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Showing posts from July, 2009

Signature Rice of Yamagata: Hainuki

I have been rice tasting for years in Japan because I feel rice is an essential grain not only for Japanese cuisine, but also nihonshu. A few of my big favorites are Milky Queen, which is grown in few different prefectures in Japan. The one in the above link is organically grown in Toyama prefecture. Another one of my favorites is Sasanishiki rice. On that link there’s an excellent write-up on how to grade and taste rice. Another Sasanishiki from Akita prefecture is here.Then there’s this rice called “Hito Me Bore” which can be picked up at almost any major retailer you go to now. This rice is a big favorite of mine, actually I prefer this one over Koshihikari, King of Kings when it comes to rice, because I believe that the growers of Hito Me Bore have better quality control mechanisms in place than Koshihikari. My reasoning is simple. it’s a well known fact that Japan doesn’t grow enough rice annually to feed the entire population, and growing a premium rice like Koshihikari…

Yu Ho From Ishikawa Prefecture!

Yu Ho ! from Ishikawa Originally uploaded by McAlpine Alexander


This is a very special junmai Ginjo sake which hails from Ishikawa prefecture. The original owner of this brewery died just recently leaving his daughter to run the business. She(Miho) and the manager put their heads together and worked very hard to make a new sake for the spring of '07. This sake, according to her, is best paired with milk chocolate! That's quite a rare recommendation if you ask me. The sake is wonderful as I have a bottle! (N.B. this is an older post from 2007. I spent three hours fighting Tokyo traffic just to reach the only liquor store in Tokyo that sold it, and when I got there only one bottle was left). Now, 2009 the sake is gaining wide spread popularity not only in Japan but abroad!

Blue Heaven

Sōkū Jukusei Junmai nama. Sōkū meaning “blue sky.”I ordered this sake out of curiosity because another sake enthusiast, Ichibay, turned me on to it. He also mentioned about a mother rice grain varietal that was used to help develop Yamada Nishiki, which is a premium rice used for brewing high end sake. And then after doing some careful searching around I found someone else who did an excellent write up on this sake, but on another version of it written here by the MadameMy take on this nihonshu was one of amazement. Very smooth and delightfully soft on the palate filling the whole mouth, almost like cotton candy, very light nose and good overall texture and balance. I’ve been imbibing on this sake for a couple of days now and have noticed that the flavor wanes just a bit, but that could be a good thing for some people who may find something else in the sake. I am definitely interested in following up with the brewer on all of their new releases this Autumn, and would recomme…

Houraisen of Aichi Prefecture

From Aichi Prefecture. Junmai Dai Ginjo. HouraisenAccording to True SakeThis "Ultra" Dai Ginjo (40%) that was cold aged for 2 1/2 years has a meaty nosed filled with rich fruit, rice, and hint of banana elements. Welcome to the "anti" Dai Ginjo that is not fruity and silly, rather it is a deep and expansive brew that has as much attitude as the fish on the label. Crisp and bright, yet round and plump - how did they do that? It is a semi-chewy brew with complex layers of flavors such as caramel, plums, figs, raisins, and a full-bodied acidity that rounds out the incredibly regal mouthful. If you like a Dai Ginjo with attitude and long finish that is robust and beefy reel this fish into your glass. WORD: Rich WINE: Deep reds/Huge whites BEER: Huge ales FOODS: Complex cuisines, pate, cheese courses, smoked game. $120/720ml I would like to expand a little more with my personal opinion: The Kuchi-atari (first taste) is explosive....rich…

The Tokugawa Art Museum

I grew up hating museums because I saw no point in looking at meaningless objects uncased in glass boxes. A few decades ago, though, on vacation in Washington D.C., I visited the capital where I saw another object, but one of great admiration which was also encased in a helium sealed glass box; that object was called The Bill of Rights. Indeed I was impressed because in school I was taught so much about this document and then seeing it there right before my eyes was a sight to behold. I changed and grew to love museums. North America has a treasure trove of excellent museums, especially local ones. My interest in museums grew by leaps and bounds as I began traveling through-out West Asia(Turkey), some parts of Europe, Korea,Taiwan, and finally Japan.



My fascination with museums ultimately lead me to Japan where museums abound plentifully in just about every nook and cranny of every small town, city, and major metropolis. No city is without a national or local museum, or gallery of som…

Coffee With Hideki Tojo’s Grave Keeper

Situated atop Mt.Sangane, at a remotely located cemetery deep in Aichi, is one of three places where the former Prime Minister of War, Hideki Tojo's ashes are interred, along with seven other (so-called) war criminals. I visited this  site yesterday to have coffee with a  friend of mine who has been the caretaker of this site for nearly forty years. I was met by him and his lovely wife and together we chatted it up over a nice cup of coffee after arranging white flowers on all the epitaphs and tombstones. I took a few pictures when everything was done.

Tojo's ashes were divided between three locations; Yasukuni Shrine, Zoshigaya Cemetery,and Hazu, Aichi. The town of Hazu with its population of 12,000 doesn't list the exact whereabouts of his grave site, which I think it shouldn't, actually.  According to MacAuthur's orders the remains of Tojo  were to be scattered and placed in unmarked graves, but thankfully this didn't entirely happen.  MacAuthor is dead now …

Dinner Tonight: Yamachan’s of Nagoya

Lovely.  Just lovely. A mound of crispy fried wings perfectly seasoned with salt and special miso in downtown Nagoya.  No better way to start off your holiday in Nagaya than to eat these delicious wings. The second picture is three servings of wings.Premium malt beer to wash it all down.  Shrimp plate with cabbage and mayonnaise.  Very nice and tasty.These were nice.  Porked wrapped on a stick that’s dipped in Nagoya’s famous red miso paste.  Everything cost me around 3900 yen all together.

Seta Onsen of Tokyo

Seta OnsenLocated in the suburbs of Tokyo amidst concrete and old wooden buildings there's this really nice spa that was introduced to me by someone very special. A spa that not only is replete with just about everything you need for a nice relaxing afternoon, but also conveniently located just a few miles from city center, which is good for those who don't have a car. For me, I drove there and much to my chagrin the parking cost me 2000 yen, roughly the same price you pay for admissions to the spa itself – even after my ticket was validated. But aside from that I still recommend people try the place at least once. Upon entering the spa I immediately noticed how clean the facility was; clean floors, everything was neatly organized. At the front desk staff perfunctorily handed out keys and maps while paying little attention to customers faces, I guess for them getting customers is a routine thing so I guess it wouldn't be exciting wearing the same smile over and ov…

Takatomo Onsen 高友旅館

Cradled in the mountainous backbone of Tohoku, in a tiny town called Naruko, is a hotel  located entirely within the Kurikoma Quasi-National Park.  The hotel where I stayed at on the first night was one I'll never forget. Out of all the onsen ryoukans in Tohoku this little rustic inn was rated # 3 for having the best onsen. Actually, if you research this hotel you'll find that on just about every website that this onsen water is rated 5 out of 5 for mineral content! And that the rest of the accommodations are rated at 2 and 3 for the quality of the room.   Every room comes with a Kitchenette but the rooms and facilities are very old and dirty.  Not the kind of place you take some one who’s accustomed to world-class hotels.  People who come to this kind of hotel are only interested in this mineral rich brownish onsen water, not the conveniences of a 21 Century luxury onsen hotel.This was also the first time I had ever tried this kind of water which according to Japanese is a bl…

Lake Mashu of Hokkaido

Lake Mashu was a nice memory for me.  I can remember how cold it was.  I love the cold weather.  There is no river flowing in or out of it and the water level never changes!  The lake has a transparency of of about 14m.

Lake Kussharo of Hokkaido

This entire lake is one big gigantic mineral hot spring, so to speak...It’s a hot spring without the heat, so just a source mineral spring from deep under the lake.  If you come in March or Feb. you can see ice rise up from the lake creating huge noises!

Lake Toya

Lake Toya (Toyako) is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park in Hokkaido. Besides this beautiful lake, the area offers hiking, fishing and camping , as well as hot springs and close up views of one of Japan's most active volcano's, Mount Usu (Usuzan), which  erupted a few years back in 2000.
I actually enjoyed this campsite the most since I had started camping in Japan a few years back. 


Top Stops Along the Joetsu Shinkansen

There are four trains that run from Tokyo to Niigata: Max Toki, Max Tanigawa, Toki, and the Tanigawa. The total trip from both stations is about two hours.The stations starting from Tokyo are as follows: Ueno,Omiya,Kumagaya, Honjowaseda, Takasaki, Jomo-Kogen,Echigo-Yuzawa, Urasa, Nagaoka, Tsubamesanjo, and the last stop Niigata!



Now, if you have a car and prefer to drive then I highly recommend taking the Kanetsu Expressway. You don't want to miss out on an opportunity to drive through the Kanetsu Tunnel, the longest and most used tunnel in Japan! I think it's also the longest and most technologically advanced tunnel in the world. Before this tunnel was built, the average commute time around this mountain range was about 4 hours! Now it only takes less than 30 minutes to get through.  Not everybody has a car though, so the train is the next best option.  I've tried both.  By train you you give up a lot of scenery because of the speed at which you'd be traveling.…

Saving the Soul of Japan: Leaders

Yasuhiro Nakasone who was elected the 71st prime minister of Japan in November of 82’ and who was also a known nationalist and, first prime minister to visit Yasukuni Shrine, was affectionately known as “Ron-Yasu” because of his close relationship with the late Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States. (the American president who repealed almost every Civil Right initiative set forth in the 20th Century). ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////Mr. Nakasone and Mr. Obuchi shared many of the same initiatives; improving relations with the then USSR and improving the economy. There was also Mishima and Abe but they were both out of touch with the people, yet they were focused on reviving the Soul of Japan – both failed miserably. And then we had Obuchi and Nakasone who were both in touch with the people, and who were both nationalist who too both failed to revive the soul of Japan; two who were quite unrealistic and two who were quite…

Top Stops Along the Yamagata Shinkansen

The Tsubasa or Yamagata Shinkansen travels from Tokyo to Shinjo in 3 hrs. and 39 minutes. Starting from Tokyo the stations are as follows: Ueno, Omiya, Utsunomiya, Koriyama, Fukushima, Yonezawa, Takahata, Akayu, Kaminoyama-Onsen, Yamagata, Tendo, Sakurambohigashine, Murayama, Oishida, and finally Shinjo.


There are several things I absolutely love about Yamagata: great sake, delicious food, therapeuticonsen,cherries, and its signature rice called Hainuki. When not using the Tsubasa, the local JR lines are just as nice because you get a chance to take in the views of all the rural farm lands as well as the seasons.


But, allowed me to list up my favorite stops along this line.
After you reach Yonezawa station, which connects you to two major lines; the Ou Line and the Yunesaka Line. Yonezawa is a city famed for itsBeef. You can also enjoy a deliciousYamagata style station bento lunch replete with local favorites from this area. The station is small, but accommodating. …

The West vs. Shumei Okawa

True Story: It was slight overcast morning when those judicial martyrs were ushered into that hot and stuffy court room. I could almost imagine through history's eye; as Mr. Okawa sat there, throat choked up with nervous anxiety. His face showing visible signs of tardive dyskinesia. He flinched as each of the charges were being read out by Judge Webb in front of a packed all white courtroom. Mr.Okawa finally cracked under the sheer enormity of the charges that were being leveled against him and his comrades. He was quickly ushered out of the courtroom, hospitalized, served a short two year stint behind bars and was released into society as a normal citizen and acquitted of all war crimes. //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////( "If you were any other nationality from any other non-Western country other than Anglo-America and you were in that courtroom that day then you were considered white by default - it was an Anglo Cour…

Top Stops Along The Akita Shinkansen

My favorite stops along the Komachi takes you from Tokyo to Akita in about four hours! Starting from Tokyo, the stations are as follows: Ueno, Omiya, Sendai, Morioka, Shizukuishi, Tazawako, Kakunodate, Omagari, and the final stop is Akita. I have personally been to 9 of these stations myself. So what's good and when is the best time to ride the Komachi. I say spring, since it's that time of the year where cherry blossoms bloom. Also, there's still snow up around this area through March!


For starters, again, from Tokyo Station get a deluxe super bento box. A nice beer would be great also. Tokyo station has dozens of delicious bento places where you can buy something very unique for your journey. Ueno station offers about the same thing. Omiya station has nothing to offer, except an American pharmacy selling everything from Dove soap to Pepto-bismo. Other then that, there's nothing noteworthy about this station.




Sendai is good. In Sendai you can try beef …

Mayu’s Legs

Have you ever sat on the warm place a beautiful Japanese woman just indented on the trains narrow seat? “He gave her a hug, you were great too, you still have “dickie”** to do. If I could undo it all I would. Where would you begin? There was no place. Giving him courage. He lies down on the passenger seat in the car. Synthetic fabric of the car seat warmed by his cheek confided in him an ancient distant scent of vanilla" (John Updike 1932).



I make it a good habit to sit in many warm places whether it be on a train or in a bus, especially on hot and humid days where less dressed is best. From these warm places I gain inspiration and insight, and most of all enlightenment of the subject. Just the other day on the train, a young mother sat across from me. A picture perfect beauty, with her fair skin and toned thighs. Far too busy with her make-up to worry about me or anyone else for that matter. Her stop finally came, she got off, I moved over and sat in her…

My Favorite Stops Along The Tohoku Shinkansen

Express trains that run from Tokyo stretching far up into Northern Japan to Hachinohe are called MaxYamabiko/Max Nasuno/Yamabiko/Nasuno/Hayate with stops to some of the best places in Tohoku region. The list of stations along this line, starting from Tokyo: Ueno, Omiya, Oyama, Utsunomiya, Nasushiobara, Shin-Shirakawa, Koriyama, Fukushima, Shiroishizao, Sendai, Furukawa, Kurikoma-Kogen, Ichinoseki, Mizusawaesashi, Kitakami, Shin-Hanamaki, Morioka, Iwate-Numakunai,and finally Hachinohe. Since my focus for this post is food,nihonshu, stations and shrine related, I will only focus on what certain stations have to offer along these lines.================================================================= For starters,whenever riding on one of these express trains, you should pick up a nice lunch box. Both Tokyo and Ueno stations offer deluxe lunch box sets, each featuring the local delicacy of these two cities. You have to request the really good ones since there may not be any in th…