Tuesday May 15th: Yoichi – The Scotland of Japan

The reason I went to Sapporo was because it was near the home of Nikka‘s first whiskey distillery.

You must excuse me as I write this, but I may interchangeably refer to Nikka’s whiskey as scotch. Obviously it isn’t “scotch” not having been aged in Scotland for 3 years and one day, however it would appear at least some peat comes from Scotland, so… they’re not messing around. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, “whiskey” has a pretty broad range of flavors, and calling it scotch helps narrow it down, because, well, Nikka’s whiskey tastes like scotch.

On my way there it became quickly apparent that things were going to be even closer to what seems like home. Shores were rocky, the sky was mostly cloudy, with just hints of blue coming through. Arriving at the station also told me that this was not a big place. Yoichi is a fairly small town, with the tallest buildings being the bookstore and the “Phachinko” place, both of which were on the street coming off the train station.

About 200 meters, directly in front of the station, beyond those two buildings on the sides, the street Y’ed. At the Y, on the other side of the street, under a clearing of sky, I saw what I was looking for.

Nikka, Japanese for Scotch (not literally).

Continue reading

Thursday’s Photos: Jazz, Scotch, Sake, and Zen Buddhist Vegetarian

Dropbox here.

Monday: Kyoto Take Two

I fear this post may be a bit shorter than the last, I already went through the accident at the end, and for a large part of my day there really wasn’t a whole lot to say.

For my second day in Kyoto I decided to set off further North to try to reach the Heian Jingu Shrine, which has some of the latest blooming Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto. It was also featured in Lost in Translation and the garden is one of the most famous. It’s also about 3-4 times larger than the garden I went to in Minato-ku Tokyo.

I covered much of the same ground I did in the late afternoon of Sunday, but I would have about 2km further to walk. I once again passed the Fire Station, which is required if I’m going pretty much anywhere, it appeared as though they were preparing for some sort of drill.

Also there was a dog tied to a fish tank display.

I made my way further down the street and noticed a sign pointing to a shrine I hadn’t noticed. Oddly it was a street I had been down, but came from the opposite direction. When I came across the garden with the statues I knew I was right, but somehow, I didn’t look the other direction.

Easy to miss, really.

I went a bit further up but it appeared closed off, so I went back to my mission only to be once again distracted once I made it past the furthest shrine I saw on Sunday. It appeared that there was a fairly long street through a gate, followed by another doored gate, followed by quite a few steps, and then temple grounds.

Yeah, like that.

There were signs indicating that a the central temple was closed off for construction. This is partially correct. The building is under construction, but it appears that they are far enough along that parts of it are actually open to the public. Large parts of the building were unpainted wood, and even the parts that were, looked like simple modern construction designed to vaguely resemble the traditional designs. I presume it is just a starting point, but it still looked a bit strange.

High contrast construction.

Finally, I worked my way around, followed a sort of canal bypass street which still had a partially open, granite drain for the water to flow down to a street that was a straight shot to the target shrine. Now I had heard that the gate in front of the shrine was big, but… they’re not kidding. Outside Kyoto’s National Museum of Modern Art there appeared to be some sort of small film production going on. Had I been smart I would have taken a picture of the back of the chairs, but I’m not.

No tricks of prospective, it’s just huge.

Finally arriving at my primary goal for the day, I found myself inside a large courtyard covered with a thin layer of off white gravel. The grounds themselves were quite interesting to look at, and the cougar and dragon guardians were quite photogenic.

Finding myself finally there, I did notice looking past the entrance to the garden, that the cherry trees, had not one blossom upon them, nor even any to be seen on the ground and the entry fee was 600 yen. I hemmed and hawed but eventually decided that it was probably going to be worth it regardless of cherry blossoms.

Avid readers will remember I mentioned two missteps when talking about my Monday night accident. This was the figurative one.

Don’t get me wrong, the garden is still quite beautiful, however it was, at least at the moment, not worth the price of entry. Unlike the garden in Minato, it is overly reliant upon cherry blossoms. It seemed the second largest arrangements are lilies, which have only just started to bloom, there are few parts that will be interesting the entire year.

Now pretend those lilies are blooming.

The worst of it is that the garden is quite linear, direction signs everywhere, back tracking is discouraged, every small island was closed. The steps in the image above, were closed off. And the entire last quarter of the garden was closed. None of this information was available even via pictograms or map updates. I’m not asking for English, but something would be nice.

I don’t want to come across as though I didn’t enjoy the garden. It was still quite pretty and the water was so clear you could see the turtles without issue. Regardless, I would have rather gone back to the one in Minato as it seemed so much more relaxing and they ensured something large was always in bloom.

Damnit, I really wanted to walk across the stone platform bridge thingy!

Hindsight appears to be harsher than I felt at the time, and I really do want to get across that probably most of my frustration is now amplified due to the accident later.

Though far too late to actually go inside, I decided to look at the Imperial Palace grounds, which are primarily giant parks, and is nearly 1.5km long. I would need to cross over a semi-dry riverbed, and past Japan’s first commercial hydroelectric plant.

Bricks were in back then.

I would also find a liquor store which had fairly decent prices, such as Lagavulin 16 for $68. Grocery stores also caught my eye, a more expensive Fresco, and one of two stores claiming to be co-ops but appearing to actually be brands, and are at best the same price as Fresco. This was the first time I looked at the price of rice. The largest bags are 5kg, and the cheapest I saw was 1980 yen. That’s about $25 for 11lbs. Rice. Potatoes are 38 yen per 100 grams, which puts them at about the same price as rice.

At least the booze is fairly reasonably priced.

Shockingly I eventually made it to the park, and began walking around, it was so vast you could completely forget the city and find a place thick enough with trees you could forget there was anything else.

In the middle of a city.

I decided to look at the front gate of the palace, and it was okay. Just prior to getting to them I was a little distracted by a giant white dog. Near the gates, out of the corner of my eye I saw a small cat running into the bushes, hiding from a man on a bike complete with a dog in the basket. At first I thought the cat to be overreacting, but the man was actually chasing the cat around.

A mean man, a dog staring at the cat, and Annie.

After he left, I tried to see if I could calm the cat down, I softly approached, attempting to mimic the meow the cat was making through my cold. While the cat continued to talk back, once again, like all but one cat, it remained distrustful of me. Later on another man on a bike came, and he bore food. That seemed to get the cat’s trust. Go figure.

Hiding from the bikedog.

I was always afraid meowing at cats would get me in trouble. Just as I was giving up on calming down the cat (or kitten or I don’t even know, so many of them are so small, I wonder if they get enough food to actually grow) I heard something like, “You have a pretty good meow.”

“Years of practice.”

“Where?” “Seattle” “Hawaii, Big Island” “Sean” “Annie”

Cleverly I take advantage of the conversation to actually sit down for the first time in six or seven hours.

Turns out she is studying abroad, majoring in English Lit and Linguistics focusing on Japanese, which she can speak a fair amount due to half of her family, but living in Hawaii, never really had much to practice reading with. During this conversation I also discovered that mosquitoes like this park, and me.

She had a test on kanji today. Hopefully she did well.

At this point all natural light had faded. I began walking home, thinking I might make a rectangle of my trip, but then I realized I didn’t want to walk all the way back to Fresco, so I would only venture so far before cutting back to know streets.

I found yet another liquor store, and it had even less of a selection of regular items, it was pretty much all alcohol. The selection was amazing, and unlike the last place it had better prices, and the scotch I was looking for.

Also the best in the world, the Yamazaki 25, for $1200.

I probably spent 30 minutes deciding if I would actually buy the Miyagikyo 12, but I eventually pulled the trigger. It was expensive, but still about $60 cheaper than you can get it in Canada… since it doesn’t come to the USA. I also picked up a can of stout from Japan’s first micro-brewery. It was okay.

On my way back, I investigated the subway, but I couldn’t find anything that would get me near the hostel, and the information guy wasn’t sure of anything that went near Gojo either. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, just would have been nice for the future.

I also investigated drug stores to check prices there on pain killers, which is when I found out how expensive those are. However I guess that takes us back to Failure Snatched From the Hands of Victory.

Right after the “shock test” to check for lens damage.

Which means I’m finally caught up, since the update for today will be to write, something like: “I processed photos and wrote the updates you’ve now read while I healed from my injuries. It took all day. I didn’t buy the sashimi because I wasn’t hungry after having the thing I purchased for lunch.”

Hooray! Done with my work that I technically don’t have to do, but feel compelled to do so anyway.

Defeat Snatched from the Hands of Victory

Shock tests are not fun.

Today was a pretty successful day save for two missteps. I was walking the 5km back to the hostel, and investigating places along the way for painkillers ($0.30 per pill avg), a portable sewing kit as I had some things to fix and to worry about (still not located) and one of the world’s best single malt scotches.

Well, I found a liquor store with the best prices and selection I’ve seen. Not only did they have what I was after, but they even had “the best in the world” the Yamazaki 25 year single malt it was 98000 yen, or $1205.40. Yeaaaaaah I didn’t get that one.

I was bad, and got Nikka’s Miyagikyo 12 year, which is one of Japan’s best single malts under $1000 USD.

With about 1.5km to go (500m to the grocery store), and thankfully long after I transferred the scotch to my camera bag, I made my second (and only literal) misstep by slipping on uneven sidewalk. I twisted my back, tore the flesh and fabric of my left knee, and failed to fully protect my exposed camera.

I vividly remember the sound of the camera hitting lens first. The bottom of the kit lens’ hood impacted the pavement, and I saw something black fly outward from the point of impact.

It was just gravel. The lens appeared fine. The hood likely absorbed much of the impact, good old plastic.

Sadly my knee hit a raised corner of concrete and my black pants are now pretty much out of commission. When I arrived I had realized I had packed one fewer pair of pants than I had thought, I was worried I didn’t have enough. I discovered a small hole in my cargo pants’ knee, I wasn’t pleased. Now I’m really worried. Buying new pants in Japan would neither be easy nor cheap. I may not have much choice, but hey, easier than buying shoes!

Well, I’m going to clean up my knee, bandage it, get into my pajama pants, and gorge myself on food I got for 40% because it was getting late. I didn’t get the sashimi, but I also didn’t know it was 40% off. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

Oh yes, and I know I’m behind on real updates. I still have most of yesterday’s pictures, and 700 from today. I was already thinking of taking tomorrow off from adventuring to catch up on things and relax, and after this injury, I think it’s really for the best.

I really wish I had remembered to fill up my painkiller bottle before I left. 3 Neproxin Sodium pills and about 5 Excedrin pills left. At least the camera bag has stopped bothering me as much.