Today I was invited by my friend and local tour operator Kumiko Machida from 8TRIPS, to attend a tour of Imanari Pickle Shop in Muikamachi’s main shopping street.
I have been travelling from Australia to Japan since I was 12 years old and over the years have visited this cute shopping street many times but I have never seen this pickle shop and the incredible 250-year old building behind it.
To the right of the building is a laneway where I met up with the Kumiko’s big tour group from Malaysia. We were escorted down the laneway and into the ancient building by Imanari’s 3rd generation lady-of-the house; a most pleasant and lovely lady who showed us through to the pickling area.
The hallway is filled with many barrels of fermenting pickles:
Inside a room through a low, ancient doorway was perhaps, ‘Mr Pickles’, at his work inspecting the pickling barrels. He opened one up to show us. These pickles are made from winter melon, cut in half and then fermented in sake lees (the bi-product of sake production) since August 2017. At first sight it looks like miso, so he stripped off some sections of melon and offered us a taste: salty and aromatic, “Would be perfect with beer,” said one participant.
Kumiko explained that in the old days deep in the four months of winter, everything we need for sustenance must be inside the house, which is why pickle production has been a way of life in Snow Country for aeons.
The Imanari family came to the area from Kyoto around 780 years ago, and were originally merchants and couriers, in the days before roads when everything was transported by river. Some 500 years later, the first road was paved in the area and the Uono River ceased to be the major transportation route. The enterprising Imanari family then commenced their new business in pickle production (around 250 years ago).
This shed has been used by many ghosts of the past, and if you’re into such things, you may find some orbs in the next photo, which are said to be either flashes of the camera, or ancestral spirits overlooking our activities from the rafters of the pickling room…
We then had the privilege of seeing the Imanari’s private garden, covered in beautiful green moss…this is a garden in which to appreciate the simple beauty of nature. No stone is left unturned to show the garden in its natural state.
We were then invited into the 250-year old house which, as expected, demonstrates the perfection to be achieved in Japanese architecture and aesthetics.
Kumiko explained that the extraordinary entrance is large enough to accommodate the palanquin of the shogun when we came to stay in the old days.
We were treated to a variety sample of pickles served in Imari ware…and macha green tea…
I will be visiting Imanari Pickle Shop again soon and will likely be greated by fourth generation pickle shop owner, Yoko Imanari. Thankyou Machida-san for a really beautiful afternoon! I look forward to seeing you and your group next week at Uonuma no Sato (Hakkaisan Brewery) staff canteen for lunch.
Getting to Imanari Pickle Shop:
by train: Joetsu Line local train to Muikamachi Station. Take the east exit and walk down the main street to the intersection (you’ll see YukiGuni radio station on the corner). Continue east and turn right at the next crossing, which is Muikamachi shopping street. Cross to the other side and a few blocks down you’ll find the pickle shop on the left.
by car from Yuzawa: straight down Highway 17 /Mikuni Highway, you will arrive at the covered walkways of Muikamachi. Turn right at the lights (see FM YukiGuni radio station on the corner). Continue to next intersection and turn right again, pickle shop is on the left before the turn to Sakado castle ruins.
Check the YukiGuni Times Directory for Imanari Pickle Shop for the google map reference.