MAKE IT SUNTORY TIME
- Visit a renowned Japanese whisky distillery
- Learn the history and craft of making whisky
- Taste rare bottlings of one of Japan’s most coveted spirits
Japanese whisky is the darling of spirit connoisseurs the world over—and its current cachet seems unlikely to subside anytime soon. (Raging demand and dwindling supply has made even entry-level bottles tough to find overseas.) Much of the fascination revolves around the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, one of the country’s top producers—which, conveniently for you, is just 30 minutes by train from central Osaka, en route to Kyoto. A visit to the distillery begins with a guided tour; they’re conducted only in Japanese, but audio guides in English, French, and Chinese are available. Here you’ll learn the history of the distillery, founded by Shinjiro Torii in 1923, and the secrets to crafting world-class whiskys (hint: it’s in the water). After an overview of the distillation process, from fermentation to the oak barrels of the whisky-aging warehouse, it’s time for a tasting. Three samples are included in the tour, but we recommend continuing your visit at the distillery’s excellent whisky museum, which contains an extensive whisky “library,” where you’ll find shelves of backlit bottles and a tasting counter. More samples and small glasses are available here for purchase. Peruse the long list of rare vintages and award-winning blends, like the 21-year Hibiki, crafted on-site, and savor the relaxing atmosphere, overlooking a manicured garden.
Reservations for the distillery tour and museum must be made in advance, either through the Conrad’s concierge or online via Suntory’s reservation form. From the Conrad, walk north to Osaka Station and take the JR Line to Yamazaki Station (about 25 minutes). Alternatively, a taxi from the hotel to the distillery will take about 50 minutes each way, depending on traffic.
EAT LIKE A LOCAL
- Explore incense-shrouded Hozenji alley, a relic of old Osaka
- Dine on the city’s best kushiage at a tiny Michelin-starred gem
- Finish the night with grower champagnes at an elegant six-seat bar
Steps from the bright lights and crowded shopping arcades of Namba lies Hozenji, a tranquil alley with the dreamy atmosphere of old Osaka. Follow the scent of incense leading to a small Buddhist temple where followers pour water over a moss-covered Mizukake Fudo statue. Then continue down the stone-paved lane to Wasabi, a Michelin-starred restaurant that serves an old Osakan specialty, kushiage—fried meat or vegetable skewers—with a modern twist. Behind the noren (curtains) you’ll discover an exclusive, 10-seat, polished-wood bar that’s presided over by chef Takako Imaki, who deftly blends Osakan ingredients with French techniques. The result is an omakase parade of delicate skewers—crisp and fragile shrimp heads, creamy tofu topped with thin strips of nori, even a rich Alsatian choucroute—that won’t stop until you signal you’ve had enough. After dinner, ascend the marble staircase to the second floor, where Ms. Imaki recently opened AWA, an intimate six-seat bar with a superbly curated list of natural and grower champagnes.
It’s a 10-minute taxi ride to Hozenji from the Conrad. Or walk south to the Higobashi station and take the Yotsubashi (blue) subway to Namba station, and then walk northeast.
HEAD FOR THE HILLS
- Visit one of Osaka’s most revered Shinto shrines
- Hike up forested mountain pathways
- Lose yourself among thousands of vermillion Shinto gates
If you have time for only one shrine—and don’t mind a little exercise with your sightseeing—make it Fushimi Inari Taisha, a mountainside Shinto sanctuary famous for its thousands of magnificent torii (ornamental gates). Within striking distance of Osaka, this ancient shrine was dedicated in the 8th century to Inari, the god of rice, sake, and prosperity. (Business travelers take note: Inari is also associated with success in one’s endeavors.) Although this is one of the most revered shrines in Japan, many visitors are here to see the thousands of vermilion torii that straddle the paths snaking up the mountain. The most striking—and Instagrammable—spot is the Senbon Torii, two parallel rows of gates that mark the beginning of the trail. From here it takes 30 to 45 minutes to hike up to the halfway point, the area densest with torii. Those with more time can continue to the summit, to be rewarded with a stunning panoramic view. Plan on two or three hours for the full round-trip hike, depending on the crowds and the number of stops you make to explore miniature shrines along the way.
From the Conrad Osaka, a taxi ride to Fushimi Inari Taisha will take about an hour, depending on traffic. For the train, walk north to Osaka Station and take the JR Line to Kyoto Station (about 30 minutes), then change to the JR Nara Line to Inari Station (five minutes).