For the last few days we’ve been in the countryside, and last night, stayed in a traditional inn. Two jovial women served us a seemingly endless feast around indoor cooking pits, and then the men and women in our group settled into our respective communal baths, fed by hot springs, the rushing of the river below. Steamy and soft and sleepy, I retired to my futon in a tatami-lined room overlooking a pond, feeling like my Japanese aunties loved me and were keeping watch until I would wake up early for another day of wonder.
Eight of us are here as the guests of the Japanese government’s trade organization. In 10 days, we are taking a crash course in food, culture and products. It is JETRO’s hope that as journalists, we will promote the places we visit, which is somewhat of a challenge as most of the products aren’t available in the US market. Each day lasts about 17 hours … we have visits to sake distilleries and miso outfits and biodynamic farms and microbreweries and out of the way restaurants. In between learning, we eat. A lot. Long, languid, impeccably designed meals. We sleep hard and get on the bus early to do another round.