American style BBQ in Toyosu Tokyo

Compared to the US, there are much less places to enjoy outdoor BBQ in Tokyo. But Toyosu in the bay area is one of such rare spots.

In 5 minutes walk from Shin-Toyosu station of Yurikamome line you can see  the entrance which looks like a BBQ trailer in the US.

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This place The Third Park has a concept to operate an urban outdoor park where we can enjoy American style BBQ with all american equipment. They have even cactus like a desert in Arizona.

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And more than that we can hang out next to high rise buildings in the bay area in Tokyo. It’s a fun to get relaxed in nature, but it’s also a fun if we can get relaxed just next to concrete jungle.

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Due to high cost for parking and narrow roads it’s difficult to have a car in Tokyo. Thus we need to use a train to bring food to a park where we do BBQ, although it’s not realistic to ride a train with raw meat and liquors.

But no problem! At The Third Park they prepare all the foods for you. For example Early Lunch Plan costs 4,500 JPY with a variety of menus; popcorn, assorted seasonable vegetable, American smoke steak, churrasco pork and beer can chicken.

But you don’t know how to make fire? No problem again! They also prepare charcoal and a manual to show how to make fire and to cook BBQ.

Thanks to the practical manual we easily made BBQ like this!

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I want to tell you one point, if you are interested on the place. They prepare almost everything but they have only a single kind of BBQ source. So we recommend you bring other sources you like to eat up all the meat.

Below is the website of The Third Park (sorry only in Japanese).

https://the-third-park.com/

Mitsukoshi, first department store in Japan

During the process to modernize Japanese society, Japan accepted a lot of things from the West. The department store, where they have a variety of specialized stores in one huge building, is one of them. And Mitsukoshi is the first Japanese department store whose flagship store is located in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. In 2016, this building is designated as an important cultural property to show the history of the department store in Japan.

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The current building itself was built in 1935 as the Renaissance style architecture. And its gorgeous appearance makes visitors feel that the store has whichever luxurious brand they want. But the building is not an only attraction for Mitsubishi Nihonbashi.

At the main entrance there is a pair of bronze statues of lion. They were reproduced from the lion statues at the Trafalgar Square in London and installed in 1914 at the present location.

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Such a statue indicates that they tried to make Mitsukoshi as a gorgeous department store like Harrods in London. However, when you walk up to the central hall on the first floor, you will find how Mitsukoshi, as the first Japanese department store, tried to show their originality. Then let’s see the central hall.

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At the first glance you might not be able to recognize what you are seeing at the center of the department store. Then let’s come closer.

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Now I hope you realized that this is a gigantic and colorful statue of the Japanese goddess. This statue was made by Mr. Gengen Sato, Japanese craftsman in 1960 after spending 10 years to produce it. And it shows the moment when the goddess wrapped with a swirl of clouds has just descended to the flower stem.

According to Mitsukoshi, this statue symbolizes their basic philosophy, which is Magokoro (sincerity). And they have been keeping its philosophy in a long time. While Mitsukoshi branded itself as a department store in 1928, its history back to the 17th century.

In 1673, Mr. Takatoshi Mitsui, started Echigoy-ya as a kimono shop. In those days, other kimono shops, whose targets were rich people, showed higher prices than their real prices to the customers at first preparing for their request of discount and sold only with the unit of a roll (approx. 10.6 meters).

However, Mr. Mitsui showed his sincerity and in order to make his shop approachable for normal people, they showed their real prices from the beginning and sold kimono with the much smaller unit than a roll.

 

When you visit Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi, you can understand not only a history of Japanese department store but also history of commerce in Japan.

Below is the website of Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi.

Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store

Mt. Takao, the most approachable mountain from Tokyo

Tokyo is a concrete jungle where we wear out ourselves every day. However in about 1 hour by train from Tokyo there is a mountain called Mt. Takao, like an oasis in the jungle. As a former guide of Mt. Fuji, let me introduce this mountain as the most approachable mountain from Tokyo.

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Once you get out of Takaosan-guchi station of Keio line, you see a map of six trails to the summit of Mt. Takao. If it’s your first time to Mt. Takao, I recommend the trail No.1.

This No.1 trail is a sightseeing course rather than climbing a mountain. Most of the trail is paved and the biggest number of hikers take this route among all 6 trails. So it’s difficult to enjoy quiet time in the woods. On the other hand, I recommend this route since you can understand the relationship between Japanese people and mountains.

Traditionally for Japanese people who live close to mountains, high mountains were considered as a symbol of wild and harsh nature. Therefore they feared the mountains and made shrines to worship the mountains as a god and tried to calm down their anger.

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And a picture below is the oldest ceder in the mountain called Tako-Sugi (Octopus Ceder in Japanese). The name comes roots of the ceder which have grown up like legs of octopus. Japanese people in the past believed that such an old thing in nature could acquire supernatural power and worshiped it as well.

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And the symbol of gods in Mt. Takao is “Tengu”, a legendary creature which was sometimes considered as a god and was considered as a monster in other times in Japanese history. Tengu’s feature is red face and big nose and he can fly freely with a special fan.

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After 2 hours walk on the trail No.1 seeing these gods, you can reach the summit of Mt. Takao. In good weather, you can see a great view of both Tokyo, concrete jungle at one direction and Mt. Fuji, symbol of mountain worship at another direction.

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After enjoying the nice view, you can take another trail walking down to the entrance of the mountain. In order to enjoy Mt. Takao, as a mountain, I recommend the trail No.6 where you walk along a stream.

In contrast to the trail No.1, there are much fewer people. And you can enjoy peaceful atmosphere hearing sound of signing birds and streaming water.

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Nevertheless, even on this trail, you can see a spot which shows you how mountain worship was developed in the mountain. The stream along which you have just walked down becomes a waterfall. And waterfall is a place where mountain ascetics train themselves to reach enlightenment.

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By the way,  if you can enjoy the mountain more easily and simply, there is a cable car from the entrance to the halfway point. And in summer season, they open a beer garden where you can enjoy Japanese beer with a great view of Tokyo.

If you are interested, check out “Beer Mount” in their website (They have an English website !) below.

Mr. Takao Official Web Site

Mt. Takao is a great sightseeing spot where you can enjoy nature of Japanese mountain as well as understand traditional mountain worship in Japan with a day trip from Tokyo.

Noodle restaurant at a cake shop’s backdoor in Nippori Tokyo

In Nippori, area of Tokyo Japan we live, there is a street called Nippori Fabric Street where there are many small fabric shops along the street.

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And around the end of the street there is a small cake shop called Sablon. It looks quite normal as long as we see from the frond side. The word “Feinbackerei” in the signboard indicates that the chef might have had training of cake making in Germany.

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However, when you move to the backside of the shop, your impression has totally changed. It’s not so obvious if we can enter into the shop from this side as well. But several people are waiting and there is a simple signboard saying “dip noodle”! Wait, isn’t it the backdoor of a cake shop?

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It’s a noodle restaurant indeed. After waiting about 30 minutes we can enter into a tiny restaurant with only 4 seats. And they have a single noodle menu, Tsuke-men (dip noodle). Only one chef is working hard for both the cake shop and this noodle restaurant. He called the noodle restaurant “Ura-Sablron”. Ura in Japanese means backside or secret.

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According to an explanation on the wall, when he was young, the chef was a big fan of Taisho-ken in Ikebukuro Tokyo, which is the legendary dip noodle restaurant well known to have created the current style of dip noodle in Japan for the first time. And even after he got training of cake making and started his own cake shop, he couldn’t forget his passion to the dip noodle of Taisho-ken. Finally he decided to start a dip noodle restaurant while keeping his cake shop at the same time.

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By the way, I myself was a fan of dip noodle of Taisho-ken. And the dip noodle here has an authentic great taste. I believe it’s the best dip noodle in this area.

Meanwhile it seems that the chef cannot help serving his original specialty, cake. So with additional price he also serves his original dessert after dip noodle.

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The dessert is also delicious but quite ordinary compared to the special dip noodle. Seeing no guest in the front side as cake shop, we are afraid how long the chef can continue this double work…

Sablon (and Ura-Sablon)

5-12 Higashi-Nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, Japan 116-0014

Soba, Japanese fast food

Soba noodle is one of the healthy Japanese foods popular worldwide. But sometimes soba noodle restaurants overseas brand themselves more fancy than in Japan. For example, Tei-An in Dallas in Texas has been well known as a great soba noodle restaurant by local Japanese community and I love it as well, but their price is a little expensive as a quick lunch and dinner.

On the other hand, in the 19th century in Edo (old name of Tokyo), when soba noodle became very common, it was more casual that people ate it quickly in front of a stall as fast food as American people today eat hamburgers.

And now in Tokyo near my home there is a small restaurant of soba noodle called Ichi-Yoshi Soba which represents such a tradition of soba noodle as fast food.

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First of all, even though it’s a small restaurant, they are open in 24 hours and 7 days! I believe the long opening hour is an important feature as fast food restaurant.

Secondly, they serve the food so quickly. As soon as we enter into the restaurant, they ask us to order.

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And within 10 seconds after we order, they can serve the food. It’s faster than McDonald.

Thirdly they are so reasonable, too. A photo below is their most popular menu; regular size hot soba noodle with tempura of squid. It costs only 310 Japanese Yen (approx. 3 dollars.). It’s also cheaper than the hamburger meal menu at McDonald.

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Lastly their owner is loved by local people. He always takes orders by himself with a large voice. And while we eat soba noodle, we can always hear him talking with his customers and calculating the bill in his head at the same time. His voice sounds like the pop music in fast food restaurant.

Utogi, where wasabi was cultivated for the first time

Wasabi is an essential spicy source for some Japanese food such as sushi. However, do you know how wasabi is grown? In my hometown, Shizuoka, there is a place named Utogi, where wasabi was cultivated for the first time in Japan.

In 1 hour drive from Shizuoka station, after driving a winding road through mountains of Abe-Oku, we arrive at Utogi, which is in May surrounded by green colors including those of tea leaves.

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And soon after we walk from Utogi village toward mountains, we can find many green plants grown on terraced fields.

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Wasabi cannot grow without clean water flowing by the plant. Therefore, wasabi plants are always made along the river as terraced fields so that water from the river flow by the plant. The existence of wasabi indicates how clean water in the area is.

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According to the history of Utogi, at the beginning of 17th century, when the Shogun of Tokugawa started Edo era, a man living in the village tried to plant wild wasabi on a spring and soon found that wasabi by flowing water grew much better. This is how Utogi people started growing wasabi.

In the village we can taste fresh wasabi with soba noodle. With the knowledge how to grow wasabi, it tastes more special.

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Azalea festival at Nezu shrine

Our current home is close the areas called “Yanesen”, a set of three smaller areas, Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi, which is one of the most popular areas in Tokyo for foreign visitors.

And Nezu, one of Yanesen areas, is famous for a shrine, Nezu shrine, as well as a traditional shopping street. In April, Nezu shrine has the Azalea (Tsutsuji in Japanese) festival to celebrate full bloom of Azalea in the shrine.

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The shrine says that it was established 1,900 years ago by Yamatotakeru-no-Mikoto, who is one of the legendary heroes in Japanese myth. But current main buildings were built in the early 18th century and they are well preserved. Japanese people, as they do in other places, make a long line and wait in a long time in order to come to the front of the main building and pray for the gods.

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And in April the shrine has the biggest number of visitors who come to see the Azalea festival. In the shrine there are approximately  3,000 azalea with 100 different kinds in full bloom.

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For Japanese azalea blossom is one of the common flowers we can see everywhere. when we were children, in spring one the way to school we used to pick up azalea blossoms and suck sweet nectar from the flowers. But, even though azalea is so common for Japanese, we didn’t know azalea has so many different kinds.

We thought the color of azalea blossom is pink. However in the festival there are many other colors of azalea such as white, dark red, purple.

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We thought the flower which represents April in Japan should be cherry blossom, but after the festival we cannot ignore azalea blossom as another flower of April. Furthermore like cherry blossom azalea matches Japanese traditional buildings.

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Yokohama port, where old and new coexist

Yokohama port is one of the biggest ports in Japan for our current global trade as well as one of the old ports opened to the West by Japanese government in 1859 as an important event in the first stage of Japanese modern history. Due to these backgrounds both old and new things coexist in this area.

At the first glance you can see skyscrapers of the new urban area named “Minato Mirai 21, (Port of Future). The tall building in the left of the photo below is named “Yokohama Landmark Tower” build in 1993 and had been the highest building in Japan till 2012.

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You might feel that everything in the historical port has changed after recent redevelopment. However, when you see more closely you can find many historical buildings.

One good example is the building of Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History.

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You might think that you come to a historical district of a US major city. It’s not a strange feeling since this building is one of major architectural examples of the era when Japan was trying to accept Western culture so drastically in order to catch up to the West. The building was build in 1904 originally as the headquarter of Yokohama Specie Bank. The architecture, Yorinaka Tsumaki, designed it using Baroque Revival style, which was the latest style in the West at that time. In 1967 the building was reopened as Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History.

Another good example is “Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse”.

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Yorinaka Tsumaki, the architecture of the building of the bank mentioned above, also designed this building, as the modern bonded warehouse of Yokohama port, which was rapidly developing as a sea entrance of eastern Japan. They used the latest architectural technique at that time such as the first commercial elevator in Japan to build the warehouse. Thus it had been known as a good example of bonded warehouse architecture in a long time.

This building also has finished its original role as bonded warehouse. In 2002 it was reopened as a shopping area. And now it’s loved by local people and visitors as a symbol of Minato Mirai area.

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Unagi (eel) at Una-Tetsu in Nippori, Tokyo

It’s understandable that foreign people have some hesitation to eat eel due to its appearance. It might be similar to my situation that I had a little hesitation to eat craw fish when I came to the South of the US for the first time. But after 4 years in the South, craw fish is one of my favorite foods! So I want to promote eel (Unagi in Japanese) to my foreign friends.

In five minutes walk from our home there is a good Unagi restaurant whose name is Una-Tetsu.

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This is a small restaurant even without its website. Inside the restaurant there are only 3 table seats and a bar. And we can see very closely Unagi chef cooking Unagi food.

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In good Unagi restaurant Japanese enjoy Unagi food as a full course of Unagi.

As appetizer we ordered a selection of Unagi skewers.

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The chef cut Unagi into many parts (like American cut beef into many different parts) such as head of Unagi and back of Unagi. Then he stuck skewers into these parts of Unagi and then grill them slowly. The Unagi skewers tastes differently good and go very well with Sake. Also it’s impressive that the chef use all the parts of Unagi for some menu including the head of Unagi and doesn’t waste any.

Then we ordered Una-Zhu, grilled Unagi body with rice bowl, which is the most poplular Unagi dish in Japan.

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In this menu Unagi is grilled with sweet source in a long time and a recipe of the source is house special at each Unagi restaurant. Each Unagi chef shows his well-trained technique to control time and temperature of grill. Another remarkable thing about Una-Zyu is that each Unagi restaurant has several different prices for the same Una-Zyu depending on the quality of Unagi.

At Una-Tetsu they have 4 different prices for  Una-Zyu, quality of plum (Ume in Japanese), quality of bamboo (Take in Japanese), quality of pine (Matsu in Japanese) and the best quality. Meanwhile the way to show these quality is same in many Unagi and Sushi restaurants in Japan. All of these three (plum, bamboo and palm) have happy meanings in Japanese tradition.

We ordered Una-Zyu with plum quality, which was very tasty. And it gave us a big expectation for our next visit when we will order Una-Zyu with the best quality.

 

 

Packed train in rush hour

One of globally-famous but not comfortable things in Tokyo is packed trains in rush hour. When I lived in the US, I drove to the office every day. And before I moved to the US, I had lived in Tokyo but at the apartment very close to our office so I could walk to the office.

However finally we need to ride a train to go to the office every day now !

Below is a photo of Nippori station in rush hour in the morning but on the day with “relatively” less passengers. On the other days, there were much more passengers and I had no chance to take a photo.

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A good point of train network in Tokyo is that trains come to the station every a few minutes without delay. A bad point, especially in rush hour is that there is almost no room for us in any train.

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Japanese people are known to be kind and modest. However, when the train arrives at the station in rush hour, people behave as if there is no human right in this country. We need to push other people in the train to make some space and squeeze ourselves into the train. While we are in train, sometimes we still keep pushing each other and need to be silent like a statue.

And when the train arrives at the destination, people start walking to each office as if there were nothing special inside the train.

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Nevertheless, Japanese people like train. Nippori station is one of stations where many train lines including Japanese bullet train pass by one another.

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And there is a bridge next to the station where we can see each train comes into the station. On weekend many people including families with small kids spend a long time watching trains coming in and going out. I got surprised some (not single) kids memorized many names of trains, while I cannot even distinguish some train…

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Maybe it would be a good strategy to learn more about train in order to somehow enjoy the time in the train in rush hour.