Posts Tagged With: restaurants

Things to do: Have your dinner blessed by a Koyasan monk

jingumae_koyakun-640Monks have taken over the menus at restaurants in the posh Shin-Marunouchi building in Tokyo to offer real soul food.

Throughout the weeklong Koyasan Cafe event, diners can fill their stomachs and their spirits with Buddhist-inspired dishes.

Koyasan Cafe takes its name from the spiritual center of Japanese Buddhism, Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture. Also known as Mount Koya, it is the last resting place of the eighth-century monk Kukai, the headquarters of the Shingon sect he founded and, as of 2004, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Nankai Railway brought the event to Tokyo six years ago, aiming to attract visitors and pilgrims to Koyasan.

The participating monks also hope to deliver some of the values from their holy mountain to busy urban dwellers who have come to take the dining experience for granted.

“ ‘Shojin ryori‘ doesn’t simply mean abstaining from meat and fish,” for religious or health reasons, says Hogen Yabu, one of the monks. “Behind it is the concept of striving to bring oneself to higher enlightenment.”

buddhist monks

Nine restaurants and bars in the Shin-Marunouchi Building, located opposite Tokyo Station, are involved in the project. In addition to the food, there are chanting performances, meditation lessons and opportunities to sit down and ask questions directly to the monks.

Among the eateries are Henry Good Seven, So Tired, Tiki Bar Tokyo and Rigoletto Wine and Bar. But don’t be surprised that their names don’t exactly hint at Buddhist ascetic. Each place has gone to town with its own version of Japanese shojin ryori, once simple but now elaborate meals forgoing meat and based around vegetables and tofu. Henry Good Seven for example offers chilled cappellini with yuzu and fruit tomatoes; So Tired offers Chinese-style sweet-and-sour “pork” (made from soybeans); while Tiki Bar Tokyo presents shojin tacos and terrine made from tomatoes, cucumbers and kanten (agar-agar) gelatin. Then there are desserts such as a blancmange of mango, kiwi, kanten and soy milk available at the European-inspired Japanese restaurant Sawamura. Altogether there are 35 original shojin ryori dishes to savor.

It all sounds tempting, but eating the bare minimum is one of the first lessons that the monks hope to teach.

“So much food goes to waste these days,” Yabu says. “We want Japanese to re-examine what it really means when they say ‘itadakimasu’ (‘I receive humbly’) before eating a meal–to show gratitude to the food itself by controlling your passions and taking just enough.”

For details and schedule see the official website at (



Categories: history of Japan, Japanese customs, Must see, Stories about Japan, Things to do, Where to eat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to drink… Shochu (Japanese gin or vodka)



While sake is familiar to millions outside of Asia, shochu is the drink of choice amongst the Japanese. Since 2003, shipments of shochu within Japan have outstripped sake and the trend shows no sign of reversing.

Shochu can be made from barley, sweet potatoes or rice and is distilled like whisky, unlike sake, which is brewed similarly to beer. The shochu is then aged in oak barrels giving the drink more kick (it averages around 25 percent alcohol, rising to 40 percent for some barley shochus) and a deeper flavour.

The famed Shinozaki brewery has been producing sake and shochu for over 200 years. Here Hiroyuki Shinozaki, CEO offers his tips for how to enjoy shochu:

‘The difference between different types of shochu is huge, be it rice, barley or sweet potatoes it is a case of finding what suits you. For me though, the best shochu is made from rice.’

‘If you are new to shochu, look for a bottle that is around 13 percent alcohol, the stronger shochus are more of an acquired taste. ’

‘Although you can drink shochu neat I’d always recommend diluting it with water to bring out the taste.’

‘Rather than just throwing the water in, as you would with whisky, you should dilute the shochu the night before you plan on drinking it. That way it blends overnight allowing the water and shochu to fuse. Don’t be impatient – a good shochu is aged for four years, it deserves one more day.’

‘Once you are ready to drink the shochu heat it gently in a pot of hot water – never, ever, use a microwave. The drink is best served at about 38 degrees Celsius, body temperature. It’s not a cup of tea after all.’


SHINOZAKI Co., Ltd, 185 Hiramatsu Asakura-shi, Fukuoka 838-1303
Telephone +81 946 52 0005


Categories: history of Japan, Japanese customs, Japanese technology, Must see, Things to do, What to buy, Where to drink | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A guide to Japanese whisky

Hibiki whiskey

In Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, the Australian spy Dikko Henderson gets a vile hangover drinking Japanese whisky. James Bond, more of a martini man, is amazed that Dikko would even consider drinking that gutrot, saying, ‘I can’t believe Japanese whisky makes a good foundation for anything.’ That neatly sums up the attitude of most foreigners to Japanese whisky for most of its more than 80-year history. In 2001, that all started to change when a 10-year-old Yoichi made by Nikka Whisky won the ‘Best of the Best’ title at Whisky Magazine’s annual awards. Since then, Japan has regularly scooped the top prizes at whisky competitions and has transformed its reputation. The Japanese spirit is spelled the Scottish way – ‘whisky’ not ‘whiskey’ – and belongs to the Scottish tradition, tracing its history to an epic journey by Masataka Taketsuru to learn Scotland’s distilling secrets in 1919. Take a crash course in Japanese whisky with our guide to the country’s distilleries.


Perched in the Southern Japanese Alps, Hakushu is, at over 670 metres (2,200 feet) above sea level, one of the highest whisky distilleries in the world. Opened by Suntory in 1973, it makes clean, playful single malts with sweet fruity flavours often balanced by well controlled peppery or aniseed tastes.

For tour details, visit the Suntory website
Available to buy at


Yoichi is Japan’s second-oldest distillery. It was built by the founder of Japanese whisky, Taketsuru, when he split from Suntory in 1934 to found Nikka whisky. High up on the north coast of Hokkaido, it spends much of the year deep in snow. Its whiskies are relatively ‘masculine’, with rich stewed fruit, nutty and coffee notes often balancing the assertiveness.

For tour details, visit the Nikka website
Available to buy at


Nikka Whisky opened its second distillery at Miyagikyo, Miyagi Prefecture in 1969. Taketsuru thought the location, sandwiched between the Hirosegawa and Nikkawagawa rivers and surrounded by mountains, was ideal for whisky-making. Its products are typically softer and milder than Yoichi’s.

For tour details, visit the Nikka website
Available to buy at


With an iconic location at the foot of Mt Fuji, this Kirin-owned distillery takes its water from rain and melted snow running off the great volcano. Its malts are relatively light and elegantly balanced.

For tour details, visit the Kirin website
Available to buy at


Having been established in 2008, Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture is a relative newcomer – but that hasn’t stopped it from quietly garnering a good reputation among whisky fans. It’s no surprise, really – Ichiro Akuto, the owner of this tiny independent craft distillery, is the grandson of the man who founded the now-closed Hanyu distillery.

Chichibu Distillery, 49 Midori Gaoka, Chichibu, Saitama, 04 9462 4601. Public tours are not currently available
Available to buy at


White Oak is a small independent distillery by the sea in Hyogo prefecture, western Japan, owned by Eigashima Shuzo, a saké and shochu maker. Their single malts have a very mild, rounded flavour.

For tour details, visit the Eigashima Shuzo website
Available to buy at


Yamazaki is Japan’s oldest distillery, built in 1923, at a site famous for its pure water at the confluence of the Katsura, Kizu and Uji rivers, near Kyoto. Its malts often have a delicate fruitiness, with sweet spice, incense, and coconut aromas.

For tour details, visit the Yamazaki website
Available to buy at

Categories: Daytrips, Japanese customs, Things to do, What to buy, Where to drink | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surfing in Tokyo

The perfect wave is closer than you think

Hitting that "sweet spot" is easier than you think. Great surf spots in Chiba are only a train ride away from Tokyo.

Hitting that “sweet spot” is easier than you think. Great surf spots in Chiba are only a train ride away from Tokyo.


For many Tokyoites, surfing is synonymous with just one place: Shonan. The coastal area in Kanagawa Prefecture is generally regarded as the birthplace of Japanese surf culture, and it teems with boarders during the summer months – never mind that the swell is often pretty pathetic. Local schools include Easy Surf in Shichirigahama (beginner classes ¥5,000; private lessons ¥15,000), and Shonan Surfin School, which has shops in Chigasaki, Tsujido and Kugenuma (beginner classes ¥5,000; stand up paddle surfing ¥8,500; private lessons ¥18,000).

If you’re looking for some serious waves, though, the east coast of Chiba is a better bet, where there’s no shelter from the full force of the Pacific OceanEugene Teal in Onjuku offers English-language lessons by a Japan longboard champion, and there’s also the option of staying overnight in the clubhouse (2-hour lesson ¥8,000; overnight stay ¥2,000). A little further up the coast, Oasis Surf School in Ichinomiya also does English lessons (beginner classes ¥5,250; intermediate shortboard/longboard classes ¥10,000; English surfing classes ¥6,300).

You can find sweet waves within Tokyo itself, of course, though only on a technicality. Hachijojima, Niijima and Oshima – part of a chain of islands that stretches from the tip of the Izu peninsula, and which is administered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government – are popular destinations for intrepid surfers. The breaks off the southern tip of Hachijojima have some particularly good and consistent swells, although they’re not for timorous types, and you’ll need to bring your own gear with you.


Categories: Daytrips, Japanese customs, Must see, Things to do | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To smoke or not to smoke

(For an English translation please scroll down)

In veel westerse landen is het tegenwoordig verboden om in restaurants of uitgaansgelegenheden te roken. Daarom zie je de paria’s; de rokers, vaak buiten in de kou staan om hun dagelijkse nicotine boost binnen te krijgen. In Japan willen ze daar niets van weten, hoewel ze er af en toe wel rare ideeën op nahouden! Zo is het in de meeste restaurants prima om lekker een sigaretje op te steken, maar is het op straat op de meeste plekken verboden om te roken!

Hoewel de meeste grotere restaurants tegenwoordig wel een roken en een niet-roken gedeelte hebben, is het in de meeste kleine restaurantjes en natuurlijk alle bars en clubs toegestaan om te roken.

Hoe zit het dan op straat denk je misschien. Op straat is het verboden om te roken en daarom zie je niemand dat ook doen. Uitzondering zijn de speciale ‘rookplekken’. Dat is een gebied wat vaak zelfs helemaal afgebakend is, hoewel de bovenkant wel open is, waar mensen naartoe kunnen om op straat te roken. Ook bij de meeste tabakszaken is het toegestaan om buiten de deur te roken.

Een beetje een omgekeerde wereld waar het buiten niet toegestaan is om te roken, maar binnen wel, maar er zit een logica achter! Zo wordt geredeneerd dat de buitenlucht publiek domein is en je daarom anderen niet lastig mag vallen. Een restaurant daarentegen, is het eigendom van een persoon en die persoon mag daarom bepalen wat er binnen zijn establisement gebeurd en kan daarom beslissen om de zaak volledig niet roken in te richten (een zeldzaamheid), half roken/niet roken of roken overal toestaan.

Als in een restaurant roken is toegestaan, dan hebben Japanners ook totaal geen scrupules en steken ze lukraak een sigaret op, ongeacht wat er om hen heen gebeurd. Sommige restaurants hebben een grote tafel waar meerdere mensen aan kunnen zitten die elkaar vaak niet kennen. In Nederland zou je dan zo netjes zijn om de persoon naast je even te vragen of die het erg vindt als je een sigaret opsteekt, of als die persoon nog aan het eten is, dan zou je wellicht eerst even wachten tot die klaar is voordat je gaat roken zodat jouw rookwalm niet in het eten van de persoon naast je drijft. In Japan hebben ze daar totaal geen moeite mee. Als een restaurant is gekenmerkt als een waar roken overal is toegestaan, dan gaat men rustig naast je roken terwijl jij nog lekker aan het eten bent. Rookwalmen die de verkeerde kant op gaan? Geen probleem, had je maar niet dit restaurant uit moeten kiezen!

Het is een vreemde ervaring, Japanners zijn vaak zo beleefd, maar kunnen in sommige situaties ook vreselijk en onverwacht lomp zijn!

In many western countries it is illegal these days to smoke in a restaurant or bar. That is why you usually see the parias; the smokers, huddled outside to get their daily nicotine boost. In Japan they have a quite different mentality towards smoking! At first glance you might consider it contraditory, but there really is a logical concept behind it. For instance it is totally okay to light up in most restaurants, but smoking outside is illegal in most area’s.

Eventhough most of the larger restaurants have a smoking and a non-smoking area these days in Japan, in the more frequent smaller restaurants and of course all bars and clubs you are allowed to smoke.

How about on the streets you might wonder? Outside it is generally not allowed to smoke, so Japanese with their stringent policy to always follow rules and never to question them or rebel against them, will therefore never smoke outside. There are exceptions though. There are on occasion special smoking area’s. These are usually cordoned off, although the top is always open so I’m not sure why they actually cordon it off. Maybe to protect the smoker from the icey winds that sometimes plague Tokyo. The only other places you are allowed to smoke is in some parks where they are ashtrays mounted or outside most tobacco shops where it is also generally allowed.

You might think that Japanese have it upside down for allowing people to smoke inside and at the same time prohibiting smoking on the streets. Still there is a logic behind it. The streets are considered public domain and you are therefore not allowed to disturb your fellow pedestrians. Which is why eating on the street is also considered ‘not done’. A restaurant on the other hand, is a place with an owner so that owner can do with his place whatever the heck he darn well pleases. Smoking, non-smoking, partially smoking and non-smoking, it is all up to his whim (female patrons are a rarety).

If a restaurant permits smoking, Japanese people do not have any scrupules about it and will light up, no matter what is happening around them. In some restaurants you will have a communal table where multiple people can sit who usually do not know each other. In most western countries you might ask the person next to you out of politeness whether they would mind if you would smoke, but Japanese have no such qualms.  Especially when the person next to you might still be eating, they could find it offensive when you start smoking next to them and their food gets mingled with your smoke. In Japan this is totally not an issue. If the person next to you is bothered by smoking, he or she should have picked out another restaurant!

It really is strange sometimes in Japan. People can be so polite and sensitive, but at the same time they can be utterly and unexpectedly rude!

Man smoking at a specially designed 'smoke spot'

Man smoking at a specially designed ‘smoke spot’

Categories: Stories about Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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