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The Shinyokohama Ramen Museum

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It was 1958, and we were hungry. Luckily, we were near Narutabashi Station, where there are at least a dozen ramen shops to choose from. We sat down to big bowls of steaming noodles, and talked about the news of the day… Khrushchev seems a reasonable new leader for the Soviets, doesn’t he? Then my cellphone rang and I remembered: this isn’t 1958. And there is no train station called Narutabashi. The year was 2014 and we were inside Shinyokohama’s Ramen Museum.

Shinyokohama Ramen Museum

The Ramen Museum’s claim to the word “museum” is tenuous at best. On the top floor there’s some information about the history of ramen, but most visitors skip right by this. No, the reason for this museum’s considerable popularity is its restaurants. On the lower two floors, twelve excellent ramen shops are spread across a setting meant to evoke the year 1958, when the dish was invented.

In essence, the Ramen Museum is nothing more than a food court, but it’s a great food court. We had a blast walking around the fake neighborhood, looking at the old movie posters and photographs, buying sweets at the candy shop, and watching classic wrestling on a TV found in one of the house windows. The attention to detail was impressive. There was even a guy in uniform calling out fake train schedules.

After taking a couple laps, we decided to eat at a shop called Nidai-me Genkotsu-ya, where we enjoyed big helpings of ramen in a rich, golden broth. As we were slurping down our noodles, we noticed that most of the other patrons were ordering small bowls; they were probably planning on sampling variations at the different shops, and we kicked ourselves for not doing the same.

The museum costs ¥300 to enter, and then you have to pay for your ramen, normally around ¥800 for a bowl. The Ramen Museum is a strange place and not incredibly easy to reach from Tokyo (halfway to the city of Yokohama), but we had a lot of fun here… and a great lunch.

Location on our Map

Buy Ramen Noodles Online

Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
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July 8, 2014 at 2:09 pm Comments (3)

Eating in Tokyo: Our Favorite Foods

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Every morning before starting out on another day in Tokyo, I would ask Jürgen what he was most excited about. It didn’t matter whether we were planning to visit an ancient temple, a renowned museum, a crazy festival or a gorgeous garden, his response was always the same: “Eating.” And I would thoughtfully nod in agreement. Of all the things Tokyo has to offer, its delicious and surprisingly affordable food is probably the highlight. This is a city in which it’s almost impossible to eat poorly.

Omurice
Omurice

As a foreigner, ordering your meal in Japan isn’t always the easiest task in the world. What is Mentaiko? Katsu-sando? Karaage? Are these fish guts? Cow brains? The words are so unfamiliar that anything is possible. But the first time someone suggested omurice, I knew I could rest easy. I ordered with confidence, and watched with satisfaction as exactly what I expected was placed before me: an omelette served atop rice. Omurice! Sounds simple, and it is, but somehow Tokyo’s restaurants elevate this no-nonsense dish to a delectable art form. [Photos]

Udon
Udon

Thick white noodles made from wheat flour, udon competes with soba and ramen for noodle dominance in Tokyo. At its simplest, udon is served in big bowls of hot broth, topped with scallions, but there are endless ways to order it. Topped with tempura. Served with a piece of sweet tofu called aburaage. Accompanied with mochi: a glutinous rice ball (not my favorite). You can have cold udon, udon with veggies, or with raw egg. It’s one of the cheapest and quickest meals in Tokyo, and the chewy noodles always hit the spot. [Photos]

Tonkatsu

We had been introduced to tonkatsu, breaded pork cutlets, during our time in Busan, South Korea, but the deep-fried dish is originally from Tokyo. Like udon, this is a dish you can order in a variety of ways: in a sandwich, covered with curry, or atop a bowl of rice. But in our estimation, the classic tonkatsu plate is still the best: served with a heaping helping of shredded cabbage, and topped with a dark and tangy Worcestershire-style sauce.

Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki

It might seem wrong that, as a customer in a restaurant, you’re forced to cook your own meal. But when you can skip all the prep-work — all the chopping, thinking and balancing of ingredients — cooking can be a blast. We consistently enjoyed the okonomiyaki restaurants we went to. You choose the mix that sounds best, then pour the batter out onto the perfectly-heated plate in front of you. The flipping is tricky, but within minutes you’ll have a wonderful pancake-style dish. Or a horrid, splattery clump of half-cooked dough. [Photos]

Takoyaki
Takoyaki

Frequently, we’ll be indulging in a favorite new foreign food and I’ll say something like, “Why don’t we have this back home? This would totally be popular in America!” But while eating takoyaki, I didn’t say that. I mean, I enjoy takoyaki, but I seriously doubt that it will ever succeed with my countrymen. These are, after all, fried octopus balls. Deep-fried dumplings of dough, each concealing a big chunk of octopus. They’re cheap, yummy and popular in Japan, but Americans are more likely to embrace seppuku. [Photos]

Tempura
Tempura

Tempura is fried food, nothing less and nothing more. Fish and vegetables tossed in a flour batter and dropped in oil. Unlike octopus balls, fried food is a concept which my inner-American has no problem with. But somehow tempura tastes different than what I’m used to. Lighter, crispier and healthier. The batter is kept cold and clumpy, not mixed too much, and the frying is done in regular vegetable or canola oil, for the barest minimum of time. You can find tempura restaurants ranging from the very cheap to the quite expensive, but what you’re unlikely to find is tempura done badly. [Photos]

Sushi
Sushi In Tokyo

It’s sushi, and this is Tokyo. Do you want me to elaborate on that? You know it’s delicious. It’s delicious, fresh, perfectly prepared, served in millions of wonderful restaurants on every corner, and it’s absolutely affordable. Come to Tokyo and eat as much sushi as you can stomach, because when you go home and are charged eight dollars for a single piece of tuna nigiri, you’ll wish you had eaten more. [Photos]

Soba
Soba

We learned how to make soba noodles during a day spent with a master chef. But it was by watching (and listening to) fellow patrons in the restaurants of Tokyo, that we learned how to slurp. Soba are hand-cut buckwheat noodles, normally served cold, with a small bowl of soy-based dipping sauce that’s garnished with spring onions. You grab a few noodles with your chopsticks, dunk them half-way into the sauce, and then … slurrrrp. One of our favorite meals. [Photos]

Ramen
Ramen

I thought I knew all about ramen noodles. I went to college, after all, and survived four years on a diet of Papa John’s pizza, beer and ramen. But I knew nothing. Those dried-out noodles in styrofoam cups have as much to do with real ramen as Pringles have to do with potatoes. From the first steaming bowl I tried in Tokyo, I was hooked. I could eat ramen for weeks and never get sick of it, especially since there’s such variety. Every region of Japan has its own spin on the dish, and you can find them all in the capital. Especially popular in Tokyo are tsukemen, or dipping ramen noodles. [Photos]

Shabu-Shabu
Shabu Shabu

A pot of broth is set upon the burner built into your table, and soon the waitress will bring a tray of vegetables and meat. Once the broth is boiling, you start plopping in the food, leaving it to cook for as long as you want. Then you eat it. Shabu-shabu is another Japanese dish which asks the customer to do the cooking himself. The name is derived from the sound the food makes as you stir it around the pot. I’d be more inclined to call it “hiss hiss,” but “shabu shabu” is apparently how the Japanese ear hears that sound. At any rate, this is a fun meal to enjoy with friends. [Photos]

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June 28, 2014 at 3:28 pm Comments (5)

Sensei of Slurp: Making Soba with a Master

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We met Akila Inouye at the entrance to Tsukiji Fish Market bright and early on Tuesday morning, and realized right away that we were going to have trouble keeping pace with him. In the market, he darted ahead of us, racing from stand to stand, comparing prices, and buying everything we were going to need later in the kitchen. It would turn out to be a long day, but Akila never once slowed down… and I don’t think we ever caught up.

Soba Sushi Cooking Class

Akila Inouye is a master chef and founder of the Tsukiji Soba Academy, which trains both professionals and determined amateurs in the art of cooking Japan’s famous buckwheat noodles. He invited us to follow him for the day, and watch as he prepared a number of dishes; not just soba, but sushi and onigiri (rice triangles). It was an excellent opportunity we weren’t about to pass up.

After shopping at the fish market, we walked over to the nearby studio where he gives his classes. Jürgen and I took seats as Akila settled down into a task he clearly loves. With every egg cracked, salmon sliced, and rice triangle formed, he became more animated. He prepared everything quickly and efficiently, and always with the perfect utensil. I don’t know if this is a Japanese thing, or an Akila thing, but I’ve never seen a kitchen so crammed with tools and knives and pots and devices, and everything in its right place. The kitchen was small enough so that Akila hardly had to move. He’d shoot his arm up 40° to the right and grab a whisk or a pan, usually without even having to look.

Within no time, he’d whipped up a breakfast of salmon onigiri and miso soup. After eating, we hopped on a train and headed out to Kawagoe, where our education would continue. He had invited us to his home studio which (I wasn’t surprised to discover) looked exactly like the kitchen in Tsukiji: packed to the brim with utensils and perfectly organized. If we owned even a twelfth of Akila’s cooking equipment, our kitchen would be an absolute disaster.

Soba Sushi Cooking Class

Organization is a major part of Akila’s method. Before we began cooking, we sat down at the table with paper and pen, and puzzled out how the day should progress. He listed every ingredient, estimated the time it would take to prepare, how long it had to marinate, and whether it should be done immediately or just before serving, and soon we had a nicely-ordered list of tasks.

I won’t go into detail about each item sliced, diced, rubbed and soaked, because there was a lot going on. It took hours and although we got tired watching, Akila’s energy never flagged. By the late afternoon, he was ready to prepare the soba. He started at the very beginning, with a perfectly-measured blend of flour, into which he mixed a precise amount of water. He had even checked the room’s humidity and consulted a chart before deciding how much to pour in. To make the perfect soba, you have to do things perfectly.

Soon he had crafted a beautiful sphere of dough, which he flattened into a disc using a series of rolling pins. Once the dough had reached exactly 1.5 millimeters in width (which he ensured by carefully measuring it), he folded it three times and began chopping, using a cleaver he had himself designed specifically for the job.

Soba Sushi Cooking Class

Within no time, we had bundles of soba noodles, which were briefly boiled and then served. But our instruction hadn’t ended yet, because almost as important as knowing how to cook soba is knowing how to properly eat it. Akila explained the process: how to mix the dipping sauce, how many noodles to grab at a time, and so on. We were clumsy, of course, but there’s one aspect of soba-eating we revealed ourselves to be naturals at. As we sucked the first noodles loudly into our mouths, he looked up with delight. “Wonderful slurping! I like it!”

We ended the night with a big bowl of sushi, served with crisp tempura. It had been painful watching the live shrimp be torn apart, twitching violently as their legs and heads were methodically removed, but their sacrifice was worth it. We were also treated to shimmering cuts of horse mackerel, colorful cod roe, eel, and tuna atop vinegar rice.

Akila’s Tsukiji Soba Academy has proven to be a major success, and he’s welcomed students from around the world, including the personal chef of Steve Jobs. He’s also been frequently invited to the USA to provide lessons. In short, he’s one of the best, and it was a privilege to spend the day watching him in his element.

Tsukiji Soba Academy – Website

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Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
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Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
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June 17, 2014 at 11:49 am Comments (2)

The Historic Neighborhood of Fukagawa

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Across the Sumida River from Nihonbashi, Fukagawa is one of Tokyo’s original fifteen wards. We spent a day wandering around its uncrowded streets, allowing the district to surprise us with an excellent museum, a tranquil garden and, for lunch, a delicious bowl of the neighborhood specialty, Fukugawa Meshi.

Kiyosumi

Fukugawa is home to a few of Tokyo’s most acclaimed sumo stables. In fact, after emerging from the metro, the very first person we saw was a sumo wrestler, clad in a robe and large enough to blot out the sun. Like starstruck schoolgirls, we followed him at a discrete distance, watching as he went into a 7-11 to flip through comics. It’s not that I expect sumo wrestlers to constantly be eating or practicing, but it was somehow amusing to see this massive guy being so normal, just going about his day.

Kiyosumi

Next, we paid a small fee to enter the Kiyosumi Gardens, a 20-acre park with a circular path that leads along a pond, past a tea house, and through thousands of trees. The garden was created in the eighteenth century, and purchased in 1878 by Iwasaki Yataro, founder of the Mitsubishi Corporation, who intended to use it as a place of rest for his employees. Opened to the public in 1932, Kiyosumi is one of the more beautiful gardens we visited in Tokyo, thanks largely to an almost total lack of other tourists.

Kiyosumi

After leaving the garden, we walked a few blocks to the west and came upon the Fukagawa Edo Folk Museum. We weren’t sure what to expect here, but certainly not what we found: a full-scale reconstruction of Edo-era Fukagawa. This museum was a real surprise. Around eight houses have been built, some in cut-away to better show off the interiors, and others in their entirety. You’re allowed to remove your shoes and enter all of the buildings, both the residences and the stores. You can walk down by the canal (Fukagawa was an important port of Edo), look up at the fire tower, peer into the outdoor toilet shared by the entire neighborhood and see the roving soba vendor.

The museum is very permissive, allowing and even encouraging photographs, and visitors are free to handle any of the artifacts which are laying around. But the best part might be the dedicated volunteer staff, many of whom speak English, and all of whom are eager to answer questions you might have. The woman following us around was even answering questions we didn’t have.

By the time we finished in the museum, we were famished and set out to find lunch. While puzzling over the Japanese-only menu of a nearby restaurant, a group of older men clad in hiking gear stormed past us and into the door. The last one in line looked back and rubbed his belly as if to say, “yummy yummy”… and that’s as good a recommendation as you’re likely to get. We went up to the third floor, removed our shoes, sat down and dug into the neighborhood specialty: Fukagawa Meshi, a rice dish topped with a rich miso-based broth of clams and green onions.

Fukagawa doesn’t see a lot of foreign tourism, perhaps because it’s on the wrong side of the Sumida River. But this historic neighborhood is still quite central, easy to reach, and worth at least half a day. Probably more.

Locations on our Map: Kiyosumi Gardens | Edo Folk Museum | Meshi Restaurant

Our Apartment In Tokyo Was Very Close To This Neighborhood

Kiyosumi
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June 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm Comments (2)

The Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum

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Between the shopping mecca of Coredo Mall and the Tokyo Stock Exchange, we came across a quaint museum which feels completely out of place in modern Nihonbashi. The small and cluttered Kite Museum is hidden away without fanfare above Taimeiken, one of central Tokyo’s favorite restaurants.

Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum

Kites were introduced to Japan in the eighth century by Buddhist monks from China, and have been a popular pastime ever since. At first, they were exclusively for religious festivals but soon had caught on among builders, who used them to hoist materials. Eventually, the general public realized they could be flown for fun. Today, each region of Japan has developed its own style of kite. The most traditional have spines made of bamboo, sturdy paper produced from a specific kind of mulberry tree, and hand-painted designs with vibrant colors.

Shingo Modegi, the owner of the Taimeiken Restaurant in Nihonbashi, was a lifelong kite enthusiast. By 1977, he had amassed thousands of models from around the world, and decided to open up his collection to the public. Thus was born the world’s first kite museum, found on the fifth floor above his restaurant.

Visiting the museum makes you feel as though you’re walking through the disorganized apartment of an eccentric old specialist… which, I suppose, is exactly what you’re doing. Hundreds of kites of all shapes and sizes line the walls, hang from the ceiling, or rest in glass cases. There are ancient models with paper so fragile it wouldn’t survive a light breeze, complicated kites resembling sailing ships, carp kites, samurai kites and, of course, plenty of dragon kites.

Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum

After touring the museum, it makes sense to grab lunch downstairs in Taimeiken, famous for its omurice. Don’t worry if there’s a long line, and there almost certainly will be, because the place is large and the queue advances quickly.

Omurice is, as you might infer from its name, an omelette packed with rice; a meal inspired by western breakfasts. The house specialty is the “dandelion,” or tampopo omurice, which is a steaming omelette served atop chicken-fried rice. You’re meant to immediately cut open the softly-cooked eggs, allowing their bright yellow yolks to spread out and sink into the rice. It’s a dish both lovely and delicious, especially when topped with ketchup. That might sound strange, but it’s the suggested condiment, and goes perfectly with the dish.

Location on our Map

Indoor Kite

Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
Taimeiken Restaurant & Kite Museum
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June 12, 2014 at 6:24 am Comment (1)

Our Introduction to Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai

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Kaiseki is Japan’s haute cuisine, a traditional meal of several individually-crafted dishes. It’s as expensive as it sounds, and since our budget won’t allow us to repeatedly indulge in kaiseki, we wanted to be careful about the restaurant in which we’d experience it. After considerable research, we decided upon Tofuya-Ukai. I doubt we could have made a better choice.

Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai

Found at the foot of the Tokyo Tower, Tofuya-Ukai is one of the most popular kaiseki restaurants in the city. From the moment we walked through the gate, we were enchanted. In the middle of noisy, modern Tokyo, the Tofuya-Ukai offers an oasis of serenity and tradition. A path through a Japanese-style garden, complete with cherry trees and a koi pond, brought us to the main building where a woman dressed in a kimono greeted us with a deep bow.

After checking our reservation, she showed us to our table. And I don’t mean, she pointed us to a spot across the dining room full of other guests. No, we followed her on a circuitous course through the building, which looks more like the residence of a powerful daimyo than a restaurant. She led us through a hall with enormous sake barrels and down a long hallway, before sliding open the doors to our compartment. We removed our shoes and stepped into a simple tatami-floored room with large windows looking out onto the garden.

Our kaiseki lunch was served in seven courses. As indicated by the restaurant’s name, tofu is the house specialty and was the centerpiece of the main dishes. I don’t mind tofu, but have never understood its appeal. However, I’d never had tofu like this. Delicate and rich, the white squares floating with kelp in a large copper pot were so pure and lovely, I didn’t want to touch them. All the tofu served at the Tofuya-Ukai is made in-house, and it’s delicious.

The food was just a single part of what made the experience so memorable. The quarters were lovely, and I’d have been satisfied to simply spend an afternoon sitting on the tatami and looking out onto the garden. And the service! The waitresses brought in the plates one by one, theatrically placing each in front of us with precise, studied movements. The plates and bowls were always different, individually suited to each dish, and the presentation of the food was thoughtful, emphasizing the freshness and color of the ingredients.

The Tofuya-Ukai wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every penny. Kaiseki is an essential Japanese experience, and one we’re happy to have had at Tofuya-Ukai. If you’d like to eat here yourself, make sure to get reservations early, as the restaurant fills up weeks in advance.

Location on our Map

We visited the Tofyua-Ukai with friends from Spain, one of whom writes about food on the blog Chic Souffle. If you can read Spanish, or just want to see more mouth-watering photos of the food we ate, check out her take on the Tofuya-Ukai.

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Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
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Kaiseki at Tofuya-Ukai
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June 4, 2014 at 8:39 am Comments (2)

Other Sights in Kawagoe

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We had spent the morning admiring Kawagoe’s Edo-style kura-zukuri buildings and visiting the museums found along its main strip. After a long lunch, we felt rested enough to continue our exploration of the city.

Sights in Kawagoe

Our first stop of the afternoon was at Candy Shop Lane, where we sampled the famous treats of Kawagoe. The candy production based here kept Tokyo’s sweet-tooth satisfied during the lean years after the great 1923 earthquake. There are fewer shops today, but this lane is still filled with people selling traditional sweets like candied yams and red-bean cakes. We found a lollipop sculptor, who crafted an attractive (and delicious) flamingo for us. And by showering us with samples, a wily old woman guilted us into buying a couple bags of salty rock candy.

Sights in Kawagoe

We now made our way to the east, toward the former site of Kawagoe’s castle. Because of its upstream location on the Sumida River, Kawagoe was of great strategic importance to Edo, and the scene of many battles. After falling victim to fire, the castle was mostly demolished in 1870, replaced by public parks and sport fields. You can still visit the Honmaru Goten, which was the castle’s main residence. Today, it holds archaeological artifacts.

Sights in Kawagoe

For a better picture of life in medieval Kawagoe, we visited the nearby City Museum. Meant to resemble a modern kura-zukuri warehouse, this large white building isn’t particularly appealing from the outside, and we almost skipped it. But once inside, the museum does a good job of bringing the history of the city to life, with explanations of how the kura-zukuri were built, along with full-scale replicas.

Sights in Kawagoe

One task remained on our long itinerary in Kawagoe: the Kita-in Temple, to the south of the former palace grounds. Believed to have been founded in 830, the Kita-in was of great importance to the Tokugawa Shogunate. When it was destroyed by fire in 1638, a section of Edo Castle was transferred to Kawagoe to help with the temple’s reconstruction process. This is the only part of Edo Castle which has survived into the present day. It’s now home to a museum, although the exhibits are just a handy pretext for getting to see the interior of this historic building.

Also within the temple’s expansive grounds, we found a courtyard with a collection of 500 statues. Carved from stone a couple hundred years ago, each has a different posture and expression. Additionally, the Kita-in has a shrine for the spirit of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, a bell tower and a mausoleum which holds the remains of Kawagoe’s former lords, or daimyo.

Locations on our Map: Candy Shop Lane | Honmaru Goten | Kawagoe City Museum | Kita-in Temple

Hotels In Kawagoe

Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
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May 28, 2014 at 6:34 am Comments (0)

Dinner Behind Bars at Alcatraz E.R.

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It’s safe to say we’ve never dined in an atmosphere remotely similar to that of Shibuya’s Alcatraz E.R. The name says it all: this theme restaurant is meant to emulate the experience of eating inside the blood-spattered emergency room of a high-security prison. Have I mentioned that Tokyo is a little strange?

Alacatraz ER Restaurant

Theme restaurants are all the rage in Tokyo. People will line up to eat in places dedicated to topics like ninjas, vampires, Alice in Wonderland, maids, robots and butlers. And, of course, the emergency rooms of prisons.

After stepping off the elevator, we pressed a big red button smeared with bloody hand-prints in order to open the door of Alcatraz E.R. A woman dressed as a nurse-waitress-torturer greeted us and led us to our table, which was within a prison cell. We walked past grisly scenes of bloody emergency room madness, including mutilated corpses who’d been interred in the floor, and were locked into the cage where we would be enjoying dinner.

Dinner Behind Bars at Alcatraz E.R.

The menu is hilarious, with intestine-shaped sausages served in bedpans, sexually-deviant cocktails and weird culinary experiments like bright blue curry. We ordered a lot, and were enjoying fried chicken when suddenly the lights in the prison went out. Warning signals flashed red down the corridors outside our cell, while blood-curdling screams blared over the intercom. The inmates were loose! We sat silently, until noticing a silhouette in the cell with us. From what I could discern in the strobing red light, he looked rather like a murderer. Jürgen unleashed a wail of terror, the likes of which I’d never heard from him before.

It was quite a night, and not too expensive. I had expected the food to be over-priced to compensate for the show, but that wasn’t the case. Even the drinks were reasonable, and the cover charge was only ¥500. You might want to stay away if you’re afraid of the dark, or prison, or masked men suddenly standing next to you in your prison cell, or evil nurses forcing you to drink from decapitated heads, but otherwise a night out at Alcatraz E.R. is a lot of fun.

Location on our Map

More Strange Stuff from Japan

Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
Alacatraz ER Restaurant
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May 15, 2014 at 9:35 am Comment (1)

Sensō-ji Temple

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Tokyo’s oldest temple is the Sensō-ji, constructed in the year 645. Like almost everything else in this city plagued by earthquakes and fire, it’s been rebuilt multiple times, but has always been an important place of worship.

A visit to Sensō-ji begins through the Kaminari-mon, a large gate protected on either side by wooden representations of the gods of thunder and wind. Past these formidable guardians is the Nakamise-dōri Shopping Street. The vendors of this teeming market sell every kind of souvenir imaginable, from key chains to ninja costumes, as well as a wide variety of traditional sweets, treats, teas and ice cream.

It may seem strange for the path leading to an important temple to be so secular and commercial, but that’s because the rulers of Tokyo haven’t always looked upon Sensō;-ji with deference. During the Meiji Restoration, officials made a concentrated effort to reduce the influence of Buddhism, and encouraged the city’s seedier elements to set up shop in Asakusa, and particularly along Nakamise-dōri. The street became a home to prostitution and gambling, which wasn’t entirely troubling to the temple’s monks, many of whom reportedly enjoyed exactly such vices.

Nakamise-dōri has cleaned up its act considerably. Today, the most sinful thing being sold here are taiyaki, delicious fish-shaped cookies filled with chocolate. It’s not a bad idea to eat a few, because you’ll need the energy while visiting Sensō-ji. The temple is huge, with grounds that include multiple shrines, the Hondo (main hall), a five-story pagoda, statues, gates, a museum and even a Japanese garden.

Let’s have a word about that garden. After an hour spent walking around the Sensō-ji, we’d had enough of incense and crowds and were preparing to leave. But then we saw a sign advertising the “Temple Museum with Attached Japanese Garden,” in a building near the western exit. Having just completed a comprehensive exploration of the temple, we agreed there was simply no space for a garden. “It’s going to be a few plants in the corner… max.”

The museum was magnificent, much better than expected, with wood carvings and scrolls, along with paintings of samurai and strange demon gods. And then we emerged into the garden. I still don’t understand it. The place was huge… a real park! A long circular path led past a pond, a tea garden complete with monk serving tea, into a forest (a forest?!), and over hills. By the laws of reality, this park should not have been possible. It’s like we stepped out of the museum, into some sort of pocket universe.

Lending credence to my outlandish theory was the fact that, although the crowd in the temple had been borderline outrageous, and despite this being the Sensō-ji’s most beautiful corner, the garden was nearly empty. It can’t have been the museum’s extremely reasonable entry fee scaring people off. No, the likeliest answer remains a disruption in the space-time continuum. Good luck finding the garden yourself, because it might not really exist.

Location of Sens?-ji on our Map

Weird Kit Kat Flavors From Japan

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April 3, 2014 at 3:04 am Comments (3)
The Shinyokohama Ramen Museum It was 1958, and we were hungry. Luckily, we were near Narutabashi Station, where there are at least a dozen ramen shops to choose from. We sat down to big bowls of steaming noodles, and talked about the news of the day... Khrushchev seems a reasonable new leader for the Soviets, doesn't he? Then my cellphone rang and I remembered: this isn't 1958. And there is no train station called Narutabashi. The year was 2014 and we were inside Shinyokohama's Ramen Museum.
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