People here in Tokyo love Oktoberfests. There are Oktoberfest events almost year round here in Tokyo, but of course the biggest ones are in October. Last night I visited the Odaiba Oktoberfest held in a park next to the Daiba Diver City complex. It was very early in the evening so the park was still only half full but I expect it would get packed with visitors later. Plenty of German breweries and wineries were represented, as well as Japanese sake breweries. There was even a rental service for Oktoberfest waitress costumes and a proper Munich band, the Almpower playing rock and pop classics. The official Facebook page is here.
The Odaiba Oktober Fest 2014 continues until Sunday the 5th of October, and it is open from 13:00 to 22:00. It is a 5 minute walk from Tokyo Teleport Station, Daiba Station or the Funenokagakukan Station.
So it is October and that means the summer is over although on some days it seems no one told the weather that it was time to change, it as hot and sunny as usual. Summer means beaches and beer and if there is one beer that more than any other is connected with the summer it is Orion Beer. In mainland Japan it is tiny, with only about 1% of the market but in its homeland of Okinawa it has about 50% of the market. Since Okinawa is a very popular summer destination for traveling Japanese Orion is almost like the unofficial beer of summer. You can get it almost anywhere in Tokyo since a few years back, but it is still best on location in Okinawa!
I was inspired to write this after a friend asked me to recommend minor beer breweries in Japan. Orion is also the major American style beer in Japan so it tends to be popular with American military and tourists in the country.
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!
After last week’s Whiskey post I feel I should balance things up a little and introduce this non-alcoholic beer! This brand from Suntory, as well as another one from Kirin has really been life savers at many a recent corporate drinking parties here in Japan. I am not a big drinker and I have no interest in keeping up with the Japanese (who despite persistent rumors to the contrary are generally incredibly strong drinkers) but the social pressure on “having another one” can be very strong, and to save face both for myself and my drinking buddies, as well as saving my health and my ability to walk upright the following two or three days I have secretly made sure the waiter brought me these beers on many occasions. They taste 99% similar to ordinary beer although beer fiends from all over the world ridicule me for drinking these I hold that although they taste slightly different it is no way worse or better than ordinary beer.
The Japanese culture of drinking together goes very deep and they even have a portmanteau word for it “nominication” (飲みにケーション), nomu (to drink) + communication. It is very hard to get to know a Japanese coworker (or male friend for that matter) without going drinking with them, at least once, but ideally regularly. This is nothing new, even 1000 year old novels and stories tell of lords having drinking sessions with their vassals and warriors to test their mettle. If you work in Japan, try to work in Japan, try to form a circle of friends or take part in any sort of group activity it is not long before they break out the drinks and you’ll have to show your strength.
In defense of the Japanese though, they are truly the best drunks in the world! The general level of drinking aggression is much lower in this country, as anyone can attest who has been outside a pub at closing time, anywhere in the world. So Suntory and Kirin, I salute you for your alcohol free beer! You’ve saved my liver a lot of damage over the years!