Call Me Selfish

I know I shouldn’t, but there’s nothing I want more in my life right now than to get the hell out of Tokyo

Sickness be damned, I want to get out and leave, leave it all behind. Quarantine, rationing, the all-consuming dread that rules everything around me in this new cruel world. We’ve all been told it is our duty to stay in place, to freeze our lives around us, until this entire ordeal goes away or resolves itself, or is dealt with by the proper authorities, depending on who you decide to believe.

But people have to eat. And I still have to work to feed them.

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Stephen Starts a Diary: May 18th – May 19th

It’s starting to warm up.  The heat hasn’t gotten anywhere near summer levels, mind you, but it’s gotten hot enough to draw a sweat with a brisk walk.

Working, as I do, in a ramen shop, this change is represented by the change in the popularity of certain menu items.  Down go the sales of the thick, hearty ramen.  Up, up, up go the sales of the slightly (and I do mean slightly) lighter tsukemen dipping noodles.

Even working the graveyard shift like I did yesterday/today/tonight, you’re struck by how much people’s food preferences are affected by the weather outside.  

Working consecutive graveyard shifts whilst mostly maintaining a regular daytime lifestyle has a way of making feel like you’ve been “unstuck” in time, like you’ve gone down the rabbithole and when you pop your head back out again, you have no idea whether you’ll be greeted by sunlight or the stars.

In Japan, wages go up a mandatory 25 percent past ten at night so there is incentive to work the night shift.  Everytime I have one of those shifts, I feel like a part of me dies.  The faster I get out of the midnight shift lifestyle, the happier I’ll be.

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 10th

5/10 Thursday

I’ve been seeing a lot of head office of late.   With my new part time job and increased first-thing-in-the-morning English lessons, I’ve spent far more time sitting around the offices of the biggest comedy entertainment company in Japan than I have actually being a comedian for the company itself.

I don’t really mind.  I get more money doing menial office tasks and teaching English than I do with the all-too-often pay-to-play set up afforded to young comedians in the labyrinthian Yoshimoto Creative Agency bureaucracy.  Today after my Yoshimoto work ended, I went to my ramen job.  I’d like to say that I enjoy doing it but it turns out I enjoy eating ramen more than I do slinging noodles and taking orders from drunk assholes til the crack of dawn.  Considering how much I’ve been working at Yoshimoto recently, I don’t really need to be working that job anymore.  But (a) the ramen is good and (b) I live in constant fear that my cushy sit on my ass at a desk all day doing absolutely nothing gig is going to go up in flames sooner rather than later. Continue reading

Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Clam Chowder Cup Ramen

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these but while I’ve neglected the whole try-weird-Japanese-food-product-and-talk-about-how-zany-it-is thing, it hasn’t been for a lack of Japanese food companies throwing odd things at the wall to see what sticks (or, probably more accurately, get free publicity from people going “isn’t this weird?” online).

But then, a few weeks back, I started hearing about 7-11’s newest special “LIMITED TIME ONLY” cup noodle creation, a “clam chowder” ramen developed in collaboration with every aging American urban hipster’s favorite chain ramen restaurant, Ippudo.  The clam chowder, they claimed, was a speciality brought over from the New York outpost.

Being a guy desperately trying to find things to write about that won’t bring me the wrath of my corporate overlords, I decided to give it a try.img_8008

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Stephen Eats Japan: Rokurinsha, Tokyo, Japan (六厘舎)

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As seen in multiple posts before (like here), I take particular delight in eating tsukemen, ramen’s less well-known (at least in the states) brother.  As seemingly hundreds of thousands of international television programs and publications and snobby know-it-alls on the internet would like to tell you, the be-all, end-all must-try tsukemen is that of Rokurinsha, preferably that of the crowded Tokyo Station basement location because everyone knows food is only good if you’ve waited an inordinate amount of time to eat it.

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Matsudo Ramen Orgy, Part Two: The Best Tsukemen in Japan (とみ田)

With my belly (temporarily) full, I still had a full hour-and-a-half to kill before my seating at Tomita, the tsukemen haven that had brought me to the city of Matsudo in Chiba Prefecture.

Japanese stairs are not for the faint of heart.

Japanese stairs are not for the faint of heart.

Matsudo is a bedroom community located in the greater vicinity of the Tokyo metropolitan area, funneling tens of thousands of salarymen and students to and from the capital city everyday.  This, of course, means that there’s not particularly much to do in the city of Matsudo proper that you can’t really do anywhere else in Japan. So I pretty much just wandered the streets for a few hours, no doubt freaking out dozens of pensioners on the street with my hulking foreign presence and having to climb lots and lots of stairs.

Finally, 4:30 came around and I meandered back over to the relatively humble storefront.  Finding myself immediately instructed to wait by one of the nice dudes working at the shop, I sat down at the head of a long row of chairs jammed unceremoniously between the wall and some space heaters.  I only lasted about two minutes before it felt like my legs were about to melt, mostly because the heater was approximately five millimeters away from my calves and was apparently cranked up to roast.

Second degree burns are no way to start a meal.

Second degree burns are no way to start a meal.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long, as the rest of my seating group (in order to ensure the maximum amount of quality control per bowl, Tomita seats its customers in waves, filling the cramped shop with customers, serving each and every one of them, wiping down and cleaning up, and then starting the process all over again) had all arrived right on cue, no doubt having been anticipating their meal for the past several hours.

I got seated in a relatively unexciting wall seat, pretty much coming face-to-face with a portrait of the (recently deceased) originator of tsukemen, which in terms of dining companions ranks somewhere between an actual person and a bare concrete wall in terms of being entertaining.

My dining companion.

My dining companion.

With my dining buddy for the meal being completely unresponsive (faded framed pictures generally don’t say much), I settled in and braced myself for an experience I’d assumed would be somewhere between face-meltingly amazing and alien ghosts implanting happy emotions into your brain good (that one was for all you Scientologists out there).  It was a relatively short wait until my food was placed before me.

I know you guys have come to expect a lot of words and sardonic turns of phrases from me but for this one, I’m just going to let the pictures do most of the talking. Continue reading

Matsudo Ramen Orgy, Part One: Tonikaku and waiting for Tomita (兎に角 & 中華蕎麦 とみ田)

Some times on my weekend, I get bored.  And when I get bored, I like to eat.  I know, not necessarily the healthiest of time-killers, but I like food, dammit.

This Thursday (my Saturday), I decided to take a bit of trip to a veritable tsukemen Mecca located but an hour and a half by train from my current home base of Mito.  Ranked number one by just about everyone as having the best tsukemen in Japan (and thus, barring unforeseen circumstances, the world), Tomita, a small-ish restaurant located in the Tokyo “suburb” of Matsudo in Chiba prefecture routinely draws hour long waits thanks to a constant stream of revelers aching to take in the glory of a good bowl of noodles and soup.

I'm not lying when I say that 50% of the "hub" train stations in Japan look EXACTLY the same.

I’m not lying when I say that 50% of the “hub” train stations in Japan look EXACTLY the same.

I arrived in Matsudo at around 2:30 in the afternoon and head for Tomita(とみ田), but a short five minute walk away from the main train station in town.  Since I was arriving after the lunch rush and on a weekday to boot, there had to be a good chance that I could get in and eat my bowl in a reasonable amount of time, right?

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Furukawa ふる川 Mito, Ibaraki, Japan 茨城県 水戸市

Been a while as I was busy at work and all that good stuff.  Also I’ve been eating a lot of food and getting fat and all jazz.  One of the chief culprits?  Furukawa, a new-ish ramen shop that opened up down the street from my apartment this summer and has subsequently garnered a lot of buzz online, considering the area in which it’s based.

With my days off currently being Thursday and Friday, there’s pretty much nothing stopping me from hitting up the place once a week and polishing a 1000 yen worth of noodles and the works in a thirty minute whirlwind of gluttony and stress eating.

Not an empty seat in the house.

Not an empty seat in the house.

Whilst in America, we generally refer to ramen as either the kind that comes in a styrofoam cup and will give you a heart attack or the kind you get at a Japanese place, ramen in Japan is itself a discipline with many different schools and styles of preparation and flavor.  (It’s a long story, one that you can at least start to grasp by looking at this link.)

The ramen in Furukawa comes mainly in assari-style salt or soy sauce based bowls with occassional specialities coming in with the changing of the seasons.

My usual go-to is the assari soy sauce ramen (pictured below), silky smooth but still with enough flavor to let you know that you’ve just shortened your life by half a decade. The noodles are thin and firm, actually not entire unlike the noodles in Instant Ramen… except they don’t taste like cardboard and cigarette butts.  A typical bowl comes with a piece of chicken and an almost rare piece of thin chashuu, a slightly more finesse take on what is at times considered a man’s meal. (No sexism intended.)  The price for a normal bowl of filling noodles and broth?  700 yen (or only 60 yen more expensive than a Big Mac set).

Furukawa

Shoyu Ramen. 700 yen

But since I’m a fat person, I don’t just stop there.  Nope, I also have to get my daily serving of rice in a bowl, here topped with a nice portion of sliced chashuu, soy glaze, and mayonnaise.

Furukawa

Chashu-don. 300 yen

Were I a health conscious individual, this would probably be enough for an entire meal.  But I’m not.  Eating the chashu this way is a good way to sample the efforts of a ramen shop when it comes to one of the most crucial aspects of the ramen experience.  And Furukawa, of course, passes with flying colors.  The price of this bowl of goodness?  300 yen.  In other words, an economic success.

Recently, with the advent of Autumn, Furukawa has been offering a hearty special: Butasoba.  Thick noodles in a thick, fatty broth served under a heaping pile of bean sprouts, cabbage, pork and shame.  The price once again?  700 yen.  It’s almost like they want me to eat at their shop at every possible opportunity.

Butasoba. 700 yen.  200 arteries clogged.

Butasoba. 700 yen. 200 arteries clogged.

The only downside of eating an infant-sized portion of this stuff?  The sensation that your stomach may burst open Alien-style immediate upon devouring it in a primal frenzy.

Overall, Furukawa is one of my favorite places to eat in Mito (probably top three, if not number one).  While ramen will never be a healthy food, the bowls crafted here are generally done with enough care and attention to detail that you could probably trick yourself into thinking you’re eating somewhere good for you.  If you find yourself in my neck of the woods, definitely do try to sneak in for a bowl (also, call me).  You won’t be disappointed.  (Unless you hate good things, in which case, screw you.)

Tabelog page (in Japanese)