Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sumptuous Bamboo Shoot Cuisine At Takenoko

"Evergreen bamboo
Shoots cut down and thinly sliced
Boiled, to feast upon"

A Japanese haiku
to describe the bamboo shoot



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There is a huge wooden carving of bamboo shoots in front of the restaurant.

The third tour of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors took us to Ōtaki (大多喜町) town, located in Isumi district of Chiba prefecture. The town is located right in the middle of the Bōsō Peninsular and 70% of the town is covered with forest, making it a prefect gateway escape from Tokyo to enjoy the richness of nature here. After our tour to Yoro Keikoku, it was lunch time, which I would say more often than not, the main highlight of each tour because we will be brought to taste the local specialties of each locations we visit.

This time, we dined at a restaurant - Takenoko, which specialises in Ōtaki's famous bamboo shoots or takenoko. ​The water running through the Bōsō mountains are clean and that is the main reason good grades of bamboo shots are found in this area. The harvesting season of bamboo shoots is from late April to May, where visitors get the chance to personally try and harvest the bamboo shoots by themselves.

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A sign put up at the entrance door, to thank the customers for their patronage each time.
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The interior of the restaurant in the first floor.

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The Chiba Kun Ambassadors however, had our lunch on the second floor, in this beautifully furnished Japanese style washitsu.

Bamboo shoots as food have been part of the Asian diet for centuries, and are fast becoming popular in Western meals. The shoots are usually boiled before consumption because they are poisonous. The raw shoots contain hydrocyanic acid, and are very toxic. Peeling and boiling for five minutes will steam off the acid. Bamboo shoots do not have much nutritional value (most of the 'healthy' stuff is boiled off with the toxins), but they are yummy in stir-frys.

For the lunch, basically everything served in the menu was based on bamboo shoots, from pickled bamboo shoots, bamboo shoot rice, bamboo shoots in miso soup, and many more. It was my first time having bamboo shoot in miso soup and I gotta say it tasted really good. We were lucky that we got to request for seconds for the delicious bamboo shoots rice and also the bamboo shoots miso soup.

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Our sumptuous takenoko lunch set.

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Starters, that includes pickled bamboo shoots and radish, tamagoyaki (sweetened Japanese omelette), mountain vegetables, and Chiba's famous peanuts in miso.

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Nimono (煮物), consisting of bamboo shoots, carrots, shiitake mushroom.

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Bamboo shoot pickles in vinegar.

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Bamboo shoot rice, topped with toasted sesame seeds.

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Wild vegetables tenpura and deep-fried takenoko karaage.

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Home made kiwi-flavoured yōkan.

Besides that, Ōtaki is also popular for its inoshishi-don (イノシシ丼) or wild boar don, and also buta-nabe (豚 鍋) or pork steamboat. The wild boars are commonly known to be an annoying animal that destroys the farm field, and that is one of the reason they are caught to be used in the local delicacies by the local villagers.

At Takenoko, besides the signature takenoko set, there are also wild boar stew and simmered miso deer meat among the other dishes in the menu. All of these dishes uses only the freshest ingredients found in the deep mountains of Ōtaki and it is certain satisfy anyone who wishes to try on the local meals in this humble little town.

|| INFORMATION ||
Kyodoryori Takenoko (郷土料理 たけのこ)
Opening hours: 11:00 - 22:00 (reservation required, except between the period of March 15 - May 15)
Tel: 0470-84-0368
Parking: Available 
Address
: 181-2, Kurohara, Otaki-machi, Isumi-gun, Chiba Prefecture, 298-0255, Japan. 

Website:
http://otaki-takenoko.main.jp/ (Japanese only)

Access: Train: From Ohara station (大原駅), take the Isumi Railway (いすみ鉄道) to Fusamoto station (総元駅) (approximately 45 minutes, 640yen), and the restaurant is 175 meters away.

Takean (竹庵)

Opening hours
: 10:00 - 21:00  
Closed days
: None
Seating
: 7 tables (4 people) and an open terrace that fits 10 people.

Tel: 
0470-80-1077
Parking
: Available (50 spots) 
Address
: 967, Horinouchi, Otaki-machi, Isumi-gun, Chiba Prefecture, 298-0224, Japan. 

Website:
 http://otaki-takenoko.main.jp/ (Japanese only)
Access
: Train: From Ohara station (大原駅), take the Isumi Railway (いすみ鉄道) to Koyamatsu station (小谷松) (approximately 40 minutes, 580yen), and the restaurant is 1,158 meters away.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Spectacular Fall Colours of Yoro Keikoku

"Autumn is a second spring 
when every leaf is a flower."

Albert Camus
French Nobel Prize winning author, journalist, and philosopher



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The three Chiba Kun Ambassadors, all-set to discover the beauty of Yoro Keikoku.

Chiba Prefecture is blessed with numerous spots where visitors get to enjoy gorgeous autumn foliage; and one of the most spectacular places to view the autumn artwork in full splendor is Yoro Keikoku (養老渓谷). Yoro Keikoku is a rugged, lush valley carved over centuries by the Yoro River, located in the central Bōsō Peninsular of Chiba Prefecture, between Otaki Town and Ichihara City.

On November 24, 2013, the Chiba Kun Ambassadors had the pleasure of visiting Yoro Keikoku as part of the third tour of the year. Cherry blossom or sakura may be the centre of attraction during spring here in Japan. Come autumn, it is the season which offers the special delight of the changing of the colour of the leaves. From a wide array of brilliant yellow, mellow orange and bright crimson red of the Japanese maple (momiji), this is the seasonal sight that is longed for. It is a display of a myriad of colours before the coming winter.

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Not many leaves had turned their colours yet when we started our hiking.

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However, slowly but surely, we were greeted with beautiful autumn foliage.

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The sunlight shining through the colurful momiji leaves.

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Hello! Watashi-wa Chiba Kun Taishi desu lol!

Steep densely forested hills surround Yoro Keikoku, as the picturesque Yoro River carves its way into the Pacific Ocean. The valley has the Osawamata-no-taki Falls, often called Maboroshi-no-taki, or the mirage waterfalls. The best and most popular spot in this region however, is the Awamata-no-taki Falls (粟又の滝), located in the mountains about 4 kilometers upstream. With a height of 30 meters and clear water running over a distance of 100 meters down stair-shaped rocks, this waterfall is the biggest waterfall in Chiba. This earned the waterfall it praise for its resemblance to silk cloth spreading out from the top of the mountain.

Yoro Keikoku is well known as the slowest spot in Kanto region, where you get to enjoy the breathtaking sight of yellow, orange and striking crimson red leaves. Local tourism association holds a momiji festival every year in late November to celebrate the spectacular autumn foliage. During this period, there are also light-ups held at certain spots and this gives visitors the chance to enjoy the beautiful autumn foliage at night.

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 Sometimes, I just lost for words to describe the beauty of the autumn leaves.

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And the magical view is reflected on the crystal clear river.

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You can choose to enjoy the magnificent autumn foliage either looking up or down the river, because both looks equally great.

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Apt to its name, there are several little waterfalls along the "Taki-meguri" course.

There are several courses where visitors can choose from to enjoy the autumn foliage in Yoro Keikoku, namely the "Taki-meguri" course (滝めぐりコース), which is approximately 4 kilometers, the "Bungalow-mura & Kōbundōato" course (バンガロー村・弘文洞跡コース), approximately 7.4 kilometers and the "Daifukuzan & Umegase" course (大福山・梅ヶ瀬コース), approximately 9.6 kilometers. Disappearing down one of the trails, one can experience entering the world of nature far removed from the mega metropolis of Tokyo.

The "Taki-meguri" course is one of the most common course taken by visitors. It is a 1.7-kilometer walkaway, which has been constructed on the west bank of the river. Here, visitors can enjoy the sound of the stream flowing down from the mountain, as they stroll along the Yoro River. This spot is especially crowded during autumn, as visitors get to view the beautiful autumn leaves.

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This is the course we took on the day (source).

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 As we head to the end to see the highlight of the place, we just could not get enough of the magical sight surrounding us.

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Blazing red momiji looks great when the sunlight shines upon them.

However, the steps going down to the walkway from the Awamata-no-taki bus stop is rather steep (and slippery on raining days) and might not be friendly to children and the elderly. Also, as Yoro Keikoku is one of the most popular spots for autumn foliage viewing during its peak season in late November, it is recommended that you avoid the weekends. Alternatively, if your schedule only permits you to visit the place during the weekends, it is advisable to go early, ahead of the tour groups who normally reach there by ten in the morning.

Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention the numerous hot springs (onsen) in the Yoro Keikoku area, some of the best in all of Chiba Prefecture. Here, you can relax in a hot natural mineral bath after you day out hiking, or spend the night at some. In fact, after your hike you should relax your aching feet in the free hot spring foot-bath (ashiyu, 足湯) at Yoro Keikoku station. Another unique thing about the hot spring in this area, also known as the Yoro Keikoku hot spring village, is the onsen with black-coloured water (kuroyu, 黒湯). In addition, there are also sites for outdoor activities such as fishing, barbecues and camping, where you may want to set aside time to enjoy yourselves.

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And finally, the long-awaited Awamata-no-taki (栗又の滝), at the end of the course.

In a nutshell, despite of its remote location, hidden in the middle of Chiba prefecture, Yoro Keikoku is indeed a lovely place to experience nature's artwork in full splendor, and get off the beaten track at any time of the year, especially during the amazing autumn season.


|| INFORMATION ||
Yoro Keikoku
Taki-meguri Course (滝めぐりコース): Approximately 4 kilometers.
Bungalow-mura & Kōbundoōato Course (バンガロー村・弘文洞跡コース):
Approximately 7.4 kilometers.
Daifukuzan & Umegase Course
(大福山・梅ヶ瀬コース):
Approximately 9.6 kilometers.
Parking spaces:
Available

Tel: 
0436-22-8355 (Ichihara Tourist Association) (closed on Monday)
Tel: 0470-80-1146 (Otaki Tourist Association) (closed on Monday)

Website:
http://www.youroukeikoku.com/ (Japanese only)
(Yoro Keikoku Sightseeing Association)
Access:

Train:

※ Tokyo station (東京駅) to Goi station (五井駅) (approximately 60 minutes), on JR Keiyo Line and JR Uchibō Line (limited express) (JR京葉線 & JR内房線), and then
Goi station (五井駅) to Yoro-keikoku station (養老渓谷駅) (approximately 60 minutes), on Kominato Line (小湊鉄道)
Ohara
station (大原駅) to Kazusa-nakano station (上総中野駅) (approximately 60 minutes), on Isumi Line (いすみ鉄道), and then
Kazusa-nakano station (上総中野駅) to Yoro-keikoku station (養老渓谷駅) (approximately 8 minutes), on Kominato Line (小湊鉄道).
Car:
From Tokyo, exit Ichihara IC (市原IC) (via Tateyama Expressway, 館山自動車道), take Route 297 and Route 81 (via Ushiku, 牛久) to Yoro-keikoku.
From Kanagawa, exit Kisarazu IC (木更津IC) (via Tokyo Bay Aqualine, 東京湾アクアライン), take Route 410 and Route 32 (via Kururi, 久留里) to Yoro-keikoku.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Siti Nurhaliza At ASEAN-Japan Music Festival 2013

“Ehh, tinggi-nyer. Umur brape?”
first comments from Siti
upon meeting her



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 The program book of the evening.

There is a saying that dreams sometimes come true when you least expect it. And indeed it happened to me a fortnight ago. Thanks to ASEAN Youth Network in Japan (AYNJ), I had the privilege to attend the ASEAN-Japan Music Festival in NHK Hall in Tokyo. This music festival was held in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of friendly relationship between Japan and ASEAN countries, and also to support the Japan-ASEAN Special Summit to be held this month in Tokyo, where the state leaders from all the ten ASEAN countries are invited to discuss about political and economic, as well as cultural exchange between Japan and ASEAN countries.

As such, top artists from participating countries were invited to this music festival, which was more than just music entertainment. The unique culture and traditional costumes of each representing countries were introduced to encourage further understanding between one another. Among the VIP present was the Prime Minister of Japan, Mr Shinzo Abe who gave a welcoming speech at the opening of the music festival. This is the second time I saw a Japanese Prime Minister in real-life, after Mr Yukio Hatoyama several years back.

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The best of the best artists from ASEAN countries and Japan graced the stage on the special evening (photo source).

Representing Japan in this music festival were EXILE, w-inds and AKB48. As for Malaysia's representative, it was none other than Siti Nurhaliza, one of the most successful artists Malaysia has ever produced. To watch these world class artists (read: EXILE and Siti Nurhaliza) performing on the same stage is not something you get to witness often. Besides, part of the ticket donation collected would be used to invite junior and high school students from the tsunami affected regions in Tohoku to this music festival, and also to promote the Japanese boom to the international community.

To get the ticket however, was much more difficult than I thought. It was a lottery system and only lucky individuals will get the chance to attend this festival. My entry was did not make the cut. However, AYNJ was my saviour as they have 30 free limited tickets for representatives from ASEAN countries to attend this music festival.

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The ticket is sold at 6,000 yen, but the experience was unforgettably priceless.

The opening was AKB48 but to be honest, I am not a fan AKB48. Sorry all AKB48 fans. Well, it was great to see them performing live with quite extreme level of kawaii-ism but that was not the show I was anticipating on the evening.

After the artists from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Laos entertained the crowd with their respective songs and performances, finally it was Siti's turn to grace the stage. Light on the stage were dimmed and moments later, Siti stepped into the stage, wearing an elegant-looking dark blue kebaya. I have seen her gracing the singing stage down the years, ever since the years where she ruled the Juara Lagu in the late 90's and early 2000's, but that evening was the first time I saw her live.

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 I was lucky enough to get Siti to personally autograph this page for me!

That very moment, you can feel the powerful charisma this singer holds, that people surrounded her are enlightened with her presence. For the next ten minutes, we were entertained by this talented singing queen who belted three songs - "Biarlah Rahsia", "Koibiyo Yo" and "Nirmala". I may sound biased here, but she certainly blew the stage. It just get people of the seat and wanting to hear more from her. With no disrespect to the other singers from other countries, which I thought they were good. However, Siti was simply a par above them. She was simply great.

I am proud to say that Malaysia can boast to have produced such internationally recognized talent in Siti, which is not only limited to singing but she is also a composer and producer, and occasionally a host for talk shows. Yet, despite her immense success, Siti is well-known as a simple and down-to-earth person. Siti presents herself in a moderate manner in public but she still invokes an elegant and powerful charm. Her dressing sense represents the eastern values she holds dearly.

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 Havoc at the backstage as we intruded the place in search for Siti after the show lol!

It may sound exaggerative but getting to watch Siti performing in Tokyo on that evening was one of the beautiful things that I will treasure for a long time. But the evening did not stop there. 

Presenting ourselves as the representatives from the Embassy of Malaysia in Tokyo, we managed to sneak into the backstage to meet Siti personally. That was one thing that was not in our plan. And despite not knowing who we were, Siti greeted us with a sweet smile and we managed to have a short conversation with her. As I approached her to have a photo taken, she smiled and commented, "Ehh, tinggi-nyer. Umur brape?" ("Wow, you’re so tall. How old are you?").

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 Siti whispered to me, "Hey lets pose for peace sign!" as we were to take this shot hahaha! (photo credit: Cliff)

Thank you Siti for the wonderful performance and arigato AYNJ, especially Ruiz, Chi Wern and Watanabe-san, for giving me a chance to witness a wonderful show on the evening of November 28, 2013.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ossan Power Won Us Third Place In Futsal

"Orera ha mada genki de 
wakaimono ni ha makezaize!!!"
Nizam
sweeper of Kanasara FC



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My first medal in futsal in my life!

So, the story started a fortnight ago. I got a Facebook message from Lai my junior, inviting me to join their futsal team in the annual MSAJ All-Japan Sports Tournament 2013, organised by the Malaysian Students' Association in Japan (MSAJ). As the organiser's name suggest, this tournament is mainly meant for students, but as the rules stated, it is open to all Malaysians.

It has been many moons since I last kicked a ball, yet alone play a proper futsal game. My stamina level is at its lowest point. Yet, I agreed to join team Kanasara FC for this tournament because I just cannot stop my urge to kick some balls haha. The team got its name from a combination of two words - KANAgawa (because almost all of us live and work in Kanagawa prefecture) and SARAriman (salaryman, a common term to refer to white-collared employees in Japan).

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Team Kanasara FC. Front row: Lai, Boon, Mohan (GK), Chen Zhun; back row: Nizam, Nantha, Calvin, Nik.

We went into this tournament, not only without a single practice session, we did not even know who our teammates were until the very morning of the tournament lol! But like how Nizam put it, all we got was ossan (wife) power. Well, not all of us 'coz there are still some who are single and *ehem* available (read: me) haha!

Anyway, we had nothing to lose and to be honest, the furthest I thought we would go is to play all three group games, and that's it. Lets face it, we are working salaryman who hardly work out, and would be up against our opponents who are all students and much younger than us. In terms of stamina and skills, we are not match to these kids who are fitter and faster than us. So, in this kind of situation, what would you do?

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 Mohan, probably the best keeper of the tournament. Playing handball during his student days certainly gave him an advantage.

We used our experience and played with our head, which worked to our advantage in the end. In the three group games, we won one (3-1) and drew the other two (3-3 and 1-1). In all three games, we conceded first and later played the catching up game. That lead to Nantha suggesting that perhaps we should concede first in our next game since we are that good in coming back in a game lol! 

Our group games put us second in our group, and we got the champions two years ago - the Embassy of Malaysia team in the quarterfinals. Again, we were the underdogs and conceded the first goal in the first few minutes after the whistle was blown. However, it was team Kanasara FC who progressed to the semifinal match at the final whistle, winning the game 2-1.

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One of our group matches.

At that point, we started to believe that perhaps, perhaps we could just go all the way to the final after all. However, we lost by a single goal, but that was not the end of the road. We still had the third-placing match, and it was against Tsukuba FC, the team we lost in the quarterfinals last year. Revenge was part of the theme in that match. It was a tight game and both teams went all out, wanting last medal on offer.

Miraculously, for the first time in the tournament, we scored first and led 1-0. We went into the second half trying to protect the slim but precious advantage and everything was looking like it was going according to our plan. But you know, it is always at these kind of situation that I tend to make things turn dramatic. With only thirty seconds to the final whistle, the winger of the opponent team crossed deep into the penalty box, which was missed by Mohan our keeper. I slid in, in a desperate attempt to clear the ball away from the danger zone, mistimes my slide and the ball ended up at the back of the net. Yes, I just scored a goal. An own goal. A goal that took away victory from my team with less than a minute to go.

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 When it comes down to penalty shootout, the goalkeepers will either be hero or zero.

I knew I would never be able to concentrate on the game and I substituted myself out off the game immediately. And about twenty seconds later, the final whistle was blown and we went into the penalty shootout. It was the best of three and the first takers scored from both teams scored from the spot. Chen Zhun was our second taker and he confidently put the back at the back of the net. The second kicker of our opponent then hit the bar, giving us a 2-1 lead. Nantha was our third and final taker and he knew he will be the hero if he could score from his kick. Unfortunately, his kick went straight to the middle of the goalmouth and the keeper pushed it away. 

The scored remained 2-1 to our advantage and it was the third and final kick for our opponent. We will go into the sudden death if our opponent scored and make it 2-2. While some of us had started to whisper among ourselves, who to take the forth kick, I just told them confidently, "We don't need a forth taker. Lets believe in Mohan". And I think he heard us, and he saved the last kick! We were in jubilation! Our third place was confirmed and we celebrated as if we have won the tournament. 

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The knockout phase of the upper bracket. We never thought we would ended up in this half lol!

Indeed, it was a great experience with such a lovely team members. Everyone did their part. Boon the hardworking caption, Nik who scored in every single matches, Mohan with his incredible reflex saves, Nantha the controls the engine room (and who will forget his inch-perfect loop to Nik), Nizam who manages the dynamic of the team from inside and outside the field, Lai who made that brilliant assist for the winning goal in the quarterfinal, Chen Zhun with his tireless run along the wing, and finally, yours truly who scored the own goal in the final game to give some drama to the match lol!

Actually, I scored the equalising goal in the first game as well, and it was actually a great goal; a cannon to the top right corner from a corner kick. Haha, vain I know, praising myself here but really, it was a good goal lol! Lastly but not forgetting, special thanks to our beloved manager, who was our time-keeper, pom-pom girl, kit man, and make sure we get refreshments during the break.

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I think our team was the most excited when we step to take our medals and hampers lol!

Terima kasih daun keladi, 
Tahun depan kita menang lagi!