COLUMN: Springtime and ramen in Toyokoro

Facebook posts are abundant with pictures of blossoming cherry trees and special foods

Melting snow. Muddy fields. Neko yanagi, which translates as cat willow.

Every once in a while, a direct translation makes perfect sense to me, and I found some broken branches on the ground which I took home and put in jars.

During my Okanagan childhood, pussy willows were always the first sign that spring would really arrive.

Several of my language teaching colleagues have managed their vacation days so that they can spend these two weeks before the start of the new school year touring the main island.

Facebook posts are abundant with pictures of blossoming cherry trees and whichever special foods their destination is known for: udon (thick noodles in broth), seared bonito (dark fleshed tuna), takoyaki (fried batter balls around octopus).

Meanwhile, I am watching the last (I hope) of the snow melt and saving my remaining vacation days for when Summerland friends arrive at the end of April.

That should be cherry blossom season on Hokkaido and, just to be sure of spring, we will start our adventure by heading for Hakodate, the southernmost city on this northern island.

The star-shaped Goryokaku Park will be in full bloom, yet we might be in time to see Japanese monkeys warming themselves with a soak in the hot springs at the Tropical Botanical Garden.

Hakodate is famous for fresh seafood and salt (shio) ramen. Shio refers to the kind of broth that the ramen noodles are served in.

When the junior high students compose surveys to practice their English, one group always asks, “What is your favourite ramen? Shio (salt), Shoyu (soy sauce), or Miso (a paste made from fermented soybeans, grains and sometimes fungi)?”

Shio is the original and most basic type of broth. I usually find the shoyu broth a bit too salty and strong for my tastes, but I have come to appreciate miso soup in many combinations.

My only experience with shio ramen has been as part of hot lunch at the schools, so I am looking forward to tasting it in a city restaurant where it is considered a famous treat.

Of course, the quality of noodles is important too. Good ramen has little in common with the instant cup o’ soup style noodles that North American students are known to rely upon.

The Toyokoro Junior High School Grade 9 students take their class trip to Hakodate in April each year, so I will be sure to get their recommendations of all that my friends and I should see, do, and especially eat.

Janet Jory is in Summerland’s sister city of Toyokoro, Japan as the assistant English teacher.

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