Monday, December 15, 2014

Hakushu Distillery Tour

     I wanted to post about one of the last things I get to do before I head home. There is a whiskey distillery, the Hakushu Distillery of Suntory, quite near to where I live, with the mountain nearby providing good water for the process. They give free tours of the distillery and free tastings at the end. It has been on my Japan Bucket List for a long time, but I have never wanted to do it alone for good reason. Alone, I would have no one to drive once I have had my allotted free drinks at the end of the tour--Japan is quite harsh with their legal limits for driving with.03% being the limit. One of my co-workers, Gon-san, knew I had been wanting to go so offered to take me and be my driver. How could I ever say no?!?
Suntory also has their Yamazaki Distillery near Osaka.
ENGLISH! I can finally understand what I am looking at!
The whiskey museum we poked around before our tour. In the picture above of the brochure you can see the observation bridge sticking up out of the trees.
     The museum itself was pretty amazing. It included the history of whiskey itself--dating back to biblical times--all the way to the history of whiskey in Japan. Suntory's Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 just recently won best whiskey in the world, even beating out all Ireland and Scotland. I already knew this stuff was good, I guess I just didn't know HOW good. Once you wind your way through the three floors of the museum, there is the nature observation bridge. In Japan, nature conservationism is a very big thing and most big companies, especially ones that could potentially harm the environments they are operating in, put a lot of money into protecting it. So not only is the ground where the distillery is where they make whiskey, it is also a nature preserve, mainly a bird sanctuary.
Replica of an old style pub in the museum--doesn't look that unusual to me, but in Japan that's a novelty.
Can't have an exhibit about whiskey without a section on the U.S.
This was the size of an entire wall--people around the world had to think Americans were insane.
View of Yatsugatake, the mountain I live on, and the bird sanctuary below.
     The first stop on the tour is where the fermentation happens. These huge vats are about  ginormous --yes super precise measurement. They're as tall as a house and probably fifty feet across. It smelled like a bunch of baking bread in this whole building. The next part of the tour was where the magic happens.
Adorable tour guide that explains every step of the process--well I had my little headset for English.
Now that's a tub I want to bathe in.
On the Hakushu property there are twenty two of these huge warehouses where they store the barrels of whiskey to age. The second we walk in to the one we were touring, I was in heaven. It was like taking a shot just by breathing. This place was MASSIVE. It was about two stories tall and who knows how long, but it was just row after row after row of barrels of whiskey. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

Just one row or column or whatever you want to call it.
And then you turned around and it went down the other way.
Found a whiskey that's the same age as me!
     The tour was pretty short, but the best was yet to come. Afterwards you go to the tasting room where our tour guide taught us the correct way to make a highball, whiskey and soda over ice, and then you get to have two complementary drinks any way you'd like. Of course I had to try even more, so after my drinks, I went to the tasting bar where you could try all the whiskeys that went into their blends. I chose the 12 year old that had been aged in a sherry cask. Suntory recently bought out Jim Beam so it was a little odd seeing an American brand being considered part of their house menu. I really wanted to try the award winning whiskey of theirs, but it was $25 for just a tasting, so I stuck to the cheaper ones.

The tasting bar--with juice for the drivers. Those men in suits clearly were not about the juice.
Highballs are pretty much my favorite drink so this was the perfect little afternoon activity.
They even gave you snacks!
My tasting--it was delicious.
End of the tour and tasting with some Christmas gifts in tow.
     After the time at the distillery, Gon-san wanted to take me to the local sake brewery. Unfortunately, they closed a half hour earlier than he thought and we weren't able to have the free tastings at their brewery. I was able to buy a bottle to take home as a Christmas gift and stop at the local sweets shop down the road. Booze and sweets--I think the Japanese have found the way to my heart!
So sad they were closed--but I probably didn't need anymore free booze anyways.
Thought I could make these cookies last until I got home. That was a laugh.
     The days are slowly winding down, but knowing I will be back helps. I have too many things left to do!

                        Until next time,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Learning to Cook Japanese

     It is widely known around KEEP that I love to eat and I'm the weird American that loves pretty much all Japanese food. As the days are starting to wind down here, I want to get in as much as I possibly can. Hoshii-san from Seisen-Ryo, whose parents had my family over for dinner while they were here, invited me to her parents' house once again for a Japanese cooking lesson. Hoshii-san's mother already knew how interested I was in Japanese culture. She is a very crafty woman and collects old kimonos to create things with and enlightened me one night on the customs and how kimonos correlate to a certain season and some kimonos are for old women and some are for young. I learned so much from her already so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn even more. Plus, I already knew she was an amazing cook!

     On the menu were two different items, okonomiyaki, which is a kind of savory pancake for a lack of a better term and one of my favorite Japanese foods, as well as karaage, which is Japanese style fried chicken that I was told was a must to learn because it so popular. 
Gathering all the supplies and ingredients--that's my Japanese notebook from Hoshii-san's mother there with a cover made from a kimono. I thought it was more than fitting to write the recipes in there.
     Now this isn't a cooking blog so I won't bore you with all the steps to creating this okonomiyaki masterpiece other than you take all the ingredients and mix it together, pour it on the griddle, flip it, and top it with even more goodness. We made two different types, the normal "everything but the kitchen sink" style and then a bacon, corn and onion one. Getting hungry thinking about them again!
Chopped seaweed and dried shrimp. 

Katsuobushi, or dried, smoked fish flakes that are as common on food in Japan as butter is in the US, used as a topping.
Different okonomiyaki sauces for the final product!
Mixing the cabbage, an egg, the dried and fresh squid and dried shrimp and other ingredients together to make the batter.
Side #1 cooking.
Finished product with okonomiyaki sauce, seaweed flakes, kotsuobushi and Japanese mayo as toppings. Mmmmmm!!! If you ever get the chance to buy Japanese mayo, do it! It's life changing.
Our bacon, onion and corn one--to die for!
     Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of the karaage process because I was more instrumental in that cooking process, but the way it differs from American fried chicken is you marinate it in soy sauce, sake, garlic and ginger for a bit then roll it in flour and then fry it a few times. I can totally understand why this delicious dish is so popular. Everyone told me it is a special day when this is served for school lunch. I'm planning on bringing this home to the family so we can have it for Christmas dinner--we'll see how that goes. 

Until next time,


Monday, December 1, 2014

Community English Classes

     In addition to English camps at KEEP and English classes for the KEEP staff, I have also played Charlotte Sensei for classes for young students in the Hokuto City community. My coworker in the international relations department, Murata-san, wants to create a place that kids can come and have fun while learning to prove that English isn't scary. Totally a great concept for me because I am not a trained teacher, just a lover of the English language. The kids range anywhere from seven to eleven years old, depending on who comes that day. We have class once a week for an hour in two different towns and play a lot of games and draw and color to supplement the English lessons. Carla and Gelo, the other English speakers from the Philippines, and I have found that traditional lessons don't go over well when the kids have spent all day at school and have been given the chance to unwind a little before they are unleashed on us. A lot of the students have been part of the English camps at KEEP as well, so I have gotten to know them and their personalities. Have you ever tried to tell a room of children to settle down and they have no idea what you're saying and because they are familiar with you they just laugh and keep running and kicking their slippers at each other? Well I have. Not for the faint-hearted.
Signing in at the beginning of class--they get to practice writing their names in romaji (English letters).
Carla and Gelo going over parts of the face for a lesson.
     This past week was our final week of class. It just so happened to coincide with Thanksgiving so I thought it would be fun to have a lesson about what we were thankful for. They learned the concept of being thankful, new words for the things they like and a little bit of American culture. I of course had to incorporate the hand turkey into the lesson. They always love the chance to color and be creative.We brainstormed ideas of what everyone was thankful for and wrote them on the board and then got to work.
Lots of new words we learned tonight--share was definitely the most important one.
My example turkeys.
When I told her she could only put boyfriend once and needed to be thankful for more things I was told that she in fact had three boyfriends she was thankful for and that's why boyfriend was on three fingers.
Coloring our turkeys!
An attempt at silly faces with our hand turkeys!
     Next year we are going to continue our classes in the two towns and even add an adult class! The class in Sutama is going to be for our very beginners--think preschool type activities, while classes in Oizumi will be for the more advanced kids followed by the adult class right after. Teaching is by far my favorite part of my job here and when I feel like I am contributing the most, but I like when I can teach them all a new way to say goodbye or good night (you don't know cuteness until you teach a class of kids "See ya later alligator. After awhile crocodile.) and then give them back to their parents. 

       Until next time,