My favourite chic Soba

Soba are buckwheat noodles, very common in Japan, they date back from the Edo period where it was discovered that this wealthy dish, unlike white rice eaten by wealthy citizens, was not developing a disease at the time

there were at least a couple of soba places in every village in Japan. Nowadays, they are everywhere almost, from very basic to very sophisticated. Here is my favourite one, Honmura An.

Located just off the Roppongi crossing in Tokyo, it is very easy to find although in a tiny quiet street. the style is minimalist, modern, light wood, concrete because the owner was inspired by his New York times when he reviewed the place.

This is a family business, when the parents grew old, they asked their son to come back and run the place, which he did. Until then, he was running his own Honmura An in New York and it seems everyone knows that one rather than the Tokyo one.

it is always friendly, excellent service, food is amazing, fresh produce in season, prepared simply to enjoy the taste. I had the best Matsuyama potatoes for example. Every time I have been, it has been a delight! Yukiko San, thank you for introducing me to the best soba

Before that, I was not too keen on soba that I found sticky, tasteless, nothing fancy really. Now, I can tell you I became a fan BUT with high standards

 

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Wakkanai

That’s it!! I can now say that I explored Japan from North to South, from Wakkanai to Ishigaki!!

We spent 3 days at the end of November in Wakkanai, and visited the northernmost point there.

CLIMATE

VERY cold and snowy already

 

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AMBIANCE

SOOOO unique… it felt like there were no inhabitants, very special, hardly any cars, hardly any people outside in the streets, very old fashioned shops. Most of them have signposts in Russian since we are so close.

There was a very limited choice of restaurants in town, so much so that we had to plan our 3 days around that list and booked them, stick to their working hours, etc

it is also the last train station up north, 2 trains a day to Sapporo, first time that we go to a station where you watch the train coming to you through the window as the rail does not go beyond (see above photo)

 

FOOD

amazingly fresh, simple, fish based, excellent, every meal was of very good quality

we had one lunch above the fish market, that was cute, 2 senior ladies run the place, tatami rooms, set lunch with excellent sashimi

we also had a very good dinner in a sashimi/sushi place

 

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overall, great if you like fish

We realised it had been so many years since we could tell the closest restaurant chain was over 3h drive away (no starbucks, no mc donald, no TGI etc,), there were actually no chains at all and it was even difficult to find a Kombini!! On the Sunday, I needed cash and could not find any ATM, go prepared

PEOPLE

really nice and smiling, curious, happy and proud to see us visiting, willing to share

 

HIGHLIGHTS

fish market – a small place but fantastic products, the fishmongers really tried hard to show us, explain, and even took us in the back office to see the crabs

Northermost point – so windy and cold but wild and beautiful, this is a 40mn bus drive from the train station, very easy, there is a bus every 20mn, they dont take suica or pasmo, you have to buy the ticket at the counter in the station or in the bus if you have change. Once there, apart from the monument itself, there is a hill with a windmill, a shrine and a breathtaking view over Russia and the sea, but my god, was it cold and windy that day!!

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this is a great place for a quiet week end – hiking and walking in the summer must be beautiful – in the winter, meditation, peace,

on day 2, at breakfast, there were deers in the garden behind the hotel. on day 3, we saw more of them wandering in the streets. a different Japan all together, we will go again! loved it after all

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Department stores

Japan is a consumer market, people love to spend, buy, they love brands, but they also love details, nice things, brands, luxury, quality. Along with that, for over a century, there have been a lot of department stores (Takashimaya, Matsuzakaya, Isetan, Mitsukoshi, etc)

My favourite remains Isetan for the B1F, food department and the 5F, tableware. I must say I also like Takashimaya historical building in Nihombashi for the architecture and the style.

They sell beautiful cakes made by Dominique Ansel and delicious Swiss Chocolate Laederach that I highly recommend

If you ever read The Ginger Tree, wonderful book written by Oswald Wynd, you will read part of the development of these stores in the early 1900’s

 

Anime

Japan has a fascination with cartoons, manga, anime of all sorts. What a surprise to find in one of those anime shops that you can buy THE Willy Wonka Chocolate….

 

 

Should I check whether I get the golden pass in one of those?

Food and more Food – this country is about food

Japan has so much to offer when it comes to food. I have 2 friends visiting currently for 2 weeks and both of them never eat raw food nor seafood. I thought this might be a challenge but we are reaching the end of the 2 weeks and we have not finished yet our wishlist. this is endless and always so delicious, oisshiii!!

I took them for lunch on a couple of occasions, restaurants are a commodity here and you can get a set lunch for JPY750 to JPY900 easily and that will always include a bowl of rice, pickles, a bowl of miso soup and the main dish, sometimes a fruit portion, it is excellent value, almost always good and healthy at all times

 

Takao #2

There is one place I love when going to Takao san, it is their restaurant Ukai! This is a beautiful way to finish the day in style, you can either hike in the morning and have a lunch or hike at leisure and get an early dinner, the last order is at 19h00 so dont miss out,

the restaurant is composed of old traditional houses they brought to create a village, each house is a “table” and there are houses for kitchen, service, etc. it is set in the woods with lovely gardens, it is a moment in time

 

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Food is about traditional cuisine, tofu, grilled chicken, river fish grilled in the park, tatami room, waiter in traditional attires, count between 7500 and JPY 10000 all included depending on your menu choice, it is a real experience, good food, good service, but extraordinary day!

 

Okayama #1

Okayama is a city located 30mn away from Kobe and 45mn from Osaka to the south. It is said to be the city of eternal spring, beautiful weather at all time.

After spending a week end there, I can say it is a quiet place worth 2 days and 1 night. We stayed at the ANA Crowne Plaza and loved it, very friendly team, very good breakfast, the hotel is directly connected to the station so very convenient.

What I liked about the city

  • Okayama castle, just another castle to me, but this one is all black and very elegant
  • Korakuen which is one of the 3 most beautiful gardens of Japan, it is smaller than the one in Kanazawa but also worth a visit, it took me 2 hours to explore, it is very peaceful, I got to see the tea plantation, but also red head cranes, beautiful and there were prayers in the temple which I loved, it added to the peace
  • Food is good although nothing really special outside of the yellow chives and of course the peach/momo (with the story of Momotaro)
  • People are friendly, easy going, you feel no stress
  • One thing that surprised me and I did not know is that the region produces blue jeans, called Momotaro Jeans, and you can see them everywhere, did you know?

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