Aso Restaraunt Review (along with other restaraunt recommendations outside of Aso)

I know that this is really late to start, but I am going to start posting about places where I enjoy eating in my corner of Aso, near the Aso/Oita border, and maybe some other joints in Kumamoto that I like.
Tashiroya- for the bombass Okonomiyaki
Let’s start off with a place that my friend and predecessor, Mr. Harvey Haynes, first took me to when I first arrived in Ubuyama two years ago. Located to the left of Aso Jinja (if you are facing the temple) is the small, unpretentious okinomiyakiya known as “Tashiroya”. This place makes the best okonomiyaki in Aso hands down, and is my personal favorite in Kumamoto.
You can see Mr. Tashiro in the window and who I assume is his wife in the background.
It can be hard to get a seat, and sometimes they run out of ingredients on busy days. My favorite combination is pork and cheese (butaniku and cheese)okonomiyaki.jpg. If you like taiyaki, then this place is definetely for you. Many children drop by this store after work.
*note, and this is true: The best okonomiyaki restaraunts always are a little, or maybe more than a little, dingy and tend to attract cockroaches. This is just a fact of life. The grease from the skillet atomizes and works its way into the enviroment of the shop at a molecular level, so these places become more and more sticky with time. Eating at a clean okonomiyaki joint doesn’t necessarily mean that their okonomiyaki is going to suck, but then again it probably does.
Santouka- The Favorite of Many Aso JETs
Located near Tashiroya, just 50 feet away is the famous Santouka (the kanji reading “mountain” “head” and “fire”). This izakaya makes wonderful food, but it is not my favorite because I think it’s too expensive (they don’t list prices on the menu) and its hard to drink and to find a way home. If I lived close by Santouka, I think that it might just be my favorite restaraunt. If you are here, try the college potatoes, nasu-age, and just point to a random kanji that you don’t know and take a chance. That’s my favorite way to learn kanji.
Yokayoka Tei- The Best Restaraunt In Northern Aso
Ascending Takimurozaka (from Ichinomiya in the direction of Oita) on the 57, you will come upon a yellow building near the base of the mountain on your right. This is my favorite restaraunt, Yokayokatei (maybe I put one too many yoka’s in there…). Everything that they do is spectacular, including yakiniku, bibimba, steaks, hamburgs,
*note: the difference between hamburg and hamburgers is this: hamburg is generally served by itself and eaten with rice, whereas hamburgers are nestled in between a bun. Clearly stated, a hamburg is the Japanese term for “cooked hamburger patty”. Hope that clears things up.
curry, tonkatsu, katsudon, and other dishes as well. My favorite night to go to Yokatei is on Wednesday because you can eat Viking
*note: Viking in Japan refers to “all you can eat” or “buffet”. I think that this word lends itself to some interested imagery, such as a horned barbarian feasting on double-fisted legs of lamb or something.
yakiniku for 1,500 yen. Included in the deal are the drink bar
*note: drink bar = all you can drink access to the soda fountain/ beverage bar.
and the following are all you can eat:
curry (beef)
spare ribs
chorizo (spicy and good, but not the type of chorizo from back in SoCal. this stuff ain’t runny)
mild sausage
assorted cuts of beef including tongue, hormone, rose cut, calbee, and others
assorted cuts of pork
assorted cuts of chicken
vegetables including cabbage, carrots, and onions
The staff here are extremely friendly, and they have the capacity to seat large parties. I only wish I could have set up a party there once before I left…
Yokatei gets bonus points for having a 100 yen soft drink vending machine in the parking lot- the only other one that I know of is next to the 100 yen store in the Ozu Jusco and that one sells tall boys of Mountain Dew, but now I’m getting off topic. The vending machine is worth a stop alone on the way up.
To sum up, Yokayoka Tei gets my top spot because the management is nice, they are quick, they are very reasonably priced, they make great food, and they are open relatively late. Prices are equivalent to Joyfull prices, so you will feel stupid if you forget about this place and go to the Ichinomiya Joyfull instead.
Small restaraunt towards the top of Takimurozaka- I forget the name
When ascending Takimurozaka on the 57, you should get on the right hand side of the passing lane (you should do this anyways to pass those drivers that insist on going 30- there’s always at least one of them!) and turn right when you see the first restaraunt past Yokayokatei. This place sells katsucurry, all sorts of ramen, gyouza, assorted Japanese food, and chahan. My favorite ramen here is the stamina (the term for garlic) ramen. They put so much garlic in the broth that it is spicy. As a courtesy to other patrons, they also bring out a stick of strong mint gum after you finish the bowl.
Kaguraen Sobaya- For Everything Soba Flavored
This place makes good soba, and has standard Japanese fare, including oyakodon, tempura, and many soba dishes and combinations. You can also make your own soba, but I prefer mine to be professionally crafted. I was forced to eat soba that some shogakkusei made, and tried to ignore the pockets of hidden dry clumps of flour hidden in the jaggedly cut, sorry excuse for noodles. I recommend the tempura/soba set, along with the complimentary soba-cha (soba tea). Afterwards treat yourself to soba flavored soft cream outside at the parking lot stand. This place is in Namino, just before Ubuyama on the 57.
Big Rest Stop in Oita
About 10 minutes into Oita on the 57, you will see a big rest stop with a parking lot that can accomodate an entire convoy of kanko busses on the left. This place serves good chicken tempura (different from karage), but if you are strapped for cash I would go for the chahan. This fried rice is cheap, filling, and pretty good.
In the city I recommend the following places:
American Food- Masa’s
*note: this place has gotten expensive, but is the only place outside of Fukuoka that makes a good, big burger.
Indian Food- Nanak (weekdays are the cheapest time to eat here)
Mexican Food- Plaza Del Sol
Just to use the abundance of hot sauces- Freshness Burger
Okonomiyaki- The restaraunt (2nd story) on the corner of the Shimotori.
(as pointed to by Mark Fingerhut, with Matt sprinkling the aonori)
German food and a nice catalogue of beers- Oden
Chinese- the restaraunt on the 7th floor of Old Tsuruya, in the food court. I recommend the fried chicken.
Fukuoka Chain Restaraunts
Food in Fukuoka is outstanding, and luckily two chains are spreading throughout Kyushu. One is a yakiniku/ramen shop called Gofu (the kanji for “5” and “wind”). Their ramen is excellent, especially with the fried garlic topping (their tonkotsu broth is awesome), and the yakiniku is also good.
Pictured here is the Charsiu Ramen Set, complete with Charsiu Rice. It was outstanding. This picture was from Oita, but I know of two locations in Kumamoto. One is at the Higashi Bypass, near Super Autobacs, and the other is In Yamaga.
My other favorite chain from Fukuoka is called Ichiban Doori (Number One Chicken). This izakaya style restaraunt specializes in, you guessed it, chicken and it does chicken very very well. I recommend any of the kushiyaki (skewered food), the chicken karage with green onion sauce, and the potato mochi. Find a designated driver, because you will definetely want to drink beer if you go. Located on the oppposite side of the McDonalds in Ozu (but more towards the direction of Kumamoto City on the 57).

It Blew, Really Hard

Sailing opportunities in Japan have proved elusive, and so I jumped at the chance to go this Saturday in Sasebo, Nagasaki. The weather was beautiful as we pulled into Huis Ten Bosch– a Dutch-themed theme park/marina. I know almost nothing about the theme park because we stayed on the boat for the whole time, but this was what I wanted to do anyways. Heck, I always have Solvang the next time I go back to Santa Barbara…
I was shocked to see that the boat that we were going to race was none other than a Catalina 34- just like the one that we took out on occasion at the O.C.C. School of Sailing and Seamanship after work. Stepping on that boat was like stepping off the docks and back in to Newport Harbor after a two year hiatus.
The Stasha, a well maintained Catalina 34 from Nagasaki.

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Rainy Weekend

This weekend I had to work, and so I missed the last hash with our group in Kumamoto. I hope it went well, and that you all had to swim through the brown dirtiness that is the Shirakawa River. It rained all weekend long, which was a good thing. I did more this weekend then I usually do on weekends with fair weather.
This is the elephant in front of Ubuyama Junior High School. I think it has a really nice ass, don’t you? In a purely asthetic sense, that is…

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Takachiho, located in Northern Miyazaki-ken, is a beautiful, mountanous area. I have heard that bears can still be found in the surrounding forest, but have yet to see one. Also the aincent Kagura dance, the dance that represents the creation of Nippon (including the part about luring Amaterasu out of hiding in a cave in Aso), is performed in an isolated pocket of country deep in the mountains around here, for more than 24 straight hours by a die hard group of people carrying on the traditions of old (if you are interested in learning about Kagura, the Kagura-en in Namino has a guided tour, performances, and a (very boring) instructional video that you can experience, and you can learn how to make your very own soba with your hands. on a serious note, the soba soft serve is kick ass here- coming from Kumamoto City you can find the Kagura-en off of the 57, just past Takimurozaka). This particular location is Takachiho-kyou, or Takachiho Gorge.

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Finding Big Buddhas

In my neck of the woods of Japan, finding a statue of buddha is an everyday occourance. They are everywhere, and not all buddhas capture my eye. This one, in Taketa-shi, was remarkable.
It blows my mind that I have been living here for almost two years, and I still haven’t found every spectacle within driving distance. I spend a good amount of time trying to find new wonderful places, and I am yet to come up dry. Frankly, I am worried that I won’t get to see everything before I leave, so it’s time to step up the pace of my expeditions.
Carved into a verticle cliff with two fierce companions at his flank, this Buddha looks ready to bring the pain with his upraised sword. The caves to the right of the carvings hold temples that are under repair. To get here from Kumamoto (it doesn’t matter from where, as long as you get to the 57), take the 57 East towards Oita City and follow the signs to the Fukoji Temple Magaibutsu Stone Buddhas.

Oita’s Niagara Falls

After visiting the Oka Castle Ruins (in Taketa) I stumbled upon a sign that lead me to “Oita’s Niagara Falls”.
I guess it is kind of reminiscent of Niagara, but I was disappointed that they built a bridge across the top that acts as a dam, preventing water from cascading down the full width of the falls. It doesn’t seem like they even really needed to build it, in this specific spot anyhow. There is a perfectly serviceable bridge within view of this spot.
It’s really sad how the Japanese often mold natural spots into things that detract from the over all beauty when they don’t really need to. It is as if they need to put the stamp of man on nature, like a rancher brands his heard to make sure everyone knows that it’s his. I’m not against putting a bridge over the river, but I just think they could have done it in a more tasteful manner.
The area along the falls protected by the dam allow me to crawl into a pocket carved into the limestone on the edge to get a view of the water streaming over. On a side note, there are tons of fish in the reservoir next to the falls. If I have time, I am coming back with my fishing equipment.

Touring Central Kyushu

My favorite thing to do in Kyushu is to drive. I love driving in rural Kyushu for the following reasons:
*having the roads all to myself
*cutting around curve after curve after curve
*the rush of adrenaline I get from a well executed pass
*the smell of mountain air rushing in from my fully open side windows
*driving those neglected roads that no one else deems worth their time
*pushing my trusty Civic “Formula” Hatchback to its limits and taking care of it in return
*slingshotting out of a curve, pressing on the gas through the exit
*not having to use the break at all, controlling everything with the gas peddle (I do wish that I had a manual transmission, though)
*finding my way by using my compass and intuition, and occasionnaly my Super Mapple Kyushu Edition
*knowing that the music that I am enjoying at any particular moment is almost *certainly the first time anyone has ever enjoyed that particular piece in that *specific area (and most likely the last).
*discovering places that even the locals don’t know about or have forgotten.
*driving behind a skilled driver for a length of time and learning more about *driving by watching and imitating them.
*driving in adverse conditions with full confidence in my abilities and the abilities of my car
*experiencing a sustained runner’s high while driving (Although I have never had one when I was running, go figure).
*achieving a meditative state through driving
*learning kanji and new vocabulary from the roadside
*finding good places to sit down and read, hike, or explore
*seeing how many alternative paths there are to any one location
*looking for a good photographic opportunity
*seeing how many kilometers I can put on the odometer
*only losing traction when I specifically intend to
*splashing through a big puddle, shooting up a wave or rooster tail
*driving fast through a long tunnel
*remembering the location of speed traps and making mental notes of where the cops might be waiting in ambush
*narrowly avoiding running over/ smacking into assorted wildlife (tanuki, weasels, foxes, rabbits, wild boars, birds, caterpillars, frogs, snakes, etc…)
*flashing the hazards for courteous, experienced drivers who let me pass
These pictures were taken today, with the exception of the Roman Aqueduct, during a 4 and a half hour long drive around Aso. There are so many roads to explore around here, and just not enough time.
I found this aqueduct last Friday when driving the 8, south of Taketa (Oita-ken). It’s strange finding works like these in the middle of nowhere.
This is Shiraito-taki, or in English, “white thread waterfall”. In Nishihara, way off the main roads I came across this stunning waterfall. Kyushu is full of beautiful waterfalls, and I often come across them on my wanderings.

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