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Traditional Soba at Yamatoan on Mount Yoshino in Nara (Yoshinoyama)

Yoshinoyama (吉野山 or Mount Yoshino) in Nara prefecture is mainly famous for it’s beautiful cherry tree blossoms in the spring. However, I was in the area in the summer as part of another trip, and Google Maps led us to a wonderful soba shop, Yamatoan.

Inaka Soba at Soba restaurant Yamatoan on Mt. Yoshino
Inaka Soba set at Yamatoan (circa. 2020)

The staff are very friendly. Maybe it’s because we went on off-season and they weren’t very busy, but they took some extra time to tell us the difference in “inaka soba” (country-style old-fashioned soba) and regular soba. They also serve “soba yu” at the end of your meal, which the left over warm water that is left over from when the soba noodles were prepared. You’re meant to pour this warm broth into your soba dipping sauce (tsuyu) and drink it like tea.

The shop also had a big jambe drum from Mali… The staff told us that he used to play in a drum circle. I’m saying staff, but, he actually might be the owner, or manager, not sure. The shop also sells high-end hemp backpacks from Nepal. It’s that kind of natural place with a hipster vibe.

Soba restaurant Yamatoan
Yamatoan on Mount Yoshino in Nara (Yoshinoyama)

We cheated and came to Yamatoan by car. If you decide to walk up the mountain to get here, you’ll be sure to work up an appetite and you’ll enjoy passing by the other rustic shops along the way.

Good times! Good food! If you’re in the area be sure to check it out, might be fun.

Soba restaurant Yamatoan
They also have a soba-making workshop!

Links:

Yamatoan Official Website

Nara Sightseeing – Yamatoan

Address: 2296, Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Pref.

Japanese Shochu – Chihonokura

I’m no shochu connoisseur, but I’ve had a lot of shochu. My relatives drink a ton of the potato-based Kirishima, so I am using Kirishima as the basis of comparison for every shochu I have had recently.

I recently picked up a carton of potato-based Chihonokura from the Shirakawa Suigen area in Kyushu.

Chinokura Shochu Carton
Chihonokura Shochu

Compared to Kirishima this shochu has a much stronger potato flavor. Many people describe the potato flavor of potato-based shochu as stinky, and I think it’s not unfair to use that to describe this shochu. It’s not the stinkiest or most difficult to drink, but when you try Chihonokura there will be no doubt that you’re drinking a potato shochu!

I normally drink shochu with lots of ice. I couldn’t imagine drinking this one any other way, I’m sure I would have personally found it to be too strong.

Personally I won’t be seeking this one out again, but if you’re into the more powerful potato shochu’s it’s worth a try. I was able to easily find this at a regular grocery store in Japan.

Chihonokura Carton Details
Shirakawa Suigen in Kyushu is famous for pristine water, essential for shochu.

Fancy White Bread in Japan at Nogami Bread

Need a fancy loaf of bread? Sure you do! Try Noagmi Bread.

Nogami Bread Display

This double sized loaf on display costs 864 yen, or about $8.50 USD. A smaller loaf is 432 yen. I have had this bread on several occasions, and it’s delicious for sure, but it’s not something I would plan on eating every day.

Apparently Nogami is the first Japanese company to start selling high-end white bread in Japan. Now there are many similar specialty bakeries. Nogami has branches all over Japan. See if there is one in your location so you can find out what the hype is all about!

Famous Signatures at Nogami in Osaka
Famous people shopped here! One of the Nogami Bread shops in Osaka

Links:

Not my video. A Japanese guy from 2016 showing off his bread.
Can you handle this?

Takoyaki Parties Never Get Old

Yet another Takoyaki party! But is it TENKASU or AGEDAMA?

Many Japanese people from the Kansai area in western Japan have a Takoyaki kit as part of their kitchenware items. If there’s a home gathering of Japanese expats takoyaki will probably make an appearance before long.

Takoyaki - cut octopus
Cut up octopus to insert into the center of each Takoyaki ball. “Tako” means Octopus.
Takoyaki - ingredients
Tenkasu, green onions, shouga (ginger), and, rare, but ok, cabbage.

The rice crispies looking thing you see above is called Tenkasu in Kansai-dialect. Until recently, I thought tenkasu was the regular name.

天かす てんかす “Tenkasu” Used in Kansai. The name comes from the left over stuff when you make Tenpura. The “ten” from “tenpura” and “kasu” basically means trash or residue.

揚げ玉 あげだま “Agedama” Used in the rest of Japan, it seems. Age means to “fry up,” and “dama” is a ball.

Takoyaki - ingredients
The batter should spill out of the depressions, no problem. It’ll roll together in the end.
Takoyaki - Cooking
Turn them as they cook to get this shape. All done!
Takoyaki
Add Takoyaki sauce, seaweed (aonori), fish flakes (katsuobushi), and mayo if you like!

If you’ve never heard of Takoyaki, google it up. There are countless explanations!

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Minoh Beer – Craft Beer from Osaka. And eat some leaves.

If you’re looking for a quality local craft beer from Osaka you must try Minoh Beer.

Minoh Beer - Weizen
Minoh Beer – the Weizen

Minoh beer is probably the easiest Osaka-based craft beer to find. You might be able to find it in a restaurant or craft beer bar. You can certainly buy it online from their shop, and you can occasionally find it in a random grocery shop. You may also have luck finding it in large cities outside of Osaka as well.

Minoh is a town in Osaka famous for its waterfall and beautiful foliage in the fall. The first time I went to Minoh I didn’t know about Minoh Beer and was mainly going for a nature-filled getaway from the hustle and bustle of Osaka. Some links about Minoh follow this post.

Minoh beer has been around since 1997. It is unique in that it is owned by three sisters. They have a relatively large line of beers and have won many awards. There is a Minoh Beer Warehouse in Minoh where you can tour and buy souvenirs. I haven’t been there… yet.

Here is an image of the Minoh Beer pamphlet (as of Feb 2020). You’ll see a pilsner, a weizen, a pale ale, a stout, a double IPA for their main line. They also have several seasonal offerings, including a Yuzu White for the winter season that I have never tried! Good to see that their product line continues to grow. More images of the pamphlet are at the bottom of this post.

Minoh Beer Pamphlet 2020
Minoh Beer Pamphlet (Feb 2020)

This time I tried this Billikin Beer from Minoh Beer that I had never had before. It’s a light fruity beer that I think would be delicious on a hot summer day. It’s also the first canned beer from Minoh that I have tried.

Minoh Beer - Billiken Beer
Billikin Beer from Minoh Beer

What else is going on in Minoh?

I was digging through the archives of my old blog and found these words that I wrote about Minoh when I visited in 2005.

One of the local foods available in Minoh is called Momiji Tempura.

Momiji Tempura in Minoh
Momiji Tempura in Minoh – Deep Fried Leaves

As you probably know Tempura is a way of deep frying lightly breaded foods so that when they are done they have a light brown crust of tasty goodness around them. You can tempura anything from shrimp to ice cream.

In Minoh they push tempura to the limits and throw their famous maple leaves into the mix. Maybe they have too many and are trying to control the population? Beats raking them I guess. Crunch.

Momiji Tempura just tastes like an extra crunchy tempura snack. You can’t really taste the leaves… The Tempura coating is more crunchy than usual tempura. You can pop ’em like potato chips. Fun for the novelty I guess.

Hey. Japanese time. Did you know that the kanji for TEMPURA is really tough? Tough like “soy sauce” and “rose” are tough. Japanese usually write the PURA in Hiragana. 天麩羅!!! Learn to write this, and dazzle your friends next time you go out for tempura.

On another note of randomness… Apparently momiji trees are normally red, and then when fall comes they turn green. Opposite of most trees. This explains why I could have red momiji leave tempura in April… Fact or fiction?

Back to beer and Minoh related links:

Minoh Beer Bottle Cap
Minoh Beer Bottle Cap
Minoh Beer Pamphlet 2020
Minoh Beer Pamphlet 2020
Minoh Beer Pamphlet 2020
Minoh Beer Pamphlet 2020

Shochu Culture with expert Stephen Lyman

Do you want to really geek out on Japanese Shochu? Check out these two videos featuring Stephen Lyman, America’s leading expert on Japan’s national distilled spirit: shochu.

Deep-Swig of Shochu Culture with expert Stephen Lyman
Japan Society NYC – Shochu: Japan’s Best Kept Secret

Shochu is a nice, distinctly Japanese drink. Like whisky, different shochu labels have memorably different tastes and qualities. You can drink shochu on the rocks, split with warm water, with seltzer water, you can even do hot water and put an umeboshi into the glass.

As you’ll learn in Stephen Lyman’s videos, shochu is almost exclusively produced and consumed in Japan. Most shochu is made in Kyushu, and much of it is from relatively small distileries. Exploring the world of shochu might be fun! Give it a shot.

Drinking in general is not good for your health. However, among all the possible alcoholic beverages you can consume, Shochu isn’t the worst. In fact, Stephen documented his weight lost results when switching to a “shochu diet.” Apparently shochu has far fewer calories than other drinks. Another plus of shochu is that it is normally cheaper than whiskey or sake. A nice bottle of shochu, in Japan, will rarely exceed 4000 or 5000 yen. Very good bottles can be had for about 3000 yen. Very reasonable.

Still curious? Need more shochu info?

Interview with Stephen Lyman on Nomunication.jp: https://www.nomunication.jp/2019/06/18/kampai-samurai-stephen-lyman-shochu/

Wondering which Shochu were introduced in Stephen’s (@shochu_danji) interview with @jjwalsh? Here they are!

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A Traditional Japanese Breakfast

What do Japanese people traditionally eat for breakfast in Japan?

Many Japanese these days eat a more western breakfast with eggs, toast, and coffee. However, if you’re at Japanese inn or hospital or something you may get something more traditional, like this.

Photo of Japanese Breakfast
Photo of Japanese Breakfast

So what’s in this photo:

  • White rice
  • Natto (a dish of fermented soybeans, hated by many, loved by some)
  • Kiwi
  • Kiriboshi Daikon (cut dried radish)
  • Miso soup
  • Pickled (shibazuke pickles)
  • Saba (mackerel)
  • Yogurt
  • Mugicha (barley tea)
  • Gobou (burdock root) and Renkon (lotus root) with Mayonnaise

Cook it up! Might be fun!

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Japanese Craft Beer: Ginga Kougen Beer from Iwate prefecture

Whenever I’m in Japan (or anywhere for that matter) I try to drink craft brews when I get the opportunity. Here’s one of my consistent favorites, Ginga Kougen Beer from Iwate Prefecture.

The deep blue bottle stands out. The beer is tasty and refreshing. You can find it outside of Iwate frequently. I recently found it in Osaka. Quality stuff. Highly recommended. Run, do not walk, to a big super market in Japan and grab it.

Ginga Kougen Beer from Iwate Prefecture

Ginga Kougen Beer has an English website where you can read up on some of the history. There, you’ll see that this beer was established in 1996, which was also the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kenji Miyazawa, a famous Japanese author. One of Kenji Miyazawa’s most famous works is called 銀河鉄道の夜 (Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru, Night on the Galactic Railroad), which is where this beer takes part of its name. According to the Ginga Kougen Beer official website, the actual name of the beer means means Galaxy (ginga) and Plateau (kougen). Galaxy indicates “dream and roman” (I think they mean romance) and plateau indicates “famous natural water.”

It’s not often that one gets the chance to visit Iwate if you do not live or work there. Iwate is far from Tokyo, and isn’t on the way to much. I have been lucky enough to visit a few times and always enjoyed myself. The most famous cultural site must be Hiraizumi and Chusonji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The capital, Morioka, has famous noodle dishes such as wanko soba, jajamen, and morioka ramen (a cold noodle dish). If you find yourself in northern Japan, please try to fit in a visit to Iwate! Might be fun!

What’s your favorite Japanese Craft beer? Let me know in the comments!

Links:

Ginga Kougen Beer from Iwate Prefecture
Ginga Kougen Beer Label (Front)
Ginga Kougen Beer from Iwate Prefecture
Ginga Kougen Beer Label (Back)

Blowfish Sake on Fire – Fuguhire Zake

Back in 2007 I tried a hot sake with blowfish tale. With hindsight, I see that this might be called Fuguhire Zake.

Blowfish Sake

From what I remember, I did not find it delicious. I’ve never had it since. The restaurant that I had it at was a blowfish speciality store, so all of our dishes included blowfish.

Blowfish Sake on Fire
Flaming blowfish tail entering the hot sake

They brought out the sake in a full cup set inside of the square masu that you see in the picture. Then the set the blowfish on fire and dunked it into the sake. Adding the blowfish caused some of the sake to overflow from the cup into the sake. Nice presentation!

In terms of taste, I much prefer straight sake…

If you get a chance, try Hot Sake with Blowfish Tail! It might be fun!

Blowfish Sake in a Masu
Blowfish sake was a good experience. Wasn’t actually dangerous.

Links around the web:
Fuguhire Zake (Hot Sake with Blowfish Tail)

INSIDE THE DEADLIEST COCKTAIL IN THE WORLD

It was like this!

Whisky Chocolate from Taketsuru

On Valentine’s Day in Japan the custom is that girls give chocolate to the guys that they like. They may also give chocolate to the guys that they feel they must based on their formal relationships… Like to a male coworker on their team at work or something. If you’re guy who is really liked you might get lucky and receive some amazing homemade chocolate.

I like whisky. I also like Japanese whisky. This year I got some whisky chocolate from Taketsuru! It’s super dark chocolate, which I like, and has a nice infused whisky flavor.

Taketsuru Chocolate
Taketsuru Whisky Chocolate
Taketsuru Chocolate
It came in a non-standard small size wooden “masu” traditionally used for sake.
Taketsuru Chocolate
Taketsuru Chocolate Insert

The last image here is of the insert in the chocolate box. It explains that it uses high quality refined alcohol not diluted in water, with techniques passed down from Nikka Whisky’s blenders to get Taketsuru Pure Malt. It has 3% alcohol content.

Tasty! Also, apparantly Silsmaria is the first company to sell raw chocolate (nama chocolate).

The Valentine’s Day chocolate industry in Japan is totally over the top. I guess it’s fine, as everyone loves a reason to celebrate. The companies do come out with some interesting chocolate products, like this one. It really takes willpower to resist the urge to spend though!