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Showing posts from October, 2008

Tenno Yu of Hakone

Skinny dipping in Hakone on a pleasant weekday night under a full moonlit sky, surrounded by nature and ambient night lamps. Cold autumn night breeze, hot mineral springs warming me. I love these outings. The last train out of Hakone heading back to Tokyo is at around 7pm, last time I checked, but I never worry about that cause' I drive to hot spring spots. Usually at around 9pm most onsen are a deserted little oasis, since most people either head back home or stay overnight. 10:30 usually being around closing time is prime time for me. I scrub down, hit the sauna, cool down, and then soak for about 20 minutes. I do drink a nice icy cold beer, sleep it off a little and head back home. I once met a foreigner who lived here in Japan for seven years, and never once visited a place like this. Are you the same kind of foreigner ?

Saving Japan: Closing the Doors on the World !

Sakoku in Japanese “ country in chains” or “ lock up of country” was the foreign relations policy of Japan under which no foreigner or Japanese could enter or leave the country on penalty of death. This policy which in affect lasted for 218 years from 1635 to 1853, under the late great Tokugawa Iemitsu, kept Japan in peace and harmony for centuries. Of course there was Nagasaki, which was the only port accessible to foreigners, and maybe even Hakodate in Hokkaido...? How effective were such isolationist policies in preserving the cultural and spiritual integrity of the Japanese nation ?

The reemergence of cultural intolerance in Japan is on the rise again with some Japanese wanting a return to the old ways of Sakoku(ism), but not from a lack of cultural homogeneity or language, but from an excess of foreign ideals and rampant capitalism – Japan is not yet overrun with foreign immigrants who suck up all the jobs, like in the case of England, Germany and North America – instead, rathe…

Miso Dareyaki Dango ( Specialty of Gunma)

Misodareyakidango ( Specialty of Gunma), originally uploaded by Tony Alexander. Another (郷土料理)local specialty item that can only be purchased on site. This hot soft sweet miso dipped rice ball is one excellent treat, especially on a cold autumn morning when there're no restaurants open. The plate and food evoke a memory of old Japan, back when people appreciated slow food made with love and not machines.

Fried Chicken(Kaarage)

Fried Chicken(Kaarage), originally uploaded by Tony Alexander. In Japan there're millions of littler taverns called izakayas which serve chicken karaage ( fried chicken nuggets). This photo is exactly the way I remember them; hot,crispy, and juicy. A little mayo and lemon on the side to enhance the flavor and voila ! The best tasting bite sized nuggets money can buy. Honestly, no trip to an izakaya is complete without ordering these !


Umaimen, originally uploaded by Tony Alexander. Local specialty of Naruko; free-range chicken, seasonal wild vegetables with thin flat noodles. Carrots, greens,and muchrooms are familiar autumnal foods. This dish is only found in Miyagi Prefecture and is considered a true (郷土料理) local specialty of these region.

Nanatsuboshi of Hokkaido

Another rice grain that's loved in Japan. Nanatsuboshi. This is probably the third or fourth article written up on rice, which I feel is the heart and soul of Japanese cuisine. The reason for choosing this particular rice grain is because it's a new type of grain which was born from two rice strands; hito me bure and kirara 397, which are considered the best in Hokkaido. This rice is not only reasonably priced but delicious as well, and goes well with stews - I would never eat a koshihikari rice with a stew. This is a type of ordinary everyday rice used by millions of people in Hokkaido. I'm on my fourth day of eating this rice and on a scale of 1 to 10 I rate it at about an 8 because it's not as sticky as I would like and the water retention isn't as high as like say a koshihikari. All rice doesn't taste the same ! Some would argue that, but it's true, all rice doesn't taste the same.

Echizen of Fukui Prefecture

Late last month I attended an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet at the Yokohama Sheraton Hotel, which featured an excellent selection of comfort food from Fukui, Prefecture. Firstly, I am a local foods geek. I love local specialties from Japan. One of my favorite dishes is called Echizen oroshi soba noodles which uses graded daikon radish – not a very common topping for soba in Japan. The nice texture and sweetness really makes this a great specialty item from this prefecture. Another nice dish is the katsu-don, but unlike other pork dishes in Japan this one uses Worcester sauce and is deep fried giving the pork a crispy sweet taste. I had to go back for seconds and thirds on this one. The pork is bite sized and very easy to eat. Next, we have Fukui koshihikari rice. Actually, this is where koshihikari comes from ! The signature rice grain from this part of Japan is called Hana-Echizen and it’s in a class all its own and is regarded as just as good or even better than koshihikari…

Ethnic Taste: Bamiyan

Yes, that’s right, Bamiyan, a chain restaurant in Japan serving Chinese cuisines, which offers every known popular Chinese food dish right here in the land of green tea and onsen. But why write about it ? Well, for starters, according to Dancyu, a very well known food magazine in Japan, hails this restaurant as the best Chinese food you can get for the yen. The restaurant is graded according to taste, timely service, and atmosphere. Do I agree with Dancyu ? Yes, because I’ve been to China a few times and have tasted the best that they had to offer. I’ve even been to HK, and that was before England gave it back. Food from both of these countries left my stomach with ghastly gastrointestinal memories of which I won’t talk about here. I’m not China bashing, I just don’t think Chinese food in China can rival Chinese food in Japan – call me subjective. I know Chinese food in L.A. is quite delectable. I know that for a fact because I’m overweight and I have a strong addicti…

Ms. Autumn

Sexy Autumn, originally uploaded by Tony Alexander. Ms. Autumn, stretching forth her arms in the cold brisk autumn morning. Faint smells of acacia, roasted chestnuts and shampoo as she bathes in Autumnal splendor. Curvilinear, stretching, twisting, moaning, yearning, gracious, Japanese.

Simple Beauty

Fall has fallen upon us in reds and yellows. Just the other day as I was sitting in an open air bath in the midst of a lush thicket I was engulfed by a thick mist of calcium and sulfur. In the thick of it, I was thinking to myself…why are all the simple things in life taken for granted ? .

The air was cool across my body as I stood to stretch my arms and legs. I yawned and then I watched the steam permeate off my skin as onsen water percolated from a bamboo sheave somewhere behind me – not a care in the world. “If all things in life were this simple “.

After returning from ten glorious days in Turkey I got tired of paying for bottled water and toilets. And then there was the sub par food and poor customer service which finally took its toll on me. Japan has spoiled me. In Turkey I enjoyed visiting some awesome sights, though. Ten thousand years of history in ten days was way too much for me to be quite honest. Do the Japanese really know how good they have it here in Japan…

Ergonomics of Jukujo !

In America, Cadillac is a brand of luxury car produced and mostly sold in the U.S. and Canada. In the U.S., the name became synonymous for “ high quality” and the standard of excellence, used in such phrases as “ the Cadillac of watches,” referring to a Rolex, but for me it was “ the Cadillac of all women,” referring to the Jukujo or a ripe Japanese woman in her late 40s.

On earth there are few substitutes for a Cadillac; some are made in England, others are a made in Germany.  I have seen some with a nice front end, others with a not so nice one, until one day when I was at work I met a fairly beautiful one in mint condition.   She had a nice paint job, no nicks or burrs, fair skinned with beautiful rims! The only thing was that she wasn’t a Cadillac, but a Prince Gloria S40-E Series 1961~1966.  I’ve never driven this type of car before. What I came to learn, though, was that this car was in a class all its own being that it was one of Japan’s best known cars, one that was even …

Sauna Experience

Sauna, the wooden heat box, the Dante’s Inferno, the furnace, the pit, and a great stress reliever and detoxifier – 12 minutes of pain! Sitting in a Swedish style heat box with other sweat masters and detoxologist motivated me to push myself to the limit. Inhaling and exhaling, clinched fists, and closed eyes lids, heart pounding in my chest. Billions of tiny little beads of sweat bursting out of my pours flooding the wooden deck with excessive salt and waste deposits from an overly excessive and toxic body from last nights beer fest. The hardest part was breathing. In a sauna every breath counts. There’s just something about hearing our own breath as you exert energy just to breathe. You have to pace yourself, you see. You need to learn how to breathe in moderate rhythms so that you don’t over exert yourself. A good way to do this is to close your eyes and relax as much as you can. Pretty soon you’ll be approaching your maximum tolerance then afterwards you can reward your…

Landmark Tower!

Built in 1983, the LandmarkTower stands as the symbol of the 21st Century in Yokohama, Japan. This iconic building with 69 floors is home to over a dozen world-class restaurants, a hotel, and even a car wash! 

But what is a 21st Century building anyway, and what makes it any different from other fancy buildings in Japan? Maybe because it’s earthquake proof....I have experienced 8 quakes in this building.    When engineers design a building they want it to be a symbol of technological achievement. I mean, what use is a 21st Century style building if it can’t stand up to natural disasters?

My baby is YokohamaLandmarkTower because I’ve worked here and have been working here off and on for over half a decade. I think I have a pretty good grasp of the place, don’t you think?  I have experienced at least 8 earthquakes in this building, each ever so gentle, almost rocking me as if I was in a baby’s crib.  I even experienced a 9.0 quake which felt like a 2.0. I have been in this building …

Why I Do What I Do !

What most Japanese take for granted living in a country full of food and natural resources is astounding ! In a country like Japan where it's cute and fashionable to be skinny, millions of children in poor countries around the world languish in poverty and hunger daily who would give anything to fill their belly's. This award winning picture was shot in Africa of a boy struggling to reach the U.N. Food Bank, which was only 100 meters away. Unfortunately, he didn't have enough energy to crawl his weary body no further. The person who took this photograph was stunned at what he had seen; a vulcher sizing the boy up from head to toe waiting to seize him by the throat once the boy finally gave up. The photographer was over taken with confusion not knowing what to do, so he walked away and never looked back. Shortly after this photographer won the Pulitzer prize for this photo he committed suicide. Maybe he felt that perhaps he could've done something... Durin…

"Daina" is the name of this sake.

"Daina" is the name of this sake., originally uploaded by Tony Alexander. This sake was selected by Dancyu, a very highly recognized sake & food magazine in Japan, as one of the top regional sakes in Tochigi Prefecture. As you can see the magazine has a picture of the sake I drank while on vacation. This sake uses what's called gohyakumangoku rice which is a highly prized, highly polished rice grain used specifically for making top grade sake organically. This sake is very flavorsome, fruity, with clean finish, hints of acacia with a bit of a strong finish at the end. It wasn't exactly my taste, but it had good balance and I loved it overall.

"Souhomare" is the name of this sake

"Souhomare" is the name of this sake, originally uploaded by Tony Alexander. Another championship sake from Tochigi prefecture, according to Dancyu. This sake was very easy to drink and very delicious. It almost taste like fresh spring mountain water. N.B. Dancyu is highly regarded as an excellent food and sake magazine in Japan.