The Return Of The Kiichi-Kun I (as published in Burrn Magazine in Japan)


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The Return Of The Kiichi-Kun I

There's no place on Earth that I strive to be in more than Japan; no where I feel more at home (outside of my own home); no where that when I'm away from it, I miss like one misses loved ones on a trip far away in some remote part of the planet.

I was born in the Yamaguchi prefecture (Iwakuni) January 26, 1986. I consider myself to be half-Japanese (my mother's side), half-Marine (thanks to my military father). My family relocated to the USA when I was about 1, so I have zero recollection of ever being in Japan as a child. 

Thankfully - due to the band I am in, I am able to return once every year and a half or so. Lately - and unfortunately - Trivium only comes back for either a brief press run or one show in Tokyo. One show? That's torture! I'd prefer to have a year long tour there than one measly show. Either way, one is better than none. Trivium returned for Loud Park 2013 and we had the greatest Japanese show ever, and one of the greatest shows of our career even. But if you live in Japan, you probably already heard about that show. Let's go behind the scenes of everything else that happened on my visit.

My wife Ashley and I both have a strong love for all things Japan: the people, the art, the food, the architecture, the history, the language, the mythology, the religion, the music, the sub-cultures… basically any and everything Japanese is something we want and need to be fully immersed in. Ashley decided to join us on our one show stint, and we both decided we'd stay an extra 3 and a half days just to do whatever we want: eat, drink, sightsee, learn, and enjoy. 

I live a strict life on the road: no food 4 hours before a show, no food 3 hours before bed, no alcohol, no caffeine, rigorous exercise (yoga, weights, Jiu-Jitsu), and I ensure 8-10 hours of a sleep a night. In Japan? All rules are broken, cuz hey! It's Japan! After our long flight, we checked into the Tokyu Excel (one of my favorite hotels due to it's insanely centralized location within Shibuya (one of my favorite cities on the globe)) we all dropped our bags and headed down to go eat (the most important thing for me when in Japan). We then met up with one of our dearest friends in the entire world, Koji from Roadrunner. 

Koji is one of the first people I met in Japan, we've shared some of the best meals of our lives with him - Ash and I even invited him to our wedding; I consider Koji a "food soul-mate" of mine. So naturally, we knew he would know what's up for chow tonight. Hell… I even recall a night where he, Corey and I were at a bar till 6 am; me doing headstands, Koji fueling the shots, then CKB and I DJing "In Waves" before it was even out for anyone at the bar. Now that is very rare for ol' Kiichi-kun on the road.

We rallied up our entire band, most of our crew, Ashley, Tommie-san (Trivium Japan president), and headed to Rakuzou, an Izakaya spot. We tore into: the soft-bones of chicken; beautiful Japanese beer (the best in the world!); samma sashimi, karage; sashimi salad; yaki-tori of heart, skin, and other yummy-bits; bacon-wrapped asparagus; ebi-mayo (Koji's fave); a delicious packet of chicken prepared unlike anything I've had; fish fins and mayo; grilled beef; a few deserts (matcha affogato, and a custard); then grilled oni-giri (my mother always made me oni-giri, so while in Japan - I need this). Izakaya is a favorite of mine due to the fact that everyone gets to eat together, tasting the same things your dinner-friends taste; this is my favorite thing to do with loved ones: eat and share and just be. 

Calling it early due to the big show the next day, everyone slept quite hard; I managed to get about 11 hours of sleep that night.

The following morning was show-day; I awoke ready to get back to eating. A couple of us suited up to trek in the deserted early morning streets of Shibuya, where breakfast is a rarity. For a city and a country so obsessed with food, finding breakfast is a very daunting task. Lucky for us there was a new small chain, Kamukura.  

Ashley is more of a croissant and cafe' au lait kinda gal, so noodles and rice and beef for breakfast is a hard notion for her to swallow. I understand that ramen for breakfast is sort of crazy to a Japanese person, but I say ramen time is any time of the day. I had both a rice and beef bowl with a sunny-side up egg and ramen with pork and gyoza and rice balls. Man! Oiishi!  

Afterwords, it was time for yet another tradition of mine, the Starbucks matcha frappucino. We don't have this drink in the US of A; I drink a lot of these when in Japan - and yes, I prefer local buisiness and small local chain to global chains, but this matcha frapp can't be beat. I guzzled it down happily and headed to the hotel to pack up for the upcoming show.

Ichi The Kiichi (The Early Years) VI


Last Supper

(Tokyo. Day 4.)

The last day was a quick one - rested and revitalized, there was no press today. Just the impending cross-globe flight to NYC to hit the press trip over on that side of earth. Koji had some work to do, so after Corey and I packed our luggage - we decided to hit whatever we could find randomly.

In Shibuya, you can pretty much walk anywhere and eat really well. Avoid stuff that seems familiar - hit a place that you can’t read a single character of, or only mildly can make out the pictures of what you’re pointing at to order. I can speak enough Japanese to get by… in a restaurant… when the meal is over… so the point method works. I promise. 

The last restaurant meal for us was the place pictured. What’s really cool about a lot of the restaurants you’ll find in Shibuya that serve traditional foods, is that there’s a big vending machine where you just pump your money into it- and pick what you want by picture or name, not unlike picking a soda from a machine. 

My lunch was something like a mashup of things I’ve consumed past - with some twists. The noodles were texturally somewhere in between ramen andudon, but more spirally in look. The broth was a really thick miso based stock that had melted down butter in it - this sauce could have been a soup in itself; it was the best broth in a soup I think i’ve ever eaten. Really orange-yolked hard-boiled eggs, nori, some Japanese pickles, vegetables on top, a slice of pork, and the paradoxical American corn adorned the viscous broth - I loved it. Half way down, I was painfully stuffed. That was some serious broth.

We got to the airport only to find - poof. 3 hour flight delay. We flew to Japan without a problem (aside from the puking girl next to me… see a few episodes earlier), and now that we were trying to leave - it was going to be tricky. The seats we wanted needed 2 hours to retrieve for some reason, so we went into the airport food mall… which was pretty impressive. 

We had maguro and otoro nigiri, then each picked a main: my dish was unagi-don (grilled eel on top of rice), soba, some Japanese pickles, and the sobacondiments and sauce. Normally, I will never eat anything from an airport terminal, plane, or anything near a restaurant - unless I’m: a. out of the stuff I packed to hold me over until a better meal, b. starving and sick of the healthy-crap I packed, or c. I know it’ll be real quality stuff. 

This was quite respectable for an airport restaurant - better than anything I’ve had in a US airport.

We had our final Matcha Frapps (probably around number 10 for me and Corey); Koji stuck with us till the bitter end - then it was NYC here we come.

Ichi The Kiichi (The Early Years) V



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(Tokyo. Day 3. Part 2.)

Shrimp-mayo again. Happy, little fried-nuggets of shrimpy-goodness; these were way smaller than the ones from the first night, but just as amazing nonetheless - the bed of greens and sprinkles of green onion were a good compliment. The duck (with the fat) skewered with wasabi was a good laugh. A good laugh in the sense that every person who took a bite (after about 3-5 seconds) was immediately invaded upward-nasal-style with a kick of some serious wasabi-ness. This is what I imagine Steve-o’ lines of wasabi felt like; every single person at the table had the same “Holy shit!- but I’m trying to maintain composure, red-as-a-beat face on.” Terrific.

Salted grilled beef, then karage (Japanese fried chicken) - which, is one of my favorites in Japan. The crunch and crisp on the outside was salty and hard; the inside was super juicy - having all spectrums of chicken meat inside. 

Several dishes before the karage and beef, we were all already full - Shochu-rocks and Kirin Heartland still flowing - then. more… food… Corey was half passed out against the wall (not from booze - but food); then there’s me wishing I were wearing a sweatsuit thanks to the ever-shrinking-waistband, choking my insides. 

A salad of what I think were some mix of (by this point difficult to distinguish) Japanese greens with oysters and sliced nori; then tuna tartare with sesame seeds, green onion, avocado, and Japanese cucumber that were terrific (our food comrades mixed the whole thing up into a delightful mush). I think this grilled fish we had next with daikon and lemon was Hokke? I definitely inquired - but running on minimal sleep and Japanese booze made the Swedish-sounding fish name… sound fuzzy to memory. 

The finale! I’ve had almost everything I think possible in Japan as far as styles of food go; with the exception of Soba. I’ve had homemade soba at home, andyaki-soba  in Japan and home - but never soba in Japan. 

Soba is served cold, with a very specific soba-dipping-sauce in a cup next to you. There are greens (green onions and other bits) and wasabi to mix into the cup. To eat traditionally, you pull out a small batch of noodles; dip and mix into the cup; then slurp (very loudly) to consume. The soba had everyone around the table delirious in over-stuffed, but still-eating delightful madness. It was so intensely good and simple. 

We hung a bit more, said our goodbyes to our friends and hosts - and hit the sack. 

Ichi The Kiichi (The Early Years) III


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day 2. part 2.

Lots and lots more great press… yadda yadda… 

We actually had all the head retailers of all the CD-retailers from all over Japan come in to have us demo our new album, videos, artwork, and basically be the salesmen of the new record: it went amazingly… but it made me hungry.

Dinner was a place that Koji told us had just opened a few months ago (which is pretty damn rad, considering we’ve always hit places that Koji was able to sample before (most of the time previously with us). It was a floor full of indoor kiosks. It was like a little indoor street food market you’d see somewhere like in south east Asia. Some of the tables were beer crates with little stools; some of the seats were mop buckets; there were all sorts of people in the place… families, people returning from work, fashionable rocker/cyberpunklooking japanese youth kids, and a waiter who removed his tattoo coverers to compare tattoos (tattoos are still looked down upon very much so in japan due to the association with the japanese mob - so it was cool the guy chanced being seen by his boss to compare ink.)

This was one of the coolest damn places i’ve seen in Japan. All these options! There were places that JUST did pork; only served chicken; yaki-tori spots; korean; okonamiyaki joints (which is one of the greatest japanese dishes there is… it can only be described as a japanese pizza - but it’s not even close to a pizza); and then… there was Meat Dojo. Unaji. A place known for it’s preparations of beef. 

We had proper Kirin (or maybe it was Sapporo… uh oh… there was lots of it… i think it was Sapporo- and yes. Japanese Sapporo. Not Toronto-Japanese-Beer) - lots of it. 

I excitedly decided… “hey. let’s eat some here… some over there (pointing)… some over there…” We were going to food hop till we dropped. 

The first dish was beef tartare with green onion, on top of Japanese mint. The beef was all japanese… all raw… and all fantastic. It had crunchy bits of (what i think was onion, or something onion flavored and textured) lined inside of it. It was prepared like Kofte would be… just prepped into that beautiful rectangle. 

My cohorts in crime: Koji and Corey.

Next was the second stomach of a cow. Koji told us that every single one apparently tastes completely different. This one… reminded me of al-dente gnocchi. I know some cringe at the thought of offal - but lemme tell you - this is the good stuff. In olden days, people utilized all parts of the animal; that’s the way it should be. If our poor cut critters on the earth gotta die for us - may as well utilize every bit, not waste anything. The texture had that gnocchi and tripe thing going on. Koji mentioned that the parts that look like tripe (like the kind you see in menudo) are called the “bee combs” in Japan. I like that. The sauce reminded me of okonamiyaki sauce - sweet and savory at the same time… the been sprouts and greens along with the stomach completed magically. 

The last bad boy was grilled beef with japanese mushrooms. I’ve always been into mushrooms… but not like really into mushrooms; pretty much until the last few years. James Petrakis’ Ravenous Pig in Orlando, FL is one of the most fantastic food spots back home; i’d easily say it will go head to head with whatever NYC, Chicago, or SF could throw at it - and my friend Jason, who works there, is always recommending the best of the best at the Pig. Petrakis definitely got me into mushrooms; he uses some of the baddest-ass mushrooms i’ve ever eaten- and since James’ cooking: i’ve been a mushroom freak. (More on the Pig on a future blog, but back to Japan) 

So the beef was amazing. What i love about beef in Japan, is that it tastes like beef; it has the texture of beef (i know these seem like obvious statements, but let me explain) in the states, i feel beef and steak are made to overly soft; an almost hamburger-esque texture seems to be what we’re so trained to be used to for meat. Yeah, a filet is supposed to have a more delicate texture and all; but this beef: it feels like you’re eating beef - and it’s a beautiful thing. It has that nice chew to the fibrous-muscley-areas, and variations with fat, differing areas of the flesh - it’s not systematic - it’s natural. I love Japanese beef - it’s clean flavored of steak - it tastes like meat, and chews like meat. The mushrooms? There is no other description other than “awesome.”

Ichi The Kiichi (The Early Years) II



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(day 1 continued)


The next dish was (if in the USA it would be called this) Shrimp. 3 ways. It was shrimp covered in Japanese mayo (a completely different taste than our american mayo), deep fried shrimp heads (the best part of a shrimp to me; cooked the best way), and shrimp crackers. This dish was something special. The shrimp mayo was probably one of the best damn things we ate that night - Japanese mayo has a sweeter flavor than US-mayo, and it’s far lighter; fried shrimp heads… if you haven’t had them done right before - try it; it rules.Nigiri. Ofcourse - gotta have it. It’s done differently here; there aren’t mixed “memphis” and “hawaiian” rolls… it’s nigiri and sashimi. Served room temperature. Your sushi isn’t a boat, intended to float in a bath of soy sauce - here, it’s done right. A very thin layer of soy sauce is placed in the soy dish - you dip the nigiri upside down to only dab a small amount of soy on the fish (not the rice). The electric green wasabi that is handed in mountains in sushi bars all over the world are non-existant; the wasabi connects the sashimi to the rice (when the chef feels like it needs it.)

Grilled salmon takes me back to being a kid. My mom always made salmon, rice, and miso soup - THE japanese breakfast. This salmon was perfect.

Suntory is my favorite beer on earth. “Japanese” beer in the USA usually isn’t Japanese. It’s Canadian. Kirin? Sapporo? Brewed at Molson in Toronto. I think it’s the same with Asahi (i could be wrong on this one). Japanese beer does not taste Japanese to me in the USA - here… it is the best beer on the planet as far as i’m concerned. It’s light, but malty and strong at the same time; it is the perfect compliment to the delicate (and intricate) flavors that is Japanese food. Japanese food is about simplicity… it’s about the dish you’re eating. When you order Chicken cartilage fried; that’s what you get - with the recommended condiment - it’s not covered up by side dishes. (This texture may have scared some off - justifiably so though.)

The crab was fantastic - the artichoke mixture stuff was a mystery- but fantastic… very un-Japanese flavor there; almost reminded me of something you’d see in French cooking.

Yaki-tori could be a movement like sushi. It’s a whole different style; there are chefs that just make yaki-tori, restaurants that only serve yaki-tori. All meat… on a stick… grilled? Fantastic thing.

After the half a dozen Suntory Premium Malts a piece, we needed something warm. Ocha. Japanese green tea. Euphoric.

Our night-cap was Hobgoblin. A british pub. In Japan. Ha! I saw all sorts of British style pub grub on chalkboards written up on the walls; a pretty badass guitar player sang the Mississippi style blues - real cool stuff.

We drank Yebisus till it was time to get to sleep.

All in all… quite the homecoming.

Ichi The Kiichi (The Early Years) I


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Since being home and off-tour - I've found it very difficult to be able to type up new food adventures... so - to keep this bad boy alive, I will be posting old issues off my original tumblr food blog. I'm sure not everyone has had the chance to enjoy these original blogs. The writing ain't as good, I may be cruder, and the pictures are all iPhone... Guten Apetit. 


Day 1. Tokyo.

Having never done a blog based around my travels and gastro-adventuring, my friends and family have always encouraged me to start something like this up. All of these photos are iPhone photos in (obviously) some of the most un-photogenic lighting situations; so you’ll see the food pretty much as i did… in a semi-blurred haze (not unlike mine, which was induced by copious amounts of delicious japanese alcohol and jetlag).

As of right now, we are sitting in the ticketing area of the Narita airport in Tokyo - our flight is about 3 hours delayed, but the free wifi and ability to finally post some good food makes the weight a piece of… sushi.

I woke up at 4:00am on the first day (whichever day that was) to leave Orlando and my family to fly to NYC and connect into Narita. I DO NOT eat airplane food, or airplane restaurant food (with a few exceptions in certain places), so i always pack nuts, granola, granola bars, triscuits, and other uber-healthy-lame-food. The flying was long, tiresome… actually! funny story (for you, not me):

We were supposed to have extended legroom seats booked from our label due to a current knee injury i have; as all travel goes, ofcourse this didn’t happen- but i had two empty seats next to me.

Next thing i know, a mom and her daughter rush in; mom on the phone, frantic (i think they were late for something for some reason…) flight finally takes off. I take some sleep aid (you pretty much have to on these long flights when you have to get in and get working right away.) I pass out for about three hours and wake up to something odd. the daughter, sitting next to me, is half puking on the plane blanket that is on me. Hooray.

I look over in shock; see that her mother is still sleeping, i continue to quickly get all my stuff out of the way, rush to help find her an airsick bag (good job delta (who does not have any sort of entertainment or room on international flights (thanks cheap airlines)), i continue to help clean her up with wet-ones, sanitizer; push the bathroom line out of the way, and it’s pretty much done. The girl was embarrassed, but the mother never really seemed to come out of her glassy-eyed gaze (she was probably taking the same sleep aid as me.) Not so much as a thank you from mom. 

Oh well.

Fast-forward to Tokyo.

This was my sixth visit to Japan (excluding birth), and i requested to stay at the Tokyu Excel in Shibuya. I am very familiar with this area… it’s sort of what you’d picture of someone mentioned Tokyo to you: constant J-pop videos playing on massive video screens, incredibly well dressed men and women (who, on the very first visit to Shibuya, made me feel like a bum with how nice they were all dressed). The sheer volume of walking people, crossing the streets in impossibly orderly fashion is disorienting every time i come here. 

I am not a city boy, but i could certainly live in Shibuya. I love it there. It’s a mix of old and new (like Japan is), traditional restaurants serving all sorts of regional specialities from all across the country that people from other countries would never have the chance to eat at their non-Japanese-run-pseudosushi-bars. There’s still a plethora of styles of Japanese i have yet to try (and my mother is Japanese - and one of the best damn cooks on the planet). 

Koji from Roadrunner Japan has become a great friend of ours; we know (and he knows) when it’s time for us to hang out - it means an offensive amount of good food and lude amounts of flowing booze. 

Jetlagged, sleepy, and starving (from my last 24 hour diet of nuts and granola) - we knew just the cure. Warazi-Ya is a spot we’ve hit first on many of our Japan tours. It’s an Izakaya restaurant (a style now budding in foodier hotspots like LA, NYC, Melbourne, and others). Izakaya is a sort of less formal sit-down restaurant where you share tons of small bites of different things (not unlike tapas in spain). 

The private booths are lined with wallpaper of ancient Japanese porn-art. Apparently a very popular old art fashion (heck- look at how popular it is nowadays… just more artfully done by the Japanese masters of old), it definitely sets an informal tone when you sit in the traditional booths.

The first dish that showed up was Daikon pickles; something i’ve had a lot in my life, but these have a strong wasabi flavor. The giant beans (not sure on the name) were a cross between edamame flavor and a green bean; the mystery mix of “chicken innards” was a fun experience. Even Koji wasn’t entirely sure what each non-descript little bite was… but i tasted some liver, heart, and most likely some intestine. The sauce that was on it was fantastic. The yellow orbs? No idea what those were; they had the texture of a hard-boiled egg and a potato. Oh delicious innards (i love offal/getemono (the japanese offal… translates to “ugly food”.)

The fried squid was fantastic. I love the way japan does fried foods; very very different even than the way fried Japanese food is done in the USA. The pork and vegetable dish reminded me of an almost Chinese flavor (not in the szechuan sense), but it had that sesame oil/vegetable liquid translucent goodness that enveloped the meat and veg.

(part II to follow)