Yuzu No Komachi

On our first night back in Tokyo, we stopped in to see the new Wrapple store (more on that later) and Naoto surprised me with the best dinner of our trip. He found an izakaya right in Shibuya that specializes in yuzu dishes. It’s called Yuzu no Komachi, which means “beautiful girl with yuzu.” Since yuzu is my absolute favorite thing, I was over the moon excited for dinner. And, they had private dining rooms (koshitsu) which are so cozy. I love being able to eat alone with Naoto and avoid the smokiness of most izakaya in Japan. When you walk in the door, you take off your shoes and walk along tatami mats to your “room” where you dine in peace with the door closed. You push a button as you are ready to order each course. It’s so perfect for an intimate dinner for two, or even a big party of people because you set your own pace and can enjoy the conversation with out constant interruptions.  They had tons of yuzu liqueurs from all over Japan. So each time we got a round of drinks, we tried a new liqueur with soda. Everything was perfectly tart and refreshing. Some of the liqueurs were more cloudy than others, as you can see from above, and some were sweeter than others. They were all from different regions in Japan and it was such a great way to taste a variety of them. We’ve brought several yuzu liqueurs home over the years and none are ever as good as ones we’ve tried in restaurants.

We ordered a ton of small plates, each dish just as tasty as the next, starting with fresh cucumber with yuzu pepper……and tuna tartare with ponzu and yuzu pepper…and yuzu fried rice…and yuzu marinated steak…and prosciutto, tomato, and arugula salad with yuzu jam…and yuzu miso with cabbage leaves…and french fries with yuzu mayonnaise……and we ended with yuzu sorbet. This was one of my favorite meals of all time in Japan. I’m always up for a good theme, especially when my favorite citrus is the star. 

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Very Serious Crafts Podcast

serious crafts podcast live taping, harold washington libraryMollie is the first “internet friend” I ever met. I went to a little stitching meet-up for her Wild Olive blog readers back in 2011 and we’ve seen each other a few other times over the years and obviously have kept up over social media. She and two other professional crafters (Haley Pierson-Cox and Heidi Gustad) host the Very Serious Crafts Podcast. I’m an occasional listener, so when they announced a live taping at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library, I signed up to go.During the podcast, the hosts talked about vintage crafts and what books got them started in crafting. They each passed around vintage crafts and supplies, including this kooky hairy couple and weirdly sweet kitty. There was also a terrifying clown made out of fabric yo-yos (sorry Mollie!) and some vintage needle books.

At the end, we each made a coffee cup sleeve using various techniques. I embroidered for the first time in a long time and it was pretty fun, even though my stitches were uneven and imperfect. I think I need to find my embroidery supplies and start making again!

They tape the podcasts in advance so I’ll let you know when it is live in case you want to listen in! Do you have any podcasts you listen to regularly?

 

P.S. Speaking of podcasts…Naoto still hasn’t posted his…

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Snow Mail, No Mail

The weather has been insane in Chicago lately. After a very snowy weekend, we had sub-zero temperatures on Wednesday with wind chills of 45 below. It was colder here than it was in Alaska. It was so cold, the entire area was pretty much shut down. No school, no work for many people, no Metra trains, even no Trader Joe’s and no mail service since Tuesday! (Update: mail arrived Saturday night!) It was almost as cold on Thursday and it snowed some more Thursday night, but now this weekend it’s warm and rainy. Now every thing is a mess of slush and dirty snow. (Dirty snow is my least favorite part of winter.)

I took some inspiration from the weather and used some of my wintry Japanese stationery to kick off the Month of Letters. The snowflakes are an old Midori set I bought a few years ago and the polar bears are from Maruzen. And the washi tape is old mt and I was kicking myself because I have other snow washi, but I packed it away with the Christmas stuff…

I sat under a blanket right next to my space heater while I wrote the letters…a cup of hot tea and a warm kitty nearby. It was a cozy to kick off the month.

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Kitte Letter Room

Kitte is located next to Tokyo Station. I’ve talked about it before, the Tokyo Central Post Office is one of the best, carrying a huge variety of postal treats and the best selection of stamps. And many of the shops inside the shopping center carry postal themed products. This time on our visit, there was a new set-up in the Station Master’s room. It was set up as a “Letter Room.” Signs encouraged visitors to write a postcard and mail it from the post office downstairs. We stopped at Kitte on our way to catch the shinkansen to Osaka. I wrote a couple of postcards from the letter room and shopped a bit before we went on our way. The Letter Room was a nice, quiet respite from the shopping center. Naoto enjoyed the view while I wrote. This display shows ten different letters sent from Tokyo Station by ten different people from all over the world visiting the heart of Tokyo. It’s hard to see here, but the words and illustrations were so wonderful.

Speaking of letter writing…is anyone doing Letter Month this year? I’m going to attempt it again. I have a stack of love cards I pulled from my stationery drawer ready to go and I my Valentine bin is ready to go. I’m aiming for these three things this year:

  • write a letter, card, or postcard every day, and hopefully send something every day, too
  • spend out some of my Japanese stationery…my drawer is full
  • spend out some of my vintage postage stash, which means, taking the time to make 55 cent matches

Here on the blog, I have some more postal related things from Japan to share, and I’ll be posting my mail over on the Instagram.

Happy writing!

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Okinawan-Style Izakaya

Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanFor our last meal in Osaka, we ate at an Okinawan-style izakaya near our apartment. It was so warm in Japan that we were able to eat pretty much outside during a late October night. The restaurant was so tiny and our table was right inside that wooden door on the right. Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, Japan Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanThere were a few seats at the bar and two other tiny tables which were full all night. People seemed to be regulars, chatting with the woman working alone behind the bar. Every space of the restaurant was used, including the ceiling where a huge bottle of whiskey lived for easy dispensing. Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanOur table was about one and a half by one and a half feet square and we sat on tiny, low stools. It was very cozy. Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanI had a shiikwaasa (an Okinawan citrus) sour and Naoto had beer. Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanWe ate at a late lunch, so I was dining more for the snacks and moral support. We ordered a bunch of little plates, starting with edamame, and moving on to potato salad and buttered corn. The buttered corn was sooo delicious I got a second bowl for myself. I also forced myself to eat it with chopsticks, which was tedious but good practice. Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanOkinawa cooking has been influenced by American soldiers stationed there in World War II. American GIs shared their Spam with Okinawan residents after the war when meat was scarce. The offerings are right up Naoto’s alley, and he ordered Spam while I munched on french fries. And he ate locomoco, a Hawaiian-style hamburger with egg and ketchup on top. In spite of all that, on the way home, Naoto stopped and got some takoyaki (an Osaka specialty) to snack on. It was a delightful way to end our stay in Osaka.

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Mister Donut Museum

Kimberly AH at Mister Donut MuseumOne of the sillier things we did on this trip to Osaka was visit the Mister Donut Museum. It was…odd, but a lot of fun.  Mister Donut Museum, Osaka, JapanLocated on the first floor of the Duskin* office building in the suburbs of Osaka, the Mister Donut Museum is not easy to find. Naoto and I left the train station and walked and walked and walked and ended up in what reminded me of an American industrial park but there were also houses and other office buildings. When we got there, we were all, “This is it?” It reminded me of the McDonald’s Museum at Hamburger University in Oakbrook…it’s really offices with a mini-museum of the company. Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut MuseumThe museum covers Mister Donut from its American roots all the way to modern-day shops in Japan. Nothing in the museum is in English so Naoto patiently translated all of the displays for me. I love learning about the history of my favorite companies and seeing the way the menus and logos and shop designs have changed over the years. In the last two pictures above, we are standing underneath photographs of every single Mister Donut in Japan. Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut MuseumAfter you see the history of Misdo, there’s an area to make your own donut holes. (It was me and children doing this activity…I should tell you that we were the only grown-ups without children in the museum…which gave me flashbacks of the Crayola Factory!) There wasn’t a gift shop, which was the biggest disappointment for me. I was so looking forward to sending some Mister Donut postcards! They did sell Mister Donut mugs and cleaning things like sponges and dust cloths. Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut Museum The highlight of the museum is that the Mister Donut in the building has allllll the donuts. They even had some Halloween donuts that I hadn’t seen in our other shops. We tried a créme brûlée donut and just a regular honey pon de ring. Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut MuseumThe crusty sugar top of the creme brûlée donut was amazing. Mister Donut Museum, ramune ice creamJust as we were leaving, I noticed the very obvious ice cream freezer at the Mister Donut counter. We have never seen a Mister Donut with ice cream in our travels in Japan, so this was new to us. I spied ramune** ice cream and even though I was pretty full, I HAD to try it. It was so refreshing, like a creamy sorbet. The ramune flavor was perfect and there were little bits of…something fizzy in each bite. I spent the rest of our trip looking out for this ice cream, but sadly, I didn’t see any again.

I don’t know that I would recommend the Mister Donut museum to the average tourist to Japan. For me, it was worth the trip out to the suburbs to see some history of my favorite Japanese hangout. But seriously, Mister Donut/Duskin…invest in some good postcards for your gift shop.

 

*Duskin is Mister Donut’s parent company. They started out as a cleaning company and expanded their portfolio over the years. The first floor of the museum was devoted to Mister Donut. The second floor was devoted to cleaning tools.

** I talk about ramune in this blog post. I should do a blog post about the original ramune soda with the marble…

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Glico Man

Glico Man, Osaka, JapanNaoto was full of touristy ideas for Osaka. On our second day there, Hisae, Naoto’s sister, met us and spent a day with us touring around the city. Naoto wanted to visit Tsūtenkaku Tower, see the Glico Man, and eat. When a man takes you to hundreds of different stationery stores, you indulge his touristy desires.We spent the morning in Shin-Sekai, an old neighborhood full of shops and old restaurants and pubs. We ate at a restaurant that specializes in fried kababs.  After lunch, we walked to the tower and waited in line for the observation deck. Tsūtenkaku is known as the Eiffel Tower of Osaka and has been around since 1912, though it was rebuilt in 1956 because they tore it apart after a fire in 1943 and used the remaining steel for the war efforts. It’s “only” 103 meters tall, much shorter than Skytree which is the tallest tower in the world, but it was still fun to look out on Osaka.  Plus, there were all sorts of weird things to do in the tower, such as take pictures with Pretz and Pocky. Dōtonbori, Asahi DryAfter the tower, we headed to Dōtonbori to see the Glico Man. Dōtonbori is a famous shopping and dining area in Osaka filled with giant neon (and modern LCD) advertisements. Naoto had been there as a kid so he wanted to go back to see the Glico Man. (Glico makes Pocky and Pretz and other famous Japanese snacks.) I’m glad we went, but man was the area crazy! I was glad to leave and head to our quieter Airbnb neighborhood for dinner. Here’s a peek at the Dōtonbori neighborhood in action. I took the film for Instagram Stories, so sorry it’s vertical.

 

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Nara

During our stay in Osaka, we took a day to explore Nara. Nara Park is famous for having hundreds of tame(-ish) deer roaming around. Naoto was really excited to take me there.  Nara was a train and a bus ride away from Osaka…I love that Japan embraces characters to advertise its travel industry.  Much like the squirrel park, feeding the deer sounds a lot more fun than it really is. Naoto thrust a stack of crackers into my hand and all of a sudden, several really excited deer were ON me. Man, they really can smell those crackers! It was really intimidating and I just wanted someone else to hold the crackers so I could look around undisturbed.  Naoto, of course, thought I was being ridiculous so he got his own crackers to try to feed the deer. It was all fun and games until one of them bit him on the butt! They were much more sweet and calm when they realized I didn’t have anymore crackers. (But in 2016, 121 people were injured by the deer…they probably deserved it to be honest…we saw a lot of people taunting the animals, which made me sad for the poor deer.) Naoto bought a stone roasted sweet potato from a guy in Nara Park. It was just a simple sweet potato, but it was so hot and delicious. After we fed the deer, we walked on to Todai-ji Temple. Then we got tired of the crowds and decided to find a quieter area.  We ended up in a little independent shopping district that had so many cute shops selling handmade things made in Nara. We had a sake tasting and bought a few souvenirs and omiyage. I bought some pretty letterpressed postcards with deer on them, some organic cotton socks, and some Nara-made biscotti and fig jam. Luckily for us, it wasn’t very crowded, but the shops had so many great things compared to the touristy areas, I hope people realize that there’s other great indie shopping in Nara, outside of the deer park. It was really the perfect weather for Nara. We both wore sweaters and had to take them off because it felt like summer in the sun. I’m glad we made the excursion.

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Misdo’s Halloween Donuts

As with every other trip to Japan, this trip included many trips to Mister Donut. We didn’t go every day, but most days. For some reason, “our” Misdo in Sangenjaya didn’t have the Halloween donuts out when we got to Tokyo on October 23rd. I had researched Mister Donut’s seasonal donuts before we left (#priorities,) so I was very much looking forward to them. Thankfully, there was no donut crisis because we found the Halloween specialties when we visited Osaka.There were these cute mummy donut sticks that tasted like black tea with white chocolate on top. This one was definitely cuter than it was tasty…it was a little dry and white chocolate isn’t my favorite. We didn’t try this pink mummy one, but it was filled with apple whipped cream.And we didn’t try the Pon de Mummy, a white chocolate dipped classic pon de ring. This one was my favorite. It was a chocolate donut with chestnut whipped cream inside. Cute and delicious. Naoto refused to partake in the Halloween donuts, so he got a hot dog donut and a black sugar pon de ring…It was sort of a weird Mister Donut because it was a small satellite shop, so the donuts weren’t made in house like most Mister Donuts. It was a fifteen minute walk from our Airbnb so we only went once during our stay. But, I’m glad I got to eat these guys.

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Stationery Tour on the Chuo Line

I randomly started following a few Japanese paper shops on Instagram last year. When we were planning this trip, I told Naoto I wanted to visit some new places, and it just so happened that three of my top choices are situated along the Chuo line, out to the Tokyo suburbs. Our first stop was Hachimakura, a vintage paper shop.  Hachimakura is tiny and smells of old wood and paper. It is packed in every nook and cranny with vintage papers from all over the world. I spent so much time in there sifting through tiny envelopes and packages of labels, stamps, magazine pages, and patterned papers. It was a dark and moody shop, but oh so perfect for the wares. I ended up buying some new screenprinted patterned papers, some old deadstock Taiwanese labels, and some vintage Japanese beauty labels. Next up was Tonarino, a tiny stationery store located a little further along the Chuo line. They carry a lot of standard Japanese stationery brands, but also a lot of independent designers and they have so many cards and stationery that are designed in-house.Tonarino was so white and bright inside, making their colorful array of products pop off the shelves. It was such a cheerful little shop. I ended up buying some Halloween cards (which I sent from Japan) and a house-designed postcard and stationery set. The last place we went was Yamada Stationery. Yamada is in the suburb of Tokyo, Mitaka. Sadly, it was dark by then, so I don’t have any pictures of the outside or inside. I loved this shop, and probably would have bought so much more if we had visited later in our trip. They sell everything from basic Japanese office supplies, to craft supplies, and unique lines of washi tape and stationery. I ended up with a library themed purchase: library cards and pockets and stickers, library card washi tape, and a tube of lotion that looks like old school glue.

Each shop on their own had a lot to offer, but I’m glad we spent some time mapping out the visit so that we didn’t spend an hour on the train hitting up one shop…I always love a stationery adventure.

 

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