This is a full-color greatest hits of Japan guide. Select excerpts from my most recent update of the Tokyo chapter in the full Japan guide appear here.
“Wagyu literally translates as ‘Japanese beef,’ but that translation doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s a word that calls to mind images of rural Japanese cows being fed beer and massaged daily, and richly marbled ruby-red steaks, shot through with fine ribbons of glistening white fat. . . . However, exactly how wagyu gets from the fattening farm to the table is more of a mystery.
“Tokyo’s municipal meat market — the last slaughterhouse in the city — hasn’t become the tourist pilgrimage site that the Tsukiji fish market has. In fact, most people, tourists and locals alike, wouldn’t even recognize the meat market if they saw it.”
Read the rest in the Japan Times.
The slaughtering of animals in Japan was traditionally carried out by the burakumin, a kind of “untouchables” class in feudal Japan. Many of their descendents still work in the industry and many still face discrimination. Mike Sunda has an excellent follow up story to mine that goes into more detail about this.
“Traditional bathhouses are an essential part of contemporary Korean culture. Literally ‘heated rooms’, these jjimjilbang (찜질방) are where locals come to unwind, hang out and engage in a whole host of health and beauty rituals that go far beyond a quick soak. They attract grandmas and young couples alike. . . . There is, however, an unspoken code of manners and customs, which can make visiting a jjimjilbang intimidating for foreign travellers. So we’re breaking it down for you, step by step. Just don your towel and follow our guide below and you’ll be soaking in a Korean spa like a pro in no time.”
Read the rest on LP.com.
“Jeonju is one of South Korea’s top destinations, though it remains under the radar for international travellers. The largest city in the country’s southwest, Jeonju has a vibrant historic district and a fantastic food scene: ‘eat once in Jeonju and you’ll be spoiled for life’, Koreans say.”
Read the rest on LP.com.
“In a city like Tokyo, there is something particularly decadent about a building that sprawls horizontally as the Hotel Okura does. It’s such a flagrant misuse of space, especially in the heart of downtown. And oh, how the Okura sprawls — its grounds cover an expanse more than three times the size of the city’s baseball stadium. It has its own post office, its own barbershop, a private art museum, a tea ceremony room, and a salon just for playing go, an ancient board game akin to chess.
“Opened in 1962 in the Toranomon business district, the Hotel Okura is a window into the luxuries of another time, when seats in coach had legroom and nobody had ever heard of molecular gastronomy. The genteel Orchid Room restaurant still serves things like lobster thermidor, brought to the table by tuxedoed waiters. Lobby attendants wear kimonos. But it couldn’t last forever; it’s a miracle it lasted as long as it did.”
Published in the Dec/Jan 2015 issue of DestinAsian Magazine.
The Okura lent me some awesome vintage photos for the article, which are worth a look!
A not too horrible (I hope) radio interview with ABC Australia about Tokyo’s “standing restaurant” dining trend.
“If woodblock prints are to be believed, the metropolis was once awash in greens and blues. Reedy riverbanks, grassy hillocks and marshes draped with willows all feature in One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, the 19th-century series of woodblock prints of the capital (then called Edo) by master artist Utagawa Hiroshige. Above all are the waterways, wide rivers and narrow canals colored a deep Prussian blue, crisscrossed by gently arching wooden bridges. Boats — cargo boats, piled high with barrels and steered by stooped men in sampans; pleasure boats, their blinds drawn on the courtesans and patrons within — make their way up and down these causeways. One hundred and fifty years ago, Tokyo, at least from the right angles, looked downright romantic. So the question is: What happened?”
Published in the Japan Times On Sunday Timeout section.
“There’s a scene in Junichiro Tanizaki’s serialized novel Naomi (originally titled A Fool’s Love) from 1924 where the besotted protagonist, Joji, watches his wife, Naomi — part Lolita, part Madame Bovary, all trouble — through the pine trees. Having just emerged from a seaside villa, she is sashaying across the sand in nothing more than a cloak and high heels; the pied piper to no less than four men. The beach is Kamakura’s Yuigahama, which was a draw for moga — the new so-called modern girls who emerged after the 1923 Tokyo earthquake shook up the city and its culture.”
Published in The Japan Times.
“Over the past few years, several American-style pancake joints — Eggs n’ Things and Cafe Kaila, for example — have washed up on Tokyo’s shores. Now, the tide is going the other direction.
“Well, sort of: Australian chef Bill Granger first brought his laid-back brand of home cooking (and his famous ricotta hotcakes) to Japan in 2008, with the opening of bills Shichirigahama on the Shonan coast. He hit it so big — Granger is credited with setting off the current pancake mania — that he now has four restaurants in and around the capital. And last month, he opened bills Sydney, his first Stateside outpost, in Hawaii.
“’I do restaurants where I can get inspired,’ Granger tells The Japan Times. ‘Hawaii is interesting because it’s the ultimate fusion place. It’s people from everywhere.’”
Published in The Japan Times.
“Sushi in Tokyo begins before dawn. Throughout the night, thousands of trucks make their way down center-city streets to the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, commonly known as Tsukiji. They come bearing delicacies like uni (sea urchin roe), light and smooth as whipped cream; jewel-like ikura (salmon roe) that break open on the tongue; and awabi (abalone) still writhing in their shells. There are more exotic specimens, too, such as the pillowy livers of anko (anglerfish), grotesque hunter of the deep seas; and the pearly, brain-like swirls of shirako (cod milt).
“It is often said about Tsukiji: If it lives in the sea and is edible, it is here. In the evening, well-heeled Tokyoites will pay hundreds of dollars to sink their teeth into raw fish, a pleasure that seems almost prosaic in its hunter-gather simplicity. What they’re really paying for is the accumulated, hereditary knowledge that ensures that the best fish in the world winds up in the hands of the city’s best chefs. And it all starts at Tsukiji.”
Published in the Mar/Apr 2014 issue of Selamta, the in-flight magazine of Ethiopian Airlines.
I wonder if this will be the last story I write on Tsukiji, the fish market that is moving to Toyosu in 2016… This article includes interviews with 5th generation sushi chef Masatoshi Yoshino of Yoshino-zushi Honten in Nihonbashi and Tsukiji tuna buyer Tatsuo Sato.