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Travelogue: Spirited Away


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#331 Peter Green

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 04:41 AM

Thanks for the update.  And, Pilsner from Echigo Beer?  Niigata has a number of wonderful local beer (ji-beer) breweries, and Echigo Beer is Japan's first local beer brewery.
Official website of Echigo Beer:
http://www.echigo-beer.jp/index.html

Edited to add:  Butter on the potatoes:  Was it really butter, not margarine?

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Margarine? Good point! It didn't seem quite as malleable as marg usually is, but I'm not an expert.

#332 Peter Green

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 05:23 AM

March 26 – Things on Sticks

My plan consisted of walking around in Ryogoku looking for something good.

Scud was less than impressed.

Initially, we cut through the train station to see what was there. Train stations are usually a safe bet for eats.

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Ryogoku is sumo, at least in Tokyo. Coming out from under the tracks at the JR station, the massive Kokugikan stadium loomed took up a big part of the night sky in front of us. I’d already mentioned that I liked this part of town. It’s just got a great feel to it.
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Part of it is the plethora of chanko restaurants, serving beer, beer, beer, and nabe.


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The other part of it is the history. It was here in Ryogoku that the 47 Ronin pulled off their hit on Kira Yoshinaka. It’s also here that Ryunosuke Akutagawa grew up. He’s still one of my favourite short story writers (yes, even more so than Murakami).


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There’s a feeling of fullness around Ryogoku, like everything is packed just right. Not too tight, but with no slackness left about.

We ended up back on the other side of the tracks. We passed the masked young lady working yakitori over charcoal on the street, and impulse took me to ask for a couple of sticks. She shook her head, and indicated that we needed to go inside.

Decision made. We were eating yakitori.

I love it when a plan comes together.


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Inside was perfect. Glaring flourescent lights, a smoke alarm on the ceiling, chunky wooden tables, and a long bar fronting off a great collection of sake, beer, and shochu (and a mess to make me feel good about the state of my computer room).


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I started with some non-descript sake (hot) and I even sprang for some tap water for the Boy.

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We ordered a eight chicken to start, half of them in soy, and half of them salted.

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That was enough to get us started, and so I moved onto the next stage of the night’s entertainment.

Pantomime.

The older, smaller man who was running the place had incredible patience. And good humour. Through jabs and well placed hands, I managed to order some chicken hearts and liver.


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Both of these were good, the chicken heart with that Bill Cosby allure to it was particularly tasty.

There were three running the restaurant. The older, reserved gentleman who was manning the bar and taking the orders. An older lady with one of those voices that is just way out of place (if you closed your eyes, you’d think she was 10. Either that or a cat). And the younger masked chef working outside over the coals.

I was trying to puzzle through the specials up on the wall, and there were a couple that I was drawing a blank on. Finally, I went back up to the counter, and did the Marcel Marceau thing again.

One of them appeared to be quail eggs. The other was more difficult.

The older gentleman craned his head around to read the sign, smiled, and then pointed at my crotch.


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The quail eggs were a little tough on the outside, with a lot of chew getting through to the yolk. The testicles were that sort of soft, sweet meat consistency. Nothing coarse or gristly about them.

Scud refused to go near them.


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There was also a sign up for a more expensive sake – Correspondent’s Club, at 700 yen. It’s a 1999, and the lable claims that it’s bottled exclusively for the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, which begs the question, what’s it doing here?


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I dallied with the idea of a beer, or maybe some shochu, but I felt that now was the time for sake.


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A nice enough sake. Served cold it had a very clean smell. In the mouth there was a bit of citrus, and a taste that passed away fairly quickly, leaving a dry mouth.


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Next we found the pig belly and some pork neck, all glistening with fat. We loaded up on these, figuring this would probably wrap up the evening.


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We finished on the pork, and I took a few minutes to enjoy the last of the sake. We thanked our host, paid the bill, got the cook to pull down her mask for a smile, and headed for the underground to get the train back home.

Just as we were beginning to head off, though, our host came running out to present us with a thin piece of paper covered in kana and kanji, that looked like a sumo programme. But he was pointing to one particular line to the left of the centre, and just down in the finer font.

I was confused. I’ll have to figure out how to scan it without damaging the paper, and get some advice.

With that, we headed home.

#333 Domestic Goddess

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 02:07 PM

Quote: "The street signs were a curiousity looking an awful lot like Buttercup from the PowerPuff Girls, but I’m pretty certain they predate that series."

You know the PowerPuff girls!?? You, Peter, are officially in my cool books!

(P.S. We are 3 sisters in the family, I was dubbed Buttercup, the tomboyish, aggressive violent one [Me violent? :biggrin:]. My youngest sister was Blossom because she always tried to be the leader while the second to the youngest was Bubbles because she had a high shrill voice like Bubbles and was always the crybaby of the family.)
Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

#334 Hiroyuki

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 03:20 PM

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Inside was perfect.  Glaring flourescent lights, a smoke alarm on the ceiling, chunky wooden tables, and a long bar fronting off a great collection of sake, beer, and shochu (and a mess to make me feel good about the state of my computer room).

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Yes, perfect. I feel as if I went back to the Showa period.

#335 Peter Green

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 10:03 AM

March 27 – “Fried is good”

We needed to get out of the house.

“C’mon, Scud! Let’s go to Shinjuku and stare at the bright lights!”

“You fool! That’s how they kill mosquitos!”

That ominous line withstanding, I dragged the boy and his proboscis away from the all-day Naruto fest on tv with the promise of an English language bookstore.

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Shinjuku is neat. I say that as a geek. It’s everything modern Japan is supposed to be. Clean lines, superskyscrapers, people moving resolutely from A to B (and even, sometimes, to C) and a total feel of being in the midst of a nest of ants.

I see the Shinjuku skyline, and I think of Akira and Patlabor and Tokyo Babylon and all the other myriad neoTokyo silhouettes that populate the world of anime.

I alsot think of the other Murakami – Ryu. Particularly In The Miso Soup, in which the plot focuses on an aging Western psychopath who butchers his way through the bars of Shinjuku.
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We got a little lost in the station, but even that was fun for the sake of seeing what we could find.

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But, beyond the idle idling, we were on a mission. We had to find the big Kinokuniya.

First, being a bookstore, it’s a magnet for the boy and I.

Second, being Kinokuniya, it’s something we’re familiar with through the foreign branches, so it just seems wrong not to visit.

Third, I’d told Scud they’d have English language manga. (Well, I had to get him out of the house somehow, didn’t I?)

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It’s a good store, but, because it’s built vertically, it felt smaller than the ones I know in Bangkok and Singapore. A false illusion, as this was occupying multiple floors in two buildings, but falsehood is the nature of an illusion, and perception is everything.

I just had to say that. Sorry.

Scud did manage to find a copy of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost In The Shell, which satisfied him to some extent. Then he started making noises about buying Shonen Jump.

But, of greater importance, I was finallly able to stock up.

First, I found the Red Book.

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I also found a very entertaining little book called “Who Invented Nattou?”. This is a parallel text, in both Japanese and English. The premise of it is that the modern Japanese are continually being caught out by the odd questions of foreigners (like “who invented nattou?”), and this book is meant to arm them for the irrelevant queries that we can come up with.

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Like the Michelin Guide, this is something I wish I’d had at the start of the trip, as it discusses food etiquette, kitchens, houses, and a host of other day to day trivia that is hard to find elsewhere. Heck, I wish I’d been reading it earlier.

I lusted after some of the cookbooks, too. There was one titled Izakaya in particular, but I had to consider the issue of suitcase weight. Books pile on the kilos faster than almost anything else (well, besides my diet), and I reined in my desires.

Beyond the English section, we rooted through the manga in the second building. Scud had a short list of things one of his Japanese-literate friends at school wanted, and this was a place where we’d have a good chance of finding it.

Book shopping done, we started looking for lunch. I now had a decent guide book with maps to work from – the Time Out for Tokyo – and it praised a particular tempura shop in the neighborhood.

Tsunahachi.

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As happens, Rona did this place shortly after us, but she’s a lot better organized and effective than I, and already has the post up here.

What are the odds that she’d be in the same restaurant as I only a few days apart? And greater odds that I’d be in Lin Heung in Hong Kong a few days after her, but before she posted about there?....Anybody see Rod Serling around?

I can hear Rick Blaine now…….

“Of all the tempura joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

I love that film. Even the remake, Barbed Wire, is excellent (if you haven’t watched the two back to back you should. Pamela Lee Anderson and Humphry Bogart are like two peas in a pod, say I).

Where were we again?......

Ah, yes, Tsunahachi.

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For me, it’s a crowded warren of narrow corridors. From the entry point, there was one bar directly ahead of us, and then there was a no smoking section tucked around to the right. I carefully maneuvered my bulk through so as to not trash the place, and Scud and I were seated at the bar.

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Her menu was more elaborate in what was provided. Scud and I had just pointed at the middle of the set menus, which I think may have been the lunch specials, and made do with that.

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We had two chefs at the bar, the young lady taking care of us and the others at the counter, and the male chef dealing with the crowded tatami room behind us.

First up were the prawns. A pair of ebi, all piping hot and crispy. There’s something wonderful about the taste of fresh fried batter, served up before you straight from the oil.

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The miso was very nice, with that Hitler’s Brain sort of cloudy texture to the miso. This one had a very pleasant taste of clams about it, and a poke with the chopsticks confirmed there were shellfish down in those murky depths.

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Next was a very buttery piece of squid, for which I have only the shoddiest of pictures. Look to Rona’s shot, it’s much better, and fried squid all look alike anyways.

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Then there was a trio of vegetables. The one on the left tasted of starch, and may have been a sweet potato. The green was, well, green, and the other was very nice, but I can’t put a flavour to it.

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And then there was the shell, stuffed with good bits of stuff, and then battered and deep fried. Both Scud and I really enjoyed this, with the taste of shellfish about it.
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I have no idea what this was. It was green. Rona had suggested aojisai, but that doesn’t help much. It was refreshing enough, but with an odd texture about it.

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And, like Rona, we finished on eel. Scud was very happy with this, as he misses eel nowadays, and I’d put it off earlier in the trip as I had always thought of eel as a Tokyo thing.

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We sniped at the clams in our bowl, but there was a crowd beginning to form, so we cleared the way and tried to get to the counter to pay.

At this point I finally missed a beat, and I clipped the edge of one of the chairs in the waiting area, sending things flying. I immediately glared at Scud in the hopes that everyone would blame him.

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We strolled back towards the station, taking in the variety of food and beer venues to be had. And then Scud found a game parlour, and we had to check it out.
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One floor was all dance machines. Dance, Dance Revolution taken to a far more commercial level. And then there were the drum machines, the guitar machines, and others I couldn’t make much sense of.

Another floor up, and everything was pink. Booths for photos. Lots of the crane machines for trying to pick up Hello Kitty dolls, and more stuff that was just, well,….pink.

Finally we found the manly stuff on the fourth floor, and Scud and I blazed away for a few dollars worth against zombies in the sewer system.

That kept us pretty well occupied until the coins ran out, and then it seemed like a good idea to go looking for food.

That’s not hard to do.

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Having satisfied his needs for fairly mindless violence, the Boy had not choice but to follow me into the Depachika of Takashimaya. Rona prefers Isetan, which was also close by (just across the main street from Tsunahachi), but Takashimaya is something I’m used to from Singapore, so the decision was made.

I’m getting used to the pastry thing. The whole initial approach to Takashimaya’s food floor is all pastry. Pastry, pasty, and desserts. But this was okay by us, as one of our missions was to get a sampler of desserts, so we spread ourselves around a bit, buying one or two pieces in the different outlets.

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After we’d run the gamut of puff pastries and profiteroles, we made it through to the regular foods.

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When we did get through to the foods, I spent a lot of time puzzling through the furikake.

Seeing as how furikake has its own thread (this is egullet, after all), I’ll put aside much discussion and direct you to here.


Finally, we emerged from Takashimaya and headed for home with our bags of goodies.

Back in the room, we settled down to a pleasant bit of gluttony.

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The chocolate one in the foreground had a nice custard filling to go with the roasted almond on top. Behind it was what disappointingly turned out to be a cheese bread type item.


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These were both good. I was more partial to he blueberry one on the left, but Scud praised the white powdered sugar with the walnut and plum on top.


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Add onto that some more items designed to keep us in the running for the condiment creep awards, and we’d had a relatively successful day of things.

The Boy scuttled away to catch up on cartoons, and I started pouring (poring?) over the Michelin. I did one quick pass, dog-earing several pages, and then did another review.

A lot of the restaurant reviews did look quite similar, which was a little depressing, but there were a few that stood out.

One in particular took my eye, which concerned a young chef who was visiting Spain on a regular basis for the chef’s congress. From this he was bringing back ideas to use in his own exploration of Japanese cuisine.

Sounded good to me. We were going to Ryugin to see Seiji Yamamoto.

Unfortunately, there was the issue of reservations. However, I find that, by abandoning myself to fate, I can often pull things off. A phone call did indicate they were full, but they could possibly fit us in at 10 p.m…..?

Done. They were kind enough, as well, to take my cell and promise to call if anything opened earlier.

This all worked out rather well. We’d just binged out on pastry, it was mid afternoon, I was drinking sake and reading, and we probably wouldn’t be too keen on eating for awhile anyways.

What to do for a few hours?


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When I’d asked Scud earlier what he wanted to see on this trip, he’d said, with no hesitation, that he wanted to see the Tokyo International Anime Fair, he wanted to go to some manga and anime shops, and he wanted to see Tokyo Tower.



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Why do people build these things? Is it all Freudian?


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You do get great views, though.
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From the other side of the observation platform Scud could make out the Shonen Jump building out by the harbour.
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And the second floor had a small amusement park, with a Pikachu the size of me, a merry-go-round, and this little train ride inexplicably overseen by Hitler.


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And I even had the chance to buy some authentic souvenirs.

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Hello Kitty.


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She’s everywhere. And it’s good to see that she and Doraemon are on good terms again after the sumo unpleasantness.

At the base of the tower was a final treat.

A busker.

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This was like something out of a Shintaro Katsu film….well, except perhaps for the head mike. But the female entertainer working the crowd with her monkey just seemed so….right.

Scud was entranced, and there was no way I was dragging him away from this before it was over. You probably weren’t going to get me away, either.

This seemed like a good spot to wrap up. Needless to say, I failed to do so. Instead we walked down to Shiba Park, and checked out the old neighborhood from when I’d been here back in the 90’s.
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Still looks the same. But the cherry blossoms were coming on strong, and it looked like we were in for a good finish.

#336 Hiroyuki

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 03:10 PM

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We sniped at the clams in our bowl, but there was a crowd beginning to form, so we cleared the way and tried to get to the counter to pay.

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Shijimi! People will tell you that you don't have to eat the flesh, but as for me, I usually eat the flesh from each and every one of these small shells.

#337 Peter the eater

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 05:21 PM

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Why do people build these things?  Is it all Freudian?

I don't think so - sometimes a tower is just a tower.

That one has been around long enough to be a legitimate icon despite its obvious original Parisian aspirations. For me it's more of an arm reaching upward . . . etc.

Back to the food - another tour de force Peter the Green!

edited to add: forgot to throw in campanilismo

Edited by Peter the eater, 07 May 2008 - 05:23 PM.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

#338 Hiroyuki

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 05:51 PM

Tokyo Tower is a TV tower. Without it, we could not watch TV!

#339 johnnyd

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 06:41 PM

Thanks for the Tsujiki visit - I'm a seafood nut and that market is the holy grail, dude.

This is a terrific topic. A highlight for eGullet.

Thank you!

:cool:
"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II
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#340 Peter Green

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 02:32 AM

March 27 – The Singing Dragon

At 9:30 I felt we were getting close enough to brace the elements and begin our journey to Ryugin. I had a map, and it appeared to be just across Roppongi Crossing, through the pimps, and then up a side alley.

Roppongi is an odd mix. You move from the sleeze of the Crossing Crowd to the glamour of the malls to the quiet wealth of the back streets in just a few steps.

As we approached, perhaps a 100 meters out, my phone rang. It was the restaurant calling to let us know that they could take us now. I think I may have surprised them when I let them know I would be there in 170 seconds.

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The entrance is easy enough to find, knowing that I’m to look for the red. A small sign, a blaze of cherry blossoms, and targeted lighting make it a simple matter, even for me.

Inside it’s a small, open room. The staff were, of course, expecting us, and showed us to our table with warmth, but no fuss.

There was a choice of three tasting menus, of differing length. Given the hour, and Scud’s menacing looks, we unfortunately chose the shorter 9 course menu – the Spring Short Course. I really shouldn’t say “unfortunately” as there was nothing wrong with it at all, but I would have liked to linger over the longer versions. However, by their advice, this would have had us heading home at 1:00 a.m. from dinner, and that was a little later than Scud was up for.

(Before we proceed, my apologies for my photos. They don’t do justice to the food at all. Still, I’m happy that they allow shooting, they just ask that you don’t use flash, a request I did my best to comply with, but occassionally this cheap thing I have with me resets itself).

As I’d mentioned earlier, I came with few preconceptions of the restaurant and its chef, Seiji Yamamoto, other than knowing that he was someone who was interested in finding out how things can be done well.

The wine list is primarily French, and quite good. But, as the clock relentlessly ticked off my remaining hours in Japan, I was realizing that it was sake that I would miss the most. So, rather than taking wine as they recommended, I asked for them to recommend sake that would work with the dishes.

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The first sake was a Sakura junmaishu, from Aomori, in the North of Honshu. A little dry in the mouth, and with a pleasant bouquet. It matched with Scud’s comment of the room “Everything here feels light”.

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Our opener was an Okura Petit Croquette – a croquette of tofu, a little golden brown ball of tofu with the texture of a proper croquette. A tidy little thing, and, as we’ve said before many a time “frying is good”.

Edited for this: I was just doing more reading and, in a Japan Times article, they referred to this as an okra croquette (okura?), as opposed to a tofu croquette. But my notes say tofu, so I'm uncertain

And truffles never hurt.

It begins with the softness of the tofu against the light crisp of the fried exterior, and then right away, with that softness, the truffle blooms in your nose and then subsides, to linger in the crevasses of your mouth.

Meanwhile my idiot child expresses his delight at this by doing ninjutsu finger movements. I think he watched too much Naruto this day.

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Chateau RyuGin 1970
With Spring Cabbage Puree and Broiled Mullet Roe


Next was a cute little piece. A warm soup of cabbage in broth (surinagashi) corked and presented with the date of our chef’s birth.

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The soup was corked, and then poured into a glass alongside a pretty little piece of mullet row, cherry blossoms lightly adorning the black tile it’s served upon.

The mullet roe was, as you’d expect, pleasantly salty, thick and a little pasty, offset by the diakon, and filled out on the sweeter side by the broth.

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This was followed by

”Sakura” Sea Bream
Early Cherr Blossom Presentation
Served with Fuki and Celery in Soy Sauce


What arrived was a cherry blossom plate, with one sakura leaf under which the sea bream sheltered.

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I wish this picture was better, but I include it to give the idea, if not the image. The fish is very nice, but it’s the fuki and celery with it that get my attention, that pleasant crunch to go with the fleshiness of the seabream. The fuki is a form of butterbur (also known as a bog rhubarb), that needs to be prepped with a hot water bath to remove the harshness, and then plunged in cold water to set the colour. This is the same sort of process that Yoonhi follows for bracken fern prep and some other wild roots, as the hot water will remove the toxins (hopefully).

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The restaurant’s name comes from a poem, that refers to “the singing dragon in the clouds” a motif that runs through the décor, and again takes me back to the title line of this thread, chosen back in early March. I can’t look at the lid of this bowl and not think of Haku in his dragon form in Spirited Away.

“But, what’s under the lid”, you ask?
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Scallop & Peas Dumplings “Shinjo-wan”
Served with a Hearty Serving of Spring Vegetables


This translated as rich scallops from Hokkaido; sweet green pea dumpling; the almost de rigeur bamboo shoot; fiddle head ferns (kogomi) from the hills; fresh herbs; and a broth of kombu and clams, very clean and fresh.

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There followed the Assorted Sashimi “Ryugin Style” – pretty cuts of fish, each with a condiment set aside to complement the particular flavour. The octopus…well, I’m a sucker for an octopus, as you know. This was extremely soft and carried the smell of shiso and ginger and cherry blossom with it. The tuna shileds itself behind a wafer of daikon, the seabream (tai) rests folded like an obedient pet, with a droplet of yuzu sauce its leaving behind it. And what I take for squid doesn’t taste at all like ika, but mcuh more like a fish in texture.

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The sake they brought next was the Hiroki from Fukushima (that Hiroyuki had googled for me). This is the same one that I’d had a few days earlier at Morimoto.

It was still good.

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Crispy Fried Naruto White Tilefish and Fish Print Presentation
Served with Frothy Brown Vinegar Sauce
Along with Warm Vegetables and Pine Nuts


Was I mentioning Naruto earlier? A tilefish served on a tile. A very hot tile. The signatures and fish design are done with red miso and squid ink. The small mound of green vegetables has been nicely truffled, which goes surprisingly well with the miso used in the marinade, and the broad green starchiness of the beans works well with all of this.

The fish itself is very Mediterranean, from the vinegar foam to the extremely crisp skin, reminding me very much of some of Passedat’s preparations from Le Petit Nice.

Thumbs up from Scud.

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Chef’s Rice Dish of the Day
Now there’s an understated title.

The rice is marvelous.

Seiji Yamamoto’s father-in-law grows this for them in small batches. A northern rice (koshikani?), but this is grown in the South, on their farm in Shikoku.

The rice I adorned with boiled, firm bamboo, onion, and fresh green peas.

The miso was extremely silky, threads of bean paste sliding through your mouth and down your throat.

And for pickles, norimaki, that thick vinegared seaweed holding the pickled vegetables bound tensely to counter the relative abandon of the rice and vegetables.

The chef came by the tables to visit, accompanied by our sommelier who took care of the translations. This is where I asked of the rice and its origin (and probably got the spelling wrong, but that’s my fault). He’s the sort of person you just like as soon as you meet him. A broad, good humoured smile on his face, he’s obviously someone who’s having a lot of fun with what he’s doing, and couldn’t be happier than in doing it for people who enjoy it.

He noticed that both Scud and I had scoured our rice bowls clean, and cheerfully went back to the kitchen to prepare us another serving.

Who are we to argue?

Rice finishes the main part of the meal, and a very nice green tea arrives, but I’m still lingering over the remains of the sake. The tea does look good – the bowl of pale green resting in a donut of a saucer - but I want to keep this flavour of sake, rice, miso and vegetables in my mouth as long as I can.

I’m greedy.

My sommelier then brought me a treat.

A 25 year old sake that had been oaked in casks from Chateau d’Yquem. Shigeri, I believe, was the name, and I think it’s a word that relates to luxuriance.

It’s a very interesting taste, like a brewed sherry, very soft, with a lot of oak in it. When you drink, it flows to the sides of your mouth, then vanishes, with just a shadow of sweetness remaining.

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With the sake comes dessert. Pineapple Coated with Cocount Sherbert

The sherbert is full of the taste of coconut (as you would expect) and there’s a dusting of mango powder to give an additional sideways flavour to the tangy sweetness of the pineapple.

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More dessert arrives.

”Whispering of the Wind among the Pine Trees”
Kuromitsu Syrup and Dried Grape Treats
Served with Caramel Ice Cream


There’s a small pile of ginger salt on the side to go with the ice cream. The ice cream itself has that just-pulled-from-the-churn feel about it (which so makes me want to go and get a batch of ice cream underway right now, but I’ll restrain myself until I finish this), and the “cake” is a dense packaging of the fruit, with miso and soy setting off the raisins, chestnuts, pinenuts that are all packed together, with an anti-doping-challenged topping of poppy seeds.

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More tea arrives, this time an English camomille.

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As a sweetener for this comes a tidy little pot of Indian honey, from the border with Nepal (these Himalayan honeys are being touted now as the new wonder medicin, good for whatever may try to hamper your good health).

It was well past midnight by now, but business was still going well. Ryugin aims for two seatings, one at the traditional hour, and another for the post-theatre, post-concert, post-whatever crowd that will arrive looking for an excellent two star meal.

Lucky for us.

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Edited by Peter Green, 08 May 2008 - 02:48 AM.


#341 Peter Green

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 02:56 AM

Ryugin was a meal that both Scud and I enjoyed. Like Paul Pairet in Shanghai, Seiji Yamamoto is somebody who's looking at the new tools and methods of the molecular gastronomy crowd, but dealing with them in that manner, as tools and methods, as a means to achieving the desired result, rather than just the result in and of themselves.

I get kind of incoherent on this topic, I know.

I like having fallen into the meal as a naked naif, as I came to it with no preconceptions. But as I read more about the chef, I'm annoyed now that I didn't take the time to go with the longer 12 course Spring Gastronomy menu:

-Château RyuGin 1970
-White Asparagus Tofu Salad
-"Sakura" Sea Bream
-"Kuzu-Tataki" Rock Trout Rice Bowl
-Assorted Sashimi
-Steamed Abalone & Matsuba Crab
-Crispy Chargrilled "Akamutsu" Perch from Choshi
-Chargrilled "Superior Beef" - Slow Cooked in a "Gastrovac" Oven
-"Bamboo Shoot Rice"
-Pineapple Coated with Coconut Sherbet
-Strawberry Rice Cake with Hot Adzuki Beans
-Minus196℃. Candy Apple

What I've read of the Candy Apple has me kicking myself.

But, countering that, Scud was very good about staying awake, and it is almost as much his vacation as mine ("almost", I am the one paying for this, after all).

Yamamoto san is very active on the international circuit, producing some striking pieces (check out the review of Star Chefs for his Silkscreen of Squid Ink with Squid Carpaccio, the approach taken for detailing the hot tile in for the tilefish I had.

I can see why Food & Wine has him down as one of the top rising chefs (if not arisen)

The Japan Times article talks of Yamamoto having come from the traditional kitchen of Aoyagi, while Michelin puts the credit to an early start with his mother. That background obviously has given him the strong fundamentals to launch into what he's doing now.

He’s also trained as a sommelier, which explains his keen interest in working wines to pair his creations.

I’ll let you read the details in the Japan Time's write-up, but looking that over makes me feel that I must return, with a somewhat better prepared agenda.

And, like I said, even through an interpreter he comes across as just so...likeable. I'd love to have more time with him to go over what he's thinking when he does some of these things.

Alternatively, if he could be talked into coming to Bangkok for the next WGF?.......

#342 prasantrin

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 04:27 AM

Coincidentally (again!), I'll be eating at Ryugin in just two weeks! I've got a 6:30 reservation, and am thinking of doing one of the Gastronomy Courses. I'll certainly have the time, but since I'll be dining alone it might get a bit boring/uncomfortable to sit there for three hours or so. Plus I will have to try to get out to Tokyo Bay after!

I have to ask--I know how much the different dinners are, but how much is the wine pairing (if you remember, even though you didn't have it)? I don't drink much wine on its own, but I love wine with food, and I imagine the wine pairings are spectacular. I'm a cheap drunk, though. What to do...what to do...

The lady/man standing in front of Pikachu looks like s/he's flashing it! :biggrin:

It's a good thing you didn't go Isetan. I'm sure you would have walked out with some of the Y10 000+ per 100g iberico ham!

One last thing...do you think it would be inappropriate to print out the coupon for a free glass of champagne with dinner? There's one here. I don't really care for champagne, but it might be good!

Edited by prasantrin, 08 May 2008 - 04:33 AM.


#343 Hiroyuki

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 04:40 AM

Just as I thought, it's not okura but okara, what's left of soy beans after soy milk is produced to make tofu.

I found a blog showing photos of a dinner at that restaurant. Again, I hope Peter doesn't mind.

#344 Peter Green

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 04:46 AM

I have to ask--I know how much the different dinners are, but how much is the wine pairing (if you remember, even though you didn't have it)?  I don't drink much wine on its own, but I love wine with food, and I imagine the wine pairings are spectacular.  I'm a cheap drunk, though.  What to do...what to do...


One last thing...do you think it would be inappropriate to print out the coupon for a free glass of champagne with dinner?  There's one here.  I don't really care for champagne, but it might be good!

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If they've got a coupon for it, then I see no reason not to do so! Especially seeing as how champagne goes with everything.

I can't recall what they're charge was for wine pairings (or sake pairings in my case) Really, I'd just glanced at the menu and settled on the shorter course just as a matter of timing. Having read what I've read about Yamamoto now, I would go for the wine pairing, but maybe you could ask them nicely to give you smaller tastings? Otherwise it's going to be a very red faced and giggling Rona heading out for Tokyo Bay later that evening.

I'd definitely go for the gastronomic course if I was going back, but that is going to be a lot of food for you (I remember Ginza Kuraudo in Osaka).

Maybe you could DHL me the leftovers?
:biggrin:

#345 Peter Green

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 04:47 AM

The lady/man standing in front of Pikachu looks like s/he's flashing it! :biggrin:

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It's possible! I think I heard a squeal of "pika pee!"

#346 Peter Green

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 04:52 AM

Just as I thought, it's not okura but okara, what's left of soy beans after soy milk is produced to make tofu.

I found a blog showing photos of a dinner at that restaurant.  Again, I hope Peter doesn't mind.

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I can't read the text, but the wine labels I can make sense of. Boy, does that look good.

Rona, why not just phone in and ask ahead about wine pairings? The pictures in the link have me drooling.

(Thanks, Hiroyuki!)

#347 prasantrin

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 05:05 AM

Rona, why not just phone in and ask ahead about wine pairings?  The pictures in the link have me drooling.

(Thanks, Hiroyuki!)

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The two wines were Y1500 per glass, so perhaps wine by the glass might be a better option for me. I think I could handle two glasses without making a complete food of myself. Maybe I should start practising with a couple of glasses a night now, so I can inure myself to the effects of alcohol before dining there. :cool:

You should read this blog, too. The pics are great, as is his commentary. I thought the Y26 000 course looked do-able for me, and he said his dining partner usually has a small appetite, too, but managed to eat everything without feeling too bloated.

Can't be too bloated, you see, because I have a wedding to attend the next day! (I heard the food's going to be crappy, though, so maybe I really should fill up at dinner!)

#348 Peter Green

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 05:45 AM

[quote name='prasantrin' date='May 8 2008, 03:05 PM']
[quote name='Peter Green' date='May 8 2008, 08:52 PM']

You should read this blog, too. The pics are great, as is his commentary. I thought the Y26 000 course looked do-able for me, and he said his dining partner usually has a small appetite, too, but managed to eat everything without feeling too bloated.

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[/quote]

I gotta go back if just for that "apple".

#349 Hiroyuki

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 06:40 AM

Seiji Yamamoto’s father-in-law grows this for them in small batches. A northern rice (koshikani?), but this is grown in the South, on their farm in Shikoku.

I have to ask this before I go to bed: Is this koshihikari by any chance?? It's a specialty of my former town!

#350 Peter Green

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 07:04 AM

Seiji Yamamoto’s father-in-law grows this for them in small batches. A northern rice (koshikani?), but this is grown in the South, on their farm in Shikoku.

I have to ask this before I go to bed: Is this koshihikari by any chance?? It's a specialty of my former town!

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It could very well be. Can you tell me a bit more about it?

My note taking legibility seems to have a very direct inverse correlation to the time of the night and how much fun I've been having, and I could easily have dropped or messed up a syllable or two!

The rice had such a nice feel to it. Like I said, we went through seconds on this (we have no shame) and I didn't want to lose that flavour.

#351 Hiroyuki

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 01:54 PM

Here's my post on Koshihikari, and here's the entry of Koshihikari in Wikipedia.
Koshihikari is the rice variety that has remained the most popular among the Japanese for decades, which is unprecedented in this country, where the people love to hear the words shin hatsubai (new release) and shin shouhin (new product).

The Koshihikari rice produced in the Shiozawa area of the Minami Uonuma region is the very best, and the most expensive (7,000 to 9,000 yen or even higher per 10 kg as opposed to the 5,000 to 6,000 yen for Koshihikari rice produced in other areas of Japan).

#352 Peter Green

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Posted 09 May 2008 - 05:00 AM

March 28 – Geek Like Me

This was it. The main event. Our raison d’etre for this trip (at least in Scud’s view).

The Tokyo International Anime Fair.

This was the 8th fair, having started up in 2002. When this had shown up in the little bit of prep I did for this trip, it pretty much cemented Japan as our choice destination.

I won’t print Scud’s response when he heard about this. This is a family food site, after all.

But there’s the crux of the matter. This is a food site, so I need to be careful in what I post. I can’t very well drool on completely about anime and manga without some nod to the dietary.

Soooo…….

Here’s breakfast.

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I’d been promising Scud that I’d do something with those pretty little potatoes I’d picked up a few days back, and I was running out of time. Plus, I’d been relatively disappointed in the spud we’d had at Asakusa the other day, so we needed something to put the mighty tuber back on its pedestal.

Breakfast, thus, was a matter of potatoes boiled in water heavily laden with salt and lemon. I like this as the lemon permeates the potato, and gives your taste buds a good wake up call.


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Drained, you have the potato in all its glory. Nature’s perfect delivery system for salt, and capable of carrying a healthy dose of animal fat in the form of melted camembert cheese.

So, food obligations out of the way, let’s look at Big Sight, and the TIAF.

I won’t go into details on getting there. Leave it be said that things didn’t go well, and, decked out in business suits as we were, we ended up getting a bit wetter than I’d planned (“I was fine, it’s just you that sweats like beer mug on a hot day,” says the Boy).
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Big Sight is, well….pretty big. I’m not 100% certain why, but it has a large saw sticking out of the lawn in front.

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That’s outside of Big Sight. Inside there’s the rake of good fortune (kumade).

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The rake of good fortune is the centrepiece of the November festivities on the Day of the Rooster and the Otori shrine. From what a read (on the conveniently attached sign) originally – in the Edo days - it was just the rake with the mask, but bits and pieces started getting added on, good luck charms refleccting the trends of the time. Looking at this I get overtones of scenes from both Akira and Paprika.

Saws, rakes, I’m tempted to go off on a monologue on the hardware store as arbiter of good fortune…..

Back to the TIAF.

Our plan actually worked. Given my (tenuous) links to the movie industry, we gained access as professionals (Scud as the bag carrier), our international passes ready for pick up at the desk. This placed us on the floor, at which point we could start looking at what was on offer.

The trade fair really covered three topics.

The first, and most important, was to give a head’s up on new projects that were coming available, and to try and work up distribution deals. The typical commercial anime will release a first season with 26 episodes, more or less containing a (hopefully) solid story with the opportunity for further expansion. This in comparison to the OVA, where the authors have a story to tell, and they’ll do it in whatever length they find appropriate (an example of this is the Hellsing OVA currently being wrapped up, which redid the anime and then moved on to get the whole manga worked through).


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For those who liked Ghost In The Shell, Mamoru Oshii’s bringing out the adaptation of Mori Hiroshi’s Sky Crawlers.


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And there was a new Lupin III being release, Green vs Red, in honour of his 40th anniversary (if you’re not familiar with it, the series tracks the exploits of the grandson of the famous French anti-hero, Lupin Arsene).

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And they had Lupin’s car (but they wouldn’t let us pose in it).

And, in other upcoming work,Takashi Miike’s doing a revival of the old Yatterman, due out in 2009. That should be…..interesting.


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The second element, and probably just as important, is to advertise available services, particularly with respect to projects that are already released. There are a lot of people out there who’ve had a piece of One Piece and Naruto, be it ever so small a part of the post production, who’ll leverage on that 15 seconds of fame (Warhol’s 15 minutes has been way discounted over the years) to get more work (and perhaps another few seconds).

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Then there’re the schools. I probably spent more of my talking time here while Scud wandered around gawking, looking into which universities were doing what. Part of the TIAF is the search for new talent, and a lot of that is coming up from a collection of universities offering animation courses.

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My concern is that perhaps too much of this is heading towards CGI work, which gets too wrapped up in the detailing, and loses track of the storyboarding, but that’s just me….

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Some interesting concepts coming from those young folk.

Third, there’re the foreigners.

As you’d expect, the Korean studios were there. When you sit through the credits at the end of most anime (doesn’t everyone sit through all the credits on cartoons?) you’ll see a lot of Parks, Kims, and Chois in those rollers. But the Seoul crowd are so well integrated into the industry that you don’t really realize they’re there at times.

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It was good to see the Maple Leaf out, with the Vancouver Film School, and the Taiwanese and Mainlanders were both out in force. The Chinese in particular are pushing their material fairly hard, but it still has a ways to go in terms of the storylines.

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And fourth, there are the awards, where the industry not only looks for what’s the best of the year (Neon Genesis Evangelion:10 takes Best Animation) but also recognizes the folks that have been putting in the years putting together the products that keep some of us glued to our screens.
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This goes beyond just the animators and writers to include the composers, design specialists, and even those who developed the paint for the cells (Shigeharu Kitamaru of Tayo Shikisai Inc).

Okay, so here’re some of the obligatory tourist shots.

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Tezuka Osamu’s work is still very much in the forefront. They must have one of the richest character portfolios outside of Marvel Entertainment.

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And Studio Ghibli had their own space (of course), with lots of the originals on display from the films (here’s some Nausicaa), as well as the Panda film that they’re currently showing (and we missed) at their museum.
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We checked out the new technology, although immersion visualization is getting kind of old. It's good for the arcade systems, but it'll take a while to get us wearing 3D glasses in the house.
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I keep hearing a Devo soundtrack in my head while I look at this.

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This looked like it had the makings of an interesting anime. At least its in the spirit of the site.

There's a strong retro element in anime, countering the push for CGI that I'd mentioned earlier. In the same way that you see (and hear) a lot of vinyl in the bars (records, not couches), you also have a strong sense of tradition in the editing and work habits of some of the studios.
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Old school.
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Scud and I were approached by a TV crew part way through (“Hey! He’s bigger and sweatier than anybody else! Let’s use him!) but we begged out of the interview (“Why do you have so many bags? What do you have in there? How much do you weigh?”)

The walking, the standing, the watching was all getting pretty relentless. After several hours we broke for food. As expected, the convention centre was expensive, and the choices weren’t particularly thrilling. But you're trapped, so there's not much you can do about it. The Boy and I figured that noodles were the safest bet.

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Scud had a simple bowl of ramen with vegetables, while I ordered the kim chi pork noodles. Concerned, they did inquire if I could eat “spicey food”. I let them know I was willing to take the chance.

Live on the edge, say I.

Removing the jacket, Scud was extremely impressed by how I had been able to recreate the coastline of Norway in sweatstains on my shirt.

As noodles go, they were fairly industrial. The pork had a nice fattiness to it, but the noodles themselves were “just there”. We'd been spoiled by the other places we'd been eating. Service, however, was excellent, handled by a working crew that all appeared to be in their 60’s or older. In fact, as a comment on the “greying of Japan”, you don’t see the young in the sort of jobs they used to cover – fast food. Service in these places (and I use the term “fast food” not just to cover McD’s and Co, but for the general assemblage of ramen places, bars, yakitori stands, etc) seems to fall more upon the elderly than the youth.

Scud and I were running down. We went back for another sweep to look into some of the material on display, check out some of the running sample clips, and get down more titles for future reference, but after about another 90 minutes we were ready to go.

There was a small sales area near the exit, and we did check it out in case there was anything interesting to pick up.

But Scud wasn’t willing to bring back one of the full-length Mine Fujiko pillow cases (about 5’5” long, and lots of room for padding), and he was pretty much convinced that the mouse pad would probably get him an appointment with the counsellors.
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Oh, well.

#353 Hiroyuki

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Posted 09 May 2008 - 06:08 AM

Here is a brief description of that object, "Saw, Sawing".

#354 OnigiriFB

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Posted 09 May 2008 - 07:01 AM

ALRIGHT!!! I've been waiting for this part since you started this thread. Very cool! I always wanted to go to that. I go to Anime Expo every year in LA and remember when they announced the Tokyo one.

BTW the boy's got a great sense of humor. I love the quote about sweating like a beer mug. :P

#355 nakji

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Posted 09 May 2008 - 07:35 AM

Scud's one lucky kid! Those Ryugin pictures made me snuffle in self-pity. Why was I foolish enough to marry a man who hates fish - and then move to Japan?


The anime fair looked so fun, and my husband covets one of those mousepads- were we going to go, but we went cherry-blossom viewing that day instead. It's a shame you missed the Ghibli museum; my favourite part of it was a mock-up of Miyazaki's desk and study, and an artists' studio, with all the cells and paints. Very old-school.

#356 Peter Green

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Posted 09 May 2008 - 09:18 AM

It's a shame you missed the Ghibli museum; my favourite part of it was a mock-up of Miyazaki's desk and study, and an artists' studio, with all the cells and paints. Very old-school.

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But it does give me a reason to come back! (but it'll be Serena's turn next)

#357 Rebecca263

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Posted 09 May 2008 - 10:04 AM

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This looks just like some of my partner's art installations from the late 70's to early 80's!
Come to think of it, it also looks like his living room, but that's a subject for another time.
My daughter is quite jealous of your travels, as am I. I would have wanted 4 bowls of that rice, and we could have spent days in the book shop!

That saw is an Oldenburg piece... he's made a living being 'witty' by designing huge sculptures of oversized every day objects.
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#358 Peter Green

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 08:05 AM

March 28 – That’s Amoray!

Well, actually it wouldn’t be moray eel, but the song works better this way.

We crashed comatose when we got back to the room, turning on the television, cracking some beers and cokes, and sifting through the twenty odd kilos of anime material we’d dragged back with us. I tell you, we were the object of unbridled envy on the subway, at least amongst the under 10 set who had their eyes glued on big carry-all bags with the anime characters on them.

I hadn’t been paying attention to the television, but Scud was firmly in couch potato mode. He called from the other end of the room:

“After 2 weeks here, Japanese TV still scares me.”

I looked. There was a main screen of dancing girls dressed as mushrooms, while separate windows in the corners had a giant rat and a very large cat doing gyrations of some sort.

At random a cut-away of a woman with odd hair and an apparent nervous disorder would spin across the screen.

I looked away.

Scud had been asking for eel. “Wait for Tokyo. Tokyo’s the place for eel,” said I.

Well, here we were, with only this night and the next left to us.

We’d better find some eel.

There was one not too far away, just down the hill in Higashi-Azuba, that I’d read about on Bento – Nodaiwa. I checked with the front desk, and they knew it, and recommended it as well. It’s an old converted rice barn, going back to the 1840’s, so it sounded like it would measure up on the funky-meter.

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I like it when you come in from the cold and the dank to someplace cozy. This place was definitely cozy.

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Worked over tables of dark, thick wood, well worn by the comings and goings of the decades, and worn down upholstery that’s almost as beaten up as me. No pretensions, no fuss.


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And I get a mouse for my chopstick rest. Rodents and ricebarns just seem like a natural pairing.


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This all just called for hot sake. Kikumasamune is what they carry, and that’s good enough for me.

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We took the set menu of eel, just what the boy asked for.

The English menu referred to “spitchcock”, a term I’ve seen in passing, but never paid attention to. It refers to an eel, split and then broiled.

Our first tray was a bit of tuna on the left, a bowl of big, broad, starchy green beans under the yellow lid (the photo did not work out), and eel in a jelly – soft and warm.

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The skin on this just holds back a bit, and the overall impression is of rich eel, with a slightly rubbery chewy feel as you bite into the jelly to get at the skin.

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This place is just way comfortable. We’re served by a trio of older ladies, all dressed traditionally, and all bubbling with smiles and “dozo”s.

Ah, this is the perfect evening for this. Almost. Cold and wet is good, but it would be even better if it was snowing outside.

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And, with our first selection done with, we move on to what’s behind door number two.

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This is eel grilled – sirayaki – golden and crisp. Scud was in Heaven, with that rich smell that eel has about it just wrapped around us in that cozy little, dark room.

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I hit the fish (heathen that I am) with just a hint of salt at our server’s suggestion. I’ve been pretty good about

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Something I hadn’t really commented upon, but there were numerous times while eating that we would watch some piece of ceramic on our table just move itself to another position. The little smudged spot is where this bowl began its career on our table. Whether this agitation is the result of small earthquakes, passing underground trains, or hungry ghosts, I really can’t say, but it’s quite amusing for the two of us just to sit there and watch our table setting rearrange itself.

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The chawanmushi inside wasn’t disturbed in the slightest, serenely waiting for us to dig in through the shredded nori and the sweet highlight of the candied orange peel and the crips greens to get at the body of the custard itself, hiding away more eel with sharksfin in its savoury body.

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At one of the other six tables in here I spotted a manly-sized Sapporo on the table of two salarymen, and so switched over.

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And then there was the broiled eel.

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The broiled eel came with rice, pickles, and a soup in accompaniement.

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This soup was done up from the liver of the eel, and had an aspect (my notes say) “of looking into a mountain pond after a small storm, greenery scattered over the surface, a slight disarray, but with a certain clarity as you see the rocky bottom.”

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Scud was getting very excited about this.

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And who wouldn’t get worked up over this? The glistening meat, the sweet sauce overpowering you with its weighty aroma?

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I can feel the meat pulling away, the skin just tugging a bit in a forlorn goodbye, and then the taste of that rich flesh bulled up with the sweetness of the sauce……

Pickles and rice accompanied our eel and soup, but those are of little consequence in the face of the sheer luxury of eel.

And we finished with fruit.

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Growing up, I had always been….disconcerted…at the presence of fruit as a dessert. It was always something we ate, generally between meals, not an item to be afforded pride of place at the crowning moment of a meal.

But one thing I was missing on this trip had been fresh fruit. Somehow it didn’t make it very often onto our menus, and, given the cost I’d observed in the markets, I can now appreciate how the cool, clean, palate refreshing power of a simple melon can be a wonderful thing.

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Scud was happy.

I was happy.

Our serving ladies were happy (at least they smiled and bowed a lot).

A good meal.

It was time to go home.
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#359 MoGa

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 08:22 AM


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And fourth, there are the awards, where the industry not only looks for what’s the best of the year (Neon Genesis Evangelion:10 takes Best Animation) but also recognizes the folks that have been putting in the years putting together the products that keep some of us glued to our screens. 

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Ooh! A little shot of Heidi there :biggrin:

Perhaps the single most important influence in popularising cheese amongst the Japanese.
(please note that I am not implying that Haiji was the only influence, or responsible in any way for introducing chiizu)

----
Hopefully you won't begrudge the Japanese for pushing up the price of elvers/angulas in Europe.

In the UK forum we have tails of people consigning their unwanted dishes of a hundred baby eels to the gullet of another diner (this post onwards). Here we get to see part of a fully grown eel savoured and relished and realising a much more appreciated potential.

Edited by MoGa, 10 May 2008 - 09:36 AM.


#360 Peter Green

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  • Location:Middle East/Bangkok

Posted 10 May 2008 - 09:07 AM

In the UK forum we have tails of people consigning their unwanted dishes of a hundred baby eels to the gullet of another diner (this post onwards).  Here we get to see part of a fully grown and eel savoured and relished and realising a much more appreciated potential.

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Ouch! 200e of eels not touched! I don't feel bad at all now about spending what we did on that meal in Tokyo.

(interesting, too, that the quotes also mentioned Ryugin as a "destination"! How I lucked into getting there, I'll never know. I guess it's just my year)