Takayama, Japan – home of beautiful sake and wagyu

Continuing on from our journey through Japan and my last post about Shirakawago – a secluded village up in the mountains – Yuye and I head back to Takayama for some sake (Japanese rice wine) action. Takayama is famous for its sake and historic Japanese structures.

 
Apparently there was an earthquake during our bus ride back and we didn’t feel it. The lovely owners at the ryokan (Japanese style hotel) we stayed at – Hanaoka Ryokan – asked us about our wellbeing when we checked in and that’s how we found out. For those of you who missed the earlier posts about my Japan trip, we got to Japan the day after the massive earthquake on March 11 last year. Throughout our trip, there were smaller magnitude earthquakes but we were lucky enough to not have felt any of them. To keep the post a bit shorter, I will post about the hotel next time.

 

Map courtesy of www.japan-guide.com
 
When we arrived in Takayama, we were starving. After dumping our luggage, we headed out to the city centre in search of food. Upon passing a specialised wagyu (Japanese marbled beef) shop called Maruaki, we agreed in unison that we’d have lunch there. Although we had a tiny taste of Hida beef (wagyu from the Hida region) in Shirakawago, it wasn’t very high grade and wasn’t a big portion either.

 

 
Maruaki has a butcher downstairs where you can pick and buy different cuts of meet to eat in the restaurant or to take home and cook yourself. If you’re renting a place with a kitchen, this might be a good option as it is cheaper. The restaurant was fairly large and was busier than I thought it would be. After the earthquake, many tourists cancelled their pre-planned holidays and left smaller towns sparse of people but it didn’t seem to affect this restaurant as much.

 

 
We ordered a set menu for two and cost roughly $50 for the both of us. It included a large plate of different wagyu cuts which we cooked on a hot plate like Korean BBQ, miso soup and veggies. No rice came with it so we got a large bowl of rice to share for 250Yen. The colour of the meat’s a bit off as I didn’t set my camera properly – it’s meant to be more pink than red…oops. 😛 That’s what happens when I don’t take out my DSLR!

 

 
The miso soup was average as we’ve had so many during the short few days that they all started tasting the same. There weren’t as many ingredients in the soup, although I liked the little bits of egg in it.

 

 
The beef on the other hand was fantastic. I wrote about making wagyu at home and mentioned that the wagyu I had in Japan wasn’t high grade – I lied. They were in fact quite marbled and very delicious. It goes to show that I can only think about what’s in front of me. 😛

 

 
The meats were cut into different shapes which gave them very different textures. I liked some more than others although they all melted in my mouth. As always, they were best consumed when rare to medium rare.

 

 
The beef also came with a dipping sauce which was slightly sweet with soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice and chilli powder. The beef was nice with and without the sauce, I would have been happy enough with just some salt on top. 🙂

 

 
After the meal, we strolled to the famous ‘old town’ or Sannomachi Street, a street with buildings dating back to the 1600’s. I felt like there was a warp hole at the entrance of the street and when I entered, I was taken back into the Edo period.

 

 
There were people pulling rickshaws…

 

 
Local specialty sake shops…

 

 
And even a miso store where you can taste some beautiful miso and see how they are made.

 

 
We stayed the longest in the sake shops which I’m sure is no surprise as Takayama is famous for their sakes. Some of these have their own breweries out the back and have been in business for centuries. My favourite store was the Oitashizouten (老田酒造店) which utilises its space for their sake range and rents out a part of the store to other merchants.

 

 
By the front of the store was a bucket full of new rice that has been processed and was silky smooth. It felt so nice I wanted to take some with me…

 

 
There was also a room full of history about sake and how sake is brewed. I found this very interesting but all the information was in Japanese so was a bit hard to understand.

 

 
It was very interesting walking through the space and finding little souvenirs to buy and sake to taste. I especially loved one area of the store where a few girls were making glass beads. I went to a 2 day glass bead making class in Melbourne a year ago and fell in love with the beauty and intricacy of the art. I felt like I had something in common with those girls and even had a mini conversation in Japanese with them. I was so proud. 😀

 

 
Aside from sake shops, there were also many food outlets. We found this mini taiyaki shop and couldn’t resist buying a few to try. They had 5 flavours which were cheese, chocolate, anko (red bean), sweet potato and sausage.

 

 
Apart from chocolate and red bean, we had never tried the other flavours so were very intrigued. We purchased 4 out of the 5 flavours, the sad flavour to be left out was red bean as Yuye and I both didn’t like red bean filling as they were always too sweet. My favourite was the chocolate as chocolate chips were used instead of the usual chocolate custard so it was very rich and chocolatey. The sausage was average, just tasted a lot like frankfurts and the cheese one was creamy in the middle but didn’t taste as cheesy as I liked.

 

 
We liked them so much that we actually went back for seconds, this time we bought 5 chocolate ones. 😀

 

 
We also browsed through many souvenir shops and purchased Hello Kitty mobile hangers. I swear I’m going to need a special post just about the Hello Kitty mobile hangers as each town has their own limited location collectable ones that you can’t get anywhere else so I went crazy purchasing all the ones I could find……I spent approximately $500AUD on them throughout the trip, maybe more!

 

 
I will conclude today’s Japan post here as the next part takes us to Hanaoka Ryokan which, in my opinion, was the most value for money ryokan during the whole trip. The food we had there was out of this world and for such little money! Stay tuned my dear readers! 🙂

 

 
Question time: Have you ever tried sake before? Did you like it?

I’m not a big drinker and never really liked sake much, nor other alcoholic beverages for that matter. However, I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying some in Takayama as they smelt so nice and Yuye bought 4 bottles! Our luggage became very heavy after that leg of the trip. 😀 As a result of the trip, I can now drink a lot more and actually enjoy it as well. Strange isn’t it?

Maruaki (丸明)
Phone: +81 577-35-5858
6-8 Tenmanmachi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0025, Japan
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10 comments… add one
  • marthameetslucy January 10, 2012, 5:43 am

    I've always wanted to go to Japan and your trip is making me so jealous. Are you planning on doing a post that shows off these Hello Kitty mobiles or did I just miss it?

    Reply
  • Akika (Ichigo Shortcake) January 10, 2012, 11:48 am

    @marthameetslucy, I haven't yet posted about the Hello Kitty mobile hangers yet, I will when I finish the other Japan posts, which shouldn't be long! 🙂

    Reply
  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella January 10, 2012, 3:26 pm

    I think that some of the best beef I've ever had was in Japan. They really revere it there and it is such exquisite quality! I'm getting hungry thinking about it 🙂

    Reply
  • Jo January 10, 2012, 9:04 pm

    Such beautiful photos. I miss Japan loads! It's one of my favourite countries!

    I LOVE taiyaki especially the azuki bean ones. You are making me hungry!

    looking forward to read your next post on Hanaoka Ryokan! Want to plan a trip to Japan soon!

    Reply
  • Choux-Fleur January 10, 2012, 11:43 pm

    OMG the mini taiyaki are so adorable!!! And that wagyu beef looks simply delicious. Makes me want to eat korean bbq now haha. Been craving that for ages.

    My mum got really into sake a few years ago. She even bought the tiny cups and bottles and properly warmed the sake and everything. I think sake is interesting. Some smell like soy sauce. I've had some nice ones at nihonshu bar in the city.

    Reply
  • Akika (Ichigo Shortcake) January 11, 2012, 12:29 am

    @Lorraine, I agree, most of the good beef I had was in Japan, although I think the best one was still the one I had in Las Vegas. I might be biased there since that was the very first wagyu I ever had..:P

    @Jo, Japan's also one of my favourite countries..I was planning to go again in March but not sure if I can..:(

    @Choux-Fleur, they are aren't they? ;P Yuye has at least 4 sets of sake cups and bottles, although we don't bother with warmer them up..cold is nice too! In fact, some are meant to be consumed warm and some are better hot I think.
    Takayama was awesome for sake. In fact, I see the sake from Shirakawago (my previous post and very close to Takayama) in stores everywhere!

    Reply
  • Nami | Just One Cookbook January 12, 2012, 8:20 pm

    I think I've been here once when I was small. I think I will enjoy this city more as a adult. Thanks for all these pictures. I actually enjoyed reading and looking at the pictures. I miss home!! 🙂

    Reply
  • Ali January 22, 2013, 2:45 am

    Thank-you for sharing your post! It has been my dream to stay in a traditional Japanese bath house. I have admired the Japan from afar for too long. We’re going to Japan on our honey moon but I have no idea where to go! All I am certain of is that I want to go to the Studio Ghibli museum and try Pachinko (sp?) machines! I suppose I could have gone to Japan long ago with all the money I have spent on buying anime, manga and other Japanese related paraphernalia over the years 😛 I look forward to reading more of your travels!

    Reply

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