Foraging Through the Countryside

In the vast concrete jungle of Tokyo, it's easy for me to feel disconnected from nature and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Even though the city has some beautiful parks, gardens and riverside promenades to offer, it feels good to get out of the city entirely and experience wild Japanese nature. So I was delighted when the chance presented itself to join a hiking group that would take me foraging out to the southern tip of Kanagawa prefecture.

Easy hiking trails in Iriuda -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
Sitting on the train towards Odawara station I was amazed at how quickly the seemingly endless rows of city houses melted away and gave way to vast fields of green and little farm villages. What a wonderful sight for sore eyes! Odawara station itself is a transit hub with different lines ending and beginning there. Although it's not very big, it is quite busy and there are lots of little shops as well as an adjacent mall with cafes and a lovely rooftop terrace.

Meeting up with the hiking group at Odawara Station -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
After meeting up with the hiking group we boarded the Hakone Tozan line and after about 15 minutes arrived at the sleepy little town of Iriuda. Its station is tiny with only one exit and you won't find any ticket gates here, just a station agent, who will either take your ticket or show you to a pole with an IC card reader for your Suica or Pasmo. A convenience store is also nowhere to be found here and the station's vending machine is the only functional one for miles.
From here the hiking group entered the heavily wooded area of Chokozan Hill on the Southwestern side of the station. Our goal was to find edible plants along our hike and cook them in a camping cooker with some other ingredients that our guide, Rodger, brought with him. It was exciting to learn about all of the edible plants you can find just on the side of the road, how to prepare them and which healthy properties they have.

The winding road up Chokozan Hill -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss

Beautiful woods on our hiking trip around Iriuda -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
We spent almost three hours on the hill stopping at nearly every bend in the road to forage for herbs and greens and to enjoy being out in nature. Rodger took us on a route that led us by the Inaba Family Tomb, the final resting place of one of the most influential families of the region during the Edo period. Stopping just above the Chokozan Weeping Cherry Tree, a large tree famous for its beautiful cherry blossoms in April, we all sat down to enjoy our lunches and cook up something with the herbs and plants we had gathered. Rodger had brought some cooked rice and salt and turned our findings into a tasty Okayu, Japanese rice porridge.

Our hiking guide explaining edible plants to the group -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss

Lots of stairs lead to the Inaba Family Tomb -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
From there our tour led us back towards Iriuda station passing the Chokozan Shotai-ji Temple on the way, which is connected to the Inaba family and was first erected in Odawara in the Edo period, then moved to its current location in the 19th century. Rodger took us across the station to the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Natural History where we continued our educational tour and learned all about the flora and fauna of the area, past and present. Their extensive exhibit with rock formations and minerals thousands of years old and hundreds of taxidermied animals truly impressed me as a great place for kids to learn all there is to know about the planet we live on.

Our last stop was the Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum & Shops (also called Suzuhiro Kamaboko no Sato or The Home of Suzuhiro's Kamaboko) just a short walk along the tracks back towards Odawara at Kazamatsuri station. Kamaboko is Japanese fish cake and here we were able to see what exactly it's made of and how it's produced. Unfortunately, due to the nature of this trip we weren't able to make a reservation for the Kamaboko class where one gets to make their very own fish cake, so instead we bought some at the shops and sat down with a glass of the locally brewed beer before heading back to Tokyo.

Fried Kamaboko at the Suzuhiro Kamaboko Shops -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
I must say, as someone who works at a computer nearly every day, getting away from my desk felt great! The train ride out of town, the hike through the forest on Chokozan Hill and the two educational spots at the end of this guided tour were a wonderful experience and brought relaxation to all of my senses and refreshed my mind.

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Jennifer Weiss