Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A random day off - Harmonica Yokocho and buying a bicycle in Japan

I recently caught up with some friends on a Sunday night in Shinbashi and a couple of drinks turned into and all-nighter at karaoke (I'm getting too old for them.....).  I arrived home after sunrise and proceeded to sleep until the afternoon.  My first thought after waking was "food" quickly followed by "hamburger".  I had heard of a couple of good burger places at Kichijoji so I quickly showered and jumped on the train.  After arriving at Kichijoji and armed with my "trusty" Google map I started out in search of one of the burger places.

Walking along with my nose buried in my phone I occasionally looked up to see where I was and thankfully I looked up at the right time because I saw this!  Harmonica Yokocho (yokocho literally means alley or land). 


Then I looked down and saw this.


I'm not referring to the schoolgirls either rather the tiny alley they were looking down.  Anyone who has read this blog on a regular basis will know that I love tiny alleyways and cannot resist the temptation to check them out so this definitely required further investigation!

Following this guy into the labyrinth


 I first came across a bar that was just getting ready to open.


It was about 4:30 pm and a fair few of the places were closed.  I could only imagine that after 6pm the place would be buzzing with business people having a drink and a bite to eat after work.


Some of the places were open though and I wandered past one where a few guys sat drinking and watching some Sumo.


It wasn't only bars and small izakayas that lined the sides of the maze of alleys, I wandered past a couple of clothes shops too.


I truly felt like I was intruding as everyone was going about their business with me trying hard not to get in the way!


Next I walked past a scene which put a smile on my face.  Now this is the Japan that I love!


I long for the day when my Japanese is good enough to walk into one of these places and to be able to read the menu and chat with everyone.  Having said that, there were a few places that did have English on their menus


but not the really old traditional places.

Nearing the end of my little adventure, I finally passed a couple of food shops.



I made my way back into the sunlight and as my GPS got callibrated again my stomach started talking to me so I walked off in the direction of the burger place. (I plan to come back to Harmonica Yokocho in the future and try a couple of the little bars with a friend, so keep a look out for that post).

Pretty soon my phone beeped at me signalling that I had arrived.  I looked around me, and looked around again.......  No burger place!  Thanks Google maps!  I searched for the second one that I knew was in the area and started off in that direction.  About 10 minutes later my phone beeped again.......and again, no burger joint!  Damn you Google maps!!

My stomach was now talking to me so I looked around the area and found a place called Montana curry and beer. 

(I would have a photo of the place here but the photo didn't work out very well so I have borrowed one from the great website bento.com)


I ordered a delicious looking black curry which was really good and the pork literally fell apart as I tried to pick it up with my fork!


Walking out, my stomach again started talking to me, but this time it was thanking me rather than cursing me.

For some strange, inexplicable reason I suddenly had an urge to buy a bicycle.  Now, some of you may know that almost two years ago I had a rather nasty accident riding my bicycle.  Now, due to a pretty hard knock to the head, I don't remember too much about it except that a cat ran in front of my bicycle and I guess as I swerved to miss the cat or as I slammed on the brakes, I came off my bike and as Murphy's Law states (I was riding without a helmet too......) I landed fair on my head, opened up a big gash that cut into an artery.  Since that day, I have avoided riding that bicycle again believing that it is cursed!

Believing that third time is a charm, I checked Google maps again and found that there was a bicycle shop nearby.  I soon found it.  It was a branch of a chain of shops called Cycle Spot.  You can find it on google maps here.  https://goo.gl/maps/241ua


I told the lady in my best Japanese (which is not that good) that I wanted to buy a bicycle.  Once she realised how poor my Japanese was, she started speaking to me in English!  That made the process a lot quicker.  She was very friendly and helpful, so if you live in the area around Kichijoji and you are looking to buy a bicycle, I recommend this place!

Jumping on my new purchase I set off for home.  I just hope that this bicycle treats me better than the last one, and yes, I did buy a helmet with it!

Thanks again for reading.  I have to apologise (again) for the long break between updates.  I have had a cold for the last couple of months which turned out to be pneumonia.  Hopefully that will disappear soon, and I will be back out and about a little more regularly soon.  Again, please leave a comment below if there is anything that you would like to see me write about here.

See you next time

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!