Monday, September 25, 2023

Japan 2023 ✈ Osaka - Cup Noodles Museum, Yamazaki Distillery, Umeda Sky Building

We had originally planned to visit Japan in June 2020. Over the last 3 years, we had cancelled and rebooked this trip multiple times as Japan was one of the last few countries to reopen its borders to tourism post-Covid. After waiting for 3 years, we were glad to finally make this trip happen this year! This trip has been 3 years in the making and I must say Japan certainly lived up to our anticipation!

 After a good night's rest, we started our day at 8.45am with breakfast in the hotel on our first day in Japan. The daily free breakfast from 7am-10am was one of the main reasons I chose to stay at a Holiday Inn Express instead of the other IHG hotel options in Osaka.

The buffet options were much better than the ones offered in HiX in the US...salads, fruits, bread and pastries, yoghurt, sausage, scrambled eggs, mapo tofu, grilled fish, rice, stir fried veggies, lotus root, okra, kimchi, pickled dishes, seaweed, miso soup, etc. 

I absolutely enjoyed the oriental breakfast options while hubby opted for the western options as usual. This breakfast was actually brunch for us. =P 

After breakfast, it was time to begin our sightseeing using Japan's convenient rail/subway system. Thankfully, Google Map made it super easy to navigate. Hommachi station was a short 5 minutes walk from our hotel. Even though there are 3 different subway lines (i.e. Midosuji, Chuo, Yotsubashi) that goes through Hommachi station, the Midosuji (red) line was the one we used the most. We took the 9.50am subway from Hommachi to Umeda Station, which was a short 5 min (2 stops) subway ride. 

Umeda station is a big station with several train/subway lines running through it.

We made a quick stop at Umeda station to pick up our 3-day Kansai Thru Pass at the Osaka Metro Commuter pass sales counter in Umeda station. We bought this on Klook's website for $40.35 per person. It was very easy to purchase this on Klook and redeem it at one of the many locations listed. Best of all, we could use credit card to purchase. If we had purchased this pass in Japan, we'd have to use cash. Our plan is to use this pass for our travels on the next 3 days to Nara, Kobe, and Kyoto. My 'cost analysis' showed that it would be cheaper to use this pass than to pay for each train separately. =)

After collecting our pass, we took the 10.20am Hankyu train to Ikeda station. I love the old school train design and the velvet seats. Since we boarded at the first stop, there were plenty of seats for this 20 min ride. We navigated our way around Japan with Google Maps coz it has so much information and was super accurate! 

From Ikeda station, we walked about 5 min (400m) to the Cup Noodles Museum. Entrance to the museum is free and you can purchase tickets for ¥500 if you want to make your own cup noodles, which we didn't. 

We walked around the museum but everything was in Japanese only and honestly there weren't much to see at the museum.

We went to the 2nd floor to watch the noodle-making workshop instead. It was actually more fun to watch how quickly and efficiently the staff cleaned!

After spending 45 minutes at the museum, we hopped back on the train at 12.10pm to our next stop. Looked like we were the only tourists on the train. When changing train at Juso station, we noticed that not only do everyone stood in line here, they even stood in the 'correct' line for the different! It took a minute for us to figure out where to stand but we made sure to do as the Japanese do...haha! 

Arrived Oyamazaki station at 1pm and walked 12 min (1km) through a residential area to our 2nd stop for the day....Suntory Yamazaki Distillery.

Visiting this place was not easy as only visitors with reservations were allowed to enter. Even getting a reservation to visit was like trying to get concert tickets. When they opened the reservation system on March 5 for April's reservation, there were 4000+ people in the queue and by the time I got into the reservation system after waiting for an hour, there were only few spots left for the museum. The Distillery Tour was already fully booked. We were glad to at least get a reservation for the Yamazaki Whisky Museum free tour as the distillery would be closed for visit starting May 2023 till Nov 2023. We were lucky after all.

After a quick check-in at the security gate, we were given a tag for our visit to the museum. Our reservation was for 2pm, but they allowed us to enter earlier at 1.15pm.

If you're wondering why this place is so popular, Yamazaki is where Japanese whisky was born in 1923, and this year is the 100th year since the history of Japanese whisky began. Another reason why this place is so popular is because Suntory is home to award-winning Japanese whiskies - Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu. 

I am not a whiskey connoisseur but I know Hibikis are one of the most popular Japanese whisky. We couldn't find them in any stores and they weren't sold in here either. 

Yamazaki is the most sought-after Japanese whisky brand on the market.  

After learning about the history of Japanese whisky, we proceeded to the whisky tasting area.

The whisky tasting menu. We opted for the ¥1,100 Yamazaki Brand lineup set (Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve, Yamazaki 12 Years Old, Yamazaki 18 Years Old) and the ¥2,400 Long matured whisky set (Yamazaki 18 Years Old, Hakushu 18 Years Old, Hibiki 21 Years Old). For the more serious whisky fans, the Hibiki 30 Years Old, Yamazaki 25 Years Old, and Hakushu 25 Years Old were also available for tasting at ¥3,700 each.

The staff nicely lined up the whisky bottles for us to take photos. =)

Conclusion from our whisky tasting....Hibiki 21 was the best among the ones we tried.

We wrapped up our tour with a visit to the gift shop to buy souvenirs. Each person can buy one of the Yamazaki Distillery limited gift set for ¥3,468 ($26), which includes a 300ml Suntory Single Malt Whiskey Yamazaki Distillery Limited, a box of chocolate, and a Yamazaki Distillery-exclusive glass, packed in a nice bamboo paper bag. We bought 2 sets of the gift sets and the 180ml Yamazaki whisky and chocolate set for ¥2,477.

After spending about 2 hours at Yamazaki, we headed back to Osaka Umeda station to have early dinner at Ichiran next to Umeda station. There were no lines at 4pm.

Ichiran is one of hubby's favorite asian food so we were happy to be here again.

Such a simple and satisfying meal as always, perfect after whisky! 

Walked 10 minutes from Umeda station to the Umeda Sky Building.

The main reason we came here was for this cool glass tube-like mid-air escalator. We took the elevator up to 38th floor to get to the escalator. There are ticket machines selling tickes to the Floating Garden Observatory one level above, but we didn't go.

Headed back to Umeda station at 6pm to take the subway to Shinsaibashi station. It was rush hour so the train was packed.

We went to the Capcom store but hubby was disappointed with what they had there. We then walked through the covered walkway to Bon Repas whisky store and was disappointed again coz they didn't have any Hibiki available. We also bought Uncle Rikuro's cheesecake and took it back to the hotel. Honestly, I felt this was a bit overrated.

That's a wrap for day 1 in Japan. Next post, we will be heading to Nara to see lots of deers and watch our first ever Japanese baseball game.

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