Olympic Hopes

At the train station arriving in Nagano, a delightful Japanese town that hosted the 1998 winter Olympics.

These are cool statues along the access road to the shrine.

We were drooling as we passed the shops with their food samples in the windows. This is the restaurant we came back to for soba. Yum.

There is a 7 springs hike nearby.

And here is a gorgeous hand painted manhole cover celebrating the famous apples from the region. They are deservedly famous. I became addicted to the fresh apple juice, apple sake, and fresh apples.

A mn so outlines the sacred places at the temple.

The beautiful shrine appears embraced by the trees.

A fruit stand where we bought one of the famous apples.


Nagano was one of my favorite places in Japan. I think it was the apples. Do you have a favorite place in Japan? Where?

Takefu Knife magic

Guest blog by Ray Shortridge

Skilled in hand forging blades, craftsmen produce knife blades employing Edo Era tools at Takefu Knife Village in Eichizen, an area in Fukui Prefecture in west central Honshu Island. The Takefu smiths produce world class quality kitchen knives by hand and travel the world instructing gourmet chefs on the appropriate use of the wide variety of blades they craft.

Today’s Takefu knife makers benefit from the history of Eichizen blade production that stretches back 700 years. As legend has it, in 1337, a master swordsmith from Kyoto, Kuniyasu Chiyozuru, discovered water suitable in the forging of blades and settled near Takefu. He and his successors smithed Eichizen blades for farmers to use in harvesting grains and for Samurai warriors to wield in protecting their shogun lords.

In the past blade smiths forged the blades by hand. They beat the heated steel with a hammer, laminating iron and steel into a blank that is light and tough and with a keen edge. Today, the Takefu smiths grasp the white hot blanks with tongs and operate electrically powered hammers to pound the metal.

After we helped staff put handles on finished knife blades, we got to help finish our knives. Our tour of the foundry included instruction on the proper way to sharpen the finished kitchen knife blade so that it would cut paper. We came away with a kitchen knife that passed the paper slicing test and, we found to our delight, also sliced and diced veggies in our own kitchen.

What aspects of a knife do you find important? Do you think it would feel different to slice vegetables with a knife you had helped make?

Buy Anything Imaginable in Tokyo’s Market

All my friends have been wondering “where are the market pictures?” Well here they are. This is the retail market ( as opposed to the wholesale fish market that is more famous and is moving soon.) I’ll add an occasional caption, but the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy a quick walk through the market. This is a small fraction of the sites. It is huge!

The ceiling is colorful

These capsule stations were everywhere for kids. The content varied.

Travel by Tram

Albuquerque has spectacular views from its extremely safe Sandia tramway. According to the tramway, “it ascends from a base elevation of 6,559 feet (1,999 m) to a top elevation of 10,378 feet (3,163 m).

The tram reaching the top.
Great views
More great views from a trail near the tram
Great views at the top
The leaves are starting to turn at the top of the mountaim
Many folks ride the tram up and hike, ski, or bicycle down.
This heavy equipment looked like it was balanced on a sinkhole
A new restaurant is being built to replace the old one on top of the tramway
My brother and his husband seemed to enjoy the views

Afterwards, we stopped for food and drinks at the delightful Sandiago Grill at the base of the tram. In addition to fabulous views from inside and outside seating, their menu offerings have been jazzed up. The prices seemed a little higher than the last time I was there but are reasonable for the quality. My fish tacos were delicious. Unfortunately, this picture was taken after I’d messed up their plating. Forgive me, I was hungry!

Soba Students

The materials ready to make soba noodles (buckwheat)
Ray kneading the dough into submission
The instructor cutting the noodles

As you might imagine, our noodles weren’t done as quickly or as evenly as the instructor’s. It was a easy-sounding process in theory: lean the knife into the dough, cut, repeat. In reality, not so easy.

Finished soba noodle soup and accompanying tempura

The soup can be served hot or cold. In this case it was cold. While I much prefer it hot, cold soba soup and eels are considered cooling dishes for hot days.

A Beer Lover’s Japan

A guest blog by Ray Shortridge.

Several world class beer labels call Japan home, including Sapporo and Kirin.

The image below is the headquarters of a third, Asahi.

The tall gold building represents a glass of beer with its (blue?) foaming head The shorter one to its right purports to be a mug of beer topped by a Flame d’Or, symbolizing the burning heart of Asahi beer. Some jaded Tokyoites refer to it in more earthy terms.

Anonymous draft beer is also served, and local craft beer, such as offered by this pub in Matsumoto. One brand in Kyoto prints labels with the face of a famous historical figure.

Some spots offered draft beer from Brooklyn Brewery.

And a bed & breakfast stocked its private vending machine with canned Asahi brews. Public vending machines don’t stock beer.

In Matsumoto, we lucked on to a beer fest on the park around the Black Crow Castle. The Friday of the long weekend was a national holiday for honoring elders. Most fitting.

However, convenience stores such as 7-11 and Family Mart, do, although the buyer must punch an “I am an adult” button on a touch screen at the cashier’s station.

Kyoto lies in a valley surrounded by mountains, which resulted in sultry days this time of year. Ice cold Japanese beer hit the spot.