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. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Another ramen street - Tachikawa New York Ramen Square

There's no doubt about it.  Japan loves its food and it does food damn well!  In 2010 Japan out-Michelined the home of Michelin, France!  Japan also celebrates its food like no other country.  It has what it calls "food theme parks" one of which is the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum which I have written about previously (and hopefully another food theme park will be coming to this blog soon!).  One of the foods which is loved almost as much as sushi is ramen and there are various locations or "ramen streets" such as the Shinatatsu Ramen Street and another one inside Tokyo station which I hope to check out soon.

One of my favourite ramen blogs that I read occasionally is the well written and highly respected Ramen Adventures written by an American guy called Brian.  In fact his opinion is so respected that he has been on television in Japan on numerous occasions as a ramen expert.  Anyway, it was through his blog that I found another ramen street in Tachikawa, on the west side of Tokyo.  It is called New York Ramen Square (their website is in Japanese but you can get a rough translation if you use Google Chrome).  One Monday recently I decided to head out west to Tachikawa to check it out.

It is pretty easy to find.  Leave Tachikawa station through the south exit and head across the walkway.

You want to go to the Arearea 2 building,

so walk past the Softbank shop and keep going for a little until you see the sign that says "Ramen Square" in both Japanese and English.

Go inside

and up the escalators and you have arrived.

Basically NY Ramen Square is home to 7 different ramen shops.  A lot of the information is only in Japanese, but there are plenty of pictures if you can't read Japanese.

This one has a chicken, beef and seafood base soup.

The soup of this one is a combination of soy sauce, fish and chicken going by what I can see on the Ramen Square's website (haven't got a photo of the shop as it came out very blurry).

Menshiro has a pork and chicken base.

Gokujoe has ramen that has a tonkotsu (or pork soup) base and that char shu (or braised pork) on top looks amazing!

This next one, called Kizuna has a seafood base.

A nice Sapporo style Miso ramen

And finally Mantougyo which has a tonkotsu base.

After walking around for about 15 minutes not knowing which one to choose, I finally decided to go with Mantougyo, however I chose a miso ramen that they did using the tonkotsu base.

I went inside, handed over my tickets and waited for my deliciousness to arrive.

Before too long and with a cheerful "omatase shimashita" ("sorry to have kept you waiting") it had arrived!

The ramen soup was so thick it wasn't really a soup, it was more like a gravy sauce!  

And it was good!!

So, if you live or work on the west side of Tokyo near Tachikawa, or even if you just love ramen and live or are staying anywhere in Tokyo, I highly recommend a visit to New York Ramen Square in Tachikawa!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.  As always. feel free to leave a comment or share the blog if you know someone who might like it!

See you next time.