Day 5 started early and with a lot of promise: we had a newly recharged Tokyo Fixer in tow, it was Chao’s birthday, and we had big plans for our day in Obusedo, situated in picturesque Obuse, Nagano. A speedy, three-hour train bullet train ride from Tokyo, we decided that a skimpy train snack was out of the question. We arrived at the train station especially early to stock up on bentos, yakitori, beers, sake, and whatever else we could wrap our arms around.
Had the Tokyo Fixer not rejoined the gang, we would never have learned this awesome trick:
A New Friend
You can see where passengers might have been a bit jealous of our spread, but what can we say? This is a journey about food, and we’re going hard. So hard that a well-dressed gentleman seated to our left decided to join in, asking us where were from (spotting the American quite clearly) and letting us know that his daughter happened to be studying in the States, just like her dad. Yep, he’s an alum of Harvard and Georgetown. Long story short, he ends up being one of the top honchos at the Japanese Department of Defense, on his way home from Tokyo for a few days.
Much to our surprise (and almost-giddy excitement), the gentleman (above) ended up being in charge of purchasing for his department, and began started showing us all of these crazy, probably classified pictures of aircrafts, ships, and so on. Yeah, he just got back from Texas where he was doing some missile testing (plenty of open land in Texas for a little missile action, right?). After a quick photo and exchanging some contact info, he was on his way. The Tokyo Fixer took one look at his card (which is all in Japanese… not sure how we’re going to ever contact him), and simply said, “Wow… this guy is the real deal.”
Arriving in Nagano
We arrived in Nagano, home to the 1998 Olympics, grabbed a quick photo, and hopped a new train to Obusedo, where we’d heard about an awesome sake brewery/restaurant: Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery.
We took a seat in their tasting room, where we proceeded to taste what seemed to be every sake they had. Adequately tipsy, we then took a walk around their store, did some drunk shopping, and headed to the Club Room for a little lunch. As if the brewery wasn’t breathtaking enough, the restaurant and kitchen were awesome. We grabbed seats at the kitchen bar where we could see the chefs in action, thanks to one of the coolest open kitchens we’ve ever seen. We got down to business quickly, ordering pretty much one of everything off the menu (had to get the full experience) and a fresh bottle of sake. Accustomed to the generally hefty prices we’ve been dealing with in Tokyo, we were pleasantly surprised by how reasonable the bill was.
We wandered around the town a bit, took some photos, peeked into different storefronts, then walked smack dab into the St. Cousair Winery in Obuse. Now, what would you do? Faced with a perfectly lovely winery in a perfectly lovely town, tending to your sake buzz and celebrating the birthday of a close friend? You’d go into the winery. And that’s exactly what we did.
We were just sampling some of their jams and cheeses when the lady behind the counter asked, so politely, “How would you like to do a tasting?” We might as well have said in unison, “Why not?” It wasn’t long before we had once again tasted pretty much everything in the shop… and then she pulled out her secret weapon: Japanese bubbles. Having never seen or tasted a bottle of Japanese champagne before, we had a taste, loved it, and purchased a bottle for our big NYE celebration in Thailand.
A little heavier, more sleepy, and half in the bag, it was time for us to make our way back to Tokyo. Despite our good intentions to save our new purchases for a special occasion, or at least until we got home, we were doomed. The champagne survived (and is still corked, hallelujah), but the sake, sadly, did not. Let’s do a little math:
We polished them off during our two-hour train ride, tumbling off the train in search of sustenance in the form of late night ramen. We landed at Tsukumo Ramen, where we had the Marukyu Ramen–their special ramen which is loaded with parmesan. Trust us, don’t bash it ’til you try it.
We made our way back to the hotel, said our final goodbyes to the Tokyo Fixer (we’re off to Kyoto tomorrow), and headed off to bed. This post is dedicated to the Fixer, the best tour guide and drinking buddy two guys could ask for.