So my plan was to go to Asakusa and Ueno yesterday but we woke up late so it’d have to wait. Thankfully, my plan for the weekend was basically non-existent. So Saturday became Asakusa day. We skipped it for more shoppin’. But it’s old town Asakusa first. No wait. It’s uh more knife shopping first. We take the subway one extra shop, just so I can hit up Masamoto Sohonten. Masamoto is like one of the biggest knife brands in Japan and it’s sort of split into 2 different companies. I don’t know for sure if they were ever related but suffice to say, they use the same logo and name more or less. The other Masamoto brand is Masamoto Tsukiji, which I’m also gonna visit soon. Masamoto Sohonten though, is located in Sumida, near the Tokyo Sky Tree and the Phillipe Starck designed Asahi Beer Hall. The best station is Honjo-Azumabashi, on the Asakusa line. It takes a while to find the store because the glass front was reflective and the signage is a little higher up than I expected but I find it nonetheless. Unfortunately for me, they seem to be out of stock of the Masamoto KS that I wanted to check out. They did however have a lot of other nice knives but knives I don’t really need at the moment.

So we walk a little across the bridge, over the Sumida river and pass this couple with 3 massive wooly dogs. We’d see em again not long after but first up, it’s lunchtime. I found Irokawa on tabelog. I tried to go there the day before but they were closed for a break. This time, I made sure I’d get there early and at 11:30, we found ourselves in a queue about 10 or 15 long. Damn. It takes an hour before we get to eat at 12:30 and after us, there’s still a 10-15 queue. Sometimes people join, sometimes people think twice after waiting 5 minutes but ultimately, there’s still a queue.

Inside the place, is a tiny little 13 seat restaurant with an extra floor seating area in the back that maybe takes another 10 or so. It’s small and there’s 3 people running the show. The chef is this old dude that tends to the grill whilst two women takes turns serving, taking order, receiving money and doing the rice, pickles and soup. You only get 2 options for the unagi bento, big or small. We got one of each thinking it’d be too much and I got scolded big time. The small just comes with one piece less eel for 2000Y whereas the 2500Y big one is where it’s at. I also highly recommend you ask them for extra basted eel, just by itself. The stuff in the bento box is really nice but the eel by itself, with that sauce… Man… In fact, the bento version kinda tastes a little bland. You really taste the eel, which is nice and fresh but I supposed I’m just spoilt on that sugary sweet unagi sauce. The basted eel is sick. You also get tea, a bowl of soup with pickles and there’s some sansho powder which puts a tremendous zing and goes superbly with the eel. I learn after my trip there, that Irokawa has been around for yonks and is so popular and famous, it’s on the Lonely Planet guidebook. Talk about late pass. It’s a really good 7.8/10 kinda joint for me. Great if you’re around Asakusa/Kappabashi.

I look around and the gf points out the fans above on the wall near the grill. A fair number of somewhat burnt out looking fans that must surely denote the age and timelessness of the place. I watch the chef as he patiently does his thing. I wonder how he manages to keep going, doing just one dish day after day, year after year. I wonder if I can have a similar level of dedication, nevermind to just one task but to life in general.

So we finally thank the chef and make our leave but we’re stopped about 100m from the restaurant. Apparently, they thought we left this coin behind. It was like an American penny or something. We didn’t even have the chance to say it wasn’t ours so we just kinda went on down the street anyway. It’s like straight down towards the Senso-ji temple. We pass a fabulous beef shop with some sickass marblin’ goin on all over the meat on display. The most expensive shit is 5000Y for 100g or AUD600+ a kilo. Compare that with David Blackmore’s wagyu, the best shit available in Sydney, at AUD139/kg or so. I don’t think it’s 4 times the taste but it certainly is 4 times the cost.

The start of the Asakusa tourist experience is the Kaminarimon/Thunder Gate. Also, around this area are a lot of tourist heavy tempura joints. Before you hit the Senso-ji temple and surrounds, you can shop for all the touristy shit you want at the Nakamise shopping area. I kopped a shiny golden fat neko with its own red pillow for 1500Y. We also got some not so nice sweet and salty dango. The best food thing was this sweet potato ice cream, but it’s the yellow type, not the awful orange kumaras. I think it was like 300Y. You can also get lots of other sweets, knickknacks and so on.

Eventually, we pass by more gates until we reach the Senso-ji proper, give a little prayer, drink a little water and take some photos. The proper procedure is you walk through the gates until you see this thing where everyone is throwing coins into. Then you ascend the stairs, throw more coins into another container and if you want, you can get your fortune or consult one of the priests etc. There’s also the interior where people are seated in prayer. There’s more than just one temple and interestingly, the Senso-ji is a buddhist temple devoted to Guan Yin. but there’s also a Shinto Asakusa shrine nearby, built to protect it. The temple itself looks pretty brand spanking new, like the paint is 2012 bright and faultless. Too new even. We go to the Shinto shrine and the girl buys this wooden plaque thing, writes down her wishes and hangs it up with everyone elses’. There’s actually a really cool fox plaque thing I wanted to keep just because it was cute.

Dinner was easy. Tempura in Shinjuku so we hotfoot it back and manage to find this place my gf has been banging on about inside the Shinjuku station that sells these sweet potato/apple pies. For 777Y, I thought they were pretty good. Wish I’d have some nice cold cream to go with it but I settled for some jasmine tea from out of this touch screen vending machine.

Anyway, we drop off the pie and our shopping stuff and go to Lumine 2 7F, where there’s a buncha restaurants. The one I was going to is Tsunahachi Rin. Tsunahachi is a reknowned tempura chain and there’s actually a main shop in Shinjuku but I didn’t wanna walk that far. Also, it’s more old school and the Rin version is supposed to be more new school. I was actually considering splashing out big time, like 8000Y pp at a Michelin kinda joint but I think TR was good enough. We got the set meal, already a princely 3900Y but watching the guys to my right, I really wish I could’ve summoned up the courage to go a la carte instead. These guys were like smashing it, piece after piece after piece before we got to our seat and after we left. Our seat was superb, right at the counter, like we’d hoped. I always prefer sitting at the counter if possible. You get to see the action and it really whets the appetite. Of course, that’s assuming the person on the other side knows what they’re doing.

Anyway, I had to use my iPhone for photos cos I ran outta battery. We started with two entrees. One was stock jelly and the other was like seafood scraps in mayo. Both were tasty morsels. Next up, we watch the youngest chef, probably the apprentice, fillet and slice some sashimi for us. A trio of tai, hamachi and katsuo. I think. Following that is the tempura course. We get the prawn, together with the head on the side, some squid and whitefish that was killed and filleted to order with a spike through the head on the chopping board. Then we got crab, green pepper and capsicum. After the tempura course you can choose between ochazuke or tendon. I went for tendon and got a small bowl of rice topped with a bunch of smaller shrimps thrown together into the batter. This came with some sides and clammy miso soup. Dessert was a tempura pineapple chunk with a choc pudding. It’s really cool watching the crew tend to us, all attending to their own stations. There were just 3 guys doing a 50 plus seater place. Two guys do all the tempura and one guy does the entrees, desserts, sashimi etc. Everything is done to order for the tempura. Very little is prepped if at all. Prawns are peeled, fish are filleted. It tastes that way too, like someone gave a damn and poured a lotta attention to detail just so your food goes down easy.

It’s this sorta temperament and resolve I wish I can instill in my own life.

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