Thursday, June 28, 2012

Kamakura Shopping & Eating, a bucket list

My Japanese is non-existent, I'm illiterate here. As a result, I don't know the names of most of the shops that I frequent. We've made up for our illiteracy, that being my husband and I, by giving our favorite places nicknames. When we say "The Soba Shop" or "The Pottery Shop," we know exactly where we mean. Here, I'm including visuals, links, and most of the proper names to help you find them, my goodbye gift to you and them. These are the places in  Kamakura, Japan, that I return to again and again. I pass them now to you. Tell them we sent you! Post a photo! I'm going to miss these places.

I personally can't get enough pottery, sewing supplies, and treats to eat even after five fabulous years (2007 to 2012)!

Entrance to Komachi-dori in Kamakura the main shopping street


1. Swany, the sewing & fabric store

The sewing mecca, Swany is the place that made me want to sew! You might discover the sewing bug yourself or at least be inspired to stitch again if it has fallen to the wayside. Check their website for lessons, upcoming sales, and to get a feel for what they offer. There are three entrances and two Swany shops in Kamakura only a few steps from each other. The old shop sells the fabric for clothes and has discounts and remnant fabrics on the second floor, don't miss it. The new shop will make you drool or perhaps inspire you to redo your couch or take a lesson or maybe just pretend that you went to France. Be sure to check out their garden space. For every 1000¥ (about $10) you get a free pattern, in Japanese. However, if you stare at them long enough, have an iPhone photo to consult, and have some sewing experience, you can often figure them out. Remember to draw them out on paper, add your seam allowance (none of the patterns have a seam allowance added), and if all else fails, take a lesson, find a teacher, or search the internet.





2. Donguri Garden どんぐり ガーデン (The Totoro Shop)

This is one of the official shops for Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli. His classic animated film My Neighbor Totoro is why we went to the shop, but it was the goodies that kept us coming back. International friends may know his film Spirited Away better. There is always something charming to be found here, particularly for children and movie fans. It sits near the entrance of Komachi-dori the shopping street near the train station.

Totoro Shop in Kamakura

3. Ceramic Shops Denkama (田窯) Kamakura 

My favorite ceramic shops offer variety and reasonable prices which appeal to the butterfingers in me; I break a lot of dishes. I happily stocked up so that when I break things back in the USA, I will have a few replacements stashed in my basement.

There is another shopping street along the back side of the Kamakura train station and toward the beach, it is usually less crowded and equally pleasant. At the end of this back shopping street, walk across the track and across the road, and look slightly to your left-- it does have a parking lot next to it if approached by car.

The Komachi-dori Pottery shop- go up to the 2nd floor

Pottery shop toward the beach
Parking is next to it


4. Nugoo, a tengui shop

Nugoo is a tengui shop for the colorful, seasonal, and ever changing cloths that you can use or display. They show a video in the shop of how they are made-- think large vats of ink and lots of water and steam with men stirring it all with large wooden paddles. I so wished I could see them being made in person, but I have at least twenty of these to admire in the meantime. Stop by the hills of Ohio someday for a look see or get some for yourself while touring Kamakura.

Nugoo for tengui cloths


5. Gelato at Il Brigante

Eat gelato at Il Brigante, say ciao to the Gelato Master, Emiliano, and sample the tastiest gelato anywhere. The Mule goes for caffe espresso or an affogato al caffe if she hasn't already gotten a matcha soft serve elsewhere. The Moose is his most ardent fan and likes everything. Be prepared, Emiliano is known to steer you toward good flavor combinations, take his advice! Just stopping by one last time brought tears to my eyes. We've been going since they opened.

Emiliano the gelato master at his helm at Il Brigante


6. Eat Torijiru & Udon at Miyoshi

Miyoshi, is my all-time favorite udon shop and is the one we refer to when we say, "The Udon Shop." Sign up on the list sitting outside, there always seems to be a line. Order the chicken soup (tori-jiru) with the side of tempura. Udon is served either hot (kamage) or cold (zaru). Word has gotten out that these guys are the udon masters, but for me it's also the touches of mitsuba and yuzu peel that make their broth stand out. A cold day or a cold brew make this meal perfecto. I have it on good authority that their nihonshu collection is also quite respectable.

Hands down, my favorite udon shop: Miyoshi
Get the chicken soup, dip the noodles into the soup, and then eat!


7. Nakamura-an (The Soba Shop)

I have several photos of the munsters starring into the window and watching the chef roll out and cut soba noodles here. There is often a line and it is a tight fit due to the small tables and space, but for my yen, Nakamura-an is the best soba shop in Kamakura. The line always seems longer for us parents, as the ladies in charge easily recognize our blonde nihonjins and whisk them into the restaurant without us. A Tokyo friend once told me that I like country soba, the darker version made with more buckwheat. Whiter sobas are apparently preferred in Tokyo, but white soba makes me wish I was eating udon (see above). The darker soba stands on its own as a taste. I do prefer it cold as it gets too soft when sitting in a bowl of hot liquid even in winter, but there are those who slurp faster than me. Definitely get it with a side of tempura!

A note for eating it properly: The soba is served with a dipping sauce, the lacquer container with a lid. The bits of green onion, ginger, and wasabi in the lid are used to season the sauce to taste. The servers will place the sauce closest to you with the plate of noodles behind it which is to facilitate the dip and slurp method-- pick up noodles (furtherest away) with chopsticks and dip into sauce (right in front of you), and insert into your mouth). If you order tempura, there will be another dipping sauce, usually presented in an open bowl accompanied by grated daikon radish-- it will be placed right in front of the tempura. Don't show your greenhorns by mixing up your sauces! As you finish your meal, the server will bring a lacquer pitcher to the table filled with hot soba broth. Pour it into the noodle dipping sauce to make a tasty soup and drink it, no spoons.

The Soba Shop- have to work on my Japanese
Munsters watching the Soba being made


8. The Starbucks! 

There are two Starbucks in Kamakura, the obvious one by Kamakura Station and the artistically inspiring one on the backside of the station. It sits across from the Kamakura City Offices in Onarimachi and is behind the Kinokuniya International food store. It's the design, styling, and space that are the attraction as it is was built by the Starbucks owner in his hometown on the grounds of magna artist Ryuichi Yokoyama's home. They even have blankets on the deck when it's cold outside. There is no better space in Kamakura for sipping caffeine than out on the deck.

The Starbucks! view from the deck


9. Soft cream

The Mule recommends matcha green tea flavor, though I'm not sure every child from the cradle likes coffee and matcha as much as this one. Green tea is full of good stuff and ubiquitous in Japan. Try it. The pink one is sweet potato, a common flavor for soft cream and an abundant crop around here.
Matcha, Sweet Potato, & Vanilla Soft Cream



10. Kamakura's Farmer Market

Four groups of farmers rotate days at the market. Friends and I once ate a very expensive but lovely lunch in Ginza that was prefaced by "from Kamakura." This is the place from which they purchased the said vegetables. Early morning shoppers, about seven, will find many a chef purchasing items for the day's menu. Treat yourself, the prices are great and the produce is beautiful.

Outside view of Kamakura's Farmer's Market
Farmer's bounty



11. Patagonia

It's not necessarily fashionable, but I can never have enough quick drying, comfortable, rugged clothes for small children to spill things on. Being the family pack mule, I have come love my light weight Patagonia packs. I also couldn't resist the belt with beer bottle opener buckle, now that is my idea of clothes for an adventure.



12. Shundool 

Clothes for the funky hippie chic that I am at heart. I love to drool here.


Walk up to the 2nd floor for Shundool


13. The Washi Paper Store

One of the shopkeepers speaks a bit of English at this paper store which sits along Komachi-dori. The colors and patterns of washi paper are mesmerizing. The paper lasts and lasts. If you have an inkling toward paper crafts, bookbinding, or interesting cards, shop here. They have a traditional game, reminds me of pin the tail on the donkey, where you blindfold kids and have them put parts of the face onto a head, gets a laugh every time. Our search for the game led us here and the paper kept me coming back.

Washi Paper Shop



14. The Sushi Roundabout, Totoyamichi Kamakura

As you head toward the beach on the left side, you will eventually encounter Totoyamichi Kamakura which is a kaiten-zushi or kuru-kuru-sushi, the sushi-go-round. Our time in Bahrain with all of it's roundabouts, combined with our Japanese illiteracy, led us to refer to this place as the Sushi Roundabout. Saturdays, before noon, is the key time to be there. It's when they play the "Maguro" song by the fishermen band, Gyoko. Curious? See the link. After this prelude the bell is rung and then two chefs parade the twenty to thirty kilogram maguro a tuna fish-- heavier than one of my children. Every bit of it is sliced, eaten, and used.  Look up as a parking lot is the ground floor and you have to walk up to the second floor for the restaurant. I'm not a huge fan of sushi, but I'm married to someone who is and the fish based miso soup with seasonal vegetables (weekends only) is worth getting out of bed for. 

The sushi round about, tuna carving on weekends only




15. T-Side Indian Restaurant

We ate curry at T-side every Saturday for at least the first year or two. Japanese curry tends to be slightly sweet which just seems wrong to me. I learned to eat curry in Bahrain, in the Middle East, where most of the cooks are Indian, Pakistani, or Sri Lankan if you peer into the kitchens. Family favorites at T-Side include nan, mango lassis, dal curry, chicken curry, samosa, and when they have them the masala dosa. We still quote our favorite waiter, "How are you my friend? You must eat!" He was speaking mainly to our children, but we appreciated his concern and that without asking he always brought two mango lassis, first things first, for said munsters who were really there for the lassis and the nan. There is another Indian restaurant near the beach with a better view, a nicer space, but the curry could not compare to T-Side in my book.

Look for T-Side off the main street, near the gelato stand


16.  Kua'Aina Burger

My Hawaiian friend first took me here and we also had our last meal together there. My American children aren't big on burgers, but when I can convince them to eat one, this is where I head. More burger joints should offer an avocado burger! Kau'Aina Burger is a Hawaii based chain. The whole Hawaii love fest in Japan is another blog.




17. Omachi's Lawsons

An old neighborhood friend reminded me that I had not included the heavily frequented Lawson of Omachi. It amazes me that I can buy fresh onigiri, vegetables, milk, pay my bills, and get tickets to events and museums here as well as use the copy machine. They also have an ATM but it doesn't work with our cards, we have to find a 7-11, nonetheless, this place has something you need.

Omachi's Lawson


18. The Ramen Shop

A regular reader may surmise that I have a weakness for yuzu a Japanese citrus akin to a lemon. This ramen shop serves a Shonan style ramen that blends fish and pork broth together with hits of yuzu and is served with thick slices of roasted pork. I can't read the menu, but I always order shio ramen-- salt as a opposed to soyu ramen with soy sauce broth. I've happily slurped noodles with delivery guys, my mother, my children, a friend or two, and no one in particular. It cures all that ails you and is my go to lunch for a run-down mama with errands to do day. It is conveniently located across from the Tokyu grocery store.

The Ramen Shop


19. Yakitori, 2 shops, the Master and the Charmer

The Yakitori Master at work

He's got his technique down and everything. It's a tight fit at the Yakitori Master's shop. Drunks can lean back and close their eyes for a momentary snooze-- the walls are that close. My husband and I were once out run by three Asian men who made a beeline and got there before us, we were pretty sure they were Chinese. I was furious, but this is a place worth a footrace. There is nothing like it. The tight circle around the grill insures a companionly atmosphere and even a few free drinks as we've blundered our way through the Japanese only menu hanging from sticks on the wall. There is some kind of soup served as part of the meal if you ask for it toward the end. The look and point method works too.

I should add for the novices that yakitori is grilled skewers of meat often chicken, pork, chicken livers, fish balls, and some vegetables. If you can't read a Japanese menu, spruce up on traditional yakitori offerings. Our tact is to keep asking until something comes. Some good ones to ask for include negi tori, momo tori, mochi, shitake, pima, atsuage, butabara.

The yakitori master's shop sits off of Komachidori
The menu, sticks on the wall

The Charmer, not its real name, is another yakitori shop that I like. It sits right next to the Kamakura Farmer's Market. You sit outside and order beers and yakitori-- you have to know the names of the items you want as the menu is in Japanese. It's simple, but tasty. I like the salt taste so I go for shio


Yakitori shop next to the Kamakura Farmer's Market


20. Akari Dining


Get the aji fry with umeboshi and shiso stuffing! Woohoo. Maybe the t-shirt, not for me but some like it. My husband joked it was truth in advertising. The portion sizes are healthy and there are always a few skinny chicks in there mowing it down. The fish is boneless with the pickled plum and shiso herb rolled inside and then fried. It is located off of the backside of Kamakura station on Onarimachi pass the Kinokuniya (on the left side), Akari is on the right side if coming from the station. It is also conveniently near Hachimangu shrine.


Akari Dining T-shirt
Aji fry at Akari Dining



All for Now

I love a lot of places in Kamakura. I hope you will be inspired to try some new ones if you should visit. I'm plotting my own return in about ten years just so I don't have to think that I will never be back. My heart winces at the thought, but I have about another week to enjoy what I can!