Sunday, November 29, 2009

11/25/09: Day 6 in Japan, Part II - Satsuma Clan

Satsuma Clan (薩摩藩) is one of the more intriguing and important political power during the mid to late 1800's, as the Tokugawa Shogunate (徳川幕府) came to a close. Initially, they were very much against foreign influence, but after couple of engagement that demonstrated superior western power, they became close with the British and pushed for modernization.

One leading figure is Shimazu Nariakira(島津斉彬, top), the 11th leader of the Clan. He was proactive in importing western technology to Japan. Ohkubo Toshimichi (大久保利通, top center) was one of the key politician that transformed Japanese government by importing western concepts. Perhaps the most popular figure is Saigo Takamori (西郷隆盛, right), who along with Ohkubo became top figures despite their lower-class upbringing. Saigo was known as a samurai, but also one of the key figures in forming Satcho Doumei (薩長同盟), an alliance between Satsuma and Choshu cans that eventually brought down the Tokugawa Shogunate. The alliance was brokered by Sakamoto Ryouma (坂本竜馬) of Tosa Clan (土佐藩, bottom center), and also included Katsura Kogoro (桂小五郎) of the Choshu Clan (長州藩).

This marks the birthplace of Saigo Takamori. Towards the end, he developed friction with his childhood friend Ohkubo. Saigo eventually led Satsuma Revolution to keep samurai class from being abolished. Injured and defeated, Saigo took his own life at the battle of Shiroyama. It is said that the shogun Katsumoto depicted in the movie "Last Samurai" is based on Saigo Takamori.

On the other hand, Ohkubo devoted his efforts in developing infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and ports while reforming the government. One of the key changes were made in 1871, when he set an edict that banned samurai from wearing swords in public.

From the international relations point, Ohkubo determined that the Japan had been weakened, and took a strong stance against invasion of Korea to the dismay of Saigo. Eventually, the differences in philosophies led to Ohkubo fighting Saigo's charges. As Saigo was wildly popular in Satsuma, Ohkubo was seen as a traitor to many. Eventually, Ohkubo was assassinated.

In fiction, Ohkubo is said to be represented as Omuro in the movie, "Last Samurai."

One of the turning point of the Satsuma Clan was the Teradaya incident of 1862. Shimizu Hisamitsu quelled a plot formed by some of the anti-modernization extremists within their clan at the Teradaya Inn. This action set the tone of Satsuma as modernists, as well as gaining needed political capital from the Imperial Palace.

Satsuma Clan also produced a famous female historical figure, Atsuhimé (篤姫). Raised by Shimazu Nariakira, she was eventually arranged to marry the Shogun, Tokugawa Iesada. This move was motivated to gain Satsuma political power, but eventually, the clan decided to support the Emperor instead of the Shogun forcing her into a very difficult situation. NHK produced "Atsuhimé" drama, which is highly suggested. These keepsakes were used in the series.

11/25/09: Day 6 in Japan, Part I - Kagoshima

The next destination on my itinerary was Kagoshima, the southern-most prefecture on Kyushu. As it would take 2.5 hours to get there, I picked up Chicken Namban lunch...

...and side orde of Yakisoba for the rail trip.

The Satsuma Clan, based in Kagoshima, was one of the more progressive power in Japan. During the Meiji Restoration, they sent 15 students to England to study the western technologies such as steam power to help modernize Japan. For their contributions, they are honored with a statue outside of the Kagoshima Central Station.

Not too far down the Napoli Street is the Meiji Restoration Museum. Spending one hour is a great way to understanding role of Kagoshima in shaping modern Japan.

Crossing the bridge to the museum, you can see the beautiful Sakura Jima.

After the museum, I headed down to the area called Dolphin Port to catch the glimpse of Sakura Jima up close. Sakura Jima is a picturesque island/volcano located in the Kagoshima Bay, and is featured in some Kagoshima-based drama such as Atsuhimé.

As the sun set, I began to make my way back towards the train station. At the intersection where the Tenmonkan Dori and Izumi Dori crossed, I couldn't help but notice the heavily westernized buildings that were lining the street.

For dinner, I decided to go two blocks north to Tenjin Baba Dori to look for a local flavor. As Kagoshima is famous for their Berkshire Pork, this lantern caught my attention.

Tonkatsu Jubei has been in business for over 40 years, and it's located on a second floor of a building, tucked away in the back.

I ordered the roast cutlet set (1,550 yen).

The Kagoshima pork was very tender and juicy, cooked to perfection. They were served with miso sauce, tangy tonkatsu sauce, and salt/pepper to enjoy in different ways.

As I was the first customer in, the chef came out and entertained me. He made ballerina out of tissue paper (right), cut outs of two swans kissing (bottom), hawk (left), and deer (top).

Here is the photo of ferris wheel above Kagoshima Central Station.

I ended up staying in a town called Sendai (川内). After getting there, I saw a Christmas light display in the shape of Doraemon.

Friday, November 27, 2009

11/24/09: Day 5 in Japan, Part II - Yatai

On the way back from onsen, I got off the shuttle bus in Tenjin. On my agenda was to try a certain Hakata cuisine, as well as dining in yatai. Here is the bridge over Nakagawa at night.

Not too far from the bridge, I came across an izakaya called Fuurin Kazan. The kanji signifies wind, forest, fire, mountain that were seen on the battle flags, short hand for "run like the wind, quiet like the forest, attack like fire, and defend like a mountain." With such an impressive name, I figured I can't go wrong.

It was a yakitori place, run by two chefs.

I started with angel hair-like enoki mushrooms cooked in a foil...

...followed by few skeweres of chicken...

...before settling on juicy tonsoku. What's a tonsoku, you may ask? Why, it's pigs feet. Yup, you read that right, pigs feet. It's chewy and rich in collagen which is supposedly great for your skin. Not surprisingly, pigs feet are very popular among those cute little Japanese women.

Yakitori and Tonkotsu went very well with Den En (田苑) potato shochu served on the rocks.

Mext on the agenda was visiting yatai, which is a food stand. More than food carts we see in NYC, food stands include seating. Nakasu, an island located between Nakagawa rivers, has a famous yatai row but it is frequently visited by out-of-towners.

My Fukuoka-based friend recommended I stop by yatai frequently visited by the locals in the heart of the main street. However, that yatai was already full, and I was told it would take at least an hour to get a seat. Fortunately, there was another one called Kitaro right near by, with some seats to spare.

While yatai is there to serve food, the local ones offer much more than that. Because the space is enclosed, creating intimate space, it encourages interaction. The yatai visited by locals has their "regulars" that gather regularly.

Fortunately, they were quick to include me in the conversation, and I had good companions for the night.

I had their ramen with Suigei Junmai Ginjo...

...and some more yakitori with house barley shochu. While I don't remember much about the taste of the food, I will never forget the cameraderie I enjoy inside this particular yatai.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

11/24/09: Day 5 in Japan, Part I - Tenjin

While Hakata is where the Shinkansen stops, Tenjin is where the action is. To find out more, I decided to take a walk in the morning.

Tenjin is about 20 minutes away from Hakata station by foot, separated by Nakagawa River. Watanabe Street is the center of the town, and it's flanked by Fukuoka/Tenjin Station of the Nishitetsu line, as well as numerous department stores and shops.

Just as busy is the underground concourse right beneath Watanabe Street that houses bunch of shops while allowing pedestrians access to all the surrounding buildings without the fear of cars or waiting for lights.

On the way back to the hotel, I found a booth that sold something called Inaho Yaki. It was to okonomiyaki what pizza pocket is to a pizza.

For lunch, I stopped by a ramen joint near the hotel called Chen Mar Ya.

Their speciality is the spicy Dan Dan Noodles using tonkotsu soup base. As you can tell by the picture, this was richer and much spicier than usual tonkotsu ramen, with hints of sesame and Szechuan peppercorns.

The lunch set came with Ma Po Tofu served over rice. Thicker than the Ma Po Tofu I am used to, it nevertheless had good flavors of the Szechuan peppercorns.

Here is the obligatory serving of gyoza...

I again spent the afternoon at Ryusei Onsen. The hotsprings are invigorating, and I read sauna is great for digestion which is much needed at this point.

The hotspring is located in the mountains, and it offers calming scenery to ease my soul...

11/23/09: Day 4 in Japan - Arriving in Hakata

Not unexpectedly, my eyes opened around 7:30, but I woke up around 9:30 only because I had to check out by 10:00.

I skipped breakfast, but that's not a bad thing in retrospect, based on the pace I am helping out Japanese food industry.

After leaving the comforts of bed, I spent couple of hours by Hiroshima Station working on rehydration. Interestingly, the city of Kyoto was promoting tourism, so there was a lady dressed as geisha and a gentleman clad in the coat of Shinsengumi.

My next stop is Hakata in Fukuoka prefecture, located on the island of Kyushu. This will be my first visit on the island where my father's side of the family is based.

As my appetizer was virtually nonexistant, my lunch included 3 different breads. First was the bacon and cheese roll...

...followed by fried chicken with tartare sauce on a roll...

...and curry bread, a must-eat item when in Japan.

After checking into the hotel, it was time to relax and detox by visitig Seiryu Onsen hot springs, recommended by a friend.

Housed in a traditional-looking lodge, the onsen featured 6 different hotsprings (2 inside, 4 outside) and 2 spa facilities. The onsen is located about 50 minutes from Hakata Station, but thankfully, there is a free shuttle bus that runs hourly. This visit was much needed!

Hakata is famous for their tonkotsu ramen, which is made from deriving broth from pork. In a lucky coincidence, the restaurant my friend recommended, Fukuchan, was located just 2 blocks away from the hotel.

As my appetite recovered sufficiently, I ordered Char-Siu Tonkotsu Ramen.

The taste did not disappoint, the firm noodle pairing well with creamy but well-balanced soup.

Of course, I had to have their gyoza as well.

On the way home, there was a tunnel running under and across the rail tracks. Within the tunnel was a mural, and one section featured Kondo Isami, leader of Shinsengumi. Man, they're everywhere!