In Japan, EVERYTHING has a mascot. Including Gunkanjima.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Very-Confusing-Poo-Looking Gunkanjima mascot, Gansho-ku (of course it has a name, too!).
Happy Monday 🙂
In Japan, EVERYTHING has a mascot. Including Gunkanjima.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Very-Confusing-Poo-Looking Gunkanjima mascot, Gansho-ku (of course it has a name, too!).
Happy Monday 🙂
And so, we arrived to Nagasaki. This was the place where we were almost going to experience a capsule hotel. Almost, because we were kind of cheating: the First Cabin Nagasaki is not a tomb-like capsule hotel, since you have a room as big as your bed (a normal sized bed) for yourself, wall to wall with your neighbours. And you have a proper ceiling. You do have shared facilities so really, apart from the less claustrophobic personal space, it is like an expensive hostel (it was not the cheapest place we stayed, it was actually more expensive than the accommodation in Yufuin! :O ). Also, the man at the reception was probably the first (and second to last, more of this later) rude Japanese in our entire journey.
Once we dropped our suitcases we decided to go for lunch. Nagasaki is a city with a long commercial history; there is a big Chinese community there and a Chinatown, which is one of the biggest touristic spots in town. What better than going for lunch to Chinatown, then? And this is when, for the first (and I think last) time in Japan, we had an underwhelming meal. And expensive! We just ate a couple of (very meh) baos (we love baos, more of this later) and I can’t quite remember what else. We ran away from Chinatown not looking back, just after buying a Kakuni Manjo (a bao dough sandwich with pork belly filling) from a street vendor that was waaaaay nicer than the lunch we had just had.
We hopped on one of the horrific street cars that had given us an unforgettable ride to the hotel area from the train station and we went to the Bomb Museum. The second nuclear bomb was not dropped in the city centre, but in the industrial area north to the main portion of the city, which was protected somehow by the hills cradling it. There is no need really to talk more about the visit. It’s impacting, blood curdling, awful, and a must go to museum if you ever go to Nagasaki.
In the evening we went to Dejima, a man built island in Nagasaki bay. Nagasaki is a very tortuous city, nestled between hills and with a big, narrow harbor where, to this day, ships are still built by Mitsubishi.
The sight from the restaurants along the bay is beautiful and the place where we stopped for our dinner was also lovely: for a tenner each we had a bowl of food, side dish and soup, placidly gazing over the water.
We then went back to the hotel, where we separated: me and Cookie went to the girls cabins and Lunch went to the men capsules. How did the night go you ask? I loved the concept of the hotel, but, as always in these places, if people around you are not mindful, the noise can become quite annoying. The girl in front of me was a Rustler, for example: I don’t know how many packages of crisps and/or cookies, plastic bags and more paraphernalia she managed to take out of her suitcase, just to put it back in in a different order more than three times (and this only at night, since she went at it again in the morning). That, together with the noise that the blind makes when it’s slid down, made for quite a restless night.
When we finally got out of the hotel, we headed once again to the bay, to board our boat for Gunkanjima, the Battleship Island (of which we saw a lot of ads everywhere, not knowing what that was and thinking it was a weird poo emoji). The visit took the most of the morning, and it was very interesting since it gave us a beautiful view of the Nagasaki harbor, a nice trip out on the sea, and the incredible story of Hashima Island that was, for a brief moment in time, the most populated piece of land on the planet. What we thought of as the Weird Nagasaki Poo Emoji is in fact, a mine, above which the island was located. The trip is worth it, but don’t expect too much of the island itself. Since it’s very dangerous to walk around because the buildings are all in ruins, you are only allowed to walk on the island in very limited places and the time you spend on it is probably around 30 minutes. It’s worth the trip though, in my opinion.
Nicely toasted after the trip on the sea, we had another lovely meal at the same restaurant where we had been the night before, and we headed towards Glover Garden. Oh, on the way we finally tried the Clear Coke (they are crazy about “clear” stuff over there) and the verdict is: it tastes like Sprite with a hint of Coke, so why bother.
Up we went to Glover Garden, then, through conveniently placed escalators.
It’s lovely to have a walk overlooking the harbor, through old Western-styled houses, creaky wooden floors and beautifully kept ponds and gardens. We took our time there, and by the time we were back down in the city it was almost dusk.
We heard drums being played and we went to see what was happening. So we discovered, at the entrance of Chinatown, a group of school boys and girls rehearsing with a massive paper dragon. There was a tv crew, a guy who looked like a presenter, a guy who really looked the “director” and some curious people wandering around having a peek at the scene. The director called every passer-by to come closer (us included) and we managed to watch a very nice show put up by the students and become TV celebrities! We were asked by the director and the presenter where were we from and the bubbly (because he had a can in his hand) Sergeant Lunch replied: “Ailulando!”. Everyone seemed very impressed with us.
We later discovered that the presenter was this Yoshio Kojima, who was famous because of the following dance (yes, he always did it with the speedo):
Japan, uh! 😀
We found him thanks to the dance, because he did his move a couple of times and everyone seemed to be very pleased. Obviously, from then on that was my move too, whenever I was feeling like doing the idiot (which happens quite often).
After our 15 minutes of glory, we were happy to go for dinner close to the hotel. By chance, we wandered into an Izakaya where, after a highly embarrassing moment with our shoes (Where do we have to leave them? Do we have to take them off here? There? Oooh, we have to put them in these cute lockers…) we sat down for a lovely Japanese tapas meal and headed for our hotel, packing our bags (silently) before our trip to Osaka.
I realize in this post there aren’t many food pictures, but I am telling what we ate, broadly speaking… I was busier eating than taking pictures, which is always a good thing in my opinion 😉
We left Yufuin sad to leave our lovely apartment and a little pissed off at our suitcase, that decided to abandon us just after barely a week. One of its wheels just gave up and from then on it had to be dragged with a considerable amount of effort whenever we had to change city. Needless to say it happened a little bit too early.
Anyway, we took the train and rode through the lovely, green, lush Japanese countryside to Hakata Station, in Fukuoka. The station is so called because it is located in the ward bearing the same name, which used to be a city of its own. In the XIX century the two cities of Hakata and Fukuoka were merged, but still nowadays some important parts of the city, such as the station, keep the name of the old port.
We got to the city a little earlier than expected and we decided to give it a try and find our AirBnb. It was fairly easy to find its location following the host’s instructions, but then we saw ourselves in front of this tiny house, ringing the bell with no one answering (even though there was clearly someone in). Captain Lunch just saw that the door was open and went in. He found crazy cat lady Megumi, our host, whose English was wobbly but who was so nice that we didn’t care much. She showed us her doggie and her cat (she literally brought the cat out on a chair for us to see (needless to say, I loved it) and then she brought us to the tiniest flat I’ve ever seen. It was not bad, but I must say that it was veeeeery small.
After this quite absurd and charming moment, we went for lunch. And what a nice lunch that was! We went to Canal City, in the centre, a very special shopping centre that looks more like Tomorrowland than an actual place in an actual city. In the food court, there’s the Ramen Stadium. Where you can eat all the different types of ramen from the different regions in Japan. For real! We went for a classic one because we wanted to try the local specialty, Tonkotsu Ramen, a pork-based ramen that makes me salivate just thinking about it.
While digesting after this lovely meal, we walked lazily around Canal City and we headed for the city centre, not really looking at the map. We went through the “dodgy” area nearby (in Japan there’s really no dodgy areas, but this was slightly sleazier than the
rest of the city) and walked in the general direction of a bar, which we couldn’t find (since we had no idea where to look for it in the first place). We found some sort of English pub that was awful, and crying desperately “HUB, where art thou?” we decided it was a good idea to go for a karaoke. Finally, Karaoke! The first time around (more about karaoke later!) we only had a couple of hours to kill, and we fumbled with the controls, the mics and the paraphernalia for a good ten minutes, so by the time we were starting to warm up it was over. When we got out, we could distinctly hear a group of ten(ish) men screaming at the top of their lungs from a room nearby. I think they were having lots of fun (and adult refreshments) 🙂
For dinner, we wobbled to a very typical Fukuoka food stall, or Yatai, after a stop at the arcades (where we tried, with no luck, to get a doll from a UFO machine for what seemed like a long time). Now, we did not go to the place along the river where all the stalls are, since we were in the modern part of the city. There were three or four all around a corner, and we sat down at the first one with available seats. I was so ravenous I forgot to take a picture of the food, which again was ramen and something else I can’t remember. I took a picture of a cute plate though, because I sometimes got very distracted by kawaii things in Japan.
The second day dawned beautiful and very, very hot. We slept in and went for a lovely breakfast on the banks of the lake in Ohori Park, that was very close to our matchbox apartment.
After a brief walk in the park, we visited the city’s aquarium. It was nice, we saw dolphins and especially, we managed to stay out of the heat during the worst time of the day. When we headed back to Hakata Station, we decided that we had to try the local burger chain, Mos Burger. Delicious, like everything Japanese people make 🙂
We headed then straight for the next sight, which was the the Fukuoka Tower.
Radio tower placed basically on the beach, it grants a breath-taking view of the bay and the city. We were there at dusk, making the experience even more memorable. Pity I fear heights, so I was crawling along the windows of the tower like a crab trying to avoid thinking how high we were. I still took some pictures though! 😀
Once safely back down, we had a lovely ice cream while sitting placidly close to the beach, watching a group of children playing football and smelling the food being prepared in all the little seaside restaurants also overlooking the bay. Since we had had our burger very late (thanks to the adult refreshments of the previous day, we had slightly funny bellies), we were not hungry. We decided to go back to Ohori Park and have a beer sitting near the lake, watching joggers run by and people bringing out their doggies for a pee. It was a delightful ending for the two days in Fukuoka.
Bonus Pictures: At the Arcades, playing a train simulator (not kidding) and a real life Space Invaders 😀
E mentre il mio racconto prosegue, in inglese, sulle mie meravigliose vacanze giapponesi, cerco di tornare alla routine ricettaria in italiano.
Anche se in questi giorni sono ossessionata con Claire Ptak, (la cui intervista per il podcast Flour Hour potete ascoltare qui) questa ricetta è tratta da “Cake Days” e non defrauda! Questi muffin sono buonissimi tiepidi e rimangono gustosi e soffici anche il giorno dopo. Personalmente sono molto generosa con la Nutella 😀
Questi gioiellini non durano mai più di un giorno e mezzo, sono veramente buonissimi! Viva Hummingbird!
Despite my lack of Internet at home (thank you Eir, and Virgin), I will manage to publish this post about our second Japanese stop, Yufuin 🙂
Where is Yufuin, you ask? Well, it is a little village in Kyushu, the island south of Honshu (Tokyo’s island, just so you can vaguely picture it on your totally made up mental map). We wanted a little pause between cities, so we decided upon this onsen ridden place, the second best known spa town on the island after the very touristy Beppu. I would have loved to go to mount Aso and surroundings, but we just did not have time for everything (three weeks just seem like a lot of time…).
Off we went to Yufuin, then. The trip from Tokyo to Yufu was 8 hours, with no delays, of course. The last leg of the trip was aboard the famous (yes, in Japan there are lots of famous trains, more of this in another post) Yufuin-no-mori, touristic train that goes from Hakata station in Fukuoka to Beppu, through the lovely mountains and countryside of Kyushu.
A very nice waiter in the Kirinko lake area literally accompanied us to the door of our Airbnb place, which was unbelievable. We had a 12 people apartment for ourselves: a bedroom, two massive Japanese-style living rooms, and, most importantly, a private
onsen. Yes, it was as good as it sounds. The onsen area was divided, so we had at our disposal an indoor hot-hot-hot water pool, and an outdoor warm-warm-perfect pool, which was our first stop after a long, even if pleasant, trip.
That night, we went and explored a little bit of the town. A word of warning here: Yufuin is mainly a day-trip or, at best, a one night stay place, since it is very small. Most of the travelers stay in their own very nice and luxurious ryokans for the night, so it is not too easy to find a restaurant open after dark (that being around six thirty in the afternoon).
And that was when it started to rain.
It was the only night it caught us while we were outside and it did not help the restaurant search. We headed to the area close to the train station and we were turned down from a couple of places. When starting to feel desperate, we found this tiny little restaurant. Not only they didn’t turn us down, but they were so nice we almost started crying: as soon as we sat down, they handed us the menu that was, for the first and last time since, in Japanese with no pictures. When trying to figure it out, a woman who was clearly the cook’s wife explained to us that we could use a QR code to have it translated into English. The frustration was at its peak then, since we had no internet. That’s when, with the kind of sigh that only a mother could produce, she went away and came back after a minute with her own phone, where the app was open to order everything online, in English. And of course, the food was just heavenly. Yakitoris of different types started flowing (I’m looking at you, chicken skin yakitori), and when we finally headed home, we were happy again.
Our second and last day in Yufuin saw us stewing for a while in our private onsen (I can’t express enough smugness at having a private onsen for 20 eur a night) and then, relaxed, heading out to the centre of town. Yufuin’s main streets are full of little shops selling everything artisan (clothes, orange juice, ice cream, shoes…) so it was very nice to just stroll, visit shops and buy souvenirs. There was a Snoopy shop and café (the first sign of Japan’s obsession with the pooch), various animal cafés and flower town, where you could find Heidi’s goat (if you don’t know what I am talking about it’s ok, it’s an old Japanese cartoon that everyone in Italy had the misfortune of watching at some point or another… that little Heidi brat!).
Most importantly, we had lunch! We found another teeny tiny place close to the train station where a couple owned a nice ramen restaurant. And boy, that ramen was good. I think it was actually the best one I had while in Japan. It was a chilly ramen packed full of flavour and deliciousness. Spicy and earthy, I just loved it from beginning to end, when we dunked the rice in to finish it up. Lieutenant Cookie had a smoked pork ramen that also looked delicious (she confirmed that it also tasted yummi 😀 ).
After this very satisfying lunch we headed back to explore the town. We had a lovely ice cream from one of the many, many, street vendors and we went to the Floral Village. We did not have big expectations about this place, but it turned out to be a lovely little corner of this lovely little town where you could find Heidi’s goat (yup), some owls, some more nice shops (Studio Ghibli is also high up in Japanese most favourite things ever) and a couple of ducks thrown in for good measure.
The night in Yufuin was very quiet. We decided we wanted to stay in and enjoy some beers in our private onsen (Did I say that we had a private onsen? Oh, yes, I did 😀 ).
Before going home, we went to a convenience store in order to try another staple of Japanese cuisine: convenience store fried chicken. It’s very normal for Japanese people to eat in these places that are cheap and fast, but I must say that the face of the ladies at the till when we started ordering food was hilarious. Normally you eat a couple of little pieces of chicken, you don’t buy the whole shop like we did and bring home beer and a banquet worthy of a Roman emperor.
Their faces can be summarized in the following fashion:
After causing such interesting reactions, we retreaded with our dinners and nice Japanese beers to the apartment, where we relaxed in the therapeutic waters of Yufuin before getting a well deserved night’s sleep.
I am back!!
I know you were all worried, but holidays came for me as well. And what holidays they were! I was able to roam around Japan for 3 weeks! I will try and tell you everything about those 3 weeks, as always focused on food (plus trains, and Japanese nerdness).
Let’s go then!
After a very long trip (VERY long trip consisting of a jump to Amsterdam followed by an inexplicable jump to… Paris and a 12 hour flight to Tokyo Haneda) we arrived at our Airbnb in Asakusa. We dropped everything and decided to go exploring to beat the jet-lag. We went to the Sensō-ji, a very famous temple in the area, and then to dinner, where I experienced my first Japanese toilet. Of course, it was a fail. Sergeant Lunch and Lieutenant Cookie teased me for days after I headed back to our table defeated by the toilet and unable to flush it (It had no visible handles and at that moment, I could not figure out what all the buttons meant. Or else, I was just very tired). Most importantly, we had eel! Eel with rice (unagi), which was delicious.
And as a final treat for the day, we discovered a traditional dance festival near the river; we enjoyed the show before heading back for a well deserved 12 hours sleep.
The following day we started our explorations in earnest. Our routine always included breakfast bought at a local 7-Eleven, because as everyone knows, I can’t function without my coffee and something to eat. The status of Japanese convenience store pastries is good, although I must report that, since we usually bought them at night for the day after, the choice was limited.
Anyway, on the second day we explored Electric Town, Akihabara. We actually did not explore much, but we can say that we experienced it in the form of trying a lot of videogames in the neighbourhood’s arcades. 😀
I wish we had all those machines here in Europe. There was literally everything one could think of, from drum machines to dance games (old school ones and very modern ones) to a lot of rhythm games. One of the most popular was the “Washing Machine” one (I now discovered that it was called Mai-Mai, but our name is better and it gives a very clear description of the thing :D) to which we all became very attached. I don’t have to say how bad we were at everything, particularly in comparison with the locals, whose abilities with these things are almost supernatural.
As a snack, we had a lovely cheese cake, from a place called Pablo. Japanese people seem to be obsessed with cheese cakes, for whatever reason.
We then went to Shibuya, to see the famous crossing (and try and not strangle all the idiots filming themselves going from one side of the street to the other) and to have our dinner. Lieutenant Cookie pointed to us this lovely place, called Ichi-Ban-Kan (or something similar, I share with you the location on Google, so you can find it). Here we had a lovely and very cheap meal, destined to be repeated twice more. We really loved the “old men’s bar” atmosphere and the seemingly low quality food. The gyozas we had there were the best!
Our second day in the capital dawned very, very hot. After what seemed like an eternal morning spent in the Ueno park, we went to Harajuku, where we were directed by the Lonely Planet to a gyoza place. The Japanese customers could be counted on the fingers of one hand, but the food was very nice. It is worth noticing that in Japan food is very very cheap. We rarely spent more than a tenner each for a meal, often including either soft drinks or beer.
After lunch we walked through the crazy Takeshita Dori, then went to the government tower for a (free) view of the city, where we had a weird ice cream from the 7-Eleven (tasted like… yuzu? Probably? I am not 100% sure 🙂 ), and finally we headed towards Shinjuku, where we really, really wanted to try some karaoke.
After failing miserably to find one, and with our feet sore with all the walking, we headed towards the only place we knew was not going to fail us, the HUB. This is an “English” pub chain that you can find in the major cities. It is still full of locals, and it is worth to notice that they have a happy hour that finishes at 7 pm which allows you to have very (very!) cheap drinks (we are talking about less than 3 euros for a Gin and Tonic!). In Japan beer is often more expensive that a mixed drink or a cocktail. Of course, this became very quickly our point of reference during our stay in Osaka and Tokyo (more of this in the following chapters).
After drowning our tiredness in a couple of Salty Dogs (my cocktail of reference), we managed to find a place for our dinner. This time, it was an okonomiyaki. I was probably very tired and I did not think the world of it. I didn’t even take a picture of it!
Our last day of our first leg in Tokyo, we went to the Tsukiji Market, only to find it closed for a local holiday. We managed anyway to have a decent (not exceptional, but decent) lunch at a sushi place, a restaurant part of a very famous chain, called Sushizanmai. I just love the man in their signs, welcoming you to dine with them 😀
I ate some sea urchin, some cod roe and some raw squid, which I did not like at all! Not always the experiments come up right 😉
In the afternoon, we walked around the fancy Ginza and headed to the Tokyo train station to buy our train tickets for Yufuin, our trip for the following day. The station itself is massive and at its core you will find a lovely old building, surrounded by modern structures. Train station in Japan are endless (or so it seems).
Our last dinner in Tokyo was lovely tempura, after which we were all ready to head back to our apartment to get ready for our first train trip to Kyushu.
Come ormai sapete, adoro ogni ricetta che contiene cannella. In particolare, adoro i cinnamon roll. So che in questo periodo estivo non si ha molta voglia di accendere il forno, ma ricordate che vivo in Irlanda, per cui per me non è mai un problema 😀
In ogni caso, avrete una ricetta estiva (purtroppo anche questa contempla l’uso del forno!) per la settimana prossima.
Torniamo ai nostri dolcetti cannellosi. La ricetta originale prevede una doppia lievitazione, dal momento che questa è in teoria una ricetta a base di pane. Sono deliziosi appena sfornati ma, a mio avviso, il giorno successivo perdono un po’ della loro bontà. Questa ricetta è invece più rapida e, soprattutto, ci permette di sfornare dei roll che sono perfetti anche il giorno dopo, vista la consistenza a metà tra un biscotto e un pane.
Come detto, questi roll sono ottimi sia appena fatti che i giorni successivi 🙂
Come alternativa, potete fare Nutella roll. Stendete un’abbondante strato di crema alla nocciola invece del mix di burro, zucchero e cannella e… voilà! 🙂
Much Ado About Muffin
Flexitarian & Baking Recipes from Londoner, Izy Hossack
Much Ado About Muffin