Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Perfect Saturday

It's the first day of Golden Week, but John and I have already had the most wonderful weekend.  The weather was gorgeously sunny so we spent as much time as we could outside being dreamily in love with Tokyo.  After a visit to the dermatologist and an early lunch we ended up in Shimokitazawa, a cute neighborhood outside of central Tokyo with fun little shops and more people than cars in the streets.

We went to Bear Pond for some delicious hispter coffee, and while we were there noticed a cucpcake shop right across the street so we popped in and got a couple for later. Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent people watching, taking pictures, and shopping.  I'm more of a window shopper, but John scored a rare bottle of bourbon, a denim jacket, and a leather ID case.

On Sunday we couldn't quite recapture the bliss of the day before, but in the afternoon we took a bottle of champagne (ice bucket and all) to the park behind midtown and soaked up as much sun as we could.
Can you even stand how cool this place looks?

The cupcakes weren't bad, but the scones were excellent!

Spring Flowers!

The Gate to Someone's House

Midtown Champagne

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Presidential Visit

President Obama is here in Tokyo right now!  Raku and I are working in a Starbucks where we saw VP Biden's entourage a few months ago, hoping we get lucky again, but so far nothing.  We're pretty close to the action and it's been interesting to see how Tokyo prepared for the visit.  Last week major train stations stopped letting people use the coin lockers, and I've heard the trashcans are closed down too, not that they're easy to find on a good day.

We live in Akasaka, the same neighborhood as the Prime Minister's residence, and there has been a huge police presence since the beginning of April.  Seriously, at least one officer on every corner plus others on patrol.  John's office is just around the corner from the hotel the president is staying in, and he said security is crazy.  When he left work yesterday, right around the time that Obama arrived, the streets were closed down and police were requiring ID of anyone trying to walk into the area.

Last night we went to the Mori Art Museum, which has a really great Andy Warhol exhibit right now, and I noticed that the colored lights around the top of Mori Tower had been changed to red, white, and blue.  Mori Art Museum is really a fantastic place in Tokyo.  They don't have a permanent collection, but they always have great shows (I've been to the last four).  The best part is that it's on the 52nd floor, and included in the ticket price is admission onto their observation deck - one of the best views of Tokyo, in my opinion.  There are several bar/cafe places up there too, and they're almost never crowded.  From the view last night we noticed that Tokyo Tower has gotten in on the fun, changing it's lights to red and white stripes with a block of blue at the top.  My picture is pretty terrible, but lets blame John for that, I'll try to get a better one tomorrow night.

Tokyo View with Warhol Exhibit Reflected in Background

Tokyo Tower Dressed Up Like the American Flag

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


The past few days have been very grey and damp, but this sun is back this morning.  Even when it was kind of dreary outside I didn't mind, I've been loving that spring is really finally here.  There are lots of flowers in bloom, and even the flowers that the rain has washed down look pretty on the ground.  Even better, I'm confident that our puffy winter coats have been retired for the season.  This past weekend John and I had a picnic outside the Imperial Palace, and now all I want are more picnics, outdoor cafes, and drinks on the roof.  Tomorrow I'm going to Ikea to get a couple inexpensive folding chairs so John and I can lounge more comfortably on the roof.  I'm even contemplating a spring haircut!

Hot Cross Pancakes for Easter

The End of The Late Blooming Sakura

Saturday, April 19, 2014

More Unusual KitKats

I just can't stop myself when I see unusual kitkat flavors (except for the green tea ones, I never want those).  I've had a few lately that I thought were worth sharing.

The first came in a big box that I got to send to a friend in the US, but I took the liberty of sampling one because it was wasabi flavored!  It was without question one of the weirdest things I've ever tasted. They're bright green, just like the root, and although they were sweet and not at all spicy there was the unmistakable horseradish flavor.  I don't know if I'm crazy, but it always seems like I can taste horseradish and wasabi at least as much in my nose as in my mouth.  Does that happen to anyone else? Because of that flavor it seemed really savory despite being sweet.  I wouldn't seek another one out, but I'm glad I tried one.

I bought the next flavor just because the name was so funny.  Well, let's be honest I would have purchased it anyways.  Men's Almond KitKat.  I have no idea what that name means, maybe it's too strongly flavored for women?  I was also interested in this one because it came in the giant candy bar size rather than the usual sticks.  I split this one with Raku, and we both agreed it didn't taste like almonds at all.  It mostly tasted like chocolate, with a brief flash of coffee somewhere in the middle of chewing that was quickly lost.  The label says something about coffee too, but I can't read all of it, so I suppose that will remain a mystery. It was better than most of the novelty flavors, but nothing spectacular.

The last one we tried was also in the giant candy bar form and it was Royal Milk Tea flavored.  If you're wondering what royal milk tea is, it's something Lipton introduced to the Japanese market in the 60's.  It's pretty much black tea with sweetened condensed milk making it very rich and very sweet.  If you've ever tried bubble tea I think it's similar to the milk tea base.  I see it everywhere and it's insanely popular, though I'm not a big fan of it.  The kitkat was delicious though!  Raku and I both agreed that this was a real standout among the novelty flavors and I'd definitely recommend it if you ever see one.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Back to Normal

Whew!  Things are finally getting back to normal.  I'm sitting in my usual Starbucks with Raku across from me, working on our writing.  Well, she's being diligent at least, I'm catching up on my blogging. It's been almost three weeks since I've seen her, and even longer since life has seemed normal.  For the last week I was in the US, between upstate New York and North Carolina.  It was harder than I expected, but I'm so glad I was able to make the trip to say goodbye to my Grandma, and to spend time with my family.

This was the first time I've gone back since John and I moved out here, and I expected that it would be hard to leave.  In many ways it was heaven, I had fantastic Greek and Italian food in NY and went to Wegman's - the best grocery store in the universe, I got to stay up late talking with my sister and cook in my mom's kitchen, and I got to see a few good friends that I've missed terribly.  It made me remember how effortless life can feel when you can communicate with everyone and understand all the social norms.  But the whole time I was there Japan felt like home, and I didn't feel any regret when I headed back.  To be fair, that could be because John was still in Japan, or because of the sad nature of my visit.  But it gave me a sense of peace and appreciation about life in Japan that I sometimes lack. I'm sure I could spend an entire lifetime learning more about Japan and figuring out how to do a better job of living here, but it helped me see how much I have learned and appreciate how well I have adapted. It didn't hurt that when I got back the weather was warm, the trees are putting out new leaves, and lots of flowers are in bloom.

I'm looking forward to springtime adventures and all the visitors the next few months will bring!

One Final Sakura Photo

Taught my mom how to take a selfie!  I think the blur just makes it more hilarious.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

April Showers

I've encountered a lot of rain lately. I'm so glad that John and I were able to see the Sakura both Monday and Tuesday nights because they turned out to be my only chances. We managed to hit Nakameguro, Chiodorigafuchi, and Yaskuni Shrine - some of the most famous places. By Wednesday it was raining, and I think all the wind and rain have brought down a lot of the flowers.

Thursday morning I woke up to the news that my grandmother was dying and after buying a plane ticket I dashed through the rain to catch a train to the airport in time. Within hours I was leaving the country (for the second time in a month after not leaving for almost a year and a half straight!) and landed in Detroit to more rain. After a quick connectionI made it to upstate New York and it's raining here too.

My grandma always was a strong minded woman, so she held on until early this morning, which gave all of us time to spend with her and with each other. She lived to be 98! When I think back about her now I remember the stories she used to tell me when I was little (usually about squirrels), the way she took care of me on days that I stayed home from school sick, how soft her hands always were, and how mischievous she was up until the very end. I feel very lucky to have had such a close relationship with her.