My fascination with Japan regarding its food, its culture, literature and art has been long lasting and only financial reasons have prevented me from having gone there already ages ago. I was absolutely thrilled when it turned out I was invited for a one week conference in Kobe with the flight and hotel being payed! What a great opportunity to hang on aÂ few days and go off to explore Japan.
Japan did not only fulfill but it did indeed exceed my expectations. The variety and depth of this country is amazing and I loved the contrast of a very foreign and alien Asian culture in connection with being a first world country which differentiated it from all other East Asian countries that I had visited before.
Our itinerary focused onÂ the Kansai region where Kobe is located. From Kobe we went to Kyoto, spend a few days on the cost of Northern Kansai in Kinosaki and Amanohashidate and finished off with some city life in Osaka.
It is very easy to travel in Japan – even though a lot of people don’t speak any English at all, they are so polite and friendly and won’t give up until they figured out what you want from them and they do their utmost to help. In addition Japan is very safe and incredibly well organised. I don’t think something like unpunctual trains exist there.
Also it is so very clean, even in the most basic establishments you find spotless toilets (always with interesting buttons for personal hygiene that put me into a fit of hysterical laughter when I encountered them the first time).Â This might also ad to the fact that Japan is a country that smells very good. Streets, restaurants, markets, people – I hardly ever encountered bad smell (and this even though it was the hottest summer since record began, and this in connection with raw fish… a challenge!).
Even considering the richness of the culture the most amazing thing in Japan still has to be the food: The attention to detail, the presentation and the quality of the ingredients was present in a small bite to eat in simple izakayas as well as in sophisticated culinary feasts in the form of a Kaiseki dinner.
|From Kyoto for Blog|
|From Northern Kansai Blog|
What to drink…
The reason I am not feeling too well at the moment is – I believe – only secondarily due to the jet lag, but primarily because of my Japanese green tea cold turkey. I must have drunk 2-3 litres a day; in addition to getting it served with every meal (sometimes you also get Oolong tea which I don’t like too much) it is sold in vending machine on every corner largely replacing sugary, carbonated refreshments such as coke or 7up. In addition to weak and stronger tasting green tea the most common flavour is a roasted green tea (hojicha) which turned out to be my clear favourite.
And then of course the Matcha – a green tea in powder form which is served together with Japanese sweets. In addition it is used in large proportions of Japanese sweets and desserts (Matcha mochi, Matcha ice cream, shaved ice with matcha syrup, macha cheesecake, I even saw Matcha Kit Kat). The sweet and ever so slightly bitter flavour might not be to everyone’s taste but I am an addict.
After the sun had set (and possibly sometimes a bit earlier) I stopped drinking green tea and moved to alcoholic beverages. Usually not a big beer drinker I did drink a lot of beer in Japan. This probably has to do with the heat wave but also with the fact that Japanese beer is very tasty. The most common ones we came across were Asahi and Kirin.
Last but not least the famous Japanese rice wine sake: (Sometimes when we ordered sake the Japanese did not seem to understand their own language until we found out that the Japanese name for sake appears to be Nihonshu). Cold Sake is sometimes served the traditional way in a wood box (Masu) or the glass is placed in another container and is filled until it overflows symbolising the generosity of the host. We also tried ice-cold sake – a refreshing summer drink served with a lot of ice. And it would not be Japan if there were not a lot of rules and traditions attached on how to drink sake…
|From Japan drinks|
What to eat…
Well, it seemed difficult to find bad food in Japan (difficult but not impossible – do avoid sandwiches, this is something they don’t appear to manage very well).
Most restaurants in Japan focus on one kind of cuisine – which limits the choice but on the other hand the chefs are masters in their discipline. There are for example yakitori places that only do chicken or pork but every possible cut and including parts of their bodies that I just don’t want to even imagine being eaten. I ended up in a chicken yakitory place (not because I particularly wanted yakitory but because I randomly went to restaurants oblivious of what they would serve as I don’t speak or read Japanese…) where I made friends with the owner and his son. I got served chicken balls, chicken thigh and chicken neck skewers.
I had one small problem with Japanese food and this is the grilled smoked fish in the morning for breakfast. Rice is fine, miso soup really rather pleasant and give me pickles, tofu and rolled egg all the time, but smoked fish I just can’t do.
|From Northern Kansai Blog|
Please also read my posts about Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka and Norther Kansai that will follow in the next few days and where I will describe more food (I did eat A LOT), recommend a few restaurants and hotels for your next Japan trip and will introduce you to some sights and past times to be done in Japan.