Nov 8, 2013

Tokyo towns you should visit ①: Yanaka, the cats' town

If you are a tourist who visits Tokyo for the first time, you'd probably go to Asakusa, Shibuya, Harajuku, Akihabara and Roppongi.

Many Tokyo travel guides suggest you go to Asakusa to take a look at traditional side of Japan, to Shibuya and Harajuku for young culture, to Akihabara to buy electrical appliances and experience a little bit of the Japanese otaku (manga and anime) culture and to Roppongi for a night out.

They are all nice for "beginners," but if you have already visited these places and are looking for somewhere less touristy, why don't you visit "Yanesen" area?

The name "Yanesen" (ya-ne-sen) was made up by putting the first letters of neighboring towns Yanaka (谷中), Nezu (根津)and Sendagi (千駄木). During the World War II many parts of Tokyo were burnt down by bombing, but this Yanesen area miraculously escaped war damage despite its old downtown location.

If you visit Yanesen, you'll see what Tokyo's shitamachi (下町) is like. Literally meaning "downtown," shitamachi usually indicates the areas where commoners like merchants and craftsmen were mainly living in the Edo Period, while Yamanote (山の手) was the residential area for upper samurai class.

I recently went to Yanaka, one of the Yanesen towns.  There are actually two famous spots you should not miss. One is Yanaka Reien (谷中霊園), a huge cemetery where the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu was buried. It is also well-known for cherry blossoms. If you happen to be here in April, why not enjoy flower viewing in the cemetery? 

And the other touristic attraction is Yanaka Ginza (谷中銀座)shopping street with approximately 60 small shops and restaurants. It is small, but always busy with local shoppers, tourists and cat lovers.  Why cats? Because alley cats living in this area are considered as mascots of this shopping street.

This is the entrance of Yanaka Ginza taken from "Yuyake dandan," the stairs on the way from the JR Nippori station to the shopping street.  It is said that the sunset views seen from these stairs are very beautiful, although I've never seen them.

Look! A white cat is sitting on the roof of a tempura store, looking down at shoppers... oh sorry, it is a cat figure. Doesn't it look very real?

What about this one? ... It is another fake cat.

 This is the wooden signboard of a shop called Kittens. I forgot what they are selling...


These two cat dolls are placed in front of a store. Traditionally shopkeepers often put a cat figure called 招き猫(maneki-neko, or beckoning cat) in their shops, since the one with the right paw raised is believed to bring money and the one with the left paw raised brings people, or customers. The cats in this photo don't look like typical beckoning cats, though.  

Strolling in the town of Yanaka,  you may feel as if you have slipped back into the good old Japan. But maintaining this unique atmosphere always requires the efforts of townspeople.

For example, this temple-like building (photo below) is actually an elementary school (谷中小学校 Yanaka Shogakko). It was reconstructed 22 years ago, so as to blend in with the shitamachi surroundings.

From here, I'll write in Japanese.


浅草 あさくさ
渋谷 しぶや
新宿 しんじゅく
秋葉原 あきはばら
飽きる あきる  to get tired 
今度 こんど next time
谷根千  やねせん


谷中 やなか
根津 ねづ
千駄木 せんだぎ
戦争中 戦争中 during the war
空襲 くうしゅう  air raids
被害 ひがい damage
下町 したまち
町並み  まちなみ  streets


江戸時代 えどじだい the Edo Period
商人 しょうにん  merchants
職人 しょくにん  craftsmen
暮らす くらす  to live
庶民 しょみん  common people
上流 じょうりゅう  upper class
武士 ぶし  samurai
山の手 やまのて  
地域  ちいき  regions


先日 せんじつ the other day
有名 ゆうめい  famous
霊園 れいえん  cemetery
谷中銀座 やなかぎんざ
商店街 しょうてんがい  shopping street


野良猫 のらねこ  alley cats
住み着く  すみつく  to live
存在  そんざい  existence


置物  おきもの  figures
看板  かんばん  signboards


面白い  おもしろい  interesting
校舎  こうしゃ  school building
雰囲気  ふんいき  atmosphere

維持する  いじする  to maintain


Nov 7, 2013

Japanese chocolate snacks you should try ①: Pocky

Chocolate, cheese and wine -- these tree things are what I miss the most about France, where I lived for 3 years. When I came back to Japan and ate a chocolate from my neighboring konbini (convenience store), I almost spat it out! I thought I had a piece of plastic or soap (although I have never had either of them). Unfortunately, I have to admit that Japan is no match for Europe when it comes to chocolate quality.

Even if Japanese chocolate itself may not taste great, however,  Japanese "chocolate snacks" are not that bad.

I don't know if  "chocolate snacks" is correct English, but here in Japan it generally means any sweet things with chocolate, such as chocolate-coated cookies and chocolate-stuffed pies, and normally it refers to the mass products available at any supermarkets or conbini for relatively low price.

I'd like to introduce you some long-sellers that have sold for nearly 50 years. Today, I'll pick chocolate-coated pretzel Pocky by Glico, first appeared on the market in 1966. Similar ones are sold in many countries under different names, such as Mikado in France, but this is the original.

Do you know there are several different types of Pocky here? Many Japanese confectionery makers develop new versions one after another once they create a hit product.
For example,  the following is my favorite "Almond Crush Pocky,"  sprinkled with coarsely chopped almond (left), and almost the same version using  coffee-flavored pretzel called "Crush Pocky Almond, Coffee-shitate" (right) , both of which were put on sale in September of this year.
アーモンドクラッシュポッキー アーモンドクラッシュポッキー<6袋>

And they have strawberry-flavored Pocky, which I believe I have had long long time ago, and its new version that has been sold only at convenience stores "Tsubu tsubu ichigo Heartful" (heart-shaped pretzel coated with cream containing strawberry pulp). Both definitely target young girls who consider anything pink cute. I'm sure many men need the courage to buy them.


 They have thicker types using biscuit instead of pretzel coated with more chocolate than others, called "Pocky Midi Potteri Chocolat" and "Pocky Midi Potteri Matcha (Green Tea). "Potteri" means plump, chubby or fat in Japanese, but I'm not sure where "Midi" comes from.  "medium size" ?   They taste good, but to me, it is not Pocky any more.

ポッキー ミディ〈ぽってりショコラ〉ポッキー ミディ〈ぽってり抹茶〉
Some men love plump girls, and some others prefer skinny girls. Yes, Glico, trying to meet every customer's demand, developed "Gokuboso Pocky" or Super-Slim Pocky as well!!


Sweets are not only for children. As everyone knows, Japan's birthrate is declining and confectionery makers have to find a new market to survive. It is no surprise that Glico has developed adult-oriented Pocky, right? Yes, of course they have one. Called "Pocky Otona no Milk," it uses pie-like layered pretzel coated with rich milk chocolate. I tired and found it good, I don't understand why they named "otona no (for adults)". 


Actually there are more, but I'm getting tired... If you are living in Japan or plan to visit here, please check with them at a neighboring supermarket or konbini!

From here, I'll write in Japanese.


お菓子(おかし)     sweets, confectionery

発売(はつばい) put on sale
なんと   surprisinly
近く (ちかく) nearly


色々な(いろいろな)  various
種類(しゅるい)  kinds


例えば(たとえば)  for exmaple
粗く(あらく)  coarsely
刻む(きざむ)  to chop, mince
味 (あじ)  flavor

「いちごポッキー」とコンビニ限定販売の「つぶつぶいちごポッキー ハートフル」(プレッツェルがハートの形をしています)。

いちご  strawberry
コンビニ限定(げんてい) limited to convenience stores
販売(はんばい) sell
形(かたち)  shape

チョコレートを太くて短いビスケットに、たっぷりかけた「ポッキー ミディ」シリーズ。反対にとても細い「ポッキー 極細」もあります。

太い(ふとい)  fat
短い(みじかい) short
たっぷり  generously
かける  to pour
反対に(はんたいに)  to the contrary
細い(ほそい) thin
極細(ごくぼそ) extremely thin

最近では大人向けの「ポッキー 大人のミルク」も発売されました。どうして大人なのか、わかりませんでしたが。

最近(さいきん)  recently
大人向け(おとなむけ)  aiming at adults