All I learned about Instant Noodles I did in Yokohama

Innovation. Perseverance. Ingenuity. For the masses and not the individual.  

These noodles were the brainchild of one Momofuku Ando. He invented the first instant noodles at age 48, first cup noodles at age 61 and the first instant noodles for astronauts in space at 95! Late bloomer he is.

There is an animated video of Momofuku’s journey you can watch that tells you a bit more about the trials and tribulations of the commercialization process and business wars in a simple, child-friendly yet emotive way. The film is in Japanese but there are audio guides available in English, Mandarin, Korean and one other language (I forgot! ūüėĚ). 

The museum does not have a lot of artifacts to show but has a great story to share.

500 yen per adult for entry and another 300 yen to make your own ramen to take home in a cute bubble bag.


Sinning on Saturday 

If you are ever in Matsumoto, Japan and have an hour or so to spare, head to Nakamachi Cafe on Nakamachi Street. 

Order their pancake souffl√©. Bitter chocolate. You must. Moist and fluffy….They were so good my toes are curling thinking about them. Two can share the pancake and feel satisfied after. Get coffee too – their house blend, hand dripped, was pretty good. You won’t regret it. 

Its interior is modern with no-fuss, clean lines furnished in natural wood and oxidized metal – feels Scandinavian but is clearly Japanese. The staff are attentive but not intrusive, polite, understand simple English and they have English menus, so ordering isn’t a problem at all. 

The total bill came up to about 1400 yen including tax for the pancakes and the cuppa.

I am inspired to make my own!

*Not an advertisement!

Historic Towns in Central Honshu, Japan

Several of the historic towns in Japan sprouted because they were near castles or were rest stops used by travellers in the Edo period. We went to a couple of them, but one we stumbled upon while hunting for a rest stop (hey!) on our way to Yokohama. 

I love old things and the stories they tell. With some imagination, assisted by young ladies clad in kimonos walking about and some reading, life people lived centuries ago was not hard to fathom. 

Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 

Kanazawa, Ishikawa  Prefecture 

Shirakawa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Gifu Prefecture 

Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture 

Gardens & Ninjas in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture 

We came off the Japanese Alps into Kanazawa. The scenery during one of the drives was breathtaking. I guess being in places like these gives one inspiration. Kenroukuen Gardens must be the result of that.

The Gardens was constructed based on a set of 6 principles, hence the ‘roku’ in its name: spaciousness, seclusion, art, antiquity, panoramas and water courses. The thing I am amazed by in Japanese landscaping is their ability to blend trees and nondescript rocks together to achieve the zen-type serenity they are so well-known for. Everything is well-maintained too, including their impeccably clean washrooms. The visit was worth every cent of the 310 yen entry fee and more.

What would jump out right at you in Kanazawa if you are a foodie is the dish, Kaisen-don (a wide variety of sashimi on rice with gold flakes). Available in many of the restaurants in the Omicho Market, prices range from ~1800-2700 yen. We didn’t have that because fresh sashimi can also be had in the morning at the stalls; Freshly shucked oysters, sweet shrimp with roe, sea urchins and whatever the catch is. You can also get sashimi from the cold section in the supermarkets – nicely cut and placed in a pretty takeout container with wasabi and soy sauce at a third of the price in the restaurants.

Kanazawa, known for its fresh seafood, picturesque gardens and gold, was also a dwelling for the samurai, ninja, geisha and feudal lords several hundred years back.

Reserve ahead if going to the Ninja Temple aka Myouryuji Рgood for people who like mazes and who are looking for brilliant ideas on making good use of  odd spaces. How the Maeda Lord of the Kaga Clan made 23 small rooms and 29 narrow staircases fit in a 2-storey temple was beyond most in their time. But it is only two stories tall looking from the outside. This temple is full of deceptions and surprises- trapdoors, secret passageways, pitfalls, shoji (paper) doors from where one could stab enemy feet. There is even a room for Hara-Kiri. Within the temple, there are 4 stories and 7 layers Рswirly and narrow staircases everywhere you look. You can imagine that every available albeit odd space created in the stairwell is put to good use.  Quite amazing.

No photography is allowed so I could not get pictures but this article sums it up pretty well:

Entry fee is 1000 yen and parking is in one of the temples 50m away. It is a must-see!

Land of the Rising Sun and really long names

In a land with names of places I cannot remember which vowel to use and fumble to pronounce, I use landmarks.

Tateyama. Takayama. Kanazawa. Kanagawa. Kookaburra. Whatever. I have mapcodes to help us find our way when the landmarks have yet to surface on the horizon where one expects them to.

Driving in Japan can be daunting ….sometimes, especially when one relies on google translate. Eye-gouging sentence structures and awful grammar. It inspires me to try harder with my students in school. But traditional Chinese characters are used in Japanese, so I doubt I’d be totally lost.

[I do ramble. God bless me. But then, what do you do when stuck in an admin briefing you do not need to be at. I start writing.]

***a bit of time later***

To avoid haphazard slapping on of items into the itinerary at the last-minute as precious vacation time ticks away, the perusal of available info about the destination in order to plan ahead has always been a must.

As I was idly reading about the Edo period in Japan, I found myself wondering about the differences between a Samurai and a Ninja.

All I know:

A Samurai is a warrior of the Shogun, is well-versed in Bushido and wields a Katana. A Ninja is a secret agent of the Shogun who throws Shurikens. Just like the ones my students folded and threw around in class, much to their regret.

Harakiri, a ritualistic suicide performed by a Samurai having failed miserably in his mission, involved gutting oneself so the intestines and all the globby stuff spill out in a mess to put an end to both mortality and responsibility. A macabre way of retaining honour/dignity methinks.

Sometimes I think about that on remarkably ‘off’ days – how easy the process would be to clean after since I feel like I have been bled dry.

[Keke…there I go again. These briefings are the bane of my existence.]

Ninjas trained hard to be the sleuths they were and seemed to have evolved from a lower caste whose reputations eventually rose to challenge those of Samurai families.

And we are visiting…

There is a booby-trap-loaded temple in Kanazawa, the Ninjadera, on our to-do list that gives impressionable tourists a peek into the life of a Ninja. We’ll see how that works out for this tourist.

I am also looking forward to the myriad of transportation options as we scale the Japanese alps along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.

Also the ~250 year old Gassho-styled villages in UNESCO WHS Shirakawa-go, Tateyama and Gokayama.

We will have our first experience staying in a traditional ryokan in one of these villages too. While there, we will get to savour some Hida beef, a formidable rival to its celebrity cousin, Kobe beef.

And things like that.

Can’t wait!

I swear I do my best editing after I hit Post.

Favourite Places, 9: Hokkaido and its produce

Hokkaido has really good food. Its quality and freshness come from their organic methods of farming as well as stringent control of output. From sashimi to beef to fruits to wine, all of them are meticulously prepared, finely packaged and elegantly presented.

One of the foods I rather like is their cheeses (particularly Brie) because they are never really overpowering and do not numb my olfactory system.¬†About 90% of the cheese that Japan consumes comes from here. Hokkaido is also Japan’s largest dairy farming region, with fields of happy cows producing good milk. Hence good cheese! ūüôā

Brie and Hokkaido scallop taken raw, just out of its shell. Happiness is.

Post 107. Hokkaido

Cheese Board@Furano Cheese Factory

Yatai-ed in Fukuoka

To say that my blood curdled at the memory of being fleeced at the Yatai Stalls in Fukuoka’s Nakasu area, I think, may be a bit of an understatement.

In all fairness, we knew what we were going to pay. But this injustice that is self-declared lies in not knowing what to expect ‚Äď though we should know better because all good things come in small packages in Japan. 4 slim pieces of BBQ beef for what is equivalent to approximately¬†S$30 – I could get me a nice juicy steak!

They really should have pictures. We should have been better prepared going to a touristy outlet.

But still, it was an experience, a nice one¬†by the riverside¬†‚Äď though it‚Äôs probably also one that I am unlikely to repeat if another opportunity comes up.

[First published: 21 Dec 2012]