Japanese Restaurants Show You How to Make Traditional Dishes in Meditative Videos: Soba, Tempura, Udon & More

Despite hav­ing recent­ly begun to admit tour groups, Japan remains inac­ces­si­ble to most of the world’s trav­el­ers. Hav­ing closed its gates dur­ing the onset of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, the coun­try has shown lit­tle incli­na­tion to open them up again too quick­ly or wide­ly. The longer this remains the case, of course, the more intense every­one’s desire to vis­it Japan becomes. Though dif­fer­ent trav­el­ers have dif­fer­ent inter­ests to pur­sue in the Land of the Ris­ing sun — tem­ples and shrines, trains and cafés, ani­me and man­ga — all of them are sure­ly unit­ed by one appre­ci­a­tion in par­tic­u­lar: that of Japan­ese food.

Wher­ev­er in the world we hap­pen to live, most of us have a decent Japan­ese restau­rant or two in our vicin­i­ty. Alas, as any­one with expe­ri­ence in Japan has felt, the expe­ri­ence of eat­ing its cui­sine any­where else does­n’t quite mea­sure up; a ramen meal can taste good in a Cal­i­for­nia strip mall, not the same as it would taste in a Tokyo sub­way sta­tion.

At least the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry affords us one con­ve­nient means of enjoy­ing audio­vi­su­al evo­ca­tions of gen­uine Japan­ese eater­ies: Youtube videos. The chan­nel Japan­ese Noo­dles Udon Soba Kyoto Hyō­go, for instance, has cap­ti­vat­ed large audi­ences sim­ply by show­ing what goes on in the hum­ble kitchens of west­ern Japan’s Kyoto and Hyō­go pre­fec­tures.

Hyō­go con­tains the coastal city of Kobe as well as Hime­ji Cas­tle, which dates back to the four­teenth cen­tu­ry. The pre­fec­ture of Kyoto, and espe­cial­ly the one­time cap­i­tal of Japan with­in it, needs no intro­duc­tion, such is its world­wide renown as a site of cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal rich­ness. Right up until the pan­dem­ic, many were the for­eign­ers who jour­neyed to Kyoto in search of the “real Japan.” Whether such a thing tru­ly exists remains an open ques­tion, but if it does, I would locate it — in Kyoto, Hyō­go, or any oth­er region of the coun­try — in the mod­est restau­rants of its back alleys and shoten­gai mar­ket com­plex­es, the ones that have been serv­ing up bowls of noo­dles and plates of cur­ry for decade upon decade.

Ide­al­ly the décor nev­er changes at these estab­lish­ments, nor do the pro­pri­etors. The video at the top of the post vis­its a “good old din­er” in Kobe to show the skills of a “hard work­ing old lady” with the sta­tus of a “vet­er­an cook cho­sen by God.” In anoth­er such neigh­bor­hood restau­rant, locat­ed near the main train sta­tion in the city of Ama­gasa­ki, a “super mom” pre­pares her sig­na­ture udon noo­dles. But even she looks like a new­com­er com­pared to the lady who’s been mak­ing udon over in Kyoto for 58 years at a din­er in exis­tence for a cen­tu­ry. Soba, tonkat­su, oyakodon, tem­pu­ra, okonomiya­ki: whichev­er Japan­ese dish you’ve been crav­ing for the past cou­ple of years, you can watch a video on its prepa­ra­tion — and make your long-term trav­el plans accord­ing­ly.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How to Make Sushi: Free Video Lessons from a Mas­ter Sushi Chef

Cook­pad, the Largest Recipe Site in Japan, Launch­es New Site in Eng­lish

How Soy Sauce Has Been Made in Japan for Over 220 Years: An Inside View

The Restau­rant of Mis­tak­en Orders: A Tokyo Restau­rant Where All the Servers Are Peo­ple Liv­ing with Demen­tia

Watch Tee­ny Tiny Japan­ese Meals Get Made in a Minia­ture Kitchen: The Joy of Cook­ing Mini Tem­pu­ra, Sashi­mi, Cur­ry, Okonomiya­ki & More

The Prop­er Way to Eat Ramen: A Med­i­ta­tion from the Clas­sic Japan­ese Com­e­dy Tam­popo (1985)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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