Kick-Heart Kickstarter Project

RUN don’t walk over to Masaaki Yuasa‘s Kickstarter Project Kick-Heart! There are just over 12 hours left on the project, and you can still help support the first crowdfunded anime.

Yuasa is the director behind the 2004 movie Mind Game, which has to be one of the top three or four massive triumphs of anime in the last ten years (to me, it’s the best anime movie ever, but I haven’t seen that much, to be honest). His new project will fund a 10-minute anime short about two wrestlers:

There are a bunch of different reward levels, but 5 USD will get you an SD download of the movie – great value! Pledge higher to get a higher quality download or physical rewards like T-shirts and DVDs and whatnot.

If you’re interested in Kickstarter, you should also check out my Kickstarter blog over at Kick What? I’ve been cheating on Japan and Japanese with the crowdfunding crew. More Japanese stuff coming in the near future.

Baird Beer Taproom Pub Crawl

Last Saturday I dragged four friends along on a tour of the Baird Beer Taprooms starting in Numazu. We had a miracle start to the trip. I’d planned on catching a 9:41 train from Yokohama, an express out to Atami, but we weren’t able to get through the gates until the minute hand was just about right on the :41, so I just kind of moseyed over to the escalator assuming that we’d end up on the next train and stood on the slow ride up to the platform. When we got to the top the train was still there for some reason, and the door-closing music had only just started playing. I turned to see where the four others were behind me. Teppey was close, but we shared a look – there’s no way we’re getting on this train, right? Slowy Rei, Junichi, and Adam ascended the escalator as the music continued, and we stepped slowly toward the doors as a group. Then suddenly we were on the train and moving to the West at 9:43am:

Baird Beer Taproom Pub Crawl from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

Numazu Fishmarket Taproom

The original Taproom. The brewery used to be on the first floor until they outgrew it. Great atmosphere, great view of the fish market from the counter along the window. And the pints are all 200 yen cheaper than the other Taprooms – your bonus gift for making the trek out to Shizuoka. The food was very impressive as well. I highly recommend everything we tried, especially the chicken wings which I don’t normally like. I was a bit disappointed there were no exclusive beers available – the first time I visited, there were a couple new selections and lots of older bottles available The beers we had were: Nihon Monogatari Ale, Old World Kolsch, German Summer Ale, Hop Havoc Anniversary Ale, Shimaguni Stout, Numazu Lager, Red Rose Amber Ale. We also picked up bottles of the Wheat King and Single-take Session Ale for the train.

Bashamichi Taproom

The newest and most well-appointed Taproom. Three floors of beer and barbecue goodness in a great part of Yokohama. I have to admit that I have been disappointed by the barbecue; what they offer is good – really good – but when I think barbecue, I think pulled pork, and there was none to be had. I was told, however, that they offer it occasionally. I think the chicken was the most flavorful of all the meat we tried, but I’d like to try the sandwiches at some point. Of all the Taprooms, this is by far the nicest space. There are tables on the roof, which will be amazing when the weather cools down a little, and the second floor is nice and open and surrounded by brick and wood. Free darts! The beers we had were: Bashamichi Ale, Rising Sun Pale Ale, Wheat King.

Harajuku Taproom

The third Taproom, right off of Takeshita-dori – quite a juxtaposition with the wacky Harajuku fashion scene. I love the food at this Taproom. It’s slightly upscale yakitori – everything is nicer than you’d find at a ガード下 location. Don’t miss out on the gyoza or the potato salad, and of course all the chicken is great as well. Also the smallest space of the four Taprooms, so it fills up quickly and seems more full than the other locations. We had: Harajuku Ale, Shimaguni Stout, Single-take Session Ale (I believe…this was the only location where I forgot to film close-ups of the beers themselves, so I’m forced to judge from afar.)

Nakameguro Taproom

The first Tokyo Taproom, second Taproom overall. They’ve done some redecoration since I last visited, and now there the vibe is much comfier – there are sofas in one of the corners and some smaller more intimate tables. The food is the least remarkable of all the Taprooms – unfortunately Nakameguro Taproom has been the big loser of the expansion (in my opinion). I’d choose Harajuku or Bashamichi over it, partially out of convenience but also because of food selection. Nakameguro does serve imported guest beers at decent prices, which offers a refreshing change, and they also have the very sessionable (3.7% ABV) Nakameguro Bitter on hand pump. We had: Naka-meguro Bitter, Old World Kolsch, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Caldera Amber Ale, Suruga Bay IPA.


– Very impressed with the Single-take Session Ale as a new addition to the regular lineup. Great beer. Definitely my go-to Baird Beer.

– I’m disappointed we weren’t able to go (for Seishun 18 Kippu reasons) a few weeks earlier when the Cool Breeze Summer Pils was on. Nice beer. Also disappointed that the Sayuri Saison wasn’t available, although I managed a pint at Ushitora’s third anniversary.

– Other Baird Beers I miss: rauchbier he made back in fall of 2008 and the strawberry something in the summer of 2008. I haven’t seen either since, and they were nice. Don’t remember anything specific about the rauch, but it’s always nice to see that style. Hard to compete with Fujizakura, though. And the strawberry beer had this weird metallic aftertaste…not unpleasant after the first few sips…which I hope sounds like a compliment.

– I feel like Baird has done impressive expansion, but I’d like to see the beers available in more grocery stores and other easy-access locations. I guess this is asking the impossible, though: the latest macrobeer craze is beer that can be served on ice. Boo.

Collabo-Ramen – ほん田

Brian and I thought we’d covered Tokyo Ramen Street last year when we finished Collabo-Ramen videos for the first four shops, but then they went and expanded this past April, adding four more shops which we felt the need to cover for completion’s sake.

We finally made it to the last shop this past Friday – Honda has slight variations on traditional bowls of shoyu and shio along with shoyu and miso tsukemen. Brian and I had the tsukemen. Afterward we went over to Kanda to have beers at Devil Craft, one of the newest bars on the Tokyo craft beer scene. The store is somewhat small but not uncomfortable – we made a reservation for five and were able to fit six at one of the tables upstairs. They also have a nice beer selection that isn’t monopolized by high ABV beers:

Collabo-Ramen – 本田 Honda from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

I have to admit I was skeptical when Brian first suggested that we review the restaurants on Tokyo Ramen Street. I’d been reading his blog for a while and knew that he was the Ramen Adventurer: I wanted to trek out into shitamachi neighborhoods in search of Ganko-style secret ramen shops. But he had much more experience recommending ramen to readers of his blog, and he insisted that Tokyo Station is easily accessible for most tourists and that the stores on Tokyo Ramen Street have great bowls.

There’s definitely an extensive selection, and working with Brian has expanded my palette, which I think has enabled me to appreciate some of the bowls more. Definitely check out these stores if you have to be passing through Tokyo, especially Junk Garage, since that brings the Saitama-based mazemen into the heart of the city. Here are links to all the Tokyo Ramen Street Collabo-Ramen episodes:

The first four:

Keisuke Nidaime (lobster ramen, currently a crab ramen which Brian and I gave a pass)

And the new four:

Junk Garage
Honda (you’re reading it)

Collabo-Ramen – Junk Garage

There’s never too much Junk in the trunk of a big fat bowl of mazemen. Brian and I checked out Junk Garage on Ramen Street:

Collabo-Ramen – Junk Garage from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

Six down, two more to go. (Oh, and we also tried the crab ramen over at Keisuke – I’d recommend against it. It comes in a bowl shaped like Hokkaido, and there’s a layer of oil on top about a centimeter deep.)

Collabo-Ramen – 七彩

In April, Tokyo Ramen Street expanded to eight stores. The original four are still there (although Keisuke now serves a crab miso rather than the past lobster miso) along with four new spots. Brian and I checked out 七彩 (Shichisai), which serves a Kitakata style ramen – a light shoyu or shio soup with amazing chashu pork:

CollaboRamen – Shichisai from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

For three years I lived in Fukushima Prefecture about thirty minutes away from Kitakata. I ate in famous Kitakata shops a number of times, but it never really made an impact on me until I tried Shichisai. Sure, I noticed the pork tasted great, but until Brian showed me what to look for in different bowls, I always erred on the side of miso and went for hearty, savory bowls of Hokkaido style ramen.

I was also intimidated by the huge amount of pork that some chashu-men bowls offer. Shichisai has the perfect amount of pork on its 喜多方肉そば – not too much, not too little – and the soup was light and delicious – I finished the whole bowl, which is a rarety for me.

One of the neat parts about this shop is that there are windows into the kitchen area, so you can watch them cook while you wait.

Brian ran into some guys from the Tōno, Iwate-based Zumona Brewery at the Daimaru department store giving out samples of their German-style beers. After the earthquake, a group of twenty-one Japanese craft breweries created their own relief effort under the title “Re-Fermenting Japan.” Illustrator, author, and overall Japan beer guru Hiroyuki Fujiwara created the slogan and the graphic that’s being used on posters and bottles.

Sasaki-san, the Zumona brewer, will be at Daimaru until Tuesday, June 28th, so be sure to drop by to try some out and pick up a few bottles. We covered the basement of Daimaru in a past Collabo-Ramen video – they’ve got a decent selection.

Video Introduction to All Hands Project Tohoku

Former Google employee and All Hands Volunteer Ryo Chijiiwa gave a talk at Google Japan before he flew home late last week. He starts out with a quick introduction to his path to volunteering (which includes a very interesting look at the hut he built in northern California) and then moves on to some of the activities that All Hands has been doing in Ofunato on Project Tohoku. Highly recommended viewing.

Collabo-Ramen – naginicai

I was in Japan last December for a whirlwind ten days of drinking, eating, and catching up with folks. I went out to ramen with Brian on my first full day in the country, but it’s taken me nearly six months to finally put together the video footage I took – I’m a lazy bastard (and was a little busy, as well). The worst thing is that in those five months, the shop has closed! Or so Brian told me.

Naginicai is one of the shops in the Nagi chain. It’s on the west side of Shinjuku Station and serves both lunch and dinner. You can check out what the dinner options were like on Brian’s or Keizo’s blog. I took video footage of the lunch, which only offers tsukemen:

Collabo-Ramen – naginicai from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

I’ll have to double check with Brian to see whether they’ve actually closed or not. I know that he posted about a charity event that was held at naginicai in April, so maybe they are open for a limited number of events during the year.

For those unaware, the name although written in romaji actually means 二階 (にかい, second floor), which is a good name since it’s on the second floor. Within the restaurant, they also have a small loft seating area that you can rent out for nomikai.

How to Japonese on NHK – Hermit Crab Survival Project

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.