. The sunset brought out the amateur astronomer in me too, as I took great pleasure in pointing out to my colleague the bright stars she saw in the sky that were in fact Mars, Jupiter and Saturn respectively. To her credit, she did a good job of appearing at least slightly interested in my inane ramblings. I may be passionate about science and space, but I am no Neil De Grasse Tyson!
Now, onto the proverbial elephant in the room: the organic food.
Our hosts offered us some delicious rice balls and their own specially homemade soup upon arrival. I quipped to my friend “This is like the miso soup I used to get at school, except, this is actually delicious!” Indeed, the use of fresh locally grown and organically farmed produce really enhanced the flavour of what did, on the face of it, seem like rather plain fare.
Photo: Takashi Matsumoto on FlickrThe story of Eleven Village really is quite a remarkable one. The owners are a young couple, originally from Osaka, who decided to relocate to the countryside in order to raise their child. What they have created is an absolutely amazing little guesthouse and accompanying small farm that is as beautiful as it is simple. Everything is sourced locally, using organic means. The local village also offers some wonderful hiking opportunities, as well as some beautiful, relaxing little cafes as well as several shops showcasing the local “Bengara” artworks. But more on that in a future post!
I was also able to sample some local cuisine at the local curry restaurant. The owner was a very friendly local gentleman, of somewhat eclectic tastes. On initial inspection it would be easy to dismiss the décor of his establishment as a cluttered mess. However, upon closer inspection, there is an assortment of fascinating little works of art, memorabilia and various other little trinkets. It’s one of those places where you get the feeling that every item has its own little story behind it.
The food was great too. We both opted for the “red and black curry”. It was two servings of curry, one a black spicy sauce with beef, the other a red and more tangy, buttery sauce with chicken, divided in the middle by a bed of fresh, and of course locally farmed, rice. It was delicious. And what better way to wash it down than with a bottle of another local delicacy, Fukuyama Cola. Despite previously living in Okayama for 2 years, this is the first time that I have had the pleasure of trying Fukuyama Cola, a unique drink that has, apparently, been around for almost 130 years!
Overall, my visit to Eleven Village was a wonderful, relaxing and enriching experience. I am no longer against the idea of organic foods, and I look forward to returning again soon.
Eleven Village official site: https://elevenvillgae.jimdo.com/