Sunday, June 26, 2016

Mini-Shrines in Tokyo

Depending where you are in Tokyo it can look either traditional with old narrow streets or very modern with skyscrapers and gleaming sidewalks.  One of the things I like about the city and Japan in general is the mix of both tradition and modern in everyday surroundings.  Walk around the corner and you meet a samurai and a businessman in a suit talking to each other.  Just kidding, the samurai is probably a cosplayer, but you get my meaning.

In some very modern surroundings, you can find Shinto or Buddhist shrines tucked in inconspicuous locations.  You could almost walk by them or not know that they were there if you weren't looking for them.  Often, the shrines have been moved from their original location, especially if you find that they are on the rooftop of a new building.  It kind of reminds me of Hong Kong where you can also find little shrines to the prosperity gods tucked in an alley or in a corner of the lobby of a modern skyscraper.

Here are a few of these little shrines I saw on my last trip to Tokyo. 

Yuraku Inari Shrine in Yurakucho near Yurakucho Station
This is a tiny Shinto shrine tucked in behind some utility building.
From a distance
A little closer.
The foxes are a dead give away of a Shinto shrine.
A Shrine on the Street in Omotesando
Was just walking by and saw this tucked in on a corner.  I didn't get any details.  There was another one like this on the main street outside the Shinagawa Prince Hotel where I was staying too.  It was like big building, shop front, shop front, shrine, shop front, pachinko parlour, parking lot...

Rooftop of the Matsuya Department Store
It was pouring rain and I was in a sheltered spot on the department store roof where I could rest in some nice chairs.  This would have been a rooftop cafe on a nicer day, but it was pretty empty.  There was a big bank of vending machines, and this Shinto shrine across from them (komainu, lion-dog guardians, much like the lion guardians found in Buddhist shrines).  These shrines are there to bring good fortune to the business and they can represent some other event too, like being spared from fire or earthquake, etc.
A very nice shrine in appearance.
Shrine On The Roof of the Aqua City Mall in Odaiba
This is a dramatically situated little shrine with its red picket fence and view of the Fuji TV Building behind it.  Very cool to see this shrine here on a man-made island on top of a mall.
Very well defined, small grounds.
This is a pretty good blog post about rooftop shrines I found.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Future Battlefield, Tanks Versus Aliens, Excerpt From HARM

I just posted an excerpt from my short story HARM, which is about the first combat use of a HARM (Humanoid Assault Reconnaissance Machine) mech against the alien Blue Newts.  The story is about the final production prototype machine being sent in to support a company of conventional battle tanks and infantry to stop an enemy advance.  I have a short story, a novella, and a novel all set in this same Exocrisis Blue universe.  For more information, please visit my Publications Page.
Photo by kanegen.  Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.
In this scene I wanted to show how conventional forces could fight advanced alien war machines.  The conventional forces are composed of main battle tanks, quadrapedal combat walking robots, and powered infantry.  There is no air support as the anti-aircraft lasers used by the aliens have been very effective.  In fact, the pilot of the mech which shows up too late to affect the battle was a shot down close air support pilot.  I was aiming for realism with extrapolated tech on both sides of the battle. 

Follow this link to read the excerpt over at my writing site. 

Nissin UFO Garlic Black Pepper Instant Yaskisoba

I finally had a chance to sit down and enjoy this very garlicky yakisoba fried noodle from Nissin.  Nissin has a line of UFO yakisoba noodles which replicate the fresh fried yakisoba noodle experience.  Yakisoba is usually fried in a pan or hot plate with fresh ingredients like cabbage (a must) and mixed thoroughly with a sauce then served on a plate.  I usually having their instant ramen, but I'm trying their yakisoba noodles which are slightly thicker and chewier.  These noodles are called UFO as their original packaging resembled the pie pan type UFO shape, but Garlic Black Pepper Yakisoba I'm trying is part of their Big line which comes in larger rectangular boxes.
Very nice packaging.  Looks really tasty.  Nice bright bold yellow and black colours.  Notice the word Garlic at the top in a ghostly white print.  I like the cartoon drawing of a pepper mill and a head of garlic at the top too.
Angle shot of box.
Look at the black pepper on noodles.
A look at the bottom of the package. Almost looks like some kind of survival kit or something with the bright yellow and black.
Making the yakisoba is similar to their instant ramen.  You lift one corner of the lid, pour in boiling water up to the fill line, then let it sit for 4-5 minutes (longer to have it less al-dente).  You then drain it out of the black tab in the opposite corner.  Lifting the tab reveals a series of drain holes for the you to pour all of the water out without losing the freeze-dried ingredients and noodles. You can then lift the lid and empty the sauce packet in.  You can then shut the lid again and gently shake the noodles a bit to spread the sauce around.  You then peel off the top, give the noodles a final stir, and then shake the black pepper packet on top.  Voila, garlic and black pepper yakisoba with cabbage and pork.
Closeup of the plastic wrap packaging.
Once you remove the plastic wrap you see the foil lid underneath with the preparation directions.  They pack a lot of print on here.  A little packet of pepper is glued to the top.
You basically peal the top back starting at the 1 all the way to the 2 line.
You can see the big block of noodles inside.  Make sure you remove the black packet of garlic sauce inside before filling it with boiling water.  When I first opened the box there was a strong smell of fried noodles.
The resulting mix of sauce and pepper with the cabbage and pieces of pork.
The yakisoba was actually quite tasty with an aroma of garlic and pepper.  The garlic sauce was pretty garlicky, so if you have a loved one, make sure you both eat garlic, or you're persona non grata.  I kind of wish there was a little more cabbage, but I would definitely have this again (good thing too as I have another package for later).

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Retro Tokyo Mini-Theme Park (Showa Era) at the Decks in Odaiba with Takoyaki Too!

On the man-made island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay are numerous attractions ranging from Fuji TV, to the giant 1:1 scale Gundam, to the Science Museum.  There are also several malls, and many other smaller attractions.  Located in the Decks Mall, there used to be a Retro Hong Kong street, but that has been gone for awhile.  Now, there is a small retro theme park that brings a carnival atmosphere of yesteryear during the Showa Period.  This was the age of Godzilla, hard working salarymen and factory workers, all rebuilding Japan into the industrial power it is today.

Anyhow, I like this period of Japan too as is seems so full of hope for the future and it is very nostalgic in a classic way.  Anyways, the Daiba Itchome Shopping Street in the mall is a mini-theme park representing this traditional Japan.  If you explore the mall, you'll just wander into it on the upper levels.
Retro Arcade
The Shopping Street is full of store selling retro goods, there are game arcades with old style games, and it is all decorated to look like the 1950s or so.  It is actually a lot of fun to walk through and somewhat reminiscent of the 1950s street at the Yokohama Ramen Museum which also wants to invoke this nostalgia.  It is all in fun though, and it does look like the carnival rolled into town with all of the bright colours, flags, and decorations.

A little further in on the street, there is also a little food court dedicated to that Japanese festival treat, the Takoyaki or battered octopus balls.  These little treats are delicious.
Takoyaki covered in mayo, tako sauces, smoked bonito shavings.... yum.

You take the Yurakamome Monorail to Odaiba.  It is completely automated with no driver.
It's the Astro Boy arcade.  Look at the old style games.
The main street.  Even has an old scooter on the left along with vending machines.
Even has a mockup of the first bullet train.
Old style telephone booth and trash can.

You can even sit under the sakura blossoms at the Tokyo Tower!
Also here is the Takoyaki Museum for you to get your fill of tasty battered balls of octopus.  If you aren't squeamish and want a savoury and sweet treat, takoyaki are delicious!
The Tokoyaki Museum entrance.
An old style house, with back yard.
I really liked this old style game that give fortunes based on the original sculpted panel in Rome.  Do you remember the movie Roman Holiday?  The scene with the Bocca della Verità aka The Mouth of Truth.
Right next to it was also a vending machine that had canned ramen!

The ramen vending machine up close.
Cans of ramen and oden stew for a quick meal.  I almost bought one of these for a souvenir to take home but it is like buying a can of soup for a souvenir and kind of heavy.

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Japanese Snacks May - June 2016

I picked up a small supply of Japanese candy and treats from Candysan (online) and some local stores.  There is always a nice variety of treat to choose from and some Japanese candies are always sooo good.  The only problem is that many of the candies are seasonal or limited edition so they're always sold out in a few months.  But then, there is always something new down the road to get, so there is an up side to this type of sales.
Look chocolates are usually really good and this strawberry was no exception to this.  So really yummy.  The Quattro green tea chocolate and dark chocolate on a green tea cookie was excellent too.

These deluxe Crunchy Pockies with Green Tea or Red Bean were okay, but not my faves.
Fried green peas and a battered and roasted nut assortment to snack on with drinks!
Raspberry Kit Kats.  These are one of the limited edition spring flavours for 2016.  They are good! Really good.  The Japanese candy makers really know how to make authentic and sweet fruit flavours.
These are tasty gummy candies (another Japanese strength) that have a type of citrus flavour that was really pleasant.  Not orange, not lemon, kind of in between.  It is a Japanese citrus called hyuganatsu.
Shaved ice flavoured gummies that even look like little mounds of shaved ice with color at the top, fading to white at the bottom.  I thought these would be kind of artificial tasting, but they were really good again.  I kind of wish I had bought more of them.
Sour gummy fruits with muscat, peach, and cherry flavours.  These were also good, but the shaved ice was better!
Melon Pan type cookies with some cream filling.  The green melon ones were nice and so were the more plain sugar cookie variety.  A nice treat when you need one.  They came individually wrapped to stay fresh once you pop the bag open.
Smoked and dried squid.  I don't mind this stuff and it is like beef jerky from the sea for me, but it is definitely an acquired taste for some people.
I'm still wondering what the difference in orange flavour is for a Brazilian orange.  Haven't tried these yet.  They're probably good.
Cheezas,  I love these little cheese flavoured crackers.  There is a ton of authentic cheese flavour to these (not cheezies).  I like the black bag one (camembert) more than the gold bag for cheddar.  Awesome with a beer.
Hunter x Monster Hunter candies.  A honey flavoured candy that is also part energy pill.  You have a salaryman wearing monster hunter armour, so it is a pretty cool look.
Who knew you could have ramune (kind of lemon flavour)  flavoured white chocolate.  They look like ramune candy balls, but they are white chocolate in texture and the way they dissolve.  A strange, yet tasty, concoction.  Pretty fancy looking graphics on the package too that makes it look very high class.
Watermelon gummies that are pretty darn good.  I demolished the first bag, but ordered a couple more.  Watermelon has got to be one of the hardest flavours to get right and this one doesn't nail it either, but it is pretty good.
Samurai hard candies.  See below.
The packaging for the samurai candies is pretty cool,  it is a samurai sword with sheath.  The sugar candies inside are typical, but pretty cool packaging.  It is a candy for kids, but they would love it.
That's all for now.  If you walked into a konbini in Japan there would be dozens of other choices, so there is no shortage of variety.

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