Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Seasonal Sodas

There have been a few interesting limited-edition sodas released this spring and summer, and I've finally gotten around to tasting of all of them. Coca-cola released a peach coke this spring and followed up with a clear coke this summer. Pepsi has released a line of J-Colas, as they're called, with Japanese art on the label. This line includes J-cola, J-Cola zero, and J-Cola midnight which has a currant flavor.

Peach Coke

This tastes exactly as it sounds. It's definitely coke, but with a really strong peach scent and flavor. I found it kind of overwhelming, and not exactly an improvement, but definitely interesting to try.

Clear Coke


I was in elementary school when crystal pepsi came out, and I remember how excited I was when my mom let us buy some - we rarely got to have sodas. I was way to young to remember how it tasted, but I liked to imagine it was similar to this Clear Coke. This is a zero calorie soda, which I don't mind, but it does that artificial sweetener flavor. It also tastes lemony, and has a strong caramel flavor which was strange since it obviously doesn't have any caramel coloring. John thought it tasted like Sprite, but I disagree.



John thought this tasted a lot like Dr. Pepper, which is interesting because Japanese people tend to hate the flavor of Dr. Pepper. I thought it was fine, but just tasted like any old cola. I also tried J-Cola zero, and couldn't really tell you how it's different from Pepsi's other zero calorie soda. But not bad.

J-Cola Midnight

This one was really hard to find - we actually didn't see it until we were on vacation in Hokkaido. J-Cola midnight is a cola with cassis (black currant) flavor added. I actually thought it was really good. The cassis is fairly prominent, but blends into the cola flavor very well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Summer Vacation

A few weeks ago John and I took a spontaneous summer vacation! We decided to go up to Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan, for the first part of the week, and then pop down south to Kyushu for the final weekend of our trip.

Hokkaido was wonderful, much cooler than the hot humid weather Tokyo has been having, and with lots of wide open outdoor spaces. Our first stop was Noboribetsu, a small onsen town that's famous for its volcanic sulfur vents and geysers. After a night there we went to Sapporo, the biggest city in Hokkaido for several days, and then went out to Otaru and Yoichi. Otaru is a small port town with a lovely canal and old western style stone buildings. And Yoichi is the home of a major Japanese whiskey distillery. We really enjoyed seeing it all, and also relaxing, lying around reading, and spending time in coffee shops.

Fukuoka, the biggest city in Kyushu, reminded us a lot of Tokyo but moved at a much more casual pace. In one ramen shop (that is very famous and had a line out the door) we were told to take our time and enjoy our meal! At ramen shops in Tokyo you are expected to eat as quickly as possible and get out, so it was quite a pleasant surprise.

Both Sapporo and Fukuoka are know for ramen - miso up north, and pork broth in the south, and we ate our hearts out. We liked everywhere we went except for one place. Quick tip - if you find yourself in Sapporo, Yukikaze was incredibly good! And if you find yourself in Fukuoka we thought Issou did not live up to the hype.

Sulfur vents in Noboribetsu

John bought me this adorable coke

Coffee and cheesecake, plus John in the mirror

Our hotel in Sapporo had a fire pit on the roof

The old Sapporo brewery

Yukikaze ramen - so delicious!

Yoichi is old-fashioned and uses direct fire stills

Yoichi distillery

The canal in Otaru

Drinks on the beach in Kyushu

Fukuoka at sunset

If you're not having cake for breakfast you're not doing vacation right

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The End of an Era

I'm terrifically sad to report that my dearest friend, partner in crime, and frequent star of this blog, my most favorite Raku, has moved back to the United States.

I've been pretty absent from the blog lately. There's been a lot going on as I've helped her deal with the many errands and tasks associated with an international move. And then I've just been incredibly sad as I prepared to say goodbye.

I have to say I never would have made it through my first year here (or any of them, really) without her. She is the kindest, most encouraging friend and I am going to miss her presence so much! I could go on for pages, and it still wouldn't express everything. But I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to explore and learn about this city with her.  And for the way she helped me face so many challenges, helping me to see them as adventures, providing a shoulder to cry on, and giving me a hand to hold as needed.

In closing, here are too many photos from our wonderful time together. I love you Raku, you're the best!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


Last month was a strange month!

The weather was constantly changing, which I suppose is typical of March, but it was much more extreme than normal.  We had a days and days of balmy weather interrupted by a rare snow day and then back to unseasonable warmth. For the first time ever John and I went to view the cherry blossom at night without needing to wear coats.

And the crazy weather led to sakura chaos. The flowers opened nine days earlier than normal, and the really shocking part was that they came several days before the officially predicted bloom date - which is usually very accurate.

On top of that, it seems like all my friends here in Tokyo are in the midst of different major life transitions. Some of them are happy, others are stressful or scary. But it's felt pretty chaotic lately.

For my own life I've been trying to relax and find the small pleasures each day. Some days that works better than others. But here are a few of the good things.

Celebrating our anniversary at The Park Hyatt

Tea at Chatei Hatou (Photo by Raku)

Cherry blossoms in Nakameguro

A mandarin orange daifuku

A Yokohama day trip

Yokohama in the evening

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Afternoon Tea at The Kahala Resort

While my sister and I were in Hawaii we wanted to have afternoon tea. The Kahala Resort is actually the first place I ever had afternoon tea ten years ago, and I had amazing memories of the experience. At the risk of tainting the memories, and after calling to confirm a gluten free menu for Julie, we decided to give it a shot.

We arrived half an hour late, entirely because I mixed up the reservation, but they seated us graciously, and we never felt rushed. We were given tea menus, and selected the two teas we wanted to order, but then our server brought out samples of the teas to smell and we ended up changing our order. The White Rose tea is out-of-this-world delicious, and I only wish they sold it to take home! We also had the Kahala Signature Blend, which was a little disappointing. Black tea is the first ingredient listed, with hibiscus close to the end. I expected a slightly tart tropical black tea, but this was bright pink and basically like drinking Red Zinger. Not bad, but if I had understood I wouldn't have ordered it. At the Kahala you can have hot water refills, but you can't change the tea you ordered. We happily refilled the White Rose, but didn't finish the original pot of the Kahala Blend.

The Kahala was wonderful about preparing a gluten free menu for Julie that was creative and appealing. You just need to give them a day or two of advanced notice. Honestly, her savories looked more delicious and bountiful than mine! I think my favorite from the meal was a deviled egg with crab and bacon - I now realize all deviled eggs need a chunk of crunchy bacon stuck in them!

The atmosphere was really relaxing and the service was extremely friendly. And I don't mean to diminish them at all when I say that has overwhelmingly been my experience everywhere in Hawaii. We were seated outside on the veranda with views of the dolphin pools (that's right, they have dolphin pools!), the swimming pool, and the ocean. This is a mild complaint, but I believe the seating area has shifted from ten years ago, and is now farther from the dolphins. It also seems just a little more worn, or perhaps I've developed a more critical eye. I should admit we went on a kind of rainy gray day, so that must have influenced my impressions to some extent.

If you have the chance to visit the Kahala, be sure to walk around and explore. There is a beautiful spiral staircase with dozens of orchids growing along it, and while we were there before Christmas, the Christmas tree was filled with live orchids as well.

The Kahala Mandarin
Hours: 2:00-5:30
Phone: 808-739-8760
Address: 5000 Kahala Ave., Honolulu, HI 96816

The Orchid Staircase

Always so relaxing

The bottom tier is gluten free

Gluten free desserts

The dolphin lanai

Ocean View

The orchid filled Christmas tree

Read about other afternoon teas:
The Aman Tokyo
The Palace Hotel Tokyo
The Metropole Hanoi
The Ritz Carlton Tokyo
Tokyo Shangri-la
Peninsula Hotel Tokyo
The Mandarin Oriental (second time)
Park Hyatt Shinjuku
Four Seasons Marunouchi
Hotel Chinzanso
The Mandarin Oriental

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Yogurt Kitkats with Fruit and Nut Topping

There's a new flavor of kitkat out - yogurt with a fruit and nut topping. Based on the packaging, I assume it's for Valentine's and maybe White Day.

In general the kitkats with a topping seem to be premium kitkats, and the flavors are definitely better. I often find that fruit flavored kitkats have an unpleasant artificial sharpness to them. But these were really good. There was a tartness to the yogurt flavor, but not unpleasantly so. And the topping was a mixture of real dried raspberries, cranberries and almonds. I would definitely recommend them.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Hawaiian Sister-Trip

Back in December, my sister and I met up for a week in Hawaii, and it was the best thing ever. I pretty much haven't been able to stop talking about it since. The scenery, the weather, the food, the time with my sister, I couldn't have hoped for more.

Ten years ago I had a summer job in Hawaii, which was an incredible experience. I've been dreaming about going back ever since, but this was my first real opportunity. I was a little nervous, thinking that maybe my memories had grown more rosy as the time passed. What if it wasn't as wonderful as I remembered? But that turned out to be a needless fear.

We spent our first four nights on the north shore and the last three in Waikiki. If you have the chance to go to Hawaii, and you'll be on Oahu, I can't recommend the north shore enough. It requires renting a car, but it's so worth it! And driving around the island is part of the fun. Julie and I were always gaping out the windows at how beautiful everything was, and pulled over more than once just to see a beautiful vista or explore a beach by the side of the road. It's so much calmer than Honolulu - the perfect place to relax and unwind.

I had read that food in Hawaii is kind of overpriced, and not very good. But either we got lucky, or we're not very picky, because almost everything we ate was great. Being on vacation we embraced the spam musubis and turkey sandwiches (a novelty for me coming from Japan) from the convenience stores just as much as we did the fresh fruit and seafood.

After coming back Raku asked me what makes everyone talk about Hawaii like it's the best vacation spot ever, even better than other tropical locations. And I stumbled trying to put an answer into words (it just is, ok?!?) But I think it's a mixture of the intense beauty, the perfect climate, how friendly everyone is, how small and accessible the island is (I assume this is true of the others besides Oahu) and perhaps some special Hawaiian magic. 

So, if you ever have the chance, go! And in the meantime, try not to be annoyed at all the pictures I'm about to post.

First Night on the North Shore: Mokuleia Beach Park
Julie was obsessed with all the chickens

In winter the waves are giant on the north shore

More giant waves
This actually looked a lot better than it tasted 
The water was so rough that the Pipeline Master's surf competition was on hold for days

The Best Sister

It's even pretty when it's stormy

The view from Kualoa Regional Park 

Underwater Coral

Kayaking in Kaneohe Bay
Hanauma Bay

Passion Fruit Acai Bowl
Waikiki at Night

Macadamia nut pavlova with lemon curd and tropical fruit

The pool at the Surfjack Hotel

In my memories the light is always this golden