Tokyo Diaries – Ume 2014: Kameido Tenjin

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Spring is in the air.

My fellow Tokyo expat blogger Rurousha said of plum blossoms that they’re “the shy girls hiding in the library while the cherry blossom cheerleaders are prancing about on the football field”.  No question, it’s the sakura that are the belle of the ball – they’re the ones folks plans their vacations around and countless Japanese stake out prime spots at six in the morning to get drunk while in view of.  But there’s something special about the ume, too, no question about it.

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I like ume for a variety of reasons, not least that you can view them without being trampled by hordes of people.  They represent a true “Yuki-hana” (Natsume Yuujinchou fans will know what I mean) as they’re the harbingers of a new spring.  They’re also the favorite flowers of one of my favorite Japanese historical figures, Sugawara no Michizane.  He’s the Heian scholar and poet who was deified as Tenjin after his death (of a broken heart after being exiled from his beloved Kyoto, they say) and enshrined at various Tenjin Shrines all over Japan.  He’s the Kami of choice for scholars, which makes his Shrines exceptionally popular among students hoping for academic success, and as he loved plums and cows those shrines almost invariably have both.

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Tokyo has two Tenjin Jinja of primary importance (and many smaller ones), and I paid a visit to one of them today – Kameido Tenjinja.  I visited here a few months back for their Chrysanthemum Festival and Shichi-Go-San, and they – along with many Tenjin Shrines – are currently holding their Ume Festival.  This isn’t the Tenjin Shrine that keeps popping up in Noragami – that would be Yushima Tenjin, near Ueno, whose Ume Matsuri I attended last year.   I plan to make at least a couple more ume visits next weekend, weather permitting, so I may try and get back to Yushima then.  But I wanted to hit Kameido today, as they have one of the earliest Jiro Ramen locations and I wanted to give it a try (in case anyone is curious, this is what a bowl of Jiro looks like close up).

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I would say the blossoms are probably just a hair short of peak, at Kameido anyway.  It’s been fairly cold these last couple of weeks (not to mention the two largest snowfalls in Tokyo in 48 years).  Late this coming week or next weekend should be perfect, weather permitting.  It was beautifully sunny today, but still quite chilly with a stiff wind.  Back in Chicago you’d never see trees in bloom this early, but Tokyo operates on quite a different calendar – there’s always something blooming here, and trees bearing fruit even in the dead of winter.

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  1. e

    Ooooh yuki-hana *W*. Spring is in the air… and so is turtle love and… is that a tangerine? The shape is tangerine-y at least.
    Did you honour the whole not-space ramen bowl fully btw ^^?
    As usual thanks for sharing.

  2. I'm not a citrus expert. It could be hassaku for all I know, but it's definitely in that general category somewhere.

    I've only finished one bowl of Jiro in my life, and it was less of a monster than that one. Definitely didn't see the writing on the bottom of the bowl today.

  3. e

    This has prompted me to browse Japanese fruits. Oh.My. *________*. – Hassaku are described as among the relatively cheap ones in Japan btw. Eat well oh blogger-san -.

    Did you manage to take in all the solid bits? *patpat* Looking plentiful even leaving out the broth in his(its?) seemingly greasy splendor :D.

  4. I didn't finish the noodles, and I left some of the fattier ends of the pork. I love fat in pork, but given the overall fat content of the bowl, whole pieces of it are overkill.

    I should also point out that one of the topping choices is abura – pure liquified pork fat – poured over the top of the bowl. I didn't choose it, but it makes the whole thing even more ridiculously artery-clogging.

  5. e

    The more you describe it the more I find it fascinating. And ironically enough it feels like the perfect meal in the middle of a snowstorm…

  6. t

    wow. so sunny and lively. all the blossom, sky so must be nice too. spring is in the air ha? looks fun.
    with so much nature it's really hard to believe that this is the big city. you said it once that Tokyo has nature inside it despite it's a metropolis. now it's definitely clear as sky

    that Ramen bowl…where one should start eating it?LOL
    even in picture it seems so…huge. not to mention there is probably some good scent and atmosphere at that place. must be nice. nothing better than a full belly and walking around in such a sunny day (:

  7. That bowl can be the gift that keeps on giving, at least for me. As for atmosphere, Jiro are pretty much all dives – greasy counters, greasy bowls, broken water dispensers – but if you like that sort of atmosphere, it's as genuine as it gets.

    As to how to eat a bowl of Jiro, it's not a simple process. I try to get as much of the broth spooned over the top as I can, to equalize the temperature (the yasai and niku are far cooler than the soup and the noodles, nestled underneath Mt. Cabbage-sprouts) but it's hard to get at the soup until you at least make a dent in the moyashi.

  8. K

    Beautiful pictures, ahh I want spring so badly. It's been a horrible winter here on the East Coast of the US.

  9. M

    After watching Space Dandy episode 2 I went and did some research on ramen jiro. Apparently it's so hard to complete that you have to skip a meal before you eat a bowl.

    Is it really as bad as that? From your picture it seems like the only problem with trying to eat jiro is quantity, and not so much how greasy the soup and ingredients are.

  10. Oh trust me, the fat content is a huge part of the issue. The broth is almost like gravy – it's incredibly rich and intensely porky. Some people even order it "abura" – with liquified pork fat poured over the peak. I didn't, but you can still see the globules of pork fat floating in the soup.

    As for skipping a meal, there are many strategies. Some guys apparently like to eat a pear a few hours before (I've no idea why), and others preach intense exercise before eating. All I know is I see a lot of Japanese guys smaller than me finish a bowl (mine is the small, by the way, and some order the large) and I'm never sure how they do it.

  11. n

    Jiro Ramen – true junk food. Never tried it but might as well when I return to Japan…

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