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Days 8 & 9: Tokyo -- Let's Talk About Food

Posted By Sara Yoo on Apr 12, 2010 at 10:57PM

Let's get down to it: I mean, food is roughly 50% of the reason why I was so excited about this trip, right? Taisho12 knew that if I did nothing else, my #1 mission in Tokyo was to eat a genuine, slurp-loud-as-you-can bowl of tonkotsu ramen. So he and Aki took us up to Ikebukuro, an area known for its numerous ramen shops. I am putting this on record here on Yoo Rang?: this has officially made the list of mieko14's Life-Altering Meals. Not only was the food itself transcendent, but it was as much about the experience as it was the actual taste and texture. Let me attempt to set the scene:

 

We arrive and wait in line outside in the cold for 30 minutes. Inside we can see the patrons happily slurping away at a u-shaped bar. Much commotion is coming from behind the bar as 5 ramen artists drain and serve noodles, ladle broth, toss toppings and rhythmically call out orders. We realize that the line extends into the restaurants, and the fortunate few allowed to wait inside have it worse because they stand behind seated patrons and are forced to patiently absorb the delicious sights, smells, and sounds. Some space opens up, and we scurry inside, only to be confronted by the Ramen Ticket Vending Machine (an incredible convenience IF you read Japanese...for the rest of us, it's incredibly intimidating). One of the guys behind the counter is kind enough to hand us an English menu -- perhaps it was the gaping mouths, blank stares and frantic pointing that gave us away? -- we make our selections, hand him our tickets, and within another few minutes are seated at the counter awaiting our bowls. And the result? Rich, milky broth with enough pork bone marrow for a silky texture; perfectly cooked, chewy noodles (obviously handmade because of their slightly uneven shape); menma with just enough crunch, slightly spicy because its simmering broth undoubtedly had a few dashes of togarashi; moist, delicate chashu, rolled so the fat is encased within the meat to hold in the juices. Absolutely perfect - thanks, Lil Bro.

 

Per another recommendation from Taisho12, we tracked down a CoCo Curry Ichibanya in Shibuya, one of a chain of restaurants known for its insanely hot curry. While we Myers/Nakamuras by birth are not known for our spice tolerance, the Yoos are fire-eaters and marketman was ready for the challenge. In addition to selecting your main course (tonkatsu, chicken katsu, fried shrimp), you can pick your spice level from 1-10, though you are not allowed to eat 6 and above without first finishing an entire plate of 5. Mom, Dad and I went for 2 (living on the edge), and after much consideration, marketman asked for a 3. Halfway through the meal, he was mopping his head with a napkin. By the end he had a mild case of the hiccups. Who knew those Japanese could make spicy??

Our last memorable eating experience -- also thanks to Aki and T -- came the next night at a sushi boat bar in who-knows-where. Like the places here in the States, you pay by the plate. Unlike the places in the States, the fish was as fresh as fresh can be, the helpings were immense, and it was super cheap!! Our grand total by the end of the meal was 50 plates for 6 people, to the tune of $80 total. Who says you can't eat cheaply in Tokyo? Leave it to two students to figure that one out!

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Day 7: Tokyo -- Shinjuku, Asakusa, Akihabara

Posted By Sara Yoo on Apr 6, 2010 at 8:38PM

Our first full day in Tokyo we ended up being so busy, that I forgot to take photos for most of the time. As a result, what follows is a pretty weak gallery. We spent the day traipsing through Askusa, stopped for a late lunch at this place specializing in a dish...can't remember what it's called but it involved rice cooked in broth with a topping of your choice, served in a bamboo steamer.  Of course it was presented beautifully (my steamed salmon was sprinkled with salmon roe and shiitake mushrooms), but I shoveled it in my face before I remembered the camera sitting next to me. You could spend the whole day poking around the shops at Asakusa...Mom and I bought obis at one shop, and I got some special shichimi-togarashi (seven-ingredient spice) to use in my ramen.

On the way back to our hotel in Shinjuku, we stopped off in Akihabara, the Electronics City. It is like a little city, if you could imagine every store carrying only electronics, video games, and manga. If I were 15 and a boy, it would be like dying and going to heaven. But it was wall-to-wall people -- not just 15 year-old boys! marketman decided to let his inner geek run wild and went in search of radio-controlled cars (a favorite pasttime when he was younger...ok, maybe it was 4 years ago), but after entering one 7-story building containing nothing but figurines (think: Ultraman, Sailor Moon, cute little animals with huge eyes, and a whole bunch of R-rated naked lady dolls), I panicked and made everyone leave. <Sigh>

Dinner was a quick meal down in the Shinjuku train station, and then we met Taisho12 and his friends for a night of drinking, bowling and karaoke. Aki found us an izakaya where they would let us drink all that we could over the course of 2 hours, and we rose to that challenge. I hit my max of 3 beers! marketman hazed the kiddos, and one of them returned the favor by ordering him a very tall gin and tonic. Let's just say that was the turning point of the evening.

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Miyajima: Day 5

Posted By Sara Yoo on Apr 3, 2010 at 10:10PM

Running a little behind due to some connectivity issues during the latter part of the trip. So to continue with Day 5...we hopped on the JR Line to Miyajima Island, about a 20 minute train ride and 10 minute ferry. Some of the oldest shrines and stone carvings have been found here on top of Mt. Misen, its highest peak. But what I was most excited about was, of course, THE FOOD. Miyajima is situated on the Seto Inland Sea and prides itself of anago (freshwater eel) and kaki (oysters). So after traipsing through the souvenir shops, we settled on a restaurant that did both. I went for some kaki furai (fried oysters) served with tartar sauce and ketchup while marketman picked ana-ju or anago donburi (strips of eel served over rice and brushed with a teriyaki-like sauce). YUM.

Miyajima claims to be the originator of the wooden shamoji (rice paddle) and is home to the largest one on record. The island is also the home to -- you guessed it -- more deer! Though these were far less aggressive and refrained from biting me on the rear. Might have something to do with the fact that, unlike Nara, Miyajima doesn't sell deer cookies on every corner.

Towards the end of the day, we took the tram ride up to a mountain-top observation deck to get a better view of the Seto Sea, and it was magnificent. A trail led away from the observation deck toward Mt. Misen, a scattering of temples and shrines, and the home of some mountain-dwelling monkeys. Monkeys who apparently do not like eye contact and will attack if they see the whites of your eyes (the New Yorkers of monkeys, in effect). Mom decided to stay back and rest her ankles, but marketman, Taisho12, my dad and I set out to find them with only one hour left until the last tram headed back down the mountain. No problem, considering it was only a mile's hike.

One mile through slippery, treacherous terrain and entirely uphill, it turned out. By the time we reached the final temple on the way up to Mt. Misen's lookout perch, we were gasping for air, still had a 7 minute uphill climb ahead of us and 30 minutes for our return voyage. We made it to the top, high-fived a group of Japanese teenagers who were in considerably better shape than the rest of us, took some photos of our surroundings and headed back down the hill. Not a single monkey was seen. Along the way we joked about how nervous Mom would be at this moment, picturing her gesticulating wildly at the tram conductor to get him to wait for us. As we approached the tram station and emerged from the trees, we could see a little figure standing at the edge of the trail, shouting and waving her arms. Boy, were we about to get an earful.

Filed in: Family, Travel | Tagged with: Miyajima Island, Family Vacation, japan
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The Deer Whisperer

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 30, 2010 at 6:24PM

marketman is well on his way to become a Shinto priest. Or at least a member of Bambi's posse.

Filed in: Family, Travel | Tagged with: communing with nature, nara, deer, Kyoto, japan
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Hiroshima: Day 4

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 29, 2010 at 6:29AM

Catching up on several days' worth of photos, and I realized that I have been quite trigger-happy with the ol' digital camera, so the next two days will get their own posts. :-) Wednesday morning we caught the Shinkansen down to Hiroshima - yet another cold, rainy day. After settling in at our hotel (conveniently located right next to the station), we put on our walking shoes and set out for Peace Plaza across town.

I have to say that I am still torn regarding the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While I understand the rationale behind decisively ending the war and saving potentially thousands of lives that may have been lost, visiting the Peace Plaza was a sobering and powerful experience. 300,000 deaths have been attributed to the bombing of Hiroshima - 200,000 from the initial blast and another 100,000 from the radiation. An untold thousands of people survived but suffered from radiation-related illness and deformities, and the effects can still be seen in subsequent generations. Peace Plaza serves as a monument to the innocents who lost their lives and a plea for continued peace.

Of course, with the emotional day behind us, we dug into a hearty dinner of okonomiyaki (how does one describe...like throwing your leftovers on top of a pancake and topping with an egg?) at Okonomimura - literally, "Pancake Town" where dozens of okonomiyaki vendors whip up these delights from their stalls in the building. Hiroshima claims to be the originators of okonomiyaki, so we couldn't think of a more fitting meal to cap off the day.

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Bowling in Japanese

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 27, 2010 at 9:00AM

Marketman testing whether the magic can happen on the other side of
the Pacific...


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The view from Mt. Misen on Miyajima Island

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 25, 2010 at 1:55AM

Looking out across the Seto Inland Sea.


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On the Shinkansen to Hiroshima

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 23, 2010 at 10:25PM


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Kyoto: Days 2 and 3 - Oh, Hai Rain

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 23, 2010 at 8:23AM

When we arrived in Osaka on Saturday, it was a brilliant 70 degrees outside and I started to question my decision to bring my puffy jacket and new rainboots. Fast forward two days, and all I can say is, thank goodness for down and vulcanized rubber! Monday was cold and wet, and Tuesday was even wetter. The puffy down also provided protection against deer attacks -- for more on that, check out the gallery.

Monday found us at Nijo Palace, home of the Tokunaga shogunate -- and perhaps the most paranoid ruler in history. So fearful was he of assassination attempts that he surrounded the palace with steeply sloped moats, allowed only female attendants in his personal chambers (questionable whether that was truly for protection, I know), and built his hallways with lightly squeaking struts (a "nightengale floor") so that nighttime intruders could be heard. Later we took a taxi up to Kinkaku, the Golden Pavilion, which is one of the main buildings of Rokuon-ji Temple and as the name implies, is spectacularly covered in gold leaf.

Today we decided to fully assume the helm as tourists by taking a bus tour of Nara. Nara was the capital of Japan for only 70 years during the 6th century (the capital was soon after moved to Kyoto), but during that time two of the most spectacular temples were constructed: Todai-ji, A Buddhist temple and Kasuga-taisha, a Shinto shrine. Todai-ji Temple is home to a 50-foot-tall cast bronze Buddha, and the structure around him (the Daibutsuden) is the largest wooden building in the world. At the foot of one pillar in the hall is a hole that it said to be the same size as the Buddha statue's nostril, and if you can pass through it you will be blessed with enlightenment in your next life. Guess who fit through that hole?!

P.S. If you are curious, mobile service has been restored! Thanks, Sugar IT!

Filed in: Family, Travel | Tagged with: nara, Kyoto, Family Vacation, japan
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Darn

Posted By Dave Yoo on Mar 22, 2010 at 9:30PM

Well, there goes my plan for being an "ugly American" in Japan:


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