restaurants

Soup not soap: Japanese public bathhouses surviving by converting into retro-chic cafés

Soup not soap: Japanese public bathhouses surviving by converting into retro-chic cafés

Japan has been going through something of a hot spring renaissance over the past decade, but at the same time, things are tough for Japan’s other traditional venues for communal bathing, sento, or public bathhouses. Despite a recent uptick in their number of foreign customers, most Japanese have a pretty lukewarm reaction to the prospect of taking a soak with others if the water isn’t heated by geothermal sources.

For the current generation, a hot bath drawn from the tap is no longer a luxury nor something that necessitates leaving home for, and so sento have been shutting down around the country. But rather than close their doors for good, a few have converted their bathing facilities into dining spaces and been reborn as stylishly retro sento cafes.

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Tokyo ice cream stand’s colossal eight-flavor cones might be the biggest we’ve ever seen

Tokyo ice cream stand’s colossal eight-flavor cones might be the biggest we’ve ever seen

Tokyo’s Nakano Broadway is mainly known for its anime specialty shops, but that’s not all you’ll find if you make your way to each corner of the shopping center’s labyrinthine interior. Inside you’ll also come across an old-school video arcade, suit tailor, watch store, and painting workshop for tabletop role-playing game lead miniatures.

But what we’re talking about today is what awaits visitors in Nakano Broadway’s basement: just about the biggest ice cream cones we’ve ever seen.

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Awesome treehouse café in Yokohama satisfies our longing for bagels, beer, and nature

Awesome treehouse café in Yokohama satisfies our longing for bagels, beer, and nature

Not too long ago, I ate ramen from a can on a Tokyo backstreet. It didn’t taste half-bad, but between the barkers for maid cafes and the homeless guy raiding the surrounding vending machines’ recycling bins for cans, it really didn’t make for the most elegant dining ambience.

But the great thing about Japan is the contrasting extremes you can find, and if eating in the middle of Tokyo’s concrete jungle by the soft glow of neon signs isn’t to your liking, you can always come on down to Yokohama, which has a café with plenty of natural sunlight thanks to the restaurant actually being an awesome treehouse.

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Japanese restaurant’s recruiting ad promises time off for anime conventions

Japanese restaurant’s recruiting ad promises time off for anime conventions

On the application for a lot of jobs in the service sector, they’ll ask if you’re willing to work nights and weekends. Oftentimes, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a trick question. On the one hand, candidates obviously want to put their best, most eager face forward, and if you say you’d rather not take shifts then, you’re opening yourself up to the very real possibility of losing the job to someone who’s, at least on paper, more industrious.

Honestly though, no one really wants to be working at those times, since nights and weekends are some of the best times to enjoy spending the money you earn as part of raising your overall quality of life. Thankfully, one udon chain seems to understand this, and as part of their recruiting advertising, points out that working at its restaurants won’t get in the way of the more important things in life, life spending your weekends at an anime convention.

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Stylish new cat café in Asakusa would be nice even without the kitties, is awesome with them

Stylish new cat café in Asakusa would be nice even without the kitties, is awesome with them

Cat cafes have established a pretty solid foothold in the Japanese dining scene. That said, some of them deliver more on the “cat” than the “café” part, with pretty unimpressive interiors and menus.

That’s not a problem at Monta, though, a cat café which recently opened up in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood. With stylish and colorful furnishings and delicious food, we’d be tempted to stop by even if it didn’t have a half-dozen cats running around inside.

Those cute kitties, though, sure helped seal the deal and get us through the door, though.

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We ride the Honey Toast Train to a paradise of massive, decadent desserts

We ride the Honey Toast Train to a paradise of massive, decadent desserts

Spend some time walking around Tokyo, and you’ll soon see that the city is packed with karaoke joints. But with so many competing chains, how do you pick which one to go to?

For those looking for some tasty food as they belt out their favorite tunes, it’s hard to beat Pasela. Aside from their tropically styled rooms, the chain is best known for its extensive menu, with the most popular item being its famous honey toast dessert.

But what if you’ve got a special occasion, and even the whole-loaf-sized ordinary honey toast just doesn’t have enough impact? That’s when you call ahead and order a massive Honey Toast Train, a dessert so massive it’s garnished with other desserts.

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Horsemeat sushi: For when you’re tired of spicy tuna and California rolls

Horsemeat sushi: For when you’re tired of spicy tuna and California rolls

Although “sushi” is often thought to mean raw fish, that’s not actually what the word means. The name actually refers to vinegared rice, and some varieties of sushi don’t contain any fish at all.

Kappa maki, for example, are rolls of seaweed, rice, and cucumber, while inarizushi is made with rice and fried tofu. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re in the mood for non-seafood sushi but also don’t want to go vegetarian, you can try horse sushi, like we recently did.

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A year of beer at Tokyo restaurant offering all-you-can-drink Asahi for 12 months

A year of beer at Tokyo restaurant offering all-you-can-drink Asahi for 12 months

One of the most common questions that comes up about life in Japan is, “Is it expensive?” Often, the answer depends on a number of factors. For example, is beer expensive? Well, if you want to go hopping from bar to bar, where you’ll get charged a separate cover at each, then yeah, you’re probably going to find your wallet hurting before your liver.

On the other hand, at most izakaya, the pub-like restaurants that serve a wide variety of alcohol and food, shelling out an extra 2,000 yen (US $19.80) or so will allow you to upgrade your meal to include unlimited booze. It can save you some serious cash if you’re looking to do some serious drinking, with the only downside being that most come with a two-hour time limit.

That is, unless you sign up for a plan that gives you unlimited beer for an entire year, like one restaurant in Tokyo is offering.

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We chow down on the un-pearably cute food at the brand-new Funasshi café!

We chow down on the un-pearably cute food at the brand-new Funasshi café!

There just doesn’t seem to be any stopping Funasshi, the anthropomorphic pear who serves as unofficial mascot for the city of Funabashi in Chiba Prefecture. Funasshi’s mix of cute looks and hyperactive gyrations have won over fans both in Japan and abroad, and now Japan’s hottest piece of fruit is ready to capitalize on its popularity with a new café in Tokyo’s fashionable Shibuya district.

We decided to pay a visit to the Funa Café on opening day, and couldn’t think of a better RocketNews24 delegate than our very own Mr. Sato, who it turn couldn’t think of a more appropriate outfit than his very own freaky Funasshi cosplay getup.

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Cute cat cakes captivate our culinary cravings

Cute cat cakes captivate our culinary cravings

Some people say if something tastes good, it has to be bad for you. We understand that they’re usually talking about sugary, salty, or fatty foods, and nutritionally speaking, they’ve kind of got a point.

But while we definitely wouldn’t classify any of them as low-calorie, diet-friendly snacks, we still can’t bring ourselves to use the word “bad” in describing these adorable cat cakes and lattes.

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Blown all your cash on anime? New restaurant in Akihabara has pasta for less than two bucks

Blown all your cash on anime? New restaurant in Akihabara has pasta for less than two bucks

With the highest concentration of anime and video game specialty stores on the planet, it’s pretty easy to go over-budget spending a day in Akihabara. But while some otaku might claim that Japanese animation is their lifeblood, eventually everyone needs to eat something.

So for everyone with a crying wallet and a grumbling stomach, a new restaurant has just arrived in the neighborhood, serving pasta to-go, starting at just 190 yen (US$1.88).

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Truly horrific bar in Tokyo serves up cocktails and ghost tales【Video】

Truly horrific bar in Tokyo serves up cocktails and ghost tales【Video】

With summer winding down, people across Japan are scrambling to squeeze the last bits of entertainment from the season. We may be into the second half of August, but there’s still time for a last trip to the beach, one more barbecue, or a final icy cold beer.

As a matter of fact, you can combine the last of those pleasures with another Japanese summertime tradition – ghost stories - at a bar in Tokyo that provides stiff drinks, spooky tales, and truly terrifying interior decorations.

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Survey picks Japan’s top 12 cheap chain restaurants

Survey picks Japan’s top 12 cheap chain restaurants

In Japan, the common thinking is that if you want the absolute best-tasting food, you have to go to an independently run restaurant, generally with a long wait for tables and/or high prices on the menu. But what about those times when you’re hungry, but not in the mood to spend a large chunk of either your free time or disposable income on a meal?

That’s when you turn to one of Japan’s national chains, and if you can’t decide which, maybe this survey on the top 12 chain restaurants in Japan can help you.

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Like a carnivorous fever dream, let the beef come to you at this revolving meat restaurant

Like a carnivorous fever dream, let the beef come to you at this revolving meat restaurant

We’ve talked before about kaitenzushi, Japan’s class of restaurants where customers grab whatever sushi they want off a conveyer belt that parades the plates before them. Quick, easy, and fun, kaitenzushi has seen its popularity soar in the last couple of years.

But as kaitenzushi joints proliferate across the country, one restaurant in Mie Prefecture has decided to take the system and give it a completely new menu, by creating a revolving yakiniku, or Korean barbecue, restaurant.

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Japanese people reflect on examples of irritating, excess customer services in Japan

Japanese people reflect on examples of irritating, excess customer services in Japan

Unless you grew up in Japan, you may be baffled by the emphasis that Japanese employees place on customer service. Customers in Japan are treated as royalty from every possible angle, even if they’re just out buying a few pieces of fried chicken at the local convenience store. If you’re not used to it, you may find the special treatment to be endearing, but after a while you may come to think of all the excess services as unnecessary and annoying.

It turns out that some Japanese people feel the same way about their own country’s customs regarding customer service. Have you ever felt the same about any of the following situations?

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Get ‘em while they’re cold! Tokyo restaurant has chilled chicken skewers in collagen blocks

Get ‘em while they’re cold! Tokyo restaurant has chilled chicken skewers in collagen blocks

Japan takes skin care pretty seriously. Aside from all the parasols, cosmetic-grade sunscreens, and arsenal of lotions stocked at every drug store, some people look for a skin-beautifying boost in the foods they eat.

Collagen-rich dishes are particularly popular, especially when cooked in a hot pot. But what if you don’t just want food that contains collagen, but globs of it that contain food? Then this Tokyo yakitori restaurant has just the thing with its chicken skewers inside blocks of collagen.

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We check out the view, eat amazingly delicious squid at Japan’s first underwater restaurant

We check out the view, eat amazingly delicious squid at Japan’s first underwater restaurant

In many cases, the Japanese language uses the word umi, literally “sea,” to mean “beach.” For example, if your friends extend the invitation, “Hey, let’s go to the umi next Saturday!” they’re expecting you to show up with a towel and sunscreen, not a compass and cutlass for fending off pirates as you sail your ship full of cargo to the Bahamas to exchange for molasses.

So when we first heard about a restaurant in Kyushu right in the middle of the umi, we thought it was built on the sand. And while we like an eatery with an ocean view as much as anyone, the reality is even cooler, as the restaurant is actually built off-shore, with half of its seating area below the surface of the water.

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We fly straight to Tokyo’s newest Buffalo wing and craft beer joint

We fly straight to Tokyo’s newest Buffalo wing and craft beer joint

Back in high school, one weekend I went to eat at Denny’s with a group of classmates. One of them ordered Buffalo wings, and even though that’s exactly what the waitress brought him, he immediately sent them back, protesting, “Hey, these are chicken wings!”

I’m still baffled by his reaction. Did he really think there was some rare breed of buffalo, which not only had sprouted wings, but was being sourced for side orders at one of the cheapest restaurants in America? For everyone else at the table, the fact that we’d been attending San Dimas High for years and still hadn’t had any Bill and Ted-style time-travelling adventures had already hammered home the fact that life isn’t always filled with magic and wonder, but apparently our finicky friend’s dreams wouldn’t die so easily.

For that matter, shouldn’t everyone be able to get excited about a plate of chicken wings? The RocketNews24 team sure can, which is why we recently checked out a new Tokyo eatery, Buffalo Wings & Smile Tokyo.

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Fermented soybean shaved ice pushes the envelope of summertime sweets

Fermented soybean shaved ice pushes the envelope of summertime sweets

One of Japan’s favorite summertime treats is a bowl of shaved ice, or kakigori, as it’s called over here. While the most popular and common flavors are things like strawberry, melon and lemon, every now and again someplace will get really creative, like the restaurant in Kyoto that’s offering shaved ice covered with whiskey.

So now that we have nightcap-style kakigori covered, how about the opposite: a bowl of shaved ice covered with the Japanese breakfast staple natto, also known as fermented soybeans?

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Baked Kit Kats now showing up in cakes, parfaits, and crepes across Japan

Baked Kit Kats now showing up in cakes, parfaits, and crepes across Japan

In the four months since we got our first taste of baked Kit Kats, we’ve been enjoying as many of them as we can. Still, sometimes our sweet teeth are at odds with our lazier tendencies, and we can’t be bothered to cook the things ourselves. Plus. Lately we’ve started feeling a little guilty for neglecting all the other desserts we love.

So we were happy to find out that Nestle Japan is currently recruiting restaurants to combine baked Kit Kats with cakes, parfaits, and crepes, and the results are already hitting plates and bowls across Japan.

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