Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kanpai! in Kobe and Nara

Nihonshu in Kobe
Japan doesn't really have bars or pubs like we do in the UK. There are some, typically run by and aimed the British, Irish and Australians, but in the main, the bars are small - sometimes tiny.

It can be a worrying thing going in, because you generally can't see inside, so you never know what you're walking in to. Will it be empty? Will it be filled with those austere looking black suited businessmen, who clearly don't want you bulky foreigners taking up the tiny space there is? Will there be a grumpy bartender, who will pretend he doesn't understand what you are asking for?

Nihonshu in Kobe
All of those things can be pretty off-putting, but you shouldn't let that stop you, because if you go in and that is what you get, you can always leave, but if you don't go in at all, you are likely to miss out on some great evenings.

We were nervous about walking in, and I must admit we favoured places where we could get a hint of what might be hiding behind the curtain. But we were glad we did, as we almost invariably found people welcoming and friendly, and we had some lovely experiences.

Shochu in Kobe
In Kobe, we wandered around the town for a while before deciding on a place down a back street that had lots of brightly labelled shochu bottles in the window, and a warm looking light coming from inside.

Nihonshu in Kobe
When we got inside, we realised it was bigger that we'd thought, with a section out the back which soon filled up. But for now, it was just us, and we were welcomed by a lovely man who took great delight that we sat at the bar and wanted to try different types of nihonshu (sake).

Nihonshu in Nara
He spoke just enough English to describe the various types that he had, he listened to what we said we liked, and he helped us work our way through a good number of very individual, and very enjoyable nihonshu. We tended to order different ones, and taste each other's to increase the number we could try, and he added to that by regularly throwing in extra free tasters too.

Nihonshu in Nara
Not only did we get free drinks, we also ended up with free food. Two women had come and sat at the bar and started ordering a number of small dishes. they spoke to the barmen, and the next thing we knew, we were getting tasters of each thing winging its way to us too. They seemed to like the idea of us trying the drinks, and wanted us to try the foods too. We had a lovely evening.

Nihonshu in Nara
In Nara, we tried out a few bars. The first was a small standing bar that had been recommended in various guides, but we found difficult to find. In the end, two very nice ladies helped us out. They couldn't direct us, so they actually walked us to the bar, which was about ten minutes away.

Nihonshu in Nara
Once inside, we slightly got the impression that the owner was maybe slightly fed up with foreigners coming in and not really caring about the drink. However when, instead of just asking for sake, we asked for particular types of nihonshu, he perked up and was quite friendly.

Nihonshu in Nara
Shortly afterwards, a guy from the USA came in, knowing nothing about them, and he reverted to being unhelpful and his English ability seemed to decline. We got to talking with the newcomer, and I gave him a brief explanation of the different types and what they were called etc. when I finished, the barman, and the two Japanese customers at the bar, all gave me a round of applause. Things lightened up again after that, and it was clear that a little effort to know about the drink goes a very long way.

Nihonshu in Nara
In another Nara bar, the lady serving us was equally happy that we knew about the nihonshu, and drew us a little penguin picture. In a third place, which was more of a shop with some seats, we were sat outside, but I went inside to order the drinks each time from a lady who was friendly, but spoke no English at all. We managed OK though, and with my few words and names of types and her willingness to help, we got some lovely nihonshu, with a Junmai Daiginjo that I especially liked.

Nihonshu in Nara
During my efforts at ordering, I had been watched by a Japanese couple inside, who were clearly amused, but seemed also to like the fact that I was trying and knew what I wanted. We exchanged a few grins. Then while we were outside, the couple left. As they did so, he handed me a bag, smiled, and was gone. When I looked in the bag there was a full bottle of the Junmai Daiginjo that I had been drinking. How nice is that!

Our gift
These were far from our only great experiences here, but they are a few that particularly stuck in our minds, and made us glad that we both took the chance to walk in a place, and had bothered to find out a bit about the nihonshu first.

Oh, and if you are wondering about the title, Kanpai means Cheers!

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