This is an article I hesitate writing because I want to be selfish. I do not want to share this place with anyone. I do not want hoardes of people coming -- it was crowded enough on the Monday we went, still within the cautious period of Covid-19 and despite its being located 2 kilometers deep into the forests of Agano. How much more crowded could this place be on the weekends and without a pandemic?
But our experience at this tea house was so spectacularly good it begs to be written about and shared.
I first learned about Asami Chaya from an NHK program featuring my coworker's bed and breakfast and made a mental note to visit as it was only roughly a 20 minute drive from where we live. The road, the same one that heads to Chichibu, was relatively straightforward until you get to the bridge to turn to Togo Park.
Before you get to Togo Park, you turn into a narrow winding uphill road that goes through the forests of Agano. The road is so narrow you wonder what to do should you meet a car coming down and whether one should be driving up at all. Also, how on earth could there be a restaurant in the middle of nowhere? It feels like the road goes on forever but thankfully there are several signs along the way telling you how much further you have to go.
But the road ends and there it is, Asami Chaya, a house that is over 160 years old (imagine that!). The house was opened as a tea house in 1932. Today, it is run by the third generation of the Asami family.
As we stepped inside, we gaped at gorgeous wood furnishings, the antiques scattered all over, and the open spacious layout of a traditional old country house. Seeing we had an infant, the staff led us to a semi-private room with glossy wood floors and provided us with extra cushions for the baby. I had to run my hands over the wood floors thinking of the people 160 years ago doing the same.
Typically, a place this beautiful serving handmade noodles would have an overpriced menu and snooty staff. Not Asami Chaya. The basic udon set was priced ¥650. We ordered cold udon with a meat dipping sauce ¥800, and the same cold udon with leeks and chicken balls ¥900, and upgraded each to a large serving of udon (¥150 for an upgrade). Our order was served to us by Shigeo Asami-san himself, a cheerful man who obviously loves what he does.
The udon was served in handcarved bamboo. The noodles were beautifully uneven and so long you could practically eat only one strand at a time. The noodles were perfectly firm to the bite and with the chewiness that you can find only in the highest quality udon. This is, without a doubt, the best udon I have ever had in my life.
It is a wonderful place to stop after a long hike. The drink and sweets menu is more extensive than the udon menu and includes several floats.
We rate this place five stars. I couldn't stay selfish. I had the moral responsibility to share a place this good with everyone.