Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kazanin 花山院

06.25 Kazanin 1
The entrance to Kazanin

Kazanin is one of the 3 bangai, or extra temples on the Western Japan 33 temple route, and the last on my Mother-in-law's trip. So now that she's finished with her pilgrimage I guess it's time for Yuko and me start.

06.25 Kazanin 3
The main building

Kazanin is up a steep mountain road in Sanda, Hyogo. Very close to a onsen I've recommended before on Kansai Onsen Review. The name which would normally be read "hanayama" is pronounced "kazan" in this case. It's the same as the Japanese word for volcano.

06.25 Kazanin 2
One of the seven statues

The most interesting thing for me was the seven statues that are in the garden. Each statue stands for a different virtue, or something you are asking for. What you do is approach the statue and touch their hands and pray in front of them. The statues' hands have all become smooth and yellow over the years of people touching them.

This site, in Japanese, has more pictures and a map.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sasebo Burger Plus Cafe "Ata-go" - Kansai Restaurant Review

06.20 Ata-Go-1
The Spicy Burger at Sasebo Burger Plus Cafe "Ata-go"

A decent burger in a stylish shop, but a bit of a let down.

It's always nice to know where you can get a good, fresh hamburger. It might not be your favorite place, but it would be better than hitting up the fast food joints. Ata-go is this kind of place. Sadly, I've been unimpressed by the various Sasebo style burger shops that I've been to. Named after a town in Nagaski Pref. that has become Japan’s Mecca for hamburger shops, the Sasebo Burger puts an emphasis on the size and messiness of the burger. (Sight Sasebo has a list of all the shops and pictures of their burgers in Japanese.)

06.20 Ata-Go-2
Ata-go in Namba, Osaka

Ata-go has big, messy Sasebo style burgers served in plastic bags for cleanliness. The bun is soft on the inside and has a great toasty crunch on the ends, and they even brand the top of the bun with the shops logo. But it’s what’s between the buns where the burger fails. I felt that the patty let the entire burger down. The meat flavor didn’t come through. I had the spicy burger and the sauce was spicy, but I can’t say much more about it. The french fries seemed uninspired when compared to other shops. Ata-go does offer many good drink options with a full cocktail menu and Mino beer--a local microbrew. The shop is small with seating for about 10 inside, but it has some outdoor seating under the Nankai tracks which is surprisingly cool and comfortable. It would be a good place to sit outside for a few after work drinks. Everything has a Native American theme and the music is a mix of country and Native American chants.

Overall, It’s a good hamburger, in a nice shop, and you’re getting a good burger for the price you pay, but I wouldn’t be going out of my way to have this one.

You’ll be spending around ¥1,500 for a burger, side and a drink. Put a bit more on there if you get a beer or cocktail. My spicy burger beer set with a side of fries was ¥1,600.

Homepage: http://www.ata-go.com/

Hours: 11:30-22:00 (Mondays 11:30-14:00)


より大きな地図で Kansai Restruant Review を表示

Saturday, June 27, 2009

06.15 Uji River 2

06.15 Uji River 2, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

A bridge crossing the Uji River.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

06.15 Uji River 1

06.15 Uji River 1, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

A rusted sign warns anglers in front of the fast flowing Uji River.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shiso Pepsi

06.23 ShisoPepsi 1, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

Every summer Pepsi of Japan blesses us with a new wacky, always craptastic flavor, onto the Japanese market. Two years ago it was Ice Cucumber, last year it was something blue. All of the colors of these, ehm, beverages are, to be nice, unique as their flavors. This year it's shiso. If you get take out sushi and there's a plastic leaf in the tray as decoration--that's shiso. Well that's the plastic version of it. If you have had Japanese no-oil dressing, that probably was shiso flavored. If you live in Japan you eat this often. It's one of my favorite things. Mixed up with umeboshi (pickled plum) as a topping for grilled chicken is great.

So how does it work as a soda. Really nice. They didn't make this too sweet and you can really taste the shiso.

Well that's my opinion. What does Yuko say?


Nope, she didn't like it.

Nakamura Tokichi - Kansai Restaurant Review

06.15 To-Kichi Cafe 4
This green tea producer's cafe and restaurant is as visually stunning as the food is tasty. Nakamura Tokichi Honten - 中村籐吉本店 set in a old house the restaurant serves green tea seasoned meals, deserts, and, of course, drinks. The restaurant section of the house is in the back through the courtyard where a 200 year old black pine stands, supported and trained by bamboo poles to make a ship like appearance.
06.15 To-Kichi Cafe 2
Yuko had cold soba noodles which were made with green tea. The meal included soup, small desert, pickles, and rice, topped with a green tea furikake. That was good, but the deserts really shine through. I had green tea ice cream zensai and a green tea latte. Both were fantastic.
06.15 To-Kichi Cafe 3
My sister-in-law, who is always reading Japanese language foodie blogs, said she had seen good reviews of the restaurant many times before online. If in Uji, a great place to see a little miniature Kyoto with out the crowds of Kyoto, take an afternoon break at Nakamura Tokichi.
06.15 To-Kichi Cafe 1

Address: 〒611-0021 京都府宇治市宇治壱番10番地
Price: around ¥1,000

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mimurotoji 三室戸寺

06.15 Mimurotoji -1
The stairs leading up to the main building.

Pilgrimage plays an important role in Japanese society. In the past it was to temples; today it takes many forms. My brother in law and his friend made a pilgrimage, you might say, to real places near Tokyo that served as the settings to Gibili animations. Train fans make pilgrimages to out of the way local lines and wait for just the right chance to take their photos. My goal to ride every train line in Kansai and go to every sento in Kobe (at least to start out with) is somewhat of a pilgrimage. While the examples above are of the modern variety, the Buddhist temple routes which came before them are still very, very popular. I wonder: Has the history of going on these pilgrimages created today's popularity of non-religious pilgrimage and collecting in general?

06.15 Mimurotoji -4
The garden at Mimurotoji.

Before my father in law passed away, and well before I met my wife, my family began such a pilgrimage. It's been on and off for many years. A day trip out to a temple and back built up over time collecting stamps and signatures on the Saikoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage. (Here is a photo of what the stamps look like from an earlier trip.) Monday my family went to the next to last temple on their pilgrimage: Mimurotoji in Uji, Kyoto-fu. The temple was busy with people even on a Monday afternoon because of the tons of hydrangeas (ajisai in Japanese) planted in the temple's gardens. A board on the temple grounds boasts 10,000 of them, along with 20,000 azaleas (tsuzuji) and 1,000 rhodoendron (shakunage).

06.15 Mimurotoji -3
Hydrangeas in the garden of Mimurotoji.

I love going on these day trips. I get to drive might be one reason, but in reality it's the chance to get out of the city and, even in the crowds, have a sense of peace. It's amazing how these temples are hidden in the landscape and even more amazing how beautiful they are. Mimurotoji I have to say was my second favorite only after the hidden, sylvan beauty of Okadera in Nara-ken.

06.15 Mimurotoji -2
A statue in set in the fountain used for purification.

Because I've accompanied my Mother-in-law and Yuko on these trips, I've gone to temples and places I wouldn't have seen otherwise. Besides that, there's the peace one gets from going to these places and in hectic, stressful Japan. So as my Mother-in-law closes out her pilgrimage, Yuko and I will begin ours and maybe in a few years we will have our own scroll of stamps to help us remember all the beautiful temples we have been to.

Mimurotoji 三室戸寺 is located in Uji, Kyoto Pref.. The closest train station is Mimuroto (三室戸) on the Keihan Uji line. It is also accessible from Uji (宇治) station on the JR Nara line. The grounds are open from 8:30-16:30 (16:00 in the winter). It costs 5oo yen for admission to the grounds.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

2009.06.15 - Natsuka Supermarket in Uji

I love the design and style of old supermarkets, old ones in America seem to be few and far between. In Japan aged signage is not hard to find. Every new town is a visual treat for rust lovers like myself. This supermarket is still operating and is located along a shopping street in Uji, Kyoto pref..

Thursday, June 18, 2009

06.10 Kobe-Maruyama 3 - Housing

06.10Kobe-Maruyama 3, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

Typical single family houses perched on hillsides near Maruyama station in Nagata-ku above Kobe's old downtown. A pedestrian San Francisco. There is access by car, but it's through many tight, steep single lane streets. Bicycles, nearly ubiquitous in the Japanese landscape, are rare here. Also notice the prevalence of TV antennas. I've noticed that, even if they subscribe to cable TV service, Japanese households will still use over-the-air signals to receive their basic channels.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Invisible Lines

06.10Kobe-Maruyama 2, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

A sign exposes the invisible line between Kobe's Nagata-ku and Suma-ku.

Larger cities in Japan are divided into wards or ku (区) in Japanese. Kobe has 8 that I can think of off the top of my head. Wards play an important part of the division of the city. In Kobe it might drastically effect your taxes--I've heard Chuo-ku taxes are brutal. In a broad city wide view each ward is unique, but, when you get down to the street level not much changes between one ward to another. Here, the ward boundry cuts through a hospital. The city has found it important enough to post signs showing the boundary even. Is it really that important? What boundries matter more than others. Here in the area I'm calling Maruyama* for lack of a better term, Single family houses cling to the hillsides in what seems to be an aged middle class suburb. The hills and small streets combined with few public transportation options, in comparison to the rest of Kobe, makes this area quite interesting. It's a transitional area between the higher, more mountainous areas of the city (Kita-ward) and the seafront. My question: when was it first developed? Judging by the houses and the extreme topography, I guess it was sometime in the last 50 years. Perhaps this area was developed in order to provide space for single family houses which would have access to Kobe and Osaka's office buildings without being to far in the post war years while still being in the city's boundaries.

The other question, raised above, is what is the motivation by the city government in marking boundaries like this on the landscape. Does it aid in navigation? Is it merely for city maintenance workers? Is it for the benefit of strange geo-fetishists like myself? For the postal workers? I'm glad someone in the city took the time to mark this line, but why?

*I've called this area Maruyama mostly because of the nearest station's name (神戸電鉄丸山駅). I've seen Hanayama used for this area also, but I've yet to find a good name for this part of Kobe.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

04.28 Tucson to Flagstaff-16

04.28 Tucson to Flagstaff-16, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

Here's a picture of a dog sitting in a planter out side of a Flagstaff restaurant.

Friday, June 12, 2009

06.10 Kobe-Maruyama 1

06.10 Kobe-Maruyama 1, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

An abandoned house on a street leading to Maruyama station.

Nagata-ku, Kobe

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Shin's Burger - Kobe

Shin's Burger is located up the hill from Oji Koen Station on the Hankyu Kobe line. Of the specialty burger shops I've been to here in Kansai, Shin's is the most family and kid friendly. The hamburger here is good for it's simplicity. It's the kind of burger you'd get at a BBQ for the local High School football team, but a really, really good one. Other places push the flavor to 11 to make the burger an in-your-face nearly brutal eating experience. Shin's is nice and simple and just as good as the other places for it. I love the decor, the white on red reminds me of something you'd find in the Midwest or rural Washington state. Sadly, Shin's does not have french fries, but they have a BBQ chili with beans that they serve over cubed potato. It's not spicy so my 2 year old nephew and my wife can eat it--and she can't eat anything remotely spicy. In a way I wish Shin's would have the super spicy chili and enormous mega burgers, but then there's a lot of places doing that. Shin's has it's own take on the specialty burger shop: one that combines friendly service with a simple, but on the spot flavor set in a little bit of Americana with out being over the top.

Sorry, forgot to take some photos.

Shin's homepage:

Myself, Yuko and my nephew featured on Shin's blog:


Access By Train:
Hankyu Oji Koen Station - 10~15 minutes (I'm guessing.)

There isn't any good parking in the area except a small 4 spot coin parking lot about a 5 minute walk from the shop. It is marked on the map.

より大きな地図で HANDBURGER! を表示

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Thank you!

05.04 ZionNP-15, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this an incredible trip for us.

We spent 58 wonderful days traveling (to all of my favorite places and some new ones), camping (ack bears!), driving (3,200 miles), eating (a bit too much and no cilantro for Yuko), relaxing (Yuko loves her DS, I like my radio), catching up (seeing everyone in Laguna was amazing), drinking (well for me at least, I miss American beer), taking photos (way too many) and just having a great time.

Yuko doesn't want to go back, she likes it here too much, and I'm a bit nervous about finding a new job once I return. We'll be back in Arizona soon as I plan on getting a Masters in Teaching some time in the next two years. I hope to see all of you again when we come back.

Well we have to get up at 4AM for our flight to LAX so I better sleep a little.

Once more, from the bottom of our hearts...

Thank you!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Kitt Peak

05.23 Tucson-10, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

It's free (if you don't take a tour) and you get to see some great examples of US government architecture. Stars are beautiful, but to tell the truth I don't really understand them very well. Don't get me wrong, I wish I did. I like enjoying them as they are and I've resigned my understanding of the cosmos to what I can get out of PBS documentaries. The buildings that house these telescopes however are great examples of the U.S. Government Building category--and that's what I'm into. There's a smell to them. That smell and feel is a part of my Introduction to America.

Kitt Peak National Observatory

05.23 Tucson-12

05.23 Tucson-11