Sunday, March 1, 2009

Uguisu, Maebashi

DISCLAIMER: This post has very little to do with food. It's more of a disjointed travelogue about a mediocre country town. And it's not even much of that. But it IS long...

The last post (delivered via mobile!) may have been a bit confusing if anyone was paying attention. I decided a quick overnight trip was in order to take my mind off things, and went to Maebashi. Why Maebashi? Weather.

Every morning on the news, regardless of channel, the weather segment features two screens of city-by-city weather. There's the Okinawa-to-Nagoya cities, then the Tokyo-and-points-North. Since there are only 7 or 8 on each page, I figured they must all be at least a little interesting. Maebashi is on the points-North page, and I've been vaguely thinking about going for years now.

Guess what, it's thoroughly depressing! And I found exactly zero points of interest! I tried, I really did. I asked at the tourist center, I asked at the restaurants where I ate, I asked at the hotel. And struck out. Maebashi is at the northwest corner of the Tokyo basin, so I figured there would be some interesting mountain food coming down from the hillz. And every city in Japan has its famous items, food-focused restaurants and a few funny museums, right?

No. The main attractions of the city are those related to the famous poet Hagiwara, which include a poetry museum. This may be interesting if you read Japanese well enough to appreciate poetry and are also interested in its history. Or not. There's also the park, which is less than spectacular in February. Oh, and the prefectural hall, which is the usual 35-story monstrosity that someone's taxes paid for.

OK, let me stop kvetching about rural Japan. I DID choose to go there. Here's the second place I ate, after the yakisoba.

Oops, more complaining first! There were two places on the local 'gourmet guide' that billed themselves as ryotei. I came across one of them on an afternoon scouting mission, and found it to be closed weekends once I saw the guide. The other ryotei looked genuinely promising - a dark courtyard, a classic, shabby interior with old women rustling about in kimono...they greeted me with bemusement and polite titters at the idea the I should desire dinner. It was quite out of the question that a single diner should enter. I departed.

Walking around for another 30 minutes yielded a few kappou, and I checked in to Uguisu. Looked nice from the outside, looked OK inside, but was empty. Ah well. I sat at the counter and endured what seem to be the standard Gunma questions "Do you speak Japanese?" "Can you eat Japanese food?".

The menu was weird - a lot of focus on fish that clearly didn't come from the waters of Maebashi. Skip that; the toushi was julienne of yamaimo which was fresh, crunchy, delicious...and ever so slimy. I kinda like it now. There were also a few pieces of asparagus; I think it's too early in the season for this, so it must be imported. Did you ever read about asparagus farming in the high desert in South America? Really interesting. After that I asked them to recommend something meaty from the menu and ended up with the cold beef shabu salad. It was surprisingly good, with good-quality beef boiled, chilled and draped, iceberg lettuce. No, really, it was good!

The best thing to come of it was that the staff advised me to visit the crazy doll exhibit at the Japan Silk Museum. Nankamura Jusaburo makes some amazing stuff, and I highly advise that if you're in the area before March 9th you check it out. Take the #45 bus from Maebashi Eki bus stop 6. Only takes 30 minutes, and the buses run at least once every 2 hours.

If you're still here, I'd like to thank you for your patience. The next post will be about food, including lots of pictures!



  1. We are just getting asparagus in the store now. Must be from Chile because all the fruit now is from there.

  2. Anonymous -
    I looked at the asparagus in the store tonight in Tokyo and found that it was from...Gunma, i.e. the same state that I was in. I still think it was hot-housed, but I guess it might really have been local! I doubt that the ones at Shop-Rite are from Gunma though...