It’s harvest time in Japan, and last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the sweet potato harvest (imo-hori) at a local farmer’s residence.

I rode my bike to the farmer’s house with a friend, and we were surprised to find a gathering of about 15 people already there, helping harvest the imo. The process was simple – just like digging potatoes back home, but the imo are much larger than typical potatoes, so care had to be taken not to pierce them deep in the soil.

We harvested eight crates of potatoes before the afternoon was over, and then headed to a local ryokan (traditional inn)  for a tea ceremony to close the harvest. It was my first “official” tea ceremony in Japan! My favorite part was the wagashi – beautifully prepared sweets that compliment the flavor of the macha and ease your palate into the bitterness of the tea. At this tea ceremony we were allowed to whisk our own macha if we so desired. Also my first time!

A local potter and his wife attended the tea ceremony and invited a group of us to an exhibition of locally-made quilts afterwards. The quilts were all made by hand, and were amazingly complex in design. I took fewer pictures than I might have liked, but we were in a hurry to see them all and didn’t stay long at any single exhibit.

That night I attended a sort of International Dinner to celebrate the sweet potato harvest and thank everyone that participated (including volunteers from Belgium, France, and all over Japan). The sweet potato farmer and his wife prepared several dishes from the potatoes we harvested earlier in the day, including daigakuimo (deep-fried sugar-coated sweet potatoes), imomochi (sweet potatoes in mochi), and stir-fried sweet potato stems. There was also beer, onigiri, and a pickle tray.

I biked home that night, warmed from the friends I had made and the beer I had consumed. My efforts were rewarded with a sack of sweet potatoes, and some sweet potato snacks: sweet potato fries and whole-boiled sweet potatoes. A delicious day.

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