Sunday, December 29, 2013

My New YouTube Channel x Yummy Japan!

I've recently teamed up with Yummy Japan to make a series of ramen videos. If you are interested in checking them out, please do! Please subscribe:

Hey, and even if you could care less about ramen, please subscribe:

It's my Christmas wish dammit!

Welcome to Yummy Japan - We broadcast food culture.

Yummy Japan is making B-Kyu food videos for Japan. You can head to the main YouTube site for a list of all the videos ( The ones in frequent rotation are:

  • My ramen shiznit
  • A designer named Hot Harada eating mega spicy food and sweating a lot
  • This American dude and French chick who crush mega-sized meals
  • French and Colombian girls eating and drinking at izakayas
  • A super genki girl making character-bentos 
  • A gravia idol speaking on yaki-niku
  • This crazy Iranian guy who eats donburi and loses his mind

Thanks for checking it out and sharing! Have a great New Year holiday!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sushi - Autumn 2013


I though that autumn would continue where summer left off, with me still being broke and me still taking the sushi game way down a level. I rely somewhat on my food tour business to hook me up with high-end eats, but sometimes dip into the personal funds for special occasions. With no tours planned, and a bankbook the same color as the changing leaves (red!), I'd just have to chill for a bit, right?

スシロー - Sushiro


I wanted to go to Ivan Ramen before a job in Rokakoen one day, but the lunch shift was finished. How about a roadside kaiten sushi spot!


Man was this one bad. Sure, you can eat a bunch of food for less than $15, but do you really want to? I guess I stopped going to these conveyor belt sushi shops a couple years back, after picking up a debilitating stomach-full of bacteria. I'd never been that sick in my life, and the red-hot knife that was being stabbed into my stomach didn't let up for a full 36 hours.

Beware cheap sushi.


Sushiro is cheap, and I guess the bintoro was decent. We call is hamachi back in America, one of the biggest misnomers in culinary history. Completely different fish, though I actually prefer the mega-cheap bintoro (American hamachi) over pricey hamachi (Japanese hamachi) most of the time. Nostalgia for the sushi of my youth, I guess.

I've only looked into this for a few drunk minutes on the internet, but I guess bintoro is albacore, but not French albacore, which is another name for Yellowfin Tuna, which is marketed as hamachi, and sometimes ahi, but is a different fish from the English albacore. Make sense?


臥龍 - Garyu


Garyu is a high-end sushi shop worthy of the Michelin star it doesn't have. Or maybe it does, my Michelin guide is from 2011, and I'm sure some things have changed.


This was, yes, for a food tour. A last-minute arrival to Tokyo gave me just a day to find a reservation. Garyu was the 13th shop that I called. Sure, a 9:00pm reservation was possible, but not for foreigners. Yep, this was the first sushi shop I have ever been to that tried to reject me as a non-Japanese customer. Their reasoning was twofold; that overseas guests often make reservations and then don't bother to call when they cancel, and that they don't understand the omakase concept. I convinced them . . . no menu, no problem.


I lost count, but they serve up about six cooked dishes before the ten or so nigiri. The sashimi was particularly excellent, with a piece of kinmedai wrapped around uni.


I would prefer the balance to be weighted toward the raw side, but at Garyu you just let the master serve whatever he wants.


The nigiri was standard, with some hits like the hirame (flounder).


And some misses like the awabi (abalone). It was super tough, though probably meant to be that way.


Fantastic kohada (shad). Garyu's rice is cooked a bit more firm and with a bit less vinegar than other shops.


Garyu is ranked very high in Tokyo. Expect to pay around $200 a person. For that price though, I might go with something else, like Kanesaka.

羽田空港 - Random Sushi Stand at Haneda Airport


Say what? Nasty-ass airport sushi?

Naw, bro, this sushi bar at the domestic terminal of Haneda Airport looked legit! I didn't have time to try anything, but dudes were eating uni and kinmedai and otoro. I'll show up for my next flight early and give it the proper try.


For now, I grabbed the shop's take-out futomaki bento. Solid snack for 1000 yen!

Sushi Etiquette.jpg

I've seen this Do-and-Don't graphic all over the facebook these days, and I gotta talk about 2 points. Before I came to Japan, my company gave us some sort of Japanese manners book, and it said the same stuff.
  1. Rubbing the chopsticks together. I was told that this is super rude. But you know what is worse? Getting a mouth-splinter with your tuna. If they are the kind of chopsticks you break apart, rub them down. Expensive places will sand their own chopsticks before they open, and it should be apparent that you don't need to worry.
  2. Wasabi in the soy sauce. Totally fine. Again, I was told never to do this, and then saw every Japanese person doing it. Wasabi is delicious. Higher end shops will season the sushi for you, so you don't need to dip. But, yeah, I see hella people doing this at sushi shops. Generally, with sashimi, you put the wasabi directly on the fish, but this is because there are a few different toppings for sashimi (wasabi, grated ginger, myoga, etc) and you wouldn't want to mix them all into the soy sauce. Let me know if there is something I am missing.

魚真 - Uoshin

I was talking sushi with some Shimo-Kitazawa friends (the hipster part of Tokyo!) and they said that Uoshin was legit. Let's go now! And we did.

I like the menu at Uoshin. Of course, you can order whatever you want, but if you like pre-arranged sets (I do), they have 5 of them to order; the seasonal set, the white fish set, the shellfish set, the flame-kissed set (how do you translate 炙り? It isn't really grilled), and the 軍艦島 set.

Gotta start with the seasonal fish.

Crazy sweet 甘海老 - ama-ebi.

鯖 - saba - mackerel.

鰊 - nishin - Herring.

The people next to us ordered some daikon, and suddenly 5 other people in the shop ordered the same thing. Looks good!

Next, I had the 炙り set. Five different oily fish hit with the blow torch to bring out the fatty flavors.

Finally the 軍艦巻き set. Gunkan maki filled to the brim.

Uoshin is solid. The vibe is lively, and the cost performance is one of the best I've had in Tokyo. The shop is part of a chain of seafood restaurants, and there is a full on restaurant next door. This is the only one that specializes in sushi, from what I can gather.

Technically, winter starts on December 21st. But all these sushi shops are serving up winter fish before that time. Winter means delectable, fatty fish. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Your Ekiben is a Lie!


Ah, ekiben. Such a clever idea. Make mediocre packaged lunches with famous local goods, and sell them to people who have a long train ride ahead of them. 駅- eki - means train station, and 弁当 - bento - is a packaged lunch. Here is an example of one from Tottori Prefecture, using local matsubagani crab:


There is a fascination with these things. Everyone I've asked is happy to have a culinary chance.

But I'm always a dick about it, spoiling their fun. "You know, you can buy that in Tokyo." Shock. Followed by denial. Guilt for wasting some yen. Acceptance.

Here's a photo of the shop front that I stole from the internet.


Google Map for ma gangstas. I mean my Granstas!

So there you go. You can buy the most famous of the country's ekiben all in one place. Mediocre packaged lunches by the train-load must arrive in Tokyo every morning. I recognize a few I've bought, back when I didn't know. I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance!


All the regional ekibens of Japan, available everyday at Tokyo Station!


There's the Tottori one!


This is my favorite one, available to many stations in Tokyo (even though it says it is from Nara). 柿の葉寿司 - sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. The salted leaves have curing properties, keeping the sushi fresh. Super bomb!


You are not meant to eat the persimmon leaves, but I do. Like a rookie. Whatever.


Honestly, though, these ekibens are just $10, and coupled with a cold beer the make for a tasty train snack. And the Tokyo Station Ekiben Shop is a one-off thing, so folks outside of this big, stinky city have to travel for their gimmick-food.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Tottori Sand Dunes



Your typical gaijin-in-Japan checklist includes a few staples that rarely get done. There's the Kodo drum festival out on Sado Island. There's the snow festival up in Hokkaido. And there are the Tottori Sand Dunes.


Why doesn't this get checked, while climbing Mt. Fuji and clubbing in Roppongi are quickly accomplished?

It is super far from anything. And unless you have a car, the area is kind of dead. I've spent the night in Tottori, next to the station, 3 times now, and really only had time to get a cheap izakaya meal and a nights rest.

With your own transportation and some time, this area of Japan looks fantastic. I am a reader of the blog More Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, a detailed photo account of the area, and plan to someday tour along the coast by motorcycle. Someday. Tottori Prefecture is a long days ride from Tokyo.


But if you find yourself out here for work, with only a couple hours to spare, be sure to wake up early and catch a taxi out to the dunes. The morning sand will be relatively wind-swept and untouched.

$20 gets you there from the station. We asked the taxi driver where a good place to get a return taxi was, and he said he would just hang out, smoke cigarettes, and wait for us.


If you come with the sunrise, I'd give it an hour max. It was rather cold on December 1st, and 40 minutes of walking around was enough. If I wasn't still nursing a broken leg, I might have had some dune-y fun. Running and jumping and what not.


If you come during the day, the sand museum looks cool. Actually, I would like to see this place with hoards of tourists doing their thing. The dunes get over 2 million visitors a year. Crazy! They stretch quite far, something like 16km, but this small stretch is where all the buses come.


Yeah, illuminations. The parking lot is full of 'em. And illumination themed food.


Though pricey at about $80 each way, the limited express Hakuto is an epic train. It travels from Kyoto to Tottori in 3 hours, so you can kick it in their plush chairs, drink some sake, and enjoy the scenery. Get a seat as far to the front of the train as possible!


And this will be your view. Fantastic!


Side rant:

The sand dunes are NOT a desert! Please tell people this. I don't know why I get bent up about this, but hella people out here think that the sand dunes are part of some sort of mini Japanese desert. Maybe it is because I teach kids, and basic knowledge of the earth and her climate zones is something that kids learn early on.

In an effort to capitalize on tourist suckers, lots of attractions perpetrate the desert myth. You can ride a camel around a 10 minute track for about $30, Laurence of Arabia style.

Anywaaaaaaay . . . check!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

November 2013



Basically, the month where I put down the crutches and started walking.


Lots of ramen events. Both the Grand Tsukemen Fest and the Tokyo Ramen Show.





These guys are all legends in the ramen game.





The Japanese Northern Alps. See you next year!



Like a boss.


松葉ガニ駅弁 - Local train stations all over Japan make special bento boxes with regional food favorites. In this case, snow crab. These are usually weak as far as cuisine goes. Factory made and overpriced, but the novelty factor, paired with a cold beer, makes them kind of worth it.


Monday, November 04, 2013

More Books about Japan

I read some books about Japan!

And as I'm always encouraging my students to write shitty book reports, I should lead by example. So here are my (brief) impressions of some books about Japan (aka shitty book reports).

Bay McNeil is a famous blogger on the expat-in-Japan blog scene. He writes over at, but that site is a bit wordy for me. Massive short attention span when in front of a screen. Need shiny photos. But a paper book is a different story!

From Amazon:
"Born to Love — Taught to Loathe In this powerful and controversial debut book, acclaimed blogger turned author, Baye McNeil (a.k.a. Loco), vividly illustrates with unflinching introspection and candor the birth and evolution of a racist and in doing so makes the persuasive argument that the only way to cure this social virus is by first engaging one’s own susceptibility."

I thought this would be his accounts of crazy shit going down in Japan, written from a black American's point of view. I ended up being totally wrong. Instead, it is an account of crazy shit going down in general, written from a black American's point of view. New York in the 80s. The Five Percent Nation. 9/11. Japan.

The book was a surprise. If you don't like black people (seriously, I know a few dudes out here in Japan who are hella racist) you probably won't like this book. But as far as memoirs go, it was a good read. I think he mentioned Rakim and The Wu-Tang at one point, so it has that going for it. The chapters are relatively unconnected, though there is an overarching theme of growth and self-discovery.

Speaking of black dudes who wrote about Japan.

From Amazon:
"THE YEAR OF NO MONEY IN TOKYO is an intimate, first-person, true story about triumphing over adversity, in the form of being poor and American, in Japan, during the country`s worst recession, since the Second World War."

I was at a friend's apartment, and this was the shortest book he had on the shelf. Judging said book by the cover, I thought I would be getting into a comical account of thrifty living in the capital city. Totally wrong. This is the story about some dude who loses his job, then lives off his four sugar mamas, all of whom he doesn't seem to like very much. Sure, that concept could be comical, but it was just sad and annoying to read. The writer comes off as being a dick.

Skip this one, unless you stay at my friend's pad and can read 162 pages in a couple days.

The title, "People Who Eat Darkness," is epic.

From Amazon:
"Lucie Blackman—tall, blond, twenty-one years old—stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo in the summer of 2000, and disappeared forever. The following winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave."

You can get the gist of the Lucie Blackman case by skimming the wikipedia article, or watching the 40 minute documentary on YouTube.  It is your standard prostitute disappearance story, a common occurrence in the Japanese underworld. But this case was unique. A blond haired, blue eyed British girl and a zainichi mega-millionaire dude. A media-hungry father and an inept police force.

While "People Who Eat Darkness" is a little long (chapters and chapters full of minor details about people's childhoods), the way this whole thing went down is nuts. The book is written in a way that manages to save some suspense for an event that has already happened (spoiler, she was rape-killed and buried in a cave); no small feat.

Read this book.

From Amazon:
"Jake Adelstein is the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, where for twelve years he covered the dark side of Japan: extortion, murder, human trafficking, fiscal corruption, and of course, the yakuza."

Whether you are interested in Japan or interested in underworld in general, Jake Adelstein's "Tokyo Vice" is solid. I read it a while ago when I was on a Yakuza book spree.

I'll write a bigger review over at my ramen site ( for this rad book, but here is a quick rundown.

From Amazon:
"Ramen, Japan s noodle soup, is a microcosm of Japan and its historical relations with China. The long evolution of ramen helps us enter the history of cuisine in Japan, charting how food and politics combined as a force within Sino-Japan relations."

If you want what I thought this book would be about, ramen shops and modern ramen culture and what not, skip to chapter 10. Otherwise, get ready for a history lesson. "Slurp!" tells the story about how Japan became a country where a dish like ramen could thrive. Historically, Japan was a rice-miso-fish eating society. Most people know this already, but this book goes into the why. I find Japanese history in general to be a bit dry, but "Slurp!" fed me the details one delicious noodle at a time.

I'm ashamed of that metaphor. Weak!

Anyways, I can actually say that I am smarter after reading this book. Barak Kuchner is obviously a scholar, and he balances the academic level just right. He inadvertently makes a connection between Japan's colonization of much of Asia, and their eventual loss, with food culture. Awesome.

From Amazon:
"A collection of outrageous and hilarious true anecdotes about the antics of English Teachers in Japan."

For what I thought the Loco book would be about, "Senseitional" delivers! This one is tiny, and the chapters are all random stories about the crazy antics that eikaiwa teachers get into. A lot of drinking and fucking in this one. The formula is simple as a pimple. Anyone with a pulse can come out to Japan after college and spend a year making money and partying. This leads to everyone breaking out of any kind of shell they were in before, and stories worthy of "Senseitional". Super short, super dumb.

And there is always Charisma Man!