For an officeworker in Japan, the nomikai is a regular part of life.  A nomikai is a food and drink party held immediately after the work day ends.  They are most often held in restaurants or izakaya, usually with everyone seated at one large table.

The traditional nomikai lasts roughly two hours, and it’s not uncommon for people to move on from there to a nijikai, or second party, to continue drinking.    Some of the participants will then go on to a sanjikai, or third party.  Those who go to sanjikai frequently miss the last train, and some of them will keep drinking almost until morning.   There were several instances during my visit in which I learned that my colleagues were quite hung over from sanjikai.

There was a nomikai held at the end of my first week in Japan, partly to welcome a batch of new employees in the group and partly to welcome me to the Tokyo office.   Every picture that follows is the food from the nomikai I attended.  I figured that a post comprised entirely of food would be very appropriate as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US.

The first photo is a small appetizer of a sort of fish flake custard dish.


Tamago, or egg.  I do love eggs.


Edamame is delicious.


Cabbage leaves in a sesame dressing.  So, so tasty.


The thing about asking Japanese colleagues to identify a dish is that they will often just answer that it’s meat.  If you’re really lucky, they might specify which animal the meat came from.  I was not so lucky.


These noodles were incredibly delicious.


Oh look, a sumimasen button!


This is fried fish bones.  I did not think I was going to dig this, but it was crunchy, salty, and surprisingly delicious.


Leafy stuff in a sesame dressing is one of the most delicious foods on the planet.


I’m pretty sure this is two types of fish.  Someone told me that the pale one was blowfish, but I’m not certain I believe them.


Various fried and breaded seafood things.  The round balls that look like they have cornflakes on the outside were especially delicious.


Remember a while back when I mentioned the Okonomiyake?    This was kind of like that, except huge and portioned out like a big deep dish pizza.


Eggs and vegetables and shrimp!  Super yum.


Slices of cooked meat.  Again, super yum.


What traditional Nomikai would be complete without french fries?


By the time we finished the Nomikai, I was super full of all manner of delicious food.

Of all the food you’ve eaten on trips, which item was the most unusual to you?

Yokohama Ramen Museum

On my way back from Kamakura, I stopped in Yokohama to have a quick lunch at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum!


The Ramen Museum is dedicated to the history of Ramen, the well known chinese noodle dish, and the ways that Ramen has changed in Japan.  The main difference, according to the museum, is in the soup stock used for the noodles.  In Japan, a Ramen noodle soup can contain up to forty different ingredients, a “treasure trove of umami.”

The highlight of the Ramen Museum for me was the basement level, where the creators have envisioned a “food-themed amusement park.”  In reality, what they have created is a replica of a Tokyo street from around 1958.  Within that street-scape are nine individual Ramen restaurants emulating popular Ramen shops from across Japan.


The attention to detail in the museum’s indoor street is incredible, and the smells of the various ramen shops are amazing.  Each visitor to the museum is expected to order at least one bowl of ramen, although they make smaller bowls for those who want to sample more than one type instead of having a single meal.


The ceiling of this space is painted to give the illusion of it being dusk, which lends it self to dinnertime.


As for the shops, it’s very much the same thing as Matsuya.  You start at a little ticket machine, choosing your dish and inserting coins for a food ticket.


Once you have your ticket, you can go inside.  Seating is limited, and the shops don’t accept reservations.  A pitcher of ice water and a cup of chopsticks are placed near every seat.


This was on the wall in front of me.  I thought it was fascinating.


This was my lunch.   The dish I chose was vegetarian, although that was not an intentional choice.  I simply chose something that looked delicious.  The ball in the center may look like a meat-ball, but it’s actually a clump of Miso.


Do you like Ramen noodles?  Have you ever tried a Japanese variety?


Because Japan 2: Engrish, Safety, and Sweetness

Since I took nearly 2,500 photos during my five weeks in Japan, this is another post full of stuff that doesn’t really fit into my entries about specific places or events.

As a longstanding fan of Engrish, I thoroughly enjoyed a chance to see some wonderfully funny missed translations while I was in Japan.  Tokyo did not disappoint.

This is the very steak!  I regret that I did not have a chance to eat The Very Steak.


I’m not sure if Meat Potato truly counts as Engrish, but it’s still a funny food descriptor.


This restaurant in Otemachi was absolutely delicious, but their sign was chock full of poetic Engrish.


I’ve learned since my departure that Drug-on Taco is actually a fairly popular chain of taco trucks.  Depending on the drug, I can see why that might be the case.


That wraps up my Engrish examples.  Next up in this post is the magic that is the Japanese parking garage.     As you might imagine, space is at a premium in a city as crowded as Tokyo.  It’s no surprise then that the parking solutions here are fascinating and creative.

The first time I walked past one of these bays, I didn’t quite understand what I was looking at.


What I learned later was that cars are returned to this front space in reverse, and the large disk is a giant turntable to rotate the cars so that they are facing forward for departure.


Japan’s focus on safety is omnipresent, so it makes sense that they would not want drivers having to back into city traffic.   I would never get tired of the car turntable, because it reminds me of the way the Batcave always kept the Batmobile facing forward in the movies.  parking-50

This appears to be the back of the bay shown above.  The cars are kept in vertical racks, and I believe the car retrieval is automated.  I’m not entirely clear on that, however, because I never saw this in operation.



I keep mentioning how Japan is very safety-conscious.  My first exposure to this was the very first time that I went to Akihabara with my colleage.  As we were walking out of the train station, we saw this worker staring at the building across the street.


Across from her was a coned off area and signs to direct your attention upward.


Above that sign, a single worker is washing lots and lots of windows.


Those with acrophobia or poor balance need not apply.


While walking home from the office at night, I would often see road construction being set up for the night.  The crews would dig up tremendous sections of the street and it would all be put back into place by morning.  At night, however, the safety gear came out in force.  The vest lights blinked in alternating patterns.


Teams of safety workers would keep traffic moving around the dig site with their blinky vests and glowy flashlights.


This man’s vest is not off.  It’s just on the off part of the blink cycle at the exact instant that I took the photograph.   safety-dance-12

Even the cones glow in the darkness!


People doing work on the street in Japan often work in teams.  It takes two to ticket this parked vehicle.


These two are really just there to make sure that you don’t get clobbered by falling debris from this tower.  There are always two!  safety-dance-142

Let’s move on to some sweets.  Japan is full of fascinating flavors.  Some of them are amazing, and some of them are not.  These green matcha tea flavored Oreos were not great.  I was optimistic when I saw the package, but the flavor was just not much fun.


These tiny crunchy balls of chocolate joy were amazing, and I bought packets of them throughout my trip.  The outer shell is crunchy, and the inner part was a sort of creamy fudge.


In the mood for ice cream?  7-11 has you covered, with these ingenious cone-shaped containers of single serve.


The things on the left?  Too chewy, and I didn’t enjoy them at all.

The things on the right?  Green tea flavored Kit-Kats, which are amazing.  Kit-Kat has many fascinating flavors in Japan that are not available in other places.  I brought back a small sampling of strawberry flavored Kit-Kats, cheesecake flavored Kit-Kats, and even some Rum-Raisin.   The green tea flavor is the best one, though.  You can find this in the United States, at specialty shops.  Usually near the Pocky.


Have you got a good idea for an end-of-post question?  I can’t think of one right now.


2015 Morikami Lantern Festival: In The Spirit of Obon

Allow me to step away from my neverending flurry of Japan posts to talk about… Japanese culture in South Florida!  This weekend was the 2015 Morikami Lantern Festival: In  The Spirit Of Obon.

First, a little bit of history:  In 1903, a Japanese man named Jo Sakai who had recently graduated from New York University purchased 1000 acres of land from Henry Flagler’s Model Land Company, in order to build a farming community.  Jo Sakai recruited young men from his home town of Miyazu, Japan to help farm the land.  The Yamato Colony was located in what is now Boca Raton, Florida.  One of their main crops was pineapples, and the pineapple is a symbol of nearby Delray Beach to this day. A major East-West roadway in Boca Raton is still called Yamato Road, and I drive that road every time I go to work.

Over time, the Yamato Colony could no longer compete with cheaper pineapples from nearby Cuba.  Most of the farmers returned to Japan, and those who remained lost much of their land when the United States government took it during World War II to build an Army Air Corps training base.  That land is currently part of Florida Atlantic University and the local Boca Raton Airport.  Shoppers leaving the Whole Foods off Glades Road in Boca Raton can still see giant Army turrets left over from the military base bordering the field of the local high school.

The lone member of the Yamato Colony to remain in the area was George Morikami.  George migrated to the area from Miyazu in 1906, and he stayed in the area after the Yamato Colony disbanded.  He purchased land in Delray Beach after World War II, and farmed it for almost thirty years.  George Morikami died at age 89 in 1976, and his ashes were returned to Miyazu.  Nearby Delray Beach is a sister city to Miyazu, in his honor.

Before George died, he donated his land to Palm Beach County, and that land became the Morikami Park and Japanese Gardens.    Ground breaking for Morikami Park was in 1976, and the museum building on site began construction in 1993.

The Museum and Gardens have been celebrating the Bon festival for many years.  Obon has traditionally been celebrated in July or August, but the Morikami changed their celebration a few years ago to be slightly later in the year in order to better avoid summer weather conditions.  The newer festival was combined with another fall Lantern celebration, and thus is called “The Morikami Lantern Festival: In The Spirit of Obon.”

Now that we’ve got that background out of the way, let’s talk about the festival!  As with any festival in Florida, there are tents for small wares- tea, jewelry, and the like.


There were entertainment tents for the children, including facepainting, ring toss games, and a Doraemon’s Pocket game where children can toss a small bean bag into Doraemon’s pocket to win prizes.  Not familiar with Doraemon? He’s a robot cat from the future, and he’s very popular in Japan.


A local screen printing company was working on the official shirts for the festival.  If you’ve never watched screen printing being done, it’s worth a look.  The entire process is just fascinating.


The design for the event logo is beautiful.  The Fine Print Shoppe does nice work.


There were food options at the festival as well.  Some of the food choices were typical American festival fare, but most of the food booths were either Japanese or Japanese-inspired foods.  Amelie and I ate Takoyaki, a round and battered snack which is traditionally filled with octopus, tempura, ginger, and onion, but was made at the Morikami with chicken instead of octopus.  We also tried Kinoko Gohan, a type of brown rice with mushroom in it.  Both dishes were delicious.


Emboldened by the delicious flavors of the other two, we tried a dessert called Dango.  Dango is a semi-sweet dumpling made of mochiko (rice flour), and covered in a syrup made of soy sauce, sugar, and starch.  Neither of us enjoyed this as much as the other dishes we had tried-  the texture was very dense, and the syrup brought very little sweetness to the whole concoction.  As a dessert, this kind of failed for me.


In order to cleanse your mental palate from the foodstuffs, let me show you around the park a little bit.  They have a Bonsai work area where they grow and trim many varieties of the sprightly little trees.


The garden has long winding pathways on which you might stroll with pretty girlfriends.  Here’s mine.


There are waterfalls and stone paths over water, as well as wooden boardwalks over some pools.


There is a proper zen garden.  While we were in this area, we overheard a young frat boy asking the attendant if the design was ever changed.  When he was told that it was not, he suggested (with a blinding surge of stupidity) that they should cover it in a coat of clear acrylic.


There are nooks and crannies on the pathways around the garden.  On one particular nook, there’s a bamboo water pipe which fills and then dips each time it is too full:

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The entire garden wraps around a very large lake.


One part of the garden is a small bamboo forest.  The sound of bamboo rubbing against other bamboo is unlike any other sound on Earth.  Not that I haven’t tried to imitate it.  Quite a lot, in fact.


Near the main museum is a stone ring on a stand.  I don’t truly understand the significance of the stone, but it’s pretty and photogenic.  And a banana spider has made a web in the center of the ring which catches the light very nicely.


This little fellow didn’t seem overly concerned with the hordes of humans present in the park on Saturday.  He was hunting for food and wandered right past me, no more than an arm’s length away.


There are several bridges in the park demonstrating various types of Japanese architecture.  I couldn’t begin to tell you much about this one, but it’s nice looking, don’t you think?


Now that you have a better idea of the setting, let me show you some of the entertainment.   There were rotating shows, three times each, of two Japanese arts.  The first was Japanese folk dancing by Chitose Kai.


Some of the folk dancing was assisted by members of the second group, the Fushu Daiko Taiko drumming troupe.


Founded in 1990, Fushu Daiko is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.  That big drum behind the group?  They call it Godzilla.


It’s difficult to get clear shots of the drummers- they’re very fast.


Fushu Daiko teaches classes in their dojo, so the students also perform at some shows.

I’m not gonna lie to you-  Taiko drumming is super cool to watch.  I’m not going to talk about the next nine photos.  Just look through them slowly, and then figure out when you can go see a Taiko show.  For those of you in Orlando, just go to Epcot- they do it there every day.  I’ll see you after the Fushu Daiko pictures.

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Welcome back!  How did you like the Taiko drums?

By the time the final drumming finished up, there were only a few things left to do at the festival.  There was a little more shopping available-  these lights were much prettier after dark than they were in the daytime.


The lantern part of the lantern festival was close to the end of the evening.  Visitors were encouraged to purchase and build a floating lantern or a tanzaku slip in memory of a loved one.  These lanterns would then float across Morikami Lake at the end of the evening.  There wasn’t much of a breeze, so the lanterns didn’t move very much.  They still looked pretty nifty, though.


Finally, just before the close of the festival, there were fireworks.   Lots of them, right over the corner of Morikami Lake.


Have you ever been to the Morikami Museum and Gardens?  Have you ever been to a Bon Festival?


Around the office, Tokyo Edition

Longtime readers of my blog know that I don’t really talk about my employment here.  However, my primary reason for being in Japan was to work in the Tokyo office for five weeks.  As a result, I spent a lot of time around this view:


Our office is in the Otemachi financial district.  There are lots of very, very tall buildings here.


Any series of posts about being in Japan should touch on the older style of floor-toilets.  This is what they look like.  In train stations, there are markings on the stall doors to tell you whether you have a floor toilet or a Western-style toilet.  I managed to go through most of my five weeks in Japan without having to use one of these logistically crazy floor squatters.   I was doing fine, until I got to a train station on the outskirts of Osaka.   When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.

The problem with floor toilets for a Westerner like me, is that there’s no easy way to balance over the thing unless you take one leg entirely out of your jeans.  Even with partial disrobing, I had to rest a tiny part of my weight on the lip of the raised portion.  I’m just not built that way.  Don’t even get me started about how much taking my shoes off in a public restroom squicks me out.

I can tick the floor-squat toilet experience off my bucket list now.  I don’t ever need to do that again.


This pop-up beer garden showed up near the office, but I never got a chance to stop in.  I also didn’t ever see people inside until my very last week.  Sapporo is pretty tasty though, so I’m sure that woulda been tasty good fun.


One of the buildings near the office has a traditional smoker’s aquarium.  These never fail to make me laugh.  The ventilation system is top notch, though-  I walked past this thing almost every day, and I never smelled smoke from inside.


Inside the office, there’s a Shinto altar to wish for good business, complete with an English explanation.  I thought this was fascinating.



Also in the office:  Complimentary hot and cold running water, green tea, barley tea, and (terrible) coffee.   I had a cup of the hot barley tea nearly every day-  I had never been exposed to barley tea before this trip, and I really enjoyed it.


On days that I was in the office during normal business hours, we usually ate lunch in the cafeteria at the basement level.  The value is excellent-  I usually got a tremendous amount of food for no more than about five Yen.   For example, this meat dish, with rice, vegetable, miso soup, and a beverage was 4.90 yen.



Similarly this plate with what I thought was three chicken nugget type things.  Imagine my surprise when the third one turned out to be fish instead of chicken!


I can’t really remember what this one was, but it seems to be a basic noodle-meat-veggie dish.   The little pasta salad at the bottom was tasty.


This one was a sort of pho-like noodle bowl, with a rice piece that had a seaweed wrap.


Of all the cafeteria dishes I had, this one was my absolute favorite-  I love eggs like crazy, and the other parts were delicious, including the rice hidden beneath the top layer.  This is the only dish that I completely finished-  most of the others had some leftover food when I was done.  I noticed that my colleagues from the Tokyo office did not have this problem-  they all ate significantly faster than me, and they all cleared their plates entirely.  I suspect there’s a cultural thing where not clearing your plate is seen as wasting food, but I have to stop eating when I’m full or I feel absolutely terrible.


Most of my time in the office was evening shifts, which meant that my food breaks had to use restaurants in the immediate vicinity.    Near the office, I found a delicious Thai resturant, for some great Pad Thai.


There’s also any number of Italian restaurants.   This one in the Otemachi Financial Center has pasta over a stunningly delicious meat sauce.


That same food court area contains a Gyoza (dumpling) shop named New York New York.  They were one of the few restaurants I visited which had an English menu, even if the translation might need a little bit of work.  What the hell is hairy crab meat?!


Gyoza are damned tasty, don’t you think?


My colleague liked this flavor packet quite a lot.  I tried it on my rice, and was disturbed to learn that it tasted like miso and seaweed, not like chicken.


New York New York had a fun little photo opportunity.  Yup, the Statue of Liberty has chopsticks holding a Gyoza.  Why not?


This is actually ramen noodles.   Everything I thought I knew about ramen was challenged in Japan, because the ramen there is amazing and flavorful and nothing whatsoever like the freeze-dried instant noodles I was familiar with.  This dish tasted fantastic.


Sometimes, after a few days of unfamiliar (and often unidentifiable) food, it’s nice to just have something familiar.    Most of the places I ate alone involved a lot of pointing to get the desired food.  Subway had helpful visual choices, so it was more or less the same assembly-line approach to food that I was used to.


This is a tuna-fish sub with a cookie and soft-drink.  This was almost identical to the meal I periodically ate in German Subway restaurants for the last few years.  Subway really doesn’t change that much from continent to continent.


That’s enough food for right now, though.   Let’s take a little detour to meet this adorable pup, a little dog named Gran.


Gran keeps watch over the Granpark building, which is where we had to go once during my trip for a meeting.


The highlight of taking this meeting at Granpark was this pretty spectacular view from the eleventh floor.  Once more, you can see Tokyo Tower in the distance.  I promise I’ll get back to that in another post.


This was another fun moment-  when we were on our way out, the building was having some sort of earthquake drill.  There’s a school in the vicinity, and all the children had been dressed in these little yellow hoods.  I’m not positive of their function, but if I had to guess, I would say that the hoods are to provide padding and protection in case an earthquake generates falling masonry.

Either that, or the children are all being trained to stand in for garden gnomes in their off time.


Have you ever eaten at a Subway restaurant away from your home country?  Did you find it to be similar or different to your expectations?