Alex McGilvray

Japan Week #24 – One of my Favourite Restaurants

2013/10/07 9:10:53 PM

That’s right it’s a food blog post. You’ve been warned.

One of my favourite things about Japan is eating out. The chance of finding a restaurant where the food is cheap, high quality and has a good atmosphere is really good in Japan. I’ve had really good luck randomly going into interesting looking places in Japan and having a good overall experience.

This restaurant (NAME) is such a place. It’s a place in Kyoto which specializes in seafood. Price is good (about 40$ for two with drinks), the food is really good and it has a menu that encourages sharing.



First up is some deep fried assorted skewers. Great drinking food of course. This was mostly various seafood such as fish and octopus but there was some pork sausages in there too. It comes with a special restaurant sauce they make. The deal is that they give you the large bowl of sauce which you can only dip once into since it’s shared by the restaurant. Keep this in mind if you ever are served a large bowl of sauce that seems far too much for the table.

Also the sauce was amazing.


This is Oden. A pretty popular food in Japan that didn’t seem to make it overseas. It’s basically various things braised in a light broth. In our case we got 2 eggs and a daikon segment. it’s served with a spicy mustard.


I was introduced to a new way to be served Sake at this restaurant which I’m told is fairly common. Basically they put a large glass in a box then pour Sake until the glass overflows and fills the box. You do drink the box (or add it to your glass). The quantity is much more than a typical order of Sake.



This is one of my new favourite foods. A braised Tuna jaw with a lot of Wasabi. The thing is about 8$ (or less considering the value of the yen at the time of writing this post) and has a ton of meat on it. The thing is you have to work to get to all of it. Luckily I was with someone experienced at finding all the regions with good meat on them. For the price it’s a great deal and it takes at least 30 mins to prepare so you have plenty of extra time to drink and socialize.

Japan Week #20 Ni-Jo Jo

2013/07/20 5:14:14 AM

In the weekend of week 20 we went to Ni-Jo Jo. From what I recall this was a palce where the king once lived. I would have loved to be able to share some interior photos but that is forbidden at Ni-Jo Jo. The interior is very impressive though. If you are in Kyoto I would definitely say this is a place you should visit.





This is a view of the house area for the king from a high vantage point in the corner of the courtyard. It’s about 2-3 stories in the air looking down.




Another shot from outside the courtyard walls.



Another shot along the outside of the center courtyard. Lots of good environment art inspiration here.



The garden along the outside of the castle is kept immaculate and trimmed to the smallest detail.

04More of the garden.


Anyways Ni-Jo Jo was a great place to visit. You can easily spend a few hours there just looking around. Definitely worth the visit if you are in Kyoto city.

Japan Week #16 New Years in Japan

2013/01/03 6:40:36 AM

Apologies for the out of order Japan posts (I have some earlier posts still in draft mode) but I’m fresh out of new years and have this post ready to go.

Anyways this new years I went to my SO’s family to celebrate new years which in Japan is the major important holiday. Compared to North America where Christmas is the major family vacation Christmas in Japan is not celebrated in the same way. It’s mostly a couples dating holiday and in my case it was a regular working day. My vacation period runs across the new years week.

My SO is from Hiroshima so that’s where we went to visit her family. One of the first sights we went to see was the Hiroshima memorial site. The city chose to preserve the memorial site in a vote. Here are some photos of the site.





It was brutally cold though. Despite that we continued on to Hiroshima cities famed light show along the main downtown arcade. The city works on a very intricate light show which is actually solar powered! They gather the energy from the sun then use it to power the lights!



Finally we returned home for the night to start the New Years where the new years meal is prepared. For this specific occasion I was introduced into the preparation of Onigiri. Onigiri is a triangular rice ball which is typically covered in a patch of seaweed called nori.

Here is an example of Onigiri. Some of these are terrible (the ones I made) and some are good (not the ones I made). The main idea is that you take a ball of rice, flatten it, then put some filling in the center, finally you wrap the rice over the filling and perform a difficult (for me at least) repeated rolling and wrapping technique to create the Onigiri triangle.


After that was done we moved on the to the osechi box which is traditional in Japanese culture. As it has been explained to me in the past the matriarch or the household would prepare food for one or two days non stop but the food that was prepared was food that was able to be preserved for days at a time. The concept was that the food would be prepared in advance so that the matriarch as well as the rest of the family would not have to work for days after. The family would go through each tray of food one by one with enough food to last for days if not weeks.

This is how it was explained to me by local people if I am incorrect in my information please let me know in the comments.

These days it’s also very popular to buy the osechi from a company that prepares them in advance. The average price i’ve seen when I cheeked was between 200-400$ american currency.

Our dinner was a combination of the two forms. My SO’s mother was very generous in providing both homecooked and osechi meals.

One other thing to note is that the osechi food all have a form of symbolism. I’m not adept at identifying these symbols but I can identify a few. The shirmp/prawn represents the will to live until the point your back arches like that of a shrimp. The first picture in the following set has a photo of a lotus root which you can imagine why you can use it as a lens to see your future. The photo is towards the lower right of the photo.





Finally after the huge meal the tradition is to have a soba noodle dish. Here is the photo of the dish. In my case I love heat in my food. I added a lot of ichi-mi (japanese hot spice) to my bowl. Possibly too much.


New years day included even more food. I’m a lucky man.  This time we visited the entire family and had a huge meal. Here is a sampling of the food. First up is sushi which many people in north america might consider to be the rolled fish/rice/nori food it’s actually rice with vinigar. The sushi we are used to in North America is sushi maki (rolled sushi).


My SO’s father is an accomplished fisherman and caught the sashimi that we enjoyed for our new years day meal. The sashimi fish was hage.


Here’s some more dishes from the new years day celebration.



After the meal we had an afternoon of relaxation. In the case of my SO’s older family it meant Japanese Mah-Jong. I’ve been trying to learn the game but I’m not good enough to join. Just to take a photograph.


Finally we finished the whole deal by ringing the bell at a local shrine and receiving our fortune for the next year. Here is the bell we rang. As for the fortune you will just have to be in the dark on that one.


Was certainly a fun new year celebration!

Japan Week #06 – Plowing the Rice Fields in Front of my Apartment

2012/11/09 12:26:09 PM

Apologies for the lack of updates. I’ve been travelling a LOT the last month during my weekends as well as doing quite a bit of PSP-Vita development. Because of this I  haven’t had a lot of time to post about Japan. I have accumulated various stories and media though. So I’m estimating the week of this post as week 6. It was definitely in the middle of October.

Anyways the rice fields that surroudn my house have all been plowed now. I took videos over the course of the day from our apartment balcony of our immidiate rice field being plowed and put it into a video. This is over the course of about 4 hours.

Also here is some more footage of my neightbors rice field being plowed. This one shows it going from the plowing machine to the truck.

And finally a photo of the action for the youtube deprived 🙂


Japan Week #04 – My Japanese Father and Organic Vegetables

2012/10/08 1:27:55 PM

So I’ve made friends with my neighbor. The same neighbor I posted about previously who is raising baby boars. He’s 70-something years old and his name is Ota-San. His wife who’s also very sweet is Ima (but I also call her Ota-San because of the last name-respect policy in Japan).  He says he likes me and while I’m in Japan he’s my father. He can’t speak English and I can’t speak Japanese but we actually do fairly well because we both use a lot of body language naturally.

He’s also a organic farmer. When he saw us going to the market he told us to never buy vegetables at the market because they use pesticides and other farming techniques that compromise the produce. He then proceeded to give me about 10Kg of organic vegetables from his farm for free. He says he has so much extra that it’s no worry. Here is a sample of some of the vegetables he gave me.

First is a Japanese squash called a Kobocha. It’s quite similar to a squash. This one was quite tasty. I’d say it was softer and more flavorful than your typical squash.


Next up he gave us some Japanese eggplant which are typically a smaller version of North American eggplant. Taste is pretty similar. The advantage is it’s already a good grilling size so less cutting is required.


He then gave me a hue bag of red and white onions with a assortment of potatoes.

Finally he gave us these peppers called manganjitogarashi which are sweet-hot peppers which I used to make a lunch for my work one day.

Here are some of the dishes we cooked with said vegetables.

Ota-San also gave us some rice that his friend who’s also an organic farmer made. He said even if you are growing organically locally you still have to deal with the fact the water system has impure water. So to rectify this situation they went up into a mountain and built a staircase pattern on the mountain to place their rice fields (rice fields need to be flat). This allows the pure natural mountain water to run down the staircase of rice and hydrate the rice. He gave me 2 bags of rice. One smaller bag was current year rice which is the most prized rice. The other was second year rice. We cooked up the first year rice and the most noticeable thing about it was it has a very “Clean” flavour.  Also the natural stickiness of the rice was very apparent. Even after washing off most of the excess gluten. Unfortunately I have no pictures of the rice.

I’ve been racking my brain for ways to bring something to Ota-San too. I’ve brought him some semi-organic chocolates from Vancouver. That said I tend to think about a lesson I learned in Seth Godin’s book Linchpin where the need to reciprocate can be a disease that can ruin the gift. That said I know Ota-San likes to smoke and I have a backup of menthol cigarettes in case he ever runs dry.

I’m a very lucky man. Vegetables are very expensive in Japan. I’ve had my grocery bill significantly reduced while at the same time have had the quality of the produce I receive increased greatly.


Japan Week #02 – Danjiri Festival in Kishiwada

2012/09/19 2:39:33 PM

Many things have happened in Japan so I have to cut a lot of stuff out to avoid boring any readers.

This weekend we went to the annual Danjiri festival. In a ignorant nutshell it’s a large festival where all day giant heavy wooden floats pulled by hundreds of people race down streets in Kishiwada. From what I’m told people tend to die every year. I can believe it, the floats get enormous momentum and are surrounded by many people. While we were at the festival I saw no less than 10 ambulances race by. Also saw someone being dragged out who seemed to be suffering from a combination of fatigue and a sprained ankle.

If you want to know more about the festival you can check my better halfs blog about the festival as well. She is Japanese and knows a lot more about the festival than I do. You can see it here:

Here is a video I compiled from the footage I took at the festival.


Japan Week #01 – Moving in.

2012/09/08 4:22:18 AM

It’s been one hell of a week. I’m now moved into my new place, have a bank account, have registered with the town hall and got furniture and appliances rented for my place (in Japan most apartments dont come with things like fridges).  Big thanks to my lady Akari for handling most of that work, I would most likely be stuck in a corner eating vending machine food otherwise.

I live in Seika Kyoto which is about 20 mins on the train from Kyoto cit, 50 mins to Osaka and 20 mins to Nara. My place is on the edge of town and largely surrounded by rice fields. In fact right outside my balcony is a mini rice field, another larger rice field to the left and a HUGE (many sqr km’s) rice field behind my house. It’s unbelievably quiet here. Everything turns dead silent at night and there are very few street lights so it also gets very dark. I’ve noticed that I sleep less but am much more well rested in the morning. This is most likely a direct result of the tranquility.

Here is the view from the front of my apartment and my apartment itself.

I also met one of my neighbors, I ended up talking to him because outside his house he had 2 baby boars. It turns out someone in the neighborhood had shot a mother boar and it’s 2 boarlings came back looking for their mother. He was kind enough to take in the 2 boars and said he will raise them for 2 years then release them back into the wild.

Here are the 2 little guys.

Finally it’s about 4 blocks to the train/bus station I use to go to work. This is what the walk looks like in the densenst urban portion of my town.