Matsuyama 松山, part 2: Castle 成

Continuing from where I left off about Matsuyama, part 1

After Dogo onsen area, we set out for lunch and walked a bit aimlessly until we settled on an okonomiyaki place, which turns out to be a lovely find. We split a kimchi yaki-ramen and a Hiroshima style okonomiyaki with some beer. The owner ojiisan and customers were a bit amused by the gaijin coming inside (this was not exactly on the main path, but rather tucked behind some sketchy neighborhoods), and then being able to order in Japanese. Quite good, really.

Next it was time for sake (nihonshu) sampling! There is a place where you can (for a price) sample sake from all over the prefecture. The price is per glass, so not really so much as sample, as just a small glass. To be quite honest, I felt completely overwhelmed by the menu… so I plucked up my courage and asked in Japanese if he (the worker) could recommend 4 different sakes from Ehime prefecture, since I really do not know enough about the subtle differences of sake to decide. Luckily, he understood my dilemma, and I got the feeling this was actually quite normal for Japanese to ask for his recommendations, so he chose 2 sweet and 2 dry for us. I was relieved, as I wanted to try some, but again… the menu had probably over 50 different choices with not much description that I could properly understand (other than the very basic types and alcohol percentages). I would definitely recommend visiting this shop if you find yourself in Ehime, and try some of the local alcohol.

It was still fairly early, so we decided to go ahead and visit the castle since there was rain in the forecast for the following day (and good thing we did!). To get to the castle, you can walk up a steep trail or for 1020 yen round trip + castle tower entrance fee (entrance by itself is 510 yen), you can take either a chair lift or a ropeway car. My husband wanted to take the chair lift since it would be more exciting. The chair lift is continuous, so there is essentially no wait time to get on (the seats are individual, so no riding in twosies), while the ropeway leaves every 10 minutes, and has room for probably a dozen or so people in the cabin. The chair lift has no restraints, you just sit in the chair and hold on… I felt a little nervous, but it was fun and the view wonderful. At the top, you still have to hike a bit up to the castle no matter which mode of transport you chose.

The castle and grounds were really nice; the views on top of the tower were quite good. The tower was pretty interesting, lots of historical information. You must remove you shoes to enter the castle tower, and you can opt to wear rubber slippers. The stairs inside are very steep and narrow, just as a fair warning in case this might pose a problem. I almost slipped a few times.

After the castle, of course I need another snack so my husband and I split an iyokan 伊予柑(type of local orange citrus) soft serve by the chair lift/ropeway (which is CHEAPER than the one by the castle, only a few meters away!). It was delicious! I highly recommend trying this if you visit in warmer weather.

At this point, we head back to the room clean up and get ready for the next exciting adventure: the festival! To be continued in Part 3!

Again, a very small sampling of photos, for more visit:

Island Garlic: 島にんにく

にんにく Ninniku means garlic in Japanese; in Okinawan it is ヒル hiru. Some of my  neighbors grow lots of fresh island garlic for cheap, so I am particularly lucky. In Japan, Aomori (towards the north) is a large garlic-producing region, but the garlic is rather expensive. Many stores sell garlic imported from China for cheap. So when Okinawa garlic season is in full swing, I take advantage and buy a lot, because it is fresh, tasty, and cheap. It is not as dried out as other garlic, so it tends to have a fresher scent, and perhaps a bit sharper taste.

Recently, I have made some batches of ninniku-shuu にんにく酒~~ oishii! In Okinawan, it is known as hiru-zaki ヒルザキ, although some people may even refer to it as にんにく泡盛 ninniku awamori. I have heard some people drink this (?!!) as sort of a medicinal thing, but I cannot help but imagine that is simply too strong. It is also used as a condiment for cooking, and especially goes really good in stir-fry dishes. Basically the garlic soaks in the awamori (or other strong clear liquor of one’s choice) while the garlicky essence permeates the liquid… sort of like making an extract I guess. Anyhow, it is actually really good, and with all this local garlic, it is a good way to capture the flavor when fresh garlic becomes scarce in the later months.

On the mainland, I think most people use something referred to as “white liquor” ホワイトリカー or shochu 焼酎 to make ninniku-shu. In Okinawa, of course the local favorite would be awamori. So… awamori it is for me, as well.

Japanese Alcohol: 日本酒

酒 sake is a general term in Japanese for “alcohol.” Unlike in Western usage, it can include beer, wine, whiskey, chuhai, plum wine, shochu, and of course, various types of rice wine or liquor.

日本酒 nihonshu means “Japanese liquor.” This is what foreigners typically call “sake.” Ask a Japanese person for sake, and they would be confused because it is not very specific. They might even just hand you a beer. Here in Okinawa, they may even assume you just mean the local booze awamori 泡盛.

There are many types of nihonshu; I list a few here, but I will have to add more later.

清酒 seishu means “clear liquor.”

にごり酒 nigori is a cloudy liquor.

生酒 nama-zake is unpasteurized, and difficult to find unless you go directly to the brewery. It must be refrigerated and usually consumed within a week or 2.

The following special designations are specified by the Japanese government and will be shown on the label. Basically they vary the ingredients and brewing technique, etc.

ginjo 吟醸

daiginjo 大吟醸

junmai 純米

junmai ginjo 純米吟醸

junmai daiginjo 純米大吟醸: this is considered the highest quality of nihonshu. Below is a picture of a bottle I received as a gift.This brand is Kubota 久保田 from 新潟県 Niigata prefecture. This particular brand gets a very high rating and is considered excellent quality. After trying it, I agree.


It is hard to know how to pick a good tasting sake/nihonshu when shopping about the store, so whenever you are on the mainland of Japan, visit some breweries and do some tastings! There are many out there. I have visited ones in Fukuoka, Kobe, Tsukuba, Ehime, and Nagano.

酒蔵 sakegura: sake cellar

造り酒屋 tsukurizakya: sake brewery


Rakkyou: らっきょう

The best part of spring is riding my bicycle around the neighborhood, scouring the farm boxes for fresh vegetables. Rakkyou are currently in season here in Okinawa.  They are kinda like shallots… but their flavor is wonderful as pickles or as tempura.

Recently, we had “izakaya” night at home. Izakaya 居酒屋 means Japanese style bar/drinking place.  I was gifted an expensive seishuu 清酒 from Niigata prefecture after a research meeting with a company president. That is another topic for later. Anyway, we made rakkyou tempura which really goes well with alcohol! Refreshing.