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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

MUFA Day#24: Golden Week and Aloha Gozaimasu

This is Golden Week in Japan, essentially, a period when many travel.  Why?  The government linked a bunch of holidays together to give workers time off:

  • April 29:  Showa Day--birthday of former Emperor Showa, or Hirohito, who passed away in 1989 (at one time this was Grennery Day).  He reigned from 1926 until his death, and was the emperor during World War II.
  • May 3:  Constitution Day:  in 1947 the new post-war constitution began.
  • May 4:  Greenery Day, dedicated to the environment and nature.
  • May 5:  Children's Day, although more for boys, when colored carps are flown.

Unfortunately, 2014 is not a good year, for the big period is only a four-day weekend from May 3-6.  Next year there will be a five-day holiday from May 2 to  May 6.  Hawaii tourism counts on a good Golden Week.

About the link between Japan and Hawaii, the average weight of the Sunday New York Times is 4.2 pounds.  The Japan Times on Sunday goes in just the opposite direction, becoming a small newsletter, mostly reviewing the past week and weighing maybe 4 ounces.  A featured article this past Sunday was entitled Aloha Gozaimasu, providing some history and insights on the Japanese in Hawaii.

Nothing particularly surprising, and there seems to be a link with The Japanese in Hawaii:  a historical and demographic perspective:
    • From 1603, the Tokugawa clan shoguns isolated Japan.
    • 1868:  148 Japanese men, mainly from around Tokyo, arrived in Honolulu in the first year of the Meiji Era, to work in sugar cane fields.  Conditions were deplorable, but most survived and married Hawaiian women.

    • In 1885 the Emperor Meiji (right) and King Kalakaua worked out another arrangement, and 100,000 Japanese, mostly from Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures, came to Hawaii, but most married picture brides from home.
    • There is some detail, in particular, about the arrivals from Okinawa.
    • From 1868 to 1924, 213,752 came from Japan.
    • The U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 ended Japanese immigration, but by 1930 42.7% of residents in Hawaii were Japanese.
    • At the time of Pearl Harbor in 1941, 38% were of Japanese extraction.
    • After World War II, the GI Bill of Rights and shifting attitudes changed the nature of the State from a Republican hegemony to total Democratic Party control, where those with Japan origins, pretty much ran Hawaii, particularly in politics and education.
    • It was only in 1952 that first generation Japanese, Isseis, could become naturalized U.S. citizens.  My mother was one of them.  My father was born on Kauai.
    • Today, Japanese make up 17% of the state population.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

MUFA Day#23: Beef Bowl War in Tokyo

Tokyo now has a Beef Bowl War, called "Gyudon War."  If you've been reading this blog site:
  • On Saturday night I had a 0.4 pound cut of Kobe Beef (right) at New York Grill for $400/pound, which is reasonable, considering that a pound of the best Japanese beef in Mitsukoshi is $230/pound.
  • What about American beef?
    • The average wholesale price of beef in the U.S. today is $2/pound.  
    • The sirloin retail price is $7/pound.  The Los Angeles Times earlier this month reported that USDA choice-grade beef jumped to an all time record high of $5.28/pound.
    • A high end meat purveyor (also known as a butcher shop) would sell never-frozen USDA Prime Black Angus Boneless Rib Eye Steaks (one piece shown to the right) totaling 6.5 pounds, for $232, or $37/pound.

  • Returning to Japanese beef:
    • Kobe does not produce the most expensive beef in Japan.  Sentiment shows that Matsuzaka and Omi (or Ohmi, to the right) grow "better" wagyu beef.
    • Wagyu is a combination of wa (Japan) and gyu (cow).
    • In the U.S., prime beef must have from 6-8% marbled fat to qualify for the highest USDA grade.
    • In Japan, the best wagyu MUST be 25% marbled fat or higher.
    • So is this fat bad for your health?  Amazingly enough, NO!  Fat in Japanese beef is primarily mono-unsaturated, which lowers high density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol.
    • This Japanese beef fat, furthermore, has a lower melting point, so the meat is more tender, flavorful and literally, melts in your melt.
To continue my four straight days of beef consumption:
  • Sunday night, I went to Lawry's The Prime Rib (right), paying about one-fourth for the meat dish compared to New York Grill.
  • Monday night I ordered a take-out from Burger King, and paid one-tenth of my Lawry's bill.
  • Today, I will invade the area around Shibuya Station to try:
    • Yoshinoya ($2.94/bowl)
    • Matsuya ($2.84/bowl)
    • Sukiya ($2.65/bowl)
The average price is about one-fourth of my Burger King feast last night, where, granted, I also had onion rings and a tiny salad...but there is a lot of rice in those bowls, with toppings.  Fortuitously, this morning The Japan Times had a major article entitled,  "No sacred cows in Japan's beef bowl war."



Now I know what to look for when I get to those three restaurants.  My biggest decision of the day will be:  Do I finish each bowl, or merely taste test?  I might add that the biggest reason why these three Japanese beef chains have an ongoing war is that they are responding to that dastardly American intruder, McDonald's, which dropped their hamburgers on weekdays to 64 cents.  They all exclusively use American beef.

Shibuya Station is only one stop from my station, Ebisu.  Shibuya, incidentally, will be totally rebuilt beginning next year, and will be teady in a decade.  A 46-story building will be constructed adjacent to this stop.

Just a few minutes from the station I found a Yoshinoya:


I went in, pointed at their 300 ($2.94) yen item, the beef bowl came in a minute, I topped it with some pickled ginger:


I still had two more of these to go, so I ate half the beef and onion topping and one third the rice.  I liked the taste, and really wanted to finish it...but didn't.  I was out of there in five minutes.  A hundred yards away was another Yoshinoya, but a minute later, Sukiya:


The sign said 250 yen, but in small print also snuck in 270 yen, adding the new tax.  Same process:


I would guess that the bowl was slightly smaller, the taste was great, you could actually discern some meat, plus the fat was evident, and there was a wider assortment of stuff to pour on.   I consumed the whole beef/onion top and half the rice.  Five minutes, I was gone.  I then walked around Shibuya for half an hour, and couldn't find Matsuya.  I sat next to some beautiful azaleas to rest:


After a few minutes of gazing at hordes of people walking past me, I snooped around another 15 minutes.  No Matsuya.  So I paused next to another azalea bush:


I then talked to two policemen, who pointed in the general direction of Starbucks:


This scene is important, for if you want to repeat my experiment, Starbucks (and there is only one) is clearly visible at the giant intersection where thousands are crossing the street.  I then headed towards that Japanese flag, and, of all the things, ended up exactly where I had my second meal:


See Sukiya to the right?  If you click on that photo, in the background you will see McDonald's, with Burger King peaking out on the right.   Matsuya, it turned out, is sort of across this walking lane, but I didn't know the first time because everything is in Japanese:


Incredibly enough, the price for their beef bowl was only $2.35, and ALSO included a bowl of miso soup:


There was no added tax.  The bowl, I would guess, was a shade smaller than Sukiya's.


I finished the whole thing!  I took seven minutes here, for the hot soup slowed me down.  Here is what the interior of Matsuya looks like, and almost the same can be said of Yoshinoya and Sukiya:


I wasn't nauseatingly filled, so thought, why not?  I ordered a chocolate frappuccino at Starbucks, went upstairs, and a couple was nice enough to allow me to sit next to them in the prime view spot:


To the right I noticed a political protest or rally.  Something to do with TPP, or the Trans Pacific Partnership pact, that disappointed President Obama on his stop here last week:


So I walked to listen what was being said:


Of course, the speeches were in Japanese, so I couldn't figure out if this group was for or against the TPP.

I would say that Matsuya was the best buy, and Sukiya had the best beef bowl.  The total cost of my three lunches was much less than my Burger King dinner last night.  Again, that factor of 4 prevailed when comparing one lunch with my previous dinner.  I'm now contemplating finding that 64 cent McDonald's for lunch tomorrow with a free glass of water to cut costs by another factor of 4.  Thus, if you divide the cost of  this McDonald's hamburger into the New York Grill meal, the factor is 640!!!  The irony is that the cheapest meal is American!  Could this be the photo of this mythical hamburger?

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Monday, April 28, 2014

MUFA Day#22: Mount Fuji and Burger King

Mount Fuji, at 12,389 feet, the tallest mountain in Japan, is 60 miles west-southwest of Tokyo.  It is an ACTIVE volcano and last erupted in 1707-08.  Just last year, various sources noting the magma chamber pressure, speculated on a possible eruption in 2015 or earlier.  There is no consensus on the origin of the name.  Katsushika Hokusai created more than 30,000 prints, and his "South Wind, Clear Sky (Red Fuji)" around 1826 is the most famous:


Here is Hokusai's "The Great Wave off Kanagawa," and most fail to see Mount Fuji:


Most also miss those three boats.

Geologically, "Old Fuji" formed 100,000 years ago, but the present form today only occurred 10,000 years ago.


You can hike to the top of Fuji-san in July and August from various fifth stations (around 7,550 feet), taking from three to eight hours, while the descent will range from two to five hours.  Many do this at night to catch the first light of the sun.

I caught a bus to the fifth station and  did not attempt to go any further.  A few photos on the way up:


So I'm now up to the 5th level, and had a corn and sake:


By the way, there is a lot of snow at the 5th level:


I then had a wonderful lunch with Manuela and Jessica of Germany and Ilaria of Italy:


The lunch was bento, and I had No Shrimp.  Our bus held 40 from the world over.  Iliana among a giant cherry blossom tree at Hakone:


She said that Mont Blanc in Italy is 15,781 feet tall,

The tour ended just in time for me to hurry back to my hotel to have my free drinks at the Westin Tokyo Executive Club:


Ryuta has been here 20 years:


I asked him to check his hotel computer to find out how many times I've stayed at the Tokyo Westin, and he determined:  25 stays and 61 nights.

If you're keeping up with me, two nights ago I had an extravagant, but nostalgically appropriate dinner, at New York Grill of the Park Hyatt, which is also 20 years old.  The cost was four times that of last night, Lawry's The Prime Rib.  Tonight, in exponential retrogression, I went to:


The cost?  About 10% of Lawry's, if I don't count the Yebisu beer, which I stole from the Executive Club to have this meal in my room.  Is it possible to get any lower?  Stay tuned.  Tomorrow I cut the cost by a factor of four with another beef meal for lunch.  You won't believe this.  Further I've been coming to Japan for forty years, and I have never had a day when I had nothing planned for the next day...tomorrow.  Well, actually, I now have one thing:  a beef meal much cheaper than Burger King's.

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For the record, there is some new activity, Tropical Storm Tapah, now east of Guam at 55 MPH, but soon to attain hurricane strength and skirt the northeast side of the Northern Marianas:


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Sunday, April 27, 2014

MUFA Day#21: Yoyogi Park and Lawry's

Last night, a large green area dominated my view from New York Grill.  This was Yoyogi Park.  So today, I took a long walk around this recreation area.  People were:
  • Having picnics

           Long hot dogs were popular.
  • Entertaining

           Yes, there were a lot of Elvis impersonators.
  • Protesting

           A very long LGBT parade.
  • Dressing to gain attention

Walking back to the Westin through Yebisu Garden Place, I noticed a photo opportunity (Robuchon's is that French mansion, with my hotel in the background.):


I peered out of my room close to sunset, and Mount Fuji finally appeared:


And a shooting star, too.   Well, maybe contrails.

For dinner, I went to Lawry's The Prime Rib, located right next door, for it just opened a week ago.  Lawry's began in Beverley Hills in 1938.  The place can sit 328.  It is huge and partnered with renowned French bakery Maison Kayser, so the bread is wonderful.  It's in the basement, so no view.  The beef is American.

I asked for a table, and they could have been more diplomatic.  They sat me in their bar and, finally, indicated that I they could sit me, but I had to leave by 8PM.  It was 6:15PM.  The saviour was Mai, who was my server.  She made my special salad...


...which, perhaps, had a bit too much dressing:


But was, nevertheless, good.  The prime rib comes in a cart.  I ordered 180 grams (same weight as my Kobe from New York Grill) medium rare with a Yebisu dark and Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon.


The beef could have been a lot hotter, and the Yorkshire Pudding was classic.  For those who are unfamiliar, YP is like the outside of a cream puff.  There were at least five happy birthday songs, so you know partly why people come here.

Now the analysis.  Which was better, New York Grill or Lawry's?  This is one of those comparisons that defy parametric assessment.  Sure, NYG cost 4 times more than Lawry's for 0.4 pound of beef.  They were both excellent, and the extra cost of NYG was worth it because of the memories. Certainly, the hour it took me to get to and back from the Park Hyatt was a negative relative to the five minutes I took to get to Lawry's and back to my room.  The problem with both meals is that I'm gaining weight, and know I won't be able to lose it on my Crystal Symphony cruise back to Hawaii in a couple of days.

I'm nearing the end of my stay in Japan.  Tomorrow, Mount Fuji.

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