Nagoya & Kyoto, Japan

From Y3K Recipes issue no.24 (May-June 2005)


Spring signals the arrival of cherry blossoms throughout Japan.

Group photo in front of Osukannon Temple, Nagoya.

Sakae is the shopping and entertainment centre, the descending steps houses more shops and transit rail station below.

Japanese pancakes - Okonomiyaki.

Highlight of Ohsu in Nagoya is Braised Eel Rice priced at RM58 per portion. Local eels are nowhere in comparison with their variety.

This is a snack that has become in Japan. Six cuttlefish balls (Takoyaki) are coated with paper-thin grilled bonito slices.

Not far from our residing hotel are two eateries frequented by the locals. The best dishes are the grilled, skewered foods-Yakitori.

Morning at Nagoya Castle.

In Fushimi district, Hilton & Roynet Hotels are co-neighbours. The later recently opened last November, has rooms at a more affordable. Price at RM518 per night.

Unforgettable Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki And Eel Rice in Nagoya
By Catherine Chia, photography by Richard Er

I need a break so I am going on a short holiday but before I can enjoy carefree days, work matters have to be organized. The Flight MH56 left KLIA at 11p.m. on 23rd March and reached Nagoya, Japan some six hours later. Local time was seven a.m., one hour ahead of Malaysian time as the plane touched ground. I arrived with a keen feeling upon the descent into a new destination.

This trip is totally arranged by our Penang friend, Mr. Ooi, who had studied and lived in Japan for many years. He brought along his wife and two children. Two other couples joined us, Ah Soon, Ah Tan and their spouses. Incidentally, Ah Soon is also conversant in Japanese and Ah Tan is a foodie man, having covered many countries around the world.

Spring is a beautiful season here with pleasant weather of 15°C during daytime. It is fairly similar to the coolness of Genting Highlands apart from the cold winds blowing at unwary visitors. The sudden chill is quite bone wrecking. We passed through airport procedures and boarded the public transport to reach Sakae, an excellent shopping area. Taxis here ferried us to our designated hotel, Roynet which is quite central in the city.

Without wasting any time after the check-in at nine a.m., we roamed the streets immediately as our trip is a brief five days visit. Took a rail to Ohsu, a district known for the Eel Rice and the Goddess-of-Mercy Temple built in 1324. The temple was restored to its former glory in 1970 and brought many visitors here. Next to the temple is a street looking like our Petaling Street of Kuala Lumpur. All shops are stocked to the brim with fashion-wear, electrical appliances, cutlery, antiques, daily basic essentials and surrounded by many tiny eating shops.
The adjacent eating shop near the temple is adorned with an eye-catching red coloured signboard. Three Japanese ladies were seen preparing Dorayaki, those tasty red beans filled pancakes. But another snack, Okonomiyaki caught our attention. Locals named it as ‘Japanese Pizza’.

A lady poured a thin batter into the patterned moulds of a heated grill measuring two feet by four feet. The grill had a design of three panels and each panel had eight moulds. With deft hands, she used a small spatula to check the texture of the grilled snacks. A quick topping of sliced octopus, cabbage shreds and some deep-fried tempura ginger shreds were placed in. quickly, she breaks an egg into each mould before adding in some pork slices and extra cabbage shreds. The surface was covered with extra batter. Egg yolk was pierced to let it become runny before flipping the snack over to brown it evenly. A glazing of bbq sauce was spread on top and garnished with bonito flakes. It was sliced into halves and wrapped individually in foil. We really like what we have purchased. The first round of 24 pieces of the snack were snapped up instantly by the crowd lined-up outside the shop. The aroma is beautiful, octopus is fresh, cabbage a nice crisp, fried ginger has a spicy yet savoury taste, both the egg and pork are fragrant. The sauce lends her sharp, distinct taste to perk-up the flavours yet the snack is not greasy at all.

As we have to leave space for the Eel Rice, we decided against second helpings. To enjoy local fare, we went to visit a shop in Ohsu, which is reputated to sell Takoyaki(Octopus balls). Only 11.30a.m, yet the location is easily marked by the presence of an early crowd. The signboard was red coloured too and this place has to be good, judging from non-empty tables. It has a see-through glass window kitchen. We watched the cook in action as he stained a tiny piece of cloth with some oil. He greased the two rows of semi-circle shaped moulds before drizzling in batter till half-filled up. A filling of diced octopus was added in and topped with extra batter. The cook kept on checking the cooking stages of the batter with two bamboo picks. When it was well-set, he flipped them over and drizzled in a dot of oil to crisp the exterior.

Six octopus fish balls were lined artfully in a boat-shaped paper box. Another topping of bbq sauce, mayonnaise or mustard was spread on. The finishing touch was some bonito flakes. The godness exploded in the mouth when consumed piping hot. Which is better, Okonomiyaki or Takoyaki. Well, the former is fluffy and aromatic while the later has a good bite. Both items are the latest craze for snacking in Japan.

Mr. Ooi had managed to locate the shop famous for its Eel Rice. It is a two levels Japanese-styled building. On the door is a brown coloured banner with white characters of eel written on it. This shop is still thriving after 80 years, so it is no surprise this is a landmark place for the lunch crowds. We were arranged to sit upstairs. The heater was left on in the room. As we were all warmed up so off goes the jackets.

The beautiful bowl of rice came. It was real good textured with a delicious topping of home-made Japanese sauce and eel slices. The set-lunch had an appetizer of pickled radish and a Miso soup. What is so special about the sauce? Well, this is cooked perfect to a special recipe based on Japanese brewed soy sauce, honey and sake. The eel is not bland but of superb quality. You can actually pick up each piece with chopsticks. They are firm enough not to disintegrate. Each bowl of rice comes with four pieces of eel meat, sized two inches by four inches and baked to the exact gleaming stage. This set-lunch cost RM58.00 per pax. I cannot consider this meal as pricey as I am getting good value for the supreme meal.


The entrance pass to Kinkakuji Temple looks similar to an amulet.

At night, the Kiyomizu Temple is shrouded in a serene beauty with the lights falling on the surrounding cherry trees.

The landmark of Osaka - Osaka’s Tower beams at night.

Only 30 minutes ride in a bullet train from Kyoto to Nagoya, yet it costs RM182 per person.

Kinkakuji Temple has been accorded a world status in the line of heritage architecture in 1994. It is a blend of palace style with a floor of samurai house and a next floor dedicated to Chinese designs.

A rare sight now to see a lady clad in a Kimono at Ginkakuji Temple.

Glimpses Of Kyoto
By Catherine Chia, photography by Richard Er

Why did our group chose Kyoto over Osaka for a day trip? If it was not fuelled by Ah Tan’s talk of his vivid memories of the place. Having visited Kyoto before, he considers it to be a land of many splendours as he happily remini scences about the enchanting landscape, heritage buildings, mesmerizing temples. Chances of meeting Japanese womenfolk in traditional garb, the kimono, on the streets happened often enough. This is a rare sight in modern Japan as the younger generation are all so trendy. Based on all inspiring notes, can we give this city a miss?
From Nagoya, we took a direct train service to Kyoto, a route two hours away. Fare is about RM93 per person for a one way ticket. We grabbed a quick lunch upon arrival before checking out the comprehensive bus network. Most buses charge a flat fare of RM7.50 per route but buying a bus pass each is a wise investment. A one day pass costs RM18.50 for a good introduction to the city on unlimited bus travel routes.

Our first stop was at Kinkakuji Temple, a very important temple there. Entrance costs RM15 each and strange enough, the passes came in the form of an amulet (a lucky charm to ward off evils). The temple is truly a tourist attraction apart from being a religious center. From the exterior walls rightup to the ceilings and eaves, it was gold plated. The whole temple shimmered, a gold feast for the eyes. Buddhist devotees prayed before the images of deities. Garden was surrounded with cherry trees but totally bared of any blossom. Spring comes late for this place. Some stores around sold an assortment of Japanese pickles and omachi (glutinous rice flour balls). We spent a couple of hours here as it is a vast setting.

As we realized it was getting late, we hurried to visit Ginkakuji Temple but alas, it was due to close its doors for tourists. As we strolled along the residential area, beautiful cherry blossoms were everywhere. However, a shop in the same vicinity attracted our attention. The shop assistants were selling unique home-made ice-cream. It was a combination of green tea and coffee. Despite being tired, this ice-cream perked me up. Another specialty on sale is green tea konnyaku dessert. Cakes made from Japanese sweet potatoes was another special product but the next snack was specially delicious. Local sweet potatoes were steamed and pureed to a paste before being compressed tight into a square plastic tray. It was left to cool before placing into the fridge to chill. Later, it was sliced into pieces and coated with a thin batter comprising flour, sugar, sesame seeds, milk. Coated pieces were shallow-fried on hot grilling plates till cooked. During the grilling process, any excess batter that has popped up was chipped away, making it very neat pieces. This snack is wholesome, nutritious and accordingly, sweet potatoes possess antioxidant properties.

Nightfall came as we visited a must see place, the Kiyomizu Temple. The approach to the temple is a 400metres short walk along a sloping path. Beautiful lighting paints its way into my memory and on this higher ground, I saw Kyoto’s night scene swathed in brilliant hues, the illuminated view is impressive.

EXPO 2005 AICHI, JAPAN - From Y3K Recipes issue no.24(May-June 2005)

The 2005 World Exposition, Aichi, Japan Nagoya Eastern Hills
(Nagakute Town, Toyota City and Seto City)
Duration: 25 March - 25 September, 2005 (total of 185 days)
Number of participating countries:121
Expected number of visitors: approx.15 million
Entrance Fee:Yen 4,600 (approx. RM170.00) per adult per day

"Morizo ( Forest Grand Father )" The Forest Grandfather has been living in the forest since long ago. He’s an easy-going and kind old man, he has seen many things and knows everything, but he hasn’t lost his curiosity. Hearing about the Expo, he’s enthusiastic about lending a hand. "Kiccoro ( Forest Child )" The Forest Child has only just been born. Jumping around everywhere, he’s (she’s) full of energy! The Forest Child wants to see and do everything! He’s (she’s) looking forward to making lots of friends at the Expo.

A wild rush of excited people at the North Gate, all trying to gain entry.

Tired of walking, choose your mode of transport, motorcars, light rail transit, hand-pulled taxis or cable cars.

Japan Railway Co’s superconducting linear motor car travel at an amazing speed. Took only an hour to reach a destination of 581 km.

Kites were exhibited all around the M’sian Pavilion. A lot of media promotion was given to famous tourist spots.

Singaporean Pavilion had composition lay-outs designed between the urban and natural settings.

Nagakute Nippon-Kan is built entirely with bamboo,
co-neighbours with Earth Tower.

The queue to enter Nagoya City Pavilion Earth Tower takes more than an hour.

Global House - Viewed the largest cinema screen and the frozen mammoth unearthed from Siberia.

Pruned shrubs looking like mascots, 'Morizo' (on the right) and 'Kiccoro' (on the left) in front of Global House.

2005 World Exposition
by Catherine Chia, photography by Richard Er

Aichi, Japan plays host to the Expo under the theme of "Nature’s Wisdom", in Nagoya, a main highlight on the city’s calendar as it puts her in a very celebrated position on tourists map. After a spectacular opening ceremony a day earlier, the 2005 World Expo was opened to the public from March 25 for a total of 185 days. A great number of countries, amounting to 121 had participated in this huge event. Our group of 10 persons, all Malaysians had wanted to view the Expo which coincided with the cherry blossoms season. On that particular morning, after a very early breakfast, our group left Nagoya by express bus to the Expo. It is a site, easily accessible by public transport and the bus ride took only 30 minutes to reach Nagoya Eastern Hills.

Entrance fee per adult worked out to RM170 and there are four entrances bearing the directions of East, South, West, North. The express bus took us to the ‘East Gate’ and everyone had to wait in long queues. Only nine in the morning but there was already a sea of upturned faces. As it is spring time and the gigantic site is surrounded by hills, the climate can be considered rather chilly for tropical folks like us. The sky was clear and there was a little shower of snowflakes much to the merriment of the thrilling crowd. Congregation was rising in an alarming figure so the organizing officials decided to allow the throng in, 10 minutes earlier than scheduled time. All entry passes were scrutinized before we were allowed in to take a snap with lucky duo - the mascots of Morizo and Kiccoro.

We studied the pamphlet and decided to go through the ‘North Gate’. It was difficult to move around as the media and photographers were swelling in numbers and elbowed space to photograph exhibits from the best angles. After a discussion, we decided to split and paired our own partners. We should meet up later in the evening at a designated place. This place is too vast for a big group to move around, someone is bound to keep someone waiting forever! Richard and I moved on quickly and glanced at the gifts on sale at the shops nearby. We picked some items and scrambled to view the pavilion of "Global House" but all the tickets were given out. The next session of tickets-on-offer will be in the later part of the afternoon at 3.30 p.m. So we walked once again to the "North Gate".

We were inspired to view the pavilion showcasing the latest bullet trains technology. My legs were weary as it was another 40 minutes of lining-up before opening time but it was really well worth a wait. A huge screen visually displayed the history of trains, from the olden days to the super fast bullet trains of tomorrow - The Superconductive Linear Motor Car. We sat on seats provided with a three dimensional mobility and experienced a speed ride of 581 km per hour. If this train ride becomes a reality in Malaysia, a ride from Penang to Singapore would be over in one hour, sounds good doesn’t it?

My stomach has a built-in-timer as it was close to lunch hour. There are many shops scattered around and I queued at the vending machine to purchase meal coupons. I bought a set-lunch meal of crabmeat rice and eel rice for my better half. We exchanged the meal halfway through but I still preferred my first choice better. It was a bowl of nice pearly grains of rice, had wonderful toppings of big crab pincers, crab legs, non-fishy tasting salmon roes, flaked crabmeat, egg omelette shreds. Another bowl of crab pincers soup was served together and our lunch cost RM174.00, not a bad pricing in sophisticated living Japan.

All international pavilions were divided into six zones. We agreed to visit the South East Asia and South Pacific zones. At the Singaporean Pavilion, ushers gave everyone a transparent looking fabric umbrella. The pavilion had a theme of great contrast, urban and natural settings. Big visual screens showed the modern Singapore and her people’s way of life. A sudden gush of rain started to fall, out came the umbrellas. It was a brilliant idea and innovative way of introducing what tropical climate can be like. The sudden downpour was man-made rain and different cultures, orchids were presented in effective manner. Eye-catching Hainanese Chicken Rice and Curry Mee appeared as their street food.

Malaysian Pavilion was constructed as Singapore’s neighbour. A big kite and five smaller ones were jointly displayed at the front entrance. Lush tropical forests framed the background with
chosen colours of only silver and sky-blue. Inside the pavilion, it was a spectacle of jungles, caves, granite rocks, secondary forests, marine life, local products, ethnic races, customs and a cultural dance by our national dancers. On the ethnic stage, there were some bright red lanterns hanging and a visual screening of a lion dance. There was this poor lonely Indian man flipping the dough, trying to demonstrate the art of making ‘roti canai’. The poor culinary exhibit is rather thought-provoking. Is this what we have on the streets, isn’t Malaysia known as a hawkers’ food heaven? At this zone, other pavilions belonged to Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia, New
Zealand and some smaller groups of the South Pacific Island.

We visited the Japanese Pavilion and it exhibited model of the City Pavilion Earth Towers, Nagakute Nippon-Kan, Aichi Pavilion Nagakute and Chubu Community For Milennial Symbiosis. We stood in line against bone chilling winds and it snowed once more for a brief spell. The waiting was an hour before we got into the City Pavilion. The height of the tower was 47metres but it was a real waste of time because the tower was built to enable 120 people to stand together and view the designs of a million patterns. It may be artistic but how much can we see with everyone hovering for space. We came scrambling out in 20 seconds as we do not want to be trapped in this lift-like object.

But the Nagakute Nippon-Kan exhibited next door had an impressive structure. It’s exterior was fully constructed with bamboo, thus its appearance was like a submarine that has landed on the ground. The lining-up to enter was another 40 minutes before we could move on. History of Japan was shown and future living creatively translated from innovative views. The most magnificent spectacle was the constructed bridge with a fulcrum axis turn of 360 degrees. Standing suspended in mid-air, you can feel earth’s movements. Blue skies opened up, birds were flying, We dived into the fantastic ocean and danced with the fishes. This performance reflects on loving the whole universe and creates a transformation between humans and nature. We must love Mother Earth and not destroy it, bare of all amenities.

It was close to four p.m. when we passed the Japanese Square. On the opposite side is a three levels complex with a wide range of foods and wine for sale. It houses a canteen and more gift shops. The allure from the green tea bread and hot coffee was tempting so I had some refreshments. A traditional Japanese show was staged and at the later stage, we looked at fine earthware on display.

The sun sets early and it was getting colder. We realized we have yet visited the much-talked about Global House Pavilion. The site is a short 15 minutes walk away and got our passes from the attendants. As it would be another 30 minutes before we can gain entry, I decided to seek refuge in their clean ladies’ restroom as the cold winds was frosting me. I may not be properly attired for this weather so the chill was sinking into me. It’s showtime at six p.m. and this place Global House, is indeed a crowd-puller. It was amazing looking at the future technology of the world through this 2,005 inches super high-vision theatre screen. It has the world’s first high definition image system with 16 times more information than high screen. An accomplished visual of a bee suckling on pollens from a sunflower was captured and reproduced on the screen, the crisp image scaled to a height of a three-storeys building.

The close-ups was a true to life replica image and colour gradation was a spellbound smooth. A big frozen mammoth uncovered in Siberia was showcased besides the exhibit of primitive human skulls found, stones brought home to earth by the U.S. astronauts on the Apollo mission was unveiled. Looking from the angle of the Expo’s theme, so much destruction has taken place. How much consideration can be given to the earth and let it be environmentally friendly. We left at seven p.m. and marvelled at the whole site as it was lighted up in colours.

Temperature hovered between 3°C to 10°C and we had covered about ten hours of walking on foot. Yet this is hardly one sixth of the whole Expo. Readers can book a ticket to Nagoya and see the real as it will still be in the running for a few more months. Once the Expo comes to an end, the site will be demolish and become a public park.