Tokyo Food - Honmura An Soba, Roppongi

Honmura An is a diamond in the rough of Roppongi. The chef, Koichi Kobari, started his career as a restaurateur in New York, and has now spread his hand-made soba to his home, Japan.
You can see Kobari's Soho legacy in the minimalistic design of the room, and the addition of sides such as a delicious avocado salad, and Californian wines on the menu.

But what you come to Honmura An for is the soba. My friends and I tried an array of cold soba with various dipping sauces, hot soba in broth, and inari soba (tofu skin wrapped around soba noodles). CNNgo voted Honmura An's Tenzaru Soba as the number one soba dish in Tokyo for 2010, and it was definitely a highlight of the enjoyable meal. 

What really struck me however was the friendliness of Kobari himself, who seemed delighted and relieved to have a party of six foreigners attend his restaurant so soon after the Tohoku earthquake in March, despite the restaurant being full. Kobari carefully explained each dish to us, and described the best way to drink our overflowing cups of sake (which symbolise abundance). 

A further plus was the very reasonable bill at the end of the meal. I rate soba in my top 5 Japanese cuisines, and this is without doubt one to try.

Abundant cup of sake - Silver dish is to catch any that gets away!

Avocado Salad

Soba Inari

Tenzaru Soba
Soba in duck broth

Honmura An website in English

An Attempt to Hike Mt. Kumotori - Saitama

Golden Week marks a week long holiday in Japan, and with no work, and the warm Spring weather, many people use this time to escape the big city and head in to the Japanese wilderness. A couple of friends and I, somewhat ambitiously, decided to make our way to Saitama, and do a 2 day hike up Kumotori-san.
Despite a few showers, we experienced beautiful weather, magnificent natural scenery and perfect Japanese hospitality. Things at the beginning however, were not so rosy.

Some tips for hiking in Saitama:
1) The express trains to Chichibu National Park, which run hourly from Ikebukuro, are booked well in advance. Pre-book or get in early
2) Despite what many websites and English guide books may tell you, the cable car at the bottom of Mt. Kumotori has not been running for two years. My friends and I discovered this when after the 3 hour journey we asked our bus driver how to get to the cable car, and he informed us it does not exist
3) See above - be prepared to hike up a steep incline for the first 3 hours
4) Bring wet weather gear

After this 'rocky beginning' things in Saitama looked up. We soon realized we would not make it to the hut at the top of the mountain where we had planned to stay, so we stopped at a beautiful temple and asked around if there was somewhere close by to lodge for the night. By chance, Mitsumine Temple had a joining hotel including mountain views, onsen and a delicious dinner.

After being well bathed and rested, we decided to explore the surrounding region, and at the highest point reached 1500 meters about sea level. Walking amongst what seemed like a never-ending forest of trees, we passed many other hikers, who all happily greeted you with 'konnichiwa', and walked along jingling with bells attached to their bags. There were a lot of signs around warning people of the local bears, and I guess these bells were meant as protection.

Giddy with fresh air (and climbing fatigue), there is nothing quite like reaching the top of a mountain peak and looking down at how far you have come.

A quick bowl of soba before commencing the hike

Mitsumine Jinja

Much of Tokyo's water supply come from these mountains

To reach Kumotori-san:
Take the Seibu-Ikebukuro line to Chichibu, followed by the local rail to Mitsumineguchi
From Mitsumine, take the bus to Mitsumine Jinja shrine (to avoid the initial hike up the mountain).


A Day in the Park - Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo

Spring in Tokyo is synonymous with cherry blossoms, or sakura as it is called in Japanese, and there really is no better time to be in Japan. In the short 2-3 week window, the air is think with celebration. People flock to the nearest park or viewing spot where the ground is covered with pic-nic rugs and fallen petals. For me, Ohanami (flower viewing) was spent at Yoyogi-koen and Shinjuku-gyoen.

Surrounded by the sounds of drinking games, bongo drums and the odd boom box, Yoyogi-koen is the place to go if you are looking for a party. At Yoyogi-koen, soon everyone is your friend, as people are looking to welcome the warm weather with fun and games. Take a walk around the park and discover little pockets of fun such as a choral group rehearsing, guitarists, badminton groups or on one occasion I even saw a horn player, honing their skills. Another plus is the pizza delivery guys walking around taking orders.

Shinjuku Gyoen
For the die-hard cherry blossom lovers Shinjuku Gyoen is the place to go. Although drinking is prohibited and it costs 200 yen to enter, it is worth going to wander amongst the expanse of light and dark pink trees. Try get in early before all the dust is kicked up by the thousands of people visiting the park.