Friday, December 23, 2016

Where To Find Vegetarian Ramen in Tokyo

A couple of months ago I had a vegetarian friend visiting. It wasn't her first visit to Japan, but this time I was determined to find some ramen for her. Finding vegetarian food isn't that easy in Japan, and more than likely it will be vegan or else vegetarian but including fish broth.

However, without too much work I found two different places to get vegetarian and/or vegan ramen.

The first place we went was T's Tantan inside the ticket gates of Tokyo station. Everything in the restaurant is vegan which is particularly nice when a person is often having to select the only vegetarian option on a menu. 

She had the seasonal autumn ramen and I had a tantan noodles and curry set. Both were good, though as a meat eater I definitely like regular tantan noodles more. My friend raved about hers - particularly the broth - and thought it was much better than any vegetarian ramen she'd had in the US. As a note, I got the set with curry because I wanted her to have a chance to try Japanese curry, but this was much more Thai in style - coconut milk based, which is not Japanese at all.

The second place we went was Afuri, which is a trendy ramen chain with multiple locations in Tokyo. If you watch the show Girls on HBO there is a scene of Shoshana eating there. Afuri is known for its yuzu flavored broths, and I just happened to notice that they have a vegan option on their menu. This is a great place to take a group, if not everyone is looking for vegan or vegetarian food. A bonus here is that if you're a vegetarian you can add a soft boiled egg to your ramen (my favorite part!) which you won't find at a vegan restaurant. As a note, the vegan ramen comes with noodles made out of vegetables because their regular noodles use egg, but you can pay to upgrade to regular noodles (which I highly recommend) if you're vegetarian and not vegan.

My friend enjoyed both, but said she's choose T's Tantan as her first choice because of the greater choice and the uniqueness of of the broth. But either way you can't go wrong.

T's Tantan in Tokyo Station

Tantan noodles and curry set at T's Tantan

Seasonal Autumn Ramen at T's Tantan

Vegan Ramen at Afuri - So Gorgeous!

Hours: 7:00-11:00 7 days a week
Phone: 03-3218-8040
Location: JR Tokyo Station, on Keiyo Street

Locations Include: Roppongi, Ebisu, Azabu Juban, Naka Meguro, Harajuku, Sangenjaya, Shinjuku and Yokohama

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Happy December

Can you believe that it's already the middle of December? I can't! It's even harder to believe that I'll be going back to the US for Christmas next week! I'm really looking forward to it though.

The past few weeks seem to have flown by. Most of the leaves have fallen, and the weather is getting colder. It even snowed here on Thanksgiving Day! Lately I've been doing lots of Christmas shopping and squeezing in as much time as I can with my BFF and my baby BFF.  Raku and I have been so excited about the new Gilmore Girls season. We've only watched one episode so far, but we're going to watch all of them together with tons of Gilmore inspired snack foods.

Besides that I've just been counting down the days until we're back for Christmas. I cant wait to see my family!

The last of the fall leaves

Twinning with my baby BFF

Christmas in Japan = Winter Illuminations

Gilmore Girls Night Aftermath

Homemade Pho - Success!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Where To Get A Flu Shot In Tokyo

I used to get a flu shot every year, but I've avoided them since moving to Tokyo. I had a great list of reasons:

1. I hate needles. What do you mean, that's not a good enough excuse?

2. National Insurance (which is awesome, by the way) doesn't cover flu shots! How infuriating! I'm scandalized, obviously I should give up now.

3. In Japan most of the flu shots offered seem to require two doses, rather than the single one I'm used to in the US. You're trying to tell me I not only have to get the courage up to get a shot twice, I also have to pay twice? Forget it!

The only problem is that this year I'm BFFs with a baby. And he puts everything in his mouth. Sometimes he even likes to put things in my mouth. I really didn't want him to give me the flu. And if I caught it and infected him, I'd feel even worse. So, it was time to find a solution - and luckily Raku did all the research for me.

Primary Care Tokyo in Shimokitazawa is THE place to get a flu shot. We all went and got them last Saturday and I can't say enough good things about the place.

Dr. Kurosu speaks English, is very kind, and gives nearly painless shots. He also offers the vaccine that only requires one dose, it only costs 3500 yen, and he doesn't charge any sort of new patient visit fees on top of that. I honestly couldn't believe that he did the whole consultation and administered the shots himself instead of having a nurse do it. I can't remember the last time I got a shot from an actual doctor. Oh, and it was incredibly fast. We spent more time filling out the one piece of paperwork than getting the shots, and they let us do that second which meant less time to panic! (I'm looking at you, Hep A vaccine that kept me waiting/panicking for over an hour.)

If you need a flu shot, or an English speaking doctor who accepts national insurance I highly highly recommend this place!

My baby BBF! (Isn't snapchat with babies amazing?!?)

Primary Care Tokyo - on the 3rd floor

It's easy to miss

Primary Care Tokyo
Hours: M-F 9:00-12:30, 2:30-6:00, Sat 9:00-12:30
Phone: 03-5432-7177
Location: 2-1-16 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo (3rd Floor, Urbanity Building)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Four Year Anniversary

Four year. That's the longest length of time that I've lived in the same place since before I went to college. With every year that passes I feel more and more at home in Tokyo. I've learned the rhythms and routines of the year. There's something comforting about watching the peaches disappear at the end of summer, being replaced by nashi (asian pears), and knowing that as the air turns colder the gingko trees are about to turn their stunning shade of gold. I have holiday traditions here. I have favorite places that I look forward to visiting again.

I guess I'm full of contradictions, because I love surprises, and I also like knowing what to expect. In the first couple years this blog was about all the things I was discovering and the things I was surprised by. There's a lot less of that now, though I'm certainly still learning, and always excited to share about it. Now though, I have a better idea of what's going on and how to navigate my life. With that has come more informative (I hope) posts on resources, reviews, and recommendations for both tourists and people living in Tokyo. But there's also been a slowdown in my posting, because fewer things seem out of the ordinary.

I noticed that a lot with our visitors over the summer. They would often point out unusual or hilarious things that I hadn't even noticed. But I could remember the days when I did notice them. One day John's dad asked me about the face masks everyone was wearing (a very common sight here, and a very common question from westerners). And although I answered automatically, "Mostly people do it to keep from getting sick, like hand washing. But some girls are just hiding breakouts or didn't have time to put on makeup this morning," I had to look around to see what had prompted his question - I hadn't noticed anyone with a mask on. But looking with fresh eyes, I realized that I had just stopped noticing. And I couldn't pinpoint when that had happened.

This year this year I've been noticing how normal life here feels. Somedays it makes me a little sad that this sprawling sparkling city has started to feel ordinary. But it also makes me happy. We haven't just skimmed the surface, we've spent four years here. We've built a life here. And that's pretty incredible.

The leaves are starting to turn!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Four Years Ago Today

Today marks four years that we've been living in Japan.

I was always planning to write a post reflecting on the year. I went and reread my last three anniversary posts earlier this week, and was starting to organize my thoughts about how I had grown and what I had learned this year.

And then the US presidential election happened. And it was shocking. I don't just say that as a Hillary supporter - which I am. I think it was a surprise to most Trump supporters too - though obviously more pleasant for them. In Japan they are calling it the Trump Shock. 

It feels strange and inappropriate to come here and write a blog post without acknowledging the election, but it also seems inappropriate and out of character to talk about it here. I don't use this space to share my political beliefs, and I try to keep this space positive, welcoming, and focused on my experience in Japan. But this is about what it's like to live in Japan. 

My experience of the election has been very different from anyone I know in the US. There aren't crowds of people protesting, there aren't crowds of people celebrating. No one is asking me what I think about the election or sharing their opinions either. It's just business as usual. Of course I have American friends here (and an Australian who cares too!), and we've met up and talked about what happened. But I don't feel present, or immersed in what's happening. It's strange to feel like a distant observer. I think it also makes it easier to make sense of my own thoughts and emotions without being caught up in a swirl of other people processing their thoughts and feelings at the same time. But it also makes me want to be close to my family. To share love and support. 

I know people who read this blog that are actively protesting the election results. I know people who read this blog that voted for Trump. I know people who read this blog that are devastated and people who are not. I care immensely for each of you. I hope you care about me too. I hope we are able to move forward together with love in our hearts.

I've had friends tell me I should stay here at least four more years. But I don't agree. Who our president is or isn't doesn't make me stop caring about my country and it shouldn't let me disengage.

Speaking of four years, that's how long I've been living in Japan. I want to write a reflection about that, but I want it to be separate from my reflection on this election as an expat. So, I think for today this is enough.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sayanoyudokoro Onsen

Sayanoyudokoro Onsen is a fantastic onsen on the outskirts of Tokyo. When my friend Sarah came to visit she wanted to be sure to visit one, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to try a new place.

This is now probably my favorite in the Tokyo area. It was about a forty-five minute train ride, but totally worth the time. From the station it's less than a ten minute walk, and passes a pretty park with a lake. The price is very reasonable at 1,100 yen on weekends and 870 on weekdays for adults, with an additional 310 for towel rental. At check in you'll be given a wristband that your charges will be billed to - you can buy drinks from the vending machines, toiletries, etc. with it. And at the end there are machines that scan your wristband and allow you to pay.

They have the most outdoor baths of any onsen I've been to, with several individual ones (that always make me imagine I'm soaking in a sake jug), several larger baths, benches to only soak your feet, and a very shallow area where you lie on heated stone - SO relaxing. We were in heaven. Indoors there are several different tubs with jets to massage you shoulders/back/etc, an ice cold bath, and stone seats where you still with water streaming down your back.

They also have a wet and a dry sauna. The wet sauna entrance is outdoors, and wow was it steamy! When you enter there is a basket of salt, and you can scoop up a handful of to exfoliate your skin. Each seat has a little hose to rinse away the remaining salt when you're done. The dry sauna entrance is indoors, next to the ice bath.

One of the things I liked so much about this onsen was how much it felt like a part of the community. It was busy, but not overly crowded, with everyone from little girls (and a few young boys) to old women. And as I write this I realize that doesn't sound any different from any of the others I've ever been to - but it was. It felt like a well-loved, authentic part of the neighborhood.

If you're looking for an onsen around Tokyo I highly recommend this one! I couldn't take any pictures inside, but this website and tripadvisor have lots of good photos.

The nearby park
Read about other Onsens
Spa EAS in Yokohama
Utsukushinoyu in Tokyo
Tokyu Hotel in Shimoda

Sayanoyudokoro Onsen
Hours: 10:00 am -1:00 am
Phone: 03-5936-3826
Location: 3-41-1 Maenocho, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Kamakura Day Trip

Kamakura is my favorite place to take a day trip from Tokyo. It's not too far away, but it's the perfect change of pace. Whether you're looking for history, nature, or just a break from the tall buildings, Kamakura has it all.

We've taken all of our visitors this year to Kamakura, and while I don't think I could actually get sick of the place, I've definitely spent more than my fair share of time there over the last few months.

A new discovery this year is Hokokuji, also known as the bamboo temple. The temple itself is quite small, but what makes it so special is the bamboo grove behind it. In my opinion it's smaller, but just as nice as the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto. Particularly if you go on a weekday or in the morning, it's less crowded. I'd never heard of this temple before this spring when a Japanese friend recommended it. It's not in the guidebook I have, and it's too far to walk, but it's a quick bus ride away. Just take bus 23, 24, or 26 to the Jomyoji stop.

My all time favorite part of Kamakura is Hasedera, a temple a few train stops away in Hase. The temple is dedicated to women who have experienced miscarriages, abortions, or still births, and is also visited by women who are trying to conceive or hoping for healthy pregnancies. The grounds are breathtakingly beautiful from the pond at the entrance, to the temple itself, to the hill beyond the the temple which is covered in hydrangeas in spring, and offers a view of the coastline. On the walk up to the temple you will pass hundreds upon thousands of jizo, small statues that have been left by women who have lost children. It's beautiful and sobering at the same time. One note, if you come in June during hydrangea season, it may take upwards of an hour to see the hydrangea covered hill, but you'll have no trouble with the lower grounds, the cave, and the temples.

These are my two highest recommendations, the absolutely can't miss parts of Kamakura. But even on a day trip there should be time to visit more places. I also recommend Hachimangu, a shrine on the way back from Hokokuji, and the shopping streets on the way back from Hachimangu to Kamakura station. In Hase, the Giant Buddah is only a few minutes walk from Hasedera. If the crowds are getting to you, I also recommend Engakuji, a zen temple that is less visited and more relaxing, in Kita-Kamakura.

Jizo Statues at Hasedera
The pond at Hasedera
Hydrangeas (and crowds) at Hasedera
Kakmakura Coastline
Hokokuji's Bamboo Grove

Tea in the Hokokuji Teahouse
Festival Decorations at Hachimangu

Hours: 9:00-4:00, closed Dec 29 - Jan 3
Admission: 200 yen, 700 yen for admission + tea

Hours: 8:00-5:30 (5:00 Oct-Feb)
Admission: 300 yen