Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Daishoin, the center of Buddhism on the sacred island of Miyajima (Photo-essay)

As befits an island considered sacred by the Japanese, Miyajima is home to a number of Buddhist temples as well as Shinto shrines.  Among these is Daishoin, the head temple of the Shingon Buddhist sect founded by the legendary Kobo Daishi which, in those centuries up until the Meiji Restoration (in 1868) where there were greater ties between Buddhism and Shinto, was in charge of all of the rituals at Itsukushima shrine.   

Still the center of Buddhism on the island, Daishoin's main temple complex is situated at the base of Mount Misen.  I'd like to return to Miyajima at some point in the future and hike up the trail leading to the mountain's summit, whose route passes by some others of Daishoin's buildings, including one where a holy fire has been said to have been burning for 1,200 years.  

The two days that my mother and I were on Miyajima were too hot to attempt to do so though, and too hazy for me to even want to take the cable car up the mountain.  Instead, I was happy enough to devote time and what already involved quite a bit of energy and effort to exploring the sprawling main temple complex that's home to several interesting buildings and hundreds of statues that visually ranged from the awe-inspiring to amusingly kitschy! 
Happily, the nature path we took from Jukeiso 
allowed us to bypass many of those steps! ;b
The Kannon-do is home to (expectedly) statues of Kannon, and 
(less expectedly) Tibetan mandalas and images of the Dalai Lama
There's beauty to be found in the Kannon-do's exterior too ;b
Puppet Ponyo's small size provides some perspective
as to the size of this large temple complex
Ema abound in the vicinity of the Ichigan Daishi, to whom those 
who pray for only one wish are said to have it granted by Kobo Daishi
In the upper floor of Daishoin's tallest building, 
the Maniden prayer hall, can be found 
1,000 statuettes of the Buddha of Infinite Light
Sounds of chanting led me to and into the dimly lit 
Henjyokutsu Cave which I would not have been surprised 
to find was a columbarium but actually isn't!

Monday, October 30, 2017

A "ryokan light" experience at Jukeiso

My mother taking in the view from our room in
the Miyajima ryokan we spent a night at
Jukeiso's building is a fairly modern affair
As Puppet Ponyo can attest though, bedtime was a pretty 
traditional affair, involving futons laid out on the tatami floor :)
On our trip to Japan last November, my mother and I had stayed (along with two friends) for two nights at a very traditional as well as luxurious ryokan in Hakone where, among other things, we had enjoyed incredibly courteous service and also meals that were to die for.  In retrospect, I'm afraid that the Gora Kansuiro set the bar way too high; so much so that our next ryokan stay would inevitably feel anti-climactic.  And so it proved with regards to our experience at the Miyajima ryokan where we spent a night early on during our visit to the Land of the Rising Sun last month.

A modern ryokan, Jukeiso offers up what felt like a "ryokan light" experience in comparison to what's offered up at the Gora Kansuiro.  Sure our room in Miyajima had a tatami floor, its design elements included an alcove (tokonoma), complete with a floral arrangement and hanging picture, and we slept on futons laid out by the ryokan staff while we were eating undeniably Japanese food for dinner.  Also, we were indeed given yukata to wear as a matter of course   
However, the ryokan building was made of concrete rather than wood and plaster, and we didn't need to take off our shoes upon entering the building, only after we were in the genkan of our room.  Also,  unlike at the considerably old school-feeling Gora Kansuiro, our room at Jukeiso's front door was lockable (from the inside as well as outside) and the Jukeiso staff didn't flit in and out of our room even half as much as at Gora Kansuiro -- and, frankly, also weren't as friendly as well as attentive.
In addition, Gora Kansuiro had Jukeiso truly beat in the food and drinks department.  With regards to the latter: I had hoped to see Dassai sake among the sake selection for dinner (like had been the case for the trolley service on the shinkansen we had taken from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima) but it turned out that my only nihonshu options were "hot" or "cold" honjozo.

With regards to the former: When making our Jukeiso booking, I learnt that there had been "economy", "standard" and "deluxe" meal options -- and had specified our "deluxe" choice.  In all honesty though, when our meals were served -- in a communal dining area rather than in our room (as had been the case at our Hakone ryokan) -- I really did seriously wonder if there had been a mix up in our meal options!
To be fair, our dinner did include pieces of oyster, anago (conger eel) and Wagyu (Japanese beef).  And we definitely did not lack as far as quantity was concerned at both breakfast as well as dinner at Jukeiso.  But there sometimes was a slapdash feel to our meals; not least because the dinner service was so rushed that some hot dishes brought out from the kitchen before we had finished the courses served before them ended up becoming cold (or, at least, lukewarm) before we got to them.     
On a more positive note: thanks to Jukeiso's hillside location, our room had a very nice view that included a couple of pagodas (including the Five-Storied Pagoda located close to the Hall of One Thousand Tatami Mats) and the bath that each room's guests could reserve for half an hour had an even nicer view that included Itsukushima shrine's great Torii!  And I appreciated our getting a courtesy ride from the Miyajima ferry pier to the ryokan (which is located around 30 minutes' walk away), and our driver taking a scenic route that took us through forested areas of the island that we'd not otherwise have seen.

All in all though, I must admit to wishing that I had tried out a different, more traditional -- and/or luxurious -- and generally atmospheric ryokan for our Miyajima stay.  Ah well, I now know better for next time:  not only for when I next visit that attractive sacred island but just generally when I next decide to stay in a ryokan rather than a Western-style hotel in Japan.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Miyajima's Five-storied Pagoda and Hall of One Thousand Tatami Mats

Two designated Imperial Cultural Properties stand 
next to each other atop a small hill in Miyajima

The Five-storied Pagoda is one of them...

...and Senjokaku (aka the Hall of One Thousand 
Tatami Mats) is the other

In a few of the images in my Itsukushima Shrine photo-essay, one can see another prominent Miyajima landmark: the 27.6-meter-tall Five-storied Pagoda whose design features a combination of traditional Japanese and Chinese architectural elements.  Painted in vermilion shades like the great Torii of Itsukushima shrine, it's easy to spot because of its vivid coloring -- which is especially marked when the sun is shining on it -- as well as its height (which is augmented by it standing atop a hill).  

The interior of the Five-storied Pagoda is decorated with sacred and auspicious Buddhist imagery, including lotus flowers, a dragon and the Kannon Bodhisattva along with Buddha himself.  The names of donors -- including 14 women -- are carved onto each of this 600-year-old structure's first storey pillars.  On its ceiling has been painted the Shingon Hasso sutra. 

Unfortunately, none of these can be seen by regular folks as the Five-storied Pagoda is not open to the public.  So most people have to be content with admiring its exterior features and details.  And that's what many do, including from up close, before they proceed to the neighboring religious building that is open to the public (for a small fee) despite it actually having remained unfinished to this day.  

Intended by Hideyoshi Toyotomi to house a library of Buddhist sutras, Senjokaku's name attests to its substantial size.  Measuring some 24 by 15 meters, its inside hall remains one of the largest buildings on Miyajima -- and when wandering around within its cavernous space, one can easily imagine how grand it would have been in completed form.     

With its construction having been halted following its warlord commissioner's death 11 years after it was first ordered to be built, Senjokaku lacks a proper ceiling and its floor isn't actually covered by tatami mats.  Still, it's a pleasant spot to take a break, with a number of its visitors getting tempted to sit down in a doorway and/or on its verandah to enjoy the views and the cooling breezes that it seems to attract.

Although commissioned as a Buddhist building, Senjokaku now contains an altar used for Shinto rituals, next to which can be found a collection of very large rice scoops (or paddles), that Miyajima has come to be associated with by the Japanese.  At some point in its history, it officially became a part of Itsukushima shrine but its location hundreds of meters away from the main shrine complex along with its very different architectural style makes this wooden structure feel very different indeed -- and I can well imagine many visitors to this sacred island who go there for just a few hours electing to give Senjokaku and the climb up the hill it's on a miss!    

Thursday, October 26, 2017

At Itsukushima Shrine at High Tide (Photo-essay)

One of the very first things I do after arriving in a city, town or village in Japan is to go to its tourist information center to pick up an area map and also relevant brochures, pamphlets and magazines.  In Hiroshima, the issue of the Seeking Hiroshima sightseeing guide that I came across turned out to be very helpful not only with regards to information pertaining to Hiroshima city but also Miyajima, the near mythical isle located in Hiroshima Prefecture.  And it was thanks to it that I knew precisely when the tide would beat its highest and lowest the day that visited!

The reason why this is important to know this because, when the tide is high, the great Torii and other structures of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Itsukushima Shrine look like they're floating in the water and when the tide is low, people can actually walk right up to and touch the great Torii (that's located some 200 meters away from shore).  And yes, I did actually time it so that my mother and I were at Itsukushima Shrine at high tide -- and thus were able to see it at its most picturesque -- the day that we arrived in Miyajima and thanks to our electing to stay overnight on the island, we were also still around when the tide went down to its lowest level that day! :)

I had read lots about Miyajima's floating great Torii and shrine but 
I still wasn't truly prepared for how breathakingly awesome it all was

The great Torii of Itsukushima shrine is some 16.6 meters high, and
the eighth that has stood on the same site over around nine centuries

Dedicated to three daughters of the sea goddess, Itsukushima is 
a Shinto shrine with more than 1,400 years of history behind it

One doesn't have to be religious to see beauty pretty much
everywhere one looks at Itsukushima

The shrine is so beautiful at high tide that even the large nunber
of tourists about the place couldn't distract me from appreciating it!

At this ancient Shinto shrine, water could be found
in many other places besides the water troughs...

I think all the water around us got Puppet Ponyo wanting to get 
closer to the water than I think should have been the case... ;S
And as it so happened, a wedding ceremony was 
taking place when we visited Itsukushima shrine! :)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Anagomeshi at Miyajimaguchi's iconic Ueno

The thing to eat before getting on the ferry to Miyajima
The place to eat it...

Or, if you're hurry, Puppet Ponyo points out,
Close to 11 years ago now, I was persuaded by two friends to join the blogging ranks.  Ironically, while they long ago stopped updating their blogs in favor of posting on Facebook, I have continued blogging (even while having also finally become a member of the Facebook community a few months ago).
Among the reasons for my continuing blogging is that I've continued to get much out of reading other blogs.  As an example: Thanks to Paul's Travel Pics, I've not only felt compelled to go visit the far flung likes of Kanazawa and Luxembourg but also, when there, I've made a point to check out attractions and even pecific eateries which earned high praise from Paul.  And it was Paul's blog which alerted me to the existence of an over 100-year-old eatery located close to the pier at Miyajimaguchi where folks in the know will stop at to get a meal of anagomeshi (conger eel rice bowl) either at the restaurant or "to go" in the form of a boxed lunch.
After the train station at Miyajimaguchi was set up in 1897, a fellow by the name of Tanikichi Ueno hit on the idea of making portable meals of grilled slices of the local seawater eel on rice for train passengers.  Over time, he set up a restaurant where people could eat his signature creation.  And these days, many people are willing to wait for hours to get a meal at Ueno -- which has stayed in the family all this time, and whose fourth generation custodian is named Junichi Ueno -- in between getting off the train at Miyajimaguchi and catching the ferry over to Miyajima.   
Alerted by Paul (and a Japanese friend who is acquainted with the practice of eating at Ueno as part of a Miyajima excursion) that this iconic eatery can attract quite the crowd, I made a point to go there outside of lunch hour and was rewarded by my mother and I needing to wait for just 10 minutes before we were ushered into this still physically modest-looking establishment's small as well as atmospheric dining area.  And although there were a few other dishes listed on the menu, we zeroed in on the anagomeshi: with my mother opting for a small-sized portion while I decided that I would be fine with the medium-sized one.     
Although I've had anago before, it had always been at sushi restaurants -- and consequently just in bite-sized portions as part of a more diversified meal -- until this visit to Ueno.  But since I've eaten my share of unajuu and unadon (freshwater eel on rice) over the years, I figured I've had a good idea of what to expect of Ueno's anagomeshi; only it turns out that I wasn't entirely since this Miyajimaguchi eatery's signature dish doesn't come slathered with sweet soy sauce and has a noticeably smoky flavor whose notes combine with the moderately applied light sweet-salty glaze for a distinctive as well as very pleasant overall taste.                
So good was this dish that I actually didn't have much trouble at all emptying the bowl despite it actually being rich tasting and pretty substantial.  And if it hadn't happened to be the case that the restaurant would be closed the next day (Wednesday; when we'd pass through Miyajimaguchi once more, on the way back to Hiroshima), I would have seriously considered stopping by at Ueno for one more bowl of anagomeshi!  
Instead, I'm left with just the memory of that one meal at that justifiably popular establishment that put the pieces of anago sushi my mother and I were served at the ryokan we stayed in at Miyajima to shame.  And yes, I've got to deciding that it might be best if I don't eat any other anago for a while since doing so will only get me pining (even more) for that anagomeshi at Ueno! ;S

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hiroshima's restored Shukkeien is full of life :)

Hungry (or maybe just greedy) carp 
at Hiroshima's Shukkeien! :O
Puppet Ponyo hovering precariously 
over an intimidating shoal of fish!
A crab resident of the garden posed for a photo! ;b
Construction on the stroll garden of Shukkeien was begun in 1620 by the then newly appointed ruler of Aki province (as the Hiroshima region was then known)A small-scale recreation of the West Lake area of Hangzhou, China, this Hiroshima locale's other nods to China include a stone lantern described as being in the style of Yan Kwei Fei on account of its being shaped like the Tang dynasty beauty's crown.
Located in Hiroshima's city center, Shukkeien was declared open to the public in 1940.  After the atomic bomb was dropped at 8.15am on August 5th, 1945, the garden was almost totally levelled but nonetheless was where many people went to seek shelter.  Sadly, many of those who did perished, and their bodies are buried in the garden's grounds.  While walking in Shukkeien, I also came across a memorial stone, flanked on either side by strings of paper cranes and arrangemens of flowers,  erected close to where the remains of an individual who had been in the garden when the atomic bomb was dropped over the city were interred.
Restored and reopened in 1951, Shukkeien is an idyllic locale which offers psychologically rejuvenating strolls through calming greenery and scenic beauty.  The day that I was there, the leaves on the trees in the garden were still predominantly green but enough had turned autumnal red to give me a good idea of how visually splendid the space would be at the height of koyo season in the area.   
At the same time, when I walked to the edge of Takuei Pond (which dominates the landscape at Shukkeien), I was treated to flashes of bright color as the water swirled with scores of koi that most definitely appear to be big fans of the carp feed for sale at different parts of the garden for 100 Yen a bag!  With mouths wide open and eyes bulging in anticipation, they actually also can be quite the intimidating sight.  And even while Puppet Ponyo wanted to pose with them, she also had a fear of ending up in the water and being nibbled on by all those hungry (or is it just greedy?) fish!
Other resident at Takuei Pond was at least one fish with what appeared to be a penchant for acrobatics.  While walking near this body of water, one would occasionally hear the sound of splashing.  And when I finally caught sight of what was causing that sound, I could scarcely believe my eyes since it involved a fish propelling itself several inches out of the water not just once but a number of times in the space of just a few minutes!
All in all, I'm not sure which was the more surprising critter spotting: that jumping fish or the small crabs that have made their homes in holes of tree trunks in several parts of the garden!  I'm not sure if those crustaceans migrated to Shukkeien from the nearby river or were brought by human hands to become residents of this garden.  But together with the butterflies, dragonflies, other flying insects and fish as well as flora I found within its grounds, those crabs I spotted helped me to come away from a visit to a once decimated but now rejuvenated space feeling like I had been in a place that was full of life, and feeling happily alive.  :) 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki deserves to be better known (and appreciated)!

What I had for dinner on my first night in Hiroshima :b
Optional condiments to add to the okonomiyaki mix if one's 
so inclined (along with a bunch of chopsticks to choose from)! :)
Hiroshima has been on my list of Japanese cities for some years now.  But while I know that a first visit there is not really complete without spending time in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Memorial Park, I must admit that those two places most definitely were not the main reasons why I've long wanted to visit this city which many people will forever associate with the atom bomb.
Instead, the more I've learnt about and come to love Japanese food, the more I've got to realizing that Hiroshima is quite the foodie paradise; with Hiroshima oysters and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki being at the top of many Japanese people's list of foods they must sample on a visit to this part of Honshu, Japan's largest island.  
My first day in Hiroshima, I had a set lunch at an atmospheric eatery near the train station whose main dish consisted of beautifully juicy and delectable fried oysters.  And when it came time for dinner, I took my mother to a branch of Mitchan Sohonten, whose founders are credited with having invented Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki -- which, unlike the Osaka-style version of this savory pancake, layers the dish's various ingredients rather than more casually mixes them altogether. 
The name okonomiyaki translates into something akin to "as you like it" because one is free to add all sorts of other ingredients to the basic cabbage, flour and eggs base/core.  The one I ordered at Mitchan Sohonten had squid, prawn, noodles (I chose ramen but one can also opt for udon), bacon and cheese layers too.  Oh, and oysters -- which I'm going to assume were local ones -- in the mix as well!  
Also, although our okonomiyaki was served laden with okonomi sauce and some mayonaise, condiments were placed at the table that made it apparent that it's the done thing to add some more sauces if one's so inclined; with the options here including two kinds of mayonaise, extra okonomi sauce, a Tobasco-like hot sauce, and a local lemony seasoning by the name of Lemosco!
It may all sound a bit much to the uninitated but, in all honesty, just writing about this is making me hungry and pine for more Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.  Unfortunately, like with Osaka's kushiage, this dish's reputation hasn't seemed to cross international borders (and, in fact, isn't even easily found in other parts of Japan).  Otherwise, I really believe that good and authentic okonomiyaki restaurants would gain quite a following and fandom; and, in this case, would be far more deserving of that than, say, ramen: which actually is one of the Japanese dishes I can't get excited about -- and which many denizens of Japan think is Chinese rather than Japanese!  

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Peace Memorial Park where reminders of the horrors of war abound (Photo-essay)

Over the years, I've read more than one account of people having felt emotionally devastated after a visit to Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park (which invariably includes spending time at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is located).  But rather than put off doing so until my final day in the city, I decided to make straight for the museum after checking into the hotel and then going for lunch on the first day of my most recent Japan trip.   

As it turned out though, even while I did end up shedding a few tears in the museum, I actually didn't feel as upset as I thought I would be.  (Put another way: I was no where as traumatized by the experience as I was by viewing Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies).  Maybe it was because I braced myself sufficiently for the horrors that I'd come across at the museum.  

In addition, I reckon that it helped quite a bit to do the reverse of what many folks do: that is, my mother and I went to the museum first, then strolled from there through the Peace Memorial Park to the iconic Genbaku (aka Atomic Bomb) Dome that now serves as a peace memorial and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.  For this way, we saw the horrors of war first, then spent time afterwards in what actually is a peaceful, tranquil space for all of its being home to ample visual tributes to thousands of fallen folk...

The mainly subterranean Hiroshima National Peace 
lies within the expansive Peace Memorial Park

 The Genbaku Dome viewed through the saddle-shaped roof of
the Cenotaph for A-bomb Victims where floral tributes are laid

Looking back along the park's central axis at the Flame of Peace,
Cenotaph, and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum 

The bronze figure of a girl holding a paper crane
stands at the top of the Children's Peace Monument

Within this memorial mound has been interred the remains of
around 70,000 victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima

the only structure left standing in the 2 kilometer central area where 
the atom bomb exploded over Hiroshima on August 8th, 1945

What I would like to think of as warm rays of hope (not reminders of 
destructive heat) shining through what's now a symbol of people's hope 
for world peace and the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Musings resulting from a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

A watch which stopped working 
at 8.15pm on August 6th, 1945
Silver and copper coins melted and fused together by the 
Imagine the damage caused to humans as well as objects
in the wake of the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima
On my first ever visit to Japan back in 1982, I was taken to the northwestern Kyushu city of Nagasaki and saw shocking sights in its Atomic Bomb Museum which have been seared into my brain and memory.  Three and half decades later, I paid a visit to the western Honshu city of Hiroshima and, even while part of me dreaded doing so, felt obliged to also spend time at the Peace Memorial Museum of the first ever city in the world to have had an atom bomb dropped onto it.
Ongoing renovation work has resulted in the closing of part of the museum until July 2018.  But in view of its newer East Building being open when my mother and I visited, and its possessing a total floor capacity of 1,615 square meters, I think it fair to say that we still managed to see (and hear) plenty on our visit to this museological institution which regularly has more than one million visitors annually.
The way the exhibits are set up, one first gets a glance at how Hiroshima looked shortly before the dropping of the atomic bomb, then an overview of the actual event that took place at 8.15am on August 6th, 1945.  Next come details about the events leading up to it (such as those relating to the Manhattan Project all the way to the atomic bomb test in the New Mexico desert but also salient political and military developments, including the Japanese invasion of Malaya and attack on Pearl Harbor), followed by historical information about Hiroshima before, during and after World War II, then -- finally and most devastingly -- a presentation of the effects of the dropping of the atomic bomb by way of the exhibition of actual objects damaged by the bomb and telling of stories about actual atomic bomb victims, a large percentage of whom were civilians and quite a number of whom were children.   
Early on during my visit to the museum, I felt like I was being more intellectually than emotionally impacted by what I was seeing and hearing there.  Feeling able to actually critique the exhibition design and narrative, I got to thinking such thoughts as that certain display panels probably should have been placed further apart in order to better deal with the sheer volume of visitors to the museum and, also, that the information being supplied was surprisingly as well as admirably even-handed.
Then I got to the displays which showed the wounds sustained by individual people.  The photos may be in black and white but believe me when I tell you that they totally can make you see, realize and even feel how much pain, suffering, misery and agony had been inflicted on actual human beings -- and when you consider that the number of victims of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima is estimated at over 100,000, the sheer scale of what was wreaked really gets one feeling such incredible sorrow and horror.

At this point, you invariably get to thinking: Hiroshima didn't deserve this.  Even though -- as pointed out in the section of the museum detailing the city's history -- it had been home to a major Imperial Japanese Navy base and been the major despatching point for the military for the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars.  This is not just because the vast majority of the Hiroshima atom bomb victims were not military personnel.  Rather, it's just because the damage wreaked by the atom bomb comes across as so very inhumane.
Among the museum's key objectives is to convey Hiroshima's deepest wish for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community.  And I must say that among the saddest parts of my going to to this truly "must visit" museum is that those wishes are so very far away from being realized; this not least, thanks in no small part to the idiocy/lunacy of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, the world now appears to be closer to a Third World War and/or the use of nuclear weapons far more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki than it has been in years, if not ever.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Travelling, walking, eating and drinking a lot on my most recent Japan trip ;b

View of Japan from the plane I took there most recently :)

View from the JR West Miyajima ferry

View from an Onomichi hilltop (and yes, I definitely recommending 
clicking on the picture to view an enlarged version of it!)

Late last night, I returned to Hong Kong from my fifth trip to Japan with my mother.  Over the course of a little bit more than a week, we visited six different towns and cities along with one village and three UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites.  We also took a bunch of train, bus and ferry rides -- and one ride up a ropeway in my case (and two in my mother's).  In addition, there actually was a day when my pedometer clocked my having walked over 30,000 steps!

Before this trip, I hoped that I'd be able to get in a lot of walking to balance out what I knew would be a whole lot of eating (and drinking).  Fortunately, that did turn out to be the case; otherwise, I'd have gained more unwanted pounds again like I did on my Penang visit this past July during which I feasted on a lot more durian than I probable should have done!

Often, my mother and I made a point to sample area specialties (which included -- and those who are "up" on their Japanese foods will be able to figure out where we went based on the following mentions -- oysters, anago (salt-water eel), okonomiyaki, tai (red seabream) and kushiage).  And I think it's telling that the worst meal by far of the trip -- and, actually, that I've ever partaken of in Japan -- was at a restaurant that served more than one type of food, none of which seemed specific to the area. 

While my mother didn't drink a drop of alcohol over the course of the trip (as would be expected of someone who is on the record as stating that she felt a bit tipsy after sipping one mouthful of sake one evening at Sake Bar Ginn!), I just as expectedly drank quite a bit of sake and beer while in the Land of the Rising Sun.  Indeed, rare was the meal (aside from breakfast) where my food went unaccompanied by an alcoholic libation.  At the same time though, believe it or not, I actually didn't drink any alcohol outside of meal times -- since I really do believe that sake and such are best accompanied by food (as well as that most Japanese foods go very well indeed with sake or beer)! ;b