Otaku in Japan: Capcom Bar

Sadly, I don’t play video games as much as before. It’s a strange formula: The older I get, the less I play. Why can’t I get younger and play more? I’m lucky if I can sneak in a session of Hearthstone on my computer or Grumpy Bears on my phone. But I still consider myself a gamer at heart, so I appreciated my visit to the official Capcom Bar in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.

Welcome to the Capcom Bar. Technically the CAPCOM X PASELA ENTERTAINMENT BAR.

I say official because how else would the bar get away with having so much Capcom-branded gear? If you’re not familiar with Capcom, they are the creators of famous video games such as Street Fighter and Resident Evil.

She’s pretty well known. No, her name isn’t Street Fighter.

Capcom Bar is by reservation only and the staff was busy preparing for our arrival. As we waited in the lobby, a staff member emerged and said something. Disembodied toy cat heads danced above the doorway as he spoke. A few minutes later we were ushered inside.

The offending disembodied heads.

The interior was smaller than I expected. To the right was the main dining area, which was decorated with swag from popular Capcom video games such as Street Fighter, Monster Hunter and Resident Evil AKA Biohazard in Japan. TV screens were hooked up to gaming consoles that let customers play solo, with each other or bar staff. I’m not a fan of simultaneously playing video games and eating. Especially with greasy controllers. It’s too easy for my opponents to blame the grease when I win. Which doesn’t happen often.

Round One, Fight!

For those gamer double dates.

To the left was a bar with a smattering of tables. A lonely-looking Japanese girl was sitting at the bar, reading what looked like a manga. She gave me a smile when she saw me looking her way, but quickly turned when I took out my camera. Story of my life. Good thing we can get extra lives at the Capcom Bar. That’s gamer talk for more chances.

I don’t blame you. I’d turn away too.

The staff escorted my friends and me to our table. When the very enthusiastic staff began to speak, I just smiled and nodded when everyone else did. I was expecting them to be in cosplay, but they were dressed in standard black attire. It didn’t detract from their enthusiasm, however. Good thing tipping isn’t polite in Japan, else I would have felt obliged to tip every server, their enthusiasm was that enthusiastic.

The senior staff member at Capcom Bar.

It wasn’t just the interior that was Capcom-themed. The food and beverages were themed as well. Every dish on the menu was a reference to a Capcom video game, from Cammy from the Street Fighter series to the T-Virus from Resident Evil. Funny shapes and creative presentations made the food fun and balanced out the bland taste.

Notice the brain. And the blue syringe. It’s filled with the T-virus. Which you inject into the brain.

This is what meat always looks like in Japanese video games. Now we can finally eat it in real life.

My friend Megumi regaining HP.

Prices were reasonable for Japan. Expect to spend the equivalent of $20 to $30.

The menu. It had cool art on it, so I took some with me. Shhh.

The only real standout for me was dessert. Taking a page from Resident Evil, dessert was chestnuts and cream molded to look like a brain. Cut it open and you find a bloody cherry filling. It was light, with an airy sweetness that went well with the cherry. Plus they give you a miniature katana sword so you can slash and poke your brain to your heart’s content. Those crazy Capcom people.

Stick it with the pointy end.

Mmmm. Brains.

The staff gives you the opportunity to purchase Capcom swag. For collectors this is a treat, since many items are limited edition or can only be purchased at the Capcom Bar. They also hold a raffle for Capcom swag. Obviously I didn’t win, which is why you don’t see any pictures of the prizes.

Capcom swag. For the collector.

Some dishes are served with a surprise performance by the staff, who act out scenes from the video game the food is based on. For example, someone ordered a dish from Phoenix Wright, known in Japan as Turnabout Trial, where you play an attorney. It’s more fun than it sounds. The signature battle cry is a loud and hearty “OBJECTION!” The dish arrived with the staff acting out a scene, and then everyone yelled “OBJECTION!” at the customer who ordered the dish. I’m not sure what sentence the customer received. Probably indigestion.

Which I am happy to say I did not receive. I did leave the Capcom Bar more satisfied with the experience than the food. If you’re a fan of video games, specifically Capcom games, I would highly recommend going. If not, there are better themed restaurants to explore and just better restaurants to eat at in general.

P.S. If you’re wondering about my extra lives, the lonely girl left before I could spend them.

Capcom Bar
パセラリゾーツ新宿本店1F
1-3-16 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0021, Japan
+81 120-706-732

Capcom Bar

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Sipping toward the Joy of Sake: Kickoff party

Photo by Eric Baranda.

Photo by Eric Baranda.

Kampai! Get ready for the largest, most extensive sake-tasting event in the country — the largest in the world outside Japan — as the Joy of Sake kicks off ticket sales for its annual event happening July 31 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Hawaii Convention Center.

This year promises to be bigger than ever, with a record 391 sakes for you to taste and taste again. Not only are there 21 eateries participating — the most ever — this is a sneak peek at three of Hawaii’s most anticipated restaurants: SKY Waikiki, chef Chris Kajioka’s mystery Kaimuki venue and Lee Anne Wong’s upcoming noodle and sake bar.

Miss Sake 2015 Sachie Ogawa.

Miss Sake 2015 Sachie Ogawa.

To add to the festivities, Miss Sake 2015 Sachie Ogawa will be pouring namazake (unpasteurized sake) in a special tasting section. Like young wines, namazake has a more lively taste, with contrasting flavors and sharper edges. It’s usually seen in the spring, after the traditional sake brewing season has ended, but you can get it year-round now. You can also test your senses with some industry experts, to learn more about detecting the variety of aromas in sakes.

The sake ship from Yokohama just arrived in Honolulu and the countdown to the Joy of Sake has begun. All 391 cases of fresh sake will clear customs, get sorted for different events, get blind-tasted and judged at the U.S. National Sake Appraisal in Honolulu, and then we’ll taste it on July 31! Eric Baranda captured the scene at Thursday night’s kickoff, which featured a small preview of the sake selection. Harbor View Center, which will soon be turned into a regular restaurant, provided sake-friendly foods for pairing.

Joy of Sake's 2015 kickoff

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Here’s a lesson we got in sake tasting from Lito Pineda yesterday. It got us educated and ready to try 383 more sakes on July 31!

 

 

Joy of Sake 2015
July 31, 2015, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Hawaii Convention Center
$95 presale, $105 at the door
Early access from 5:30 for $145
Click here to buy tickets

Otaku in Japan: Ramen Jiro

I love ramen. I could eat ramen every day. I did for a while, until it took a toll on my wallet and my stomach. Skinny guy with a beer belly was not the look I was going for. So now I hit the gym after every ramen meal. The gym usually hits back, though.

While living out my fantasy of visiting Japan recently, my friend Shiguchi-san took me to a hole-in-the-wall by the name of Ramen Jiro. Located in Tamachi, a district of Tokyo, this shop’s claim to fame is being the original Ramen Jiro, the first of a chain that spread throughout the country. Shiguchi-san explained that this place was sacred to Japanese ramen otaku. If you missed my past post, otaku is the Japanese word for someone who is extremely passionate about something to the point of being obsessive. It’s not really a good thing to be called, so don’t go around calling random people otaku, unless they’re your friends. And even then, you should think hard first.

I think it says Ramen Jiro.

My friend says this is the address. I’ll take his word for it.

The day was hot. I was looking forward to a cool glass of soda. Then I found out that soda isn’t served with ramen in Japan. At least, not in traditional ramen spots. It’s more of a western thing to drink soda with everything. Or maybe it’s just my thing. This place was so small that it didn’t serve anything but water. If you wanted something else, you had to look towards the vending machine by the entrance.

The line is short. Let’s see what we can get to drink.

A very rare sight in Japan: graffiti.

I found out that most Japanese ramen shops have you order via a machine at the entrance. The machine has a picture menu of the choices. You deposit your yen and a ticket or chip comes out. You then hand it over to the cook and your bowl is prepared. My friend guided me through the process and I ended up getting the signature dish, which I believe was also the cheapest. I think it was between 600 and 680 yen, roughly the equivalent of $6 to $7. Authentic Japanese ramen for less than $8? Take my money.

According to Wikipedia, a blue chip is stock in a corporation with a national reputation for quality and reliability.

While standing at the entrance waiting for a seat to open up, I got a good view of the interior. It was tiny. There was a bar that sat roughly 12 people, with the cook and his assistants working frenetically behind it. Heat from the stove, the boiling broth and the customers filled the tiny space. Ramen Jiro must be magical for people to subject themselves to such furnace-like conditions. Or maybe I was just hot, sweaty and tired from all the walking it took to get there.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

The cook was like a military commander, the assistants his lieutenants, and the customers his troops. The cook barked orders at his assistants and the customers, and like an assembly line, bowls were filled, ramen slurped and seats emptied. My friend told me that it’s Japanese style to eat as fast as you can, so you can get out of there quick. Japanese people are always busy and have places to go, according to Shiguchi-san.

Not today, though, because I tripped up the assembly line.

Moving like a machine. Until the foreigner from Hawaii screwed everything up.

While making their bowls, the cook asked each customer something, to which the customer responded. Everyone pretty much gave the same response. Basically it was to ask for extra garlic and vegetables. Without looking, the cook would fill the bowl with the extra ingredients, already anticipating the standard response, moving a fraction of a second after the response was given.

When it came to me, I froze. Shiguchi-san had even told me what to say. For whatever reason, I couldn’t say the words correctly and everything stopped. The cook stared at me, his assistants stared at me, the customers stared at me. I felt like ramen zombies wanted to eat my brains. Luckily Shiguchi-san was patient and helped me pronounce the words correctly. Then everyone could resume eating again. I believe the words were, “yasai mashi mashi ninniku.”

All you had to say was yasai mashi mashi ninniku.

I made the mistake of eating a big breakfast that morning. It was Japan and the food was good everywhere, so I ate a big breakfast. And it’s ramen and I love ramen, so I had no doubt I could finish whatever was put in front of me. I was wrong.

There was a mountain of sprouts in my bowl. I hate sprouts. But I had already caused one scene and didn’t want to cause another. Aside from the sprouts, everything else was amazing. The broth was spicy and full of flavor and seasonings that made me sweat, but I was already sweating so it didn’t matter. If you like salty, this broth is for you. There was a generous portion of chopped garlic, which I love as well. The noodles were much thicker and firmer than ramen noodles in Hawaii. There was even a hint of egg taste, which I loved. The portions were huge. So was the mountain of sprouts. And there was no takeout at Ramen Jiro.

I love ramen, but I hate sprouts. I’m so confused.

Regretting having eaten breakfast, I attacked my ramen like a prizefighter. I could’ve been a contender, but in the final rounds I got hit with the TKO. Lucky for me, Shiguchi-san was a champ. He ate his bowl and the remaining half of mine. I tip my ramen bowl to you, sir.

You just have to dig deep sometimes. Dig real deep.

If you’re ever in Tokyo and love ramen, don’t eat breakfast, get ready to walk, and practice saying “yasai mashi mashi ninniku.” You’ll find yourself at Ramen Jiro, ready to fill the hole in your heart and stomach with what’s been missing all this time: sprouts.

That’s my friend Shiguchi-san standing on the left. Check out the line. We came early. They didn’t. Sayonara!

Ramen Jiro
三田2-16-4
Minato, 東京都 〒108-0073

(Mita 2-16-4
Minato-ku, Tokyo)

Otaku in Japan: Ninja Akasaka Cafe

I would never suspect a ninja stronghold within modern-day Tokyo, but that’s what the art of ninjutsu is all about: deception and misdirection.

Being a lifelong fan of Japanese culture, I finally fulfilled my dream of traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun. It was everything I imagined and more. The experience was enhanced by local Japanese friends who took it upon themselves to show me around. Knowing that I’m otaku, the Japanese word for geek, my friend Suguru thought I would get a kick out of visiting a ninja cafe. He was right.

Behind this unassuming door lies a land of shadow and mystery.

Welcome to Ninja Akasaka

The ninja were adamant about keeping their secrets to themselves, so I wasn’t able to snap as many pictures as I would have liked. I got a few while they weren’t looking. I’ve always wanted to out-ninja a ninja.

The interior is like taking a step back through time into the streets of feudal Japan. The host greets you as you enter, then summons a ninja from the shadows to guide you to your room. The ninja knocks on a wooden wall and takes you through a trap-filled corridor, complete with a pit trap.

The going was dark and treacherous, so I decided to play it safe and use my hands to hug the walls instead of take pictures. Once we got through, I took a few quick pics of the darkened interior.

The interior of Ninja Akasaka.

There’s not much light inside.

When our party was seated we were greeted by our server, a kunoichi. A kunoichi is a female practitioner of the ninja arts. I didn’t get her name, maybe because ninjas don’t reveal their true names. More likely it was because my understanding of Japanese is poor. However, a ninja is skilled and our kunoichi spoke excellent English, guiding me through the menu and the Ninja Akasaka experience.

Not our server, but one of many kunoichi hiding in the shadows.

A helpful ninja scroll showing the menu in English.

The food played on themes that are important to the art of ninjutsu: illusion, misdirection, deception and skill. We had a lot of sake that night, so some of my pics came out blurry. Maybe that was part of the ninja plan all along?

What first looked like a row of sushi turned out to be something quite different. Slices of red tomato were cut and arranged to look like traditional tuna on sushi rice. It was an interesting experience, expecting the velvet texture of tuna, only to be greeted by the watery crunch of tomato.

This isn’t sushi.

A famous skill of ninjas is the ability to walk on water. This dish simulates that: Choice sashimi pieces are laid upon a block of ice resting on another block of dry ice, creating a mist that flows out from underneath the sashimi and giving the illusion of walking on water. Nothing else really needs to be said because it’s sashimi in Japan, so of course it was delicious.

Walking on water.

We had pork in what appeared to be a lantern in the shape of a pig. Our kunoichi gave an explanation behind this, but I don’t remember much so I’m going to assume it’s pork hiding in a pig. Which sounds about right.

That’s a cute pig.

Hiding in the pig was pork. Of course.

Desserts were all about disguise and misdirection as well. There was a snow frog made of cheesecake that hid fruits inside its belly. The kunoichi made it snow by sprinkling white sugar on it. A tasty pastry was wrapped in golden foil to appear like a koban, a gold piece from feudal Japan.

What secrets do you hold?

Money never tasted so sweet.

The highlight of the evening was a taste of ninja magic. Ninja performed such incredible feats of skill that they gained a reputation for practicing magic. In the middle of the meal, our kunoichi summoned her ninja brother, a master of the magic arts. She requested that we take no pics during the demonstration to prevent their secret techniques from being stolen. Not wanting a clan of angry ninjas hunting me down, I complied. The demonstration consisted of tricks with cards, ropes and coins, all very entertaining.

Later that evening, our kunoichi performed her own ninja magic. She produced a platter and unveiled a quail egg. She then set it on fire, did some ninja mumbo jumbo and promptly changed it into a fully cooked quail. Her brother would’ve been proud. The quail was stuffed with tasty meats and vegetables, another nod to the ninja skill of hiding.

Don’t try this at home.

That was quick.

And we have some tasty quail.

As we left Ninja Akasaka, our kunoichi met us at the door and presented us with ninja scrolls, thanking us for our visit. She then displayed that she was a high-level ninja by crafting a custom-made scroll just for me.

Our kunoichi.

Thanks, kunoichi. See you next time.

Maybe one day I can also train to become a high-level ninja. Until that day, Ninja Akasaka will have a place in my heart. A shadowy place.

Ninja Akasaka
100-0014, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Nagatacho
2-14-3 Akasaka Tokyu Plaza 1F
TEL: 03-5157-3936
http://www.ninjaakasaka.com/

Party pics: Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival red carpet

Beautiful people were out in force Thursday evening for the 26th Annual Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival’s red carpet event at Doris Duke Theatre. Olympic gold medalist diver Greg Louganis was in attendance to support the festival, which is presented by the Honolulu Gay & Lesbian Cultural Foundation and runs until June 7.

The HRFF is one of the longest-running Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) film festivals in the country. This year, the festival is screening 23 feature films and 20 short films from around the world. On June 06, Louganis will present the Festival Centerpiece Film, his award-winning documentary “Back on Board.” HRFF26 will conclude with the Closing Night Film, “I Am Michael,” starring James Franco, Zachary Quinto and Emma Roberts.

The festival is taking place at Doris Duke Theatre and Consolidated Kahala Theatres. Visit hglcf.org for more information and tickets.

2015 Rainbow Film Festival Red Carpet

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