Day 22: Drink til you drop

Today was all about the booze! We started with a tour of the Asahi Suita Factory in the morning. The whole tour was conducted in Japanese but we were given English audio guides so we were still able to fully appreciate everything. We saw the bottling and canning process taking place, and just some of their maturation vats that each contained enough beer for over one million cans.

After the tour was over we were taken into a large room where we got to enjoy some of their wares. By this stage it was after 11 so we quite enjoyed our three beers, and snacks. The whole tour was free so the beers were quite a bonus!

From there we made our way a bit further north toward Kyoto to the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery. After having lunch in the sun by the busy train tracks, we made our way into the building to begin our next tour.

The tour was incredible. I’d never seen the whisky production process before so this was such a treat. The smells in the room where the whisky barrels were aged was heady and overpowering, but delicious as well! After the tour we walked around a pond containing some of the pure water that the area is known for (and the whisky is made with) and the guide pointed out little white nest-like things in the tree which were actually built by frogs to hold their eggs. Once the tadpoles are big enough they wriggle out and drop down into the water.

The best part of the day was the whisky tasting. We were taken into a beautiful room with wood (from recycled oak barrels) finishing and seated in front of trays with samples of whisky and various snacks. They were all so delicious and we had to go back to the shop to buy a few more tastings.

After a wobbly ride home we then went out to meet with Joseph’s old friend Darlene for dinner. As the table at the restaurant wasn’t quite ready we picked up some one cup sake from the convenience store and sat by the river. From there we had a tasty dinner at a local hotspot before meeting up with Juho for a farewell drink at a standing sake bar.


Day 21: Triple dinner

Today the sun was shining and we wanted to pack in lots of random things. We started with our usual breakfast from the konbini but for lunch and dinner we switched it up a bit.

We walked down to an area called Shinsaibashi which is know for all of the streets of shops. We weren’t there to shop however, we were there to eat. Joseph led us to a tall narrow building where tucked away on the fourth floor was a yummy Mexican restaurant called El Pancho. While I hadn’t expected to eat Mexican while we were in Japan, it was delicious!

Admittedly we did do a small amount of shopping after lunch, but in our defence it was at a second hand store and it was just a couple of books to read while we continued in our travels.

After that we made use of our JR pass for the very last time, taking the train to the Nada district in Kobe. Once there we coincidentally stumbled across another second hand store, Joseph must have been in charge of directions.

The real reason we went to Nada was to have a look at a sake brewery. The one that we had been told to check out was the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum. Once there we wandered through the museum section of the brewery and watched English videos about how sake was made when they first opened, in comparison to how it is made today. After walking through the museum we were able to taste a few different sakes and even got a sake flavoured soft serve for the hot walk back to the train.

That evening we decided to go back to Dotonbori so that I could have the chance to see it all lit up. It was crazy! Huge models of puffer fish, crabs, octopus and so forth up on the sides of buildings. So many bright lights. So noisy. So many different smells!

The first place we visited for food was the kushikatsu where you get different things fried on a skewer and you dip it (only once!) in the special sauce. We tried a few things such as lotus root, sweet potato, cheese, and red ginger.

After that we wandered around for a while before having some takoyaki (octopus balls). They’re so good but I always forget to wait and let them cool down before trying to eat them!

Finally we had meal number 3, ramen. We opted for a ramen topped with fried vegges in an attempt to lessen the meat intake given that it was a meat based broth. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the meal. When in Rome!


Day 20: Deer oh deer

This morning got off to a bit of slower start with Joseph’s ankle giving him some grief with all the walking we’ve been doing. Thankfully it wasn’t too bad so we headed off to Nara Park to do some deer shooting (photography not guns).

Nara was a gorgeous spot, packed with tourists and their more outgoing counterparts, the deer. The deer were seemingly in charge of the area, roaming anywhere they wished. Some stores sold rice crackers specifically for the deer which they thoroughly enjoyed. Joseph and I had snacks too, trying fresh large rice crackers with amazing spices, and fresh warm mochi filled with red bean paste.

After dealing with the numerous human and deer obstacles we made it to the Todaiji Temple which is home to a giant Buddha (15m tall!) . It was an awe inspiring experience to see just how intricate such a huge statue could be.

That evening we went out for dinner with two lovely guys who Joseph had met through mutual friends in Tokyo. Bill and Juho had both been living in Japan for many, many years and knew exactly where to take us.

We started out at an incredible fish restaurant where there were no pictures and our google translate app would most certainly not have worked (Joseph even tested it). The fresh sashimi was incredible, along with the many other interesting dishes they ordered. After that we went around the corner to Beer Belly, a craft beer spot in Osaka which made some delicious brews.

Day 19: Final stop in Japan

Today we packed up our things and took the bullet train up to Osaka, our final stop in Japan. Just the thought of that makes me sad!

We navigated the subway systems and made our way to the Osaka castle and gardens. The tiny dogs were out in force as it was a Sunday, and unfortunately so was the loud music being played out of Nationalist party vans doing loops around the block.

From there we headed to the Umeda a Sky Builing where we ventured up 173m. To get there you take an escalator to the 3rd floor, then a glass lift to the 39th Floor and then glass escalator to the 40th Floor. Joseph wasn’t game to head up to the open air roof so I went up by myself. It was a pretty incredible feeling to be up that high and walk around in the open taking in 360 degree views of Osaka.

By the time the sun set it had started to pour with rain again. Nonetheless, we ventured out to the Dotonburi area to see the lights along the canal. It was quieter than usual due to the weather, the running man wasn’t even lit up. We made our way to an affordable sushi train restaurant for dinner where I drank one cup sake and we ate lots and lots of delicious sushi. It’s hard not to when it’s ¥100 a plate!

Day 18: Acting cultured

Today we had another day of exploring on the cards. We jumped on the train down to Uno Port where we took the ferry to Naoshima Island, otherwise known as the art island.

The island had been recommended to us by some friends who had also suggested we hire bicycles to get around, and that we should get the electric ones as they regretted not doing so. While they were a little more expensive we thought it would be fun and after the first hill, we were so glad we did!

We firstly visited the Chichu Art Museum which was an incredible gallery designed by Tadao Ando. It was made mainly of concrete and steel and housed a few different permanent exhibitions. The building was made in a way so that it didn’t interfere with the landscape and the majority of it was underground, yet the lighting was mainly natural. Our favourite part was the lighting installation by James Turrell, it is so hard to describe how beautiful it was!

From there we cycled further around the island to Benesse House, another gallery which also has (very expensive) accommodation. Again there were more stunning pieces of modern art, housed inside an architectural masterpiece.

After that we saw some of the outdoor sculptures down on the waterfront including the famous giant yellow pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama.

By this time it had started to drizzle so after getting lost down a few back streets, we weren’t sure how much longer the bicycles would be fun. We stopped at museum of Tadao Ando, the architect for the main galleries on the island, and saw his workings as well as some of some of the projects he had done elsewhere.

As we left the last gallery it began to pour with rain so we turned our bicycles on turbo mode and heading back to the main port. We briefly stopped by the 007 museum, where they had all the details of the island community’s campaign to have a Bond movie made on the island.

After we got back to the mainland we decided to check out the beer festival across from our hotel for a second time. We had a bit more confidence knowing what was going on and tried some really interesting beers including one infused with smoked chamomile. For dinner we stopped by the 280 bar again and ate more delicious soy sauce and butter fries than anyone is supposed to consume!

Day 17: making friends

What a day! It all began with an early start, heading south on the train to the port town of Onomichi. Once there we hired bicycles and took a quick ferry over to the first island to begin our journey. The Shimanami Kaido is a 75 kilometre road passing over several small islands in the Seto Inland Sea. However due to time constraints we only cycled about half of it before jumping on a ferry back to the mainland.

It was a really interesting ride, quite industrial in parts with boat yards and small villages. The highlight however was the varied and huge bridges connecting the islands which we were able to cycle over.

As it didn’t take as long as expected to do half of the track, so we decided to nip back down to Hiroshima to have an early dinner of our favourite okonomiyaki restaurant We forgot that today was Obama’s big visit until we were stuck on a bus in traffic going in the direction of the Peace Park.

We got off the bus and walked the remainder of the way to “Ron” restaurant in Okonomi-mura. Our friendly chef from last time, who we now know as Yukina, was surprised to see us and flattered when we told her we’d made the trip. She proceeded to make such a fuss, chatting away while feeding us homemade treats to start, took photos of us, made delicious okonomiyaki, then gave us cake to finish…when all we’d ordered was the okonomiyaki!

While we were eating they had Obama live on tv giving his speech at the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park, just around the corner from where we were. Unfortunately we couldn’t hear much of him speaking as the Japanese translation was spoken over top. The most awkward part was that a Japanese tv crew filmed us watching it and after waiting patiently for us to finish our food, wanted to know our opinion on his speech. While I was able to tell them I thought it was important that he visited, I had to awkwardly explain that we had hardly heard any of it and would be reading up on it when we got home.

After we had eaten we then watched Yukina and the other chef make 15 okonomiyaki at once for a school group that was coming to visit. No mean feat! We finished our drinks and as we were leaving to make room for some businessmen they struck up conversation with us and one told us he had been to New Zealand some years ago for work. All of a sudden Yukina and the two businessmen were leading us downstairs and out to a square where a sake festival was being held. We were handed sake tasting cups and tried a few different sakes before unfortunately having to leave to catch our train.

We practically sprinted to our train, exhausted from a long day. However as we arrived back at our hotel we saw that there was a craft beer festival being held across the street! How could we resist?!

Day 16: Western Art

Today was meant to be another wet one so instead of cycling, we visited Kurashiki by train and wandered around the Bikan Quarter. It had beautiful canals with weeping willows, and even a few swans.

We visited the Ohara Museum of Art and saw some work by the old masters. As the first museum of western art in Japan it had quite the collection. It held pieces by Picasso, Renoir, Kandinsky, Monet, and many more. It was incredible how close you could get to each piece, a very special experience.

We wandered around the canals to Ivy Square, another building covered in ivy. We sampled some of the tasty things on the street before stopping at a tea house where I had the “cream red bean soup”. While that doesn’t sound delicious it really was. It had a layer of red beans, then shaved ice, topped with a scoop of ice cream and two plain mochi. It wasn’t too sweet but it was lovely and cold.

On the way home we visited another second hand store for Joseph to look around. There were some incredible bargains, it would be ideal if you lived here and needed to set up your house from scratch!

For dinner we found a totally random restaurant underground where we drank beers and tried other random food including savoury mochi with a tomato based sauce and cheese. Early night tonight as we’re off cycling in the morning.