Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Last Days in Tokyo

Last full day in Japan.  Leaving tomorrow afternoon.  :(

Needed breakfast.  Most of us were ok until later...  Connie wasn't.  Went to Tokyo Station, and she wanted a Valrhona chocolate donut from Dean and Deluca. I didn't have a bite of it, but she said it wasn't good.  Why am I even writing this? Well, I had to fill in some stuff about breakfast.

Here they are, eating on the run in Tokyo Station, a no-no.

Actually, I was holding back on breakfast.  Just had my UCC coffee over ice at 3 AM.

Why was I holding back?  The one place I really wanted to go to this trip was Narikura.

I read a bunch of stuff about Butagumi and Tonki.  And this place called Maisen too.  All wannabes.  Even Katsukura is, though it doesn't try to be the mecca.

Anyway, Narikura is said to be a great, under the radar, Tonkatsu place in Takadanobaba, an area of Tokyo.  

Here we are, walking past Big Box in Takadanobaba. Eagle eyed viewers will notice that Em is right below the Emio sign.

So, under the radar means that the line isn't more than a block long, a half hour before opening.  We'd have been higher up in the queue, except for a Gaijin, seen here at the end of the line, who still doesn't grasp queue etiquette in Japan.  I was mid-line, but the efficient staff came out to distribute menus and take orders.  I did NOT want a repeat of my experience at Rokurinsha a few years prior.  Please note.  In Japan, if you're in line for food, ALL eaters must be in line. So, to be polite, I relinquished my spot in line, and several folks took their place.  I was steamed.

There was a sign right in front of the black sweatshirted guy that said to NOT block the entrance to that other business. I guess the line is omnipresent.

So, we miss the first sitting!  Argh.  The place seats 18.  Six at a counter and 12 in tables.  They got 17 patrons in just before us, and the guy then asked us if we wanted to split up or let the next person in line who was a singleton.  I felt tempted to say I was a singleton at that point.  But common sense took hold.  The next lady got the last counter seat.  We stood in a hot stairway (even though it was only 11 AM) for what seemed an eternity. Then our day came, just like the Ruby/Romantics song! We're in.  Got the corner table. I felt uncomfortable snapping a pic, so the above photo will have to do.  You can google Narikura and find numerous pictures of the place.  The head chef / owner was right behind us.  It really was efficient.  We ordered well before we even reached our place in the stairway, so the food came soon after being seated.  This place does their pork slow and low, with a relatively low temp hot oil.  Hence, the slowness of the service.  Everything is cooked to order.

Above, find my Kirifugi-Kogen Nagano-raised Rosu. 

Above find Connie's Aguu Okinawan Rosu.

Above, find my empty plate.

I got a bigger portion than Connie.  And mine came with a few more sides.  I learned that Connie really likes the fatty stuff!  She preferred mine.  She also likes Rosu (loin) more than Hire (or fillet), which I realized, finally, at Katsukura a few nights before, in Kyoto).  She wants the real stuff.  There is hope for her yet!  The flavor of the pork was really great! It was just a tiny bit pink, and so moist.  I would definitely come here again, and I would call this better than any other Tonkatsu I've ever had.  The crust wasn't really the best though.  It wasn't as crispy as the crust at Katsukura, and it fell off the pork really easily.  But the pork was really moist and flavourful. Sweet and salty.  I didn't use too much of the sauce.  Wasn't really cheap, either, about ¥4000 for the two of us.  No drinks, just water. But I'd clearly come back.  If I was taking guests, I would go to Katsukura.  Not as much of a production to get the food, and it ain't bad at all (way better than anything stateside). I shouldn't say that; Katsukura is really good.  But for the best pork, come here.

Emily needed to get a bunch of binders, binder paper, a printer, printer paper, pens, and pencils, so we hired a wheelbarrow to go to Loft in Shibuya.  Actually, she didn't need all that stuff, even though she was going off to college in less than a week. But she was insistent to go to Loft, and it was convenient to go to the big store in Shibuya.  But first, the obligatory picture with Hachiko.

The B1F entrance to Loft.  We spent a LONG time there.  Loft has everything, and the other three wanted to see EVERYTHING.

Then, I wanted to go to Shimokitazawa.  A neat neighborhood that I had never been to.  Lots of young kids and young adults live there, and it is a "happening" place. We saw a bunch of vintage clothing stores, and interesting street food vendors.  We also saw a queue for "Pancake Pie." 

If we had time, I would have gotten one.

Our last night, we went to an upscale Izakaya in Brick Square, in Marunouchi. Called Robatayaki Isogai, I chose it because it was relatively foreigner friendly.  One of the cooks behind the counter called out, "Ni Hao Ma," when I blurted out that my Japanese wasn't good.  I immediately said Eigo!

Our meal started with Tsubu, a sea snail, boiled in dashi. I didn't order this; this was an obligatory order for sitting in an Izakaya, just like the obligatory drink.

I still remember, in Salinas, in our large backyard, the numerous Tsubu shells scattered all over.  Remnants of meals from the past, they had a purple hue and were smaller than these.  I know my Ojichan and Obachan ate them a lot before I was born, and instead of ending up in the garbage, the shells were strewn about our backyard, waiting for some Anthropologist, millions of years from now, to dig around and find them along with other evidence of my past presence.

These tsubu were chewy and flavourful.  Kind of smoky, and they were easy to remove from the shells. The very outside was a shell-like cover which was not edible.  Two for ¥300. I ate 7.  Connie ate 1.

Sashimi plate.  I ate about 90 percent of this.  Connie didn't like the huge chunks of fish.  The fish was fresh, and tasted delicious, but I'm more used to eating sashimi with hot rice (or as thin slices on shari at Iwa).

At an Izakaya or Robatayaki, it is a must to order a drink.  Here, the kids are drinking their first beers.

Edamame with stems.

Clams boiled with Sake.  Really nice.  I ate the whole thing!!  The broth was really nice, and there was not a single grain of sand. Just one unopened clam.

Yaki-onigiri.  I didn't eat any of this.

Nasu, with the Katsuobushi brushed off. Called Nasu nashi miso.

Nasu with miso.

Yakitori.  Really hot.

Ate it all.  Actually, I ate it all.  The others were not as happy with this choice of place.  Sorry.  At least we got out before it got too smoky.

Next door was a gyutan joint.  I guess they get Gaijin there; this sign explains this place, just in case someone goes there expecting to get vegan food.

The view from Marunouchi, street level; here is the re-done Tokyo Station.

View of Tokyo Station from the seventh floor terrace of the Shin Maru Biru. They're building a multilevel parking structure under all that stuff there.  Will have lawn and walkways on the ground level.

A restaurant on 7F of the Shin Maru Biru.  We are that.

We opt to forego dessert and have dessert in our room.  This was purchased at Lawson just downstairs.  Macha cream roll and Yebisu.

In our mini bar, we have a couple of scotches.  Yamazaki 12, but only a tiny bottle for ¥2000!

The next AM, the kids went back to T's Tantan for breakfast.  Connie and I roam about wondering where to eat.  We end up at Rokurinsha.  Amazing that just a few years before, there would be a huge line.

Practically no line.  Just a couple of folks in front of us.

Anticipation of our meal.  Our two tickets; my deluxe and Connie's basic.

Basic tsukemen with a piece of Chashu buried in the thick broth.

My "deluxe" tsukemen with extra chashu and an egg.

One last spiral noodle.

All gone.

Later that day, after shopping at Tokyu Hands at Daimaru at Tokyo Station, we ride the Narita Express to Narita. 

So long to Tokyo and Japan, for this year!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Kyoto and then to Okuhida and back to Tokyo

The view of the Eastern Hills from our hotel room in Kyoto at sunrise.

Here you can see Kiyomizu-dera, if you squint.  Actually, if you were there in the hotel, it's easy to see.

I saw this in the Japan Times a couple of days before.  I thought I should get one.  It was really good!  Let alone that it was purchased in a combini.

So, this was nine eleven, Em's birthday, and she really wanted to go to Monkey Park again.  Connie really didn't want to go, since we had just been there a couple of years before.

But Em really wanted to go, and it was her party.

Above, we are at the Arashiyama station (Randen line), where they have a Kimono Forest

Below, the Togetsukyo Bridge, over the Hozu River.

The walk up the hill to the monkeys.  Here we see the first monkey.

I was going to see the view of Kyoto, but this guy was going to charge me in addition to the ¥100 coin that this scope was charging.  I told him, no.

This man is feeding the monkeys.

This little guy is posing for pics.

Here is some joker mimicking a monkey.

Em is watching this guy feed the monkey.

But this guy made the monkeys mimick his facial expressions.

We spied this vegan place on the walk from Saga-Arashiyama station to the Monkey park.  On the walk back, we decided to eat there.  Totally vegan.  Here is Em's gyoza.

Sam's set.

My Kare rice.

Here is Sannen-zaka near Kiyomizu-dera, for some shopping.


We could see a large buddha from our hotel room.  Ryozen Kannon.  Here it is closer.

For dinner, I thought we'd try Choice Cafe, for the kids, since it was totally vegan, while Connie and I would eat at Shinodaya, just a few doors down.

Unfortunately, Shinodaya was closed.  It had great Tabelog ratings, too.  I was going to have the Saramori. Oh, well.  Guess we could all eat at Choice and give up some meat.

Organic vegan biru.

Sammie said this was one of her favorite dishes of the whole trip.  Vegan burger.

Connie got the vegan pizza.

Em got the Kare Rice.

And I got the salad, which was actually really good!  The pieces of cheese were really good!  I was really surprised! The Kabocha pieces were tasty.

We even got their cheesecake and chocolate cake.  Tasty!

The next morning was our trip to Okuhida, the Japan Alps.  Two years ago, we were headed to a different area of the Alps, which was wiped out by a torrential storm. We changed our plans then.  There was a substantial storm this year, too.  I had planned to go to the Shin-Hotaka ropeway this year. But the weather was stormy and there would be zero view, so we decided to go to our onsen ryokan, in Karukaya in Okuhida.  We stayed at the Sumeikan Karukaya, a really nice riverside onsen with outdoor baths.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Above, we are on the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Nagoya.  We purchased these macha mochi's at Kyoto Station.  At Nagoya, we changed trains to the Wide View Hida to Takayama.  Since we wouldn't be going to the ropeway before the onsen, we had a few hours to spend in Takayama!  We went to the morning market (Takayama Asaichi), and looked for the burned wooden phone charms that we bought in 2011.  Didn't find them...  But we found some Hida beef for me!

This is Wagyu beef, nearly as good as Satou, but only ¥500 for the skewer, plus a couple of hundred yen for the Coke. Need to cut down on calories, you know!  Wink wink.

Yamashita store.

This person wouldn't make eye contact.

This person was more personable!

Found the burned phone charm place, but the guy was off.  Couldn't get custom charms like we got in 2011. :(

Hida Beef bun, only good, not great.

Connie and I had ramen from a randomly selected store. It was good (Connie really liked it, but the portion was small -- for ¥650)

We saw this Ramen-ya, with a line.  I bet it would have been better!  But we were time limited, since we had a bus to catch.  There was some Gaijin joker watching me taking a picture, so he did the peace sign.

A streetside shrine.

After arriving at our ryokan, I immediately beelined to the riverside onsen.  Convinced Connie to come with me, and we went in to the private bath, and then to the public mixed gender bath.  Men had to wear this waist smock, and women had to wear a "dress."  But the onsen was really nice.  After a brief time, we went indoors for dinner.  A great "kaiseki" dinner, one of the best meals we had this trip.  The kids had vegan meals (as I had requested at reservation time).

Connie eating an Ayu, grilled.  She had most of mine.

Hida beef on a Hoba leaf.

Sashimi. Tai and Squid.

Seaweed and Tsukemono.

Vegan tofu cooked on Hoba leaf.


Vegan tempura.

Matsutake rice cooked at our table.  I thought it was better than at Tagetsu.

Dessert. Like daikon, but sweet.

Our room.

Breakfast at the same table.

We took a bus to Hirayu onsen.  We would have gone to Kamikochi, but it was storming, so we opted to grab a quicker bus to Matsumoto, then to Nagano, then to Tokyo.  We had a 1.5 hour layover in Hirayu onsen, so we walked about the town.  Here was a streetside hot spring which this store used to cook eggs, and heat hot sake for sale.

So, we arrived at Tokyo, the Four Seasons, a few hours early, since we didn't stop at Kamikochi.  Got our usual greeting, but then the doorbell rang, with "room service." I thought that this must be some mistake, but they arrived with a fruit tart for Em, for her birthday!

They had several greetings for us.

Greetings from their staff. You wouldn't get this at a big hotel, even a six star hotel.  This is why we won't stay elsewhere in Tokyo now.

The kids went to T's Tantan again for dinner.  Connie and I went to have Ramen.  I scoped out Oreshiki Jun in Tokyo Ramen Street.  Tonkotsu Ramen.  They also serve Tsukemen.


Very good tonkotsu ramen. Firm, very thin noodles (as Hakata noodles should be).  At the end of the bowl, they were a bit too limp, but that is normal.

Very good tsukemen.

The Kakigori at the place on B1F in the Shin Maru Biru!  Sorry, don't know the name!  But I can tell you exactly how to get there!  Which is way more important in Japan!

I had scoped out getting a haircut in Japan too.  Found out about QB.  This is a chain in Japan, with haircuts for ¥1000.  A bargain!  So, I enter, and Connie wants to go, to see what happens!  I couldn't take pictures of myself, unfortunately, even though I tried.  The barber got mad at me, when I kept interrupting his work, so Connie had to take iPhone pics, like below.

Anyway, they had a branch in Tokyo Station!  You enter, and purchase a ticket at a vending machine.  They had a ¥1000 version and a ¥1080 version.  Usually, the vending machines at Ramen-ya have pictures, making choosing easier.  This had no such pictures, like Christopher Lloyd as the cheaper version and George Clooney as the more expensive version.  The cheaper version had a 65 year notation on it, so I thought it was a senior discount, so I just bought the more expensive version!  Didn't want to create a scene for a few yen.

Worked out ok, and I was done in just a few minutes.  For more complicated cuts, you should bring an "after" picture.  But note, if you go in as Christopher Lloyd, you likely won't leave like George Clooney.