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Okinado: Old-fashioned “Western Food” from the Heyday of the Showa Period

There are tons of the so-called “western-style,” or yoshoku, (洋食) restaurants in Japan. I always find this name a little troublesome because while yes, they certainly don’t serve your typical Japanese food, I think a more appropriate description would be something along the lines of “Japanese-style western fusion.” In fact, some dishes are actually Japanese inventions inspired by the west.

Typical dishes you might find at yoshoku restaurants are curry and rice (was curry even Western to begin with??), hayashi rice (tender chunks of beef in a thick, demi-glace-ish sauce over rice), omurice (tomato-y fried rice wrapped up in a super thin egg shell), and hambaagu (basically a delicious, Japanese version of Salisbury steak).

That being said, even though yoshoku technically translates to “western food,” it still offers you an authentic Japanese experience—one that dates back to the Meiji Restoration (late 1800s).

In Matsumoto, one of the best places to get your fix of yoshoku is a restaurant called Okinado. While not quite as old as the Meiji Restoration, Okinado has been around for a long time: it opened its doors in 1933 at the beginning of the Showa Period, first as a coffee house and then later adding a full menu of “western-style” food in 1957 that included curry rice, hayashi rice, sauteed pork, and other items. It is family owned and is now with its third generation owner.

Entrance to Okinado, complete with plastic food display

Entrance to Okinado, complete with plastic food display

Today, Okinado still serves many of their original dishes and compared to some other yoshoku restaurants, I’d say their menu items tend to be more “fancy,” if you will. For example, they boast fresh, locally sourced ingredients and their hayashi rice sauce is apparently cooked down for an entire week!

A few days ago, I went with a couple of friends so we got to share and try a few of Okinado’s most popular dishes: the napolitan pasta (a spaghetti-esque dish with a ketchup-y/tomato-y sauce and stir-fried vegetables), omurice, and hayashi rice.

Out of the three dishes, the omurice was my favorite. The thin egg shell was perfectly wrapped around the nicely flavored rice, plus it had a portion of their special hayashi sauce on top along with another kind of white sauce. The hayashi rice was pretty good too, though the sauce had quite a strong flavor that reminded me of coffee (they may actually use coffee when cooking it). You could tell the sauce had been cooked for hours and the beef was super tender.

The napolitan pasta, on the other hand, was a little disappointing, as it seemed like the spaghetti noodles were just mixed with stir-fried vegetables, pork, and a bit of tomato-ish sauce (nothing like spaghetti sauce though). Not that it didn’t taste good, but I was looking for something a little more unique.

Omurice

Omurice

Pouring the chunky hayashi sauce over hot rice

Pouring the chunky hayashi sauce over hot rice

Napolitan pasta packed with veggies

Napolitan pasta packed with veggies

Other dishes that looked good (on other people’s tables) were the hambaagu/hamburger steak and fried pork dishes (katsu), though they are more on the expensive side. There are also combo plates that let you try two or three different dishes on one plate. I didn’t get to to try any this time, but the desserts looked very enticing too, especially the custard pudding!

More than the food, I loved Okinado’s atmosphere—still housed in its original building, it looks as if it were stuck back in time in the heyday of the Showa Period. Old-fashioned decor, manager in suit vest and bow-tie, vintage diner seats, heavy ceramic lights above the tables…it really gives you a good sense of what Japan might have been like when it was in love with all-things-western. Plus there is a great view of Nawate Street and Yohashira Shrine from the big windows!

Inside the restaurant on the first floor

Inside the restaurant on the first floor

Spiffy ceramic lights hanging about the tables

Spiffy ceramic lights hanging about the tables

Okinado is located in Nakamachi, which is a 10-minute walk from either Matsumoto Castle or Matsumoto Station. It’s on the corner across the bridge from Yohashira Shrine. Budget-wise, it will cost you 1,000–1,500 yen for most meals, though the meat-heavy dishes are closer to 2,000 yen. You can go for both lunch or dinner.

Hours:
Weekdays & Saturdays: 9 am—3 pm, 5:30 pm—8:30 pm (L.O. 8 pm)
Sundays & Holidays: 9 am—6:30 pm (L.O. 6 pm)
(Google Map)

By the way, you can check out more photos on Okinado’s website. It’s in Japanese, but the photos explain themselves :)

Outdoor menu with 3 recommended items for the day: Volga Rice (omurice topped with fried chicken and hayashi sauce), Omurice (rice-stuffed omelette), and Napolitan pasta

Outdoor menu with 3 recommended items for the day: Volga Rice (omurice topped with fried chicken and hayashi sauce), Omurice (rice-stuffed omelette), and Napolitan pasta

Mame Mame serves up a little known local specialty: Usuyaki

Usuyaki at the Mame Mame cafe

Usuyaki at the Mame Mame cafe

When I started looking into the local foods in Matsumoto, I learned about soba (buckwheat noodles), oyaki (a kind of stuffed dumpling), sanzokuyaki (marinated and deep-fried chicken), and nozawana green pickles. Usuyaki, however, never came up.

So when I spotted Mame Mame (pronounced “mah-may mah-may”), which on its shop windows boldly proclaims to sell “usuyaki, a Matsumoto local food,” it instantly piqued my curiosity. What was this supposed local specialty and why hadn’t I heard of it? So, when I popped into the shop, I took the chance to ask Mr. Maruyama, the Mame Mame’s owner, all about usuyaki.

Mame Mame storefront

Mame Mame storefront

Mr. Maruyama describes usuyaki as “Matsumoto-style pancakes,” though they are quite different from the fluffy, maple syrup-doused breakfast version you might typically think of when hearing the word “pancake.” In Japan, traditionally usuyaki was cooked when rice was scarce and also served as a way to use up leftovers: cooked beans, vegetables, and even steamed rice.

To make usuyaki, leftover scraps of food or cooked vegetables are mixed with flour, water, and sometimes eggs to make a batter, which is then fried in an oiled pan like a pancake. There is no set recipe—just like everyone in the U.S. has their own recipe for the “best” pot of chili, every household here makes their usuyaki different from their neighbors: Some people use eggs and some don’t; some usuyaki are thin and flabby and others are thick and dense.

Usuyaki getting cooked up in the frying pans

Usuyaki getting cooked up in the frying pans

Technically, you can find usuyaki in nearby regions outside of city, but Mr. Maruyama, a native of Yokohama, was inspired by the usuyaki he ate in his wife’s hometown, the Nagawa area of Matsumoto. Here, he told me, the older ladies would whip up usuyaki as a snack to take with them to their farms or to give to children when they came home from school. Although locals would regard these pancakes as nothing more than a humble way to use up leftovers (hence its absence from local food shops and internet searches), Mr. Maruyama found the dish and its endless variety so fascinating that he decided to open a cafe in Matsumoto dedicated to it.

At Mame Mame, Mr. Maruyama offers about eight kinds of usuyaki every day, including sweet and savory flavors. He uses only local, Nagano-produced flour and buckwheat flour as the base for the batter. The fruits, vegetables, and herbs used to create the different flavors are chosen based on what is in season locally—including many ingredients that are grown on Mr. Maruyama’s own farm in Nagawa.

Mr. Maruyama's soba farm

Mr. Maruyama’s soba farm

The traditional usuyaki mix-ins include kabocha squash, sweet potatoes, and hanamame beans; while more unorthodox versions might be flavored with cheese and sausages, or verge on the sweet side with apples and cinnamon, or chocolate and bananas. The batter is fried into thick, round pancakes, then cut into wedges so you can easily try several flavors. The price for one wedge ranges from ¥180 to ¥250.

Wedges of usuyaki on display

Wedges of usuyaki on display

One whole usuyaki pancake fresh from the frying pan!

One whole usuyaki pancake fresh from the frying pan!

For my first taste of usuyaki, I tried the popular “hanamame bean and egoma seed” flavor. Hanamame beans are large, purplish, locally grown beans that are cooked to be slightly sweet. Egoma seeds come from a plant related to the Japanese herb, shiso (also known as perilla or beefsteak plant), and adds a delightful and subtle crackling texture to the usuyaki. The batter was made with fifty percent buckwheat flour which gave batter a wonderfully toasty aroma.

Hanamame beans and egoma seed usuyaki

Hanamame beans and egoma seed usuyaki

You can get usuyaki as a take-out snack, or turn it into a light lunch combo with soup. It makes a great treat to bring for hiking or walking around Matsumoto. On Sundays and holidays, you can also get it for breakfast starting at nine o’clock. Mame Mame has a good assortment of drinks like coffee, tea, local juices, wine, and beer. You can eat at the counter in the shop and there are even outlets with phone chargers available! Shop hours and location are as follows:

Shop Hours

Weekdays & Saturday: 11:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m. (Closed on Wednesdays)
Sunday & holidays: 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Lunchtime hours: 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m.

Location and Map

Mame Mame is located on the east end of the Nakamachi Area, less than a 15-minute walk from the castle and about 10 minutes from the station.

(Photos from Mame Mame’s Facebook page, used with permission)

Matsumoto Soba Festival

The 14th Matsumoto Soba Festival was held at Matsumoto Castle this past three-day weekend October 7 – 9 (Sat – Mon), 2017. Soba, which means buckwheat, is also used to refer to buckwheat noodles. Due to the high altitudes and harsh winters of Nagano Prefecture, soba has long been cultivated as it is a robust crop that can withstand the elements.

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Since the festival was held on the outer edge of Matsumoto Castle, you could also enjoy the view of the historic wooden structure while browsing the various stalls. While the castle is walking distance from JR Matsumoto Station, temporary bicycle and scooter parking was also available at businesses around the castle.
 

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20171008_143011With nearly 20 soba vendors from all over the country, there was a variety of tasty noodles and broths to try. Soba is served both hot and cold.  While Nagano Prefecture is especially famous for its soba, other vendors representing prefectures such as Hokkaido, Fukui, and Fukushima allowed visitors opportunities to savor their spins on the dish.

 

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Soba noodles served cold in a tsuyu broth and topped with grated radish, chopped onions, and bonito flakes.

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Rows of food stalls offered freshly made soba and also dried soba to take home. Local fruits, vegetables, crafts, and more were also being sold, including apples, another Nagano specialty that is now in season. Other food trucks and stalls offered tacos, grilled meats, crepes, and more.

If you missed the festival, fear not, you can still find many local restaurants offering great soba year round!

Japan Alps Kamikochi – A Serene Summer’s Day in the National Park

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Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking to take in the world-famous scenery on a stroll at the base of the mountains, Kamikochi is an unforgettable outdoor experience. Even on a hot summer’s day, like the one I visited on, I was treated to a cool breeze, icy-cold water, and plenty of shade on well-maintained paths. Unless you hire a guide, you cannot access the park in the winter, but spring, summer, and fall give you a unique landscape depending on when you visit. The green season offers a barrage of colors including vibrant greens and other colors from the various foliage and sediment.

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Taisho Pond

Even before entering the heart of the park, you are treated to a expansive reflection of the mountains on Taisho Pond.

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Shimizu River

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Some of the clearest water you’ve ever seen.

In order to preserve the environment of the park, there are strict regulations including not allowing cars into the area. The regulations, higher altitude, and natural springs make for fresh air and stunningly clear water.

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Kappa Bashi (Kappa Bridge)

The view of the Kappa Bridge overlaid on Mt. Hotaka is one of the most famous images of the park. Crossing the suspension bridge, you can gaze out over the pristine water of the Azusa River.

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Kamonjigoya

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This century-old mountain hut now serves as a restaurant as well lodgings and makes for a great place to rest before visiting the nearby Hotaka Shrine and Myojin Pond. Try a classic summer dish, grilled ayu.

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Raised in the nearby river, this sweet-fish is fresh and juicy. Grilled over an open fire, the salted skin makes for a delicate crust while the meat is kept moist. You can eat the entire fish from head to tail!

Replenish your salt levels after your trek!

If eating fish heads isn’t your thing, not to worry, there is other food such as soba (buckwheat noodles) and cake available for you to enjoy.

Myojin Pond

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This area is said to be sacred to the gods and thus known as a place where the gods come down.

Myojin Pond has two areas: Ichino Pond and Nino Pond. The Hotaka Shrine sits just in front of Ichino Pond.

Although you cannot ride in them, two boats float on the pond and are used during a local festival.

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Hotaka Shrine

Ichino Pond

Ichino Pond

Nino Pond

Nino Pond

Tashiro Pond and Wetlands

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Although it has been steadily filled in by natural decay and sediment buildup, water still flows through this area, creating a stark contrast between the orange sand and the surrounding greenery.

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Mt. Yakedake

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Signs of the eruption that occurred 100 years ago still remain.

Mt. Yakedake is still an active volcano. It’s activity is constantly monitored and the current level is level 1.

Access and Accommodations

Details on how to get to the park and more information such as hotel and campsite information are available on the official English website here.

Germany – Japan Baking Exchange in Norikura

Last weekend in Norikura, I got to participate in a fun cultural exchange event hosted by the Norikura Highlands Tourism Association and a German-style bakery, Brot Hügel, in Matsumoto. For a 2 day event, two master German bakers from Saxony, Torsten Eckert and Erik Wunderlich, were invited to Matsumoto to share one of Germany’s most celebrated cultural traditions – baking!

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The first day consisted of a welcome party with a taiko drum performance by the Norikura elementary school taiko club, locally brewed rye beer, German bread, sausages, and regional dishes, and a speech by the German guests.

The Norikura elementary school taiko club

The Norikura elementary school taiko club

The German and Japanese Bakers

The German and Japanese Bakers

Mountains of pretzels!

Mountains of pretzels!

On the second day, the bakers taught a special baking (and cooking) course. We made different kinds of bread made with sourdough rye dough (baked in a wood-burning oven!), eclairs, creme puffs, a beautiful buttercream cake, and a potato salad and radish salad from Saxony. Because truly authentic German bread and food is a rarity in Japan, it was a unique opportunity for all of to get a taste of the real thing and see how it’s actually made.

Participants eagerly watching the bakers demonstrate how to make the bread dough

Participants eagerly watching the bakers demonstrate how to make the bread dough

Preparing the bread dough

Preparing the bread dough

Squeezing out dough for creme puffs

Squeezing out dough for creme puffs

Eclairs and creme puff shells baking in the wood-burning oven

Eclairs and creme puff shells baking in the wood-burning oven

The finished cake!

The finished cake!

The whole Germany – Japan Baking Exchange got started when the baker from Brot Hügel connected with the German bakers on Facebook. After building their friendship online, Brot Hügel traveled to Saxony last year to teach about some quintessentially Japanese breads like melon pan (a sweet roll with a cookie-based crust), anpan (roll filled with sweet red bean paste), and creme pan (roll filled with custard cream). As a continuation of the cultural exchange, the German bakers were then invited to Matsumoto this year. The bakers are eager to continue their friendship and offer more cultural exchange in both Saxony and Matsumoto, so let’s hope we see more events like this in the future!

Finished rye bread!

Finished rye bread!

In the meantime, if you’re interested in German bread, beer, or food, there are a couple of options right here in Matsumoto!

German-style bakeries:

Food & Beer:

  • Sonnenblume – serves various German-inspired dishes and has a huge selection of imported German beers (Location on map | Website – Japanese | facebook)
  • Baden-Baden – Specializes in homemade sausages and offers a selection of beer (including German ones) (Location on Map | Website – Japanese)
  • Matsumoto Brewery – Matsumoto’s craft beer brewery and bar (Location on Map | Facebook)
  • Ishii Miso Brewery with Tour, Lunch, and Miso Ice Cream!

    I recently found out about the Ishii Miso Brewery located right in central Matsumoto so I wasted no time in going to check out – especially because they offer free tours, a special lunch with miso-inspired dishes, and miso soft-serve ice cream!

    Ishii Miso was founded in 1868 and what makes it so special is that it is a now rare example of miso maker that still uses traditional methods to produce their miso. I took advantage of the short tour they offer so I could learn more about the process of making miso and Ishii Miso itself. The tour is free, can be done in both English or Japanese, lasts about 10-12 minutes, and once you’re done you can brag to all your friends about your expert miso knowledge, so I definitely wouldn’t skip it!

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    Part of the miso brewery

    The tour starts in the “first year miso room” where you are greeted by huge, wooden fermentation barrels. These barrels are all around 100 years old and contain 4.5 metric tons (almost 5 US tons) of fermenting miso! Most miso makers now use stainless steel containers to ferment miso, but wooden barrels are much better because the wood allows aeration and the beneficial bacteria – yeast and lactic acid bacteria – can actually establish themselves in the sides of the barrels, helping to improve the flavor and protect against unwanted bacteria.

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    The year-one miso barrels

    At Ishii Miso, perhaps their most prized product is their three year fermented miso. I was really surprised to learn that the not only is each 4.5 ton batch of miso transferred to another barrel at the end of each year, but they also “flip” the miso (a process called tenchi-gaeshi 天地返し
    in Japanese) once per year as well to aerate it in order to help the beneficial bacteria do their fermentation work as well as to help even out the flavors. The transferring and flipping is done by hand (with a shovel!), and according to tour guide, takes a whole day to complete for one barrel. Ishii Miso also makes a one year fermented miso, which also undergoes the flipping process one time during the year.

    Ishii Miso worker in a barrel

    One of the works transferring the miso to another barrel

    Unfortunately, less than 10% of the miso made in Japan is still made using traditional methods. Most miso is mass-produced in a factory using additives and heat to speed up fermentation so that a batch can be finished in 2-3 months. But, this fast-miso doesn’t have enough time to build up the complex flavors that you would get through natural, slow fermentation, so more additives and chemicals are added to attempt to make up for the loss of flavor. After trying Ishii’s miso or other traditionally made miso, you’ll definitely notice the difference whenever you eat miso made with mass-produced miso.

    Big pots of miso soup and tonjiru soup

    Big pots of miso soup and tonjiru soup

    On the tour, you’ll also learn other interesting facts about miso making in Japan like the regional differences due to the kind of koji (a kind of malted grain made with a beneficial fungus) used kome koji(rice malt), mugi koji (barley malt), or mame koji (soy bean malt) – and why miso gets gradually turns a darker brown color the longer it ferments (hint: it involves the increase of a compound called melanoidin produced through the Maillard reaction – the same reaction responsible for browning meats, bread crust, and coffee).

    After the tour, check out the Ishii Miso Shop to taste their miso pastes, miso pickles, and other miso products. Of course, you can buy your favorite products to take home with you. I definitely recommend eating the special miso-inspired lunch, too! It includes a big bowl of tonjiru (miso soup with vegetables and pork), miso-grilled rice ball, rice ball with seasonal miso sauces like wasabi miso, miso pickles, salad with miso dressing, and a little miso ice cream. I’m also a big fan of the miso soft-serve ice cream, which is made with Ishii’s three year miso, so I’d recommend giving it a try too!

    If you plan on having lunch, be careful about the time. Lunch is only available from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, but you can get soft-serve ice cream and buy things in the shop anytime between their opening hours of 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM.

    See access info, hours and more on our Ishii Miso page here.

    Miso rice balls

    Miso-grilled rice ball and rice ball with different miso pastes

    Tonjiru - hearty miso soup with veggies and pork

    Tonjiru – hearty miso soup with veggies and pork

    Miso soft-serve ice cream with 3-year miso

    Miso soft-serve ice cream with 3-year miso

    Entrance to the cafe and shop

    Entrance to the cafe and shop

    Matsumoto Summer Fest 2017 – Beer Garden and Live Performances

    Matsumoto Summer Fest 2017 is under way! Come out and enjoy a wide selection of food and drinks in the summer air. You’ll find a variety of German and local beers, wine, and dishes which include German sausage, Korean Samgyeopsal-gui, ramen with lobster, chicken tacos, pizza, Indian curry, steak, and more from numerous local restaurants and vendors! There are nearly 30 stalls all with multiple dishes or drinks. Live performances are also taking place on stage, making for a very festive atmosphere.

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    I made it just before last order, so I only had time to try assorted sausage, kimbap, and a chicken taco accompanied by Kölsch beer (pictured above), but it was all delicious! I highly recommend going with friends and/or family so that you can share the dishes!

    WHEN: August 17 (Thurs.) – August 28 (Mon.)
    Weekdays: 5PM – 9PM (Order stop 8:45PM); Sat/Sun: 11AM – 9PM (Order stop 8:45PM)

    WHERE: Hanadokei (flower clock) Park 花時計公園 (South side of the Matsumoto PARCO department store)
    A six minute walk from Matsumoto Station.
    *Seating with tents is available in case it rains.*

    COST: Prices on beers range from around ¥600 to ¥1,200 and food items (both single-serving and sharing sizes) start at around ¥400. Coupons that can be used at participating shops and other local businesses are also available in the free Matsumoto Guide Book, and they are valid through November!
    Glass system: In order to cover the cost of the glass in the event that it is not returned, a ¥1,000 deposit is required with the purchase of beer. The deposit will be returned to you when you turn in your glass.

     

    Official website and Facebook page (Japanese only).

    Great Places to Get Ice Cream in Matsumoto

    Wow, it is HOT in Matsumoto. Luckily, there are plenty of places to get ice cream downtown! I’ve been researching as many ice cream shops as possible for the past several weeks around downtown/central Matsumoto. This list contains the best places I’ve found so far, that is, not just any average, old cone that you can buy anywhere, but ice cream that has a unique, Japanese twist or just really tastes good. I’m sure I’m probably missing some places, so if you know any other good ice cream in Matsumoto, let me know!

    Nakamachi Street

    Oimo Biyori (おいも日和) – Chunky Roasted Sweet Potato Ice Cream

    Oimo Biyori is a shop that specializes in sweets and snacks made from Japanese sweet potatoes, including simple roasted sweet potatoes. If you’ve never had a roasted Japanese sweet potato, it’s basically like eating a soft, melty, creamy, golden, and toasty mouthful of deliciousness. In what I think might be the most genius idea ever, Oimo Biyori decided to mix chunks of these creamy and delicious sweet potatoes into vanilla ice cream and top it with nuts! It was so good that I didn’t want to go to any other ice cream shop for a couple of weeks. Recently, they also started selling three different flavors of Japanese shaved ice as seasonal menu. Oimo Biyori is located on Nakamachi Street (map).

    Sweet potato ice cream. It's hard to see, but there are chunks of creamy roasted sweet potato mixed in. Deliciousness!

    Sweet potato ice cream. It’s hard to see, but there are chunks of creamy roasted sweet potato mixed in. Deliciousness!

    Storefront of Oimo Biyori

    Storefront of Oimo Biyori



    Cafe Senri – Royal Sweet Vanilla Soft-serve

    This cafe (facebook page, japanese) is located near Oimo Biyori on Nakamachi Street (Map). They serve “Royal Sweet Vanilla” soft-serve, originally served at the Minoriya cafe in Karuizawa. The soft serve is so good that it’s apparently been praised by several celebrities including John Lennon! It’s a little more expensive than the other places, but it really is good – silky, high quality ice cream with a nice vanilla flavor, yet not overly sweet. Plus, they serve it in a waffle cone! You can get plain or make a super deluxe ice cream using the many toppings available like real fruit syrups, cookies, and more.

    Silky, delicious, and in a waffle cone!

    Silky, delicious, and in a waffle cone!

    Storefront of Cafe SenRi

    Storefront of Cafe Senri



    Nakamachi Kura Marche – Gelato Made with Local Ingredients

    This shop sells produce and other goodies made in the local area, and for the summer they have a little gelato stand set up where you can get gelato that has been made with local fruits, vegetables, or eggs. They have some really unique flavors so worth checking out. This time their flavors were sweet corn, blueberries & milk, watermelon, edamame, vanilla (with local eggs), Nagano miso caramel (think salt caramel, but with miso). Bonus: they use chocolate cones! Located on the east end of Nakamachi Street (map)

    Watermelon and corn gelato in a chocolate cone

    Watermelon and corn gelato in a chocolate cone

    Shopfront of Nakamachi Kura Marche

    Shopfront of Nakamachi Kura Marche

    Around the Station

    Shinshu Honey (信州蜂蜜本舗) – Honey Soft-serve Ice Cream

    Shinshu Honey, right across from the Parco department store (map), sells different varieties of local honey from Nagano. They also use the local honey to make their excellent honey soft-serve ice cream! Of all of the ice cream in this blog post, this soft-serve is the silkiest of them all. Eaten plain, it has a subtle, but nice honey flavor and the ice cream itself feels light and isn’t overly sweet. Of course, it’s great plain, but you can also choose from four different kinds of local honey as a topping, too, which I recommend trying.

    Drizzling honey over the ice cream - yum!

    Drizzling honey over the ice cream – yum!

    The finished cone (already starting to melt because it's so hot...)

    The finished cone (already starting to melt because it’s so hot…)

    Storefront of Shinshu Honey

    Storefront of Shinshu Honey



    Kaiundo (開運堂) – Robot Ice Cream

    Also near Parco in Japanese sweets shop called Kaiundo (map), you can get soft-serve made and served to you by a robot (oh Japan…). The ice cream itself is basically the kind of general (and quite sweet) soft-serve that you’ll find at most ice cream vendors in Japan, but I have to admit, it’s pretty fun watching the robot arm swirl the soft-serve into the cone and then hand it to you through a little window! The other cool thing about Kaiundo is that they change the flavor of their ice cream every single day, so you can try some unique and rare flavors (when I went it was milk coffee, and the next day it had changed to blueberry). You can choose from a regular (regular cone) and large size (waffle cone) which are mysteriously the same price. I unfortunately didn’t get any photos of this place yet, but it might be fun to check out, especially with kids 😉


    Kuraso (倉惣) – Matcha Green Tea Soft-serve

    Matcha ice cream is probably one of Japan’s greatest inventions, and if you’re on the look out for some of the best matcha ice cream, then what better place get it than an authentic Japanese teashop! Kuraso, which has been open since 1945, is a specialty shop selling Japanese green tea, tea pots, and matcha. Thankfully for us ice cream lovers, not too long ago they also decided to start serving matcha ice cream, and I must say, it is delicious! I think what makes it so good is that, first and foremost, the base ice cream itself tastes super good on its own, but also because Kuraso actually uses their own matcha powder to make the matcha green tea flavor! You can choose from matcha, milk, or mixed soft-serve flavors. If you’ve had your fill of matcha ice cream already, I also highly recommend the toppings – hojicha (roasted green tea) and genmaicha (toasted rice green tea) –  which are sprinkled over the milk flavored ice cream. You can also get sweet red beans on top of your cone too! Bonus: if you eat inside of the shop, you’ll get a complimentary cup of the shop’s green tea (iced green tea in the summer). Kuraso is located only 5 minutes from Matsumoto Station on the main road (map), just keep an eye out for the big, green ice cream cone standing in front of the shop 😉

    Matcha ice cream (right) and milk ice cream with genmaicha topping (left)

    Matcha ice cream (right) and milk ice cream with genmaicha topping (left)

    Storefront of Kuraso

    Storefront of Kuraso



    Near (and near-ish) Matsumoto Castle

    The Storyhouse Cafe – Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

    The Storyhouse Cafe (facebook page) is about 5 minutes by bicycle or 10-15 minute walk from the castle, tucked away in a quiet residential area (map). The cafe, which just recently opened at the time of writing this post, is owned by a friendly American and Japanese husband-wife couple. When I heard they added an ice cream cookie sandwich (a rarity in Japan) to their menu, I just had to go and investigate! The sandwich is made using The Storyhouse Cafe’s homemade, American-style chocolate chip cookies (which are already tasty enough on their own) with vanilla ice cream in between. They are just the right size for when you’re craving some ice cream but don’t want a huge, towering cone of soft-serve. Not to mention, you can get a great cup of high quality coffee at a very good price (another rarity in Japan) to go with your snack! The cafe also makes for a good place to relax after seeing the castle and has a spacious play area for kids.

    American-style chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. Yes please!

    American-style chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. Yes please!



    Storefront of The Storyhouse Cafe

    Storefront of The Storyhouse Cafe

    Inside The Storyhouse Cafe

    Inside The Storyhouse Cafe



    Ajisai Coffee & Lounge (紫陽花) – Homemade Gelato

    The Ajisai cafe is located practically right in front of the main entrance to Matsumoto Castle (map). It’s a classic example of a Japanese-style “western” cafe, but most importantly for this blog post is that they have some good ice cream, in this case gelato! According to their signage, the gelato is homemade in the cafe and when I went to try it out, they had four different flavors available, including milk, matcha green tea, and a chocolatey mocha flavor, which you can get in a single (1 flavor) or double size (2 flavors). Since it was my first time there, I tried the simplest milk flavor. It had everything you want from a serving of gelato – the characteristic texture, nice flavor, and a square cone! I’m definitely planning to go there again to try their other flavors.

    Milk flavor gelato from Ajisai

    Milk flavor gelato from Ajisai

    Storefront of Ajisai Coffee & Lounge

    Storefront of Ajisai Coffee & Lounge



    Nawate Street

    Mono Store – Japanese “Ice Candy”

    Ice candy are basically popsicles, and are usually made with different kind of fruits, often with no dairy added. In Japan some popular flavors are sweet red bean, plain milk flavor, and various fruits like strawberry. I’m a big fan of the unique texture of the ice candy and especially the fun Japanese flavors! Today I found that the Mono Store, a cute shop on Nawate Street, sells homemade ice candy during the summer! They’re a great, light snack and very affordable (only 150 yen), plus the ice candy comes in interesting flavors like matcha green tea, red bean, “amao” strawberry, milk, and blood orange. Check it out here (map).

    Ice candy sign

    Sign advertising ice candy in front of the Mono Store

    Red bean ice candy

    Red bean ice candy in its super cute hippo packaging!



    Hopefully this list of ice cream shops helps you stay cool while you’re walking around Matsumoto this summer! I’ll add more shops as I find them too. If you’re around for a while why not try them all 😉 Enjoy!

    Shinshu Wine Summit This Week in Matsumoto

    The light-bodied, white wine selection

    The light-bodied, white wine selection

    Wine fans! This week the Shinshu Wine Summit is being held in Matsumoto (Wed., June 21st to Mon., June 26th), and if you’re interested in wine, I’d definitely recommend checking it out! Yesterday, I was invited by one of my friends and it really turned out to be a fun time so I just had to share on the blog.

    The Wine Summit is set up in the plaza/park next to the Parco department store. On weekdays, it’s open from 5 pm to 9 pm, and on weekends from 11 am to 9 pm. There are over 120 kinds of wine from 40 wineries, all from Nagano. There are four wine counters where you go and order the wine, which are separated by type: full-bodied white, light-bodied white/sparkling, full-bodied red, and light-bodied red. Though the wine list only seemed to be available in Japanese, at each counter they had the actual bottles out in front to view (most of them have English labels) and on top of that, there were sommeliers (at least a couple could speak English) waiting on each customer to explain the different wines.

    The wine ordering counters

    The wine ordering counters

    One glass coming right up!

    One glass coming right up!

    To be honest, I’ve had a lot of bad luck with Japanese wines, but yesterday at the Wine Summit, I got to taste a couple of really nice ones, both red and white, and they weren’t necessarily expensive! In general, the wines ranged from 600 yen to 2,000 yen for a full glass, with a couple of more expensive selections. Half glasses at half the price were also available.

    The food was pretty good (good pizzas, grilled seafood like oysters & scallops, fresh fruits, etc.) and not to pricey, too. The seating was set up like those German-style beer tents, so the atmosphere was fun and casual, and it wasn’t too crowded, though it will probably more crowded on the weekend. If you need a break from wine, you can get a glass of locally-brewed, Hotaka Beer.

    The party tent ;)

    The party tent ;)

    White mushroom pizza

    White mushroom pizza

    Nuggets of fried fish

    Nuggets of fried fish

    Locally brewed Hotaka Beer is also making an appearance!

    Locally brewed Hotaka Beer is also making an appearance!

    I’m so used to the super crowded, super expensive festivals like this in Tokyo and Yokohama, I was pleasantly surprised at the Wine Summit. So, if you’re eager to try some Japanese wines or just enjoy the fun, party-like atmosphere, then I highly recommend checking out the wine summit before it ends!

    My personal recommendation is the Riesling on the right. A little on the sweet side, but good balance.

    My personal recommendation is the Riesling on the right. A little on the sweet side, but good balance. Also, the Sogga pere et fils Merlot & Cabernet for red.

    Hashigo Yokocho food court : vegan options available

    So you’ve come to Matsumoto and have been to eat at all the usual tourist spots, or you just want to get away from the crowds and try something a bit different, Hashigo Yokocho on Uramachi Street is the perfect place for you. Tucked away between all the bars, clubs and sunakku is the perfect little food court. The name Hashigo, meaning ladder, is also used in Japanese for hopping from one place to another, e.g bar hopping, and Yokocho are the little narrow alleys full of shops and cheap places to eat. The name suits the place perfectly as you can easily hop from one store to the next and there are plenty of choices for food available.

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    Whether driving, cycling, walking or taking the bus you shouldn’t have any problem at all, there is free parking for both bikes and cars, it is only a 2 minute walk from the bus stop. However, even if you are walking from the station it is only about 15 minutes and from the castle, only 10. On a nice day I’m sure you will love the walk.

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    Upon arriving, you first notice the beautiful traditional Japanese style entrance and just inside there is a small Torii (archway) and miniature shrine which really adds a nice touch. Inside is like stepping back in time to a more traditional Japan. I found myself instantly reminded of the movie spirited away with the amazing style of everything.

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    Taking a walk around, you can check out all the cute little stores. Most only big enough for a handful of people. Every store has its own style, for starters, right by the entrance there is a store called “Shun” where you can try “Oden” a Japanese dish consisting of different vegetables, fish cakes and eggs all boiled together in a delicious broth.

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    You can try Chinese food at “Lili’s Kitchen”, Teppanyaki (food cooked on the hotplate right in front of you) at “Teppanyaki Fumoto” or go to an izakaya (Japanese style bar) for a beer or sake.

    Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday you can go early to buy fresh locally grown vegetables from “Sasaki Seeds” and take home with you to cook later.

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    All your tea needs can be met at “Chahua” selling a wide range of different Chinese and herbal teas and accessories such as cute little tea pots. Although the owner doesn’t speak much English, they are very friendly and helpful and will happily brew a tea for you in store.

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    My personal favorites, however, are the 5 star Indian restaurant “Doon Shokudo Indoyama” and the cafe “Chokonto”

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    Doon Shokudo Indoyama is run by a lovely couple who speak fluent English. You have your choice of three delicious curries including a vegan option if you are not much of a meat eater. All curries come with a popadom, chapati and great conversation. Also feel free to ask the owner for extra rice if you’re feeling hungry.

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    Chokonto is by far one of the cutest cafes I have ever stepped inside, it has a real lovely style of all its own. It even has cute little handmade menus. Besides the nice variety of western style and Japanese style food and drinks, there are lots of really nice local made products that would make a great souvenir to take back home.

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    As a bonus, if you happen to be in Matsumoto on the 7th of July, Hashigo Yokocho, will be hosting a small festival from 4m till 9pm where everyone will be wearing yukata (a light summer kimono) and there will special items for sale. And then everyone will head downtown afterwards.

     

    So please come and join the fun. :)


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