Tag Archives: Japan

Photography from throughout Japan can be see on my blog.

Artisan Noodle Maker in Oakland, CA

In West Oakland, Koichi Ishii does something few other chefs in the United States can. In the very early morning hours he is in a small glass enclosed room in his restaurant making soba by hand.

The tradition of eating soba originates from the Tokugawa period, also called the Edo period, from 1603 to 1868. In the Tokugawa era, every neighborhood had one or two soba establishments, many also serving SAKE, which functioned much like modern cafes where locals would stop for a casual meal.

According to an article in Umami Art, Soba Ichi is the Bay Area’s first homemade soba restaurant. It is an opening that has taken years to create, a partnership between Shinichi Washino, Koichi Ishii, Christian Geideman, and Paul Discoe, who all met at Ippuku in Berkeley.

A well-known Los Angeles cookbook author, Sonoko Sakai, who herself has trained with soba masters in Tokyo, says that “artisan” soba makers like Ishii, who grind their own flour and who refuse the help of machines to roll and cut noodles, have become a rarity in Japan. “I last heard from my miller in Japan, who specializes only in buckwheat milling for soba houses, that there are about 40,000 soba shops (in the country), but less than 1 percent are true artisans,” she says.

Recently there was an amazing article written up in the San Francisco Chronicle by Jonathan Kauffman‏ @jonkauffman about the art of making SOBA noodles by hand. We are very lucky to be living in the greater SF Bay Area to taste these artisan-crafted noodles. You’ll never look at Ramen noodles the same again.

GION – Traditional Kyoto Now

Traditional architecture, Gion
Traditional architecture, Gion

Gion is a traditional district stretching from the Kamo-gawa River in the west, as far as Yasaka-jinja Shrine in the east. In the 17th year of Kyoho (1732), Kyoto received official permission from the goverment to begin construction of the teahouse quarters, which is the present day Gion area.

Later, as Kabuki drama became popular on the Gion district’s western edges, more sophisticated forms of entertainment were developed for the theater-goers, and so today Gion is known as Kyoto’s most famous Geisha/Maiko district. Packed with bars, restaurants and traditional teahouses, Gion is at its most atmospheric in the early evening, when the lanterns are lit and apprentice Geisha, known as Maiko in Kyoto, can be seen along the back streets on their way to dinner appointments.

Kyoto Geisha, Sunday Afternoon
Kyoto Geisha, Sunday Afternoon

Day or night, there is a lot to see here including shrines, numerous cafes, temples and historic sites which all add to the Gion’s picturesque streets.

Let’s Stay In Touch – I’d love to share my journey !

The Buddhist Monks’ Robes (and other stories)

There are 1,600 Buddhist temples scattered throughout the prefecture of Kyoto. Known as “the city of a thousand temples,” you’ll also find 400 Shinto shrines, a trio of palaces, and dozens of gardens and museums! According to Wikipedia, Kyoto boasts more World Heritage Sites per square inch than any other city.

For me while living in Japan, I viewed Kyoto as a special place I could escape to by SHINKANSEN/ Bullet Train from Tokyo for a magical weekend of impressive cuisine served in monasteries, gardens and alongside rivers as well as a chance to learn more about Japan’s history. Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the residence of the emperor from 794 to 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. Kyoto thus spent a millennium as the center of Japanese power, culture, tradition, and religion. During this time Kyoto accumulated an unparalleled collection of palaces, temples and shrines, built for emperors, shoguns, geishas and monks. And Kyoto was one of the very few Japanese cities to escape Allied bombings during World War II. Buddhist monks in Japan are quite friendly and have always been willing to stop and talk to me as well as pose for my camera. If you are a little adventurous, head over to a small bar ran by some Kyoto Monks, Bozu Bar 京都坊主BAR. But getting back to the Monks, there are many styles and colors of Buddhist monks’ robes you’ll notice in Japan, and they don’t all resemble the ensembles worn by the monks in these photos, however, the robes in the photograph do illustrate how the Chinese style seen in Photo 6 was adapted in Japan. These were taken in Kamakura and Kyoto recently.

The practice of wearing a shorter outer robe over a longer white or gray kimono is distinctively Japanese.

Let’s Stay In Touch – I’d love to share my journey !

Kyoto’s Outdoor River Restaurants

Seeing all this rain we are getting here in Los Angeles and the freeways suddenly turning into rivers, my thoughts turned to the Kamogawa River in Kyoto. Summer is traditionally the month when eating and drinking places along the banks of the Kamo River build large wooden platforms, called “yuka”. This past summer I experienced it for the 2nd time and it is indeed an unforgettable and always relaxing experience.

 

Restaurants along the Kamogawa river in summer

Restaurants along the Kamogawa river in summer

Back alleys along Kamogawa in Kyoto
Back alleys along Kamogawa in Kyoto
Restaurants along the Kamogawa river
Restaurants along the Kamogawa river

Kyoto summers are said to be the hottest and most humid in all of Japan. This has a lot to do with the fact that the city is surrounded on three sides by mountains, which makes it hard for the heat and humidity to escape.   and so perfectly suited to relaxing at the end of a long, hot summer day.

Yuka extend east (facing the Kamo River) from many downtown restaurants and make for an unforgettable location for a relaxing, fine dinner. These open-air dining areas are unique to Kyoto and, though they have a reputation for being very expensive, I was really surprised at how reasonable the prices can be. In addition to the   and the eastern skyline and the excellent food, the lively, open setting makes for good company.

Let’s Stay In Touch – I’d love to share my journey !

Japan Festivals – Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo

Japanese festivals captivate the energy of the local residents. Summer is the best time to see festival traditions and the colorful clothing such as HAPPI coats, HACHIMAKI head bands and beautiful kimono. You’ll also have a chance to taste so many unique snacks and see the culture in a different way that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.