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Beer and Buildings (the title sounds better in Japanese)

JAPAN | Sunday, 14 February 2016 | Views [399]

At noon, my building headed over to Aikawa for an event with the Ariyama-sans. In this case, the only Ariyama-san present was the son, and, after checking to make sure everyone was present, or at least accounted for, and making a few announcements, we started walking.

The announcements said that if we hadn't yet turned in our room forms, we should, (those were the responsibility of our Japanese roommates, so not anything I needed to worry about) he would be coming by next week to check out any damage listed on the forms, and the building we were headed to was a 20 minute walk, so if we needed the bathroom, now was the time. Rough all that squared away, off we went.

Our first stop was an old building that had once belonged to a really rich family. We were split into groups and led on tours through the house. I could catch the general idea of what the guide was saying, though not a whole lot more.

(Conversation between Molly, a student a level above me, and Jin, a Japanese student:

Jin: Can you understand him?

Molly: kind of. He's pretty quiet, though. Can you?

Jin: yes, but it's kind of boring.

Molly: there's that too.)

House

The house and grounds were certainly pretty, (art students at the end, when asked if they had any questions : “how do you ask if we can come back here and draw forever?”) though the detailed history our guide was giving didn't interest me that much. Still, it was interesting to look at the signs that the owner was wealthy and compare them to more Western (really, more European) signs. For instance, ceilings. The height of the ceilings was an indication of wealth in historical Japan. So although the builders were pretty rich, they could have been richer, and the taller members of our group needed to duck to avoid hitting their heads. Above all, signs of opulence were less dramatic in Japan, especially when compared to, say, France. (Cough, Versailles, cough.)

Part of the house

After admiring things for a while, we thanked our guides (Aaron was chosen as the unwitting victim to convey our sincerest thanks, and also how favorite type of Japanese food. For reasons) and started walking some more. Ariyama-san stopped by a takoyaki place that he'd eaten at a lot when he was a kid, and told us we had 15 minutes. We could hang around, or get takoyaki, or, if we were heathens, ignore the takoyaki and eat from the 7/11. And 20 minutes later, we were on our way again.

We got to Asahi Beer Factory about 10 minutes early, so we were given time to look around the lobby and gift shop. If I'd realized we weren't coming back here, I might have made better use of that time.

The first thing we did was watch a short film. According to Indu and Midh, the important points of the film were that chickens made beer, it was made out of children's dreams, and beer drinker is definitely a real job girl. My main takeaway was that their goal was to make beer that made people go “nom nom” (the word they used, “umai,” means tasty, but is a lot coarser and stereotypically masculine. “Nom nom” is not a good definition, but it gets the point across) and they need to pay their actors more, or at least get actors who enjoy the taste of beer. There were several clips they showed of two people drinking together where they were definitely wincing as they drank.

Then we got on an escalator and went up a few floors to start our tour. The first stop was at giant cans of beer, which turned around at the touch of a button to reveal the major ingredients. And then we moved on to the other steps, like fermentation, filtration, bottling, testing, capping line, and what appeared to be a hallway about the Asahi environmental initiatives. The entire time, we were looking down at empty and motionless assembly lines, skimming through trilingual posters, and listening to our tour guide.

Our tour guide was certainly louder than the one at the house, but not necessarily that much easier to understand. Which was odd, because if someone asked, I'd say she was speaking clearly. But I barely have the terminology to discuss beer in English. And, unlike the old house, this is not something I have experience with. I could kind of tell what was going on, but mostly not.

Let's stick with the part I did understand: testing. When you're a major beer company, you need to do a lot of tests of things like taste, (tough job) flavor, head, color, throat-sensation, and compatibility with product. What do you test? Pretty much everything! Beers made that day, beers made in other Asahi factories, the raw materials, the beer during all stages of the process, (I can't imagine that tastes good) and competitors. One does kind of wonder what the necessary background for that job is. The video made them seem all sciency by putting them in lab coats, but essentially their main job is to make sure that the beer tastes good. Speaking of which…

As the tour ended, we were led through a hall that showed beers from around the world. I was amused to note that Belgium had its own section, distinct from the rest of Europe. And then it was time for what everyone had been waiting for: a chance to drink beer.

We got two glasses. The first glass had to be Asahi dry (or soda). It was pretty near the top of best light beers I've ever had, which basically means I didn't make a face and try to give the glass away. For the second one, we had a choice, and I went straight for Asahi Black, their dark beer that is apparently really hard to find. It was nowhere near the best dark beer I'd had, but it was still 3-4 times better than the light one.

Beer

I think I need to make it a goal to find it outside of the Asahi factory. Or, failing that, figure out if there's an easy and economic way to skip the tour and just get their dark beer.

After we finished our drinks, Ariyama-san led us back to the place. At least in theory. In practice I followed Molly and Indu (and what turned into a sizeable group of people) to a restaurant for okonomiyaki. The restaurant we ate at might be my favorite for two reasons: it was the cheapest, and it was build your own. I got pumpkin and cheese, and the pumpkin made a number of people at the table jealous. (They tried mine, and concluded it wasn’t just the appearance, pumpkin okonomiyaki actually tasted really good.) It’s by no stretch of the imagination a traditional Osaka food, but it was no less delicious for that.

Okonomiyaki

Tags: beer, buildings, food, houses, okonomiyaki

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