Japan 2015 — Day 4: Kobe — Nada; Osaka — Umeda & Namba


The Nada dis­trict in Kobe has the most sake brew­ers of any pre­fec­ture in Japan as a res­ult of the high min­er­al con­tent in the water in the region that makes for a high qual­ity sake. D and I aren’t big drink­ers — in fact, unless we’re in Japan with access to chi-hi, we usu­ally only have sips at work func­tions. But, we love factor­ies and find­ing out how things are made, so we’re keen to vis­it the brew­er­ies in the Nada dis­trict. A vis­it means we can sample some sake and per­haps find some­thing more pal­at­able than One Cup Sake.

But, of course, we must start off the day with a bout of TV

Osaka — Nippombashi

Mid-2015, I watched an anime series called Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yattemita in which two girls and a loc­al mas­cot, Uogokoro-kun, join togeth­er to pro­mote their loc­al town and par­ti­cip­ate in a nation­wide loc­al mas­cot fest­iv­al in the hopes of win­ning and attract­ing tour­ists to their town. The anime was one of the most inter­est­ing series I’d seen but I’d thought it was all fic­tion­al.


So ima­gine my sur­prise when I turn on the TV to find that it was the week­end of the three-day final Internet bal­lot for the 2015 Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix, a Real Life fest­iv­al dur­ing which the most pop­u­lar loc­al mas­cot is voted. Anime is based on Real Life, I tell you! The win­ner for 2015, is the char­ac­ter on the far right of the top right photo: Shusse Daimyo Ieyasu-kun for the city of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture. What an inter­est­ing start to the day!


A bit past 9am, we head down to Namba Walk near Nippombashi Station to find break­fast. Christmas dec­or­a­tions are up! They used the same dog with the poin­set­tia hat from last year. The shops are still closed, though the cafes are open.


We have a look around Namba Walk and spot Kiefel Coffee. There’s a kiwifruit soda that I want, but the rest of the food options don’t par­tic­u­larly entice us, so we keep walk­ing.


And we reach a St Marc’s Chococro Cafe! This will soon be our favour­ite haunt.


Alas, they only have one of those eggs bene­dict buns so D and I decide to get the bun for takeaway and go back to Keifel Coffee.


At Kiefel Coffee, D gets the hot­dog morn­ing set with an iced cof­fee. Aren’t the col­ours pretty?


D’s iced cof­fee on the left, and my kiwifruit soda. The kiwifruit soda is tasty — not at all like the bottled kiwifruit juice that we got from the super­mar­ket in Sydney — with real fruit pulp and just the right amount of sweet­ness and fizz.


Inside the Kintetsu Station at Nippombashi, we acci­dent­ally get on the plat­form going the wrong dir­ec­tion. And we only real­ise this as I was tak­ing this photo of the lim­ited-express train we were meant to be tak­ing. Luckily, trains — even lim­ited express ones — come pretty fre­quently so we were wait­ing only 15 minutes.

Kobe — Nada District


We get off at Uozaki Station to make our way to the first of the brew­er­ies. There isn’t much English sig­nage, so we’re rely­ing on our map and pho­to­graphs of the brew­ery from the Internet. We reach a loc­al super­mar­ket (above), so we stop for a drink.


We’ve not come across mik­an (man­dar­in) tea before and it’s a refresh­ing take with the sweeter cit­rus fla­vours of the fruit.


About 50m down the road, we spot our first brew­ery! This is Hamafukutsuru Ginjo Brewery. Some of the brew­er­ies around the Nada District offer tours of their actu­al brew­ery, but it’s a week­end and the start of the sake sea­son, so none were offer­ing them on the day.


They sell a vari­ety of snacks to go with sake, and there’s free sake tast­ings at Hamafukutsuru Ginjo Brewery. The gen­tle­man who mans the free tast­ings doesn’t speak much English, but we man­age. They’re very approach­able with their tast­ings!


We try ginjo sake, plum sake, black sug­ar sake, nigori sake, and our favour­ite, namaza­ke. Namazake is a unpas­teur­ised sake, which gives it a fresh­er and more lively taste than pas­teur­ized sake. As it’s unpas­teur­ised, it should be kept cold. D and I love the refresh­ing and fruity taste of the yuzu namaza­ke (made from 11 yuzu!). We end up enjoy­ing our bottle dur­ing the night in our accom­mod­a­tion as keep­ing it cool and trans­port­ing around Japan would’ve been too dif­fi­cult.


Outside the brew­ery, there are examples of the large bar­rels they used to make sake in.


…and we’re on our way to the second brew­ery as we cross this river.


This is Kikumasamune Sake Museum, and unlike the pre­vi­ous brew­ery that opened the shop to vis­it­ors, has a ded­ic­ated museum sec­tion. Admission is free.


The exhib­it is housed in the large ware­house space in the left of the pre­vi­ous photo and shows you the pro­cesses and equip­ment used in each step of mak­ing sake, from sourcing the rice, the water, the brew­ing and the mat­ur­a­tion.


This last exhib­it shows the bar­rels they used to store the sake in while aging. Sake pro­duc­tion no longer uses these bar­rels, hav­ing advanced to mod­ern tech­no­logy.


There’s a shop attached to the museum selling the brewery’s products.


We spot these cute tiny cups of sake com­plete with a mal­let to break into the bar­rel and a masu (a wooden, box-like cup). We’re not par­tic­u­larly fond of straight sake, cute as this is.


So! We end up try­ing the suda­chi spark­ling sake. Sudachi is a Japanese lime that tastes some­where between a yuzu and a lem­on. We prefer yuzu over suda­chi for its uplift­ing fla­vour.


And we try amaza­ke gelato made by the brew­ery. Amazake is made from the lees left over from sake pro­duc­tion, and (under­stand­ably) has the taste of fer­men­ted rice. It’s an inter­est­ing fla­vour that’s more mel­low when eaten in cold forms, and rather sick­en­ing in hot forms (like as a hot drink). It’s not some­thing we’d want to eat all the time.


Outside Kikumasamune Sake Museum we see sig­nage point­ing in the dir­ec­tion of the closest train sta­tions. With the brew­ery back­drop, they seem to be aimed at tour­ists vis­it­ing the Kobe brew­er­ies.


We’re on our way to the next brew­ery and walk past many res­id­en­tial streets. The clad­ding of the houses are quite styl­ish.


It’s a fair walk to the next brew­ery (some 700m) but we spot this sign just out­side its entrance.


This is the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum. Like the pre­vi­ous brew­ery, it is equal parts ded­ic­ated museum and shop, with the brew­ery itself behind it.


The load­ing and stor­age areas are on the oppos­ite side of the street.


The museum in this brew­ery spans the entirety of almost two floors. The dis­plays are detailed, with English sig­nage and video nar­ra­tion through­out. Clockwise from top left, the pho­tos show the sake brew­ers hoist­ing a bar­rel, filling the bar­rel with water, pol­ish­ing and rest­ing the rice grains.


The top pho­tos show the rice being soaked in water and the rice being stored in bar­rels after steam­ing, while the bot­tom pho­tos show the steamed rice fer­ment­ing after the mold has been added, and the filtered sake stored in bar­rels.


Here’s a close up of the sake bar­rels, as well as a ceram­ic ver­sion on the right.


Since July 2012, the brewery’s fact­ory uses 1, 176 sol­ar pan­els on its roof to gen­er­ate about 315,000kWh. It’s green!


This photo shows the gen­er­al floor plan of the tra­di­tion­al brew­ery pri­or to being rebuilt as a mod­ern fact­ory.


At the end of the museum route, we reach the shop that sells a vari­ety of sake based goods.


There are four types of sake tast­ing: sake, yuzu sake, plum sake and sak­ura sake. Sakura and plum sake are rather rich and too flor­al for our tastes. Yuzu provides the fresh­ness and sweet­ness that ordin­ary sake lacks. We pur­chase this yuzu sake, which has a stronger alco­hol fla­vour than the namaza­ke above, being pas­teur­ized.


We try these spark­ling sake jelly drinks in a vari­ety of fla­vours: plum, lem­on, yuzu, peach and apple. I’m sur­prised that jel­lies man­age to be fizzy! Apple and yuzu were favour­ites, while plum came in last and lem­on was rather unre­mark­able.


And finally, this is a foil pack­et of yuzu sake that freezes to a slush­ie like con­sist­ency. I find that the bit­ter­ness of the yuzu becomes more pro­nounced when frozen.


On our way to our last brew­ery, we walk past a num­ber of these giant silos. Full of sake?


Walking past more res­id­en­tial areas, we find this blue house with a blue bicycle out­side.


The prox­im­ity of the Nada dis­trict to the coast means it’s vul­ner­able to tsuna­mis.


The last brew­ery is Kobe Shushinkan Brewery, which usu­ally offers tours of its brew­ery to vis­it­ors with pri­or reser­va­tion. Unfortunately, I was told that the par­tic­u­lar week­end we were vis­it­ing was the fest­iv­al for the first brew of the sea­son. And true to the word, there was indeed a fest­iv­al being held in its rowdy interi­or!


We’re hungry and exhausted from the 4km walk from the first brew­ery, so we skip the giant crowds at Kobe Shushinkan Brewery and head towards the dir­ec­tion of the sta­tion. The har­bourfront of Kobe didn’t interest us so we’re head­ing back to Osaka.


One last stop on the way to the sta­tion is the Kobe Konan Muko no Sato.


Rather than sake, Kobe Konan Muko no Sato sells food­stuffs, con­di­ments and pickles made with sake lees.


There’s no English in this store, and I’m not sure how some­thing this (a fruit or veget­able?) involves sake lees as it looks to be pickled in some sort of miso paste, which is fer­men­ted soy­bean?


Back en route to the sta­tion we spot an train stor­age facil­ity on the roof of a car­park.


The car­park is for the Oasis super­mar­ket under­neath. It’s the biggest super­mar­ket we’ve been to in Japan (and we’ve been to many!) with a fresh pro­duce sec­tion that rivals those we find in Australia.


We find their boxed curry sec­tion in a book­shelf set up!


And we buy these Calbee Consomme chips, and we man­age to eat them after I con­vince D that my hun­ger could not wait until din­ner! Even if it was all-you-can-eat-yakiniku!

Osaka — Umeda


Fueled by potato chips, we arrive back in Osaka. On our quest to find the din­ner des­tin­a­tion, for the first time, we have trouble find­ing a way out of the train sta­tion to ground level and then once we do, we encounter a bunch of con­struc­tion that pre­vents us from cross­ing the road effi­ciently!


We end up on this side of Osaka Station, which we’d not seen since our first vis­it in 2011.


After some 10 minutes, we’re on the oth­er side of the road and into this shop­ping arcade.


The res­taur­ant, 298: All-You-Can-Eat Yakiniku, is loc­ated at the end of the shop­ping arcade. If we weren’t bent on find­ing it, we’d have turned back as the shops aren’t all that inter­est­ing.


We get a booth to ourselves. You take your shoes off to sit at the booths.


This res­taur­ant sup­posedly offers all-you-can-eat yakiniku (grilled meat) for Y1080 and all-you-can drink soft­drink for Y420 over 90 minutes, but we’re told that we only get it for 60 minutes because we didn’t make a pri­or reser­va­tion. We’re con­fused but Y1080 for an hour is still decent.


The rules state that if there is any meat left over on your table when your 90 minutes is over, you must pay Y1000/​g. That’s about $10/​g, an insanely high rate that works as a sure deterrent.


You start off with a plate of assor­ted meat, after which you can order any­thing addi­tion­al from the choices of beef, chick­en, pork, intern­al organs, and saus­ages. We end up eat­ing a lot of beef, which is par­tic­u­larly juicy. The chick­en was tasty, but took an very long time to cook! And the pork was rather dry, alas. I enjoyed the saus­ages, although D thinks they’re a rather cheap meat to eat at all-you-can-eat.


After din­ner and before the meat settles in our stom­ach to put us in a food coma, we stop by this mel­on pan place.


The shop, called World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon-pan Ice-cream, is fam­ous for its crispy mel­on pan bread sand­wich­ing a slab of mac­cha ice cream.


The bread is warm and crunchy, and con­trasts well with the cold and soft slab of mac­cha ice cream. The sign on the wall of the store recom­mends eat­ing it with the pack­aging so you don’t end up with ice cream on your­self, and even sup­plies straws, spoons and wet wipes for your con­veni­ence.

Osaka — Namba


We head back to Namba Parks to view the Christmas illu­min­a­tion.


This year, it’s called the Super Flower Illumination.


At the base is a Christmas tree that changes col­our.


The walk towards the top of Namba Parks is illu­min­ated with a mul­ti­tude of LEDs.


Half way up, there’s an illu­min­a­tion water fea­ture out­side one of the entrances to Namba Parks.


And the view from above, with the east­ern side of Namba in the back­ground.


This is the main attrac­tion at the Christmas illu­min­a­tion. The lights oper­ate to a music­al track that runs on loop. We’ve come just a bit too early (around 7pm), so all the kids are still about run­ning riot!


At the very top of the Christmas illu­min­a­tion, there’s a mist­ing light dis­play of a fairy on the grass beneath. You climb onto an elev­ated plat­form to view it from above.


And…finally, the view of the Christmas Illumination from the oppos­ite dir­ec­tion. This year’s Christmas Illumination looked much the same as last years and hence less impress­ive. To my dis­ap­point­ment, I’ve since found out that that’s much the same case with illu­min­a­tions across Japan. So the only way to see new ones is to keep vis­it­ing new places!