Visiting Matsumoto Day 2

Street in Matsumoto, Japan

On my second day in Matsumoto, I woke up early due to jet lag, or perhaps I was too excited about the hotel’s award winning breakfast. Japanese people take breakfast seriously and so do I. A well-dressed Japanese salaryman beat me to the breakfast line this morning but I was only the second person there. This hotel serves mainly western style breakfast along with a few Japanese dishes.  Starting out with a good cup of strong black coffee, I loaded my plate with fresh mizuna salad, local apples, sauteed broccoli with bacon, an omelet, sweet raisin bread and vegetable soup. As I finished my breakfast, a Japanese phrase came to me, “haraga hetteha ikusawa dekinu-One shall  not go into battle on an empty stomach”, and that was exactly how I justified my big breakfast.

My to-do list for was long for the day. Feeling stuffed, I walked along the river viewing sakura blossoms before my visit to Matsumoto castle – one of  Japan’s most scenic castles. It was built in 1504 and is a considered national treasure. Matsumoto castle is a spacious six story black and white castle with an inner and outer moat and  a beautiful view of the Japanese Alps. It attracts many tourist form within Japan and well as across the world.

On the other side of river outside of the castle, I found Marumo, an “arts and crafts” cafe my artist brother in London recommended. Marumo Ryokan and Cafe was built in 1956 by Sanshiro Ikeda, a founder of Matsumoto Mingei Furniture who was highly inspired by Yanagi Muneyoshi, a philosopher and a founder of the Japanese Folk Art movement.  The cafe was filled with local antiques and folk art inspired furnitures and I felt as if I fell back in time.

Traditional Wooden Japanese Shoes

Later, I walked along Nakamise Dori an old merchant and warehouse street filled with local craft shops.  One should not miss Chikiriya, a well known Mingei shop started by Taro Maruyama of the Matsumoto Folk Art Museum.  Beautifully arranged on the store shelves are local ceramics, colorful glassware and toys made with wood and bamboo.  It’s a perfect place to get gifts for friends and family back home.

I enjoyed strolling around this small castle town as it’s filled with nostalgic folk art, culture, crafts, music, hotspring and more.  No wonder why people have been coming here for an artistic inspiration and relaxation, just what we need for our next “Art and Culture Tour of Japan”.  By the mid afternoon, I enjoyed meeting and finalizing plans with our partners in Matsumoto, and they are all very excited to be a part of this upcoming tour.

TanpopoStudio July Update

farmhouse group photo

Happy July,
I have been back in the US for about two weeks now after finishing another round of our Culinary Tour of Japan. Weather was perfect with lush of greens and signs of summer everywhere. Food was delicious as always and we enjoyed freshly fried tempura, seasonal seafood, lots of Japanese sweets and local sake and wines. We also took time to explore a depachika or the basement of a department store as this is a much different experience in Japan. These areas are packed with food vendors of all kinds selling delicious things such as desserts, fresh vegetables, pickles, seafood, tea, ice cream and lots more.

My brother Kai joined us in Nagano and Yamanashi and gave us an insider scoop on life in rural Japan as he lives in Yamanashi prefecture. It’s a scenic area with wineries, ski areas, wasabi farms, mountains, and a thriving arts and crafts community. On the last trip, I was too tired to check out public hot spring in Suwa, but this time after dinner I walked to the nearby hot spring to “wash off my tiredness” (this is a Japanese phrase, tsukare wo arai nagasu). The town of ShimoSuwa (Suwa consists of ShimoSuwa and KamiSuwa) itself has over 10 public hot springs and 5 foot springs (not counting private hot springs ), and heavily used by locals.

On my visit, I purchased a ticket, which was about two dollars for an adult, I took my shoes off and put them in a cubby. Then I handed a ticket to a clerk and entered women’s changing room. At 7 o’clock in the evening this place was packed (at least on women’s side) with families with kids, high school girls, grandmas and others, like me. We have a post about hot spring etiquette on our website, to help you prepare for a visit.

In June, I had a wonderful opportunity to spend one-on-one time with people who share same passion as TanpopoStudio has, to help preserve Japanese local food and culture by providing hands on experience to people from Japan and other countries alike. In the August Newsletter, I will introduce some of the creative and talented people we are working with in Japan who have helped make TanpopoStudio happen, so stay tuned.

Here is what’s happening at TanpopoStudio.

Japan Art + Culture Tour, April 2019

We’ve just opened this for registration. This is a 7 day tour from Tokyo to Matsumoto with an additional extension to Kyoto. Matsumoto, a hotbed of arts, is also the birthplace of several well known Japanese artists including Yayoi Kusama. It’s also home to one of Japan’s finest feudal era castles.. Read more about Matsumoto and this tour on our blog.

Classes and Workshops

Don’t forget to join us for delicious and informative Japanese food and sake pairing at Cooks of Crocus Hill. We will be sampling sake from Shizuoka and Hyogo prefecture. Kanpai!

Sake it To Me!
July 21st at 6 pm at Cooks of Crocus Hill, Saint Paul

Happy Travels,
Koshiki and Benjamin Smith




Udon in Japan

Japanese Noodles

If you ever travel to Japan, at some point you’ll most likely find yourself eating some type of noodle dish. There are noodle shops on almost every street corner selling everything from cheap bowls of udon to fine dining restaurants specializing in artisan, handmade noodles.  Ramen, a chewy, alkaline pasta served in a rich, creamy pork stock is now popular across the world.

Late in the evening at izakayas  across the town, the word “Shime” is the term used to describe the act of eating a bowl of noodles after a long session of drinking and socializing.

This is the first of several guides on Japanese noodles you’ll find in Japan, and this one is all about the udon.

Tanpopo Noodle Shop

Udon Noodles-Thick and Chewy Wheat Noodles

Udon is a popular, hearty noodle made from refined wheat flour. It is believed that the ancestor of Udon was a dough made with flour, water and salt and was brought to Japan from China around 1200. Around the time of the Edo period (1603 -1868), people started to serving strips of udon noodles in a soup stock.

Noodle Pride.
The people in Kagawa prefecture take great pride in being number one in the country for consuming and producing Udon noodles.

The recipe of Udon has not changed much since it first arrived to Japan from China. Today, udon is still made from wheat, salt (2-6%) and water. The ingredients are combined and undergo a kneading and maturation process to bring out the most flavor and texture. The texture and the chewiness of udon is called Koshi, the more Koshi the better the Udon. After this process the dough is rolled out, folded and cut into noodles with the desired thickness. The most common way of eating Udon is to serve it in a traditional dashi soup stock with toppings such as tempura, seasoned tofu, poultry, mushrooms and other vegetables. In the summer, it is common to eat chilled udon along with a savory dipping sauce.

There are many types of udon noodles such as somen, sanuki udon, inaniwa udon, kishimen and hiyamugi. These are all wheat noodles in the family of udon but differ in thickness and length.

Nabeyaki Udon

Making Nabeyaki Udon

Below is a dish called Nabeyaki Udon and the recipe adapted from former the Tanpopo Noodle Shop. This dish is served in traditional Japanese earthenware and cooked directly on stove top. Perfect to serve on a chilly winter night (in Minnesota). We’ll start by making a few essential stocks and seasonings that are widely used in Japanese cooking.

Dashi Recipe (出汁)

Dashi forms a foundation for Japanese soup broth, miso soup, ramen soup and sauces. It is very simple and this recipe consists of only three ingredients: water, kelp and smoky, shaved bonito flakes. Because of its simplicity, the quality of ingredients used and the method to make dashi is crucial. In addition, unlike our western counterpart chicken stock, dashi has shorter shelf life and does not freeze well as its aroma diminishes rapidly over time.


  • 1 gallon water
  • 10-inch piece dried kelp
  • 40-50 grams dried bonito flakes


  1. In a stockpot soak kelp in cold water for 2-3 hours.
  2. Slowly bring the water to a gentle simmer and turn off heat as soon as it starts to boil.
  3. Add bonito and steep for 15 minutes.
  4. Strain the dashi through a sieve to remove bonito flakes and use.

Kaeshi Recipe (かえし)

Kaeshi is what is added to dashi to make tsuyu, soup broth for noodles. This kaeshi recipe has only two ingredients; equal parts mirin and light soy sauce.  Using light or thin soy sauce (usukuchi) is recommended for the best flavor and color.
In a large stock pot, heat equal parts mirin and light soy sauce, gently mix and let it mature in room temperature for a day or so before using. This will results in more complex smooth flavor with no “sharp edges”.

Tsuyu-Soup Broth for Noodles (汁)

The soup broth for noodles is called Tsuyu and is easily made by mixing the dashi and kaeshi.
Mix four parts dashi and one part kaeshi to make delicious soup stock to serve with udon or soba. Enjoy.

Nabeyaki Udon Recipe

Now that you’ve got your dashi, kaeshi and soup stock made, you are now ready for the final step. At this point, you’ll combine everything together and cook on the stove top. There is a a lot of freedom to be creative with Nabeyaki, so feel free to experiment with different ingredients and toppings. Enjoy!


  • 8 oz cooked udon noodles
  • Tsuyu (see recipe in Soba section), enough to fill a single serving nabe bowl
  • 1 piece shrimp tempura
  • 2 pieces cooked chicken
  • 2 pieces sliced kamaboko fish cakes
  • 2 slices tamagoyaki or 1 raw egg
  • 2 pieces simmered shiitake mushroom
  • Chopped green onion and wakame for garnish
  • Shichimi pepper as needed


  1. Add pre cooked udon in a single serving nabe bowl.
  2. Fill ¾ of the nabe with Tsuyu. Place the nabe directly on stove top and turn the heat high.
  3. When udon is warm, arrange all topping except shrimp tempura and green onions, on top of Udon.
  4. When tsuyu starts to boil garnish the dish with green onions shrimp tempura then put the cover.
  5. Serve immediately with shichimi pepper.

Visiting Matsumoto

Matsumoto Castle

Journey to Matsumoto for the Art & Culture Tour, Day 1

After watching movie 42 grams with a glass of Prosecco and chicken dinner on my flight from Mpls to Haneda Japan, my attempt to fall asleep failed. It was a full flight but nothing out of ordinary, but you know how it is, the anticipation keeps you awake (and in my case, a gentleman who wrapped himself in toilet paper in his seat during the flight!!) .

On this trip, I was headed to art and craft city of Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture to make arrangements for our upcoming Art & Culture Tour. The town was carefully selected because we were looking for non-traditional tourist towns with an emphasis on the arts, like back home in Mpls. Sometimes tourism becomes focal point for large historical towns and this can make it difficult for creativity, new ideas, and smaller businesses. But here in Matsumoto, slightly off the beaten path, people are hungry for new inspirations, they are friendly people and there is beautiful landscape and natural hot springs. This town is also home to many famous artists.

Nakamachi, Matsumoto, Japan

I will be spending one and half day with 4 appointments, photoshoots, and places to check out. Slightly overwhelmed by number of appointments and places to visit, I was humbled for this opportunity as I have been simmering this project on the back burner for a while.

I arrived in Matsumoto city in the evening after 12 hour flight and three hour train ride. As soon as I settled into a comfortable seat by the window of an express train bound to Matsumoto, I set an alarm so I could dose off for couple of hours. But despite my well calculated plan, my excitement about the trip kept me awake. I have visited Matsumoto before but very briefly and always looked for another opportunity to come back.

Manhole Cover, Matsumoto

My hotel was nestled in between restaurants only five minutes away from the train station. Tired and hungary, I settled for a quick bowl of soba (regional buckwheat noodles) with spring vegetables and headed back to the hotel to (unsuccessfully) catch up on my sleep.

Guide to Yokohama

Yokohama, Japan

Named one of Trip Advisor’s top Japan destinations for 2018, Yokohama is the starting point of the Tokyo Ramen Crash Course and, according to the Yokohama Ramen Museum, home of the first speciality ramen restaurant. Besides a hands-on learning experience at a ramen academy, we’ll also visit two famous ramen museums in Yokohama. The Yokohama Ramen Museum for a little history, tasting and shopping, and then over to the CupNoodles Musuem to learn about the invention of instant noodles.

Yokohama is Japan’s second largest city, and is only 30 minutes from Tokyo. An early port for trade, it remains an international city and is home to a historic European quarter and the largest Chinatown in Japan. Besides ramen, there’s plenty to see, so let’s take a look at a few popular attractions in Yokohama.

7 Things to Do in Yokohama

Cup of Noodles Musuem

1. Yokohama Cup Noodles Museum

One of the stops during the Tokyo Ramen Crash Course , where we will immerse ourselves in invention of instant chicken ramen. This spacious, interactive museum is a crowd favorite and learning about the persistence and tenacity of Momofuku Ando is an inspiration for young and old. If you’re a noodle fan, this is a must see.

Yokohamashi Naka-ku Shinkou 2-3-4

10:00 am to 6:00 pm

Yokohama Ramen Museum

2. Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

As part of the core curriculum of the Tokyo Ramen Crash Course , we’ll be making a stop at the Ramen Museum for history, tasting, and shopping. On the top floor there is a gallery covering the history of ramen, and in the basement there is a themed food (ramen) hall set in the 1950’s – the golden age of ramen. Here you can sample all kinds of ramen from famous chefs throughout Japan.

Shin-Yokohama, Kohoku-ku 2-14-21

11:00 am to 10:00 pm

3. Yokohama Cosmoworld

A family-friendly amusement park with an iconic ferris wheel in the heart of the business district of Minato Mirai.  This amusement park has no entrance fee and is divided into 3 areas based on age. For thrill seekers, there is the Wonder Amuse Zone, and for kids and families Burano Street Zone and the Kids Carnival Zone. The giant Ferris Wheel has 60 seats and takes about 20 minutes to ride. In the evening, it lights up the Yokohama skyline. Cosmoworld is conveniently located in the central district of Minato Mirai.

Yokohamashi Naka-ku Shinkou 2-8-1

Weekdays: 11:00am – 9:00pm
Weekends: 11:00am – 10:00pm
Closed on Thursdays

4. Kirin Yokohama Beer Village

Yokohama is also home to the beer giant Kirin. The brewery has a storied history with its founding as Spring Valley Brewery by a Norwegian-American in 1885. Spring Valley had a short life and was eventually purchased by investors, including influential Nagasaki resident Thomas Glover, and the Kirin brand was launch in 1888. Recently, the Spring Valley brand has been revived as craft beer line. Besides seeing the brewing process, you’ll get a chance to watch 2000 cans beer being filled every minute on the packaging line – something you won’t see at a smaller scale brewery.

Brewery tours are free, but are in Japanese. They last about 80 minutes and are available from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm daily, except for Mondays. Reservations are recommended.

1-17-1 Namamugi, Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama 230-8628

Chinatown, Yokohama, Japan

5. Yokohama Chinatown

Yokohama was one of the first ports open for foreign trade in Japan and developed a large Chinatown as traders and merchants from China settled in the city, This tourist friendly district is a short distance from Minato Mirai and is home to colorful temples and gates. The main attraction in Chinatown are its popular shops and restaurants.

Yokohamashi Naka-ku Yamashitachou

Red Brick Warehosue, Yokohama

6. Red Brick Warehouse

A historic Meiji era (186-1912) government warehouse used for trading that has been fully restored and is now home to numerous shops and restaurants. From the warehouse plaza you can see Yokohama port and Minato Mirai. The Red Brick Warehouse, with its orange illumination, is especially scenic at night.

11:00 am to 10:00 pm

Yokohamamashi Naka-ku Shinkou 1-1

Yamate, Yokohama, Japan

7. Yamate & Motomachi

Western merchants and traders also settled in Yokohama and made their homes along a bluff in Yamate. Here you’ll find historic homes with blends of European and Japanese architecture. There are a number parks in the area such as Harbor View Park, Motomachi Park, Yamate Park and the Foreigners Cemetery

Just below the bluffs of Yamate, the street of Motomachi has a European flair and is a popular shopping destination.

Minatonomieruoka Park (Harbor View Park)
114 Yamatechō, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa-ken 231-0862, Japan.

Motomachi Shopping Street
1 Chome-1 Motomachi, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa-ken 231-0861, Japan