Monday, 25 May 2015

A festival less normal - Nikufes (meat festival)

A warning, this post is not recommended for vegetarians or vegans.

Japan is well known for it's love of festivals.  You have everything from festivals where sumo wrestlers make babies cry to log riding festivals where people sometimes get killed (that one only happens ever 7 years so you might have to wait for a post on that one) to festivals where a naked man runs the gauntlet of a throng of people who believe it gives them good luck for the rest of the year if they touch him to penis festivals in Kawasaki (that one was a couple of months ago so you might have to wait until next year for a post on that).  If you can think it, Japan has a festival for it!  Last year I went to a couple of the more traditional festivals, the Kawagoe festival and the Oeshiki festival.  I decided to go this year to a festival for the taste buds.  Nikufes (Meat festival).

Each year in Tokyo at the beginning of May they have Nikufes (http://nikufes.jp/ website is in Japanese only, but then language doesn't matter when the website has so many delicious pictures!), a festival of meat in a few different locations.  I went along to the one held in Komazawa park with a couple of friends.  It was my first visit to Komazawa park which is a huge park near Komazawa Daigaku station on the Denentoshi line, not far from Shibuya.  Komazawa park is home to some of the facilities that were built for the 1964 Olympic games (and are still being used to this day).  Festivals like this are always popular, and more crowded than a Tokyo train at peak hour.  We therefore decided to go along at a later time and we arrived at 5pm, a little dismayed to find so many people still there!


Oh, well, meat awaited so we pushed our way in and started searching for our first target.  We were a group of three so we got a collection of dishes and shared so that we could spread the love and try as many dishes as possible.

As one of us lined up to go for the Brazilian...........barbecue (on the left)


I lined up next to that to try the fried chicken.


The fried chicken (from Oita) was nice, but a little dry (I guess it is difficult to make it perfect every time when you are catering for hundreds of thousands of people).


The Churrasco was great, the bacon nice and smokey and juicy!


We sat around for a few minutes deciding our next plan of attack and my friends went for a beautifully juicy and tender hamburg (meat pattie).


I went for an aged beef skewer dish as my next selection.


This was a beautiful dish, the aged steak had a firm yet tender texture and had that amazing flavour that Japanese marble beef has.

The crowds had started to dissipate slightly (although it is difficult to tell from this picture.....)


as had our hunger pangs so we decided to go for something a little more refreshing,


a selection of craft beers and sake from Osaka.  Perfect!

Next up was another juicy hamburg and a couple of wonderfully smokey Frankfurters


while my friends went for some melt in your mouth Australian beef with garlic butter


and some deliciously marinated yakiniku (barbecued) wagyu beef buns.


We were all now relishing our meat high and sat down for another round of craft beer and sake to finish off the meal.

If you are ever in Tokyo at the beginning of May, I thoroughly recommend braving the crowds and heading to Nikufes.  The dishes are a little expensive, but in my opinion, definitely worth it!

Thanks for reading this little mini post.  Leave a comment below if you like, and let me know if there is anything you would like me to write about or show.

See you next time.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

An oasis of green in the middle of Tokyo - Todoroki Valley

Hi, sorry for the break.  I took a trip back to Australia for a friend's wedding and hadn't had time to go anywhere recently, so I apologise for not having written anything recently.  I did, however, have a chance to go somewhere interesting today.  A few people had told me about a nice little place nestled in the middle of Setagaya ward, one of the wealthiest wards in Tokyo.  I decided to go and check it out today.

I think most people who live in Tokyo would agree that there are times when you just feel like escaping the concrete, the hustle and bustle and the noise which is Tokyo.  There are plenty of places in and nearby Tokyo where you can do just that.  Today's post is about one of these places, Todoroki Valley.

Todoroki valley is the only remaining natural valley in Tokyo  It runs 10 metres deep for about 1 kilometre from right next to Todoroki station on the Tokyu Oimachi line off in the direction of the Tama River (the Yazawa river which runs through the valley is a tributary of the Tama River).  It is home to a mass of nature and wildlife and also to an old temple that dates back over 1,000 years.

Within minutes of exiting the station I was standing at the entrance to the valley (there is a map inside the station that points you in the right direction).



A wander across the road leads you to the steps which take you down into the valley.



A word of warning here.  If you are not too steady on your feet, please be careful.  Some of the steps in Todoroki Valley are pretty steep and I imagine some places would be a little slippery in the rain.

There was also a friendly local greeting everyone who made their way down the steps.



Suddenly I entered a world so different to the one I had just left.  Whereas before I was walking around urban jungle, now I had entered a regular jungle, thick overhead canopy of tree foliage blocking out most of the sounds of the city.  Save for the occasional noisy motorcycle, nothing but water gurgling and birds chirping could be heard.




The day I went there happened to be in the middle of Golden Week which is a traditional holiday period in Japan, but Todoroki Valley was not very busy at all and I was able to enjoy a peaceful walk along the river.









My eyes which had now been in this easy on the eyes shade produced by the lush overhead branches for a good 20 minutes were suddenly blinded as I came upon a break in the vegetation!




Damn, I wasn't ready for that!

Eyes watering and stars dancing across my vision, I continued my way along the valley, hoping for no more intrusions like that!




Reaching the far end of the valley, I found the old temple, Todoroki Fudo Temple.  One of the first things I saw was a couple of waterfalls which I found out, were or are used for ritualistic Shinto purification.  I cannot imagine standing under these praying for divine revelation in the middle of winter, but at least the water flow was not Niagara-like!


Reaching the Temple itself required climbing some pretty steep stairs, so, again, if you are a bit unsteady on your feet, you might want to skip this.


The temple itself is quite nice and maintains the peaceful aura that the entire length of the valley exudes.



A couple of moments before I took the above photo a couple with a pair of chihuahuas on leashes had gone up to the temple to pray.  The man reached out and grabbing hold of the rope, gave it a good shake to ring the bell before praying.  That was as far as he got, however, as both chihuahuas latched on to the rope and were trying their best to pull it down.  A few admonishing looks from other people around and the couple detached their dogs from the rope and sheepishly made their exit!

The temple also had an observation deck that gave a nice look out over the treetops that covered the valley.



Heading back down into the valley, I notice a thicket of bamboo trees


and decided to check it out.  It turned out to be a nice garden







that lead up to a lovely open area that would be great for picnics etc in summer, lots of space and shade.



I had now been wandering aimlessly around in the valley for a good 2 hours and decided that I would make my way back to the entrance.  I go there and found that my friendly local had found a mate.


I decided to continue walking and walked the three stops back to Jiyugaoka to see if my good friend Yasunari was at his shop.


I have talked before about Yasunari's amazing shop in this post here.  A visit to his shop is always interesting as he has countless one-of-a-kind fine craft, jewellery, homeware and fashion items.  He was there and I spent the rest of the day chatting and browsing his shop.

Well, that's it for another post.  I hope you enjoyed looking at and reading about Todoroki Valley as I did visiting it.  It is well worth a visit if you need to get away from it all but don't have time to travel anywhere.

Thanks, as always, for reading.  Feel free to leave a comment below, and if there is anything you would like to see or like me to post about, anything you are particularly curious about in Tokyo, let me know in a comment.  See you next time!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Hanami - Cherry blossom time in Tokyo.

Ask any Japanese person what their favourite season is and 70% of them will say Spring.  The weather is more comfortable in Spring, having escaped the chill of winter and having not yet hit the heat of summer, it is a time when a lot of people being able to step outside and enjoy nature again.  Spring, more specifically late March through to early April, is also Hanami (or cherry blossom viewing) time.  Hanami started about 1,300 years ago in the Nara Period when it was plum blossoms that people began admiring.  The Japanese plum tree, or ume tree, blossoms about one month earlier than the cherry blossom and in some parks around Tokyo there are plum festivals marking this time of year (if you are interested, Hanegi Park between Higashi Matsubara and Umegaoka has a plum festival every year).  It wasn't too long after the beginning of Hanami that cherry trees started becoming more popular with people and since then, Hanami has become synonymous with the cherry tree.

There are 2 very different ways of enjoying the cherry blossoms depending on how old you are and who you are with.  It is quite common to have a loud, boisterous party with friends and coworkers where food and alcohol is enjoyed in copious amounts!  The older generation, and those with families tend to enjoy a more relaxed and restrained wander through their local park or favourite cherry blossom spot to quietly enjoy the beauty of the cherry tree in full bloom.

This year I decided to go to a couple of the more well-known (and crowded!) places in Tokyo to enjoy myself some cherry blossoms.  The first place I stopped at was Chidorigafuchi which runs alongside the Imperial Palace moat from Kudanshita station.  It was about 4pm on a Monday and I was hoping that it wouldn't be too busy there.  It seems like a whole heap of other people were hoping the same thing!  Coming out of the station I was confronted with a blanket of white covering the cherry trees just like winter had returned!





There was a crowd of people around enjoying the fine sunny weather and the cherry blossoms which were not quite at full bloom, but stunning nonetheless!









Across the road was Yasukuni Shrine, which is also a popular place to have Hanami, the louder variety!  Here also was the familiar food stall, or yatai, the are ever present when there is any kind of festival.  As always, the variety of food available was overwhelming!









Some places were even little temporary izakaya style places with counter seats and tables that needed to be reserved in advance!






And there were plenty of people out enjoying Hanami!



I moved into the main area of the Shrine and there were some nice cherry trees there that were cloaked in white!







It was almost sundown now and I wanted to visit one more place that is especially nice at night time as this area is illuminated at night time which makes it look pretty spectacular so I got back onto the train and made my way to the Meguro River.  This place is extremely popular for Hanami, although most of the people here are enjoying the more subdued Hanami rather than the raucous drunken variety!







It was now nearing 8:30pm and after over 4 hours of Hanami and walking around, my feet told me that it was time to call it a night so I made my way home.  A few days later I met up with some friends and we had our own (not so boisterous) Hanami party at a local neighbourhood park.  The beauty of having Hanami at a local park is that it is not going to be so crowded!









And so another cherry blossom season drew to a close.  Honestly, if you are trying to decide on a time of year to visit Japan, why not cherry blossom time.  You will get to see a unique and beautiful part of Japanese culture and some great photos too!

Thanks again for reading.  As always, feel free to comment below or to share the post if you know someone who would be interested.

See you next time.