Sep 182014

2014-09-18 Lunch Dimibang again 05 banner

View from my table

View from my table

I had only been to Dimibang once, and the dish was very spicy, so I’d been a bit hesitant to go back until I was at least willing to chance a fiery lunch.  Yes, yes, I know, probably not all their dishes are spicy, something I’m less sure of about all the restaurants with a large, bright red (cartoon) octopus above their entrances, but still…  Today, though, seemed like the day.  I had the same seat as last time, with a nice view out the door.

Our host was there again (I have to ask his name next time, he’s charming), and tried to give me the very limited English language menu, but I was having none of it:  pointing at the liquidy orange-coloured meal that the two ladies at the next table were having, I said ‘give me one of those please’ in my best (if limited) Korean.

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Side dishes (and my rice bowl)

The dish was great!  The owner explained that it was a bean dish and not very spicy (indeed, even That Girl might like it).  The side dishes arrived very quickly:  a bit of jabchae (think a cold Asian noodle salad), a small omlette (not sure what it was made of, though), a bit of pickled chili peppers (they’re great, but hot) and of course rice and kimchee.

bubble bubble!

bubble bubble!

I nibbled away and shortly the Main Event arrived, a bubbling thick yellow-orange broth with vegetables and a few bits of meat in it (really few; I’m counting this as a vegetarian dish, thanks).  By “bubbling” I mean “rolling boil”… for once, you can actually see it in the photo. (Well, in the full size pic… just click on the thumbnail).  I eased backwards to protect my shirt.

The Main Event

The Main Event

I also had a small side plate, in which I mixed a spoonful of rice and several spoonfuls of the stew (I wasn’t letting that spitting, boiling bowl anywhere near my shirt!).  Tasty!  A nice bean stew, actually just the thing for a cold winter’s day — the owner even pointed out that not only was it very hot but that the heat was good for me.  Perhaps, but I’m definitely having it again.

맛있어요, clearly 맛있어요

맛있어요, clearly 맛있어요

When the owner asked how it was (맛있어요, “tasty”; my vocabulary is limited but very helpful in restaurants), I had him write it down for me:  비지 찌개, or Tofu Stew.  In the end, I cleaned my bowl.  Who know tofu could be so 맛있어요 ?  Heck, who even knew it was tofu?  (OK, everyone but me…)



 Posted by on 18 Sep 2014
Sep 142014

2014-09-08 Tokyo 041After all the excitement on Sunday, we thought that an easy day on Monday might be called for.  Also, it was about time to let That Girl have a bit of a say in what we did.  I’m not entirely convinced that she’s as enthousiastic about Buddhist temples as Aingeal & I are.  So, we started at the Miraikan (the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation), out on Daiba Island.  In fairness, this sort of thing is always a lot of fun, so we were not exactly being dragged there either.

Blade Runner

2014-09-08 Tokyo 0352014-09-08 Tokyo 029 croppedOur friends Andreas & Cristina and their daughter Josie had gone there, and recommended it as well, and told us how to get there on the (as Cristina put it) “Blade Runner style elevated railway”.  And it was fun, elevated, running on rubber tires instead of rails, great views of the skyline, the harbour and of course Daiba Island.

With a promise like that, and finding ourselves in the first carriage (this was luck: we were running to catch it!  I was sitting next to a bunch of gregarious Argentinians, hence all the Spanish in the video below.), I naturally filmed the whole thing, station to station to station… You’ll be happy to know that I have not put that all up (if you’re a rail buff, I could) but did post what I thought was the best leg of the journey on YouTube:


2014-09-08 Tokyo 018As we approached Miriakan, a camera crew were filming something (an ad?).  It was a bit surreal, as all was noticed at first were Japanese business men standing perfectly still for no apparent reason, but time revealed all.

2014-09-08 Tokyo 020 brightenedMiraikan itself was a lot of fun.  I think everyone’s favorite is probably the giant live-action globe, made up of screens showing the world and its weather.  The other thing that we really liked was a mock-up of one module of the International Space Station, with several videos running telling about life there, including (as Aingeal put it) “the answer to every little boy’s first question”.  The video of a haircut was priceless!

Another interesting one was very large mechanical contraption with lots of little balls being shunted about.  It turns out to be a working physical model of how a router on the internet sends packets (say, one letter) from one place to another.  Reminded me of a YouTube video I saw of a (simple) computer built out of 10,000 dominos (warning: 22 minutes, but worth it on a rainy Sunday).

We didn’t go to the exhibition of their ASIMO robot — we’ve seen it on the news, and staying for that wasn’t as interesting as the exhibits themselves.  It’s hard to go on at length about a museum, and we took basically no pics… so On To Lunch.

Lunch, Books, Friends

2014-09-08 Tokyo 042After the museum, we headed into Tokyo Station for lunch and books.  Lunch, as it was a convenient time (we ended up in a nice little noodle place).

Books?  Well, I understood that Tokyo has more foreigners than Seoul… so more English speakers… so perhaps bigger, better selection of English books.  A sound theory, as it turned out.

2014-09-08 Tokyo 044Getting to a station at one edge of Marunouchi (the neighborhood around the Palace & the very-large Tokyo Station), we ran into The Problem In Strange Cities:  once up on street level, which way to go?  Having relied on the kindness of strangers, we headed off, detouring only to look a the Palace walls.  (You can do tours of the grounds; maybe next time.)  Eventually, we made it to Tokyo Station.  Which, like so many things seem to be “around here” is very big.  But we just cut through the corner on our way to the day’s Second Main Objective:  Maruzen Books, four floors of books across the street from Tokyo Station.

We no sooner made it up to the 4th floor (and I’d found the next three books in a series I’m reading, in the “new books” section at the entrance!), than a voice calls out “Peter! Aingeal!” …. our friends Bill & Helen from Seoul, also in Tokyo for Chuseok!  Bill’s the Australian Ambassador, and lives around the corner from us.  We had a nice chat, did our shopping and repaired downstairs for a drink and more chat.

After that, back to the hotel, and then on to dinner in the Shibuya area.

Shibuya & Hanamidori

2014-09-08 Tokyo 202Aingeal was keen to see the “scramble” intersection at Shibuya — a large intersection that gets a lot of pedestrian traffic.  The foot traffic gets its own turn, and then everyone just, um, scrambles straight towards where they want to go.  A bit of a hoot, really, and you get a great view from the two-level Starbucks overlooking the intersection.

2014-09-08 Tokyo 242Then we wandered up into the brightly lit streets of Shibuya.  This was the third thing that reminded me of Seoul:  lights.  I think “Asian cities” are often depicted as using a lot of neon; that was certainly the case in Shibuya.  (In fairness:  keep walking, after a number of blocks, the neon disappears.  but still…).

2014-09-08 Tokyo 215Eventually we fetched up at Hanamidori, which managed to look tempting despite being 1 flight up (who’s their designer?  Hire ’em!).  In fact, it’s a chain, but a good one.  In fact, I found everything in Japan good, so that isn’t surprising.  Anyway, we had one of the house specialities, a traditional Japanese dish whose name escapes me (but those familiar with Hanamidori no doubt know it).  Again, reminiscent of similar Korean dishes, but at the same time completely different.

2014-09-08 Tokyo 217We had some appetizers, don’t recall what but very good.  The main course was a stew.  First the stew itself with condiments was brought out.  When it was good & hot (cooking at the table again), the maitre d’ / waiter / our cook served us each a glass of the broth.

Chicken balls

Chicken balls

Next there were some pieces of chicken in the broth.  We were served those as “yer man” got things really going, with a plate of chicken bits, a plate of ground chicken and a big bowl of vegetables & what looked like acorn jelly.  In go the chicken bits.

2014-09-08 Tokyo 2342014-09-08 Tokyo 231Next, he rolls the ground chicken into meatballs, and in they go.  And finally, in with everything else.  Now, sit and wait until it’s ready.  So, well fed and tired enough, we stroll back to the Shibuya metro and home…


 Posted by on 14 Sep 2014
Sep 142014

2014-09-07 Kamakura 111 banner

2014-09-07 Kamakura 002

Herb & Peter

2014-09-07 Kamakura 010On Sunday, my old friend Herb Donovan came by our hotel and took us to Kamakura, home of The Big Buddah.  That was really nice of him — it was a full-day excursion, and we’d not have been able to do all we did by ourselves.

2014-09-07 Kamakura 014 Enoshima

That Girl, Aingeal & Herb


Anyway, we took the train to Enoshima, which is almost 50km from Tokyo (with Yokohama in between… that’s all one giant urban conglomeration now).  The train had seats that swivelled, so you could face your travelling companions if you wanted; never seen that before.  Some trains have seats right at the front (like the pic on the left), which is also pretty nifty.

2014-09-07 Kamakura 016 Enoshima 2014-09-07 Kamakura 020 EnoshimaAnyway, at Enoshima (map link) we walked out to the island, which (a la Mont St. Michel) was formerly only accessible on foot at low tide, but there’s a handy causeway now.  There are a few temples, and an observation tower at the top.  Leading up to it, of course, is a tourist-trap street (the 2nd thing that really reminded me of Korea, or, in this case, of any similar attraction).  Souvenirs and restaurants the whole way, including a truly spectacular display of plastic food.  Curiously, we did not seek out the shop that sell them, even though we were quite nearby a couple of days later; opportunities missed!


2014-09-07 Kamakura 030 Enoshima 2014-09-07 Kamakura 027 EnoshimaThe temples’ setting on a heavily wooded hillside suited the day, which was fairly wet.  As with our hike with Andreas & Josie in Jeju, a bit of rain only kept us cool.  There were some features that I’d not seen in other Buddhist temples, like a hoop that devotees would walk through when approaching the temple, and a small grotto (though not with devotional candles; perhaps because of the rain?).

We went right to the top, where there’s a formal garden built by an Englishman over a century ago.  But, with the rain and more to see, we didn’t go in.

Hasedera (Kamakura)

2014-09-07 Kamakura 042 Hasadera Temple2014-09-07 Kamakura 044 Hasadera TempleWe then took the tram 5km up the coast to Kamakura, to the Hase-dera Temple, Lunch… and the Big Buddah.  From the sign at the entrance:  “The principle object of worship at Hasedera temple  is the eleven-headed Kannon statues, know to be some of the finest wooden Buddha statues in Japan.” Two were carved, one kept in a shrine there (in Nara Prefecture) and the other being put out to sea… it washed up here, and the temple was founded.

2014-09-07 Kamakura 049 Hasadera Temple2014-09-07 Kamakura 052 Hasadera TempleNo photos allowed of the Kannon statue, which was huge and quite lovely.  But what struck me most was the sheer number of Buddhas, of all sizes (but mostly tiny), there must have been thousands of them.  “Baby Buddhas”, I called them.

Another thing that struck me, both there and at other temples, were the small gardens that seemed to be tucked away here and there.  Again, the wet day probably showed them off to best advantage.


2014-09-07 Kamakura 053 Lunch2014-09-07 Kamakura 077 Lunch 2014-09-07 Kamakura 062 LunchAnd so to lunch.  Wouldn’t want to see the Big Buddah on an empty stomach  We popped into a place a couple of doors down from the temple, nice & homey, lots of wood and a mostly Japanese clientele.  The cuisine here, cooked at the table on flat metal grills, was reminiscent of some Korean dishes, but again a bit different.  First a couple of pancakes mixed up at the table; the waitress instantly handed the 2nd bowl to Aingeal for mixing — no question of giving it to Herb or me!

2014-09-07 Kamakura 093 Lunch2014-09-07 Kamakura 091 LunchNext was a mixed grill of meat, cabbage, beansprouts and buckwheat noodles, mixed up all together.  I swear, I’ve eaten more buckwheat since arriving in Seoul than in my entire life.  Fortunately, the buckwheat noodles are tasty.  The table behind me (pictured above) also had the same thing.  And I also kept an eye on the table to my right, who ate liquidy things that seemed to require a lot of reducing & thickening; great way to pace the meal!

 The Big Buddah of Kamakura

2014-09-07 Kamakura 108 Big Buddah2014-09-07 Kamakura 101 Big BuddahAt last!  This thing is amazing, and worth the trip itself.  The “Seated Amida Buddha”, also known as the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Kamakura was bult in the mid 1200’s, and is around 13.4 metres high (including the base). It’s a big Buddha alright.

2014-09-07 Kamakura 118 Big BuddahAs you swing around the bushes and it comes into view, you don’t quite realize how big it is.  Everyone is busy taking “postcard pictures” at that point, not excluding ourselves.  In front of the statue are a couple of large (of course) metal Lotus flower statues; lotus is another recurring theme of course.

Around the statue, there are some low buildings selling charms and wooden “wish” tablets, and behind those (to the back of the Buddha) is a small garden with another temple.


2014-09-07 Kamakura 114 Big Buddah2014-09-07 Kamakura 110 Big BuddahWell, we spent a bit of time looking at the Big Buddha.  You can even go inside (it’s hollow, made of plates), but the air/ventilation doors on the statue’s shoulder blades were a bit disconcerting (not sure why).


2014-09-07 Kamakura 131After that, we took the tram on to Kamakura center, had a bit of a stroll around, and then the train back to Tokyo.  Kamakura seemed like a very nice town, with everything in the area, I could see spending a weekend there if I lived in Tokyo.




 Posted by on 14 Sep 2014
Aug 232014

2014-08-15 Hongdae 02 bannerLast weekend, we dropped in on the neighborhood of Hongdae, which is quite close to That Girl’s school, quite well known “in the expat community” and hitherto quite unvisited by us.  Hongdae (홍대) is an abbreviation of Hongik Daehakgyo, the Hongik University (홍익대학교).

2014-08-15 Hongdae 12We parked at the north end, and walked south, to our objective:  the KT&G Sansang Madang, which was supposed to be some sort of modern art museum.  Another objective was the Free Market, where for 10,000 won (around 7.25 euro or $10) you can rent a stall — supposed to be a quirky selection of often handmade stuff, but it wasn’t really going when we passed by.  Maybe next time we’ll go in the evening… might just be a better time!

On the way there, we ran across the incongruous Castle Praha, a brew-pub / Czech restaurant / souvenir shop, which while totally fake really did seem like an ancient central European town hall for that first moment.  What a laugh!  But I must return to try its beer.

2014-08-15 Hongdae 222014-08-15 Hongdae 01The KT&G however was open: the ground floor is a design store — all sorts of fascinating things, real “toys for adults” territory — the museum is one flight up, and the top floor is a restaurant.  And that flight up was worth it:  an exhibit of photographs by Robert Doisneau. which I had wanted to see but thought I’d missed due to being out of town on vacation all July.  So we worked our way up: shop to museum to restaurant.

2014-08-15 Hongdae StCoqThe restaurant was French, mostly serving excellent free-range chicken (which A. & I shared, roasted) but also other things (like our starter, a great caesar salad, or the seafood risotto That Girl chose).  A definite place to stop for lunch in Hongdae, and I’d even drive to go there if I was already nearby.

After that, we moseyed our way back to the car & home.

Here are a few pics to give a sense of the neighborhood:


 Posted by on 23 Aug 2014