Monday, August 13, 2018

Keika Ramen's Soy Sauce-Based Shoyo in Shinjuku (Tokyo)

Just beside Tokyu Stay, my hotel in Shinjuku Suehiro, was a ramen shop offering no-frills dining in this metropolitan corner. Keika Ramen originated from Kumamoto - home of tonkotsu ramen, thus you see the prefecture's icon Kumamon somewhere in their shop. It's been in business for 30 years.

Keika is a small ramen bar with affordable dishes on their menu. Upon entry, they will offer you an English menu (if you need it). Once you've picked your choice, you order it from a vendo machine just beside the door. The process can get intimidating because the vendo isn't in English, but you can ask for assistance from the waiter. Then you hand your order's receipt to the cook. In a short while, your ramen is served steaming before you. The seating is on a bar. The joint is too small for proper tables. Turnover is fast as most clients don't linger too long.

Classes of Ramen

I ordered Shoyo (syoyo) Ramen which is soy sauce based. Other major classess of ramen include Shio (shiyo) Ramen which is salt based; Miso Ramen has fermented bean paste; and Tonkotsu Ramen is pork broth based. My bowl includes 2 soft-boiled eggs, and cabbage strips. It is a sizable serving at 980 yen. 

This area in Shinjuku Suehiro is littered with shops that stay open til the wee hours. Further on are night clubs, adult venues and go-go bars so it can get interesting. In spite of this, the place doesn't feel seedy or shady. There's an entrance to the Shinjuku station nearby (through an underground tunnel), although it's easy to get disoriented. I kept getting lost; I had to always "find" my way back to the hotel. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Marishiten Tokudaiji Temple - An Oasis of Serenity in the Hustle of Ameyoko (Tokyo)

Almost no one came to visit except one person who left just as I reached the top of the stairs. It's peaceful there. You'd hardly know that a noisy mercantile industry exists down below. Marishiten Tokudaiji Temple rises from a hillock providing an oasis in the hustle of Ameyoko, Tokyo's shopping street.

Marishiten. This photo courtesy of Paghat the Ratgirl.
The temple is a medium sized Buddhist temple that houses Marishiten (Marici)an ancient Indian goddess who gives vitality, strength, and wealth, and gets rid of evil. 

In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Marci is associated with light and sun. She is one of the 24 celestials. She is a beautiful woman on an open lotus; the lotus sits on the back of seven boars. 

In Japanese culture, devotions to Marici predate Zen and is geared towards a similar meditative mode to enable the warrior to achieve a more heightened spiritual level. But with pacifism spreading across Japan, the Marishiten of warriors has somehow lessened its essence. The goddess is believed to have brought good luck to the temple when it survived destruction during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the bombing of Tokyo during World War II.

The front of the temple is beautifully designed with red pillars. Inside, a golden lantern hangs in the middle of the hall. A pair of Komainu, lion-like statues, guard from the stairs. A courtyard is adorned with some plants with the statues of Nichiren and Jizo. 

Jizo is a bodhisattva (a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings) in Japanese Mahayana Buddhism who protects children, especially those who die before their parents.

Nichiren, on the other hand, was a 13th century Japanese monk who tried to reform Japanese society and Buddhism. In many ways, he was a Buddhist Martin Luther King centuries before the great Protestant reformer lived.      

I wanted to sit down and take it all in before going back to the shopping street, but there weren't any benches. It is a nice place for reflection and prayers. 

The courtyard




The mercantile epicenter of Ameyoko

Monday, August 6, 2018

Ameyoko - Street Shopping in Tokyo Town (Tokyo, Japan)

Shopping is one aspect of travel that I find tricky. Not for stuff I'd use but as gifts for the people back home. I'm not very good with it because I am impatient, and haggling isn't one of my better talent. On long haul trips, I'd usually do it the last few days before flying home. So I like places where you can get a variety of stuff all in one go. That's why day and night markets are convenient. 

Ameyoko is such place; a market street along the Yamanote line tracks set between Okachimachi and Ueno. I didn't think Tokyo had one amidst the metropolitan's glitzy malls. This is the city's version of Manila's Divisoria or Baclaran, London's Camden and Portobello; Taipei's Shillin, or Bangkok's Chatuchak. It has several adjoining streets filled with garments, shoes, bags, souvenir items you can only find in Japan, medicine, cosmetics, fruits, vegetables, chocolates and candies.

Yes, candies! In its early days, Ameyoko was traditionally a candy store alley ("Ameya Yokocho"), thus its name, which got shorter - Ameyoko. These days, the mercantile spirit has thrived into a mecca for the inveterate shopper. 

From Shinjuku, I took my subway ride and decided to get off at Okachimachi instead of Ueno which is always a busy station. Once outside, I asked an old man who readily pointed me across the street. There was a huge sign in Japanese characters, but that should be it. In no time, I was able to get what I wanted but was amazed with the volume of products being sold here, particularly shoes like Adidas and Nike. Surely, in AC shops, they're a lot more expensive. This is the cheaper incarnation of the Tokyo I know. 

I liked the fruit and vegetable section. In the land of cherry blossoms, there ought to be cherries, and there were, sold rather cheaply. Plump, sweet cherries. I bought a couple of plates for consumption in my hotel room later. The variety of fruits wasn't particularly impressive but July was probably a lean month for them. In Davao, the month is fruit season, leading towards Kadayawan festival in August.

Surprisingly, I stumbled across a Buddhist temple flanked between shops, accessible through a flight of stairs - the Marishiten Tokudaiji Temple. It's a medium sized temple providing a serene atmosphere in the middle of the hustle of Ameyoko. Enshrined is the ancient Indian guardian goddess of good luck that protected the temple against the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the bombing of Tokyo in 1945 during World War II. Almost no one visits in daytime. Our separate post about the temple is up next.

There's a spot in Ameyoko where a cute statue of a black cat-like Buddha sits on lotus. People usually stop and have their selfies taken with it so I figure it must be the street's mascot, right where the street forks into two more streets of commerce. Don't miss it!

Ameyoko's landmark is this official mascot?

Marishiten Tokudaiji Temple