Wednesday, May 3, 2017

End of An Era

After almost nine years in Japan, I have returned to Chicago.  You can keep up on culture, restaurants and geekdom here.

I'd like to thank everyone for following me on my adventures in the land of the rising sun over the past five years!  I plan on being back in Tokyo every year and it will be fully reported in Pop's Chicago Tiki Room.

A hui ho...

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Well... I started a new job in November and it has taken a toll on my blogging:(  Hopefully, when I get more time, I'll get more posts up.  Take care of yourselves and have a good Easter!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Force Awakens in Japan; Star Wars toys at Toys R Us in Tokyo

Well, the Force fever has caught up with me.  After viewing countless Facebook posts of Force Awakens commercials, I decided to check out if the people here are as Star Wars crazy as us Americans are.   I'm almost certain that the English and Aussies are, in fact, most of the Imperials speak with a British/Australian accent anyway.  As for Far Easterners... Darth Vader is wearing what looks to be a samurai helmet and the Trade Federation baddies do speak with a Chinglish accent.  In any event, the movie is more than three months away so it wouldn't surprise me if the Japanese are reserving their Star Wars love for later.

 If I recall correctly, for the Phantom Menace, the toys were released only a few weeks before the movie came out.  Flashback to April 1999: Dad, Uncle Jim and I run into a bunch of unopened Phantom Menace figure shipping boxes at Super Walmart in Kissimmee, Florida.  The Kenner boxes were marked "Do not put on floor until two weeks after the X date" (two weeks after the then-present date).  Well, of course we opened them and carried out as many Jar Jar Binks and Darth Mauls we could carry in our arms.  Even the checkout scanners were reading "Do Not Sell" when we tried to pay for the figures. The long line of customers behind us and apathy-toward-her-job attitude of the cashier allowed us to get out of the store with the figures.

This time around it is different; we can see what type of vehicle Rey is flying and the various locales of the movie from the playsets for sale, three months before its release.  This is what I saw today at the Toys R Us's in the Tokyo area.  As demonstrated by Toys R Us, the Japanese are having the Force Awakened after all. 

Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren displays.
Many of the goods had Hasbro packaging, so I assume they are the same in the States, such as the deluxe figures above.
These sets kick the asses of the sets we had as kids.  We had to use the megaphone piece as a laser gun.
 There were many new Lego sets.
Perfect. Jango's head comes off.
More Lego sets.
New stormtroopers are in the house!
Some really large figures by Hasbro.
Mostly characters from the original trilogy.
Bandai models.  Pretty cool.  Perhaps you can't find these guys in the States.
I'd try getting the Boba Fett helmet, but they are blind-bag packaged.
I think these mini-replica helmets are Japan-only.  I learned a lot about the Force Awakened locales from the Hasbro Micro Machine playsets under the mini-helmets.
I'll get Boba in the near future.
These die-cast figures and vehicles are Japan-only, produced by Tomy.
These guys were around 50 bucks.
Pretty cool line of Star War vehicle drones.
A hodge podge of collectibles.
More cool stuff.

I'll probably get a few die-cast Force Awakened vehicles for my desk.  3 and 3/4 inch figures, the staple of my Star Wars collection as a kid, teen and young adult, were mysteriously absent from the assortment of goods I saw today.  Perhaps they will be released later here?   Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised that the Force is strong with the Japanese.  I can only surmise from what I saw at Toys R Us today that we will get lots of Star Wars promotional items such as Pepsi bottle caps, stickers with candy and gatcha gatcha toys in the future.  I can't wait.  Thanks for the read, and may the Force be with you.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ikinari Steak; Throughout Tokyo

If you live in the Tokyo area (including the parts of Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba touching Tokyo), it is hard not to have noticed Ikinari Steak locations popping up everywhere like daisies.  I had been intrigued by these steak shops and looked into their windows more than a few times.  Each time, I witnessed the same, standing diners with white-paper bibs on greedily cutting up and wolfing down chunks of beef. 

Not long ago, I found an Ikinari Steak at of all places, the food court at Koshigaya Laketown Mall in Saitama.  I decided to see what all the hype was about and got into the line to get myself an Ikinari steak.

Ikinari Steak in English and Ikinari Steak in Japanese too.
I saw the sign!
In front of the line, I was greeted by a sign explaining how you order your steak.  First, you pick your cut of beef.  They have rib roast (American beef) @ 6 yen a gram, sirloin (American beef) @ 7 yen a gram and filet (Japanese beef)  @ 8 yen a gram.  Next, you pick the size of your steak, measured by weight in grams.  If I remember correctly, 200 grams is the minimum-sized steak you can purchase.  Finally, you pick how you like your steak done.

When I got to the front of the line, I chose the cheapest cut possible and the minimum weight as I didn't have much cash on hand and didn't feel like using the credit card.   I requested them to cook my steak medium rare.  They also asked me if I wanted anything else with my steak.  I chose the salad set, which included a small salad and a cup of soup.  Each set was something like 300 yen.  Most of the others around me chose the rice set with a cup of rice and a bowl of soup.  I watched as the man who took my order took out a knife and cut my steak from a bigger piece of meat.  He then weighed it.  It was 215 grams.  I was given a pager-type device and found a table.

In about 7-10 minutes, my buzzer went off and I got my steak.  It was served on a cast-iron hot plate, on top of a pile of corn and onions.
Here she is...
The steak was a little bit overcooked and was much closer to medium than medium rare. Perhaps that was because the 200-gram cut was a little on the thin size. If I had a little more cash on me, I would have chosen the 300-gram cut.  If that happened, being thicker, it likely would be cooked closer to my liking.  However, my steak was seasoned very well and didn't require any sauce.  All in all it was a nice dinner that didn't give me that too-full-feeling.  The most difficult part of the steak was the that not more than two weeks earlier, I had enjoyed this 28-ounce beauty of a porterhouse at the Boathouse at Disney World in Florida.  The Ikinari steak just couldn't compare with the Boathouse steak.
My brother-in-law ordered the steak and we all shared it.
In any event, I will return to Ikinari in the not-so-far-future as the prices were reasonable, they cut your steak right in front of you and well, it tasted pretty good.  I give Ikinari Steak four rib-eyes out of five rib-eyes for its convenience and uniqueness in food preparation.  Thanks for the read!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Birthday Gifts;Seacons Part 2; Throughout the Tokyo Area

The family finally returned to Japan. Woo hoo!!! Now I have little buddies to accompany me on tasks like heading to the supermarket and trying to win prizes from the U.F.O. catchers.  Better yet, they brought treasures from Chicago for me as tribute for that special of special days, my birthday.  I'd like to thank my mom, my family and Uncle Jim and Auntie Lil for the wonderful gifts. Thank you to sister for the Hawks shirt, the other Uncle Jim for the Hawks blu-ray and dad for the iTunes card too (I was given these gifts in person in Chicago).  Here is the Chicago booty that was brought back for me:
Just what every winner needs, Zatarain's Cajun meals in a box, Kind bars and Sno Caps!

These glow in the dark lizards will come in handy when the power goes out.

Michael's Gourmet Coffee... Mmmmm... Who needs Starbucks, Caribou, Dunkin Donuts or Hills Brothers!
Every year my family and I are separated on that August day:( 

Anyhoo, I also picked up the rest of the Seacons that I talked about in the last post.
I'll post some pics of Piranacon when I open them up and assemble the dude.

Still shocked my cousin Brandon couldn't remember the Seacons.  Here is the 1988 commercial for them.  Hopefully it'll refresh his mind.
Alright that's it for now.  I'll probably post more Disney World stuff in the next few days.  It was an awesome vacation that I'll be thinking about for the next few months.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Transformers Seacons; Various Stores Throughout Tokyo

Just a quick post here.  Was at the local Aeon department store and happened to stroll by the candy/small toy section.  Lookie what I found. 

A miniature version of my favorite transformer of all time, Snap Trap!!!  I guess he's called Turtler here.  Snap Trap is the leader of the Seacons, 6 sea-themed Transformers (Decepticons) that combine to form Piranacon.  I got him in the late 1980's and being a huge turtle fan, Snap Trap was my favorite.  Sadly, I think my mom recently disposed of him while preparing the house for the market.  My older cousin didn't even remember the Seacons!  I guess that makes him a fake Transformers fan.

All hail Piranacon!

3 Seacons

3 more Seacons
In any event, Japanese candy stores/departments are now carrying miniature versions of the Seacons now.  From plenty of experience with toys here, I believe that candy sections at supermarkets would be the best place to find the Seacons.  At only 300 yen (about 3 bucks) apiece, the great Piranacon can be yours for under 20 bucks (albeit a miniature version).  Try finding him for that price on eBay! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Trader Sam's;Polynesian Resort; Walt Disney World; Orlando, Florida

Well back to Japan after a nice almost two-week vacation in the U.S.  We did the Chicago thing with the family and then were off to Orlando with the sister and her family to play in the Parks.  And, as promised, here is a review of Trader Sam's Grog Grotto.

Welcome Tiki Fanatics 

First off, I'd like to thank my wonderful brother-in-law for the opportunity to go to Trader Sam's.  His meticulous planning allowed us to visit here even with our very busy schedule (which he planned as well).  In addition to his perfectly planned agenda, we were allowed to stay in their Bay Lake Tower Villa (DVC Contemporary Resort), so many more thanks.  We had perhaps the trip of our lives with my sister and her family.

Back to Trader Sam's, Trader Sam's authoritatively answers the question of who could create the best themed Tiki bar of all time.  Disney, of course!  There could not be a better place for a Tiki bar than the Polynesian Resort, a Polynesian-themed Tiki bar in a Polynesian-themed resort!!!  In addition to Trader Sam's, we were able to enjoy a dinner at Ohana, a Hawaiian-themed Brazilian-BBQ-like restaurant and a breakfast at Kona Cafe, a Hawaiian breakfast joint, both at the Polynesian resort.

The actual Trader Sam's bar is not the largest place, and from what I hear and how it appeared to be, it is very popular with Disney cast members and Orlando locals.  Accordingly, you may have to wait awhile to get into the bar. There is plenty of seating outside though near the pool.  Kids are allowed in the bar before 8pm (I think it is 8), but it is hard to get a table for more than 4.  Making it even more difficult to bring kids in the bar is the fact that when we finally were allowed in (party of 7 on the wait list), there were 7 seats available in the bar but they were not together.  That said, the bar is enjoyed best with a hot date or a cool brother-in-law as in my case.  We decided to let the wives and kids sit outside in the ample outdoor seating while we enjoyed a drink and the amazing scenery.

Let's start with the theming.  Man oh man is this place cool.   Everything from the Tikis...
Hello Mr. Tiki

To the views of the volcanoes outside...
Nice ocean view

To the Octopus waiting on the roof...
Somebody get the takoyaki maker ready

To the angry Tiki gods...
This might be a little too intense for the kiddies

Makes this a Disney masterpiece.

There are storms at times...
Get your ponchos ready

As well as volcano eruptions!

 There are some great drinks on the menu as can be seen below.

What shall we get next?
In the bar, I ordered the Hawaiian beer sampler, the Kona Beer Flight.  Let me explain why I made that choice in lieu of a Tiki drink. The brother-in-law and I decided to expedite our time in the bar since our families were waiting outside on the patio, so we ordered quick and easy to make drinks.  He ordered the Rum Flight, straight shots of rum, yummy!  Both of our samplers came out as three shots (5-once cups of beer for me) on surf boards.   I was familiar with all of my three brews since I regularly drink them in Japan as Hawaiian beer is popular here.
Add 20 bucks for the souvenir shot glasses

While outside, I ordered the Nautilus and was not disappointed.  If you order the Nautilus in the bar, there is a whole production of shouts of "Nautilus!" and lighting effects when the servers bring it to your table.  I ordered it at our outside table, so instead it was brought out in two plastic cups and the souvenir mug was to be picked up later upon presentation of my receipt.  Disney does not want broken glassware like the mug in close proximity to the pool.  One warning is the mugs that come with the drinks are quite pricey.  My drink (which to my surprise, was for two) was 52 dollars.  You can ask for drinks without the mugs and they are considerably cheaper.   Here are the drink in cups and my mug, the biggest, second most expensive and perhaps the most impressive one of my collection.
Double the pleasure

Ahoy brave sailors

1st edition!

We also ordered some things to munch on with our drinks, the Chicken Lettuce Cups, Kalua Pork Tacos, Hawaiian Poke and Corn-battered Portuguese Sausages.  They all tasted very good, impressive but standard Tiki-bar fare.  Ironically, what impressed me the most of our food selections was the Pulled Pork Nachos from the nearby quick-service restaurant, Captain Cook's.  However, that didn't matter since we came to Trader Sam's for the drinks and the theming.
Some Tiki Delicacies
Pulled Pork Nachos

In addition to the great theming in the bar, the patio's theming wasn't too shabby with abundant Tikis and entertainment in the form of live Hawaiian music.  The performer sounded really good especially after a few drinks.

More Tiki

Tiki butt!!!

Our performer is way in the back.
If we didn't have 3 kids with us and Fast Passes for Space Mountain, I could have spent all night at Trader Sam's.  Really.  Nothing like strong drinks, being with buddies (great family in my case) and enjoying a vacation at an awesome Tiki bar.  I give Trader Sam's five Tikis out of five Tikis for its well-mixed drinks, good food and awesome theming.

If you are wondering where you can meet the actual Trader Sam, please proceed to the Jungle Cruise and your tour guide will introduce him to you.
Trader Sam has some deals you'll lose your head over.