Yes, we are home, sweet home. We had a great vacation but it is good…
This is the third and final part of our recent vacation to Asia. I hope you have enjoyed reading the first two parts, Malaysian Food Journal and Taste of Singapore. We visited many, many places, walked thousands of steps, and ate lots and lots of good food. Now, on to our next destination…..
From Singapore, we took the evening flight out of Changi and arrived seven hours later at Narita, Tokyo. It was early morning and we caught the train to Shinjuku where we stayed the night. After depositing our luggage at the hotel, we went to the closest soba shop for a steaming bowl of kitsune udon (“fox” udon, these animal references are popular nicknames). This udon is served hot in a mild broth of dashi and shōyu topped with sweetened abura-age (deep fried tofu pocket). Spiced with shichimi tōgarashi (seven spiced chili pepper), it was the perfect antidote for a long flight.
After some shopping at Akihabara, Tokyo’s Electric Town, we were ready to have some dinner and return to the hotel to recharge. We had a three-hour bus journey to take early the next morning. Breakfast was quick with onigiri (rice cakes) from the AMPM store just round the corner from the hotel. Downed with some green tea, it was quick but satisfying.
The bus ride took us through the countryside, past Lake Suwa, and into the mountains. We could see the majestic Japan Minami Alps looming in front of us with its snow capped peaks. The countryside looked very charming with its neat vegetable plots, fruit orchards, and rice fields.
After two hours on the bus, we stopped at Futaba for refreshments. There were stores and stands selling snacks, fruits, and vegetables. The nashi (Japanese pears) were very fragrant and delicious and the Aomori apples were huge, crunchy, and sweet. There were also peaches, apricots, and cherries.
We arrived at our destination late morning in Komagane. It was a bright and beautiful day with clear, blue skies. The weather was definitely cooler and less humid here. In fact, it was really pleasant, peaceful, and quiet. We were far away from the city.
For lunch, we went to a quaint little restaurant, Kozenji Soba, well known for their soba (buckwheat noodles) made fresh at the store. I had their soba sampler which came with hiyashi yamakake soba (cold grated mountain yam soba), another cold soba with vegetable tempura, and a hot nozawana soba (mountain vegetable soba). Yamakake is grated mountain yam which is white in color with a slimy texture and a mild yam flavor. For many, its texture is an acquired taste. Still it was pretty good but my favorite was the nozawana soba.
After lunch we wandered around and stopped at a local snack store. We bought some yōkan (jellied dessert of agar-agar and red bean paste) which turned out to be really delicious. It was filled with chunky red beans and chestnuts.
We visited the Kozenji Temple and the little known Komagane Municipal Museum in the same compound as Takemura‘s residence. The museum is in a Meiji era (1868 – 1912) building while the residence is a traditional thatched roof building rarely seen today.
Pictured below is the roaring Odagiri River opposite our hotel. The water is very cold and clear.
Shiki View Hotel offers modern and traditional rooms. We opted for the traditional rooms where the decor was minimalist and the furniture at floor level. In the evenings, the kotatsu (low wooden table) and zaisus (chair with no legs) were pushed aside and futons (bedding) spread on the floor.
The highlights of our stay here were the onsen with indoor and outdoor baths and the kaiseki dinner (traditional multi-course dinner). The bath was really relaxing with tubs or pools of different sizes and textures to soak in. It is not unusual to take hour long baths here. Dressed in yukatas (casual summer kimono made of cotton) after a good soak, we were ready to go for the wonderful 12-course kaiseki dinner. Kaiseki is an art form that balances taste, texture, color, and appearance of the dishes presented. This dinner was a delight to the senses and I couldn’t help but admire the food presentation and dinnerware it came in. It was all so aesthetically pleasing and many of the dishes tasted superb.
Shark’s fin eggdrop soup, minced meat and seafood dumpling, seasonal appetizer, and light seasonal fruit sake.
1. Steaming box with
2. Paper thin slices of pork and mountain vegetables inside served with two dipping sauces.
3. The sashimi was beautifully plated with shiso, fruits, and edible flowers.
4. Grilled iwana
5. Shinshu soba with sauce and condiments in wabi-sabi stoneware.
6. Japanese chicken and eggplant curry in a beautiful metallic bowl and delicate charger.
7. Suimono (clear soup), tsukemono (pickles), and gohan (rice) as a filler.
8. Then came the dessert of a light and refreshing fruit custard and sake which rounded off the meal nicely.
That was a sumptuous dinner indeed!
After breakfast at Komagane, we took the bus to Matsumoto.
Matsumoto Castle is one of the most complete and beautiful castles in Japan, listed as a National Treasure in 1952. It was completed in the mid 16th century and maintains its original wooden interiors and external stonework. It was built on flat land with a lack of natural defenses. For that reason, the castle was built with extraordinarily high, strong stone walls surrounded by a triple moat.
The sixth floor is 72.5 feet above the entrance and commands panoramic views of Matsumoto city and the surrounding countryside. Huge kois (ornamental carp) can be seen swimming in the moat.
After a day of sight seeing, we had yakiniku (grilled meat) for dinner. Yakiniku has its origins in Korea. A variety of raw marinated meats and vegetables were brought to us for cooking on a grill at the table. The food was cooked a few pieces at a time for the duration of the meal. The grilled meats and vegetables were dipped in sauces and eaten with rice. The meal may be served with soup, kimchee, pickled vegetables, and other Korean dishes.
Biren prepared matcha for the evening. Frothy green tea is delicious and good for us.
The next morning, we made a day trip to Narai-juku, a post town on the Nakasendo Highway ruled by the Edo Shogunate between Edo and Kyoto. A historical row of Edo period houses along the street was confirmed as a Cultural Asset in 1978 and visitors from all over Japan come to see these historical buildings.
We stopped at a store selling hoba, glutinous rice cakes with red bean paste filling wrapped in leaves that grow together in a bunch. There were also bundles of leaf-wrapped savory rice cakes.
We ambled along the street with charming restaurants and stores selling ceramic dishes, pottery, lacquer ware, wood ware, and Hinoki cypress bento boxes. At noon we stopped at a soba shop for bowls of tanuki soba (“raccoon-dog” soba) topped with deep fried vegetable tempura. We had sakura cha (cherry blossom tea) which had a slightly salty taste with a cherry blossom in the cup.
Soon it was time to get back to Matsumoto. We left Matsumoto the next morning for Yokohama.
Near Yokohama, we visited the naval base city of Yokosuka where HIJMS Mikasa is preserved as a museum ship. She is one of the “Three Great Historical Warships of the World”, together with Victory in Portsmouth, UK, and Constitution in Boston, USA. She served as the flagship of Admiral Tōgō during the Battle of the Yellow Sea on August 10 1904, and the Battle of Tsushima Straits on May 27 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War.
We had Japanese curry ramen for lunch at Yokosuka. This was a very tasty bowl of ramen and I really enjoyed it. I also like the very practical design of the spoon. It was able to rest very nicely on the lip of the bowl without slipping into the soup.
Yokohama’s night skyline along the waterfront with impressive buildings at the Minato Mirai 21 district. The Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan is located here. On the 69th floor is the Sky Garden Observatory where one can enjoy a 360-degree view of the city, and on clear days Mount Fuji. The Cosmo World amusement park is spread out along the waterfront on the man made island of the Shinko District. The most recognizable feature of the island is the Cosmo Clock 21. It is fantastically illuminated at night and changes color every 15 minutes.
It was here that I contacted The Lacquer Spoon who is based in Tokyo. Unfortunately we were unable to meet as Yokohama was some distance from Tokyo and I was already preparing to return to home. Perhaps we could meet in another visit but we did manage to e-chat and she suggested that we visit Yokohama Chinatown. We had to check it out.
Yokohama Chūkagai (Yokohama Chinatown) is the largest Chinatown in Asia and a major tourist attraction. Yokohama was the first port opened to international trade in 1859 when Japan ended its national seclusion and many Chinese traders came and settled there. Today, there are over 500 restaurants, food stands, tea shops, handicraft, and grocery stores in this Chinatown. The main attraction is the cuisine with a wide array of Chinese dishes many of which have been uniquely Japanized to a certain degree.
Ramen noodles and fried rice set with salad, appetizer, side dishes, condiments, and a dessert (not shown) served on a large tray. Lovely presentation!
Finally it was time to go home. We had a great vacation and wonderful memories.
Thank you for visiting. I hope you have enjoyed reading about our trip as we have enjoyed sharing it with you. If you missed the first two parts, you can check it out here: Malaysian Food Journal and Taste of Singapore.
Have a wonderful day!