Eating Out: local mom ‘n’ pop style

You probably like to support your neighborhood diner.  You know, the one that you’ve been going to for years, so you know the owners and their kids, they cook up some unique dishes that you probably can’t easily find in other, more generic restaurants.  And above all, the atmosphere is genuine and full of personality.

I was introduced to one of these kind of cool, down-to-earth places not too long ago.  It’s never a bad thing to have the locals take you to one of their favorite eateries.  I was not disappointed.

I suppose you could say that most restaurants have some kind of theme, in terms of decor and style.  This place, called Sora Ya defied any genre expectations.  It was a big mash of eccentricity and collage, thrown together with a mix of throwback cultural images from East and West, like, for example, a postcard of the Terminator placed next to a school notebook featuring Hello Kitty.

The food was great, a collection of Japanese and Thai dishes, two of my culinary favorites.  Although, for whatever reason, I only took one picture of the food, and spent more time letting my eyes wander around.

A few cool things about this place:

—The owners were very welcoming and extremely friendly

—Their daughter rolled around the restaurant on roller blades, occasionally taking food and drink orders from the customers

—Their cat was allowed to meander through the place, being affectionate with everyone

—The music, very distinctively Okinawan, was entrancing

—There did not seem to be a single space free of memorabilia or cultural artifacts



Good times at the local.


Conveyor Belt Sushi

It was Valentines Day in Japan today.  While the whole country was absorbed in purchasing and consuming chocolate, I was gorging myself with cheap sushi.  Since coming back to Japan last month I haven’t had the chance to pop into one of these places.  I suppose that initially I had reservations about eating fish in Japan- raw or otherwise – because of the possibility of it being caught from somewhere over on the other side of the country where radiated sludge has been seeping out of Fukushima nuclear reactor for almost a year.  But gradually my (ir/rational?) fears have subsided enough for me eat just about anything offered.  Although, I am still quite diligent when it comes to grocery shopping.  I check all the labels to see where the food comes from, and if it is from anywhere within a few hundred kilometers of Fukushima, it gets the kaibosh.  Coupled with my trepidation about being slowly radiated to death by contaminated fish, milk, veggies, water and rice etc, I also haven’t been able to locate in this city a specific chain of carousel sushi that I enjoyed so thoroughly last time I lived in Japan.

Anyhow, I digress.  We (well, in all honesty it was my Japanese companions) finally found a local branch of Sushi Meiji in the area, and with the help of the GPS on my new and really smart phone, we navigated through the seedy, neon-lit streets of the quasi red-light district of Nakasu.  The descriptions and observations of that quarter is an engaging and interesting if not salacious narrative in itself, best saved for another time.

Walking through the automatic sliding door, I felt relieved to see that the chain restaurant does not vary too much from one to another.


We scooped up one of two tables in the place (lots of counter space, but only two booths), and distributed the chopsticks, soya sauce dishes and tea cups.  One cool thing about the round-about sushi spots is the free green tea they provide, along with a hot water line protruding from the wall at the table.

It had been years since I last had sushi at one of these spots.  i could hardly contain my excitement at the range of choices I had, all for a measly 105 yen per plate.

I started out with some salmon, moved onto tuna, followed by some freshwater eel.  There are also some non-traditional sushi choices, like slightly sweet omelette, avocado and mayonnaise wrapped in seaweed, and of course the omnipresent california roll.  My personal favorite is eel.  I love how it is grilled and brushed with a sweet sauce.  It has kind of a fatty taste to it, similar to a nice cut of red meat.

Here I am about to enjoy a piece of it at the end of our sushi session.  Its kind of like dessert for me.

I usually polish off about 10 plates of zoosh when it is all said and done, and this time was no different.


This tower of plates also includes the 5 or 6 plates my wife ate as well.  Although, it is not inconceivable that I could down 18 plates alone.

And what would a trip to any Japanese establishment be without the obligatory strangely worded sign in Engrish?

What’s not to love?

I personally love sushi and I love it when it’s cheap, and on a conveyor belt that zips by your table.

Yes, old habits are hard to break, and my sushi habit won’t be broken anytime soon.

The ubiquitous vending machine Part 2

A while back I mentioned the pervasive nature of vending machines in Japan.  Drinks, toys, snacks, comics, women’s underwear, etc.  There are also still a few machines that sell beer and Japanese alcohol as well, but these are becoming sparse.  One varietal of vending machine that continues to be a successful automated merchant is the kind that dispenses packs of cigarettes.

In my past adventures in Japan I had noticed plenty of these types, but in recent years there has been a slight change in the way cigarettes are dispensed.  In order to buy a pack of smokes from the machines, one now needs to swipe an identification card across the front, which identifies the purchaser as being of a legal age.  In Japan, that age is 19.

Nevertheless, these cancer-inducing, teeth-staining, breath-eroding, habit/vice smoke-sticks are still found in just about every place where other vending machines are located.  It is an interesting contrast between North American and Japanese smoking culture.  The signs in Canada which announce for smokers a necessary withdrawal of 3 to 5 meters from public entrances are as ubiquitous as vending machines in Japan which sell cigarettes.

A positive change is occurring though.  There are now campaigns to instill in the general public an awareness of the harm that secondhand smoke can cause.  Not only that, but smokers are being shamed into properly disposing of cigarette butts, rather than throwing them on the ground.  These campaigns are propagated in the form of TV commercials, billboards, street signs, book covers, and volunteers who wear arm bands and hold signs on the street, urging smokers to not walk and smoke, nor to discard their butts on the ground.

Part of a book cover

Whether or not, the number of smokers will decrease, or has already, I don’t know. The thing is, cigarettes in Japan cost about 4 dollars a pack.  And you can still smoke just about anywhere, inside or out.  As well, cigarette vending machines are everywhere.  With this in mind, I don’t expect there to be a downturn in smoking anytime soon.

Drinks and smokes