Korea Town @ Shin-Ōkubo

In Tokyo, there is a line called Yamanote Line (山手線) which runs on the loop, like the Circle Line of the London Underground, connecting city’s major stations. The train which runs clockwise is called Soto-mawari (外回り) and the one goes counterclockwise is Uchi-mawari (内回り)…

20140227-141339.jpg

After Ueno, mum and I headed to our next destination, Shin-Ōkubo which was 11 stops away from Ueno via Uchi-mawari Yamanote Line…

20140227-141421.jpg

Shin-Ōkubo had been known for its extensive Korean community. However, what made Shin-Ōkubo famous nationwide was a Korean boom (韓流ブーム) which was ignited by a series of daily soap opera, “Futu No Sonata” – Sonnet of Winter, affectionately known as “Fuyusona”. The craze for the drama spread like wildfire through Japanese middle-age female viewers when it was aired by the Japanese national TV, NHK, in 2003. Even my mum, who was normally sceptical towards any hype, was swept up by the fever and became an ardent fan. She even offered to lend me a stack of VHS tapes to watch – the offer I politely declined by pointing out that I had no VHS player.

We didn’t know what to expect, however, we did notice there were a lot more women than men around the station…

20140227-141512.jpg

A signboard with an arrow by the station indicated that we should walk along Ōkubo-dōri (大久保通り)…

20140227-141609.jpg

This shop was a full of posters, CD, DVD, charms & straps for mobile phones of Korean pop stars. I didn’t know any of them but they were all very good-looking…

20140227-141653.jpg

Also a large flat-screen TV across the street, was showing a Korean boyband performing an impeccably syncronized dance routine…

20140227-141841.jpg

And another shop with Korean show-biz merchandise…

20140227-142002.jpg

Apart from the shops dedicated for the Korean show-biz scene, both sides of the street accommodated numerous beauty shops exclusively stocking Korean cosmetic products…

20140227-142046.jpg

Allegedly, snail-slime is the next best thing if you are not into Botox…

20140227-142128.jpg

Mum and I wanted to try some BB creams but didn’t know what to choose. After wandering and peeping through shop windows for a while, we decided to pay a visit to this shop…

20140227-142234.jpg

Shelves were laden with all sorts of serums, lotions and creams. I had no idea what they were & what they were for…

20140227-142320.jpg

A smiley Korean staff with a baby-smooth skin helped us to navigate through a sea of samples and eventually, I bought 2 boxes of vitamin C serum and a compact with BB cream & SPF50 sunscreen.

After finishing shopping, we sauntered along Ōkubo-dōri westwards.
There were Korean restaurants with large menu boards displayed outside, trying to entice hungry passers-by…

20140227-142407.jpg

I wished if we visited the street around dinner time! We were still full with Omuraisu at Ueno.
What a shame it was…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Apology…

I ran a few tests the day before yesterday, checking for the quality of photos for my future posts. As the result, it created ghost posts and alert which didn’t exist. I am very sorry for causing the confusion (^_^;)

20140226-085314.jpg

Mr.B is begging for your forgiveness on my behalf…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Ameya-yokochō @ Ueno

Around the railway arches of Yamate Line & Keihin Tōhoku Line in Ueno area always reminded me a film, Blade Runner. Do you remember the first scene in which Harrison Ford appeared? It rained incessantly and the shop sign & neon blurred through a thick PVC curtain while he slurped a bowl of noodle in a nonchalant manner…

20140223-185050.jpg

The area around the arches and their vicinity is known as Ameya-yokochō (アメヤ横丁) or more affectionately Ame-yoko (アメ横), and one of the best crowd-pullers in Tokyo.
The quarter is occupied by multitudinous shops and stalls which trade in almost everything except automobiles – however, their parts are available – and most of the items on sale are markdown which attract bargain hunters from not only its neighbourhood but also the outside of Tokyo…

20140223-185201.jpg

While Tokyo and the rest of Japan keep on being gentrified, Ameyoko retains coarseness and directness which makes the area exciting and irresistible.
The most renowned alley is along the railway arches with numerous fishmongers trading in cases of fresh sashimi to bags of dried bonito shavings.
With their distinctively loud and hoarse shout goes like ‘Hey guys, it’s cheap, cheap, cheap, CHEAP!’, barkers do their best to attract the attention of passers- by…

20140223-185949.jpg

Unlike their counterparts in Osaka, folks in Tokyo in general, they don’t normally haggle prices when they shop. However in Ameyoko, they are encouraged to ask for a better bargain while negotiating the price and the scene is fun to participate. After a brisk yet friendly exchange, a vendor normally relents, saying ‘Alright guvner, you are the boss!’ Then, he quickly wraps up whatever he has sold, hands it over to the triumphant customer and moves on to the next passer-by.

There are two possible explanations how Ameyoko gained its name and notoriety.
By the large-scale bombing by the Allies in the spring of 1945, the area around the present Ameyoko transformed to smouldering wasteland. Once the ash settled, small temporary stalls started to sprout and the area quickly grew to be a large black market. Ueno Station nearby was a gateway to Northern Japan and train cars full of people arrived to the area, scrambling for whatever available to buy in order to survive during the general shortage of goods in post-war Japan. As the black market proliferated uncontrollably, it attracted all sort of vices, such as extortions and illegal prostitutions by Yakuza, daylight shootings and brawls also became an everyday norm. In order to clean up the area and make it safer, a desperate local authorities begged a local entrepreneur, Kondō Hirokichi (近藤広吉), for a solution. Hirokichi organised a market, Kondō Market, with a capacity for 80 shops and vetted its candidates rigorously in order to stump out any dubious dealing. This market was the beginning of the present Ameya-yokochō.

A Japanese word for hard candy/boiled sweet is “Ame”(飴=アメ). After the war, the shortage of sugar, refined or brown, carried on, making the people craving for sweet treats. However, artificial sweetener, saccharin, was introduced to Japan around the end of 1947 and the stalls selling candies using it surged into the market. The number of stalls selling sweets snowballed to more than 300 and the area was gradually known as Ameya-yokochō – Candy seller alley.

Screamind shop signs, advertising cut price chocolate…

20140223-185508.jpg

A bags of broken chocolate was on sale for ¥1000. Two for the price of one.

A majority of people, including me, believe that Ameyoko earned its name because it traded in goods from the USA after the war. As a teenager, I remember heaps of the U.S military surplus from the Vietnam War being strewn on the shop floors. Not only M-65 field jackets in cotton but also canteens, rucksacks, caps, helmets, jungle boots, ponchos, t-shirts, gas masks, etc, you name it, were found in numerous shops.

The tradition of selling American fashion still lives on…

20140223-185603.jpg

In my late teens, I was in love with anything American and the sights of well known brands from USA excited me to no end…

20140223-185706.jpg

It was before the era of the internet shopping and Ameyoko was the only place we could get hold of exotic brand like Red Wing or O’Neill.
Another joy of visiting Ameyoko was exploring narrow passages sprawling like veins around the market. With friends, I walked along the alleyways for all afternoon, hunting for lipsticks or eye shadows of foreign brands such as Estée Lauder and Revlon.

A timeless scene of the alleyway shop…

20140223-185805.jpg

While the rest of Tokyo keeps on evolving and gaining new identities by shedding off legacies, Ameyoko gains and retains a unique position in Japanese people’s psyche…

20140223-191230.jpg

It’s crowded. It’s loud. It’s slightly seedy. But it’s also nostalgic and very real.
I would never want Ameyoko to smarten up EVER…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Kurofunetei @ Ueno

Friday night was special for me.
I got together with some of my old ice hockey teammates and watched a women’s hockey final on TV together. Oh, I really missed them. We recounted all little funny episodes we shared. I do miss hockey but I miss my lovely teammates a thousand times more. We pined for our team which had to be folded because of the circumstance beyond our control two years ago. How we wished if we could turn the clock back…

After finding ourselves firmly locked out of the NMWA, we headed back towards Keisei Ueno Station (京成上野駅). ‘At least we can look forward to our lunch, can’t we?’, I tried to cheer mum up.
The restaurant we decided to have lunch was Kurofunetei (黒船亭), one of the oldest Yōshoku (洋食) – Japanese Western cuisine – restaurants in Japan. It was located about 3 minutes walk from Ikenohata exit (池之端口) of Kensei Ueno Station…

20140222-170350.jpg

Contrary to our expectation, the eatery was situated above a branch of McDonald’s. We were a bit taken aback because the entrance to the reputed restaurant was rather understated to say the least – through a discreet lift hall tucked around the fast food restaurant. We alighted the lift at the fourth floor and there they were, we found a door to Kurofunetei. Once we were inside, a waiter in a crisp white shirt and a black waistcoat ushered us to a table by the window…

20140222-170437.jpg

Because of our unsuccessful detour to the Monet exhibition early on, we managed to miss the lunchtime rush. The restaurant was sparsely occupied by a few elderly couples.

The present Kurofunetei did not start as a western-style restaurant when the founder, Suga Sōkichi, opened the eatery in 1902. he moved from his home town in Tochigi (栃木) – northwest of Tokyo, and started a Japanese restaurant in which it had not only a dining room but also a hot bath with a waterfall and a pond. In 1917, he and his son, Toshio, renewed the restaurant as a bistro and named it Cafe Kikuya (カフェ菊屋). The new enterprise reflected the mood of the Jazz Age. All “Haikara” (ハイカラ) – anything Western was in vogue. The bistro served imported liqueurs, hors d’oeuvre and Japanese Western-style menu, such as Hayashi Rice (ハヤシライス) -hashed beef rice.
In 1937, as a change of tack, Toshio, folded the bistro and started a Chinese restaurant, Ugetsusō (雨月荘). No expense was spared in building a new premises, a three-story timber structure was all-cypress and equipped with a mechanical lift for the guests. It also sported opulent decor and a sumptuous Japanese garden. The imperial family as well as heavyweight politicians flocked to the restaurant, even Mishima Yukio gave a party there in 1944. The restaurant was a resounding success. However, it was razed to the ground by a large-scale air raid by the Allies on the 10th March 1945. After the war, Toshio resurrected his business amidst of a burnt ground by opening an American-style diner, Nissan Soda Fountain, reflecting the mood of the American occupation of Japan.
Later in 1951, the diner was turned into a cinema, Ueno Park Theatre, as movie-going became the most popular past-time in the post-war Japan. The cinema was closed in 1969 and replaced by a four-story building, housing a men’s boutique on the first floor, a ladies’ one on the second and on the fourth floor, a predecessor of Kurofunetei, Restaurant Kikuya, an eatery specialised in French cuisine and steak. The boutiques imported apparel from Europe and was reputed to rival Wako in Ginze for taste and quality in its heyday. In 1986, Restaurant Kikuya was handed over to Kōichi, the founder’s grandson and rechristened as Kurofunetei.

A view from the window…

20140222-170857.jpg

It is hard to imagine how the ground below was covered with cindered houses after the war. I was happy to learn that they managed to weather a cataclysmic event such as WWII and the business stayed within the same family. A seemingly ordinary scenery from the window did not reflect a dramatic twist & turn this particular patch of land went through.

A small salad arrived prior to the main course…

20140222-171017.jpg

This bright orange dressing over my salad is quintessentially Japanese. At any old-fashioned yōshoku eatery, the salad has to come with this sweet and sour dressing. A plenty of grated onion is the key to making a dressing flavoursome. And a dash of orange juice sweetens the condiment.

Ta-dah! My Omuraisu (オムライス) – Omelette rice, is here!

20140222-171104.jpg

If there were a national contest for nostalgic food memories in Japan, this Omuraisu would be a victor if not within the top fifth in popularity. Omuraisu is simple. The short grain rice cooked in chicken stock is flavoured with ketchup and wrapped in a large 3-egg omelette. Once omelette with rice is transferred to the plate, it is garnished with yet more tomato ketchup or demi-glace, French-style rich brown sauce. I must say the charm of omuraisu lies in its predictability. It’s soothing, gentle and benign – no sudden surprise by spice or chilli. And the colour, yellow and red, it’s uplifting and cheerful. A perfect nursery food I can carry on eating forever.
In my omuraisu, I found large prawns and they were very tasty. By the way, mum ordered the same dish and she enjoyed hers very much too. The omuraise at Kurofunetei definitely saved our day and we headed towards Shinōkubo (新大久保), our next destination with renewed vigour…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Mishap In Ueno

Eek, it’s coming down out there!! I can’t remember exactly how long we have been putting up with this miserable weather. But it’s been an awfully long time. Only last Sunday, I saw le ciel bleu. A blue sky was such a rare commodity nowadays. And I already feel like it happened months ago already.
As I sipped latte at the Photographers’ Gallery cafe, I wondered how my poor mum was coping with her share of the present adverse weather in Japan. At the moment, central & northern Japan is buried under the snow. The amount of snowfall is unprecedented and the mayhem it has caused already affecting the daily lives of millions of people in the region.
Oh how I wish if I were there to do all the Yukikaki (雪かき) – shovelling snow – she has to do! She has to sweat over this lonely thankless battle against heavy wet snow 3 times a day so she can keep a footpath open for a postman. Please, please, Captain Kirk, could I borrow your Transporter?
During our Skype call this morning, she reported that the shelves of her local supermarket were now almost bare because no delivery could get through to them. Sensing my concern, she assured me that she had a plenty of food in stock therefore no need to worry. I hope this extreme condition will cease soon and give mum her normal life back.

By looking at the photo now, I can’t believe it was only a month ago…

20140219-171624.jpg

The sun was shining in Tokyo. It wasn’t particularly warm but the air was dry and calm.

A panda bear greeted us…

20140219-171739.jpg

Why a panda in Ueno?
Because there is a zoo in Ueno Park and a pair of pandas there is undoubtedly the best crowd-puller of the zoo. I remember visiting the zoo to see Lan Lan & Kan Kan, a very first panda couple in Japan, as a child. Their enclosure was very popular and no one was allowed to stop and stare. As zoo keepers with loud-speakers urged us to keep on moving, I tiptoes & craned my neck to get a glimpse of the precious beasts. Then, I was rather unimpressed by finding the bears behind a sound-proofed glazing, in afternoon kip with their bellies up and motionless.

We didn’t have any rigid literary during our holiday in Tokyo. However, we wanted to do something cultural together so decided to see the Monet exhibition at Kokuritsu Seiyō Bijutsukan (国立西洋美術館) – National Museum of Western Art…

20140219-171837.jpg

For any architectural groupie, visiting this museum will be a delight because the building was designed by Le Corbusier.
After WWII, a huge Western art collection accumulated by a shipbuilding tycoon, Mr.Matsukata in pre-war Europe, was requested to be returned to France by the Allies. Through a lengthy negotiation between the French government and the Japanese counterpart over 6 years, the collection was finally granted to remain in Japan, provided a museum specifically designed for Western art was to be built and the collection was to be exhibited there. The project was seen as a symbol of resumption of diplomatic ties between France and Japan, therefore, the design of the museum was trusted to Le Corbusier who was the most prominent architect of the 20th century.

We were super excited about the exhibition and couldn’t walk any faster. Then, we noticed something wasn’t quite right…

20140219-171944.jpg

The gate was firmly shut.
‘Is it closed today…?! Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!’
Apparently, they were closed on every Monday. In UK, galleries & museums were to close only on Xmas Day, Boxing Day & New Year Day. So I assumed it was the same in Japan. Poor mum was crestfallen. Sorry mum, I should have checked their homepage…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Blog at WordPress.com.