Monday, October 26, 2015

Feeding the Monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Arashiyama

Arashiyama is a district in western Kyoto that is easily a day trip. We didn't have an entire day to spend, but couldn't pass up the chance to feed the monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park. Sounds like a unique, touristy thing to do, right?

What we didn't realize was that the monkey park was on top of a small mountain. A moderately steep climb in the high summer humidity was a great compliment to the sake of the night before.

A very discreet sign at the street invites you in to Iwatayama Monkey Park.

Numerous signs like this just inside the entrance made me curious.  How far could it be to the monkeys?
Then we began the hike up.

After hiking quite a ways, we came across this sign. See the red dot at the lower left corner that says "present location"?  After our initial reaction, we sat down for a minute and watched others' reactions. I'm pretty sure if I spent the day at that sign, by the end of it I would know how to say, "You've got to be kidding me!" in Japanese.

At the summit. Finally made it!

A view of the house for feeding the monkeys at the summit.

They ~170 monkeys that live on the mountain are totally tame, as long as you don't make eye contact, which is interpreted as a challenge.

But happily, they will make eye contact with the camera.

Outside the feeding house, scoping out the food situation.

This is the way the feeding works - you are in the cage!

You purchase small bags of bananas, apples, or nuts for a couple hundred yen, and the monkeys take the food right out of your hand.

Breeding season is twice a year, which means plenty of babies all the same age.

The adults will happily steal from the babies.

In the trees and all around the peak, monkeys live.

Monkey on the ground.

Monkey in a tree!

Bring your camera and your hiking shoes - Iwatayama Monkey park is totally worth the trip!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Kobe Harborland Waterfront at Night

A train ride and a 15 minute walk brings you to the Kobe Harborland waterfront from anywhere in Kobe, Japan. A beautifully lit boardwalk runs along multiple levels of shops and restaurants. We opted for some Kobe beef and vegetable grill on the upper level near the Ferris wheel. With so many available options, you could easily spend weeks eating dinner here. It's a great way to spend the early evening, with impressive visual displays in every direction. Here are some shots of the nighttime scenery. 

The view across to the Port of Kobe.

Dinner cruise?

Oriental Hotel across the water.

The boardwalk.

I believe it was about 900 yen for a ride.

Boardwalk from the upper level.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

You Can't Not Look at the Signs in Japan

One of the most foreign and interesting aspects of Japan to me is the signage.  In the city, in every direction there are displays that demand your attention.  Because not everything is in English, and if is something important you're looking for (directions, station names, etc.) can be fairly subtle, I found myself hyper-attentive to all of the interesting signage.

In addition to being fascinating to decipher, I also found the juxtaposition of the fun, cartoon-meets-game aspects with the overall serious politeness of the culture highly engrossing.  Here are a few standouts.

First thing off the plane, this greeted me as I sought relief.

Cubic subway attendant in Osaka. The real ones were much more round.

Boss coffee and music at sunset is so good it makes Tommy Lee cry.

I'm not sure what this is, but I'm sure recycling is fun!

Dandy House! We looked this up, and I'm pretty sure it was, of all things, a hair salon.

Next time I'm in Kobe, I'm getting some Powder, Snow, Milk, or all three.

I think this is a warning sign for dangerous hogs nearby.  Atop Mt. Maya, in Kobe.

For such a clean place, I was surprised how much graffiti was apparently a problem (not that I saw any). 

Coolest sign for a lounge.

No drones at the Golden Pavilion!  Makes me think this must have been a problem before.

"Please put phones on 'manner mode' and refrain from speaking on phones."  On the subways everywhere.

I don't know what Goo is, but I need some.

The Japanese are very frank.

Friendly otter telling you about his feeding time and talk at the Osaka Aquarium.

A nice little ex-pat bar in Kobe.  Sign in the elevator.  All good bars are small and above street level.

I'm not sure.  Boy band?

Giant robot sculpture advertisement on the subway.  Nothing strange about that.

Of course they do!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Sake in Kobe, Japan

It's the afternoon.  You're in Kobe, Japan, home to Nada - Japan's top sake producing district.  The challenge: get your sake history on, with a side of sake tastings.  It's a challenge because in the district, most of the distillery + museums close around 17:00 (Japan loves the military time), and you've got some exploring to do.

So, hop a train to the Nada district.  We got off at Sumiyoshi station and started with the Hakutsuru Brewery Museum.

Hakutsuru Brewery Museum

Hakutsuru was the largest of the breweries we made it to.  We arrived right as they were closing the museum, but we were able to make it through.  A good tasting and a decent amount of money spent at the gift shop later, we were off to a good start!

(Speaking of the gift shop, this was the first place I'd noticed Japanese packaging efficiency.  When you make a purchase, everywhere will wrap and package items for you as if you were taking them in ruck sack on a camel through the desert.  This includes 7-11.)

In the hedgerow outside the lovely property, the tiniest of signs told us we were in the right place.

The museum was large and informative.

The sake was delicious.  My favorite was the Junmai Ginjo.

Several rooms like this with scenes in the museum.

Sakura Masamune

The next stop was the Sakura Masamune Brewery and Museum.  From visiting such a new and admittedly foreign place, I found myself particularly attuned to the differences and similarities.  Sakura Masamune had a different feel than Hakutsuru, enough that I was happy that we'd made the trip.  But the one thing that struck me about all the sake breweries we visited (including one in Kyoto) was that while these are obviously places of business and profit, they also have a tone of simplicity and approachability.  I didn't feel out of place visiting them; nor did I feel marketed to.  A smaller shop but a richer tasting experience (granted, this one was not free) was enjoyable to me.

Tasting the good stuff.
Start with the sake tasting (300 yen), stay for the museum!

Historic sake labels.

Old bottles of sake, most of them still full (or partially).

Pretty logo.

I'm not sure what this was for, but I think I get it.

Dinner at Shu-Shin-Kan Restaurant

With daylight running scarce (the sun sets early in Japan's summer) we made our way to a brewery that had a restaurant.  We arrived after the museum closed, but had easily one of our most interesting dinners there.  A multi-course meal of tofu and fish dishes, accompanied by some Fukuju sake, it was a genuine experience.

Our palette was in the right hands.

Serious sake.

The first couple courses of the tofu set menu.