Features - BtoB Travel Portal for Agencies: A gateway to Japan

Due to the ever popular and traditional Japanese flavorings that commonly use fish stock, traveling to Tokyo as a vegetarian might seem impossible. However, you can actually enjoy some of the tastiest vegetarian Japanese and non-Japanese cuisine if you just know where to look!
Believe it or not, one of the popular concepts of vegetarianism, known as Macrobiotics, was founded by a Japanese man and spread to the Americas and beyond. Therefore, as origin to macrobiotic understandings, there are plenty of restaurants that serve brown rice and organic vegetables with the original Japanese macrobiotic flavorings that are celebrated around the world. 
Not only that, but Tokyo, as one of the world's leading innovative cities, has been keeping up with the vegetarian trends that are currently booming in the States. From raw food to Ayurveda to macrobiotics to veganism, there are, without a doubt, vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo that you will fall in love with. 
From Japanese foods to Western foods, here is an introduction to the must-go-to Tokyo vegan restaurants!


Japanese:
How can you travel to Japan without trying sushi!? Potager, located in Roppongi, offers a full sushi menu---the kicker is that instead of raw fish, they use fresh vegetables! Each piece is beautifully and artistically sculpted and served the traditional Japanese way. You'll have an opportunity to try a variety of Japanese vegetables that you might not find anywhere else!
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http://www.sushi-potager.com/en/
 
If you spent your childhood enjoying packaged ramen noodles, it's time to try the real thing! Unfortunately, the "real thing" contains fish stock---unless you go to T's Tantan located in Tokyo Station, where are variety of ramen dishes are waiting for you! 

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http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1302/A130201/13124009/




While sushi and ramen are certainly popular outside of Japan, they are only a couple of the amazing dishes that Japan has to offer. One restaurant, located in Omotesando, has special daily macrobiotic meals that vary from tempura to curry. The dishes are made from the vegetables raised in their gardens. The flavors at this restaurant are truly delicious and if you want to try authentic Japanese foods from the earth then it's the place to go!


Hanada Rosso, located in Harajuku, is a favorite to the macrobiotic community for their ever-popular veggie burger patty! You can order it accompanied by brown rice for Japanese style, or you can have it put between two buns for western style! In any case, the patty is simply fantastic that you might have to go there at least twice within your trip to Tokyo! (The restaurant is tucked into a hard-to-miss-building, but trust the map and you'll hit a treasure spot!)
http://www.hanada-rosso.net/

When it comes to dining out at night, the Japanese commonly eat in what is called an "izakaya", or "izakaya" style dining. This involves ordering rich-flavored main dishes that are meant to accompany alcoholic beverages, as opposed to having a basic meal that includes a main dish with rice and soup. If you want to give this Japanese style dining a try, Gaya, located in Aoyama, and Sumi Bio, located in Ebisu, are definitely the places to check out. The atmospheres are perfect for men and women in a casual yet stylish dining atmosphere. Although they are both well known for their vegetarian foods, they both offer dishes with natural cheeses, fish, egg, or pork, so they also are recommended dining spot to go to with non-vegetarian friends.
http://www.gaya.co.jp/
http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1303/A130302/13099423/

Non-Japanese
While Chaya, located in Shinjuku, certainly does have Japanese foods including brown rice, their concept is more of a French style dining with croquettes, grain patties and stews that can also be accompanied with fresh bread. Their cuisine can best be described as a stylish version of macrobiotics that includes a fusion of eastern and western ideas. For example, while they focus on organic vegetarian meals, they might use a wine base for their sauces to add a rich flavoring. The  highlight of their foods would have to be their dessert selection that includes anything from tofu cheesecake to soy parfaits to strawberry shortcakes and puddings. Their vegan desserts can therefore be the most impressive in authenticity despite being free of animal products.
http://www.chayam.co.jp/restaurant/


Located in Omotesando, Pure Café is a popular destination for both native Japanese and foreigners alike. Pure Café is a simple deli-style café that offers unique fusion foods from around the world. Try their sandwich set for lunch or their special deli plate at night. Their muffins and apple crumble are also recommended!
http://pure-cafe.com/

Are you a fan of afternoon high tea? One of the easily desired foods for vegans and vegetarians are pastries! Located in the quaint and stylish town of Jiyugaoka, Simple Modern Macrobiotic is the perfect little classy place to enjoy afternoon high tea after some shopping. They have a full tea set that includes sandwiches, scones, and pastries! Every month or two they change the tastes to the season or occasion. But be sure to call them at least two days in advance to order so they can have it made for you! Otherwise, they offer two simple dishes of vegan quiche or veggie grain burger patty that are both exquisite, and of course they have a fabulous selection of afternoon teacakes and tea. If you plan to order just dessert, the "heavenly chocolate" is as great as it's name sounds, and their soy-milk tea  tastes as rich as it's traditional counterpart. 
http://simplemodernmacrobiotic.com/

As you can see, there is absolutely no reason not to travel to Japan as a vegan when it comes to finding Japanese food without fish stock or tasty vegan dishes. Whether it's traditional Japanese food or style of dining, or whether you're missing food from abroad, Tokyo will have something for you to enjoy!




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Food

Vacationing to Tokyo is nothing short of a blast. From karaoke to the outrageous fashion to the dainty traditional Japanese cultural activities and to the nightlife, there is always something new and fun to experience that you just cannot find anywhere else. One of the amusing ways to spend time with friends or family is to visit a themed restaurant!

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A themed restaurant is a place to dine where the atmosphere is customized to a particular idea. Imagine being transported into Alice`s Wonderland, the jailhouses of criminals, or even a Vampire`s lair! 
Luckily, a couple of friends and I had a chance to check out the Vampire Café, one of the many themed restaurants created by Diamond Dining http://www.diamond-dining.com/english/index.html . 





Located in Ginza, the Vampire Café has been around for a decade and has been a popular venue for not only friends looking to have some fun, but also business workers out with clients as well as tourists. It`s popularity and seasonal menu versatility make the Vampire Café a top choice for repeat customers. 
 Imagine entering a dark Victorian-style room decorated with red drapes and lit with 
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candles. A red-eyed maid with fangs greets you hungrily and shows you to your table of doom. This is just the beginning of your vampire adventure!












As my friends and I entered the venue we passed by a huge ancient coffin and under a vintage chandelier as we were escorted to a private booth. The booth was separated from the main dining area by a thin see-through drape for privacy as well as theme perfection. 

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Probably the last thing you would expect while journeying into a vampire`s lair is enjoying delicious meals. I was excited about discovering the atmosphere and quirky trinkets associated with a fun yet haunting vampire restaurant, but little did I know how surprisingly scrumptious the meals would be. From pizza and salads to meat pie and desserts, each dish came with a fun themed twist and was a tasty delight. 

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If you want to really get a taste of what vampire`s desire, start with their `bloody` drinks! From rose-flavored soft drinks to `blood`-injected cocktails, there`s a treat for anyone blood thirsty. 













As you can see from the photos, each dish was set according to theme! For three people, we ordered and comfortably ate Caesar Salad, Risotto, Meat Pie, Pizza, and Cake. 

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When you go to a Vampire Café, what would you expect to find? A vampire, of course! Vampire `Rosé ` has been inhabiting this café for almost as long as it has been open. Part of the popularity of Vampire Café is his authenticity and humor. You`ll have to ask him what his favorite blood type is!

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Another reason themed restaurants are so popular is that the employees not only dress the part, but they also act it. I heard that a customer brought in a clove of garlic and when the vampire waitress noticed it, she shrieked and ran away, followed by an angered reaction from Rosé.   
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The themed restaurants, therefore, are not just about journeying into the atmosphere of a fantasy, but are also about the experience of being in the fantasy
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 land. The Vampire Café expertly enables diners to enjoy this experience down to every last detail. Now, I can impress my friends with a story of my `near-death` experience. When you`re visiting Tokyo, this is definitely an adventure you would not want to miss!





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Hanami: a Japanese Tradition

What better way is there to celebrate the natural beauty of Japan than through 'Hanami'? Hanami, which is flower viewing, has 'blossomed' into a tradition for both Japanese and foreigners alike. The best time for flower viewing is when the Sakura flowers peak in the transition from winter to spring. Typically there is about a two-week window of time in late March or early April when the Sakura flowers are fully blossomed and thousands of people gather in popular viewing areas to enjoy the glorious sight.


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(Meguro River)


I recall my first Hanami adventure in Japan: a group of about ten friends and I decided to picnic in Yoyogi park. The Sakura blossoms were phenomenal, as if the crowds of picnickers were relaxing under pink clouds. A couple of buddies had already gotten to the park early to secure a spot, and the rest of us showed up any time as early as lunch time until the evening. We had a potluck in which everyone brought something from Japanese finger foods to random snacks, alcohol, and tea. Although most of my time was spent in joyous conversations with that group of people, I also ran into other friends and coworkers who had come in their respective groups, so I spent time visiting them. I also had a great time meeting people from different countries who were in groups around the spot my friends and I were sitting, in addition to seeing some people from artistic clubs dance and sing in various locations.

Hanami is a special event that only comes once a year and lasts for a couple of weeks, and I definitely cannot wait for the next opportunity to celebrate Japanese nature and new beginnings with my friends and the Tokyo community!

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(Shinjyuku Gyoen)

Hanami attendees can go in groups with friends, family, or colleagues.  Japanese schools and companies start their business year in the springtime just after Hanami, making Hanami the perfect time for people to relax before the new business year or to gain new relationships with future coworkers. It is typical of younger students or new colleagues to be given the task of finding the perfect spot in a flower viewing area to picnic. Since Hanami is incredibly popular, the people chosen to find a spot often have to go much earlier than their peers to secure the best location.

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(Yoyogi Park)


Not only is Hanami a great opportunity to spend time with friends, coworkers, or family, but it's also a great time to meet new people! People who attend Hanami , both Japanese and non-Japanese, are often very friendly and open to conversation. If you go to Hanami with just a buddy, you might be lucky and get invited into a group!          

How Are Hanami's Organized?

Attending Hanami is a simple task! Often times, a company or school club leaders will decide where and when to meet for Hanami. Otherwise, making plans to go to Hanami with friends or family is another perfect way to spend time!

Where to Go?

This year, the Sakura flowers are forecasted to blossom around March 31st, with the best viewing times between April 4th to April 15th .

There are many spectacular Sakura viewing areas 

throughout Tokyo, and the locations can range from parks to streets to bridges. The best place for Sakura viewing depends on who you will spend time with, how many people, and what type of activity you would like to do. Although picnics and lounging activities are most traditional, Hanami can also be done from restaurants, boat ride activities, and even theme parks!


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(Hanami near Iidabashi)


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(Hanami during the evening)


Some popular sakura sightseeing sports include:

Shinjuku Goen: http://www.env.go.jp/garden/shinjukugyoen/english/
Yoyoki Park: http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/park/format/index039.html
Ueno Park: http://www.kensetsu.metro.tokyo.jp/toubuk/ueno/event.html (japanese only)
Meguro River: http://www.city.meguro.tokyo.jp/event/2012sakura/index.html

But that doesn't mean you have to celebrate Hanami with a picnic! There are a plethora of restaurants that have spectacular views of Sakura trees from their windows, and are therefore also popular locations to enjoy Hanami.


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Canal Café is a great example: located on the Tozai train line in Iidabashi, the Canal Café offers a wonderful view of the Sakura flowers accompanied by a café meal such as soups, sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, and curry! During Hanami season, the popularity of Canal Café can certainly yield a waiting line, so be sure to get their early! http://canalcafe.jp/news/2012/0226_99.html 


Boat

How about enjoying Hanami on a boat ride? Tokyo cruises are offered in the Odaiba area, which is an amazing way of relaxing and enjoying the Sakura flowers along the coast lines. Suijo Bus is offering a 45-minute special Hanami event cruise from Asakusa! Check out their event page: http://www.suijobus.co.jp/event_cru/index.html


Themed park

Why not enjoy Hanami at a theme park? Yomiuriland, accessed thirty minutes from Shinjuku station via the Keio or Odakyu lines, is a popular theme park full of Sakura trees, providing fun-filled attractions in a Sakura wonderland! If you plan to spend Hanami with friends and or family of any age, this is definitely the spot for fun activities! http://www.yomiuriland.co.jp/english/


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(Night time hanami at Kiyomizu Temple)



What to Bring?

If you've decided to go on a Hanami Picnic, there are a couple things you want to keep in mind:

1)       Bring a large tarp or blanket to sit on

2)       Bring food and drinks, anything from lunchboxes and snacks to finger-foods and alcohol! Popular Japanese foods could include onigiri (rice balls), Odango (rice mochi with a glazed sauce), sushi, beer, etc. Don't' forget utensils that jive with what you are eating, such as chopsticks, plates, bowls, as well as napkins and cups.


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3)       The Japanese are adamant about keeping public spaces clean---don't forget to have a plastic bag that you can use to collect all of your trash, and properly dispose of it when you leave a park.

4)       If you'd like, bring any fun games or cards to play.

5)       From personal experience, the lines to the public restrooms in parks can get super long, so it's best to get in the line the second you think you have to go!


Whether it's in a park, a restaurant, or a boat, have a fabulous Hanami experience in Tokyo!


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2012-02-28

Ichiran, Ramen

Food

Matt Fraher
Living in: Tokyo
Time in Japan: since 2001
Nationality: Australian
Hobbies: movies and Ramen, but mainly ramen.

Boiled pork bone soup?  Home-made noodles?  Been there done that, but with Chili sauce? That's a little unusual however Ichiran sets a bold new standard for ramen noodle connoisseurs and lovers of food in general.  Ichiran, originally out of Fukuoka in Kyushu, Japan, have been mastering their craft since the 1960's.  They have around 30 branches around Japan, a remarkably delicious but modest list of dishes focused on their ramen and a uniquely memorable dining experience.  I have visited their shop in Ueno, Tokyo more than once, and I'm not alone.

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But what is ramen?  Every so often I must remind myself that I too had a period in my life when I did not know what ramen was.  Yes, as an Australian I had eaten noodles of many varieties before I came to Japan but I had no knowledge of "Ramen".  A friend introduced me to one store after a night of many beers.  The love affair began from there.  It's unknown exactly when Ramen or Chinese style wheat noodles in a meat or fish broth, was introduced to Japan.  Even the origin of the name is shrouded in mystery.  What is known is that it grew in popularity around Japan from early 1900's.  The varieties seem endless, different sauces, different noodles, toppings, dipping ramen, soup-less ramen to name but a few.  The four basic soup varieties are Shio (salt), Tonkotsu (pork bone), Shoyu (soy sauce) and Miso.  The noodles are traditionally made of wheat flour, salt, water and whats known as Kansui, a type of alkaline mineral water which gives the noodle it's yellowish color.  The varieties of ramen extend even further according to region and individual ramen restaurant cooks.  The fact is, you can't turn your head in Tokyo without seeing a ramen shop.  I know because I've been to more than a few as a avid fan of this dish, for around 10 years now.  Every so often though, you find a shop with an amazing soup, funky ambiance or unforgettable noodles that makes you want to come back.  Ichiran is most definitely, one such store.  

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Ichiran's staff are efficient and friendly, (not uncommon in Japan) which is a great start and they more than willing to help the foreigner with limited Japanese.  There's a ticket machine just inside the entrance, with pictures and prices of all the dishes, drinks and extras available.  Then there's the preferences slip.  Actually not only does their preferences slip come in English, Japanese and Korean, so does does the companion ordering guide!  It's here the fun begins.  Choose your flavor strength, richness (yup, that means fat content), garlic, green onion (Negi to those in the know), Choushu (roast pork slices), 'Secret Sauce' (with a red pepper base) and the firmness of your ramen noodles.  A word to the wise, don't underestimate the hotness of this 'secret sauce'!  I prefer a half serve personally.  Once your done with the circling and submitting, its just a matter of waiting in your cozy little booth for your meal to be brought to your window, or your seat to become available if you're visiting on a busy weekend.  

The seating arrangements are just phenomenal.  The Ueno restaurant consists mainly of  partitioned booths with only 3 or 4 larger tables that can seat 4 to 6 customers.  Each individual customer is assigned a 'booth' with wood paneling to the left and right and a small window with a bamboo curtain in front of you.  Maybe it's just me but I've always been the kind of person who likes these sort of intimate spaces.  The whole restaurant is decorated by moody spot-lighting, with dark tones and colors, black, beige and wood paneling.  Add to that the traditional but upbeat Japanese music playing gently in the background and the occasional odd sound effect, sounding like its straight from a Kabuki performance, to announce new and exiting customers, and you have one of the most unique and genuine dining experiences you can imagine.  If you're not grinning and enjoying yourself before your ramen even arrives, there's something wrong with you!

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And so, of course, to the taste.  The soup is not too heavy and not too light with just the right amount of the famous tonkotsu (pork bone) flavor, without overwhelming you.  The noodles were a delight, clearly freshly made and cooked to perfection.  I've had better choushu but whats a slice of pork between friends?  But the 'Special Sauce' is Ichiran's claim to fame.  It's said to be based on the red chili and 30 other ingredients cooked over several days lending an bite and warmth to their ramen which is unique.  The tonkotsu soup is also prepared with 'special water' and great care.  And let's not forget the noodles made by Ichiran.  They're reported to be made with special ingredients and in climate controlled conditions to produce a noodle that specifically suits their 'special sauce' and soup.  And I simply couldn't agree more.  Ichiran also promises as part of their 'Noodle replacement' system that any customer can eat until they're full!

Ichiran has a reasonable online presence with both an explanatory website in English http://www.ichiran.co.jp/pc/hp/english/ and Japanese http://www.ichiran.co.jp/.  The Japanese site has information on each branch's location including maps and storefront pictures.  It would be a little hit and miss to find this information for those not up on their 'nihongo' so let's hope they make some improvements in that respect soon.  The Ueno branch is on the western side of the station at street level facing Ueno Park, nestled among a number of other various restaurants.  On a regular day it couldn't be easier to find though.  Just look for the line up of hungry noodle hunters.  

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Food

Impeccably fresh fish lined up on ice, beautifully marbled Kobe beef glistening from behind the glass showcase, exquisite packages of master-made sushi and yakitori, savory osembei, hand-made rice crackers made from select rice, rare green teas difficult to find outside Japan, handsome cakes and pretty pastries perfectly assembled and precisely decorated. This is just a preview of what you can expect to experience - either see, eat or bring back home when you visit Japan. 

While it's fun and exciting to travel around the city, it's also nice to know you can have a "one stop experience," too - at depachika. 

The word depachika is fairly new in the Japanese language: depa is short for "department store," and chika means "basement." Every major department store in Japan has a basement level food hall with tenant shops selling fresh produce, meat, fish, packaged and prepared food, and gift items such as sake, wine and sweets. Hyakkaten, or "a store selling one hundred odds-and-ends," is just what its name implies: an emporium selling high quality miscellany.

      Join me on a depachika cyber tour of one of Tokyo's premier department stores, Takashimaya. Their flagship Nihonbashi store with 200 famed tenant boutiques in its huge basement floor of 5,000㎡ is just a few blocks from Tokyo Station. Opened in 1933, it is one of the oldest department stores in Tokyo, and an average of 30,000 customers visit it every day.

Enter the store at ground level through an impressively elegant lobby. Toward the back, and to the right, take stairs* to the bustling basement level. You will find yourself in the midst of freshest fish, fish, and more fish! In front of one-meter-long whole salmons from Hokkaido, shining mackerels from Kyushu, big-eyed Kinki (similar to snapper) and huge snow crabs from the Sea of Japan, fresh oysters-in-the-shell from Hiroshima, and lots more. Flown into Tokyo from all parts of Japan, the variety and freshness is incredible. Customers can ask the fishmongers to scale, behead, fillet, skin, and cut into pieces. Whatever they need done, they just have to ask! 
The meat purveyors' section is next to the fish department. Here, too, you will see top quality: premium cuts of beef (Kobe and Matsuzaka brands), chicken, pork and sausages. Big chunks of fully marbled sirloin look gorgeous, and paper-thin, individually wrapped slices of beef for syabusyabu or sukiyaki lined up and overlapping are impressive.

Nearby are beautifully arranged, blemish-free fruit and vegetables, sheets of lustrous black nori seaweed of the greatest quality. A bit further is wagashi (和菓子), traditional Japanese confections, section. Among baked, steamed, or deep-fried buns are precisely crafted seasonal cakes called namagashi (生菓子). Made fresh daily by skilled pastry chefs, these are hard to find outside Japan and I urge you to try some. Similarly, osembei (Japanese rice crackers) with their diverse flavors make a wonderful souvenir from this country.

Western-style pastries, cakes and confections are next on our culinary tour. Individually wrapped and appealingly packaged sweets make a wonderful gift for your family or friends. And be sure to treat yourself, too! Try Japanese "strawberry shortcake" - you will find some in almost every boutique's showcase throughout the year. This genoise (sponge) - based cake covered with whipped cream and strawberries on top has been the best selling item for more than a century. Ask any Japanese what cake they had for their birthdays or Christmas - they will be sure to say, "Strawberry shortcake." 

      No depachika tour would be complete without a visit to the osozai or prepared food section. Always bustling with people getting their lunch or dinner to go at their favorite food boutiques, from traditional or modern Japanese to Western or Asian delis, the variety is extraordinary: Japanese lunch boxes filled with authentic kaiseki cuisine, sushi, yakitori, Chinese 
dumplings, Vietnamese spring rolls, Korean kimchi, French pate de Campagne, German sausages, Italian caneloni, and lots and lots more. Takashimaya boasts 10 bakeries - Japanese people adore bread, as well as their long time staple food, rice. 

       For those who want to buy some prepared food and enjoy their lunch on the spot, there is a picnic area with a table and chairs on the rooftop garden. For those who prefer to stay indoors to have some rest and food, there are restaurants on other floors in addition to several eat-in counters in the food hall that offer fancy fruit dishes, Japanese sweets, sushi, sukiyaki, and more. For those who want to buy items other than food, absolutely no worries. Everything from classy clothing and jewelry, to tabletop accessories and electric appliances is available on upper floors. Take your time! For those who bought more than they can carry, a delivery service is available. Need further assistance? A multi-lingual concierge awaits you, besides the main entrance at the ground floor. 

       No matter what area of Tokyo you decide to explore during your visit, you are sure to find a department store nearby. It's the best way to experience food and culture in Japan.

*there are many other stairs, escalators and lifts on every corner of the floor.

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Beef slices for sukiyaki on the upper shelf.


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A namagashi line-up for November at Tsuruya Hachiman (鶴屋八幡). 


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The showcase of Henri Charpentier (アンリ・シャルパンティエ), Japanese confectionery whose head shop is in Ashiya, Hyogo prefecture. A strawberry shortcake is seen on the top shelf. 


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Skewers of yakitori, which have just been grilled in the backyard kitchen. 

TAKASIMAYA:2-4-1, Nihombashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-8265

Phone: 03-3211-4111


Text:by Hiroko Sasaki

 

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Discover the ins and outs of travelling in Japan through the voices of contributors who work directly with holiday-makers in Japan. What's popular amongst their clients? What are the needs of travellers? We hope this will inspire you in marketing your products.

June 2012

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