Tag Archives: I *heart* Japan

Tuna & Watercress with Wasabi Ponzu Dressing 

tuna and watercress with wasabi ponzu dressingAs promised, I’m going to share some of the food we made for the hanami party. The first is this spicy salad that we found on Cookpad. (Thanks to Jess for all of the hanami tips!) It is so fresh and delicious and I even think it would be tasty without the fresh fish. The wasabi-ponzu dressing is the highlight.

Tuna & Watercress with Wasabi Ponzu Dressing

Salad:

1 bunch of watercress

3-4 radishes, sliced paper-thin, cut into half-moons (A mandolin is handy here.)

1/4 red onion, sliced paper thin (The mandolin is already out. Use it again.)

6oz fresh sushi grade tuna or salmon, sliced into bite sized pieces (You can also use smoked salmon, but fresh is best!)

Dressing:

1 tablespoon ponzu sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons wasabi paste

Whisk the ponzu, oil, and wasabi together until smooth. Toss the vegetables, fish, and dressing together. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, if needed. Serve immediately. Feel the burn.

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Machida Squirrel Garden

Machida Risu Park, squirrel parkBefore we left for Japan, I read about this squirrel park outside of Tokyo. It was a park and a petting zoo all wrapped in one and Naoto was confident that we could get there easily, though he wondered what the appeal was. “Squirrels are rodents. Who would want to pet one?” I insisted it would be a fun adventure. I wanted to feed a squirrel and have one hop on my shoulder. Machida Risu Park, Machida Squirrel GardenThe first part of the park was similar to an American petting zoo. Guinea pigs, rabbits, turtles, and squirrels were in cages and you could feed them and pet them. It was very laid back and lots of parents and children were roaming about. Machida Risu Park, Machida Squirrel GardenI fed some rabbits who were quite greedy, stealing lettuce from each other and almost eating my finger along with the carrot stubs! And I petted the hedgehogs and marveled at the slow moving turtles.Machida Risu Park, Machida Squirrel Garden, squirrel entrance When we walked through the gate through to the squirrel part, I was instantly bombarded with squirrels. If you stand still, they will run up your leg hoping you will have food! begging squirrel, Machida Risu Park, Machida Squirrel GardenI was uneasily walking around when this guy ran up to me and stopped and begged…shudder. Before I had a chance to tell him that I was a coward, Naoto ditched me and bought some food so I could feed the squirrels. I enjoyed watching him get up close and personal with those crazy beasts, but I was too chicken to be a squirrel feeder!  The rest of the park is an enclosed area where the squirrels can roam freely. We walked through and saw squirrels sunning themselves and napping. It also felt a bit like the Pied Piper of Hamelin because groups of squirrels would follow us around, hoping to be fed!  There was also an old tortoise in the squirrel area. He was more my speed. Machida Risu Park, Machida Squirrel GardenEven though I was a big scaredy cat, I’m so glad we went! It was a perfect spring day and a good excuse to be outside.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the workers at the park are adults with special needs. They earn money by selling and taking tickets, handing out the food, working in the gift shop, and they benefit from the profits of the park. I think it’s an additional bonus to the park, and the customer service is top notch, following the strong Japanese custom of hospitality.

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Itoya & Cafe Stylo

Itoya big red paperclip signOn our first full day in Japan, we went to Itoya, one of my favorite shops in the ritzy Ginza district of Tokyo. (I’ve blogged about Itoya a little bit before, here and here.) Itoya has been building a new store since 2011 or 2012, so for the past few years, we’ve been visiting the temporary location. On this trip, I was most looking forward to seeing their shiny new store. Itoya buildingThe new twelve floor building is very sleek and it sits between Tiffany’s and Bvlgari (just to give you an idea of what kind of neighborhood we are talking about.) The lower floors are all devoted to retail space selling stationery, pens, paper, craft supplies, and high-end travel and home goods. On the seventh floor, there is a “paper bar” filled with hundreds of papers that you can use for personalized stationery, business cards, or wedding invitations. (I didn’t take any pictures inside the store, but you can see part of the wall of paper at the bottom of this page.) What I’ve always loved about Itoya is that you can find very expensive things there, you can also find plenty of special gifts at reasonable prices. And they’ve always had a huge selection, especially of the things I love: origami paper, stamps, stationery, pens…I used to spend hours in the store narrowing down my choices. Itoya spring windows, flower pensThe new Itoya, though, is much more pared down. They still sell amazing things, but they just don’t carry the same wide-ranging selection that they used to. Truthfully, I hardly bought anything during my visit. And we didn’t stay all day like I thought we would. It was kind of a bummer at first, but honestly, I had more money to spend at the other stationery shops all over Tokyo. (There was no shortage of things to buy!) It was just an unexpected change. Cafe Stylo lettuce, ItoyaBut, one really cool thing about New Itoya is that they have a full-service restaurant, Cafe Stylo, on the top floor. (The old cafe had a very limited snack menu.) And in Cafe Stylo, they serve Itoya-grown lettuce grown in a hydroponic farm on the twelfth floor! We visited the farm and got a peek at the lettuces growing at various stages. Cafe Stylo smoked salmon, ItoyaCafe Stylo chef salad, ItoyaNaoto had the Smoked Salmon Sandwich, which he loved. Because I wanted to try the Itoya lettuces, I ordered the “Cobber Salad” (Cobb salad). It was crisp and fresh and delicious! And we both enjoyed Campari cocktails with our lunch.Cafe Stylo floor sign I highly recommend checking out the restaurant if you go! It’s the perfect spot to write postcards and enjoy your new stationery!

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Japan Does It Better 24: Gari Gari Kun

garigarikun kiwi I do love a good Bomb Pop in the summer. Three distinct tasty flavors, the creamy consistency (only the Original Bomb Pop. Accept no imposters!)…a perfect summer treat. But, my love for the Bomb Pop has been eclipsed since I was introduced to Japan’s favorite popscicle, the GariGarikun. Naoto brought a box of original ramune flavor GariGarikun pops home from Mitsuwa last summer and I fell in love. garigarikun insideOn the outside, they look like regular ice pops, but once you bite into one, you see that the “regular” ice pop part is just a shell holding tiny slushie-like ice crystals on the inside. They are so tasty and so fun to eat! garigarikun insideOn our first night in Japan, we got to our hotel after 10PM and I was exhausted. But Naoto went downstairs to Lawson’s conbini (convenience store) and got himself a beer and brought me a Sicilian Lemon GariGarikun. I had no idea there were special and limited flavors of the treat so I was super-excited to try it. Sooooo tart and lemony!! I slept well after that midnight snack and the next day, I started my mission to pop into every conbini to check their supply of GariGarikun to see what other flavors I could try. (Doesn’t traveling with me sound like fun?!) garigarikun lycheeSo I tried lychee…garigarikun aceola …and acerola, which is like a cherry, but somehow more delicious. IMG_0833I tried Shiroi Sour, which is like Calpico, a Japanese soft drink.

And, pictured at the top, I also tried kiwi. I can’t tell you which one was the best because I loved each and every one at the moment I was eating it. They were all really refreshing, not too sweet, and packed with flavor.

Recently the makers of GariGarikun increased the price from ¥60 to ¥70 (~ $0.54 to $0.63). It’s the first price increase for the frozen treat in twenty-five years and also the second reason the GariGarikun is a JDIB. Where in the US can you find a summer treat at a convenience store for sixty-three cents??!! But even better, the company made a commercial apologizing for the unfortunate price increase. Can you imagine? (If you want to read more about this, go here.) You can (hopefully) watch the commercial below to see the sincerity in the apology. Oh Japan…you’re the best.

And GariGarikun, a summer treat where Japan Does It Better!

 

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Kyoto Part 3: Our Anniversary Lunch

IMG_3181Would it be weird to start blogging about my 2015 trip again? Maybe? I’m going to write anyway. I’ve been going through my pictures and reminiscing about all of the fun we had last spring and I realized that I’ve never really closed the book on that trip. I have a few last things to mention about Kyoto and some new editions of Spending the Yen.

We were in Kyoto for our anniversary last year and Hisae (my sister-in-law) took us out to lunch at Yuzu-ya, a restaurant and ryokan near the Yasaka Shrine. At street level, it looks like a black storefront (pictured above) but once you go through the doorway, you see that you walk up a rocky stairway to get up to the restaurant. IMG_3174IMG_3173Once you’re there, you forget that there’s a busy street below. It’s surrounded by lush greenery and trees and feels so removed and peaceful. ambiance, Yuzuya Ryokan, Kyoto, JapanThere is traditional seating near the windows where you can appreciate the trees and fountains outside. We sat at a regular table, but we still had amazing views. IMG_3158The meal was very traditional, using locally-sourced ingredients and lots of yuzu, hence the name Yuzu-ya. (Yuzu is a Japanese citrus, in case you don’t remember me talking about it before.)  Our first course was an appetizer of traditional Kyoto-fare. As you can see, it was presented beautifully on a tray of tiny plates adorned with leaves. Each bite was so different in taste and texture but it all worked together perfectly. IMG_3161Next, we had smelt grilled alongside bamboo leaves on a tiny table-top grill. IMG_3162(It was looking at me.) On the side was a yuzu sauce. I picked off as much meat as I could, but Naoto finished it off for me. (He ate every last bit, including the eye and the bones!)Then we had porridge with rice and fish and egg and chives, again cooked table-side and finished with a squeeze of yuzu. IMG_3167It was incredible. dessert, mochi, Yuzuya Ryokan, Kyoto, JapanThe dessert course was green tea and a brown sugar mochi. A simple but delicious way to end the meal.

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Kyoto Part 3: Golden Pavilion + Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

IMG_3372 Our last day in Kyoto was a perfect weather day–clear blue skies, gentle breeze, perfect temperatures… We had spent the previous day hitting all of the shops in the city, so we decided that our last day should be spent enjoying nature. A trip to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavillion and Sagano Bamboo Grove was the perfect way to pass the day. This area of Kyoto was a bit farther away from most of the other things we did in Kyoto, almost an hour on bus and train. IMG_3384 The Golden Pavilion is a Zen Buddhist Temple founded in 1397, though the structure was rebuilt in 1955 after the original was burned down by an arsonist in 1950. The top two floors are adorned with gold leaf and my pictures do not do justice to the building’s golden brilliance, especially in the sun. It is one of the most popular things to see in Kyoto and trust me…it was selfie stick mayhem when we visited. As you walk to the viewing area (you can’t go inside the pavilion and can only see it from across the water), the area is pretty calm, but the viewing area is a crazy frenzy of picture taking and shoving and chatter in every language imaginable. You have to be super-patient and a little aggressive to get a good shot. IMG_3391Naoto and I were feeling very zen and didn’t want to fight the crowds so we decided to take a selfie on one of the paths leading away from the pavilion. This was the best picture we could take without a selfie stick…you can barely see the pavilion beyond Naoto’s shoulder. IMG_3388 IMG_3393We spent a little bit of time in the area surrounding the pavilion, enjoying the tiny waterfalls and the extremely blue skies.  IMG_3394Before we moved on to the bamboo forest, we enjoyed some green tea soft serve (Naoto got golden sprinkles on his) to cool off and get ready for another walk. train to Arashiyama Bamboo ForestTo get to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, you have to take a charming, old-fashioned train. Once you get off, there are tons of little souvenir and snack shops in the station area before you venture out to the forest. It’s very bustling and touristy, but retains some of the charm of old Japan. Arashima Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, JapanArashima Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, JapanThe bamboo forest was heavenly. The first time I went in December of 2008, I don’t remember it feeling so relaxing. But the tall bamboo blocked out the sun and provided a little respite in the warm afternoon. Arashima Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, JapanIt was neat to see the new bamboo poking through the ground. IMG_3413

And because there was a gentle breeze, we were lulled into relaxation by the sounds of the bamboo swaying in the wind. The video above will give you a little taste of the sounds (until the railroad crossing gates interrupt our zen moment at the end!)  IMG_3428 IMG_3443After the bamboo forest, we walked around the little shops and ended up going to Tenryuji Temple to walk around the surrounding gardens. There was a small zen garden, but we mostly enjoyed the stroll up the hill through all of the flowers and the views of the treetops.

It really was the perfect way to end our trip to Kyoto. After this we hopped back on a shinkansen and went back to Tokyo. But I’m not finished blogging about Kyoto! I still need to share a couple of great shops and restaurants we visited! Soon! The weather has been so nice around here lately that it’s hard to be inside blogging when I could be outside enjoying the last days of summer!

 

 

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Naoberly’s Noodle Tour: Owariya

Owariya Noodle Restaurant, Kyoto We stumbled upon Owariya while we were craft shopping in Kyoto. It was such a lucky find! Owariya has been around since 1465 when it opened as a confectionary shop in Kyoto. There are a few shops around town, but we went to the honten, the original shop. Downstairs, there’s a counter where they still sell their sweets and upstairs there are several simple dining rooms. Owariya tempuraWe started our meal with a beautiful tempura appetizer. Owariya noodlesI ordered the Seiro Regular, a simple cold buckwheat noodle dish. It came with a tray of noodles, broth, thinly sliced leeks, and wasabi. owariya noodles, 2I mixed the broth, scallions, and wasabi in the bowl and then dipped the noodles. It was simple and perfectly refreshing on a warm day. So delicious!  deluxe noodle dish, Owariya NoodleOwariya Noodles, delux dishNaoto ordered the Hourai Soba, a deluxe cold noodle dish. There was a stacking container of five levels of noodles, broth, and a tray of toppings: tempura shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, omelet, seaweed, sesame seeds, wasabi, daikon, and leeks. As he ate each tray of noodles, he added whichever toppings he wanted, so each level was like eating a slightly different dish. (The top picture shows our server explaining about each ingredient.) It was really fun to watch but it seemed like so much food, especially for Japan! And his meal came with a pot of tea made with the water they used to cook the buckwheat noodles–nothing goes to waste in the restaurant! buckwheat desserts, Japanese confectionary, Owariya sweetsAt the end of our meal, they brought out a tray of desserts. All of the desserts in Owariya are made with buckwheat flour. I wasn’t expecting to like them as much as I did. buckwheat cake, Japanese confectionary, Owariya sweetsThe first thing we tried was the soba rice cake. It was light and had a lightly sweet flavor. Inside was red bean paste. buckwheat snack, Japanese confectionary, Owariya sweetsThen we had Soba-Ita. They were about the size of a stick of gum with a nice, crunchy texture and a great toasty flavor. I liked these so much that we bought two boxes to bring home!

I know I say this about all of my meals in Japan, but this really was one of the best. I guess when you eat at a restaurant that’s been perfecting their soba for 550 years, you know it’s going to be good!

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Kyoto Part 2: Nijō Castle + Staying at the Sakura Inn

Nijo Castle, Kyoto JapanNijō Castle is the last site we saw on our first day in Kyoto. By the time we got there, my feet were killing me and I was tired and hungry, but when you only have three days in Kyoto, you power through. I remembered Nijō from my first trip to Japan, but I wanted to see it again. They don’t allow photographs of the inside of the castle, which is a shame because there are amazing murals and details in there. detail of Nijo castle When you go inside the castle, you are asked to take off your shoes. The first time I went it was winter and we were given little slippers to wear. This time, I was barefoot, which made walking on the old, wooden floors a little unnerving. (Splinters!) But the floors are the most interesting part of Nijō Castle. Known as “nightengale floors”, the floor boards chirp when you walk on them. You can hear a little sample of how they sound on this Wikipedia page. The nightengale floors were an old form of a security system because the noise alerted the shogun if someone was sneaking into the castle. It really noisy in the castle with all of the tourists walking around.
Nijo Castle EntranceLike most castles and shrines in Japan, the Nijō Castle is surrounded by amazing gardens. They have a chart on their website that notes the flowering trees you can view during the year. I’m really sure that there’s not a time in Japan when things aren’t beautiful. Sakura Inn Happy Hour, Kimberly and HisaeWhile we were in Kyoto we stayed at the Sakura Terrace. It was super close to Kyoto Station (maybe a ten minute walk) so we were able to catch a train or a bus quite easily. There is also a Mister Donut in Kyoto Station, so we were able to continue our Misdo mornings while we were away from Tokyo! The rooms at Sakura Terrace were simple and lovely, but the best part was the free (one drink) happy hour every night after 6pm. IMG_0479 IMG_3341Sakura Inn Happy HourWe enjoyed sitting on the terrace, chatting, writing postcards, and toasting to a great vacation among the hydragea every night during our stay. It was a perfect way to recover from walking all around the city all day and to gear up for dinner. Naoto enjoyed a daily dip in the Japanese baths, which is probably why he booked this hotel in the first place.

A few more Japan posts to go…are you still hanging in there?

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Inoda Coffee

Inoda Coffee and DessertInoda Coffee is another classic coffee shop in Japan. My sister-in-law, Hisae, took us there and then Naoto and I stopped in later for a quick cup of coffee and a snack after a long day of craft shopping. Inoda Coffee InteriorInoda has been around since the 1940s and when you visit, it feels like not much has changed since then. The shops feel very old-school and luxurious with comfy leather chairs, classic china, and impeccable service. The servers have omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) perfected with their polite, efficient service. There are no frappes, macchiatos, or mochas here. Though they do offer a latte and “coffee with ice cream”, most of the menu is devoted to different varieties of plain ol’ (but very delicious and strong!) coffee. Inoda Coffee, Kyoto, 3 cupsApparently, they will prepare your coffee with the perfect amount of cream and sugar. Back in the day the owner noticed that customers were lingering over their coffees, thinking or chatting with friends, and letting their coffee get cold before they had a chance to add the cream and sugar. Then the cream and sugar wouldn’t blend properly, making the coffee less enjoyable. So he decided that the staff should add the cream and sugar so the coffee could be enjoyed immediately without interrupting the customers’ thoughts and conversation. Inoda Coffee SignThere are several branches of Inoda all over Kyoto and we visited two of them, but not the “honten” (main branch). Next time!

If you want to learn more about Kyoto’s coffee culture, this episode of Core Kyoto is really good! They talk about Inoda and a few other local favorites. And while you’re on the NHK World website, this episode of Great Gear is super hokey, but it’s about the International Washoku (Japanese Cuisine) Show and some of the new food technology is really fun! (Both episodes are only available until September 2.)

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Kyoto, Part 1: Yasaka Shrine + Kiyomizu Temple

Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Yes, I am still posting about our three month old trip to Japan…

In between the Ramen Museum and the baseball game, Naoto and I took a bullet train to Kyoto. We’ve both traveled to Kyoto before–me for work in 2008 and him for a vacation in 1988–so we had done a lot of the touristy must-sees before. But we decided to do them all again, because, well, you can’t go to Kyoto and just eat and shop at the craft stores. (More on those later.) Naoto at shrineI really love Kyoto. It’s older, smaller, and much quieter than Tokyo. It felt like a nice break from the crushes of people and cars and trains in Tokyo. But, it was also a little bit weird. I felt like I was in a town of fellow tourists. I know that there are millions of tourists in Tokyo, but they must be drowned out by the sheer number of Japanese people living there. Or we don’t do enough touristy things in Tokyo? Naoto walking up to Kiyomizu TempleOn our first day, we knocked out some major tourist attractions. We went to Gion, the “Geisha District” of Kyoto and saw the Yasaka Shrine. (See the top two pictures…not a lot to say because “you’ve seen one shrine, you’ve seen them all”.) The we started the long, uphill stroll to the Kiyomizu Temple, which offers amazing views of Kyoto. cucumbers on a stick, Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto Kiyomizu Temple, KyotoKiyomizu Temple viewOn the way up to the temple there are hundreds of little shops offering souvenirs and snacks (including cucumbers-on-a-stick!) and waving school children to keep you entertained. Oh, and tourists dressed in full kimono-wear are a common sighting all over Kyoto. For about $35 you can rent a kimono and have your hair and make-up done. (You couldn’t pay me $35 to walk around in a hot kimono and wooden flip flops.) views from Kiyomizu Temple views from Kiyomizu Temple kimberly and naoto, views from Kiyomizu TempleSelfie sticks were everywhere in Kyoto and several times we wished we had one. So many cut-off heads in our Kyoto pictures! Otowa waterfall at Kiyomizu TempleAt the end of the walk down from the Temple there is the Otowa waterfall. According to legend, if you make a wish and sip the water, your wish will come true. I did this when I visited in 2008 and my wish did come true. I sort of regret not waiting in line to make a new wish with Naoto. naoto eating kakigori, Kyoto, Kiyomizu Temple kimberly eating kakigori, Kyoto, Kiyomizu TempleOn the way back, we stopped at a little stand and shared a melon kakigori (shave ice–a must-eat when you are in Japan in the summer!). It was so refreshing on such a hot day! special Kyoto postmark at Kiyomizu TempleAs we were leaving the Temple, we happened upon a mobile post office!! (Now you know why I was so excited for the possibilities of a mobile post office here at home!) They were selling stamps and summer edition postcards and offering a special Kiyomizu Temple postmark! special Kyoto postmark at Kiyomizu TempleI had to write the postcards right then and there in order to get the fancy postmark, so I could only write a few since we were hot, tired, and hungry. But what wonderful serendipity to happen upon the Japan Post!

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