Sansuikan Ryokan in Takatsuki

We checked out of our Osaka hotel this morning and left behind another collection of empty saké bottles. Not sure what the cleaners might make of this, but I had fun! Today, we were leaving the Chuo Ward and heading to Osaka Station to put the bulk of our luggage into storage and head off for what we were hoping would be a seriously serene and very Japanese, traditional onsen (hot spring) experience in a ryokan (inn) in a town called Takatsuki.  Takatsuki is a town about the size of Toowoomba and roughly half-way between Osaka and Kyoto. But not before we did a spot of shopping at Osaka Station… it might sound odd to be shopping at a train station, but this particularly large station has two massive 13 and 11 floor shopping malls above it complete with food courts, restaurant halls, outdoor garden recreation areas – you name it.  We have been wondering what Japan’s unemployment rate is like lately, (currently a seasonally adjusted 2.3%) because we keep seeing people doing jobs that just don’t really exist at home… from elevator attendant, to gift wrappers, to doormen and taxi management staff. In one store I had four people assisting me to buy some chopsticks!  Everywhere feels overstaffed, it makes you wonder how companies are making any money. We did a bit of shopping and decided to stop for a nice lunch before taking our train out to Takatsuki.  The food in any large shopping mall or department store here is always confectionary, groceries and take out style food in the basement levels and more intimate cafes and restaurants on the uppermost levels – seems a bit counter-intuitive to me, if you can’t find anything that takes your fancy, you find yourself traversing up to 12 floors of escalators to find the other food outlets.

We chose a restaurant specialising in beef dishes – and were pretty confident it was going to be good because there was a line 20 deep waiting to get in.

Mackerel ‘cooked’ in vinegar and salt.
Fried tofu in some delicious but unknown sauce. Beef three ways, beef stew, beef nibblets of some sort and seared beef tongue. It was really good. After lunch we made our way to the trains – yet again – and head out to the Sansuisan Ryokan in Takatsuki.  We had an uneventful train ride, though there was a pretty serious cockup at the other end.  We had requested a shuttle from the hotel to get us out to the onsen but were given no details where the shuttle bus meet-up point was.  When we called up about it, we encountered some pretty serious language barriers and couldn’t make out what was going on. We ended up giving up and hopping a cab to get there, and on arrival were greeted by someone who told us that ‘someone else had taken our shuttle who was booked in for tomorrow night not tonight’.  I kinda thought that missing the shuttle a lesser cock-up than turning up to a fully booked hotel on the wrong day and having to go away again… but it has made me determined to learn some useful Japanese before I come back here again.  “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, “How much is this, please?” and “Two sakes please” is just not enough to get by when the logistics start going pear-shaped.

We did, however, arrive safely and close enough to on time, so let’s call that a win.  We were shown to our room and immediately treated to green tea and a rundown on which onsens were open for men, and which ones were open for women, and a discussion on how they would swap in the morning and to please check before entering any onsens!  Some yakutas (light indoor/summer kimono style gowns) and slippers were provided for our use during our stay, and I did some quick googling to make sure we didn’t screw up on any onsen etiquette!  There is a great article here on ryokan and onsen etiquette, which I found pretty useful and took a bit of the mystery out of what to expect and how not to look like a boorish foreigner! Our room made up for day use – later while we were dining someone would come in and set out futons for us… this seems like a great plan, as the room can accommodate one or half a dozen if needs be – none of this Western hotel ‘family room with four beds’ required type thing. The tatami mats are lovely to walk on, and it’s socks or bare feet only once you step up into the room. Our room had a view over the river and we could hear the moving water babbling outside the window all night.  We also saw many great cranes flying in and around the gorge.  It was truly very peaceful and relaxing after coming from the hustle and bustle of Osaka!

After we had oriented ourselves and had some tea, I went out to check out the facilities, in particular, the outdoor onsen which was accessible from the same floor as our room and currently marked for women’s use… there is no photography allowed in the onsens as nude bathing is mandatory, but when I arrived there, it was unoccupied, so I took a number of photos, from the lovely canopy of Japanese maples that provided privacy and shade to the lovely natural looking rock pool. I was quite concerned about the general ‘no tattoos’ policy that applies in most public baths throughout Japan (tattoos being associated with Yakuza – organised crime gangs who would use the bathhouses to conduct business) but the host who greeted us waived away my concerns and said ‘Tattoo – no problem, no problem’… I was still a bit apprehensive, as he had only seen the bee on my ankle, not the large Asian style dragon tattoo on my left shoulder! With the women’s outdoor onsen empty, I raced back inside to change and come out for a nice private bath.  I got showered (as is custom before getting in the baths) and dressed in my yakuta and by the time I got outside, there was a Japanese lady and a small boy who I presume was her son in the bath.  Now, they modestly turned away as I slipped into the pool, but I was then faced with a dilemma – do I face them, leaving the poor lady to repeatedly remind her young not to stare at the big boobied (some gestures are universal regardless of language barriers!) or do I turn my back to her and display my large back tattoo?  Oi!  Within minutes the issue was quickly negated as she decided to remove herself and her son from the onsen… I hope I didn’t chase them out, but I have a feeling I did. After they left I had this little paradise all to myself for about half an hour – I wish it was longer, but I found the water temperature was just a bit too hot for me at 42℃, and I literally couldn’t stay in any longer.  I made a mental note to take some cold water to the private bath we had booked for after dinner, which is the only way that men and women can bathe together.

While I was in the outdoor onsen, Mr K was using one of the indoor onsens that was designated for men’s use at that time. He said that onsen was very busy and had a more modern and formal change room with lockers etc, and a tiled bathing area.

After our first foray into Japanese style same-sex bathing onsens, we got dressed in our yakuta and went down for our 7:30pm dinner reservation. The dinner is a set menu that is included in our room rate, they merely enquired as to whether we had any allergies and then we were in their hands for the meal. Our meal was exquisitely presented, everything on its own individual little dishes, served with the appropriate sauce, pickle or condiment.  First course consisted of some sort of green tofu served with wasabi, some mollusc of unknown genus, a very mysterious but tasty fern frond and some pickles.  In the little jar on the bottom right was some shrimp on a very tasty bean paste concoction.
Off to our sides were individual steamboat chicken dishes, with mushroom and vegetables making a very tasty broth. Of course, I ordered some sake, and Mr K tried a local beer.  Next course was some sashimi, with tuna, mackerel, salmon and shrimp.

Followed by a yam cake with fish on it cooked in a cherry blossom broth… very unusual. At this point I wasn’t quite sure when the little meals were going to stop coming – the next dish was a baked trout with vegetables and miso flavours. After that, our chef brought out thin sliced, rare roast beef also served with some unique sauce that I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what it was. THEN… a soba noodle dish served with tempura seafood. And finally a sake flavoured blancmange, with yuzu jelly and strawberry served with black tea for afters.  This is traditional Japanese ‘all evening dining’, where you have roughly the same amount of food you would have in an ordinary meal, but it is continually being brought out in small meticulously presented portions over the course of several hours. The meal was delicious, and even though the courses seemed to just keep coming, we both felt we had an elegant sufficiency.

After dinner, we returned to our room to find the hotel staff had transformed our day quarters into a sleeping room.  Futons were laid out and we had the hardest pillows you could possibly imagine – they were heavy as, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say they are full of grain as they had the texture of a wheatpack.
We went for the first of two visits to the private baths – these needed to be booked in advance and cost JPY3000 on top of our room rate, but it was totally worth it.  Mr K and I were able to relax in the bath and chat with each other – it’s a totally different experience to using the large sex-segregated onsens and the conditions are just idyllic… right beside the river you can see out across the gorge and listen to the burbling cascades below and hear the occasional birds calls. My only lament is that I found the water a bit too hot for my liking (which is weird because I usually LOVE really hot showers).  The website says the water from the natural springs is at around 56-60C, but presumably, have cooled somewhat by the time they reach the baths dependent on ambient temperatures.  But it was okay, I just found I kept getting out and dousing myself in cold water Nordic style to cool down so I could hop back in!  It’s my Scando/Viking genes I think! Showering space to get clean and wash your hair etc before hoping in the onsen bath. The round drum looking bucket is for filling up and dumping (cold?) water over yourself. We had a second private bath booked for first thing in the morning and it was lovely and fresh in the open air bath – all the muscle tension just seeped away. After our morning bath, we dressed and eventually made our way down to breakfast.  There was a large buffet with a mixture of Japanese and some western food offerings. Again our meal was presented in beautiful lacquered boxes and small dishes for each individual little morsel…
 From left to right, fish roe, mushrooms, some baby spinach type leaf thing, marinated squid, boiled tofu, shrimp, yam and something I didn’t recognise, and a serve of black tea and mackerel. On the side was another steamboat with tofu and light vegetables, served with soy and spring onions.

I have a feeling Japanese fine dining was invented by someone who doesn’t like their food to touch!

We checked out of the Sansuikan ryokan and went into Takatsuki to check out the Festa 1000 – the Children’s Day Carp Kite Festival that is held each year to encourage the future well being of the city’s children.  We discovered Takatsuki has it’s own cute little mascot and lots of carp kites.

Then we took the train back to Osaka and we found some green spaces at Osaka Station to kill some time before our flight tonight (not this space though – it was too busy and noisy). Kansai airport was decked out in wisteria which reminds me I need to find the huge wisteria tunnels that Japan is known for – if they’re anywhere near as spectacular as the cherry blossom groves, it will definitely be worth the trains and hassle to go find them next time we are in Japan. Kansai airport has two Pokemon Store and sooo many restaurants. Thankfully the lovely people who checked us into our flight let us know there are stuff all restaurants once you go through security, so we stayed outside to have dinner. We ended up having okonomiyaki at a restaurant called Boteju which I’m only recording here because it had the best okonomiyaki we’ve ever had (across three trips to Japan) and it was highly unexpected for an airport restaurant – but then I found out they had been in Osaka since 1945 and have quite the reputation so if I had done my homework I should not have been surprised… Finally, we were heading home on a blissfully empty plane!  Some earplugs and valium and maybe I’ll arrive home in a half decent state. This flight was booked on QFF points, so I am thinking with three seats to myself and the ability to lay down and sleep all night for barely $70 in taxes – this flight probably represents the best value for travel $$$ I have ever spent!

Highlights of this trip were definitely the cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle, the Miyako Odori spring dances in Kyoto and the lovely ryokan in Takatsuki – but we have seen so many wonderful things in Japan and enjoy every moment here.  I love the people, and the gentle courtesy they extend during everyday transactions, and the accompanying artfulness that is applied to even simple day to day tasks.  I also love the culture, art and history, it’s so diverse from Western European culture. And we really love Japanese food culture – the restaurants, noodle bars, street food and izakayas all have a different dining experience to offer and we always enjoy trying new things.

So another amazing trip is over, and with no travel plans on the horizon (#stayhome2019 has gone out the window), I am counting the stamps in my passport and wondering where I’ll end up next?

Pottering around Namba

This morning we were back down to TOHO cinemas in Namba for an exclusive (well, us and 452 others) showing of Detective Pikachu… aka ‘Deadpool Does a Pokemon film’.  We took a slightly risky approach to pick up tickets for this movie choosing to buy tickets online on a Japanese website that was translated using Google Translate, which means we were about 75% certain it was going to be in English with Japanese subtitles, and not dubbed into Japanese!  Collecting the tickets was not in any way reassuring…
The complex is huge, we had to go up about four stories to find our cinema. Mr K is into the popcorn as per usual and we found our seats without any problem – and then the waiting.  Watching the ads (all in Japanese), watching the trailers (in a mix of Japanese and English), then the cinema etiquette PSAs (all in Japanese) and then the opening credits of the film… until finally some dialogue and SCORE!  It’s in English!   Phew!

One thing that is definitely noticeable in Japan is the amount of English everywhere – you don’t see this much English in most other non-Enligsh speaking countries anywhere.  There are English menus in every restaurant, English on the information directory of any shopping centre and department store, on trains, train platforms and even in elevators for any sort of public announcements in any public area, will be in Japanese and English everywhere – no matter how big the city or how small the town.

The Japanese are not at risk of seeing their language being subsumed by English, but they are far more tolerant of this intrusion into their everyday lives than many other cultures would be – can you imagine how Australians would react if we had every public sign, menu, or public announcement in both English and Chinese or something?  They’d be apoplectic.  Hell, they probably wouldn’t even be happy if they were suddenly being bombarded by English and an indigenous language.
The movie was great fun btw – the story, the world, and the Pokemon were all very cleverly executed.  I know a lot of people at home who are looking forward to seeing it and I am sure they won’t’ be disappointed.

Afterwards, we went poking around the other shopping district near Namba… the not-Dotonburi side. Yay Golden Week, everything is packed cheek to jowl, but again, very polite crowds everywhere we went.  The Japanese are a very orderly people, they will keep left when walking on streets and footpaths, they rarely seem to walk like four abreast the way Americans habitually seem to do, taking up an entire sidewalk while talking loudly and failing to notice that people are trying to get around them.  There are a few weirdnesses to this though that have been doing my head in all week…

Tokyo – When walking, keep left. On stairs, keep left. On escalators, keep left.
Kyoto – When walking, keep left. On stairs, keep right. On escalators keep left!
Osaka – When walking, keep left. On stairs, keep right. On escalators keep right!

It makes no sense – yet everyone seems to have it sorted.  Half the time there are arrows on the ground in very big areas like large train stations directing you to do exactly this – why they don’t have one protocol across all cities, I’ll never know.

Shopping for chopsticks and sunscreen and kites and find… sake heaven!

After a bit of shopping, we went looking for a place for lunch and found this bizarre fishing restaurant.  I’d say it’s got tourist trap all over it, but for the fact that it is full of locals having fun.

You come in, take up a seat have a look at what fresh fish are in the tanks, then buy some bait for Y100 and borrow a rod and go fish to catch your lunch. The variety of fish was incredible, several types of white fish, shrimps, crayfish, blowfish, shellfish and all sorts.  The restaurant smelled like a seaside restaurant from the saltwater tanks and people seemed to be having a lot of fun fishing.  I wanted to have some salmon and tuna though, so I didn’t have to fish for those.  🙂

This restaurant is brand new, so new it’s not even on Google Maps and I was unable to find the name of the place in English.  I did find what is obviously another restaurant in this chain… it was exactly like this place:

After you catch your lunch, the sushi chefs will prepare it for you and voila!  Fresh to the table.
After lunch, we did a bit more shopping.  Today we also went to a Kintetsu department store so I could have a bit more of a dig around the kimono and accessories department.  This lovely ensemble below is JPY388,800, which is roughly AUD$4,986.00 – and I’m not so sure that includes all the accessories depicted. The fabrics are simply gorgeous, and while most of these modern fabrics are no double machine made, I can only imagine how much time and effort went into making elaborate kimono prior to industrialization. I adore the hair ornaments which is what I really came up here to look for – by ‘up here’ I mean the 8th floor of the department store – seems most large department stores have a traditional dress section and it will usually be located in homewares, which will be above the two levels of food hall (one of which is confectionery), followed by cosmetics and perfume, then two floors of ladieswear, one floor of menswear, one of childrenswear and then onto the homewares etc. So if you want to look for these lovely kimono and accessories, you need to keep going up.

After our shopping was done, we went back to the hotel to get some work done and have a bit of downtime this afternoon.  Tomorrow we are transiting out of Osaka which is promising to be hectic – dragging our luggage through several train stations with Golden Week crowds – yay!

We did end up going out for dinner though and found a tiny ramen noodle bar not far from the hotel.  I’m not overly fond of the soggy noodle, but found a slow-cooked pork dish and some gyoza to wash down with sake for barely AUD$10.  So no complaints here!

Mr K about to chow down on his ‘Double Happiness Ramen Noodles’.


Dotonbori in Osaka

After a pretty hectic (and painful) day in Hiroshima yesterday, we had a bit of a lay-in and didn’t get moving too early this morning.  When we did finally surface, we discovered a simply glorious day and decided to go downtown to Abeno Harukas 300 – a massive shopping mall with a huge 300m observation deck that is open to the public. We wandered through the shops and while there is plenty of high-end shopping in this complex (Bvlgari, Louis Vuitton, etc), I particularly love the Kintetsu department stores for their kimono sections.  Most upscale department stores will have an area that sells traditional yakuta and kimono and of course all the accessories – obis, ties, geta and zori sandals, Kinchaku Bags, traditional Tsumami Kanzashi hair ornaments,  etc. They’re so delicate and have such a very particular design aesthetic.

I’m not big on wandering shops without a particular agenda, so before too long, we made our way up to the 16th-floor observation garden… There’s still a long way up in this tower – it’s 70 something stories high, mostly hotel and office space. And that there, is some dudes cleaning the windows! We toyed with the idea of going all the way to the top of the tower to check it out, but of course, Golden Week strikes again and the place is pretty packed.  Between the queue and the JP¥1500 per person to use the elevator (?!?) we decided not to.

Instead, we hopped a train down to Namba to take us to the famous Dontonburi district. Dotonbori is a canalside entertainment area – I’m thinking the locals probably consider it much like Brisbane regards its Southbank area.  It’s very popular with students and as an after-work meeting place – it is full of small restaurants, bars and izakaya taverns.  There’s also more than a slight obsession with takoyaki here… stalls of takoyaki everwhere, squid and takoyaki souvenirs all over the place.  As a general rule, it is poor etiquette to be eating in public in Japan – seemingly the only ‘proper’ exclusion to that seems to be the standing around takoyaki street vendors eating your little balls of squidly goodness on a toothpick. The narrow alleyways of shops and restaurants go off in every direction for miles.

By this stage, Mr K was getting peckish and it didn’t take much to find a friendly gyoza place – it does rather stand out on the streetscape.  So we stopped for a sit and a snack; had some beer, gyoza and caught some Pokemon – as you do.

I can’t imagine how many thousands of gyoza these ladies made today… the place was filled to the brim and it was about 3pm. After the gyoza cravings had been quelled, we continued to wander the streets of Dontonburi, checking out the shops, looking in particular for liquor stores (how unlike us?!) and hunting for cool One Piece gifts to take home for #1 Son.
There seems to be no such thing as ‘overkill’ when it comes to creating signage for your shop or restaurant around here… there’s a definite, ‘more and bigger is better’ feel to all the street signage.
After a couple more hours of wandering around, I was keen to find a bar and chill out until the sun went down.  Managed to find a cute little izakaya bar tucked away down a small alleyway that had a cheap and cheerful menu and we got ourselves some sake, beer and a sashimi snack.   The izakaya bars are similar to tapas bars in Spain – informal, people tend to order small amounts of food and drink, and then just keep ordering bits and pieces for as long as you want to stay there.

When we emerged from the bar, dusk was falling and Dontonburi was coming to life.  All lit up, the place looks exactly like the brochures… the pictures, however, definitely don’t capture the music, the noise from the crowds and spruikers, the hustle and bustle and the smells of all the restaurants lining the streets. The canals look very cool all lit up at night. And the rabbit warren of little alleyway bars feels like something out of a movie. All up we had a pretty chill day which was much needed.  We were back at the hotel at a reasonable hour in time for another soak and some more sake in the hot tub… which is starting to feel like a habit at this point!

Osaka Yuki Art Museum

We set off not so bright and early this morning, after having quite a big day yesterday, and (stupidly it turns out) thought we’d go check out the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan… which is known for being the world’s largest aquarium.  It apparently has an enormously deep tank with whale sharks in it, tunnels for viewing, and of course, my favourite part of any aquarium – an otter enclosure.  However, we forgot about Golden Week, and when we arrived we found this:   for A queue that stretched for about 250m BEFORE it got to the Disney-esque rope lines that were organising visitors into an orderly squish while they waited to line up and buy tickets.  Well, as much as I love the fishes (probably most of which are pilfered from the Great Barrier Reef anyway) and of course the otters, there was no way I was standing in line for several hours to enter into exhibition halls full of overexcited children and semi-distraught, but amused, parents.  So we did an about-face and decided to head to an art museum instead.  So many little takoyaki stalls in/around the aquarium… come see the squids and jellyfishes, don’t forget to eat some before you leave?! Given our late start to the day, we thought we would pop in for some lunch at a cute little curry place.  I love how you order a small curry and you end up with a pile of stuff to try, some of it recognisable, some of it not so much! The Yuki Art Museum is a small gallery dedicated to the objects used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.  The Japanese tea ceremony, or the Way of Tea, is a cultural activity that involves a ritualized ceremonial preparation of matcha, a powdered green tea. This museum house many important Japanese cultural objects, predominantly from the Edo period (approximately 1600-1870), relating to the tea ceremonies (And yes! it was much quieter and more pleasant here than at the aquarium!)

Bamboo tea scoop from the late Edo period, c.1850s Gour used to bear hot water, late 1800s.
Water jar, Ryukyo-Suisya (Willow bridge and water wheel folding screens design) Ninsei studio, also Edo period, 17thC. Water kettle – Yoho (square) type, by Yojiro. Muromachi period, 16th C. Tea bowl and dishes used in Japanese tea ceremony. Tea bowl, mountain and river design, late Edo period, studio of Kenzan, c.1860s. Intricately pierced lacquerware trays, late Edo period 19thC. Tea caddies, Katatsuki (square shouldered type), Seto ware known as Shunzan-Asei, Edo period 17th C.

The objects at this museum were fascinating – they hold a unique place in Japanese cultural history, and you can picture the meditatively quiet and solemn ceremonies they would have been used in. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of plaques with English content and no English guidebook, so I feel I didn’t get as much information from the visit as I had hoped.

Anyway, onwards and once more into the fray – after the quiet contemplation of the Yuki Art museum, we made our way to Shin-Osaka and the Osaka Pokemon Centre… now the aquarium was a madhouse and this place – while lacking a two-hour long queue to enter – was equally manic on this public holiday shopping day.So much plush – must resist the urge to tidy it! This Pokemon Centre appears to be the same as the Tokyo one, though slightly more toys and stuff crammed into slightly less space.  I feel like Nintendo are really missing opportunities to properly merchandise their crap though.  Most of their stuff is aimed at small kids, yet it’s overpriced and usually quite poor quality.  The whole thing feels a bit weird, especially given the global popularity of Pokemon Go.  Most small kids lost interest in Pokemon Go fairly quickly – you need to be mobile and have lots of time out of the house to be effective to play it… many kids relying on parents to ferry them to battles and events eventually gave up. The result of which is that the average Pokemon player seems to be in the 20s-40s and they effectively walking wallets… but come in here, and there is very limited merchandise aimed at this audience.  I’m quite surprised at this oversight, as Nintendo already have the perfect model in Disney to make sure they are covering all their bases and maximising their exposure and profits. It feels like they just don’t known or care to cater to their older customers.*shrug* While we were at the Pokemon Centre, there was a Pokemon Trading Card game tournaments happening – there must have been 150 kids and adults all playing the trading card games.  Some having a lot of fun and smiling and not taking it too seriously, and some looking very studious.  Having never been to a game tournament like this, I thought it was very interesting.I have no idea how the game is played or what’s involved, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this little kid was kicking arse!  😉 After this stop, we did some general shopping and ended up calling it a day.  Navigating Osaka in the crowds is somewhat harrowing at the best of times, navigating the trains during Golden Week is crazy – mind you, even though everywhere seems to be packed full of domestic tourists at the moment, everything feels orderly, friendly and super polite.  I can’t imagine this many people being this well behaved anywhere else in the world. ‘take

Avengers in Osaka and Saké in Nada

Just like the rest of the world, Japan seems to have Avengers Fever at the moment.  Mr K is a huge fan so of course, we had to try and find a cinema to go see it.  After much clever navigating of Osaka’s train system, we managed to find an enormous cinema complex in Namba down near Dontonburi that was showing it in numerous cinemas, seeming back to back all day long. So we had popped down there yesterday afternoon and bought some tickets using an online ticket machine that wasn’t in English.  As we walked away Y5400 lighter, I found myself wondering if they were indeed tickets to see ‘Avengers, End Game’ or could we have found ourselves going to see some other random crap instead!  I’m always apprehensive about going to see movies in foreign countries, especially non-English speaking ones – I think it’s some sort of delayed reaction to the Munich Forest Gump Incident of ’95…

But who knows?  Looking at these tickets, it could be anything – it’s a mystery!
But fortunately, when we arrived this morning for our 0845 session *insert eye rolling here over the hour*, we discovered that our tickets were indeed for the correct film – in IMAX 3D… because many of the 2D sessions looked like they were dubbed.  A couple of curiosities I noted at Japanese cinemas – there’s film merchandise for sale in the foyer… And your candy bar selections come in a convenient little plastic tray that fits neatly into your seat drinker holder and becomes a little moveable table, like a student desk.

The movie was great – a very nice wrap up for the scores of movies that preceded it, and I managed to stay awake through the neverending battle scenes so there’s that bonus to going to an early morning session.

After the movie, we took a train out to Kobe to have a wander through the saké breweries in Nada, of which there are many within walking distance of each other. Kobe’s Nada district is Japan’s top sake producing region. It has traditionally been famous for its saké due to the availability of high-quality rice, suitable water and favourable weather conditions. The nearby Ports of Kobe and Osaka have also contributed to the success of the region through the ease of distribution since the late medieval period.

Founded in 1625, our first stop was the Sakurmasamune Saké Museum.   With a history of nearly 400 years, the brewery uses the sake rice produced in Hyogo Prefecture “Yamada Nishiki” and locally available groundwater to make ginjoshu and junmaishu of the highest quality. This water called “miyamizu” and is vital to sake production in Hyogo was discovered by the 6th head of the family, Tazaemon Yamamura. Sakuramasamune has long been considered one of the pioneering saké breweries in the Nada area. The facility here for visitors is an interesting blend of old and modern – photographs and displays of the history of the brewery within a large modern visitor centre, complete with restaurant, tasting rooms and sales floor. With so much really good saké on offer, we decided we had better restrict ourselves to small bottles that we could consume during the week only.  🙂

Next on our walking tour was literally just around the corner – the Hamafukutsuru (say that three times really fast!) Brewery.

The Hamafukutsuru brewery started in the early Meiji period (around 1900), and has faced numerous challenges to still be in production today.  The brewery was consolidated with a larger company during the national industrial reorganization program resulting from the WW2, and they suffered through the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995, which totally destroyed the brewery’s buildings. The continuing existence of the brewery is apparently the result of the combined efforts of the local community who helped to restore the brewery.  Now the site shows visitors the modern sake-making process, and is known as “Hama Fukutsuru Ginjo Kobo.” Rice grains all polished down to about 50%. Fugu saké cups! Yoink! So much good saké, and so many locally made delicacies on display… Why? Oh why, have the Luggage Allowance Gods deserted me on this trip?

A few hundred meters down the road was the Kikumasamune Saké Brewery and Museum… it felt a lot further than it was by this point – perhaps something to do with all the sampling on an empty stomach!  I have to admit to being pretty excited to be here – these guys make my favourite Kikumasamune Taru Saké, which I like to buy back home, and it is top of my list of, ‘things to do’ while we were in Osaka.   🙂

The Kikumasamune Sake Brewery was constructed on the site of the principal residence of the head Kano family who started the brewery in 1659.  The building was relocated to its current site in the 1960s for preservation purposes and opened to the general public as a museum.

The museum exhibited items that have been designated as important tangible cultural property by the national government under the name of “Nada-based Sake Brewery’s Equipment,” policy, and as a museum, it demonstrates the history of sake brewing for contemporary audiences.  About 50,000 people visit the museum each year. In January 1995, this brewery museum was also destroyed by the Great Hanshin Earthquake, but thankfully almost every single piece of sake brewery equipment and all the small tools were retrieved carefully by hand and found to be mostly undamaged or restorable-so the objects in the museum are all extant items in their original condition.

After extensive reconstruction, the museum was reopened four years later… unbelievable that it took only four years to rebuild the two-story museum building, and it is now a fire-resistant and anti-earthquake structure. It still has the appearance of a traditional brewery, with the roofs tiled in the long-established hongawarabuki style, and the outer walls and street fences are paneled with charred cedar boards. Inside you can see many reused pillars and beams dating back to 400 years ago, which were used from the former museum. There are ‘Culturally Important Objects’ housed upstairs – but gorgeous as these little sake cups are, I couldn’t read any of the descriptions accompanying them, nor could I understand the little video that was nearby.  So I feel like I missed something here… Downstairs, the tastings continued, as did the shopping! This is one of my favourite sakes to drink back home, it’s light and crisp, and a little on the dry side. I found a supplier (Fuji-Mart in Buranda), and we keep a bottle in the fridge.  I’d like to say ‘for special occasions’, but that only works if Tuesday night sushi counts as a special occasion. I don’t even mind that it’s half the price here that it is at home – I’m just glad we can get it. Not sure if this is a fat happy otter or what? The next brewery was about 600m away and we were perambulating somewhat slower now!  😛  The Hakutsuru Saké Brewery Museum is *the* saké museum that visitors will come to if they are only seeing one or are on an organised tour.  It is the largest of the brewery museums and has an extensive and well laid out tour.
Founded in1743, the Hakutsuru Saké Brewing Co takes their obligation to continue to contribute to the culture and diets of the Japanese people very seriously.  Their toji master brewers continue to carry forward traditional brewing processes while continuing to experiment to meet the needs of a diverse population’s desire for novelty.  The museum has a very well laid out tour showing traditional brewing processes. This place is seriously cool – and had many displays that could be seen/heard in English as well.  It is obviously set up for the international visitors that tend to come in tour groups…complete with bus parking outside. An advertising poster for the Hakutsuru Sake from the 1950s…it’s subtle, but the crane motif associated with their product is evident on the maiko’s kimono. Their famous cellar door Junmai… only available on site. This little robot will assist you in pairing the right saké to your food preferences. Mr K sampling the saké flavoured ice cream, which I have to say was delicious being not at all sweet and having a faint flavour of rice and saké.  It was better than saké flavoured Kit-Kats in my opinion.  

Alas, when we came outside it has started to rain, and while not very heavy, it was fairly annoying for continuing our outdoor walking tour with the next brewery about 800m away.  So instead, we decided to call it an afternoon and take the train back to Namba to go find a meal in Dontonburi… which was probably the most sensible thing we could have done given we kinda skipped lunch and have been tasting all the saké, all afternoon.

We often struggle to find places to eat in Japan – I know that sounds weird, because Japan is overrun with wonderful little restaurants tucked away down tiny little alleys serving the most intricately prepared delicacies you could ever ask for – but with Mr K not being a seafood fan, and my ambivalence towards ramen and noodles, it is difficult to find places that accommodate both preferences.  Most restaurants here are sushi and sashimi, OR noodles or curry.  If you want a menu that carries both, you have to hunt for them, and then you tend to feel like you have stumbled into a tourist restaurant.

Anyway, we found a nice restaurant called Masu Masu in Dontonburi, which – bonus: had a no smoking policy.

A little amuse bouche of ‘fattiest portion of tuna’ to start, followed by salmon sashimi, okonomiyaki, and a pork donburi for Mr K… oddly, after our big day of saké we opted for umeshu and beer with our meals! Then it was back to the hotel for a well-earned soak in the tub and some more saké to round out the day.  My poor little feets were very much complaining about the 12kms of pavement we walked today but all that was forgotten as we caught the latest GoT before crashing for the night.