Looking Into The Past To See The Future

Every great city has a history that belongs to it. It is hard to imagine the process that a city will go through to be where it’s at today. Every major city has to go through growing pains, natural
disasters, and war to lay the foundations of the city it is today. Tokyo is no exception, with its foundations building out of Edo. Fun fact, Edo means “bay-entrance” or “estuary”.

Edo was the former name for Tokyo and was the seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate.Edo started as a small fishing village in 1457 then worked its way up to the capital of Japan in1603. Edo became the headquarters of the Tokugawa bakufu in 1603 making it the de factocapital of Japan. Kyoto was the formal capital at the time, but the political power rested in Edo. A bakufu is a system of government of a feudal military dictatorship. Japan still had an emperor during this time and resided in Kyoto, but the Shogun had all the political power. Eventually over 1,000,00 people lived in Edo by 1721, therefore making it the largest city in the world at that time. It was in 1868 when the shogunate ended, that Edo was renamed to Tokyo and the emperor moved his place to Tokyo.

You can experience this evolution from nothing to the Tokyo we know today at the Edo museum. This museum is modeled after an old storehouse, which towers over you as you walk up to it. You take an escalator up to the 5th floor, where you walk up to the 7th to start your tour of the Edo. A
replica of the Nihonbashi, a large bridge that lead into Edo, starts you off as you begin your journey through time. The Edo museum contains many artifacts that show what life was like in Edo from manufacturing tools to tea sets and scrolls to weapons. The Edo museum also has giant replicas of a theater and scale models of Edo through the different eras in Japans history.

All in all it was just another fantastic day spent in Tokyo!

Oh Doria, How I Love Thee

Doria, simply put is "Comfort Food" but before I explain what the dish actually is let me explain where on the spectrum of cuisine it comes from. Back home comfort food comes in many forms, fried chicken, chili, mashed potatoes and the list could go on.  In Japan they have there own form of comfort food.  No I'm not talking about ramen or sushi.  To Haden and mines surprise it's the complete opposite of what you would expect.  Scattered amongst the sushi bars and ramen counters is a class of restaurant that the Japanese call western food.  I know what you are thinking,  why would we want to eat western food when we live in Japan, let me explain.  The Japanese have taken several of the comfort foods from the States and Western Europe and over the years and many years at that, created their own versions that can be called completely theirs.  So what is doria exactly, well its a dance of flavors that it pretty much perfect, at least in my book.  The combination of yellow rice or ketchup fried rice (trust me its good) layered with white sauce and red sauce and chunks of chicken or shrimp, covered with cheese and baked in the oven.  I have come to describe is a the Japanese version of lasagna.  My mouth is watering just describing it too you.  Its said to hail from Italy and was introduced in 1925 as French cuisine and served at Yokohama's New Grand Hotel.  After discovering this hidden gem I decided to take on the task and create my own doria.  I must say Haden and I both thought it came out great.

Ingredients

B├ęchamel (White) Sauce
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup Gruyere cheese
  • A pinch of nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of white pepper to taste
Body
  • 1/2 pound shrimp - peeled, devained and cut in bit-size pieces
  • 1/4 pound scallops - cut in bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 - 2/3 cups white wine
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 yellow or white onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped white mushrooms
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic (1 or 2 small cloves)
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • 2 cups cooked white rice at room temperature (leftover rice is fine and dandy)
Topping
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese (or other mild white cheese)
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish
  3. Combine cut shrimp and scallops with white wine and let stand at room temperature for at least ten minutes
  4. Make b├ęchamel Sauce ....
  5. Melt 4 Tablespoons butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan.
  6. When butter is foaming, add the flour in small increments and stir constantly to create a smooth paste - about 3 minutes. (Add flour slowly and do not allow it to color)
  7. Slowly add the milk to the flour mixture, stirring constantly. (We don't want lumps!)
  8. Cook sauce, stirring constantly until it thickly coats the back of a spoon - about 5 - 7 minutes.
  9. Stir in salt and 1/4 cup cheese
  10. Add nutmeg
  11. Remove from heat and keep warm
  12. In large skillet melt 1 Tablespoon butter over medium heat
  13. Add onion and cook until translucent - 4 - 5 minutes
  14. Add mushrooms and cook until soft
  15. Add the shrimp, scallop and wine to the onions and mushrooms
  16. Add garlic, salt, white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until shrimp and scallops are cooked through - about 5 minutes
  17. Remove from heat and drain liquid from the pan into a 2-cup glass measuring cup.
  18. Add rice to shrimp mixture and combine
  19. Add enough of the white sauce to the measuring cup to measure about 2 cups total (a bit more won't hurt
  20. Place rice and shrimp-scallop mixture into prepared baking dish
  21. Pour sauce evenly of the rice and shrimp-scallop mixture
  22. Sprinkle evenly with 1 to 1 1/2 cups cheese
  23. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted and golden brown - about 10 - 12 minutes
  24. Sprinkle parsley on top of dish and serve hot.

Tonkatsu. What Did You Say?

Tonkatsu, what is this strange word or dish or..... OK so I'm not really trying to confuse you but hey the first time I heard the word I was like Huh?. Putting the confusing Japanese syllables aside it is pronounced just as its spelled. Ton-kat-su, not to bad. So what is it really? Simply put its a breaded fried pork cutlet. Its really not all that mysterious at all. Recently I took on the task of trying to recreate this tasty dish as my first attempt at Japanese cuisine. Haden and I first discovered this tasty fried comfort in a small little lunch spot down a side alley in Machida, we didn't even know what it was nor did we figure it our for sometime. It is really quite simple to make . Pork cutlet, lightly floured and rolled in panko bread crumbs then fried to golden perfection. Its usually served sliced over rice with Tonkatsu sauce, kinda of like a BBQ sauce, and shredded cabbage. Simple, easy, delicious and down right awesome. At least in my opinion.

Tonkatsu
 4 thick pork loin cutlets or steaks (boneless) or chicken
 1 cup all purpose flour seasoned with salt and pepper
 2 eggs, lightly beaten
 2 cups panko breadcrumbs (Japanese breadcrumbs)
 Vegetable oil for frying

Serve
 Tonkatsu sauce or BBQ sauce
 Cooked rice or cabbage

Cut, 3-4 slits in the fat on the side of the pork cutlets or steaks

Use a mallet to flatten each cutlet, then press to coat in seasoned flour and dip in beaten egg

Coat pork cutlets in breadcrumbs and press to ensure they stick to the cutlets.  Allow to stand for 30 minutes if time allows to ensure crumbs hold.

Heat vegetable oil for shallow frying in deep flying pan until it starts to move.  Gently lower the cutlets in batches into the pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side or until crisp, and golden brown and cooked through. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper towels and keep warm while you cooking
the remaining cutlets.  Serve sliced with Tonkatsu sauce, rice and cabbage
Yum!

Japanese Cusine: A Whole New Take On Life

OK so you are probably wondering what I am referring to by the title. Obviously I'm gonna be talking about food but in what regards? So here goes, since living in Japan food has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I an American so my cooking style is just that "American". Every chance I get Haden and I try and discover something new we haven't tried. Everything from Ramen or Sushi, typically known in the US, to things like Nikuman, Mochi, and Doria. Some of them exotic and others not so much just exotic sounding. I have come to realize that Japanese cuisine is my kind of food and my coworkers joke I just might turn Japanese because I love the food here so much.  Now don't get me wrong I love all the comfort foods of home but I am starting to discover comfort foods of Japan that just can't be beat. In an attempt to really dive in to the bizarre foods of Japan I figured I need to eat and experiencing all I can here and develop my skills in the kitchen for a lifetime of Japanese gourmet enjoyment. Ok so now that is said I have taken it upon myself to try and master certain dishes that I know I can make anywhere I am. Thanks to an awesome Aunt and a cookbook, I am already on my way. You have to start somewhere and why not a cook book. It has pretty much all the basics but its missing a few key recipes, I think anyway, that are standards in Japanese kitchens. And so here starts a journey where I share with you my achievements and maybe failures in the world of Japanese ingredients and dishes.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Spring time is the time where everything begins to bloom in an array of colors. Since this is our first spring here in Japan, it was the first chance for us to experience the blooming of the Cherry blossoms. Many festivals are held during this time to behold the beauty of all the cherry blossoms blooming together. Even Camp Zama has a festival to celebrate. We heard about a very nice park/garden in the Shinjuku area that is supposed to be one the best in the area. So we went out on a Sunday afternoon to go find it. It took us about an hour by train to get Shinjuku and a 10 minute walk to get to the park. When we finally found it, the line to get into the park seemed to stretch several blocks. Fortunately we did not have to go the back of the line because we found a spot that allowed us to merge into the line closer to the gate. Once we got into the garden, we finally realized how pack it was. There were areas big enough to hold a football field packed with people picnicking. It was a beautiful day to just sit down and enjoy the sun on your skin. Trees with cherry blossoms were everywhere too. The park itself is very large. It took us the better part of three hours to walk all the way around it. Inside the park were also ponds with intricate bridges barley big enough for two people standing next to each other. Mixed among the cherry blossoms where flowers of different colors and shapes. It was a very beautiful place to be even though it was packed.

Yokohama Where The Wind Comes Sweepin’ Down The Plain?

We have told you about how easy it is to get around here in Japan, which makes it easy when you really do not have a plan to do anything. When people think of Japanese cities they think Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki first. However, they do not think of the second largest city, Yokohama. Yokohama is the capital of the Kanagawa Prefecture (state) and lies on the Tokyo Bay as a major commercial hub. It had a humble beginning as a fishing village which began to transform into the port it is today in 1859. Over the next hundred and fifty years, it would go through many transformations and restorations. It was destroyed by a earthquake in 1923 and by air raids during World War II that caused it to be rebuilt. In spite of this, Yokohama had many firsts for Japan that include its first daily newspaper (which started in 1870), first gas-powered street laps (1872) and power plant (1872). Yokohama contains a diverse selection of attractions for everyone. We went to Yokohama to see the Landmark Tower, which is the tallest building in Japan. It has 70 floors, but the 69 th floor is an observatory which offers a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. On clear day you can see Mt. Fuji in the distance. Landmark Tower has the second fastest elevators in the world. The elevators reach up to speeds of 28 mph, which means that you reach the top in less than 40 seconds. The views are fantastic from up there! We were not able to see everything we wanted that day, but we have plenty of days left in Japan. We are planning on going to Yokohama’s Chinatown, which is one the largest in the world. The Yokohama Museum of Art is also located near Landmark Tower, but we did not have enough Yen at the time to go through. Yokohama is an exciting city that we thoroughly enjoyed when we went. Now you can stop reading this and enjoy all the pictures we took!

A Soga Hills Revenge Story



I want to tell you a story. A story, though ancient, still lives on as Japan's greatest story of revenge.

In a century of great power two clans fought for land. Lord Kudo and Lord Ito battled to rule the many territories of eastern Japan. On a hunt, an attempt to kill Ito was made, Kudo missed and killed the man sitting next to Ito. His name was Kawazu Saburo and was the son of Ito and Kudo’s cousin. Soon Kawazu’s wife heard the news and wept at his body. Kawazu’s had two sons one 3, Goro, and the other 5, Juro. She told the news to her two sons and said, “ You both are too young to understand, but when you grow up, I want revenge for your father.” The elder son of only 5, staring at his father's body, replied, “ I swear that someday I will get revenge for him.”

The wife remarried to the Soga family but the elder son never forgot the words of his mother or his vow to avenge his father's death. Several years passed and though loved by their step father the eldest son longed for his father Kawazu.

As the years passed the Minamoto family (allied with the Kudo clan) defeated the Taira family to become rulers of Japan. Minamoto family headed by Minamoto-Yoritomo, established the Kamakura Shogunate, the first samurai government. In time the brothers were informed of a great hunt to take place at the foot of Mt. Fuji. This was the very moment the brothers decided to avenge their father's death. Because of the grand scale of this hunt, it was easy for the two brothers to slip into the followers of Yoritomo and plan their attack. The brothers plan was to find where Kudo would stay at night. The brothers always kept an eye on Kudo but night time was the best opportunity for their revenge since he would be alone.

Under the cover of night and rain the brothers snuck into Kudo’s room. Its was nearly midnight and Kudo was fast asleep and unaware that his life would soon end. “Wake up Kudo! I am Kawazu Saburo’s son Juro.” and “I am his younger son Goro. Now you pay your debt for the death of our father.” Kudo, without thought, instinctively reached for his sword, but not swift enough. Juro slashed Kudo from his left shoulder to his right armpit rendering Kudo defenseless, while Goro severed his waist and finished him off with a stab to his stomach. With roaring voices, “ Ye who are afar, hear and tremble! Ye who are near, behold and wonder. We are Kawazu Saburo’s sons: Juro and Goro. We’ve just slain Kudo, in the name of vengeance, who killed our father.” Kudo’s men heard the proclamation of their leader’s death and swarmed the two brothers. Both brothers fought bravely, but during the fight Juro was slaughtered and Goro captured.

Held captive, Goro was drug in front of Yoritomo to face investigation for his assassination of Kudo. Goro knew that because of Kudo’s high stature, his revenge would lead to nothing but his death. Unafraid, Goro recounted what Kudo had done to his father. Yoritomo sympathised with Goro because he too, as a child, experienced life in exile. He wanted to save his life even though Kudo’s sons demanded the execution of Goro. Goro said, “Give me death, I’ve been resolved to die. I want to meet my father and brother in the next world as soon as possible.” Under the orders of Yoritomo, Goro was beheaded with a blunt sword. Goro gave honor to his father, mother and brother.

The revenge of the Soga brothers was sealed and their story would be told and passed on through the generations. Jump 819 years into the future where Kristina and I traveled to the Soga Hills on a hiking trip not knowing this story. Winding through the lush hills, we encountered breathtaking views of the oceanic coast where you could see the Volcano Island and the snow covered Mt. Fuji guarding the city of Odawara. Within the trees, bright orange tangerines peek through and a bamboo forest shoots into the the unreachable sky. You can feel a sense of history, whether it’s knowing that these hills are named for a famous revenge story or the hidden buddhist shrine where ancient monks were buried. Hiking through these hills remind you that there is so much more to life.

It was also the time of year when festivals began to start up. At the base of the Soga Hills was a Plum blossom festival in full swing. There were many performances that were occurring, like plays and dances. We even got venturous with our choice for food by trying Mochi for the first time. Mochi is a Japanese delicacy that is usually eaten as dessert. It is made of pounded sweet rice flour that is made into really chewy balls. Mochi is generally served with some sort of sweet powder, but it can be served with other toppings as well. We tried some Mochi with a savory sauce that was made from soy sauce, daikon (Japanese radish), and sprinkled with bonito (dried fish flakes). This was not our favorite topping on the Mochi, but we decided to try some more. This time we ended up getting Mochi dusted with sweet rice flour. This we definitely liked, or more importantly Kristina liked it. All in all it was a great trip to the countryside away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Soga Hill and Plum Festival


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