At this point in the trip we were longing to experience some nature so when the sun came out on Wednesday we looked at public transit to Minoh (Minoo) Falls. Apparently, there was a delay on one of the main subway lines, so Google was giving us convoluted directions. However, once we opted to break the trip into two parts the planning got easier. To get to the falls you need to get to the local rail line at Umeda, then do one more quick (and well signed) transfer at Ishibashi station. The terminus station is in a small town and the paved path to the falls is lined with little shops and vending machines (of course).
The paved trail to the falls is about 3.5 miles roundtrip and follows a gorge with a few small cascades. There are also some shrines and a small insect-focused museum along the way. The trail was never crowded and we enjoyed sitting in front of the falls for a while.
On the way back to town, we passed the Minoh Park Insectarium – I wanted to go in and Eric didn’t, so I breezed through the compact museum in about 40 minutes – spending a good ten of those in the butterfly house. So many cool beetles, mantises, and butterflies on display.
During autumn, many shops sell an interesting snack called momiji tempura: maple leaves deep fried in batter. Curiosity got the better of me so we stopped at one of the stalls to try a yuzu flavored version. The fried leaves had a strong citrus and salty flavor and were surprisingly good. And it’s not just the shape – there is in fact a maple leaf in each one!
The train transfer back to Umeda was easy as we just retraced our steps. While I was checking out the insects earlier, Eric had researched pancake places as he still hadn’t tried the famed Japanese ‘fluffy’ pancakes. A Happy Pancake was located near the station so we stopped in. The pancakes were light and airy with a bit of an eggy taste, more like a souffle than the pancakes we are used to in the US.
After we paid, I peeked in the kitchen window to spy on the woman making the pancakes to see what the process looked like. Whipped egg whites added to a flour mixture, piled high on a skillet over low heat, then a gentle flip.
Rejuvenated by sugar and caffeine, we got back on the subway to the Osaka Castle to walk around and take some photos in the golden afternoon light.
In lieu of a sit-down dinner, we decided to have a snacky night, starting with Bar Freedom for cocktails and whisky. This tiny bar (10 seats) is located up a staircase on the second floor of a building in one of the covered alleys of Dontonbori (there’s a small sign near the stairs). I had a Japanese Old Fashioned (shot of whisky, orange cube and orange/cherry) and a United Nations (Ardbeg 10, Hakushu, and sour mix) – lovely and refreshing.
Eric went straight for the whisky list. (1) New Born 2018 heavily peated – big! Clean smoky peat, not ashy. Long lingering finish. Cask strength, but not too burny, a little lip tingle. Lt mineral on finish. Very nice. (2) Mars Komagatake Single Malt (2018 Edition) – light coconut, plum and some tropical fruit, some peat. Some burn on finish, a little mineral. Floral notes with water – rose, spice, honeysuckle.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at 551 Horai for pork buns. Sadly, they were out of char siu pork buns when we arrived so we got the regular ones instead, then picked up a Suntory highball to split back at the hotel. The buns were fine (we’ve had better) but the Suntory Highball was almost undrinkable. At 9% it tasted like watery whiskey. Meh.
After our snack, we took the subway back to Umeda to try another whisky bar, Bar UK. It was a bit of a challenge to find the correct exit from the Umeda station due to its enormous size and poor signage, so we eventually gave up on the underground tunnels and headed outside. Once on the streets we had better luck with Google directions and eventually found the building. This tiny place is located in the basement (down a flight of stairs, hang a right, door on the left) and only has 10 seats. The owner (Eiji’s Instagram) was super friendly and his extensive whisky list was nicely priced. I fell in love with the Matsuri no ato, his bright green signature cocktail: matcha tea, vodka, vanilla and a matcha-salt rim. Not too sweet, well blended, and for a drink that is mostly liqueur you can barely taste it. I had two. :)
Eric started with the Nikka Taketsuru 12 Sherry cask 12 years (wood, leather, brown sugar on nose. Butterscotch with a little water. Cedar, tropical cream, big wood on palate), and the owner insisted that he try it in comparison with the Nikka 12 Taketsuru pure malt (starts with a plastic nose, burns off. much lighter, lt cedar, med floral and honey notes.). The Sherry cask definitely provided a deeper flavor profile. For our final whisky of the trip, he tried the Kirin Fuji Gotemba – distilleries limited product. Creamy, vanilla, a little wood, quite easy to sip.
I wanted sushi again before leaving Japan so Eric dropped me off at Kaminari Sushi – a tiny bar-only spot near our hotel where I ordered mackerel and tuna nigiri to end the night. Delicious.