Tokyo Notebook

-・- From My Everyday Life to Japanese Culture -・- Why don't you see the real Japan, not the typical foreigners' version.

30 2010

Long-sought Nagoya-meshi

I returned from Gifu (岐阜) by way of Nagoya (名古屋: Japan's third largest metropolitan region).
I didn’t have a chance to enjoy local specialties when I was there early this month. So this time, I decided to have “hitsumabushi (ひつまぶし)”, one of popular “Nagoya-meshi (名古屋めし: Nagoya cuisine)”.

It was so delicious!

Grilled eel coated with a sweet sauce (鰻の蒲焼) and eel bowl (鰻丼) are very common in Japan, but hitsumabushi has a distinctive style. First, eel is sliced. Second, it’s served in a wooden container called ohitsu (お櫃). Third, there’re 3 ways of eating.

1st serving: Simple eel & rice
2nd serving: Eel & rice with seasoning (green horseradish paste, dried laver seaweed and green onion)
3rd serving: 2nd one with soup stock poured over it (no picture)
4th serving: One of above you liked most (my favorite was 2nd one)

hitsumabushi2 hitsumabushi3

It’s a good idea to give variety to one eel dish. This is because, sometimes, I get tired of an eel bowl’s taste until I finish it if it’s delicious.

Hitsumabushi is available anywhere in Nagoya city, but I wanted to have it at a traditional restaurant, “Hourai-ken (蓬莱軒)” founded in 1873. Among three Hourai-ken restaurants in the city, I chose main one that is solitary house with a pretty garden in Atsuta ward.


If you visit there, be careful because it’s so popular that you have to wait at least half an hour in lunchtime. I recommend you to take a walk to Atsuta Shrine nearby during the waiting time. There are some reserved tables after 16:30.



Posted by Kinakinw | 02:00 | Comment [0] | TrackBack [0] | Travel & Hot Spring

28 2010

The Word of Junji Yamashita

cormorant fishing master

I couldn’t fully write what Junji Yamashita (山下純司, 1934-), Usho (鵜匠, cormorant fishing master), told me in the last post. He is a representative for Usho in Nagara River area and an expert with five decades of experience.

I’d like to pass essence of his comments to you.

When the master launched into his theory on modern Japanese after answering my questions about cormorants (鵜), it sounded like a homily at first (I have to admit that…).

He said, “Modern Japanese tend to forget all of us are a part of nature. That is why people panic when death is approaching. They don’t know what providence they live in conformity to and how to make their final exit. We must become close to nature and live with other creatures.”
(I understood that “modern Japanese” meant people without the base of one's belief or clear-cut faith and pets are excluded from “other creatures.”)

Then, I noticed, though worded differently, his theory was just the same as that of Toemon Sano (佐野藤右衛, 1928-), a master gardener called cherry blossom guardian (桜守) in Kyoto. I wrote about his story in the previous post.

The masters mentioned the conception of life and nature ancient Japanese apparently had. Maybe, people who are engaged in primary industries still share the same view.

Fortunately or unfortunately, because humans have a highly developed brain, cerebral neocortex, we apt to confuse humans are “special” and think about oneself too deeply and excessively.

We’ll keep thinking about oneself anyway, but I realized it’s important to find an appropriate balance between a human as just one of living creatures and a social existence by the word of the two experts.


Posted by Kinakinw | 01:41 | Comment [0] | TrackBack [0] | Cultural Issue (Japan)

25 2010

Ukai on the Nagara River

A aim of the side trip was watching “Ukai (鵜飼, cormorant fishing)” on the Nagara River (長良川) in Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), which has a history of 1,300 years.

Ukai is an ancient fishing method catching “ayu (鮎, sweet fish, small Japanese trout)” by manipulating seabirds called “u (鵜, cormorants)”. Now, we can watch Ukai in 13 places across the country, and the one on the Nagawa River is performed by six “Usho (鵜匠, cormorant fishing master)”, which is the largest number among the places.

The fishing master dressed in ancient costume manipulates 10-12 wild sea cormorants to catch sweet fishes.

“Ubune (鵜舟, an old-fashioned wooden houseboat for Ukai)” carried the master holding leashes attached to the necks of flocks of cormorants. He gave verbal orders to their birds, who dive, one after another, and come back to give their catch of sweet fishes to their master.

Ukai is performed every night between May 11th and October 15th except the day of the harvest moon and in heavy rain.

ukai2 ukai3
We can watch it from a sightseeing boat.


Ukai closes with 6 boats sailing side by side to corner the small trout into the shallows, which is called “sougarami (総がらみ)”.


For cormorants, it’s time to eat after the fishing.

I was deeply impressed by its beauty and fantastic sights.
You must go and see it!

The 6 cormorant fishing masters belong to a national agency (the Imperial Household Agency), and an important duty is to offer sweet fishes to the Emperor.

The 6 houseboats are actually used for Ukai.

On the following day, I visited the residence area of the masters near the river and stopped at a coffee shop owned by one of them where I could observe cormorants up close in the courtyard.

ukai8 ukai9


ukai11 ukai12
Bamboo basket for carrying cormorants Firewood, leashes, and a grass skirt

The perfect teamwork of men and cormorant is a result of the day-to-day cohabitation. They virtually live together, even when they are not fishing.

The owner, Junji Yamashita (山下純司) said that his cormorants are allowed to roam free in the courtyard, but they never fly away.



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23 2010


Yesterday was Chuushu-no-meigetsu (中秋の名月: the harvest moon).

The custom of viewing the moon on the day (August 15th on the lunar calendar) was originally introduced from China. People offer the full moon sake and dango (a kind of dumpling) decorated with Japanese pampas grass and enjoy the autumn evening.

I left the venue of a conference and headed to Kyoto.

A "Tsukimi (月見: moon-gazing)" event was held at Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社).




tsukimi4 tsukimi5


The forecast for yesterday was rain, but it was off the mark.


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21 2010

A Working Visit to Osaka


This is so popular scenery among Japanese people that everyone comes to know where I was at a glance.

I took the picture on “Ebisu-bashi (戎橋: Ebisu bridge)” over Doutonbori (道頓堀) river in Osaka. The neighborhood of the bridge is center of Minami (南, South) which is one of major shopping and entertainment districts.

I had Italian dinner with my friend in “Shinsaibashi (心斎橋)”, which is north of the bridge. Before that, we walked down the street toward this unique district.

Ebisubashi2 Ebisubashi3

I visit Osaka once or twice a year, but I went to this area after so long.
It’s a garish town but really a taste of downtown Osaka.


This is five-day travel including a side trip on the way home!


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20 2010


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19 2010

A Toast to My Friend

my friend

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my friend's death.
Some people visited her parent’s house, but I couldn’t. So, I asked one of them to offer the wine and cheese before the tablet of the deceased.

I’d like you to share my reminiscences for a while.

She was one of classmates, and after graduation we became close to each other.
Especially, we spent much time together through our twenties.

Both of us loved foreign literature. While her favorite was Russian and German, my favorite was French. We recommended novels each other, so she read Stendhal, Camus and Sagan and I read Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov.

We often visited each other's home, went hang out with, saw many movies together and went skiing.

In mid-twenties, we stayed in Paris together. We borrowed an apartment, walked the streets, cooked for ourselves and traveled on a train around Europe.

At that time, I couldn’t think of that she would seriously struggle with an eating disorder, depression and alcohol dependence in the next few years.

She went through difficult days, and it took effort for me to help her.
I took her to an emergency department in middle of night. I visited hospitals and clinics with her until she found a psychiatrist that she could trust.

After a long fight, when she was getting better, she developed stomach cancer.

Now, I want her to do anything she wants up there.
Eat and drink as much as you want!


Posted by Kinakinw | 01:00 | Comment [0] | TrackBack [0] | Tokyo Life

16 2010

Unattended Birth

I met an irresponsible and reckless man at a reception the other day.

I sat at the same table with him by chance and heard his story that he delivered his second (or third) baby alone at home. I mean he played the role of doctor or midwife. He attended delivery once before then when his wife had first baby at home with the assistance of midwives.

What was worse was that his wife DID NOT go to an antenatal clinic and have a prenatal checkup during pregnancy. Thus, the couple never knew if it was a normal pregnancy or she could deliver vaginally.

You hardly need explanations about how their behavior was stupid and risky.
It was just luck that his wife and the baby didn’t lose their lives.

However, the irredeemable idiot was proud of it and said his wife delivered in full conformity with nature.

I was struck speechless in the middle of the story and even stopped using listening sounds.

Famous people who delivered at home appeare in women's magazines, and the media says more women want to do so. It can be imagined that it includes easily swayed people who think it’s fashionable and trendy.

Without concern for motive, based on common sense, home births should be conducted under certain conditions: a healthy pregnant woman who is going to have a normal delivery can do it assisted by midwives that collaborate with a doctor and hospital.

Japanese Midwives’ Association puts the warning statement for unattended birth on its website because it would be life-threatening for both the mother and baby.
Though there aren’t many, some recklessly try it.



Posted by Kinakinw | 10:49 | Comment [0] | TrackBack [0] | Tokyo Life

13 2010

On the Festival Day

This is Miya-mikoshi of Azabu-juban Inari Shrine.
A shrine-owned mikoshi (portable shrine) is called Miya-mikoshi (宮神輿).


People belonging to neighborhood associations near the shrine carry it once every three years.

Yesterday, I assisted mikoshi carriers from early in the morning and then witnessed the parade.


Compared to community mikoshis, Miya-mikoshi is big and gorgeous. It followed the lead of the shrine's priests, chanters, Japanese lanterns and an offertory box.

matsuri3 matsuri4

Associational Mikoshi Parade by six neighborhood associations was held in the afternoon. With stops at several mikisyo (神酒所, an association’s festival office where an altar is set) along the way, people winded through the town carrying mikoshis on their shoulders.


matsuri7 matsuri8
Though Roppongi Hills (六本木ヒルズ) is NOT included in the area of six associations, we went there all the way with political consideration.

Local children played the festival songs.

This is our mikoshi!



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12 2010

Children’s Kabuki

Kodomo Kabuki1

For several years, Ogano Kodomo Kabuki (小鹿野子供歌舞伎, a children kabuki troupe in Ogano Town, Saitama Prefecture) performs at a shrine which our neighborhood association (町内会) belongs to.

Kodomo Kabuki2
The Prologue of the Play

Ogano Kabuki with a history of over 200 years is performed by local people! Now the town has several separate groups comprising men, women, high-school students and children.

I go to the shrine with children’s mikoshi (神輿: portable shrine) and float (山車) to receive a Shinto prayer on the first day of the festival every year. However, I’ve never watched the whole act because I always stay there only for ten minutes or so.

Kodomo Kabuki4 Kodomo Kabuki3

In addition to Kodomo Kabuki, Shinto music and dance numbers are performed at the shrine, but I cannot attend them because the schedules coincide with other festival events.
What a pity.


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11 2010

Shrine Festival Has Come

Some visitors mistakenly thought that the summer festival in Azabu-juban last month was a shrine festival. However, it was just a promotional event of Azabu-juban shopping street (麻布十番商店街).

Our matsuri (祭: an annual festival of Shrine) is held today and tomorrow (September 11 and 12).


Matsuri is a special festival held by a Shinto shrine (神社) and the people in a community.
It’s believed that Shinto deities or gods visit people to communicate with them during the festival. Mikoshi (神輿) is an ornate palanquin-like portable shrine in which the deity is believed to ride. Matsuri events are held to welcome the deities who are related to the community and ask them for prosperity and good harvests.

My sister and I help the operation work of matsuri for our neighborhood association every year, and we are busy over the coming days.

The main event is “Associational Mikoshi Parade (連合神輿巡行)” on Sunday (September 12). In the parade, six large mikoshi of six neighborhood associations will march through Azabu-Juban from 14:30 14:00 to 17:00.

Why don't you just stop by?


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09 2010

Go Beyond Household Goods

Naito store (内藤商店) has dealt in shuro (シュロ: palm) brooms and brushes since 1818 in Kyoto.


Standing in entertainment district, on Sanjo Street (三条通り) between the Kamo (鴨川) and Takase (高瀬川) River, the shop cut a conspicuous figure among modern buildings. The wooden old house shows that it’s a long-established store.


When my friend and I walked along the street last July, she spotted the shop and urged me to take a picture of it. She said, “It still survives because it’s in Kyoto." In Kyoto, more people would take care of their houses, furnishings and items in the same way that their ancestors did using the same types of household goods.

I didn’t know about the shop, but I recognized the goods were handmade at first sight. According to a guide book (Old Kyoto: a guide to traditional shops, restaurants, and inns) and New York Times, until the mid-1970's, all of the shuro brooms and brushes were made right here by Rikimatsu Naito, a fifth-generation broom maker. Now the shop sells the products made by handful craftsmen in Kyoto.

It seems that there are many fans of the shop and their goods across the country,other than specialized craftsmen who use them in their work. Some people stop at the shop and buy a handmade (last for a lifetime) push broom when visiting Kyoto, and the others get various cylindrical brushes for their many purposes.


It might be Kyoto magic that makes me find meaning in things excessively, but I feel life philosophies of the shopkeeper and users through the products.


Posted by Kinakinw | 02:37 | Comment [0] | TrackBack [0] | Cultural Issue (Japan)

06 2010

Kumamoto, the Queen of Oyster

Kumamoto oyster is a native of Yatusshiro-kai (八代海, Yatsushiro Inland Sea) in Kumamoto Prefecture (熊本県) located in the southern Japanese island of Kyushu (九州).

I’m fond of oysters, and Kumamoto is one of my favorites.
Unfortunately, we cannot eat the oyster from Kumamoto now. All the available are from the West Coast of the United States or somewhere in Australia.

The smallest one is Kumamoto.

I had one for appetizer in the West Coast last month. Maybe due to quality control after picking, the oysters from Seattle I ate at an oyster bar in Roppongi (六本木) were better than that served at a restaurant in the new home of Kumamoto.

A manager of the oyster bar told me an interesting story about Kumamoto. He said that Douglas MacArthur (Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers) loved Kumamoto oyster and instructed aquaculturists in the West Coast to raise it, and it's still grown commercially in the States while it's not in Japan.

On the other hand, according to a blog named Kakipedia, MacArther who knew that cultured oysters were facing a crisis in the States because of oyster diseases asked Japanese government to export seed oysters to the States on October 1945, and the seed oysters in Kumamoto area were selected.

That night my heart went out to MacArthur for a while.

I checked HP of Kumamoto prefectural Fisheries Research Center, but I couldn’t confirm the relationship between the oyster and MacArthur.
However, it was true that from 1946 to 1958, oysters including seed oysters from Yatusshiro-kai were exported to the States. Then, Shikame-kaki (シカメ牡蠣: Crassostrea Sikamea), one of the exported seed oyster, was branded in the West Coast.

Good news for oyster-lovers!
Fisheries Research Center is now working towards aquafarming of Kumamoto. So, hopefully, we’ll enjoy the “made-in-Japan” Kumamoto sometime in the near future.


Posted by Kinakinw | 14:42 | Comment [0] | TrackBack [0] | Travel & Hot Spring

03 2010

Heaven and Hell

heaven and hell1

I was in Nagoya city (名古屋: the center of Japan's third largest metropolitan region located on the Pacific coast between Tokyo and Osaka) for a workshop of a study group from Wednesday.

The workshop did a lot of good for my study, but it was a little bit hard for me to be stuck inside a room from morning till night with other researchers (naturally, we had lunch and dinner together).
The opening picture, which looks like Impressionistic painting, is a garden of a college where the workshop was held, and though it was beautiful place, the picture belongs to the part of hell in this post.

heaven and hell3 heaven and hell2

I wanted to enjoy local specialties, but “fried shrimp hot dog” I had on Shinkansen bullet train on my way back was only Nagoya-style food. (Deep fried shrimps are synonymous with Nagoya.)

Sharp-eyed readers might wonder why I took Kodama (こだま: the slowest train stops at all stations).

I stopped at Atami (the detailed information will appear on the previous post).
My purpose in the visiting was soaking in a hot spring bath at Fukushima-ya (福島屋, a bathhouse formerly run as a inn).

heaven and hell4

heaven and hell6 heaven and hell5

The bathing facilities are old and decrepit, but it belongs to the part of heaven.
The hot spring water was super-duper.

I dropped in at the regular sushi spot in Atami.

heaven and hell7
Yes. I can sit at the sushi bar alone….

I felt restorative!


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