Category Archives: My Love Affair with Tokyo

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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Italian in Tokyo

Every year we explore Sangenjaya more and more and find all sorts of great little gems in our hotel neighborhood. We always talk about staying someplace else but I really just love going back to the same spot and since we’re still finding things we love there, why not?

This time we found this cute little Italian spot and it was one of the best meals of our trip. (I know I say that a lot…but seriously, the food in Japan is almost always amazing.)dried fava beans with cinnamonFor starters, we got these cinnamon coated fava beans that were delicious and weird and just a tiny bit sweet. salad with yuzu dressingAnd we got a salad with chicken and yuzu dressing…it’s hard to ever say no to yuzu. Italian gyozaWe were really intrigued by these Italian gyoza on the menu. They were filled with regular gyoza fillings (cabbage, pork, garlic, ginger) but were topped with fresh tomato sauce and Parmesan. When we ordered them, I thought they’d have a different filling, something more…Italian? But they were really good and we want to recreate something similar at home. butter shoyu pastaAnother dish we want to perfect at home is butter shoyu pasta…this one had cremini mushrooms and chives on top…it’s umami heaven. If we ever find a good recipe, I’ll share it here. margharita pizzaAnd of course we ordered margharita pizza…Japan really does a charred crust so well.

sparkling wineNeither of us remember what cocktails we had to start…we really need to be better about writing our little food diaries down since it’s something we enjoy so much on our travels. But my second drink was this filllllled to the brim glass of sparkling wine and it was delightful. We also had tiramisu for dessert and failed to capture it, but it was the perfect end to another perfect meal in Tokyo.

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Traveler’s Factory at Narita Airport

Traveler's Factory Narita AirportI’m always so happy when we fly out of Terminal 1 at Narita Airport so I can shop one last time before we get on the plane! We didn’t get any good pictures of the Tokyo Station Traveler’s Shop, but I thought I’d share the airport pictures while we’re on a TN kick. Traveler's Notebook stickers, Traveler's Factory Airport, narita airportThey had a huge selection of baggage stickers at the airport. Traveler's Notebook stickers, Traveler's Factory Airport, narita airport, limited edition refills Traveler's Notebook stickers, Traveler's Factory Airport, narita airport, Pan Am accessoriesSeriously, how did I not buy it all? Traveler's Store Narita AirportThis is what I did end up getting…which is plenty. I love the little Narita facts postcard. And…I can’t believe I’d resisted the reading bookmarks for as long as I did!

I always say I’m going to share my Traveler’s Notebook here, but I never do because it’s kind of just a bit of a scrapbook and a journal and there are way better examples on Instagram. But maybe someday I’ll share anyway…

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Traveler’s Factory

Traveler's FactoryBecause we got to Japan on New Year’s Day, we had to wait for some smaller shops to open after the new year break. At the Traveler’s Factory, it was worth the wait. Traveler's Factory lottery lineWe ended up going on one of our last days in Japan and we were surprised to see a line out the door when we got there. This was our third visit and in previous trips, I’d been the only one in the store! They were having a special lottery for the new year! We were 111th in line, so the gentleman at the door told us we could walk around the neighborhood and come back in an hour if we wanted to…so we went to the grocery store down the block. (Visiting grocery stores is Naoto’s favorite Japanese pastime.) Kimberly and Naoto, Travelers Factory visitWe came back close to our time and had a good time chatting with our line neighbors. Everyone was in good spirits, patient, and friendly. It seemed like people came from all over for the event. Every so often, the crowd inside cleared out enough that they allowed another group inside.  shopping at Traveler's FactoryIt was very crowded inside! I’m glad I had been there before and kind of had the lay of the land enough to know what sections I wanted to spend the most time shopping. shopping at Traveler's Factory shopping at Traveler's Factory shopping at Traveler's Factory shopping at Traveler's Factory shopping at Traveler's Factory shopping at Traveler's Factory shopping at Traveler's Factory shopping at Traveler's Factory shopping at Traveler's Factory Naoto took some pictures around the store while I shopped and caught me at the stamping station, which is always one of the highlights of visiting the Traveler’s Stores. There was a special stamp for the new year, of course. I stamped it in my Japan book where I kept track of our trip. About the lottery…for every ¥1000 (about $10 USD) spent, I got a ticket to take upstairs for chances to win limited edition Traveler’s products. Each ticket was a chance at the vintage gumball machine, which was filled with little capsules that held the prize. It was seriously so much fun!Traveler's Notebook limited edition, new years lotteryHere’s what I won: three limited edition passport-size refills, a big 2020 sticker, and a little Traveler’s sticker pack. The 2020 sticker is currently adorning my 2020 refill. Traveler's notebook refills, 2020 refills And, here’s what I bought. I used the lottery as an opportunity/excuse to stock up on refills. I got three limited edition ones, and three plain ones. Traveler's Notebook accessoriesThe Traveler’s accessories are my favorite things. The letterpress cards and stickers were new this year and every Traveler’s shop has a limited edition washi tape. (One of those pictured above is from the Tokyo Station store.)

Tomorrow, I have a quick post about the Traveler’s Factory at Narita Airport. Then maybe some foodie posts? Or some current life posts! I can’t believe it’s already the middle of February!

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Bar Lariat

We celebrated Naoto’s birthday in Japan on January 5th. I found this local craft cocktail bar, Bar Lariat, in “our neighborhood” near our usual hotel and I insisted we try it. bar LariatFive years ago, we went to Mixology near Tokyo Station and we had a great time…all the time not knowing that this tiny gem of a bar was within walking distance of our hotel! There is no menu. You just let the bartender know what kind of drink you’re in the mood for and he creates something for you. I will admit that this kind of stressed me out. I didn’t want to drink something terrible…but it turns out, the bartender is a great listener and he hit it out of the ballpark all night! With our first cocktail, we were given this little amuse-bouche, cheese and a dried apricot. To start, Naoto ordered something like a Moscow Mule. And I requested something bright and gin based. The bartender muddled a ginko with gin and some other mixers and I was handed a refreshing, delicious cocktail. When Naoto told me a ginko would be part of my drink, I was scared. Have you ever smelled a ginko tree? It’s not good!  But the fruit was really delicious! Kind of sweet and orangey? For his second drink, Naoto had a vodka and kumquat. I finished the night with a yuzu cocktail. Everything about this drink, and especially the delicate chilled glass, was perfection. I felt so fancy drinking here! Naoto had a coffee liquor drink for dessert.  bar lariatWe definitely want to go back on our next visit. The bar only has ten seats and it’s dark and cozy inside. The owner, Masahiro-San, is an expert in his craft and he really creates a relaxing ambiance in his shop. Thanks to him, we ended Naoto’s birthday on a high note!

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