Tag Archives: 19号

Gift Rapping

If you’re one of those who must give Christmas fruitcakes, now’s the time to be ordering.

Below, Grandir is gearing up for the season with plenty of trimmings to get you in the mood.


Much has been made of whether to cut back on holiday lighting displays to save electricity in light of the tsunami’s effect on energy production, or to go ahead and get people in the holiday spirit by lighting up (marketers say the lights definitely make people buy more, and certainly make many feel good). Many places seem to be choosing the latter. Below is the yule tree in Tully’s at Toki Premium Outlets.


Anyway, Grandir’s fruitcakes are ready to be ordered. My route took me there and to Starbucks yesterday.

Starbucks, while not to my knowledge selling Christmas cakes, also has no shortage of seasonal menu items as well as gift mugs, etc.. Thumbs up to the selection of Christmas music they’ve been playing this year, at least at their Livin store. Last night there brought back childhood memories as, among others, Burl Ives’s “Holly Jolly Christmas” (from the stop-motion classicRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer“) played.

Those Livin ladies and gents work hard in the midst of down times. Give them a visit this holiday season for some of your giftgiving needs, and pick up a little treat for yourself at the ‘Bucks while you’re at it.

Big in Japan



Mini-pancakes, one of the grain options in Denny’s morning set.

Rice and thick, or what’s sometimes called Texas, toast are the other choices. In a country where people coming back from America often remark how huge serving sizes there are, morning toast, along with bottled beer and sake, defy the tendency.

Other bigger-than-yours items off the top of my head:

  • hats (of necessity – remember Hideki Matsui’s trouble finding a big enough Yankees helmet?)
  • eyeglasses (same reason)
  • some shoehorns (indispensible when rebooting at the doorway)
  • newspapers (in breadth)
  • beetles and all stripe of insects
  • Fujiesque volcanoes and other natural disasters (as well as the no-nonsense response to the call for rebuilding after them)
  • radish (check out the daikon around Sakurajima across the bay from downtown Kagoshima, Kyushu – the rich volcanic soil makes them grow as big as basketballs)
  • scallions (unless you consider negi to be undersized leeks)
  • Konishiki (was he small anywhere?)
  • Asashoryu (big in a bad way)
  • Tommy Lee Jones (actual popularity on his home planet not officially confirmed)
  • certain superheroes (no one sizes up to the never understated Ultraman)


They say the torsos of Japanese are proportionally taller than foreigners’, giving the perception Japanese are taller when sitting down, but proportionally shorter legs give their true height away when they stand up.

Ike Men

And, not to carp, but how could any list of what’s bigger in Japan than abroad leave out Dave Specter (thank you though, Dave, for inoculating such a wide audience to my equally bad as yours puns), Bob Sapp, the Softbank family brother, and every other erstwhile big fish in this little pond we flop around in?

Hands-On History Lesson

Having heard about it and driven by the signs many times, I finally paid a visit to Yama No Usagi kissaten near Toki Premium Outlets.


Perched atop a hill between the outlets and route 19, it’ll have you sensing history before you even step inside.


And once inside, if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate the antique furnishings that go right along with the architecture.

Long Ago and Far Away, Here and Now

The owner couple (and their mild-mannered dog) were warmly welcoming, and explained how this small cafe came to be eight years and three days ago. The husband is in fact a carpenter, and the building, originally built over 120 years ago in Takayama, was dismantled, moved and painstakingly reassembled here.

It’s an example of gasshou architecture, which is characterized by not only a basic A-frame shaped roof, as apparently many people know, but also by the overhanging, angled-out shape of the roof at the end. The word gasshou refers to not only the shape of a pair of praying hands (the sides of the roof), but also to the bowed head (the angled overhang) of the person praying. Here it’s seen with the crescent moon to the side.


The husband had just come back from picking wild mushrooms, and kindly shared these ikuchi, a local variety which work well in red miso soup.


Get Stoked

Starting in about a week, they’ll open up the irori (sit-around dugout open hearth) for the winter, for customers to use. A classic example of how group-oriented Japanese interior design tends to draw furnishings and people toward the center of the room, as opposed to lining things up along the walls.

Trying On a New Coat

Yes, the temperatures are dipping and we’re getting out our warmer clothes, but today’s title dips into the deep fryer (cum pressure cooker in this case) for its kikkake. For the first time in a couple of years I ate at Kentucky Fried Chicken.


At the KFC on route 19 in Toki, I tried the Nanban Dare chicken. One piece goes for ¥260 a la carte. I have to say, though I enjoy most of KFC’s chicken, this one, with its sweet (apple or quince in there, or mikan or mango, given the geographic reference? Peach or pear fit the flavor, but sound too dear) and hot coating, wasn’t really for me. I also had trouble finding much meat on this particular piece. Just now I realized the cole slaw I had is another of those items that once in a while you go out of your way to order, then don’t need again for quite some time. They’ve got their iced coffee down, I can say. I was leery, fearing it might be nothing special or even something that’d been sitting around for who knows how long, but it was good drinking, if low on actual ice.

I occasionally drive thru for some of their boxed packs, but rarely eat in. They remodelled this one earlier this year, I think. The seating is much more inviting than before. The music is clearly chosen from on high (by US-based powers), alternating between R&B featuring obligatory contrived vocals (please, folks, can we live up to our purported progressiveness and move, finally, pretty please, beyond ornate finials upon finials, trills and word-initial groans?) and country/western. If, like me, you find most of that annoying at best (or shreiking intolerable at worst), at least it might help you keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in American music. So-called indie scene(s) aside, for better or worse, it helps to know what direction popular forces are going in.

Anyway, don’t forget the Colonel is there, plaster arms outstretched and holding a collapsed umbrella someone left there, for your periodic poultry predilections.

Ok, Ok

More okonomiyaki, this time from Boteko Okonomiyaki on route 19 in Mizunami. One of those places I’ve always driven by but never gone to. Not the cleanest joint in the world, but the mood is very informal, the “master” is quite the character, and the Showa music is a plus in my book.

I had the Boteko Set for ¥2480, which included the yakisoba served on a plate, top; mixed okonomiyaki brought half-cooked to your table grill (no flipping), middle;

And a cheese-mochi filled okonomiyaki, above. I’d think they might let you cook and flip your own if you ask. This satisfying set was enough for three or maybe four people. And I can’t explain it, but the feel of the place made me feel like I was back in Tokyo somehow. See what you think.


Not much to look at – just the sky around what apparently is the closest the eye of the typhoon will get to us. This tempest has kept defying predictions of movement and just kept inching along, much like typhoon number 12. We are in the central red zone as of this moment. No major damage to report. We may start to see the trailing side within an hour. It is still predicted to whisk up the length of the rest of Honshu briskly once passing us.


Route 19 west of the Utsutsu Tunnels was closed last night, causing a near standstill of traffic (detoured from 19 as well as the closed Tomei Expressway) along the narrow parallel route 508. As of this morning, roads had been closed at 84 locations in Toki.

Vigorous Visor Workout


A drive in Mizunami through Ohkute on the Nakasendo route had me ending up at Ryuugin no taki waterfalls.


On route 19 near Kamado past Mizunami, I’ve often seen the big ceramic sphere by the side of the road. Well, that roadway leads to a series of smaller ceramic balls still big enough to hold a couple of people if there were openings. As it is, some of them hold some sort of ogre-like ceramic creatures that presumably tell a story as you progress upstream past more falls. An audio narration from speakers buried under the rocks was eventually triggered by motion sensors. It was late in the afternoon and circumstances kept me from exploring much. It looks like it might be nice once the leaves change, as there were plenty of Japanese maple trees. There’s also a kofun (keyhole-shaped ancient ritual burial mound) on the way from the bottom.


Earlier, nearby this lake was, I believe, the same series of waterfalls reachable by walking paths, but I couldn’t go there from that end today either.


A Lighter Shade of Pale, Choreography By Old Sol

The drive back home had me performing a belated bon dance of sorts, switching, like folding hand-fans or preening insect wings or choreographed airport ground crew semaphore, both driver- and passenger-side visors up, down and (why is it so rarely we do this?? One of modern life’s fleeting mysteries) to the side, still managing to get blinded once or twice when glancing at the rear-view mirror. In this brilliant autumn sun, more straw-hatted farmers were harvesting rice and open-burning the stems and chaff, as the smoke’s acrid haze, whose smell it occurs to me must have remained unchanged for centuries, a visceral link to the past when such connections sometimes seem evaporating, dispersed and diffused the sharp light to make the sky oddly brighter at times.

Good Morning

I went to Denny’s (Tajimi) for the first time in ages today.  I hadn’t had breakfast at one in even longer.  Certainly the breakfast selection is thin to say the least compared to Denny’s in its home country of the US (and of course Denny’s was originally known mainly for breakfast), but then there are Japanese or western/Japanese choices you could only find here.  There are also breakfast club sandwich-type platters for a similar price.  Breakfast is served till 11 AM.

This “morning” set of two eggs, a sausage, one strip of bacon and thick toast with butter and jam was ¥580 including ice(d) coffee, and ¥400 without the drink.  They didn’t seem to allow refills on the coffee for this.  It shouldn’t be news, but don’t count on too much protection from the non-smoking section’s medium-rise partition.  If you do get a craving for a big ol’ western-style breakfast out to put a waddle in your walk for get a start on the rest of the day, Denny’s or perhaps Big Boy may be an option. Thumbs up on the iced coffee.

Logo a No-Go, So Far

I read this morning that Starbucks is changing its logo for the first time in many years, in conjunction with its 40th anniversary.  So since I was doing something else at Livin in Kasugai today, it was a good chance to check out the Starbucks there.

Neither the logo nor the new products planned to coincide with it have arrived there yet, but a friend at the Kasugai store tells me the new logo will have color variations depending on the product.  Apparently the familiar wavy-haired siren won’t be leaving us, but the news article I read said the company will be widening its focus, thus dropping the words from the perimeter.  I think they can get away with the simplification, seeing as the current look is so established. The java giant’s Via instant coffee was for sale in-store – I’m not sure just when that started.

Given the importance of branding these days, and the ubiquity of Starbucks, the whole change is probably quite noteworthy.  I didn’t realize the coffee culture icon managed to double its profit last year from the year before.

Livin has (temporarily, according to another friend who works there) lost some anchor stores, leaving a large empty swath of unoccupied storespace for the time being.  Like other shopping spots, it’s been hit hard by the economy and the emergence of newer centers like Aeon and Toki Premium Outlets, but is trying to stay healthy.

On the way there and back, the police on their motorcycles were out in the heaviest force I’ve ever seen on route 19, with numerous speeders pulled over for violations.  There seems to be a spring traffic safety campaign under way.  Let’s hope it actually makes the roads safer.

Coffee Quest Continues

A scene from an early morning coffee stop at Cafe Di Espresso Kohikan on route 19 in Kasugai, near Livin.  They open at 9 AM, an hour before Livin itself.

Their coffee is fine, there’s plenty to choose from including beans, light meals and breakfast specials, and the jazz is good.  Relax with a magazine, and sit at outdoor tables when the weather gets nicer.  Above was a small cafe au lait for ¥280.