Monday, April 17, 2017

Weekend Getaway to Hakone

Last month John and I went to Hakone for a weekend to celebrate our anniversary. Hakone is a little mountain hot spring resort town south of Tokyo, and it seems silly that we'd never gone before considering it's only 35 minutes away by shinkansen.

Like most vacation destinations in Japan, there seems to be a standard itinerary that allows you to see all the sights in a day - it involves different types of trains, chair lifts and even a pirate ship, and goes in a loop through the area. Passes are sold that significantly discount the cost of doing everything, but we decided to take it slower and only do a few things.

Hakone is most known for the many hot springs and the views of Mt. Fuji. We weren't sure if the weather would be clear enough, but we lucked out and had excellent views both day. And there was never any doubt about the onsen being good. We went every morning and evening at our hotel. If you're a little shy or just looking for some solitude, I highly recommend hotel onsen in the morning. Japanese people generally bathe at night, as do tourists that are dirty/tired/achy from their daily adventures. So both mornings I had the onsen entirely to myself (and snuck my phone in for a few quick shots).

Another huge highlight for me was taking a cable car up to Owakudani, an area with lots of sulfur vents. From the air we had a great glimpse of Mt. Fuji before clouds rolled in, and then started to see the sulfur billowing up from the mountains.

If you enjoy cable cars (or ropeways as they're called in Japan) there is another cable car that runs to the top of Mt. Komagatake. It's all steel and cement and looks straight out of the Soviet era, but the views from the top were the best views we had of Mt. Fuji all weekend.

Onsen at the Prince Ashinoko Hotel

Sulfur vents at Owakudani

The original Tokaido road - lined with cedar trees

Hakone Shrine and Mt. Fuji sighting from Lake Ashi

View of Mt. Fuji from Mt. Komagatake

Mt. Komagatake Ropeway - seriously ugly, but worth the view

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Momiji Manju Kitkats

Momiji manju is a traditional Japanese sweet made of red bean paste wrapped inside of a sweet dough that is baked or steamed in the shape of a maple leaf (momiji means maple, manju is a bun with filling). A friend gave me these  momiji manju kitkats a couple of months ago, and I am finally getting around to writing about them.

I love the packaging, even though it's not fall anymore, and the print of the maple leaf on the actual candy. It always feels special when they print something into the kitkat.

The flavor is a surprisingly accurate and enjoyable, a mixture of white chocolate and red bean paste. You'll need to be a fan of red bean paste to enjoy this one though - if you're not, or if you've never had it before you'll probably be wondering why your candy bar tastes a little bit like kidney beans got mixed in with your chocolate.

Momiji Manju Kitkats

I love the leaf detail

Monday, February 20, 2017

February Update

I've been pretty absent around here, haven't I? It's not just the blog though, I've been pulling back from other forms of social media as well. I've given it a good bit of thought, trying to really understand what's behind it. It's still hard to say. In some ways I think social media makes me feel more isolated than connected - I'm definitely happier since deleting the facebook app from my phone.

But my blog is different. As I've slowed down, I've found myself wondering if I'm running out of things to say. If this blog is coming to an end? But I don't really think it's time This has been such a fun/therapeutic/helpful space. I still love ever comment I get, whether it's someone thanking me for advice about gluten free food in japan, or just my mom saying that my pictures are cute. And having this space to think and write has really helped me process all the aspects of life here, especially in the early days when there was so much change. Often when I was struggling with writer's block I found that I could "warm up" by posting here on my blog, and then get into working on my book. Truth be told, my writing there lately has been pretty slow too. So maybe it's a problem of discipline.

I'm going to commit to a month of regular posting, and see what happens. Hopefully it will me good for me, and for my other writing as well.

In the meantime, here's what I've been up to.

Yet another birthday cake - German Chocolate this time

Dear Starbucks, this is a gross idea!

Godfather (the non-scary kind)

Valentine's Dinner - plus wine and chocolate!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What a Month

It's been over a month since I've posted anything. Strangely my blog traffic has been up during that time. I like to think that's because over time I've built up resources and valuable information about Tokyo. Or maybe it's just a mystery. But all of that's beside the point. I'm back and happy to be here. 

John and I went back to the US for two weeks just after I posted my last entry. We had some of the most messed up travel plans I've ever experienced, in both directions. But in spite of the inconvenience good came out of it on each end. Due to flight delays we were given a new itinerary departing Japan which gave us a 12 hour layover in San Francisco. My sister lives nearby so we were able to spend a day with her, eating, hiking, and seeing her new house, before heading on to North Carolina. Then a huge snowstorm snarled flights all along the east coast just as we were supposed to return, giving us another day with John's family.

Since I've been back I've been so busy with everything from mountains of laundry to celebrating my wonderful godson's first birthday. There was lots of baking involved! And then last Friday Raku and I participated in the Women's March in Tokyo. It received appallingly bad coverage in English. Both the attendance and REASON for the march were misreported in the Japan Times. Ugh. I honestly don't want to know what was reported in Japanese. But as frustrating as that was, Raku and I carried beautiful signs and marched in a group of 648 people (when only 100 had been expected) - men and women of many nationalities, sharing our concerns and showing our solidarity with marchers around the world.

North Carolina Snow
I made this!!

Double Birthday Celebration
Tokyo Women's March

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)