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The International Writers Magazine
Restaurant Review - Japan


Dean H Rueztler invites you to a
steak dinner
"Inaka Biifusuteeki Paradise!" Hilltop Steakhouse, Senmaya, Iwate Prefecture
Hill Top Steakhouse Restaurant
Kiyota Aza Toogeshita 25-1
Senmaya-Choo, Iwate-Ken 029-0801
(0195)-52-5789

"Hill Top is yet another in the plethora of anomalies that make up the Japanese millieu. An "all you can eat"("tabehoodai" in the local tongue) Steakhouse in Japan is hard to believe, but in the middle of nowhere is downright bizzare. Whoul`d`ve thunk it? Whatever the reason for opening the restaurant, the owner is a steak "kamisama"("God"), as far as I'm concerned. Hill Top was like manna from Heaven for me."

What an extremely eloquent choice of words. They are also vividly descriptive of the Hill Top Steak House in Senmaya. I would like to claim that prose as mine, but it is not, they are the words of Shawn Sephton, former JET program ALT in Senmaya, who then continued to work for the town for two more years in a similar capacity.

A posting in a very rural spot in Japan will often deprive a foreigner of some of the amenities of home, like in my case, flush toilets, and gas stations open after sunset. This was not the case for Shawn in Senmaya, as he was just a "hoop, spin, and a holler" from as many steaks as you can possibly inhale in one sitting, which you cook yourself (rare as the best sushi to post-apocalyptic is your choice, and you do not have to send it back to the chef), the hugest mugs of beer this side of a "Sudden-Deutsch" Oktoberfest, and if you have room, a little soft ice cream, from one of the local dairy farms. The steaks, by the way, are not a local specialty, but imported "hunks o` cow", your first two are from Australia and the United Steaks of America respectively, the next one (to nine or ten) will be your cut of choice of the two, and in my case varied on my relative recent consumption of fat and protein (the Australian cut is a little more marbled and fatty), and also the relative amount of those two substances existing in my body composition at the given time.
Again, we return to Shawns prosaic:
"Everything about the restaurant was wonderful: The quality steaks at affordable prices (another example of how Japanese chauvinism (and economic protectionism (DHR.)) has worked to the advantage of Non-Japanese (and Japanese too, if they like non-Kobe beef or non-Misawa "Gyuu"(DHR.)), fresh, hand-made ice cream, "daijokki" ("big mugs" in English) beers, Iwate-Ken "sumi-yakki" ("open-pit charcoal broiling")-style cooking, salad bar, friendly owners, conversation-inducing seating, kitschy "cowboy-yank" decor (As an American, I can say this is true, you will see the best of what makes "North Dakota-style" and its Japanese counterpart "Tottori-Ken-Fuu", the butt of jokes across the world), the perfect part of my days in inaka."

The Hill Top has been a mecca to the JET community of Iwate for five years running, most often patronized in conjunction with organized street hockey games and Halloween celebrations organized by Shawn and his "Honorary Canadian-Citizen" partner in crime, Greg Anthony, who has parlayed his posting in neighboring Murone-Choo into what must make him the programs first "seven-year" JET. The hockey appears to be a pretext, as Shaun says; "I am positive that people came there for Hill Top and not street hockey". Indeed a large mix of JETs, other members of the Iwate foreign community, and Iwate denizens, to crowd around the large central "sumi-yakki" table (it can handle 25-30 patrons easily), and indulge in what Shaun calls "The comfortable numbness that flowed over my body after eating three steaks and downing two "daijokki"of beer." In addition, Shaun comments on: "The internationalization that happened naturally and unforced, while eating along the smoke pit". Certainly, many more people have gathered around that pit in those groups, than can be explained by a fondness for a game (and a toned down "user-friendly" version, at that) that beyond North America, Scandanavia, and few isolated posts, is scarcely more than a curiosity.

Couple large groups of people primarily in their young adulthood, an atmosphere conducive to merriment, the flow of some brewskis, and the permission to eat without restraint, throw in a little ego-fueled competition, and you end up with some gastronomic feats that exceed belief. Some of the stories border the line between reality and obfuscation, it must be noted.

For a long time, the acknowledged record holder for steaks consumed in one sitting was Canadian ALT; Shauna Bryce of Ichinoseki, who was able to consume eight steaks in one sitting. Rumor has it that it would have been more, but she actually cut off, broiled and consumed one arm and several assorted digits of onlookers. Only the steaks counted, though, of which she put down eight. Eventually Shauna`s record was broken, by Takuya Oogata, one of Greg`s students, a tall, rail-thin, high school student at the time, with the metabolism of a hummingbird, and a mean slap shot. He was able to manage nine steaks in one sitting. Being the lucky recipient of his unique speedy physiology, he probably actually lost weight in the process of digesting.

There are rumors of the double-digit barrier being broken in steaks consumed, if it has not been yet, it certainly will be soon, for what do records exist for?...To be broken...of course! Perhaps, you, the reader will be the future "King of the Hill (Top)"?

"High on my list of all-time wonder memories. Not because I was able to gorge myself on steak and dream of home....I NEVER DID such a thing while living in Japan. For me, eating the delicious steak at Hilltop was more of a vehicle for being able to converse with everyone..... It is the people that I met at hockey and shared steak and beer-farts with at Hilltop, that I bonded with the most. I am thankful for the opportunity to have made so many friends.....and for Hilltop being ..Hilltop!"

Nestled in a remote corner of Southeast Iwate lies one of the more unique dining experiences in the region, if not the whole country. It beats another meal at Tony Roma`s, MaCd`s, KFC, or any one of a thousand places, to get very good, authentic, western food, with little to alter the experience to the surreal, such as squid in spaghetti (bearable, even decent!), or corn in pizza (no comment...). Ok… so the decor is a little surreal, but more or less because it is in Iwate, and not in backwoods Idaho.

It is real easy to find Hill Top, just take route 284 out of Ichinoseki (easily accessible by the ubiquitous Route 4), and keep going straight on through Senmaya until you go up a little hill, close to the Murone-Village border, the correctly spelled, and entirely visible "Hill Top" sign will beckon......

Come on in, you will be transported to another place and time (well.. except for the book shelves full of manga). It has left its mark on one more than one denizen of Iwate, and its foreign community, almost to a point of "semi-legend", and certainly to the level of "tradition". Not to say that all experience the same, but Hill Top has become a huge part of the Iwate experience for more than a handful. It is hard to pin it down and explain it, but Hill Top is much more than a restaurant it is well..umm..for lack of a better word, a true dining and cross-cultural "experience". Hill Top is without parallel. It is the best place to bring a group to dine in a casual atmosphere in these parts (like umm… between Tokyo and Sapporo?). Bring your appetite, your dark "gluttonous" side if you choose to indulge it, and set a new record. Continue in what has become an old tradition for some...or start a new tradition. It will, with out a doubt, one way or another, be an unforgettable Iwate experience.
Parting wisdom from our erstwhile guru of smoke, suds, steak, and sagacity...The venerable Shaun Sephton...; "Remember the golden rule at Hill Top: Never, and I mean...NEVER, sit downwind from (Name deleted ….as they are still a resident of Iwate Prefecture, and can gain retribution on the author easily!)
© Dean H. Ruetzler Feb 2004
Nishine-Cho (aka: "West Root"), Iwate Prefecture, JAPAN
rudean77@yahoo.com

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