Mr That Swamp was already hard at work when I turned up at his restaurant first thing in the morning.
‘I opened this place last year,’ he said. ‘But I’ve got another restaurant that I ran for thirty years before that – it’s been featured in newspapers and magazines, and I was on TV a couple of times. In actual fact, I first learned how to make soba from a video.'
There was a small, tidy kitchen at the back of the restaurant, where Mr That Swamp mixed buckwheat flour, wheat flour and water in a stainless-steel bowl.
After several minutes of kneading, he rolled out the dough with two long, thin rolling pins, and in the process turned an initially pizza-like disc into a square.
‘There are enough noodles in each batch for about ten portions, and I make three batches a day. Don’t tell anyone, but I actually use this gizmo to do the cutting instead of a proper soba knife.’
Out in the countryside the roads were lined with retractable wind-breaks like big Venetian blinds, presumably to prevent snow from drifting during the winter months. Wild deer flashed their fluffy white backsides as they scampered off into the woods, and I passed this sign promoting the Atsuma Town Strawberry Association.
'I lived in Tokyo for nine years,' said the waitress, Mrs Forest Field, 'and studied aroma and rifuré.'
‘Aroma? You mean you studied smells?’
‘No, no! Aroma is short for aromatherapy, and rifuré is short for reflexology. I taught people how to make afternoon tea as well. Then I moved back to Hokkaido to get married and help in the café. This is my mum.’ Mrs Forest Field’s mother appeared from the kitchen to say hello. ‘And my older sister bakes the cakes.’
‘I hope you don’t mind me asking,’ said Mrs Forest Field, ‘but is it true that everyone carries a gun in England?’ By way of illustration she brandished an imaginary automatic, cop-show style.
‘Ah, you must be thinking of America.'
‘We don't have many guns in Japan,' she said, 'but there’s a lot more crime than there used to be.'
Particularly around here, though, I couldn’t imagine there was so much as a cat stuck up a tree for the police to deal with, whether or not they carried automatics (the police that is, not the cats).