Day 2 in Osaka, Japan

We began our day mastering the elaborate subway system beginning at our Granvia Hotel, which is centrally located next to the Osaka Station.

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Arriving at Osaka Castle Parkwe were greeted by an impressive rock garden (a mini version of Stonehedge). IMG_4481

We crossed the Gokurakubashi Bridge leading to the castle which was built between 1583 and 1598.

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The museum displays with human actors animated over-elaborate artwork depicting scenes from the violent history of this castle throughout the centuries. The original castle was built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi at the site of Ishiyama Hogan-ji Temple. After being reduced to ashes during the Winter Siege and Summer War of Osaka in 1614, Tokugawa Shogun mobilized 64 feudal lords in western and northern Japan and reconstructed the castle over a period of 10 years. Apparently, over 500,000 stones were used in the reconstructed walls of this castle.  IMG_4485

As you can see in these photos of John Ash and Rick Permutt, it doesn’t matter what century one lives in the lure of battle looms large. Rick Permutt

Our tour guide had brought Bento Box lunches for us to enjoy among the Stonehedge-style gardens of the park. Rick, ready to retire as a Kaiser Doc, is practicing for his new career as Japanese Sommelier, while Vintner Susan and Lou Preston pose for a photo op for their new Japanese brand.

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No rest for the weary as we continued our adventures in Nakazakoi, a neighborhood reminiscent of New York’s Chelsea. Nakazakoi offers a welcome reprieve from the bustling metropolis of Osaka with its fancy shopping, offering small boutique shops where entrepreneurs sell handmade artisan items. The shops are interspersed between quaint living spaces with tidy, abundant gardens.

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Our favorite shop, Nijiyura, sold batik fabrics representing both traditional and modern Japanese art.

We opted for the wild and crazy nightlife scene and took taxis to Dotonbori area of Osaka which resembles New York’s Time Square on a quiet night.

Tombori River Walk Osaka

Eating octopus balls on the street encouraged us to look for a more subdued place to dine along the Tombori (river walk). Much to our surprise, John and Jill found a well-named restaurant – Zen. This tiny restaurant on the river front seated about 15 people. The owner’s father-in-law who spoke perfect English lured us in, helped us to order, and after trying many of the house Sakes, upon hearing that we were from the Sonoma wine country, treated us to a bottle of quite delicious white Japanese wine.

…Just another day in the Land of the Rising Sun.

On the Road Again – to Japan!

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On the Road Again, this time in the Land of the Rising Sun, on a Japanese culinary tour organized by my chef friends Mei Ibach and John Ash. There are nine of us from Healdsburg and Santa Rosa and we arrived last night for a 13-day adventure in Osaka and Kyoto.

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Awakened in Osaka to a bright, sunny day and Wendy and I took our traditional morning walk, albeit not on the Healdsburg Ridge. We set out at 6:45 am in search of coffee and what was our surprise to discover absolutely no coffee that early and very few other people out, yet a sake shop with three eager patrons.

Never too early for sake!

Never too early for sake!

Our day as a group began at the Osaka Municipal Central Wholesale Markets, where we experienced global food in all its glory. We were surrounded by boxes upon boxes of fruit and a sea of local fresh, gorgeous fish. Auctions were taking place throughout the market where commercial buyers were setting their prices for quantities of food for their retail shops and restaurants. This market, which was established when Osaka Castle was built (and I’ll tell you when that was tomorrow, after our visit to the Castle), and provides Osaka consumers produce from various producers throughout the world, in a venue where fair prices are set and stable distribution is a given. We sampled food through the market and our first taste of sashimi melted in our mouths… IMG_4385IMG_4391IMG_4412

By 10:30 am we were more than ready for brunch, which turned out to be by far the best sushi I’ve ever tasted. I promise to take better notes about the specifics of what we eat, especially since Mei and John are experts. For our first day, let it suffice to say that eating sushi while walking it off as we strolled through a park filled with the fragrance and beauty of cherry blossoms in full regalia couldn’t have been more perfect. This park is the only place in Osaka where the trees are still in full bloom as a result of being covered each night, at the government’s expense, to extend the weeks of blossoming. IMG_4420IMG_4415IMG_4448IMG_4457