2011/12/02

Lunch With The ATM

No, we didn't have lunch with an automatic teller machine...

Kimie had a day off in the middle of the week, so we went to Mito City for a little year end shopping. We got there after noon, so parked at Keisei department store for lunch. The top (9th) floor features several restaurants, and our favorite* one specializes in tofu and yuba.


In addition to western style and Japanese style dining areas, they have a long table - perhaps 20 or more feet - facing the outer glass wall of the building. It is made of one solid wood plank, about three inches thick. The view is to the north and on a clear day, one is treated to the mountains of north Ibaraki and of Tochigi - one being Mt. Nantai in Nikko National Park, some 40 km distant. Closer in, at just two blocks away, is the "ATM" - Art Tower Mito with its 100 meter (328 ft) tall geometric spiral tower made of titanium.

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Art Tower Mito has an exhibition hall for contemporary art, a music theater for classical performances, such as those by the Mito Chamber Orchestra (Seiji Ozawa, musical advisor), and a drama theater in which Acting Company Mito and other groups perform. The lobby connecting all three has a German designed pipe organ made with American oak that has 3,283 full stop pipes. It was built by two Japanese craftsmen who studied in Germany and achieved the designation of master organ builder.

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Pipes!


The tower itself is, as I mentioned, 100 meters tall. This was done to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mito becoming an official city in 1889. Inside, there is a circular glass elevator which takes visitors to an observation room at the 86 meter level.

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The restaurant has a wonderful buffet, but we opted for a teishoku (set lunch), which starts off with a basket of fresh tofu to which one can add sea salt and or shoyu, and a bowl of yuba. Yuba is a favorite of mine, in all its many forms. It is the film skimmed off the top of the vat when tofu is being made. Delicate flavor and silky smooth texture lend it to several uses in Japanese cuisine, especially the dishes of the Buddhist "Shojin Ryori" vegetarian tradition. Shojin means "to pursue enlightenment" and ryori simply means "cooking". So Shojin Ryori is not just vegetarian food, it is a Zen Buddhist practice, and it dates back to the 13th century. But I digress a long way, as we were not eating an entirely vegetarian lunch.

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The teishoku tray we ate offered mackerel, tempura, steamed veggies, sashimi, miso soup, rice, pickled veggies and a desert.

After shopping at Keisei, we went down to the Mito train station and picked up a few more items in the shops there. There is a new coffee house at the station - Saza Coffee. The company grows its own beans in the Americas and Africa. They've been around for over forty years (starting out in Hitachinaka, northern Ibaraki. We have been served the company's iced coffee at the yacht harbor, but the Mito shop is new. Anyway, Kimie had wanted to try it last time we were up there, but on that trip, it was getting late in the day and I declined. So I owed her. This trip I just had iced tea (I can't drink coffee in the afternoon or I stay awake at night), while Kimie had her coffee and a slice of cheesecake.

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Saza!

It was a nice way to end the day before heading home.

* (Actually, I've never eaten at any of the other restaurants up there, as their focus is on foods I'm not interested in - Chinese, Korean, beef, pork, oysters, etc. ).

6 comments:

K and S said...

amazing day!

Pandabonium said...

Well, the food was certainly good. :)

Don Snabulus said...

I was in Mito in late 1993 but mainly hung out and played Dungeons & Dragons with a guy I just met while waiting for Moody Minstrel to get free. If there was an ATM tower, I didn't see it (though I have been up in the Kamisu tower).

The food, as always, is gorgeous and looks mighty tasty. I would love to hear that organ...heck, I would love to PLAY one of those organs some day even though my talents are minimal.

Pandabonium said...

Don - the tower is about a mile from Mito Station and not on a main thoroughfare, so unless you stumble upon it, you're not likely to see it.

I want to see the organ too. It was damaged in the earthquake (some pipes fell) and they are allowing up to 25 people a day to see it and hear it while it is being repaired. Kimie will sign us up soon.

I did get to play a big organ once - the Casavant at the University of Redlands. A friend and I snuck into the chapel at night, turned on the outdoor speakers and played "Watermelon Man", then left before security could respond. :)

At the time it was built - 1927 - it was the largest organ in California. They recently completely refurbished it.

Lrong said...

Visited Mito for the first time in mid November... didn't get to go to ATM though... the yuba looks delicious...

Pandabonium said...

Lrong - so close to my home! The yuba was wonderful - I wish I could eat more.

So next time you come to Ibaraki, let me know by email and I will try to meet up with you if you have time.