Before that, however, I met up with Eriko to tour the sake breweries of Kobe's Uozaki district. We walked to four, altogether: the weather was warm and it was thirsty work, but luckily there were plenty of free samples to keep us going. Here's the business end of a sake factory, in case you're interested:
And here's its public face:
In one of the factories we were given about 9 different samples (by the end I'd lost the ability to count higher than 5, so the figure is approximate) by an octogenarian sake master, whose stand was surrounded by newspaper cuttings with pictures of him in various sake-related stories - clearly quite a character. He had a twinkle in one eye and a squint in the other, and according to Eriko probably gave us more samples than usual because I was a foreigner (and also, I like to think, lovely). Anyway, by the end I wanted a nice sit-down in a cafe somewhere, but the Uozaki district deals exclusively in sake, so it took some finding. I was very grateful in the end to find this place, where some of the chairs are made to look like second-hand pews, complete with space for prayer book. In the UK I've only seen such things where they've been salvaged from disused churches, but apparently in Japan people make them specially, presumably for kitsch value:
This would not be the last time I'd discover Christian kitsch in Japan, and the next occasion would be far more egregious, but you'll have to wait till a later entry for that.
Meanwhile, after a brief rest at my hotel I had dinner with a Skype friend, Mitsuko, whom I've known as a language partner for a few years but was meeting only now. I took the opportunity to eat what is known here as a "Thompson's Tart," which from the picture on the menu I thought (with a rush of excitement) might feature gooseberries. In fact they were only grapes, but it was still pretty good.
The following day was Easter Sunday, and my friend Yuka had invited me to an Easter event-cum-strawberry festival, complete with bonnets. She was with two of her children, whom I was meeting for the first time, and who were a lot of fun - as well as being very helpful in getting my Easter bonnet ready at a local takoyaki place (we had three types: spring onion, mentaiko and plain old octopus).
I'd brought the ingredients for the bonnet, including a few daffodils and leeks as a kind of patriotic gesture, but have never been terribly crafty. These denizens of the land of origami, however, soon put things to rights. Here is Yuka modelling the final result:
The strawberry festival was a small affair in a local house used for community events. The atmosphere was lovely, with various food and craft stalls in the garden and outer rooms, and of course a delicious strawberry filling at its centre. In fact, I was the only one there with a bonnet, so definitely won the parade, although there were a few bunny masks, ears and so on.
I could easily have stayed longer, but had to leave for Minoh City, where I was to stay with Eriko that night - a slightly complex journey. Before going to her house, however, we took a short hike up into the monkey-strewn mountains (not that I saw any). The landscape was quite dramatic, with the remains of the damage from a typhoon 18 months ago still very visible, and trees tossed about like discarded toothpicks from an izakaya of the gods. To sustain us, we ate some of the local snack, maple leaf tempura - one of those things that really ought not to work but does...
... and were rewarded by a very nice waterfall, one of those phenomena for which I am a sucker. Here is Eriko standing in front it:
It was on the walk back from dinner that night (kushiage/kushikatsu, or fried things on skewers, one of Osaka's many delicious specialities) that we discovered the fate of my suitcase wheel. It was too late to do anything about it, and the next day I was off to the northern tip of Honshu, Aomori Prefecture. In fact it was to be a problem for days to come, until things eventually came to head when...
But that, dear reader, must be for another post.