Hanami 101

Hanami3

Each spring cherry trees around Tokyo blossom while friends, families, and co-workers gather under the blossoms to enjoy the ritual of hanami. If you are lucky to be in Tokyo this week, it is the quintessential Japanese experience. A few tips on how to best enjoy hanami.

hanami1

Most essential is to pick up a bentō. The best place to select from a wide variety of bentō is depachika, the epicurean basement food floors of department stores. Here is my list of the top ten depachika in Tokyo. But, if a depachika is not on your way to the park, no worries, a convenient store will have lunch boxes or sandwiches, chips, and other snacks.

The bentō above comes from AEN at Shinjuku Isetan, which came in a beautiful bamboo box and had genmai (brown rice) with two types of grilled fish, croquette, pickles, and more. The saké is a junmai ginjō from Shoutoku in Fushimi, Kyoto. It was only 12% alcohol, lighter than most saké which is about 16%, so perfect with lunch. And, I couldn’t resist the packaging.

hanami2

Another bentō company I love and can’t get enough of is Yonehachi, which has branches in almost every depachika. Yonehachi is famous for its okowa, a mix of mochi-gomé  (sticky rice) and uruchimai (regular rice) that is steamed with different vegetables and meat or fish. You can select what kind of seasoned rice you want with your bentō. This one here has takénoko (bamboo shoots) and fuki (a type of spring mountain vegetable), both seasonal spring vegetables.

hanami

Yonehachi bentō, again, as it is my favorite. This one with the takénoko and fuki rice and the kuri (chestnuts) and red beans okowa. The saké with this bentō is from Masumi, a great saké brewery in Nagano. Masumi has an excellent portfolio of saké, including this junmaishu Okuden KanzukuriThis saké is light on the palate and perfect for sipping under the cherry blossoms. I’ve also had this warmed up and it is lovely hot or cold.

Once you’ve picked your bentō and drink, stop by a convenience store to get a plastic sheet to sit on. For some reason these are usually blue.

And, then get to your hanami spot early as the choice spots tend to be taken early in the day.

Be sure to do some research on where to go. I was surprised to see that Shinjuku Gyoen doesn’t allow alcohol to be brought in. There are security guards who check your bag on your way in. Guards are walking throughout the park as well to make sure everyone is abiding by the rules.

Enjoy and have fun enjoying food food and saké under the cherry blossoms.

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Wine Fair at Shinjuku Isetan

Coco Farm & Winery

Coco Farm & Winery

Isetan in Shinjuku is hosting an international wine fair starting Wednesday, February 22nd to Monday, February 27th. The event takes place on the 6th floor and closes at 6 p.m. on Monday.

Highlights include a wide selection of Japanese wine, including my favorite Japanese winery, Coco Farm and Winery in Tochigi. There is of course old world and new world wines.

Wine Bar

Wine Bar

As well, a wine bar with unique chances to try some great wines by the glass like Opus One or Sassicaia. See the calendar here for more details.

Also, if you do decide to purchase a lot of wine, inquire into the takkyubin or delivery service so that you don’t have to carry it all home.

My list on Tokyo’s top depachika, including Isetan.

 

Tuscan Food Fair at Shinjuku Isetan

prosciutto pizza

prosciutto pizza

Toscana wine

Toscana wine

Now through Monday, October 10th, at Shinjuku Isetan on the 6th floor, is a food festival promoting the great food and wine of Tuscany. From pizza to gelato to wine, there is a wide variety of products available. Note that the event ends at 6 p.m. on Monday.

Top Ten Depachika in Tokyo 東京のデパ地下

Working at the sake section of the depachika in  Nihonbashi Takashimaya was loads of fun. As a sommelier it was my job to sell wine but my responsibilities also included selling sake, shochu, and other spirits. Who wouldn’t love to be surrounded by amazing food all day long? My breaks were spent carefully perusing the floor for new items. I would plot all morning what to have for lunch that day. The food was constantly changing and Takashimaya often held special food events on the top floor of the department store. Here I would learn about regional food, sake and shochu, and meet the purveyors who enthusiastically shared cooking suggestions and what makes their products unique.

Here are my favorite depachika in the city. It is best to pick a location based on what is convenient for you. Most of the depachika are similar. However, if I have to pick some favorites they would be Nihonbashi Takashimaya, Shinjuku Takashimaya, Shinjuku Isetan, Ginza Mitsukoshi, and Ikebukuro Tobu.

Inquire at the concierge if there are any special food events going on in the store as they may be held on an upper floor and not in the basement.

Shinjuku Takashimaya

Shinjuku Takashimaya

1. Shinjuku Takashimaya, Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-24-2

The restaurant floor here is great – several floors of tempting restaurants. I love Katsukura for tonkatsu. Better yet, pick up a bento and a beer in the depachika and head to the rooftop picnic area. Next door to Takashimaya is a huge Tokyu Hands for great shopping for kitchenware, tableware, stationary, and much, much more.

Nihonbashi Takashimaya

Nihonbashi Takashimaya

2. Nihonbashi Takashimaya, Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi 2-4-1

There is a branch of Taiwan’s Din Tai Fun in the basement 2 and the sake department often does weekly tastings of small sake and shochu producers from around Japan. The rooftop garden is a great place to have a bento. Also, do not miss the white-gloved elevator girls (rarely seen now) and the historic elevators.

3. Shinjuku Isetan, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-14-1

Aged sake (koshu) in a special cellar and a manicured rooftop garden for enjoying your bento. Pierre Herme and Jean-Paul Hevin are popular with the locals but I love the wagashi (Japanese confectionaries).

4. Ginza Mitsukoshi, Chuo-ku, Ginza 4-6-16

A recent renovation has made this a depachika you don’t want to miss. The restaurant floor includes a branch of the famous Hakone Akatsukian soba shop, formerly in Hiroo. Time it right and watch as the soba noodles are rolled out into thin sheets and cut with the large soba bocho (soba knife).

5. Ikebukuro Tobu, Toshima-ku, Nishi-Ikebukuro 1-1-25

Japan’s largest depachika. Spend hours here and still not see it all. Also, several restaurants on the restaurant floors including a branch of Chinese iron chef, Chin Kenichi.

6. Ginza Matsuya, Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-8-1

The French bakery Maison Kayser is here.

7. Shibuya Tokyu Toyoko-ten, Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-24-1

Located just under the Shibuya station I love the affordable sushi at Uoriki, a sushi counter located near the fresh seafood section. The sake department here also does interesting tastings of small sake and shochu brands.

8. Shinjuku Odakyu, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 1-1-3

Divided up between two buildings it may be tricky to see all of it but worth checking out. The breads at the Trois Gros bakery are tempting. There is also a Bic Camera for electronics located above the Odakyu annex.

9. Shinjuku Keio, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku, 1-1-4

A branch of the French bakery Paul is here and the store often does interesting food shows on the upper floor with themes such as ekiben (famous bento boxes from local train stations around Japan) and regional food promotions.

10. Ikebukuro Seibu, Toshima-ku, Minami-Ikebukuro 1-28-1

In the Seibu department store is a branch of Loft, a shop filled with housewares.

OK, 11 best depachika in Tokyo!

11. Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi, Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-4-1