A Trip to Ise – Part 3

What to do on a rainy day? Go to museums 😉 that’s what I did on the 5th of May when it rained without pause. I went to three museum, which all deal with the Ise shrines in one way or the other. The main museum is the Jingu museum which deals with the history of the shrine and the rituals performed there. Every single morning they cook a meal for the sun goddess consisting of rice, fish, veggies and fruits. They even have a sacred rice field where the rice for the sun goddess is planted. Much of the shrine life revolves around the fact that is is being torn down and renewed every twenty years. Although it’s quite obvious, I failed to realize for some reason what the empty spaces next to the shrine buildings are for. They are for the next round of shrine buildings. For twenty years the shrine stands on the left half and the right half is empty, then the right half is built and for a very short time there are two shrines next to each other, then the goddess moves and the old half is torn down. In order to do this, plenty of crafts are necessary, which are thus being kept alive.

There were five visitors in the Jingu museum and in the Jingo art museum next to it I was the only visitor. It had some paintings of Japanese artists and also a few kimonos and katana and pottery items on display. The final museum I visited was the Sengu museum next to the outer shrine that has a mock up of the main shrine, which normal mortals are not allowed to see and more info about its construction and a very nice model of the main shrine complex. If you happen to be in Ise for a longer time and if it rains, those museums are a good way to spend your day 🙂

Luckily I had glorious weather for my last day at Ise and went by bicycle once more to the inner shrine in the morning. Then I wondered how to get to the Meoto rocks again and decided to try by bicycle as well instead of taking the train. It turned out to be a fabulous bicycle ride through mostly flat terrain and in total I rode some 25 km that day. The rocks looked lovely in beautiful weather and with a calmer sea. There was still a fair amount of people around, but less than during the golden week holidays of course, which was another bonus. All in all it’s been a wonderful trip to some holy sites full of history and I can definitely recommend Ise and it’s surroundings if you haven’t traveled there yet. I’m planning to go back there in 12 years! In 2033, to see the shrines wandering to their neighboring free fields 😉

A Trip to Ago Bay

About an hour by local train from Ise lies the Ago bay. A natural bay with dozens, if not hundreds of small islands and rocks studded all around it. The local train got emptier and emptier and by the time I arrived at the last stop called Kashikojima, I nearly had the train to myself. There are a few resort hotels around, but Kashikojima itself consists of just a few houses. Half of them are oyster restaurants, half of them sell pearls and the pier offers a large variety of boats of all sizes to take you around the bay. At first I rode the biggest of them, a fake European sailing ship of old including fake masts and sails.

Due to its size, the big boat stays in the main canals between the islands around. After a short lunch I then took a second, smaller boat that brings you to the further away corners of the bay. The bay is not “pristine” if that’s the word, since more or less every spot available is occupied with oyster farms. The bay is beautiful nonetheless and interesting too and was worth the visit and good for a relaxing stress free day. If you have the choice between Toba and Kashikojima, I recommend Toba though, there is more action in Toba and since the islands are higher, the Toba bay has the prettier views.

A Trip to Toba

I rode the train to Toba on my third day at Ise. It’s only a twenty minute ride from Ise and there are two trains per hour. Toba is a resort town with plenty of old fashioned hotels overlooking the many bays and corners that frame the sea. Mikimoto is a world famous name for pearls and Mr. Mikimoto was born in Toba and started his pearl empire from his hometown. There is a whole small island owned by the Mikimoto brand/clan and they have a pearl museum on it, a shop and another museum telling the story of Mr. Mikimoto’s life. The pearl museum shows the cultivation of pearls and how to persuade those muscles to grow them. They also have some pearl studded items and jewelry on display. Of course they have an extensive shop where you can easily get rid of several millions of yen if you have them left over 😉

Another point of interest was the demonstration of pearl diving women called Ama, written in kanji it means woman of the sea. The profession is said to be 2000 years old. Now it is virtually extinct and done only for show since it’s quite a hazardous and hard job. The demonstration was interesting. I timed one of the women and she stayed under for forty seconds, diving six meters deep. I wouldn’t be able to do it! Lol.

Toba has a big and much nicer aquarium than Ise next door. They also have some exotic animals like finless or black and white dolphins. The star of the aquarium is a dugong, the Asian version of the manatee and the 34 year old girl looked very cute.

They also have seal and walrus shows. Since walrus shows are rarer than seal shows I watched that one and the 600 kilo lady walrus was also very cute. Problem of the aquarium was the large number of visitors. Well, it was golden week peak time and I didn’t expect to be alone there, it nevertheless felt a bit iffy to have so many people around you. Sigh…

The highlight of the day was a tourist boat ride around the island studded area of Toba with a stop at a place called dolphin island where you can ride a seat lift to the top and have an excellent view around the entire bay. Of course I stayed on deck for the boat ride and there weren’t that many people either. Thanks to the fantastic weather, it looked very beautiful from the top of the dolphin island. A great finish to a fantastic day.

A Trip to Ise – Part 2

On my second day in Ise I had planned to go by bicycle to the coast to visit the Meoto rocks but the weather was still unstable and most of all super windy and I found the task to fight against the wind for ten kilometers one way too daunting and chose to go by train instead.

A word about my hotel here. It turned out to be quite an interesting and quirky place. In an old but still functioning office building, they refurbished six rooms in the back of the third floor into apartments, adding a bathroom and a kitchen area in each room. The carpets and ceiling including the illumination were still from the old office times though, lol. However, the place has everything it needs and on top of that rented bicycle out for free, which I am a great fan of 😉 While I rode the bicycle to the Ise grand shrine, I took the train to the Meoto rocks. They represent the Shinto deities Izanagi and Izanami and are connected by a huge rope. The summer solstice sunrise is between them and if you have very very good weather, you can even see Mt. Fuji between them. They are pretty and have an air or mystery around them.

Next to them is a small shrine and a bit further down the road is an old aquarium. I had a nice time in the wind at the rocks and also in the aquarium, though I felt a bit sorry for the animals in their tiny and old enclosures.

A Trip to Ise – Part 1

In 2020 I stayed at home during golden week (a collection of national holidays and the company I work for closes for a week) for the first time in over ten years while the country (and most of the world) was in the first state of emergency during the pandemic that had just started. Notably the COVID figures at that time were in the hundreds in all of Japan, not in the thousands as now, a year later.
This year a few prefectures are in state of emergency, a few are in a semi state of emergency, many have no such state at all. I had booked a hotel for Okinawa again, but some three weeks before I was scheduled to go, Okinawa entered a semi state of emergency and was asking people not to come. So what to do instead? I felt like I’d be going stir crazy if I have to spend another golden week at home. Inspired by a colleague of mine, who went to Mie and Wakayama prefectures in March, I “remembered” the place and thought why not. I’ve been to Ise city once before, during my very first trip to Japan, since it is the home of the most holy of all Shinto shrines, the Ise grand shrine, which belongs to the sun goddess Amaterasu. My previous visit to Ise is now a staggering 28 years ago. I visited the place as a cute and naive student in 1993. OMG, have I become that old? Yes, I have! Naturally I hardly remembered anything about the place. It’s not that far away either, just by Shinkansen to Nagoya and from there with an express train for some 90 minutes.

In Ise I rented an apartment with cooking facilities, to be able to avoid having to go to restaurants considering the COVID situation.
The holidays of golden week were timed favorably this year with the national holidays of 29th of April, and May 3, 4, and 5 all on weekdays, so also for people whose company doesn’t close for a week like mine, you could get 7 days off with taking only one holiday, the 30th of April. Last year the golden week travel was at an all time low, this year however, many people, such as myself, found it impossible to stay put. I rode the Shinkansen to Nagoya on the 30th of April, hoping for the trains to be not too full, but actually, the Shinkansen was pretty crowded and I stayed between cars to avoid having to sit next to someone for the 90 min from Yokohama to Nagoya. The train to Ise was much emptier, luckily.

I went to the Ise grand shrine right on the first day, the 1st of May, a Saturday in unsteady weather, with rain showers in the morning and epic thunderstorms in the afternoon, but luckily I was already back at the hotel for the worst parts of the thunderstorms. There were plenty of people around but in the large park of the inner part of the Ise grand shrine the crowding situation was acceptable. It was a lot more crowded in the shopping and food street next to the shrine and I felt a bit unsafe but went with the flow.

The shrine and the park around it are pretty amazing, even if you cannot really see the main shrine, since it is too holy and closed off for the most part. It is also one of the few places in Japan where you are not allowed to take pictures. There are plenty of lesser shrines around the main one though, which are accessible. An interesting point about the Ise grand shrine is that it is being rebuilt every twenty years. All buildings are made from wood and are renewed every twenty years. The first mentioning of the renewal of the shrine in whatever documents is from the year 690. It’s a beautiful place and well worth the visit. Right in the middle of town is the outer area of the shrine with ponds and several smaller shrines and also a main shrine. I found the outer shrine to be very nice also, in part because there were fewer people there.

Fujimania Part 2

There are five lakes around Fujisan and in the morning of my return day, I rode with a bus to the neighboring lake called Saiko (which simply means “west lake”), to a traditional reed roof houses village with Fujisan views.

The weather was going downhill with more and more clouds, but Fujisan was still visible. Lake Saiko is smaller than Lake Kawaguchi and has only two small villages at its east and west ends. There is no train line going to the lake. In the past the bus rode from 9:00 in the morning to around 17:00 every half hour, bringing tourists to and from Lake Saiko, but now there are only two buses during weekdays and three buses during the weekend, that’s all! So you have to time it well to get there. It was worth the ride though, since the traditional reed roof house village is a very nice place to see.

Half of the around thirty houses are museums, the other half house crafts shops and I did quite some shopping, pottery items, incense and an arts shop with the drawings of a Japanese artists, he draws Buddhist themes, animals and also dragons 🙂

There are restaurants in three of the houses and I had some udon noodles there before heading back to Kawaguchi. Arrived there I rode once more with the gondola up the hill for more Fujisan views and then headed back home.

It was a fantastic little trip, but let’s be honest, without sunshine and the mountain out it’s only half as nice. You definitely need good weather for visiting the place 🙂 but if you have good weather, lucky you! The pictures do not do the closeness of the mountain justice. It’s an awesome place and I shall surely go there again 🙂

Fujimania Part 1

Since I, for the first time ever, had some holidays left that I had to take until the end of March, I took two days off and wondered what to do with them. Our state of emergency had just ended and we were officially allowed to travel again. (It’s possible to travel also during the state of emergency if necessary.)
I decided on going to Lake Kawaguchi at the base of Mt. Fuji in the hope to have good weather and get a proper look at the famous mountain. I’ve actually never been to Lake Kawaguchi before, dreading the masses of tourists there. It’s, after all, the main spot for Fujisan. But since the number of tourists is so much reduced, I thought now was a good chance to head there.
It’s only two hours by train and off I went. On my arrival day the weather was cloudy and cold and the top of Fujisan hid in the clouds. Nevertheless the base was visible and wow, Kawaguchi is really close to the mountain with no other hill anymore in between. I locked my luggage away in a station locker and promptly rented a bicycle to go exploring. Lake Kawaguchi is exactly north of the mountain and I rode along the northern shore visiting parks and a large shrine.

Lake Kawaguchi is at a height of about 850 meters and was much colder than Yokohama and I was happy for the down jacket I brought. It was so cold and windy that I needed a break and went to the very nice Yamanashi gem museum. They have a large collection of very pretty gems and a nice, big shop also.
Then I checked into my hotel and it was perfectly situated at the south side of the lake with a great view at the lake and the mountain beyond it. Said mountain peeled itself more and more out of the clouds and the sunset was breathtaking while revealing the top of the mountain.

Sunrise was before 6:00 and I woke up at 6:00 and couldn’t resist peaking through the curtains and OMG not a cloud in the blue sky and a most magnificent view. After that I couldn’t really sleep anymore and got up around seven, having breakfast while enjoying the view.

In walking distance from the hotel is a ropeway up the hill and I went up there with one of the first gondolas. That hill is 1090 meters high and allows an undisturbed view at the entire Fujisan. Such an awesome sight.

On I went to the train station and rode three stations to a place called Shimoyoshida where there is a shrine and a five story pagoda with a famous Fujisan view. The view is indeed magnificent but you have to struggle up a ginormous over 400 stairs to get up there. It is well worth the climb though. The pagoda is famous for cherry blossom views but I was two weeks too early for that unfortunately.

Back at lake Kawaguchi I rented a bicycle again and rode along the south side of the lake to enjoy the views from there. Last but not least I took a boat ride on the lake with more Fujisan views.
In the evening and after another magnificent sunset, there was a surprise fireworks over the lake, which was visible from my hotel window as well and it concluded a perfect day at the incredible mountain.

Ten Years Later

I cannot believe that it’s already ten years since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. In Japan we call it usually the “Great East Japan Earthquake” 東日本大震災 (higashi nihon dai shinsai)。On March 11th 2011, the earth shook at 14:46 local time with magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale. Worse than the earthquake itself was the ensuing tsunami, which reached heights of up to 40 meters and reached up to 10km inland. Some 18,000 people died, over 2500 of them are still listed as “missing”.
The tsunami famously also caused the level 7 meltdowns of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

I’ve re-read my first three blog entries from back then right now, starting with this one in case you want to read it too. There are plenty more, which I wrote in the days and weeks after the big quake and they are all still on the blog.

Now, ten years later, we got reminded again of this big quake with a magnitude 7.1 on the Richter scale on the 13th of February, which was yet another aftershock of the big one. There have been some 14,000 quakes, which are registered as aftershocks of the 11th of March 2011 quake.

Interestingly the quake was one of the things that influenced my decision to stay in Japan. I got my permanent residency four years after the quake. You don’t turn your back on the place you love if there is trouble. You face the trouble and help each other to get through it. People show their true colors when there is trouble and I liked what I saw back then and felt connected to the place and I have not regretted the decision to stay for a single moment.

I hope that we don’t have to go through another such major disaster in our lifetimes. There’s no guarantee for that though when you live on the ring of fire. We can only hope it won’t be too bad every time the ground shakes… My thoughts go out to all the people who died ten years ago, as well as to their friends and families that they left behind.

More Ryukyu Glass and the Cats of Itoman

I spent some more time in the Ryukyu glass village, the idea being to get something nicer for my cocktail endeavors than the standard glasses I used so far. The martini glass was the biggest challenge since it is not among the Ryukyu glass standard but I think I found a nice solution with this one. They have some very fine stuff in the Ryukyu glass village! It’s a formidable place and I hope it stays in business during these rough times when there are so much fewer tourists than in the past.

On my last day I rode my bicycle to my favorite beach of Kita-Nashiro and along some more coastline, then went to sell the bicycle. I had hoped for 4000 yen for it, since it was used only for ten days after all, but they gave me only 3000 yen for it. I am not the negotiating type and left it at that. Had I rented a bicycle I would have paid around a thousand yen a day so that’s what I paid for the new bicycle also. The investment was completely worth it and I wouldn’t have had the holidays I enjoyed without it.

There is one story left to tell and that’s about the feral cats of Itoman. The Minamihama park at the sea, which was a few hundred meters down the road from my hotel, was crawling with feral cats. Some of them looked quite well and healthy, but around half of them had chipped ears, presumably from fighting with each other. Some run away when you come too close, but some, especially this one was very people friendly and allowed you to pet her.

Several people were distributing cat food, but I wonder if they do it regularly and if it’s enough for all the cats around. I would have liked to take one of the cats with me. It makes me sad that they are not having homes. I counted some twenty cats, but I’m sure there were even more. Well, at least some people are feeding them from time to time and play with them.

All in all Itoman is a hot candidate for my retirement plans 🙂 It’s close enough to some nature and also close enough to civilization. I’m far from done exploring though! Apart from remote islands, I also want to explore more of Okinawa’s main island’s middle and north. So until next time, which I hope will be for Golden Week 2021? Let’s see what corona will say… stay healthy, folks

Okinawa Peace Park and Todoroki Cavern

 Another “must” when you are in the south of Okinawa’s main island is to go to the peace park next to Mabuni hill in the very south.

I went there on first of January in again brilliant sunny weather. Unfortunately the peace museum was closed for new year, but I made new friends when another metalhead noticed my Be’lakor t-shirt. He’s from Australia and Be’lakor are an Australian band 😉 We chatted for half an hour 🙂 He and another Australian lady are teachers in the JET program and were posted to the remote Okinawan islands of Yonaguni and Aguni. I have been to neither island yet, so that’s a nice opportunity for future trips 🙂 Lessons learned is: always wear your metal shirts, they can be highly communicative! Lol. I rode on to the Mabuni hill and (from the outside) checked out the cave riddled rock, where the locals and also soldiers sought refuge in the last stages of WW2.

Between downtown Itoman and the peace park is another peace museum, which had open. It was telling the story of the Himeyuri girl-student corps who were working as nurses and also forced to bury the dead during WW2. Many of them were killed and the museum commemorates them.

The whole south of Okinawa is riddled with caves and in many locals sought refuge in them from the bombing during the WW2 battle for Okinawa. One notable cave is the Todoroki cavern.

I had intended to go inside, but man that cave was scary and spooky! I’m really amazed they just let it sit there and people can enter it if they want to. I mean it’s hella dangerous, if you fall and break a leg, you have to wait for the odd chance of another idiot stumbling into the cave. It’s apparently huge also. Very interesting but no thanks for going into the pitch black dark. Lol. After the almost cave visit, I rode my bicycle further south again to the rugged but beautiful coastline of Odo.

Naha and Kariyushi Aquarium

Due to not so great weather I went to Naha twice by regular bus. On the first trip I did my round of shops that I like and also went pottery shopping in the pottery street, which has become kind of a ritual for me when I’m in Naha. I bought a rice bowl, a plate and two small “plates” where you put your cutlery on (like a chopsticks holder, but for fork and knife), all in Okinawa blue 🙂
I also went to Shuri castle. I was surprised they actually let you onto the castle grounds. The main hall of the castle and several other buildings unfortunately burned to the ground on October 31st 2019. You can walk past where the main hall stood. So sad and I’m very glad I visited the castle when it still stood. I think they plan to rebuild it by 2026… sigh… It’s a nice way to get a bit of money though that they let you in. It’s only 400 yen mind, but better than nothing and there were some people around too, not overly many, but a few.

Picture taken Dec. 2020
Picture taken Dec. 2018 (I wore masks very often also before the pandemic…)

On my second trip to Naha a few days later, I went to a shrine I had not been to before and also a bunker south of Naha where the Japanese navy made their last stand. They hacked a significant tunnel system into the hill and it’s an interesting site.

The weather turned even worse with pretty much of a winter storm, but despite it I went by bicycle to a large shopping mall which sports a new aquarium. It’s in the town of Tomigusuku between Naha and Itoman where I stayed. I almost got blown away and froze my hands off to get there and got pretty wet. Winds were at 50 to 70 km per hour or 15 to 20 meters per second. I almost gave up but then pushed through.
The aquarium is super modern. There are no explanatory signs around, instead they make you download an app and there are sensor pads instead of signs, which then load the information about the animals into the app. The aquarium isn’t big but quite nice and you could get astonishingly close to most animals. The sloth and the toucans were just behind a line! So you could even take a selfie with the super cute sloth.

Cape Kyan and Gyoku Sendo Cave

Cape Kyan at the southern end of Okinawa’s main island is one hell of a beautiful place. It also comes along with a peace memorial. During WW2 much of Okinawa was bombed to bits, but the south was especially affected. Ever smaller and lonelier roads lead to the cape, through sleepy fishing villages and then fields. It was a beautiful bicycle ride. At the cape were four people and it was a quite lonely affair.

Then I discovered a great natural beach called Nashiro or Kita-Nashiro (its northern section). Three islands stretch out into the sea, during low tide you can walk to two of them but the third is separated from the others by a quite deep looking canal. It’s an utterly beautiful beach and I especially liked this rock with trees clinging to it. I went to this beach on about every second day of my stay.

My longest bicycle trip was to the Gyoku Sendo cave and the tourist park they created around it. The cave is fantastic! It’s one of the most impressive stalactite and stalagmite caves I have ever seen. The cave is very wet and comes along with underground waterfalls and an underground river.

It’s also lit up nicely. Another bonus point was that there were very few tourists. Of course there are still no overseas tourists and also the number of domestic tourists was quite moderate. I thoroughly enjoyed that cave, even if the bicycle ride there was not so nice with trucks thundered past me half the time. I actually visited the cave on my very first trip to Okinawa in the 90ties, but it was only one stop on a bus tour around the entire island and we were rushed through. It also was probably drier than it was now since it was at the end of summer when I visited back then. I don’t remember it being so jaw dropping. If you ever go to Okinawa’s main island, make sure you visit that cave.
Around the cave they built the “Okinawa World” theme park with dozens of huts in which all local crafts are displayed and you can try out a lot of them yourself. Further, they have a small zoo centered around the Habu snake, which is a famous, highly venomous snake living around the Ryukyu islands. But the cave remains the main attraction of this park.

Traveling in Strange Times

Originally I had wanted to spend Japan’s Golden Week in early May 2020 in Okinawa. State of emergency made me stay home and cancel everything way in advance. In summer I wanted to make the next try but canceled everything 36 hours before departure, as Okinawa declared a stand alone prefectural state of emergency in our second corona wave. Then I waited anxiously for the end of the year and whether the third attempt to get to Okinawa would be successful. It didn’t look good, since we got into the third wave and the new infections per day were higher than ever.
I booked a hotel a week in advance and a flight 48 hours before departure. I debated extensively with myself and others whether it was okay to fly to Okinawa or not. There were no official domestic travel restrictions in Japan at that moment. I booked an apartment with kitchen, so if I go to a supermarket in Yokohama or the city of Itoman it makes no difference. If I ride around with a bicycle in Yokohama or Okinawa, it makes no difference. I didn’t plan on going to any party or even a restaurant in the evening.
So in the end I headed for Haneda airport after all and it was actually pretty crowded. Also the flight was 80 % full. Wow! I was lucky and there was no one next to me, but there were many rows without a free seat… masks were of course mandatory. The flight to Okinawa takes around three hours, since it’s against the jet stream, back it’s only two hours. They break out no food on these flights, but only some soft drinks. Hardly anyone was eating anything so as to not have to take the mask down in contrast to previous flights were people broke out their bento boxes as soon as it was allowed.
I took a taxi from the airport, because my target, the city of Itoman is only 10 km south of it. I was even prepared for something like, we don’t take passengers who arrived from Tokyo, but luckily there was no such thing. My taxi driver was about 80 years old and basically just happy that I could speak Japanese, lol. He didn’t ask where I come from today, or which country either. He only told me proudly about a highway they started to build south (so far there is only a highway to the north) and that some military area has been taken over by the Japanese navy instead of the Americans, those are now only up north. The driver didn’t mention corona in any form. 

While there are a few apartment hotels around in Itoman, it’s basically a “normal” town. Checking around in the internet revealed no bicycle rental anywhere. I only found a bicycle shop on the internet about 2km away and walked there first thing in the morning. As I already expected the bicycle shop only sold but did not rent out bicycles. But then again, if I rent a bicycle for a 1000 yen for ten days it’ll be 10,000 yen. The cheapest bicycle that they had was 13,000 yen. I asked them if they would take it back on the 4th of January if I bought it now, the answer was no, but they also told me about a recycle shop around the corner. So I went there and asked if they’d buy it off of me and they said yes and thus I bought the thing.

I promptly rode to the Ryukyu glass village, which was one of my targets and it was only three km away from my hotel. They have a fantastic shop with works of art and of course also usable glassware. They also offer a make-your-own-glass experience. Usually they let you do more process steps by yourself, but due to corona they cannot let people blow glass anymore. They blow it for you and you only do one step of finishing it up yourself.
I also checked out the beach 500 meters down the road and enjoyed a fantastic sunset. All that would not have been possible without some means of transportation = my lovely new bicycle!

Ryukyu Glass Village main building.

My personal glass in its infancy
My personal glass is growing
My personal glass getting blown into form. After the blowing is done, I got to “widen” the glass by myself in one process step.
My personal glass in its finished form 🙂


I’ve always had the collector gene in my body and have been collecting one or the other thing as long as I can remember. My first collection was dog pictures, lol. I’ve been great at collecting movie and music memorabilia over the years, from select Star Trek figures to heavy metal t-shirts. Last year I got a short spleen with minerals and collected 50 of them, but then stopped, because: where to put all this beautiful, but essentially useless stuff? I am well aware of the curse of collecting. You gather stuff you don’t really need or wear. I have around a hundred heavy metal band and festival shirts and I wear maybe twenty of them.
This year, having to stay home all the time I was (subconsciously mostly) looking for something new to collect with the premise of “it shall not last” or “how can I avoid cluttering my apartment with more useless stuff” and now I found it! lol. Alcohol! lol.
I already made myself a small bar two, three years ago, mostly filled with port wine.
Who knows me knows that I hate beer… it’s bitter and it stinks! Sorry, beer lovers. I have a sweet tooth and thus port wine and also cocktails have always been my preferred choice of drink. So, welcome to the new spleen – cocktail mixing!

Angel’s Delight – gin, Cointreau, grenadine, cream

For every collection there is an initial investment necessary and then a continuous investment, lol. The past few weeks, I have bought quite a number bottles at different liquor shops in order to not raise any suspicions! lol. This is the hunting part of the collector. The joy of hunting for that particular item (bottle). They don’t have e.g. Heering Cherry in store A but in B. Store C is the best place for item X, store D for item Z, oh that’s fun! Lol Our poor ancestors had to do hunting and gathering in order to survive, how lucky are we that we can do it for the joy of it.

Old Fashioned – Bourbon whiskey, dash of bitters, sugar, orange peel

There were also quite some bottles I actually already had. I bought a nice bottle of vodka in Vladivostok in March 2019, it just sat there, never opened. I bought a few miniature (100ml) bottles of sugar cane schnapps from Amami. I tried one of them, but the stuff is not the nicest alcohol in the world by itself and the other four mini bottles just sat there since 2017 unopened. I bought a bottle of Southern Comfort a year ago and it just sat there, unopened. But now I bought a cocktail mixing set with shaker, muddler etc. It came with a small cocktail book and thus started the hunting for ingredients.

Blue Hawaii (though it got more green than blue) – white rum, blue curacao, pineapple and lemon juice

Cocktail making is also very educational! Until a few weeks ago I didn’t know what a “dash of bitters” is. Neither did I know what is a dash (in a cocktail), nor did I have any clue about bitters. Now I have a bottle of Angostura aromatic bitters made in Trinidad and Tobago and know how to dash my cocktails with it, lol. Until a few weeks ago I had never heard of a Hawthorne strainer before or knew how to use it, now I do, lol. I now know that Cointreau and curaçao are actually the same thing – orange peel liquor, as is blue curaçao.

Grasshopper – white creme de cacao, creme de menthe, cream, mint

Luckily many liquors can be found in small bottles in Japan, which reduces the amount of initial investment 😉 I have now collected some 40 different alcohols and am finally making good use of the ice cube making machine in my fridge 😉 With all the soft drink stuff to mix it with there are hundreds of variations possible. Neat! So I shall aim at becoming a hobby mixologist and mix and stir like some good old alchemist (alchemy! Hagen Patterson – To Mix and to Stir).
And worry not, I’m a big girl. There will never be more than one cocktail per day. It may sound odd, but this is not about alcohol at all. It’s about taste experiences, the fun of mixing and discovering new stuff and collecting things. Of course I also started my recipe collection as well. Who knows, if the spleen sticks and I become a real mixologist, I can publish a cocktail book or make a cocktail website? Hahaha. We shall see. Cheers for now.

Choco Raspberry – creme de cacao, creme de framboise, cream

A Re-match 27 Years in the Making

I’ve been making good use of the company closure days due to the coronavirus crisis and have visited plenty of day-trip targets during the past few months, Kamakura a stunning six times, Mt. Takao, Enoshima, Odawara castle and so on. Looking for new targets, one place jumped back into my mind and that is the castle of Matsumoto. I’ve been to the town of Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture, central Japan, once before and that was on my very first trip to Japan in 1993… OMG! That’s 27 years ago! Ahhhhh… It was quite a trip. I flew with Aeroflot, which was a drama of its own. I was a penniless student back then and yet wanted to stay for almost 3 months in Japan. I cut the visit short by two or three weeks, because I ran out of money, hahaha… After arrival in Tokyo, I soon left it and traveled up the Pacific cost, then on to Hokkaido. On the way back I rode (always with trains) down the Japanese sea coast side and stayed for one night I believe, maybe it was two, but not more, in a youth hostel in Matsumoto before heading back to Tokyo. The northern Japan and Hokkaido trip I did on my own, but I had guest families in Sendai and Sapporo.
I also spent a week at a Buddhist temple in Aomori (unplanned). They let me stay for free in exchange for temple cleaning duties (I got lost in search of a famous temple, ended up at a “normal” temple and the priest and his wife invited me to stay after we chatted for two hours, it was a great experience). After some time in Tokyo, I went on a trip south and west together with another German student and we went to Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and several other places along the way.
But back to Matsumoto. I might not be doing the town much justice, but the absolutely main thing to do in the town is to visit its magnificent castle, which is one of the few original castles that have not been destroyed by fire and war and been rebuilt in concrete, as so many other castles. In 1993, it must have been end of August or early September that I was in Matsumoto and it was hot and humid. The weather was bad, it was raining and stormy, it might even have been the outskirts of a typhoon. I went to the castle but I did not go inside because it was too expensive!

I seem to remember that the price back then was a thousand yen or even more. It was 1993, we still had the German Marks, not the Euro. Lol Japan was just out of its “bubble economy” times where money was let me call it “abundant”, but alas, I was a poor student and didn’t have that money. The choice was, do I eat for those thousand yen today, or do I visit the castle? I chose to eat and did not go inside. But I never really forgot the disappointment to not have been able to visit the Matsumoto castle properly.
For many years this was not in focus of course and there would have been plenty of opportunity to do the Matsumoto castle re-match, but it did not creep back to the surface until now. Suddenly it was like, hm… 2.5 hours by train one way, that’s doable as a day trip, I could go to Matsumoto and get my “revenge” after all these years. And that’s what happened on the 13th of November 2020. After 27 years (!) I rode that train to Matsumoto in glorious autumn weather and went to the castle and even the fee had become cheaper and was 700 yen, lol.

While the castle garden is very pretty, the castle itself is dark and cold inside and they make you walk around on socks to be gentle to the ages old wooden floors. I cannot deny though the great satisfaction to have now finally made up for the failed Matsumoto castle visit those staggering 27 years ago. It’s a fantastic castle and now I’ve finally seen it proper 😉