Thursday, May 30, 2013


Just like the cherry blossoms did, Tsuyu (Japan's rainy season) has arrived a week and a half early. The humidity is high, the sky is grey whether it's raining or not, and rain is the most common weather we'll be having until mid-July.

Rainy days are some of the most annoying days to be so tall.  It's terrible to be walking down the street in a sea of umbrellas, all of which have spokes (what are those little things actually called? ribs?) right at eye level. Yesterday I was waiting at a cross walk (with my hair up) and a woman's umbrella got tangled in my bun!
Umbrellas at Shibuya Crossing
 I remember the first summer we were here I didn't know about rainy season.  I don't think I saw blue sky a single day we were here.  I thought Tokyo must have the most awful pollution, and I remember how amazingly blue the sky seemed when we got to Hong Kong.  Now I know that blue sky is quite normal here, just not in June.

Foggy Night View from Our Apartment
To cheer myself up (and because I needed a new purse anyways) I bought this  bright sunny bag to make me think of summer.  It's by a Japanese brand - Jiyoh - that does lots of bright canvas bags.  I found it in the Gallery Market in the Tokyu Hands Cafe in Shibuya, but they're also available online.  And if I understand correctly (using google translate) you can order custom colors.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Summer Dresses

I've been loving the summer dresses that Uniqlo has been selling lately.  Sometimes it's hard to find clothes that fit me right - often the hips are wrong, or the waist falls too high, but Uniqlo is pretty good in general and I've found a couple of really great dresses lately.

At Hikawa Shrine

I feel like I'm wearing an impressionist painting

And here's one of Raku:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Late Spring

The weather has been wonderful for the past couple of weeks.  It's warm and breezy, and perfect to be outside most of the time.  I know that rainy season (tsuyu) is only a few weeks away and after that the terrible heat and humidity of summer, but for now I'm enjoying all the time I can outside.

There's a little park near our apartment that has lovely flowers all year round (the winter cabbages and camellias are both from here) but it has suddenly exploded into a gorgeous rose garden.

 I found a really fantastic kiwi popsicle at the 7-Eleven.  The outside is like a regular fruit popsicle, but the inside is a crunchier icy texture more like a snow cone.  It also comes in the blue flavor "Soda" and the super gross "Corn Potage" flavor.  (What is Japan's obsession with corn potage?)

Speaking on 7-Eleven snacks, I found some passion fruit flavored kitkats earlier this week. They smelled nice but tasted a little strange.  I'm not the biggest passion fruit fan to begin with though, so they're probably great if you are a fan.  The coating seemed to melt just a little faster than the chocolate does.

Besides enjoying the weather I've been getting a lot of writing done.  One day Raku and I were in Omotesando writing outside at the fancy Starbucks, but also having a great time people watching.  At one point a lady walked by with seven little fluffy dogs that were all the same size and color.

She must work for a pet store 

Then later out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a big animal walking down the street.  When I looked up there was a man with a donkey selling flowers.

Not your average sight on a Tokyo street

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Johnson Airbase

My grandfather was in the Air Force for most of his life, and in the 1950's he was stationed in Japan with his family for a couple of years when my dad was a kid.  I heard stories and saw a few pictures when I was growing up, but I never felt very connected to it, even when John and I decided to move here.  

In April, however, I had the chance to tour the old Johnson Airbase where they lived.  It was really a crazy stroke of luck that I even found a tiny advertisement about the tour, and managed to sign up just in time.  It happened to fall while Sarah was visiting, and so she and Raku came along as well.  I was really excited, but I wasn't sure if it would be interesting at all for either of them, but I think it turned out to be a really great day for everyone.

Johnson Airbase was retuned to the Japanese and is now the Iruma Self-Defense Force base.  It's about an hour outside of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture at the Inariyama koen train station.

I love the cartoon!
 Most of the original base has been torn down now, but the airfield and the chapel both remain.  There were three people on the tour with us that had lived or gone to school at Johnson when they were children, though I think they were all there when they were older than my dad or aunt.

Reunion in front of the chapel
As part of our tour we also got to see the museum for the Iruma base.  Our group was so excited and enthusiastic that our wonderful tour guides kept taking us to see more things, and were kind enough to let us take pictures even though we didn't think we would be allowed to.  One of the most startling things we saw was a lovely blue plane with a cherry blossom painted on it that we learned was a kamikaze plane from WWII.  There are only 14 of these remaining in Japan!

Kamikaze Plane

Crushed Kamikaze Propeller
We also saw a helicopter that was used for rescue missions after the Niigata earthquake in 2004.  We were even allowed to walk around inside it!

After lunch we explored Hyde Park, named for the childhood home of President Eisenhower, which was the officers' housing compound.  The houses were torn down in the 80's, but the sidewalks, outdoor stairs, and driveways remain.  It's quite haunting to see, but it's been turned into a lovely public park.

Replica of Hyde Park

Stairway to Nowhere
The park is beautiful, and though Sarah had missed the sakura in Tokyo there were still some blooming up here.  We learned that during the occupation the Americans planted 300 sakura trees in Hyde Park as part of a cultural exchange.

Sakrua Petals

Enjoying the Train Ride Home

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Best Burger In Tokyo

Everybody had their favorite burger place in Tokyo, and John and I are no different.  In fact, I feel silly admitting this, but for a while I didn't blog about ours because I wanted to keep it a secret.  What if word got out, and then we had to wait in line for an hour just to eat a delicious hamburger?  Then I realized it was completely crazy to think my little old blog has a wide enough reach to cause that.  And even if it did, this place deserves to be so popular.

So, I'm putting it out here.  Authentic.  It's a little restaurant in Akasaka, and I'm not kidding, it serves the best hamburgers that either of us has ever eaten.  John and I first came here in the summer of 2010.  Then we came back a number of times in the summer of 2011.  Now that we live here, we have a point card and go probably once a month.  It's stood the test of time, and we've never once been disappointed.

The place is really small, it only has about 5 tables plus 3 counter seats.  The same people are always working there, and they're open every day except for during the Fuji Rock festival, when they close down so everyone can attend.  Last order is at 7:00 on weekends, so don't come late (we've forgotten and been disappointed before).

John and I both order the cheese burger, and John gets jalapenos as an additional topping.  (I normally steal the last few)

Are you drooling yet?

I am!

They have several more creative burgers like a broccoli cheese burger, and a peach burger.  But we always stick to the classic.  They have salt and nutmeg shakers on the tables.  I'm guessing the nutmeg goes with the peach burger?

The menu has other non-burger options, but I've never tried any of them.  John got a hot dog once with our point card, and also a "fried chicken" - it was a drum stick - but he says the burgers at the way to go.  There is a vegetarian sandwich options though, in case you happen to go there with someone who is.

One of my favorite things about the place (after the amazing food and the friendly service) is the instruction sheet on how to eat a burger.  I love the little crab with huge hands.

 If you ever have the chance I highly recommend you come here!

Hours: M-F 11:00-10, last order 9:30 Sat-Sun 11:00-8:00, last order 7:30
Phone: 03-3503-8584
Address: 2-18-19 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Socialized Medicine (by John)

Just this week I had a physical performed at a Japanese health clinic. They drew my blood, gave me an EKG, did a chest X-Ray, and checked my vision - all at zero cost to me. 

Every year in Japan employers pay for a yearly physical for any of their employees that elect to do so. At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to subject myself to such a battery of tests, but since it was free and a friend of mine had been diagnosed with cancer during a similar test I thought it was the prudent thing to do. 

My physical was scheduled for last Wednesday at 2pm. I decided to show up a little early, but it turned out that the office was closed for lunch until 2:00. When I returned at 2:01, however, the office was open and there were already three people waiting for their appointments. 

As a precursor to this physical I was required to collect and bring with me my own urine sample. I was provided with a test tube and a small cup for home use. The instruction instructed me to fold the cup using a certain origami fold (really) to facilitate the transfer of the liquid from the cup to the test tube. 

I had requested that the tests and consultation take place in English, but it turned out that was not going to happen so I stood in line at the receptionist desk going through the possible phrases that I could use to communicate that I was here for my yearly physical and not for any specific ailment. 

Before I had made it to the front of the line a nurse approached me and asked if I was a lawyer. I said yes and handed her my packet of information and was instructed to wait in a chair. 

I was then directed to a small room where I changed into a pastel colored shirt that I suppose was meant to make it easy for the nurse to take my blood/measurements/heart beat etc. 

What followed was the list of tests that I listed above with the addition of a blood pressure measurement and a measurement of my height, weight, and waist size. It seems the waist size measurement is specifically engineered to discourage obesity. In the questionnaire that I filled out prior to my physical I was also asked if I had gained more than 20 pounds (1.6 stone) since age 20 - I've only gained 18 - and whether I had gained 7 pounds in the last year. 

There were very few honest to God walls in this clinic. Most of the testing areas were separated by curtains which were whisked open and closed as I was directed from one testing machine to the next. 

After the nurse had completed all my tests I met with the doctor for approximately 5 minutes. In these five minutes the doctor reviewed my test results (the X-Ray was already displayed on her computer screen) and I was asked if anything was troubling me. I said no and then she told me I was finished.  In a few days I should receive a full written report on the results from my tests.

From start to finish the procedure took 40 minutes including the initial wait. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Japanese Wedding Pictures

A few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to attend a friend's wedding photo shoot! It was on a wonderful sunny morning in a beautiful park, and Yoshimi looked gorgeous. I'll miss her when she moves to Italy with her husband in a few months, but I'm so excited for her!

In Japan, weddings are often simple civil ceremonies that are little more than filing paperwork. Couples will often have parties later to celebrate and take traditional photos on a separate date.

We met them at Kiyosumi Teien, a beautiful garden in Kiyosumi Shirokawa.

So peaceful!

Beautifully colored leaves

In order to take these photos couples rent the wedding kimono, and they provide staff that help dress you and then make sure the kimono are perfectly adjusted in every photo.   I was amazed by their attention to detail.  They make sure that everything is perfect from the alignment of the collar to the fall of the hem.

Making adjustments

The lovely couple

This park must be a popular place for wedding photos because we saw another couple doing their photos there also.

We even got to be have our pictures taken with them!

This is my favorite!

Walking around in the female kimono is no easy task!  Just to sit down on this rock two people had to help Yoshimi.  The inner white kimono is wrapped very tightly so that very small steps must be taken, and the red outer coat is so heavy!  After she took it off, Yoshimi let us hold it, and it was like a futon mattress!

The white kimono
Many thanks to Yoshimi for inviting us to her photos, letting us take pictures of our own, and giving me permission to blog about them!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hikawa Shrine

There's a beautiful little shrine just down the street from our apartment that I love.  Even on days when I am in a bad mood, distracted, or feeling homesick it always makes me feel peacefully and glad that I'm here in Japan.
Hikawa Shrine

Hikawa Shrine was built in 1730 and has and was one of the lucky shrines to survive the bombings during WWII.  It is always so quiet and still when I walk through, unlike some of the bigger temples and shrines that are tourist attractions.  If you're ever in Akasaka, don't miss it.


Hours: Open during daylight hours
Address: 6-10-12 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokoy

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Golden Week

Golden week is a series of holidays that fall close together in the spring, and this year it fell as a three day weekend followed by a four day weekend.  John and I didn't do anything in particular, but we had a fun time relaxing and enjoying the extra time together.

Early in the week we made a trip out to Kawasaki and signed up for a Costco membership.  It's exactly like the US, except there are a bunch of Japanese products for sale as well.  But we bought a lot of produce and John found an enormous bag of chocolate chips.

So many chocolate chips!
Another evening we went to a beer garden selling frozen beer.  To be honest, the concept was great but the evening was a little too cold to enjoy it properly.  The frozen beer itself didn't taste great, but it kept the beer underneath (a huge glass, by the way) delightfully cold.  I think it would be excellent on a hot afternoon.

And every once in a while you need a bottle of champagne in the morning to go with some pancakes like we did on Saturday.

Perfect weekend brunch
Speaking of pancakes, John prefers "pancake" syrup while I prefer maple syrup, and I will argue forever that the real thing is better.  But I have to admit that the pancake syrup here has an amazing bottle with a spout that pours both a thick and a thin stream of syrup.

Lots of syrup?

Or a little.  Cool, right?

After our boozy brunch we decided to rearrange the furniture in our living room.

It seems more social this way

Besides that, I've been cooking a lot.  When we moved here I found a food blog - Tokyo Terrace - by another expat in Tokyo that I really liked, but unfortunately she had moved back to the US and wasn't writing anymore.  But just recently she started up a new blog - Set the Table - that I've really been enjoying.  I'm putting up pictures of the recipes I followed, but her photos are waaay better than mine.

I've made her Brussels Sprouts that are cooked with soy and pineapple.  They paired really nicely with pork chops and mashed potatoes.

We got the brussels sprouts at Costco
I also made her Bacon and Egg Polenta.  I'd never eaten polenta before, and wasn't sure what I'd think, but it was amazing!  John and I both enjoyed it and I can't wait to make it again.

So delicious!
When I was making the eggs for the polenta I cracked one open and discovered it had two yolks!  I've never seen that before.  Of course, I immediately broke one of them, but I think you can still tell in the photo.