Category Archives: Japan 2014

Shabu-Shabu

Please note that this post and this website has no affiliation with Hot Pots Biz. 
Shabu ShabuOne of the many things I wanted to eat in Japan this time around was shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a meal of thinly sliced beef that is cooked in water at the table. We’d eaten it at Naoto’s colleague’s house a long time ago and it’s fun and tasty so it’s been on my Tokyo wish list to try the real deal.

We found a shabu-shabu restaurant in Oka-san’s (Naoto’s mom’s) neighborhood and popped in for lunch one afternoon. It was a long lunch, but everything was presented so beautifully that it was nice to take some time to savor the presentation, the food and the company. Shabu ShabuWhile we enjoyed tiny dishes of salads and appetizer bites, our server brought out a big heavy pot of water seasoned with citrus and turned on the burner. Once the water was boiling, she brought out a tray of thinly sliced beef and a basket of vegetables. The vegetables are pictured above through the steam of the water. We had cabbage, mushrooms, seaweed, scallions, carrots, tofu and bean sprouts. Have you ever seen such a romantic basket of vegetables?

Shabu ShabuThe beef is sliced so thinly it is almost see-through, allowing it to cook quickly in the hot water. You pick up a slice with chopsticks and put it in the water (still holding on!) Once you’ve swished it into a figure eight, the beef is cooked. Swish, swish…that’s all it takes. To me, the best part is the dipping sauces–a thick sesame sauce and a ponzu (citrus) sauce–for the meat and vegetables. The ponzu sauce is so tangy and a perfect match with the savory beef!

Most of the vegetables took a little bit longer to cook, so we left them in the water while we swished the beef and ate them with the sauces in between bites.

Once all of the beef and vegetables were eaten, the server brought out another dish of thin glass noodles to cook in the shabu shabu broth. I ate those noodles with the ponzu sauce as well. sakura ice creamAnd, even though our meal was enormous, I couldn’t resist sakura ice cream for dessert. It was vacation after all.

 

 

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Scenes From Bunbougu Cafe

Bunbougu cafeOh Bunbougu Cafe! Please expand to my community!

I know, I know…it wouldn’t be the same. I wish more people in the US would embrace the marriage of cafes and stationery shops.

I spent a lot of time at Bunbougu during our vacation. In addition to spending my birthday there, we went back again and again for coffees and shopping. My favorite thing (other than my birthday dinner) was the snack you see above. I ordered a set that included a pot of tea and three tiny sweets. As you can imagine, I was blown away by the tiny office supply-shaped cookies. I ordered the strawberry matcha poundcake, the hazelnut ginger pencil cookies and the yuzu pepper key cookies. Everything was so flavorful and delicious–the keys were so peppery that my mouth was burning (in the best way possible!) There were other options on the menu (including a coconut flavored triangle and protractor) and you can see them here.Bunbougu cafeBunbougu cafeAll of Bunbougu Cafe’s menus are hand drawn (by one of their own workers) with gorgeous colored pencil illustrations of their food and cocktails. Bunbougu cafeOne of my favorite things to order was the caramel tea latte, a milky black tea with a hint of caramel-y sweetness. I’m working on perfecting my own at home since it will be awhile before I can drink one at Bunbougu again! If you received a postcard from me in Japan, most likely it was written at Misdo or Bunbougu…it’s the perfect place for mail! Bunbougu cafeBunbougu cafeBunbougu cafeBunbougu offers loads of unique stationery, desk items, pens and pencils, washi tape, office supplies… Many things are made in Japan and most of their offerings are from small makers and businesses. I saw many familiar American makers’ products too. I ended up buying two more silver boxes, pencils and washi tape.Bunbougu cafe

But my favorite “purchase” was my new membership at the Bunbougu Cafe. For ¥700, I now have my own membership card and a key to the stationery drawers at Bunbougu! Now each time I go, I can show off my key or my membership card and get into special events (if they ever occur during our visits) and unlock the stationery drawers at the cafe. I already left my business card in one and sifted through the pretty papers and pens…apparently too busy enjoying things to take a picture (sorry!)Bunbougu cafeSee you soon, Bunbougu Cafe!

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Japan Does It Better 13: Furu Pote

seasoning packets for friesBack on our first trip together to Japan in 2011, Naoto and I stayed with his mom for a few days. We watched her regular TV programs with her at night and enjoyed a game show about restaurants. A “food expert” (I can’t remember if it was a famous chef or a food critic or what) ate every menu item from a fast food restaurant and rated each item. Sometimes the food expert had high praise, but as you can imagine, the best TV was when the food expert criticized the best sellers on the menus.

Lotteria was a featured restaurant and I became obsessed with going there and trying Japanese fast food. We finally went with Hisae and Norio (my sister-in-law and brother-in-law) and I enjoyed a shrimp burger, fries (better known in Japan as furaido potato) and a melon soda. Hisae got fries too. But she had a little pouch of powder that she sprinkled on top, giving them a salty seaweed flavor. I was amaaaazed (and disappointed that my fries were plain ol’ fries.)

Apparently, furu pote (fries shaken in a bag with seasonings) are popular in several fast food chains in Japan and across Asia.

During our trip in March, we went to Lotteria and I got to try the fries for myself. I got the butter soy sauce flavor packet and Naoto got the seaweed. I enjoyed every bite of my fries and every sip of my melon soda. And still I wondered where this concept was in the US.

For the past three years I’ve thought Americans would eat up furu pote like crazy. (Of course we would have to name it something else.) We could have sour cream & onion flavored fries, BBQ flavored fries, cheddar flavored fries. Where was this kind of thing in the home of the french fry?

Well, last week I came across this article announcing McDonald’s plans to introduce flavor packets for their french fries. If you try it, let me know what you think. I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s since 1996 and a little flavor packet isn’t going to change that. But I’m excited to hear how they taste.

So, even though the idea skipped across the ocean and is finally here in the US, when it comes to flavored french fries, Japan Does It Better!

P.S. To see all of the other JDIB posts, go here.

 

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Spending the Yen 4: Yubinkyoku Treasures

Tokyo Central Post OfficeOne of my favorite places to shop in Tokyo is the post office. Or, I should say, the many post offices. Of course, my favorite was our “local” PO but it was fun to get out to other locations to see the different offerings. The postcards and washi tape above are from the Tokyo Central Post Office located near Tokyo Station and inside the Kitte shopping and dining center. (Kitte is Japanese for postage stamp.) Jess took us there and smiled as we walked into the post office. She knew it would be a hit. (Thanks, Jess!) Tokyo Central Post OfficeThe Kitte had special washi tape made for its first anniversary. I couldn’t resist. posta collect I also picked out some Posta Collect mailbox letter paper and a pen. It reminded me of the glue stick from last year. Anything that has that classic red mailbox on it is pretty much a guaranteed purchase.japan post officeI loved the spring mailbox postcard and the big postal bear ready to deliver a big message. japan post officeAnd this tiny tape runner is the perfect size for traveling and it’s shaped like a mail truck! japan post officeI bought the fourth set of constellation stamps and my brother-in-law, Norio gave me the other set. It’s Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower. posta collect, japan post officeNorio also gave me these post office stickers. The bike, the mail truck, the mailboxes, the mail bags…they were the best gift ever. I love that Japan has so many postal treats. cherry blossom stamps, Japan post officeI sent out so many postcards using the spring stamps (shown above). Japan really embraces unique shapes in their postage stamps, this time using round and sakura shaped stamps. japan post officeThis fancy mail van was delivering packages to our hotel and Lawson’s convenience store. japan post officeYay for good mail and good mail treasures!

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Japan Does It Better 12: Hot Dogs

Japan Does It Better, hot dogsI’ll be the first to admit that today’s JDIB post is rather controversial…especially since Chicago is (unarguably) the hot dog capital of the world. I do love a good Chicago-style, dragged through the garden (onions, tomatoes, relish, cucumbers, sport peppers and a pickle spear along side mustard and celery salt, never ketchup!) hot dog on a poppyseed bun.

But there’s something about the Japanese hot dog that’s just better. First, the dog is nicely seasoned. It has more flavor than any American hot dog I’ve ever tried. It’s not quite spicy like a Polish sausage, but there’s flavor in there! And it’s really juicy and has a nice snap. (No one likes a mushy hot dog, Oscar Meyer!) But the best part–the part that highlights the Japan dog and helps it shine–is the bun. Oh the bun! I love a good poppyseed bun, but this is so much better! The texture is light and fluffy with a nice toasty “crust”. And the bun is often grilled to perfection, making it the ideal vehicle for a simple dog and a little mustard.

So, as much as I love my Chicago dogs…I have to say, even with something as American as a hot dog, Japan Does It Better!

The picture above was taken at the cook out. I know the hot dog is blurry, but it was the best I could do with my mouth watering.

To see my other JDIB posts, go here.

P.S. No hate mail, please…I’m lookin’ at you Chicago & NYC!

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Tokyo Cook-Out

BBQ in TokyoWe were the lucky guests at a cook-out in Tokyo hosted by Naoto’s Willamette University friends, Jessica and Keiichi. There are actually quite a few Willamette grads in and around Tokyo, so Jessica organized a mini reunion for everyone. It was great for Naoto to see his old college classmates and it was great for me to be able to be around English speakers for awhile (which also gave Naoto a much-needed break from translating for me!) It was a perfect day for a barbecue–sunny and warm.

BBQ in TokyoBBQ in TokyoWe met in a park near the water and Keiichi and his friend Shige-san did most of the grilling. Keiichi and Shige take their grilling very seriously. There was a ton of grilling equipment all around our picnic site. We enjoyed hot dogs, sausages, shrimp, asparagus, pumpkin, yakisoba and more. BBQ in TokyoKeiichi made his famous chicken for us…it’s a secret recipe that involves buttermilk and a lot of garlic cooked in a dutch oven over hot coals. BBQ in TokyoIt comes out looking like this and tasting incredible! The meat was really tender and had so much flavor! BBQ in TokyoIt was great meeting and catching up with everyone on such a perfect spring day! (Those are the Willamette grads pictured above.)

Thanks to Jess & Keiichi for organizing the reunion!

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Postal Museum Japan

Postal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumOne of my favorite activities from our most recent trip to Tokyo was our visit to the Postal Museum Japan. The museum recently moved from its old location into a shiny new floor at the Tokyo Skytree, making it super convenient for visitors. It’s not a large museum, but we spent a couple of hours inside looking through Japan’s interesting postal past.

We looked at postal transportation (original cart & basket, and motorbike delivery)…Postal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumPostal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumPostal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumAnd old postal uniforms…
Postal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumPostal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumA fantastic letter sorter…

Postal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumOld Japanese Post advertising…Postal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumOld letter bins and bags…Postal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumDetailed postmarks…Postal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumPostal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal Museum
And there was an array of old mailboxes…Postal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumJapanese postal museumJapanese postal museumJapanese postal museumAren’t they beautiful? I love all of the floral gold details on the last one.

As if the museum wasn’t wonderful enough, there was a mini post office in the gift shop and a modern mailbox at the exit. All mail sent from the museum gets stamped with a special Tokyo Skytree/Postal Museum postmark.Postal Museum Japan, Japanese Postal MuseumOf course that meant taking some time to write a few postcards at the museum. (Thankfully I had my tiny blue traveling address book with me!)Japanese postal museum Japanese postal museumI think our entrance fees might have been the best ¥300 we spent all vacation! If you are in Tokyo and you love all things mail, you have to visit. Send me a postcard! 🙂

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Scenes from Hasegawa Happy Hours-March Edition

cocktail, hasegawa happy hourBefore April comes to an end, I figured I should do my March Hasegawa Happy Hour update. Sorry for the third cocktail related post in a row…I promise more variety for the rest of the week! cocktail, hasegawa happy hourIn March, we had two happy hours in Forest Park and two happy hours in Tokyo. And because our schedules were a mess before vacation, both “home” Hasegawa Happy Hours happened at local restaurants, Amelia’s and Fat Duck. cocktail, hasegawa happy hourIn Japan, every night was Hasegawa Happy Hour–well, every night that I was actually awake for dinner anyway. I’ve already shared some cocktails at Bunbougu Cafe and our tapas night in Tokyo, so I thought I would share a couple of interesting cocktails I had at a couple of izakayas in our hotel neighborhood. The first one, shown above, is a grapefruit sour. A sour is a cocktail offered at izakayas that consists of shochu (Japanese vodka), soda and fruit juice. Sours are my izakaya drink of choice. This particular izakaya offers really freshly squeezed citrus in their sours–as in you squeeze the fruit at the table and add the juice to the shochu and soda. cocktail, hasegawa happy hourcocktail, hasegawa happy hourIt was delicious! cocktail, hasegawa happy hourAnother sour I enjoyed (at a different izakaya in the neighborhood) was a kiwi sour with freshly muddled kiwi floating around the drink. It was good–in spite of the fact that I was constantly thinking about kiwi seeds in my teeth! (Naoto was nice enough to warn me.)

So those were the Hasegawa Happy Hour adventures in March. It feels like so long ago…I’ll be back next week with an April recap, all while dreaming of warmer temperatures so we can take the HHH show on the balcony!

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Spending the Yen 3: Sakura Stationery

spending the yenIt was hard to resist the pull of the sakura in Japan this time of year. I got swept up in sakura season mainly because I’m a sucker for that pretty pink flower, but also because things in Japan are merchandised so well…stores really get into their themes, especially when the spring flower emerges. Poor Naoto, every time he saw the pink displays, he knew we were going to linger in the store just a few minutes longer.

Other than the sakura postcards I sent from Japan, I came home with some extra postcards, stickers, tiny cards and envelopes and kaishi papers (the two folded stacks at the top of the picture). Kaishi papers are traditionally used as table decorations or mats for sweets served at tea ceremonies. I bought some Mt. Fuji kaishi papers during our last trip and have been using them as stationery. That’s my plan for the sakura ones too. spending the yenThe tiny cards and envelopes are my favorites, even though they aren’t very practical. And the Mt. Fuji sakura stickers have a lovely texture and gold foil accents. spending the yen, sakuraSakura season might be over, but I’m having fun using my sakura stationery here at home. It is definitely early spring here (though it’s cold again, after our beautiful day Sunday) so sending flowery mail just feels right.

Oh hey…this is my 400th post! 

 

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Tapas in Tokyo

Los Borrachos tapas in tokyoSo maybe you don’t think of Spanish tapas when you think of places to eat in Tokyo, but like any large city, Tokyo offers up foods from all over the world. I love seeing Japan’s take on foreign foods. tapas in tokyoWe found this tiny tapas bar, Los Borrachos 3 (translation: the drunks), near our hotel and decided to check it out. If anything, we were intrigued by the sign that reminds customers that Los Borrachos is a bar, not a barber. (Apparently people were confused by the striped pole near the sign.) tapas in tokyotapas in tokyoThe restaurant, located on the second floor, was warm and cozy and filled with mariachi music (yes…that’s Mexico, not Spain, but it was quite festive). tapas in tokyoTokyo restaurants, Los BorrachosTo start, we enjoyed beer and sangria along with Alioli Potato Salad (pictured above after I’d eaten most of it…I got a head start because Naoto ran back to the hotel for my camera). And we had Pollo al Ajillo, chicken fried in garlic sauce (pictured at the top along with another beer and some cava). Los Borrachos And we enjoyed paella (sadly not pictured) and one of my favorite things–a salad made with fresh cabbage, manchego cheese and iberico ham with a vinaigrette. It might sound weird, but it was so simple and fresh and delicious…and we are hoping to recreate it at home for a Hasegawa Happy Hour soon. tapas in tokyoAnother Tokyo restaurant, another handwritten menu…I am charmed by you, Tokyo.

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