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Posts tagged takadanobaba

Yakuoin’s Tree Peony Flowers

botan hana shinjuku tokyo japan

Last week we took a very short bike ride to Yakuoin (薬王院) to see the blooming tree peonies (ボタン). We were not alone as it was a holiday–Showa no Hi (昭和の日). Even with the crowds, the scene was very nice. Not only were many of the peonies at their peak, but a late blooming sakura was snowing its petals on us.

botan flower tokyo japan

Yakuoin is between Takadanobaba and Shimo Ochiai Stations on the north side of Shin Mejiro Doori. For more details see A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo.

薬王院 地蔵 新宿区 tree peony

The jizo had a nice view from the top of the stairs.

yakuoin red bib

See if you can spot the “living statue” in the above photo.

I’ll give you a hint; it’s in the upper left and says ニャンニャン in Japanese.

Potential absence makes the heart grow fonder

I previously mentioned the line phenomenon in Japan. You see lines being touted on Japan’s countless food TV shows as well. A camera crew will walk around looking for long lines to get into restaurants. They then sample the food and interview customers. The conclusion is always long line = really good product.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is the line itself that draws the line and not the product. Potential absence is also a cause.

For instance, the above photo was taken outside of 太麺堂, a ramen shop that opened with the promise of being a temporary ramen shop only open until the end of 2009. I never walked past the place during business hours when there wasn’t a line. Usually the line was very long. They closed, as promised, at the end of the year with a sign thanking customers. A few weeks later, they opened again. The menu is the same, the hours are the same, the potential absence of the place is now gone, and so are the lines. I haven’t seen a single line for the place in the past month.

Wendy’s (the fast food burger place) had a store near Takadanobaba Station, a bit of it can be seen in the fourth picture in this entry. It was usually more than half empty and reeked of cigarette smoke on the inside. All Wendy’s in Japan closed at the end of 2009. However, the thought of Wendy’s closing caused a dramatic increase in their business despite the horrible smell and mediocre food. For the last few days of the year there was a line out the door to enter. Alas, the doors closed for good at midnight on December 31.

We walked past Wendy’s, on our way home, on New Year’s morning at 1:36 a.m. when I took the above photo. The Wendy’s signs had already been covered.

Shakey’s Pizza

Ryan has grown about six inches since we arrived in Japan six months ago. He can eat continuously. So, for his 14th birthday a little over a week ago, it wasn’t a big surprise when he said he wanted to eat at Shakey’s Pizza.

“All-you-can-eat” in Japan was referred to as tabehodai (食べ放題). It still is called this, but, increasingly, all-you-can-eat buffets are referred to as “viking” or “viking lunch” so we went to eat like vikings at Shakey’s. I don’t think the vikings ever imagined the toppings that would be found on pizza in Japan. Seeing what is created in the Shakey’s oven is as fun as eating there. Nearly everything placed on the buffet is different and unusual, even if you visit Shakey’s frequently. They must have a hundred toppings to choose from in the back, which they seemingly throw together randomly.

On this day some of the toppings I remember included mango, BBQ chicken, corn, cabbage, potato, anko (red bean paste), strawberries, marshmallows, corn flakes, onions, squid, shrimp, brownies, hot fudge, cheese, mayonnaise, nuts, beans, pineapple, ham, peppers, and seaweed. I meant to take pictures of some of these pieces of pizza, but I was so hungry for the first plate (having skipped breakfast) that I forgot. My plate looked a little too gross for photography after several helpings when I remembered I had a camera in my possession.

You’ll be quite sick of pizza for a week, or more, after eating here. (This is a picture of the Takadanobaba store; there are many others including Shinjuku, Harajuku, Kichijoji, and Ikebukuro.) Give it time and you’ll be ready to go back.

Futomendo Ramen (太麺堂)

line for futomendo takadanobaba ramen

Near the corner of Waseda Street (早稲田通り) and Meiji Street (明治通り) a ramen shop opened last month. Since then a steady line of about 50 people (even in rain) have waited outside to enter. Sometimes the line grows to more than 100 people. Within eyesight of this establishment are at least 5 other places selling nearly the exact same thing. Within a 5 minute walk are more than 20 other places selling ramen. Yet none of them ever have a line to get in. Ever.

People latch on to popular things all over the world simply because they are popular. In Japan this is taken to a higher level. The popular product rarely seems to be better, less expensive, or unique either.

Two Saturdays ago the weather was great, and we had nothing in particular to do, so we got in the above line to see if Futomendo Ramen was somehow special.

futomendo fat noodle house takadanobaba ramen

Once we made it to the front of the line there was something like excitement inside me. I was hungrier, too, so that enhanced the experience. It sort of felt like we were about to get on a roller coaster at an amusement park after such a wait.

In the above photo you can see, in the lower-right corner, that they have even posted instructions on how to line up to get in. I’ve seen brand new restaurants post similar instructions in the hope that lines will form even though they never do.

ellie case crossing waseda doori one piece manga billboard

We had so much time to wait in line that Ellie actually had time to walk home and back. She probably could have done so four or five times.

power lines blue sky tries on waseda doori

To pass the time we listened to comments made by those walking past us, learned some Japanese, and took pictures of our surroundings.

tokyo buildings near corner of waseda street and meiji doori

Once we got in I didn’t take any more pictures. Sorry.

The first character in the name of the place (太麺堂) means “fat.” The name is literally “fat noodle shop.” Customers were supposed to fill out little cards, writing a phrase or sentence using the fat character. For instance, you could write “My dad is fat.” or “These fat noodles are delicious.”

Ellie came up with a clever one all her own. She wrote, in English, “My favorite sumo wrestler is Dragon Fat.” Underneath, I wrote the person she was talking about in kanji–山本山 龍太. The waitress didn’t know anything about sumo, but we had a fun discussion when she picked the card up anyway.

So how was the ramen you ask? It was good. The ramen noodles were fatter than normal, though not as thick as udon. It didn’t warrant the wait, but we had a fun experience anyway. The taste was a bit different than the norm, but I wouldn’t consider it superior to many of the places, without a line, in the neighborhood.

ATOM アトム Astro Boy

手塚治虫 tezuka osamu “Atom” opens in Japan today. It opens in the US and much of the rest of the world as “Astro Boy” in a couple weeks. I recently read “手塚治虫”, a book about the creator of Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka. The book is aimed at Japanese kids which makes it very easy for me to read (unlike some of the Japanese novels I read on the train which require frequent usage of my Japanese dictionary).

Outside of Kochi Kame there are few Japanese Manga that I find very interesting. Astro Boy (鉄腕アトム or “Iron Arm Atom” if translated directly) is intriguing to me now simply because he was “born” at Takadanobaba Station, a place I experience almost daily. The Astro Boy song plays when each train departs and there is much Astro Boy art in the neighborhood.

My walk home

heavy metal shamisen takadanobaba eki tokyo japan

It’s a great feeling at night when I’ve finished my class and commute and find myself at Takadanobaba Station ready to walk the final stretch home. Recently I’ve come to anticipate the street musician just outside of the station. He plays a shamisen but not like the geisha. No, he plays a heavy metal version that is quite unique. I really like the vibe.

I was going to talk to him on the night I took the above picture. However, as I approached him he scowled as he tuned his three strings. I figured I should keep my distance. So I went across the street to get a picture. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a clear shot as people kept passing before him.

takadanobaba big box

While I waited for people to clear out, I turned my lens to an icon of the area, Big Box.

bijin shamisen player heavy metal takadanobaba

The view got nicer, at times, but I still didn’t ever get a good photo of the Metal Shamisen Dude. Next time, if I get up the courage, I’ll ask him if I can take a video.

old worn akachochin red lantern covered in plastic wendy's

From there I walked down Waseda Doori passing many curious shops. The one above features an 赤提灯 (あかちょうちん, akachochin, or red lantern) that seems to have been in use for decades. Rather than replace it, they have put plastic over it to keep it from wearing out so fast. The bottom half is literally hanging by a thread.

Places with an akachochin out front are great for a drink and/or bite to eat.

Farther down the street (upper right corner of the above photo) you can see Wendy’s, one of the last places in Japan to not ban smoking. The place reeks inside. Japan’s smoking habits have really changed in the past 20 years. When I was here in the 1980s people smoked everywhere. Now, seeing someone smoking is something of a rarity. There are small, designated smoking areas outside of most train stations, away from the major traffic areas. I no longer have to experience the stink, unless I’m walking by Wendy’s at the same time a customer is coming out the door.

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