Monthly Archives: June 2013

Where to go: Kawaguchiko at the foot of Mt. Fuji, relax and enjoy the region with your five senses

Mount Fuji is the oconic mountain of Japan that has nurtured religions and arts since ancient times. Mount Fuji has recently been formally listed as a World Heritage Site. Visit the asset components that are scattered around the foot of the mountain to see first hand why it deserves to be a World Heritage Site. Kawaguchi Asama Shrine and Fuji Omuro Sengen Shrine, two of the assets, are located in the Lake Kawaguchiko area. This area with its many hotels, is a convenient place to stay and there are many pedestrian only trails around Lake Kawaguchiko. Touring the many sights on foot with a wonderful view of the mountain and lake is sure to make your holiday memorable.

Cycling trips

Cycling around the Fuji Five Lakes (Fuji Goko) is also fun to do. The 40 km cycling trail from lake Yamanakako, the easternmost of the five lakes, to Lake Motosuko, the westernmost lake is a great ride to take.

Hiking tours

Trekking around the Misaka mountain range on the north side of Mount Fuji offers the best views of the iconic Mount Fuji. The Mitsu-toge route has the easiest access.

Local Food

Hoto is a classic Yamanashi dish. It is a hot stew made with wheat noodles, vegetables and miso. This unique dish was inspired by the climate at the food of Mount Fuji. Hōtō (ほうとう) is a popular regional dish originating from YamanashiJapan made by stewing flat udon noodles and vegetables in miso soup. Though hōtō is commonly recognized as a variant of udon, locals do not consider it to be an udon dish because the dough is prepared in the style of dumplings rather than noodles.

The Lake Kawaguchiko area is home to many Japanese inns (Ryokans) with relaxing hot springs where you can soak while viewing the majestic Mount Fuji. Enjoy the luxurious combination of fresh mountain air, a great view while in a lovely hot spring.

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Where to eat: Breeze of Tokyo for a stunning view of Tokyo’s skyline @ Marunouchi

Breeze of Tokyo

Take your dining experiences in Tokyo to the next level by enjoying an exquisite meal at Breeze of Tokyo, which can be found on the 36th floor of the centrally-located Marunouchi Building. Boasting one of the best night views of Tokyo imaginable, this modern space is sure to impress even the most cynical gastronome. Decorated in dark undertones to highlight the night views outside, the interior consists of a bar and dining area that can be utilized for a variety of situations. A team of Japanese chefs who have studied French cooking techniques works tirelessly in the kitchen, utilizing seasonal Japanese vegetables in ways that deliberately depart from pre-conceived notions of French cuisine. The chefs do not cook to standard concepts of nationality or genre, but rather base their creations on unencumbered ideas. Highlights include the Lunch Course Menu (¥2,600, ¥3,800, ¥5,000) or Dinner Course Menu (¥6,800, ¥9,800, ¥12,000), as well as a la carte options that include Scampi & Zuwai Crab Ravioli served with Tomato Couli & Lobster Cream Sauce (¥2,100), Gratin of Dom Perignon Steamed Wild Flounder (¥3,780) and Roasted Lamb Rack & Shoulder Loin served with a Currant-pineapple Sauce (¥4,440). The menu changes according to the season.

Cuisine:
International

Fusion

District:
Tokyo / Marunouchi / Ohtemachi
Price:
¥3,000 – ¥5,000

Address: Marunouchi Bldg., 36F, 2-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Access: 2 minute walk from Tokyo station
Telephone: 03-5220-5551
Hours: Lunch: 11am-3pm (LO 2:30pm), Cafe: 3pm-5pm (LO 4:30pm), Dinner: 6pm – 12am (LO 10pm)(Mon-Sat); 6pm – 11pm (LO 9pm)(Sun)
Seating: 80

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Where to eat: Nirvana New York for divine Indian food @ Roppongi midtown

The bland uniformity of your average Indian eatery menu is swiftly forgotten at Nirvana New York, the reincarnation of a well-regarded restaurant that started life in 1970 in Central Park South, Manhattan. Under the eye of Warren Wadud, the son of the original founder, Nirvana serves up Indian cuisine that’s as inspired as it is wallet-busting. With its chic design and brightly patterned furniture, the indoor dining room is appealing enough, but when the weather’s good it’s hard to resist the temptation of the outdoor terrace, which includes sofa seats that are ideal for lounging (if a little awkward for eating a proper meal from). Dinner courses start at ¥6,000, but the lunchtime buffet presents a more affordable alternative: ¥2,000 gets you a selection of curries, salads, hot and cold appetizers and desserts, with naan brought fresh to the table. Surprisingly, perhaps, the curries aren’t the highlight: we’re more enthused by the marinated and pickled vegetables – an explosion of unfamiliar tastes and textures – and the devilishly good garam masala potatoes. It’s enough to turn even the more abstemious diner into an unabashed glutton.

Details

Address 

1F Garden Terrace, Tokyo Midtown, 9-7-4 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Roppongi Station (Hibiya, Oedo lines), Nogizaka Station (Chiyoda line)

Telephone 03 5647 8305

Open Mon-Sat 11am-12midnight, Sun & hols 11am-11pm (lunch 11am-3.30pm, dinner from 5pm)

URL www.nirvana-newyork.jp

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What not to eat: gasshokukin; bad food combinations

Makiko Itoh’ll never forget that day during the summer when she was 14.She’d been away in the Yatsugatake Mountains of Honshu with my schoolmates for a rinkan gakkō (a multi-day school trip to the countryside), and on the way back we’d stopped for lunch at a large roadside diner. On the menu was tempura, followed by slices of watermelon. The breakfast at the inn we were staying at was pretty awful, so she dug into her one shrimp and mound of fried vegetables, as well as the sweet, chilled watermelon. But that evening, her body started to complain very emphatically. Her stomach felt like it was being twisted around inside. She rolled around on the floor, groaning in pain, for what felt like hours. By the morning the pain was finally gone, but she was weak and worn out for days.

As it turns out, She’d indulged in a classic bad food combination, or tabeawase. Called gasshokukin or shokugōkin, these are foods that are not supposed to be eaten with each other for health reasons, especially during the summer when the grueling heat and humidity take a toll on our bodies. It’s a way of thinking about food with roots in traditional Chinese medicine combined with old-school common sense.

The best-known bad food pairing is unagi (grilled eel) with umeboshi (salt-cured ume plums), both of which are classic summertime foods. Oil-rich unagi give you lots of energy, and the sourness and saltiness of umeboshi help to awaken a lagging appetite. But we’re warned never to eat them together, since the sourness of the umeboshi will clash with the oiliness of the unagi, causing digestive problems.

According to current medical knowledge, however, there’s no scientific basis for this belief. On the contrary, the sourness of the umeboshi should actually help our bodies deal better with the fatty unagi. One reason this pairing may have become a “no-no” is as a warning against gluttony: Unagi has always been a luxury food, and if you have it with salty-sour umeboshi you might be inclined to eat more than you should.

Most of the other bad food pairings that we’re encouraged to avoid are combinations of not so easily digested foods with something that’s cold and watery. The combination that caused me so much grief as a teenager is a classic example. Deep fried food such as tempura puts a burden on the stomach, so topping it with ice water and cold watermelon is not the best idea. Other bad combinations involve foods that aren’t that easy to digest on their own, such as tokoroten (agar-agar noodles) with raw eggs, or crabmeat and persimmons.

What you should try very hard to avoid as the weather gets really hot and humid, however, is relying on too much cold or cooling food. If you are only eating salads, hiyayakko (chilled tofu), cold somen noodles and ice cream every day, then downing iced drinks and cold beer — you may think you’re keeping cool. But, paradoxically, too much cold and watery food prevents your body from activating its best cooling system: perspiration.

Have some hot food or a spicy dish every once in a while. That will get your system revved up. And enjoy some grilled unagi for a classic Japanese energy boost at least once this summer — with or without umeboshi.

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Where to go: Lake Biwa

Lake Biwa (琵琶湖 Biwa-ko;  is Japan‘s largest freshwater lake and the defining feature of Shiga prefecture. The lake is most likely named after the Japanese stringed instrument biwa, whose shape resembles the lake. The entire lake is now designated as a protected Quasi-National Park.

Places of interest

  • Hikone – an old castle town on the route between Kyoto and Nagoya
  • Nagahama – A small city with a number of historical attractions.
  • Otsu – the capital of Shiga prefecture
  • Sakamoto – gateway to Mount Hiei
  • Mount Hiei – temple complex home to the esoteric Tendai sect of Buddhism
  • The islands of Chikubu and Takeshima are popular spots of pilgrimage
  • The Okishima island in the lake is the only inhabited lake island in Japan.

How to get there

The JR Tokaido Main Line and the Tokaido Shinkansen lines run more or less along the southern and eastern coasts of the lake, connecting Otsu and Hikone to Kyotoand Osaka in the west and Nagoya in the east. The private Keihan Keishin Line (京阪京津線) provides the cheapest way of getting from Kyoto to Otsu and onward with a change of train to Sakamoto.

What to see

Lake Biwa attracts many birds and along with them birdwatchers. There are a large number of historical towns surrounding the lake, including Hikone, with one of Japan’s 12 remaining original castles, Omihachiman, with an attractive restored canal area and a number of museums, Sakamoto, with the World Heritage Site temple Enryaku-ji, the famous temple of Ishiyama-dera, where Lady Murasaki wrote The Tale of Genji, and Nagahama, with Japan’s oldest remaining train station building, an attractive historical district, and some significant temples and shrines, as well as a reconstructed castle. The lake is also known for beautiful sunsets, especially when viewed from the east side of the lake as the sun sets over the mountains to the west.

Visit Omimaiko Beach. The water is very clean and the beach is very relaxing. Many people flock there on weekends and you can also camp there. It is better than going to most seaside beaches in Kansai as it is so clean. From Osaka it takes 1 hour by train (JR) to Omimaiko Station and only 30 minutes from Kyoto.

What to do

Lake Biwa’s tourism industry subsists on fishingboat rentals and an assortment ofwatersports, including even scuba diving for those who want to plumb the depths of this rather murky lake. There are a number of hot springs in the towns and mountains that surrounded the lake. There are also good hikes in the Hira-san mountain range on the west side of the lake.

A bicycle rental for ¥500 per day for a “mama-chari” type bicycle (a single speed 26 inch bike with a highly adjustable and comfortable seat and a basket in front) from right next to the train station from Osaka. Bicycling around the Lake Biwa area is great fun, with wide paved paths in many places, and approximately a 220km bike ride to go around the lake. Bicycle friendliness is evident everywhere and you should be able to find places to stay at various points around the lake if you bike tour. Witness four man or woman rowing teams in action on the Satagawa River during your tour. Ride a functioning sternwheeler, the “Michigan”. Many parks, public restrooms and places to get water or drinks are near the southwestern part of the bike path. A volleyball court is on the beach northwest of of the southernmost bridge and many joggers also share the bike paths. Fishing from a boat or the shore, kayaking and sailing are popular here. A successful cicada hunt by a young boy with a butterfly net was witnessed, but giving off a loud buzzing sound, the cicada got away when the boy lifted his net. Kite flying during windy conditions could also be fun here, with no nearby wires to foul the kite line.

What to eat & drink

Bring a portable BBQ set out to Omi Maiko or Shiga Beach. Alternatively, at Omi Maiko, in summer you can find some local food vendors that offer tasty local grub.

Load up a cooler full of whatever you like. There is a reasonable, tropical-themed, outdoor beach bar on the eastern end of Omi Maiko. Part of a hotel, they offer BBQ dinners at brick tables.

Where to stay

Wanihama Seinen Kaikan (和邇浜青年会館). Tel. 077-594-4203. If you want to experience truly rural Japan, this is it. The hostel is a huge, rambling, decrepit complex of buildings maintained (in the loosest sense of the word) by an old couple, who add up your bill with an abacus! Located inconveniently 1.5km through rice paddies from JR Wani station, on the western shore of the lake. The upside is the price: one night costs just ¥2800 for Hostelling International members, and odds are you’ll get your own room complete with private bathroom and TV for this.

 

 

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Where to eat: Shimauta Paradise, a pure slice of Okinawan heaven

The spirit of Okinawa is alive and well at this easygoing izakaya, whose location right on Roppongi Crossing means that most people breeze past without ever noticing it’s there. Shimauta Paradise serves familiar Okinawan staples like noodles, champuru stir-fries and taco rice, accompanied by a menu of awamori liquor divided according to island of origin. In keeping with the restaurant’s name (‘shimauta’ translates as ‘island songs’), there are regular live music performances of traditional folk music, though be warned that there’s an additional charge for these. The ¥1,000 weekday lunch set includes a main dish and buffet of side orders – good value, especially for hearty eaters.

Details

Address 

4F, 7-14-10 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Roppongi Station (Hibiya, Oedo lines)

Telephone 03 3470 2310

Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-3pm & 5pm-midnight (Fri until 3am), Sat 5pm-3am, Sun 5pm-midnight / Closed New Year

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Where to eat: Sushi & Vege Japanese Cuisine Aoki Ginza

There aren’t many sushi shops that boast their own in-house ‘vegetable sommelier’, but Aoki doesn’t aspire to be ordinary. This upmarket representative of the Gatten culinary empire serves up high quality sushi in a location just a few minutes’ walk from Ginza Station, and has enough seating to accommodate large parties. The seafood is shipped directly from Suruga Bay, off the coast of Shizuoka Prefecture, while the aforementioned sommelier picks seasonal produce for the vegetable sushi and bagna càuda. Expect to find unorthodox offerings like foie gras nigiri and camembert cheese roll amongst the more conventional sashimi selections, while the menu also includes suppon and wagyu kushiyaki.

Details

Address 

3-4-16 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Transport Ginza Station (Marunouchi, Ginza, Hibiya lines), exits C8, B2

Telephone 03 6228 6436

Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-3pm, 5pm-11pm; Sat, Sun & hols 11.30am-11pm

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Where to drink: Mojo Coffee

While some companies loudly trumpet their arrival in Japan, New Zealand’s Mojo Coffee slipped in almost unannounced at the end of last year. At present, the official Mojo website doesn’t even mention that they’ve opened a café and roastery in Kagurazaka, on a backstreet just behind Akagi Shrine. Friendly, English-speaking staff dispense a variety of espresso drinks – macchiato, piccolo, NZ flat white, latte, cappuccino – in a minimally decorated space that can’t have room for more than 20 people, split between tables and a small counter next to the bar. Drinks are available with soymilk or extra shots of espresso for a small extra charge, and there’s a selection of housemade scones and cakes to go with them, plus a few savoury options. Mojo Coffee is open for breakfast from 7am on weekdays, while there’s a small list of New Zealand wine and microbrew beer to tempt you later in the day.

Details

Address 

2F, 4-11 Akagi-Motomachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Transport Kagurazaka Station (Tozai line), exit 1

Telephone 03 6265 3286

Open Mon-Thu 7am-8pm, Fri 7am-9pm, Sat 9am-9pm, Sun & hols 9am-8pm

Twitter twitter.com/mojocoffeejapan

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What to eat: Cronuts come to Japan (kind of)

If you thought Tokyo residents queueing for hours just to eat a plate of pancakes was ridiculous, it pales in comparison to the hysteria that’s been gripping New York since Dominique Ansel Bakery launched the Cronut on May 10. Half croissant, half doughnut, the $5 pastry has inspired what some describe as ‘Magnolia-cupcake-in-the-millennium levels of buzz’ – though they’re quick to point out that this sweet treat is ‘so good it doesn’t need Sex and the City to do the marketing for it.’ With only 200-250 available each day (for quality control, natch), people have been willing to pay absurd prices to get their hands on one – leading an opportunistic third-party delivery service to charge $100 each. And now the madness is coming to Tokyo. To the suburbs, in fact.

On July 1, Shizuoka-based bread company Banderole is launching Japan’s first croissant-doughnut (and no, it’s not a real Cronut: that name’s trademarked). The pastry will be available in four different flavours – Crispy Chocolate, Strawberry Chocolate, Rich Matcha Chocolate and Smile White Chocolate – at all 81 of Banderole’s shops nationwide, with an additional Salt Caramel Chocolate version also available at select branches. And where are Banderole’s shops? Er… in the suburbs. A quick glance at the company’s website reveals that most of its Tokyo bakeries (that’s Bread Basket, B’s Cafe, Sandorian and Pan Kojo) are located in the farthest reaches of the city. Not to worry, though: we hear Akishima is lovely at this time of year.

See www.banderole.co.jp for details.

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Kumamon makes his Paris debut at Japan Expo

Paris won’t know what hit it. From July 4 to 7, the French capital will be awash with anisongs, cosplay and kawaii, as the world’s largest overseas festival of Japanese pop cultureJapan Expo, returns for its 14th edition. Guests this year range fromFist of the North Star creator Tetsuo Hara and Macross mecha designer Shoji Kawamori to Visual-kei band Nightmare, idol group °C-ute and brainiac instrument makers Maywa Denki… but they might find themselves overshadowed by a bloke in a bear costume. Yes: unfathomably popular regional mascot Kumamon (250,000 Twitter followers and counting) is lined up to make a guest appearance at the Expo, where he’ll be performing his trademark exercise and dance routines.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, this rosy-cheeked, sack-shaped bear is the official representative of Kumamoto Prefecture, where he made his debut in 2010, ahead of the completion of the Kyushu Shinkansen line between Fukuoka and Kagoshima. Such mascots are common in Japan, where they’re described as yuru-kyara – literally ‘loose characters’, though a better translation (offered by Daniel Krieger inThe Japan Times) might be ‘cheesy but lovable characters.’ As Krieger puts it, ‘unlike multi-billion dollar stars such as Sanrio’s Hello Kitty, this variety … earn their keep by drawing attention to a particular place, organisation or idea despite, or because of, their lack of polish.’

Designed by Manabu Mizuno, Kumamon (whose name combines the first character of Kumamoto with the local dialect rendering of ‘mono’, or thing) seems to fit the bill. The only difference is that, well, he’s actually popular: he won the nationwide Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix poll in 2011, beating out competition from the likes of Ehime mascot (and 2012 Grand Prix winner) Bary-san, and earned nearly ¥3 billion in merchandise sales last year. When revered German toymaker Steiff launched aJapan-only Kumamon stuffed bear in a limited edition of 1,500 earlier this year, it sold out immediately – despite the not-inconsiderable price tag of ¥29,800.

So will Les Françaises embrace this burly furball? Kumamon has already made PR appearances around Asia – including Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore – but that’s hardly a guarantee of European success. Still, he might find a sympathetic audience in France – not least because the country has been tentatively trying toboost its own native bear population.

Oh, and if you’re looking for Kumamon merchandise in Tokyo, ‘antenna shop’ Ginza Kumamotokan is the place to head.

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