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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cranberry Almond KitKats

I came across a new kitkat flavor this morning at the convenience store while I was paying my water bill. From the packaging you can tell their not just going for a novelty flavor, they're trying to be fancy.

I love fruit and nuts in my chocolate, but I was still skeptical of these. I've been burned by too many bad novelty flavors. (And yet I still keep buying them. I must be a glutton for punishment...or maybe just a glutton?)

When I opened the box I was surprised to see six tiny individually wrapped sticks instead of the usual three packs of double sticks. The cranberry almond topping only seems to cover about 3/4 of the top. I'm not sure if they're intentionally giving you a handhold there, or what.

But despite my low expectations, these turned out to be real winners. The fruit and nuts really comes through in the flavor. And the texture of the nuts and chewy fruit pairs nicely with the crunch of a kitkat. The only downside is that these cost nearly double the price of a regular kitkats. While I wouldn't buy these on a regular basis (Not that there's any risk, they'll have disappeared in no time) I would happily eat them again.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Summer Recap

We've still got at least a month of summer weather left, here in in Tokyo. But the end of August always feels like the end of summer to me. It's been an unusual summer, not nearly as hot as normal - which is not to say that it hasn't been very hot and that I haven't gotten in my fair share of complaining. And while rainy season was exceptionally dry, August has turned out to be exceptionally rainy. It seems like a new typhoons are sending more rain our way just about every third day.

The first part of my summer was so busy and exciting with all of our visitors. And then this past month has been so slow and quiet. My partner in crime, Raku, has been away for nearly a month, and I've had no other visitors. So it's been a time of getting back into the swing of daily routines and focusing on my writing. Editing is hard, but I can tell that I'm getting better.

Even though the weather isn't quite sure what it's doing, Japan is with me in anticipating fall. Autumn decorations are going up in the stores, and this week I've seen limited edition fall beer cans and halloween candy for sale.

I've been so lax about blogging the past few months (maybe even longer than that) so here's a photo recap of the summer. Hopefully with the start of September, and the anticipation of fall I'll be back to a more regular posting schedule.

Summer festival on my birthday

We went to an owl cafe! (And look how short I look beside these giants!)

The cutest donut ever

Wearing our best watermelon outfits

Would you believe this is central Tokyo?

Urban rainbow

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