Sunday in Tokyo

Fuji-san looked enormous from the Hikari Shinkansen.  Snow capped and volcanic.  We had a train picnic of grilled chicken and a cold Yebisu.

Park Hyatt Tokyo was the destination.  I’ve been a guest many times for many years. Never disappointed.

Dinner at Butagami, near Roppongi Hills, in a little side street.  One of my favorite places in Tokyo.  Delicious pork in a pleasant setting.

Today, after a run, it will be time to go to Shinjuku to bid a brief farewell to those of us heading to work in Cambodia and then a subway ride to Ginza and Nihonbashi.  Sunday means closed main streets and first-rate people watching.


72 Hours in Kyoto

Kyoto is so pleasant, so varied, so accessible, and so open that a few days here yield delights readily.

Yesterday, for example, I visited a brewery in the southern district of the city.  A sake brewery that has added the manufacture of beer to its repertoire, the company produces small batches of micro-brewed beer from hops and malt imported from Germany and Canada.  The results are delicious.  Visitors are welcome.   Kizakura.

Later in the day we walked to a favorite, old soba shop in the center of town, hidden in an alley, where for $12 one has bowls of good broth, fresh noodles, and a choice of duck, prawns, fried tofu, or yam: Misoka-an Kawamichi-ya.

A bath in a big, sunken tub, a nap, cocktails at Touzan, and then back to Gion.

Obanzai is a winter stew specific to Kyoto, and we enjoyed a version in a hole-in-the-wall: Yasukawa.  No sign, sliding door.

This late morning we board the train back to Tokyo.

My New Life in Kyoto

Well, as I imagine.

Kyoto is one of the world’s great walking cities.  Its scale of architecture is welcoming rather than daunting.  The way its river criss-crosses through its old and new sections makes one think.  Gion is a rhapsody of the illicit and the formal.  The new part of town moves at a good, solid pace.

Lunch restaurant was udon at Omen, which is a restaurant near the biggest temples, and it is a place I’ve enjoyed for years.  Simple, good noodles priced at about $12 per person.

Dinner was at Ajiro: I’d thought it would be a formal, Zen ryori kaiseki place, and it turned out instead to be set in someone’s home, in north Kyoto, within a small room where we served a quick succession of delicious vegetables.  These were prepared according to Zen principles of color and method, and it was easily one of the best meals I’ve had in Japan.


Kyoto Wakes Up

It’s overcast, below the hills and east of Gion, near the Kamo river, and the city is stirring from slumbers.  We arrived yesterday afternoon, it’s my fourth visit to Kyoto, and I’ll be back next month for work.  The city’s architecture is lovely and varied.  It is one of the world’s great walking cities.  The vibe and pace are more manageable than Tokyo.

A swift lunch of kitsune udon in a hole-in-the-wall in Gion.  The narrow streets filled up with Japanese tourists snapping countless photos of geishas in full garb and make-up.


A dinner at one of my very favorite yakitori places in Japan: Torito.  Simple, delicious, aromatic, and reasonably priced.  Dinner for four, including drinks, was $105.

Today it will be time to have more meetings and noodles and vegetarian food: Shojin ryori.


Yes, it’s true, snow is falling, and I feel like I imagine a cat does watching.  (Makes me think of Soseki’s, “I am a Cat.)  The treetops and branches are weighted down and colors are changing within seconds.  Soon it will be time to return to the hot springs, pull open the huge glass window, and allow the snow to enter the room.

Yes, this is The Kayotei, a ryokan deep in the mountains of Ishikawa, and I’ve been here the past few days.  Kaiseki dinners of mountain vegetables and small grilled fish.  Breakfasts of pickled roots, steamed egg custard, tofu, grilled seaweed, and small bowls of rice.

I’m nearing the end of the first draft of my book about death in a family, reading C.S. Lewis’s essay on grief, and enjoying a memoir by a Marx brother, “Harpo Speaks.”  No better place than here to clear one’s head.

And of course no visit to the region would be complete without a visit to alla Contadina, a first rate Italian restaurant a short ways away, where the Japanese chef prepares delicious pizzas and pastas better than most places in Italy and the U.S.

Sad to say: Off to Kyoto this morning for three nights.  Happy there, 5th visit.

Joyful here.

My Favorite Place on Earth

I’m in my yukata in a tatami room overlooking a forest glen where rain pours, and its sound competes with the stream and waterfall.  This is The Kayotei:

It’s my fifth visit here.

The Kayotei is a traditional inn or ryokan, located in Kaga Onsen, an old village that for centuries has attracted visitors seeking cure or amelioration from pains real and imagined.

Just below is a gorge where Basho wrote poems.  Yes, that Basho.

These days one arrives, removes shoes, sheds clothing for yukata, takes hot baths during the day and night, and eats long, healthy meals of local vegetables and a little bit of fish from the nearby Sea of Japan.

There is little to do here except collect and then scatter thoughts.  I find that writing is more possible and sleep easier.

Why, just last night there was a long pleasant meal of little dishes each of which made my mood buoyant.  This morning a Japanese breakfast with so much flavor: a sticky yam, yuba, river fish, a light miso soup, and so on.




Another day, Another Yen

After a short run on a Sunday morning, and a lovely breakfast, it was time to take the JR two stops to Tokyo station.  Yuko and Takeshi for lunch around the corner in a hidden passageway at a good restaurant that uses its farms to provide food: Curried beef, miso and vegetable soup, rice, salad.

We caught up.  A new baby born on Christmas Day.  A husband who is thinking of opening a restaurant in Milan.  Plans to meet up again in February.

From Maranouchi it’s a short walk to Ginza where Sunday crowds, taking advantage of streets that are turned into pedestrian only zones on that day, milled about.  I went to the stationary store where I have an account, and found huge crowds eager to do exactly what I was doing: new appointment books for a new year.  Japan is still a culture that along with tech loves old school, tactile paper.

After naps, drinks in the 28th floor lounge of the Conrad, with stunning views of the harbor, and then back to Maranouchi for unagi at Maekawa.  Truly the best eel I’ve ever had: Juicy, thick, well spiced.


The New Year Starts on Planet Japan

After an easy bus ride into the city, quiet due to the holiday weekend, we arrived at Conrad hotel, in Shiodome, checked in quickly, and headed out.  But not before taking in the by now familiar, blinking red lights of the vast, deep harbor.

A short subway ride to Maranouchi and then up the elevator in the “old” Maranouchi building facing Tokyo station.  A corner table, grilled chicken (yakitori), fresh cabbage, cold beer, and wonderful conversation with Shinji.  Estimable Shinji.

That cabbage: Chilled, fresh, raw and whole leaves dipped into tiny bowls, one with a sweet sauce, and one with sesame.  The perfect balance to the delicious fat and salt of the chicken thighs (momo), skin (kawa), and “meatball (tsukune).

JR train back, two stops, a few pages of “Harpo Speaks,” the Marx-ist memoir, and i was out as if concussed.

The gym in a short while, breakfast, and then lunch with Takeshi and Yuko.


Start the New Year in Japan

After a delightful New Year’s day dinner of orzo with white truffle followed by southern fried chicken and roasted kabocha, leeks, and Brussels sprouts, with fresh baked banana bread and Toscanini’s Belgian chocolate ice cream, it was time for bed.

The day was productive.  I am up to page 226 in my book about family life, which leaves two final sections.

What better place than Japan to finish the work?

Soon I’ll be in the air and en route.

Yakitori with Shinji, lunch with Takeshi, a train to Jiro’s family in Kaga Onsen.

The interviews for pieces on Japanese cheese production and micro-brewed beer are on the books, meetings for NOMA will take place soon.

This is what’s in the cards for the book, and it’s from a French writer named Delphine de Vigan, referring to a character of a mother: “I don’t know when I gave in; perhaps the day I realized how much writing, my writing, was linked to her, to her fictions, those moments of madness in which her life had become so burdensome that she had to escape it, moments in which her pain could only find expression in stories.”

Welcome 2015!

A new morning, and after two walks through the deserted neighborhoods where I live, it’s time to enjoy a poppy seed bagel with one half having sturgeon and the other half belly lox, thanks to Barney Greengrass.  The bagels are a smidge too large and too chewy, lacking a good crust, but who’s complaining?

Uncharacteristically, it was a late night on New Year’s Eve made possible by reasonable amounts of wine that was drunk over several hours.

So this morning everyone is fit and alert.

I’m looking forward to a lazy day of reading and writing, a roasted duck for dinner, and an early night.

Because what’s that I see on the horizon?  Is it?  Could it be?  It is…Plant Japan…