A few months ago I was contacted by a Japanese producer to put together a short video about the local response to the BP oil spill for the television show ガッチャン. They have a segment called STUDENT EYE where college students from around the world introduce aspects of their culture or some sort of unique student activities.
The producer had located a woman on Grand Isle who had organized a volunteer group called the Hermit Crab Survival Project to clean hermit crabs who were stuck in the oil that washed up on the beaches. She was a park ranger at Grand Isle State Park, but unfortunately working with birds or mammals required some sort of federal license, so instead she helped clean the crabs.
The project was already complete by the time I started working on the video, but fortunately she had video of some of the activities, and I interviewed her. I also took a trip down to Grand Isle, a barrier island about three hours south of New Orleans, to talk to the locals and get some stock footage.
It was kind of strange – I’d gone down to Grand Isle earlier in the summer and run into the hermit crab folks. Too bad I didn’t get any footage then. All the pictures above are taken from the video I submitted. I know they’ve edited it pretty heavily, so who knows what the final product will look like, but it will be airing on NHK BS1 on Friday, December 3 at 6PM. If you’re in Japan, check it out and let me know how it looks! They should post it online after it airs – I’ll definitely post a link when they do.
I was hunting for Japanese podcasts recently and came across the Nippon ArchivesMan’yōshū podcast. I was surprised when I clicked on it – not only is it sponsored by JR (If you don’t love the JR, I’m convinced you are a miserable, unhappy person), it’s a video podcast that introduces poems from the Man’yōshū. You can watch the podcast, which gets released the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, then read the explanation of the poem on the website. There is a direct transcription of the explanation (an excellent way to check listening comprehension), and you can also click 原典付き詳細解説 to see the modern reading (現代語訳) of the poem and the old school original text (校訂原典) with kanji only. Pretty awesome.
On top of all that you get amazing video of the Japanese countryside with sad Japanese music played over the top. What more could you ask for? Nippon Archives has a few other podcasts worth checking out – a Kyoto-themed podcast about the “24 solar terms,” a Nara-themed podcast about “beautiful Japan,” and a Shizuoka-themed podcast about Mt. Fuji.
I took the image above from Scroll 1, Poem 28 a nice and easy summer-themed poem that many of you should be able to understand.
In the comments Arline reminded me of one of the commands that can be used to count characters in Microsoft Excel and Open Office. “=len(target cell)” will count all of the characters in the target cell. Note that this is all the characters regardless of line breaks. If you’re working with material that has line breaks within cells, then the easiest way might be to open up a separate file, do the translation line by line counting the characters with =len, and then pasting the final result back into the cells of the original file.
Check out the final Collabo-Ramen video! Did you notice the way that Komuro-san was answering my questions? For each of the two questions I included in the video, she begins her response with そうですね. Note the tone that she uses – this is exactly what I was referring to in the Japan Times article. Using this そうですね when responding to questions will make your Japanese sound much more natural.
Since I wrote this post about Murakami’s/Murakami’s publisher’s Internetal ineptitude, I noticed that my Facebook profile was devoid of Murakami. That’s strange, I thought, I could’ve sworn I had him as one of the two authors I like under the “Books” section of my profile. (The other being Barbara Tuchman. “The Zimmerman Telegram” was a weird combination of all my interests/ethnicities – intrigue between U.S., Mexico, Japan and Germany. My father’s family is Mexican-American, and my father’s mother’s family were Germans who immigrated to Mexico.) I searched for Murakami on Facebook, and sure enough, the unofficial page had been deleted. There is now an official page run by Knopf, AND it’s being updated frequently. This has all happened in the past week and a half, however, so we’ll have to wait and see if it gets properly maintained or ignored like the Random House site.
Saying my goodbyes in Japan was tough, but being able to go out and celebrate with friends (along with the hope that I’ll be back there in the not too distant future) made it a lot easier. For one of the many finales, I went out for ramen with Brian. We checked out Bassanova, where Keizo Shimamoto, author over at Go Ramen!, works. They are well known for their Green Curry Soba, which is creamy and spicy – ramen perfection. I also appreciate that they serve it in reserved sizes – it would be easy to gorge on a massive bowl, but the size keeps people coming back for more (and prevents them from becoming total fatties). Check out Brian’s photos here. Here is the last episode of Collabo-Ramen for a while:
My parents were here for sakura season, so Brian and I took them to our final stop on Tokyo Ramen Street – Keisuke Nidaime. I do not recommend this shop if you have cats – you will leave covered with the delicious scent of shrimp and lobster, irresistible to most felines.
This was my second time at Keisuke Nidaime. The first time I had the lobster ramen, and this time the shrimp wonton. They are both amazing, and I recommend trying both. The lobster broth is slightly thicker. I think I’ll definitely be back one more time to try the “super-thick” lobster tsukemen.
I was totally overwhelmed by Yokohama the first time I visited. I was writing for a travel guide and had just spent three days reviewing Kamakura, a more manageable city in terms of transportation options, sites, and accommodation. When I got to Yokohama Station, the sheer number of train lines, hotels, department stores, and restaurants was a total shock – I had no idea what to cover and what to ignore, no ability to distinguish between the signal and the noise. At one point I walked out of the west side of the station and there was a homeless guy standing just under an awning, pissing freely out into the falling rain.
So let’s just say that Yokohama has been an acquired taste.
I’ve done most of the acquiring since I moved to Tokyo in 2008. When I discovered that Yokohama Station was only 15 minutes away by train (I miraculously live exactly halfway between Tokyo and Yokohama), I quickly opened Chuwy’s boozelist and found that Cheers and Thrash Zone were close by and that Thrash was serving Arrogant Bastard on tap. Since then the Yokohama Station scene has grown on me. I’ve always thought that the people in Yokohama Station have a slightly different demeanor and atmosphere than people in other places in Greater Kanto, and I think I’ve finally realized why: Yokohama Station is an enormous transportation hub on the same scale as Tokyo Station, but there aren’t as many tourists (both foreign and domestic). It’s a mass confusion of people, but almost everyone knows where they’re going – There is purpose in Yokohama.
I also love that you can prefix anything with 開港 and instantly evoke a Yokohama theme.
I’ve wanted to check out the rest of the Yokohama great beer scene for a while now, but I only got around to it this past weekend. I went to three new bars and two old ones and produced the following video:
Of the three new bars I went to for this crawl, Craft Beer was easily my favorite. The bar is down a narrow side street just a few blocks from Kannai Station. There are about 10 counter seats and two tables. It’s a small place, but extremely stylish: lots of dark hardwood around the bar, a stack of shibori in the bathroom instead of hand towels, and the super-thin Kimura “usu-hari” glassware makes it feel like you are drinking a pint of beer out of thin air. The guy who runs the place dresses formally, which adds to the atmosphere, and pours a very generous pint – if you’re looking for foam, you’ll have to search elsewhere.
This was also my first realization that there is a significant difference between Tokyo and Yokohama pricing. All pints at Craft Beer are 1000 yen, and glasses are 700 yen. I ordered a Swan Lake Belgian IPA, which I believe cost me over 1200 yen at the Bulldog last month.
All of the beer is from local Japanese craftbeer companies, and in addition to the 10 Japanese beers on tap, two of which are hand pumps, there is a ridiculous selection of scotch.
Final Answer: A very friendly little bar with lots of regular customers. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a quiet place to enjoy some ji-biiru.
Less than a block from Yokohama Stadium is Full Monty, a British-style pub with much more space than Craft Beer and more options on the food menu. There are couches, counters, and tables for seating, and the menu is filled with tasty food like fish and chips, steak and chips, meat pie and chips, spam egg sausage spam bacon and chips, etc. I only ordered a basket of chips myself – which was 500 yen yet generously filled with piping hot crinkly-cut chips – but the fish and chips looked seriously tasty as did the meat pie. I think my next venture to Yokohama will be dinner at Full Monty followed by beers at Craftbeer.
Full Monty has a half dozen beers with regulars like Guinness, Hobgoblin, Bass, and Super Dry, but there are also a few guest beers, which Saturday night were Rogue Yellow Snow IPA, Shakespeare Stout, and Fuller’s Jack Frost. The price point is very nice, as it was at Craftbeer. 1000 yen for an almost frighteningly large Imperial Pint of London Pride. Other regular beers were the same, with smaller sizes for 800 and 600 yen. Guest beers were slightly pricier, I believe, at 1000 yen for the medium size (which may be a US pint).
Final Answer: Great place to go with a group and definitely offers the best food of any of the beer bars in Yokohama.
Pivovar may not feel like a bar at first, especially if there is a wedding reception taking place upstairs as there often is. Don’t be shy, though – go on in. The second floor is a large space for the restaurant Umaya no Shokutaku, which is also the name on the sign outside. The first floor is a very small bar with two counters. All the brewing equipment is viewable through the glass behind the bar.
Both of the times I have been to Pivovar there was a wedding second party taking place, so I can’t attest to the quality and cost of food, but the beer was excellent value. All of the beers are brewed on-site by Yokohama Brewing and served in three sizes – 950 yen for a giant 600+ mL mug, 700 yen for a smaller goblet, and 500 yen for a glass. Be a man, man – go for the big one.
They had a nice selection of beers including their pilsner, chocolate stout, chocolate stout rich (which they call スタリッチ), Dragon Splash India Pale Lager, Iron Claw IPA and more. All of the beers are the same price, which seems insane to me – it must cost so much more to make beers like the 9.5% ABV Scorpion Deathlock IPA (do you get the wrestling theme yet?).
Overall the ales run a little sweet, as do many Japanese ji-biiru, so go with a lager and don’t make the mistake I did. Don’t get me wrong. The stout was good, but not as the third of five on a night. Should’ve gone with the pilsner.
Final Answer: The best value for the serving size in Yokohama but a small space and slightly lower quality of beer overall. Not bad for a young brewery, though. Hopefully they’ll mature well.
The first time I went to cheers I ordered the hummus, and the Israeli chef came out to congratulate me for making the correct choice. Unfortunately he no longer works there, but the hummus and baba ghanoush are both still on the menu. They also have a sausage plate for 850 yen – the cheapest I’ve seen in Japan, and the serving size isn’t bad either.
Due to time constraints, I took the train from Sakuragicho to Yokohama Station, from which Cheers is a quick walk. They have a reasonable amount of space – about a dozen counter seats and then tables sectioned off in different parts of the restaurant.
The beer selection is printed on a flashcard-style menu and can be a bit difficult to interpret, but they always have Belgians on tap rounded out with a ji-biiru or two. Of all the bars in Yokohama, this is the only one with Belgian beer on tap, so if you’re I went with the Shonan Weiss, which was good but a little sweet. I prefer my weissen drier and a bit more peppery.
By far the highlight of Cheers is it’s variety of events. They have anniversary parties, going away parties for staff, and more. Usually these events are 3000-5000 yen for all-you-can-drink. The third anniversary party was amazing – there were 12 beers total, and I have vague memories of passing around a 5L glass of Hoegaarden.
Final Answer: The nice variety of munchies alone makes this bar worth a visit, and generally there’s something interesting on tap. I just wish the menu was easier to read!
Thrash Zone can be a dangerous place if you’re not careful. They maintain an impressive selection of only the hoppiest, most aggressive import and domestic craftbeers, and they sell them at very affordable prices. Relatively speaking, of course. Ballast Point’s acclaimed Sculpin IPA costs only 1100 yen, whereas in Tokyo it generally starts at 1200 yen. Many bars charge as much as 1500 yen.
All together there are 10 beers on tap, usually a murderer’s row of famous West Coast breweries like Green Flash, Ballast Point, Great Divide, and Stone in addition to the local interpretations on intense American styles.
Thrash Zone also has impressive events. They were the first bar in Japan to serve Bear Republic beers on tap, and to commemorate the occasion they gave away free pint glasses, provided snacks, and had a lottery for t-shirts, hats, and six-packs of Bear Republic beer. They regularly contract brew original recipes through Atsugi Beer. These are powerful concoctions, well deserving of names like “Simcoe, Bloody Simcoe” and “Hop Slave.”
As the name suggests, the theme of the bar is Heavy Metal, but the music is never too loud, and Katsuki-san is one of the nicest bartenders in the world. Don’t let his quiet and polite demeanor fool you, though – he is a hophead and metalhead at heart and has thrashed live on stage with some of the finest bands.
Final Answer: A great place to satisfy a hop craving, enjoy some wicked metal chops, and then return to the madness that is Yokohama Station.
I went to the Yokohama Ramen Museum in the summer of 2003, and back then I didn’t know anything except that miso ramen was tasty as hell. I walked around the exhibits a bit, took a peek at the different restaurants that had set up shop in the museum, chose a Hokkaido shop that had miso ramen, and bought my ticket at the vending machine before sitting down at a table. When I looked down at the stub, it read 塩. My first reaction was Damn, that does not say miso. My second reaction was What the hell is that kanji? The staff answered my question with a はい、しおです and delivered my bowl just seconds later. I ate the ramen, but my heart wasn’t in it. I mean, salt ramen? What the hell is that? Ramen is already pretty salty, why would you want to make it even saltier?
Ever since then I’ve been biased against shio ramen. I never ordered it and never even bothered to figure out what the deal was. That is until last Friday, when Brian and I checked out ひるがお at Tokyo Ramen Street. Brian gave me the low down on what shio ramen is:
I think I am much better prepared to appreciate shio ramen now. Shio ramen isn’t necessarily saltier than shoyu ramen; it just uses salt rather than shoyu or miso to give the soup its punch. I still haven’t had a killer bowl of shio ramen, but hopefully I’ll be able to take a trip to Ganko in the relatively near future. Nate from Ramenate made their salt ramen sound extremely delicious. “Salt ramen topped with a layer of piping hot shrimp oil”? FUCK yeah.
Japan is an expensive country, and Tokyo is an especially expensive city. It costs a lot of money to do just about anything here with very few exceptions. One of these exceptions is the Tokyo International Forum. My college roommate Dave came to visit Tokyo three years ago, and he brought a hipster guidebook with him that had glossy photos of architectural highlights, choice restaurants, and famous sites. When I met up with him he told me, “Basically I want to take pictures of awesome buildings.” One of the buildings that had piqued his interest was the Tokyo International Forum, which I hadn’t heard of but was able to locate relatively quickly on a map.
It’s right outside of Yurakucho Station and only a 10 minute walk from Tokyo Station. I walked over with Dave not really expecting all that much, but when we entered the building I was stunned – here’s this tiny building barely wider than the set of train tracks it borders, and its glass, steel, and bone-white frame tower above you as you ride down the escalator. Although people are constantly flowing in and out of the rooms and auditoriums for conferences, concerts and exhibitions, access to the top floor is unrestricted, and it offers a frightening view into the depths of the building and mediocre views of the neighboring blocks.
In addition to the exhibitions inside the building, which can be enjoyed from the comfort of one of the many benches, there are often markets in the courtyard outside the Glass Building. The courtyard also offers free seating, shade in the summer, and some cool sculpture.
For those with a little cash on hand, there are a number of cafes in the immediate vicinity, or you can buy a can coffee at the convenience store and enjoy it on a bench while people watching.
One of my favorite nights out in Tokyo is dinner with the sarariiman hordes in Shimbashi, a walk through Ginza to see who’s out and about, and then a quick cut through the shopping area around Yurakucho Station to the Forum. At night the area is illuminated beautifully, and the restaurants around the courtyard are nice perches for cake, coffee, or beers.
I got in touch with Brian last summer to see if he wanted to do some collaborative video reviews of the ramen shops he was visiting for his site Ramen Adventures. He’s got solid pictures of everywhere he visits, and it’s hard not to get hungry while you read through his posts. (He also posts his photography on his other site, Gaijin Bash, and makes every trip he takes look awesome.) We’re both busy dudes and were unable to get around to it until last weekend when we managed to check out 魚雷 (ぎょらい), a new shop over near the Tokyo Dome. (魚雷 means torpedo. Pretty cool, eh?)
The result is the first installment of Collabo-Ramen:
For me, the bowl was really refreshing. The noodles were a little soft but definitely handmade. I can’t remember the last time I had noodles like that. And the soup had a lot of flavor but was light enough to drink down to the bottom of the bowl. The grilled chicken and the chashu were also highlights – small bites, both of them, but delicious.
Read Brian’s review here. You can see another review of the shop here at Go Ramen. It’s definitely worth stopping by if you’re out that way. They’re going to start serving gyoza at some point in March, so maybe it’s worth another visit then.