Tag Archives: Japan

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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All I’ve Been Doing is Reading

The title is true. Other than work, a few custom card orders, writing letters, and watching my way through Schitt’s Creek and The Office, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Our apartment is a mess, Naoto has been doing 95% of the cooking, and I’ve been neglecting my emails, but man, I’m really enjoying books lately.

What Diantha Did by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

We read this for book club in January. I picked it because we all loved “The Yellow Wallpaper” and it’s always fun revisiting authors we’ve enjoyed in the past. Diantha’s marriage to the man she loves keeps getting pushed back because he can not afford to provide for her and his mother and his unmarried sisters. So Diantha takes control and starts her own cleaning business which takes off like crazy until she rules over a cleaning empire. The book really makes you think about the value of women’s work and the roles of women at home during the 20s. Diantha’s fiancé has a very difficult time understanding why she works and can’t come to terms with her role as a provider. The ending felt a little rushed but in general, I liked it a lot.

The Odd Women by George Gissing

Have I mentioned here how much I love a good spinster novel? (I need to write a blog post about the book that started my infatuation with these books!) This one really fit the bill. The title comes from the fact that there were about one million more women than men in England at the end of the 19th century. The “odd women” were the unmarried women. The book explores five women: two “early feminists,” unmarried by choice, two by happenstance (their parents died and they had little family money,) and one woman who marries for financial security, which ends up being a terrible mistake. It shows the limited options for women back at the turn of the century, especially women without family money. I’ve never read Gissing before but now I’m curious about some of his other titles.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

I can’t believe I haven’t read this before. Lucy Honeychurch falls in love on vacation in Italy but ends up engaged to another man back in England. She has to decide between following her social class and the old rules of Victorian society or following her own heart. I loved the main story, but all of the supporting characters made this book such a fun read. (There were spinsters!) We read Forster’s A Passage to India in book club, and now I want to read Howard’s End and Maurice.

“Afterward” by Edith Wharton

This was recommended a few years ago during our book club Halloween reads and I never finished it. At Christmastime, I picked it up again and finally set out to read it last month. I’m annoyed that I waited because it’s so good, such a well-crafted short story. Pick it up at Halloween, or at Christmas, because apparently reading creepy books at Christmas is a thing?

The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell 

This was our book for February’s book club. We read Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows a few summers ago and everyone loved it. Maxwell’s writing it so beautiful and there are a lot of autobiographical details in his books. The Folded Leaf is a coming of age story about two boys in Chicago: Spud, strong and confident, and Lymie, weak and thoughtful. The book follows the two friends from grade school to college and gives a wonderful glimpse into life in Chicago and Illinois in the 1920s. In book club, we had a good debate at book club about whether it’s a friendship novel, or a love story.

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto

I read Yoshimoto’s Kitchen last fall after reading The Convenience Store Woman. I loved Kitchen, and its companion short story, “Moonlight Shadow” so much. Both just were so emotional and magical. I had high hopes for Asleep and it fell short for me. It was actually three separate stories, all having to do with sleep and death and mourning and ghosts…similar themes to Kitchen, but just not executed as well (to me.)

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell 

Ugh…this one was killer. The narrator is looking back on a small town murder that happened fifty years earlier. The murder happened after an affair was discovered between two neighboring families. The story of the murder is slowly woven into the coming-of-age story of the narrator, who ends up moving away and seeing his old friend years later in Chicago. (Oh yes, it’s another Illinois story by Maxwell.) This book is only 135 pages, but again, like The Folded Leaf, Maxwell does such a masterful job getting you to feel his regret and sadness, all those years later.

Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto

Again, nothing beats Kitchen…”Hardboiled” was interesting, about a women who is celebrating the anniversary of her ex-lover’s death. Again, there is a lot of sadness and a little bit of a mystical aspect happening… And “Hard Luck” is about a woman whose sister is dying and she’s falling in love with someone new. So, a little bit of loss and a little bit of promise…I’m taking a break from Banana Yoshimoto.

Unpunished by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

This one wasn’t printed until well after Gilman’s death but it’s fantastic! It’s a detective story that had me thinking about The Thin Man movies. Of course, since it’s Gilman, there are a lot of feminist themes throughout the book. The detectives are a husband and wife team and the murder victim has been killed five times, five different ways (but you’re not sorry for him because he was a controlling, abusive jerk.) There are some great twists and some great symbolism but it’s still a light, fun read.

Since I started this post, I finished another book, but I’ll save that for my next book report. I’m starting a book by another Japanese author tonight (I think!) My reading is going to have to start slowing down though so I can get some projects done and get ready for my first craft show of the year next month. It’s been so nice though…I guess I just need to give up some other things so I have more time to read…

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

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In My Mailbox: Traveling Mail Kit

My penpal Nic sent me this fabulous traveling mail kit just in time for our trip to Japan last year. Her mom made it and is hoping to sell them, so Nic asked me to “test” it out and see what needed to be changed or fixed. It’s made from this gorgeous orange gradient Japanese fabric with metallic gold accents. My pictures aren’t doing it justice! Inside, she used an accent fabric of orange, black, and gold. There are pen loops and pockets to keep stationery and stamps and little extras organized. She thought of everything! Nic tucked in some postcards and stamps to get me started……and some stickers and a playing card holding some washi tape. (Isn’t that genius? The washi tape comes right off the coated playing card! It’s such a perfect way to carry a little bit of washi without the bulk of a whole roll!)I carried my little kit with me everywhere on our trip. It is so light and compact, perfect for long days of being a tourist and walking all over Tokyo. I tucked postcards inside, along with Japanese stamps, my travel address book, a pen, and some ephemera that I picked up along the way.

Now that I’m home, I still tuck the mail kit in my bag when I’m out and about in case I have time for a postcard or a quick note. It’s held up beautifully through all my travels, so I’m confident Nic’s mom can start production when she’s ready!

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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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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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