This is an invitation from JPassport for Japan Rail Cafe’s Tottori Night, held over two days from Mon, 11 Sep 2017 at their premise in Tanjong Pagar Centre, conveniently located just beside Tanjong Pagar MRT station on ground level. Part of the requirement for this invitation is to blog about Tottori prefecture, so I will be touching on a little extra apart from the promised food… Tottori Kani Chirashi Don!
About Japan Rail Cafe
To start with, Japan Rail Cafe is a very interesting concept and the brain child of JR East Japan, it is also the first of such creation in the world. It’s more than a cafe really, comprises of mainly three sections, notably restaurant, retail corner, and a JTB counter. JTB counter there sells most of the JR rail passes you will ever need for your Japan holiday (perhaps some theme parks tickets too), including those beyond JR East Japan’s network (ie. JR West Japan, JR Hokkaido, JR Kyushu, JR Shikoku etc), some possibly available for a higher prices in Japan, but many of such passes are not even available there. The retail corner sells thematic items related to rail travel in Japan, and also stocks regional Japan produces including fashion, accessories, food etc. The beauty in it is that, many of these items are also seasonal, on display according to different monthly theme that the cafe is projecting. So chances are, if you see them on display this month, you probably won’t see them again next month. Hence if you find something that you really fancy over there, grab it immediately, and don’t even hope they will slash prices to clear stock, which I haven’t seen any to date. To be honest, most of these items are Japan made, therefore commanding a premium prices on their workmanship and quality. The restaurant part is really the unique section. On any normal day, it functions as a restaurant. But for a few days in a month, a couple of hours each time, they transform into an event location, hosting a series of activities to promote interest in Japan. And despite JR East Japan’s involvement, the cafe actually goes beyond East Japan region, such as San’in region for this month, which is completely outside JR East Japan’s territory. It’s safe to say they are acting to promote tourism in entire Japan, focusing on a different region each month. They truly intend to showcase Japan is more than just the Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto that we know. The cafe’s tiny Community’s Corner also provides a wide number of travel guide books for patrons to browse for free, pity most of them, and in fact the better ones are in Japanese, so unless you know the language, these are as good as alien books to you. A unique thing about their menu is that, they change it periodically, sometime according to the different region they are promoting. Therefore, they don’t have a ‘fixed’ menu, using their free monthly tabloid as their menu instead, sort of creative in my opinion! But that also means, if you find some cuisine or drink you absolutely love, again, you may or may not find it available next month, so maybe you need to communicate your support by blogging about it, patronising Japan Rail Cafe over and over for it, I don’t know! LOL! Anyway, the cafe also engages some Japanese as waitresses, probably as intern, as such you can expect a pleasant Japanese hospitality there.
I ain’t making this up, but my very first impression as a child on Japan was on Tottori prefecture’s famous 20th Century Pear. No I didn’t try them, but for some reason I couldn’t remember, I regularly saw those carton boxes with Tottori pears inside. Since then, I have travelled to Japan 8 times, however, I was never able to squeeze Tottori inside my itineraries. Being remote was one big reason, and mainly because I found it hard to find sufficient itineraries there to justify a long detour from where Shinkansen (新幹線) plies.
Tottori is located on the west side of Japan, facing Japan Sea in a region known as the San’in region rather than the more populated Sanyo region where Japan’s bullet trains traverse. I did intend to visit San’in region back in 2011 while I was travelling in Hiroshima, but I found out it’s too time consuming and costly, it’s all mountains in-between! By rail, Tottori is actually more accessible via Okayama or Kyoto’s Tango Peninsula. But if you are travelling on certain JR rail passes, you won’t have to pay extra going via Okayama on JR railways, that’s all I can say without going into complicating details here. And if you are keen to get to Tottori by rail, Japan Rail Cafe actually have a dedicated counter to answer your enquiries as well as the selling of rail passes. There are of course, domestic flights from major cities in Japan, and if you know the approach, the more economical highway express buses. Needless to say, you can also self-drive.
To be honest, I don’t consider myself knowing a lot on Tottori, though I do know a few notable attractions including Tottori Sand Dunes, MIZUKI Shigeru Road, Mitokusan Sanbutsuji Temple, Tottori 20th Century Pear Museum, Gosho AOYAMA Mango Factory (read: Detective Conan). After viewing the night’s presentation by our host, Misa MIYAGAWA, I got to learn a few more, the love station Koi-Yamagata, and the pink train at Wakasa station!
Believe me, I can go on for many hours elaborating these attractions, but I do not want to deviate too far from the subject of this blog, that is, food or its relevant experience. So, allow me to just share some pictures taken from internet (from Tottori Tourism, unless otherwise stated), those interested can click on my link above (no worries, no ads content) or simply google them online or turn to Tottori Tourism homepage. And if you know these attractions’ Chinese terms, can probably learn more from Taiwanese bloggers, truth be told, they are in general, the best bloggers on Japan.
I only learned Tottori is famous for crabs 2 years ago, during a trip to Tokyo where I chance upon Tottori’s mascot, Toripy and the delicious looking Matsuba Kani from Tottori. Seriously, until then, I only know Tottori produces pears. Back then, I found out that Tottori has another name, Kanitori-ken (蟹取県), which loosely translated into a prefecture where you can ‘collect’ many crabs!
What I only realise tonight, is that Tottori is the largest producer of Matsuba crab, close to 5 times more than Hokkaido despite having the least population in entire Japan!
Invited patrons were presented with brochures on Tottori and some postcards, served iced tea and Tottori chelae upon seated. How did the chelae taste like, you asking? Well, it tasted like plastic, very artificial. Just kidding, it’s a pen!
We weren’t kept to wait for long before the spotlight dinner was served, their new Tottori Kani Chirashi Don! Comprising cucumber and omelette cubes, lotus root, salmon roes, and of course, the main cast Tottori Matsuba crab meat, the freshness goes beyond doubt! I can tell from the salmon roes, its sweetness was so overpowering that it’s about as fresh one can get in Singapore. The crab meat, being the focus, was tender, chewy, and one bite, all the satisfaction began smearing out from my facial expression. Of course, knowing the price of a Matsuba crab, one cannot expect a very generous portion of it in the bowl, but it’s enough to make a difference. There’s two ways in appreciating this cuisine, the first is to eat it as it was served. The second, is to pour radish broth (See the tea pot there? Inside is not tea hor) over it, and eat it as soaked rice. Actually the way I see it, there will be a third, depending on when you add those condiments such as sesame, wasabi, and seaweed flakes into the rice, before or after adding the broth. And I must say, no matter how you enjoy it, you will find this very fulfilling!
Having said that, I have strong reason to believe this has to be strictly seasonal, because Japan is very conscious about sustainability, and they actually have windows for crab harvest, giving time for the crabs to re-produce. Hence, enjoy it while you can, I may be wrong, but this ain’t likely to stay on their menu for long.We were also given small sampling of Tottori’s Pink Curry. I know what you are thinking, artificial colouring? No! The pink colour was achieved by using beetroot, another specialty in Tottori. And you are thinking only a train and a train station in Tottori can be pink?? Far from it! In fact, San’in region is promoting itself as a romantic region, so what better colour to use than pink! Actually, this pink curry is the invention of Brilliant Associates, believed to have drew inspiration from a French Renaissance-style manor located in Tottori called Jinpukaku. Typical of Japan, Jinpukaku has its own representative characters which are the four beautiful regal sisters, namely Ririka, Sarika, Marika and Yurika who are dressed in French renaissance clothings. Ririka is the youngest child fancied by everyone; Sarika is the third child who loves to draw; Marika is the second daughter who is cheerful, vivacious and loves waltz; while Yurika is the eldest sibling who loves to play the violin. Out of the many colours, pink is a traditionally feminine colour which seems to best suit the image of these four pretty, sophisticated, and aristocratic ladies so it was chosen to colour the curry! (Source: Jpninfo.com)
However, according to our host, Risa Miyagawa, Brilliant Associates could have co-related the four sisters’ ‘華麗’ (pronounced similar to ‘curry’ in Japanese) dresses to curry, hence using them on their packaging.
Nevertheless, this certainly reminds me of Western Australia’s Lake Hillier! So how does it taste like? Don’t expect it to go anywhere near the spiciness of an Indian curry, more towards Japanese curry naturally, slightly sweeter in my opinion, and very much retaining the same savoury.
We were also served some sake samples as our host continued her presentation, believing to be Nokyo (野花) Ume sake, a plum wine. I understand that the plum used in Nokyo is of a very special species, grown only in specific area in Tottori. Upon ripen, it is then soaked in sake barrel of Junmai sake for more than 2 years, giving the sake a rather fruity aroma. It is recommended that the sake serve chilled (5-10°C) on the rock, or warm (40-60°C). We were first offered chilled Nokyo, I noted its fruitiness. Pardon me, I ain’t a sake drinker, am afraid that’s all I can describe about it. Minutes later, we were served Nokyo again, this time warm. Interestingly, now it exudes a very intense fragrance and rich aftertaste, a complete contrast to what I had just tried a little while ago. Am I really trying the same wine? You bet. Such is the characteristic of Nokyo.
Find out more from Umetsu Shuzo (梅津酒造) if interested.
Huh? Shinkansen? No, not the one (新幹線) you know. But yes, it’s Shinkansen (新甘泉) I mentioned, somehow they share the same pronunciation in Japanese. I don’t know how the name comes about really, but the word ‘甘’ in Mandarin means sweet, and I suppose you can relate ‘泉’ to juicy. It was indeed sweet and juicy. And it is a relatively new species too, having developed as a cross-breed between 20th Century & Chikusui (筑水) pears back in 1989. Apparently, Tottori didn’t sit back and rely just on their famous 20th Century Pear they reportedly ‘borrowed’ from Chiba prefecture (but never return, lol).
Oh, no prize guessing who’s the VIP… and it’s here to give out prizes! By the way, Toripy is also a cross-breed, between a bird and a pear. That’s why you will see a black ‘antenna’ out of its head, resembling a pear.
As for the prizes, I’d really hope the organiser would be giving out the crabby hat and Toripy plush, in the end, they gave away something more costly, such as Matsuba Kani from Tottori!
Special thanks to JPassport for the invitation, and Japan Rail Cafe for the hospitality.
11:00 hr – 21:00 hr