This is the first in a series (perhaps of one!) about life in Kyoto. It is for potential kenshusei, especially those who have a sense of humour.
Payet-sensei is both one of the more severe and focused people I have met in my life and one of the ones who seems to enjoy laughing the most. Chris-sensei has a sarcastic sense of humour. And Andy-sensei somehow has a new funny story about his life every time you see him. (Also, Nick is English, which is funny in its own right!) So, if you are a sourpuss, please don’t consider the Kenshusei Course.
Today’s message about Kyoto is: Hey, dumby, it’s Japan! What I mean is this…
Before I came to Japan, I was traveling around Asia. I drank horse vodka made from fermented horse’s milk in Mongolia; I drank overpriced martini’s in a highfalutin’ bar in SIngapore; and I drank rot-gut Burmese whiskey with local taxicab drivers near Sule Pagoda while sitting in front of industrial-sized fans in the sweltering heat of Rangoon.
Of all my travel boozing experiences, one of the most memorable is drinking Chamisul with a 70-odd-year-old government employee at Gwangjang Market in Seoul, Korea. I went there twice–first in Spring on my way from Mongolia to Lao PDR, then in winter on a visa run from Kyoto. Both times, I went to the same food stalls in Gwangjang market, and I loved it.
The first time, I went to a seafood stall vendor, where I drank Chamisul and ate raw octopus and fish cakes. The second time, I went back, plus I went to a vendor of pigs’ feet and pigs’ heads, where I drank Chamisul and ate pigs’ cheeks and toes. I loved it! I gabbed with old Korean men and got soused on Chamisul.
What is the point?
My point is that Chamisul is a form of rice alcohol (which can be found all over northern Asia–I drank it in China, Korea, and Japan) that I thought was fantastic while I was in Korea.
But now that I’ve come to Japan, it doesn’t taste so great. I’ve been drinking Nihonshu 日本酒 since I got to Japan. Specifically, I’ve found a brand of local Kyoto sake that I drink whenever I get a hankering. But Chamisul is sold both in Liquor Mountain import store and in the Life supermarket. So tonight, I decided to drink Chamisul with my faux-nouveau-Japanese dish of soba noodles, minced beef, and shrimp, with garlic-pepper sauce. It sucked!!
At 22%, it’s true the Chamisul was strong, but strong like rubbing alcohol. Sake, even in its most abhorrent incarnations, is never so astringent in Japan. There are many kinds–strong, fruity, spicy, hot, cold–but never just raw. The thing I thought was delicious in one country tastes bad in Japan.
And that is the point.
Whatever else you may find and hate in Japan, you will always get something that is pretty good… a cut above, you can be assured. That goes for rice alcohol, seafood… and aikido.
There’s less than two months left until the 2015 Kenshusei class matriculates, but still plenty of time to get in your application. If you do, you won’t be disappointed. You may not have a lot of money to party while you are on the Course, but you will find the things you choose to eat, drink, and be merry will be a cut above the rest.