Monday, May 2, 2011

11 bottles worth of sake lessons

We had grand plans to utilize Couchsurfing when we first started this trip but it always seemed that the time it took to find someone we thought we’d like and the value of privacy and independence far outweighed the $10-20 a night we’d save on accommodation. This calculation changes, however, when you’re looking at spending $100 for a night in a capsule hotel and all other costs are equally inflated ($100 each for a 1-hour train ride on a Shinkansen, $10 for a simple bowl of ramen). Given this, I was really proud when Juan went to the trouble of scouring through Couchsurfing profiles and arranged a couple of places to stay. Not only that, it turns out Juan has impeccable judgment!

Without a doubt, meeting Hiyo was one of the highlights of our whole trip. She kindly offered to pick us up at the Uto train station and after dropping our bags at her place promptly invited us to go digging for bamboo shoots with her. Bamboo digging season is apparently short, and if you don’t dig up the roots early on they turn into enormous bamboo trees that take over the surrounding areas within a short period of time. In addition, when cooked, the bamboo is supposedly delicious (we were leaving the next day so didn’t reap the fruits of our labors, but we’ll take Hiyo’s word for it). Luckily Juan redeemed himself for breaking her shovel by finding the biggest bamboo shoot of all.

After a quick shower, we hopped on some bikes for a 15 minute ride to a cute Japanese restaurant. It was a nice change for Hiyo to order in Japanese – we’ve been limited to ordering omakase (basically this means you let the chef choose what to serve you) which means we’ve been stuck eating things like chicken spine on occasion. Hiyo also decided to give us a lesson in sake styles. Eleven bottles later, we’d pretty much forgotten the lessons but discovered that Hiyo has the tolerance level of a linebacker.

Luckily we spent the previous afternoon at Kumamoto Castle where the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and people dressed in authentic samurai gear were wandering the grounds. Not sure we could have handled a day of sight-seeing with those hangovers…

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