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Showing posts from August, 2008


I decided to post this sake because it's super popular in Japan. It's called Kariho and it hails from Akita in Tohoku.   It's a super dry Junmai with excellent texture and balance.   Again, another sake you cannot go wrong when left with nothing else to choose from.

Yonezawa Beef "Yamagata"

First the Saka-No Yakiniku Shop of Yonezawa

Centrally located yakiniki (beef shop) in downtown Yonezawa in Yamagata offers premium beef at affordable prices.  My seventh time in this city, and after trying dozens of other name brand shops from all over Japan,  I’ve found Saka-no arguably the best in terms of price and convenience, thanks in part to rurubu, a Japanese travel guide, and by word of mouth.

This restaurant is also a local favorite. I love local favorites, don’t you ? Now, with a limited budget of maybe, 2000 -3000 yen, you can enjoy eating this meat right here in the mother lode of beef itself; Yonezawa, C ity. This restaurant is very easy to find.  The address is 6-115 Kaneike 5 Chome Yonezawa, City, open daily during business hours. The phone number is 0238-26-4829.

There’s no English service available. Only very rudimentary knowledge of Japanese is required and a bit of kanji and you should have no problems ordering.   I highly…


The last couple of days I was thinking up what to say about Sasanishiki rice.   There isn’t a lot of information on this type of rice so I’ll be the first to give my own personal opinion.

What does rice do to food ? First, it enhances other food and what I mean by that is though rice may generally taste the same, give and take texture and some mild flavors, do to food what macaroni  does to a nice cheese,  it embellishes it.

Rice absorbs the flavor of whatever you are cooking, it adds to its texture and balance. Many experts grade rice according to its water retentive qualities while some other experts judge a rice by how masticable it is in the mouth; higher water retention, better quality of rice; firm and doesn’t fall apart in your mouth is also another good sign of a high quality rice.

Most people nowadays associate “koshi-hikari” rice as the holy grail of rice in the world and because of it people are trying to mimic how to grow it, but everyone knows the best koshihikari grain…

Kyushu Shinkansen

Shinkansen (bullet train) are great. Where else besides France and China can you travel in style at such high speeds ? High back reclining chairs with plenty of leg room can easily accommodate an overweight guy, especially if he’s munching on some delicious local delicacy while enjoying the view from his own private window. So here I was on the Kyushu Shinkansen which was moving at about 300km/hr. along hundreds of miles of rail smoothly and efficiently and all I could think about was how spacious and comfortable this ride was. I stood up and walked around; went to the men’s room, which by the way is absolutely gorgeous, there’s a separate room with just a urinal. The train even had a special compartment where you can talk on your mobile phone or even smoke. There’re vending machines located in different compartments of the train, but if you’re too lazy to get up then a friendly stewardess will come by pushing a cart loaded with goodies and drinks.

Fukurodani Taki

Waterfalls. I love waterfalls. This photo was taken in Iwaki, Fukushima

Iwaki Rice Fields

Iwaki Backcountry !


This is a very rare and local label from Hitachi City, Ibaraki.   Perhaps after drinking this sake you wouldn't be able to tell whether or not it's from this part of Japan, probably one would say "Niigata...?" At any rate, the label is hard to read, but it's called Fyukyushin ! 15 to 16% junmai ginjo/ plus 4 / Fyukyushin / shi ina shuzo ten/Hitachi city ibaraki prefecture.

Fukushogun "副将軍" of Ibaraki Prefecture

This sake is perhaps one of the most established labels in Ibaraki as it was named after a very famous vice general, hence the name "Fukushogun." I left out the flavor profile because it's a ginjo and because I was too drunk to be a taste critic. I always go with what the locals recommend anyway, and plus it was a good sake and one that deserves a little more attention.   If you ever visit this prefecture, and want something very local, you cannot go wrong with this one.

Miyamaso Onsen of Fukushima

Natural calcium in this excellent onsen which is located about an hour south of the Fukushima/Ibaraki border. Great overnight lodging and board. I would suggest winter if you plan to visit here because the open-air bath being as large as it is would command a descent view of nature.

Perfectly Fried Tempura

Fried to perfection ! There's beauty in perfection

Warm & Inviting

Satomi of Ibaraki

Satomi's junmai-shu(mostly rice) of Ibaraki. Ibaraki produced quite a few labels when it comes to sake, but there're only a few that stand out, Satomi is one of them.    Nice overall flavors, but not something I would sing to the heavens about.    And some how I doubt you'll ever be able to find this unless you go to Ibaraki.   Sake(s) like this are so local and hardly ever heard of that there's hardly any mention of them, not even by locals.     I do recommend that if and when you do come to Japan, try as many of these small locally brewed sake, as much as you can.   Some are very delicious.

The Beauty of Hell

The beauty of hell! Beppu is a famous hot springs town in Oita known for its enigmatic red and sometimes brown geothermal water. In other parts of the world, these gaseous cauldrons of molten hot liquids are left as they are as most people have very little to no interest in them. Probably due to the smell and level of toxicity associated with them. One of the many charms of Japan, though, is how well so many elements are infused into definable aestheticism. Like the Beppu hot springs. Here, the hot springs, like in all other parts of Japan, are regarded as places of healing and respite where people often travel far and wide to unwind and to reflect on the natural beauty and bounty of Japan. Sure, other countries may in some way or the other do the same, but not on the same level as Japan. The hot springs in this part of Japan are likened unto the great hell, the pit of eternal damnation, that place they told us we would go if we were bad little boys and girls in Sunda…

Samurai Resting House

Korakuen Gardens

Koraku Gardens North Side

Beautiful Korakuen of Okayama Prefecture

One of Japan's three most beautiful gardens Situated in the center of the city, Korakuen offers the visitor some of the best natural landscapes in the country. I really loved this garden/park and enjoyed some of the people I met.

Sake & Beef !?

Immediately, when one thinks about what pairs well with a nice juicy steak, the answer most people  give is wine.    I think it’s because wine surrenders herself over to steak,  like the fine mane of beauty itself.

Wine embellishes the taste of a medium rare sirloin, and while not allowing her taste to steal the moment from steak, wine gracefully bows out after each swallow.  Just like a fine wine.   I think nihonshu (rice beer) is just as graceful and should be spotlighted for her loveliness as well. Suginamiki is what the brew masters call her; she’s young and vivacious, yet very disciplined for her age. She’s a nama which means she has living enzymes that keep her fresher and younger tasting than all the rest of her contemporaries.

She’s also a honjozo nama which means she’s a bit more charming and aromatic as well. Her date for tonight was Tochigi Beef which is known through out Tohoku as a championship beef in itself. Here at the Cowherd of Nasu Shiobara was my golden chance to…

Mizu Mangu !

Yes, it’s that time of year again when Japanese confectionery is at its best. Of course there’re zillions of different places that offer wagashi ( Japanese sweets), but if I had to recommend one place, and not because I tried it only once there, but many times, then I would like to introduce First Food Akebono's of Shirakawa in Fukushima. Their phone number is: 0248-22-4720 and it's located off the Shirakawa interchange off the Tohoku Expressway, right across the street from the Hospital on the corner. Can't miss it !
This place shouldn’t be confused with Akebono’s of Ginza, even though their names are the same. Neither should it be compared with anything around Kanagawa, or even in Tokyo even though there is some affiliation between the chains. Akebono’s of Shirakawa is truly a local favorite in and around Fukushima because it’s here that some of the oldest techniques are used. Everything is made by hand which is what many of the octogenarians love watching w…

Old Fashion Natto !

I took this picture in my hotel room in Mito City. This was the best tasting natto I've ever had ! From the magazine shot you can see I was traveling around Ibaraki !

Natto Katsu "Natto over Pork Cutlet"

This is heaven. In Mito City, around noon, enjoying natto, fermented soybeans over deep fried premium pork roast. If ever in Mito city, Ibaraki then head over to a place called "Tonraku" in Japanese"とん楽” which is conveniently located around the city center.

Reflections: Suisen

This post is dedicated to Yasuhiko Konno, the owner of the famed sake brewery called Suisen, which was destroyed in the Great Tohoku Chiho earthquake. The picture above was taken from my book that I had published back in 08' of onsen and sake. This image was shot near the Toyusawa River in Iwate Prefecture from my room . The sake to the left is Suisen. ================================================================= The veranda where I stood for this picture was epic and evoked in me a sense of power and mystery over how well sake and Japan blend so wonderfully together with nature, time, and space. Relaxing in the cool of the evening in my room at Namari Hot spring, overlooking the Toyusawa River with a very cold bottle of locally brewed jizake, right after a nice dip in an onsen was amazing. ================================================================ I owe and dedicate this memory to the master craftsmanship of Mr. Konno and his team of specialist who have been work…

Buko Onsen of Chichibu,Saitama

N.B. All of my onsen pics are watermarked all the way through. This is a picture of one of my very favorite hot springs in Saitama Prefecture in Chichibu. The alkalinity in this water is rated at 10 pH ! What does that mean, exactly...? pH (lower case "P" upper case "H" potential of Hydrogen) is the measure of alkalinity and acidity in water on a scale of 1 to 10. Drinking water is typically measured at around 7 pH. Lower numbers denote higher acidity levels whereas higher numbers denote a higher alkalinity level. The higher the pH the more beneficial it is for the skin. Natural skin emollient !

Jumbo Seafood Set

Fresh catch of the day, chilled sake, miso soup, and pickled veggies.

Sea Urchin

I love sea urchin, not only for its creamy texture, but also for its delicate sweet taste. I also love how well it pairs with rice wine and hot rice, just to name a couple. The sea urchin you are looking at in this picture was caught the same day I arrived at this restaurant, so it was very fresh and cold. Never eat sea urchin that has been around for more than a few days because the taste changes from sweet to sour and pungent. Some of the best places to eat sea urchin: Ibaraki, Hokkaido, Iwate ! I have eaten sea urchin at several sushi restaurants all through-out Kanagawa and Tokyo, none of them taste as good as the regions I mentioned above. Current studies on sea urchin are astounding: Sea Urchin

Misty Onsen

There's just nothing like sitting in an cypress bath at 10 below centigrade at around midnight, alone and with an ice cold sake packed away in some snow right beside you,   in the middle of winter when everybody's deep in slumber.   Words cannot describe it.   I don't know if it's the smell of the hinoki; the natrium in the water, the winter pine freshness in the air..... Can't quite put my finger on it.    This is Japan.

Campin Season

Before I became a Captain Stagg's man I was a Coleman's man. This picture was taken at Lake Tazawako in Aomori Prefecture. In this picture you can see Ozarks(small tent) and my dining tent by Coleman's.


Suraragi of Yamagata Prefecture is an excellent choice by Otoko Yama Shuzo of Yamagata. This is a ginjo nama which means it needs refrigerations. The taste for me was very refreshing and very easy to drink. No funny after-taste, just a nice clean finish.

Hito Me Bore

Love at first taste would be the proper axiom for this rice, but the farmers in Miyagi who grow it chose to name it “Hito Me Bore” love at first sight. I know I was in love after the first bite and the sight of it, the sight of this hot steamy rice in my plate, alongside a nice juicy steak was enough for me to agree with both titles. “ Love at first sight and love at first taste.”

What is rice anyway ? And what’s with all the fuss over name brand ? For starters, rice is an edible grain which is the primary food source for half the people in the world. Quality of rice is measured in many different ways. Some experts measure rice according to its attributes: stickiness-to-lips, roughness, hardness, and cohesiveness, tooth packing/tooth stickiness, and cohesiveness of mass, all of which is designed to confused the reader and the author. What’s important is to keep it simple. Take for example Koshihikari, the signature rice of Japan, and the single most recognizeable Japanese ri…

Tenzan of Hakone !

Located about 20 minutes from Hakone station by bus is one of Hakone's best day use onsen(hotsprings). Here, day users can bath all day for 1,200 yen while soaking in the surrounding nature. Although this onsen is not unisex there's a family bath just across the parking lot where everybody can enjoy bathing together. I highly recommend visiting Tenzan onsen on Weekdays as it is almost never crowded. Getting here is too easy. After arriving at Hakone station just wait for the free shuttle bus which comes every 20 or 30 minutes.

Recommendation: I recommend bringing your favorite book and a pair of pajamas or a robe. Tenzan is not just an onsen facility. It's also place full of ameneties with a wide range of restaurants and relaxation areas. The relaxation room overlooks a river where you can relax while reading or sleeping. They have an excellent shabu shabu restaurant which serves up some of the best tasting beer you can buy on tap. They also have massage chairs and a mus…