neighbourhood

Food Fair 2.0 (ex a diversus terra)

Italian Restaurant in Hikarie Shibuya

Please note that all posts are officially now from Canada (ex a divers us terra= from another country…sadly we’re not in Kansas anymore). Though I still have lots to say ūüėČ

Back to the land of the rising sun (which is actually what the characters mean¬†śó•śú¨…”the origin of the sun” or “the place where the sun rises and sets”) where you can find amazing restaurants in department stores. This goes way beyond the diner-like restaurants we used to see in Zellers and is more reminiscent of a cafe you’d find in Saks; however, you can¬†usually find 1-2 floors of restaurants (example 6F and 7F¬†in Hikarie Shibuya) plus 1-2 floors of food items in the basement (example B3F and B2F in Hikarie Shibuya) in most Japanese department stores.

The restaurant offerings are varied and range in price from fairly moderate ($10 pp¬†for a set menu dinner) to really expensive ($80+ pp for dinner). There are usually up to three different Japanese restaurants specializing in¬†various types of Japanese cuisine such as sushi, tempura, noodles, tonkatsu (pork cutlets in a variety of dishes), kaiseki (haute cuisine based on seasonal offerings), barbecue or grilled items, bowls of noodles with a whole egg sitting on top (not my fave), Japanese sweets, plus various places with regional specialities (Okinawa, Kyoto, Kyushu). In terms of other types of cuisine, curries from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are also popular in addition to basic Indian food from India. Italian food is also popular with the Japanese and most department stores have at LEAST one restaurant specializing in Italian food but you will often find restaurants with regional specialities (Milanese, Tuscan or Southern Italian), pasta, or pizza and casual fare. Chinese food is quite common and again, offers a few different types like dim-sum, noodle dishes, or very-high end Cantonese cuisine. Irish pubs abound. I’ve seen quite a few Spanish tapas bars as well.

In the basement you’ll find at least one, but often two floors selling groceries (dry goods), fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, deli items, ready-made meals (worldwide cuisine, not just Japanese food), bakeries, patisseries, wine, beer, spirits, chocolate, candies, boxed gifts of food, custom-order dinners that are made while you wait, vitamins, shakes, specialty coffee and tea…as well as smaller take-out restaurants lining the perimeter of the area selling meals that are much more reminiscent of what¬†we would see in a food fair in the mall.

Our culinary experiences were positive for the most part. We did have department store dinner in Hikarie Shibuya at Capricci¬†which was quite good. We had the set menu and our total bill which included the bread bar, an appetizer and a pasta. Including¬†a ginger ale and a prosecco and the total bill was just under $60 (no tipping). The food was good but you can find a few quirks or questionable attempts at Japanese-Italian fusion…sweet potato buns and spinach buns in the bread bar; sweet butter (caramel flavoured?); and weird fish paste on top of Karis’s pasta. Overall it was very good and a pretty decent price. That being said, I bought some Italian deli items one day for dinner¬†and they were less than fantastic (in terms of preparation, quality of ingredients and odd substations) despite costing close to $50. In my experience, it seems to be best to enjoy the cuisine of the country you are in, especially a place like Japan that offers a variety of delicious options that are usually the most affordable as the ingredients are common. Our favourite was sushi at the places with the conveyor belts (usually cheap and cheerful for people in a hurry on their lunch break or on their way home from work). The food was fresh and delicious and Karis and I could eat our fill for less than $15.

A little slice of Milan…three minutes away

Yummy pizza watched by the fish with eyeballs on the top left :-(

Yummy pizza watched by the fish with eyeballs on the top left ūüė¶

Sooo…wasn’t feeling much like raw fish last night so we went looking for something different. Not Japanese. There’s a lot of Japanese food that is deep-fried and/or served on top of noodles with oddly, an egg on top. The eggs aren’t always totally cooked, in my experience anyway. This is a big yuk factor for me. I saw a little place just around the corner that looked good…homemade food, not deep-fried and no raw eggs. It was closed. Deep sadness.

Karis saw a place across the street and it was open so we headed over as there was a massive thunderstorm about to erupt. Which is how we ended up at Milano. Glass of prosecco for 300Y (about $3.25) plus full-on Italian style pizza baked in a brick oven for 500Y. We assumed the pizza would be¬†about the size of a side plate for that price. Nope. They were the size of what we would consider a small pizza i.e. bigger than a side plate! The only miss of the night was the bruschetta. Nicely toasted bread, garlic, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and inexplicably, small white fish with eyeballs. We both tried them…they didn’t really taste like much but the eyeballs got to us. Pizza = HUGE win. Fish with eyeballs = Won’t be doing that again!

I even managed to get my leftover pizza ‘to go’ (o mochi kaeru)!

Sumo in the neighbourhood

For those of you who don’t know much about sumo… It’s an ancient art based on the Shinto religion and sponsored by the Japanese Imperial Court. The successful top-tier sumo wrestlers¬†makuuchi¬†have rock star status in Japan. They can be demoted if they lose but the grand champion, Yokozuna,¬†cannot be¬†demoted; he’s expected to retire if his performances get sloppy. They bow, throw salt (purification) and throw their hands up (Hey guys, I’m unarmed) before they start. Matches are pretty short and whoever pushes the other guy out of the ring first wins. Weight is important and the athletes in the training stables eat a high-calorie stew called¬†Chanko Nabe.¬†There are many training stables in the Ryogoku section of Tokyo as this has been the centre of sumo for over 200 years. There are also many restaurants serving¬†Chanko Nabe if you’re interested in trying it out.

All that high-falutin’ sports stuff aside, there was a charming sumo tournament for kids in my ‘backyard’ sumo ring on Saturday. Cutest thing ever! Anyone could try. Even girls, though women are not allowed to compete professionally. And one intrepid toddler who fought everyone and was either indulged by a kindly older child or simply pushed over immediately. One girl beat about four boys. They all cried. She laughed and walked off with her prize watermelon and her somewhat bemused parents who weren’t sure if they should be proud or horrified. A good time was had by all–except the little boys who were pushed out of the ring by the little girl in the pink dress ūüėČ

Heads up to the sumo world...the toddler and the little girl are the ones to watch. They've got HEART!

Heads up to the sumo world…the toddler and the little girl are the ones to watch. They’ve got HEART!

I live next to a…park for aspiring sumo wrestlers!

In the photo, the image on the far left is my house–the one with the expansive deck with the sliding doors is our room. This little park filled with Zen and bamboo and carved stones (maybe gravestones, not really sure) and a sumo ring is literally in my backyard. It’s an actual covered sumo ring with curtains and tassels, though you aren’t allowed to use it without permission, as well as kiddie playground stuff, contemplative paths and a public toilet.

If I had a million dollars….

Fashion_3 Fashion 2 Fashion_1Walked home from Omotesando station today and noticed yet again that I’m definitely out of my element in terms of fashion here…they’ve got ALL the top designers and more than one store within a 10 mile radius! There seems to be many sales right now. It’s funny, the word ‘SALE’ is often in English, French (soldes) and Italian (saldi) but never in Japanese…or maybe because I don’t know what it looks like in Japanese ūüėČ

Anyway, it’s a shopper’s paradise here. Also a good place for a “basic” dresser such as myself (jeans and various black tops with boots in winter; beige shorts with various black tops and flip-flops in summer) to learn about fashion. I must say, it could be quite an addiction. I’ve always kept it simple and pretty inexpensive:¬†a¬†couple pairs of jeans that fit well, a¬†pair¬†of boots, my Prada flats (thanks to Misha for making me buy them–best investment ever), various tops, a purse and my flip-flops. It’s a little harder here. For one, people don’t wear flip-flops in public…they are regarded as ‘shower shoes’ or slippers and I would be mocked. People make an effort…hell most of the women wear stockings when it’s 35+ degrees here! I will never do that. In terms of fashion though, there is so much to see and covet. And I do see it every single day. It’s in my neighbourhood, not in some rarefied downtown area on streets I rarely go to. They have a _______ (fill in the blank–Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Balenciaga…) boutique in many of the department stores which are literally just down the road from me. This is NOT Sears or the Bay…more like a whole bunch of Holt Renfrews. I think I need to head out to the boonies to see what real people wear.

I’d like you all to know that I do try. I wear skirts and dresses. Makeup sometimes. No shorts in the city. Silk tops and even, dare I say it, colours besides black. Sometimes even a matching hat though I don’t have a Darth Vader visor (yet…be patient Lorna). No one to mock me but the child.

 

Motorhead

It’s the motorcycle from Sleeping Beauty’s castle and it’s just down the street from me! And it looks like it’s got the bicycle next to joining in. Very cool and sort of unexpected here where it’s all pretty tidy…though I have to say it overgrown in a very¬†tidy¬†way….

Motorhead

Our house…in the middle of our street

This is our hacienda in all its glory. Top left is the kitchen ‘storage’ and I use that term lightly. Daily grocery shopping is my life. Next is the view of the eating area from the front foyer. Top right is our bedroom…that’s my bed by the deck. Notice the laundry drying on the curtain rod. Electricity is expensive = air drying. Middle left is the bath/shower room–shared by 7 people. The idea is to clean yourself first then soak in the tub. Seeing as we’re not Japanese that doesn’t happen. Middle right photo is the living area and eating area also shared by seven people though most of the girls hang out in their rooms. Note the couches. This is a big deal. Many apartments don’t have such large spaces and definitely no couches. When I was here in 1990-91 I lived without a couch the whole time. Too old now for that sitting on the floor stuff. I make sure to sit on the couch at least once a day to express my gratitude. Bottom left is the washing machine which is immediately adjacent to the shower room. Next is me at the top of the stairs just by our bedroom door. Next is the entry hall with shoe storage (no shoes in the house) and finally, last but not least is one of our two toilet rooms. We’re in Shibuya which is a decent area and this apartment (flower shop on the bottom floor) is probably worth about $2 million dollars….

Snapshot of My Day

A day in the life…first of all, toilets. I think I could possibly write a book about toilets here in Japan. At least a post on toilets, but I’ll get some more photos first. For now, the toilet seat cleaner. It’s a movement detecting device so no¬†touching¬†anything icky and all you do is insert your little wad of TP underneath, wait for the spray and wipe the seat. Though it is entirely possible that the Japanese do it after they finish as well. I may never know the truth about this. Secondly, vending machines. Everywhere. The one in the photo is literally outside my door. I could go in my pyjamas. There’s a recycling bin right beside it because you are sort of expected to drink on the spot and not wander about offending people by drinking in public. Sadly I have learned it is no longer possible to buy vodka or any other spirits from vending machines due to a crackdown on underage drinking…but I can get it at the 7-11 across the street ūüėČ (more…)

Finding the Middle Way in Omotesando

First day…so tired and so incredibly hot and probably jet-lagged. There’s a sixteen hour time difference between Tokyo and Vancouver and a nineteen hour time difference from Maui. I was wandering around Ometesando (great shopping area) and came across this little gem. The Zenkoji Temple is just off the main drag.¬†Not sure if it’s a temple or a shrine or both but this is the purification station: This is what you do according to Japan Guide¬†At the purification fountain near the shrine’s entrance, take one of the ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both hands. Then transfer some water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water beside the fountain. You are not supposed to transfer the water directly from the ladle into your mouth or swallow the water. You will notice that quite a few visitors skip the mouth rinsing part or the purification ritual altogether.