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Showing posts from May, 2011

The Soul of Japan: Great Beef

Countless articles have been written about Japan's premium beef steaks, but if I were to narrow down just a few places, then here is a map of my personal favorites:

On some of the listings there are links in English describing restaurants and the type of beef that they serve. The listings are all well recognized establishments that serve premium grade beef at relatively reasonable prices. I didn't include Kobe Beef mainly because of its exorbitant price ranges. I'm a firm believer that not all great tasting fatty beef have to cost a fortune. In my map the restaurants listed serve just as good or better beef than what's served in Kobe. I have had Kobe Beef and it was good, but I personally don't find it worth the hefty price tag. I know of a few more establishments myself, and will add more later. This is just a modest listing.

Japanese beef has quite a long history and is worth a try if you're ever in Japan. How beef is made in Japan has a lot to do with how the…

The Soul of Japan: Great Train Lines

Just in Tokyo alone, if we were to include private rail stations, there are about 704 train stations in the greater Tokyo area. How many stations in all of Japan? Probably thousands. This sort of reminds me of a friend of mine who once told me that you would need several lifetimes just to visit every single hotspring in Japan. The same analogy could also be applied to the number of train stations in Japan, if you were to visit them; there're just too many to visit in one lifetime.
Here is a google map of the many stations I have visited and gone through over the years. I have written about some of my favorite train travels here, here, here, and here.
There are more, like about my travels to Akita, and so forth and so on. This is, like my onsen maps, a work in progress. As the days and weeks go by I will enhance some of the place markers so that you can get a better idea of the places I have personally been to. A lot of my travels are focused up north in the Tohoku region, because I …

The Soul of Japan: Greatest Onsen

N.B. We do not use plural forms for Japanese words, so onsen is always in the singular form.

I have compiled a number of highly regarded onsen from my own private database, along with highlights on Google Maps. The onsen, for those who do not know, is a hotspring. A mineral rich spring that comes up from the earth that people bathe in. In North America, most people snap photos of such places, while here in Japan the locals bathe in them. The hot spring is a source of healing and relaxation that many Japanese travel far and wide to soak in. Some Japanese regard the onsen as a rich part of their cultural heritage, while others just consider it a pastime, something they typically try to enjoy once a year. There are many icons on my google maps, so what you'll need to do is zoom in closely to whatever area you are interested in. There should be some commentary there about all the places I have visited. This map is a work in progress so as the days and weeks go by I may begin uploading …

A Jukujo Story

6pm, the World is supposed to be ending, according to an 89 year old American preacher in Oakland California. What better way to end the world than to be doing something that you love.... If today is that day, then I can honestly say that I had a damn good day. Why you say? You be the judge.

Since things are back to normal in Yokohama city, I don't have to feel so bad about blogging about one of my favorite topics: The Jukujo. Since the last time I posted on my favorite kind of woman, I have changed hunting grounds. I used to loiter around Starbucks coffee houses and bus stops. On occasion, the supermarkets and convenience stores, and even subways were excellent places. The last few months have been really tough for me though. I had more let downs this year so far than usual. That may be attributed to my age and weight gain, but then again, I don't want to make excuses for myself, but then again there was the 3-11 mega-quake, or mega-quakes to be exact which had a major effect …

Yokohama Sento Listing

Here's my own personal listing of some of the best super sento (public spa), in Yokohama. I have commentary on a few of the listing.

Just a little background: I have been frequenting super sento in my area for years, so I am very familiar with my area. When I research a spa the first thing I look for is the quality of water ( i.e. is it 100% natural and is it recirculated. Is there chlorine in the water). Non-chlorinated water is the best. All of my spa selections were based on that one peeve. No chlorine. Of course, these are my own personal observations. Some of the other things I check for is the overall cleanliness of the place and how much for admissions.
For the record, I have no proof whether these establishments use chlorine or not, but, for those who are familiar with that stinging sensation you get in your nose when you enter a spa or a pool, and you know exactly what it smells like, and how it makes your skin dry, then you should be able to attest to how much of a turn o…

Iwate Backcountry

Leaving pleasant memories behind in Kakunodate I boarded a local line to Shizukuishi Station. By the way, Akita can be reached directly from Tokyo Station via the Akita Komachi Shinkansen, Akita's own exclusive line.

The last leg of my journey took me to Iwate Prefecture, right next door from Akita Prefecture to a small onsen town near Tsunagi Onsen. Just to give you a little perspective, on Akita's side is the Sea of Japan, and on Iwate's side is the Pacific Ocean. Between these two prefectures are some of the most densely wooded areas in Tohoku. Iwate is rugged and beautiful whereas Akita is graceful and charming.During the 2hr ride I was sipping on a little sake I had picked up from Kakunodate. My feet were aching from all the walking I had done so a little refreshment was well deserved. As the train wound its way through labyrinths of tunnels and low places the air from outside began to cool. I knew from then late evening was upon us.

In Iwate there were so many open f…

Kakunodate in Pictures Part 2

Theme music for this post: Pictures and Indian Summer by John BeltranI love how the roof tiles flow against a pink foreground on a traditional Japanese style house. And then as the afternoon sun begins to wane just a little, the easterly winds begin to pick up. I can start to notice a pink floral fragrance in the breeze. As I begin to approach the river the fragrance of floral pinkness begins to intensify.
Ordinary people are the backbone of Japan - the true fragrance of the nation. Like its blossoms, in times of despair or uncertainty, they bloom like the Akita-jin* who can still manage to restore his/her soul in Kakunodate.

The Hinokinai River bank is one of the most splendid river banks in Japan.It's a little rare for me to see a Japanese father taking time out from the grind to spend with his family. Walking together and communicating in nature. Bonding and sharing. Creating a memory or two.

And then there's my favorite couple, J- Mom & son. I'm sure he's got the…

Kakunodate: Pictures

(Theme Music for this post : Pictures and Indian Summer by John Beltran)There are beautiful women in every prefecture in Japan I think, however, according to the legend the famed Akita Bijin, or Akita beauty, is regarded as absolutely the most beautiful Japanese woman in all of Japan. The subject in this picture is beautiful indeed and she also has perfect teeth.
I love the clean look. In Japanese it's called 清楚なきれい or seisou for neat and clean, and kirei for pretty. light make-up on the face or none at all is fine. Who needs make-up? Ask the Egyptians and the Chinese, or some Japanese men who want to imitate the natural clean beauty of the Japanese women. Why are they wearing make-up? What are they trying to conceal or protect?Tradition is good. I love tradition. I love how beautiful a Japanese woman looks in a traditional gown, especially one with a beautiful brocade. Tradition speaks volumes to me.

And then there's the ordinary Plane Jane types which I like the most, in term…

Kakunodate: The place where you'd want to die

Kakunodate was the 3rd leg of my solo journey from Tokyo. I was determined to get here at exactly the right time this season because four years ago when I had visited here with a girlfriend we were only able to capture a glimpse of this famed region’s beauty. The best times to visit would be from late April to early May. This time around I came at exactly the right time, May 5th. The whole place was overwhelming for me this time around; I choked up a little as I began approaching the main thoroughfare and witnessing all the thick pink denseness all around me.
Kakunodate is famed for having weeping willow cherry blossom trees, samurai era houses, and merchant houses. It was as if I were walking in a picture post card; the place was so surreal. This is the Kyoto of the North! Samurai era houses were all over the place. Here is a short 8 sec. film I had shot. I am not much into old samurai era houses, but if you are I highly recommend this area. The picture below is the main thoroughfar…

Fine Akita Dining

Aside from having wonderful natural hotsprings and beautiful nature and women, and delicious sake, kiritanpo comes to mind. It's chicken broth soup with a wonderful mix of green vegetables and chicken. The tubular shaped food stuffs in the middle is a mash of rice, which lend a type of texture and depth to the soup. This is perhaps one of the most popular dishes in winter. The Garaku Dining restaurant offered up a fantastic bowl of Kiritanpo along with a few other wonderfully prepared dishes.

My server for the evening was Yuki, not her real name, but if you go there someday, she's the slender fair skinned 20 something with black shoulder length hair and black eyes. She's the type of girl that when you see her, you'll know her. The Garaku is about a 10 minute walk from JR Akita Station and is conveniently located in a very busy part of town.
In this picture you can see a couple of different kinds of fish. You have Kinmedai, or Golden Eye Snapper, which is the pink soft …

Akita City

Arriving at Akita Station around 7pm I disembarked the Shirakami and headed up the stairs to the ticket wicket. I was able to locate my hotel from the my iphone's GPS with no problem at all. From station to hotel is a nice five minute walk and since I travel light, the walk was well taken. I love Akita. Just walking through the area is historical in itself. The women are beautiful, but not the most beautiful. I still love the Hulking Bovine types.

Photo below was taken from the open air bath from the Dormy Inn.Once my turn came up to check-in, the process was quick and painless. I went to my room got changed and got into the 100% real hot spring on the top floor. I

The photo above was taken the next morning right after breakfast. Not all Dormy Inns have real onsen, but the ones that do, namely Niigata and Akita, are simply the best. There are others but am not sure. This is a sodium-chloride based high mineral rich natural hot spring. No chemicals added. The water was hot enough to…

Gono Line 2

On our left side we caught a beautiful patch of cherry blossom trees right alongside the coast. Cherry blossoms along the Gono are dotted here and there on small patches of farmland. We caught this view near the coast.Cherry blossoms usually come into bloom in March in West Japan first, and then gradually as weather becomes warmer you can start to see them bloom further up north as early at late April to the first part of May.Turning my head quickly back to the right I saw the Sea of Japan come into full view. The Sea of Japan is a complex configuration of rocks jutting out from the sea. The Gono is constantly winding and turning, and switching back. We tucked into a pocket of land and passed a couple of small country houses.Life must be simple for people living out here. Hmmm....simple but tough. The bitter winters must wreak havoc on their farms. But I'm sure in the summer they can enjoy surfing and fishing while looking out into the great expanse of the Sea of Japan.

And then to…

Gono Line: Tsugaru Plains

On the second leg of my journey, I passed through the ticket gates and headed to another annex in the station to catch the new Hybrid train bound for Akita. There are a few different Hybrids, the one I rode on was the Shirakami 4 bound for Akita via the Gono Line. Notice at how large the windows are. You can catch full views on either side on every Hybrid.Our lovely MC for the train ride was Ms. Yoko of Aomori Prefecture. She explained a little about the history of the area we were passing through by offering us a little light entertainment with singing and a little dancing. It was great.

Leaving Shin-Aomori station behind, the first views I caught were of a tractor as it turned over a field. I also noticed a few farmers toiling away in the mid-afternoon sun. You really get a sense of the backbone of Japan when seeing people at work on their own farms from a train's window.

Often pictures appear inverted because like I mentioned earlier this is a switch back train, so every other s…