Browsing articles from "February, 2013"
Feb 25, 2013

Must Haves

Unazuki beer curry

Courtesy of Unazaki Beer

Unazuki Beer Curry

Deep in the Northern Alps of Japan lies the sleepy onsen town of Unazuki. Since 1997, Unazuki Beer has produced a line of three multi-award winning beers: the bitter Jujikyo, the fruity Torokko and Kamoshika, a mellow and rich brew. For almost ten years, they specialized solely on these three varieties, until 2006, when they embarked on a new venture—marrying one of Japan’s finest foods with their intoxicating thirst quencher. Thus, the Unazuki Beer Curry was born. Using their bitter Jujikyo as a base, it comes in two different strengths: medium and spicy. The company also runs a restaurant and a michi no eki (roadside station) that sells locally grown vegetables and souvenirs as well as beer-related products. Keep an eye out for their beer tea and beer cake—perfect for hanami season.

¥2,150 for a set of four containing both flavors. Available online at

Fuji T-Dry

Former architectural student, interior-design store owner and corporate designer Tomohiro Ikegaya is fulfilling his vision through start-up company Goodbymarket. While his portfolio is diverse, he’s hit the mark with some clever Mt. Fuji designs. The Fuji T-Dry will help you look the part when you ascend the snowcapped peak—or give you a fashionable twist for some urban jogging. Flip up the hem of the T-shirt and Mt. Fuji appears in all its mountainous glory.

¥3,776 (of course); available

Lixtick Paper Wallet

Lixtick Wallet

Photo courtesy of Lixtick

What’s not to like about the water-resistant, expandable, and durable Lixtick Paper Wallet? As well as being environmentally friendly, you can customise it by doodling on it yourself with a permanent marker. If you’re not so creatively inclined, you can choose from one of many patterns like graffiti, cow spots, stonewall, denim (good for camouflage from pickpockets) and more.

¥1,680; available from


Choco Burger

In collaboration with Mary’s Chocolate, Japanese burger joint Lotteria has combined two of your favorite foods into one easy-to-hold snack. The traditional beef patty is transformed in their new Choco Burger, on sale now. These petit bouches come in three sweet and differently flavored “buns.” There’s matcha (with a creamy white chocolate patty), chocolate, and strawberry (both with milk chocolate centers), sold separately for ¥180 each. Or, you can grab all three in a gift box for ¥500, share it with your date, and then junken for the last one.

Available until the end of February at Lotteria stores nationwide.


Feb 25, 2013

Events: Three To See


1,000kg of driftwood in Bahia Solano, Colombia. © nicholasdombrovskis


Australian photographer and Tokyo resident Nicholas Dombrovskis presents—in conjunction with lens maker Sigma—an exhibition of photography exploring how life and landscapes endure, with some works displayed on a 4K monitor, and one spectacular 1.2m print. The images range in subject from humpback whales disappearing off Colombia’s Pacific coast to a Martian-like saltpan in Namibia; from the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina to a curling leaf suspended between space and sunlight.

Eizo Galleria Ginza, Feb 19-Mar 2

Fiercesounds 6th Anniversary


Courtesy of Fiercesounds

Born out of London’s underground techno scene, Fiercesounds celebrates its sixth anniversary with top female spinner DJ Clodagh, who was promoted from bedroom DJ to the big time when she was invited to warm up for Carl Cox on his 2005 tour of France. “Ireland’s techno princess” will be making a special mix CD to be given out to the first 50 punters. To complement the hot and heavy techno in the main room all night, the lounge area offers up DJs and live artists playing deep house, electronica, and more. Fiercesound’s Dreams of Widnes and another live artist Prefect will be celebrating debut releases on Kingbeat records.

Amrax, Mar 2

Larry Coryell Special Unit

Larry Coryell Special Unit

Courtesy of Billboard Live

We’re usually a bit suspicious of all-star units, but this one is just too good to belittle. Larry Coryell, one of the most tasteful guitarists on the planet, is joined by mercurial organist Joey DeFrancesco, trumpeter Wallace Roney and tenor saxman Rick Margitza, all backed by the uberfunk rhythm section of Daryl Jones and Omar Hakim. Jazz-fusion fans—it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Billboard Live, Mar 8





Feb 25, 2013

Cafe Soul Tree

Cafe Soul Tree

Courtesy of Cafe Soul Tree

Walking west from Futako Tamagawa station along the Tamagawa river’s verdant park belt reminds you that Tokyo isn’t all tarmac and high rises. In fact, this area is lush and green this time of year and if Japan observed Daylight Savings Time (See “The Last Word,” Metropolis #952) it would be swarming with people in the evenings on summer nights.

The perfect time and place, then, to enjoy some cold beer, food, friends and lazy summer evenings—the aim of Café Soul Tree.

Café Soul Tree sits in a refurbished garage complete with Route 66-style weathered siding, a big sliding garage bay door and a low-slung wooden deck outside equipped with a gas barbeque. Inside, the spacious interior is open and airy with a high vaulted ceiling. Tables big enough for large groups sit center and smaller ones with leather library chairs dot the periphery. Over the bar at the back, a mezzanine studio looks out over the minimal wood, leather and concrete décor.

Fans of craft beer will appreciate Saitama’s Coedo beer on tap. So first things first, we ordered a round of shiro (white), kyara (original) and shikkoku (dark) for ¥700 apiece to whet our whistle. The shiro, a wheat beer, was light with a citrus zest but verged on sweet, while the dark shikkoku was all burnt chocolate and coffee—very mellow, understated and easy-to-drink. The favorite was the kyara, though, an amber pale ale with a refreshing hoppy taste, but not overtly in your face.

To a soundtrack of acid jazz and easy house music, we selected a spinach, bacon and kinoko salad (¥900) and their homemade “juicy” sausage. While it’s hard to disappoint with a salad, the sausage was another matter. At ¥1,000 yen, we were presented with a single, regular-sized arabiki sausage. Further, the coarse filling had neither spice nor special seasoning.

The homemade smoked wings (¥900), certainly mixed well with the beer, but again, disappointed with a distinct lack of flavor.

Better were the spare ribs in Coedo beer (¥1,200), slow cooked and stewed nikomu style. Definitely the standout of the night: soft, tasty with buttery fat that literally fell off the bone.

As the music morphed to James Brown and soul, we perused the library of pop art anthologies from the US and books featuring Japanese impressions of the highway Americana that inspired the restaurant. Time to get your kicks in Niko Tama.

Open daily. Café time 11:30am-5pm; bar time 6pm-1am. 3-2-15 Kamata, Setagaya-ku. Nearest station: Futako Tamagawa.

Feb 25, 2013



Jeff W. Richards

When I first entered Gaburiya ten years ago I didn’t even know what an izakaya was, but a memorable cocktail and delicious grilled skewers have kept me coming back despite its tiny smoke-filled space. It’s time you tried it, too.

Once inside (difficult on Friday and Saturday nights) it’s always the same drill. First off, no matter your drink of choice—the Gaburiya opener is the vodka nama grapefruit (¥680). The grapefruit is freshly squeezed for each drink right there at the bar (turns out the reddish cheaper fruit make for better juice). Trust me, you’ll want to order another round as soon as your first arrives.

Next, the maguro no satoyaki in olive sauce (¥300 each). Be quick on this one as they run out most nights. This is their signature dish, and what keeps me coming back. The tuna—squared and skewered on a stick—is lightly seared on the outside, delightfully raw on the inside and drizzled with a near perfect olive sauce. I’ve been trying to figure out the recipe for a decade now and I know this much: diced olives, garlic, sardine, lemon, and pepper in virgin olive oil. Order two per person. Better yet, order three because you’ll order more once you try it.

While you’re at it, order from over 60 different kinds of yakitori, (from ¥180). Get the sasami (chicken slightly grilled outside, practically raw inside, served with wasabi), and the tsukune (grilled minced chicken)—one shio kosho (salt and pepper) and one tare (sauce).

Always a good sign for quality restaurants in Japan, it’s packed with young, upwardly mobile, trendy young women. This ain’t your aging salaryman izakaya (despite being filled with smoke). The soft-lit dark wooden counter and seating area is scarred from scrapes with Louis Vuitton handbags and flashy baubles. A sunken private table near the entrance is available for groups, but you don’t want that. This is one of those places where it’s better to sit in the thick of it all.

Round out the chicken and tuna with yaki onigiri (grilled rice ball, ¥380) done yakitori style on a wooden skewer and served with soup for dipping.

Now you’re on your own. Be adventurous. Ask the long-serving tencho (the manager—who doesn’t speak much English, but loves the practice) for an osusume (recommended) menu item. You can’t go wrong with the deep-fried Camembert or your straight-shooting negima (grilled chicken and green onion). Or try the hotate (scallop): grilled open-faced and in their shell with a little white wine sauce.

Collect some points to use on your next visit at the cash desk when you head out. Just don’t wait ten years to tell anyone about it.

Open daily 5:30pm-4am. 2-6-1 Minami-Saiwai, Nishi-ku, Yokohama. Nearest Station: Yokohama.
Feb 25, 2013

Genka Bar

Genka Bar

Courtesy of Good Beer Faucets

Sometimes, membership has its privileges, and other times, it just means really cheap booze. In an unassuming gray building a stone’s throw from Gotanda station, this bar makes that clear right from its name, genka, which means “cost price.”

Upon entering, we hand over ¥1,500 to the smiling staff. This will gain us access to a wide menu of drinks priced at cost. It’s not nomihodai, but then, which nomihodai offers up premium single malts and martinis anyway? It’s a busy Thursday and some customers are sent upstairs to the “lounge” area, some to the main floor. Segregated groups of cocktail-sipping ladies and draught beer-slugging guys have their cheap, black jackets thrown over seat backs. It’ll be a salaryman and OL free-for-all if the fire alarm goes off.

We open the large, varied drinks menu, slobbering to see the discounts. We’re not disappointed. So low are the prices, you could work your way through the menu like a book (skipping anything with the words “calorie off” or “cassis”). My partner in crime and I started with a Bass Pale Ale (¥250) and a Guinness (¥300).

Before we’d drained them, we were already flipping to the whiskies. I got a Taketsuru 21-year-old (¥420) and he opted for the Lagavulin 16-year-old (¥300). Other options include Ardbeg (¥210), and some Glens (’Livet and ’Fiddich) for ¥120.

The décor is not much, but what do you expect from a Costco-priced bar? Red paint overwhelmingly adorns the black interior, and the plywood counter seating wouldn’t be out of place at your local tachinomiya. What would be, though, is the cool Frank Sinatra and Edith Piaf crooning out of the speakers. A lively and enthusiastic clientele, younger than the denizens of oyaji-infested the local yakitori joints, only adds to the appeal.

As you loosen your tie and settle in for a third or fourth drink (Dirty vodka martini? Porfidio tequila? Negroni? Each ¥120), it’s time to mull the food options. The speed menu offers prepackaged items liked mixed nuts, potato chips and dried fruits (from ¥90), but others like the Camembert cheese plate (¥300) or salami and olives (¥150) constitute better fare. Other items we devoured were the roast beef plate (with a tasty horseradish sauce—¥300), maguro carpaccio (¥270), and crudités with dip, to feel healthy.

At the end of the night, after meeting the challenge to sample pretty much everything on the drinks menu, we tottered gingerly to the register, where we each doled out another ¥2,500. All told, the evening cost a little under ¥8,000 for the two of us—including entry fee, drinks and food. Don’t be dismayed if you can’t get a seat, Genka Bar fills up fast. It’s hardly surprising.

Open Mon-Sat 4:30am-1:30am, closed Sun. 2-3F Nozu Bldg, 2-5-8 Nishi Gotanda, Shinagawa-ku. Nearest stn: Gotanda.

Feb 20, 2013

Digital Choc: French Institute Festival

A Gallic take on digital culture

Courtesy of the French Institute

The French Institute offers a Gallic take on digital culture in an ongoing festival of art, moving images, architecture and video games as well as digital publishing, music and performing arts. Following on last year’s inaugural event, the 2013 edition explores areas that digital technologies has disrupted, influenced or revolutionized. Among the creators making the trip to one of Japan’s five French Institutes and Alliances are Benoît Broisat, whose video Ghost Tokyo unearths a forgotten Tokyo, and arts group HP Process, who present their latest interactive installation Word City. 

French Institute and other venues, until Mar 3

Feb 20, 2013

Tohoku Artist Caravan

Kodo reunite for a kickoff party at SuperDeluxe

Courtesy of TokyoDex

TokyoDex’s Daniel Rosen and Jay Horinouchi, who spent almost a year as a volunteer leader in disaster-hit Tohoku, spearhead a community arts project in the devastated town of Karakuwa. A kickoff party for the effort at SuperDeluxe will see several former members of taiko drum powerhouse Kodo sharing the stage for the first time since they went their separate ways. Under Rosen and Horinouchi’s crowd-funded Tohoku Artist Caravan, artists will paint murals around Karakuwa in an effort to revitalize the community and encourage tourism.

SuperDeluxe, Mar 8

Feb 18, 2013

Artist File 2013

Artist File

Wonderland - “Snow White” (2004); Yeondoo Jung. © Yeondoo Jung

Going to group shows of contemporary art in Tokyo is the artistic equivalent of Russian roulette. There’s just no way of knowing when you’re going to bite the bullet of bad taste. But luckily, this year’s “Artist File”—the annual show for rising artists staged by the National Art Centre Tokyo—is a welcome reprieve from “instant art death.”

Of the eight participants, only two will make you groan—Shiho Kagabu with her garbage installation and Jun Azumatei with his bedwetting-stain art. The other six are pretty good and, surprisingly, three of them are foreigners.

British artist Darren Almond’s main installation—a tribute to his gran—is disappointing, but a series of photographs taken using long exposures in moonlight fascinates, even though the images produced are not dissimilar to daytime photography.

Indian artist Nalini Malani has a heavy-handed painting style, but by setting her images on diaphanous revolving cylinders suspended from the ceiling and projecting a movie through them, she manages to create a kaleidoscope that seems to generate myths.

Korean artist Yeondoo Jung’s work shows a keen sense of humor. He takes naïve children’s art as a starting point and then stages photographic recreations of it that are daft yet endearing.

The remaining three artists are also well worth seeing. Takamasa Kuniyasu’s large assemblages of bricks and logs may seem pointless, but the aesthetic effect and tangible sense of effort behind their creation is impressive.

Hideaki Nakazawa’s mesmerizing paintings of children are a surprise. The subjects stare at us with innocent eyes that elicit a similar unguarded response from the viewer. Delicately painted with alternate layers of thinned oils and tempera, they have a nostalgic atmosphere of works from long ago.

The highpoint, however, is the mysterious flash photography of Lieko Shiga. One of the irritations of many exhibitions in Japan is the slow-moving line of visitors crawling along the walls of the gallery, looking at each picture in sequence. Shiga avoids this by refusing to hang a single work on the walls. Instead they are propped up on the floor in a chaotic, maze-like arrangement that forces visitors to wind their way among them as if in a dream.

National Art Center Tokyo until Apr 1


Feb 18, 2013

Kita Aoyama Salon

Kita Aoyama Salon

Courtesy of Transit General Office

Just steps from Gaienmae exit 3, in the Sign Café building, is an oft-overlooked door, easily mistaken for a service entrance. Beyond, however, is an intimate, gothic den of liquidity.

Upon entry, the dimly lit interior of Kita Aoyama Salon cloaks you in privacy no matter where you sit. There’s not much to see in the ambient soft lighting and candelabra glow bouncing off dark wood walls. We choose the stunted bar stools allowing us to check the goods. Better yet, most of Salon’s elixirs are not on the menu. Like any good bar, the bartenders prefer to find out what you like and match the drinks to suit.

Special cocktails involve custom infusions, bitters and homemade syrups. These, like the elderflower grenadine or the ginger-and-lemongrass syrup, go into drinks such as fresh-fruit martinis or to spike up something traditional—in our case a zippy pineapple Moscow mule (¥1,400).

We asked about their bottled beer and chose a Lion stout (¥1,000) from Sri Lanka out of that night’s varied off-the-menu selection (including Jever from Germany, and Duchesse de Bourgogne from Belgium, ¥1,400). We paired it with some soft homemade beef jerky marinated in soy and sugar (¥700) and let our eyes get accustomed to the dark.

Salon is now focusing on an earlier—and hungrier—crowd. A slight increase in the lighting means customers can now see their food. With the help of a small flashlight, we ordered the special dry curry with rice (¥1,400), aged for 100 hours and containing 34 spices. Not too hot, it kept our taste buds guessing—tamarind, cinnamon, apple, pickled onion and dry fruits? The steak (¥1,600) came served with fries to soak up the roast-like gravy. They also serve a salty bagna cauda with fresh vegetables (¥1,000).

Bartender Kosuke Hidaka cleverly recommended cocktails based on our conversations. First was a gin and tonic with hyuganatsu, that purely Japanese crossbreed of lemon and yuzu (¥1,200). Simple. Refreshing. Unique.

We noticed a few bottles of absinthe and had to ask. Hidaka duly whipped up a concoction with muddled mint, lime and sugar. He added Beefeater gin, some Carib and house syrup, then dropped in a bomb of Marilyn Manson’s Mansinthe and set it before us. “This,” he proclaimed, “is a Cheap Mojito.” At ¥1,350 we were inclined to disagree, but it was strong and biting, and left us floating up the stairs when we left, with thoughts from the green faerie muse.

Feb 18, 2013



Sydney restaurateur and chef Bill Granger’s fluffy scrambled eggs (¥1,200) have won plaudits from Bondi to Broadway, though his purposeful lowercase spelling and lack of apostrophe might drive editors bananas. Better to focus on his banana hotcakes (¥1,400), that are captivating diners at his new venue smack in the middle of Harajuku.

Tokyo’s best or not, they’re certainly a contender. Airy yet substantial, the fun in the signature banana and ricotta hotcakes is biting into a surprise pocket of soft cheese. Honeycomb butter adds a touch of sweetness but stops short of being cloying. For a healthier breakfast, try the Bircher muesli (¥700) with apple, strawberry and almonds [see feature for more breakfasts].

Commanding the top floor of the new Tokyu Plaza, the latest bills incarnation is spacious, bright and cheery, a welcome respite from the adolescent madness below. Granger’s brunch classics, most large enough to share, are served throughout late afternoon. A colorful mix of green, yellow and red, the sweet corn fritters with roast tomato, spinach and bacon (¥1,400) were let down by oiliness, but an elderflower cordial soda (¥700) kept the grease in check.

Apart from frappés, juices and smoothies (around ¥700), Antipodeans will be charmed by the flat white (¥600) on the coffee menu—worth its price.

Lunch choices are spare but substantial. The exception is the wagyu burger (¥2,000) with zucchini pickles, fresh tomato and herbed French fries, which my companion views as aimed at ladies in need of an iron fix. Better luck for the ravenous is the BLT (¥1,300), also with fries. Straightforward—as are most of Granger’s dishes—the sourdough bread lends a weighty bite while mustard aioli provides a tangy balance.

Granger might have stoked his reputation as the brunch king, but those looking for “Australian” creative café fare should visit in the evening. Though the lentil and labne cheese fattoush (¥1,200) is a fine veggie dish, bills mainly targets those with a pescetarian penchant. The fish carpaccio salad with grapefruit, radish and dried capers (¥1,200) is an inspired warm-weather choice, and well-paired with one of many Australian wines on offer, such as the Wynns Coonawarra 2010 Riesling (¥800 per glass) or the crisp and bracing Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc (¥1,000).

Others might be swayed by the swordfish with a spicy capsicum sauce (¥2,000), or grilled pork with corn salsa (¥1,800), and sides such as garlic mashed potato, and sautéed greens (¥500).

For dessert, bills’ shareable pavlova (¥800), topped with passionfruit and fresh cream, is a sunny salute to the southern isles.