3 Places for Brunch and Coffee in Tokyo

3 Places for Brunch and Coffee in Tokyo

We know, we know. Tokyo is the Mecca of raw fish, beautiful pearly rice, and silky handmade noodles. No one really goes to Tokyo to have a cuppa joe and an avo toast with poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce on the side. But don’t be so quick to dismiss their variations of coffee and brunch. The Japanese impart their elegance and attention to detail on any cuisine they touch; Tokyo is not the city with the most Michelin stars—for the most varied types of cuisine—for nothing.

So put aside any pre-conceptions and open yourself to new experiences, for, after all, that is precisely why we travel. The Japanese certainly did so when they opened these cafés , so why don’t you too?

We’re only going to list our absolute favourites here because, while we do think that brunch in Tokyo should be experienced at least once each time you are there, there are many fabulous food establishments elsewhere in the city that you ought to let your stomach experience too.

1. M House

M House takes its inspiration from a mishmash of cultures—and we mean that in the best way possible.

We admit, a large part of our love for M House stems from its gorgeous space.

Stepping into its premises, we are greeted by long, clean lines and a monochromatic colour scheme punctuated by warm splashes of wood. But once we ventured into the terrace, the space morphed into a sunny Greek seaside café complete with ocean-blue stripes and an indoor water fountain. Upstairs, it’s all elegance: black walls with white wall panelling.

Photo by  k.n__810  via Instagram

What about the food? We are happy to say that it’s as wonderful as its décor. The egg dishes, in particular, stand out because of the freshness of Japanese eggs. You’ve never tasted eggs and salmon like this, and the French toast brioche is positively bursting with richness. For an indulgent meal, don’t pass on the uni and scallop omelette. Hey, you’re on holiday, after all!

Address:

4-23-13 Ebisu | Mercer Bldg., Shibuya 150-0013, Tokyo Prefecture

Tel: +81 3-3441-7551

Opening Hours

Mon to Fri: 11:00 AM – 15:30 PM, 18:00 PM – 23:30 PM

Sat and Sun:  10:00 AM to 23:30 PM

2. Path

The Dutch pancakes at Path are to-die-for. The pancakes must be made from magic, because they somehow defy the laws of physics. Biting into them, they are at once buttery, crispy, and flaky outside, while also fluffy, eggy, and cloud-like inside. They taste as if a croissant had a child with a soufflé. And, if making them more perfect is even possible, they are then topped with silky prosciutto and creamy burrata, with all the flavours tied together with maple syrup. It’s a sublime mixture of flaky, airy, creamy, salty.

Photo by  izuntan  via Instagram
Photo by ___k.a.r.i.n___ via Instagram
Photo by m__a_i_cocco via Instagram

Path is the offspring of chef Taichi Hara and patisserie Yuichi Goto, so it perhaps comes as no surprise that the pancakes are as astounding as they are, what with this shining pedigree behind it.

Be warned, though. Tokyo’s discerning eaters are as enamoured with this concoction as we are. Lines start to form from 8am before Path even opens, so get there early.

If you’re really not a morning person, Path transforms into a moody fusion bistro at night, serving dishes like horse sashimi and quinoa salads.

P.S. Though we have listed it as a brunch place, it is really worth your time to visit Path at any time of the day.

Address:

1-44-2 Tomigaya | A-Flat 1F, Shibuya 151-0063, Tokyo Prefecture

Tel: +81 3-6407-0011

Opening Hours

Tue to Sat: 8:00 AM – 15:00 PM, 18:00 PM – 00:00 AM

Closed on Monday.

 

3. 4/4 Seasons Coffee

4/4 Seasons Coffee—pronounced “all seasons”—offers 7 single-origin coffee beans, each processed differently, roasted and ground in house daily, and bringing with it a characteristic flavour. If you’re overwhelmed by the selection, the friendly baristas are always happy to chat with you and explain the provenance and flavour profile of each bean and brewing method.

This is what we like about 4/4/ Seasons Coffee: it’s specialised but never pretentious, and we always feel welcome in the place regardless of whether we’re a coffeeshop kopi drinker, a Starbucks fanatic, or a coffee enthusiast who buys his own beans and brews them using an Aeropress.

The food at 4/4 Seasons Coffee doesn’t play second fiddle to their coffee, either. Though its food menu is clearly not the focus, everything is made from scratch and baked in house, like a daily and rotating selection of bread and cakes. For that extra oomph, ask the barista the best pairing of coffee and bread of the day. It was a revelation to us.

Photo by  m_y_y_y_m via Instagram
Photo by  jiheeesz via Instagram

Address

2-7-7 Shinjuku | 1f, Shinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo Prefecture

Opening Hours

Mon to Fri: 8:00 AM – 19:00 PM

Sat and Sun: 10:00 AM – 18:00 PM

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The Splendid Urban Night Views of Japan

The Splendid Urban Night Views of Japan

“The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” 

  ― G.K. Chesterton 

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve arrived in Japan to be a tourist or a traveller.

When you have boarded the flight to Japan, you’d already know that this is going to be a never-ending love affair. No matter if you’re solo or coupled up, Japan will always keep you entertained and mesmerised.

The land of impeccable manners, ingenious inventions and gastronomical delights beckon globetrotters around the world to return time after time – very possibly to gaze again at the cityscape from a favourite vantage point. And what satisfaction! Under the night skies, you’ll feel like the luckiest person alive, yet also utterly insignificant, compared to the dazzling metropolis laid out beneath.

Here are three cities in Japan that know how to put on a show when the night falls.

NAGASAKI 

Offering possibly the most spectacular night views in Japan, Nagasaki’s Mount Inasa (Inasa-yama), is a mountain with a height of 333 meters above sea level, and a popular landmark. It is also a mountain-top recreation park, featuring a glass observatory dome, gift shop, restaurants, hiking trails and public amenities.

The glass observatory dome at the top of Mount Inasa offers a 360-degree view of the city surrounded by the mountains and the sea.

Take the 5-minute ropeway ride to the summit in the evening and watch Nagasaki bay transformed into a shimmering ocean of lights.

Try to get there before the sunset, as there is usually a long queue. The ropeway ride departs every 15 to 20 minutes.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can trek up the mountain via the hiking trails.

Getting There

Public Transport (Bus) from JR Nagasaki station:

Nagasaki Bus 3 or 4 (bound for Shimohashi) approximately 7 minutes journey and alight at Nagasaki Ropeway Bus Stop. Walk to the Fuchi Shrine Station to take the ropeway ride.

Nagasaki Ropeway Ride Tickets (Fuchi Shrine Station to Inasa Dake Station)

  • Return ticket: 1,230 yen (adult)
  • One-way ticket: 720 yen (adult)

Operating Hours: 09:00 – 22:00
*Operating hours may change subject to weather or other conditions.

By Car:
Parking is available at the summit of Mount Inasa (100 yen).
The car ride from Nagasaki Station takes roughly 15 minutes, while a taxi ride costs around 2,000 yen one way.

 

The Essentials

Before you embark on a trip to Mt Inasa, check the weather forecast to avoid disappointment. On a fine day, the outdoor observatory gets crowded despite the inhospitable wind, so do bring along a jacket to keep warm.

TOKYO

When in Tokyo, you’d be spoilt for choices on where to catch the sunset and witness its magnificent night views and of course, the classic Mt. Fuji. If you follow the crowds, you’re apt to end up at Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, and Sky Circus Sunshine 60 Observatory

These are popular choices for shutterbugs, but for truly spectacular shots that encompasses more landmarks – including Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, and the Ferris Wheel amidst the urban sprawl – we recommend these three vantage points in Southern Tokyo.

1. Telecom Center Observatory 

Tokyo Bay is a futuristic, man-made island and Odaiba is the shopping and entertainment district of said island. The Odaiba’s Rainbow Bridge and the Ferris Wheel are the two iconic structures which make up the Tokyo Bay’s skyline.

The Telecom Center in Odaiba houses an observatory at the 21st floor. Treat yourself to a glittering view of the skyline at Telecom Center Observatory in the evening. You can see Odaiba’s Rainbow Bridge and Ferris Wheel, as well as the Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower, all set to a backdrop of the glittering lights of Tokyo city.

Photo by okami._.chan on Instagram

Getting There

• The nearest station to Telecom Center Observatory is Telecom Center Station on the Yurikamome Line from Shimbashi Station (17 minutes).
• If you’re visiting Odaiba, take Rinkai Line and alight at Tokyo Teleport Station followed by a 10-minute walk to the Telecom Center Observatory.

Observation Deck:
15:00 to 21:00 (weekdays)
11:00 to 21:00 (weekends and national holidays)
Closed: Mondays (following day if Monday is a holiday)

Admission fee: 500 yen

Photo by HOK

The Telecom Center which resembles the Grande Arche of France is impossible to miss.

2. Roppongi Hills Mori Tower

Roppongi is a vibrant neighbourhood peppered with affluent mixed-use developments such as luxury hotels, offices, art galleries and restaurants. The locals call it “a city within a city’’ and it’s the go-to district if you’re looking to party all night. It has since undergone a cultural renaissance to become Tokyo’s art and design hub with some of the world’s finest museums and art centres.

Roppongi Hills Mori Tower is a mixed-use skyscraper featuring Mori Art Museum and Tokyo City View Observatory from the 52nd floor onwards. If you think the view from the Tokyo Skytree is nice, try going to Tokyo City View and Sky Deck Observatory in the evening, and it is times ten.

There are two observation decks within Roppongi Hills Mori Tower namely the Tokyo City View (Indoor) and the Rooftop Sky Deck (Outdoor).

Tokyo City View is the indoor observatory deck which sits on the 52nd floor, and there is a newly furbished all-day dining lounge ‘The Moon’, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows on the same level. A perfect place to enjoy exotic cocktails and escape from the hubbub down below, as the city turns into a dreamy scene of sparkling lights. After a toast to your vacation, head up to the Rooftop Sky Deck for a 360-degree heart-stopping view of the megacity.

We recommend getting the tickets to Mori Art Museum and spend the day admiring some of the finest contemporary art exhibitions in Asia before heading to the Tokyo City View Observatory Deck to catch the sunset. 

Photo by jinception on Instagram
Photo by ktweel on Instagram

Getting There

  • From Tokyo Station, take Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line to Kasumigaseki, and transfer to Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line for Roppongi.
  • If you’re coming from Shinjuku Station, get on Toei Oedo Line (9 minutes) and alight at Roppongi Station.

Tokyo City View Indoor Observation Deck:
10:00 to 23:00 (weekdays and national holidays)
Last Admission at 22:30

10:00 to 01:00 (Fridays, Saturdays, Eve of Holidays)
Last Admission at 24:00

Admission fee: 1800 yen (adult) *Ticket is valid for Mori Art Museum

Rooftop Sky Deck:
11:00 to 20:00 (Monday to Sunday)
Last Admission at 19:30

Admission fee: 500 yen (adult)

*Ticket holders of Mori Art Museum, Tokyo City View, or Mori Arts Center Gallery may enter the Sky Deck with additional fee.

The Essentials

Access to the Rooftop Sky Deck is subject to inclement weather. It is imperative that you check the weather forecast to avoid disappointment. Do bring along a jacket as it gets chilly at the rooftop sky deck after sunset.

3. Park Tokyo Hotel

For holidaymakers looking for a hotel with a splendid view, try the 4-star Park Tokyo Hotel – and you won’t be disappointed. Savour a postcard-perfect vista of Tokyo Skyline right in the comfort and privacy of your room. The view is unforgettable, especially at night, when the iconic Tokyo Tower comes on –and you find yourself hypnotized by tiny vehicles rushing along tangled lines of streets creating twisting threads of light like fleeting fireworks. In the morning, you’ll wake up to a sunlit metropolis with Mount Fuji on the horizon.

Getting There

  • The nearest station to Park Hotel Tokyo is Shimbashi Station (JR Yamanote Line).
  • If you’re coming from Narita Airport Station, take the Sky Liner to Nippori Station then change to JR Yamanote Line and alight at Shimbashi Station. From there it is a 7-minute walk to Park Hotel Tokyo.

The Essentials

Park Hotel Tokyo is co-located in Shiodome Media Tower, the center of business and culture. The hotel lobby is at the 25th floor of Shiodome Media Tower. There are 270 guest rooms, located from the 26th to 34th floors.

Photo by _kherojj on Instagram
Photo by walking0ncloud9 on Instagram

HAKODATE

It is not apocryphal when every traveller you meet on the road sing praises of Hakodate’s panoramic vistas from Mount Hakodate (Hakodate-yama). Ranked as the number one must-do when in Hakodate City, Mount Hakodate is a mountain with a height of 334meters above sea level, renowned for its breath-taking views of the port city from its open-air observatory deck.

The world-famous ‘Million Dollar View’ under the inky black sky is an incredible sight to behold. After dusk, the peninsula turns into a map of glittering constellations that will leave you in awe, emerging with a new perspective and a deep sense of gratitude (#blessed).

Take the 3-minute ropeway ride to the summit before sunset. The ropeway ride departs every 15 to 20 minutes. If you love to dine with a view, head to Restaurant Genova. Try to get a table by the windows for the best experience.

And here’s a tip from the locals: there are three katakana letters “ハート” which form the Japanese word for ”Heart” that surfaces on the illuminated skyline. See if you can spot them! Legend has it that couples who have seen them will have their wishes granted. 

 

Getting There

Public Transport (Bus) from JR Hakodate station:

Go to Bus Stop No. 4. Look for the shuttle bus. It is a one-way journey (approximately 10 minutes) to Hakodate Ropeway station.   

Hakodateyama Ropeway Ride Tickets

  • Return ticket: 1280 yen (adult)
  • One-way ticket: 780 yen (adult)

Operating Hours: 10:00 – 22:00
*Operating hours may change subject to weather or other conditions.

By Car:

Limited Parking Space at the observatory deck. 
The car ride from Hakodate Station takes roughly 20 minutes, while a taxi
 ride costs around 3,500 yen one way.

The Essentials

Before you embark on a trip to Mount Hakodate, check the weather forecast to avoid disappointment. The open-air observatory can get chilly, so bringing along a jacket is a good idea. 

The window seats in Restaurant Genova are usually reserved in advance, so be sure to call ahead for a table at least a week before your trip. 

Photo by bbong_a on Instagram
Photo by walking0ncloud9 on Instagram
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Finally, travel can make and maintain a sense of wonder that drives everything in a better direction. Now, what are you waiting for?

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For sake’s Sake: the History of sake in Five Stages

For sake’s Sake: the History of sake in Five Stages

I’m a teetotaller, but I make an exception for sake. Admittedly, this propensity might be due to my rose-tinted glasses more than an appreciation of the drink itself. I first tried sake on a windy winter night in Nara, Japan. Desiring to have dinner at an eatery that wasn’t another outlet of a chain restaurant found across the whole of Japan, I wandered around the alleys of Nara, deliberately avoiding the main shopping street.

It was a good—or rather, bad—forty-five minutes spent with a leaky nose and numb ears before I stumbled upon a tiny, one-woman café. Upon stepping foot into it, I felt like I was entering the kitchen of a friend. It was a small space, barely larger than a typical HDB bedroom, but that was exactly what I was looking for. (Unfortunately, as this trip took place more than five years ago, I can’t recall the name of the café, and have no idea if it is still operating today.)

The friendly proprietor noticed me shivering and offered me a glass of sake before I had even taken off my jacket. Feeling too polite to refuse it and too illiterate to explain in Japanese that I don’t drink, I took a sip. A fruity sweetness filled my mouth and I was immediately warmed from within.  

That memory has stayed with me since, and whenever I drink sake now, my mind transports me back to that warm kitchen of Japanese hospitality, sheltered against the biting cold outside.

Sake, I was pleased to discover, plays a similarly ceremonial and symbolic role in the lives of Japanese people. They call “sake” “nihonshu” in their language, which means 日本酒 or “Japanese liquor”, suggesting a pride in sake’s Japanese provenance, one that distinguishes it from “ordinary”  liquor.

Indeed, sake is the only alcoholic beverage to be used in many traditional Japanese festivals and ceremonies. For instance, sake is offered to Shinto gods, and is called omiki (お神酒) when used for this purpose. After the offering, omiki is drunk by propitiators to purify themselves and pray for good fortune the following year. During the New Year, a special sake called toso, which is blended with a mixture of herbs and medicines, is consumed to purify oneself of the previous year’s illnesses.

Sake even has a specific earthenware vessel in which to serve it and porcelain cup from which to drink it, called the tokkuri and sakazuki respectively.

“How did the Japanese develop such a rich tradition around sake? How did sake come about in the first place?”

The history of sake can be segmented, very roughly, into five broad phases.

The Earliest Drinks & Drunks

The first brewing of sake, as a liquor fermented from rice, naturally coincided when the cultivation of rice took root in Japan. But the first mention of sake in recorded history occurred centuries later, in a third-century Chinese history book known as the Book of Wei. In it, the author describes how the Japanese have “fondness for sake” and dancing—clearly, some practices endure across millennia and cultures.

The Japanese have their own accounts of sake drinking and brewing as well. The existence of alcoholic beverages was first mentioned in the Kojiki, a chronicle of Japan’s history that was compiled in 712. Similarly, the Fudoki, a report of ancient Japan’s culture and geography that is presented to the Japanese emperor as a sort of survey of his lands, details sake 

brewing methods using rice and mould stretching all the way back to the eighth century. These records tell us that sake is almost 2000 years old—or even older!

Sake Becomes Religious

Just as Trappist monasteries brew their world-famous Trappist beer within their religious grounds, so do Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples with sake. This practice started in the 10th century, and continued for the next 500 years.

In fact, these religious institutions were the main breweries of sake during this period, and were responsible for many of the modern brewing practices that are still being used today, such as pasteurisation and the multiple parallel fermentation process necessary for the rice in starch to be converted into sugar. 

These procedures are recorded in Tamon-in Diary, a 15th-to-17th century diary written by abbots of the Tamon-in temple who wanted to preserve the steps of sake brewing. (This is one religious text that I would want to pore over carefully.)

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The Sake Boom

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 modernised virtually the entire socio-political structure of Japan, and the brewing of sake was one beneficiary of it. During this period, the laws regarding sake brewery operation were relaxed: as long as you possessed enough capital and technical knowledge, you could open your own sake brewery. 

Taking advantage of these lax laws, the number of sake breweries exploded exponentially, with 30,000 opening in just a year. Most of the successful breweries that still exist today were founded by landowners, who could use their surplus rice harvest as raw material for their sake breweries—perhaps the first Japanese conglomerates.

The dawning of the 20th century also modernised sake brewing techniques. In 1904, a sake-brewing research institute was founded by the Japanese government, which allowed advances in yeast and mould cultivation and selection. The wooden barrel in which sake was traditionally left to mature was replaced by enamel tanks, which the Japanese government promoted as more hygienic and efficient (as sake is less prone to evaporate in it). Sake was also bottled first the first time, allowing it to be transported further without spoiling.

The Sake Bust

The boom years never last. Realising how much tax revenue they could gain from the sake-brewing industry, the Japanese government started to impose an increasingly high amount of tax. From a high of more than 30,000 breweries, the number of breweries fell to around 10,000 by 1920 as they were gradually squeezed out of the industry by the high tax rate. In addition, home-brewed sake, which was then a popular pastime, was banned by the government because they rationalised that they could not collect tax from these private pursuits.

Compounding these pressures was the outbreak of World War II. The agricultural industry was devastated by the war, and rice supplies plummeted to the extent that there was a shortage of rice. The government prioritised rice as a food staple, and imposed heavy restrictions on the use of rise for sake brewing. 

The silver lining of this hardship, however, is that the resourceful sake brewers of that time realised that adding pure alcohol to the sake-brewing process not only increases the output of sake, it also enhances and extracts flavours from the rice mash.  

 

Photograph by momoramenhh via Instagram
While this technique was known since the 17th century, it was only because of the scarcity of rice during the war that it began to be used on a wider basis. 

 

For Today’s Sake

Post-war Japan experienced the same the globalisation of economies and trade everywhere. Imported beer and wine poured into Japan, and, in the 1960s, for the first time in its 2,000-year history, consumption of sake fell beneath that of beer.

Still, this statistic does not spell the end of sake. Paradoxically, because they do not have to focus on churning out huge volumes of sake, sake brewers today have the luxury of investing their time in more artisanal brewing methods, such as revitalising old fermentation recipes or simply as a means of refining the quality of their sake.

While sake consumption in Japan has decreased because of global trade, the converse holds true as well. People outside Japan (like me) who encounter sake for the first time in the 21st century have begun to develop a taste for it; correspondingly, sake exports from Japan have experienced a year-on-year increase. To keep up with burgeoning demand, sake breweries are even being set up overseas in countries like China and across Southeast Asia, Europe, and America. 

For our sake—and sake’s sake—let’s hope that this 2,000-year-old tradition and liquor continues enjoying its current global popularity. To this end, keep the 1st of October free in your calendar: it’s the official Sake Day in Japan, and what better way to celebrate it than enjoying a glass of sake with your friends and family. For me, while I sip my sake, I will give silent thanks to the chef whose kitchen I shared, and who warmed me up with a glass of sake on that cold night—and also to the sake itself, which has forged this bond, if temporary, between two strangers.

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The Timeless Beauty of Mt. Fuji

The Timeless Beauty of Mt. Fuji

The first person to scale Mount Fuji was an unnamed monk, who undertook his expedition in 663. More than a thousand years later, we are still tracing his literal footsteps. In 2009 alone, more than 300,000 people climbed Mount Fuji. Furthermore, this is a figure that excludes hikers during non-peak months and people who ascend the mountain by bus, so the total number of annual visitors, in all probability, exceeds 500,000.

This number does not necessarily represent 500,000 discrete individuals, however. For some, Mount Fuji is a destination that warrants repeated pilgrimages. As of 2014, Yoshinobu Jitsukawa, a local septuagenarian, has completed a mind-boggling 1,673 ascents up Mount Fuji, a number that is officially a world record. Explaining his motivation behind this feat, Jitsukawa-san says, “Every effort I have made in climbing Mount Fuji is worthwhile” because each time offers a different experience.

Photograph by Japan Bullet

“Every effort I have made in climbing Mount Fuji is worthwhile”

Why does Mount Fuji cast such a huge shadow on the cultural imagination of locals and travellers alike, such that it has even been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site? What explains its magnetic—and almost mystical—allure?

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash

The answer to Mount Fuji’s enduring legacy is perhaps simply that Mount Fuji is breathtakingly, and almost otherworldly, beautiful. Its near perfect symmetry, a feature rare among mountains, gives the impression that some divine being sculpted Fuji with a careful hand, before encasing its peak with the whitest, most pristine snow: a literal crowning glory. It rises in the midst of five lakes that mirror its beauty—the watery reflection of Fuji the symphony that sounds sweeter on second hearing.

Photograph by felix_f3lix via Instagram

Unsurprisingly for a mountain (and such a beautiful one at that), the most common and popular activity conducted on Mount Fuji is hiking. At 3,776 metres, Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, offering a sweeping, uninterrupted panorama of the surrounding expanse. The most magnificent view arrives at dawn, so most people scale Mount Fuji at night to catch the sunrise from its summit—Japan is, after all, the land of the rising sun. Standing on Kengamine Peak in the still moments before sunrise, you get to watch the sky lighten from the darkest black, to a deep purple, to Homer’s “rosy-fingered Dawn” creeping in at the edges of this darkness.

“…watch the sky lighten from the darkest black, to a deep purple, to Homer’s “rosy-fingered Dawn” creeping in at the edges of this darkness.”

But even Homer could not put in words the almost spiritual experience of witnessing, atop Mount Fuji, the sun emerging slowly from the horizon. The Japanese term goraiko (ご来光), which literally means the arrival of light, is an attempt to capture this moment; its plain and succinct rendering of something so ineffable, in suggesting depths beneath this stripped down surface, almost succeeds in doing so. It is precisely the inarticulable—hence unspoken—connotations embedded in this term that approach the profundity of this experience: the gratitude of another day and the affirmation of life, but also, the loss of the previous day and the ineluctability of time.

Perhaps, then, Occam’s razor is an inadequate principle in providing an explanation of Mount Fuji’s imprint on our minds. As the paradox inherent in goraiko suggests, it is driven by something more symbolic, more contradictory, and more unconscious. It is not simply Mount Fuji’s beauty that contributes to our obsession with it. It is our apprehension of its sublimity.

“Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless,” Immanuel Kant wrote in Critique of Pure Reason. “[T]he mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt.”

The “immensity” that Kant refers to, in this case, is not literal—after all, we can surmount all 3,776 metres of Mount Fuji’s peak—but symbolic, taking root in our mind. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge puts it, “[n]o object of the Sense is sublime in itself; but only as far as I make it a symbol of some Idea”. Following Coleridge, the “immensity” of Mount Fuji, then, is not its inherent beauty, but our contemplation of its beauty—or, to be more precise, our contemplation of it as a symbol of beauty.

Photo by Chris Fowler on Unsplash

 

What is in our contemplation of Mount Fuji’s beauty that makes it sublime? Though, as aforementioned, it is not the mountain’s literal size that makes it too immense to contemplate, this physical attribute is undeniably a contributing factor. Wordsworth purports to “see a World in a Grain of Sand”, but beyond this poetical fancy, a perfectly beautiful grain will hardly strike us as so overwhelming that it is ungraspable, whether literally or symbolically. Mount Fuji, on the other hand, overawes with beauty on so grand a scale that our mind struggles to contemplate it in its entirety, forcing us to ask, “How does something so enormous look to be crafted so exquisitely? Can there exist even more immense objects that embody such perfection? Is there a limit to either quality?”

experience of pure time, compels us to think about the idea of eternity, the questions that arise from contemplating Mount Fuji’s sublimity drive us inevitably to the limits of what our mind can experience. Then—at the very edge of this consciousness—our ability to comprehend such notions fails, but this failure brings about “pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt”. Such is, arguably, the basis of Mount Fuji’s grip on our collective consciousness.

In this light, Jitsukawa-san’s 1,673 journeys up Mount Fuji seem understandable. Contrary to the popular Japanese maxim that “a wise man will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice”, Jitsukawa-san’s repeated attempts exemplify our relation to the sublime. Each step set on Mount Fuji is a failure in encompassing its totality; each step a pleasure in this failure; each step compelling a return to the inexhaustible sublimity that is the quintessence of Mount Fuji.

Photograph by japan_inside via Instagram

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Food Guide: Tokyo After 22:00

Food Guide: Tokyo After 22:00

Can you get a good meal after 22:00 in Tokyo? Absolutely. Approach any business-attired men and women, and they would gladly point you to the nearest ramen stall. And for the jet lagged who fancy a drink at 3am, head over to Shinjuku Golden Gai and find yourself making new friends in one of the tiniest bars along the neon-lit alley.

And considering what is on almost every corner of the street – the ubiquitous vending machines and 24hrs convenience marts which offer a wide array of food – you’ll find no problems scoring a 3-course meal for ¥2000 or less.

Japanese convenience marts may be the stuff of legend (Lawson’s egg salad sandwich is recommended by no less than Anthony Bourdain himself), but bento, instant noodles and sweet pancakes can only get you so far before you start wondering where the locals go to satisfy their late-night hunger pangs. Try these recommendations.

  1. JOMON ROPPONGI

Because no trip to Japan would be complete without smelling like the rich, charcoal-edged fumes of proper yakitori, we recommend dropping by Jomon Roppongi for their momo negima. The alternating pieces of juicy chicken thigh meat and Japanese leeks – grilled and basted with the cooking style’s signature savoury-sweet sauce – will leave you wanting more.

 

But the world-famous, crowd-pleasing dish nearly wasn’t to be. In Edo Tokyo (1603-1868), Buddhist influence saw the populace rejecting burning meat as a cooking method, regarding the smell distasteful.

Photo by Josh Wilburne on Unsplash

Instead, poultry would be cooked nimono style – simmered in broth – a preparation style still popular today. Thankfully, the Meji Era (1868 to 1912) saw the revival of sweet and salty tare, preserving the yakitori we know and love today.

Yakitori can be enjoyed at any time of the year. It is known for being the salaryman snack as there is always a yakitori-ya (grilled chicken skewer shop) near train stations for the tired men in suits to enjoy an after-work snack with beer.

So what sets Jomon apart from the other smaller yakitori joints that dot the streets of Tokyo?

Located away from the bustling main street of Roppongi, it’s easy to miss this local gem. There is no signage to catch the eye, and the stack of crates piled against the shop front doesn’t help either. But don’t be quick to dismiss Jomon based on its exterior. Instead, let your nose take over – the rich aroma of charred meat that waft off the grills has tempted countless passers-by, and you’ll find yourself joining the queue.

Despite its lack of décor, the cosy ambiance and congeniality of Jomon staff more than make up for it, explaining their popularity with the locals. Take the bar seat for an authentic yakitori experience: watch as the experts grill skewers of meat in front of you on an open fire until crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside. There is also a wide variety of fruit wines and sake to pair with the grilled dishes which the staff will gladly recommend.

And here’s a tip from the locals: The authentic yakitori-ya grills their skewers over Japanese white charcoal called binchotan. If you find a yakitori-ya grilling over gas, move on to the next stall.

Address

5-9-17 Roppongi | Fujimori Bldg. 1F, Roppongi, Minato 106-0032, Tokyo Prefecture

Opening Hours

Mon to Fri: 5:30 PM – 11:45 PM

Sat to Sun: 5:30 PM – 5:00 AM

2. AFURI RAMEN

Ramen is the quintessential fast food of Japan and a culinary hit worldwide. You can find countless high-quality ramen shops offering their own take on the broth-and-noodle combination in Tokyo. Like many others, your first ramen encounter probably took place in the hallowed, history-drenched halls of long-standing franchises such as Ichiran or Ippudo, with the chains’ thick, rich and creamy tonkotsu (pork bone) broth serving as your initiation. But to be a true ramen devotee, you need to pay Afuri Ramen a visit. 

Afuri’s signature yuzu-shio ramen has a light and refreshing broth made from chicken, seaweed and seafood with a hint of yuzu. Each steaming bowl of edible art comes with a seasoned soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots and a slice of melt-in-your-mouth grilled pork.

 

A clue to the popularity of Afuri Ramen may be discerned in the eatery’s name and logo. Fresh spring water from Mt. Afuri in Kanagawa Prefecture features as an exclusive ingredient in both the broth and noodles, which are made in a central kitchen at the foot of Mt. Afuri.

Photo by Leanne_Koh on Instagram

The original Afuri Ramen outlet, debuted in 2003, is a few minutes walk from Ebisu station. Tucked on a side street of the trendy Ebisu neighbourhood, the eatery features a minimalist, chic industrial exterior.

Ramen restaurants in Japan are designed to be utilitarian – Afuri can accommodate 15 to 20 diners, and one is expected not to hoard the seat after a meal. Upon entering, our presence was fervently acknowledged by young chefs donned in black shirts moving like clockwork in the open kitchen to assemble the perfect bowl of ramen. 

Like most ramen eateries in Tokyo, the ordering is done via an automated machine which can be nerve-racking, especially if you have people waiting in line behind. But fear not, the menu is also available in English. Each bowl of ramen in golden broth can be customised with different toppings and types of noodles. Add that extra slice of chargrilled pork, don’t hesitate. But take your time to savour it – each glistening slice bobbing in your bowl of Afuri ramen is freshly grilled over an open fire upon order.

In the mecca of ramen, Afuri is refreshingly unique, well worth the wait and the extra calories.

Address

1-1-7 Ebisu | 117 Bldg.1F, Ebisu, Shibuya 150-0013, Tokyo Prefecture

Opening Hours

Daily from 11:00am – 5:00am

3. TAKIZEN

Oden is a Japanese one-pot wonder – which seems deceptively simple – made using several ingredients like fishcakes, konjac, hard-boiled eggs, and white radish simmered in dashi, a savoury stock made from seaweed and dried bonito flakes. The key to a good pot of oden is the quality of dashi that brings out the umami taste.

Traditionally, oden is a warming winter stew and usually savoured with warm sake. When trays of oden can be seen in convenience stores, you’ll know winter has arrived.

Is there a place to enjoy oden all year round in Tokyo? Enter Ginza Corridor – a street that runs under the rail tracks which link Yurakucho Station and Shimbashi Station. Here is where you can find just about anything on this street, from chain gyoza restaurants to specialist Japanese wine and whiskey bars.

Look for an inconspicuous bar along the Ginza Corridor – spotting a black wooden door and an outdoor display stand. You’d think that this is yet another drinking spot – but you’d be only half correct. 

Photo by 77aresmars on Instagram

Inside, you’ll find the soothingly lit Takizen, where conversations and laughter dominate the smokeless atmosphere, and the smell of dashi lingers in the air. Follow your senses and you’ll soon spot the the simmering centrepiece at the bar – a large open metal pan of oden. Or, as Takizen fondly described on its menu, the soul food of Japan.

Sidle up to the open pan and pick and choose from different vegetables, tofu and fried fish paste – simply point and smile at the bartender. If you’re overwhelmed by what to order, a slice of daikon and konjac served with mustard on the side makes for a delicious and piping-hot introduction. The humble daikon, bursting with umami after simmering in dashi for hours, takes centerstage here, customary to its position as the one key ingredient no oden can go without. Meanwhile, konjac a gelatinous cake made from elephant yam retains its characteristic flavourlessness, but becomes oddly delectable when consumed with dashi.

To fully appreciate oden – its contrasting flavours and textures – it is best matched with sake. Check with the staff of Takizen for recommendations.

Be sure to try at least one of the tofu products like fukuro (fried tofu pouches stuffed with mushrooms and noodles), ganmo (fried tofu patties with vegetable bits) or atsu-age (fried tofu pieces) – doesn’t it all sound delicious?

Load up your bowl, take a seat at the bar counter, and watch the bartender and patrons keeping the place bumping through the night.

Address

7-108 Ginza, Chuo 104-0061, Tokyo Prefecture

Opening Hours

5:00pm -3:00am Daily (5:00am on Fridays)

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