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Awesome Japan Stuff

Japan is a mystifying country where everything seems completely FOREIGN and new to westerners. I think that’s part of why so many of us love Japan and its (to us) oddities!

Here’s my video of a few typical crazy Japanese experiences: conveyor belt running sushi, baseball’s 7th inning stretch, the washlet Japanese toilet, and the opening of an iSetan department store where everyone bows to you as you walk by.

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For travelers: what was the oddest (but obviously most AWESOME) experience you ever had in Japan?

Octopus advertising Takoyaki

Posted 5 years, 8 months ago at 7:59 pm.

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Royal Mouriya Kobe Beef

Looking for a Kobe Beef restaurant recommendation in Kobe, Japan? Here’s my story from Royal Mouriya / MOPR on Ikuta Road in Kobe.

We originally intended to go for the lunch course at Misono, the inventors of Teppanyaki style steak. Unfortunately they allow the last lunch order at 1:30, and we arrived at 1:45. On our way south along Ikuta Road we saw the sign for Royal Mouriya and headed in for their lunch course.

From my group of three hostel-goers (that’s right, hostellers eating Kobe Beef!), two of us ordered the 7,000 yen 150g Kobe Beef lunch special (not on the regular menu; I believe it was A4 BMS 6-7 Ribeye Kobe Beef). For Americans, that’s $85 for 5 1/2 oz of ultra-prime meat. The chef brought out the steak and happily allowed me to take all the pictures I wanted:

Royal Mouriya Kobe Beef Ribeye

Here’s a closeup of the marbling in the large center section of beef:

Kobe Beef Marbling

Our chef sliced up the meat, separating out the fat (which would be cooked separately and used to make the sauteed vegetables later).

Slicing and dicing Kobe Beef

The pieces of meat were mostly put to the side to be cooked one at a time; vegetables were added to the mix on the grill. The pieces of fat from the Kobe Beef were sliced very small. Note, this is not theatrical like teppanyaki in the US. There are no flaming onion volcanoes, no flying shrimp, no egg being juggled between the knives. Just precise Japanese cooking.

Kobe Beef and vegetables

As our chef was cooking, we enjoyed a really excellent salad:

Royal Mouriya salad

At this point it got interesting. The chef served us each a ~50g piece of the steak from the center section. However, my piece (which I ordered VERY RARE) was the one which had been on the grill the longest – I estimate 6-7 minutes. Now, this is way too long for rare. And my compatriot who had ordered medium: his steak had been on the grill for less time than mine. When I asked about this, I think the chef realized the error (which I later figured out). He had misunderstood my American VERY RARE as the Japanese (stereotypical) mispronunciation of VERY WELL: VERY RERR. At least, that’s my guess.

So, what did our master chef do to save the day? He removed the mis-cooked 50g of my center section, and brought us an entire second steak. Then he sliced and diced that one along with the remaining parts of the first steak. There’s no better way to recover from a misunderstanding than to give a (high paying) pair of guests 550g of the world’s most expensive steak for the price of 300g. Here’s my VERY RARE Kobe Beef on the plate:

Kobe Beef on the plate

Sides were asparagus, salt, pepper, crispy fried garlic, and several other things I couldn’t quite name. After serving all the chunks of world-class beef, our chef mixed the (mostly cooked down) crispy fat pieces with bean sprouts and other vegs:

Kobe Beef Fat and vegetables

Overall the meal was worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wouldn’t do it often, but if I visit Kobe again in several years I’ll definitely return. Lunch specials are a great way to sample this fantastic meat without breaking the bank. Though I am sure you won’t regret it if you go for dinner and spend a bit more for a fancier, multi-course meal at either Mouriya or Misono.

Thanks to our fantastic chef and the whole staff!

Royal Mouriya Staff

Sorry for the blurred waiter; I had focused already when he joined the shot (hehe). To find the restaurant, walk north from Sannomiya Station on Ikuta Road and look for the Royal MOPR sign on the right side of the street. There’s a bit of cyrillic on the signs, I guess it’s a bit of a Russian theme.

Royal Mouriya MOPR sign

Enjoy your Kobe Beef at Mouriya, or wherever you sample it!

Posted 5 years, 9 months ago at 5:38 pm.

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Yakitori Surprise

For those who’ve seen other cultures’ meat on a stick, this is not satay! Yakitori is the Japanese version of meat on a stick. Meaning, a different sauce (hehe). And generally the meat (at least in restaurants I’ve been to) is very high quality.

Octopus Yakitori

My only quandary was: what to order? To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s the daily special menu:

Torizo Menu

The standard menu was no less confusing, and had limited pictures. Fortunately the server spoke a few words of English and knew how to draw. I think I ordered squid based on his drawing, but it looked like octopus to me (photo above). It was delicious with lemon and mayonnaise. For the next course I odered “Ahh… chicken?” and this seems to be a cubed chicken leg fit onto 3 skewers: fantastic!

Chicken Leg Yakitori

Of course nothing goes with beer and grilled snacks like edamame: boiled and salted soybeans. You squeeze them out of the husk (which isn’t eaten). Edamame are the standard appetizer at all US sushi restaurants, I definitely recommend to give ’em a go.

Edamame

Also of note, there was a strange fish tank with small plants swirling inside. My only guess is it was a fresh seaweed tank. There’s always something new in the world that I haven’t ever seen! That must by why I keep traveling…

Posted 5 years, 9 months ago at 3:22 pm.

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Japanese Mascots Sell

What better way to advertise than with a mascot? Japan takes that to a whole new level on Osaka’s Dontonbori street. Let’s start with Spider Man, or rather a chubby spider-Satan baby.

Satan Spider Man Ghost?

Of course, dragons are always popular… until they eat your cue ball in the middle of a billiards game. Or roast your sheep and eat your children.

Dontonbori Dragon

There are so many angry mascots that I could’ve made a post titled “Angry Sushi Chefs.” I’m not sure I’d want to eat anything prepared by this guy. Did he spit on the fish? I think so.

Angry Sushi Chef

Damn, it’s time for appetizers and I’ve got a hankering for squid. But the nearest fish joint is miles away! Never fear, Calamari Boy is here… is that a squid-based throwing disc or what?

Calamari Man?

As I remember this guy is the Ganko sushi chef. I’m not sure if he wants to serve sushi, or perform a finishing move with chopsticks. Mortal Kombat style!

Another Angry Sushi Chef

Double shot! I’ve no idea what the Japanese Elvis in the foreground is selling, but the blowfish just behind him are for Zuboraya, where I tried Fugu yesterday.

Vegas Guy

Bluto seems to lead a double life: besides fawning over Olive Oyl, he also sells curly fried thingies in Japan.

Bluto eating chips?

An octopus selling Takoyaki is like a cow advertising McDonald’s. “Eat me! Over here… that’s right. My legs, diced up in a ball of fried dough with bbq and mayo on top. What are you waiting for!”

Octopus advertising Takoyaki

Pastéis de Nata are Portuguese egg custard tarts. Makes perfect sense that a British guy is advertising Portuguese desserts in Japan. Though I must say, they were just as tasty as the ones I ate in Lisbon!

British dude selling Portuguese tarts

So, there’s today’s view of Osaka’s most brilliant shopping street. Definitely give it a try if you’re in Osaka! And be sure to eat at the most outrageously advertised restaurant you see. If the mascot is angry that can only be a good sign. 😉

Posted 5 years, 9 months ago at 10:05 am.

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Fugu at Zuboraya

If you’re looking for reviews/recommendations of a good restaurant in Osaka, Japan to try Fugu blowfish, read on! My recommendation is definitely for Zuboraya in Dotonbori…

Who hasn’t heard of Fugu, the poisonous blowfish? Japanese love to eat it, perhaps to prove they are masters of otherwise deadly sea creatures whose organs contain toxins that can paralyze our bodies. Yep, including the lungs… making it hard to live. In fact in my book Demon’s Bane, the characters used this poison as a weapon.

Fugu nigiri trio

Becoming a Fugu chef is not easy. One must practice for years before taking a test to be allowed to prepare this potentially fatal delicacy. On top of that, as I learned from reading some internet articles, Fugu doesn’t taste particularly great on its own; special recipes are needed to enhance its flavor. Guests won’t keep coming back just for the thrill if it tastes bad, and no one will pay the high prices Fugu commands for a bland strip of fish. So the chefs at Zuboraya have nice dishes with flavors that complement the Fugu, like spicy garnishes and lemony soy sauce with the nigiri.

Fugu sushi closeup

As I wasn’t expecting much flavor-wise, I went with a small nigiri set of three pieces for 800 yen ($10) rather than blow 3000+ yen on a big Fugu meal. I ordered some Unagi (sea eel) on the side, and cold sake (the best accompaniment).

Fugu and Unagi

The Fugu was lightly seared and was served with a lemony soy sauce, I guess designed to enhance the flavor (or give it some flavor). It was a bit chewy in texture, not soft like good tuna or salmon. Clearly a lot of work goes into making palatable Fugu dishes, because the fish doesn’t intrinsically taste good. But people do want to eat it for the thrill, and they’ll pay (really) good money for it, so… good work, Zuboraya chefs! Their location in Dotonbori, where I survived the ordeal treat:

Zuboraya Dotonbori Osaka

Overall, I’d recommend trying Fugu if you are at all curious. If you go to a known restaurant with licensed chefs (which is probably all of them in Japan), I wouldn’t have any concern about the safety. Your only choice then is whether you just want to say “Yep, I tried it,” or you want a big, luxurious meal. For a multi-course banquet of sashimi, soup, and the trimmings you’re looking at 3000+ yen compared to under a thousand for a few pieces of nigiri. I’m saving my yens for Unagi, Ikura, and Ama-Ebi washed down with Nigori-Sake!

In parting, here’s a pufferfish in the Osaka Aquarium: this lucky guy is not for eating :-)

Pufferfish at Osaka Aquarium

Happy Fugu…

Posted 5 years, 9 months ago at 4:07 pm.

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Welcome to Japan!

Nothing says “Welcome to Japan” quite as well as the Osaka train signage in kanji. Okay, they do (briefly) switch to English for a few seconds. It’s similar with the announcements: 30 seconds straight of talking in Japanese, then one sentence of English. So far I am completely satisfied with that small percentage of English… after all, I am in Japan!

Osaka JR Train Signage

For lunch I visited this place, Ponpocotei near the Tsuruhashi station.

Ponpocotei Restaurant

First meal in Japan for this trip was Okonomiyaki! This is a thick, savory pancake about 6″ in diameter. I tried octopus & pork as my fillings. Those are fish flakes on top of the bbq sauce and mayonnaise.

Okonomiyaki in Osaka

The chef cooks it at a grill behind the counter, then serves it on your own personal in-table grill to keep it warm while you eat. Delicious!

Ponpocotei Okonomiyaki Closeup

I may have mentioned at some point: I love my Nikon 35mm f/2 for food closeups. :-)

Posted 5 years, 9 months ago at 11:06 am.

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Troubling Signs in Greece

I don’t know why this struck me as funny. Yep, what she’s eating, that’s called bread. Any ideas on a caption?

Ah, that's what bread is for!

My favorite kind of restaurant. Free!

Cheap free style restaurant!

Maybe this guy is complaining ironically about Greek mafia policies. If you don’t pay them for protection, someone might just…

Jack the butcher!

It never occurred to me that this high hill in Athens (Lykavittos maybe?) looked like a breast. But now that you mention it…

Nipple Postcard?

What’s the strangest sign you’ve seen when traveling?

Posted 5 years, 9 months ago at 9:18 pm.

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Tenerife Sunsets

Here are a few sunset timelapses and other scenes from Tenerife’s west and north coasts. Tenerife is a beautiful island if you avoid the super-touristy parts. Enjoy!

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Taken with a Nikon D7000 using the built-in intervalometer, and an 18-200mm VR lens.

Tenerife Sunset

Posted 18 years ago at 8:30 am.

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Las Vegas Nights

These are not the lights of Las Vegas, Nevada… but rather a different kind of lights in the tiny town of Las Vegas, Tenerife. I set up my Nikon D7000 and tried out some Milky Way star trail timelapse sequences. By pure chance, one of the nights happened to be the 2011 Geminids meteor shower! Lots of Sternschnuppe made it onto my 30s-exposure photos.

See how many shooting stars you can count. Can you find Venus, the Pleiades, and the Andromeda galaxy? I recommend 1080 full HD on Youtube to give your peepers the best resolution possible!

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As I’ve been doing a lot of timelapse stuff lately, here are

Dave’s TOP 10 Night Timelapse Tips

  • Make sure nothing annoying is moving in your photo, like trees that cover a large portion of the frame.
  • Avoid super bright lights being in the shot, they can create lens flare at long exposure.
  • Beware of battery life. Even my D7000 (one of the longest battery-life cameras) lasts under 400 shots at ISO 2000 and 30s exposure.
  • If possible, choose a location without motion detector lights. Unfortunately I couldn’t do that in this video, so I minimized the amount of scenery that was hit by the light.
  • Watch out for the moon. If it comes up during a night timelapse it will wash out all the stars.
  • Use a steady tripod and put it somewhere it won’t be disturbed by wind gusts, pets, or other people while you (hopefully) sleep.
  • Make sure to set a fixed (manual) focus, and don’t let the camera autofocus during the shoot. I use Live View on a bright star or very distant house light for the initial focus.
  • Keep the aperture constant to avoid changes in depth of field during the shoot.
  • Use manual exposure mode and fine-tune the ISO and shutter open time with some test shots. Of course you’ll want to set the widest aperture of your lens.
  • Last but not least: Check the weather report and pick a day free of clouds! Forecast should be 0% chance of rain unless you want a wet camera.

Tenerife Night Sky

Posted 5 years, 11 months ago at 7:20 pm.

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Santa Missing after Accident

Due to the graphic nature of the following story and photos, it is recommended that children under the age of 12 are shielded from this information.

Reports indicate that Santa fell out of his sleigh during a Nov. 24th practice run for Christmas 2011. Recent photos taken from a passing 747 confirm this tragedy:

Santa in freefall

These are the last known images of Santa.
Last known images of Santa

Note that Santa’s beard appears to be a freefall hazard:
Santa's beard a freefall hazard

A final image (where Santa’s hat appears to be coming off) reveals that old Saint Nick may actually be bald.
News flash: Santa appears to be bald

At this time it is unknown if Santa was equipped with any emergency safety equipment, such as a jet pack or parachute. However, based on a prior skydiving trip in 2010 (file photo below), there is still hope that Santa will be found alive.

Santa in undated skydiving photo

Our thoughts go out to Mrs. Claus. At her request, donations to the Elves’ Fund can be made through Traveldave.com.

Photographs by Eric Babcock.

Posted 6 years ago at 12:25 am.

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