Wednesday, 15 June 2011


Well it seems that Neil and I are off to Blighty today! We're very excited about seeing friends and family, and we'll be celebrating dad's 70th birthday, as well as our one year wedding anniversary! I'll be back in mid July for more Tokyo shenanigans.......

Monday, 13 June 2011

Art museum - Nagasaki

The wet weather meant that we tried to find as many things to do inside as possible and luckily there was a Miro exhibition on at the Nagasaki Art Museum, a splendidly airy building straddling a river and situated on the waterfront at Dejima. I really enjoyed the exhibition and loved the way that the space was used in the museum. We sat in the "straddling" section for lunch where we had a foot warming beef curry.

Dejima - Nagasaki

Japan was closed to foreigners for over two hundred years during the 17th and 18th centuries, due to a fear of the spread of Christianity. The only place that was kept open to outsiders within that time was the tiny island of Dejima, just off Nagasaki. This was first inhabited by Portuguese missionaries and traders, but when they were banned from Japan, the Dutch took over and Dejima played a fundamental role as the only open window to the West. It was a centre for trade and also housed the Dutch employees who conducted trade. Influences from both Holland and Portugal seeped into Japanese culture, just as certain Japanese cultural elements were taken back to Holland. This model village shows how the island may have looked and many of the houses and warehouses have been beautifully restored.
This is how one of the houses would have looked and is a reproduction of a model that was taken back to Holland to show to the Dutch how the Japanese lived.
This was one of the living quarters of the head clerk.

Food - Nagasaki

Outside influences mean that the local cuisine in Nagasaki is quite varied, with dishes such as sara udon, champon, castella (a sponge-like sweet from Portugal) and pork in bread.There is a bustling Chinatown in Nagasaki and we decided to head there for lunch and sample the glorious sara udon that we'd read about.
We found a "Chinees" restaurant, but decided to head to Kouzanrou that had been recommended.
I ordered the glorious sara udon noodles and was not disappointed. It consists of a thick sauce with vegetables and meat over a bed of gloriously crispy fried noodles.....
This is the mysterious dish that is pork nestled in a pocket of bread. In England we would call it "Pigs in Blankets".
In the evening we headed back to Shianbashi for an early evening drink. The narrow lanes were very quiet at that time, but I'm sure they got a lot more lively as the night went on.... We decided to slip into a local izakaya to sample some yakitori (chicken skewers) washed down with cold beer, before heading to the waterfront to wolf down some yummy tonkatsu (breaded pork) and rice.....washed down with another cold beer....
One of the local delicacies we didn't get to try was champon - morsels of seafood, meat and vegetables served with a dollop of thick noodles in piping hot soup, although Neil did contemplate this one at the airport...

The Atom Bomb museum - Nagasaki

Of course one of the main reasons that Nagaskai is famous is for being the second place in Japan to be hit by an atom bomb. It happened only three days after the Hiroshima bombing and obviously completely destroyed a thriving city. The museum was our first stop in Nagasaki and naturally quite a harrowing experience, but we felt it needed to be done. Over 73,000 people died immediately from the bombing and over 74,000 were injured, and many of their personal stories are related in the exhibition, along with detailed accounts of the events and recovered items from the carnage.

The approach to the museum is surprisingly serene, along a weeping willow-flanked river.
Brightly-coloured garlands of origami storks greet you at the gates. These have been donated by children visiting the museum, in memory Sadako Sasaki. She was a girl who developed leukemia ten years after being exposed to radiation from the Hiroshima atomic bomb. She believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes, her illness would be cured. Sadly she died, having folded 964 cranes. Sadako's friends took over the task of folding 1,000 paper cranes and it soon became a symbol of the worldwide prayer for peace throughout Japan and also overseas.
The building is impressively designed, with a light filled spiral hallway that leads down to the exhibition.

Rain, rain and more rain - Nagasaki

Last weekend, Neil and I decided to head down to Nagasaki in Kyushu, the furthest point south on the south island. We'd heard a lot of nice things about it and were intrigued to find out more. As it was, our biggest worry whilst there, was whether we were going to get trench foot or not! It didn't just rain, it didn't just pour, we had torrential rain, pretty much solidly for the whole of the two days we were there. We have now had our first proper experience of the rainy season and never want to experience it again! Having said that, I can see how Nagasaki is a lovely city. It has a wonderful tram system (quite romantic) which we enjoyed taking around the city, and there is quite an eclectic feel to it as there are many foreign influences.

Friday, 10 June 2011

June morality poster

June's morality poster depicts another cute animal, but I can't help thinking it's taking the message a little too far. The caption underneath says "Please be careful that your wet umbrella does not drip on others". I'd love to see someone on the subway do what this dog is doing.......

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Plastic food

I have always been bemused by the amount of plastic food that is used here. Many restaurants use it for display purposes oustide their buildings or proudly shown in a glass case or in the restaurant window. This is often to show a visual for potential customers, but has often proven very useful for me when my limited caveman Japanese is not enough to convey what I would like to eat. I just point at what I want and hope for the best. I have to say, most of the plastic food looks pretty unappetising, but I'm always amazed at the artistry involved in making it.

On saturday, Laura and I found ourselves in Kappabashi after the fish market. It is a whole street full of shops that offer everything for the kitchen, and amongst those are shops catering to the plastic food clientele. I was amazed at how expensive these pieces are, but I guess some people would see them as almost works of art. We were lucky enough to catch a demonstration going on of how to make a lettuce.

It turns out that the "food" is made from wax. It starts out as melted wax and is in separate pots depending on colour. A ladle-full of the wax (in this case, one of green and one of white) is placed into hot water. It is then quickly submerged and the two wax colours merge and become "wobbly". This wobbly piece of wax is then quickly lifted out of the water and wrapped up in a small ball to resemble a lettuce and then quickly dunked in cold water to set it. The finishing touch is to cut the "lettuce" in half. This lady looks very proud of her achievement!


On saturday morning we decided go to a rather famous institution in Tokyo - Tsukiji fish market. We have been meaning to go ever since we arrived in Tokyo, but the early start had always put us off. Basically we were told that to see it at its best, you had to get there at 5am to watch the auction in progress. This is when all the massive tunas are laid out as well and is meant to be quite a dramatic sight.

Sadly, Laura and I weren't quite organised enough to get there for 5am and rocked up at 10.30, expecting not to see much. Most of the market was pretty much packed away by that point, and all the little motorised trucks were racing round, finishing off their day. We did however manage to find one sweet man (with a very big knife) in the process of slicing up a tuna. He invited us to stay and watch and even gave us a sample of the raw, freshly cut fish to eat, washed down with some green tea! Quite an experience.

After the fish is cut into pieces, each piece is carefully wiped down and then wrapped up in layers of paper, to be kept in the freezer until it's needed. He told us that he supplies to restaurant near us in Daikanyama, so now we'll have to go and sample its delights.....

Tasty Tonkatsu

On friday night we met up with our friend Tatsuya again and he took us to a tasty tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets) restaurant in Nishi Azabu. Both he and Laura are big foodies, so there was much feasting to be done and the food was gorgeous. The best part was that we got to try five different kinds of tonkatsu, with choices of Japanese pork as well as Eritrean and Hungarian. Each piece had a little flag stuck in it to show where it was from and we had a good time deciding which was our favourite - all washed down with some good old Hoegarden beer.

Rollicking Risotto

I have been horrendously bad at keeping up with my blog recently, but there has been good reason as my lovely friend Laura paid me a fleeting visit over the weekend. There was much merriment, even though the weather was diabolical (it poured down every day she was here), and we had a fab time trotting around the city, exploring new places and revisiting old ones.

On her first night we wanted to go to a famous izakaya in Shibuya, but it was booked up, so we went to our lovely local Italian restaurant instead, run by a husband and wife team. We have always wanted to try their trademark dish - parmesan risotto - so both of us went for it and it was gorgeous. They prepare it at your table and actually mix it up in a massive half round of hollowed out parmesan. First of all they set light to the inside of the parmesan, using 95% proof Polish vodka. This helps melt the cheese. Then they pour the risotto rice into the parmesan and give it a good mix around to soak up all the cheese. They then dish it out and it's ready to go, washed down with a glass of red wine - scrumptious!