We rendezvous at Koriyama City Hall at 8.30am and adjourn to our first stop, the Nikka Distillery. There were some delays initially and compounded by a traffic jam at the road leading to the Distillery. So we got there somewhat an hour late at 11.30am. But nevertheless along the way, I had a nice travelling partner - Sibuya san, where we share about our travels around the world.
The bus tour begins with the introduction of our bus driver, Kyoko-san our English guide and Takeshi-san our Japanese guide. In the photo below we have Kyoko-san giving us a warm welcome to the journey ahead.
Once we got to Nikka Distillery, we were greeted by a sore sight of mountain mist and drizzle. But we manage to huddle together for a long photo taking moment. This photo taking session is unique in the sense that everyone contributed their cameras and we probably stand around 5 minutes in the slight drizzle smiling at all the flashes.
We were given umbrellas at the start of the tour and at our first stop is an introduction to the buildings in the area. There is a building shaped like a Whisky bottle, as my Tibetan buddy mention. The guide is in Japanese, so we just follow and see what we are supposed to see and touched what we are supposed to touch. She later introduces us to a fragrant husk that is used in the production of the whiskey. We all have a 'feel' on how it is like.
Thereafter we were led into one of the buildings and given a stroll through their offices and research labs. There was a large plasma TV at one of the rooms which showcase the production process. Thankfully at this time, Kyoko-san came to the rescue and translated some of the Whisky manufacturing process. Something about emzymes and so on. I have been to a Whisky distillery before and that was in Ireland (Jameson Distillery in Northern Ireland), so I roughly know what's going on behind the manufacturing process.
And we went off to the next building which is the actual distillation process for the whisky manufacturing. These actually look like large conical flasks in chemistry labs which are especially used for large scale production of whisky. The Nikka Whisky is one of the first whisky production plant in Japan.
We are finally brought to another building where we were shown where the whisky barrels are stored. The entire warehouse has a very strong alcohol fragrant to it. It is quite dark in the building so no photos are uploaded at this juncture. And now is the main highlight of this Distillery trip - sampling the Nikka Whisky.
We proceeded on to the main building where visitors can get a few omiyage (local souvenirs) from here.
And of course, the whisky sampling cafe. I remarked to a few friends that normally after a few glasses of whisky, the visitors will be more inclined to get more gifts in their tipsy state.
The amazing thing about the Nikka Distillery is that they allow visitors free flow of whisky samples. Amazing!!! Those I have been to only allow a pint or a glass. I guess visitors are not that drawn towards continuous drinking here in Japan as compared to Europe.
I got a glass and here we have giving a shot at it.
And thereafter I went on to the shop to get a few stuff. I bought a few gifts for both my Singapore colleagues and Koriyama co-workers. Finally the best part of the entire bus tour - Lunch!!
Joemon, my travel buddy and me were the last two to get to the restaurant. We are having BBQ lunch for the day. Nevertheless, once I have settled down at the table, they have just started on it. Here is a snapshot of what BBQ seafood is like. It is just absolutely fabulous!
Oishii! Umai! Maiu!
My table mates are also fascinating and we spent quite a lot of time talking until we almost couldn't finish the stuff. It is time for us to leave and we have to clear up fast.
Now we are on to our next stop - Yamadera Temple. We got there at 2.30pm, 40 minutes later than the designated timing. And have our group photo there again below.
Up we go the flight of stairs to the first temple structure. I love visiting temples, and is especially drawn by the ambience of peace exulted by the area.
We have visitors making incense offerings and praying for safety and good fortune.
At the first temple hall, we have Maitreya Buddha (the future Buddha to be) where people pray for happiness and prosperity. They will round it off by rubbing the Buddha and spreading the happiness to oneself (symbolically). This is the Maitreya of China, Taiwan, Japan and other Asian countries. The Maitreya of Tibetan Buddhism is a tall and good looking Buddha as mentioned in the scriptures. And the Maitreya of Thervada Buddhism is similar to Shakaymuni Buddha.
After passing through the first temple, we began the uphill climb to the top of the mountain. Most large temples (monastery) in Japan are located in the mountains. So the monks are especially fit and these give temples good defensive position. The famous legend of this temple is that there is an ancient flame burning in the main hall which is said to be litted for 800 years.
Along the way up the mountain, we came upon tombs and offerings. These tomb stones are actually engraved up on the mountain walls. The name and time of the people are named. If you noticed non-Japanese characters on these tombstones, they are actually mantras (Sanskirt words).
And finally we have reached the mountain top temple hall. In the main hall there is a large golden Buddha. And to the hall next to the main one, there is a mirror in the middle of the altar. I'm quite drawn to that hall. Why is a mirror placed there? A mirror has a special significance in Buddhism. According to a stanza written by a great master, the mind is like the mirror, where we have to continually clean to remove it of all dirt. Another stanza is follow by it, written by another great master which is even more fascinating (which I won't mention here). Or one of the five wisdoms of the Buddhas is the mirror-like wisdom. hmm... Maybe if there is time in the future, I will try to find out more about it.
We went down from the mountain top hall and down to the sightseeing pavilion. Along the way I have the opportunity to catch a quick shot with Kyoko-san, my Japanese sensei in Koriyama, Joemon my colleague buddy and Denise from Peru. We are all classmates actually.
Here is the picturesque, paranomic view from the pavilion top. It is truly beautiful with undulating mountain ranges, cloud covered tops and the grassland valley.
Here is a shot of where we came up from the bottom. Up the flight of stairs and through several temple structures.
And finally we got back to our bus and begin our journey back to Koriyama City Hall. It has been a tiring day but one that will be remembered. This is actually my last activity with the Koriyama International Exchange Association. I will be going to China for a project for the next 3 - 4 months. The time spent in Koriyama has been memorable, especially the Japanese classes and the regular outings. I wish all my friends and colleagues in Koriyama the very best.