Not far from Tokyo’s downtown Nezu subway station you will find the tiny and remarkably charming gallery Maruhi. If you look really well that is. It is almost hidden away in a tiny nearly 100 year old house inside a tiny alley not wide enough for even two people to walk down. When I visited the gallery had an exhibition called Kuronekoten, showing the black cat themed work of nine different artists, from sculptors to kimono weavers. I dare say that Maruhi is Tokyo’s best hidden gallery, and if you are in the area it is well worth a visit. Finding it is part of the fun!
Even if you are not into the art the building itself is nothing short of amazing. It is a very careful restoration of an old 1917 (Taisho-era) pawnshop (hence the large safe!), and quite beautiful inside. My photos do not make it justice.
The next show is a ceramics show running from November 21st to 29th, you can read more about the gallery and the coming shows on their Facebook page here or their homepage here (all in Japanese of course!).
A few years ago I randomly stumbled into an underground bar/nightclub in Tokyo’s Aoyama District. I don’t usually go out after dark (I am morning person) but my friends wanted to stay out so I obliged! It turned out a lucky stumble though, as shortly after getting a table in the tiny (but very very cool club) Jimisen entered the tiny stage (well, room corner to be more exact) and proceeded to play one of the most perfect club gigs that I have ever experienced. Jimisen is a Jimi Hendrix Tribute band, four men who manages to look and sound as close to the real thing as anyone could ever wish for. Like many others around the world, I have a Jimi Hendrix phase when I was young, so I know all the songs by heart and have certainly annoyed friends and family with trying to copy the more famous riffs every time someone let me have a guitar for a few minutes. Seeing Jimisen perform was just one of those perfect moments in life: you know it isn’t really Jimi Hendrix, but it is just so good you don’t care.
Jimisen (look them up on Facebook) is playing several gigs in Tokyo this month, including a big Halloween gig and a smaller gig at this very same club, Red Shoes. If you are in Tokyo and want a very memorable experience to take home, this might be just what you are looking for.
And since the club was the size of a medium sized American kitchen I got to sit as close as I wanted, and I could shake the hands of the guys after the gig. Fun!
A lot of foreigners have noticed the hugely popular white dog maskot of the popular cell phone company Softbank here in Japan. Their store in Ginza had this one in front the last time I walked past. Incidentally, that store is a good place to go get your Japanese phone sim cards if you are a tourist with a hankering for net access.
One of the most daunting – and at the same time most interesting – aspects of travel is eating. The local cuisine can be both the curse and the blessing of any trip, a fabulous dinner can excuse the most boring city, and a terrible kitchen hovel can damn the finest resort spot in the world. I do not know how other people travel or how they eat when visiting Tokyo, but I was daunted myself. Having spent decades in Tokyo I am still slightly daunted by entering a new restaurant or trying out food and nothing I do seems to change this. I can only imagine how other (as nervous as me) travelers feel when visiting this country. While it is true that almost everywhere you go you are likely to get good food in the Japanese capital, tourists tend to be drawn towards the first floor establishments with the bright signs, photo menus in English and prices clearly marked! This, however, is not how locals eat out in the capital.
Today I had an errand in Shinagawa, which in the last few years seems to have attracted hundreds of times the number of tourists it had when I first visited many years ago. I saw scores of them, in small groups, families, couples, singles, young men that reminded me of myself, walking around by themselves with a camera and a guidebook in each hand. I started thinking about them, where do they eat, what kind of experiences do they have here? Passing through the station every restaurant I saw with even a barely understandable menu in English had at least a handful of foreign tourists seated inside. I thought I should write something about the other side of Tokyo eating that few tourists ever see.
Take this tiny neighborhood eatery for example, the Marusanshokudo (丸三食堂) in the Shimbamba district about 30 minutes walk from Shinagawa station (or three minutes from Shimbamba station). There is no sign, outside, not pictures and not a word in English or any other western language. I would forgive anyone for passing this kind of building (and there are tens of thousands of them all over Tokyo) and not understanding that there was a restaurant inside. If you can summon the courage to enter though, you will be lucky sometimes to even find a Japanese menu with prices. Sometimes there are just a few tables and a kitchen in the back. The Marusanshokudo has the menu written in Japanese posted on the wall, with everything from 50 to 600 yen. Restaurants like this would not be in business if they did not know what they were doing and Marusanshokudo has so far lasted over 80 years in this location! If you can read Japanese you can pick your favorites, if not you can just point at a few things with reasonable prices and hope for the best. The times I have had the courage to do just this I have always had interesting food – at best, a fabulous meal, at worst a cheap adventure. The Marusanshokudo however served up fantastic dishes followed by more fantastic dishes, even the simple edamame was superb enough to order in a second plate and the restaurant’s choice in sake (Japanese rice wine) was perfect for the season. Slightly chilled, sweet and fruity.
If you are ever in Shinagawa or Shimbabma, I recommend trying this place out, but these kind of mom and pop restaurants are absolutely everywhere in Japan, and almost always able to serve up a great meal, or at least an interesting experience far from the glossy chain store menus you see around the major stations. The address here is 2-12-11 Minamishinagawa Shinagawa Tokyo, 東京都 品川区 南品川 2-12-11 コーポマルサン １Ｆ.
I am in no way a food snob and to be honest even the most glaringly obvious chain store cafes around the biggest tourists attractions of Tokyo almost always serve great food. Some people (like me) prefer to spend their few available hours traveling looking at dusty old statues in remote temples, for some people it is the opposite and I know many who travel only to try local food, some just want the experience of eating in a foreign country others are complete gourmands searching for the most obscure culinary experiences. It is all good.