Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Back to normality

Posted 22 Mar 2011 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Japan, Japanese Politics, News, Shopping in Japan, Tokyo

After a week’s worth of uncertainty over whether or not we would a) have a massive aftershock, b) be inhaling clouds of radioactive dust, or c) endure a and b at the same time, things in Tokyo are getting back to normal. We’re not out of the woods as far as Fukushima Daiichi is concerned, but the likelihood of radiation causing harm to the capital’s residents was minimal to begin with (as this transcript between the British Embassy in Tokyo and the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor makes clear), and further decreases as the days go by. Obviously it is a massive problem for those who live near the power plant, and will probably cause health scares for months to come as scientists discover traces of radioactive materials in food and soil, but I’m confident that Japan will get through it. The real issue at hand is the colossal scale of destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami in north eastern prefectures. Entire towns have been wiped out, thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been made homeless.

As for whether events at Fukushima Daiichi will cause Japan to switch away from nuclear power, in the short term yes, they will. Fossil-fuel will have to make up for the current electricity shortfall until damaged nuclear plants can be fully checked and repaired. In the medium term, though, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a dramatic shift away from nuclear power. The industry is very well established in Japan and, unless there is a truly monumental change in energy policy, the government will continue to support it. Efforts will be made to make existing nuclear plants safer, but at present the only viable alternatives – coal, gas and oil – carry health risks of their own, and are hardly the best way forward for a country looking to reduce its greenhouse emissions and dependence on imported fuel. It would be fantastic if the government embraced renewable energy sources, but current investment in them is pretty dire: hydroelectric and other renewable sources produce about 3-4% of Japan’s electricity – a smaller share than in 1980. Nuclear power, on the other hand, produces about 30%. (In stark contrast to Japan, Germany produces more than 16% of its electricity from renewable sources, and intends to increase this amount to 80% by 2050. It’s also on course to shut down all commercial nuclear power plants by 2020.)

Anyway, back to the situation in Tokyo. Rolling blackouts will continue for the near future, though the inner-city commercial districts have not been disastrously affected by them. This weekend most shops in Marunouchi were open, but they shut early (6pm). They’ll probably continue to operate shorter hours until power supplies stabilise and suburban commuter trains are able to reliably bring staff to work. Incidentally, there would be little need for blackouts if more offices turned off unnecessary lights and heating systems: too many are paying lip service to power conservation while suburban households are having to make do without electricity and water for hours at a time.

Food supplies are getting back to normal. (Most supermarkets and convenience stores are restocked three or four times a day, which means that even the slightest disruption to logistics causes headaches.) Milk and bread were in short supply last week, and actually still are today. I couldn’t even buy orange juice this evening!

Japan-related Links of the Week: 29 May 2010

Posted 29 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Japan, Japanese Politics, Links of the Week, News, Only in Japan, Style, Tokyo

A roundup of some of the best Japan-related links from this week.

Asahi Shimbun Co. said Monday that it incurred its first ever group operating loss last year due to falls in advertising revenue.

Asahi Shimbun suffers operating loss
The Japan Times (Kyodo News)

-

The [Japanese] government released a study on fish consumption on May 21 in which salmon emerged as the most popular to eat at home, followed by squid and tuna, all of which are straightforward to turn into a meal.

Salmon takes over as top table treat in Japan
The Independent (Relaxnews)

-

[Tokyo] is an unexpected city, not a homogenised J G Ballard city of the future but a series of small and distinct neighbourhoods. It can be startlingly beautiful.

Tokyo, Japan: My kind of town (an interview with author Edmund de Waal)
The Daily Telegraph

-

After being mauled in the media for sartorial crimes … Hatoyama will be buoyed by the news that a Shanghai-based shirt-maker is selling copies of his most infamous garment as a tribute to his “individuality”.

Shirt-maker cashes in on Japanese PM’s unique dress sense
The Guardian (Justin McCurry)

-

Twenty years ago, there was one retiree for every six working-age Japanese. By 2025, the government projects that the ratio will decrease to one retiree for every two people employed.

Does Japan’s decline foretell our future?
CTV News (Alexandra Seno)

Pre-packed supermarket prawns: alive and kicking (literally) in Japan

Posted 21 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Food, Japan, Only in Japan, Shopping in Japan, Tokyo, Video

Fresh seafood is, as you would expect, easy to come by in Japan. In fact, pre-packed prawns are sometimes so fresh that you might end up debating whether to put them in a frying pan or an aquarium:

(Postscript: Unfortunately Terry et al didn’t live long, happy lives. They were simply too delish for their own good.)

The Food Obsession

Posted 11 Mar 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Food, Only in Japan, TV, Tokyo

Japanese TV programmes tend to fall into two broad categories: 1. celebrities eating food and 2. everything else. Usually you can find, at any time of day, at least one celeb-food show on the air. The perplexing thing is that most of these programmes are not cookery shows in the Jamie Olliver sense of the word (ie, they don’t teach you anything about how to cook), rather they involve people standing around in an insanely-coloured studio stuffing their faces. Invariably, the food is declared to be “oishii” (delicious), and the celebrities spend the next ten minutes prattling on about the time their mum made the same thing, or when they went to Osaka and saw locals putting mayonnaise (shock horror!) on the food in question.

Admittedly, now and then some TV shows do actually have celebrities eating in proper restaurants, but I really don’t care to watch them noisily slurp an enormous bowl of greasy ramen in a random Yokohaman restaurant. “What am I getting out of this experience?” I say to myself. Apart from the knowledge that that particular celebrity likes eating katsudon, or whatever, and what the food looks like, it offers me nothing. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a restaurant because I’ve seen so-and-so eating there on TV, in fact it works more as deterrent: the place would be so busy that I’d have to queue up for an hour just to get through the front door. If I’m going to eat out, I’ll either wander around and explore a few places by myself, or search online for a reasoned opinion that stretches to more than just “umai!”

Perhaps the one decent food programme I’ve seen while in Japan is, unsurprisingly, not Japanese. It’s called Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and you can watch it on the Discovery Channel. Bourdain is not only a trained chef; he is also a witty, down-to-earth host who travels the world in search of new experiences. The idea is that yes, food can be nice, but it can also be bloody awful. Food is used more as a means to exploring the people, places and culture of wildly different places, rather than an end in itself. And that’s the way food programmes on TV should be.

Mutant Strawberries

Posted 05 Feb 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Only in Japan, Photography, Shopping in Japan, Tokyo

Bought some strawberries today. I think they may have been grown in Chernobyl:

Four of the Best: Restaurants in Marunouchi

Posted 25 Nov 2009 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Food, Shopping in Japan, Tokyo

Marunouchi buildings

Narita Express Specials
Got a bit of a wait before your shinkansen or Narita Express departs from Tokyo station? Feel a bit peckish? The following places should see you through:

Konaya
5F Oazo Building, Marunochi. Open 11.00am – 11.00pm

Konaya
Curry and udon, together? An unlikely combination, you may think, but they make perfect partners. In fact, the chefs at Konaya have pretty much created the impossible – an edible Pot Noodle! Perfect for cold winter days, and very handily located one floor above Maruzen’s foreign books section.

Essenza
5F Marunouchi Building. Open 11.00am – 11.00pm

Essenza
A simple, no nonsense Italian restaurant on Marunouchi Building’s fifth floor. The counter seating encloses the entire kitchen area so you can watch the chefs do their business.

Anniversary Favourites
Need a good restaurant to celebrate a special occasion, or just fancy splashing out? The woman (or man) in your life will most definitely appreciate dinner in either of these fine establishments:

Salt
6F Shin-Marunochi Building. Open 11.00am – 11.00pm

Salt
Australian chef Luke Mangan’s Tokyo restaurant never fails to disappoint. A fantastic selection of Japanese-inspired delights that use the freshest ingredients available. The oval-shaped seating helps to create an intimate atmosphere, and the staff are always courteous.

Peter
24F The Peninsula Tokyo. Open 11.30am – 10.00pm

Peter
Peter’s private lift in the lobby area of the Peninsula Hotel whisks you to the 24th floor in seconds, and when the doors open you might forgive yourself for thinking that you’ve been transported to the starship Enterprise. At night the dark, shiny surfaces and low lighting give this restaurant an otherworldly feel. The dinner menu offers a great selection of set courses to choose from, and – considering that wine is included – at very reasonable prices.

View Four of the Best: Restaurants in Marunouchi in a larger map
PJN95TGDNEBY

Cucumber cola

Posted 17 Jun 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Only in Japan, Photography

Cucumber cola

The market for limited edition soft drinks and sweets in Japan is truly staggering. Kit Kats alone have had more variations in this country than all others put together (see here), and now, just in time for summer, we have cucumber-flavoured Pepsi.

In truth, the only thing cucumbery about this particular drink is the colour, although that’s probably a good thing.

Supermarket Espionage #1

Posted 27 Jan 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Only in Japan, Tokyo

Staring into other people’s shopping baskets while queuing at the supermarket checkout. Everyone does it, in fact it’s almost impossible not to have a sneaky peak. I mean, what else is there to do? Read the ingredients label on your Sharwood’s Tikka Curry sauce jar?
You can learn a lot about someone from the contents of their shopping basket, at least on a somewhat primitive level – e.g. three big boxes of Frosties = a house-full of ADD sprogs – but there are times when absolutely no concrete information can be gleaned. It’s at this point imagination is called upon to step in and fill the breach.

Let us begin…

Supermarket Espionage #1

  • Subject: Female, approx. 55 years old, wearing oversize pea-green overcoat. Looked a bit like “Postman Pat”.
  • Basket Contents: 5 grapefruit, 4 small cartons of fresh cream.
  • Conclusion: Born into a rich merchant family in Yokohama, at age seven she turned to a life of crime, robbing labradors of their pocket money in order to feed a highly destructive Sherbet Dip addiction. Disowned by her parents aged eleven (they lacked the inner courage necessary to come to terms with her “moral turpitude”), she had no option other than to seek refuge in a shelter for eleven-year-old middle class children (of which there were many in those days). It was here, while struggling with her Sherbet dependency problem, that she was introduced to the healing powers of the grapefruit. Legend has it the grapefruit was used by the goddess Shiva, daughter of Steve the Cobbler, to heal warriors plagued by “cripple jaw” during the Manchurian War. Coupled with fresh cream, it’s healing powers were magnified tenfold. It is said any army who carries the “grapefruit and cream” before it is invincible. And so, she took to buying these two commodities every day. Her Sherbet addiction swiftly concluded, from that point forth she vowed to never live another day without eating both in unison.

Kaiten-zushi (回転寿司)

Posted 09 Dec 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo

Sushi chefs working it

This week, chilblains, we will be talking about kaiten-zushi, otherwise known as conveyor belt sushi. Kaiten-zushi restaurants have a conveyor belt running around the counter table upon which plates of sushi are placed. You can choose to either shout your order to one of the sushi chefs, or simply take whatever you like from the conveyor belt. The quality and price vary, but last night we visited a first-class establishment called Magurobito (literally meaning tuna-person), which is located underneath Kichijoji station.

As you are no doubt aware, I have a penchant for trying absolutely any kind of food that is shoved under my face. So then, yesterday I had the following:

Sea urchin sushi

This is sea urchin. I had no idea what to expect when I tried this. The outer shell is rock-hard, and the only edible parts are the small orange blobs of… stuff splattered around the inside. It tasted a bit like a liquidised oyster, which is either not bad or absolutely God-awful, depending on your taste. I think this one cost about ¥700 (around GBP3.50), which is quite expensive considering how little you actually get to eat. Hmm… Andy’s verdict – 6/10.

Whale sushi!

Greenpeace members turn away! This is whale-meat. I couldn’t work out if it was raw or cooked, which leads me to believe it probably tastes the same no matter what you do with it. The cat poo-shaped blobs on top are grated ginger. It tasted like very fatty tuna, and the ginger was a bit overwhelming. I’ve heard that few people in Japan eat whale meat these days, and to be honest I’m not surprised when fish tastes much nicer. Makes you wonder why they bother with whaling at all really (the excuse is always “scientific purposes”, but I really don’t see what kind of scientific information they’ll glean from a 10 tonne carcass) Andy’s verdict: 7/10.

Stack 'em!

The price of each item is based on plate colour. Each place has it’s own pricing system so you really need to check before snatching the first thing that passes by on the conveyor. As you can see, we had a fair few plates. The plates have RF chips embedded in them, so when it comes to totalling up the bill the waitress simply has to wave a wand-like device over the plates, rather than counting everything by hand. This means they can get more customers in and out of the door during busy periods. I thought it was a pretty snazzy way of finding a practical use for new technology, rather than all that weird bollocks they would show on the BBC’s “Tomorrow’s World” (“Jet-powered dogs: the future of travel!”).

Moving On

Posted 26 Nov 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Japanese Language, Only in Japan, Video, Weather, Work

Yes indeed, after eighteen months of teaching at A Big university I will finally be moving on to pastures new come the end of December. Learning some Japanese seems to have paid off and I’ve managed to secure a job in central Tokyo doing interesting stuff (well, interesting for me, at least). My new company wants to employ me for at least the next five years, so it looks like I’ll be in Tokyo for quite a while yet. But… it’s very possible I’ll be making business trips between Japan and the UK (as well as Australia, South Africa and Singapore – cool!) over the next few years, so I’m sure I’ll get a chance to see at least some friends and family sooner rather than later!

In other news:

  • Bought a new sofa last week, which arrived this morning and is sweeeeeet. Lying on it feels like being back in the womb.
  • The weather has turned: It’s now most definitely cold. The upside is that almost every day is incredibly clear and bright; I can see Mt. Fuji from my office again!
  • Christmas has arrived. It’s impossible to go shopping without being bombarded by Xmas songs, tinsel, horrendous plastic reindeer and lights, so so many lights. But – what with Japan being not being a Christian country and all that – Xmas Day is in fact a normal working day. So what’s the effing point? Ey?
  • Have a Japanese exam next Sunday and have come to the conclusion that I haven’t studied anywhere near hard enough recently. Oh well…

Today we decided to have dinner at home for once (we usually eat out on Saturdays). This is what we bought:

Seafood Feast

Now that’s what I call fresh! Cooking them proved a bit of a heart-wrenching experience (word of advice: never grill shrimp unless you are 100% sure they are dead first), but as you can see, the end result looked pretty good, and the taste wasn’t bad either. Recently I’ve been trying to at least put some effort into cooking. I think everyone has the impression that everything in Tokyo is ridiculously expensive (melons more expensive than human kidneys and so on…), but to be honest I would say the UK is probably even more expensive these days, especially when it comes to restaurants… But anyway, it’s late and I’m in dire need of sleep. Ciao for now.

Death by Yakiniku

Posted 15 Oct 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo

Everyone in Japan was eating yakiniku this weekend, or so it seemed, thanks to an all-you-can-eat for ¥1500 (that’s 7.50 British scrotes) promotion from one of the largest yakiniku restaurant chains in the country. The queue for our local branch tonight stretched all the way down three flights of stairs, along a hallway and into the street outside. If there’s one thing the Japanese like more than food, it’s waiting a space-age in queues outside restaurants. We just put our name down on the waiting list and came back an hour later, so God knows why they were waiting.

Plate after plate of the Good Stuff

Upon entering the restaurant the first thing we could see was, well, nothing much at all. The place was filled with so much smoke from the countless mini BBQ’s that the staff had to use bat-like sonar senses to navigate between tables. We were shown to our seats and ordered our first three plates, which came in lightning fast speed considering how busy the place was. There were two guys sat on the table next to us who had clearly starved themselves all weekend in preparation for yakiniku heaven – empty plates were stacked high and their BBQ looked like a raging inferno thanks to all the fat dripping off the meat as it cooked and onto the charcoal below – we began in earnest, and the first few plates were devoured without trouble. But…

Yaki-ing the niku

Rather than pace ourselves, we decided to go all out before our 90 minute time-limit was up. The plates of meat continued to arrive, we continued to throw them on the BBQ with enthusiasm. I could feel my heart begging for respite from this cholesterol overload, but no, no, no stopping, I was Rocky Balboa and this meal was my Apollo Creed.

At 8.30pm our time was up. The guys seated next to us had left moments earlier, after consuming a whopping fourteen plates of meat, plus salad AND dessert. By comparison, we managed a paltry seven plates before deciding that any more would almost certainly result in us needing a coronary bypass before the day was out.

Tonight’s little feast may have shortened my life by five years, but by ‘eck, it were worth it.

Page 1 of 212