Tochinoshin Bento Box: The Tachiai Review

Tochinoshin Bento Box at Kokugikan
A man hungry for Ozeki status… and ratatouille.

Longtime readers of the site will know that I find food to be an integral part of the sumo adventure. Of course, we all know that chankonabe forms the backbone of the rikishi diet, and many folks are aware that yakitori is mass produced at Kokugikan as a staple of the sumo-going experience.

But the Ozeki and Yokozuna bento boxes which are sold at honbasho are extremely popular as well – and sell out most days of the tournaments. The NSK is rigid and brutal when it comes to their application of the rights afforded the high rankers and their bento: Takakeisho’s recent injury-driven demotion from Ozeki meant that there was no Takakeisho bento for sale at the Aki basho, although this will surely return in November now that he has sealed his re-promotion. And despite the overwhelming desire for all things Kisenosato, the 72nd Yokozuna’s bento was taken off the shop lists following his intai.

With this in mind, and seeing the declining state of the health of Ozeki Tochinoshin, I had to try the Tochinoshin bento box before it was too late. He will of course get a chance to put this back on shelves (and restore his rank) with 10 wins in Fukuoka – but in case that failed to transpire, this particular box could be lost to the annals of sumo history.

Let’s crack it open, shall we?

Tochinoshin Bento Box

Contents

  • Umeboshi (or as it’s listed on the menu, “dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice”)
  • “Sauce of beef shiri served with paprika and kidney beans”
  • Pork roll of asparagus and cheese
  • Tatsuta fried Pacific saury
  • Ratatouille
  • Minirare omelette
  • Cherry tomato
  • Macaroni salad

At ¥1150, this is, like most food items for sale in the Kokugikan, a very good deal. $11 in an American stadium probably wouldn’t get you half as much food, and it is a very filling meal.

Tochinoshin Bento Umeboshi

Umeboshi

This was solid. The rice was actually good, it was very fluffy and a good temperature. I felt it was of a higher quality than in the last rikishi bento I reviewed, from Takakeisho. Perhaps our reviews have been read!

Umeboshi is normally shaped as a bed of rice with the dried sour ume in the middle, and typically made to resemble the Japanese flag. From a creative standpoint, perhaps they missed a trick here by not using 4 ume and attempting the Georgian flag as reference to Tochinoshin’s nationality. That would have certainly made it special!

Tochinoshin Bento Box

Main course

I only knew the beef (located at the top of the above photo) was beef at first because of the sign – it looked to me like the odd sort of damp excess fried parts of chicken karaage. Pulling it apart revealed more beef-forward contents. It was good and flavorful, if a little strange. I think I prefer chicken to beef in this format.

The fried Pacific saury (bottom right) was surprisingly delicate in nature, and moist: a really good bite. It was served with ponzu sauce on top. It did, however, contain very small, edible bones.

The rolled pork katsu (bottom left) was much of a muchness. I don’t know that I really need cheese in my katsu. I wouldn’t say a massive fan of asparagus but given that this bento was a little low on vegetable options, it was good for them to slot it in.

Tochinoshin Bento Box

Sides

The macaroni salad choice was very successful. Mixed with a healthy dose of kewpie mayo, the carrots, corn and pasta offered a fresher, sweeter bite.

I would have left out the “minirare omelet” – the fluffy presentation was very inviting but the odd flavour left a lot to be desired. I’ve eaten a lot of tamagoyaki in my day but this lacked the sweetness that I was looking for as a complement to many of the heavier proteins.

I felt the ratatouille was surprisingly good. It was extremely flavorful, and while I thought it was kind of a bizarre choice for a bento, it was an inspired and well seasoned choice. Four fish/meat offerings felt a bit heavy handed, and I think the box might have benefited from moving the ratatouille centre stage and dropping the beef or katsu in favour of another lighter option.

Overall

Overall Tochinoshin’s bento was much like the man himself: hearty. It’s a filling box and a great value, but I wouldn’t call it a standout when compared to the others on offer at this level of competition. The biggest remaining question is: will it be back on the shelves in 2020? Perhaps this is one of the only meals in the world that’s going to require a good knee to make.

With Takayasu now the kadoban Ozeki in the Fukuoka basho, we’ll look forward to examining his bento in the next tournament!

Scoring a Kinboshi at Azasu in New York

Sumo Merchandise at Azasu New York
Merchandise on display at New York’s popular Lower East Side izakaya Azasu

The growth of sumo in the western world has led me to a few interesting and exciting spots over the years. Here at Tachiai we have covered the Sumo Stew event that has dotted various parts of America – so when a friend asked if I’d like to check out the sumo-themed izakaya Azasu on a recent trip to New York, I jumped at the chance.

Banzuke at Azasu New York
A framed banzuke from a past Nagoya, on display at Azasu

Azasu is located on Clinton Street in NYC’s Lower East Side, and is the sister restaurant to New York sake bar Yopparai. A fairly unassuming locale from the outside, one step inside vaults you into a world of ozumo-related goodness. The walls are covered in tegata from famous rikishi past and present – including famed Yokozuna such as the great Takanohana – and the front of the store boasts a merchandise store that practically doubles as a sumo shrine.

Tegata at Azasu New York
Just some of the many tegata on display at Azasu in New York

The restaurant presents ample opportunity for novice banzuke-readers to practise locating the names of favourite rikishi. An old banzuke from a Nagoya basho past hung framed in the front of the venue, which provided a nostalgic moment to see retired Yokozuna Haramafuji’s shikona on the rankings list once again. But even the toilets at Azasu provide this unorthodox type of reading material: indeed, the bathroom walls are lined with old banzuke!

Banzuke Bathroom at Azasu New York
Old banzuke line the walls of the toilets!

I’ve been told that Azasu also doubles as a venue for viewing live sumo. Unlike the Sumo Stew events which sometimes display replays (owing to the hour of the event), Azasu apparently has a commitment to live sumo for patrons. During my visit, the restaurant happened to show highlights from the latest Nagoya basho – which was a great time to discuss the physics of Enho and Chiyomaru with fellow diners.

As for the menu staples, I have to say I walked away impressed. While I swerved on the chankonabe options, this izakaya offers a number of hot pot selections to cater to punters with various dietary needs and restrictions, and the nabe comes recommended for parties of 3 or more.

Kinboshi Tofu at Azasu New York
A real treat: Azasu’s “kinboshi tofu”

My dining companions and I opted for a kushikatsu-forward selection and were not disappointed by the perfectly grilled and fried skewers which came accompanied by a heavy miso-dipping sauce which reminded me of the famous Osaka chain Daruma. We topped it off with the restaurant’s “chanko salad” – a very liberal interpretation on the “everything but the kitchen sink” concept that was notable more for its sumo size, and the intriguingly named “kinboshi tofu,” a wonderful tofu dish topped with an egg yolk and copious piles of bonito shavings.

Visitors who enjoy engaging in alcoholic delights will also be keen to note the izakaya’s extensive library of whiskey, shochu and sake.

All in all, as somewhat of a washoku connoisseur and a committed sumo fan, I have to say I walked away impressed and fulfilled by the visit. If I’m ever in New York during a basho I plan to make Azasu a staple of my trip – and our readers would be remiss not to do the same!

Azasu is located at 49 Clinton Street in New York City. Hat tip to Tachiai reader Lydia for the recommendation!

Takakeisho’s Bento Box: A Tachiai Review

Takakeisho's Bento Box at Kokugikan
The Takakeisho Bento Box

The last day that I visited Kokugikan during the recent Natsu honbasho was actually also the first day I had ever had the fortune of sitting in one of the “masu” boxes on the ground floor. It felt appropriate to celebrate the moment by engaging in one of the time-honored sumo and uniquely Japanese experiences: purcashing a proper bento box for lunch and enjoying a meal while watching some feisty lower division matches.

Given that Natsu was the first basho following the promotion of Takakeisho to Ozeki, it was a good moment to explore the Takakeisho bento box. As covered previously on the site, there are bento boxes for sale which contain selections from all of the Ozeki and Yokozuna (as well as some other generic boxes). This also means, that following the demotion of Tochinoshin to Sekiwake before the Natsu basho, that the previously available Tochinoshin bento was no longer available (and presumably, as the man himself resumes Ozeki duties, will be making a return for Nagoya).

Takakeisho Bento Box Interior
Takakeisho’s bento is rich with both flavour and detail

The Takakeisho bento included the following:

  • Umeboshi rice with black sesame seeds
  • Katsu pork with sauce and mustard
  • Soy sauce egg hard boiled
  • Tempura thing which seemed to be a fish cake
  • Broccoli and corn
  • Mushrooms (buried under the egg – they really pack a lot of stuff in there)
  • Carrot cut into the shape of a flower

At ¥1150, it’s an insane bargain (as much food is at sumo), especially by western standards. The box feels like it would easily be a $20+ package here in the States.

It should be pointed out that if you want to get your hands on one, then you’d better arrive well before Juryo: all of the sekitori bento typically sell out on a normal day at the basho, and the new nature of the Takakeisho box and popularity of its curator meant that his were flying off the shelves quicker than usual. A further pro tip for our readers: if you’re seated on the ground floor and all of the bento have sold out, more may be available in the gift and snack stands on the second floor of Kokugikan.

Takakeisho has done a great job on the whole of choosing very attractive – especially for sumo – and filling ingredients. As a very hearty bento, I actually think it is a box that would be very suitable especially for the Hatsu basho in January.

Katsu, Tempura and Egg inside Takakeisho's Bento Box
Beside the katsu and underneath the perfectly cooked egg, delicious mushrooms are revealed

Let’s get into the taste. The dried marinated fish element is probably better suited to the start of the meal. And if we’re talking tactics, I’d probably eat this from the left, the right then the center.

The broccoli and corn were surprisingly flavorful – moist and incredibly well seasoned, very peppery. These were among the standout items of the dish. Conversely, if I have one complaint, it would be that the rice was somewhat cold and hard, although I don’t know that that can be helped in the bento format. The egg was extremely delicious and a perfect caramel shade.

It was a bit a bit early in the day for me to imbibe when I was eating it, but Takakeisho’s bento would be a very nice accompaniment for any beer. The tempura item was a bit bland, but the mustard packet helped.

Four very generous cuts of katsu were included, and the accompanying sauce was very rich. I recommend using it sparingly.

No wonder Takakeisho came back early from kyujo! if I knew this was at Kokugikan…

Tachiai’s Rating: ⚪️⚪️⚪️⚪️⚫️

An Eventful 24 Hours in Fukuoka

Fukuoka - Naka River
Fukuoka’s Naka River: a lovely place to stroll

Hello sumo fans! I’m here on the ground in Fukuoka, where I will be providing some coverage from Days 6 and 7 of the Fukuoka basho. I landed about 24 hours ago, and have been spending some time enjoying the city as I get fired up for a couple days at the Fukuoka Kokusai Center.

Auspicious Beginnings

I did manage to catch the final bouts of Day 4 live, and the withdrawal of Kisenosato wasn’t half as shocking as the manner of his defeat to Tochiozan. The Yokozuna’s total capitulation has been the only thing I’ve seen this trip more stunning and surprising than what awaited me as I entered Fukuoka Airport’s arrivals hall: the camera and interview crew of TV Tokyo’s Why Did You Come To Japan?, which chased me down for an impromptu interview. We spoke for about 10 minutes about why I love Ikioi and how I was looking forward to Tonkotsu ramen and hanging out with my friends, but apparently that wasn’t interesting enough for them to follow me around for the rest of the week. Given that I spent 3 days flying to Fukuoka, I acquitted myself very poorly, but it was still fun to get what felt like the paparazzi treatment upon my arrival.

Chashu, Coffee & Conveyors

Chashu Ramen at Hakata Issou
Chashu Ramen at Hakata Issou

After this, it was time to check out some ramen at Hakata Issou. I chose this location first based on its proximity to Hakata Station, as I had to kill some time before checking into my nearby Airbnb – and what better way to kill time than crushing a bowl of tonkotsu ramen for the first time in Hakata? I discovered this spot through Ramen connoisseur Ramen Beast‘s mobile app. If you don’t follow Ramen Beast on Instagram or have the app, you are missing out on a good way to upgrade your Japanese culinary experience, as he’s done a lot of the hard work for you. According to Ramen Beast, Issou’s master is a former Ikkousha trainee whose “pork bone based soup is constantly mixed as it simmers, which mixes the animal fat and water and creates bubbles, almost frothing like a cappuccino.” Afforded a seat at the bar, I got a live chashu slicing show, which I’d have paid to watch all day, frankly. It was a worthy bowl.

Rec Coffee Fukuoka
An award-winning brew at Fukuoka’s REC Coffee

The next morning, I ventured out early in search of coffee and ended up at REC Coffee‘s tastefully appointed Kencho Higashi shop. According to HereNow, the shop is home to the two time back-to-back Japan barista champion. One of the many things I love about Japanese food culture that sometimes misses headlines in other countries is the extreme love and attention to detail from the coffee shokunin. Make no mistake, this is a country with an incredible coffee heritage, and I enjoyed their brown sugar latte with a thick slab of buttered toast.

Hyotanzushi Fukuoka
Hyotan-zushi in Fukuoka: a bustling, packed restaurant where you will stack your plates high.

Finally, today I took in lunch at an incredibly popular sushi spot with the locals, Hyotan-zushi near Tenjin station. Hyotan has two locations, and I opted for the earlier-opening conveyor belt-powered spot at Solaria Stage. Despite rocking up not long after the 11am opening time, it was already completely full and a line soon formed out the door. It was however worth waiting for: despite the conveyor belt containing a large variety of excellent catches, it was an old-school style venue with the chefs in close enough proximity to call out quick custom orders. The shop served up possibly two of the best pieces of anago I’ve ever had and it was a nice treat to enjoy a buttery, luxurious otoro at a much more affordable price point than I’m accustomed.

Shopping & Shrines

It’s clear to me already that Fukuoka is a city that over-indexes on shopping options, given its population relative to other places in Japan (certainly Nagoya, for example). I’ve had enough time to visit a few of its mega-malls, and the shopping around the main Hakata and Tenjin stations, both in the large depato as well as the underground walkways, is fairly remarkable. I also managed to check in at the city’s impressive Canal City shopping district, home to numerous shops, arcades, a Bellagio-esque choreographed water fountain display, and the ominously titled Ramen Stadium – a venue which promises to showcase several different varieties of ramen, and one I may yet take in later in the trip.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa float
One of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival’s famous floats

Even more remarkable than the capital excesses of the city are its shrines, and I’ve visited two already: the Kushida Shrine and the Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine. The Kushida Shrine, located near the famous Kawabata Shotengai, contained a float over 10 meters tall from the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival, which started 900 years ago in “an attempt to secure protection from a plague.” Every year these famous massive floats are carried down a 5km course through Fukuoka. I always love walking around the grounds of a shinto temple and while I do not know much about the religion, there is a very overwhelming, difficult to describe feeling one gets while walking under a row of red torii, which can be experienced at the Kushida Shrine. The Shrine additionally features an omikuji stall, where fortunes can be purchased in many languages. I did this, and disappointingly retrieved a somewhat grim fortune!

Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine Fukuoka
The tree-lined entrance of the Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine

Finally, the Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine is located about a ten minute walk from Hakata Station. The lovely tree-lined entryway called to mind the Shrine at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, where I welcomed the new year a couple years back. I arrived in time to see a Shinto priest conducting a number of rituals, many of which will be familiar to the casual sumo observer given the sport’s origin story, even if you do not know much about the religion itself. This shrine also featured an omikuji stall, where all of the fortunes were tucked into lovely wooden sea bream. It’s a lovely souvenir, however the fortunes here are only available in Japanese.

After all of this, I’m looking forward to tracking down a great yatai, even more tonkotsu ramen… and, oh yeah, experiencing some great sumo!