Sado, golden island in Japan

Long long time ago, Japan was known by the West as a legendary golden island. And many sailors who looked for gold such as Christopher Columbus headed to Asia. But it was true that Japan was a golden island in the sense that Japan produced a relatively big amount of gold at that time and Sado, an island northwest of Niigata city, had one of the biggest gold mountains in Japan.

We can go to Sado island only by ship. If we use a car ferry on which we can bring our own cars, it takes 2.5 hours from Niigata port to Ryotu port, main port in Sado island. But if we use a smaller jetfoil ferry, it takes only 1 hour.

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Sado Kisen (Ferry Service to Sado Island)

Apart from Japanese main 4 islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu), Sado is the 2nd biggest island in Japan next to Okinawa’s main island. And it has approx. 56,000 population. The people in the island are proud of the beauty of its sea and its peaceful atmosphere. The sea is so clean that we can get a lot of abalones in the shallow sea.

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However, in the 17th century, when Sado golden mountain produced its biggest amount of gold and there was a “Gold Rush” in the island, there were more population and Sado was one of the most active cities in Japan at that time.

Sado golden mountain is located in the western part of the island. In the 17th century at first they used a method of open pit mining to find gold. And finally the top of the mountain had been cracked as a “V” shape.

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Then they drove a lot of tunnels throughout the mountain. Soon the tunnel reached under the sea level so they needed to drain water in order to continue digging. Now in the old tunnel there are a lot of dolls which shows us how to dig gold at that time. IMG_0559

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Sado golden mountain had been producing gold almost 400 years and had been an important fiscal source for Tokugawa shogunate. Now the people in the island try to register it on World Heritage of UNESCO and maintain old tunnels and equipment as a museum.

When you visit the mountain, you might be interested to get some gold with you. But are you afraid of expensive prices of golden jewelry? Don’t worry ! Here you can eat a lot of food with gold dust such as gold ramen noodle and gold ice cream.

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Please visit Sado, golden island in Japan and clarify with your own eyes if the legend of golden island was true.

Sado Kinzan (Sado golden mountain)

Tagitsu-ya, teppan-yaki in Nippori Japan

The word “Teppan-yaki” is becoming common worldwide. That’s the style of Japanese cuisine to use an iron griddle to cook food. But in Japan the food cooked in the griddle is not only meat but also Japanese savory pancake such as Okonomi-yaki. And Tagitsu-ya is a popular restaurant of teppan-yaki in Nippori Japan.

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Okonomi-yaki, Japanese savory pancake includes the word “Okonomi” which means as you like in Japanese so you can add a variety of ingredients as you like. For example, the Okonomi-yaki below is the most poplular menu “Buta-tama” which includes pork, egg and cabbage.

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In the eastern area of Japan it’s normal that customers cook Okonomi-yaki on their griddle by themselves while in the western area of Japan chefs normally cook and serve to customer’s tables. But rarely in Tokyo at this restaurant the chefs cook Okonomi-yaki for us, because they want the customers to enjoy the best of their menu.

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Also they have Negi-yaki, another type of savory pancake. While Okonomi-yaki includes cabbage, Negi-yaki includes a lot of green onion. That’s why it looks more green than Okonomi-yaki. The Negi-yaki below includes beef sinew on the top.

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In Japan Okonomi-yaki is a cheap food for ordinary people. Thus in each area of Japan they developed different styles of Okonomi-yaki. And the other types of Teppan-yaki have a variety as well.

When you visit Japan, please enjoy several Teppan-yaki restaurants to check the difference of each type of Teppan-yaki.

Halal food in Nippori and Halal Navi

Nippori is an area more diversified than other areas in Tokyo. And there is a certain amount of Muslim population.  For Muslim it’s very important to know if a restaurant or a shop serves halal food or not. Halal means that the food is allowed to eat in accordance with the Islamic law.

There are several restaurants to serve halal food. For example Cous Cous is a Tunisian restaurant which serves halal food. A photo below is cous cous in Tunisian style, which is one of  popular menus.

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Among south Mediterranean cuisines there is much diversity. In Tunisia it’s allowed to drink alcoholic beverage. For example this is Cedratine, sweet and strong distilled beverage made from citrus fruits and produced in Tunisia.

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Halal food is served not only in restaurants but also in shops. Around Nippori station there are many shops to sell halal food. For example, the shop owned by Nepali sells Asian halal food.

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In accordance with such an increasing potential demand of halal food, ROI, a startup in Japan started an smartphone application called Halal Navi to search halal restaurants in Japan.

Halal Navi

On the other hand it’s true that Islamic culture is not understood well in Japan and some Muslim people feel difficulty to live in Japan. I hope the service such as Halal Navi will help them to get accustomed to the life in Japan.

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How Pokemon Go works in Nippori Japan

Finally in Japan, where Pokemon was originally developed, Pokemon Go has been released on past Friday, July 22nd. And of course I have already installed it.

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Our home area, Nippori Tokyo is located relatively in suburb of Tokyo. Nevertheless, I can find a lot of Poke Stops around my home. Compared to my birthplace Shizuoka, the density of Poke Stops in Nippori, where we can get items to proceed Pokemon Go, is much better.

I understand that in the world of Pokemon Go the places for Poke Stops are randomly selected. And in Nippori, typical popular shops in Yanaka Ginza street, which is a main sightseeing spot here, are selected for Poke stops. For example, this tempura shop with a cat on the roof is selected as a Poke Stop. The cat is a symbol of Yanaka Ginza street.

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I think it’s useful to attract more attention from visitors on Nippori as long as such a funny place is selected as Poke Stop. However, I have a little concern on another kind of Poke Stop.

Now this is also a Poke Stop.

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This is Hongyou-ji temple near our home. In Nippori there are a lot of temples and shrines. And not only temples but also sometimes specific statues of Buddha are selected as Poke Stops.

I’m not so religious, but even for me as a Japanese I have a complicated feeling when I find a Pokemon inside the temple and get monster balls from the Buddha statue. And I’m wondering how such religious places are selected as Poke Stops in the US.

Anyway Pokemon Go has just started in Japan. And I’m still motivated enough to try to find another Pokemon in the town!

Machu Pichu in Peru, Nachu Pichu in Nasu Japan

Machu Pichu is a famous historical site of Inca empire in Peru, where a lot of tourists come from all over the world. However, in Nasu Japan, in Tochigi prefecture approx 150km north of Tokyo, there is a place called “Nachu Pichu”.

Nasu itself is a popular sightseeing place in Tochigi prefecture which is famous for cool highland climate and Nasu mountains. And Nachu Pichu is located inside Nasu Alpaca farm.

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As you may know, Alpaca is an animal domesticated mainly in South America including Peru. Alpaca was not well known among Japanese until recently. But Nasu Alpaca farm started breeding alpacas in 1999 for the first time in Japan.

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According to their website, they imported 200 alpacas from Peru in 1999. At first due to change of environment and lack of knowledge about diseases of alpacas, many alpacas died. However, they made continuous effort to cure their diseases and finally they successfully increased alpacas up to about 400.

In this season we can see alpacas sheared. Every year this farm invites professionals to shear alpacas from Peru. And when they shear them, they create a kind of art on body of alpaca called “Art Paca”. For example an alpaca in the center of a photo below has a moon on his body.

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And now everyone, this is Nachu Pichu.

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At a first glance, it looks nothing but a pile of stones. And obviously alpacas in front of Nachu Pichu don’t care it neither. However, this is not just a humor of the employees of the firm. According to the sign next to the mountain, a diplomat from Peruvian embassy in Japan who visited the firm named it Nachu Pichu (Pichu means mountain in quechua, official language in Inca empire.) In order to connect it to Inca as much as possible, they play melancholic Andean music around it as well.

In spite of bold naming it seems Peruvian people loves this firm in Japan. SPAR, Peru Alpaca Breeding Association, certified it as the firm which breeds the most friendly alpacas in the world.

In fact the alpacas there are so friendly that we can touch and feed them.

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When you visit Nasu, please visit the firm and check how Japanese learnt the way to breed alpacas from Peru.

Below is the website of Nasu Alpaca Farm (sorry only in Japanese).

http://www.nasubigfarm.com/index.shtml

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.