Category Archives: Travel

All those places you should visit while you are in Japan.

Japan Paper Museum

The Japanese Paper Museum is located in a lovely park near Oji station. It traces the history of paper making from its origins to the present. Getting there was half the fun. I took a rail car, which is in walking distance from Minowa Station on the Hibiya line. The rail car (toden) lets you off at Oji station and from there it’s a 10 minute walk to the museum. It was standing room only on the tram as the limited seats are reserved for the elderly.

The museum is very new and it has a “je ne sais quoi” quality about it. And English speaking visitors are provided with English pamphlets, which allows one to take in and enjoy the exhibits. La piece de resistance as they say in French is having the opportunity to look at the world’s largest woodblock print.

Here’s the description:
The largest woodblock printing in the world
(An image of Kujyaku myoo-peacock, God of wisdom)

The Japanese woodblock printing technique of “ukiyoe” which was developed in the Edo period declined in the Meiji period but survived as an elaborate reproduction method of old prints. In order to introduce the high level of woodblock printing technique of Japan, Toshimo Mitsumura, founder of Mitsumura Printing Co, exhibited “An image of Kujyaku myoo” at the St. Louis International Exposition and was awarded an honorary gold cup. The woodblock printing displayed here was restored in 1990 after eight months work, using the original woodblocks. The original is a Buddhist print of the Sung dynasty (AD 960 – 1279) of China and is in the possession of the Ninna temple (Kyoto) and is designated a national treasure. Both sides of 22 pieces of woodblocks made from cherry wood were used and printed 1303 times. The process served to demonstrate the best use of washi. The Kozo paper was specially made by Iwano Paper Mill located in Imadetecho, Fukui prefecture. It was designed to endure prints more than a thousand times and for this, two sheets were molded together to create a thickness of 0.3 millimeters. One sheet is peeled off when prints are mounted. Also, it was dyed in old colors to bring out resemblance of the original print. Also dosa was brushed onto the paper to prevent expansion and contraction of the paper and blurring of the pigment.

The God of wisdom is seated on peacock, which has its elaborate feathers spread out. Two of the his six hands are held in gassho. He has 3 faces. It’s very beautiful and so unusual.

Another item that caught my eye was the
“Million Pagodas and Dharanis (Buddhist charms which are one of the world’s first printed papers)”

Here’s the description from the plaque:

In 764 AD after the rebellion of Fujiwara Nakamaro was suppressed, for the sake of the peace of the country, a million 3-storied miniature wooden pagodas were made by order of Empress Shoutoku. In 770, they were dedicated to ten major temples including Houryu and Kofuku temples. Dharanis (Buddhist charms) were placed inside the pagodas and are now regarded to be one of the oldest printed matter which the year of printing is bibliographically established. The paper used is made from hemp and Kozo material and regarding the method of printing, there are two shools, one asserting wood block and the other, copper plate. At present, a part of 1 million pagodas and dharanis remaining in Horyu Temple are designated national important cultural properties.

Papermaking got its start in Japan during the Nara period when the famous Prince Shotuku began promulgating the spread of Buddhism. As the copying of sutras became popular, the demand for paper increased. On exhibit are segments of sutras from different periods. They include:

Ancient Buddhist Scripture
(Nanbokucho period 1336 – 1392)

Ancient Buddhist Scripture
(Kamakura period, 1281)

Ancient Buddhist Scripture
(Early Heian period, 810 – 823)

Ancient Buddhist Scripture
(later Heian period, 1000 – 1191)

On display is a letter from the 8th Shogun Yoshimune (Edo period 1725 – 1745), chirimen paper for ornamenting the hair (age unknown), paper toys (“change a wig”, Edo period, 1861), and old story books (Edo period, 1850 and 1853). There are also many samples of paper, and many beautiful ukiyoe prints. Galleries 3 and 2 are devoted to the paper making process.

The museum has a gift shop selling Japanese paper, cards and many objects made from paper, which much to my surprise are reasonably priced. Also, the museum next door features a small cafe where one can grab a bite to eat.

If you have an interest in paper, do give it a visit. You won’t be disappointed!

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

Yokohama

Yokohama is an historic city, tied to Japan’s transformation from feudalism to modernity and embracing of Western ways. I spent a lovely day in Yokohama taking in several of its major attractions. They included a visit to its Chinatown, a stroll along its parks and boardwalks which hug the bay, and the Yokohama Museum of Art.

It was a balmy wintry day when I visited. The city has a beautiful skyline. It’s such a modern Western looking city that you wouldn’t think you were in Japan.

I loved visiting Yokohama’s Chinatown. It’s quite different from Toronto’s Chinatown. Ornate entrance gates and red lanterns hanging along telephone lines demarcate the area. It was bustling with tourists strolling about and hawkers selling giant size dumplings, and roasted chestnuts. The restaurants and shops were doing a brisk trade too. I visited one of the ornate temples, and was overwhelmed by its riot of colours. I stopped for lunch in one of the Japanicized Chinese-style restaurants. Although the food was Chinese, the service was impeccably Japanese. The main difference I noticed between Yokohama’s and Toronto’s Chinatowns is that Yokohama’s Chinatown caters mostly to tourists while Toronto’s Chinatown caters to the needs of local Chinese-Canadians.

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Deep Impact by skyseeker Taken at Yokohama Skywalk, Yokohama, Japan.

Yokohama’s skyline is breathtaking. The architecture reflects a mariner motif. Buildings resemble sails and cruise ships. And its a city sizzling with renewal, given the many construction sites I noticed doting the downtown core. There is also a splash of many historic buildings which have been beautifully restored. It’s so unlike other Japanese cities that I’ve visited. It has a “je ne sais quoi” quality to it, which surprised me.

Parks and boardwalks hug the bay. On permanent display in Yamashita park is the M.S. Hikawa Maru.

Here’s the description from the plaque which I copied.

Yokohama-Yamashita Park Gross Tonnage: 12,000 tons
Length Over All: 163 meters. Hikawa Maru was built as a passenger liner of the N.Y.K. Line (designated to the Yokohama/Seattle Service) at M.H.I Yokohama Dockyard in April, 1930. During World War II, she was engaged as a hospital ship, then served as a repatriation ship after the war. She could fortunately survive through the war,and she eventually resumed her original service between Yokohama and Seattle in July, 1953. She crossed the Pacific as many as 248 times during these pre/post war periods. In May, 1961, she was moored permanently here, of the Yamashita Park to commemorate the centenary of the port of Yokohama, since then, Hikawa Maru together with Marine Tower Standing near by the Park are regarded as the Symbols of Yokohama.

I strolled along the boardwalks stopping now and then to take in the skyline which I found quite appealing. There’s even a giant ferris in its midst, which gives the city an air of merriment.

I made my way on foot to the Yokohama Museum of Art. It’s a beautiful art deco style building. It’s courtyard is quite beautiful and the magnolia trees along the perimeterr were beginning to flower.

I took in the permanent collection. Once again, I was impressed by its permanent collection and the current shows running at the museum.

There was a photography show by the artist Yoneda Tomoko – A Decade After, referring to the decade after the Kobe Earthquake.

On view are a series of large format chromogenic prints.

Here’s the listing:

2005 Prints

River – view of earthquake regeneration housing project from a river flowing through a former location of evacuees’ temporary accommodation.

Vacant Space III – located in one of the most damaged areas and untouched since the earthquake.

Garden – overgrown and greatly reduced in size as a result of the earthquake and public land readjustment.

Vacant Space II – located in the most damaged area and untouched since the earthquake.

Classroom I – used as a temporary mortuary immediately after the earthquake.

Classroom II – used as a temporary mortuary immediately after the earthquake.

Vacant Space I – view of earthquake regeneration housing project from a former location of evacuees’ temporary accommodation.

Park – site of an evacuees’ shelter in one of the areas most badly damaged by the earthquake.

The chromogenic prints are juxtaposed with black and white photographs taken just after the earthquake. They were reprinted in 2005. They include:

Flowers dedicated to Victims, Nagata

Shoes from Shoe factory, Nagata

Drawers and Pills, Motomachi

Kobe City Hall, Sannomuja

Rubble, Suma

Photograph, Nada

Looking at the Epicentre, Awaji Island

There’s also an eleven minute DVD of Yoneda Tomoko on location hunting earthquake sites with the Volunteer Group ‘Tomato’.
2004 DVD 11 min.

The artwork in the permanent collection is quite impressive and features a mix of works by both Japanese and Western artists. On display were works by Western trained Japanese artist Hasegawa, Kiyoshi.

There a fascinating oil painting attributed to Peter Bernhard Wilhelm HEINE of the “Landing of Commodore Perry at Yokohama”. The artist captures the splendour of the military power of America. It shows a procession of America’s militia arriving on shore. The black ships, eight of them, are in the background. In the mid-ground, there are many row boats filled with American naval and military men waiting to land. In the foreground, there are rows of American military standing on guard forming an enclosed area protecting Commodore Perry. Behind Commodore Perry and his senior officers stands three black sailors. The Japanese delegates are surrounded on all sides by America’s military. There’s a shinto shrine on the left. Behind the lines on both sides of the American military are masses of Japanese people. They are lightly sketched. The Japanese delegation are wearing traditional ceremonial dress. The Japanese flag is very interesting. It predates the current flag, a red sun on a white background. This flag consists of three red diamond squared shapes stacked upon each other, resembling a three tiered pagoda. Within the enclosed area, there are two small dogs running amok. There’s a Japanese boy wearing ceremonial dress standing beside a Japanese male also dressed in ceremonial dress. Commodore Perry has taken off his hat. Gold epaulets adorn his uniform. He’s wearing gloves. He is clutching his sword.

On view are the works of the following artists:

A baby
Watanabe Yuko
1893

He’s a chubby little baby boy. He has a curious expression. With his right hand, he is gripping dirt. His left hand is placed in front of his chest. He is lying on his stomach. He is tied to a cement weight. In the foreground are some chips.

1877
Takahashi Yuichi
View from Atago ill towards the Sea of Shinagawa

1915
Kishida Ryusei
Portrait of Mr. Tsubaki

1921
Shimizu Toshi
Yokohama Night

1918
Kono Michisei
Self-portrait

1934
Noda Hideo
Two children

1937
Kitawaki Noboru
For the Sleepless Night (Study)

Work C – 89
1961
Yamada Masaaki

ca. 1890
Gustave Moreau
Goddes(s) on Rock

1888 Jean Paul Laurens
Le dernier trone Carolingien

Paul Cezanne 1839 – 1906
1892-95
La montagne Sainte-Victoire, vue de Gardanne

1882-1885
Paul Cezanne
Madame Cezanne en robe rayee

1938
Georges Braque 1882-1963
Le chevalet

1931
Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
Composition

1962
Graham Sutherland
Conglomerate

1953
Naum Gabo
Construction in Space (sculpture)

Jean Fautrier
1956
Sans Titre

1969 (1901-1985)
Jean Dubuffet
Figure de repere

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Seated Figure
1961

1952
Graham Sutherland (1903-1980)
Head II

Giorgio De Chirico (1888-1978)
(Workshop)
Trovatore

1926
Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Stilleben mit Kalbskopf

1915
Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953)
Corner Caunter-Relief

1927
Wassily (1866-1944)
Rot im Netz

One of the galleries featured an impressive sculptural installation by the Japanese artist Saito Yoshishige.

1981
Inside
Saito Yoshishige (1904-2001)

1973
Toro-wood (Original Work)
Saito Yoshishige

1960
Worky
Saito Yoshishige

One of the galleries featured a black and white photo exhibit of the photographer Suda Issei titled “My Tokyo”

Also, on permanent display were sculptures by Japanese and Western artists. They included:

Sculptures by Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi

Salvador Dali
The Woman with a Head of Roses
1981

Joan Miro (1893-1983)
1975
Tete de femme

1948
Ossip Zadkine
Orpheus

1987
Andre Masson
Monument dans un desert

I’m so glad that I had a chance to visit Yokohama. I was pleasantly surprised and look forward to another visit to this ultra-modern Japanese city.

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

Papabubble

Ok this place is just fun and for two reasons. The guys working there all look like they are out of the new Willy Wonka movie for one. The other reason its so much fun and reminds me even more of the Willy Wonka movie is that they make CANDY! And its so good! They are making it right there in the store so its gotta be fresh. And it is! The place smells amazing! It smelt like cotton candy pina coladas in there. These guys are real artists or caramel artesans as they claim. There were all sorts of things made out of candy in the store. It was all so cute. I didn’t think the toothbrush candies were that cute, but maybe it will get the kiddies to brush their teeth after eating a ton of this stuff. No message there, right? They make those old fashioned lollipops, the ones with that swirl around and around, too.

I’ve always been more of a hard candy girl myself, not to say I don’t indulge in chocolate, but I love biting down on hard candy. I can’t suck on anything for long. I like that crunch and the pop that it makes as I grind my teeth into it. It’s that simple. And when you have something as flavorful as papabubble pop in your mouth you’ll too understand.

Needless to say I didn’t leave the store empty handed. I got a lollipop and a mixed pack of bite-size hard candies. And I’m not sharing!

papabubble
Tel/Fax:03-5343-1286
Arai 1-15-13 Nakano, Tokyo
www.papabubble.com

Onsens in Tokyo

Looking for a place to relax? It’s not easy to slow down in a city as busy as Tokyo, but you would be surprised that you don’t have to go far to enjoy some hot and relaxing therapeutic water. The city offers its own geothermal concoctions of which you would expect only from a pricey resort further up in the mountains. Onsens in the city are nothing new, but there are a few newer places that are worth the visit and the experience. The list below is of some of the most relaxing soaking spots around the city.

Note: Tattoos are not popular in onsens as they are associated with criminal activity. So, if you have one, you may be asked to leave. Best to cover it up with a bandage or heat patch, if possible.

La Qua

1-1-1 Kasuga, Bunkyo-ku. Tel: 03-3817-4173

Open daily: 11am – 9pm

Nearest Station: Korakuen

Oedo Onsen Monogatari

2-57 Koto-ku. Tel: 03-5500-1126

Open daily: 11am – 9pm

Nearest Station: Telecom Center(Yurikamome Line) also free shuttle buses depart from Tokyo, Shinagawa, and Kinshicho Stations

Machida Roten Garden

358 Aihara-cho, Machida-shi. Tel: 042-774-2681

Open daily: 10am – midnight

Nearest Station: Hashimoto

Seta Onsen

4-15-30 Seta, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-3707-8228

Open daily: 10am – 11pm

Nearest Station: Futako-Tamagawa.

Niwa No Yu

3-25-1 Kouyama, Nerima-ku. Tel: 03-3990-4126

Open daily: 10am – 11pm

Nearest Station: Toshimaen

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a breath of fresh air and is a beautifully landscaped and maintained park. It has a long history that can be traced back to the beginning of the Edo period. The grounds were the first residence given to Kiyonari Naito, a hereditary vassal of the shogun, leyasu Tokugawa. It was in the Meiji period that the government established a Naito Shinjuku Experimental Station to promote modern agriculture on the land. The Station was used to study western methods of growing fruits and vegetables, silk raising, and stock farming.

The area, in 1906, became the Imperial Garden. In 1949, the garden was opened to the general public and named the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and is controlled by the Ministry of the Enviroment.
the park contains an English Landscape Garden, French Formal Garden, and a Japanese Traditional Garden. Besides gardens there are some interesting architectural finds and facilities as well.

The Kyu-Goro-Tei (Taiwan Pavilion) was built in 1928 to commerorate the wedding of the Showa Emperor(Emperor Hirohito). It’s an authentic example of Chinese Minnan style architecture and was named one of Tokyo;s Historical Buildings in 2004.

The Kyu-Gokyu-Sho was built as a rest house for the imperial family in 1896. It’s wooden design is based on American Stick Style architecture, popular during the late 19th century. In 2001 it was designated an Important Cultural Property.

The Rakuu-tei is a tea house located in the Japanese Traditional Garden and you can enjoy a cup of tea while taking in the beauty of any season.

Of note is the Shinjuku Gyoen Eco-House. The design of this facility is environmentally-friendly and has its own solar panels to generate electricity. The halls of the Eco-House include exhibits that aim to promote environmental awareness.

There is also a spacious restaurant located within the Shinjuku Gyoen Eco-House facility.

The Greenhouse is currently under reconstruction.

The park is open during all seasons and something to offer in each. In Spring, there are 75 different varieties of cherry blossom and a giant yulan magnolia tree said to date from the Edo period worth seeing. In Summer, the French Fomal Garden and water lilies bloom among the songs of cicadas. Autumn brings a change in color of all the tress and an annual Chrysanthemum Exhibition. Winter offers bird watching and the sweet smells of narcissus flowers.

Hours
Hours 9am – 4:30pm
Closed: Mondays(Tuesdays when Monday is a national holiday)
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is closed for New Year from December 29 to January 3.
Open continuously including Mondays during:
-March 25 thru April 24 for cherry blossom viewing.
-November 1 – 15 for its crysanthemum exhibition.

Admission:
200 yen if over 15 years old
50 yen for 6-14 year olds
Free for under 5 year olds
Group discounts start at 30 persons

Access:

Parking is available from 8am-8pm

-to the park’s Shinjuku Gate from JR Shinjuku Station (south exit), about 10 minutes walk; Shinjuku Gyoen Mae Station, exit 1, on the Marunouchi subway line, about 3 minutes walk; Shinjuku San-Chome Station, exit C5, on the Shinjuku subway line, about 5 minutes walk.

-to the park’s Okido Gate from Shinjuku Gyoen Mae Station, exit 2, on the Marunouchi subway line, about 3 minutes walk.

-to the park’s Sendagaya Gate from Sendagaya Station on the JR Sobu line; Kokuritsu Kyogijo Station on the Oedo subway line, about 5 minutes walk.

More info can be found here:
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – English site

Toy Kitchen

Toy Kitchen is a great local bar(izakaya) with a great crowd of regulars. Mostly a younger crowd with a few older, wiser, and maybe hipper neighbor characters thrown into the mix. It’s a tiny bar, but has a way of accommodating more in its jovial space. The owner and master of Toy Kitchen is Shingo-san. He’s laid back and cooks some mean eats. The bar is open when he’s not playing with his band. Usually opening around 6 or 8pm and closing whenever. The place is hard to miss. There’s a large glowing lamp, which the owner puts in the middle of the street, when open for business. It could blind a bat, so run into the bar as fast as you can before you actually do go blind. Once inside you will begin to feel much better.

Shingo-san keeps his bar full and plays a mostly rock soundtrack from his speaker enabled walkman, which he tediously DJ’s from his massive selection of CD’s spanning the length of the bar three shelves thick behind him. He’s apt to play a request and even up to hearing something new, if you bring it in with you. The bar is full of friendly people. But knowing a little Japanese helps. It’s easy to find someone to talk to and most of the folks there are regulars. Go and don’t forget to ask what’s on the menu.

4-13-7-101
Nagasaki, Toshima-ku
Tokyo 171-0051

More info can be found in the map below. Click on the martini glass.

Cafés in Tokyo

A few decades ago, the café was just a place for having coffee, talking, smoking cigarettes, and so. Cafes in Japan have changed into a variety of styles lately.

Internet and Manga cafés are very useful places. They normally charge you per hour, and once you sit down on a nice sofa, you can do anything like having free drinks, reading comic books and magazines, using the Internet, watching DVDs and playing video games. You can also order food and take a nap. If you miss the last train after drinking too much, you can even go there and spend the night.

Maid cafés have made a big success in Akihabara in Tokyo, too. The girls with maid costumes serve you nicely. They are different from hostesses and the price is about the same as normal cafes, so you can have a good time without worrying about the bill. Some places serve liquor at counter tables. And if you are a girl, you might like Shitsuji(butler) Café. It is the opposite of a maid café with the men acting as butlers.

Cat cafés are getting popular among animal lovers. They are the perfect place for people who can’t have pets in their small Tokyo apartments. When you want to play with them, you can just go to the café and meet a variety of cats.

There are more varieties of cafes in Tokyo. If you are tired of going to StarBucks Coffee or Excelsior Caffé, why don’t you look for your favorite café in Tokyo?

Ramen Jiro

Ikebukuro – ignored, ashamed, malcontent. On most tourists’ to-do list, Ikebukuro ranks next to last (the lowest one being the unlimited number of McDonald’s so-called restaurants) and has little to offer to your average visitor. There are nothing but chain stores, more stores, your arcades and camera shops, suit companies and sub-par pizza shops. The supposed jewel of Ikebukuro, Sunshine City, collects a large number of foreign brand name stores that will do little to excite even the most consumer-hungry westerner. When a shopping district’s biggest attraction is its Burger King, you know that your time may well be better spent elsewhere.

This isn’t to say that Ikebukuro has nothing to offer – darker elements will find plenty of their special brand of enjoyment here. Once a former hub of Yakuza activity, Ikebukuro features a thriving sex market,  gaggles of pachinko parlors, and a sense of despair that can only be created by the number of homeless wandering between the metal clanks and cherub-skinned hostesses.  It is a ironic situation for these forlorn souls – living by the very institutions that had filled their greatest fantasies but took everything they had away from them. However, these ominous individuals do not scare away the crowds and long lines waiting patiently every morning for the pachinko stores to open, many of them young and clearly still in school. Gambling in Japan is a fruitless enterprise – the odds are worse than Vegas and the costs substantially higher. There’s not even a roller coaster around to fill the void of dumping hours of wages into a hyperactive neon version of plinko. And yet, with so many reasons to avoid places like this, it is as if the mere brainless activity of throwing balls offers some sense of security, a place of comfort, away from the hum and drum of daily life, adding brightness and colors to an otherwise black-and-white suit, concrete city. And despite all this, tucked away in seemingly random buildings next to unrelated stores and dodgy characters, lies some of the finest ramen shops in Tokyo.

A group of individuals as hungry for ear-crushing cacophony and cigarettes will no doubt require and equally suitable meal to go along side their downward destruction. What this entails are late night eateries that feature the fattiest and the juiciest, the savory and the salty, and above all, the cheapest eats. These restaurants have little to do with community – their aim is to satisfy in ten minutes or less. Besides, one can only spend but so many hours of the day to gamble or cozy up with a wage girl. To that effect these tiny establishments challenge conventional wisdom and rotate customers like an assembly line – buy your ticket, sit down, eat, and go. Anymore than that and you risk ruining the entire operation. Talking is kept to a minimum, and the joy of the food to come kept in confined ecstasy. Nothing exemplifies this more than a certain ramen shop that holds a cult-like status with its regulars. Ramen Jiro not only caters to this aesthetic, but embodies it in whole, enough to drive people from all walks to take the Jiro challenge.

As I walk down the street where Ramen Jiro is located, I take a moment to reflect on my surroundings and what I had just encountered. I had walked by occupied cardboard coffins and a man who had all but removed his pants entirely scratching his belly incessantly. In a town as strict on image as it is on discipline, a grown man with no regard to standing butt naked on the sidewalk is a resounding bitch slap across Japan’s infamous modesty. The street was littered with ramen shops, some with fanciful signs and traditionally designed interiors, offering all variety of ramen and desires before you even step within their door. The only marker that would indicate the presence of Ramen Jiro, besides the 20-person, male-dominated line waiting outside, is a dimly lit yellow sign with “Ramen Jiro” written across it in Japanese. The interior leaves little to be desired, only an assortment of former patrons leaving their business cards tacked along the walls. Patiently I wait in line for almost 20 minutes before arriving at the familiar ticket vending machine, but presented with only a few real options – little ramen, big ramen, with pork, without pork, 700¥ or 900¥. I continue to wait and warily look upon the ramen that I expect to receive – a large bowl, with a mountainous pile of vegetables inversely reflecting the depth of the bowl. Things began to heat up inside, with so little wiggle room and no A/C. I already began sweating, and I began to worry about eating such a hot meal on such a hot night. Most people seem to be able to finish their bowls, but several unfortunate people leave half of what they received, feverishly wiping their foreheads with tissue. Before I can decide if that is in good or bad form, I finally get a chance to sit down and eagerly give my ticket to the server.

What is set before me is a familiar site – a scene of Mt. Fuji, as envisioned using the medium of bean sprouts, lettuce, crushed garlic, and broth. All around this massive pile of stuff is a moat of light brown soup, with white globs floating on top. I had seen someone order extra fat in their bowl; I wasn’t interested nor had the constitution to order extra fat just yet. I puzzle it out in my mind how to approach this dish, and begin to pick at the vegetables until I could make a suitable pool to begin dunking the vegetables and even beginning to try some of the ramen noodles deep within. I swirl the large pile of garlic into the pool, grab some noodles, and swallow. The taste is immediate – salty, savory, brothy. This soup has been sitting in a deep vat of pork meat for quite some time makes no illusions about it. The noodles slip about uncontrollably, as they are thick and resemble something closer to udon than the stereotypical spring-coiled thin yellow noodles of Cup Noodle infamy. There’s only a slight hint of ginger underneath it all. I wonder where it comes from? Out of the corner of my eye, I see in the lone fridge bottles of ginger ale but no one drinking it. Is this perhaps a secret ingredient? Steam begins to fume out of the bowl and covers my face as I continue to dig and chew my way through the mountain. This is ramen, good ramen, but undeniably a depraved ramen. My coronaries were tightening ever so slightly with each greedy gulp of noodle and soup. Eventually I came upon a cheap cut of stew pork, carefully held together by a thick white sheet of fat. Eating around it, the brown meat fell apart like silk strings. And in this order, I stuck with this method as I carried out my attempts to finish the ramen.

I had finally reached half way through the bowl. My head was throbbing and I was sweating uncontrollably at this point. The combination of close-quarters eating, an unending steam bath for my face, and the disastrously hot soup coursing through my body, it had my glands pleading for a cold breeze of any sort. The un-iced water they provided was of little relief to me. And I was beginning to feel full. What was the appeal of this? Why were people willing to wait more than a half-hour for a torturous battle with a bowl that could one day end up on the “told-you-so” side of a heart attack? And why would you even dare smoke a cigarette after doing this kind of damage to your body? What were people getting out of this? I didn’t know, but I didn’t care. It was the taste, the decadence of the pork fat greedily sticking to each noodle, the almost absurd amount of garbage packed into a single dish. But it wasn’t an offensive bowl of ramen – they stayed within the bounds of traditional ramen and kept it simple and hearty. I don’t think I felt any sort of nostalgia or sense of home while eating, but maybe in its excess and savory flavor comes a deeper feeling of safety and satisfaction that something of this magnitude can provide. We gouge into the bowl, knowing full well on the other end we come out alive and free, safe from the frigid outside world, sharing a silent appreciation with those sitting around us, and most importantly, enjoying a well made dish. You test your own gastronomic limits, and your body happily accepts what could be a monumental mistake, but it doesn’t matter, because your vixen of a tongue is lasciviously engrossed in being covered in fatty brown stew. Fettered to her every will, that next bite is only in anticipation of the tastes to come.

And then I was staring at an empty bowl, with only a tiny pool of brown soup sitting at the bottom. I got up and grabbed a yogurt milk from the convenience store, went to a bar, and proceeded to drink the night away.

Ramen Jiro, 2-27-17 South Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku

Ramen Jiro
Ramen Jiro

Tokyo Bay – Vingt et un – Restaurant Ship Cruise

The Vingt et un restaurant cruise in Tokyo Bay was a great bit of fun for this posters birthday.  I won’t tell you which one it was though.  But I will tell you about the cruise and food.  The best time I think to go is in July or August during the Hanabi Season in Japan.  Almost every Saturday there are firework festivals throughout parts of Tokyo which you should be able to spot from the ship.  We were lucky enough to see one that seemed like it was in Odaiba, but even if you can’t see a fireworks show the skyline of Tokyo is fun and filled with such attractions as Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, and a giant multi-colored ferris wheel.

The Vingt et un Cruise lives up to it’s name. “Vignt et un” means twenty-one in French, like the game of Black Jack. But I think its more like 21st Century as the entrance to the ship made me feel like I was walking into a scene from Star Wars.

There are two cruises available one is 120min the other 140min.  The 120min cruise was just time to eat, so if you want to get up and look around go ahead and do so.  

The food was great and came in courses. There was a Hawaiian theme to the music complete with Hula dancer, which made the night a little more interesting. I got a few giggles out the dancer and ukulele player/singer, I will admit. Wine is extra but not so much as its under $10 a glass. And since it was my birthday, I did get a great tasting cake with my name on it followed by even more dessert.

For more information you can visit their site or call 03-3436-2121. www.vantean.co.jp. Sorry I think it’s only in Japanese.