September 2013 Archives

in techtalk |


With all my focus on the Japan trip, I almost missed that this webite turned 10 years old last week. The whole dates back longer than that, I first registered it in 1997, early versions of the very basic website was hosted at xoom, which doesn’t exist anymore ( is now some sort of money transfer site so don’t click on it). Transferred over to tripod, anyone remember that? As Steve Jobs said,


Got my own host and started designing Sept 2003. With a basic siteplan. And those first posts seem so lame now.

Who knows what will bring in the next 10 years? Who will still have blogs? Or self-hosted sites. It’ll all be mobile and instant gratification. The whole concept of websites will probably be something kids scoff as being so old fashioned.

in going places |


Finally all 900+ pics are uploaded to flickr and the 8-day trip written. Trip report is organised by day on main page and into the 3 centres in the travel section. Same content. Easy reference listing here.

Main page:

  • day 1 part 1 — friday 13 sept — flight, car, yamazaki distillery
  • day 1 part 2 — friday 13 sept — wakayama market, shirahamakan onsen hotel
  • day 2 part 1 — saturday 14 sept — shirahama beach, engetsu island, toretore market
  • day 2 part 2 — saturday 14 sept — sandanbeki, senjojiki, public onsen, sunset
  • day 3 — sunday 15 sept — shirahama errands, nasty weather, rinku premium outlet, kyoto
  • day 4 — monday 16 sept — kyoto koyamizu temple, sannen-zaka, ninen-zaka, philosopher’s walk, nishiki market
  • day 5 — tuesday 17 sept — arashiyama flood cleanup, tenryuji temple, bamboo forest
  • day 6 — wednesday 18 sept — breakfast at kyoto, travel to osaka, shopping, dotonbori wagyu beef bbq dinner
  • day 7 — thursday 19 sept — osaka kuramon market, doyugasuji, takashimaya, uniqlo, dotonbori kobe beef shabu shabu dinner
  • day 8 — friday 20 sept — osaka kuramon market, underground shopping street, heading home

In travel section:

Flickr sets:

in eating and drinking |


Mise en place to me isn’t just weighing out and prepping the ingredients, it’s the process and equipment too. To prepare homemade preserves like jams and marmalade, the first thing to do is to sterilise the containers. I washed them very thoroughly in soapy water, then placed the jars in an oven at 150°C. The lids I put in a pot of boiling water.

The lemon curd recipe itself is from bbc and very straightforward:

  • zest and juice 5 medium lemons (recipe was for 4 large lemons) — I measured the juice, I had 175ml
  • mix the zest, juice with 100g butter and 180-200g sugar in a bowl over a bain marie — the jar lids were still boiling away in the main pot
  • lightly whisk 4 eggs and add slowly to the lemon butter mixture
  • cook for 15-20mins over the bain marie, stirring constantly, until thick and coated the back of a spoon

I’d used slightly less sugar than the recipe, measured out 180g and added about an extra tablespoon when I was tasting at the end. The resultant lemon curd was really wonderful — lovely and smooth and glossy, still a little tangy because of the reduced sugar, it will become a favourite I hope.

in eating and drinking |


Mum took me to a place that had beef brisket noodles. The sign on the door and walls suggested that the restaurant had something to do with Michelin stars, but apparently it was merely one of the many places mentioned in a Michelin guidebook for budget meals. A slight twist of the truth. Nevertheless, the noodles were good. The brisket was melt-in-your-mouth tender and even the soup was light and tasty.

I’m not generally a fan of brisket noodles. I tend to go for wonton noodles or some sort of fish balls. There are more and more beef brisket places cropping up, and they are beginning to use different types of brisket — lean, fatty, crispy depending on cut and cooking method. This place also had noodles in a tomato-based soup and Pakistani curry that came in 4 different spiciness levels. Minimal décor and a tad on the expensive side, worth trying again though.

in eating and drinking |


Lunch with college friends. It’s been over 20 years, but it seemed as if very little time had passed, today we behaved just like we used to, back when we were college kids. We hadn’t seen each other often, a couple of them for me a few years. At the table there were: a regional head of sales, a management consultant, a bank manager, a legal department head, a partner in a law firm and…me. Officially unemployed, hoping to be semi-retired me. Hahaha. Topic of conversation ranged from aspiring to be OAPs to new developments in the real estate front.

The menu was salad or parma ham & melon to start and spaghetti bolognaise, salmon, prawn risotto or rib-eye steak for mains. I had the prawn risotto. It was one grilled prawn and some fairly ordinary and too salty risotto. The parmesan shavings stuck to the shell of the prawn, it wasn’t completely appealing. The problem with dishes like this, I inevitably feel like I can make it more suited to my taste. In reality, I’ll probably do okay with flavours but fall short on presentation.

Walked with mm back to the office, then went shopping at the market for lemon curd and chocolate pudding ingredients.

in eating and drinking |

Zingy Home-Made Lemon Curd
Image courtesy flickr user french tart

I’m looking for a lemon curd recipe, and there are tons and tons online. I find that whenever I’m looking for online recipes, I gravitate to the usual sites: bbc good food, the guardian (especially if it’s Nigel Slater), sometimes Jamie, Delia or Nigella although I find Delia too sweet and Nigella too fiddly. Donna Hay if it’s an Aussie dish. Very rarely do I click on a page that I know or suspect is American.

It doesn’t mean American recipes are bad, I’m sure they work and are really good.

But I can’t follow them, especially if I’m baking. Frying a steak or French trimming a rack of lamb is okay, and I’m a big fan of Elise but I stay away from American baking recipes.

Everything is measured in cups. Of course liquids are measured in volume but dry ingredients? And what is the size of this magical cup? The dainty tea cup, a regular mug or a giant Starbucks cup, it’s so subjective. Baking depends on precision and “a cup of flour” is meaningless. How should it be scooped out? Compacted or loosely? Heaped or flat top? There may end up being a good 50g difference.

Yes, I know there are converters. But why go through the hassle? I like measuring my ingredients out. I like using ingredients I’m familiar with.

So back to the lemon curd recipe. Just for the sake of this post, I clicked on Martha Stewart’s recipe — 3 eggs, zest of half a lemon, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 6tbsp sugar, 4tbsp butter. I’ve never seen butter measured in tablespoons, heaped or melted or scooped like ice cream? There doesn’t seem to be enough lemon either. I don’t like this recipe.

Delia uses zest and juice of 4 lemons, 4 eggs, 12oz (350g) sugar and 8oz (225g) butter. That seems like way, way too much sugar. I remember her recipe for bread and butter pudding (or was it apple crumble, probably both) and that was too sweet too.

The recipe I like most is from bbc: zest and juice of 4 lemons, 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk, 200g sugar, 100g butter, cooked over a bain marie. Seems quite suitably lemony. I’ll try to make a batch this weekend.

in eating and drinking |

Parents’ turn to get presents. Barley tea for mum, blueberry cordial, biscuits, mochi and the golden peaches I got from Kuramon market in Osaka. A little bruised and needing to be eaten soon. Luckily it was just bruising on the outside, perfectly edible and very nice inside.

in eating and drinking |

Went over to sis’ to give her the stuff I got them from Japan: umeshu, biscuits, green tea kit kat, green tea. Was going to continue sorting pics and/or go to the gym but got dragged to the HH place with her and her friend. Ended up having 4 glasses of HH prosecco. It’s a good deal, their happy hour, basic beer, entry level red, white and prosecco all half price.

So now I’m really sleepy. Time for bed.

in in the news |


A lot of anticipation as the biggest storm of the year, the super typhoon usagi, approached. It did terrible damage to the Philippines and Taiwan, but when it arrived (an almost direct hit, passing only 100km from here) it was a giant let down. Waited the whole day for #8 storm signal to be raised, finally it got hoisted at 7pm. A little windier than usual but not much rain at all. I suppose I should be grateful but I was looking forward to a bout of heavy rain and bad weather. I’m strange that way.

in arts and media , being healthy |

Saw a Horizon documentary on the plane, Eat, Fast and Live Longer presented by Dr Michael Moseley which explores how certain scientists have used intermittently fasting as a method to slow ageing and improve health. From the extreme, where he went 3.5 days on just water, black tea and a 50 calorie packet of cup-a-soup a day; to a moderately extreme method that had him on alternate days of feeding and fasting. And finally to a 5:2 diet, where 2 days a week he restricted his calorie intake to around 500-600 calories.

Seems to be the dieting equivalent of HIIT. I don’t think I can do the extreme intermittent fasting, but it may be possible to follow the 5:2 regime. Even if it’s not as low as 500 calories, 800 or so may be less painful. A normal lunch and then fruit, veg or cereal for dinner. I just know that I haven’t been running or exercising enough and I haven’t been eating as healthily as I should either.

I have nothing in my fridge after our holiday, plus a storm is coming. So time to go to the market. Bought cabbage, tomatoes, and this silk squash that is a bit like cucumber. Also minced fish, tofu and bananas. The minced fish can be quenelled and dropped into boiling water with the green veg and tofu to make a light brothy meal. No red meat in sight. Pretty healthy, if I may say so myself.

in going places , photography is life |

Links and sets on flickr.

Main page:

  • day 1 part 1 — friday 13 sept — flight, car, yamazaki distillery 山崎蒸溜所
  • day 1 part 2 — friday 13 sept — wakayama 和歌山 market, shirahamakan onsen hotel 白浜 館
  • day 2 part 1 — saturday 14 sept — shirahama 白浜 beach, engetsu island 円月島, toretore market 南紀白浜 とれとれ市場
  • day 2 part 2 — saturday 14 sept — sandanbeki 三段壁, senjojiki 千畳敷, public onsen, sunset
  • day 3 — sunday 15 sept — shirahama errands, nasty weather, rinku premium outlet, kyoto 京都
  • day 4 — monday 16 sept — kyoto koyamizu temple 清水寺, sannen-zaka 三年坂, ninen-zaka 二年坂, philosopher’s walk 哲学の道, nishiki market 錦市場
  • day 5 — tuesday 17 sept — arashiyama 嵐山 flood cleanup, tenryuji temple 天龍寺, bamboo forest
  • day 6 — wednesday 18 sept — breakfast at kyoto, travel to osaka, shopping, dotonbori 道頓堀 wagyu beef bbq dinner
  • day 7 — thursday 19 sept — osaka kuramon market 黒門市場, doyugasuji 道具屋筋商店街, takashimaya, uniqlo, dotonbori kobe beef shabu shabu dinner
  • day 8 — friday 20 sept — osaka kuramon market, underground shopping street, heading home

In travel section:


in going places , on the relationship front |

osaka kuramon market, underground shopping street

osa242uni osa253oyster

We packed up all our shopping, tearfully left our old sneakers behind and checked out of our hotel in the morning. They were fully booked so couldn’t offer us late check out. Stored our luggage at the concierge and headed back to Kuramon market for breakfast. Smarter this morning, we didn’t over-order. Got the same fatty tuna as yesterday, supplemented with a freshly opened uni.

The rest was snacking along the market street. Freshly shucked large oysters, red bean sweets and extensive tea tasting with a really nice proprietor at the tea shop. Bought powdered green and barley tea as gifts.

Went back to Uniqlo to pick up our trousers and walked around the underground shopping streets. Bought onigiri for home, mochi for Mum and had a quick lunch of ramen at a small place underground. Never knock these small home-styled places, the soup for the noodles was tasty, I had the pork bones one and it was milky white as it should be.

heading home


All good things must come to an end, albeit briefly. All too soon it was time to head back to the hotel, get our suitcases, repack and make our way to the airport. Taxi to nearby Namba station, where we had bought reserved seats on the rapi:t airport express yesterday. It was a little more expensive, but we were guaranteed seats in a comfortable, fast train as opposed to fighting against ordinary folks on a commuter train. Worth the extra, especially since we were both very tired and fell asleep for most of the 30min journey.

Ah, back to the scene of our original crime. The bench where we had our first breakfast a week ago, the vending machines, the Toyota car rental counter. Sigh. Check in and immigration were straightforward and soon enough we were inside strolling through the duty free. We had reserved space for duty free purchases but were slightly horrified to find mostly Suntory products. Yamazaki 12 or 18, Hibiki and Hakushu. Where were the Nikka products? We didn’t want the fancy samurai warrior bottle, and was really hoping for a Yoichi or Taketsuru.

Thankfully, it was mm’s sharp eye that spotted the Taketsuru 21. Phew. We had enough time to sit at the bar for a farewell drink of Hakushu 12. And then it was time to board. Cry, cry, cry.

A bit of silver lining. We both got upgraded, mm to business class and me to premium economy. A bit bummed that we couldn’t sit together but it was just for 3.5hrs. The flight was actually too early, the gate wasn’t ready for us and we had to wait while they found some staff to put blocks on our wheels and drive the passenger bridge out. Hilarious. Luggage came out fairly quickly and we called a taxi to take us directly home.


Our suitcases were full. Lots of biscuits and mochi and sweets. Powdered tea and blueberry vinegar. Plus a lot of heavy bottles:

  • special edition umeshu from shirahama
  • mature umeshu from wakayama market
  • miyagikyo 15 from the wine shop at nishiki market kyoto
  • taketsuru pure malt 21 from kansai airport
  • sample bottle of suntory old whisky, from family mart
  • sample bottle of royal whisky, from family mart
  • mars komagatake 22 from takashimaya osaka
  • nikka black clear from family mart

The sample bottles are for fun and probably will never be opened. Same with the Nikka Black Clear. The umeshu I’ll treasure and hoard until a special occasion. The whiskies will get added to the masterlist, currently at 46 so making it 49. They will be opened, eventually. I’m still working on the currently opened bottles of Glengoyne Burnfoot, Ardbeg 10 and Yoichi. Next on the list is a bourbon or rye.

The last time we went to Japan was to Hokkaido in 2008, just before I left for Chicago. Japan is and will always be one of my favourite holiday destinations. It’s one of the very, very few reasons that makes Asia tolerable for me.

in going places , on the relationship front |

osaka kuramon market 黒門市場

osa183market osa188bento
osa201peach osa197wasabi

The hotel rate didn’t include breakfast, but we weren’t bothered. We took the subway to Kuramon market 黒門市場 and had brunch there. It was a covered market with fruits, vegetables, pickles, seafood, grocery shops, everyday utensils, tea, coffee and sweet shops. A mix of where locals did their shopping and where tourists congregated. English was widely spoken, but there was also one stall that had a sign that said they did not serve non-Japanease speakers. No photos allowed at that particular stall, where a fierce looking uncle sat glaring at passers-by. Other stalls were much more friendly, one even asked us to please take pictures and share on facebook, twitter and everywhere.

osa212tunasushi osa215eelrice

We didn’t mind being tourists and bought our brunch at probably the most touristy place. The reason was the box of fatty tuna that looked so fatty and yummy that we couldn’t resist. Also had unagi on rice, grilled pacific saury 秋刀魚 and grilled scallop skewer. Very full after that, we should have just ordered one unagi rice to share.

Other stalls had oysters, grilled scallops, and a few fugu places. The puffer fish was larger than expected, but we still couldn’t gather enough courage to try the fugu pieces on sale.

osaka shopping — doyugasuji 道具屋筋商店街, takashimaya, uniqlo

osa282knives osa308chestnutsweet

A short walk from Kuramon market was doyugasuji 道具屋筋商店街, yet another covered shopping street. Loved this one, most shops there sold kitchenware. Cups, plates, containers, serving dishes, pots. And not just for home use, most were for professionals. There were all sorts of kitchen equipment, ovens, mixers, ice cream makers, and a few shops selling fierce-looking knives. I did want a new chef’s knife but they looked expensive, and my bag was rapidly filling up. Another trip.

I hadn’t had tea, so was very tired for some reason. Got to Takashimaya department store, found a chair and promptly fell asleep, leaving mm to walk around the clothing department for half an hour. Actually, that suited both of us. I was a poor clothes shopping companion anyway, and it meant she had time to look at stuff she liked.

Refreshed by my nap, I was better able to walk around the department store with her. Spent a lot of time at the basement food department. So many food and drink items, absolutely fabulous. Bought sweets and dried fish. Then at the whisky counter, sigh! We had the privilege of tasting a Benriach 30 year special bottling, so smooth, so wonderful. Also tried a Corryvrechan and an Ardbog. Wished we could buy them all. There was also a bottle of Ardbeg Galileo, a rare sight indeed. We could buy none of it because we saw something else. A whisky we’d never seen or heard of before, Mars Komagatake 22. Mars whisky is part of Hombo distillery, a maker primarily of shochu. They don’t make a lot of whiskies, and whatever they have, was worth snapping up. We already had the rare Miyagikyo, some umeshu and blueberry vinegar, we could afford just one more bottle of whisky and Mars it was.

Took the subway back to the hotel to rest and eat up some of our remaining snacks. Opened a bottle of sake too. Yums. I was going to stay at the hotel but decided to go with mm to the Uniqlo nearby. Ack, we ended up staying there 1.5hrs while she looked at and tried on what seemed like every single item of clothing in the store. I bought one pair of black trousers and she bought altogether 12 items — tops, trousers, sweater and a jacket. The store had trouser alteration for ¥300 overnight so we left our trousers with them. Took the rest of the shopping back to the hotel and went back to Dotonbori for dinner.

osaka dotonbori kobe beef shabu shabu dinner

osa326shabubeef osa323kobebeef

We wented beef shabu shabu dinner tonight, and managed to find a nice enough place. This one was AYCE, and on the 7th of 8th floor of a building. Kobe beef tonight, which was what we focused on. The rest, vegetables, mushroom, tofu, we got a little to flavour the broth.

The beef was really nice, melt in your mouth and took on the flavour of the soup. The first plate was good, but subsequent plates were quite fatty. The server told us that leaner beef was better and more expensive, and we had opted for the most expensive choice on the menu. I guess the other cuts of beef were even more fatty, huh. Undeterred, we polished off 4 plates of the beef, yay. Rounding off the meal, which had to be finished in 1.5 or 2hrs (can’t remember) was quite nice green tea ice cream.

kan030osawhisky kan033osabulkwhisky

Walked back to the hotel via Shinsaibashi covered shopping street. Some shops were already closed, at 10pm. Heh, the large drugstore we went into, for a change didn’t have stacks and stacks of milk powder crowding its entrance. I’m so glad the idiot hordes have not discovered Japan. Stay away.

What was interesting throughout the trip were the small convenience stores. Not just the chain 7-eleven, Lawson or Family Mart, though they were always great for a wander, we never knew what we’d find. We would go inside every convenience store we saw to look at the whiskies. It’s all part of the learning process. Suntory dominated the market, with lots of their blends like Suntory, Torys, Royal. Saw some 5 litre plastic jugs of Suntory Whisky, for commercial use, guessing it was for making cocktails or as a mixer. The single malts we saw were generally limited to entry level Yamazaki no age or 12yrs. Nikka, which is becoming more our favourite, had a smaller presence. Nikka Black blends we saw quite often, and I saw All Malt occasionally but we were hard pressed to see any Yoichi even. Fascinating.

in going places , on the relationship front |

breakfast at kyoto, travel to osaka

kyo361bfastveg kyo376bfastveg

Breakfast was at a vegetarian buffet restaurant we saw whilst walking home yesterday. Breakfast was ¥480 and although we only had an hour due to later than planned waking up, it was more than enough. Pumpkin, natto, tofu, chickpeas, salad, rice and soup. Filling and healthy. They had lunch and dinner too, options to keep in mind if/when we return to Kyoto.

Check out was at 11am, and Sayuri-san very kindly called a taxi for us to take us to Kyoto station. Not too bad, ¥860, it saved us hauling our luggage to the main road and hailing a taxi there. Trains between Kyoto and Osaka were plentiful. We missed one, deliberately missed the next one (a local) and got on a semi-express to Osaka 15mins later. Only half an hour, it was a commuter journey.

shopping in osaka 大阪

osa029furniture osa021winerack
osa040trunk osa007line

Big difference in cities. Shirahama was like a provincial town, quaint and pretty (but a hotel that had no internet, which in this day and age is unacceptable). Kyoto was full of history and had an underlying sense of peace and dignity. Osaka was busy and loud and crowded. Taxi to the Nikko hotel took us through Mido-Suji Ave. I turned to mm and said, “we’re living on Champs Elysées.” The hotel was opposite a huge LV which was next to Cartier and Omega. The other side of the LV was Chanel, Dior and a Daimaru complex. Like I said, very different.

We also went from a spacious Japanese style tatami room at Shirahamakan to a wonderful homely apartment in Kyoto to a bog standard business hotel in Osaka. Though we explored other hotels, we came back to the Nikko which was part of the vacation package. The semi-double room was actually quite roomy, the bed was lined against the wall but there was enough room for both of us to spread out our suitcases. The bathroom was also a decent size, we could move around in it.

We hopped on the subway back to Osaka-Umeda station, heading for the shopping mall at the Grand Front Building which opened in April. Huge mall with three towers and all sorts of shops. Our first target was the Suntory Whisky House. Unfortunately the bar was closed until the evening, and we could see available entry level whiskies only. The decision to hit the Yamazaki distillery first was looking better and better. Most of the shop was dedicated to an exhibition area of bottling samples and prizes. The rest of the shop sold accessories and furniture. Brilliant furniture, tables and chairs and wine racks and storage boxes made of whisky barrels. The garden furniture was comfortable and we wished we could take them with us, sigh.

After more happy (for mm) torturous (for me) clothing and accessories shop, we came across another furniture shop with a trunk that was again oh so tempting. Alas, couldn’t take with us. I even managed to restrain myself when we visited the international beer shop and bar at the basement. My thinking was, I’d tried many of those German, Belgian, British etc beers on sale at a premium. I was more interested in Japanese beers, which I could get at the convenience store.

osaka dotonbori wagyu beef dinner

osa051dotonbori osa058crab
osa152dotonbori osa139sake

Dotonbori 道頓堀 is the Piccadilly Circus or Times Square of Osaka. Large amounts of neon, restaurants and shops. We wasn’t sure where to have dinner, but we knew we wanted some sort of beef bbq, so we picked one place on the hotel guidemap and headed there. Lucky that mm asked to see the menu, it wasn’t what we expected. Yes, it was AYCE but mostly it was chicken, vegetables and noodles. The good beef was extra, so what was the point?

osa091superiorplate osa100back
osa108filet osa117tripe

A little nosing around led us to a side street, where the better places are usually found. A small place offering beef bbq, only about 8 seats, with grills on each table. A la carte, which suited us, because we decided to treat ourselves. The restaurant served wagyu beef from osaka itself, at different premium grades. We ordered the superior plate of filet, back and belly; also from the menu tongue, diaphragm, cheek, stomach and tripe. The most expensive piece, the filet, was unsurprisingly the most boring. The diaphragm and cheek were great cuts, succulent and had great taste and texture. I tried the lime shochu, the potato shochu and mm stuck with umeshu. Even with all the indulgence the bill was a reasonable ¥14,000, or around USD140 for 2.

Walked back to the hotel, about 15mins. Explored some of the shops (and a liquor shop) nearby before going back to our room.

in going places , on the relationship front |

breakfast, arashiyama train adventure and flood cleanup

kyo342bfastegg kyo347bfasteggfish

Breakfast was at a fast food place that sold rice bentos. The menu was displayed on a machine next to the entrance, we selected what we wanted, got our tickets and gave them to the cook. ¥200 for rice, a fried egg, miso soup and some seaweed. Add ¥200 for a piece of grilled salmon we shared. We liked rice for breakfast, good for the rest of the day. Much healthier fast food than burgers.

ara002train ara005train

The plan was to go one stop on the Hankyu line to Shijo Omiya station, then change to Omiya station on the Randen line for the small, quaint electric trains. What we didn’t count on, was we got on an express train that bypassed Shijo Omiya, ending up at Katsura, 4 stops away. Normally it was just a matter of retracing our steps at the opposite platform. We were ecstatic to see signs at Katsura for Arashiyama directly, so we got lucky. It wasn’t the Randen line, just another branch of the Hankyu line. No matter. It got us to Arashiyama.

Rented bikes at a shop next to the station. Touring bikes, large and heavy with no gears. Easy to ride.

ara025bridge ara069moonbridge
ara051flood ara041flood

We rode a little in a park area and then crossed a small bridge. The sight that greeted us was unexpected. Tourist brochure pictures showed the famous Moon Crossing Bridge nestled across a pretty river with green hills in the background. Instead we saw debris everywhere. The storm had hit the area hard, the houses and restaurants alongside the riverbank had obviously flooded. Furniture was drying outside, tatami mats were ruined, glasses and crockery were completely covered in mud. The smell of mud permeated the whole area. People from the restaurants were hard at work cleaning every piece of salvagable item, or throwing away mats that were soaked, or brushing their floor and the pavement outside. The river was still raging with storm waters from upstream bringing tons of mud with it. The press was still there, reporting on the aftermath.

It was heartbreaking to witness, but also encouraging to see the community spirit. Hopefully insurance covered the damage and the people could get back to their lives quickly.

arashiyama 嵐山 tenryuji temple 天龍寺, bamboo forest

ara180entrance ara121temple
ara127grounds ara136lake

Leaving the river area and cycling inland brought us to Tenryuji, the most important temple at Arashiyama and another world heritage site. Happily paid the ¥500 entrance fee, leaving our bikes outside in the car park under some shade. Beautiful, beautiful temple. Distinctive architecture, zen gardens and a spectacular sweeping lake. Much needed walk and peace. Found a bench in the shade, snacked on sponge cake from Shirahamakan and lemon tea from the flight.

ara201bamboo ara202bamboo

Retrieved our bikes and rode the short distance to the bamboo forest. A narrow walking path lined on all sides by tall, imposing bamboo trees. Slow going, having to avoid pedestrians. Very picturesque.

From the bamboo forest, we went downhill at the park back to the river and bridge area. Returned the bikes, ¥600 for up to 6hrs, and walked back to town. The flooding extended up to the bottom of the main street, we could see that shops there only managed to open in the morning.

ara234tofulunch ara244soyicecream ara246greenredteaice

Late lunch at a local restaurant of tofu set for ¥1,300. I had cold tofu whilst mm had hot tofu. Simply served cubed with a clear dipping sauce. Small plates and pickles, rice and soup. I had a large beer, much needed for a hot day. Dessert was ice cream further down the road, mm had a soy milk ice cream from a tofu skin place and I had a swirl of green tea and roasted red tea ice cream. Both were perfect for the hot day and great after our cycling adventure.

We were destined not to go on the Randen line. We returned to Kyoto on the JR, having decided to spend some time exploring the shops at Kyoto station. Accessories and clothing for mm, food and drinks for me. We went one stop on the subway to Gojo station and visited first the ¥100 shop then the local supermarket. Bought shoe inserts (yes, really), grapes and chestnuts. Back to the apartment to rest and cook the chestnuts before heading out to dinner. Same place as our first night, the yakitori place. Mostly the same food which we liked. Shared a sake this time.

Laundry, resting and packing the rest of the evening.

in going places , on the relationship front |

koyamizu temple 清水寺, sannen-zaka 三年坂, ninen-zaka 二年坂

kyo124temple kyo081templewash
kyo101temple kyo118temple

The sky was still overcast when we woke up, with some drizzle. The internet in the apartment wasn’t working so we had to trouble Sayuri-san to come fix it. She brought good news, that the rain would clear up mid-morning. Based on this, we didn’t even bring umbrellas out when we left.

First order of business was to return the car, just behind Kyoto station. Bought onigiri (rice triangles) and drinks at a convenience store. A visit to the tourist information office at the station netted us maps and bus info. The recommendation was to rely on buses rather than the subway as the subway didn’t go to sightseeing places. A one day bus pass was ¥500, which we did end up using quite a bit.

A sign of what was to come was evident on our first bus journey from the station to Koyamizudera temple 清水寺. By then the skies had cleared up and it was looking to be a good day. Just a few blocks from our stop and we hit traffic. The sort of gridlock that simply did not move. Took half an hour to crawl to our stop, ack.

Koyamizudera temple was located at the top of a hill, walking up the narrow street lined with traditional houses and shops was nice. Already shopping started when mm stayed half an hour at an earring shop. Ouch, for me. We ate the onigiri at the top of the hill at the temple entrance, then proceeded inside. A few of the shrines charged entrance fees, so we skipped them. It was nice enough to walk around the grounds. As per tradition, at the entrance to the shrines were basins for people to wash their hands and mouths. The idea was to purify before entering the sacred space. The shrines were ornate and even though the place full of tourists there was a sense of peace throughout. No wonder the temple is one of the most visited places in Kyoto and one of the many world heritage sites around the city.

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kyo139sweets kyo148kitkat

Leading from the entrance of Koyamizudera temple was a narrow pedestrianised cobblestone road completely choc-a-bloc with traditional houses and shops. This was their tourist strip, but done in impeccable Japanese manner. Traditional sweets, tea, pickle, earthenware, clothing, even a knife shop. Most gave samples too and we gorged ourselves with free tea and sweets. So much so that we couldn’t eat lunch, we were so sugared up.

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At the end of Kiyomizu-zaka were steps leading to the stone-paved roads of Sannen-zaka 三年坂 and Ninen-zaka 二年坂. More narrow roads full of shops and houses. We even spied a few maikos (Kyoto’s geishas) in traditional kimonos enjoying the day. A highlight of the walk was a brief stop at a place that sold soy milk products and steamed buns. We shared a soy milk ice cream that was simply full of smooth soy flavour. A sign of Japanese style was the simple plastic tub of ice cream and plastic spoons came on a tray together with two cups of tea. For a simple tub of ice cream. There were also seats outside the shop for us to rest and enjoy our snack.

Our initial plan was to walk from Koyomizudera temple via the stone-paved roads to Maruyama Park and ending at Chion-in Temple. At the end of Ninen-zaka and checking our map told us that we’d only done 1/3 of that walk and it was already early afternoon. It was either stay in the area or to find our way to the main road to catch the bus to another destination. We decided on the latter, got to Gion intersection and hopped on the #100 bus.

philosopher’s walk 哲学の道

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The bus hit yet another traffic jam, this one even worse than the one in the morning. Eventually the bus driver had no choice but to open the doors and let people off. We were only halfway to our destination, so we walked the rest of the way and reversed our plan. The Philosopher’s walk was located at east Kyoto along a canal, named after a famous philosopher who took walks there, mediated and presumably came up with deep thoughts. It was about a mile in length running north-south and lined with cherry blossom trees that would be so beautiful in April.

We hadn’t had lunch, and were quite famished. Luckily we had the sweets we bought at Kiyomizudera-zaka to tide us over. There was a small café at the beginning of the walk but it looked closed, and was expensive too. There were other tourists on the path, as well as local residents living at the houses on the canal and the side streets. The middle of the walk was a part of the canal that looked to have been flooded by the bad weather over the weekend. Sandbags, wheelbarrows and maintenance workers in abundance.

The walk took about 45mins, total about an hour taking into account stopping for sweets, photographs and hopping inside some of the small shops along the way. The end of the walk was Ginkakuji temple, which we didn’t visit. For another time.

nishiki market 錦市場

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kyo321octopus kan011kyotoramen

Bus #32 took us back to Shijo area. All the large shops, department stores and the covered shopping street at Teramachi. Parallel to Shijo was Nishiki market, the main market at Kyoto. It was different from the other markets we visited, this one more everyday, with shops selling ready-to-use food such as pickles. The few fish and seafood shops were less interesting and some of them were closing already. We did get a snack of octopus wrapped in quail’s egg and grilled, it was interesting and tasty.

The market wasn’t a disappointment, not by a long way. At a wine shop, mm was looking at the sake and umeshu at the front of the store when I spotted something and dragged her over to see. A few bottles of Miyagikyo whisky. This is the distillery at Sendai that was briefly closed during the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster. Some rumours that its products may be affected in years to come, and on our list of whiskies to try and get. We bought a 12 and a 15 year, to the delight of the shopkeepers.

Dinner was a quick one, at a local ramen place between the market and our apartment. Stopped by the neighbourhood pub, the Man in the Moon, for a whisky. Then to family mart for water, yogurt and dessert. Quite tired after a long day, we took turns soaking in bath salts in the deep tub at the apartment.

in going places , on the relationship front |

shirahama errands

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Another lovely Japanese breakfast at the hotel. Today’s cook yourself item was omelette, with the egg already beaten and in a pot ready to be poured onto the small stove grill. We weren’t ready to leave quite yet so we stayed in our room as long as we could, soaked in the foot spa for one last time.

It had been raining all night, we could tell. There was a break in the weather when we couldn’t put off leaving any further and checked out of the hotel. Lots of errands to run this morning. To the small neighbourhood shop for cider and beer. Back to Sandanbeki shop to get more blueberry vinegar and sweets. The wine shop for umeshu, the lady there recommended a special umeshu for ¥2,000 which we thought was worth it. We did have plans to go to the market to get some food for the trip, but we got caught in a hour-long traffic jam and had to skip that part. Oh, and get petrol too.

So, goodbye to Shirahama and Wakayama Prefecture. What a great discovery, we’d never heard of this region before we booked our holiday, and we are sure to want to return. There’s so much more to explore further inland — the beautiful Kii Peninsula, hiking in the Kumano area and visiting traditional religious shrines.

travel through severe storm to rinku premium outlet

The weather turned nasty. Really nasty, with terrible visibility, high winds and rain so heavy it was like a wall of water. But we had to drive through it, mm took the wheels. The highway thankfully had only a few cars, the speed limit which was 80kph had been reduced to 50kph (around 35mph) and it wasn’t that safe to go much faster than that.

Eventually we reached Rinku premium outlet village just outside Kansai airport. Despite the poor weather, the place was packed. We had ramen and tea/coffee at the food court and planned our route around the place. If it weren’t for the clientele, we would have thought we were at an American outlet — most of the shops were recognisable names like Nike, Burberry, Polo, Coach. I bought a pair of air force sneakers at nike to replace the ones I was wearing; mm got a bargain 2 pairs of skechers for only ¥6,000-ish. We had to hurry, because there was still a long way to drive to Kyoto.

travel to kyoto 京都

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The way GPS units worked in Japan, you entered the phone number of the destination and that was it. It was fine with commercial places, but we could not get it to register directions for our apartment. Even after calling Sayuri-san, our landlady, we couldn’t get it to work. So we programmed it to the nearest landmark, Kyoto station, and hoped for the best.

My turn to drive from the outlet. Heavier traffic and fading light but I got some respite from the rain in pockets. It had been a while since we visited Kyoto, and not by car. Got to Kyoto station and somehow eventually we found the right street corner. Sayuri-san came out to greet us, and direct us to her apartment.

It was an inspired decision to go for an apartment rather than a hotel. Yes, it was more difficult to find being on a side street, but the street even in the terrible rain, felt quiet and nice. We parked overnight at one of the many small parking lots dotted around the area, dragged our bags 5mins to the apartment, located on the 8/F of a block. It had a kitchenette, small living area, carpeted tatami area which we used to set out the futons, a double bedroom (that we never slept in) and clean bathroom and toilet. And the best thing while travelling — a washing machine. Sayuri-san spent a patient half hour explaining to us how things worked and we chatted about nearby restaurants.

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kyo032chicken kyo039veg

We hadn’t had much to eat since the ramen at the outlet, so we braved the late hour (it was almost 9pm) and the still heavy rain and walked outside in search of food. Not many places around and open. A couple of fast food places, a couple of restaurants. I remembered the map in the apartment that pointed us to a yakitori restaurant, and was able to get us there. We had to wait about 5-10mins, a good sign that it was a popular restaurant.

What a find. We got seats at the bar, and they had an English menu. All the skewers were either grilled or fried and the menu was illustrated anyway. We ordered crab claws, chicken set (mince, pieces, skin, gizzard), fatty pork, lotus root, maitake mushroom, asparagus and a few more. Served as soon as they were ready and dipped in a tangy salty sauce. I had a couple of half-and-half beers (half lager, half dark) and mm had a umeshu.

The day started great at Shirahama, the middle part was horrendous with the weather, but we managed to get ourselves to Kyoto and a great end to the evening at a restaurant we wanted to return to the next day. Even though it was late when we got back to the apartment, we put in a load of laundry and set it out to dry overnight. Knackered, but feeling blessed and happy.

in going places , on the relationship front |

shirahama — coastal sights, sunset, onsen

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After a leisurely lunch, we drove south along the coast to see the sights there. First it was a brief stop at the marine lookout tower. Just a quick snap from the entrance. Then it was sandanbeki 三段壁 which means three parts cliff. A short walk brought us to a lookout platform with 180° views of both sets of cliffs. There was a tunnel inside one of the cliffs that led to underground caves, but we didn’t have time to explore them.

Parking at the cliffs was ¥500, which would be refunded if we spent at least ¥1,000 at the shop. Thinking that we didn’t have anything particular to buy, we thought we’d walk around the shop anyway. Ha! Ended up spending over ¥4,000 on a bag of green satsumas and bottles of blueberry vinegar. At least the bottles were plastic, our liquid haul was beginning to build up. We had 30kg allowance, but we were still relatively restrained in our shopping, there were still whiskies to buy.

Another few minutes’ drive from sandanbeki was senjojiki 千畳敷, flat slate-like rock formations on the coast. Worth spending a few minutes taking pictures and walking down to the bottom. No car park fees or shop temptations.

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We had a voucher for one of the public onsens, and we had about 1.5-2hrs till dinner back at the hotel. We had assumed that everything was provided for, but forgot towels. Ah well, ¥250 on a towel souvenir is okay.

This onsen was spread over a large hill, with spas at different levels. We started with the indoor one next to the showers and quickly moved onto a secluded one outdoors. That one was very nice and peaceful, sitting in the hot spring we could hear the wind through the trees and birds calling too. Well, until the peace and quiet was shattered by a group of mainland tourists. Ugh. These idiots are everywhere, can’t escape them.

We changed back to street clothes and went to explore the spas at the upper levels. What a shame we didn’t have time to try them out, some had great views and seemed a lot quieter than the main ones downhill. What we did manage to catch, with perfect timing, was the sunset. Spectacular colours over the bay witnessed from a wonderful vantage point, it was fate.

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Dinner back at the hotel was sukiyaki tonight. A huge platter of one small lobster, a variety of fish, squid, pork, chicken, beef, mushrooms and green vegetables. Sashimi, small plates and pickles at the side of course. There was enough for 4 people, especially if we took up the offer of additional rice. Could only try a small amount of udon at the end. Umeshu with the meal, as usual.

After dinner, we re-organised our bags. It was funny, we didn’t discuss it, didn’t agree on anything, but as soon as we got back to our room, we went to our respective corners and started the repacking process. It was a good use of the rest time between a meal and going to the onsen.

We didn’t have exclusive use of the onsen tonight, a few other people came and went. One woman brought her baby to shower and soak in the indoor spa for a while. We still went through each of the spas, even when it started raining we stayed at the outdoor one. Didn’t want to leave the comfortable hot springs, a bit sad, our final night at the onsen.

in going places , on the relationship front |

shirahama 白浜 — beach, engetsu island 円月島

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I’d set the alarm for 7am, our breakfast was at 8am. We went to bed around 10pm last night so we got a decent amount of sleep, hopefully catching up on lost sleep because of the red eye flight. One thing we had been looking forward to very much was Japanese breakfast. We were not disappointed. Another splendid selection — 6 small dishes including salmon roe, mashed potato, pickles and small mushrooms; pickles, grilled fish, salad, rice, miso soup. On the table was also the small grill on a stove from last night, already with slices of ham and sausage. Next to it was an egg. Aha, we were to make ham and egg ourselves, loving this cooking yourself business. A small bowl of yogurt and a slice of orange to finish.

We were in no hurry to go out, so we tried out the foot spa in our balcony. It was just above lukewarm and quite relaxing. Would have been great to enjoy with a cup of tea but I didn’t have milk.

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The hotel had valet parked our car safely in one of the covered spaces next to the entrance. We got the key but our first destination didn’t need the car. In advertisements and on tripadvisor we read that the hotel was 3 minutes from the beach. It’s an exaggeration! The beach is literally across the road so no more than 1 minute away. Perhaps the 3 minutes refer to actually hitting the sandy part and not just the pathway. Anyway, pedantic.

The beach was a revelation. Research before the trip had registered that there was a beach, but we did not expect the pristine white sandy beach and a sweeping secluded bay that greeted us. Not too crowded on a Saturday morning either. There were palm trees and tree parasols. There was even a public onsen with views across the beach. We walked all the way to one end and walked back, it was so pleasant.

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Coming out from the beach, we continued exploring the shopping streets behind the hotel but it seemed like it was off season as most of the shops were closed. Not just closed for the morning, but closed for a longer period. We visited a family mart opposite the hotel and a small shop selling fish cakes and sweet biscuits. Bought coffee, tea and coke zero at the former and biscuits for souvenirs at the latter.

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Back in the car, we drove north to see Engetsu island 円月島. A natural arch located along the coast, apparently sometimes the sunset hits it just perfectly at the arch. At the coastal point closest to the island were a couple of parking spots, but they charged money so we parked at a nearby small shop. The mean granny defending the shop wasn’t all that pleased at our presence, even though we ended up buying things from her. This was the only unfriendly Japanese person we met on the whole trip. Strange woman.

We tried to drive further up the coast but there was nothing more to see. So we headed back towards town in the direction of the market. But not before finding a wine shop and having more tasting. This time, we couldn’t get away from the Japanese insistence on no drinking for the driver so only mm was able to taste the sake and umeshu offered. She sneaked me a few sips when the shopkeeper wasn’t looking though. Ended up buying honey umeshu, so much choice.

shirahama — toretore market 南紀白浜 とれとれ市場

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shira110tuna shira101sushi
shira135juice shira141salt

Toretore market was exactly the huge food market we expected. It was full of people and full of great stuff. Seafood stalls selling fresh fish, prawns, lobsters, crabs, oysters and even whale, some of the food were for cooking at home but a lot of it was packaged and ready to be eaten as sashimi or sushi straightaway. Fruit and veg. Pickles. Juice. Sweets. Wine. Cooked food. Cans and jars. It was foodie heaven. We even managed to catch the fishmonger cutting up a whole tuna, down to gouging out the eyes and the delicious cheeks.

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We bought a large selection of sashimi for lunch — fresh whale, which I’d tried in Bergen but mm has never tried. Large scallops, white fish and fatty salmon. Chirashi of salmon roe and uni, two of our favourites. Got a cup of umeshu each from the giant glass tank displayed at the shop.

Would have been great to find space to picnic, but the available tables and chairs were part of existing eating establishments. So we made the quick and easy decision to head back to the comfort of our hotel room, only 10mins away. What a life, eh.

in going places , on the relationship front |

wakayama 和歌山

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I managed to nap for a few minutes while mm drove us from Yamazaki distillery to our next destination, Marina City at Wakayama 和歌山. A longer drive than from Kansai, about 2.5hrs.

We were aiming for the Kuroshio market that supposedly had a tuna cutting demo everyday. We knew we’d miss it, but was hoping to see stalls with seafood, sweets and local produce. True enough, there were stalls at two buildings — the fruit and veg nearest the car park was full of delicious looking fruits, juices and jars of honey. The main market building was a bit deserted, some of the fish stalls were closed for the day already.

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It was almost 2pm so the first order of business was to find lunch. Disappointed that the only restaurant that seemed to be still open wasn’t serving anymore but very grateful that the fast food section was still open. One stall selling grilled food — raw seafood and vegetables, that customers grilled themselves. The other was the typical Japanese fast food of seafood rice bowl. No brainer in terms of choice. Sushi wins every time. We had salmon, salmon roe and uni chirashi, and although not the best we’ve ever had, it hit the spot.

For drinks we each ordered a umeshu, famous local plum wine. I had a mature umeshu and mm had a yuzu umeshu. The mature umeshu was sweet, just how I liked it. Again, perfect for the time and place.

The good thing about an almost empty market was that we were free to wander around. Bought some sweets and visited a umeshu shop. They charged a nominal amount for a small sample and we tried umeshu flavoured with honey and another flavoured with tea. Bought a few bottles too, the start of our bottle-collecting holiday.

shirahama-kan onsen hotel 白浜 館

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shirakan004room shirakan010tatami

I took over the driving to Shirahama 白浜. We’d been awake since 5am after 2 hrs sleep so it was a long, tired 2.5hrs on a highway that was peppered with tunnels and tolls. The GPS brought us to the back of the hotel and it took us a few minutes to find the entrance. An old fashioned, rather basic hotel, it was well tended and we liked our room. Japanese style room with tatami floor, the living area converted to futon beds at night. A small balcony looked out to the main road and there was even our own private foot spa on the balcony.

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shirakan040beef shirakan043beef
shirakan044tempura shirakan046rice

Dinner was included, and it was a fantastic spread that greeted us when we were shown to our table. Not quite kaiseki style, but close. Lots of small dishes already set out — starters, sashimi, pickles, vegetables. We ordered more umeshu with the meal, mm had one with soda and I had one on the rocks. The dishes were delicious and intricate, small bites and portions of food that is now familiar to us.

Hot dishes included tempura and the meat / seafood course we cooked ourselves. They provided tiny grills powered by burning fuel blocks and we had a few small slices of beef, prawn, seafood and vegetables. Nice to cook food ourselves and to be able to control timing and flavours. The rice was flavoured with mushrooms and vegetables; it too cooked in its pot at the table.

shirakan016onsen shirakan024onsen

By then we were tired so we couldn’t wait to go to the hot springs. Japanese styled, so segregated by gender and no clothing or towels allowed. Not our first time at onsens so we weren’t bothered. After showering, we visited each spa in turn. There were 4 different ones: an indoor one next to the shower area, a semi-outdoor “longevity” one, an outdoor one underneath trees and a tall tub accessed via a wooden staircase. Our favourite was the outdoor one underneath the trees — enough seclusion from the elements but with fresh air and breeze that made the hot water even more relaxing.

Needed to do some research on where to go and to get phone numbers for the GPS. No internet in our room (our biggest complaint) and even worse, the advertised internet in the lobby didn’t work. I couldn’t connect on either the iphone or the mba although somehow mm got through on her iphone 3GS. Says something about older models. I was too tired to function and was very grateful when she took advantage of the small window to gather much needed information. Was out as soon as the lights were off and my head hit the pillow.

in going places |

flight, car

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It’s very rare that I start a trip report at midnight, and on Friday the 13th to boot. Technically our holiday started at around 11pm yesterday, when we got on the taxi to go to the airport. It was quick, only about half an hour from my place. We were checked in and passed through security fairly quickly too, and headed straight to the duty free to look at whiskies. Got kicked out after midnight because they were closing, so we found seats near the gate. Boarding was uneventful.

It being a red-eye flight (dep 1.45am) we tried to get as much rest as possible. They gave us a snack box that had a sandwich roll, muffin and lemon tea but we just tucked it away. Fell asleep watching Grand Designs; altogether probably slept for 2 hrs.

Arrived 6am. Direct path through immigration and baggage meant we didn’t see any duty free. Breakfast was the sandwich and muffin from the flight, supplemented by drinks from the vending machines. Ah, how could we forget about the vending machines in Japan. They will be lifesavers.

We had a car booked for the next 4 days, a Toyota Sienta. Solid, boxy thing with high ceiling, sliding rear doors and lots of space. More practical than cute. Took us an hour to get out of the airport — first had to get them to switch to an English GPS, then couldn’t get the audio working, then it was fixing the bluetooth. A patient young man from the rental place helped with all that.

yamazaki distillery 山崎蒸溜所

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yama025safe yama033warehouse

I took first driving shift from Kansai airport to Yamazaki distillery. Our original plan was to visit the distillery on Sunday, when we come up from Shirahama to Kyoto, but when mm called they said the tours were full at the weekend. We changed our plan and routing, deciding to detour north and hit the distillery before heading south. Google maps told us the drive would be 1.5hrs, the GPS was more conservative at 2hrs. All in all, with traffic jam and finding our way, it did take us 2hrs.

We were just about able to make the 10am tour. They asked us how we arrived and at first we were too honest and said car. The lady at reception then attempted to give one of us a badge that said driver. Ack, no tasting, no way. So we declined and changed our method of transport. The tour was in Japanese, but we were given an English audio guide, which wasn’t as animated as the guide but equally informative. The tour passed by the entrance with statues of the founding fathers of the distillery before heading to where the mash tun, fermenter, stills and warehouse were located. Honestly, aside from the language, the distillery reminded me of a smaller Bowmore.

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The tour ended at the free tasting bar where they served up Yamazaki no age, Yamazaki 12 and Hakushu no age. Entry level stuff, diluted with water and soda. Also some snacks and chocolate. We only sipped a little of each, saving our quota. They had orange juice and green tea for non-drinkers and actually I really liked the green tea.

Even though the tour was finished there was still a lot to explore. The shop sold entry level Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki as well as blends we saw for the first time. From small sample bottles to mid-sized bottles to regular sized bottles. There were also other souvenirs and we both bought a tasting glass with the distillery name.

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Beyond the shop was a small exbition area which we skipped. A balcony and staircase led down to the very impressive library. Shelf upon shelf of whisky samples, not only Suntory but from all over the world. Ah, despite the quaint Japaneseness of the distillery, never forget that Suntory owns Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch. Not to mention Orangina, Ribena and Lucozade.

Within the library was another bar, this a paid one. Out of so many choices we decided on 4 samples:

  • Royal — at ¥100, we wanted to try one of those entry level blends, the bottle is supposed to be based on the arch in the distillery grounds and that was the only good thing about it. Pretty sharp taste on the tongue, we each had one sip and put the glass away
  • Single grain whisky — also ¥100, worth trying a grain liquor, the first for us
  • Yamazaki 1984 25yr special edition — ¥2,300 typical Yamazaki, a little kick after the distinctive taste, my favourite
  • Hibiki 30 — ¥2,300 per glass of this prize winning best blend, normally £900 a bottle so it was well worth the try. Honestly, it did not taste like a 30 year, it was pleasant but couldn’t compare against the Yamazaki. I find this consistently with Hibiki, I want to like all the ones I try, I do like them but I always go back to Yamazaki

In case anyone is thinking we drank whisky and then one of us drove off in our car, we never finished any of the whiskies we purchased at the bar. I’d brought small containers so after sipping (that didn’t even add up to one whole glass), we poured the remainder into the containers to bring to our hotel. We didn’t want to be limited by their “no drinking for the driver” rule, but it didn’t mean that we would deliberately drink and drive.

in going places |


It’s now 9.45pm on Thursday. The taxi is coming at 11pm to take us to the airport. Flight is at 1.45am Friday morning, arriving 6.25am. We will pick up our car, drive 1.5hrs to Yamazaki distillery. Then another 3.5hrs to Shirahama via Wakayama. It will be a long day, we need to keep awake, which should hopefully be okay with the excitement of travelling. We will be tired by the time we reach our hot springs hotel. Will need cups of tea and snacks. But sooooo looking forward to everything. Yay!

in going places |

photo courtesy flickr user tokyo times

Last minute prep for our trip. Mostly packed, checked in. Despite all the planning, we ended up going for different hotels.

Rough itinerary is planned and google map directions printed. We weren’t able to secure a firm reservation for the weekend at the Yamazaki distillery so we’ll head there straight from the airport. A little bit of a detour before heading south to the wakayama peninsula for hot springs, beaches and nature. Back north to Kyoto and then Osaka. Kyoto for temples and Osaka for big city stuff. It’ll be whisky, hot springs, fish markets, temples, cycling, walking and a bit of shopping. I’m hoping to get some whiskies (obviously) and may be a really nice Japanese chef’s knife. My suitcase is only half full so there is room.

in eating and drinking |


This is the last of the chocfest we’ve been having at home. First attempt at chocolate fondant, recipe from the guardian.

60g dark chocolate
60g butter
30g sugar — recipe says 60g, I didn’t think we need so much
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp plain flour

Melt chocolate and butter over bain marie and set aside to cool. Whisk egg, egg yolk and sugar until pale and thick, around 5-10mins or the time it takes for the chocolate to melt. Combine chocolate and egg mixtures. Fold in flour, pour into greased tins. Bake at 200°C for 10mins, until the top is just set.

Leave in tin for 30-60 seconds then turn out.

Probably a little tiny bit overdone. The recipe says 12mins, I took them out at 10mins, may be that was even a minute too late.

in eating and drinking |


The recipe for regular chocolate mousse is very rich, almost 500ml of cream total. So we wanted to find a less fattening alternative, and Mum found a chocolate yogurt mousse recipe that uses greek yogurt. I bought her a yogurt maker a long long time ago, and she’s been making her own yogurt occasionally.

We didn’t exactly follow the recipe, skipped the coffee and there was a step with boiling water that didn’t work. Skipped the sugar too.

85g chocolate — we used 100g, a whole dark toblerone
1tbsp cocoa — not even sure it’s necessary, will skip next time
2 egg whites, whisked to soft peaks stage
50g greek yogurt — that’s not a lot, we added an extra tablespoon

Melt the chocolate over a bain marie, add cocoa powder. At this point the recipe said add a couple of tablespoons of boiling water to soften the chocolate. Argh! Adding water to melted chocolate makes it lumpy and solid. I had to rescue it using vegetable oil and a bit of egg yolk.

Add yogurt to chocolate mixture. Fold in egg whites. We tasted at this point and decided no sugar was needed. Leave in fridge to set.

The end result is definitely light, although still very chocolate-y. Can taste the slight sourness of the yogurt, in a pleasant but not overpowering way. Quite soft and doesn’t hold its shape that well — it’s fine in a glass but spooning it out on a plate for presentation will end up being chocolate milkshake. To make it more solid, may be add the egg yolks or whisk the egg whites to stiffer peaks? I want to add more yogurt but it’ll make it too sour. Hmm, more research needed.

in arts and media |

There was a mini Iron Chef marathon this afternoon. Four episodes from the original Fuji TV series in Japan, dubbed in English. These were the eps I videotaped when I was in NYC, during the early the Food Network days in 1999/2000. The tapes are probably still around somewhere although none of us have VCRs anymore.

A little dated, especially the presentation. And with the proliferation of food and drink programs in the last 10-15 years, we are all so much better informed and come with higher expectations. Still, we were riveted to the TV for 4 hours. OMG, everyone was so young!! I saw Morimoto on a Bourdain program recently and he’s grown in girth and stature. We saw the battle of Girls’ Festival, pacific saury, pumpkin and another ingredient I can’t remember. Morimoto once, Sakai twice and Kobe once. Would have loved to see Chen too. What nostalgia.

in evidence of my insanity , how the day went |


Woke up at 5.30am and was out of the door at 6am. At the weekend. The reason was to attend mm’s sis’ service. It would be her birthday tomorrow and we go to mass around her birthday and date of departure. The church near her parents have morning mass at 7.15am so that’s the one we attend. Turned out, only me and mm this year, the others were too tired from the running around yesterday.

Simple dim sum breakfast, just the 2 of us. Then to the market to get fruit and fish. She has piano lesson at lunch so that was as much time as we had today. And the weekend too I expect.

I’m still at parents’ place. I get depressed thinking I have to go home, I’ll have to eventually, sigh. Hot day, and everyone felt lethargic and tired so we didn’t go out once I got home before lunch.

Random pic. Magners pear cider at the Scottish pub, where I met my sis for dinner earlier in the week. A spot of home, London-home.

in sports active |


What a difference one year makes. One year ago today, I spent an absolutely awesome day at Olympic Park watching the Paralympics. How could I have forgotten how it felt like? The pride and respect for the paralympians, I must never ever forget.

Wheelchair tennis, wheelchair rugby (murderball), 5-a-side football and goalball. All that, for just £10. It was one of the best days of my life.

in eating and drinking |


In an early Naked Chef program, Jamie Oliver made semifreddo with maltesers, berries and some other stuff that he just threw into the mixture. That was the first time I came across semifreddo, which is Italian for “half cold.” Somewhere in between a frozen mousse and an ice cream is the best description.

This chocolate semifreddo recipe is itself adapted from Donna Hay’s recipe. I didn’t want to make a big batch, so this is half the recipe.

125g dark chocolate (I used toblerone)
2 medium eggs + 1 egg yolk
75g sugar — this was too much, next time I’ll use 50g or less
225ml whipping cream
1tbsp good quality cocoa

Melt chocolate over a bain marie and set aside to cool. Once melted it won’t set again. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolk and sugar over a very slow bain marie until pale and thick — by hand it took 10mins and the mixture had more than doubled its volume. I periodically took the bowl off the heat so the eggs don’t cook. Take the bowl off the heat completely and continue whisking as it cools, another 5-10mins. The mixture by now was glossy and had the consistency of soft meringue. Fold in the melted chocolate.

In another bowl, whisk the cream until soft peaks stage and add the cocoa. Fold the cream into the chocolate mixture.

Line a rectangular tin with clingfilm. I actually used one of those takeaway plastic boxes, it was the right size and had a lid. Pour the mixture into the tin/box and leave to freeze overnight.

It was absolutely like mousse and ice cream. Very rich, smooth and chocolate-y. Quite dense, a small slice was enough. Because it was made from eggs and cream it had very little water content so didn’t need to be constantly stirred like ice cream. Could have actually scooped it out like ice cream too. Next time I won’t waste the remaining egg white, I’ll whisk it up and add it with the cream. May be serve it with strawberries and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

in eating and drinking |

Yesterday’s post about regional / country cuisine led me to think about the globalisation of food, food culture, palates and all that. Seems like academics like to use food as an example when they study globalisation. Every nation has food, and the concept is easy to understand. One of the most common food item used in these studies is, rather surprisingly, sushi.

global food


Came across a study [warning: pdf] where the author tells of his experience in 1966 when, as part of survival training in the USAF in Japan, he had to eat a piece of raw tuna. Raw fish. That was the bizarre food of the 1960s. A Wharton book review tells of the Molly Ringwald character in The Breakfast Club bringing sushi to detention and the other kids, who had brought sandwiches, mocking her. No one would mock any one eating sushi anymore. The weirdness, the elitism, even the healthy aspect, not so much.

Just look at this pretty lunchbox from Itsu in London. It’s a chain fast food place, and there are the pieces of raw tuna that would horrify a 1960s American soldier or a 1980s teenager. But equally, an OL in Japan would not recognise this as a bento box. What are those vegetables? Where are carefully cut side items, the delicately arranged pickles, the rice? Is this Japanese food? British food? Global food?

The blame, for want of a better word, lies in increasing affluence and the importance Gen Xers place on leisure and betterment of themselves. Air travel, the internet, the sheer number of food and travel programs on TV—these are all Good Things. Educational and introducing us to cultures, including food, that appear nearer and nearer. As my friend Trish commented in yesterday’s post, she would cook Moroccan lamb, Italian lasagna and Indian curry, Spanish rice—and it would be just another day.



The production and distribution of food has undergone so much industralisation that it’s now a global commodity. Grains and livestock and even milk are ferociously traded in the markets; the top 2 agriculture products at the CME are corn options and corn futures. There was this Discovery Channel program I remember watching, where a fishing boat caught a bluefin tuna off the coast of Newfoundland and they were rushing to get it to port, weighed, graded and transported to Tokyo’s Tsukiji market where it’d fetch lots of money before parts of it being shipped to restaurants in New York. Travel distance thousands of miles, ending up somewhere just hundreds of miles from where it was caught. This is by no means unusual.

Sometimes, the word globalisation is spit out, as if it were a dirty word. Looking at the produce at the supermarket, many of them are now available year round as they are grown in controlled environments that are not open to effects of weather. Tomatoes, strawberries, coffee. It’s amazing, a few hundreds of years ago, there were no tomatoes or strawberries or coffee in western Europe. Spices too. We have all benefited from globalisation, the world just needs to tackle some of the unsavoury practices and effects before it’s too late.

seasonal and local


The backlash against globalisation is best seen in the rise of the slow food movement. The movement is associated with foodies rising up in arms against the slow march of Big Fast Food like Mcdonald’s or KFC. Cookery programs talk about seasonal and local. Everyone wants to eat organic.

How truly are the seasonal and local foodstuff, seasonal and local? Why really does it matter where the food comes from? Shouldn’t we be more concerned that the food we buy and consume are safe, have good flavour and produced in a way that our conscience can tolerate (and everyone’s tolerance level differs, hence carnivores and vegans.) Why shouldn’t I support all community farmers and not just the ones within a 50 mile radius from where I live?

Given a choice, wild salmon caught sustainably in the Pacific Northwest or fish caught by Indonesian fishermen in overfished, polluted waters? I know which one I’d rather have in my sushi.

in eating and drinking |

The guardian asked

if you could only ever eat one cuisine again, which would you choose?

and then goes on to describe how “ethnic” food becomes diluted when they travel out of their country because it is necessary to adapt the taste sensitivities that are different depends on who we are. What I don’t get out of the article is, do we like or dislike a certain food because it’s part of our DNA, or is it learned. Nature or nurture?

stg336mariscos nz0525salmon

Back to the original question. So many choices. Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian, Middle Eastern, Mexican. I remember those mariscos I enjoyed when I visited Chile; there’s a whole South American cuisine I haven’t had the opportunity to explore. Or how about salmon we caught ourselves at Lake Wanaka in New Zealand, it’s where the food comes from rather than the actual cuisine.

hok035seafood hok697pub

My first reaction was Japanese. After all, if I could only eat sushi, sashimi, tempura, yakitori, shabu shabu, green tea ice cream, mochi and drink sake, plum wine and Japanese beer, I’m alright with that. I’ve eaten at Nobu (overpriced) but I’ve also had really great sushi at this cheap ¥100 hole-in-the-wall conveyor belt place in Tokyo. There’s enough variety and freshness in Japanese food to never be tired of it.

roastgressduck03 bbmmldn025crumble

The comments in the article were interesting. Some were like, what’s wrong with British food? Well, nothing. Steak at Hawksmoor, roast lamb and two veg at the pub, Gressingham duck, game, fish & chips, savoy cabbage, celeriac, parsnips, yes even mushy peas, treacle tart, cream teas, cheese, and puddings, puddings, puddings. Then there’s real ale, cider, English sparkling wine and whisky.

So what is the choice now?

in how the day went |


It’s labor day in the US, a holiday there. Did I do any work today? Nope. Stayed hidden at parents’ while they went out and spent the day reading. Well, reading is being productive right?

in techtalk |


Hosting on the website will expire at the end of September. I’ve been with icdsoft for 10 years, and although they are not the cheapest, it’s worked for me so far—barely any outages and prompt response whenever I had to contact support. When I clicked on the link to renew, I was a little bit shocked that I’m being quoted $296 to renew for 2 years, I can’t remember it being this expensive. Looking at their price comparison chart gave me a clue—I’m on the iAdvantage server, which is the most expensive. I’m sure there wasn’t any price difference when I started.


So what did I do? I got Support to move the website to Savvis. They were fine about it, and it took them about an hour. Now I’m on server 327 instead of 212. When I first clicked to check, I saw a “website has been moved” notice, and it told me to reset my DNS server. There are a few methods: for PCs it involves cmd/ipconfig and for macs it’s a Terminal command. I’ll leave google to provide the answers for anyone needing it.

I’m not seeing any difference in terms of…anything, so it’s all good. The renewal price for housing the website at Savvis is now $200 for 2 years. May be one of these days, I’ll look at alternatives.


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