Tag Archives: I *heart* Japan

Hasegawa Tanabata 2019

Hasegawa Tanabata was a low-key affair this year. We didn’t invite any guests and I didn’t decorate (gasp!) but it was such an amazing summer night for enjoying a light meal on the lanai. And of course Naoto is my favorite “guest” anyway! We had a busy day at the community garden so it all kind of fell together at the last minute, thanks to some Tensuke Market sushi and some easy Japanese recipes. I thought Naoto was going to get a sushi tray, but he really held back at the sushi counter, only bringing home two rolls and six pieces of sushi. (For the record, this is barely enough sushi for HIM!) Thankfully we had other things on the menu…Japanese potato salad and ham & egg salad sandwiches. We were going to make somen, but we ended up feeling full with what we had and some Japanese snacks.I made yuzu cocktails and they were so good, I think we need to share the recipe. We bought this yuzu liqueur at Mitsuwa a few weeks ago and we really like it! It’s good on its own and with soda water and it worked really nicely in the yuzu cocktail, too. The rest of the night, we shared some sparkling wine.It was so unseasonably chilly, we both ended up in jackets but no regrets at all…it was perfect…maybe not blog post perfect, but perfect for us. 🙂

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Washi Weekend: Handsome Man Bartender

We were shopping in the fancy department store, Takashimaya, when I found this hilarious “Handsome Bartender” washi tape. Naoto made me buy it because “it’s so you!” and it made me laugh. There are several other Handsome Man tapes: a teacher, a high school student, a host, a doctor, and a freelancer. (You can see the others below the Handsome Bartender link.) Really, there’s a handsome man for everyone. Right now I’m using him on my cocktail notebook (a gift from April who purchased it at an old school stationery store in Massachusetts.) I also put him in my planner for July because he just fits. I think I need to find a way to use him on some mail this month. I can’t keep him all to myself!

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Japan Does It Better 25: Karaoke

In college, we took over a local bar every Tuesday night and sang bad karaoke songs and had a great time. Of course, I was young, drinking, and among friends, so it didn’t matter that I can’t carry a tune. I didn’t really care what the rest of the bar thought of me because I was a college kid out to have a good time. That’s the last time I enjoyed karaoke until I started going on our visits to Japan. Karaoke in Japan doesn’t happen in a dive bar among strangers; it happens in a tiny booth reserved for just you and your friends. Right upstairs from the train station by our hotel is a Big Echo, a karaoke chain in Japan. A couple years ago, we went karaokeing for the first time, just the two of us, which is kind of hilarious but also totally perfect.  Inside the Big Echo, you check in at the desk and tell them how many people are in your party and how long you’d like to sing. Then, they assign you a room based on your size. We’ve only ever gone with just the two of us, but even the smallest room is big enough for a cozy small crowd. Inside the booth, there’s a big screen, a couch, a table, microphones, menus, a device to run the karaoke, and a device for ordering food and drinks. The picture above it pretty much the room from the doorway…pretty small (as is everything in Japan) but big enough to sit and sing for awhile. Here’s Naoto, demonstrating the extensive sour menu. There’s also beer (obviously…it’s Japan) and non-alcoholic options. The food is mostly fried bar stuff, but there are healthier options too. We usually just go for late-night drinking snacks. Naoto loves singing old Japanese pop songs, so while I’m eating and drinking my sour, he warms up with a few of those. I have no idea what he’s singing about but the screen always has a fun little scene that may or may not go with the lyrics. It’s fun to see him getting all serious and nostalgic about the old music.  Once he warms up with Japanese songs, we perform duets of Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and Elvis. So, it’s pretty much like singing in our car on a road trip, except with a better sound system. There is a pretty extensive list of American pop music from all eras, so there’s never a shortage of songs. Once the time is almost up, the front desk calls to see if you want to add minutes. We usually add minutes because an hour goes so fast! I think by the time it’s all said and done, we usually end of paying ¥7000 ($65ish) for our food and experience. Not too bad for a late-night date.

As someone who doesn’t have great singing abilities, I love the private room so I can have fun with Naoto (or a bigger group of friends…someday we’d like to go with his sisters or our friends) without feeling self-conscious about picking a weird song or singing badly in front of strangers. So, to me, karaoke rooms are another example where Japan Does It Better! See how fun it is…

P.S. I haven’t done a JDIB post in so long! If you’d like to see more, go here.

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Spending the Yen: Days of the Week Tea

I found this Lipton day of the week tea at the Japanese grocery store last fall and I’ve been enjoying it all last week. It’s kind of fun to try a new flavor every day. (Or is it just a long winter and I’m looking for some excitement in my afternoon beverage?)I liked the sakura the best, with the créme brûlée a close second. The flavors are very subtle.

We are totally a coffee household and we’ve finally broken our daily Dunkin Donuts habit and have been making our coffee at home for about a year now. When Naoto is home, he also makes us each a cup of tea in the early afternoon. He always drinks green tea or matcha and I always have black tea. (I only drink black tea.) It’s become a nice little routine in our day. I bought a few other teas to try (including a yuzu one!) so I’ll share those soon.

Do you have a favorite tea? Usually, I drink Barry’s or (flavorless) loose leaf tea from a shop in our neighborhood if I feel like drinking a whole pot.

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Washi Weekend: Wrapple

 

Back to Japan posts–

Since our last visit, Wrapple moved out of Parco and into a bigger, street-level spot near Tokyu Hands. It is such a fun space–clean and bright with lots of washi tape accents.On the first floor, there’s a counter where they offer tea, coffee, and sweets and then as you go back into the store, all of the washi tape, stickers, embellishments, and packaging are displayed along the walls. There are so many rolls of washi tape. In all of the stationery stores we visited, Wrapple has the best selection of washi tapes. They have brands that I didn’t see in other stores and the most extensive selections of solid mt tapes. They also sell their own exclusive designs that are really different and fun!The stairs are decorated with mt’s home washi tapes. I loved so many of the new home designs, but alas, I have some at home that I’ve never put on our walls so I didn’t allow myself to buy more. Upstairs there are couches and tables where you can enjoy your coffee or tea. There were people working on laptops and meeting friends up there. It was really quiet and no one was playing with the washi tape, so I felt a little weird playing at the Make & Take table. But, I decided the washi tapes were too tempting so I made myself a little tag. Since it was Halloween time, you could also make a washi tape mask, or decorate your placemat with the washi tape. Next time, I’m going in with a plan and making some postcards to send!

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Tokyo Tower

Toyko Tower, Tokyo, JapanNaoto was all about the touristy things on this trip. It’s good because I can’t come home from Japan having gone to only stationery stores on each trip! I’ve never been to Tokyo Tower and Naoto went when he was a kid, so we added it to our agenda when we returned to Tokyo. We had such beautiful weather during our whole trip…seriously it felt like summer most of the time. We tried to use the warm, clear days to our advantage just in case it rained later in our trip. But it turns out, that wasn’t a problem since it only rained a little bit on our very last day in Japan.Toyko Tower, Tokyo, JapanBuilt in 1958 and painted a striking “International Orange,” Tokyo Tower is the second tallest tower in Japan (and twenty-third worldwide.) At 333 meters tall, it’s only a little over half as tall as Skytree. (But it was the tallest structure in Japan until the Skytree was built in 2012.) Still, about three million people visit Tokyo Tower each year…it’s a classic! Toyko Tower, Tokyo, Japan, viewThere are two viewing levels for the tower. We totally cheaped out and only paid for the basic level. We figured, we’ve seen the view from Skytree so we didn’t need to pay ¥2800 to go all the way to the top. Toyko Tower, Tokyo, Japan Toyko Tower, Tokyo, Japan, mailbox Toyko Tower, Tokyo, JapanThe views were still quite good and we had fun roaming around trying to spot other familiar things in the landscape. It was so hot though–we had to keep stepping away from the sunny windows to cool off a bit! Toyko Tower, Tokyo, Japan, mailbox Toyko Tower, Tokyo, Japan, mailboxI bought a few postcards to send with the special Tokyo Tower postmark. Naoto and I send ourselves postcards from our travels so he was in charge of sending this one since it was his idea.

I still have a lot more Tokyo to share, but next week, I think I’m going to take a little break to talk about current life, reading, mail, food, Valentine’s Day…in the meantime, have a great weekend!

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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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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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