Tag Archives: I *heart* Japan

Tanabata Time Again

tanabata, cats watching fireworks, japanese postcardsIt’s Tanabata time again! Naoto and I are throwing another mini Tanabata party, complete with Japanese picnic foods and sushi. And I’m making spumonis for the first time all summer. The weather is perfect today for another summer celebration! Hopefully I’ll have some pictures to share next week. Have a good weekend!

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12th Anniversary Gifts

japanese paper gift wrap Every year, Naoto and I exchange gifts based on our anniversary year. (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before…) We use this list as our guide, just to keep it consistent. Some years, we are spot on, and other years we leave things open to interpretation. I follow the modern gift guide for Naoto and he follows the traditional for me. The modern gifts for the twelfth anniversary are silk or linen. So I bought Naoto a linen shirt and a chef’s hat. I wrapped his gift in some paper from a shop in Kyoto. (It’s their shop paper that they wrapped our purchases in. It’s been in my paper hoard since…2015?) There was a Kyoto link in our gift-giving this year, as you will see. I think this proves that we are both itching to go back to Japan again. chef's hat, naoto's 12th anniversary giftSadly, the chef’s hat was too small…even for me! But the shirt fit nicely and there’s a new, larger hat on its way. vintage brooch, blue stones, fireworks brooch My gift was supposed to be pearls, but Naoto found this vintage “fireworks” brooch and I love it. Pearls are lovely, but really, I have some pearl earrings (from our wedding) and a necklace (from Naoto’s Hawaiian host mom) and I think that’s plenty of the most fragile “gems” on earth, so this was a good substitution. kyoto gin, ki-no-ri distilleryAnd he gave me gin from a distillery in Kyoto! We’re finally opening it tonight so I’ll have a full report soon. Stay tuned.

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Chalk-Full of School Supplies

Chalk pencils, Chalkboard tape, Japanese office supplies, Hester & CookI think my husband’s punning is rubbing off on me…

I have a little chalk theme going on today. I am old enough to remember chalkboards. Our school transitioned to white boards during my high school years. Mrs. Petersen kept her blackboard though. I always appreciated that about her. I always found the marker to be so slippery on the white board. It didn’t have the same feeling as writing with chalk. And the sound! Normally, chalk sounds so pleasing scraping across the board. But then there’s always that one moment when the chalk makes that horrid high-pitched squeak that catches everyone in the room off-guard. I wonder if that sound is why white boards were invented. I ordered this Hester & Cook “Midtown” white pencil because I’m always looking for a new way to write on dark papers, especially this time of year as I gear up for Halloween mail. I was pretty skeptical about it because colored pencils usually don’t show up well on dark papers (in my experience.) But the pencil was really good! I thought it looked very chalk-like and it writes sort of like a cross between a crayon and a colored pencil. It was a little waxy, but it wrote smoothly, and like I said, covered the dark green paper well. (I smeared it a little bit…) Hester and Cook chalk pencilI plan to use the pencil to decorate the table and black place cards for our next Phantom Flight Night. Though I really like the classic green chalkboard look, too. Nihon Rikagaku chalkboard tape and chalk set, bunbougu cafe, chalkboard tape, Japanese office suppliesI picked up this Nihon Rikagaku black chalkboard tape set at bunbougu cafe last year. (The green tape in the top picture is also Nihon Rikagaku. I found that at the Paper Source Warehouse Sale, though it is not carried at Paper Source.) Nihon Rikagaku is another old Japanese company. They’ve been making chalk since 1937 and since 1960 they’ve hired adults with cognitive disabilities to work in their factories. (I didn’t know this at the time of my purchase, but it makes me want to look for more Nihon Rikagaku products on our next trip. You can find their basic chalk on Amazon!) Nihon Rikagaku chalkboard tape and chalk set, bunbougu cafe, chalkboard tape, Japanese office suppliesThe tape is made from Japanese washi paper and it’s coated so chalk can be erased easily. I’ve only used this on gifts (like it shows on the tiny package label) so far, but I think it would be a fun way to label things in our pantry.

 

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Washi Weekend: Back to School Edition

washi weekend, MT tapes, sparrow notebook, school suppliesI’ve been in 100% neon mode for my mail and my planner this summer. I’ve been using all of my neon washi tapes, pens, pencils, stickers and papers. It’s been fun, but I’m ready for a change, a change to school supplies. Even though I’m not going back to school, I ordered myself a few pencils from CW Pencil Enterprises last week. Those new pencils got me in the mood to refresh my desk space and break out some back-to-school treats from my washi and Japan stationery hoard. I have a “Japan drawer” in my desk that holds a bunch of washi tapes and backup pens. Since we most likely aren’t going to Japan this year, I’ve been dipping into my stash more and more. It’s like having my own little store to visit. washi weekend, MT tapes, sparrow notebook, school suppliesI bought a few limited edition washi tapes during our last trip that fit the back-to-school bill perfectly. The top two are collaborations between mt and two iconic Japanese brands, and the bottom one was a special tape created by bunbougu cafesparrow notebooks, sparrow washi tape, japanese office suppliesThe first tape (similar) comes from the Tsubame Notebooks in Japan. These notebooks are iconic in Japanese schools, kind of like composition notebooks here in the U.S. Except, as usual, Japan Does It Better! The paper is high-quality and works really well with pencils and a variety of pens. (This JetPens video shows it all nicely!) Tsubame Notebooks have been hand-bound since the 1947 and have remained unchanged since then. I just love the graphic sparrow logo. And here’s a little secret: I bought the notebook after I bought the tape. Fueki glue, Japanese glue, washi weekend, MT tapes, school suppliesFueki glue is another popular Japanese school supply. Fueki-kun, the little yellow mascot, is a pot of glue. It’s made from 100% corn starch and is safe for young children. Fueki has been around since 1925 and offers a large line of products, including (grown up) glue sticks, India inks, paper supplies, and even cosmetics. I’m a bit older than the Fueki-kun market, but I thought the little pot was so cute and it was only sixty cents so I bought a few. The little dog makes such a cute tape, don’t you think?

bunbougu cafe, tokyo office supplies, tokyo stationery, washi tape, pencil sharpenerAnd lastly, a little bit about the bunbougu cafe tape. It has drawings of pencil sharpeners, pencils, and pencil marks. Next to the pencil sharpeners, it says, “gari gari” which is the onomatopoeia for “grate grate.” (Things sound different in Japanese–all of their animal noises are different too!)

presley with Fueki nori on her head, things on my catI’m looking forward to some back-to-school mail this week!

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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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