Saturday, 30 April 2011

Mansion of Mitsubishi Founder circa 1896

As part of the modernisation of Japan during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), foreign experts in the English language, science, engineering, architecture and military were employed to educate and contribute during this era of 'enlightened rule'. The industrial revolution was achieved by borrowing western technology and embracing free enterprise capitalism which led to ultimate control of manufacturing and economic prowess in Asia.

Iwasaki Yataro, of samurai and provincial farming ancestry was greatly influenced by the volatile political and economic times. He worked his way from a clerk and rose to a high position in the Tosa clan and was responsible for trading camphor oil and paper for ships, weapons and ammunition. His success as a shipping industrialist subsequently led him to establish the Mitsubishi Corporation.

Kyu Iwasaki-tei or Old Iwasaki Mansion, designed by British architect Josiah Conder, marked the dawn of modern architecture in Japan. This European building was built in British Renaissance style with Jacobean-influenced interiors as well as Moorish motifs.

The Mitsubishi logo was derived from the Iwasaki family crest of three-stacked rhombuses and the three-leaf crest of Tosa Clan. The well-known emblem represents a ship's propeller.

Photography in the house was not allowed. This photo sourced online shows Jacobean-style interior embellishments.

The Japanese-style building, the living quarters of the Iwasaki family, was integrated with the Western-style building.

The Billiards Hall, separate from the main building, was built in the style of a Swiss chalet, entirely made of wood.

Arabian Rock - Ueno

Strains of Arab pop , a cool name and hunger pangs drew us to Arabian Rock.

A Japanese belly-dancer greeted us and presented us with an Aladdin's lamp. She said "Rub the lamp and your wishes will be granted".

A stairway lit by brass lanterns led to a glowing pyramid and our own two-man nook decorated with Moroccan wall tiles and plush floor cushions.

To add to the fantasy, we received a basket of golden eggs to ward off bad luck. "Please peel off the shell" we were advised. Very bunga telor-ish. (Bunga telor, boiled eggs traditionally given as party favours at weddings and represents fertility in Malay culture).

With dramatic flair, a waiter emerged with a flaming dish of beef teppanyaki .

Flavourful tofu tajine, cod roe potato cheese gratin, chicken tandoori kebab and couscous salad ensured our wishes were indeed granted.

Happy and satisfied, the Alhady Arabs reluctantly crawled out of their alcove for their next adventure.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Grazing choices in Tokyo

A Groupon meal at Shibuya entailed acquiring a free coupon from the website which promised a 1500 yen rebate. Sounds good at the outset. You are drawn to gimmicky visuals of themed rooms like Alice in Wonderland, Ali Baba's cave for the experience of dining with a difference. Reservations are quickly confirmed for the only available dining time at five thirty or wait for the next weekend.

Without a glimmer of a chance of getting a themed room this time, it only got worse. Ushered into a cubicle reeking of smoke sent spasms to my bronchioles. Request for a smoke-free room landed us in a four-person cubicle, separated from the other couple by a pull-down screen. There were several restrictions to meal selection too inane to mention. Adding insult to injury the bill was presented minus the rebate offer. Surprising for Japan indeed. They pride themselves in honouring deals. For another horror Groupon story read this.

My favourite lunch place, Dexee Deli at Lumine 1 food court, serves up a quick low cal nutritious meal. On offer is a protein choice of fish, chicken-tofu or beef patty, and recently added green chicken curry, two vegetable choices and sekihan (red rice) with a drink for a value price of 900 yen!

Thai Khao San, located directly opposite, is popular for its unique hawker-styled seating arrangements ie stools around large round tables, suited for a shared dinning experience with total strangers.

Korea town, Shin Okubo, is teeming with Korean restaurants and supermarkets and Zainichi, Japanese-born Koreans living in Japan since before the war. Our favourite spot is a little establishment on the second floor specialising in Korean fried chicken with Yangnyom sweet hot sauce and sesame seeds. Another yummy fried chicken dish is the soy and garlic version. The secret to the crispy crunch is the double frying technique with only a dash of seasoning.

Obviously this meal negates all previous efforts at eating healthy . . . but what the heck. If you haven't tried yangnyom you haven't lived!

Dining alone in Tokyo

Nestled behind Takashimaya in Shinjuku and up a steep flight of stairs, a charming woody, nature-inspired cafe lay waiting to be discovered. The warm humid evening begged for the airy patio.

A light meal, a good book and my trusty camera were good company.

I had reached a pivotal part of my current read, South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami, and was savouring each and every word. You know the feeling that you don't want the story to end . . . not just yet.
Enjoying the aroma of coffee and the night skies brought an end to another day.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

In search of Usavitch

Usavitch. Imagine an anime version of prison break, an odd couple of rabbits, Kirenenko (red) and Putin (green) and their antics in a Soviet prison. Later they escape to a shopping mall and share hilarious adventures. My mission was to find Putin, as Kirenenko was missing his friend.

After checking out the well-loved store, Don Quixote, in Shinjuku, where I had bought only Kirenenko (because I liked the red stripes) on a previous trip, there seemed to be a dearth of Usavitch merchandise on the shelves. Have they stopped production after the earthquake? Not good news for fans.

Next stop Harajuku. Bypassing the Goth shops, and at the risk of sounding bigoted, The Closet Child, I actually was looking for something much more innocent called Kiddy Land. Stumbling upon The World Connection, Usavitch was on the first floor! Yes! Mission accomplished.

At closing time, other sights take prominence like the graffiti . . .

. . . and the dimly lit narrow side streets. Only a handful of vendors continued to call out to dwindling customers while cute Lolita's were pulling down shop shutters.

The adventures of Putin and Kirenenko continue . . .

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Singapore Seafood Republic, Shinagawa

Cross the overhead bridge in front of Shinagawa JR Station and you can't miss the chilli crab signboard.
Hey are we in Singapore? Raffles Hotel? A refreshing change from cramped smoky restaurants. A colonial bungalow with al fresco seating . .

. . . and spacious, cool indoor dining.

A friend working at the restaurant gave us the royal treatment and drinks on the house.

Singapore fried mee hoon turned out to be rather insipid and merely coloured by kunyit (safron). The chili crabs and steamed mantau (bread), on the other hand, were incredibly like the stuff we get at home. Satay was good, but the peanut sauce was microscopic in amount. An interesting twist was the added pineapple dip.

French doors open out into a courtyard, complete with green canvas umbrellas and shady trees, very much a reminder of home.

Ue wo Muite Aruko aka Sukiyaki

Kyu Sakamoto, a popular crooner, released the single Ue wo Muite Aruko in Japan by Toshiba in 1961 which became the top ranking pop song. When released in the USA in 1963, it soared to number one of the Top Billboard Hot 100's and sold 13 million records internationally.

For the past month, Japanese broadcasters stopped airing commercials altogether. Suntory, the beverage company, broke the silence with this rendition of Sukiyaki by Japanese celebrities to revitalise the nations' spirit. It's a song about a man who keeps his face up to keep his tears from falling. Lyrics are below.

I look up when I walk so the tears won't fall
Remembering those happy spring days
But tonight I'm all alone

I look up when I walk, counting the stars with tearful eyes
Remembering those happy summer days
But tonight I'm all alone

Happiness lies beyond the clouds
Happiness lies above the sky

I look up when I walk so the tears won't fall
Though my heart is filled with sorrow
For tonight I'm all alone


Remembering those happy autumn days
But tonight I'm all alone

Sadness hides in the shadow of the stars
Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon

I look up when I walk so the tears won't fall
Though my heart is filled with sorrow
For tonight I'm all alone,

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Ochanumizu, the Guitar Planet

Five minutes from JR Ochanomizu station you will hit guitar planet where the streets are lined by stores selling guitars new and old, electric and acoustic, six string and 12 string, picks, slides, straps, cases etc etc

A sight for sore eyes, especially if you have a yen to spend.

Sidewalks showing the writing on the wall.

If you can't buy one, make one . . .

. . . 'and she's buying the stairway to heaven'.

Tourism Malaysia embraces kawaii culture

It's all about the details and kawaii culture

Aren't those sugar cubes cute, individually wrapped, different flowers on each one, made especially for spring time. Now that's eye candy!

No I've not gone crazy and dipped a cigar into my cappuccino - it's a cinnamon stick! Lovely, lovely aroma . . . Mmmmm

Looks like Tourism Malaysia (formerly Tourist Development Corporation or TDC) has caught on the Japanese culture of cute or kawaii. Taihen yoku dekimashita (well done)!
There is a unique penchant for cartoon characters in advertising here. Siti, the anime character, aims to win over the hearts of Japanese visitors to Malaysia and she sends a special message.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Genki Gym at Hoya

Found a gym in Hoya, on the Seibu Ikebukoro line, about 30 minutes westward of central Tokyo. Central Fitness Sports membership is offered at a reduced rate to IT personnel through their affiliate insurance companies. Even though I don't qualify, the monthly fee is about one third the price of a well known international chain in Japan, Gold's Gym.
For a lot more facilities and the feeling of space it is good value. Gold's monthly membership fee is as much as Celebrity Fitness in KL. Prohibitive for short term membership. Aqua aerobics is a rare treat.
My usual companions most mornings are an enthusiastic bunch of senior citizens (look who's talking!). Unlike the obvious male dominance in trains and offices, the genki (lively) aunties feature prominently at step aerobics, zumba, street dance, yoga and pilates classes. Haven't seen any hunks yet, but the uncles have remarkable core strength. Hardly any pot bellies about.
That blue towel, which is found neatly folded at every station, is for wiping down the machine after use. This is done religiously by all users. Great gym etiquette! Repeated suggestions/complaints to Celebrity Fitness, KL about the level of hygiene and lack of facilities provided seem to fall on deaf ears. Edinburgh Uni gym provides antiseptic prays and disposable tissue towels in this respect.
Yes it really is an indoor driving range! And practice putting green.
I'll travel miles, through hills and dales, at any hour for a spinning class! Slots are too few and far between: Wednesday 2130 hrs, Thursday 1150 hr and Friday at 2130 hr.
So kiddos, quit whining and be thankful you have a permanent unlimited spinning/RPM studio and not have to wheel a Spinner into the studio and then wheel it back out again!