Tour Day Three! farm fresh in Tohoku

Tour Day Three! farm fresh in Tohoku
Tour Day Three! farm fresh in Tohoku

We bid Hokkaido a regretful farewell on Wednesday morning, consoled only by the promise of our next destination: Tohoku, the northeastern stretch of the island home to Tokyo and Kyoto. In the airport before our flight, I spotted a familiar front on a banner welcoming guests: the Sapporo beer garden from the night before! I laughed at this confirmation that our guides had selected the best of Japanese dining for the tour.

Today we anticipated our first encounter with the four-legged variety of agriculture at Koimai Farm. Over a century ago in 1891, its founders transformed a barren volcanic valley into flourishing fields and forests. Though the site regularly opens its doors to visitors for pony rides and BBQ grilling, we were invited behind the scenes to meet the stars of the show.

The farm resides under the benign shadow of a volcano, which winked at us that morning through a descending snow cloud. An ancient cherry tree flourishes on the grounds, not far from the schoolhouse where our host had studied as a girl.

For a luscious lunch, we grilled our own halloumi on the tabletops, then dug into beef bowls. After downing mini-jugs of fresh milk, we met the celebrities responsible for the feast: a demure, shiny-coated herd of dairy cows.

A camera crew for the local news channel tracked us to the cafe, where the creamy soft serve made a dream of sugar cones; and the souvenir shop, where I made a friend of their adorable plushies.

For dinner, our hosts at the Azumaya Soba Shop challenged us to their infamous noodle-eating competition.

The deceptively mild-mannered waitresses fill and refill your bowl, mercilessly stacking up the soba, impervious to your cries for relief, until you recall that the key lies in the lid.

Slap it over your dish at the right moment, and they will spare you another helping.

One of our travel agents demonstrated, effortlessly plowing through a mountain of palm-sized portions. Fifteen bite-sized bowls add up to a regular serving, and I topped out somewhere below thirty, but a solid contingent of us broke into the hundred bowls club.

They all received prize certificates and undying glory.

Midway through our foodist adventure, everyone hailed the early evening with grateful hearts, retiring to our hotel as snowflakes dusted the streets

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