So, where was I when we left off... oh yes, of course! We were speeding down the back roads in the bed of a little Japanese pickup truck, heading for this almost mythical place, Tadami Bansho.
We drove through picturesque mountain villages and then arrived in the town of Tadami. I was tired and wet, as well as cold and my head was throbbing from lack of sleep and who knows what else. The promise of a visit to an Onsen helped - I couldn't wait to warm up and eat something hot.
The area surrounding Bansho house was amazing... tiny roads, roaring rivers and old style roofs on many of the houses. Flowers and vegetable gardens were everywhere. It was clear that some people still grew a decent amount of their own food in these areas, and I loved the feeling I got from being immersed in this small-town mountain culture.
Sebata-San has some stickers and shirts that have a kind of cartoon character of him. I would LOVE to figure out where to get one of these stickers he had on his car...
Even though it was grey and misty out, and we had barely seen the sun the entire trip, there was beauty and intrigue all around.
Entering Tadami Bansho, we were shown around by the owner, who was nice enough to give us a real tour.
The main room was basically a large dining area with a nice traditional fire-pit in the center. Fish were drying above the fire, and the smoke drifts up throughout the house, having a kind of medicinal effect for the old wood beams and special traditional straw-style roof.
Side rooms for sleeping were mostly empty, save the pile of tatami mats and blankets in a corner closet, and the art on the walls.
We learned how the house had different levels and that different classes must remain at their appropriate levels. Servants had their own separate lower-level areas and entrances and the highest level, in the background, was the Samurai's room. Tadami Bansho is an ancient Samurai toll-house. The Samurai on duty would have had his own room and nobody else would have been allowed in uninvited, if at all. Additionally, there were separate doors only for the Samurai's use. Servants would have had to use the "regular" door.
Upstairs and hidden in the corner was a sort of "rape prevention room." You see, apparently it was common for travelers to sneak into homes in these remote areas and do completely inappropriate things with the local women. The Samurai would have given this upstairs room to his daughter, one with no easy lower level window access - to keep her safe from bandits, no-good travelers and any others who meant to impregnate her against her wishes. In turn, she could look down from a protected room; gazing from her private "window" into the main dining and receiving area in order to watch what was going on, giving her approval to the lucky few, and ignoring the rest...
Upstairs were some trinkets that were from times long ago, but interestingly a few of them seemed to still be in use... I wonder. There were snowshoes, baskets, backpacks, sleds, skis, hats and "snow coats..."
There were also a few more side rooms for guests... and all of these rooms are exactly as they would have been ages ago. But not just anyone can stay at Tadami Bansho. It is some kind of national historic landmark, and only friends of a few key old-timers seem to have access to booking this place, choosing only specific groups and events that they see fit for the space. I was honored to have been included.
A traditional sleeping setup on a tatami mat, below:
As you can see here, the smoke drifts up through the building and into the straw roof. There it helps to repel and kill any insects and mold that stand to speed up damage to the structure and the roof in any way.
Soon it was time for a party, and the other guests began to arrive. We assembled at the table and began to drink and eat all sorts of wonderful and strange foods from all over.
Water was boiled for Kotsuzake and tea, and everyone was in great spirits.
As we got to know each other as a group, the phones came out, photos and emails were exchanged, and the liquor and sake began to flow faster and faster.
Here you can see the range of crazy/good items going around the table...
And below is Kotsuzake before being served. Kotsuzake is a process of smoking a fish carcass after you eat the fish, then pouring sake over it and serving it hot. It was delicious.
Adam-San and Sebata-San say "Kanpai!"
Okushi-San and his friend from Mito area were on my left, and Isaac Tait of Fallfish Tenkara blog is on my right.
I was glad to get to spend a little more time with Sebata-San at the dinner, who had been lurking mostly behind the scenes to make sure we were fed, happy, and got where we needed to go. What a guy. I hope to return soon and get to know him better.
We ate all sorts of strange things, two of which, below were my favorites - horse meat sashimi on top, and Inago, which are seasoned young grasshoppers. So good. I didn't expect that!
Isaac poses with some smoked fish he was gifted...
Soon everyone was feeling good and the Plum Wine was brought out. Kozue Sanbe-San made the best Plum Wine I've ever had. It was just outrageously good. Insanely good. Not something I even usually like. But the balance and acidity were pretty perfect.
Unexpectedly, a second group had arrived at Tadami Bansho and began to eat with us. They knew some of the people in our group, and it turns out it was the editor or ex-editor in chief of Keiryu Magazine. I was in the middle of a pretty insane gathering of experienced fishermen, and it was kind of crazy to look around and let it all sink in.
Someone convinced Sebata-San to let us watch his old videos. So, on VHS and a tiny old TV in the corner, everyone gathered around to watch the old tapes of Sebata-San's fishing adventures. And what adventures they were!! It is hard to explain what I saw, but let me just say I'm still in awe as I write this post today.
I took some photos of the images on the screen to remember... Sebata-San is an absolute BEAST at what he does! This guy would take a camera man up into the mountains, climb up waterfalls, tie rocks to ropes and throw them into the raging current to create anchor points... it was beyond insane. And so daring and inspiring all at the same time... We are talking 1970's, 80's 90's... doing things with cameras before digital, and with old school waterproofing technology... the weight of the camera gear... what a logistical nightmare! And yet here we were watching these videos. I felt like I had gone back in time for a moment.
The isolated and remote pools he fished, and the danger these guys put themselves in to get there was staggering, but they made it look easy. I hope we can work on getting the licensing for these videos for the USA, it would be absolutely incredible to be able to buy or download these videos here.
Above, Sebata-San swims across a calm area between two waterfalls in order to gain access to more fishing areas... you can see his hat above the water line. So we watched with intent and with great awe as we witnessed the capabilities of this modern Tenkara "pioneer" on some of his prime trips recorded on video. This was the best way to end the night, and one by one, well fed and having drank our fill, we all wandered off to a tatami mat and drifted off to sleep.
The next day we woke up and said goodbye to many of our new friends. This adventure was over, but I was pretty tired, beat up and ready to head back to civilization. I can't wait to return to this magical area and to visit my new friends again. There was some talk of Sebata-san trying to create a kind of "tenkara center" at Tadami Bansho. I hope this happens. Meanwhile, Adam-San, Ishii-San and I set off on the road together and headed back to Tokyo.
There is a little bit more to this trip still left unpublished, but for now I'll stop here. The final installment, a focus on Yamano-San's bamboo rod shop and his Edo Wazao will be another posts's worth of photos and writing on its own. Stay tuned...