MATSUMOTO, JAPAN — This tourist destination in the Japanese Alps is now home to a Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream shop. It’s the fifth location for the Bar Harbor-based company, which also serves its artisanal creations in two shops in Bar Harbor, one in Portland and one in Washington, D.C.
The city, located about three hours from Tokyo, is known for traditional craft, including woodworking and silk spinning; agriculture including peach, apple and persimmon orchards; historic Matsumoto castle, Yohashira shrine and a city art museum. Visitors are also drawn to nearby hot springs and ski mountains.
The shop is a partnership between MDI Ice Cream founder Linda Parker, Kelton Boyer and Taimei Fujimra. Boyer is an old friend of Parker’s who has lived in the area for 30 years and owns a translation company. Fujimura is the French-trained chef at Kobayashi Soba, a Matsumoto restaurant where he hand-makes and cuts all his own buckwheat soba noodles.
“It’s a total partnership,” Parker told the Islander, not a franchise. She makes most of the ice cream herself for the Maine shops. For the D.C. and Matsumoto shops, she worked with partners there to train them, and hosted them here to show them the ropes.
That means all of the ice cream is fresh and local. Parker spent three months in Matsumoto last spring, and the shop held a few pop-up events before opening in September.
“There’s festivals and celebrations almost every weekend, which is good for foot traffic,” she said.
It was a challenge to convert recipes to liters and grams, especially when jetlagged, she said. But she’s been excited to be able to use fresh, local miso in the butterscotch miso and real wasabi in the chocolate wasabi.
One new flavor is made from sake lees, a biproduct of sake-making.
Parker lived and worked in Matsumoto between 1992 and 1996, teaching at a junior high school. She loves the city, and for a few years also owned a coffee shop called Matsumoto Joe next door to her Firefly Lane ice cream shop.
“It feels like a home away from home,” she said. “I’m attracted to things that are really old. It’s so charming.”
The building where the shop is housed was built on a landfill over one of the outer moats that used to surround the castle. She loves seeing families with kids in traditional dress enjoying a cone on their way to or from a ceremony at the shrine. And customers love to come get their picture taken under the Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream sign.