It’s no secret I will travel for good food. It’s even less of a secret that I will travel much faster if good food is coupled with spectacular views of Mt. Fuji. That was the main reason I hopped on shinkansen a few weeks ago to join a brand new food tour of Mt. Fuji offered by Arigato Japan. It was a perfect opportunity to not only indulge in the gastronomic delights of this region but also discover a new part of Japan which still remains off the radar of most tourists.
Located in Shizuoka Prefecture, the seemingly dormant city of Fujinomiya is nestled at the base of Mt. Fuji, boasts a history of 1000 years and has a lot to offer both visually and gastronomically. During the tour, I found out that the fresh clean mountain spring water from Mt. Fuji is the core of the food culture of the town resulting in food that is healthy and incredibly delicious. Some famous foods and ingredients from the area include soba (buckwheat noodles), yakisoba, green tea, nijimasu (rainbow trout), tofu, milk and other dairy products, wasabi, and sake. Will you believe it, we got to try almost all of these and then some. Three hours of the tour escaped like three minutes as we walked through different sights and made stops to try an abundance of local specialties.
Our day started at Mt. Fuji World Heritage Cultural Center which opened its door in December 2017 and aims to celebrate the mountain’s relatively recent status as a UNESCO site as well as highlight its symbolic value in the country. The architecture of this building made my jaw drop. Designed by famous architect Shigeru Ban, the exterior of the building is covered with a grid pattern made of Fuji cypress and takes the form of an inverted cone which, when reflected in the surrounding pool, takes the shape of Mount Fuji. The Center is equally impressive inside. Visitors are asked to follow the 193-meter spiraling slope that wraps around the cone and mimics the feeling of ascending the mountain itself. I particularly liked how the walls along the walkway project the video of the mountain trail simulating a climb up Mt. Fuji at every level. One of its highlights was the viewing deck on the top floor that allows for spectacular views of the nearby iconic mountain and the city. There is also a movie theatre and a variety of different exhibitions dotted throughout that pertain to the history, seismology and cultural significance of the mountain. In short, the Center provides a perfect space to understand and observe the importance of the mountain, renowned for its symmetry and serenity.
We then proceeded to a local hot-spot – an alley lined up with mom-and-pop spots cooking up a storm of all the local specialties. The smell of yakisoba, gyoza, and oden in the air was intoxicating. And once we were done indulging, we quenched our thirst with a fresh spring water from Mt. Fuji that spills out of the fountain right in the middle of the food court.
To walk off some of the delicious food we just devoured we proceeded to the main street of Fujinomiya where we visited some of the local shops and also tried a fish cake from a family-run spot that dates back to 1907! They have preserved the traditional techniques and use Mt. Fuji spring water to make fish cakes.
The tour then took us to the Fujisan Sengen Shrine which was established over 1000 years ago. The shrine prays to the god of Mt. Fuji for protection for families, crops, health and well being. Climbers have historically purified themselves at the spring water pond at this shrine before climbing Mt. Fuji. There are remarkable festivals held on the shrine grounds throughout the year including a horseback archery competition in May dating back to the Edo era, an autumn festival with parade floats and pageantry and sakura matsuri during the peak sakura season with 500 hundred cherry trees blooming every year. The vermilion shrine nestled in the shade of Mt. Fuji offers stunning views, especially on a clear day.
I also got my first goshuinchou – a special notebook in which you collect stamps from every temple or shrine you visit in Japan. It is a deeply rooted tradition in the history and culture of Japan and the notebook can be a wonderful and unique souvenir for you to take home. Let me know if you’d like me to write more about it. in a separate post.
But I digress. Somehow, by this time we managed to work up the second wave of appetite (must have been the fresh mountain air), just in time for our main meal of the day – soba lunch set. Upon entering this cozy family-run restaurant you realize nothing has really changed here since the Showa era when it was first opened in 1929. We were warmly welcomed by the grandmother of the family who served us green tea and took out orders.
The menu has a lot of enticing lunch sets on offer and we could pick a menu that appealed to us the most. I went with the soba and tempura set recommended to us by the guide and it was every bit as good as she promised. The buckwheat noodles were chewy and delicious, and I enjoyed all the accompanying sides like grilled pork, shrimp o-nigiri. I also had a major food envy as I saw the tempura included in a different lunch set (apologies in advance, the lighting in the restaurant was also from the Showa era, hence the greenish tint to the photos).
Even though we had more than enough food, I still managed to save some space for a dessert. Not only did we get a chance to try my favorite wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets), but also make it ourselves! Molding the intricate designs with just a wooden stick is no joke and requires a lot of effort and superb technique. This shop has been providing the town with their sweet treats since 1930’s. Our sensei for the day was the son of the owner, while I also spotted his mother busy hand-stapling labels on the packaged sweets.
We ended the day at the 60-year-old tea shop which specializes in Shizuoka matcha and sencha green teas. As we devoured our hand-made wagashi and drank the tea expertly brewed by the hostess, we chatted with the owner of the shop who was so curious to find out where we were from.
That day I left Fujinomiya with a smile on my face not only because of the sheer amount of delicious food I had consumed but also because I had a chance to meet quite a few wonderful families and learn about their family legacy proudly passed on from generation to generation. It was a beautiful experience that took us completely off the beaten path, away from the mainstream touristy restaurants and into the little mom-and-pop shops that have so much history. The scrumptious bowl of soba became even more special when I met the person who cooked it and learned the story behind their little restaurants. I loved how the tour married food and culture and introduced us to places that we would otherwise never be able to find. We had a chance to get a peek inside a few family businesses, support the local economy, and interact with the owners who treated us as their house guests. After all, isn’t it what makes travel experiences invaluable and unforgettable? Meeting new people and having interactions that educate us and enriche our lives.
Special thank you to Arigato Japan for inviting me to this tour.
PIN FOR LATER: