Category Archives: adventures

Dinner in Okinawa: Watanji

We found a great izakaya near our hotel in Naha while we visited Okinawa. Watanji was a great local spot that had different spins on Okianawan favorites. Above is Naoto pointing out his name on the chalkboard. Apparently one of the servers shared his name. In true izakaya style, we got a bunch of small plates to sample. One of my favorite dishes was this smoky potato salad. We also had Okinawan yam tempura (dipped in honey!)This was Okinawan pork in soy broth. It was soooo delicious, once I pulled off the layer of fat. Japanese eat a lot of fatty meats, something I never can do. I know there’s a lot of flavor there, but man…texture issues! We lightened things up next with some fresh tuna. And then hopped back into the heavier foods with these Okinawan pork sausages!Then we had gyoza with lots of extra crispy bits. And finally…deep fried taco rice with the most amazing taco sauce on top. It was all of the ingredients of taco rice, packed into a little ball and fried! I want to recreate this so badly. The izakaya was very local but the staff was very welcoming, as with most places in Japan. Naoto stuck with Orion beer and I did a shikuwasa and soda…so refreshing!

I think I have one final Japan post…though I probably have plenty of other stationery things to share. Stay tuned! And happy weekend!

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Plot 6 in 2020

plot 6, forest park community garden, forest park, community gardenI am a little scared to talk about Plot 6 today because we’ve had torrential rains this weekend and there’s a ton of flooding around town…I can only imagine what our plot looks like right now. Certainly any seeds we planted on Friday have not stayed in their tidy rows! This is the “before” picture. We were surprised to find that we didn’t have many weeds creeping in. Other plots, as you can see in the background, are COVERED…ugh. We pulled weeds and then topped off our plot with some fresh compost before we planted. So far we have:

  • rosemary
  • lavender
  • Black Krim tomato
  • 2 Brandywines
  • Mortgage Lifter tomato

And we planted seeds for:

  • parsley
  • chives
  • mizuna (Japanese mustard greens)
  • onions
  • nasturtium
  • zinnias

We still need to plant:

  • edamame
  • basil
  • another tomato (I said four was plenty but I lied…)

I thought I had some back-up edamame and basil seeds but it looks like we need to go shopping for some which is easier said than done right now. I wish I’d ordered some seeds online before this whole thing started. Sigh. So many lessons learned for the next pandemic.

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Okinawa Part 3: Orion Beer

This day was the highlight of Naoto’s trip, can you tell? It’s called Orion Happy Park for a reason! We were scheduled for the first tour of the day and we totally lucked out–we were the only ones on our tour! We felt so fortunate, as the next tour was packed. Before going on the tour, we spent some time in the little Orion museum. I love looking at old packaging, so it was neat to see how the Orion cans and bottles have changed over the years. There is nothing better than a retro label–I especially loved the cherry blossom editions. We started by learning about the grains used in Orion beer. Naoto was a very involved student, asking a lot of questions of our personal tour guide.

We learned a little bit about the science behind the brewing process, like when the mixture actually becomes alcohol. This display shows how many cans Orion fills in one minute. Isn’t that crazy?!

The bottling and canning processes were so interesting. I’ve been on a few brewery tours and I always love watching the bottles get filled and topped and labeled. This part made me so happy and also felt so Japan. The floor of the factory is blue, like the ocean. The crane is pink, the color of coral. And the walls are painted the color of the sand. The factory celebrates Okinawa in every way. 
After the tour, we were able to go to the tasting room to enjoy a sample. I don’t drink beer, but they had a delicious bottled tea. Oh and the ORION SNACKS!! It’s peanuts and rice crackery things covered in a mix of almond cheese, turmeric, curry, chili, onion, and garlic powders, paprika, pepper, soy sauce, beer yeast, sugar. They are so crunchy and good. I’m not a huge curry person, but these are just a perfect little drinking snack. We bought a big bag of them in the little snack-sized portions like you see above. We’re almost done with them and we’ve been looking for more here in the US to no avail. Sigh…guess we’ll have to go back to Japan someday for more. I think Naoto would toast to that!

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Okinawa Part 2: Riding with Matayoshi-San

To enjoy the island of Okinawa, you really need a car, but neither of us were interested in driving so Naoto hired a driver, Matayoshi-San, to drive us around to our Orion brewery tour and to see some other sites on the island. We spent the morning at Orion, which will get its own post because I took a ton of pictures and videos for Naoto. Okinawa is known for Orion beer, salt, glass, and pottery (among other things.) We stopped at a glass shop where they were blowing glass on site. I spent way too long choosing a single dish to bring home. Everything was so beautiful. Okinawan pottery is also really different from some of the other pottery in Japan. The designs and the shapes were so great.Matayoshi-san picked us a couple of shikuwasa which we enjoyed in our hotel room in some sparkling water. What a treat! Aside from the Orion tour, the best part of the day was visiting the sea and breathing in some fresh ocean air. These craggly rocks were formed over centuries of wear and it was such a perfect day weather-wise for enjoying the views. All over Okinawa, you will find Shisa, usually in pairs. They are meant to protect the home or business–one keeping in the good, the other keeping out the bad. We weren’t tempted to buy one for our own home, but it’s a really popular souvenir. In the middle of the day, we stopped at a roadside stand for sata andagi, Okinawan donuts. They were fresh and delicious! (You know how I love a donut!)We also stopped at an artisan shop where they hand paint fabric for obi (the sash for kimono) and other accessories. Everything was so gorgeous and the amount of work that went into each inch of fabric was incredible!
Naoto really enjoyed Matayoshi-San’s humor and his stories about the island. It was fun spending the day with a local and being carted around like a celebrity!

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Okinawa Part 1: Tourists & Taco Rice

hasegawa happy hour, okinawa We always take a little side trip away from Tokyo when we visit Japan and this year, our trip was to Okinawa. Okinawa is a small island in southern Japan. It really felt so much like Hawaii to me! We stayed in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. It really felt like Honolulu to me. It was beachy and carefree, with a huge strip of shopping and restaurants and lots of tourists. Our first night, we checked out the strip and ate at a little Okinawan izakaya that had Orion beer and taco rice, Naoto’s favorites. We started with drinks. Naoto had an Orion beer and I had a shikuwasa cocktail. Shikuwasa is native to Okinawa and Taiwan and it’s a citrus that is kind of bitter and really sour. It makes a really good cocktail with shochu and soda. We ordered gyoza (shown above) which really hit the spot. Next we had a salad with shredded cabbage, tomatoes, scallions, pork, and a citrusy dressing. Then we had Okinawan sweet potato fries dipped in honey. Seriously, honey is under-utilized as a dipping sauce in America! We should take a break from ranch dressing and eat more honey!And the main dish: taco rice! It’s basically a taco salad but on a bed of rice. We’ve made it at home before and it’s really good and comforting. I told Naoto we should make it this week and share the recipe so I’ll keep you posted. The version we usually make doesn’t have cheese, but let’s be honest–everything is better with a little shredded cheddar!  After dinner, we strolled around the tourist area and I picked up some stationery (surprise, surprise) and we got some salt. Okinawan salt is a “thing” so we bought some shikuwasa salt and onion salt to bring home. I really loved the paper onigiri in the store display. 

 

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Niigata Dinner

Hisae and Norio (Naoto’s sister and her husband) took us out to dinner in Shibuya while we were in Japan. They live in Mie, which is quite a bit away from Tokyo, but they took the shinkansen to spend an evening with us. It was really fun to hang out with them. Hisae is so sweet and Norio is kind and funny. We haven’t seen them both together since their wedding many years ago! We have seen Hisae on all of our other trips to Japan, but we haven’t seen Norio in years because he is so busy working. The izakaya, Takumi, specializes in Niigata food. You may remember that Niigata is where they grew up. My favorite thing about izakaya eating is that you can order tons of small plates and try a bunch of different things. We had kaarage (fried chicken,) shrimp tempura, amazing sushi, and pickled eggplant. And smoked fish, cartilage and sperm sac…just kidding, I did not eat the cartilage or sperm sac. Then there was noppe, a vegetable stew, and tomago (egg) with herbs. Our last dish was this fried tofu with scallions which was really good, but really oily and rich…a good dish for drinking. At the end of the meal, they brought out a huge tray of noodles and we each had our choice of dipping sauce. I got the tomato dipping sauce which was really unusual, like nothing I’ve had in Japan before. It was a rich red and super concentrated with tomato flavor. I ate soooo many noodles because I liked it so much. I haven’t been able to find a good recipe like this online but I’m sure trying!

Let’s do it again soon, Hisae and Norio!

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Pen Pal Stationery Tour Part 3: The Wares

Yamada stationery think this is all I bought during the Pen Pal Stationery Tour…

Above is what I bought at Yamada. The library stuff is my favorite and I restocked my stash from our last trip. I couldn’t resist the avocado handkerchief for Naoto. And those green things are stickers modeled after a famous notebook company, Japonica, that every school kid knows. And I just realized that the little bird and mountain notepad snuck in here, but I bought it at Tonarino. (It’s too dark to re-take the pictures now!)Tonarino stationery, Sublo 36 stationery At Tonarino, besides the notepad, I stuck with mostly their in-house designs. And the sumo eating the hot pot (chanko) is the only thing I bought at Sublo 36. (I told you I had regrets.) Hachimakura vintage papersAnd finally, some fun new and vintage papers from Hachimakura. Hachimakura vintage papersI’m excited to use some of these in my Traveler’s Notebook. From the top left: the red shrine is an old tobacco box from the Showa Era (1926-1989) that I want to display. The Moon Pencils label is a pencil box label. The geisha girls are matchbox labels from the 1920s. Below that, is old play money. (Isn’t it so fun and colorful?) The sheer pink and white things are nouget candy wrappers, also from the Showa Era. I liked the onsen symbol on them. And the circle labels are liquor shop labels from before World War II.

(Thanks to Naoto for translating all of that for me for this post. He and Geof stayed outside while April and I shopped so we were on our own to make our purchases!)

 

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Naoberly’s Noodle Tour: Afuri Ramen

Believe it or not, we only had ramen once while we were in Tokyo. I know, I know…what a waste of our visit during the cold months! But seriously, there is so much to eat in Japan…it’s hard to not explore a thousand different cuisines there! Afuiri Ramen SangenjayaWe found Afuri near our hotel in Sangenjaya. (It’s been there since 2014! How were we sleeping on this for so long?!) It’s a chain, so you can find them all over Tokyo (and even in Portland!) Their specialty is yuzu ramen, so you know I was a happy camper eating here!ramen ticket machine, Afuri RamenIt’s the kind of ramen shop where you order at the machine and get a ticket to present at the counter, but it’s a fancy computerized ticket machine with pictures! (Also, pro-tip…you should choose your meal on the menu outside and then go to the machine when you know exactly what you want…otherwise you look like a dumb American, not that I would know how this feels…) Afuiri Ramen SangenjayaI had the Yuzu Shoyu Ramen, which is a chicken and dashi shoyu (soy sauce) broth with all of the traditional ramen toppings. It may have been my favorite chicken broth ever. It was bright and citrusy because of the yuzu but the shoyu made it a little bit more robust. Naoto had a special dumpling ramen that I couldn’t find on the website.

Now writing this, I’m totally in the mood for ramen.

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Pen Pal Stationery Tour Part Two

Sublo 36Our next stop (after lunch) in the Pen Pal Stationery Tour was Sublo 36. It’s a tiny shop and it was verrry crowded. And like, Yamada, there are so many products in little cubbies and drawers, it was kind of a challenge to shop when you’re basically on top of the next person. I’d love to go back on a quieter day because I’m having regrets about not buying some things! I didn’t get many pictures inside Sublo (which is up these quirky stairs by the way) because it was too crowded for my photographer and I was too busy shopping and trying to stay out of other shoppers’ ways. They have a lot of original products (you can see them here) that I totally didn’t take advantage of buying when I was there. After this, Naoto had discovered that we were a short walk away from Karel Capek tea shop so we took a stationery break. I’ll write about Karel Capek in another post–it’s the cutest. On the way to the train for our next stop, we bought some gyoza from a very busy gyoza shop in the neighborhood. Delicious! (Oh and that’s April’s partner Geof. He and Naoto were the best sports about stationery shopping all day!)Hachimakura, vintage paper store JapanAt the end of the tour was Hachimakura, which we’ve visited before. April and I delighted in the vintage papers in this tiny shop. We finished the tour with dinner at a little izakaya near Hachimakura. We ate cabbage with yuzu dressing, bacon with grain mustard, tomago, fried mozzarella dipped in honey (It was soooo good I need to try this in America,) wasabi chicken, cucumber dipped in miso, and we drank beers and yuzu drinks. It was the perfect meal to end a really fun day. Until next time, April & Geof!

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Pen Pal Stationery Tour Part One

TestPatern and Kimberly in JapanA crazy fun fact about our trip to Japan: it coincided with my pen pal April’s trip to Japan! We didn’t have a ton of time together, but we did spend an entire day doing a Pen Pal Stationery Tour along the Chuo Line out to the outskirts of Tokyo. Naoto and I did some of these shops last time, but I wanted to revisit them, particularly Hachimakura and Yamada Stationery, and to visit a new shop or two. Yamada is one of my favorite shops in all of Japan. They have stationery lines that are unique and harder to find in Tokyo. Their merchandising is so good. As you can see, there are so many nooks and crannies to explore and find more papery goodness! Some of my favorite things are on the rack above. They have a whole library line with washi tape, stickers, library cards and pockets, buttons…it’s all so good! Next stop was Torino where they don’t allow photography inside. (Don’t tell on us because apparently we took a few last time we visited…oops!) Fun fact: Naoto left his phone on the ledge outside of Torino and we didn’t realize until we’d traveled all the way to the next station. We thought it was gone forever, but nope…it was still there. No one touched it! It was very stressful in the moment, but afterwards, it gave us all a laugh, and of course reminded us that Japan Does It Better

I’ll be back on Monday with part two of our day together! Hopefully it will be sunny enough this weekend for me to take a few pictures of my purchases. 

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