Tuesday 31 May 2016

Getting my Aussie on - Meatoco (Australian bar) in Nakano, Tokyo

About a year and a half ago I visited Nakano, a very awesome place in Western Tokyo (if you would like to read about Nakano, and I highly recommend it, you can find part 1 of my post about it here and part 2 here).  Nakano has a lot of little small bars, cafes, restaurants and izakayas (a lot like Shimokitazawa in that respect).  The place is seeping with Showa era charm and wandering the alleys of Nakano is something that I like to do.

When I visited Nakano for my blog in 2014 I stumbled upon a little Australian bar and cafe called Meatoco (Facebook page here).

I went in and had a beer that night with good friend Mikey who lives in the area.  I met Yasuhito the owner (who is a very friendly nice guy) and he told me that he had studied at university in Melbourne, Australia in the late 90's.  He developed a love of Australia and a number of years later decided to open Meatoco.  He has a selection of Australian beers such as Coopers, Carlton Draught, XXXX (no, don't get excited, it is the name of an Australian beer.....), VB and Fosters and a few Australian wines. He also said that on the 29th of each month he serves up various, hard to find meats such as crocodile, ostrich and kangaroo.  A lot of people ask about the significance of the 29th.  Well in Japanese the number 2 is pronounce ni and the number 9 is kyu.  Putting them together sounds a lot like the Japanese word for meat, nikku!  Now I have tried crocodile and ostrich before, but as an Australian I was particularly excited about kangaroo as I do like myself some kangaroo from time to time.  I mentioned the Meatoco to a few friends and pretty soon we had banded together a group of 6 who were interested.  Myself, Tetsuya, Atra, Ken, Tom and Norico.  None of the others had tried kangaroo before and were all very interested.

We met at Nakano station (north exit) and weaved our way through the back alleys of Nakano before arriving at our destination.  We had, however, neglected to make a reservation and upon arriving we found the place full (when coming to Meatoco on the 29th I highly recommend making a booking.....).  Rather than turning us away, Yasuhito set up a table and some chairs outside in the alley and pretty soon we were sitting down Al Fresco style enjoying our first beers.

Soon our first Aussie delicacy arrived, Vegemite.

For those who have not had the pleasure of eating Vegemite, do not let it's similarity to chocolate fool you (many others have famously made this mistake in the past with hilarious consequences).  Australian kids grow up on Vegemite, eating it spread on toast for breakfast or having Vegemite sandwiches for an easy after-school snack.  We were enjoying it with cabbage and crackers.

Next up was some lightly seared ostrich.

This meat had a very neutral flavour to it with the texture typical of a good lean meat.  The next dish that came out was some crocodile tail done tempura style.  I almost forgot to take a photo we were all so keen to eat, but I did get a shot of the last piece!

The flavour and texture of this one was all chicken!  Very similar!  The capsicum (peppers) gave it a nice crisp, clean contrast.  The next dish was also crocodile, but this one was crocodile tongue.

Everyone was completely surprised by this dish.  It had a completely different taste to the crocodile tail.  This one had a subtle fish taste to it and the texture was a lot more tender than we expected it to be.  Very nice though!  Next was what we had all been waiting for.  The kangaroo arrived!

For those who have not had the pleasure of eating kangaroo, it is a very lean, healthy meat.  The taste is a combination of beef and lamb.  The pepper and the garlic shoots in this dish complimented the kangaroo very well.  Amazing!

Pretty soon our time at Meatoco had come to an end.  We thanked Yasuhito for his kind and generous hospitality and left, with everyone keen to return again in the future.

So, if you are ever in the Nakano area, wandering the back alleys as I love to do, keep an eye out for the Australian flag.

Drop in and say G'day to Yasuhito.  I recommend the Coopers Sparkling Ale!

Our night was not over, however, as we made our way around the corner to the nearest karaoke bar.  Walking inside we found one guy who had sung himself to sleep.....

As I mad my way to our karaoke booth, I had no idea of the mayhem that was going on behind me.....


Thank you to Atra for these photos.  And if the lovely gentleman who was sleeping happens to see these photos........sorry!

Eventually we were all together again and spent a nice couple of hours doing that most Japanese of activities, karaoke!

Way too much fun!!

And that rounded off a very enjoyable evening.  Everyone agreed that the kangaroo and the hospitality shown by Yasuhito at Meatoco were the highlights of the night.  Plans are already being made to go along to another meaty 29th day of the month.  How about you?

You may have noticed that I neglected to mention how Vegemite tastes.  That was intentional.  I would love for you to try it for yourself.  Just remember, moderation!!  No matter how much it looks like chocolate, it isn't!!

That's it for another post.  Thanks again for reading.  Please leave a comment below, sign up to receive email updates when I post and if you know anyone who would enjoy reading, feel free to share the blog.

See you next time!

Monday 16 May 2016

Central Tokyo's oasis - Shinjuku Gyoen (Park)

People often ask me if I have been to Tokyo Skytree and I always tell them that I am not really interested in it.  I do not want to pay nearly 4,000 yen to go to the top.  I much prefer going to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku where they have an observation deck that is free.  Sure, it is less than half the height of Skytree but you can see everything fine from 200 metres up!  While wandering around the Metro Government building enjoying the panoramic view of Tokyo you will notice a rather large patch of green not far away from the building.  You can't miss it as it stands out like an elephant in an elevator, covering a 144 acre area.

Shinjuku Gyoen's history can be traced back to 1590 when a large tract of land was given to Kiyonari Naito by Ieyasu Tokugawa.  It remained a private residence until the early Meiji period (1872) when it became an agricultural study centre.  In 1879, the land was handed over to the Imperial Household Ministry and in 1906 the garden was completed.  It was designed by French landscape gardener, Henri Martinet, who followed an idea of acclaimed Japanese agricultural scientist Hayato Fukuba.  Unfortunately most of the garden was destroyed during the air raids in 1945.  However, using a birds eye view of the park that had been drawn by Martinet, the garden was rebuilt and opened to the public in 1849.  It is now a massively popular place for Tokyoites to enjoy their own little mesmerising patch of green in the middle of Tokyo.  It is much loved all year round as each season it presents a distinctly different face as seasonal flowers blossom and disappear only to be replaced by another variety.

I decided to head along to the park one day recently to have a look.  Shinjuku Gyoen is accessible via a short walk from a number of stations in the Shinjuku area, Shinjuku station, Shinjuku gyoemmae station, Sendagaya station and Shinjuku-sanchome station.  Walking up to the entrance

I paused at the ticket machine (English available) and paid my 200 yen entrance fee and stepped inside.  The lady at the gate handed me an English map and guide and off I went.  The day I visited was part of the traditional Golden Week holiday period when many workers can take a certain number of days off (this year it was 6 calendar days separated halfway through by one work day) and so there were many people out and enjoying the sunshine and lovely late spring weather.

As with a lot of large Japanese gardens and parks, there was a few different perspectives in the garden.  In one area there is a French inspired garden and another area offers an English landscape feel.  For me though, it is all about Japanese gardens.  Sure, the English and French areas were nice, but you absolutely cannot beat a Japanese garden for serenity and tranquillity.

Did you see that, in the bottom left hand corner of the picture?....

Everyone was out enjoying the sunshine and warmth!

A little further into the park, it started to take on more of a wild foresty look which was a nice contrast!

Much less cultivated and manicured, being left to take on its own look and to create its own vibe!

Beach too far away?  Hey, no problem, head on over to Shinjuku Gyoen!

How much time should you set aside to visit the park?  A good 3 or 4 hours to fully enjoy all aspects of the park,

or all day if you have nothing else on!

On a day like it was, I don't blame him!

Well, that's it for another post.  I hope you liked it.  Please leave a comment below, I'd love to hear from you.  Until next time, bye!

Tuesday 10 May 2016

100 posts and counting!

Hi everyone.  I thought I would do a little celebration post as we have now hit the 100 post milestone!  I never would have guessed when I started this that I would be here 100 posts later and I would still be going, and still loving doing this.  I would have thought that after maybe 30 or 40 posts my motivation would have waned and I would have stopped.

Motivation is still high and finding new and interesting places to visit still makes life interesting.  I thought I would do a short post here and share some of the statistics about the blog that can see through this website.

First of all I would like to share with you the most popular posts.

1. Shinatatsu ramen street with 4,905 pageviews

2. Shimokitazawa with 4,221 pageviews

3. Koenji with 1,976 pageviews

4. Togoshi Ginza shopping street with 1,668 pageviews

5. Banking in Japan and my favourite Okonomiyaki restaurant with 1,560 pageviews

6. Shibuya at night with 1,558 pageviews

7. Ameyoko-cho with 957 pageviews

8. Japanese Imperial Palace and my friend Yasunari's shop in Jiyugaoka with 915 pageviews

9. Gourmet tour of Tokyo with my friend and food writer Eriko with 843 pageviews

10. Shinbashi after dark with 826 pageviews.

This also interests me a lot as I find out what other people are interested in Japan.  Some of these numbers are high enough that a google search will show the blog page on the first page of results, some of them even in the top 3 search results, so thank you for that!

Secondly, I thought I would share information about the countries that people are viewing the blog from, and the top 10 are:

1. Japan with 24,764 pageviews

2. The USA with 22,498 pageviews

3. Australia with 5,792 pageviews

4. Ukraine with 4,849 pageviews

5. France with 1,751 pageviews

6. Russia with 1,573 pageviews

7. China with 1,568 pageviews

8. Singapore with 1,330 pageviews

9. Moldova with 622 pageviews

10. Germany with 620 pageviews

Seeing these numbers is always interesting for me and it continues to amaze me that so many people from so many countries are reading.  I guess that just shows you how many people are interested in Japan.  While I am sure that a lot of the views from Japan are foreign tourists who are in Japan and maybe found my blog before coming, I know I do have a lot of Japanese readers too.  Some of them have told me that they are curious to see Japan through a non-Japanese person's eyes.  They want to know what I find special about Japan.  But thank you to everyone who reads this blog, it is also a big part of what keeps me motivated.

Finally, I thought I would list a few of my favourite places.  Anyone who reads this blog often enough knows that I love old places, and they are among some of my favourite places I have visited.  So, in no particular order, here are some of my favourites.

Kawagoe (posts here and here)

Narai juku in a beautiful old town in Nagano (post is here)

Matsumoto castle, my first Japanese castle (post is here)

Hida Takayama, very impressive preserved area in this city! (post is here)

Shirakawago, unique style buildings in this World Heritage listed village (post is here)

Hiroshima, okonomiyaki and the nuclear dome and the museum (posts are here and here)

Tsumago, another old village in Nagano (posts are here and here)

and the Meiji Tunnel and the old Tokaido near Shizuoka city (post is here).

But, all of the places I have visited have given me great memories!

Well, I'll finish this one here.  Thanks again, and as always for reading.  It is because of you, that I continue to write and visit places.  Please, leave a comment below and sign upon the right side of the screen  to receive email updates when I upload a new post.  Also, if you know someone who might be interested in reading, please share the blog with them.  See you soon.