Monthly Archives: September 2013

Heaven is bunbougu cafe

IMG_3720 Stationery store + coffee shop = heaven, am I right?

Hisae (Naoto’s older sister) played tour guide for us during part of our stay in Tokyo. She mentioned that she had a “surprise” for me. Well, the surprise was bunbougu cafe and it was more amazing than I could have imagined.

(This is where I will tell you that I regret a few things about our trip to Japan. One is that I didn’t carry my “big” camera with me very often and another is that I didn’t take more pictures. Sigh. Sorry for my poor iPhone photos!)Bunbougu cafeBunbougu cafe is in Omotesando neighborhood. It is in the basement of a building and you walk down into a stationery shop and cafe. There are place mats (seen above) at each seat and pens, rubber stamps, markers, colored pencils and other art supplies are available to borrow for doodling and writing. They have a full menu available, but we came right after lunch, so we ordered drinks and doodled a bit at the table as I sat amazed at this incredible cafe concept. bunbougu cafe drinksWhile we waited for our drinks, I poked around the store. Bunbougu sells stationery, cards, pens, stickers, washi tape, pen cases, boxes…pretty much anything you could imagine needing if you’re a letter writer or journaler. In addition to the obvious Japanese stationery offerings, they had a lot of my favorite American designers at bunbougu. I saw lots of Rifle Paper Co., Yellow Owl Workshop and Chicago’s own Field Notes! Field Notes were even one of the bunbougu employee’s favorite picks! Field Notes at Bunbougu Cafe I limited myself to a few purchases (which I will share in a bit!) and spent most of my time hanging out with Naoto and Hisae drawing at the table and enjoying my coffee. Naoto at bunbougu As if being a stationery store/cafe didn’t make bunbougu awesome enough, they have a membership option. For 700 yen (about $7) members receive a key to the stationery drawers at each table. Members have access to the “secret” pens, stationery, art supplies and other treats in the drawers. They also get invited to members-only events and seminars about stationery and other paper-y things. Isn’t this a genius concept? Now, who wants to move to Omotesando with me to join bunbougu cafe? Better yet, who wants to open one here in Chicago? bunbougu cafeFor a great article and better pictures of the bunbougu cafe, go here!

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Fifteen Minutes in a Cat Cafe

cat cafe JapanLet me tell you about the time Naoto & I spent 300 yen each to play with a stranger’s cats.

It all happened by accident. I hadn’t planned on going to a cat cafe–yes, a cat cafe…where you pay a cover charge to enter and play with cats, not to eat them, thankfully. But one morning, while we were exploring Shimokitazawa and waiting for the stores and restaurants to open, we happened upon Cateriam. We decided it would be a funny thing to do, and it turns out, it was the best part of that day! cat cafe JapanOur three hundred yen allowed us fifteen minutes to play with, pet, and take pictures of the variety of cats. There were about a dozen or so cats in a large room with a couch, chairs, cat towers and other furniture for the humans and the cats. There were tons of toys to promote play and interaction with the cats, too. There was another customer in the cafe who appeared to be a regular. She stayed a lot longer than we did. There was a small menu with drink and snack options and a gift shop, too!

The cats had access to a little room where they could escape human contact and take a nap or eat, so they weren’t trapped socializing the whole time. All of the cats were really friendly (Presley could never be a cat cafe cat!) Some were hiding out, and others were more playful and social. They each had a name and you could tell that the cat cafe owner, Shigemori-san really cared about each one and knew their personalities well. cat cafe JapanIMG_3570cat cafecat cafe Japancat cafe JapanThis cat was a big ol’ ragdoll and just flopped into my arms when Shigemori-san handed him to me. cat cafe Japan kimberlyahcat cafe JapanI played with this furry one, but he wouldn’t give the ball back. cat cafe JapanDuring our visit, the owner told us to go into the bathroom to see something “interesting”. The cats were helping themselves to some water! I took a little video of this guy lapping it up.

Although the visit made us miss little Presley even more, we both enjoyed our cat fix and experiencing something that seemed very “Japan”. Thumbs up for the cat cafe! Cateriam cat cafe Japan

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Tokyo: PO

Japanese mailboxOne of my favorite parts of traveling is sending postcards. I usually take a long time choosing cheesy tourist postcards. (Naoto is very tolerant of this habit. I don’t know what he’s thinking while he stands waiting outside the tourist shops, but he certainly isn’t showing impatience!) And I like to write them out during a slow mid-vacation morning, over coffee of course. There’s less pressure that way. I also always send a postcard to Naoto and me, with a little recap of our favorite things about our trip. It is seriously like pulling teeth to get Naoto to participate, but I know someday he’s going to thank me…when we’re old and grey, he’s going to love remembering that his favorite part of Tokyo 2013 was the food (ahem…and of course seeing his family!) Japanese postcardUnfortunately, I was rather unorganized during our trip and postcard writing had to wait until the last two days in Japan. It was difficult to find “travel-y” postcards there…but there were plenty of other pretty options to choose from. (The red post box card above is from the post office…I should have bought more of those. The bird ones were from Itoya.) Once I finally collected enough cards, I sat down at Mister Donut on two separate mornings to get the job done. One of those mornings was especially perfect because Naoto had an errand to run. So it was just me, my postcards, my coffee and donuts…a nice way to spend a solo morning.Japanese letter writing day stampsSince we found the post office right away, I bought stamps on the first day. I felt pressured to make a decision (which is silly, because Japan has the most patient and amazing customer service ever!) so I just snagged the first ones that caught my eye. They happened to be in celebration of Letter Writing Day. (Japan issues a stamp–or stamps?–for Letter Writing Day every year in July! I am disappointed that I never knew this before!) The stamps are pictured above (the 50yen ones…the 20 yens just help get those postcards across the ocean!) I originally chose them because of the old-time red mailbox stamp, but I also fell in love with the little boy writing a postcard and the others, too…I mean, isn’t that vegetable stamp wonderful?

The Letter Writing Day stamps have a lovely matte finish and they are the licking kind (technical term). It was fun to tear the perforation and lick ’em and stick ’em.  I also appreciate the fact that the perforation goes all around the stamp. (I personally hate when there are only a couple of perforated sides on the stamp and the rest of the sides have straight edges. It happens on many stamps here in the US and I think it looks silly.) So, the stamps all around were quite pleasing to use. I have two other sheets of postage to share with you as soon as I am home and awake during daylight hours. (Jet lag is in full force around here!) Japanese mailboxThe mailbox above was in my mother-in-law’s neighborhood. I love the red and the modern shape of the new boxes, but the traditional style will always be my favorite. This one makes sense for modern times–there is a slot for international mail and small packages and a slot for regular domestic mail–but really…who doesn’t love the old one? Hisae and Kimberly at mailbox (Picture from our 2011 trip to Japan.)

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Tokyo: Jet Lag Edition

early morning streets of TokyoI have so much to tell you about Japan! As good as it feels to be home (and to hug Presley), I can’t help but feel sad that we aren’t in Japan anymore. I feel like our vacation was a love affair with Tokyo. The busy streets, the crazy-stuffed trains, the bustling train stations, the incredible food, the amazing customer service, the gorgeous stationery stores, my best friend Mister Donut, the loud and smoky izakayas…I already feel nostalgic about the whole trip. thumbs up for the Narita Express

Naoto and I had serious jet lag in the beginning of our trip. After our thirteen hour flight, the ninety minute train trip (pictured above) and the two-stop subway trip (which all includes struggling up and down hundreds of stairs with our luggage), we made it to our hotel, grabbed a snack at a convenience store and fell into bed around 11PM. We were both wide awake at 4AM (2PM Chicago time), so we decided to get up, shower and enjoy a little walk around our neighborhood.

We stayed in a little hotel, the b, two blocks away from the Sangen-Jaya station. The hotel was in a pretty residential/non-touristy neighborhood. It was an ideal location: two blocks away from Mister Donut, two blocks away from the subway, three blocks away from a post office, and two train stops away from Shibuya (the Times Square of Tokyo) and some really awesome stationery shopping. I cannot thank my sister-in-law, Hisae, enough for doing the research and finding this dream location.

The picture at the top was taken around 6AM as we walked around our neighborhood that first morning. All of the shops and restaurants were closed (most shops don’t open until 10 or 11AM), but it was fun to see what was available in a short walk around the area. (Honestly, we were just killing time while we waited for Mister Donut to open!) Did you notice the man in the pink shirt sleeping on the side of the street? Apparently it is not uncommon in Japan to “sleep it off” wherever you happen to pass out.

The only bad thing about our trip was that it was so hot in Tokyo…so hot… I’m not sure if I was just not used to the heat since we’ve had such a mild and cool summer in Chicago, or that the humidity was out to kill me…but I really haven’t felt that kind of boiling madness over a long stretch of days in a really long time. (Shout out to my cousin serving in Kuwait…I know I shouldn’t complain about the heat!!) The weather made it hard to enjoy getting to places, but once we got to our destinations (usually cool, air conditioned destinations), we felt refreshed and ready to take it all in.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another post about our trip. I think we can just consider September “Japan Month” here on the blog.

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Packing for Japan: The Important Stuff

mail supplies for vacationPacking my mail supply bag for Japan was probably the most simple thing on my to-do list. There was no need to bring postage stamps, because they won’t work here. I didn’t really need to pack washi tape, because I’m sure I’ll be buying some here. I didn’t really need to bring a variety of pens, because, again, I’m sure I’ll be stocking up. I’m not a big vacation letter writer, so I didn’t need stationery (and again, if I change my mind…I’m in the country of stationery!) I did, however, need my address book (painstakingly updated with all of my pen pals!) and a pen or two to start with.

So, here’s what I have in my mail pouch:

a red StazOn ink pad

2 Japanese rubber stamps (the Japan Post Office icon & a drunk kitty, both acquired on previous trips)

1 “Today Is” stamp (from here)

2 MultiBall pens (they dry quickly on slick surfaces, perfect for postcards!)

1 grey LePen (for writing in my travel journal)

a tape runner for sticking things in my journal or on envelopes

my mini address book (vintage from Greer)

a few rolls of washi tape (for sticking things in my travel journal)

a few paperclips (for clipping things into my travel journal)

A visit to the Tokyo post Office is on the top of my list so I can stock up on Japanese postage and get to my postcard writing! Our morning Mister Donut visits will be the perfect time to write.

My favorite time.

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Oh Presley…

Presley and meLast year, I celebrated Labor Day by mentioning Naoto’s hardworking spirit. While that is important, Labor Day has another special meaning around here. It is the day we got Presley.

Seven years ago today, our friend Bonnie gave us a tiny, scared, stray kitten that had been born in her barn. Bonnie didn’t ask us if we wanted a cat…she knew we needed a cat. young PresleyThe first few weeks were rough. Presley was (is) quite a handful. She didn’t want to cuddle. She hid out most of the time. She didn’t really like us. She only sat on my lap when I went to the bathroom. (Weird!) For those first few weeks, Naoto and I considered giving her back. We didn’t feel like she was happy, and we weren’t sure if we were truly cat people. (I had cats growing up, but Naoto never really had pets.) We didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings (especially Presley’s), so we mustered through. And gradually, we all got used to each other. Presley started coming around more, cuddling more, playing more. Naoto and I accepted our roles in care taking. (I told Naoto that ANY woman should not scoop the litter box, not just pregnant women. By the time he learned the truth, he was so used to scooping the box, he’d accepted it as his job for life.) We started accepting the fact that cat hair is forever.Naoto and PresleyNow we cannot imagine our lives without this little beast. Presley is still a little wild and she’s terrible with guests (oh, if only they would just leave her alone!) But with us, she’s sweet and charming and only misbehaves if she feels she’s lacking attention and play time. Since I’m home more, Presley has become “my” cat, often favoring me over Naoto. (It’s okay, because most people favor him over me.) She spends time at my feet or napping nearby on her scratching box. We play mid-day fetch and chase each other around the apartment. We open the mail together in the condo hallway. She comes to bed with me and sleeps at my feet at night and wakes me up with creepy stares in the morning. (Sometimes I do wonder if she’s planning to kill me.)

I feel so lucky that Bonnie brought Presley into our lives. presleyPresley and NaotoAnd, even though you might consider them “frenemies”, I know Naoto is thankful for Presley, too.

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Japan 2011

DSCN4426Today, we are hopping on our flight to Japan. YAY! Our bags are packed with (hopefully) everything we need. Our cat sitters are ready to go. (We are so fortunate to have friends who are willing to cover the daytime and the nighttime shifts with Presley–what can we say? We love our cat! Plus, it’s nice to have someone around the apartment day and night to keep an eye on things like our 1970s light fixtures!) Our family is waiting for us in Tokyo. Our hotel bed is also waiting…and we will be longing for it by the time we get off of the thirteen hour flight! Naoto and his momWhen we went to Japan in 2010, I made a little blog of our trip, Meeting My Mother-In-Law. The trip was obviously filled will many trips to Mister Donut, but the purpose of the trip, for me, was to meet my mother-in-law. After (at that point) almost five years of marriage, I finally met my husband’s mother. And, even though some of the pressure was off (at that point, it’s not like Naoto could return me), some new pressure was on. I was meeting her after a thirteen hour plane ride to Japan, an ninety minute commuter train ride to Tokyo, a two hour bullet train ride to Niigata and a twenty minute cab ride to the apartment. I was pretty much a wreck by the time we got there. I had planned on “freshening up” on the train ride, but I was too sleepy to care about personal hygiene by that time. Precious sleep was all I could think of. Thankfully, over the few days that we stayed with her, Naoto’s mom got to see a clean me, a well-rested me and a happy me…it was wonderful to finally meet her.

This time, since Naoto’s mom moved to a retirement community in Tokyo, we will be able to see her after a good night’s sleep (well, that’s the idea anyway…jet lag might have a different plan!) on our first morning in Japan. I’m going to miss seeing Niigata, but it will be lovely to have the whole family together and concentrate on one place this visit!

P.S. If you’d like to try my favorite salad from my last visit to Japan, check out the salad Naoto’s mom made for us! Perfect excuse to use up some fresh garden tomatoes!

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