Archive for January, 2013

Mexican in Japan

It is possible to find imitation Mexican food in Japan. I’m not sure if it’s possible to find authentic Mexican food in Japan. I’m not sure if there are any Mexicans in Japan, period. The imitation Mexican food is found in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, and definitely passes the test when you’re in Japan and craving Mexican. If you were on National Ave. in Milwaukee and craving Mexican, it…would not. It’s staffed by entirely Japanese people from what I could see, including the cooks who were working when I was there. However, my friend and I will be making monthly pilgrimages to Tokyo for this Mexican restaurant, because so far the next best thing is in Ashikaga. And the next best thing…is not good.Jan01

So, I called the Ikebukuro restaurant imitation Mexican, because it is. It would be a mediocre Mexican restaurant in Milwaukee. Most likely not worth the money you’re spending there. However, the Mexican restaurant in Ashikaga was Japanese-Mexican. Which, with my ardor for Mexican food, I consider an abomination. We were served approximately ten tortilla chips with a thimble of “nacho cheese” which was like heated Velveeta, but with less flavor. We then ordered a helping of tomato salsa which was about $5 and two thimbles full. It was pico de gallo, and it was fairly accurate. Though really, how one could screw up pico de gallo beyond recognition is…difficult to discern. We perused the menu, which included such Mexican favorites as “Minestrone Soup” and “China Taco”.  We both decided to get chicken enchiladas. The enchilada plate came with french fries, and rice and corn (of course, as everything in Japan does). The enchilada, to the naked eye, more closely resembled a burrito. It had melted cheese on top of it…good sign, but this is, of course, more of the painfully mild and near flavorless Japanese cheese. Then there was chicken underneath, which was cooked really well, but not spiced with any kind of flavor that was even vaguely Mexican. Then there was a tortilla, which was wrapped around a filling of onions and mushrooms. This was not particularly tasty to me, sort of just soggy, and not the least bit spicy. There was no signature enchilada sauce, nor was there really a sauce which resembled ANY type of Mexican sauce. There was a sauce, but it was pretty boring. So much so that I only remember thinking of it “Well, it’s not BAD, but it’s certainly not good.”

This was an extremely disappointing experience. Though the food was edible, and I was starving. It just wasn’t Mexican.

Afterward, we drove back into Oizumi and wandered the streets for about 45 minutes, searching tirelessly for the Brazilian market where we once got churros. The best churros. Authentic churros. We had only visited this market once before, at night, with someone else driving. We both had an image in our mind of what the place looked like…but only from it’s parking lot. We wandered down quite a few winding Japanese streets before Mika spotted it. Unfortunately, the churro stand was already closed when we got there. We did wander around the market for a few minutes, and I now know where I can buy cilantro…paste. Which is the closest thing I’ve seen to cilantro so far. All in all I’d call it a success, and now we both now where we can locate authentic churros for the future. I’ve started naming the streets myself, since the Japanese refuse to. And for your reference, the stand is located outside of a market called “Banana Brasil” and is a half block off of Lantern Street. Called so because it has eerie greenish streetlight lanterns (and still has Christmas lights up too…?).


New Post in a New Blog


I decided to switch over to WordPress and give it a try, because every time I opened Blogger it was making me furious. (Photo uploading and formatting was an especial headache, which you may have been able to tell by the fact that all of my photos looked like they were formatted by a drunken blind man. They weren’t. That was me.

I’ve also added a flickr account, which you can access to the right, I believe. The flickr account will have all of my edited photos related to the blog on it (I’ll probably only be including 1-2 photos in the blog itself now per post). If you want to see a lot of unedited photos from Japan, you can access them from my facebook page. Definitely check out the flickr account though, because I spent wayyy too long editing those photos.

If you have any issues or questions with the way this pay is formatted (I’m lookin’ at you, old people), let me know, since the layout is somewhat alterable.

I’ll be working on a real post shortly, but I wanted to introduce you to the new blog! Hope you enjoy. jed23

Italian Viking and Lost in Japan

What exactly would an Italian Viking be? You might ask yourself. It is not a man with slicked black hair, an Armani suit, riding a Vespa around a huge galley while he screams “Rowwww!” to his peons. Nor is it a hairy, red headed man, gnawing on a hunk of raw bear, while lounging at the Trevi Fountain.

It is, in fact, an all-you-can-eat Italian Restaurant. Japanese Italian, which I can assure you, is not American Italian, nor is it Italian Italian. But….it’s not bad. I just wouldn’t pay for it frequently. Or ever, if I’m picking the restaurant. The “all-you-can-eat” word is a Scandinavian work: smorgasbord. Thus the Japanese decided to translate “smorgasbord” to “viking”. Because that’s how they translate things, sometimes. Sort of like with paper bags on their heads. But it means that I get to go to a viking restaurant, so it’s all good.
The food selection was decent, but none of the food really wowed me. There was a salad bar, which was fine. There was pizza, which was tasteless or full of weird toppings (notably an array of seafood, hotdog slices, and corn), and I grabbed one which I thought had normal marinara sauce on it which in fact turned out to be ketchup. Not the taste I wanted in my mouth.
The pasta was also just kind of eh. I tried a little bit of about half the kinds they had out, but nothing was remarkable.
There was cookies n cream ice cream though, and that hit the spot. Especially considering the almost complete lack of ice cream diversity at grocery stores.
Carolin, Mika, and I decided to venture to Costco without the aid of a Japanese friend. We chose to take Carolin’s car, which seemed the less likely to rattle to pieces and/or burst into flames. Hopping on the Kito Kanto expressway makes it a relatively easy journey:,+Gunma+Prefecture,+Japan&saddr=Ota,+Gunma+Prefecture,+Japan&panel=1&f=d&fb=1&dirflg=d&geocode=KaFVR2Pr3x5gMV2jW7Gs9OJO%3BKa2wZ-rd8x5gMVQ-zkZlr4Pf&ei=4Tr9UNilOfD3mAWR_4DwCg&ved=0CDAQ-A8wAA
The way there was fine. We used Mika’s iphone GPS and got there in good time. The way back however, Carolin’s gps wasn’t working, and Mika’s phone had died…
Apparently, in Japan freeway exits and entrances are not in the same places. We were able to get back on where we got off, however, the only two choices of direction we were allowed to drive were both the wrong way. We found ourselves on the expressway heading into the outer skirts of Tokyo and had to get off and ask a Japanese toll collector in broken Japanese where the fuck we needed to go. We got a general idea of what he was saying, but not enough to be sufficiently helpful, it turned out. We ended up wandering in a general direction back toward what we hoped was Maebashi, and once we got there, we didn’t know how to find the earlier freeway entrance (which was probably in the next city down the line) that would allow us to drive in the correct direction. Then we spotted 354! 354! Hurray! We knew from one of the schools which we teach at, that, at the very least, 354 EVENTUALLY goes through Oizumi. And we could figure things out from Oizumi. We took that back, it took about an hour and a half total, we were waylaid by some construction and some further lack of any sensical Japanese road signs, but eventually we happened about an area where one of us teaches in, and wound our way back from there. It was certainly an adventure, and we had to rely on Mika’s rough Kanji-reading abilities. (Note: NOT Hiragana and Katakana…Kanji. The full out crazy pictures of which there are over 5,000). Some Japanese roadsigns use Romaji for city names (Romaji is roman lettering…what we use for the English language) and there are arbitrarily some which only use Kanji. There’s seemingly no rule for when they use Kanji and when they use Romaji, other than if you are lost, you can rely on the certainty that every sign will be written in Kanji only. 


Atami and a Japanese Onsen

Wow! It’s been a long time. I feel rusty….especially since this post is about a trip that I took over a month ago now. At the beginning of December I went to an Onsen in Atami and then to Kamakura.

Japanese girls are possibly even more obsessed with food than American girls. From left to right: Carolin, Hiromi, Atsuko, Junko, Satomi, all enjoy “fried something on a stick”…just like in ‘Murrrica.

This was my first experience navigating the trains of Japan alone. And by ‘navigating the trains of Japan alone’, I definitely mean that my friends gave me very specific information about which trains to get on, which stations to get off at, and the exact times of those trains and stops. And a friendly Japanese man who spoke decent English also helped me for one leg of the journey (it required three or four transfers total to get to where I was meeting my friends). So. Almost independently. Except not. Whatever, I’m still proud of myself.

The last leg of the train ride revealed some real sized Japanese mountains along the coastline, and I was very touristy and obnoxious, taking photos out of the train’s windows. It actually reminded me of being in southern Italy a little bit, and Atami itself was a tiny bit reminiscent of Naples, mostly because of the steep, winding streets, the buildings being so close together, and the city being nestled between the seaside and the mountains. The mountains which I can see from Ota strike me as “impressive hills” rather than mountains….but, I really am not sure where I have any right to be a mountain snob, as I’m from Wisconsin.

My friends met me at the train station and we made our way back to the hotel. The road down to the hotel was so steep that an old man who was walking behind us came suddenly tumbling down the hill, clearly unable to catch himself. We stopped him from rolling any further down and helped him to his feet. A nearby shop owner came out and talked to the Japanese girls, and escorted him inside his shop, where I assume he made sure he was alright and called a doctor for him.

The hotel was very serene; our room’s floor was entirely made of tatami mats, with floor to ceiling windows looking out toward the ocean. The hallways of the hotel had real rock faces along one side. The hotel room was discounted because the outside onsens were closed for remodeling, so we could only use the inside ones.

An “onsen” is the Japanese word for natural hot spring, and they build a lot of these resorts and hotels and spas around them. (Some places you stay overnight, some you can jut visit for a couple hours if you l

ike). Because Japan has so many active volcanoes, there are thousands of hot springs scattered throughout the country. The only thing I’ve ever really encountered that I can compare these to are the public baths in Budapest…but those are still quite different. They are akin to hot tubs only in that the water is hot.

When I entered the onsen, there was a antechamber with cubbies for our robes and towels and slippers, two blowdryers, a couple of sinks, and some nice body lotion. The next room was the onsen, with two pools of steaming water side by side, and about 10 bathing stations with mirrors. The stations had a stool for you to sit on, a small tub (like, feet-sized small), shampoo and soap, a moveable shower head to rinse off with, and a scrubbing file (like the kind they attack your feet with during pedicures). The Japanese consider good hygiene to be very important; washing yourself before entering the onsen is compulsory, and after you finish washing your hair, you wrap it up in a towel so that itdoesn’t fall into the onsen water. (I don’t understand this, but you just do it.) The water is pumped up directly from the hot springs, meaning it’s full of whatever natural minerals happen to be down there (this varies from location to location), and is not full of chlorine. New water is continually pumped in, so you’re not sitting in old, dirty water. The temperature of the water is apparently around 102 degree farenheit…but this onsen had two pools, one that was very hot, and one that was “holy shit” hot. I went in both, but I had to warm up in the “cooler” pool for quite awhile before my nerve endings were numb enough for the hotter pool. So mostly, onsens are just for relaxing with friends, while you’re naked (Yep. You have to be naked, but most onsens are separated by gender). Apparently some foreign women have had some problems at onsens because of their larger breasts (as in some Japanese women tend to be very forward in their curiosity, and as to touch them, or something) but I’ve never experienced that. My friends and I actually had the onsen to ourselves when we were there, so it was very comfortable. There are supposedly some medicinal benefits to onsens, but I’m not knowledgeable about these.

All in all, very enjoyable, I’d definitely do it again. I’ve included pictures of the meal we had in Atami as well…I don’t remember what I ate…I may not have even known what some of it was at the time, but I tried everything. The Japanese girls did the ordering, and the served a sweet house plum wine with the meal that was delicious.