Woke up to an email from my friend, Sohaib, over at www.fictionalfrontiers.com informing me that the audio interview I did in support of my comic book series, Dark Matter, is up.  You can check it out here: http://bit.ly/yiGl0i.  We talk about making the transition from television to comic books, my years on Stargate, and the various mysteries (and clues!) that make up Dark Matter.  The second issue (Dark Matter #2 – what else?) hits store shelves February 8th.  Head on over to your local comic shop and reserve now to avoid disappointment!

In addition to Sohaib’s email, I also received an update form my dog-sitter, Christine, informing me that the dogs are doing well.  Bubba and Lulu were thrilled to take a walk down to the local pet shop to stock up on treats while my old gal, Jelly, was equally thrilled to greet them (and the treats!) upon their return:

Bubba in "ready for walk" mode.
Lulu and Bubba check out their haul.
Jelly in her best "Do you realize what time it is? I've been worried sick. Nevermindjustgivemeatreat!" look.

Hey, I’ve been meaning to do a mini mailbag to answer a few questions, comment on your comments, and thank you all for taking the time to order Dark Matter.  Haven’t had the time yet but maybe tonight!

As for what I did yesterday…

Akemi grew up in Osaka but spent four years living in Tokyo.  Despite this, there are some key areas of the city she has never visited – like, for instance, yesterday’s mid-morning destination.  Akemi had a hankering for sukiyaki (more on that later) and had heard great things about the Ninyocho Imahan in – where else? – Ningyocho.

The streets of Ningyocho

It’s an area full of old temples, so we thought we would get there early and stroll around a little before lunch.  On the surface, it seemed like a good idea but it turns out walking tours are a lot less pleasurable in -2 degree weather.  Especially when the wind picks up.

No, they don't serve bear.
Akemi seeks refuge in the warmth of a nearby bus shelter.
I'm pretty sure they aren't cabbage.
The Suitengu Shrine, visited by those seeking a safe childbirth or blessing on their children.
Apparently, visitors rub the dogs' heads for luck - which accounts for their discoloured patching.
According to Akemi, this is a Kappa an "alien or sneaky boy". By "alien", I believe she meant "spirit". She says she doesn't know much about them except for the fact "they live in the river (Have to be beautiful the river. Not a lot of garbage) and like cucumbers."

It got a little uncomfortably cold during our 2+ hour walk and, because most of the shops in the area didn’t open until 11:00, we ended up wandering the aisles of the local conveniences stores to keep warm.  Finally, with 45 minutes still to go until our lunch reservation, Akemi got fed up and decided we should just show up and feign ignorance, pretend we’d simply assumed the reservation was for 11:30.  I was to follow her lead (keep my mouth shut and play the dumb gaijin who didn’t speak Japanese).  Fortunately, we didn’t need to resort to subterfuge because, soon after, we got lost and it took us almost 45 minutes to find the restaurant.

Ningyocho-Imahan. Found it!

The place resembles a restaurant of yore, lots of wood and narrow halls lined with private rooms behind sliding doors.  We were ushered into our private tatami room where we promptly ordered: the sukiyaki for Akemi and the kokaiseki for me.

Akemi looking decidedly warmer.

My kokaiseki meal apparently changes monthly, making use of fresh local ingredients to balance textures, colours and flavors in a multi-course meal that echoes a seasonal theme.  In my case, my meal seemed to offer hope for an early spring – something we could all get behind.

Anyway, I couldn’t believe the amount of work that went into my lunch, both in terms of preparation and service.  This, for instance, was the menu which detailed the courses and their various ingredients.


The various dishes were works of art…

On the left mixed spring vegetables in dash topped with bonito. On the right, an anago mille-feuille (containing a layer of the sea eel in paste form), konnyaku, and more spring vegetables. At the center, cauliflower and natural gelatin shaped to resemble tofu.
The soup! The thinly sliced white daikon floating on top is meant to symbolize the ice that has formed over the various ponds and lakes. Beneath the surface floats a tiny radish and, nestled at the bottom, sits some perfectly poached snapper.
The sashimi plate consists of fresh tuna and snapper accompanied with daikon and shiso.
This heavenly tempura dish consisted of monkfish liver, bamboo shoot and a vegetable resembling broccolini, fried to a light crispy perfection and then served, sitting in dashi and topped with Japanese spices.
The grilled wagyu and meaty grilled mushroom. I picked up the carrot containing the yellow paste center and Akemi warned me not to eat it because it was Japanese mustard. "How hot could mustard be?"I asked before popping it in my mouth. Well, apparently, VERY HOT. My eyes started to tear and my throat and chest contracted and convulsed as I struggled to get it down. Warning: Japanese mustard bears NO resemblance to the western versions!

Akemi, meanwhile, loved her sukiyaki (as did I!):

The sukiyaki beef. Love that marbling!
The beef is simmered in a sweet sukiyaki broth.
Then served with a beaten egg.
The veggies are prepared in a similar manner.

While grazing on Akemi’s lunch, I also received my next course…

Thinly sliced beef with mushroom and spring vegetable on rice.
And my dessert: vanilla ice cream and chocolate, sweet strawberry and orange canteen.
Akemi, sad the meal has ended.
On our way up to our tatami room, we removed our shoes which is the custom in many places in Japan (except, it turns out, the subway). We received this shoe check tag. Owing to some miscommunication on the way out, I ended up leaving with a pair of women's size 7 pumps.

After lunch, we headed over to Football Avenue where we visited with Akemi’s uncle at the Japanese Football Museum.  He is a former player , a past member of Japan’s 1985 World Cup team, coach of several J-League soccer teams, and is presently the Director of Youth Development for the Japan Football Association.

Gamba Osaka!

He gave us a tour of the museum which included a special screening room for soccer enthusiasts to watch the latest matches.  It contained the biggest indoor screen I’ve ever laid eyes on, roughly four times the size of the one in my home theater!  Before parting ways, he gifted us with a gift bag commemorating the recent World Cup win by the Japanese Women’s team.  Among the items included was a bottle of special celebratory sake (Kanpai!) and this calendar:

According to Akemi's mother, this photo depicts the women receiving a "golden shower". That is, of course, when someone is showered with gold leaf and confetti. Don't believe me? Look it up!

I wanted to check out Akihabara (geek central!) but, instead, ended up joining Akemi and her mother for an exploration of the Tokyo Station surroundings.  Akemi was all sorts of excited to take me to a shop that made something called blizzards, frozen macarons, only to discover the shop had closed.  And she thought SHE was disappointed!  We settled for a stroll through Daimaru where I sampled some amazing purple yam dessert cakes.  I ended up buying a half-dozen and having two for breakfast this morning.

It's a cross between a pudding and cake! I'm going to have to stock up before I head back to Vancouver!

Last night, I had dinner at a place called Furu-ken.  It was a business meeting arranged by my friend Tomomi who, unfortunately, couldn’t be there with us.  We drank beer, ate various small dishes –

...including this tasty fried fish...

– and talked television, food, and, most importantly, food television.  After dinner, my hosts, Soji and Toshi, took me to a unique little bar in Shibuya.  And I do mean “little”!

If you think this alley is narrow, wait until you get inside the bar.
Squeeze on in!

The Saya is about the size of my hotel bathroom, with seating for four along one narrow counter, and standing room for – on this night – five more.  It’s a set-up that encourages conversation and, before long, I was knocking back sake and chatting away with the other customers, among them a Japanese clothing designer and three transplanted Brits.

The gang!
Koji-san braves the cold to show me around!
Toshi-san ready for our next stop on the late-night tour.

From there, we hopped a cab to Ebisu where we stopped in at Taverna Quale for a couple of glasses of wine and some terrific Italian food.  Yes, another meal!  We enjoyed tender baby octopus, margherita pizza, and a spectacular spaghetti aglio e olio.

Toshi-san kicks back.
Chef Kidoguchi!

It was sneaking toward 1:00 a.m. when I called it a night.  And what a night it was!

A huge thanks to both Koji-san and Toshi-san for being such terrific hosts.  Next up: yakitori?

33 thoughts on “February 3, 2012: Tokyo Day #7! Braving the cold! Kaiseki! Football Avenue! And it’s all business! Sort of!

  1. Hey Joe

    It’s a cross between a pudding and cake! I’m going to have to stock up before I head back to Vancouver!

    You’re sure it wasn’t a candle??


  2. Purple yam cakes look good, have one for me. You are very lucky to have Christine as the dog sitter, she is taking very good care of your babies. They will probably remember you when you return home, especially if you bring them a treat too. Take your wingman Ivon on the next adventure, he may already wish he were there, relaxing at Star Bar. Enjoy your tomorow, and hello to Akemi and Mrs Aota. Sleep well, or maybe you are already up, forgot about the time difference..

  3. Wow! I can’t believe you did all that, saw all that, ate all that, and drank all that in one day! The lunch pictures are beautiful. The small bar “crowd” of 4 look like nice people. What do you think Akemi’s mom thinks of you?

  4. Akemi managed to get a guy to set off for the restaurant early without having to say, “it’s so we have extra time for when we get lost.”

  5. Nice interview. I tried to leave a comment but instead of confirming it said I could see it after I approved it, I don’t know.
    Wow great looking food. Business meeting in Japan? Ahem. You can have a vacation home there, but we won’t get you back on US TV shows if you move there full time so not going to encourage THAT.

  6. Has your dog-sitter mentioned if your other dogs look confused that maximus isnt around anymore?

  7. Hey Joe,

    I love the picture looking down a street where there are letters instead of lines. It may have just been a paved walkway…but it was so beautiful. The Japanese letters have always seemed such a work of art…I guess tonight…all the beautiful food seemed also quite the work of art also.

    I love your pictures. It amazes me how much you get done in one day.

    Best to you Joe,

    P.S. The pups are adorable.

  8. Have a doggy tummy so really can’t enjoy the food pics tonight, and it’s been a big day and it’s late, so really can’t say much, either. Just nice – and a bit sad – to see the pups, and for once I will agree with you – those are not cabbages. They are, in fact, ornamental kale, and they are edible.

    It’s been warm here – 67 yesterday, around 50 today. Not really sure when winter is going to get here, but I’m not complaining! 🙂

    Take care and enjoy the rest of your trip, Joey & Akemi!


  9. Darn…could not see your blog before it was late. And, now sooooo hungry and I did eat something.

    The food looks absolutely wonderful.

    What DP said – Yay, Akemi. Timing is everything.
    Time to look for something to chew on after seeing all the great food.

    Wave to Mrs. Aota, Uncle, and Akemi!

  10. How could you miss Akiba, you have to go, and take some pictures for us please!!!
    and the pudding cake thing, isn’t it called Anpan or something???

  11. Ah, so far the kokaiseki and the sukiyaki have been my favorite virtual meals. Lovely.
    There was a terrific old sukiyaki restaurant near Yokosuka-chuo station, sukiyaki was a perfect way to ease newly cultured shocked Americans into Japanese cuisine.
    Tiny bars, I love tiny bars!

  12. I’m almost positive the “aren’t cabbage” is kale. I’ve come to really love kale. It’s versatile and VERY nutritious. It’s great steamed or simmered like collard greens. Also roasted crispy.

    Happy Friday peeps!

  13. Bubba! Lulu! Jelly! Awwwwww…pretty baby doggies! 🙂

    Mmmmm…that pudding cake looks delicious! And…it’s PURPLE!! Purple is my favorite color. 🙂 Daikon? Didn’t know daikon could be eaten. How’s it taste? How’s it cooked? That beef does look good too.

    How do eat all this stuff and not get fat? Do you jog every morning?

  14. The legends surrounding the Kappa are quite disturbing. It feeds on human large intestines, which it accesses by crawling up their butt. The cucumbers are just offered so if doesn’t do that to you.

    BoingBoing did a video on it in 2008 that’s worth watching:

  15. Oh, forgot to tell you what the dream was about. You updated your blog saying you were back in Vancouver, and I was baffled because I never saw an entry saying that you had actually left Japan. It was a short dream, but I’m thinking it just proves that I’m addicted to the Mallozzi Reality Show that is your blog. 🙂

    Also, in change I received from a store the other day I found a Japanese 1 yen coin. I think it was probaby a sign, or something. 😉


  16. I am continually impressed at how much food you can put away. Wow!! The dogs are looking good too. Looking forward to Dark Matter#2.

    Have a great day!!!!

  17. I’m going to move to Japan and sell cute wool caps to all these folks wandering around in the cold with not hat on. What a cool business meeting; the bar looks charming. Did you get the recipe for those purple yam cupcakes? Maybe get some ube cake mix at the grocery store to make fresh ones at home.

    Be sure to bring band-aids with you if you’re stuck with those high heeled pumps; they’ll blister your feet raw in that cold weather. The soccer museum looks awesome! Akemi’s uncle is cool; I worked for a sports non-prof in the 90’s and the international sports federations were the coolest, always volunteering their time to help disabled athletes and to support young athletes.

  18. Hello to Mrs. Aota & Akemi’s Uncle-san! It’s nice to see more of Akemi’s life.

    Akemi, has Joe said anything funny or amusing in Japanese recently? Here is the chance to show us how Joe sounds in your home country. 😀

    Wish American cuisine cared as much about presentation and delighting the eye before pleasing the palate! That food is beautiful, if not a little hazardous. I bet Carl got a giggle out of the mustard incident.

    So, a television business meeting… Would you be a host or guest judge on one of the food challenge shows?

    Love the pix of the Jelly and Bubba & Lulu with their shopping finds. *hugs the kids* Do you see many dogs strolling Tokyo? Any Shiba Inu?

  19. 2 degrees + 2 hours outdoors = 4 get it !!!! bbbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, I’m staying in. I don’t think I will ever get used to cold weather again.I realize as I get older, I am becoming more of a princess. I drive a few extra miles just to shop at one particular grocery store and one particular drugstore. I also carry my own 6lb weight to the gym. Two reasons. 1. I don’t have to wait for it, 2 it’s cleaner. See, I admit it. It’s how I adapt, that’s my excuse.

    I do admire the artful food. It’s all in presentation, I almost want to try it. The purple yam thing, hmmm can we get those here?? Are they really grown in that color??

  20. Hey, Joe!

    How different is the weather there from what it normally is in Vancouver this time of year?

  21. @ JimFromJersey:

    I love Kale, especially with malt vinegar!

    I’m thinking about trying LDP’s Kale Chips this weekend (saw them on Rachael vs. Guy).


    I love places like the “small bar”! Where I live now is too suburban to have places like that…makes me miss my time in the English West Country…

    Oh and Taxan Ichiban, for keeping us updated during you trip! Coming to your blog is always an enjoyable read, thanks!

  22. ALL THAT FOOD. It looks amazing. I hope you are having a great time. Though from the pictures I would say that you are. 😀

  23. Or maybe that should have been “Anata wa ichiban”? It’s been about a decade since I’ve stayed in Japan for any length of time.

  24. Very interesting food pics Joe and I agree with @ for the love of Beckett“Wish American cuisine cared as much about presentation and delighting the eye before pleasing the palate! That food is beautiful, if not a little hazardous.”

    Last night I dined at Joe’s Crab Shack. Not haute cuisine by any means, but the food was good and plentiful. I had the steamed Dungeness crab — an entire bucket of it. Surprisingly enough, I ate it all, along with a side of roasted corn ear and couple of baked new potatoes in skin. Delicious! We were seated at picnic tables and entertained by dancing servers, all boogieing to great tunes. A very nice, casual atmosphere. I understand it’s a franchise with locations throughout the US.

    @das love it — “the Mallozzi Reality Show that is your blog”, so true!

    Very happy that you and Akemi are enjoying your Japan visit. 😀

    Good night,
    2cats, Basil and Stash

  25. The picture of the Kappa (well, mostly the description) reminds me of the movie “Spirited Away” a Japanese animation. I’ve watched it a few times, worth watching, in my opinion.

    Mike – Victoria

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.