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Tjangala Cafe

The backstreets of Koga are probably the last place you would expect to find an Australian Aboriginal art gallery, and yet that is where you will find Tjangala Cafe.

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Mr. Onuki, owner of this unique set up, first visited Cairns in Northern Australia many years ago to see the Great Barrier Reef, but found himself lured further and further inland by the culture of the Australian Aboriginal people. Across 11 years, while working as a public servant, Mr. Onuki read about Aboriginal culture and visited Aboriginal communities in inland Australia. During this time he also did independent research into the art of the Aboriginal people, which is closely linked to their culture and way of life.

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The Australian Aboriginal people are Australia’s first people, and it is estimated they have been living in Australia for around 50 thousand years. Although there were once between 250-300 languages and over 600 dialects used by the Aboriginal people, none of these languages had a written script – instead, Aboriginal people traditionally used pictures to convey a vast number of things from Dreamtime stories, and history to the location of food and water and other useful everyday information.

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Mr. Onuki is particularly captivated by the distinctive art of the Western Desert region. In 1971, a school teacher named Geoffery Bardon introduced acrylic paints to the people of Papunya, a remote Aboriginal settlement west of Alice Springs, and they began to paint on canvases, which was the beginning of the Western Desert Art Movement, known for its innovative ‘dot painting’ style.

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Lynette Corby Nungurrayi

Mr. Onuki decided to establish Tjangala Cafe to introduce some of these amazing artworks to the Japanese community, and to create a space where people could appreciate them. The name Tjangala is an Aboriginal skin name used by the Pintupi people of the Western Desert, and it was given to Mr. Onuki when he visited the Aboriginal community of Utopia. In addition to displaying a sizable collection of artwork from numerous Aboriginal artists, Tjangala has also hosted a number of these artists over the years.

Maureen Nampijinpa

In 2007, when Tjangala first opened, two artists from the Mount Liebig Aboriginal community visited he cafe and created artworks. In 2011, Maureen Nampijinpa from Mt. Allen visited Japan, creating artworks and giving talks in Kobe and Tjangala Cafe. In 2012, Barbara Weir, who previously visited Japan in 2008 and spoke at the opening ceremony of the hugely popular art exhibition Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye with fellow artist Gloria Peyarre, visited Tjangala Cafe. During her stay she created artworks and gave a talk to the large crowds who came to see her. Many of the works painted by these artists can be viewed at Tjangala.

Barbara Weir
Barbara Weir

Many other Aboriginal artists have visited Japan in the past. In August 2008, Maureen Napaltjarri, and Norma Kelly, two artists from the Mount Liebig Aboriginal community, participated in Yomiuri Television’s summer program ‘Waku Waku Takarajima’, and created artworks with local children. Five women from the Mount Liebig community visited Iwaki in Fukushima on March 11, 2012, one year after the Great East Japan earthquake, to attend a memorial and revival event. They performed a traditional song and dance to pray for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. It is hoped that with the cooperation of Melbourne-based Aboriginal Art Coordinator Mayumi Uchida many more Aboriginal artists will visit Japan in years to come.

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Tjangala has a diverse menu, ranging from curry and spaghetti to sandwiches and sweets, including apple pie, pumpkin cake, and brownies. I recommend the Aussie-style toasted sandwiches – I tried the egg and ham sandwich and was not disappointed. They also offer a wide range of delicious Australian teas and blends of coffee, as well as soft drinks, wine, and beer.

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In addition to its Aboriginal art related events, Tjangala also plays venue to a number of musical performers. Most recently in November they hosted a Jazz performance. You can keep an eye on what events are scheduled on Tjangala’s website.

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Tjangala is open from 11am – 8pm, and is closed Tuesdays and the final Monday of each month. They also take a break over New Year’s. The cafe is located a 20 minute walk from Koga Station, close to Koga First High School. I highly recommend you visit Tjangala next time you are in Koga to experience the extremely friendly, family-like atmosphere, enjoy the delicious food and drink, and appreciate the unique and beautiful artworks of the Australian Aboriginal people.

Tjangala Cafe Details
Address: 306-0012, Ibaraki-ken Koga-shi Asahi-cho 2-16-8
Tel: 0280-32-4724
Website: http://www.tjangala-cafe.jp/index.html

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Yasato de Toreta Restaurant

Yasato de Toreta Restaurant, located within the boundaries of the Flower Park in Ishioka City, was opened as part of an initiative by the Ishioka local government to revitalize and promote produce grown in the region. The name literally means “taken from Yasato”, Yasato being the name of the region of Ishioka (previously a separate town before merging with Ishioka in 2005) where the restaurant is currently situated. This name comes from the fact that, to the highest extent possible, the ingredients used in the restaurant are grown locally in Ishioka.

Yasato de Toreta RestaurantWhile being maintained by Ishioka, the restaurant is managed and run by Kiuchi Brewery. Although Kiuchi Brewery is well-known for their Nest Beer and umeshu (plum wine), it has also been very successful in the restaurant business as well, running two restaurants in Mito (True Brew in Mito Station and Nakaya, a soba restaurant in Keisei Department store), and one restaurant in Naka (Also a Nakaya). Kiuchi also was behind the “seasonal restaurant” that was set up temporarily at Uwaoka Elementary School in Daigo back in 2012.

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The interior of the restaurant is clean and has a modern feeling in its design. The warmth of the dark wood of the walls and ceiling offer balance to the gray cement flooring. Each table and set of chairs is different, being designed and crafted by a local artisan. One of the artisans even created a wooden crocodile which is on display just below the servers’ window.

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As mentioned before, the head chef, Mr. Mogi, tries his best to use only ingredients grown in Ishioka. The lunch menu consists of four main dishes: pasta, pork, fish, and beef. Each main dish comes as a course and includes an appetizer salad, choice of bread or rice, a dessert, and coffee or tea. The same menu, minus the pasta, is offered during dinner. As different vegetables go in and out of season, Mr. Mogi recreates the dishes every so often with what is available at that time. This means that no matter how many times you visit, chances are you will never experience the same exact plate twice.

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During our visit, I enjoyed the pork course with rice. It came with a delicious 20-ingredient salad for an appetizer (the salad often changes, and all the ingredients used that day are written on a blackboard inside), sautéed pork with steamed vegetables as the main dish, and a cream cheese mousse with Asian pear gelatin and fruit for dessert. We were also treated to a three-squash soup, complements of the chef. The portions seemed a little small at first, but after eating the entire course it was definitely more than enough to fill you up. If you’re looking for a delicious meal for a reasonable price, I would definitely recommend Yasato de Toreta.

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To make your trip to Yasato de Toreta even more worthwhile you can visit the farmer’s market that is located adjacent to the restaurant. Inside you will find the same tasty fruits and vegetables used in the restaurant, and plenty more (for a very reasonable price)! Mr. Mogi also writes recipes, which you can find in the market, so you can try your hand at making simple and delicious meals at home as well.

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If you have a day to spare, why not visit the Flower Park, have a wonderful lunch at Yasato de Toreta, and do a little shopping for some tasty and fresh fruits and vegetables? You definitely won’t regret it!

Contact Info
Address:
200 Shimoaoyagi, Ishioka, 315-0153 (Map)
(Located within the parking lot of the Flower Park)
Hours:
11:00AM – 5:00PM Tues – Friday (L.O. 4:30PM)
11:00AM – 8:00PM Weekends and Holidays (L.O. 7:30PM)
Farmer’s Market: 9:00AM – 6:00PM
(Both restaurant and market are closed on Mondays. If Monday is a holiday, they will be open, and then closed the following Tuesday)
URL:
http://yasato.com/ (Japanese only)

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A Little Prayer

A short walk from Fukuhara station lies the Izumo Shrine complex, which houses the well-named restaurant Priere (prayer). This laid-back eatery offers high quality soba, udon, and tempura meal sets with quite a lot of volume; the broth for the noodles is a flavorful combination of chicken, pork, and onion shoots, and the tempura is perfectly cooked to give flavor without grease.DSCN5028

The menu also offers desserts and a wide selection of cold and hot beverages, including fresh, pure apple juice directly from Akita Prefecture (the owner’s parental home). Of special note is the large collection of herbal teas on offer, which are not bagged teas but free leaves that are served in a special decanter for ease of brewing. In addition to the normal mint and chamomile they also have blends targeted for different effects, such as a mix of rose, lemon grass, and marrow for aiding digestion and some lemon grass and lavender for tired eyes.DSCN5011

The restaurant itself has a small patio for those who would prefer to dine outdoors when the weather permits, and the interior is lit mainly by natural light to give a relaxing effect. The windows look out onto the lush greenery of a Japanese mountain forest all year round and the seating arrangements are plain but spacious. Music box versions of various popular songs (Unchained Melody, My Heart Will Go On, etc) play over the speakers to add to the soothing ambience, and the staff is extremely courteous and friendly.DSCN5012

Because it is connected directly to the gift shop (where the entrance lies) there is also a selection of beautifully crafted glass pieces on display for purchase. Some of these pieces were imported directly from the famous glass houses in Venice, with their long-protected secret filigree technique being used to full effect. Others were handmade by the shrine’s head priest in the adjoining glass-blowing workshop, and still others were donated by a friend of said head priest. All in all it gives the sense of being inside a small art gallery just to peruse the works on display. Whether you are just in the area or stopping by to visit the shrine, Priere offers a nice place to fuel up before moving on.DSCN5027

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Soup Stop

Soup Café Fika is a rather new restaurant located to the south-east of the Ibaraki Prefectural Government in Mito, offering tasty and affordable fare inside a cottage-like interior. The outside of the restaurant, which was a different establishment up until just a short while ago, looks somewhat old and lackluster, but inside there are plenty of shabby chic tables and tchotchkes to give it a relaxed, homey feeling.

002As suggested by the name, the menu features a selection of home-made soups that come with sides of salad, rice, and appetizers, although they do also feature pasta and entrees such as grilled chicken. The atmosphere is pleasant, with nice folk music piped in throughout, and the layout of the restaurant allows for you to seclude yourself from other guests to a certain extent, which provides for a more intimate experience. There are many windows and lots of space, and the white theme of the decorations makes it feel very open and inviting.

004The food is very well done, both in flavor and in presentation; al-dente pasta with plenty of seasoning, fragrant and filling soups that appeal to both eyes and stomach. They even have a selection of teas and coffees to finish off the meal, with some rather decadent desserts on display. One of the interesting features of the teas was that they brought out a small dish of blueberry jam that you were encouraged to spoon into your tea for an additional flavor boost. Prices are reasonable, averaging a little less than one thousand yen per dish, and the servings are quite generous.

001Thanks to the restaurant’s recent opening there was no need to make a reservation, but it is likely to gain popularity rather quickly given the quality of the offerings. It may be a little bit harder to get to than most establishments, but it is worth the effort to enjoy a meal with a little peace and quiet and some excellent service. There is ample parking for those so inclined, but very few streetlights so be careful when going at night (whether driving or not!).

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Sweet Meats

Hitachiota is home to an unusual, somewhat surreal restaurant. A five minute walk from the station, hidden in the midst of a residential area, is a small so-called café that offers up some pretty surprising fare. The Sweet Café, contrary to its name, is not a dessert spot but rather a meat-centered establishment catering to a slightly more adventurous clientele. In fact, the main claim to fame for this café is their Flaming Hamburg Steak (as advertised on their sign outside), which is prepared right at your table. The meat is high quality Hitachi beef, gently grilled before being brought out on a metal skillet with some mixed vegetables. The server brings out a bottle of brandy, douses the patty, and soon there is a towering inferno spouting from your meal! It is quite a sight, and certainly makes for a fun time, although the flavor of the dish itself is not quite as spectacular.

Sweet CafeThe Flaming Hamburg Steak also comes with soup and salad, which are similar in flavor to the main dish, and a small dessert parfait as well as coffee or tea. While the dessert was by far the best part of the meal, the experience of watching your dinner go up in flames was definitely something you don’t get to try every day. Other menu items include the intriguingly named Volcano Steak, as well as another steak covered in gold leaf, all of which are quite pricey. The Flaming Hamburg is actually the cheapest item on the menu, and coming in at 1800 yen gives you an idea of where the price range goes from there.

Flaming HamburgThe atmosphere is a little unusual as well; the entryway is set up with astro turf and plastic lawn chairs, while the inside reminds one of an out-of-the way American roadside diner. The service is very good (the waiter even wears a tie and vest) and there was no difficulty in getting in for lunch, so if you happen to be in the area and in need of a thrill with your meal, by all means drop in.

Flaming hamburg ready to eat

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Deli Discovery

Seemingly dropped from the sky into a slightly rural part of Mito near the government offices, Thomas Cafe offers New York-style deli eats in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. If you’ve been craving an authentic bagel or wrap, or just want to try some pumpkin cheesecake, this is the place to be.

The actual building itself is loosely divided in two, with one half being the Thomas Café and the other being the Green Banana Thai restaurant, but they share the same entrance and salad bar. On Thomas’ side there is an airy, sunroom-type layout with couches that positively envelop you and pleasant jazz music for accompaniment. Not to mention, if you are killing some time they have Japanese copies of Where’s Waldo on hand to entertain people of all ages.

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The menu offers things either as a la carte, such as the huge bagel sandwiches or mouthwatering wraps, or in a combination meal with the deli offerings. Right in front of the entrance is the ubiquitous deli case, well-stocked with various small dishes of an innovative type: mushroom gratin with salmon, eggplant parmesan with tuna, ratatouille, etc. With the combo deal you can choose one main item, bagel or wrap, and two or three deli dishes to complement it, plus you get free access to the salad, soup, and drink bar and a choice of desserts. The desserts are as varied as the deli offerings, ranging from fruit-and-yogurt concoctions to unusual flavors of cheesecake, with stop-overs including jellies and puddings of all kinds, as well as sherbets and ice creams. This is a temptation that can be hard to resist.

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However, if you’re not in the mood for a full-course meal, they do have an abundant selection of salads and drinks, including smoothies made with real fruit (you can even choose to combine two or three different items to make your own smoothie) and some nice teas.

This is one of those places that you end up coming back to over and over again due to the consistently high quality food and generally soothing surroundings, and definitely somewhere you should check out if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

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Beneficial Beans

One of the most popular new brands of coffee around the world is from somewhere you wouldn’t normally expect: a small rural area in Northern Thailand called Doi Tung. Developed as part of the Thai initiative to replace the region’s traditional heroin production with something more socially acceptable, the Doi Tung villagers, who are part of a tribal minority, farm coffee beans instead of poppies, with government subsidization. However, coffee beans are only valuable when there’s a market for them, and, as part of their continuing efforts to support developing countries, this is where Yuki’s Josai Hospital stepped in to help.

Josai Hospital has a long history of providing assistance to countries in the Asian region as part of the Japanese International Friendship and Welfare Foundation (JIFF) founded by the hospital’s lead doctor. Starting in 1982 JIFF has worked with refugees in Indo-China, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, forming teams to provide medical care in Thailand and other regions, and building relationships with regional hospitals. As a further step towards supporting the infamous Golden Triangle region (known for drug production) Josai Hospital built a coffee shop within their main building specifically for the sale and consumption of Doi Tung products.

Stepping inside the front door you might be forgiven for not thinking it is a hospital; photo montages of the Doi Tung tribespeople and their home decorate the walls along with tribal textiles. A short walk forward is the coffee shop counter and its menu of hot and cold delicacies, including caramel lattes, americanos, and some sinfully delicious cakes and dainties. After that the room opens into a café area, with tables and chairs formed from beautifully grained natural wood, complete with a gift shop section proferring Doi Tung crafts for sale. It is light and airy, with pleasant music in the background, and it is not until the odd patient or doctor happens by that you are reminded it is a medical facility. In fact, the first three floors of this area are dedicated to the Doi Tung coffee shop, open to both residents and visitors during operating hours, with the profits going back to the Doi Tung villagers.

Though the café only just opened in July of 2012, the hospital hopes that it will be welcomed by the greater community and help provide vital support to future development efforts in the Greater Mekong Region and Doi Tung in particular. If you’re in the mood for some delicious, and ethically conscious, coffee, be sure to drop by!

For more info about Yuki, please see our homepage!

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Zen and the Art of Pasta-Making

Nestled beside the roadside of the busy Yuki bypass is a small, unassuming building with a bright red sign reading Zen. This is the Zen Coffee and Cup Café (Ko-hi- to utsuwa Zen), half ceramic shop, half cozy haven. The ceramics are quite artistically made in the local Kasama pottery style and are priced accordingly, but what really shines is the small dining area. The walls are made of the traditional straw-and-mud style which is found in the homes of lords in the region; this style has the benefit of being cooler in the summer while still insulating in the winter, as well as providing a very unique atmosphere. On the side facing the road are several narrow floor-to-ceiling windows for light, but on the opposite side the window covers almost the whole bottom half of the wall, cleverly designed to look out on the adjoining garden area while hiding the rest of the neighborhood, creating the effect of a private, soothing space.

The menu has reasonably priced lunch sets that include salad, bread, main dish, drink, and dessert, and the daily specials are all quite appetizing. My colleague had the spicy mentaiko cream pasta, while I chose the mozzarella and eggplant tomato-sauce spaghetti, and both were al dente and richly flavored successes. For dessert I chose the Tarte Tatain, a French take on apple pie, and my colleague selected the pumpkin tart, which were both exquisitely delicious while remaining light and airy. One more delightful surprise was the option of herbal tea for the set drink; as someone who cannot have caffeine I am often forced to resort to orange or apple juice (neither of which finishes a meal off very well), but Zen has a fruit tea menu which includes the apple cinnamon tea I elected to enjoy after dessert.

One element that we weren’t able to fully enjoy, due to the season, was the tiny adjacent garden. Wreathed in vines that provide a shady canopy for the little patio area, the tiny space is a nice spot of soothing greenery to retreat to on a hot day. There were even fully-grown gourds hanging from the metal lattice holding the vines, giving it a slightly exotic atmosphere.

If you’re in the area and not in the mood for fast food be sure to look up Café Zen for a pleasant meal and some relaxation.

For more details on Yuki, please visit our homepage!

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Quiche Niche

If you’re looking for a cool place to eat in Kasama, look no further than the mysteriously named Wasugazen Cafe nestled in the hills beside the Ibaraki Ceramic Art Museum. It’s hard to miss, considering it’s a giant yellow western-style house with a full patio right abut the roadway; there is even parking, with enough spots for quite a crowd. Once inside, the décor is warm, dark mahogany-colored woodwork with cool silver fixtures, and the first thing to greet you at the door is the glass display case full of the hand-backed desserts they offer for sale.

Though the inside is somewhat small, perhaps only seating 20 to 25 people, there is almost seating available on the well-appointed porch outside. The walkway is quaintly inlaid stones, the tables come with parasols to keep off the sun, and there is a bbq standing to one side, promising some delicious cookouts on summer nights. One of the more interesting features of the building is the bathroom; hidden behind a rather Spartan-seeming door is a fully-featured (the automatic tap even has a light so you can see where you’re washing!) and sparklingly clean set-up. Just outside the door is a large mirror, which is easily mistaken for some kind of artsy gate because of the clever positioning, which gives you a little privacy to tidy up before returning to your seat.

The menu is rather small, but packed full of appetizing favorites. Curry, ham sandwiches, salads, specially blended flavored teas, desserts, and my favorite, the quiche. There are two kinds of quiche, but they sell out fast; this time we were left with the potato and sweet potato quiche, which sounds like an odd combination with cheese. However, it was extremely well conceived and one of the best quiches I’ve ever had. Most dishes come with a small house salad, but you can also get a set that includes salad, soup, tea or coffee, and a dessert. The desserts are nice and light, ranging from peach jelly with peaches inside to fluffy chiffon cake to blueberry tarts, and reasonably priced so that they are quite attractive for finishing up the meal.

If you’re tired of the inari sushi and soba that the area is famous for, Wasugazen is a nice retreat for the spirit and the palate.

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Hidden Treasure

Hidden in the back of a building, with only a very simple sign advertising it, is one of Mito’s best-kept secrets. Cafe Rin is an exquisite little café on the ground floor of one of the many eponymous buildings near the Daiku area of Mito, featuring a soothing and relaxing atmosphere and delicious home-style meals. Not only is it removed from the noise and bustle of the busy streets outside, it fronts onto a small Japanese garden that has frequent visits from intrepid local cats who dare to scale the high bamboo walls. If you’re looking for a great place for a date, a chat, or just to sit and study, Rin is exactly what you want.

Once you pass down the dark, spare, narrow hallway from the street entrance, you reach an area that feels as if it is a different world. The walls are pleasant jewel tones with interesting art and architecture, soft jazz plays in the background to add to the ambience, and the low lighting makes things seem to glow with a nostalgic warmth. Water is self-serve and nearby is a bookshelf full of books for all ages (in Japanese, but some are illustrated children’s books that even adults may enjoy) that guests can read at will. The menu is small, but full of items that tempt the tastebuds, rendering decision-making a bit lengthy. Most dishes are a fusion-style combination of Asian or Western influences, such as the California bowl with its avocado and smoked salmon served over balsamic rice. All dishes come with a perfectly dressed salad and a tasty cup of soup, but make sure to leave room for the desserts. Among the regular offerings is the heavenly fig cheesecake, and you can turn any dessert into a set that comes with a drink and a scone, complete with a tiny dish of whipped cream and jam.

There is also a variety of coffees and teas on hand, and if you prefer to have your sweets to go their fluffy and lightly sweetened scones are available for purchase beside the cash register. All in all, the prices are reasonable and the food never disappoints (try the cheesy meatballs!), but the elegance and calming atmosphere is what will keep you coming back for more.