If you head into the mountains of Matsudai in mid-winter you can take part in a snowshoe tour with a difference. There is a section of forest with an abundance of maple trees, and if nature gives you maples, make syrup!
The first part of the tour involves strapping on some snowshoes and heading into the forest. As you go, you can see some trees that have already been tapped to collect maple water. We stroll through the snow gathering the surprisingly large amount of maple water that has run into the containers since the previous day. The local guide fills you in on some of the nature and history knowledge of the region, pointing out animal tracks and unusual plants. One of these is kuromoji, which has an amazing aroma, and is being researched for its health properties. A bit further into the forest we tap a new tree and can see the maple water start to drip out of the hole that has been drilled into the tree. Apparently it only flows during cold periods and is part of the trees' defenses against freezing.
With a full container of maple water, and after a brief stop to take some photos of the winter scenery, we loop back around to the camp where bbqs and chairs have been set up on a look out point. The maple water is put on the stove to boil down to syrup, and our next task is chopping wood for the fire. Once the fires are going it is time to make pancakes from locally milled rice flower. We have varying success with the quality of our pancakes but it is lots of fun, and having built up an appetite with the snowshoeing, everyone is famished. Apples are baked in tinfoil, and of course there is freshly made maple syrup to accompany our efforts. The guides have also prepared a stew made from locally grown vegetables, and there is coffee, kuromoji tea, and home-made cheese cake to finish off the feast. It is all delicious, and enjoyed in the sunshine overlooking the valley.
This is wonderful activity and a great use of half a day. It takes place in winter, and the company that run the maple syrup making snowshoe tour can offer a shuttle service from Matsudai Station so it is possible to get here no matter where you are staying in Yukiguni. There also have some summer activity options if you are in the area.