Category Archives: Japan 2020

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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Dried Persimmons

persimmons drying Norio and Hisae gave us the best omiyage–dried persimmons!

Norio’s dad air dries persimmons every year and I can’t believe we are the lucky recipients of some of these little gems. Norio sent me some pictures so I could show you how it happens–doesn’t tying each one up look so time-intensive? He starts by peeling the persimmons and then he dips them in shochu. Then he ties them up outside for a few weeks. The actual amount of time varies, depending on the weather. He kneads the persimmons periodically to soften them and bring out the sweetness.After a few weeks, they get nice and shriveled. And their color darkens, too. After about a month or so, this is what they look like when they’re ready. The white dust is not mold, it’s sugar! We brought some home with us and broke into them a few weeks ago and made a little cheese board to eat while we watched ParasiteLook at all of that delicious sugar! Hisae recommended eating them with a cheese like manchego so that’s what we did. We just sliced one up and added it to cheese and a cracker. It was a perfect match!

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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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mt labo

mt laboIt took two tries (thanks to new year closings) but we made it to the mt lab (mt labo) towards the end of our trip. The shop is so spare and clean…it was seriously a dream place to shop. walls of washi, mt tape, washi tape, mt labo walls of washi, mt tape, washi tape, mt labo walls of washi, mt tape, washi tape, mt labowalls of washi, mt tape, washi tape, mt laboAll of the washi tapes were organized by color. (You know how I love to ROY G BIV things!) The regular tapes were in clear cylinders all along the left side of the shop. It was so hard not to buy every single one. limited edition mt tape, mt tape, washi tape, mt laboThere was a whole table of limited edition tapes that can only be bought at this store. walls of washi, mt tape, washi tape, mt labo walls of washi, mt tape, washi tape, mt laboThey had these new clear sheet stickers that can be used to add a pop of color to clear trays, phone cases, or whatever you want. I didn’t buy any of them, but they were neat! mt bags, mt tape, washi tape, mt labo mt bags, mt tape, washi tape, mt laboThey also had these fun, one-of-a-kind collage bags made of mt banners from different special mt events throughout Japan. Isn’t that such a cool way to reuse something that would normally end up in the trash?limited edition mt tape, cut in the store,, mt tape, washi tape, mt labo, mt tape cutterOne of the other cool features of the store was the tape cutter that cuts rolls of washi tape into different thicknesses. They were nice enough to do a demo for us. First they rolled the tape onto the cardboard tube.

After that they cut the tape into thin, medium, and thick rolls. It was neat to see the pattern of the master tape change based on the width of the tape.

limited edition mt tape, cut in the store,, mt tape, washi tape, mt laboThey sold all of the different widths at the counter. walls of washi, mt tape, washi tape, mt labowalls of washi, mt tape, washi tape, mt laboThis is the face of someone who was shopping in her merchandised zen.I think I was pretty restrained in my purchases!

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Nengajō Day

nengajo, 2020 new year postcardsWhen we decided to go to Japan over the new year, I was so excited to send nengajo! On January 2nd, Naoto took me to the post office at Tokyo Station so I could write my postcards and send them with new year stamps. I bought these cards at Loft on New Year’s Day. It’s the year of the rat, so I ran with the mouse theme. nengajo, 2020 new year postcardsThe Japan Post issued these cute stamps for 2020. There’s some kind of lottery involved with them, but since I sent them overseas, I’m not sure what a winner would do if their number was drawn. Station master's office, Tokyo StationI wrote all of my postcards in the letter room at the Kitte mall while Naoto entertained himself at the station master’s desk. Letter Room, KitteSomething new since the last time we visited is this &Post mobile letter writing truck. We didn’t get to see the truck in action but I’m following it on Instagram to see what happens. They also had this book, Letters by Noriko Kudo. I love the colored pencil drawings and the collaged pages with handwritten letters. (I’ve been on the hunt for a copy of my own since we got home…I want to add it to my library of mail books. I wrote the last of my nengajo on the Narita Express on the way to the airport. I also stocked up on some postcards for next new year because there were so many good ones! (Of course those don’t have mice or the year 2020 on them!)

nengajo mailboxP.S. There is a special mailbox for the nengajo.

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