Monday, November 4, 2013

Discovering a Different Side of Japan

It has been a while that I haven't written a post but last week the NYC Ballet went on tour to Japan and I decided it was the perfect subject to start back writing with. 
Photo by Henry Leutwyler
The company was divided into two travel groups. I was in group B and we arrived in Tokyo at 6pm after what was more than 16 hours of travel, plus we lost an entire Friday and most of the Saturday. The time difference is really difficult to get used to.  I was happy to be there but I didn't know how many hours more I would be able to force myself to stay awake, so I wasn't wide awake at 3 am and with nothing to do.

I decided to get out of the hotel right away for a walk and some dinner. We were staying in the young and fun area of Shibuya (people say it's their Times Square).  After sensing over loaded and crowded in their "Times Square", I ended up stopping in one of the many little-hole-in-the-wall restaurants that is typical of that area where they make these little skewers of many different  types meats, fish and veggies that are cooked over hot coal stones. I ordered four different ones...pork, duck, and two different kinds of chicken that accompanied a rice ball with salmon. As simple as the skewers look they were packed with flavor from the marinades and herbs that they had. It was definitely a very light meal yet very satisfying.
1st Night in Tokyo Skewer Dinner

After the first show that the company had, which I might add was a great success and very well received, the presenter had a small reception for the dancers with food and some Japanese beer. The food was more upscale here.  It was a fusion of Japanese and Western.   It was definitely very good, well prepared, and the balance of flavors was in great harmony.
Presenters Party

When you get your full of seeing Tokyo's temples and shrines, you must take a walk in the area of Kappabashi (the Main Street). It is a heavenly place for anyone interested in kitchen supplies and paraphernalia. This area is just a stop away from Asakusa on the Ginza line and it's a very easy area to get to. Once you are there it's overwhelming how many kitchen stores there are. They even have all the plastic food that they put in the restaurants' storefront.
Kitchen Supply Central
After the second show, Erica Pereira and I decided to go get sushi. The new thing in Tokyo is sushi restaurants where you order your food on your very own touch screen and it comes on a conveyer belt to you.  It is an updated version of the old conveyer belt system where you just  take what is going around.  This new novelty makes eating sushi a very interactive thing were you just want to keep ordering more for the fun of it. They also make you play a game of rock, paper, scissors. I won one time and got a little rubber piece of sushi.
Touch Screen Fun
After four shows in Tokyo, we traveled to Osaka. The last time we were there, Osaka was not one of my favorite places. That changed when my friend Charlie from the Royal Danish Ballet gave me some pointers.  You know what? Using his guidance, I actually started loving this place.  On Charlie's suggestion, I went to Shinsaibashi.  It's a really cool area full of life, shopping and restaurants. Of course, I went to have some of the local specialty King Crab and although my dinner was very light it was tasty and fresh. A very fun experience! 
I am Crabby!
I didn't come with the idea of buying a knife in Japan but after going to Kappabashi I got bitten by the knife bug. However buying a knife can be so overwhelming. I decided to ask for advice from my dear cooking Sensei Jessica. She gave me the name of this little store called Nagato in Sakai, a town 30 min outside of Osaka where they say the best Blacksmiths of Japan are. They have told her you could not leave the store with a knife because the knives had to be made especially for you. Yes, apparently these are the couture of knifes. These were the bloody Gucci and Chanel of knives.
Couture Knives

My favorite meal in Osaka happen when I got lost on the streets and bump into a tiny restaurant that didn't fit more than 10 people. All the seats where facing around the kitchen, the table was a flat iron grill where they would serve you and keep the food warm. The only choice of food was different styles of Okonomiyaki a sort of omelet with vegetables and a protein for you to choose. I choose the bacon one. They cook this omelet in the kitchen area on a similar surface that you have on your table. At the end of the process they added barbecue sauce and some other white sauce with a sprinkling of Bonito (fish flakes). Once it is done they place it on your warming surface/table. Okonomiyaki was so good that I was sad when it was finish. I wasn't able to go back to it, which I’m still disappointed about, and sometimes dream of it. One day I must try to recreate this dish.

Although the NYCB shows and the tour went very well and I had a great time with some very good food my real highlight was seeing the Erikea of Koyoshi-san the change from a meiko to a gaiko (A REAL GEISHA).  I saw her just walking down the street surrounded by paparazzi.  She stopped and gave me the most interesting smirk.  I had no idea that an actual geisha sighting was so rare.  I was later told that I was one of the 1st people to see her. I guess Antonio-san is a lucky boy!
Smirk and Smile

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