October 2021 Giveaway! Brought to you by ‘The Real Japan’ and ‘Nagoya is not Boring’
1x 1st Prize: A Private Online Japanese Tea Ceremony Experience with ‘Nagoya is not boring’ + Planning A Trip To Japan + How To Travel In Japan Without Speaking Japanese travel guides – worth £35
2 x Runners up Prizes: Planning A Trip To Japan travel guide – worth £14 each
Total prize value of £63
Experience a modern variation of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony online called “Table Style Sado”. Get an introduction to this special part of the Japanese culture and bring a bit of Japan into your daily life.
‘Nagoya is not boring’ connects travelers to Japan with unique and authentic experiences and tours in Nagoya.
Robert Whiting is a talented and fascinating writer addicted to Japan. He has lived and worked as a journalist in Tokyo on and off for more than fifty years. His memoir ‘Tokyo Junkie‘ begins in 1962 when Japan was transforming itself on a monumental scale in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics. The pages in-between cover a plethora of captivating subjects relating to the capital and the colourful characters who live there, as well as his own experiences in the Land of the Rising Sun. His final thoughts dwell on the recent Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021 and the effects of Covid-19 on the Japanese people and the businesses that thrive on the streets and alleyways in Tokyo.
Whiting is a humble man, saying more than once he believes he lacks an understanding of the finer points of Japanese culture, for example tea ceremony, but this book proves he has an all-encompassing understanding of society, culture, politics, sport and religion in Japan. He writes on a variety of subjects including the prevalence of Shintoism and attitudes towards Christianity, giving examples of why Shintoism is so ingrained in everyday life. He describes the four seasons in Japan on page 206 with poetic charm and shares snippets of history to enthral the reader. On page 89, he explains: “The name Ochanomizu literally means “water for tea” and references the Kanda River from which water was extracted to make the shogun’s tea during the Edo period”. He also quotes haiku by Issa, the 18th-century poet, on page 25:
“ 酒好きの蝶なら来よ角田川 (If you’re a butterfly that likes to drink, come down here to the Sumida River).”
The above quote is one Whiting would appreciate more than most. He reveals he’s partial to a few drinks and he regularly makes an appearance at the Foreign Correspondence Club of Japan where he serves on the Board of Directors. He says BBC correspondent John Morris once described this place as “a waterfront sailors’ bar and a brothel” (pg. 321). However, Whiting points out the FCCJ is an ideal place for any writer, including himself, to source excellent writing opportunities and it’s the perfect club for networking with other journalists.
Whiting admits he finds himself drawn towards the “low end” of Tokyo when he’s not thinking of or writing about his favourite sport, baseball. He has always been intrigued by the sordid underbelly of city life and the seedy people who live, work and play there like the yakuza, gamblers and hostesses. He likes to write about illegitimate or quasi-criminal and fraudulent activities that lay just below the surface of polite society in Tokyo. This has landed him in trouble on more than one occasion. He almost became involved in dealing firearms with the yakuza and at times he has been afraid of being pushed in front of a train in a Tokyo subway station by a chinpira for offending a yakuza boss he mentioned in his other book ‘Tokyo Underworld‘!
Whiting’s love of Tokyo and the people who live there is ever-present in this book. He mentions everyone who has touched his heart and helped him when he needed it most, like the elderly lady who worked in the kiosk in front of Shibuya Station. She provided a bed and breakfast for him when he missed the last train home. Or Kazuhiko Kusaka-san who found him lodgings, acted as a rent guarantor, and escorted him around the temples, shrines and old-fashioned shops in his local area, helping him to assimilate into the Japanese way of life.
One minute Whiting is explaining sumo wrestling is a difficult sport with a long tradition and on the next page he’ll share a story about a romantic date like his involvement with a young girl called Chako, the daughter of an izakaya owner. But it’s his love for his wife Machiko that leaves the greatest impression. He writes about her with the utmost respect and fondness. He describes her as “educated, cultured and intelligent (pg. 195) . . . the beautiful, clear-eyed wife (pg. 369)” who refuses to move to New York because she wants to make it clear she’s interested in him and not his passport. His passion for Tokyo is also reiterated repeatedly. He loves “the honesty of the average Tokyo-ite (pg. 353) and he likes the way “Japan was a place where it simply wasn’t necessary to win every argument – or even argue at all, for that matter“ (pg. 287).
Whiting is a captivating writer. His style is void of unnecessary adverbs and superlative adjectives and he is direct, candid and sincere on every page. His descriptions of Tokyo make the reader want to move to this enticing capital or at least visit the city for an extended period. He says “I like the incredible energy, the activity, the politeness, the orderliness, the cleanliness, the efficiency, the trains that always arrive on time, the mix of neon lights, the charm, and the uniqueness of it all.” (pg. 77)
This book is like a multi-faceted diamond with each prism refracting a unique light on each subject at hand. In the past decade, many Westerners have visited Japan as tourists and it has become one of the world’s most popular destinations. Tokyo is now home to more than 500,000 foreigners. Many people strive to understand the real Japan. They give up realising there are so many layers to the culture and levels in society and it would take years to fully comprehend. In less than 400 pages, Whiting’s memoir provides the answers to the many questions that need answering in order to understand the Japanese and their customs. This is possible because he opened his heart to the Japanese people and their culture many years ago when he was stationed in Japan, unlike most of his fellow soldiers. This is a brilliant memoir, I highly recommend it, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Whiting’s books in the future.
If you’re visiting Japan as a tourist or if you’re planning on living in Japan I would first and foremost encourage you to eat at more traditional Japanese restaurants. If that’s the case, why is this blog post all about the advantages of eating at a family restaurant?
Below are five good reasons why you shouldn’t miss out on the delights on offer at what the Japanese like to call famiresu (a shortened version of the words “family restaurant”). Some of the more well-known family restaurant chains are Gusto (ガスト), Royal Host, Denny’s, Big Boy, Saizeriya, Joyfull, Coco’s and Jonathan’s.
1. Family restaurants cater for just about everyone including large groups, families, individuals, couples, work colleaguesand business associates
Family restaurants offer lots of spacious seating unlike more traditional yakitori restaurants and izakayas (Japanese-style taverns) and they cater for people of all ages. If you’re visiting Japan with young children, family restaurants are a great place to get a meal but don’t presume it’s okay for your kids to run riot. I’ve heard of situations where Westerners have been asked to leave because their children are extremely noisy. Even though family restaurants are ideal for big groups you won’t feel out of place if you dine here alone. The large tables are perfect for getting some work done on your PC while you grab a bite or if you just want to drink endless cups of coffee, a bottomless glass of melon soda or a healthy kale and banana green smoothie. Some people even hold business meetings in family restaurants so don’t be surprised if you see a couple of Japanese businessmen in suits having a serious chat over a cup of coffee at the table next to you.
2. Their menus are extensive with a lot of choices
All the menus I’ve seen at family restaurants are huge with loads of pictures showing you exactly what you can expect to eat. There’s always a variety of menus waiting for you on the table when you sit down and these menus can change at different times of the day, depending on when they’re serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another huge bonus is that family restaurants offer a lot of Western or American-style food as well as Chinese, Italian, and French dishes and of course Japanese food. This is great if more than one person is dining. Your friend could eat a very Japanese dish like unadon (eel on rice) and you could order chicken with a garlic and soy sauce or a Neapolitan-style pizza capricciosa. The servings are also very generous.
If you love hamburger steaks, spaghetti and other pasta dishes, a juicy rib-eye and chips, surf and turf, a variety of salads, pancakes, toast, bacon and eggs, calamari, pizza, fried chicken, soups or cheesecake and chocolate cake then you’re in luck. Family restaurants do these dishes very well and there’s something to please everyone. You should note that franchises like Denny’s and Big Boy with restaurants in the US and around the world have menus that are only specific to Japan and the dishes are very different to what you can expect to find on the menu in your home country.
Not all family restaurants are the same. Some restaurants specialize in one dish in particular. Shabu-yo is famous for offering all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu (a hotpot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables boiled in water and served with dipping sauces) for just 1,699 yen per person. Saizeriya, on the other hand, offers a lot of Italian food. Saizeriya also has the reputation for being the cheapest family restaurant in Japan.
3. The meals and drinks are cheap at family restaurants
Japan is famous for having a lot of Michelin star restaurants but dining out can get very expensive if you want to try the best Japan has to offer. If you can lower your expectations and you’re fine with a hearty meal that won’t break the bank you’ll love family restaurants. What if you’re craving Aussie beef? You can order a premium Aussie hamburger steak meal with demi-glace sauce for under 1,000 yen at Jonathan’s! You can also expect family restaurants to have daily specials and a “Happy Hour” with discounts on certain alcoholic drinks and meals.
4. Family restaurants definitely have the comfort factor
If you’ve lived in Japan for a few years you may have experienced a major or fairly major earthquake. If you’re in Japan for just a few days on a holiday, you could be jolted at any time in the middle of the day or night by these terrifying tremors. Without a doubt, it will leave you feeling disorientated and fearful. A visit to a local family restaurant can really help calm your nerves. Soft lighting, friendly staff in smart uniforms, comfortable booths to sit in, lots of delicious food on offer and the cheerful chatter of other patrons around you can be the perfect way to readjust. Family restaurants are also a great place to eat if you want to try a variety of Western food in one sitting, if you’re missing the tastes from back home or if you’re just feeling lonely.
5. Ordering is easy!
A lot of tourists are drawn to McDonalds, Burger King and other fast-food outlets like KFC when they visit Japan because of the language barrier and the fact their signs and menus look familiar but the staff here are just as unlikely to speak fluent English at these famous places. Family restaurants give you much more variety and all you have to do is point to the picture on the menu for the waitress to understand you! When you walk through the door, you will be greeted by a waiter who will guide you to your table. The menus are all written in Japanese and English. There’s usually a push button on the table for you to summon the waitress when you’re ready to order and some family restaurants have already installed touch panel menus in a variety of languages making the ordering process a breeze.
Saizeriya, Denny’s and Jonathan’s family restaurants in Japan. Photo by Satoko Kawasaki.
So, there you have it. Above are five very good reasons for eating at a family restaurant in Japan. I hope you decide to dine in one of these establishments when you’re in the Land of the Rising Sun. Believe it or not, eating at a family restaurant has become a popular tradition for many Japanese people and memories of eating there will stay in your mind long after you’ve left Japan.
When we came across the new WASO Japanese food delivery service online my husband Roy I were so keen to try it. WASO in London delivers Michelin star Japanese meals directly to your home and all their meals are at gourmet supermarket prices! Yes, you read that right! If you head to WASO’s Facebook page you’ll discover that Hideki Hiwatashi is the Executive Head Chef at WASO and he’s also a Michelin star chef.
Chef Hiwatashi used to be the Executive Head Chef of Roan Kikunoi, a 2-star Michelin restaurant in Kyoto, and the Executive Head Chef of Sake No Hana in Mayfair, so I was expecting a lot when we received our Japanese dishes today via courier.
We live 100 miles away from London in Gloucestershire and I knew sashimi was included in the order. I was wondering how fresh everything would be when I finally served it up on plates for our dinner this evening.
The DHL courier dropped off the box with all our WASO goodies inside at about lunchtime. When I opened the box, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well everything was packed to keep all the frozen food cool. As you can see in the pictures below, WASO use a double wrapping of WOOLCOOL thermal insulated packaging and inside that they place dry ice around the food containers. Everything was still very frozen so this WOOLCOOL is obviously very effective.
I cut open the packaging and left all the food in the containers before I went out for about two hours.
When I returned home, it only took 5 minutes in the microwave to heat up everything on plates. I didn’t put the eel in the microwave. I placed the package containing the eel in boiling water for five minutes. I’ve used this boiling method in the past and I highly recommend it. The instructions are on the packet.
While the main dishes were in the microwave we ate the yellowtail sashimi. A packet of soy sauce and a sachet of wasabi horseradish were included with the packaging. It was so fresh you’d think I’d caught it and sliced it up that morning so we’d definitely order more sashimi and sushi in the future. I love mackerel. In fact, it’s my favourite type of sashimi so I was in heaven eating this because it’s a lot like mackerel but it has a milder taste.
Roy had the miso pork, the rice and vegetable dish, and crab croquettes. He does like Japanese food but he’s a bit more conservative than me when it comes to trying dishes he’s never had before, so the pork dish was an obvious choice for him. He loved it and he’s usually not someone to give praise easily. He thought the croquettes had a lovely texture and he said he’d definitely eat the miso pork again.
We loved the way a side of cooked courgettes, spinach and carrots were included with the rice.
I had the unagi (eel), a rice and vegetable dish, and a croquette. A small container of tonkatsu sauce for the croquette was included. I loved the consistency of the croquette as well and my unagi was just so mouth-wateringly good. The sweet, firm-fleshed eel was extremely tender and the taste was lovely and mild with no aftertaste.
Japanese people ordering from WASO will be so impressed when they try the rice. When I put it in the microwave for five minutes I thought it would probably be hard in places or cold in the middle of the blocks of rice but it was prepared to perfection! I don’t know how WASO does this. It was unbelievably good rice.
There’s a minimum £25.00 spend for delivery within the London area. Admittedly, this service does get a bit costly when you’re just feeding a couple like my husband and me because there’s a minimum £45.00 spend if you live outside of the London area. But, we’ve realised there’s a way around this. You just need to buy enough dishes for two days! When we went to Pizza Hut it cost us £45 for one pizza and drinks. I’d prefer to eat these delicious, healthy and well balanced Japanese meals from WASO and you get so much more for your money.
WASO have a special offer at the moment. You can get 15% off your first order until the end of June so visit the WASO website, mention the code Renae15, and treat yourself to some of their delicious dishes. You won’t be disappointed. If you’re having a party WASO also does catering for large groups.
Here are a few more dishes you can order from WASO. As you can see, everything is reasonably priced and very tempting.
Thank you so much WASO for sending us such delicious dishes. Everything we ate today was so flavoursome and delectable. It’s great to know we can order such fresh and wonderful Japanese meals and have them delivered to our home now and in the future.
WASO are on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you love Japanese food please show them your support on these social media platforms.
Thanks for visiting my Cherry Blossom Stories Blog!
In Japan, cherry blossoms represent the fleeting nature of life which is characteristic of many Japanese traditions. Their striking beauty appears, lasts for a couple of weeks, then swiftly fades away.
The transient nature of the cherry blossoms teaches us to appreciate and celebrate our time on this magnificent planet. This sensitivity towards ephemera is called mono no aware (物の哀れ) in Japanese. I think this is a very interesting theme and I've tried to weave it into my novels and short stories. You may have also noticed cherry blossoms are a key feature on the cover of all my books.
I try to post at least once every couple of months and I usually write about Japan, especially Tokyo. I will share with you my thoughts on Japan-related fiction as well as a variety of other subjects linked to the Land of the Rising Sun. I also feature exclusive interviews and articles on well-known people who are movers and shakers in Japan and I run competitions now and again, giving you the chance to win signed copies of my books and other cool prizes!
Thanks for stopping by and if you enjoy reading my posts please subscribe to my Cherry Blossom Stories Blog at the bottom of this page.
Buy the Books
If you love Japan and the Japanese culture you'll really enjoy Tokyo Hearts, Tokyo Tales, and Tokyo 2060.
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