We saw this Yaki Imo in the same area but days later, but here the woman operating it hadn't put her music/song on (it's on tape nowadays). Our friend tried to convince her to put it on without telling her that I wanted to record it (I lost the file I made 4 years ago in Katsura, Kyoto), but for some reason she was reluctant, if I remember because her stuff was almost sold out.
See this page on Yaki Imo, there's a video where you can see an actual Yaki Imo van doing its business.
__The bottle in the middle with this milk-like liquid is unfiltered sake, called nigori zake in Japanese. As you can read on this informative page by John Gauntner, nigori zake is the liquid fermented moromi which has been bottled without filtration. I am not a fan of this type of sake, to be frank, but I haven't tried many actually.
__ The One-Cup container on the right is Junmai Ginjo sake, made with rice polished to 55¨% of its original size and without alcohol enhancing. Thee brewery (shuzo) is Koshi No Kanchuubai in the Niigata prefecture. Fine print on the label says it was made (bottled I guess) on 11-12-01 which with the Japanese date display means december 1st 2011.
__ The last bottle on the left is like you probably guess an umeshu, or a plum liquor made by Nakano Shuzo. It's 14° strong, 100% plum alcohol (which is not always the case), unfiltered, no color agent, but had some alcohol adding. This brewery has quite a few umeshu bottlings as you can see on this page.
This dinner was very casual, what I like in Japan is that at whatever hour you're walking back home, you can get pretty affordable and healthy food either in your konbini around the corner (Family Mart, Lawson, 7-eleven...) or in the food section of depatos (usually in the basement) as the latter often do rebates before closing. This is fast food and at the same time it's a treat without overweight risks for your diet.
Before starting to eat, we pronounced the traditional Itadakimasu, which is akin to the blessing words Christians say before a meal. Here it means something like "I receive", meaning that you aknowledge that these things that you are going to eat will be part of you. Read the linked page for a more precise understanding of this word.
We drank several times sake from the Fukushima prefecture during this trip, and I think that on this subject in France there is a lot of irrational fears even if one has to remain vigilant and check the available information on the different areas and breweries. You can read on this article how the famed and excellent Daishichi brewery in Nihonmatsu only 60 kilometers from the failed nuclear reactors still manages to produce safe sake. I can't but admire the Japanese public who keeps buying and drinking their production because while elsewhere irrational panic would be the norm, here the consumer stays the course.
So back in Tokyo, I showed the picture to our friend in Nippori, and I learned that the bottle on the left is a Junmai-shu sake (1890 Yen - 720 ml). The next one with the image of young girl is a shochu type of liquor (1890 Yen - 720 ml), with tiny flakes of gold inside. I know that there are some sake with gold flakes inside, gold being edible as we know, they're called kinpaku, celebration sake, and they're often chosen for a gift, that's why I guess we find this "gold" shochu in the station. As I read somewhere, they're appropriate for "Holidays, birthdays, promotions, engagement parties, and victories of some sort...
The 3rd bottle above is a blend of two sakes, one basic and one daiginjo (2500 Yen - 720 ml). The last is an Umeshu, which is an alcohol made from the ume fruit, a typical Japanese plum fruit that you see hanging on otherwise-bare trees in the middle of winter (1890 Yen - 500 ml).
So now I'll know what gift to bring if I want to respect the Japanese etiquette. Until now I've been bring goat cheese sourced in the deep backcountry of the Loire, but in the corner of my mind I wonder if it's always well received by our hosts, especially that the cheese have had time to change slightly their appearance since I bought them along the Cher valley... I also brought a few bottles from France, but not enough for all the people we met. Happily, B. who lived many years in Japan, knows what to do and she drew on her own gifts resources if necessary.
these high-quality grapes were Muscat and given the meticulate way the Japanese growers work in their fields and vineyards, this theft was probably ressented with lots of pain by the farmers. The first reported theft in this story cost 6000 Yen (54 € or 72 USD) for a total of (presumably big) 3 clusters, and the second cost 64 000 Yen (579 € or 773 USD) for a full basket containing 32 clusters. Quality Muscat table grapes can indeed be very expensive in Japan...
The above picture featuring Muscat table grapes was shot in the Beaumes-de-Venise region (southern Rhone).
What is also amazing is the very affordable cost of this treat : we bought our food in the Osaka railway station before boarding our train, I don't remember what B. bought for her own lunch but mine (what you see here) cost if I remember about 1200 yen (11 € or 14 USD) : 750 Yen for the sashimi tray, 350 for the sake (of which I didn't note the name, I need to ask) and 110 for the onigiri, a stuffed triangle rice-ball that you can find everywhere and which is convenient when you're afraid to still be hungry. There's no way you can dream of such an affordable lunch bought in a French railway station. Again, who says that life is expensive in Japan ?
Kudos to the Oseki brewery which invented the One-Cup container seen here, this was in the mid 1960s', some say for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. this convenient individual size is a favorite for travellers, for walks ans Sakura outings, the guy who fathered the concept should be awarded the highest honorific medal in Japan...
You know how it turns out sometimes, you brought your booze on the train but not enough for your appetite, and my One-Cup being empty, I saw the food cart with grateful eyes. Yes, high-speed trains in Japan also have food & drink carts, which pass several times during the journey. See how smart it has been designed : narrow enough to let people pass (try to pass the cart in a plane !). Whatever, I asked for the cheapest sake available, it was served in a cardboard cup and cost only 300 Yen (2,7 € or 3,6 USD). This is again a very affordable booze, especially when you take into account the extreme civility of the cart waitress. this said, this sake which was probably poured from a bag-in-box was an industrial sake loaded with additives, I felt the symptoms almost physically, but there was at least another type of sake, a bottled one or a One-Cup, I don't remember, and at a price barely above.
You access this train urinal through a folding door. Thanks to the urinal, you are less likely to find the regular toilet's seat splashed with urine, this is also common sense but this obvious logic was probably out of the reach of our lawmakers... See the cute tiny sink to rinse your hands.
For those who want to experiment an immediate depression, I recommend the reading of this French detailed law on the requirements for public toilets. When you read that Kafkaian literature, you begin to grasp what's wrong in France. The mind-boggling thing is that we had bright-minds fonctionnaires probably spend months to lay down this prose and verify its measurements. I'm serious, someone out there should translate this thing in English to the last word, in order to help get visualize the mindset of these people, because the words and sentences they use are so desperately dull.
Thinking to the diverging ways the French and the Japanese see reality, I think that Japan is a country which is led by empirical pragmatism, I mean that they don't have an ideology or a political orthodoxy that seeks to force things upon the society from the outside, it's all slow transition from tradition to modernity, without bumps. And I like that. Another breath of fresh air.
This said, I'm not a "partisan" of any particular color code, I'm a libertarian on many issues, just let people do it their way.
That's heartening to see a place like that, with at the same time a soul and room for a relaxing drink, and for shoppers just stopping for a purchase, what looks like a rigorous selection centered on artisanship and quality. There were many sake bottles to choose from here and given the reputation of Fushimi as a sake area, I bet that most of this stuff was great, even if some was from out of the region. Speaking of the wine, there was lots of good stuff from what a rapid visual tour hinted, like for example this bottle of Clos des Grillons by Nicolas Renaud in the Rhone, a natural wine made by a neighbor and young friend of Eric Pfifferling.
Tree pruning, the Japanese way, has things in common with vineyard pruning, with the need to be precise and cut the right branches. While tree pruning under other latitudes is often a rough work where branches are cut bare undiscriminately in the shortest time possible, here at the opposite it is an utmost-Japanese Art where you feel the care and attention that people in this country devote to trees, plants and bushes. Thin, small branches are left while others are pruned, ending up in trees being trimmed but keep all the while the opportunity to grow a large volume of foliage when spring comes, a far cry from the painful stumps many trees are left with in France. Here again, I marvel at the empirical experience behind these modern pruning squads, who sometimes use simple ladders, sometimes motorized platform lifts, and who don't need to block the traffic when they're doing their job.
Ingredients is the key, as Takeru-san is a lover of spices and rare herbs, by the way I forgot to take a picture of that but he has dozens of potted plants in front of the restaurant on the sidewalk, most of them being aromatic plants or sometimes vegetables like broccoli. Another allowance showing the relaxed, pragmatic mindset in Japan : I wouldn't imagine the city-administration street police in Paris leaving you quiet with dozens of plants lined along the sidewalk (especially that they were on the street side of the sidewalk). Of course the broccoli for example was not intended for the daily lunch but Takeru-san likes to make experiments and plant diverse plants so that he can use fresh lmeaves for such or such dish. Set apart the size of the business, I find here the commitment and passion for real products seen with Chef Alain Passard of L'Arpège who grows his own vegetables in a farm following the biodynamic method.
What you can see on the picture above what what I ordered, it was something like the Plat du Jour if I remember, the lunch formula of the day, a delicious lunch for a bill of only 7500 Yen (6,87 € or 9 USD), there is no way I can find this quality at this price in Paris. And the fact is, we went to several such family restaurants in Tokyo with similar prices. This multi-dishes lunch was light and tasty, I'd eat there very often if I lived in the area, it doesn't make sense to eat home when you have this around the corner. If you click on the picture on right, you'll see the 1,8-liter sake bottles kept on the side : they're the bottles of regulars, this is something you find in many family restaurants in Japan, regulars can leave their unfinished bottle and they'll get it back the next time they come here. Isn't that a beautiful, cute tradition ??
The restaurant has only 5 tables, it's a bit messy but with a warm atmosphere, many sketches on the wall as well as music instruments, I think the owner is some kind of musician too. On a wall there are a couple of very old maps of the shitamashi area around Nippori, as he became sort of an expert in comparing the modern lanes and small street of the neighborhood with the documented lanes centuries ago (it seems that many small street remained in place actually).
This time I tried a few of these drinks from these jidohanbaiki (vending machines), trying to avoid the most weird, extreme flavors among the offered range, although I'm aware the color is not always a reliable indicator in this regard. I had a few good suprises, in the sense of refreshing drinks with not too much sugar. But being a die-hard conservative, I tended to come back to my favorite sof drink in Japan : Pocari Sweat, a refreshing, naturally-energetic drink with no or little sugar. You can find this soft drink under all sort of bottlings and forms, including in powder. Powder is very practical to stock several months of Pocari Sweat in your home country.
Note again the affordability of soft drinks in Japan and in the matter, in Tokyo, as many of these bottles found in these jidohanbaiki cost only 110 Yen (1 € or 1,3 USD).
Some of these vending machines are equipped with free wifi, and you can check you emails by standing in the near distance. I love Japan...
Incidently, booze is not far here as the heavy weight Suntory is the maker of one of the most well-known can coffees : Boss, and they hire an international heavy weight for their communication : Tommy Lee Jones whose portrait can be found everywhere nowadays, on mural adverising as well as on venting machines. Here is a TV commercial with Tommy Lee Jones shot for Boss, also this one, and here is another funny one where he seems to be bored while in a Maid cafe in Akihabara...
Here is by the way the list of CitiBank ATMs in Japan with precise maps.