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Tour de Nippon in Minami Aso

The Aso caldera is one of the largest volcanic features of its kind, measuring 25 km north to south, 18 km east to west, and 128 km in circumference. It stands in Aso Kujū National Park in Kumamoto Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu. Its peak is 1,592 metres above sea level. The valley is a global rarity home to fertile land, human communities, a national highway, and even a railway. Join us as we explore Minami Aso Village and experience the power of nature.


Taking from and giving back to the land

Yamamura Shuzo, founded in 1762, is the producer of the Reizan sake label that many people in Aso claim they “grew up with.” We have an appointment with the president, an engaging character and good storyteller and his son, the brewer. The president, Tadao Yamamura, takes us on a jaunty tour of the 160-year-old brewery, from the brick chimney serving as a community symbol to the ume plum, flowering cherry, orange flowering tea olive, and other trees that blossom in turn throughout the sake-making season. Together with the Toji (master brewer), Junpei, we make our way to a special barrel.

Awaiting us sipping freshly pressed sake is Kazuko Takashima. The farmer says she approached the brewery and presented her product for local production and consumption. She and fellow members of the Kita Iki-Iki Club employ pesticide, herbicide, and chemical fertilizer free natural cultivation methods to produce the Yamada Nishiki brand of sake rice, whose good yield and fine quality satisfied the Yamamuras. This was combined with the soft water of Aso that enables gentle fermentation, and the yeast and skill of the brewers at Yamamura Shuzo to create a miracle sake, the Junmai Ginjo grade Yama, first produced in 2015.

Azusa Nitta and Satoko Ezaki say they visited countless potential destinations before deciding to relocate to Minami Aso in 2011. Here, they opened Linne Food Lab and offer homemade dishes and ingredients that are gentle on the body. The partners organize open workshops for serving vegetarian meals once or twice a month, prepare boxed meals by reservation, and ship baked confectioneries and processed foods across Japan. Ms Nitta is in charge of rice, vegetables, and preserved foods, Ms. Ezaki of cooking meals and baking sweets. Together, they lead leisurely lives, going with the flow of the seasons of Aso.

As we are treated to a delicious boxed meal in the workshop beautifully expressing their passion, we form a happy connection with Kazuko, their mentor in rice production. All food producers in Minami Aso seem to lead fulfilling lives, and we discovered why: They take from and give back to the land.

*”Papersky Tour de Nippon in Aso” which was scheduled to be held on September 26(sat) and 27(sun) has been cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19. We are sorry about the inconvenience. Thank you for your understanding.

Papersky’s Tour de Nippon project is about finding the magic of Japan’s rural districts, their inhabitants, nature, culture and food. We travel to various prefectures and ride bicycles. Traveling via bicycle allows us a clean and healthy way to explore Japan’s rural areas.
Take a self guided tour of Papersky's Tour de Nippon in Minami Aso using the Strava route map and be sure to join the Papersky Club as well. You can sign up by searching ‘Papersky’ in the Explore menu ➡︎ Clubs section.
text | KaO photography | Akiko Yamaguchi