Monday, 25 January 2016

Furusato matsuri (festival) - bacon beer, green tea beer and thai green curry ramen

This is just a really quick, short, unplanned post.

I recently went to the Furusato Matsuri that was held in Tokyo Dome.  The Furusato Matsuri showcases many of the famous festivals across Japan.  It has been held annually since 2009 and as well as performances from the far flung festivals, you can also sample local delicacies and regional sake and craft beer.  I hadn't planned on doing a blog post about this, and this short update isn't one about the whole event.  I would have to go on a much quieter day than the final day to be able to do the festival justice.  I just wanted to talk about a couple of the things I experienced during the day.

One of the stalls that I went to on the day was one put on by a craft beer brewer from Fujizakura heights brewery located on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi (you can find a write-up of the beautiful Lake Kawaguchi here) and in the shadow of the majestic Mount Fuji.  They make German style beers and I ordered one called "Rauch".  I had no idea about what the word Rauch meant in English, but man, was I about to find out.  Lifting the beer up to my mouth I took a sniff to smell the aroma and got a complete shock, kind of like this.



The smell was of bacon!  I took a careful swig and allowing the beer to linger to get the full taste, there it was again.  It was a really smokey, meaty, bacon flavour.  I was shocked!  I had never had a beer like this!  This beer has won awards at international beer shows, and I understood why!  I went back 2 more times for more!  Trust me, if you are ever near Lake Kawaguchi, look them up.  They have a bar / restaurant there.  It will be well worth it!

Anyway, after the Furusato festival we went to a place that one of the other guys new about at nearby Ochanomizu.  It is called 1899 Ochanomizu and it is a green tea restaurant.  We didn't go there for food though.  If you check out their menu you will see that they have a green tea beer!



Like the bacon beer, it was a beer unlike any I had tasted before.  The flavour was much more green tea than beer.  It was interesting, but I would have to say that I preferred the first beer to this one, but if green tea is your thing, I would definitely recommend checking out this restaurant.

I left everyone at this point and decided to head home as I had to work the next day.  On my way home, however, I got off the train at Shindaita station (on the Inokashira line).  Coming out of the station I crossed the road straight away and headed right.  Less than 100m from the station is a ramen place called Bassanova (sorry, I couldn't find a website for them).  Now Bassanova is famous for a couple of unique bowls of ramen, both Thai influenced.  One is a Tom yum ramen and the other is a Green curry ramen.  Now not being a seafood lover, but definitely a thai curry lover, I opted for the second.  Pretty soon it arrived.



Now don't come expecting a coconut curry soup.  No, this one has a base of beautiful salty, rich tonkotsu (pork) soup with a green curry paste mixed in.  It was a blend that worked so well together and the boys here at Bassanova have done a great job perfecting the blend.  Pretty soon the noodles and the chicken on top (a delicious smokey chicken.......yeah, I know, chicken and green seemed to be the trends of the day!) were gone and I noticed that you could order a side serve of coriander (or cilantro depending on where you are from), so that's exactly what I did.



That provided a fresh contrast to the saltiness of the soup that gave an added element to the bowl of ramen that contributed even more to it's uniqueness.  If you are after something different in your bowl, Bassanova if worth a look.

Thanks for reading this short post.  As I said, I wasn't planning on this one, but the day provided some things that were completely new and different that I just had to share them.  Please leave a comment below and subscribe on the toolbar to the right of the screen and I'll see you next time.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

New Years Eve - Oji Fox parade

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jarrett (who has made an appearance or three on these pages) told me about a unique festival happening near Oji station in northern Tokyo on New Year's Eve.  I hadn't made any plans for New Year's Eve at that stage, so I thought, why not?  It would be a very different kind of New Year's Eve celebration to what I was used to, but that's the great thing about living in Japan, almost everything that I get to do here is a new something, a new place, a new experience, a new way of looking at the world.

The Oji Fox parade was inspired by a Japanese legend.  As the story goes, foxes would gather from all over Japan under a big tree in Oji on New Year's Eve and disguise themselves in human costumes so that they could visit the Oji Inari Shrine. Inari is the Shinto God who was the God of foxes, fertility, rice, tea, sake, agriculture and industry, and in the past, swordsmiths and merchants.  This legend was immortalised by Ukiyo-e master Hiroshige Utagawa in this print.  



The parade has been held each year since 1993.  It is always held on New Year's Eve and doubles as the traditional first Shrine visit (Hatsumode) of the year, which is a ritual event in Japan. It begins at Oji Shrine at exactly midnight and parades through the streets to Oji Inari Shrine and it involves members of the local community, and representatives of both Shrines parading through the street wearing fox masks or fox face paint.  At about 10:30 pm I started making my way over to Oji filled with anticipation of what was to come.

Arriving at the station I eventually met up with occasional blog companion, Tetsuya, who had already been out and bought himself a fox mask!



A little while later, Jarrett and Angela arrived and we all set off in the direction of the starting point, Oji Shrine.  On our way, we saw plenty of signs that you usually see when a festival is happening........lamps!





We soon arrived at Oji Shrine only to find that it was jam packed with people!  We had arrived with about 15 minutes to go until the parade started and so had everyone else!




At midnight everyone let off a heap of party crackers and the parade was underway!  I wanted to stay behind to get some photos of Oji Shrine as the first people started lining up for their New Year's Shrine visit.






It was a tiny little shrine and unless you walked directly by it, you would have no idea that it was even there!

Wanting to find a spot along the parade route where I could get some good photos we headed off.  The crowds had already lined the streets near the beginning of the parade so we kept walking and finally about 3/4 of the way along the route we found a clear spot.  A little while later, the parade started making its way toward us.  First the official parade participants and next, members of the local community.  I'll let the pictures tell the story!

Musicians.



These looked heavy!







I think this next one was the parade queen.  She kindly stopped and posed for my photo!









This last little guy looked thoroughly bored with the whole thing!  Looked like he just wanted to go to sleep!


A couple of hours later (2am) it was all over.  Jarrett and Angela decided to head home but Tetsuya and I decided that the night was still young.  Hungry and wide awake we plotted our next move.  Where else to go early New Years Day with empty bellies?  A shrine of course!  Although a larger one was needed for the food stalls so we jumped back onto a train (most of the trains run all night in Tokyo on New Year's Eve) and made our way to my local shrine (Omiya Hachimangu Shrine, which is a decent size) and enjoyed all of the great food on offer.








These next ones were good!!  Some kind of gyoza filled pancakes!!



These next ones were not food.....


At around 8am, after having watched the first sunrise of the new year, I wandered home and jumped into bed for a good days sleep!

That was a very different New Year's Eve from what I am used to, but I loved it.  The fox parade was great, and you could really see and sense that the Oji community takes great pride in it.  Also, spending time at the Shrine and watching the first sunrise was a peaceful and serene way to see in the New Year.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I might do it all again next New Year's!!

That's it for this post.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Please leave a comment below and sign up on the tab on the right side of the page to get notifications when I put up a new post.

Take care, and see you next time!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Kamakura - Komachi-dori and Sugimoto-dera / Temple (part 2)

This is part 2 of a recent trip down south to Kamakura.  You can find part 1 here.

Finishing our sausages we made our way to the end of Komachi-dori made a left turn and walked over to the famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.



We did not go in, however, as this is being saved for another trip down to Kamakura.  We kept on walking.

One of the beautiful things about Kamakura is that dotted around the town you can still see some lovely old houses.





I've heard some people referring to buildings like these as Japan's ghetto.  I totally disagree, I think they are lovely, rustic examples of Japan's architectural past.

We continued on towards our next destination, a temple that I had been wanting to visit for quite a while now.  Suddenly, looking around, we had entered a part of the town with a totally different feel to it.







We had warped straight into Little Europe with French bakeries, Italian restaurants and German smallgoods shops!  A very nice, and unexpected surprise!

Walking on we ran into a friend of mine, Faye, who I knew would be visiting Kamakura with her friends that day, but bumping into each other was a surprise.  She asked where I was heading to and when I told her she told me that they had already been past there and that it was closed!  I was pretty disappointed as I had been looking forward to visiting this Temple for a long time!  They did, however, give us another place to visit as a recommendation, so, changing our plans, we set off in the direction of our new destination, Sugimoto-dera.

Sugimoto-dera was the first Buddhist Temple established in Kamakura, way back in 734 AD.  Enshrined in the Temple are 3 statues of the Goddess of Mercy, Kannon.  The Temple has the nickname Geba Kannon (or Dismount Kannon) as people travelling through the area always dismounted from their horses as a sign of respect.  Another version also states that people who did not dismount were thrown from their horses!  In 1189 there was a fire in the Temple and the statues were in great danger until the Temple Monk jumped into the fire and rescued the statues.  He then lay them down under a nearby cedar tree.  It is from this incident that the Temple gets it's name which means "Under the Cedar Tree".

We arrived at the steps of the Temple and made our way to the ticket box to buy a ticket to get in (only 200 yen).




Next up were the 2 Nio, or Guardians of the Temple.




The bottom one has his mouth open in an "a" sound while the upper one has his mouth closed uttering the "um" sound.  A-um in Japanese symbolises the birth and death of all things.

Just beyond the Nio and the Temple gate lay the original steps leading up to the Temple.



Uneven and covered in moss, these steps are no longer used to approach the Temple, I could imagine someone slipping up and falling all the way to the bottom!

Looking to the right I saw a little alcove and wandered in for a closer look.






A lovely little secluded area in which I imagine the Temple Monks go to to have their Zen moments.

Reaching the top we arrived at the Temple proper, and it was a majestic structure.





Signs of autumn lingering could still be found with some beautiful colour to the trees.






Can you see my little furry friend in the third picture.......?

Making our way back down the steps, we headed back to the main area of Kamakura to a Chinese restaurant that Jarrett and Angela had been to previously and I sat down to a delicious plate of chinjao rosu (strips of pork, capsicum and bamboo shoots all cooked in a delicious soy sauce, pepper and ginger based sauce)



with this guy on the wall watching over us.



Finishing our food we made our way back to the station to come back to Tokyo.  It had been a nice little day trip and it had only made me eager to come back again and explore more of the beauty of Kamakura.

That's it for this post.  Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed reading the last 2 posts.  Please subscribe on the toolbar on the right side of the screen to receive updates when I put up another post.  Thanks, as always, for reading and see you next time!