Wednesday, April 4, 2018

March

Last month was a strange month!

The weather was constantly changing, which I suppose is typical of March, but it was much more extreme than normal.  We had a days and days of balmy weather interrupted by a rare snow day and then back to unseasonable warmth. For the first time ever John and I went to view the cherry blossom at night without needing to wear coats.

And the crazy weather led to sakura chaos. The flowers opened nine days earlier than normal, and the really shocking part was that they came several days before the officially predicted bloom date - which is usually very accurate.

On top of that, it seems like all my friends here in Tokyo are in the midst of different major life transitions. Some of them are happy, others are stressful or scary. But it's felt pretty chaotic lately.

For my own life I've been trying to relax and find the small pleasures each day. Some days that works better than others. But here are a few of the good things.

Celebrating our anniversary at The Park Hyatt

Tea at Chatei Hatou (Photo by Raku)

Cherry blossoms in Nakameguro

A mandarin orange daifuku

A Yokohama day trip

Yokohama in the evening

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Afternoon Tea at The Kahala Resort

While my sister and I were in Hawaii we wanted to have afternoon tea. The Kahala Resort is actually the first place I ever had afternoon tea ten years ago, and I had amazing memories of the experience. At the risk of tainting the memories, and after calling to confirm a gluten free menu for Julie, we decided to give it a shot.

We arrived half an hour late, entirely because I mixed up the reservation, but they seated us graciously, and we never felt rushed. We were given tea menus, and selected the two teas we wanted to order, but then our server brought out samples of the teas to smell and we ended up changing our order. The White Rose tea is out-of-this-world delicious, and I only wish they sold it to take home! We also had the Kahala Signature Blend, which was a little disappointing. Black tea is the first ingredient listed, with hibiscus close to the end. I expected a slightly tart tropical black tea, but this was bright pink and basically like drinking Red Zinger. Not bad, but if I had understood I wouldn't have ordered it. At the Kahala you can have hot water refills, but you can't change the tea you ordered. We happily refilled the White Rose, but didn't finish the original pot of the Kahala Blend.

The Kahala was wonderful about preparing a gluten free menu for Julie that was creative and appealing. You just need to give them a day or two of advanced notice. Honestly, her savories looked more delicious and bountiful than mine! I think my favorite from the meal was a deviled egg with crab and bacon - I now realize all deviled eggs need a chunk of crunchy bacon stuck in them!

The atmosphere was really relaxing and the service was extremely friendly. And I don't mean to diminish them at all when I say that has overwhelmingly been my experience everywhere in Hawaii. We were seated outside on the veranda with views of the dolphin pools (that's right, they have dolphin pools!), the swimming pool, and the ocean. This is a mild complaint, but I believe the seating area has shifted from ten years ago, and is now farther from the dolphins. It also seems just a little more worn, or perhaps I've developed a more critical eye. I should admit we went on a kind of rainy gray day, so that must have influenced my impressions to some extent.

If you have the chance to visit the Kahala, be sure to walk around and explore. There is a beautiful spiral staircase with dozens of orchids growing along it, and while we were there before Christmas, the Christmas tree was filled with live orchids as well.

The Kahala Mandarin
Hours: 2:00-5:30
Phone: 808-739-8760
Address: 5000 Kahala Ave., Honolulu, HI 96816
Map

The Orchid Staircase

Always so relaxing

The bottom tier is gluten free

Gluten free desserts


The dolphin lanai

Ocean View

The orchid filled Christmas tree


Read about other afternoon teas:
The Aman Tokyo
The Palace Hotel Tokyo
The Metropole Hanoi
The Ritz Carlton Tokyo
Tokyo Shangri-la
Peninsula Hotel Tokyo
The Mandarin Oriental (second time)
Park Hyatt Shinjuku
Four Seasons Marunouchi
Hotel Chinzanso
The Mandarin Oriental

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Yogurt Kitkats with Fruit and Nut Topping

There's a new flavor of kitkat out - yogurt with a fruit and nut topping. Based on the packaging, I assume it's for Valentine's and maybe White Day.

In general the kitkats with a topping seem to be premium kitkats, and the flavors are definitely better. I often find that fruit flavored kitkats have an unpleasant artificial sharpness to them. But these were really good. There was a tartness to the yogurt flavor, but not unpleasantly so. And the topping was a mixture of real dried raspberries, cranberries and almonds. I would definitely recommend them.



Monday, February 5, 2018

Hawaiian Sister-Trip

Back in December, my sister and I met up for a week in Hawaii, and it was the best thing ever. I pretty much haven't been able to stop talking about it since. The scenery, the weather, the food, the time with my sister, I couldn't have hoped for more.

Ten years ago I had a summer job in Hawaii, which was an incredible experience. I've been dreaming about going back ever since, but this was my first real opportunity. I was a little nervous, thinking that maybe my memories had grown more rosy as the time passed. What if it wasn't as wonderful as I remembered? But that turned out to be a needless fear.

We spent our first four nights on the north shore and the last three in Waikiki. If you have the chance to go to Hawaii, and you'll be on Oahu, I can't recommend the north shore enough. It requires renting a car, but it's so worth it! And driving around the island is part of the fun. Julie and I were always gaping out the windows at how beautiful everything was, and pulled over more than once just to see a beautiful vista or explore a beach by the side of the road. It's so much calmer than Honolulu - the perfect place to relax and unwind.

I had read that food in Hawaii is kind of overpriced, and not very good. But either we got lucky, or we're not very picky, because almost everything we ate was great. Being on vacation we embraced the spam musubis and turkey sandwiches (a novelty for me coming from Japan) from the convenience stores just as much as we did the fresh fruit and seafood.

After coming back Raku asked me what makes everyone talk about Hawaii like it's the best vacation spot ever, even better than other tropical locations. And I stumbled trying to put an answer into words (it just is, ok?!?) But I think it's a mixture of the intense beauty, the perfect climate, how friendly everyone is, how small and accessible the island is (I assume this is true of the others besides Oahu) and perhaps some special Hawaiian magic. 

So, if you ever have the chance, go! And in the meantime, try not to be annoyed at all the pictures I'm about to post.

First Night on the North Shore: Mokuleia Beach Park
Julie was obsessed with all the chickens

In winter the waves are giant on the north shore

More giant waves
This actually looked a lot better than it tasted 
The water was so rough that the Pipeline Master's surf competition was on hold for days

The Best Sister

It's even pretty when it's stormy



The view from Kualoa Regional Park 



Underwater Coral

Kayaking in Kaneohe Bay
 
Hanauma Bay

Passion Fruit Acai Bowl
Waikiki at Night

Macadamia nut pavlova with lemon curd and tropical fruit


The pool at the Surfjack Hotel

In my memories the light is always this golden

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Winter Hibernation

Hello loyal blog readers! I completely disappeared for the last two months, didn't I? I apologize, I'm back, and I've got some good adventures to catch up on.

To begin with, a big snowstorm swept through Tokyo (and the surrounding Kanto area) yesterday. It was beautiful to watch from inside my cozy apartment, but I was glad not to be out in it or needing to take public transportation. I'm sure the trains were snarled up terribly.

The snow is already quickly melting off, but I got a few good photos before it totally disappears. This year is a La Nina year, so it's likely to be snowier than usual. I was becoming skeptical but then yesterday proved me wrong. I'm curious what the rest of winter will be like. The last time we had snow like this was four or five years ago. (And I'll just add that the iPhone 7 camera is much better than the iPhone 5)

For now here are the snow pictures, but more to come soon: travel, afternoon tea, novelty food reviews and more!

It's snowing!!!

Already melting off the next morning

Possibly the cutest snowman ever?






Monday, November 27, 2017

Oedo Onsen Monogatari

Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba has been described as an onsen theme park. I found that description really off-putting, so for years I avoided going. But this year I finally went with a group of friends, and I actually really enjoyed it.

First things first, it's a little more expensive than other onsen I've visited, and it feels a little less authentic. That said, I didn't think that negatively impacted my experience. This is an excellent option if you don't speak Japanese and/or it's your first time and you don't have anyone with onsen experience to go with. The staff can speak English (and I presume Chinese), and they are good at managing large groups. Tour buses often drop groups off, but it doesn't make the facility seem crowded or slow things down unnecessarily.

When you arrive, you immediately remove your shoes and leave them in a shoe locker. Then you go to the front desk and get a wristband that opens a locker and allows you to charge food, drinks, souvenirs, and various spa treatments to your tab. Next you're issued a yukata (cotton robe) and sent to the changing rooms. This is where things diverge from normal a little bit, though it's not that different from other spa-style onsen.

After changing into your yukata you enter an area that is themed like an old Edo village. It's actually very cute. There are lots of places to eat and buy souvenirs, and from here you can access the spa where you can sign up for different massages and treatments. This entire area is mixed sex, so if you're with a group you can hang out with everyone. Then when you're ready, you can head to the separate baths. In the second locker room you will be given towels, and get yet another locker (there are lots of keys to juggle) to change out of your yukata.

There are a nice variety of indoor and outdoor baths, and it's all very clean and beautiful. I will say that I've been twice now, and each time my skin smelled like chlorine after leaving. I suspect they are treating the water. This is not typical of onsen, but I suspect it is a cleanliness precaution taken because with a high volume of tourists it's possible people will make mistakes with the usual washing procedure. I did not notice any chlorine smell when I was actually in the baths, and I have a very sensitive nose, so I think it's probably quite mild. It shouldn't detract from your experience.

Afterwards you can put your yukata back on and return to the communal area if you'd like to eat, shop or rest more. If you're looking for a place to eat I highly recommend Yamagishi Taishoken. It's a branch of a very famous ramen shop that is credited with creating and popularizing tsukemen (dipping noodles). 

This is a really accessible onsen, and I really appreciate that fact. But if you're looking for something that feels a little more "deep Japan" Sayanodudokoro Onsen, Utsukushinoyu, or Spa EAS might be more what you're looking for.

Oedo Onsen Monogatari
Hours: 11:00 am - 9:00 am, last entry at 7:00 am Mon-Sun
Phone: 03-5500-1126
Address: 2-6-3 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Map

Oedo Onsen Monogatari

The Edo style village
Lots of great photo ops

Yamagishi Taishoken Ramen and Tsukemen

The noodles are SO good!