Kansai Adventure Part II: Kobe & Osaka

July 14, 2013 in Japan, Travel

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Dotombori in Osaka

This is the second part of our Kansai adventure, to Kobe and Osaka, which we knocked off in single day. We had been to both places numerous times so this time we narrowed our focus to the must-do things.

Kobe

There are lots of things to do in Kobe, about a 50-minute express JR ride from Kyoto. We used to always head down to Harborland, which is an excellent place to hang out for a nice meal, shopping and some scenery. Most of all, there is a mini-theme park there which offers plenty of fun.

But with limited time, we narrowed our focus on Sannomiya, Kobe’s main terminal. If you are looking for Kobe steak (as we were), this is the area to visit, but I would still recommend doing some research beforehand because there are simply too many choices and you don’t want to end up picking the wrong one.

We did your research and chose a Kobe steak teppanyaki joint called Royal Mouriya (review here). It’s located on Ikuta Road, which is easy to find because there is a large arch on both ends which says “IKUTA ROAD.” There are loads of Kobe steak houses along this road and in the surrounding streets.

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Another landmark to help you find this place is the massive Tokyu Hands you will see at one end of the street, just across the road. Tokyu Hands is one of Japan’s most famous specialty department stores and you can spend hours or even days in there wandering through the levels looking at really cool Japanese stuff. Check out the English website here. Basically, Tokyu Hands has whatever you want — their motto is “When You Visit, You Find What You Want” — except it looks more appealing because it’s Japanese and is packaged in that alluring Japanese style.

Tokyu Hands, the ultimate place to go for shopping

Tokyu Hands, the ultimate place to go for shopping

From snacks, phone accessories, travel goods and cooking utensils to stationery, home appliances, toys and cosmetics, Tokyu Hands as it all. Kyoto doesn’t have one, which is why we came all the way here, but Osaka has two and Tokyo has four. The one we visited, Kobe’s only store, had close to 10 levels. So if you’re looking to buy stuff — cool, quality, unique stuff — go there. I highly recommend it.

Osaka

If you have to make a choice between Kobe and Osaka, choose Osaka. It’s bigger, as most of the things Kobe has, and it’s closer to Kyoto (about 25-30 minutes via the JR).

With just a later afternoon and evening to spend, we caught the JR from Kobe to Osaka and went straight to Honmachi for the massive Akachan Honpo baby store there (website – Japanese).

After spending a lot of money there, we went to the most happening place in Osaka, the lively Dotombori (or Dotonbori). It was raining pretty heavily that night but the area was still packed with people. It’s just one of those places with so many iconic images (the giant crab, the Glico runner, the drummer clown — though that place has closed down) and you just have to visit and see for yourself.

The giant crab!

The giant crab!

We first enjoyed some takoyaki (battered balls with octopus inside — interpret that as you wish) at this little dingy joint because it looked pretty popular. There are literally dozens of takoyaki places at Dotombori and I’ve tried my fair share over the years but none have been able to match the brilliance of Taco Tora in Kyoto (review here). The one we sampled on this night was pretty average, to be honest.

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The takoyaki was just an appetizer, as we then headed over to Osaka Botejyu for some okonomiyaki (review here). That was a great meal, but unfortunately it didn’t leave us with a lot of time or stomach space to try other places. So instead we went to H&M and bought a bunch of clothes and caught the JR back to Kyoto.

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More shopping!

Kobe Steak at Royal Mouriya (Kobe)

April 9, 2013 in Food, Japan, Reviews, Travel

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Royal Mouriya in Kobe

Mention  “Kobe” and the first words that pops into my mind are “steak” (followed by “yummy”) and “Bryant” (followed by “dickhead”). So when I had a chance to take a brief detour to Kobe during my recent trip to Kyoto (about an hour on the JR), I did not miss the opportunity to sample some fine Kobe steak.

You can have Kobe steak all over Japan (and the world), but there’s nothing quite like trying the beef at the place after which it is named. There are loads of Kobe steak restaurants in Kobe, and few are as famous as the legendary teppanyaki restaurant Mouriya, which has a history of more than 120 years.

Mouriya has three restaurants along one street near Sannomiya station, and we chose to go to the Royal Mouriya. They are all pretty similar, and according to the waitress, have only slight menu variations.

At Royal Mouriya, we sat along a teppanyaki bench where the chef would cook the meal fresh, right in front of you. Don’t worry about getting your clothes smelly though — they have some magical machine that seems to suck all the smoke away.

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A little dark, but the ambiance is great

The menu offers a range of set meals that offers salad, soup, cooked vegetables, rice, a beverage and dessert around your choice of steak. You can go with a cheaper lunch special that includes a lower quality steak that costs around 4,000 yen to 5,000 yen, or you can choose something more spectacular that will set you back more than 10,000 yen. As I understand it, dinner costs more and can go as high as 16,000 yen or more per person.

We ended up going with two mid-range sets between about 7,000 yen and 9,000 yen. One was a sirloin and the other was a rib roast, the two types with the most fat (and hence tenderness). The fillet and the rump tend to be a little tougher to chew, but still much softer and juicier than your regular steak.

I will let the photos do the talking from here. As the chef cooked the steak in three batches (to ensure they were fresh and hot when served), the plate doesn’t look quite as appetizing as it should be. But trust me, it’s awesome.

We started off with some corn potage

We started off with some corn potage

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Each meal comes with a range of condiments, from simple salt and pepper to roasted garlic and wasabi

Chef dude working his magic

Chef dude working his magic

This is the beef we ordered -- before it is cooked, of course

This is the beef we ordered — before it is cooked, of course

The first set of beef

The first set of Kobe steak

The full set, including rice and salad

The full set, including rice, salad and two dipping sauces

Here's the second set of steak

Here’s the second set of steak

Chef dude prepares some bean sprouts and vegies

Chef dude prepares some bean sprouts and vegies

Voila!

Voila!

Last but not least, dessert -- mango sorbet

Last but not least, dessert — mango sorbet

Now for the verdict. As a teppanyaki joint, Royal Mouriya is not extraordinary, as the things offered as part of the set meal are pretty much standard for teppanyaki restaurants these days. While the salad was big and fresh and the soup was very good, neither were really exceptional. The dessert was also quite underwhelming.

That said, the restaurant is famous because of its Kobe steak, and that’s what ultimately makes Royal Mouriya a standout. Their beef is every bit as good as advertised — soft, juicy, succulent, and full of flavour even without any condiments. Sliced into many thin pieces and served in batches, it feels like you are getting your money’s worth; plus you can sample the beef in many different ways.

For instance, the chef recommended first eating a slice plain, then another with just salt, before trying the sauces. In the end, I was dipping the beef all over the place, but my favourite was probably the miso-type sauce plus a dash of wasabi and a piece of roasted garlic. It was insanely good.

So on the whole, I’d still recommend Royal Mouriya (or any of the Mouriya restaurants for that matter) because you are guaranteed a quality meal and some of the best beef you are likely to ever have. The next time I go to Kobe, however, I will definitely try a different joint so I could compare.

9/10

Details

Royal Mouriya (ロイヤル モーリヤ)

Website (with English; all Mouriya restaurants): http://www.mouriya.co.jp/indexp.html

Address: 1-9-9 Kitanagasadori, Chuo Ward, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture (short walk from Sannomiya Hankyu/JR/Hanshin station; map and directions available on website)

Phone: +81 78-321-1328

Hours: 11:30am-9pm

Booking is recommended (can be done online through official website)

Note: the Mouriya Head Restaurant and the Sannomiya Restaurant are both on the same street.

In defense of Jack Taylor’s 138-point game

November 24, 2012 in Basketball, Sport

More surprising than the 138-point game by Jack Taylor game has been the overwhelming negativity directed at the jaw-dropping performance from the 5’10” guard from Grinnell College in Dallas.

For those unfamiliar with the feat, Taylor, a sophomore who actually played lacrosse last year, scored 138 points in Grinnell’s high-octane 179-104 victory over Faith Baptist Bible in an NCAA Division IIII game on Tuesday night.

Taylor had struggled with his shot in his first two games of the season, but on this night he hit 52 of his 108 shot attempts (!!), including 27 of 71 from three-point range (!!!). He was also 7 of 10 from the free throw line. He played 36 out of a possible 40 minutes.

To rationalize how the feat was possible, know that Grinnell coach David Arsenault employs a crazy offensive and defensive scheme designed to maximize opportunities to score a lot of points — for both sides. Players are told to shoot quickly and frequently and the team employs a high-risk, high-reward full court trap for the entire game, which often means certain players rarely even cross the half court line on defense. Arsenault’s teams have led the nation in scoring in 17 of the last 19 years at any college level in America. Taylor’s teammate, Griffin Lentsch, scored 89 points in a game last November using the same system.

In this particular game, Taylor started off cold, but he was encouraged to keep shooting and by halftime he had 58 points (his previous career high was 48 points in high school). Sensing something special was happening, his teammates sacrificed their own shots and kept feeding Taylor the ball, much like Wilt Chamberlain’s teammates did on the historic night the Stilt scored 100 in an NBA game (and probably slept with his 20,000th woman on the same night). Taylor eventually caught fire like Katniss Everdeen and scored 28 consecutive points at one point before finishing with the incredible record which shredded the previous NCAA high of 113 by Bevo Francis in 1954.

Here is the link to the full game, or you can check out the highlights below.

Admittedly, there are a lot of people amazed and impressed by the performance, including NBA superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. But the praise has been overshadowed by the vitriol directed at Taylor, his team, his teammates, his opponents and his coach.

Here are some of the more common complaints.

He took 108 shots and 71 three-pointers in a single game with zero assists! What a hog!

Yes, Taylor took an insane number of shots. But how else would you expect someone to score 138 points? By standing around? By passing his teammates the ball? They were the ones who kept feeding Taylor the ball and encouraging him to score as many points as he could. He would never have managed it if they didn’t keep passing the ball to him, setting screens for him and getting him extra possessions with their full court trap.

The fact that he was able to take so many shots in 36 minutes is impressive in itself. It’s not like he tries to do this every game. It was just one of those nights where he was given free reign to launch. Basketball is a team game where everyone has a role. Taylor’s role on this night was to shoot as much as he could. He did it with the blessing and support of his coach and teammates.

In Chamberlain’s 100-point game, Wilt took 63 shots but had 32 free throw attempts, while Taylor only had 10. Chamberlain also played 12 more minutes. In Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game, he played 42 minutes and took just 46 shots, but had 20 free throws attempts. And remember, Taylor scored 38 points more than Chamberlain and 57 points more than Kobe. Scoring 38 or 57 points in a single game is impressive enough, let alone 100 more than that. Wilt’s career average is around 30 points a game. Kobe has only scored more than 57 points four times in his entire career.

Zero assists? Big deal. Wilt and Kobe only had 2 assists each in their historic games. Plenty of guards at the elite level have recorded zero assist games, and none of them have ever scored 138 points.

He didn’t even shoot 50%! Anyone who takes that many shots can score 138 points!

This just shows a complete lack of understanding of basketball. 52 of 108 from the field is 48%, a rate which most basketball players at any level would take on any given night. The same goes for his 38% (27 of 71) shooting from three-point range (Reggie Miller, regarded as either the best or second best three-point shooter of all-time, averaged 39.5% from the three-point line for his career). They are not amazing percentages for a player having the game of his life, but they are certainly respectable, especially considering how many of his shots were jumpshots and not layups.

I’d also differ on the argument that anyone who takes that many shots can score 138 points. In an empty gym, maybe, but not in a proper game. If it were that easy and common we wouldn’t be talking about it.

Great scorers might be able to score that many points on that many shots against the right opponents, but the bigger difficulty is actually being able to attempt that many shots in a 40-minute game. I don’t care what anyone says, taking a shot every 20 seconds for 36 minutes straight while running around is extremely difficult to do regardless of the opponent.

His opponents were crap; my high school team could have beaten them

This may be true, but it’s been greatly exaggerated. The inept Faith Baptist may be 0-5 on their season but they are still a college basketball team in the NCAA (albeit Div III). No one is saying they are North Carolina, but let’s not pretend this was Michael Jordan dominating in the mentally challenged midget league. Taylor wasn’t playing in a backyard comp against his baby sister — he was playing in a proper game against an opponent deemed good enough to be in the same league. Let’s not forget, Faith Baptist scored 104 points of their own, which means at the very least that they are not complete amateurs and were competing.

Yes, your high school team might have been able to beat them, crush them even. But could anyone on that team score 138 points against them?

His opponents didn’t play any defense

Another myth espoused by haters who likely didn’t even see any game footage. They weren’t exactly good defenders but from what I could tell they sure tried. It wasn’t like they were daring him to shoot and allowing him open jumpers or offering a layup drill all night. They weren’t inviting him to put up 138 points and embarrass them, if that’s what anyone is suggesting.

The vast majority of Taylor’s shots were at least semi-contested or made in traffic. Most of them were made off the dribble in isolation situations. At times Faith Baptist double and triple teamed him and there’s no denying that Taylor made a bunch of difficult shots.

It’s sad that any time a player has a great offensive game critics are quick to blame the defense rather than give credit to the offense.

His opponents should have “done something about it”

It’s frightening how many people say Faith Baptist should have put Taylor on his backside or tried to cause him physical harm by attempting to score so many points on them in a game that was probably settled by halftime. This is not the bush league and the name “Faith Baptist” should have suggested that such tactics were unlikely.

“I will tell you, we tried,”said Faith Baptist coach Brian Fincham. “I’m not going to be cheap and foul or hit somebody. That’s not the type of program we’re going to be. But I’m proud of my guys and the effort they put in. Jack just had a great night.”

Some say it’s not a classy thing to run up the score against a hapless opponent, but it’s happened countless times before and no one ever scored 138 points.

“I wasn’t going to take a guy out who was in the zone,” Grinnell’s Arsenault said in defense of letting Taylor run wild. “I’ve never been in the zone like that, and if I was I certainly wouldn’t want my coach to end it for me. So we just let him go.”

Perhaps Faith Baptist could have slowed down their offense and run out the clock to minimize Grinnell’s possessions, but that was their choice to make. You can’t fault Grinnell or Taylor for making the most of their opponent’s strategy.

David Larson’s 70 points on 34 of 44 shooting was more impressive

Some critics have gone as far as to say that David Larson from Faith Baptist, who scored 70 points on 34 of 44 shooting against Grinnell on the same night, had the more impressive performance.

No it’s not.

First of all, his team got trounced. While Larson, who played all 40 minutes, scored at a much more efficient percentage (77%), the majority of his baskets came from close range after Grinnell’s high-risk full court press broke down (and broke down often). In fact, Larson’s performance was much more like an undefended layup drill than Taylor’s.

Oh, and by the way, Taylor almost doubled Larson’s point output.

So what? He wouldn’t score 10 points in the NBA!

By far the dumbest comment I’ve seen, and I’m surprised how many times I’ve come across something like it the last few days.

No one with half a brain is saying this guy is a future NBA star. No one’s even saying he’s the second coming of Jimmer Fredette. He’s going to have his 15 minutes of fame and that’ll be the end of it. But what is wrong with that?

Taylor’s 138-point game is what it is — a once-in-a-lifetime freakish occurrence where everything fell into line at the right place at the right time. It was the culmination of coach Arsenault’s system, Faith Baptist’s less-than-stellar defense and refusal to slow the game down, Taylor’s teammates and coach helping him along the way, and of course, Taylor catching fire like he has never before and probably never will again. But most record-setting performances in basketball are a combination of circumstances, luck and skill, and I don’t see why this was any less amazing just because it happened in Div III of the NCAA.

Perhaps Kobe said it best: “I don’t care what level you’re at. Scoring 138 points is pretty insane.”

LeBron said he couldn’t even do it in a video game, noting that he would have to mess with the rules and ratings and sliders to be able to accomplish it.

Accordingly to Taylor’s critics, however, it was nothing special. I’m not sure what would impress them. Perhaps it needs to be an NBA player who shoots 70% from the floor while racking up a triple-double and hits the game winner as well — in addition to the 138 points, of course. Then again, my guess is even then it will never be enough for the haters.

I’m not saying Taylor should start being compared to Wilt or Kobe or even Tyler Hansbrough, but I think it’s unfortunate so many people are so quick to shoot down what is clearly a remarkable achievement which should be appreciated and respected, in context or otherwise.

 

 
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