Friday, October 29, 2010

The Last Day in Mitaka

It has arrived and it's kind of gloomy; the weather and the feeling of leaving Mitaka, Japan, after living here for three months. On top of that there is a Typhoon approaching Tokyo and based on the projected path it will be just offshore around the time my plane is supposed to leave.

Over the last three days I've seen all of my good friends one last time before I go. With my friend from the Keio Plaza Hotel I took a trip to the city of Mito. I had read in the Japanese Times Online that the city paid to produce a movie to try and boost tourism. The movie is about a famous historical event that happened in 1860 at the Sakurada Gate that led into Tokyo Castle. Some master less samurai from the Mito clan assassinated the Tairo, Leader of Japan, Ii Naosuke as he was carried in a palanquin from his mansion nearby, to enter the castle via the Sakurada gate.

After the movie was completed the town converted the life size replica buildings into a museum that provides information regarding the event and also about the making of the movie.

When I read this I put together a plan to first go to central Tokyo and visit the real Sakurada gate which still stands and looks like it would have looked back when the incident occurred. I took some pictures from a number of different angles with the intent of trying to take the same pictures once I visited the museum. The comparisons are on the right side of my blog page at If you aren't reading this post on that site you can go there to see the pictures.

The second part of the plan was to go to the museum and the third part was to go and see the movie which was released about a week earlier. We added a couple of wrinkles to the plan which involved food at both ends.

Before visiting the museum we took a small train from Mito to a port town called, Naka-Minato. We went to eat sushi. I'd mentioned it in a very early post because I had gone there on a previous trip with my son and my friend and the sushi was unbelievably fresh and delicious. For that trip we had planned to go to Mito to visit a famous garden and the Tokugawa museum but one of my friends fellow workers at the Keio Plaza suggested that since we were going to Ibaraki Prefecture (province/state) why not go to Naka-Minato for sushi. This employee is from Ibaraki and very proud of his home prefecture. The sushi alone in Naka-Minato is something to be proud of. He certainly sent us in the right direction; so much so that I wanted to go again.

Before this trip I'd also been told that they are famous in Naka-Minato for placing larger portions of fish on top of the rice so I wanted to check this out as well. The size was noticeably different. It seemed the wasabi was a lot spicier as well.

I stuck to the fish and ate iwashi, aji and sanma sushi and they were all very tasty. My friend commented that I was eating all the blue-skinned fish and that he didn't like the blue-skinned sushi. I mentioned the fish to others the next day and they all commented that I was eating blue-skinned fish. My friend ate a lot of crab and shrimp sushi. It is crab season and there were many kinds available. I'd never seen so much crab at a sushi place before.

After eating we walked around the fish market located just outside the restaurant. I put a couple of pictures over on the right. As you can see there was a lot of crab and this picture only shows one area stacked with them.

We then visited the museum and went to the movie as planned. After we came back to Shinjuku to go and eat the second wrinkle which was Oden. Oden is a selection of stewed items that you can order as one large bowl with multiple ingredients or you can order many small bowls of just one item. Most of the items are vegetables but they served tasty fried chicken livers done in a garlic sauce plus a very good dish of very tender beef tendon.

This Oden restaurant prides itself on its broth which is meant to be consumed (some places you don't drink the broth) and it is great to lift the bowl and sip their broth. Its delicate but had a memorable flavor, part animal part vegetable. We ended the meal with a fried rice dish that had very young iwashi (sardine) fry laced throughout the rice. It was served with a side of broth that you poured over the rice and then drank from the bowl.

It was a perfect day and everything went exactly as planned except we caught an earlier train from Mito and that made us early for Oden so we went to the Keio Plaza and had a drink before returning to the restaurant.

The next day I met my friend whom I first met with his wife in Hawaii. The Tokyo Film Festival had started and there were movies that I wanted to see. This was the second movie I wanted to see, the first was sold out so I didn't get to go. This one was an afternoon show and we met on a cold and rainy day in Roppongi an hour before show time. My luck, when we went to buy tickets this movie was also sold out.

Instead we went to the Mori Arts Museum and saw the exhibit titled, A Sense of Nature. There were some great art works on a huge scale to be seen. It is a contemporary art museum so there were some pretty unusual displays. When you step into the first gallery you are treated to a snow storm. There is a giant (20x10x15 Meter) Plexiglas box filled with white feathers. Two fans are turned on periodically and a snow storm ensues. Then there were videos of scenes around Japan that depicted people connecting with their environments that were very interesting. They were presented on three screens which made a triangle so you watched three different videos with three different themes.

One of them has caused me to set a new goal for a new way to see Tokyo. During the 250 years that the Tokugawa were in power they developed a series of canals that ran through old Edo (Tokyo before the Meiji Restoration). The canals travel deep inland and were used to deliver goods to the increasing population of Edo which had grown to a million people in the 1700s. They were the first transportation system in town and many of them are still used today. The video in question was a series of shots taken from the front of a boat traveling in these canals. In the downtown core it is very dark in the canals because one of the newest transportation systems in Tokyo (trains) runs on platforms built over the original transportation system. The view looking up to the streets was quite interesting. I would like to take a boat ride into the canals and see where you can go in Tokyo on the water.

Then there was a room in which you became an underground being. There was an uneven ceiling that came down to a few feet from the floor in places and there were holes in the ceiling that you could pop up in. When you did you were in a forest with all these trees hanging down from the actual ceiling. Everything was white with some patches of brown but it was interesting to view.

After the museum my friend and I parted and I was off to meet the young lady that works at La Rochelle restaurant. We met at the Hachiko gate of Shibuya Station. The intersection across from the small court in front of the station is the famous intersection that you've probably seen where the streets are empty and then all of a sudden thousands of people cross the street in all different directions.

I stood inside the station entrance watching for my friend and every five minutes thousands of people who had just crossed the intersection came pouring into the station. The problem was that they all had umbrellas and as the first of them arrived they stopped to pull down their umbrellas but the people behind kept coming. Every five minutes I watch this series of collisions.

We were meeting to go to my young friend's uncle's friend's restaurant. This gentleman is the man who had the connection to get us invited to morning sumo practice at the Azumazeki sumo stable. He had suggested to my friend that we come to his restaurant so we did. His izakaya is famous for its chicken and iwashi dishes so that's what we ate. First a giant mug of beer and then the dishes started to arrive. We wanted some iwashi sashimi but the lady of the house said that due to the typhoon no fresh iwashi were delivered to the Tsukiji market that day so we'd better have aji sashimi. It was so tender and fleshy. Dipped in shoyu and wasabi it was perfect for the sweet taste of the fish and the umami of the shoyu.

The most remarkable dishes we ate were one of each of the house specialties. We had a whole iwashi served four ways. It included the deep fried head and the deep fried skeleton of the iwashi. I ate the entire head first. Picture on the right. It was like a mild fish flavored crunchy potato chip. Nothing slimy or gishy, just crunch and flavor. Then we shared pieces of the skeleton. The bones when deep fried become crispy like a cracker and the meat between the bones dries out but has concentrated flavor. They were delicious and I smiled the whole time I munched on them.

The other specialty we had was chicken sashimi. Think about it for a second, its raw chicken breast and it is fantastic. The entire chicken breast is dipped in boiling water for a few seconds so anything on the surface is removed and there is a slight ring of cooked chicken at the edges of each slice. Dipped in shouyu and wasabi and you have something great that you will never get in North America unless you make it yourself.

I had some great food that night and some good sake as well. It was a great second last day even though I didn't get to see a movie.

Today, my last full day, I started organizing the cleanup of the apartment and the organizing for the packing. I walked to my friend from La Rochelle's house and ate lunch and said good bye then came back to finish what needed to be done to the apartment. Later, I ran an errand into Shinjuku to deliver a gift to my friend from the Keio Plaza Hotel and he asked me what I wanted for my last meal on my last full day but I knew he had a suggestion in mind so we went to an izakaya near the train station where the salary men go after work. It was a busy place but there was a table left by the window.

My friend's original intent was for me to try warm sake that had a grilled blowfish fin seeping in it so I said by all means I'd love to try it. It was very good. I thought it would maintain the sake taste but it was really all about the roasted fin. It was like drinking meat but that sounds gross and this was by no means gross. The fact that it was warm and savory made it different but good enough to try again sometime.

First though, it is customary in this establishment to deliver a small glass of beer immediately and free of charge. How civilized is that? Next my friend began to order dishes including oden and a kidney stew. Then small dried then grilled 'sad-eyed' iwashi. They were bursting with flavor from being dried and the grilled effect added another savory aspect to the dish. Some ika (squid) sashimi and then some small deep fried river shrimp sprinkled with salt. It reminded me of popcorn shrimp except that there was significantly more shrimp flavor because in Japan you eat the whole shrimp when they're this size, head and skin and tail.

Following this my friend ordered a small bowl of baby sardines on a ball of ground daikon called shirasu-oroshi. It looks like a pile of shredded white paper and at the end of each shred is a tiny black eyeball. When you sprinkle it with a little shouyu the taste of umami is incredible. Unmistakably fish with the fresh sweet diakon and full mouth flavor.

There was an additional sashimi dish at the beginning that was very tender and tasty but it was from an animal that most North Americas couldn't imagine eating. I'd tried it on a previous trip and wasn't too impressed. That trip my son really enjoyed it. This trip it was very good both times I tried it and it was served in two different ways but both were sashimi.

The finale to the dinner was a plate of fried udon noodles with cabbage, pork, shoga (pickled ginger) and a healthy topping of dry shaved bonito. Japanese meals often end with a starch dish like rice or noodles and this dish had a gentle taste so that you didn't leave with a heavily flavored palate.

My final meal in Japan will be at the airport. It doesn't sound very exciting compared to where I've eaten and what I ate, but they have reasonable food in the airport and it will be Japanese food in Japan.

This is the last post from Japan, that's assuming I don't get waylaid by the typhoon. I will be adding one more post in a few days to wrap things up with regard to the trip and with regard to future plans for Zonajin. For more information about my writing and things Japanese please visit my author page on my publisher's website,

While still on Japanese soil, I thank all my friends who live in this great and pleasant country; new friends made this trip and those I've known for a few years. They made the trip special and allowed me to enter their country on a more intimate basis that I could ever have expected with out their generous guidance.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Just a Few Days Left

New things Japanese keep coming at me. The other night I was treated to my first tea ceremony by my new friends, the young professional couple. They kindly invited me to their house where they have modified one of the rooms in their house to be a tea ceremony tea room. They have raised the floor and placed tatami mats to the exact specification of a tea room and then placed the burner in the traditional placement for the tea ceremony.

I took this all in while appreciating that my new friends are very dedicated to learning and preserving their culture. I didn't use the term, Japanese Culture, because my friends are so involved with the various arts and so informative with regard to these arts that the art and culture of their country is actually theirs. They have been tremendous ambassadors while sharing information and instructing this foreigner in the ways of their culture.

I had read about the tea ceremony and seen short documentaries on the procedure but I learned a number of new elements with regard to the performance of a tea ceremony thanks to my friends.

Both members of this couple were again dressed in kimono which made the experience that much more authentic. I learned that the gentleman's kimono had belonged to his great grandfather and was over a hundred years old. It had been reworked and material from a second matching outer kimono had been used to enlarge the garment because Japanese men are larger now than they were a hundred years ago. The lady's kimono had belonged to her grandmother and had bright colors that showed no signs of being from long ago. They informed me about the techniques used to re-work and re-dye the silk in older kimonos so that they could be re-newed for use by younger members of the family.

They placed me in the seat of the most honored guest and presented me with a choice of sweets. This is to replicate the experience of have a tea ceremony after having eaten a Japanese Kaiseki (formal meal of simple tasty dishes) meal that concludes with a sweet. This was an aspect of the ceremony I didn't know.

My host, the gentleman hosted first, stepped to his position and kneeled before the burner with the pot of hot water, bowed and then began his preparations. These involved the proper placement of the utensils and then the symbolic cleaning of the utensils. For this he produced a dark purple silk cloth from his sleeve to wipe the bowl and scoop. Then he explained that he was going to make and serve thick tea. I'd not heard of thick tea so I watched as my host scooped a great amount of tea powder from the tea jar then added a small amount of water. He stirred the mixture to a thick but runny paste. For thick tea, the bowl is placed in front of the most honored guest first (there may be more than one guest but one is the most honored guest) with the central design on the bowl facing the guest. The bowl is picked up with the right hand and placed on the flattened palm of the left hand. The guest then bows to his host and admires the design on the bowl.

Next, the guest turns the bowl about a quarter turn on the palm of the left hand and brings the bowl to the mouth and takes a drink. After the drink the guest wipes the edge of the bowl, spins it on the left hand so that the central design on the bowl faces the next guest and places the bowl in front of the next guest. Thick tea is shared by all guests from the same bowl. Once the last guest has had a drink the bowl is returned to the host. The host cleans the bowl and places all the utensils back to their starting point.

The host then begins to serve thin tea. In our case we had a change of host and the young lady began to serve the thin tea. The ceremony she would perform is what I had seen before. I was offered an additional sweet. This time it was a small hard sugar candy that wasn't really hard. Once placed in the mouth and crushed, the sweet dissolved almost instantly. It is a very finely ground cane sugar pressed into different molds to produce small treats.

Our new hostess stepped to the burner and bowed then produced a red silk cloth to clean the utensils. It turns out than men use dark colors like purple when they are host and women use red, yellow or orange cloths.

She used a different tea jar because we were going to have a different type of tea, this time, macha. The jar was a small polished black enamel jar with bright gold inlay in the shape of stems and leaves. Bright materials yet the one small flower of the plant in the design was an inlay of mother-of-pearl and it shone out like the only star in the sky on a dark, dark night.

My hostess scooped a smaller amount of tea into a new bowl. They explained after that for thick tea a bowl with steep sides is used but for thin tea a bowl with more curvature, more roundness is preferred. She then scooped in hot water and placed the scoop on the open top if the water container on the burner (there is a second water container holding water used to replenish the container on the burner). Next she took the whisk and whisked the tea in the bowl creating the frothy top that you may have seen in pictures of tea ceremonies.

The bowl is placed in a similar manner with the bowls design facing the receiver and it is picked up the same way. The guest bows to the hostess as before then lifts the bowl to the lips but now things change. The guest drinks the tea in three sips. I had had this explained before but this time I was told something new. On the last sip when you finish the tea you are supposed to suck in the foam that remains on the side of the bowl. It is a sign to everyone that you have finished.

You then return the bowl to a place in front of the hostess with the design facing toward the hostess. The hostess starts the process over again, preparing a bowl of tea for the next guest. These steps are repeated until all the guests have been served a bowl of tea. Interesting fact I didn't know is the hostess or host does not prepare a bowl for themselves.

I felt bad that the young lady of the couple wasn't going to get a bowl of thin tea and then my two hosts asked me if I would like to try and prepare a bowl of thin tea. Indeed I did want to attempt the task. My hosts guided me through the steps and I learned more of the process. For example, when you scoop the water from the pot you only pour half the scoop into the bowl. When you whisk the tea you use your wrist and the term is tateru, to make stand. In this case you are making the bubbles stand on top of the liquid. After you whisk the tea you return the whisk to its position, centered. There is a small black tassel on the whisk that when facing forward means the whisk is centered.

The bowl I prepared I served to the young hostess so she was able to drink thin tea. I was relieved. They told me that the whole process should take just under and hour and in this case it did even with me blundering my way through one session as the host.

I asked them, what if on a Saturday afternoon you felt like having a cup of tea, since you have a tea ceremony room do you go through this process? They said no it wasn't necessary for all tea drinking. Using hot water with the tea in a rounded coffee mug or bowl would suffice but the whisking makes the tea taste better and adds a touch of the formality. They then presented me with a gift, a small container of tea, some bamboo sticks for eating sweets and a bamboo whisk. Now I can prepare green tea for my girlfriend when I get home.

I'm sure I've forgotten many of the things I was told but I think you may get a feel of the ceremony from what I have described. There is a link to a website with more information regarding the tea ceremony on my author page at my publisher's website,

It was time to head out for dinner and as I was putting my shoes on I noticed a flower arrangement on a ledge in the entry. My friend saw me looking and commented that this was an example of Ikebana (Japanese Flower Arranging). I asked if his wife had prepared it and he said that no, he had done it. His mother had been a teacher of ikebana and he had always been exposed to the art in his home. He had not been formally trained yet here was another example of my friends making the Japanese arts a part of their personal culture.

We went for Teppanyaki to a restaurant where the boyfriend of my young friend from La Rochelle works. I've written in a previous blog about Teppanyaki and this was similar in that it was a serious presentation of culinary style. The food was different but equally tasty.

The appetizer had three components. A small block of tuna on some micro greens with a small dollop of wasabi on top. A nice tasty starter. Then a shot glass filled with a foam of carrot and apple pure. A nice sweet palate cleansing taste. Third was a small chawanmushi (savory custard) that had small disks of mozzarella cheese. The texture change from the velvety custard to the firm yet soft cheese was very entertaining and delicious.

Next course was a shrimp tartare. The minced shrimp meat was placed on a small, raised edged block of wood. On the right side of the wood surface were seven lines of condiments, spicy sour cream, chizu paste, very small roasted rice balls, thinly sliced chives and so on. A small paddle about 2 cm (3/4 inch) wide was used to scoop up the shrimp paste and some of the condiments then a quick dip in a bowl of dipping sauce before you ate it. Every bite different, every bite delicious. When I saw the words 'Shrimp Tartare' on the menu I couldn't wait to see the presentation and check out the flavor. I'm betting you won't find shrimp tartare on many menus in North America any time soon but if you do then order it, no questions asked. It's a tasty and not too adventuresome experience. The flavor is mild so the adventure is in the anticipation of experiencing something you would never have thought of.

As in my previous Teppanyaki meal a salad was served but this one was unique. A glass tumbler filled with a slice of cucumber, stalks of endive, strips of radicchio and one or two other young lettuces served beside a ceramic bowl over a small flame burner. Inside the bowl was Kane Miso. Kane is the Japanese word for crab and I've mentioned miso before in the context of miso soup or miso flavored chankonabe but when the word miso is used with crab it means crab brains. In this case a slightly thickened broth of crab brains. The way to eat it is to dip the vegetables into the broth and munch them down. Crab brains have a very mild mouth filling flavor. It's possible there were some mushrooms in the thick broth because I was reminded of the musky flavors of mushrooms as I ate the crab brains. Crab brains should go on your list of foods to eat when ever possible.

The main course was 40 day dry aged beef cooked medium rare. Tender, juicy and an abundant portion. On the side, a small bowl of mashed potatoes with a touch of horse radish, a drizzle of demi-glace was served. Stirred together it was smooth and rich with the occasional hit of zing of the horse radish. I could have eaten a much more abundant portion of the potatoes but we North Americans over eat potatoes to a large degree so I chose to tell myself I was satisfied by the amount I ate while I craving more.

Finally the rice course, and this chef's version was out of this world. First he browned very finely diced garlic in oil and moved them off to the side. Then in the spot where he had fried the garlic he fried the rice to which he added a good amount of freshly gated white pepper. On another spot of the teppan he poured some demi-glace that he allowed to thicken for a few seconds after which he scooped the sauce up to drizzled it over the rice. The rice was mixed then portioned into bowls and topped with the browned garlic. But it wasn't finished yet. The chef then took the top off a bowl he had waiting to the side and scooped out a large scoop of reddish looking pellets. These went on top of the rice. The pellets were pellets of raw frozen beef. We were instructed to stir the garlic and beef pellets into the rice where it would be warmed and partially cooked. Unbelievable flavor. The warm garlic, the taste of good beef, the slightly sticky texture of the rice and all tied together by the distinct flavor of fresh white pepper. My taste buds didn't know whether to dance, sing or shout halleighluia.

Afterwards we were escorted to the lounge to have dessert and coffee.

It was a day of greats. Great friends, a great learning experience to add to my base of Japanese knowledge and a great meal. Many thanks to those who made it possible.

On the writing front, my editor returned my manuscript with his input the other day. It's up to me now to go through the manuscript to consider the changes he is recommending. At first glance there are a tremendous number of punctuation corrections that will certainly be accepted. Comas and there placement baffle me. Where I think they aid in the flow of reading doesn't seem to agree with convention so I apologize to all of you for what I have been subjecting you to while you read this blog. Cormac McCarthy has the right idea when it comes to punctuation. He only uses periods. Everybody knows where they go and he does it expertly. It takes a few pages to realize what's missing but then you don't notice it and he's such a good writer that the meaning of the words and thoughts come through with out needing the punctuation. He writes long sentences but you don't lose your train of thought as you read through them.

I should be through my run through of my manuscript in a week or two then its back to the editor for any final discussions. Once we get past that it's all technical activities. Formatting for the print service, cover creation then into product availability. I'll have an excerpt from my new novel available on my author page at my publisher's website, in about two weeks.

Novel number three is moving along at a pace I'm happy with right now as well. Developing characters and arranging events to support a plot are difficult but rewarding. This most creative stage of writing a book is also the most enjoyable. Time flies because you brain is so busy, yet you don't notice the rapid escape of time when you are controlling this small universe of a story within your head.

I loaded a picture or two of my tea ceremony experience on the right side of the blog page at If you read this blog at a different site you will have to go there to see the pictures.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Already I Miss This Place

Only seven days and then a travel day until I return to Arizona. The routine I'm living here has grown on me so it's kind of an umami amai (savory sweet) kind of feeling. The thing that is depressing right now is scheduling those things I want to do before I leave. Not that the timing is difficult but that I'm doing it with an end in sight.

One small example is the bag of rice I have in my kitchen. I keep trying to figure out if I will be eating in the apartment enough nights to finish the bag. It's the fourth 1 Kg bag I've gone through since I got here and I don't want to waste any of it. I also worry that I'll finish it too soon and then I'll have to cook noodles or go out to eat. Most of the meals I've cooked have been stir fried vegetables with fish in a sauce eaten over rich. I haven't grown tired of eating that at all.

During the day I eat a lot of fruit because it's been so good here. It has been one of the surprises of the trip and one I wouldn't have predicted. The kiwi fruit is extremely tasty. I bought a bag of about eight pieces the other night for about $4 US. I cut them in half and scoop their green translucent flesh out with a spoon standing over the sink because they are so juicy. The other fruit that has been on the shelves a lot lately is the Mikan, the Japanese name for what we called Japanese Oranges when we were kids, now often called Mandarin Oranges.

They are small, easy to peel, have no seeds, are sweet and used to show up in our house around Christmas. My mother would buy a box of them and we'd keep them out in the porch area at the back door to keep them cool. They were individually wrapped in a piece of orange paper and we would strip the paper off and put it back in the box rather than carry it in and put it in the garbage. As time went by and you went to get an orange you had to feel around through all the papers and you didn't know how many oranges were left. Your heart would sink as you reached around through the paper expecting to feel the weigh of an orange and only hearing the rustle of orange papers. You'd go into all four corners and then criss-cross through the middle while you began to panic at the thought of not getting to eat that sweet deliciousness and then, plunk. You found one and it was all yours and when your older brother went to the box to get an orange later you knew he wasn't going to find one so this last orange was going to be the sweetest orange you ever ate. Well, all the oranges I've been eating here taste just like that last orange that my brother didn't get to eat.

If I'm not off meeting friends or sight seeing, in which case I would be doing a lot of walking, I take an exercise walk through the neighborhood around 5:00. I walk for about a half hour and I move at a pretty good pace. I like the 5:00 time because there's usually some activity out on the streets and it hasn't gotten dark yet.

I used to walk to the nearby park. It takes about five minutes to get there and then I follow different paths to see the various parts of the area. After a while I'd seen it all so I began to stay out on the streets, going in different directions. I've written about the difficulty of walking the streets when there is a lot bicycle traffic so I started ducking into the narrow neighborhood streets and found that the bicycle traffic was significantly reduced.

I had wanted to explore the neighborhood to see what kind of housing the Japanese people lived in so this was a good way to see it. There are of course many apartment buildings and they are big blocks of concrete with stairwells and doors. The apartments are very small in most cases so there are a good number of apartments in each building. They do not have an abundance of parking space for cars and most buildings are surrounded by bicycles. As I wrote in an earlier post, Mitaka has a very high number of bicycle parking spots near the station. It is a town where bikes are king.

Most of the buildings in the area are single family dwellings. They are certainly different from the districts in Phoenix where there has always been a lot of land and not too many people. In Japan you have the polar opposite situation. The plots of land are small. There is usually no yard or garden. If there is then the space is usually used for parking a car. If there is space for a garden it is usually well kept with nice ornamental trees and some small boulders. Occasionally you will find a much older house with a larger area of garden but these are few and were built many years ago.

The older buildings have dark brown wooden sidings and wooden posts for support beams. The back of these houses are long and have wooden verandas running the full length of the house looking out onto the garden and they are usually one story buildings.

The newer buildings are small but usually have two or three floors. Obviously once you've bought the land building up is less expensive that building out. Most of the buildings have Japanese styling elements with upturned corners on the roofs and most have the rounded dark ceramic tiles on the roofs with decorative endcaps.

Not all of the buildings are on the street either. I mentioned the house next to my apartment that is surrounded by buildings on all sides just like my apartment building is. To get to it you have to walk the same narrow pathway off the street to get in behind the surrounding buildings. This is true out in the district as well. Houses will be lined up with access down a four foot wide path.

There are some very large houses on some of the streets. Some are older Japanese style houses; others are newly build Japanese style houses while still others are very modernistic in style. It has been very interesting to see where the people actually live.

One of the surprising but welcome benefits of going for a walk at around 5:00 is that there is something cooking in most of the kitchens I walk by. The smells are delicious and quite varied. Grilled fish that's been basted in a savory sauce (some of which has hit the grill and created an additional tasty aroma), curry (very popular in Japan), stews and grilled vegetables. Generally I take this all in before I've eaten so I'm a little crazy and impatient for food when I'm done and I still have to go shopping.

I dress in a workout shirt and workout shorts to take my walk and I always put a few coins in my pocket to buy some beer and a rice ball for a snack at the 7Eleven. As I walk along taking in the delicious aromas I'm reminded of the old fable of the eel that lived next door to the unagi (grilled fresh water eel) restaurant. He would never go eat at the restaurant but he loved the wonderful smell. Well, each time I smelled something that made my stomach growl, a delicious meal's scents wafting out of a kitchen operated by someone who knows how to cook delicious smelling food, I did what the eel did, I rattled the change in my pocket to pay with the sound of the my coins for the smell of the food.

My longest term friend here in Japan knows what I mean. I mentioned in a previous blog post that he wasn't a fan of unagi but the smell of it grilling coming out from the restaurants when we visited Kawagoe made it impossible for him to resist. I think he's glad he didn't.

I have to start making some last rounds to some favorite places so last night I went to eat at one of the izakayas I've gone to a number of times. I wanted to say goodbye and let them know I wouldn't be coming by for a long time. They serve yakitori that includes a number of internal organs cooked tender and sprinkled with salt. I had five various sticks and a bowl of some type of innards soup that I had eaten there before. It is a tasty hearty soup and now that it has cooled down somewhat it was good to eat a thick soup. This place servers Kirin beer on tap and I found it to be the coldest and tastiest tap beer in all the places I went to during the last three months and I told them so.

They said good bye and gave me a souvenir sake drinking box and I went out to walk in the Harmonica streets of Kichijoji. I had made it out the door and down the block when I remembered that I had forgotten my umbrella. I turned to go back then stopped myself. I was leaving soon and I wouldn't be taking the umbrella with me. I'd found it on the train so I decided to practise the catch-and-release policy of Japanese umbrellas and I let it go.

At the Harmonica streets there is a small Chinese dumpling food stand at the end of one of them right across from the train station. I had wanted to try them and I felt I could still eat a little so I went and bought a package of four.

These dumplings are the Shanghai soup dumplings. The dumpling is stuffed with soup that has been jellied so that when cold it is solid when you wrap it in the dumpling. In this case there was also a ground pork meatball inside. They are the size of a billiard ball and after steaming are very hot. To eat them you pick them up and bite a small hole in the dumpling dough to let the steam out and to cool the now liquid soup inside. It is a clear red soup and you slurp out its goodness being careful not to singe your tongue. Full meaty flavor is your reward. Then the tasty meatball and the tender dumpling, both saturated with the satisfying flavor of the pork broth.

I walked about through the thin alleys filled with many small bars. People sat on chairs that partially blocked the alleys drinking beer and eating from small dishes. I stepped into one alley and there was another non-Japanese person standing there. I nodded and said hello and went to pass by. I came to Japan to meet Japanese people and to speak Japanese but I'm not adverse to meeting people from other countries. Quite often they are non-Japanese and don't speak English so I have no method to communicate with them anyway.

This gentleman spoke English and returned my hello and asked where I was going. We began a conversation, introduced ourselves and then he introduced me to his friend, a very beautiful Japanese woman. He said she had never been to the Harmonica streets of Kichijoji so he was showing her around and then they were going to go to a stand-up bar to have a drink. They asked me to join them and I did.

He is an assistant professor at one of the many small universities in Tokyo and has been living in Japan for ten years. She was born in Tokyo and worked as an accountant. I told them of my interest in all things Japanese and that I was learning the language so they decided to test me and they tested me pretty good. They confirmed my own evaluation of my Japanese skills. I can speak it well enough to get my meaning across but I look dumbfounded when they speak Japanese back to me.

He was from New Zealand so no question about his English. She spoke very good English as well. They tried to keep it Japanese for me to practice but for clarification we used English. I asked how well he spoke Japanese when he arrived and he said not at all. He learned on the job and in bars where you learn a different Japanese than the language I'm learning from books and audio lessons. The books and tapes teach proper Japanese using perfect grammar but on the street there are many short cuts. I listen for certain key sounds when they speak to me but they don't use those sounds. They also have different endings when they conjugate their verbs. What a nice new difficulty to realize.

He gave me his email address and said to make contact the next day and we'd get out for a drink again before I leave. He's a nice guy and a good exercise for my Japanese Language learning. If I don't see him again before I leave I will certainly keep in touch and try to see him on my next visit. He's also only the second non-Japanese friend I've made in Japan. Making a new and interesting friend with just eight days to go before my departure also made me a little sad. I'm sure I would have learned a lot more about living in Japan if I'd met him earlier in the trip. Next time.

As usual, a reminder that if you are interested in finding out more about Japan check on my author page at my publisher's website,

Monday, October 18, 2010

History, More Food and Fishing

First, a little writing news update: The Great Falls Tribune published an article about my book, A Wind In Montana, in their October 18th issue. If you are interested you can read it at

It was kind of exciting for me to get the email from them telling me they had published the story. It isn't really a review since they don't offer an evaluation.

Back in Japan, I spent an amazing day with my friends, the couple we met in Hawaii. Together we usually plan to go to a park or museum and then try some new style of Japanese food. This time we planned to eat Teppanyaki and go to the Edo/Tokyo museum. First we went for lunch.

Teppanyaki in North America is an entertaining way to eat. You sit around the iron cooking surface (Teppan) and watch as the chef prepares your food. The chefs are skilled in the art of juggling, continually flipping and spinning their cooking utensils creating a constant racket in the process. In a crowded restaurant the din can be deafening.

The show continues with a series of the same jokes you've heard in other Teppanyaki restaurants where square cut zucchini are introduced as Japanese French Fries and bean sprouts as Japanese Spaghetti. Then if there are children in your group (and Teppanyaki is a great meal to take kids to, it keeps them entertained) the chef stacks the concentric circles of onions into a mountain structure, sprays oil into it the dims the lighting and starts the oil on fire. The old volcano trick.

After that you get the Carnival game of flipping shrimp and catching them in your mouth. If you are successful with a catch a spray of sake comes your way and you get splashed all over your face. When that stuff is all over and done with you get to eat some pretty tasty food. Like I said, in North America Teppanyaki is entertainment, all about the show.

In Japan, Teppanyaki is a serious cuisine. I ate it once in Kyoto where everything is serious and I thought maybe it was a Kyoto thing but when we ate Teppanyaki in Kichijoji the chef was equally serious about the food he was preparing. The results of his efforts were delicious and it is worth the experience to compare the In-Japan-Style with what happens in North America.

The restaurant we were in offered a French Teppanyaki set meal that included foie gras but, I wanted the Japanese Teppanyaki. For a starter we had sashimi of ika (squid). Tender, soft, tasty with a ground ginger accompaniment that let us know we were in for some delicate flavoring techniques. Next, hotate (scallop) and small white fish. Both had a nice browned crust and when dipped in salt or shoyu they were sweet and savory.

The Japanese set meal was a surf and turf plan but after this first fish course we were served a small green salad. The salad dressing in Teppanyaki restaurants in North America is a tangy dressing with a fruity element to it, this one we hand in Japan could also be described that way but it had more of the fruit but also goma (sesame) blended with it. It does well as a palate cleanser.

After the salad we were served a small lobster tail at the front and centered of a white plate. The tail was behind the lobster meat which was sitting on a bed of freshly steamed spinach. A rich lobster sauce was spooned over the lobster and it tasted great with the tender spinach as well.

The turf portion of the meal was Wagyu beef. If you haven't seen Wagyu beef it is rippled with fat, almost fifty-fifty fat versus meat and I've seen it with more fat than that. It is extremely expensive beef. I wouldn't buy it very often because of the price and the fat content but it is worth tasting more than once. I've mentioned before that I am not a fan of fat on meat but I placed my reserve aside so that I could enjoy the flavor of the Wagyu. It is a mild beef flavor but unmistakably beef. Juicy doesn't even come anywhere close to a ballpark full of hints or clues as to how to describe the texture but neither does greasy. There is plenty of moisture released by the ever so soft meat but it doesn't coat your mouth leaving you with a slick that you want to cut through with a drink or piece of bread. Instead you take your time and enjoy the flavor. You don't get a giant portion like you would in North America and you don't need it, so chew slowly, let it fill your mouth getting to all the flavor savoring areas you have within. Experience it, you'll be rewarded with one of the best beef tastes you will ever receive from this ingredient that we expect to taste the same every time we eat it.

Desert was served in a different room. This happens at La Rochelle as well and I've never been through the change of location for desert process before eating at La Rochelle. Maybe I haven't been around enough but it's kind of a nice touch. Kind of like they're saying, "We have a special treat for you in the next room." Now you're all excited and can't wait to see what they've done for you.

It was raspberry sorbet with a small cookie. It refreshed the mouth and went great with a rich cup of coffee. This is where the bill was presented so I guess they like to keep the business end of the experience away from the artistic end.

After lunch we went to the Edo/Tokyo museum. One half of the exhibition is dedicated to Edo, that is Tokyo before the modern era, and the other half is dedicated to Tokyo as it developed into the modern city of today. It is an interesting exhibit and the experience is enhanced by having some prior knowledge of those times. The museum also has two sections that are revolving exhibits so there is something new each time I go.

This time there was a themed exhibit dedicated to the Sumida River which runs through Tokyo. There were pictures and numerous Ukiyo-e (Japanese Woodblock Prints) depicting scenes of activities that did and still do take place along the banks of the river. I'm a big fan of Ukiyo-e and own a number of them so the exhibit was very interesting for me.

The first Ukiyo-e I ever purchased was a hundred and ten year old triptych that depicted a scene in the life of a samurai. When my friends whom I was with at the museum this day visited my home in Arizona earlier in the year they recognized the print. It turns out that the artist was my friend's relative from about one-hundred and twenty years earlier. When we visited his home earlier on this trip he showed us some scrolls that his relative had created and some other works by some of his relative's trainees. As he showed us these prints his daughter sat there flabbergasted discovering the artwork and history of her long ago and talented relative. She hadn't known of these valuable prints that were in the house she grew up in.

The second special section of the museum was dedicated to some historical artifacts related to the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan for over two hundred and fifty years. The title of Shogun was handed down to 14 heirs during that time. The first three have considerable history written about them. The final Shogun as well but the ones in between are hard to learn about in the English language. It is the history of the first Shogun that James Clavel's novel, Shogun, loosely parallels. His protagonist was named Toranaga.

The Tokugawa are another subject that I have studied and am very interested in so the day was a special treat all day long and it didn't end after we had spent five and a half hours walking through the museum.

The museum is located in Ryogoku, next to the Kokugikan sumo stadium so when it was time to eat dinner we of course went for Chankonabe, the sumo wrestler's stew that I wrote about in an earlier blog. This night we went to the restaurant called Terao which is named for the former sekiwake who is currently the Oyakata (Head Coach) of the Shikoroyama sumo stable. This is the sumo stable that my favorite wrestler, Homasho, belongs to and we chose it by chance.

We had a miso based chankonabe which only went to prove that chankonabe comes in many different flavors and so far I haven't found one that wasn't delicious. When we chose our chankonabe, the waitress looked at me then looked at my friends and asked them a question. It turns out the only protein in the chankonabe we had chosen was iwashi (sardine) meatballs and she was concerned about whether or not I could handle it. I was proud of myself because I had understood the jist of her question when she asked in Japanese.

It was a long and enjoyable day that flew by because of the interesting things we saw and ate together. The challenge of communicating when none of us spoke the other's language well, added to the enjoyment. When I think about how much time we spent together and were able to understand each other's comments, it makes me glad I'm learning the language.

The next day I slept in because that night I was meeting my friend from La Rochelle at 10:00 pm to go night fishing.

You know that the fishing was good when all you talk about is the fish that you caught. When you talk about the wonderful experience of seeing a new and beautiful part of the country in perfect weather with soft warm wind blowing surrounded by scenic coastal views along the Pacific Ocean, you know that you got skunked. My friend and I did but, our guide and knowledgeable fisherman managed to catch three fish.

One was extremely poisonous. Our expert insisted that we stay away from it while he handled it with a pair of pliers until he freed the hook and put it back in the water. It was about eight inches long and had a big mouth with stripes along its side. Now that I think about it I forgot to ask what type of fish it was. It had poison in either quills or in the surface slime covering its body but I never found out for sure. A picture is on the right side of the blog page at If you aren't reading at that site and want to see it you can check it out there.

Aside from the poisonous fish I have to tell you that the night fishing process is a little dangerous. Our expert insisted that we wear life jackets since we would be perched eight feet above the water on rocky outcroppings extending out into the sea in the dark. No argument here. Top that off with the fact that the rocks had been eroded unevenly so that you had to watch your step, there was no level ground to speak of, with very little light and you realized you have to stay alert when fishing at night. We had head lamps that we turned on when we needed to bait a hook but it was best to leave the lights out and let your night vision take over.

I thought I felt a couple of nibbles at the end of my line but it turns out that only meant I had place my bait well enough for the small shrimp to stay on the hook during the short flight into the choppy water where it tried to attract something that would be pretty tasty later. Obviously most of the little crustaceans didn't make and therefore provided a meal to a fish for nothing while I stood it the warm breeze under the picturesque lighthouse breathing in the scents of the ocean while occasionally staring up at the millions of stars shining in the clear sky above, thinking, I'd do this expecting no reward of fish just for the chance to be in the moment. More proof that I got skunked.

My friend started the journey by cracking a prescient joke related to how beautiful the night was. He said, "No wind, no rain…" and then added, "no fish."

We fished until the sun came up and then made or way home. We managed to get into the middle of the rush hour from Yokohama but when we got to Shinagawa we decided to have a coffee and sit out the craziness for awhile. It was 7:30 AM by this time and as we stood in line waiting to order coffee the counter person poured two mugs of beer and put them on a tray. They looked nice and cold and frothy just like I like to drink them. Two older ladies picked up the tray and disappeared to one of the sitting areas. We had our coffee then took a local train that was slower but less crowded.

They insisted that I take the other two fish home which I did and as soon as I arrived I gutted and filleted them. I had to get the guts and heads out into the garbage and it was past pickup time on smelly garbage day. If I didn't get them out they would be stinking the place up for another three days.

That night I fried the fish in a little olive oil and at the end sprinkled it with shoyu. There's nothing like extremely fresh fish, especially when you know where and when it was caught. It wasn't enough fish to justify the amount of time and money we spent to get it but it was an experience most travelers to Japan won't get. Getting fish was secondary when you think about it, if I want fresh fish its available in almost every store in Japan. It was the act of planning and executing the trip that made it special. Of course this is what all the fishermen who get skunked like to tell you. I'm so lucky that I have friends who invite me to go on these excursions. My only regret is that I didn't have one of those beers at 7:30 in the morning and sit and drink it with the two older ladies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Neighbors

I've been in my Mitaka Apartment for ten weeks now and I really haven't met any of my immediate neighbors. A tad unsocial of me but when you think I've lived in the same house for eight years in Arizona and I don't know the names of my neighbors on either side, you can conclude that I'm not a shake-hands over the fence kind of guy.

I have given my neighbors in Arizona baseball tickets and we do say hello but that's about it. In Mitaka I've made some observations regarding my neighbors but only nodded to the guy living in the next apartment.

First, directly outside my door I've discover two frogs living in the bushes. Technically they may be toads but I don't know how to tell. One is bigger than the other so I think they are a mating pair therefore, there could be more of them. (The biggest one scared me one night when I was taking out the garbage.) My knowledge of frog reproduction includes a vision of tadpoles swimming in a pond and there isn't a pond out there that I can see. I doubt they drop the froglets in the dirt and hope they survive but nature is fairly creative when it comes to reproduction. I won't get into that here but I could.

Just over the fence from the frogs is a full size house. It is surrounded by other buildings and has a number of large trees in the yard. It is very dark back there. Even in August when the sun was shining so intensely the entire house was in shade. I haven't seen any people in the yard and at night I've never seen lights on in the windows. There is a mailbox and it isn't overflowing with abandoned mail so I think someone does live there.

The apartment above me was vacant up until a month ago then it seemed that a Celtic Clogging team moved in and based on the energetic thumping they produce I think they're from the heavy weight division. And there are no time limits. Who ever is up there likes to stomp around the tatamis at all times of the morning. Last night I heard them at 3:15.

Relief is in site though; I'm a curious guy so I checked the website to see when that unit would be available for rent again. Lucky me, I think it is in two days and I hear them cleaning the place. It sounds like suitcases rolling over the floor so I may have the quite restored fairly soon.

Shortly after arriving in Mitaka I heard some shuffling steps go by my front door. You know the kind of shuffling older people do when they aren't too sure of their balance. One day as I was leaving my place I heard the shuffling and it was my neighbor returning from the street. When he saw me he stopped in his tracks and stared. I said good morning and he grunted then raised his hand to indicate that he wanted to get by me and, that was how we met.

I've seen him walking to the 7Eleven store and the other morning when I was leaving he stepped out of his apartment wearing a jacket and tie while carrying a briefcase. We nodded to each other but based on his shuffling speed I turned and quick walked out to the street. Two days later I saw him working with the Gardening Maintenance Wagon that sits outside my side window so I think he is the live-in maintenance man.

Out the back window where the fence is just six feet away, there is another house. They have a dog who I now know is named, Omi. The problem is that Omi doesn't know his name is, Omi. He should, his owner yells it at him enough. Some things, and I haven't been able to nail down what they are, set this dog off into a fit of rapid fire barking that goes on for minutes at a time. If the owner is away at work they don't last too long but if he's home you hear, "Roof, Omi, Roof, Omi, Roof, Omi, Roof, Omi…" for what seems like an hour, especially at 1:00 in the morning.

To the street side of my apartment is another apartment building. After two weeks of quiet sleeping here in my apartment, one night I could hear a constant boink noise followed by some quick tapping or thudding sounds. I finally figured out it was the noise of a video game and the player was bound and determined to get through all the levels before he went to bed. His play was interrupted by a phone call so he must have put the game on hold and gone out to sit on his balcony because all of a sudden at 12:30 AM it was like he was sitting beside me and I had the windows closed.

Who ever he was talking to I'd like to meet because based on the uncontrollable loud and obnoxious laughing my neighbor was doing, the guy he was talking to must have been the funniest most entertaining guy in the world. The laughter went on for about an hour.

This happened a couple more times over the next two weeks and one night he had a friend with him so he had to repeat what the guy on the phone said and then the two of them lost it together.

I was looking out my window one day and saw a couple in the apartment directly across from mine. They appeared to be renovating so I don't think the noise was coming from that apartment. Might have been the one on the second floor.

Away from the apartment at the businesses out on the street I have gotten to know some of the owners. There is a flower shop just down the short alley to the street. My girlfriend purchased flowers there one day. I usually say good morning or hello to the lady inside. The clerks at the 7Eleven have gotten to know me as has the lady at the dry cleaners. Also, I've become a semi-regular at two izakays. One here in Mitaka and one in Kichijoji and I took my girlfriend to both of them. When I went back after she was gone both places asked me where she was and felt bad that I was alone.

I do stick out a bit here in the neighborhood. I haven't seen any other westerners walking around here so the shop owners who see me everyday recognize me. It's been comfortable here all along but now that I'm just two weeks away from leaving I'm thinking more about not being here. I've started planning what I have to do to make sure there isn't much left in the room the day I leave. It's daytime now and I can hear the people upstairs really giving their apartment a good cleaning. It makes me sad to think I'll be doing that soon.

I'm also thinking about the places I have to go to say goodbye and all this with the realization that I won't be coming back to this exact spot ever again. Next time I visit for this long I'll be in a different apartment.

The good thoughts right now are related to work. Work has been going good. My second novel is still with my editor but I'm expecting it soon. Because I don't have it back I've been working on my third novel and making pretty good progress. The development of characters and plot and then the redevelopment as you get deeper into the story are the most fun. You'd think sitting at a keyboard for hours at a time would be boring but your mind is busy in a creative way so you are entertaining yourself and you are completely in control.

I've also done some things related to promoting book one, A Wind In Montana. The Great Falls Tribune newspaper contacted me about the book review they are publishing. The story takes place in Great Falls so they wanted to ask me a few questions. I used to go to Great Falls to visit my grandparents and have vivid memories of the city. The reviewer from the Tribune asked when I lived in Great Falls and which High School I went to. She also asked if I was a chemist since my main character is involved with chemistry and a competition to win a prestigious chemistry scholarship.

I'd sent a copy of the book to the Tribune back in March so you never know how long it will take to get noticed. I've changed the book cover since I sent them a copy so I sent them a new image of the cover to print with their review.

I mentioned earlier that I published an Ebook version of my book and it has been accepted to go into Smashwords Premier Catalogue so it will be getting better exposure in all the major Ebook retail sites.

To help get things started I created a discount coupon for purchases directly from the Smashwords website. The coupon number is available in the caption under my book cover on the right side of the blog page and also on my author page at my publisher's website,

Next up I'm meeting the couple I'd met in Hawaii a few years back and we're going for Teppanyaki then off to the Edo-Tokyo museum. The next day I'm going late night fishing.

My friend from La Rochelle restaurant has lined up a friend of his to meet us in Yokohama. We take a late train down there, fish all night then take the first train back in the morning. I asked why we were going to go fishing at night and he said you catch more fish at night. It should be interesting. For days they have been predicting rain in that area during that night but they just changed the forecast and we should be alright.

I'll let you know what we catch and show you some pictures before and after the fish are cooked. If we cook it and if we don't catch anything my friend tells me there is a fish market nearby and we can catch what ever we want.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

News Friends, Old Friends and Good Times

In Japan, food has brought me many friends. In particular my association with Iron Chef Sakai Hiroyuki's restaurant, La Rochelle has put me together with great people. (This is a good time to remind you that there is a link to La Rochelle Restaurant on my author page at my publisher's website,

First the staff of the restaurant, they have become not only good friends but great helpers in arranging my situation in Japan and keeping me entertained. These good people have also introduced me to their friends and families and so I've made new friends through the restaurant.

In particular this trip I met a young professional couple one night at a special dinner at La Rochelle. We exchanged emails and have now gotten together twice for meals in other restaurants. Both times to experience different types of Japanese cuisine; once for Chankonabe and then yesterday for Tempura (Tenpura in Japan).

The tempura excursion was a result of seeing a restaurant review for a famous tempura chef, Saotome Tetsuya, in the Japanese times the other day. As I mentioned in previous posts one of the nice things about being in Tokyo is reading the JT Online and if I see something interesting I can follow up on immediately. The restaurant looked interesting so I emailed the link to my new friends. (Link info available on my author page at They were interested in checking it out and it turns out the restaurant is close to where they live.

They told me which train station the restaurant, Mikawa Zezankyo Tenpura, was closest to and then were kind enough to make a reservation. If you read the article you will discover that there are actually three locations for the Mikawa restaurants. I thought we were going to the original restaurant but I was mistaken. My friends had told me the station nearest to the one at which they made a reservation but I wasn't quick enough to figuring that out so I got to take two extra taxi rides.

I found a taxi immediately outside of the station and gave the driver the address to the (wrong) restaurant. I had written it down and handed it to the driver (a good thing to do in Tokyo). Addresses in Tokyo are very complicated and not similar at all to addresses in North America. The taxi driver had to pull over to the side and key the address into his GPS to figure out where we were going. He got to within a block of the place but couldn't find it, even with a GPS map showing the building on his screen. That's how difficult it is to find a place in Tokyo.

On the paper with the restaurant's address I had also written the phone number (another good thing to do in Tokyo) so the cab driver called the restaurant and told them where we were and someone from the restaurant came and found us. Once again, the people in Japan are willing to do a little extra to help out a foreigner.

When I entered the restaurant there were no other customers. I told them I was to meet two other people and that we had a reservation. They realized that I had the wrong restaurant and called the correct one confirm. They were right and the young lady who came and found me in the cab took me back out to the street and found me another cab. Before we left she gave the driver detailed directions and I arrived at the correct restaurant only fifteen minutes late.

The restaurant was tiny and elegant and my friends were dressed in Kimono which made the experience all the more elegant and authentic. My friend's love of their country's culture is quite evident. They have worn Kimono on each occasion that we have met. I don't know how many Kimono the average Japanese lady owns but my friend told me she owned fifteen. This day she wore one in the colors of fall and it was very beautiful. The night we went for Chankonabe together my girlfriend was extremely impressed by the Kimono and our friends told us about the difficult process of dressing in the garments.

They are involved in other Japanese cultural pursuits but more on that later.

The food was a truly great food experience. I have had tempura before but I don't eat it that often while in Japan. After this experience I will be increasing the frequency.

To begin with the chef, who cooked standing in front of us the whole time, served two amazingly tender and flavorful shrimp in the most delicate tempura batter I've ever had. The shrimp were followed by small fish that we dipped into little piles of sea salt for the first bite then into tempura sauce with ground diakon radish for the second. The fish was tender as well with a mild fish flavor that was brought out nicely by the salt.

I wasn't certain how to eat each course so I watched the young lady of the couple I was with and how she ate the food. By dipping in salt and tasting then dipping in the sauce and ground radish you can check the flavor changes of the same ingredient. After this small fish my new favorite fried item was served, the heads of the shrimp. I've had them before but in Mikawa they are perfection. Crunchy and light in the same light tempura batter but then the stuff inside the head (brains etc.) fill your mouth with intense shrimp flavor and you realize what shrimp really taste like, delicious.

I asked my friend if he cooks the shrimp heads when he cooks at home and he said mochiron (of course). He deep fries them or grills them, so I asked how I would do it on my barbeque grill at home and I now have a new shrimp dish to try when I get back.

Next came a fried young ginger plant bud. It is layered like an onion and has a stronger flavor than most Japanese vegetables but was more of an onion flavor than a ginger flavor. I have seen them in the grocery stores and tonight when I make my stir-fry in the apartment I will add a young ginger plant bud to the mix.

After the bud came a bowl of soup with a gentle shrimp broth and a ground shrimp ball. The ball was tender and supplied a reminder of the great shrimp flavor of the head. Then slices of battered ika (squid) were placed in front of us. Squid is one of my favorite seafood ingredients. Sometimes it can be a little chewy but if the chef knows how to cook it, it's the best thing to be plucked from below the waves. This chef knew what he was doing and has been doing so for many years. Dipped into the sea salt and eaten in just that simple manner is the best way to eat fresh squid. The meat wasn't overly thick but was still rare in the middle. It gave mild resistance to the teeth but can only be described as beyond tender. True squid flavor complemented by salt from the sea it came from made for a squid taste that was pure, simple and one you wanted more of.

Another small white fish,Kisu, was served then a choice of two vegetables (I took a small eggplant which had a nice smooth texture when cooked and a slice of sweet potato, dry at first but then it drew the moisture out of your mouth and became a sweet easy to eat delight), a tempura anago (sea eel, very tender with a full eel taste the way it should be, no doubt from the sea but not too fishy or salty) and finally a rice course selection. I chose a bowl of rice in the same light shrimp broth as the shrimp ball that had been served earlier. It came with a fritter filled with small scallops that were good and sweet and matched well with the plump slightly shrimp flavored rice.

But wait, there's more. A small bowl containing three large beans was set in front of each of us. They were very large black beans and they had been stewed in a sweet broth for a day or two. There was a dusting of powdered sugar that added to the sweetness that wasn't too sweet but just right for the end of a great meal.

After the meal my friends asked me to return with them to their home where they have set up a tea room to perform the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony (Chanoyu). It is a very distinctive cultural practice that goes back many years in Japan. There is a famous tea ceremony that was hosted by the Taiko of Japan (Great Leader), Toyotomi Hideyoshi, that lasted for three days in Kyoto and he served over a thousand people. I tried to research exact numbers but couldn't find them. You can find a link to more information regarding the Tea Ceremony on my author page at my publisher's website,

I wasn't unable to join them that afternoon due to another appointment but I look forward to experiencing my first Chanoyu with my new friends.

Later that day I met with my longest term friend in Japan who works at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo. He has recommended that his customers visit a small historic town just west of Tokyo named, Kawagoe, and decided he should go visit it himself so he could provide a personal opinion of the place. He knows I'm interested in this type of historical trekking so we took the train ride out to the Saitama area to walk around the town.

It was a festival atmosphere because of the national holiday so the streets were crowded and all the shops were open with plenty of Japanese O-miyage (souvenirs) available. The town is well known for its preserved old buildings and I was amazed at how many there were. Most of them were huge old warehouses that stored material produced by the farmers in the area. The area is know for having delicious unagi (fresh water eel) and sweet potatoes of the same variety as I had eaten in the Tempura restaurant, the Satsumaimo.

At this point food was not of interest so we walked to all the famous sites in the town and took many pictures. Kawagoe identifies itself strongly with the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu, who was apparently born and raised in the area. I couldn't find anything to confirm that and no source provided an exact day of birth. Iemitsu is famous for a number of events but the one I remember most is that he hosted the Emperor at Nijo Castle (The Shogun's residence while in Kyoto)for three or four days. It was the first time the Emperor had gone to someone else's castle to be hosted rather than being the host. It was a major statement of power for the third Shogun.

After the event, Iemitsu returned to Edo (modern day Tokyo) and no Shogun returned to Nijo castle for about two hundred and fifty years when the balance of power had shifted and the Emperor summoned the fourteenth Shogun, Iomouchi, to Kyoto. It is also where the fifteenth and last Shogun delivered the document returning power to the Emperor, to one of the Emperor's emissaries, marking the beginning of the Meiji Restoration. Nijo Castle is a popular tourist attraction in Kyoto and certainly worth a trip if you are in Japan.

Back in Kawagoe there is a large parade float dedicated to Iemitsu. It is stored in one of the old warehouses of Kawagoe and every year in October when the town has a Matsuri Festival the float is paraded through the streets.

Along with the older buildings, Kawagoe has about thirteen Buddhist temples and five Shinto shrines. We only went to one temple and it was closing for the day so we didn't see much of it. We walked for about three hours and amazingly I built up another appetite so we went looking for an unagi restaurant that we had seen earlier. The smell of the grilled unagi as we walked by when we first arrived was so tempting we knew that at some point we had to try it.

To find the restaurant we returned to the station and then tried to replicate the path we had taken the first time. We made a wrong turn and walked a good distance in the wrong direction then turned back and got on the right path. It turned out the restaurant was quite a long way away from the train station and we had added some distance and time to our walk. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was closed.

This habit of getting lost on the journey to find food is a bit of a theme with my friend and I but as I mentioned, Kawagoe is famous for eel so there were plenty of other restaurants. We had also walked by a restaurant that indicated it had been serving eel in the same location for over two hundred years so we set out to find it.

It was now dark and there were very few people left walking the streets. As we turned one corner to head toward the old restaurant we smelled eel and decided to have dinner at the source of the wonderful aroma. It turned out to be a restaurant that had opened the day before so we went from wanting to eat at the oldest eel restaurant in town to eating at the newest.

The new restaurant was in an old warehouse (kura) that used to store grain. The grain was sold in heavy loads so running from the back of the restaurant out to the side walk was a small rail track on which they ran carts full of grain to the customers in the street. The area of the restaurant we sat in was an open court yard in the past that had at some point been walled in to make additional indoor space.

The unagi was a tasty treat. My friend is not an unagi lover and I have been with him in unagi restaurants before and he did not order unagi. This night, in this restaurant, in a cloud of savory unagi smells he couldn't resist and he ate and lover the unagi.

There are a couple of pictures from my terrific day of food and friends on the right side of the blog page.

It's getting close to dinner time the next day and all I've had to eat is a bowl of cereal, an apple and a banana. For dinner I know I won't have the same quality of delicious food nor will I have the great company that I was able to enjoy yesterday. A big thank you to my friends in Japan.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eating Guts and Lucky Me (Honto Ni, Really) I Went to a Taiko Concert

In 2009 my girlfriend and I went to the City of Fukuoka for four days to attend the sumo basho. We walked around the district near our hotel one night looking for a place to eat and we saw this weird looking restaurant with big pipes leading down from the ceiling and pointing to the middle of the tables. On top of that the place was full of smoke. We decided to go in.

The employees saw us and started yelling for one of their people who knew a little English to come and greet us. I spoke to him in Japanese but when he tried to tell us about the food they served he reverted to English, rubbed his belly and said, "Guts." Indeed, that's what they served, internal organs and intestines. We stayed.

I have no problem eating liver, kidney, heart and tongue so we order a little. After you order they bring a hibachi with charcoal glowing away and place it under one of the pipes coming down from the ceiling. There's a grill over the coals so you cook your own guts. We ate and left, nothing crazy.

Just the other night my friend that now works for his families towel company asked me to join his friends for dinner in Chiba, a city near the airport. He and his friend from his former company get together once a month and go out for dinner. They had known of me as a customer when my friend worked at the previous company so I said yes and met them at the train station in Meguro. We traveled by car, which took about ninety minutes, from Meguro. During the trip my friend told me we were going to a Horumon Restaurant which it turns out is a restaurant that serves guts. In fact it turns out horumon is the Japanese word for guts and internal organs and the name of the restaurant was Horumon. I mentally prepared myself. Like I said, I don't mind eating certain kind of internal organs but I didn't know what to expect.

We arrived and the first thing were served was a bowl of soup. There was a slice of tongue in a clear broth with a dab of something like wasabi on the side of the bowl. The tougue was about three inches by four inches and about a quarter inch thick. It was a little tough but it tasted really good and as I always say when I eat tongue, I don't know if I was tasting it or it was tasting me. What was exceptional about the soup was the broth. Not strong in flavor but very beefy; rich without coating your own tongue with fat. I added the dab of mustard like stuff but didn't notice a change in flavor. It didn't matter, it was so good I like it the way it was.

My friend isn't crazy about the crazy parts of the animals at all so he made sure to order some of the somewhat regular looking meat and it was very tasty but, it didn't have the flavor of the various guts that we ate. The only thing I really recognized was tripe. Some of the stuff I asked about but no one could really say the word in English because my friend had asked that they speak to me in Japanese only so I didn't know what I was chewing on most of the time.

It didn't matter, everything we cooked, except for one item, I ate and enjoyed. We cooked everything to be well done so the burnt meat flavor was excellent. Everything was a bit chewy but we knew that going in. The tripe had a more beefy taste than I experienced in the past but I've only eaten it in Chinese food where it is most often steamed. This night it was more tender that any tripe I've had before. The rest of the stuff was very fatty. I am pretty finicky about removing fat from my meat so I thought I may have had a problem but that wasn't the case. The burnt edges on the fat really added to the flavor so it was easy to eat.

There was even a sausage that was cut into inch long pieces and it looked like only fat when it wasn't cooked and it looked like only fat when it was cooked and when you bit into it, it turned to liquid fat and coated your whole mouth with deliciousness. The casing added some chew to the experience but it was good.

We also had three-eights inch thick sliced bacon to grill and when you got a piece of that all burnt on the sides you had a marvelous bacon flavored taste-bomb go off in your mouth. The meat that goes good with bacon is liver and my friend said to me, "Have you ever had liver sashimi?" I haven't and I really wasn't too keen on having the new experience in the immediate future. Too late, they had already ordered it. It wasn't completely sashimi style, it had been seared but the center was raw liver, red and bloody. It came with a finely chopped onion and sesame oil garnish which added a nice flavor but it didn't really need it. The taste on its own was mild beef liver and the texture was soft as pudding. Makes you want to eat some right now doesn't it. Well, if you get the chance you should take it.

The thing I didn't eat, I looked at for a minute then looked at the young lady sitting across from me. I didn't say a word and she said in perfect English, "Don't even ask." I didn't ask and I didn't eat it. It turns out the young lady lived in New Jersey for a number of years and could have explained every part of the meal but she was told to speak Japanese only.

What ever the substance was, I'll never know, so I just think of it as the most gross and obnoxious part of any animal that I don't ever want to think about. It could probably pass gas so I consider myself lucky that I never ate it. It's safe for you to try that thought at home but, imagining the opposite ending doesn't seem like it would be any fun.

The beer was cold, the friends were great and the guts were really tasty but I wouldn't think there would be much chance for success with a restaurant that only served guts in the US or Canada.

Then, the next day I went to a Taiko Concert. Taiko is the drum music that is native to Japan. On out first trip to Japan we went to see the Kodo Taiko Troup and when they came to Mesa, Arizona a year later we went to see them in Arizona as well.

This concert was a mostly amateur concert. The organization that held the concert, Mirai Taiko Doujou, is owned by a professional Taiko artist and he provides lessons at a number of locations through out the Tokyo area. (See my author page at my publisher's website,, to find links to Mirai Taiko Doujou.) Once a year he has his students put on a concert.

I am lucky that The owner of La Rochelle Restaurant, Iron Chef Sakai Hiroyuki, is a student of the Mirai group and as a result one of the young chefs is also a student and he told my young friend, who works at La Rochelle, about the concert. He, the young chef, was also playing in the concert.

It started at noon so I met my friend and we went to the venue which was a pleasant little theatre right next to the train station in Komae. There were twenty two groups that performed and we were there until five thirty. I never got tired, my back never got weary and I wasn't for one minute wishing I was doing something else. From the moment we sat down we could feel the pounding of the drum deep into our stomachs and chests.

Taiko is made up of a wide assortment of wooden drums played by a group who together explore a variety of rhythms. I've been a fan since the first time I heard them at EPCOT center in Florida. The rhythms seem predictable; they build on a pattern and you can easily figure out where the pattern will end but you never know what type of rhythms will be coming after. It could be a change of pace, it could be a change of drums, it could be an addition of different drums, it could be the overlay of a new rhythm, it could be a change in volume, you don't know until it happens and then you start to figure out that new rhythm as well.

But you feel it, you can't help but feel it inside and you can't help but tap your foot or slap your leg or drum your fingers.

The performers came from all age groups. There were kids groups, some all girls and now that I think about it there were more female performers than male performers. One kids group had a boy who looked to be about three and a girl who looked to be four years old. Then you would have a group of all women who were in their fifties and sixties.

They all played with gusto. Many had looks of concentration on their faces and many had smiles. They worked hard and the physical demand was quite evident, sweat was pouring off some of the boys as they played. They often had on slight costumes while the women wore more loose fitting clothes. From our angle I could see back stage and saw many performers drinking from bottles of water after they left the stage.

There was one lady who looked like a normal older woman who might be a teacher or an office lady or a sales clerk during her normal activities but when she stood in front of the drum she was a strong sinewy force that did battle with drumsticks to pound the music out of the instrument before her. Later she moved from one drum to another and as she played she smiled in pure joy at what she was doing.

There was a young boy who was maybe ten years old. They had to put a small wooden platform in front of the drum for him to stand on. He played in an all adult group and the entire time he performed he smiled. His movements were very strong; his wrists were very fluid in their movements and he was on time with every beat. As he played his head was more active than the other players as he swayed his neck during his wind up to strike. Then during one section where all the performers hopped back and forth jumping as they struck the drum he lifted higher and was more bouncy that anyone else on the stage. During the finale, when all the performers were on stage together moving about from drum to drum, he moved with confidence among the adults while the other young ones stayed pretty much in place.

But one lady really caught my attention. She was part of a group and had been playing a standing drum. When it was time for her to change she went to the very back where the biggest drums were stationed and she stood behind the absolute biggest drum on the stage. She did not have drumsticks, she had what looked like a shorter thicker version of a baseball bat and she didn't just use it to strike the drum, she flourished it through a series of wrist twirls, first on one side of her head and then the other, to bring it down skillfully with the force of both hands onto the skin of the large drum. She did the twirl again and again and you could see her shoulder muscles and arms muscle working hard to deliver the blow that was easily heard among all the other drums. She was the only one in the back row and she was the backbone of support for all the other music.

The young chef from La Rochelle was in the sixth group to play and also in the finale. He played on one of the larger back row drums with a pair of thick drumsticks. He is a well muscled young man and the drummers that play in the back row wear sleeveless tunics with thin straps over their shoulders so you can clearly see the muscles and how they have developed from the constant drumming. He started the piece for his group and set the tempo for the other players and the group played well. In the finale he moved from drum to drum and there were about a hundred drummers on the stage playing a famous piece of music that I had heard at all the street festivals I went to in August.

For one of the young women staff members it was possibly her last concert so it was quite emotional for the girls of her age. There were plenty of tears and many people had flowers to present to her and it provided a touching ending to the concert.

I really enjoy the Taiko music and this was an exceptional five and a half hour chance to enjoy it. There was nothing about it that indicated amateur performance. It will rank as one of the highlights of my stay and I will remember the music for a long, long time.

The owner of the group is a member of the professional troupe called, Bonten. When I tested the link it didn't work. It may later so it's on my author page of my publisher's website, They have concerts throughout the year.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Best Indian Food In Japan, Dogs and Inokashira Park

The first day I was here in Mitaka my friend from La Rochelle restaurant introduced me to his friend who owns an Indian food restaurant just down the street from my apartment. Since then I have eaten at his place four times and his food is some of the best Indian food I've ever eaten. If you aren't a big fan of Indian food you are missing out on one of the most diversified cuisines in the world. It's not all that yellow curry that you see all over the USA. Go into an Indian restaurant and ask them to introduce you to some of the best foods of India and you'll be in for a treat.

One thing my new friend makes that is the best I've ever eaten, is Nan, the bread that is stuck on the inside of a tandoor oven to cook.

A tandoor oven is a clay oven with charcoal burning in the bottom. The restaurant starts the charcoal early in the morning so that it heats up the entire clay surface for cooking. The most famous dish made in a tandoor is tandoori chicken and it is the dish I use to judge an Indian restaurant's cooking skills.

I had some from my new friend's restaurant one night when I went to the Mitaka Matsuri festival. His wife had a grill and was re-warming tandoori chicken and selling it on the street. It had been cooked inside and he has a nice spice blend that he applies to the chicken although he told me on a later visit that he doesn't put too much heat in his curries because the Japanese palate doesn't tolerate too much hot spice.

The first night I ate inside his restaurant I ordered chicken biryani and nan. He looked at me and said, "You want nan with the biryani?" I said, yes and asked if that was alright and he said, "Sure."

I sat watching the kitchen and then I noticed he was flipping the nan dough back and forth in his hands, elongating it to the traditional triangular shape. Then I noticed the tandoor sitting in the corner so I got up and went to watch through the window. He pulled the lid off the tandoor placing it to the side then took a small towel that he rolled into a, 8 inch ball. He placed the nan over the towels then reached into the tandoor and stuck the nan dough to the clay side of the over. He patted it a number of times to make sure the whole back surface of the nan was stuck.

A few minutes later he reached in with a metal hook and snatched the nan off the clay wall. It was puffed up and nicely toasted. He brought me the biryani and the nan and I realized why you may not want nan with biryani. There's no sauce to dip the nan into since biryani is essentially fried rice.

We talked about the preparation of nan for a few minutes and he showed me all of the burn marks on his forearms from placing the nan in the oven. The opening of the oven is a metal ring and over time a chef is bound to touch it. His other chef in the kitchen has a matching set of burn marks.

The nan was delicious on its own and I did manage to get some flavor from the biryani to go with it. I stacked some rice on the nan then ate it. It was kind of like having a rice sandwich. When it first arrived it was extremely hot. I could barely touch it to tear it apart and when I did make a tear the steam that came from inside was dangerous.

When I order, the owner had asked me how spicy I wanted my curry and I told him I liked it higher than medium but added that I didn't want it English hot.

I explained to him that once when I went out to lunch with an Indian IT consultant in Atlanta to an Indian restaurant, I told him I like hot spicy food and he asked me, "Indian hot or English hot?" The consultant then told me that when the English had colonized Indian and discovered a liking for Indian food they seemed to like it best when it was extremely spicy. Indian people like it spicy but apparently not as spicy as the English.

My new friend, the owner of the restaurant who is actually from Nepal, was happy to be able to add some heat to his sauces and he got it just right for me.

I went back another night when my girlfriend was visiting and this time we ordered some chicken vindaloo and some curried begin (eggplant). The owner invited my girlefriend into the kitchen to watch his chef prepare and place the nan in the tandoor.

When the dishes arrived they had ample sauce and the large nan did its job and made sure that there was no sauce left when we were done. The sauce was so good there was no chance we wouldn't eat it all.

I've been back one more time since then with my friend from La Rochelle and that time we went for lunch. That day I had the lunch portion (the nan was still full size) of curried butter chicken, which he had told me was the favorite curry dish of Japanese people, and curried mutton. Once again, the sauce was fantastic and I ate the whole nan making sure no sauce was left on the plate.

This restaurant also confirmed that the best thing to drink with curry is beer.

The owner told me one night, that he was working late every night in Kabukicho which is in Shinjuku. It turns out at the time he was preparing to open a new restaurant though not an Indian restaurant, it's Okinawan. The building he is going into has a floor that is like a food court only there isn't a center court. All the restaurants are Asian and there was already an Indian restaurant on the floor so he had to come up with an Asian theme that wasn't already represented. He chose Okinawan.

I asked if he knew how to cook Okinawan food and he said he was learning. He said if he put one or two Okinawan dishes on the menu and then added some other Chinese dishes he'd be alright. He opened the other night so we're going to go to Kabukicho one night soon to check it out.

Interesting thing about this food floor, each restaurant has its own space with tables etc. but you are allowed to bring food in from the other restaurants on the floor. The customers are required to but their drinks in the restaurant they eat in but, if you wanted Okinawan food and one of your friends wanted Indian and another wanted Thai food, you could all have your food in the same place. You just go and order the food at the other place, telling them you are eating in the Okinawan restaurant and they deliver the food to you.

Now a word about Kabukicho; as I said, it is in Shinjuku, just east of the station. One night my son and I were out walking in the area with the intent of trying different foods in a number of different restaurants. We didn't actually know that we were in Kabukicho until it got dark and we were constantly harassed by men on the street trying to get us to go to their strip club. Then we noticed a number of nude posters on the walls of buildings and erotic names for some of the clubs we were walking near.

As strangers who didn't know the area we weren't too keen on discovering it without the assistance of a local so we got out of there pretty quick. I will be going back to visit my friend's Okinawan restaurant but I will be going with my friend from La Rochelle who had wanted to take me to some Izakayas in the area anyway. With him as a guide I won't be overly concerned; in fact I'm looking forward to it and I stated to my friend that there were to be no girly shows, just food.

I found another grocery store close to the train station today. It's bigger than the others I mentioned in an earlier post and had a great selection of sauces. I picked up some miso (fermented soya bean paste), a few vegetables, some scallops and another type of clam that I will be cooking up as a one pot dish and finishing by adding fresh udon noodles. I'm getting hungry thinking about it.

Another topic that has become more prevalent these days is dogs. Here in Japan and on the home front. I mentioned in a previous post that we are getting two dogs sometime in the next two weeks. I'm looking forward to having dogs again. They tie you down a little when it comes to traveling but the benefit of having them outweighs that little problem.

In Japan it now seems there are plenty of dogs. Due to the hot weather in Japan for the first six weeks I was here I didn't see too many dogs. I remembered seeing a lot of small dogs during previous trips and now that they are back outdoors here it is very noticeable that there are mostly small dogs in Japan. A lot of Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians and small Poodles.

They do not bark at strangers and seem well adjusted to being among lots of people. The other thing I noticed is that a lot of them are dressed up. Japanese people like to put cloths on their little dogs and not just little jackets or warmers, they have full outfits. The other day I saw a small terrier wearing a pair of overhauls with back legs, a shirt underneath with sleeves and a little red hanky poking out of the back pocket.

Quite often I see women riding their bikes and they have a small dog in their basket. Most times the dog is a dachshund. I don't know if they have to ride more often because of their short legs or because there are so many of them that you're bound to see them in the basket more than other breeds.

I've attached a couple of pictures of two dachshunds I met the other day. You can see them on the right side of the blog page. The puppy in the basket had a really soft whine and wanted attention. When I petted it, it gently grabbed my fingers with its needle sharp puppy teeth. I had difficulty getting a well focused picture because the little mutt was so squirmy. The other one is two years old and I think it is the puppy's mother.

The place where I see the dogs the most is Inokashira park. It is a huge and very natural park that does not have the usual elegant landscaping that you see in most Japanese parks. I believe I've mentioned this in previous posts.

I went to walk in the park last Sunday. I've been to the park a number of times but let me tell you it is quite different on a Sunday. It was wall to wall people (and dogs) everywhere and I walked further into the park than I have in the past. The park is known to be a 'date' park so there were a large number of young couples walking about or sitting on the benches by the pond. At the far end near some open fields there were a number of large family gatherings with picnics set out and lots of kids playing in the small stream or kicking around a soccer ball.

As I walked back and around the pond I heard a number of boat collisions. The pond has boat rentals available and in Japan it seems people like to ride in paddle boats that look like large swans. They have at least a hundred of them at this park and all of them were being used. Add in the regular paddle boats and the row boats and there was the potential for nautical gridlock. I heard the boom of wooden and fiberglass hulls coming together and then the Japanese words of apology, "Sumimasen" and "Gomen Nasai", many times.

On the far side of the pond near the exits to go to Kichijoji station a small crafts fair had been set up. People had various items for sale and when I got into the middle of the fair I was able to solve a mystery. I'd seen a number of small dogs, Boston Terriers, Beagles and Shibas wearing little hats and a number of them were Halloween witch hats. There, in the middle of the craft fair, was a lady selling dog hats and based on what I'd seen and how many people were at her stand I'd say she did alright that day; especially when the Japanese people like to dress up their dogs as much as they do.

Please visit my author page on my publisher's website at for links to more information about Japan.