Last night most of Japan saw a complete lunar eclipse which although impressive it not really photogenic. So instead I picked a few photos of storefronts that I took in Tokyo’s central Tsukishima (月島) district. The name translates to Moon Island. Tokyo is not all gleaming skyscrapers and huge modern buildings, there is also quite a few houses and shops that have probably never seen a renovation budget over two figures, and I love these. Almost all of these stores are family run business, often with the owners being way past retirement age. In Japan pension payments are not connected very much to your income so it makes sense to keep working even after 65 and it also explains why several of these stores are not all that concerned with profit maximization. I always make an effort to shop in stores like this. Most items are slightly more expensive than in the big brand stores but there are enough items much cheaper so on average I think it evens out. It is also a great chance to chat to people you would never ever meet otherwise, as most of the owners are very happy to have a conversation with the purchase (most, but not all). One of my favorite mom and pop stores is a fruit seller in my neighborhood. The first time I went in there the owner, an old lady of way past 90 was sitting down resting and her energetic son of around 70 rushed down to help me with my purchase, sparing his mother. He claimed that his mom was way too old to “risk her heart speaking to handsome gentlemen like you” so naturally I had to buy some extra to reward his excellent sales pitch. It is still the only place where I put money down for fruit!
The little bar/cafe on top of the tourist information building in front of the Kaminari temple gate is probably one of Asakusa’s best kept secrets hiding in plain sight. Surprisingly reasonably priced for such an epic location, you can do worse than ending up here if you are one of the millions of foreign tourists visiting Asakusa this year.
One of the many famous Japanese dishes that might not have made it abroad yet is the okonomiyaki, a dish whose name translates roughly as “cook it as you like it”. It is basically batter, vegetabels, eggs and anything you like to put on it, mixed and fried as a huge pancake on a hotplate or in a frying pan. The most classic okonomiyaki is the style championed in Osaka and western Japan but there is one big local contender up there: the Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki. The main differences is the that they fry up a pancake first, then add noodles. In Hiroshima they are also very particular about their sauce, and the most well known classic Hiroshima style sauce is the one made by Mitsuwa Foods.
The Okonomimura is a premier tourist location in Hiroshima visited by almost everyone that comes to Hiroshima. It is a four story building crammed with okonomiyaki restaurants, most seating only between 6-15 people. The origin of the building dedicated to okonomiyaki can be traced back to a street of food vendors that put up their stalls there in 1950, only five years after the atomic bomb blast. It is not very far from the epicenter either. In 1967 the street vendors were moved into a building on the initiative of okonomiyaki entrepenur Mr. Yoshida. The present building dates back to 1992 but it already looks much older.
There are 27 restaurants to chose from inside, and I picked the Kaeruttei (かえるっ亭) on the 4th floor. The name means Frog Palace and the owner explained to me that he was stumped for a good name when he was opening the shop many years ago. In his home he had a large frog statue that he was planning to move to the restaurant and someone suggested they name it after that. The frog statue can still be seen in the shop. The word for frog in Japanese, Kaeru, is also the same as the word “to return”, which in this case might be good for business. I certainly will return the next time I visit Hiroshima!