A Very Warm Winter in Koori

Only a one hour journey from Sendai, the town of Koori (桑折町) in the very north of Fukushima Prefecture is one of the hidden gems of the Tohoku region.

Whilst famous throughout Japan for its incredible peaches (we’re talking good enough for Japan’s Imperial Family), Koori has much to offer all year round, as we found out on a recent visit in early winter.

(Koori is accessible by the JR Tohoku line which connects to the Tohoku Shinkansen from either Fukushima or Sendai. Map sourced from Mapion)

Being early December, the weather was cold, the mountains were white, and we were rugged-up from head to toe in jackets and scarves. Little did we know we would soon be overwhelmed by the warmth of Koori’s locals – ‘welcome’ doesn’t even begin to describe how we felt as soon as we stepped off the bus…

Our local hosts were clearly very eager for our visit and we were excited to see what experiences they had in store for our first-ever visit to Koori. We were by no means disappointed! It was day full of amazing surprises that left us wondering why we hadn’t visited sooner.


A fusion of culture


Koori was once the centre-hub of Date county and boasts a fascinating history as the birthplace of the first generation of the Date clan. Echos of this history can be felt as you explore the streets of the town, but none more prominent than the former Date county office; a stunning two storey building featuring Japanese-Western fusion architecture, dating back to 1883. This architectural wonder was to be our first destination, but we had one very important job to do before we set out…become a beautiful fusion of culture ourselves!

We were incredibly lucky to have the chance to be professionally dressed in traditional Japanese kimono; a first-time for most of us.

Whisked into a beautiful tatami-room, our transformation began by choosing our favourite kimono from a range or gorgeous colours and patterns – we were spoiled for choice!

Once we were picture-perfect ready, we said goodbye to our new friends and took a wander down the street to the Former Date County Office.

From the outside you can see features such as glass-panel windows, stained-glass and veranda inspired by European architecture, coupled with Japanese-style roof-tiles and engraved decoration. Inside, we were shown how to recognise the original glass panels (many of which are still in place, despite past earthquakes) and other unique features such as a Japanese style hearth-oven hidden beneath wooden floor-boards and pine-flooring hand-engraved to mimic European brick-work.

To be honest, though, we were mostly preoccupied by taking pictures! Wearing a traditional kimono inside a European-style building was a very unique experience, and created the perfect atmosphere for some shameless selfies…!

A short walk away from the Former Country Date Office lies the beautiful historic Suwa Shrine, one of Koori’s spiritual centres and focus of various festivals throughout the year.

Here we got up close and personal with the infamous ‘Peach-stone’ of Koori – a large stone in the shape of a peach, said to bring you luck if you rub it the right way. Chinese characters for the 12 zodiac animals are written around the base of the peach. Find your zodiac animal to locate where to touch the peach for ultimate good fortune!

So…why is there a giant peach inside the shrine grounds?!


Life is Peachy


If you’re a fan of peaches (or delicious summer fruit in general), Koori is a must on your Japan bucket-list! Fukushima Prefecture itself is famous as Japan’s second largest producer of juicy, sweet peaches, but within the prefecture itself, Koori is a definite stand-out! The perfect flavour, shape and rich variety of peaches produced in Koori has earned national fame and selection as producer of peaches for the Japanese Imperial Family – 24 years running!

Winding through many of Koori’s peach orchards is the ‘Peach-line’, a road lined with hundreds and hundreds of peach trees. Whilst this time we had to use our imagination as we passed by the empty trees, we will be sure to come back in spring to experience the carpet of pink blossoms!

 

(Koori’s Peach Orchards, with Mt. Handa towering in the background. Mt. Handa is also a very popular spot for hiking, boasting a beautiful lake in the shape of a heart! Blossom pics sourced here)

We had to use our imagination, but we will DEFINITELY be back in Spring (late March to April).  

We had the pleasure of meeting one of Koori’s peach farmers and learning about their work throughout the winter. The fruit farmers spend the cooler months pruning back the trees to ensure the tastiest fruit will grow come summer. The orchard we visited had no less than 800 trees of around 15 different varieties, some of them producing up to 900 peaches each!!

Peaches are in season from late July through to September. If you’d like come to Koori and offer your peach-picking services for a juicy peach or two, I am sure you would be more than welcome (watch this space for more information)!

Whilst sadly we were unable to try the fruit itself, our hosts introduced us to some pretty amazing substitutes that enable visitors a taste of Koori’s peaches at any time of the year.

Introducing the new love of my life, ‘Momo-fuku’, or peach daifuku-mochi. Deliciously sweet and soft mochi rice-cake filled with white bean-paste, a piece of juicy peach-flesh and whipped cream! If heaven were a dumpling…

You can find these tasty mouthfuls of joy (194 yen each) at ‘Onoya handmade Japanese sweets’ (手作り菓子工房大野屋 ) , just a short amble from the Former Date County Office! Be sure to try their famous award-winning mini ‘anpan’ or red-bean buns while you are there!

And just when life couldn’t get peachy enough, enter Koori’s newest specialty product, peach sorbet! An incredibly smooth almost creamy in texture sorbet made from 75% peach juice! At the moment, these products are only sold in Koori, so you’ll just have to visit yourself for a taste.

The sorbet is available for 300 yen at the following locations: ‘Ubuka-no-sato‘ bath house, Onoya  (手作り菓子工房大野屋 ), liquor shop ‘Asahiya’ (リカーショップ旭屋), 7/11 along the Koori bypass, ‘Ponguri’ soba restaurant (そば処翻゜久里亭) and ‘Fresh Box’ local produce store (農産物直売所フレッシュBOX). You really shouldn’t leave without tracking this down, at least for the train-ride home!

If you would prefer a souvenir that lasts longer than these sweets (because let’s be honest, they won’t last long!), another peach-related activity is creating your own unique ‘Fuku-momo-chan’, or a traditional ‘Kokeshi’ doll, in the shape of a peach!

In the afternoon we visited the lovely ‘Kouson Craft Workshop’ (香村工芸) where the very kind Kokeshi enthusiast Mr. Sato opened his workshop especially for us to try painting our own Fuku-momo-chan! (Painting experiences are not usually open to the general public, however if there are at least two of you, and you are prepared enough to call two weeks in advance, they will make arrangements for you! See links below for details).

Mr. Sato began by explaining to us the significance of creating our own Fuku-momo-chan. The focus should be not on the design or artistic talent, but on the message behind it! Before we started working, he asked us to first decide who we were creating it for (whether it be ourselves, our family or friends, or the people of the world etc.) and what message we wished to convey to them. This, he emphasised, would determine the character of the face that we painted.

Well, the results were unique to say the least! Unbeknownst to us all, we were a team of creative geniuses just waiting to be unleashed…

We just hope the recipients of our peaches will appreciate the love and effort that went into making these beauties! It was a lot of fun, and nice to have something special and unique to take home with us as a memento of our trip.


Foodie Heaven


I wish the world’s population could visit Koori for a day, just to see and TASTE the real Fukushima. Despite negative stigma that continues to hamper recovery efforts of farmers and residents of Fukushima Prefecture, the food produced in Koori is completely safe, thoroughly tested and monitored, and just plain DELICIOUS!

For lunch, a ridiculously tasty and healthy bento-box lunch prepared by local mothers left our stomachs and hearts more than satisfied! A local non-profit organisation run by local women prepares home-cooked meals for elderly residents who are unable to cook for themselves. They also open to the public for lunch on Wednesday’s and Friday’s so anyone can drop-in and pay a very reasonable 500 yen for a share of whatever is on the menu that day. Chatting along with the ladies as we ate, it felt as though we had casually dropped into someone’s home for a cuppa with their Mum.

Lunch started with a hand-written note/menu on the lid of the box, and ended with some homemade apple-pie and coffee! Bliss.

Our final stop of the day was at another fruit orchard, this time specialising in the production of ‘Anpo-gaki’ – semi-dried/smoked Japanese persimmon! Whilst dried persimmon are a common winter snack all around Japan, Anpo-gaki are unique in their method of preparation which uses sulphur to achieve a much brighter colour and a softer, juicier texture. Koori’s Anpo-gaki are among the best you can find in Japan, selling for a tasty price in the swanky organic supermarkets of Tokyo.

We were shown around by the very friendly and charismatic Aihara-san who shared with us his stories and experience of being a fruit farmer in Fukushima.

He taught us all about the production process and a little about his experience of recovery after the disaster in 2011. After several years of slump, his business has gradually reached pre-disaster levels, but he hopes that it continues to grow as more and more people come to Fukushima to discover reality for themselves. Indeed, being there and experiencing everything first hand, it is distressing to think that so many people are missing out on a truly amazing, safe and beautiful part of the world.

Whilst these days the persimmon are peeled and prepared with the assistance of efficient machinery, we got to help out the old-fashioned way – by hand!! We each were given 8-10 persimmon to peel, string up and hang for drying (before being smoked). The whole process takes a little over a month, but Aihara-san will kindly send our finished products to us at the start of next year – another tasty piece of Fukushima to look forward to!

 

But our hard work did not go unrewarded! After hanging up our kaki for drying/smoking, out came a huge plate of ready-for-eating Anpo-gaki and boy were we ready-for-eating, too.

One delicious tip that we had the pleasure of testing was to eat them with a little bit of cream cheese – an unexpected combination made in heaven. Some of the workers had also made an original Tiramisu-style dish using the persimmon with marscapone cheese, cream and cocoa powder (really need to ask for that recipe come January)!

Our day trip to Koori was truly unforgettable – and we’ve only scratched the surface. We can’t wait to come back in each season to see what other experiences are in store, and to say hi to our new local friends!

Koori is conveniently located on the JR Tohoku line, connected to the Tohoku Shinkansen from either Fukushima City or Sendai City. Drop by for a taste of the real Fukushima and leave feeling satisfied of mind and stomach!


ACCESS INFORMATION


Koori Town is very convenient to access! It is serviced by JR Koori Station on the Tohoku line, which connects to the Tohoku Shinkansen from either Fukushima City or Sendai City.

A useful site for looking up relevant train routes and times can be found here: hyperdia

Former Date County Office

Open hours: 9:30am ~ 5pm (last entry 4:30pm, closed Mondays)

Entry: FREE

Address: 福島県伊達郡桑折町字陣屋12番地

Suwa Shrine

‘Hinatabakko’ (Local Bento Kitchen)

Open hours: 10:00~15:00(Wednesdays and Fridays only!!)

Price: Bento box menu of the day is available for 500 yen

Address: 福島県伊達郡桑折町字北町95

Phone:  NPO法人ささえ愛「ふらっと」 (NPO ‘Furatto’) 024‐582‐1550

Kouson Craft Workshop (香村工芸)

***Please note: painting experiences are not usually open to the general public, however if there are at least two of you, and you are prepared enough to call two weeks in advance, they will make arrangements for you! ***

Address: 桑折町大字万正寺字蛇屋敷1番地の1

Phone: 024-582-3722

Jess Hallams

About Jess Hallams

Born and raised in Australia, Jess has been living in Japan for the past four years. Whilst the cold winters are a struggle (!) she completely fell in love with Tohoku after moving to Fukushima prefecture to teach English in 2013. Having traveled to 18 countries (with a long list yet to get through) she knows the ins-and-outs of budget travel and what makes a memorable destination. She hopes to discover more off-the-beaten-track (read: inaka) destinations in Tohoku for those seeking a 'real Japan' experience.

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