Monday, January 08, 2007

More Japan

[By the way, this was Thursday, November 30th]

In Osaka we stayed at Inn Ishihashi, my first time at a ryokan! This place was inexpensive and conveniently located near Osaka station. The proprietors were so nice and seemed happy to have a western girl stay with them (especially since I had Mayu to teach me how to put on and take off my slippers and such!).

We arrived last night and walked around a bit. We stopped in at Takashimaya and looked over their sake selection. I picked two sparkling sake (shown in the picture) and a nice shop lady noticed and told me that the next day they were expecting their shipment of sparkling Suzune (made by Ichinokura of Miyagi Prefecture), a sake that is made in limited numbers and only available around this time of year. So, today we went back and picked up a bottle (as of today, February 5th, I haven't had a chance to drink it. I'm waiting for my friend Sally who I'm going to share it with. I'll report back.)

We had a really great meal at a small izakaya. They had their own nama sake, which they served out of a giant glass jug. The chef scooped the sake out of the jug into a bowl and then we served ourselves from the bowl.

The sake was extraordinary as was the food. After the meal, the mama-san brought Mayu and me upstairs to see the sake tank. I didn't really understand the setup completely. I think they said that they used to be a sakagura, but they weren't doing enough business, so they opened an izakaya downstairs and an Italian restaurant upstairs. It was a rare opportunity and again, I never would have experienced it without Mayu's help.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

First day in Japan: shopping, sake, hot springs...

"An old, but tasteful environment
feel comfortable space surrounded by
the attached furnitures and dishes.
Well, you will taste delicious dishes
you have never had tonight."

That was the promise on the brochure of Tofuro, what I took to be a "chain" izakaya in Chiba, Japan (I think it was a chain and I think it was in Chiba. Details were fuzzy on this entire trip and I feel too guilty to ask Mayu to spend hours translating for me - if anyone can tell what that sake was from the photo, please let me know!)

The day started with shopping. I bought the first of many sake cups on this trip at Sogo. These aren't my usual style, but I thought they were interesting and I hadn't seen anything like them before.

We had dinner at Tofuro and followed up with baths at Lapis Lazuli badenroom. I love onsen. The few that I have been to seem to have a few things in common: several baths of varying temperatures, some inside, some outside; a place to buy refreshments; an area with lounger chairs, usually with big screen televisions. This is one thing that I have never understood. You go to the baths, have a massage, get completely relaxed...and then go to a lounge area to watch loud, crazy t.v.? Well, obviously, that is the height of relaxation for many people. I still love onsen. I've been to two previously, La Qua in Tokyo near the dome and another in Yamanashi, but this was the first time I had a female friend along with me to explain all the intricate rituals and manners expected at onsen. I was amazed at how much I must have offended on my first two visits! Oh well, I take it that Japanese expect gaijin to make endless faux pas...