Koiwai, the Disneyland of Dairy Farms in Japan
A Taste of Sunshine in Shizukuishi
Running across the open and perfectly manicured grass field, I was delighted that Koiwai Farms is not just about cows.
We were there on a business trip trying to help the town of Shizukuishi uncover jewels of interest for visiting international guests. Let me tell you, there were plenty.
My partner’s surprise showed blush under his ruddy skin as I slipped off my business pumps and took off running in stockinged feet over the smooth, green grass to a large tree standing solo on a knoll bordering the field’s far rim. “Just five minutes” our guide called and I knew I had to hug that tree quickly if I wanted to make it back in time to treat myself to soft vanilla ice cream made fresh from healthy milk produced on the farm each day.
Nearing the tour bus as sweet, white cream dripped onto the stone sidewalk and my clothes, I felt a kind of warmth resonate from our guide. Her eyes twinkled as we exchanged greetings; I wiped a drop of cream from my lapel, and stepped up into the vehicle. Our guide’s traditional Shizukuishi farm girl garb told of a simpler, quieter time in Japan’s past where those in the countryside worked hard on their fields, their community bonds and to maintain their proud and unique heritage.
We drove through the sprawling green property and she pointed out perfectly kept buildings the farm’s founding in 1891, that currently housed a day care center and office space for Koiwai employees, the first refrigeration facility in Japan and of course the beautifully kept matrons of the farm, the Holstein cows. I found myself nodding in understanding and agreement when she explained the Holsteins were brought here during the Meiji Restoration in a push to take the Japanese physique to new heights. Dairy products made headway into school lunch menus and on to kotatsu tables in the Japanese home to put height and weight on kids preparing to excel in a globalized world.
The success of this drive is obvious now, as I can clearly see my 5 foot 2 height going from tall to average to short on the commuter train I’ve used since arriving here in 1988. Now, I feel no different in Japan than I do back home in the U.S., basically, I feel short in both places now.
The President of Mitsubishi, Yanosuke Iwasaki, the Minister of the Railroad Masaru Inoue, and the Vice President of Japan Railways, Gishin Ono, were the three men who put up the funds to found Koiwai Farm and each of their names, their Chinese Character, is represented in Ko-Iwa-I.
Delicious, Carefully Made and Healthy Ice Cream, Yoghurt and Milk to Begin With
Take a peek at any milk, yoghurt or cheese section in grocery stores across Japan and you are sure to notice the Koiwai name. After visiting this farm and seeing exactly how much effort is put into maintaining utmost hygiene, the high standards of its proud past and of utmost importance, the look of joy and satisfaction on the cows in the barn, I am sure every time I wonder which brand to choose, I am pretty confident it will be Koiwai.
On our way back from the Farm, we stopped by a beautiful viewpoint showing Mt. Iwate as a backdrop to a huge, round Sakura (Cherry Blossom) tree in the middle of a open, perfectly verdant expanse. Ippon Zakura is a favorite photo op for visitors at any time of the year since the sunlight, clouds, drizzling rain or powerful wind give each snap a unique quality that will never again appear with the same nuance or touch.
Our Minshuku host later showed us his personal collection of Ippon Zakura shots. One was a sunrise mid-Winter, the tree heavy with snow and Mt. Iwate shining white in the distance. The other was twilight in spring as a setting sun adorned the tree, itself aglow in pink blossoms, with golden light and Mt. Iwate stood watch, regal and green.
Shizukuishi with its quiet, meandering roads, and deep green forests, was to my mind the equivalent of a sweet, Japanese Middle Earth. At once jovial, healthy, rich in sunshine and steeped in history.
This is one of few localities in Japan to have certified local sake. Residents here are able to produce and sell the deliciously warming brew. We witnessed our brewer carefully sift through steaming rice and concoct different versions of the heady liquid in a secret process passed down through generations.
Rose red and snow-white versions of the mead were served at lunch along with fresh cabbage, cucumbers and eggplant pulled from the garden that morning.
Excellent Food, Drink and Friends in Shizukuishi
After my pleasantly relaxing and unencumbered three days in Shizukuishi, I would suggest the following tour plan for those of you who want to let the sunshine seep into your soul, enjoy the fresh fare and get a taste of that unequaled dairy milk ice cream.
Arrive in the evening by Akita Shinkansen and head to your Japanese Inn for a relaxing bath in the hot spring and a full course dinner of fresh fish, rice, vegetables and meat. Obviously, you need to eat after the bath, on the sweet smelling tatami mats in your room and robed in the freshly pressed Yukata kimono.
Wake up early for a stroll on the quiet, green-lined road for an hour or so. Wandering is definitely recommended.
- Breakfast at the Inn featuring eggs, fish, Miso soup, rice and fresh fruit.
Visit one of the local farmers to have a Hatake Taiken (Farm Experience). You wont know what she is saying, but hand motions, smiles and bites of freshly picked, sun-drenched cucumbers will be all the conversation necessary.
Evening visit to the Ippon Sakura (tree) location to end your day: maybe by bicycle? Take a photo, breathe in the clean air and wonder at majestic Mt. Iwate.
Return for Dinner to your Inn, sleep on the soft futon after a slow bath in the hot spring and a shiatsu pressure point massage you can have in your room.
Wake up for breakfast and then head over to a full day at the Koiwai Farm.
Explore the history and beauty of this place, take your time to learn and pick up a few dairy product gifts on your way back.
Leave from the station in the evening to get back home to wherever you are based for your visit to Japan.
Well, there you have it, your three-day experience in a unique, quiet and wholly refreshing Shizukuishi. As you arrive back to the busyness of the “real world” make sure to peek inside your pocket. You just might see a remnant of sunshine gold from your glowing time in the country.
Former Deep Japan Writer