Soba, Japanese table manners and more at Kyodo Station
May 16th, 2013.
We live in Setagaya, which is a district in Tokyo close to Shibuya (about 25 minutes) and awesomely connected to other central areas by the Odakyu Line (or ‘Odakyu Rine’ as the Japanese say) but also far and big enough to make for an average sized city in Europe with over 800,000 inhabitants.
Setagaya has every shop convenience. Supermarkets, bookstores, drug stores, post offices, boutiques, second hand shops, furniture and electric stores, galleries, bakeries, bars and an abundance of restaurants. This is why we do not have to take the train to eat out during the week.
We just take a stroll down from our house through the adjacent shopping street towards Kyodo Station and sometimes end up at the fantastic noodle place right at the Station entrance.
Welcome to Hako Soba, one of many soba and udon noodle places in Tokyo – commonly located around railway stations. Another delicious Japanese fast food place with great quality food and swift service at the counter.
Choose between various kinds of soup dishes at the vending machine (this is a very Japanese thing to do).
Then give your ticket to staff at this counter, indicating whether you like your soup with soba (thin buckwheat) or udon (thick wheat) noodles. We like to go for soba noodles, a Japanese speciality which can be served chilled with soy sauce or with a hot broth. I like hot noodle soups best.
Soba noodles have an interesting history as they have become popular in Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate period. Japanese aristocracy tried to avoid the beri beri disease, a deficiency in thiamine caused by a one-sided rice diet (stripped of husk, bran and germ). Soba is rich in thiamine (vitamin B1) and therefore an important supplement. With a wealthier Japanese middle class many soba shops opened up to enrich rice diets.
Our order for just 430 yen. This is actually one dish that we share. The yellow round omelette looking food is shrimp baked into dough and egg.
Sometimes we each order a bowl of soba noodles with shrimp and vegetables for 330 yen.
Eating noodles with chopsticks , drinking soup straight from the bowl and listening to intense slurping is something to get used to. I am not a great slurper, being table trained in a continent where slurping is considered bad manners.
It is a custom to hold the bowl in your hand closer to your mouth. Japanese children get to hear ‘don’t eat like a dog‘ if they lean over their bowl, like me.
I am habitually holding my chopsticks too low down which actually makes it harder to manipulate food. Try holding them higher up and it will become easier after a while. Japanese people place one chopstick on their ring finger when they eat, which feels very uncomfortable for westerners like me who have been trained to hold the pen on the middle finger. But don’t worry, using your middle finger to place the lower chopstick is fine.
One important thing to remember is to never hold onto food with chopsticks together. The only time when Japanese people do that is after cremation, when family members put the bones of the deceased into the urn. They hold the bones together with their chopsticks.
And finally, don’t stick your chopsticks straight into food to make them stand. That would be considered very rude.
Fast food in Japan – service, food quality and hygiene standards will be first class.
I have just read an article about the horrible state of fish served in restaurants in Italy. I came to appreciate food a lot in Japan. Food is affordable luxury here. Especially seafood. You can taste the quality and freshness. The amazing health condition of elderly folk is no coincidence. Going to Japan for just a few months is like a spa treatment for body and soul.
(This does obviously not apply to American fast food chains in Tokyo although I have heard people say that the quality is a lot better than elsewhere. I am actually surprised those greasy chains have survived Japanese competition. Many times they will be filled with gaijin.)
Another secret to the incredible life span of Japanese people is physical activity. The elderly are incredibly active here. We went to the huge fitness center in Kyodo during the day and it was full of retired people. The younger ones were apparently at work but I have never seen a fitness center filled to the brim with old folks lifting weights, stretching, running and swimming. Amazing sight. What I noticed in Poland is that most elderly people watch soap opera at home.
We did not find the time to commit to a fitness class although I enrolled for some Yoga test sessions, but we do walk a lot. During sightseeing days we travel around 100km – with many metro/train rides that leaves about 10 km by foot.
I am told I am a fast walker. If there are stores and distractions around – I am a dedicated city walker.
Kyodo has a nice new looking temple and a small cemetery close to the station which is a tranquil place to explore after a good meal.
If you are a fashion freak, you should not miss out on Koenji, the second hand district I discovered in Tokyo. (Will try to write it up for you.) For this outfit, I think I got inspired by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and her dot art.
We saw the ‘All you need is LOVE‘ exhibition at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo last week and I think it somehow affected the choice of my outfit. Yayoi Kusama’s dotted forms.
If you like cats, cemeteries are a good spot – they are warming up on the dark stones.
If you are looking for a beautiful Japanese cemetery, visit the Aoyama cemetry – the nicest one in Tokyo. Especially during Hanami!