Duck below the blue curtain hanging in front of the entrance to Sou Sou, and you'll instantly feel as though you've stepped back in time.
Housed in one of the oldest buildings in Kaneyama, the interior of this traditional soba restaurant probably hasn't changed much over the past one hundred years. Walk down a corridor lined with shouji screens and admire an old jinrikisha (rickshaw) dating from the Meiji era, casually propped up to one side as though its owner has just paused for a short rest. Then take off your shoes, slide open the shouji and enter the dining area.
Sou Sou is run by Kazuyo Abe, who has worked there for eight years. The restaurant is a Kaneyama institution, visited by regulars and one-off customers alike. Kazuyo-san does the cooking, whilst her husband prepares the soba by hand. Soba is a popular Japanese noodle made from buckwheat flour. Nowadays, it is often made by machine, but handmade soba is considered higher quality as it is usually served immediately, when very fresh.
The menu is simple: there are just three variations of soba available. Ita soba comes cold on a bamboo tray known as a zaru, accompanied by dipping sauce, a squeeze of wasabi and a small plate of tsukemono (pickled vegetables). On a hot summer's day, the cold noodles and sauce are very refreshing. Chicken soba, available hot or cold, is served in broth in a deep bowl, again with a tasty side of pickles.
Finally, also available hot or cold is tororo nameko soba. Nameko are small orange mushrooms with a gelatinous texture, and tororo is made from a pureed potato-like vegetable. Together, they combine to make a rather slimy dish that may not be to everyone's taste. However, this is my personal favourite, especially when eaten hot during the winter.
The simplicity of the menu makes ordering easy, and also gives you more time to just sit back and admire your surroundings. The building is around 120 years old, and started out as a workshop producing miso and soy sauce. It has survived two large fires during its long history, and was used for a variety of different purposes before Sou Sou opened, including as a beauty salon! The interior is made from dark wood and the ceilings are very high, a reminder of its original, functional purpose.
Kazuyo-san has added some nice touches to Sou Sou. Beautiful kimono and obi from her personal wardrobe give the walls a bit of colour. She changes this display twice a year, first to welcome in the new year and then to herald the arrival of spring. If you visit at the beginning of April, you can also see an impressive antique doll collection in honour of the Hina Matsuri (Girls' Festival), which in this region is celebrated a month later due to the long winters.
Soba is a common dish across Japan, and soba restaurants are easy to find wherever you go. What sets Sou Sou apart from its competitors, however, is the wonderful sensation that you have briefly left the modern world behind and somehow stumbled into a different, older era.
Sou Sou is open daily for lunch from 11.00-14.00, excluding Wednesdays.