Wednesday 30 September 2015

An Izakaya less normal: Utsunomiya's Monkey restaurant - Utsunomiya and Nikko Part 2

This is part 2 of a post about a recent trip to Utsunomiya and Nikko.  You can find part one here.

We rushed back to the hotel to get ready to go to the Monkey Izakaya (oh, the place does have an actual name, it is Kayabuki izakaya) and then went outside to catch a taxi there.  We told the taxi driver the name of the izakaya and he didn't know it.  I looked at him incredulously!  "How can you not know it?" I thought to myself.  "They have MONKEYS!!".  He had to call his depot to get an address as we didn't have one.  Why would we, we expected everyone to know the place.  I guess we were wrong!

We finally got there and walked in with massive anticipation.  The inside looked just like a regular neighbourhood izakaya.

The only things that suggested this was anything but an ordinary neighbourhood izakaya were the numerous newspaper and magazine clippings and signed name cards that are usually reserved for famous people that visit a restaurant.

The menu was only in Japanese but thanks to our own limited Japanese knowledge and the help of the kind Japanese man sitting behind us, we were able to read enough of it to order some food and drinks.  Pretty soon the food and drinks started arriving.

We realised straight away that the monkeys were not going to be bringing us our drinks as the mama san brought them out.  That was okay, we were excited that there was just going to be monkeys!

The first dish brought out was the dish they serve for the seating charge.  This is a common situation in Japan.  Izakayas usually serve an initial dish and charge a seating charge for it (usually in the vicinity of 300 - 600 yen).  The dish we were served up was incredibly soft and tender tuna sashimi.

Next to be brought out were some edamame (boiled salted soy beans),

some sausages on the bone,

catfish tempura,

cucumber and miso

and some nice, juicy, delicious fried chicken!

Just as we were about to leave disappointed the monkeys hadn't shown up, out they came!

The youngest one was about 3 months old and had been rescued from a river, abandoned by it's parents.

Now you would think that holding a monkey and a teddy bear would have put a huge grin on my face, but I was obviously having a very serious conversation about something with someone........

We then were asked to sit down and have some photos taken.  I will let those photos do the talking and show you the mayhem that followed!

Absolutely crazy fun!  We got into a cab and went back to the hotel extremely satisfied.  It was indeed a unique dining experience!

Well, that's the end of this second part.  Please leave a message below if you liked the post and check back again soon for the final part in this series of posts.


Saturday 26 September 2015

Utsunomiya gyoza - Utsunomiya and Nikko Part 1

A lot of people ask me where I find the places that I go to for my blog.  I get a lot of recommendations from people.  I also just do a lot of research on the net to find places.  I do a keyword search, or just go to Youtube and search through videos.  It was on Youtube that I discovered one very interesting place that I decided had to be visited.

Utsunomiya is about 1 hour and 40 minutes from Shinjuku in central Tokyo (less if you want to take the bullet train).  It is near Nikko which has it's world heritage Temples and Shrines and is a beautiful place to visit for it's autumn leaves.  Utsunomiya is famous for it's gyoza, or pan fried dumplings.  In fact, there are more than 200 gyoza restaurants in the city and gyoza is the main reason people visit Utsunomiya........or it used to be........

Trawling through some videos on youtube one day, I stumbled upon a video someone had made of their visit to an izakaya in Utusnomiya.  Now this was no ordinary izakaya.  Here, your drinks were brought to your tables by monkeys......., yes, MONKEYS!!  Now, because the owners have so many monkeys (about 6 I think) the monkeys no longer bring you drinks.  Imagine 6 monkeys all running around with beer and sake, that would be mayhem!  Now, after everyone has finished eating, the owners bring out the monkeys and you can play with them and have photos taken with them.  I had told one of my friends, Jarrett about the izakaya and to say that he was interested in joining me on the trip would be an understatement.  So Jarrett, his wife Scout and myself made our way north to Utsunomiya.

From Shinjuku the train ticket is 1,940 yen, but for an extra 780 yen, you can upgrade to the green car, and instead of regular train bench style seats, you can travel in style and have your own seat.

As you can see, I decided to splash out.

A couple of extended blinks later I arrived at Utsunomiya, met up with Jarrett and Scout and started making our way over to the hotel.  On our way, we bumped into Godzilla and friends who were standing guard outside a few gyoza restaurants.

We had booked rooms at the Hotel My Stays which is 3 gyoza throws (1 if you are a baseball player) or 100m from the station.  At 8,700 yen for one night, and considering the location, it is quite reasonable.  The rooms were your standard business hotel room, small but enough for my purposes.  I wasn't here to spend my time in a hotel room!  I was here for gyoza and MONKEYS!  

We wandered around the city for a little, killing time and walked past a few interesting signs.

I was intrigued by the golf place, but decided not to check it out.  I was pretty sure Scout would probably not have been interested.

We eventually found ourselves back near the station and decided to have some gyoza at one of the places nearby.  We chose one called Min Min.  

Now for all of my Aussie friends, there was nothing spooky about this place.  For everyone else who doesn't understand, have a read of the wikipedia entry on min min lights here.

Min Min was clearly popular as there was a small line-up when we arrived that pretty soon got longer and more and more people had to wait in the rain.

Our number was finally called and we went in and ordered the three kinds of gyoza they had.

Boiled gyoza,

regular pan fried gyoza

and deep fried gyoza.

My favourites were probably the boiled and the regular, but they were all good.

In all of the gyoza excitement, Jarrett and Scout had forgotten about the Monkey izakaya and needed a reminder that we had to get back to the hotel and get ready for some monkey madness.

I'm going to finish this post here and get this posted.  I think I will split this trip into 3 posts so as to not make the posts too long.  Thanks for reading this one, I hope you enjoyed it.  Bookmark this blog or put in your email address on the right side of the page to get a notification when I put up each post.  Leave a message below and let me know what you think.  Until next time, take care.

Saturday 5 September 2015

Who said I only like old things? - Tokyo's Robot Restaurant!

I was very happy recently when a good friend, Mark,  decided he would stop over in Japan for a few days on his way over to Europe.  Mark has visited Japan before so has visited most of the more famous places in Japan so I asked him where he would like to go.  The answer came back very quickly.  "The Robot restaurant!".  I have known about the Robot restaurant for quite a while but had not gone there for my blog as I like to focus on more of the less well known, but even better (in my opinion) places in Tokyo and around Japan (if you are reading this blog for the first time, please have a look at some of the other posts for some hidden gems of places to visit!).  So, the Robot restaurant it was going to be!

The Robot restaurant (well, it's not really a restaurant, more of a performance although you can get food there, I can't vouch for the quality of the food though as I didn't eat there) is located in Kabukicho, near Shinjuku station.  For those of you who don't know, Kabukicho is one of Tokyo's red light districts.  A lot of Japanese people don't go there as they say it's dangerous.  To be honest, it's about as dangerous as waking up in the morning!  One of my favourite bars is in the area and I feel quite comfortable walking through the area by myself.  Of course the African strip club touts will always approach me, but after a couple of no's they leave me alone.  I would have no issues letting my Mother walk through the area by herself, in fact.  So don't let the knowledge of what the place is stop you from going there, the area is actually an interesting place!

The place first opened in 2012 and it has become more and more popular ever since.  They hold 4 shows per day at set times (you can find out more information on their website: and as at the time of writing, the shows cost 7,000 yen (plus an extra 1,000 yen if you want a meal included).  A lot of Japanese people don't know about the place as it is definitely targeted more at foreign tourists and they claim to be the 16th most popular tourist attraction on tripadvisor.

I went and met Mark at his hotel and we made our way over to the restaurant.  The location of the show and the ticket office are actually in different buildings, but the friendly staff (who speak English) will point you in the direction you need to go if you go to the wrong place first (as we did).  Once we had our tickets we went into a waiting area that has a band dressed in, well, robotty, futuristicy clothes (yes, I know I just mad up a couple of words, but as you'll find out if you go there,conventional words fail to fully describe it!).  The girls were quite good singers (a big part of the main show is singing, dancing and music) and the waiting lounge gave me a glimpse of what we were about to experience.....

An announcement in both Japanese and English then told us that we could make our way into the show area.  The show area was lined with seats (about 200 I think) on both sides and the action took place in the middle.  There was no stage, so everything that we were about to experience was going to happen at our level.

A word of warning at this stage.  There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of flashing strobe and neon lights, so if this isn't your thing, or if you have been told by your doctor to avoid them, I would avoid the place.

The show started with some taiko drummers, both male and female.

The presence of tattoos on some of the ladies left no doubt as to who the owners are.......  With that in mind, no touching the ladies!

Next up were some dancers on a stage that was wheeled in.

Now this was all entertaining.  I love taiko drums and the dancing was good.  This was turning out to be a very pleasant evening.

They took a short break to get ready for the next part.  Suddenly the show changed to a story about an island paradise where everything was wonderful and everyone got along with everyone.  Next thing you know, the surrealness slowly started creeping into the show just like a mist floating in over a graveyard in a bad zombie movie.  These guys came out and started invading the island, shattering the tranquillity with their spears.

Next Kung fu Panda rode in on his cow to chase away the bad guys.

He was pretty soon killed off by the next wave of bad guys who were better armed and armoured than their witch doctor friends who had succumbed to Kung fu Panda.

Fear not, next up was a forest fairy flying in on her winged dragon.  Surely not even the worst of the bad guys could survive a dragon. 

Nope, I was wrong.  It appeared as though there was no hope for the paradise island as wave after wave of good guys got taken out by successively stronger and better armed bad guys.  It was at about this point that I realised the 2 Aussie girls next to me had been laughing uncontrollably throughout the entire show!  What was next?  Surely the peace-loving island was running out of war machines to throw at the bad guys.  I was right.  Out came another forest fairy riding on a black and white striped........something

supported by a spark breathing mutant butterfly.

They were easily and predictably dispatched by the bad guys.  But wait, I was wrong, the black and white striped thing and the mutant butterfly were just a decoy!  Out came a big shark and crushed the bad princess in it's powerful "Jaws".  

Surely nothing could beat Jaws.  I come from a shark infested area of Australia and I know these things are not to be messed with!  Finally I was able to get a good photo of the next bad guy, or girl rather, and I immediately feared for the poor shark.......

Surely nothing could survive the wicked lady on the gun thingy!  The shark was blown out of the water and there was a moment's silence as it appeared that the bad guys had won.  Suddenly out of the shadows of the forest appeared a great serpent being ridden by another forest fairy.

I swear, the strength and fortitude of these forest fairies might just be the saving grace of the paradise island!  The serpent snatched up the wicked lady from the gun thingy and the captive audience cheered as one!  But the bad guys had one more dice to roll, and in it rolled!

The once great serpent wisely beat a hasty retreat at the sight of the bad guy's behemoth.  Surely this was the final battle, the last stand.  What did the forest fairies have up their sleeve.  It would have to be good, real good!

This was it, this is what it had all come down to.  The battle started.

The battle was fierce,

but swift.

There can only be one winner in the eternal battle of good versus evil, and thankfully in this particular show, it was good.  The forest fairies came out to celebrate and they were joined by drummers and ladies on big colourful robots,

marching girls

and neon lit robots.

They were joined by a giant smoke breathing robot serpent.

As if it couldn't get any more surreal, I realised that the music playing, as the giant robot serpent was winding around the floor, was Ave Maria!!

Next the party really started as the robot dogs hit the floor and joined the ladies on the big colourful robots.

Finally the climax arrived.  About 5 massive, hulking robots were wheeled out and and prepared by their handlers,

and then started dancing........

Incredible.  Just like that, the show was over.  Mark and I made our way outside, not really sure what to expect or what to find.  It was that feeling that you get when you come out of a movie theatre and your mind is still in the movie and you think you see a ninja lurking in those shadows over there around the corner but as you get closer, you realise it is just a cat.

So,how was the show?  Well the best way I can describe it is like this.  It was as though I was watching anime on TV when suddenly I was sucked into the TV and the anime is happening all around me and I am aware of everything and everyone around me but no-one is aware of me watching them.  It was crazy, bizarre, entertaining fun, unlike anything I have ever experienced before.  Am I glad I went?  Yes, I am, but now that I have gone, I don't know if I will feel the urge to go back again...........until another visitor says that they want to go there!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed that!  Please leave a comment below and bookmark the website or sign up to receive an email when I upload another post.

See you next time!