Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Gluten Free Restaurants in Tokyo

We've had so many visitors this summer! It's completely thrown off my blogging, but I've been having a wonderful summer (despite the bleak tone of my last post.) Our most recent guest was my sister, and every time she visits I worry about accidentally gluten-ing her. She gets severe joint pain from eating gluten, so I always want to be even more careful when she's visiting because I would hate to ruin a vacation. Avoiding gluten in Japan isn't always easy, but it's totally doable.

I wrote a post a couple years ago about gluten-free snacks that are easy to find in convenience stores. But now I've also got several restaurant recommendations for gluten-free eating. is also a great resource.

Little Bird Gluten Free Cafe

Little Bird, inYoyogi, is the place to get gluten-free Japanese food. They serve both gluten free-gyoza (dumplings) and gluten-free ramen, both of which are delicious. When the ramen first arrived I was worried. It looked like they'd just thrown gluten-free spaghetti into ramen broth, but when I tasted it I couldn't tell the noodles were gluten-free, and my sister said they were the best she'd ever had. I suspect the noodles are house made and used in the other pasta dishes they offer.

Franze & Evans London

This is a new place in Omotesando which offers a selection of salads, quiche, sandwiches and baked goods. I was stunned to see that they had at least three gluten-free desserts on their menu, and between a third and a half of the salad options were gluten-free as well. This would also be a great place for vegetarians. If you go, the pavlova is outstanding!

Criss Cross

Criss Cross is a cafe in Omotesando that serves delicious salads and sandwiches. They bake their own bread and offer gluten-free bread for an additional 200 yen. Criss Cross is just one restaurant in the Tyson's restaurant empire, and it seems like all their restaurants offer gluten-free bread. These are the only restaurants I've seen in Japan that offer this option.

Rice Terrace in Kamakura

Rice Terrace is an adorable cafe off the beaten path in Kamakura. You have to walk down a winding path through a garden to reach it, but it's totally worth it. Most of the people we saw there were having afternoon tea, but we wanted lunch. Both the pizza and the hamburger were good, though the pizza was much more filling. This is a great option on a day trip to Kamakura.

Happy Eating!

Little Bird Gluten Free Cafe
Hours: 11:00-10:30, closed Wednesdays
Phone: 03-3460-8282
Address: 1-1-20 Uehara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 3rd Floor

Franze & Evans London
Hours: M-F 9:00-9:00, Sat 10:00-9:00, Sun & Holidays 10:00-8:00
Phone: 03-5413-3926
Address: 4-9-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Criss Cross
Hours: 8:00-9:00
Phone: 03-6434-1266
Address: 5-7-29 Minami-aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tysons Restaurants

Rice Terrace
Hours: 11:00-10:00, reservations required after 6:00, closed Mondays and 3rd Thursday of the month
Phone: 0467-38-6697
Address: 2-7-12 Yuigahama, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

On The Days When You Hate Being an Expat

It's totally unavoidable, and hopefully it's rare, but long after the culture shock has faded and you're totally used to your expat existence, there will be moments, probably days, when you absolutely hate your adopted country.

In the last couple weeks I've had conversations with a Japanese couple who lived in the United States for three years, and an American who lived in London for four years, and I was really struck by how universal our experiences were even though our situations were all quite different. No matter how much you like the place you are and how happy you are on a regular basis there will be moments when expat life gets the best of you.

Days when instead of looking out the window and seeing this:

All you can see is this:

It's usually tipped off by something trivial, maybe so small you're embarrassed to even text your best friend about it. Perhaps you're crying because you tried so hard, but still didn't get to watch your own country's gymnastics team compete in the Olympics. It might make your blood boil or it might just leave you feeling devastating. If you're really lucky, you might alternate between the two. You start to really worry when the frustration overflows and you find yourself hating the entire country and even worse the locals. Is being an expat making you a borderline racist?

The good news is, probably not - your emotions are just going a little haywire. So what do you do when the hatred strikes?

1. Allow yourself to really feel your feelings
It's easy to feel guilty for being upset over silly things. The fact that your Netflix isn't working really isn't a crisis is it? It is not really fair to want to kick everyone you see because someone made spaghetti sauce out of ketchup. With that guilt, it's easy to push your frustration down and dismiss it, but that's just a recipe for bottling up anger until you explode. If you're upset about something stupid, own it. Allow yourself to really feel that feeling, that's the only way to come out the other side. But don't wallow for too long. And DON'T become that foreigner that loves to complain about how "this country" is so terrible. Remember, the goal is to push through the anger.

2. Cheer yourself up
Give yourself something small to lift your spirits. Maybe you get that donut you never let yourself have. Maybe stopping at your favorite local shrine or park on the way home brings back your peace. Maybe it's fifteen minutes of cat videos. Maybe it's reminding yourself that your local ramen shop is so delicious that you would be devastated if you no longer lived within walking distance. Whatever it takes, put the breaks on the wallowing and do something that makes you feel better. Bonus points if it's something you can't do/get back home but you can where you live now.

3. Get to the root of the problem
Are you really in tears because you can't buy strawberries in the summer? That's a legit problem, and it's ok if that's all there is to it. I cry about amazingly stupid things all the time. But is there something more going on? Is the stress at work getting out of hand? Are you missing important things back home? If you can figure out what's setting you off, you can work on addressing that problem. For me summer is always the hardest. Tokyo summers are hot and uncomfortable and at the same time everyone in the US is posting gorgeous summer vacation photos. Other than Christmas, it's when I miss my friends and family most.

4. Remember your own flaws
Sometimes you're upset because things work differently where you live now. It can be hard to figure out new customs. They might be less efficient. They might annoy you for any number of reasons. Maybe you find yourself paying cash at the gym for yet another month because your signature still isn't a carbon copy match of the signature that bank has on file. Maybe you're irrationally annoyed that the person beside you just ordered a bowl of rice as side to their ramen.

This is a big one. Take a deep breath and think about the culture you grew up in. What nonsensical things do you do? What might totally irritate or baffle someone who hadn't grown up there? The rice with ramen used to boggle my mind, until I realized that I think spaghetti is best accompanied by garlic bread. (The real takeaway here? Everyone loves carbs.) I still can't remember who said this, but I love the quote that when living in another culture you will never truly understand it, but you may come to understand your own.

Recognizing things about my own culture really helps diffuse my own frustration. It also helps me snap my perspective back into place - where the people around me are humanized, and I am reminded that no matter how different we are, at the core we're all the same.

5. Do something productive
If you've got a lot of anger to burn off go for a run or clean your whole apartment. If you're obsessing over the same thoughts write about it (perhaps a useful blog post). If you're not succeeding at cheering yourself up, do something nice to cheer someone else up.

6. Know when to pull the plug
This is obviously a drastic step, and I don't recommend it to most people. But there are times when an expat has reached their limit. They aren't happy, all they do is complain about their adopted country or rant about how their home country does it better. People around them might wonder why they haven't already left. It can be complicated and intimidating to make such a big life change, but if you're truly so unhappy, it's time to consider making a move to improve your life.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Summer Days

It's been hot lately, but that hasn't kept from getting out and about. Sometimes when the heat is too much I just hole up inside, but this year I'm trying to embrace it. So far it's been working, but let's see how that attitude lasts in August.

Lately we've been trying to make a point of going new places on the weekend, be it hiking or just exploring little neighborhoods in unfamiliar parts of Tokyo.

John's brother and his wife are out visiting now. Yesterday we went out to Kamakura and then continued along the coast to a hot spring. While we were out there we saw one of the best views of Mt. Fuji I've ever had.

My newest furoshiki - I love the panda with sunglasses
A rainy shopping street in Nakano
Green tea at a bamboo temple
View of Mt. Fuji from Inamuragasaki

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Father's Day Visit

John's dad has been out here visiting for the past week, conveniently falling over Father's Day. I can't believe how quickly his visit has come and gone (I think I say this every time) but it really was wonderful.

We've visited lots of temples and shrines where we were even able to see two weddings, and about a million blooming iris and hydrangeas. We also went to an afternoon baseball game, had dinner with Shiori, their exchange student from years past, got in some World War II history, and ate tons of delicious Japanese food.

In less than three weeks we'll have more visitors, and my sister just bought a ticket to come out too, so the fun is just going to continue all summer.

I love the red and white bowls at this ramen shop
The Imperial Palace is full of iris in June
The perfect Father's Day
Every time they get a run, the Yakult Swallows fans do a dance with umbrellas

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Early June

Rainy season officially begins today, though the weather is actually looking nicer than yesterday. I can't believe it's already June and already rainy season. I've done a terrible job of blogging for the past month, but I'm still here - and intending to do better.

It's finally starting to feel like summer, and this one's going to be a busy one. My father-in-law is coming to visit next week, and next month my brother-in-law and his wife are coming out. I absolutely love having visitors and getting the chance to show off the Tokyo I love. I guess that's a lot of the reason I'm still blogging too.

A couple weeks ago the G7 Summit was in Japan and the security was intense. Even though the meeting wasn't in Tokyo the train stations were flooded with police, the streets filled with local security, and even vending machines and trash cans closed up for the duration.

But now, I'll let some pictures do the rest of my talking.

Hokkaido ramen - toppings include corn and butter
Braided headband
Vending machines closed for the G7 summit
The hydrangeas are out
Hanging out with my littlest friend
Loving the summer produce that's finally available

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Pho Dragon in Nishi Azabu

Looking for authentic Vietnamese food in Tokyo? Pho Dragon is your place.

Before visiting Vietnam last year, I knew nothing about Vietnamese food. There just wasn't any where I grew up, and I'd only had it once here in Tokyo. The general attitude seemed to be that there isn't much good Vietnamese food in Tokyo, and I'm not aware of any Vietnamese communities the way Tokyo has Chinese and Korean neighborhoods.

But Raku found out about a little place, very close to Roppongi, run by a Vietnamese woman. She can be a little brusque at first, but she's actually really sweet. By the end of our meal we had heard all sorts of things about her family and her life. As more people came in, we realized they were mostly regulars as she asked about their recent trips and caught up with each person. She speaks Vietnamese, English, and Japanese and is eager to explain all the condiments and how to eat your food. 

Which brings me to the delicious food. At lunch time the menu is mostly pho sets which come with a spring roll and salad. The spring rolls were so fresh and bursting with herbs. Raku thought they were some of the best she's had in her life, and she's had a lot so I trust her. We both got the beef pho (an aromatic soup with rice noodles and meat), which we enjoyed immensely, though next time I might try the spicy beef. She serves them with a house made pepper paste, hoisin sauce, and another sour sauce, as well as sriracha which she makes sure to mention is from America and not as good as her homemade sauces. The dinner menu is much bigger, and it's posted on the walls, so you can drool over it while you eat lunch. We were so caught up in eating that neither of us thought to take a single photo of our food, but if you get the chance you should check it out. And if you're not in Tokyo, I hope you can find some pho wherever you are! 

Pho Dragon
Hours: 11:30-2:00, 6:00-10:00, closed Sundays
Phone: 03-3479-0658
Address: 1-11-13 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Friday, May 6, 2016

Golden Week and a Visitor

It's hard to believe that we're already a week into May. Golden week has come an gone, and so has John's mother's visit.

We had such a great time with her. It's always fun to show off our favorite places and introduce people to Japanese food and culture. One of the highlights of her trip was meeting up with an exchange student she hosted six years ago. Shiori was only 13 when she came to the US, and now she is a beautiful self-assured college student! We went to her hometown and had a beautiful lunch at the restaurant where she has a part time job.

When we mentioned that we were going to Kamakura, one of the ancient capitals of Japan about an hour from Tokyo, Shiori recommended a temple that I'd never heard of - Hokoku-ji, which might just be my new favorite. It's a beautiful zen temple with a bamboo grove, a little tea house, and caves carved into a mountain - totally deserving of it's own blog post. I really think it rivals the beauty of Kyoto.

We fit so much into just a week, I think we're all still recovering from it. But I'm so glad we had the opportunity!

Gorgeous Japanese Lunch
Hokoku-ji in Kamakura
Afternoon Tea at The Mandarin Oriental
Our favorite yakitori place
Nighttime in Shinkjuku