Sunday, December 27, 2009

11/28/09: Day 9 in Japan, Part I - Visiting Tenzan Brewery

The hotel breakfast was a buffet, and it included, among others, a non-traditional breakfast item such as tako-yaki.

After that, I was on my way to a town of Ogi to visit Tenzan Brewery aboard Karatsu line. Incidentally, this was to be my only brewery visit of this vacation.

Tenzan is available in the U.S., famous for their junmai genshu wrapped in bamboo leaf packaging.

The brewery is located at the foot of Mount Tenzan, along the Gion River. During summer months, the river is said to be illuminated by swarm of fireflies.

The property is surrounded by rice paddies and orange groves.

The kura itself is comprised of 3 buildings that are named after recent Emperors: Showa Kura, Meiji Kura, and Taisho Kura.

Here are some of the rice used by Tenzan: locally grown Yamadanishiki, Yamadanishiki from Hyogo, Omachi from Okayama, and locally grown Saga No Mai.

Here is their machine to wash and soak rice.

Conveyer to cool down steamed rice.

Stacks of rice in the process of being converted to koji.

Fermentation tank to make shubo mash.

Active fermentation.

Looking into storage tanks from above.

Looking at the storage tanks from the ground level.

Tenzan uses yabuta for pressing.

As luck would have it, yabuta was on, meaning freshly pressed saké.

Shichida-san poured me a glass, a very rare treat. The saké was very crisp, vibrant, and intensely juicy, which is not unexpected when it is unfiltered and unpasteurized.

After the saké is bottled, they are packaged. For the aforementioned junmai genshu, the bamboo leaves are carefully wrapped by hand. The purpose of the bamboo leaves, imported from China, is not only for appearance - it also serves to protect saké from light.

The sakés are refrigerated until shipping.

One of the things I enjoy about visiting breweries is their architecture. Looking up, you can see intricate structure of the beams supporting the kura.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

11/27/09: Day 8 in Japan, Part II - Izakaya in Saga City

The next stop on the itinerary was Saga City. I knew very little about the prefecture of Saga, but my reason for being here will become apparent in the next entry.

I checked in at a business hotel in front of the JR Saga station. One of the great thing about Kyushu so far? Hot spring bath every day, even in business hotels.

As I had no agenda this evening, my dinner option was up in the air. Checking the internet didn't yield an "a-ha!" moment, so best bet was to walk around the old neighborhood. Just couple of blocks away, Za Watami visually caught my attention.

Za Watami is an izakaya, and as being in Kyushu, featuring shochu. I received a seat by the bar.

The menu was colorful with lot of pictures. "Cherry Meat Sashimi" looked great, so I ordered it as part of the first order. It was melt-like-butter soft. I found out after the fact that "Cherry Meat" is a code for "horse meat."

Also part of the first order was spring roll wrapped in yuba, or chewy tofu skin...

...and yellow tail sashimi.

The drink was barley shochu all the way. I had Shira-shin-ken from Oita Prefecture, home of Yufuin.

The second order included juicy pork cooked in sukiyaki-like sauce served with scallions and egg...

and deep fried chicken tatsuta-agé.

The last order (〆) was fried champon noodle with egg served in a hot stone bowl, inspired by Korean bibimbop. With all the food, I took home some of the fried chicken and noodles for lunch the next day.

The total tab was about 4,000 yen ($46). Not bad at all! As Za Watami is a chain izakaya, it's definitely worth a visit when you're in Japan.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

11/27/09: Day 8 in Japan - Leaving Yufuin

While Nurukawa Onsen did not come with dinner, it did come with breakfast. I made reservation for the earliest alloted time. Not surprisingly, the breakfast was the traditional Japanese arrangement.

Poached egg in dashi? In Japan, appropriately, it is called "onsen" eggs.

After digesting for 1/2 hour, it was time for a quick dip in the onsen. There aren't too many better ways to start one's morning than taking an outdoor bath at the foot of glorious mountain in the autumn, especially when it's 50 degrees outside.

On the way out, I noticed this Japanese maple. Wa, or harmony, is everywhere if you just take a time to look around...

Down by Lake Kirin, the ducks were washing themselves amidst the rising mist.

Rustic sign at the train station.

The train we were scheduled to take was the retro-styled "The Forst of Yufuin."

In Japan, many of the trains operates with reserved seating. I was assigned to Car #2.

Having lunch on the train is one of the pleasures of the Japanese long distance rail travel. The stations vend lunch boxes with local flavor. I chose tender Bungo beef and rice bento.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

11/26/09: Day 7 in Japan, Part II - Town of Yufuin

The town of Yufuin, along with neighboring Beppu, is famous as resort town for onsen hot springs. Its rusticness is evident from the design of their rail station.

To further accentuate the point, there is a foot bath onsen on the platform.

Surrounded by the moutains, the view is spectacular. Clean air, calming vista, and relaxing hot springs are just what the doctor ordered.

Walking around the town, you can easily locate the hot springs. How do I know? Look for the plumes of steam!

One thing to keep in mind about visiting Yufuin: as onsen ryokan (inn) typically include kasiseki dinner, the town becomes very quiet around 5:00 pm as guests hurry back to take a quick dip in onsen before dinner. By 5:30, most of the shops and restaurants are closed. For those staying in a ryokan without dinner accomodations, they ought to head towards the train station to find restaurants that are open.

Monday, December 07, 2009

11/26/09: Day 7 in Japan, Part I - On to Yufuin

After all too short stay in Kagoshima, my next destination was Yufuin in Oita prefecture. With another few hours on the road, hearty breakfast was in order...

...hearty and healthy, mind you...

...and not to mention traditional.

After few hours, I reached Nurukawa Onsen, a rustic inn located about 20 minute walk from the train station.

My room was the traditional tatami room.

Before going for a walk, I had to take advantage of their onsen. Aside from the communal men/women baths, they offered several private 'family bath' units available on first-come first-serve basis. I grabbed an open-air "roten buro" overlooking the neighboring mountain.

Just two minutes from the inn was picturesque Lake Kinrin, showing off the reflection of the foliage.

For dinner, I was recommended "Dot to Dot" restaurant close to the train station. Generally, the place seems bit trendy, but I was sworn by their quality by a friendly shopkeeper.

Their menu feature locally grown vegetables... well as fresh meat from a local meat store. Many of the dishes are prepared organically, and it indeed was a feast for my stomach as well as my eyes.

Because the restaurant had a very limited alcohol selections, I opened up a bottle of Ama No To "Umashine" upon my return. Polished to 80% and unfiltered, the saké had a light golden hue, surprisingly smooth texture, and long umami-laden flavor.

After some time to digest, I had to take an evening bath. The attendant told me that I can try the bath unit that feature both indoor and outdoor bath.

As the temperature was bit nippy out, the contrast with the hot spring was just right.

There isn't much better way to relax by listening to the trickling water...

...while staring into the lit up Japanese maple tree in all its autumn glory.