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…


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…


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…


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…


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!


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…


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

A panda bear greeted us…


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…


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…


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

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