Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Traveling Solo - Japan (8)

Day 6: Last day in Kyoto.  Even though I am so tired from all the walking and went to so many places, I felt like I barely saw Kyoto.  In fact, I felt like I barely saw anything!!!  Now I understand why so many traveler keep returning.

My last official stop for Kyoto that morning is Fushimi Inari Shrine.  If you ever watched the "Memoirs of a Geisha", you will recognize this place with its beautiful orange-colored torii.  I didn't have time to do the 4km mountain walk (which will take me 2 hours) but I heard it's worth every minute of it.

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there was a pretty large ceremony going on that morning
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cute kindergardeners - love their hats!
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love the torii
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4 km... 2 hours... I pass...
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as a number person, of course I would notice such things...
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happy students
Although I didn't have time to do the walk, I had time to visit the nearby Tofukuji.  (I was gonna go the day before but didn't due to the rain...)  Every blog I read raved about how pretty the bridge (通天橋) is so I have got to see it myself.  I still remembering brisk walking to the ticket booth and used both my broken Japanese and and hand gestures to try to communicate if I have sufficient time if I can only stay for a max of 30 minutes :P  The ladies said it's doable but I won't be to appreciate the garden fully.  I end up staying there for a full 45 minutes.

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ticket booth
It was only possible because I didn't go during the peak season and there wasn't a lot of tourist on the bridge or the garden.  The garden is nice and the bridge has a very good view.  I can imagine how much more prettier the place will be when all the maple turns red.  I must come again during the sakura / maple season next time...

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reminds me a little of Ginkaku-ji
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lovely trees~
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Rice balls are the best lunch-on-the-go option and it's so cheap, especially when you have to decide one more POI or a decent meal... Although I heard the ramen place and the sushi place next to the station are both good... maybe next time...

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my rice balls from AEON last night
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Cute!!!
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oh those kindergardeners are from here!
I got to Yamazaki at 15 minutes to 1400 and had to run with my luggage to the distillery.  Even though the sign says it's only 10 minutes away, I arrived 3 minutes late (and panting).  Seeing that I am a foreigner (and I ran?), the reception lady asked if I would rather join the next tour.  Since the next tour doesn't start until an hour later, I declined.  She then kindly paged a staff and took me to join the 2pm tour.

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10 minutes walking?  I don't think so... more like 15...
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Just as I thought, I barely missed anything (the group was only at the fermentation room) and with my radio, I was able to follow the different processes demonstrated.  You can totally get intoxicated just by smelling the aroma in the distillation room.  Throughout the tour, you can feel the dedication of the company into the art of whiskey making.

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fermentation room
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our nice tour guide
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distillation room
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The whiskey is clear before it is through the aging process.
Tests are performed (color, smell, taste) to ensure the quality of each batch.
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the aging cellar
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the first and oldest barrel of Yamazaki - is there any left?
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Thank you for providing the world with a quality whiskey!
I enjoyed the tour a lot and the free tasting following the tour is like the icing of the cake.  I was given GENEROUS portion of their different whiskeys, along with snacks!  Even the water tastes extra delicious there!  (they keep emphasizing that the quality of the water is of utmost importance if you want to make good whiskey)  Our group's tour guide was also extremely friendly.  She noted I was the only one that didn't understand Japanese and stayed after to see if I had any questions and even helped me with my selection of souvenirs!

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the range of Yamazaki products
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the water used to make Yamazaki - it is delicious!
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our bartenders
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water / Yamazaki / Yamazaki 12 years / Hakushu
I actually preferred the Yamazaki over the Hakushu
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different ways to enjoy whiskey
I highly recommend this tour to any whiskey fanatics out there.  You will need to make a reservation since the tours fill up fast.  If you know Japanese, you can reserve online; otherwise, call them using number in this link.  (They offer a tour every hour from 10am to 3pm, 7 days a weeks.  They are closed for 2 weeks starting 12/24/2012.)

If you didn't have enough to drink from the free tasting, they have another tasting room after you pass the shop.  They offer a wide range of whiskey, both domestic and import for paid tasting.  I can't deny myself for another 2 tasting of their limited whiskey and left light headed and very happy.  Made my way back to the station somehow and got on my train to Osaka.

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Yamazaki whiskey library
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I wondered how long it took to build the library.
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JPY15,000!!!  That's for a tasting class of 10ml only!!!
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the 2 limited whiskey I tried
love the boubon barrel one although the puncheon smelled better to me
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looks more like a cafe for coffee :)
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bye Yamazaki~
Maybe I was still tipsy, maybe the receptionist at the Hana hostel was just friendly.  I ended up chatting with her for what felt like forever :)  I also ended up renting a bicycle (for free!) which helped me see Kuromon Market, Nanba, Dotonbori, and Shinsaibashi faster!  (Umeda is a bit too far by bike so I didn't go this time.)  Bicycle is the way to go!

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biking in Osaka
Osaka used to be referred to as the "nation's kitchen" in feudal Edo period because it was the center of trading for rice.  To me, this is still true in modern time because you are never too far from food here.  I was going to try the puffer fish at Kuromon but I decided I'd let the fish swim another day while I indulge myself on the various street food Osaka has to offer.

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Kuromon market
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Hamatou
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the #2 most poisonous vertebrates in the world
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oden!!!
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oden over puffer fish any day! :P
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an expensive melon
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the famous Rikuro's cheesecake!!!
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takoyaki!
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in Dotonbori
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a must try in Osaka
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the patrons can smoke their lungs out there, which is honestly very disappointing
you would think being the most polite nation of the world, they would have banned smoking at restaurants
no, I had to breathe 2nd hand smoke the entire time
most Japanese smokers DO NOT CARE (the guy on my left actually asked... not sure if he knew I actually would tell him "no", the other two men on my right simply did not care)
although I enjoyed the food, I won't return until they banned smoking
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beef / quail eggs / smelt / rice cake / chicken soft cartilage
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white fish / peppers / house special (fried curry rice) / shrimp
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a famous dessert place - I didn't go... too full...
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want!!! but too too full!!!
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I think the sign says "no bicycle parking"
Osaka is also a city that never sleeps.  On my way back to the hostel after a midnight snack at Ichiran Ramen, I saw some hosts boys on the Dotonbori bridge, looking for potential customers.  All of them have crazy hair, wore heavy eyeliner, and dressed in suits... they looked so young... like barely legal young...  Nobody approached me, thank goodness, so I got a chance to just observe the whole ordeal.  It's a glamorous but sad scene actually.  If you are interested, there is a documentary out there: The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief (2006).  I think I have to see it myself one of these day...

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ramen from Ichiran
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the Glico man!  Dotonbori's landmark
Some crazy street signs in Dotonbori:

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My thoughts on Osaka Hana Hostel:

Location, location, location!  For only JPY2,800 a night, I am staying in the heart of Shinsabashi.  Less than 5 minutes to the Shinsabashi subway station and Dotonbori on foot!  Namba and Kuromo Market are all less than 15 minutes away on a bicycle.  In addition, the staff at the hostel is extremely friendly.  Even the guests at this hostel seem to be more talkative.  I met a French lady, a Canadian girl, a Taiwanese girl, a British girl, and a Canadian couple.  I did more talking that night compared to the rest of my trip!!!  Now that I know the demographics of Osaka better, Namba is probably more convenient for me but I love Osaka Hana so much I think I will stay there again in my next visit!

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