Name: Grand Ginkgo of Asahimachi (旭町の大いちょう)
Trunk Circumference: 6.2m
Age: 300+ years
Location: 栃木県宇都宮市中央１丁目 (36° 33′ 27″N 139° 52′ 57″E)
Date of Visit: 2010-1-31
In Utsunomiya, at the intersection of the north-south road connecting City Hall with the Prefectural Government building and Ichou-dori, on the northwest corner stands this Ginkgo tree. The elevated location where it stands is the remnant of an earthen wall that formed a boundary at Utsunomiya Castle, but as it is now quite close to the downtown core, it was mostly lost. The Ginkgo was a symbol of Utsunomiya Castle, and later, an important symbol to the people of Utsunomiya City.
On July 12, 1945, from midnight until dawn, Utsunomiya suffered an American air raid. There were many victims, and approximately half the city center was lost. In the conflagration, this Ginkgo tree, too, was a victim, burned until it was completely pitch black. Yet, in the spring after the end of the war, green buds were to be seen sprouting from the tree that was thought to be dead. This gallantly strong life force lit the fire of courage in the hearts of the people of Utsunomiya.
Since then, this Ginkgo has become a symbol of the post-war revival. In 1986, on the 90th anniversary of the incorporation of Utsunomiya City, the citizens chose the Ginkgo as the city’s official tree. Surely, they were thinking of the Grand Ginkgo of Asahimachi when they made their choice.
Name: Giant Zelkova of Shinmachi (新町のケヤキ)
Type: Japanese Zelkova (Zelkowa Serrata)
Trunk Circumference: 7.4m
Age: 800 years
Location: 栃木県宇都宮市新町２丁目 (36° 32′ 53″N 139° 52′ 31″E)
Date of Visit: 2010-1-31
Just 800m southwest of Utsunomiya City Hall, turn a corner and find yourself in a quiet residential area. Here is the Giant Zelkova of Shinmachi. Despite the homes and shops that have grown up in the area, the tree is so tall it can be seen nearly two kilometers away in Fudoumae.
According to the information board, in the Edo period, the tree stood near the entrance to the grounds of Utsunomiya Castle, and as such served as a landmark for travellers.
The roots seem to have grown under the street and other pavements. Though the environment has become difficult for this Zelkova, it still stands proud and lives vigorously. Some of the branches completely overhang the road. For this to have been preserved in a city area is precious, indeed.
In the pre-war days, there were three Zelkova like this, but now, only the largest tree remains, its companions having been felled long ago. That a single tree survives, though, is a happy thing. Surely, the people who worked to preserve this tree, and still work to preserve it, deserve our gratitude.
So, a friend who I’ve known for ages on the interbutts was in Tokyo on Thursday (though he’s Australian) and had some time to kill, so he popped up here to Tochigi for dinner, which was nice. No one ever comes to visit me.
I asked around, and my colleagues decided that it would be a shame if he came to Tochigi and didn’t have gyoza, so they suggested I take him to MinMin, here in Takanezawa, for gyoza. And you know what? That’s just what I did.
There’s a reason I don’t often eat out, though: I never know how to order. Take me to a bar, I know how to order; take me to an izakaya, I know how to order; take me to a family restaurant, or a fast food place, I know how to order. Take me to a specialty shop, like MinMin, which only does gyoza? I don’t know how to order, because there’s always some sort of secret system that everyone just sort of knows. I rely on the staff to set me right when I order incorrectly at these places.
But when the staff doesn’t set me right, it sets the stage for possible disaster.
My friend and I sat down, and decided we wanted to try all three types of gyoza available. We thought, hmm, we can eat about 15 gyoza each, and there’s three types of gyoza, so let’s order ten of each gyoza. I told the guy, very specifically, “We want ten individual gyoza.” Now, I’ve been to gyoza restaurants that let you order individual gyoza, with a minimum order, and I’ve been to gyoza restaurants where you have to get “orders” of x gyoza each. I wasn’t sure what type this place was, so I figured I’d start that way, and the man would correct me. “Ah,” I thought he might say, “you must order in lots of six. So, how does two orders of six sound? Okay?”
He didn’t, though. I said we wanted 10 (individual) pan fried gyoza, 10 (individual) deep fried gyoza and 10 (individual) boiled gyoza. “Is that all?” “Yes,” I said, and he toddled off. I spoke with my friend for a few minutes, and then got a terrible knot in my gut. There was something not right.
I called the waiter over. “Now, you realize we wanted 10 INDIVIDUAL gyoza, yes?” and specially emphasized it. “What? No, here, gyoza come in orders of six, so you’ve ordered 60 individual gyoza of each type.”
Now, my friend and are, probably, GIANTS, LANDWHALES, etc., to this waiter, but still, you expect us each to down 90 gyoza? Fuck off! “No nono, you’ve made a horrible mistake, you daft twit! Run! Correct it! We only want one order of each, each.”
“Oh… OH! OH!” and the waiter ran off. We didn’t end up paying for 180 gyoza, and so I assume that he’d caught it in enough time. Still, I imagine that some people who came in after us got gyoza that had been prepared for us and kept warm, instead of their own super-fresh gyoza. Ah well.
I think, had I gone in alone, and made this ordering mistake, the waiter would have corrected me. However, I had arrived with an Asian-looking fellow. I did the ordering, and the waiter may have assumed that, had I misspoken, the Asian-looking fellow (who the waiter would have assumed to be Japanese) would have jumped in to correct me; when he didn’t, he must have thought, “… well, they are portly fellows. I guess 180 gyoza isn’t that strange!”
So yeah, it was partly my fault for not knowing my way around this particular gyoza shop, and partly the waiter’s fault for making silly assumptions. In the end, probably no harm was done, but I’ll probably get the stinkeye if I go back.
Anyway, our food finally came. First, there was the ‘normal’ panfried gyoza. They were well cooked, well crispy on the pan side, steamed to perfection on the other side. The filling wasn’t anything special or amazing — it was just good gyoza filling, exactly what you’d expect. They were juicy, but not juicy to the point of needing to wear a bib.
Next came the deep-fried gyoza. I had expected them to be super crispy and greasy, but they used some sort of different dough for the deep fried gyoza, and they were crunchy but not crispy, and completely ungreasy. The dough actually reminded me of something else I’ve have, but I couldn’t think of what for the life of me. They were great, though.
Finally were the boiled gyoza. I’m sure that some people like boiled gyoza, and I do, you know, in nabe, or soup or whatever. But on their own? Nah, they’re not my thing, and so no matter how good MinMin’s may have been, I wouldn’t have much good to say about them, and so I shall refrain from comment.
All in all, our 6 orders of gyoza worked out to under 1500yen, which surprised my friend, who had been prepared to pony up as much as 5000yen for dinner. Good value for what we got, I reckon.
Utsunomiya MinMin has eleven shops scattered through out Utsunomiya with a few shops in outlying areas. The Takanezawa restaurant is located at 高根沢宝石台1-8-18, and is open Wednesday-Monday, 11:30-20:00. Inquiries can be made to 028-675-0609. There is parking, but only for eight cars. They also do home delivery anywhere in the country of gyoza for omiyage purposes, at reasonable prices, I think. If you’re ever in Tochigi, do give Utsunomiya MinMin a try, yes?