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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE 2014: DAY #23--Nagasaki


From HORROR can come BEAUTY.  I've long wondered, though, why both the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Peace Parks chose to emphasize the best of humanity to contrast with the worst of war.  Yes, there is that A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima and a wall of a demolished cathedral in Nagasaki, but most visitors probably come away impressed at how beautiful these parks are.

At 11:02AM on 9 August 1945 Fat Man was dropped over Nagasaki, exploding 500 meters above this monolith, decimating the city, killing and injuring 150,000.


Ironically, the grandest church in all of east Asia, Urakami Cathedral, was below this hypocenter.



The commanding piece of art is the Peace Statue:


The statue's right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons, while the left symbolizes eternal peace.  The park is a permanent international outdoor art festival, with contributions from all over the world.  Here, the Maiden of Peace from the People's Republic of China;


The Fall colors were also prominent:


While certainly beautiful, the Spring Sakura setting might be even more dissonant, for here is that same epicenter in April:


Well, I've become a peace monger in my old age, evidenced by some of my Huffington Post articles and my #2 ranking to Ron Paul in a U.S. News and World Report Debate Club poll.  But we all need to eat, so for dinner I asked my hotel what was the best tonkatsu (breaded deep fried pork cutlet) restaurant in close walking distance. I was not disappointed:


In fact, I was impressed.  I can very highly recommend Hamakatsu in Nagasaki.  I can't understand why L&L and Zippy's in Hawaii can't prepare anything close to what might be Nagasaki's gift to high cuisine.

A word about my hotel in Nagasaki, called the Richmond.  This is a chain you can find throughout  Japan.   On check-in a staff member takes you to a machine, where you pay the cost for the night.  Sounds like a businessmen's hotel, but my room is large enough, with a queen size bed, largish flat-screen TV, place is relatively new, free coffee-making, free toothbrush/razor (in fact, same brand as that provided in the Tokyo Ritz-Carlton).  While not heaven, I'm paying TEN TIMES less than I did at the Tokyo Ritz-Carlton.  However, I won't be back because a cab ride each way to the Nagasaki Station is around $10, and I usually stay at a JR hotel attached to major train stations.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE: Day #22B--Hajime...Food from Planet Earth


For Yu-chan, the new Osaka whale shark, scroll down to the next posting.  Today, I have two entries, the second on Hajime, a French restaurant in Osaka.

Hajime Yoneda is a computer engineer from Kinki University, who, while tolerating his job, began taking cooking lessons, then moved to France to become an artist and chef.  He says:

I am interested in the balance, harmony, mystique and spirituality that exist in the universe.  After the Big Bang, the earth was born in the universe and life was born on earth. Human beings were born and evolved. People exist based on a miraculous balance. I feel the mystique of the universe in gastronomy.


Hajime ranks #42 on Pellagrino's Top 50.  In the past I could not dine here because a single customer was not admitted.  Plus, no photos could be taken.  However, perhaps they are opening up, for the St. Regis not only was able to obtain a reservation, but permission for me to take photos.  According to Pellagrino about Yoneda:

Stunning service and fabulous French food from a philosophical chef


The restaurant only holds 16 or so.  I ordered their 16 course special plus half-size portions of the accompanying nine wines.  Each course features some aspect of Nature.  The first, for example, was Forest, a consommé:


I could only take photos of three courses, for the chef wants diners to be surprised.  I should have told them that the odds of someone reading my blog coming here are nil.  The first wine was a white from Hokkaido using a German grape, Kerner, from Takizawa Winery.  The rest of the meal:

  • Life:  roe/flatfish/black olive
  • Rocky coast:  oyster/kelp/mussel/sea urchin/etc
  • River:  salmon/roe/miso/mango/sorrel
  • Planet Earth:  a large salad of perhaps a hundred vegetables on a giant plate:

Note that the wine is a New Zealand Reisling, and the winery is owned by a Japanese, Sato.  The next course came with a sake (Junmai Daiginjo from Kyoto)
  • Sea-flow:  gingko/peas/etc
  • Sea-relation:  scallop/uncured ham/quail's egg/day lily
  • Destruction and assimilation:  foie gras/pumpkin/et, which came with a 1998 Chateau d'Yquem

It's a shame I can't show you each dish, for the artistry was exquisite, better than DOM's Chef Atala, who also features natural products and the concept of sustainability.
  • Hope-dew:  a pine sherbert
  • Hope-sky:  a fabulous duck ensemble
  • Hope-Mother Earth:  an equally exceptional lamb with black garlic, etc
  • Harvest-ripen:  almond/persimmon
  • Harvest-aki michiru:  chestnut/pear
  • Love:  strawberry/raspberry
I should mention that also served were:
  • Clos de la Roche for the duck
  • Trevellon for the lamb
  • Nechi Watanabe Junmai Ginjo from Niigata
  • Rose d'un Jour, a sweet rose
Then, the final course:


Looks like a small cloud, but that is cotton candy to the left.  I couldn't finish this assortment.

This was no doubt my best meal on this trip, and possibly in the top three of my life.  I was able to photograph Chef Hajime at work in his kitchen:


Perhaps the highlight of the experience was Ai, who explained each rainfall, cloud formation, etc, evocative of the dishes:


As I was leaving, Chef Hajime came by to wish me goodbye:


The Chef and Ai then walked me out to my waiting taxi.  I can highly recommend Hajime in Osaka to my Chaine des Rotisseurs (a gastronomical society created in the year 1248--not a typo) epicureans.

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FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE: Day #22A--Yu-chan, Osaka's Whale Shark

Of all the coincidences, the name of Osaka's whale shark coincides with Pearl's Japanese name:  Yu-chan.  Here is a video of her.  Some photos:



Two years ago I wondered where they were.  Now there is Yu-chan.  It is a bit sad, though, that she circles the tank once/minute and lives an all too boring life.  On the other hand, there are no predators, secure source of food, ideal living conditions and a loving audience.

The thickness of the acrylic panels is just about a foot.  A few other inhabitants:


Pals:


There were hordes of young schoolchildren:


My dockside snack cost $6:


From the outside:


A large ferris wheel (369 feet high, $6 or so) at the entrance:


The fall colors in Kansai appear closer to peak.  Kansai is the region that includes Kyoto, Osaka and Kyoto, while Kanto surrounds Tokyo.  Interesting that in Japan, you walk and drive on the left.  However, in Osaka, anyway, on an escalator, you stand to the right so others can pass you on the left. In Tokyo, you stand to the left.  Kansai has around 17 million people, while Kanto is about double that. 

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Monday, November 24, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE: Day #21--On to Osaka

I don't know why, but I enjoy train rides.  The faster the better, which in Japan would be the Hayabusa from Aomori to Tokyo and back:  200 MPH.  The first bullet train (Shinkansen) connected Tokyo with Osaka 50 years ago, in time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.  This particular leg, is the world's busiest, carrying 151 million passengers/year.  There are 13 trains of 16 cars (1,323 seats) per hour in each direction, allowing only 3 minutes between each flight.


Overall, China (right) recently surpassed Japan with 370 million high speed rail passengers yearly.  However, in that half century period, transporting 10 billion passengers, there NEVER been a passenger fatality caused by a derailment or collision in Japan.  China has already had some problems.   The future?  A maglev train connecting Tokyo and Osaka reaching speeds of 310 MPH, reducing the journey time to one hour.  But maybe in 2045.

I try to schedule my trips just before lunch so I can have a bento with sake or beer or both:


About 50 minutes out of Tokyo Station on the Hikari, there is that memorable view of Mount Fuji:


Arriving in Shin Osaka, you still need to get into town, and the Japan Rail Pass does not work on local subways.  Fortunately, I have a Suica smart card (left) that allows me into just about any train system in Japan.  The Midosuji subway line takes me to the Honmachi stop, which is in the basement of the St. Regis hotel.  Crossing here is also the Chuo line, which will tomorrow be my way to the Osaka Aquarium.

The St. Regis is designed by famed Japanese architectural firm Nikken Sekkei, just one of their projects being the Tokyo Sky Tree.  Opened in 2010, this is one of those hotels that starts on a higher floor and goes to the top.

After a long walk through an indoor mall that begins at my front door, and goes on for around a mile, where I picked up my dinner, I took a bath:


My dinner:


Yes, I bought a raw ham and mascarpone (Italian cheese) Subway, and had it with a Grand Kiren beer and a small bottle of the now available Beaujolais Nouveau:


Not only is the Osaka St. Regis celebrating their 4th anniversary, but the Bloody Mary, which was first concocted at the St. Regis King Cole Bar, is 80 years old.  They have a $57 special in the lobby bar:  from 5PM to 8PM, you can drink all you want, plus enjoy an ala carte dish.  There are 33 different Bloody Marys, and each of the 20 St. Regis hotels around the world have their own special.  I had a coupon for a free Bloody Mary, so went down for one, and pondered, should I try to drink 32 more in the time left.  But, no, I've gotten wiser from my Honolulu to Bangkok flight three years ago, and just had one.  The Osaka version used wasabi.

I'm dining at Hajime (#42 on the Pellagrino World Best, and the temple of a former computer engineer, Hajime Yoneda--I was given permission to take a few photos, a no-no here) tomorrow night, so thought I'd take it easy tonight.    Tomorrow also, the Osaka Aquarium and, possibly, a whale shark???

Oh, I might add that today was a national holiday:  Labor Thanksgiving Day.  Monday was the day of observation.  And no, they don't consume a turkey meal today.  With India, Japan has the most holidays of any country, sixteen.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average again broke an all-time record, up 8 to 17818.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE #20--Tokyo Westin and Japanese Scotch

It was in mid-October 1994 when Pearl and I first checked into the Tokyo Westin, the week that the hotel and Yebisu Garden Place became one of the first city within a city in the world.  I have now stayed here at least 25 times, and these two decades have passed by too quickly.  My hotel room and Executive Lounge are on the 17th floor, and that display below is called Baccarat Eternal Lights:


Here is a view of the same from my room:


That's 3-Michelin Star Robuchon in the mansion.  I'm almost always provided a room with a Mount Fuji view.  This was my dinner last night, and as you can't see Mt. Fuji too well, a second shot:


Actually, that was my appetizer, for a few doors away the Executive Club serves free drinks and an assortment of dishes.  These usually become my dinner.  As always, an incredible breakfast buffet comes with the room, so I can comfortably survive just eating here, for free.


  I also have a bottle of a 20-year old Yoichi Single Malt Scotch in Compass Rose, which I had after my dinner "meal."


In 2008 Nikka's 20-year old Yoichi won the best scotch in the world tasting in Scotland, breaking centuries of dominance by the European World.  In 2009 it was a 21-year old Highland Park (possibly my favorite scotch, with Lagavulin as #2).  Then in 2011 it was a 27-year old Suntory Yamazaki, and in 2012, Suntory's 25-year old Yamazaki beat out 300 of the world's single malts in an international blind tasting.    In 2013 the winner was Ardbeg Galileo.  Then, this year, Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask, which comes from Australia.  Some remember Bill Murray making a commercial of Suntory's 17-year old Hibiki in Lost in Translation.


Whoops, getting carried away with scotch,  To return to this posting, it is convenient to stay at the Tokyo Westin, for I leave my large suitcase here, and with only a small wheelie, go on my one and two week Japan Rail Pass journeys, as I will begin tomorrow, with the first stop the Osaka St. Regis.  In addition to Hajime's, I will be visiting the Osaka Aquarium, where I hear there is now a new whale shark, I hope, although there is this nagging feeling that they should be left alone in the wild.

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