Antonio Inoki Saka Bar

I mentioned that my sister and I went on a gokon before we left Japan.  Still not sure if it was actually meant to be a date or just dinner with friends but it was a lot of fun - and what's the point of getting too romantic on your last night in the country.

So where do you go for date night?  The Antonio Inoki Saka Bar is where.

To be fair, we were intending to go there anyway and, when the guys contact us, we told them they were welcome to join us.

I don't really know much about Antonio Inoki apart from seeing him being frequently impersonated by celebrities on Japanese TV.  The bar itself is more like a theme restaurant.

Everything is themed!

Everything is themed!

When you enter the bar, the staff ring a wrestling bell and everyone cheers.  Actually when we entered, it was mostly empty and not many people cheered but as the place filled up the cheers got louder.

There are photos of Inoki and displays of merchandise everywhere and screens playing his wrestling matches against people like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.   The bar area is set up like a wrestling ring and there are "cage" areas.  I wanted to get photos of my sister and I having a mock cage match but forgot until after I left.

The food is a mix of Western and Japanese.  We had cheesy potato skins which were freaken awesome and a mini nabe and some other stuff that I've forgotten and not taken photos of.

Mini nabe - a little bit dangerous if you sit too close to it!

The photo is blurry because my camera could not contain the awesome of these potato skins!  They actually had some wrestling inspired name that was very hard to work out in katakana.

The best item on the menu though is the salad!  Not for the taste (though it was quite good) but because of the serving style.  You had to call out, in the style of Inoki's famous cheer: "Ichi, ni, san, da!  Salada!"  with appropriate gestures.  That was freaken awesome and I got very excited every time someone ordered it.

We had a pretty awesome time and it wasn't that expensive.  The only down side was that that I think I got stiffed on drinks.  I had about 6-8 lemon sours and finished the night being sensible about going home to pack and clean so they obviously weren't very strong!

I think the Antonio Inoki Saka Bar is the type of place you either love or hate.  If you love theme restaurants and getting into the spirit of things, it's a heap of fun.  But if you think you're too cool for skool, you are going to hate it.

Utsunomiya

Utsunomiya is, apparently, the gyoza captial of Japan so yesterday I headed to Utsunomiya to eat gyoza. 

Gyoza Venus.  She has eaten too much gyoza and now she has a belly ache.

Gyoza boy with a gyoza head.  I wonder if he sometimes wants to eat his own head.

Beer, it goes well with gyoza.

Gyoza with a variety of fillings - you can't tell that from the photo but there are many different things inside these gyoza.  They were delicious too.

Oh noes!

Temple

I am squiggly.

Come in for a stiff one.  Yeah, it's funny.


Deep fried gyoza

Pan fried gyoza
Apparently - well according to the tourist info we got at the station - Utsunomiya is famous for it's "ace bartenders" as well.  I didn't get to try the work of the ace bartenders because we left too early but next time I'm Utsunomiya, I'll definitely be sampling.
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More myths about Japan, or maybe myths about food?

Growing up in Australia, there are things you hear so often you accept them as gospel truth.

The food pyramid, for example, that's an absolute fact, right.  If you want to be healthy and fit and NOT DIE, you follow the food pyramid.

Included in this are these FACTS:

  • If you don't eat FIVE serves of vegetables a day, you WILL DIE! And you most definitely get scurvy! A serve of vegetables is about half the size of your plate and that is necessary to sustain life. If you don't give your child 5 serves of vegetables every day, they will get scurvy for sure and everyone will know you are a BAD MOTHER.
  • If you eat carbs - refined carbs, obviously NOT carbs in vegetables (because you need them to live), you will get fat as a house. You won't be able to fit in your house because you are too fat from eating carbs.  Carbs are from the devil!
  • Fat - also from the devil.

Since I've been living in Japan, I have not eaten five serves of vegetables in day ever.  Well maybe once or twice.  If I ate five serves of vegetables a day, I'd have no money leftover for anything else.  It's like 100 yen for a small vegetable (or piece of) here - 1 carrot is 100 yen, 1 tiny piece of pumpkin is 100 yen.  Maybe I could go somewhere to buy up in bulk but there'd be nowhere for me to store my haul of vegies anyway.

If you go out to eat, you might get a tiny side dish of pickles, you might get some shredded cabbage or maybe a salad.  Unless you have a salad, you sure as hell don't get an array of vegetables - in a rainbow of bright colours to ensure you are getting all the essential vitamins.

Yet, people here, they aren't dead.  They don't have obvious signs of scurvy.  They seem to be doing just fine.  

As for carbs, in case you didn't know it, people here eat a shitload of rice.  I went to a tempura place last night - you get soba noodles and tempura ON RICE.  That's two big serves of carbs in one meal.

And the bread - it's difficult to get any kind of wholegrain bread.  It's all white and fluffy with slices the size of bricks.

Yet girls here are super skinny.  How is that?  They eat carbs.  Or maybe they just pretend to eat carbs... I don't know but it goes against everything I've been taught.

Same with fat.  At home, I'd painstakingly trim every bit of fat off my meat (I actually don't like it anyway) but here, if the meat isn't marbled with fat, people won't eat it.

Pretty much, unless you eat a traditional diet here - fish, pickles, miso etc everything you buy is full of sugar and other crap.  I've never been able to buy real fruit juice, just the stuff that is sold as "fruit drink" in Australia.


What's with all this?  Are Australians different in their dietary needs to Japanese?  Japanese people seem to be doing okay and Japanese girls are super skinny (although I don't know if you are regard being super skinny as an indicator of health).

Do Japanese people look fine on the outside but are really ticking time bombs of illness underneath (actually a lot of businessmen look kind of grey in the face and not that healthy... the old folks though, tough as old boots).

Have I been lied to all my life?

Edited to add Japanese food pyramid from Fashion Hayley.


Edited to add the Western food pyramid

Interestingly enough, the Western one does have a lot more serves of carbs but neither say what exactly a serving size is.

Nippori: the hidden jewel of Tokyo

Recently, I've had people hanging shit on where I live because it's not cool or fashionable.  But, you know, I don't care about living somewhere cool and/or fashionable. 

I've lived in cool areas before and you wanna know what happens - every weekend your neighbourhood gets flooded with people from other places wanting a piece of your coolness.  They block the streets and take up all the tables at your favourite cafe.  Then they decided to move in and buy up all the property and the rents skyrocket and you can't afford to live there any more so you move somewhere else.... and suddenly somewhere becomes cool.

Anyway, regardless of cool factor, my neighbourhood is pretty awesome.  I was wandering around on the weekend and there are so many interesting little galleries and stuff.  It's not like say Kichijoji or Koenji, where people need to have a big neon sign saying "look I'm cool, I dress in COOL clothes, I go to COOL parties, I lisen to COOL music."  Instead it's like people just getting on with creating stuff and doing what they want to do. 

So, I present to you - Nippori, the hidden jewel of Tokyo (*note: I don't actually live in Nippori)
#1 Awesome roses near the train station.  These roses are the brightest red I've ever seen.  Like glow in the dark red.  You probably can't tell that from my dodgy picture.

011 These are not the flowers near the train station but they look pretty cool anyway.

012#2 Yanaka Cemetery

This place is awesome.  The last Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate and therefore the last Shogun of Japan is buried there.  Plus some other shoguns.  If I could make a movie, I’d totally make one about them coming back to modern day Japan as zombies (actually I think I recently saw a trailer for similar movie with with samurais and set in Osaka – oh yeah, I’m so going to see that).

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That last picture is one of the favourite photos I’ve taken – I call it death, sex and sky tree!

Okay, technically the Yanaka cemetery is in Yanaka not Nippori but, since it’s next to Nippori station, it counts.  Some people think I’m macabre for enjoying hanging at the cemetery (I got called “emo” by one of my schoolmates) but it’s so peaceful and shady.  Also, you can take your friends there for drinks when they visit Japan.  Apparently, the dead people drink One Cup and ride bicycles.

#3 Yanaka Ginza
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Again, this Yanaka but hey… this is one of my favourite shopping strips around.  There are loads of really awesome old shops.  In the photo of the cat (that’s a fake cat, by the way), you can see the picture on the roof of the original, Edo period building on the site.  All the shops have these.

There is apparently a really famous candy shop on the street also famous food shops that have HAVE BEEN VISITED BY TEREBI TALENTO!  OMG! 

The best thing about Yanaka Ginza though is there are a few old sake shops and they have beer on tap and milk crates for you to sit outside on.  It’s very relaxing on a sunny day and sometimes there are beagles!

#4 - Nippori Toneri liner

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Oh yeah, it’s a driverless train which is awesome because, when your friends visit from overseas, you can take them on it and they can pretend to be the driver.  Of course, I’m far too jaded now to be excited by that (ok, that’s a total lie – I’m still excited by it).

Other random awesome stuff:

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This may look like just another karaoke place – and, to be honest it is, but it’s dirt cheap and close to home.  I do some of my best work there.  I mean singing of course.  They have video cameras in those karaoke rooms. 

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There are ramen places all over Japan but this place, the guys make their own noodles.  Usually you can see them at this window, slamming the noodle dough onto the bench.  It’s fun to watch.  I’ve never eaten there because the menu is in complicated kanji.

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There are also Excelsior coffee shops all over Japan but this one is tops because it is very spacious.  You can sit down with a coffee and have all your Japanese notes spread out all over the place and not have to move them when someone comes to sit down.  It’s those small things that make me happy sometimes.  Also you can watch the guys from the place above making noodles.

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Event square – to be honest, the only event I’ve only every seen is a few stalls set up selling stuff.  Mostly the event square is used by kids doing BMX tricks.  Who knew they still did that kind of shit?

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There is also Nippori fabric town which is totally famous for … yep, fabric.  I have no photos of it because I couldn’t be bothered walking the two blocks there the other day.  But it’s shops with stacks of fabric (it all seems to be precut and not on rolls) so use your imagination.  (Edit:  I have posted about Nippori Fabric Town here.)

The final awesome thing, that I also don’t have a photo of, is the bar I go to sometimes. 

So that’s the awesomeness of Nippori.  Maybe I should keep it a hidden jewel to avoid it becoming too cool, but I’m far to generous for that.

Check out more fabbo places in Japan at the J-Festa Matsuri.
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Tokyo and Good Coffee

If you know me at all, you will know this one thing - I love coffee.  Japan is not known for it's good coffee.  You kind of realise that when people talk about the pinnacle of good coffee being Starbucks.

I think most Japanese people don't actually like coffee at all.  They like the idea of coffee -- because it's in Hollywood movies and American dramas like Sex in the City -- and they like having a bit of space in a cafe to sleep or work or hold meetings, but they don't actually like the taste.

I'm pretty sure that's the whole Starbucks premise anyway - add so much sugary flavoured syrup to your coffee that you actually get rid of the coffee taste.

So it's hard to get a decent coffee in this town.  To make it worse, I drink latte.  I'm pretty sure that, if you like your coffee black or slightly milked, some of the little mum and pop coffee shops would be fantastic (and some, absolute hell) if you like your coffee of the non-espresso kind.


I do love watching them work with all the apparatus that looks like it's come from a science lab.

There are so many of these places around, and they aren't cheap, so here are some ways to tell if it's worth blowing 600 yen or so on a coffee:


  • The dude making the coffee, does he look like he takes pride in his work?  The photo above was from a cafe near my hostel in Osaka.  This guy made a mean cup of coffee and look at him - you can tell he takes his coffee seriously.
  • Do they have real milk?  Even if you drink your coffee black, an establishment that serves those plastic fake milks with their drinks obviously has low standards.
  • Does the place have that freshly brewed coffee smell?
For espresso, there are a few places around that do good coffee.  They are hard to find though.  There are a lot of reviews online that talk about "great" cafes - then rave about the wonderful pancakes or the great views.   That makes no sense to me.  A great cafe serves great coffee.  Everything else is nice to have but if the coffee is no good then it's hardly worth the bother.

Eco Farm Cafe - I went to this cafe on a date and fell in love - with the coffee.  

There are a couple of other places around that I'd also recommend but they don't have web sites or I don't have the name, I just know where they are.
Travelling soon? Make sure you check out my recommendations, all places I've personally stayed and would book again.
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