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8 posts from May 2012

05/31/2012

Eclipse

Earlier this month, Tokyo experienced a rare annular eclipse, also called the ring of fire due to the ring of  light of the sun that remains during the eclipse. Tokyo has not seen an eclipse in 173 years, so this was not only a special moment for Japan but also for the world.

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This was my first eclipse as well! Similar to hanami, or sakura blossom viewing, a large amount of the dorm students went to the roof of our building at around 7:15am for a viewing party of the eclipse. Many people had special glasses that you were supposed to purchase and wear to protect your eyes from the sun's rays.

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With the naked lens of a camera, the brightness of the sun prevents you from seeing the entire eclipse. Luckily clouds began to pass overhead, so you were able to make out the actual eclipse (although we probably should not have looked directly at it- still dangerous and harmful to your eyes). 

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It was early, so there wasn't too much involved with our little viewing party- many people were still in pajamas, or eating breakfast; however, it was a very cool and unique experience most people will never get to have. Who knew it'd be halfway around the world when I'd finally get to see an eclipse!

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 I hope everyone else got a good look at the sun that day! Such a simple event in my life, but here in Japan everything is a party- viewing flowers, the moon, the sun. It's a great reminder to treat life like this back in America as well!

 

05/29/2012

My Sweet Tooth Knows No Shame

It's about time for a pastry overview post, methinks. One of my main goals for my time here was pastries. 

There's no shame in a life of pastries.

I'd actually been planning on doing research on Japanese food history, food history being my new favorite topic and dream job, but I haven't really done any "research." 

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European pastries and pastry shops are fairly prevalent in Tokyo, as are traditional Japanese/Asian sweets stores. My mom and I found this out when we came to Tokyo 3 years ago, and I've wondered why this is ever since. This, in fact, is what I had wanted to research. 

I haven't gotten very far, as I have no experience doing real research and don't really know where to look. I know what to eat, though. 

Everything.

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Pierre Herme's Raspberry Ispahan, a large macaron pastry, from the Pierre Herme shop in Aoyama.

My friends took me through Omotesando and Aoyama on my birthday, on a walking tour of Harajuku and Shibuya, and we passed by a branch of Pierre Herme. Pierre Herme is perhaps one of the world's most famous pastry chefs, especially when it comes to macarons (next to Laduree, who is accredited with the invention of the modern French macaron, and who has a branch in the Shinjuku train station), so I couldn't not go inside. I almost flooded the store drooling over the ware, and my friends offered to buy me some macarons, so I chose 6 to try.

Beware, though, as macarons are relatively expensive. You'll find that Asian sweets aren't very expensive, for the most part, but European ones can easily push someone's budget a little too far. Granted, Japan has some of the world's best pastries, so if it's something you can't get wherever you live, you may as well give it a shot.

I just give everything a shot. I think I have a problem.

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Viron, in Shibuya, was recommended in a CNN article by Yukari Sakamoto. It's a boulangerie, specializing in bread, that also serves sandwiches, coffee and expensive pastries. This was actually my first destination, conquered during orientation. I got a chocolate tart and strawberry meringue cookies. The chocolate tart was deadly. In a good way, though, as I'm a sucker for a good chocolate tart.

The bakery back home, that sells to many coffeeshops and restaurants where I live (called Guglhupf, in Durham, NC) makes chocolate ganache tarts with chocolate cookie crust. I'll devour a half of one, bask in the overwhelm, and then selfishly devour the other half. This was like that. I went back to Viron today while I was lost in Shibuya, and bought a coffee eclair. Not the best (for eclairs, find a branch of Cozy Corner, or go to Sadaharu Aoki in Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi), but enjoyable nonetheless. The coffee flavor wasn't very strong in the custard, and the coffee frosting tasted more like powdered sugar than anything else, but the choux pastry (the bread-y part of the eclair) was perfect. Cozy Corner eclairs are massive, and you can get many different flavors. The first time I went to Sadaharu Aoki, I got a yuzu (citron) eclair (Yuzu also happens to be my favorite Japanese band...of the two to whom I listen :P). The yuzu eclair was quite an experience. 

To get to Viron, leave Shibuya station through the Hachiko exit, and walk right immediately, towards Men's 109. It should be a few blocks down that street....or the next street over. There's a Cozy Corner across the street from the Hachiko exit, on the corner next to Men's 109. And for anyone in Saitama, there's a Cozy Corner right outside the east exit of Kita-Urawa station, and one outside the ticket gate of Akabane train station.

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One of the first weekends, my host sister and her friend took me to Ueno Park to go to the zoo (too crowded, so we didn't go in), and see the cherry blossoms (just starting to open, not yet "mankai"), and then around Ameyoko Promenade (the shopping promenade that runs along the train tracks), and Mihashi, a sweets shop that specializes in anmitsu. 

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"An" comes from "anko," meaning "red bean paste," or just "sweet bean paste" (sometimes it's made from white kidney beans, and called "shiroanko,"), and "mitsu," meaning "syrup," comes from "mitsumame," meaning "honey and boiled beans." Therefore, "anko mitsumame" is a dessert of red bean paste (I think it's usually strained to remove bean skins), jelly, boiled red beans, and some type of syrup, plus fruits, creams, ice cream, and whatever else. According to my host sister, Mihashi has the best anmitsu in Tokyo. I went to another anmitsu shop in Tokyo Midtown, and spent nearly twice as much for fewer ingredients, and no difference in quality...so I'd definitely recommend Mihashi, and don't bother buying the more expensive anmitsu in Tokyo Midtown.

Mihashi is just outside Ameyoko, facing the park and the large wall of lanterns.

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Throughout the semester, I've been asking my host family for recommendations of places to go and things to do, so I asked for pastry recommendations. For famous Western pastries, my host father recommended Shirotae (pictured above and below), and for Asian pastries, he recommended salted daifuku, from Sugamo. 

A few Fridays ago, when I was done with classes, I took a friend to Shirotae, located outside the metro station in Akasaka-Mitsuke, known for its cheesecake and cream puffs. Since I started practicing choux pastries December, I've been trying to eat cream puffs more often, so I ordered one here. Neither of us got a cheesecake, but between the two of us, we got 2 cream puffs, a slice of a cake topped with caramel (I don't remember the name), and a chocolate cake. 

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The cake had a slice of hard caramel on top, and layers of soft sponge cake and sweet whipped cream. I want that for my wedding. 

The cream puff was everything I thought it would be. Japanese versions of Western pastries are softer, fluffier, and sweeter than American versions, which are sometimes dense, more subtle, and thicker. I have to wonder why this is. It's interesting to note, on a tangent, that Japan is one of the world's largest importers of instant coffee and canned coffee, and a major purchaser of coffee from Hawaii and Jamaica (probably due to location), while America is full of Italian-style cafes and coffee drinks. specialty coffees, and watered-down American versions of traditional drinks. Canned or bottled coffee is almost taboo, unless it's a Starbucks Frappuccino. It would be interesting to figure out what causes these types of cultural differences. 

Back to the puff: the custard was smooth, unlike when I make custard (the yolks always cook too fast), and perfectly flavorful, but not cloyingly so, while the choux pastry was light and sweet, but not overpowering. 

Also, this place is cheap-ish, in comparison to most Western pastry shops in this city. It's one block from the station, going west, and surrounded by bars, funky architecture, souvenir shops, and food.

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Niru and her cream puff.

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 Going way back in time, back to my pre-birthday celebration. We celebrated my birthday a few days early because one of our friends was out of town on the day of, and then we celebrated again the next night. Well, I celebrated every day that week. We started out at Sweets Paradise in Shinjuku right after classes got out on Tuesday, and attempted to consume as much pastry as we possibly could to justify the expense. 

I tried to wake up my stomach by eating a plate of curry noodles before dessert. A stupid idea. And, as always, my eyes are larger than my stomach, so I took too much food and couldn't finish. The concept of Sweets Paradise ("Sweets Para") is an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet. We paid Y1400 for 70 minutes. Tokyo has all-you-can-eat sweets places (Sweets Paradise), as well as "Vikings" (AYCE regular food). I haven't been to a Viking yet, but, judging from past experience with my stomach, it might not be financially efficient. The catch is that these buffets have a time limit, and sometimes an extra stipulation (like, you have to order a drink, or spend a certain extra amount of money on something else in addition to the main thing.)

There are multiple Sweets Paradises, but this one was in Shinjuku, and there's one near the Shibuya station. 

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During orientation, we spent a lot of money on sweets and food, and a lot of time walking around. Initially, sweets were almost a requirement for any day, until we realized that we had 4 months and not enough money to keep up. One of our earliest discoveries was Japanese crepe shops. Why are crepes so popular?

And again I ask the popular questions, why do they love French pastries so much??

We found a crepe place on Takeshita Street, in Harajuku, and then another one outside the Shinjuku train station. I'll never eat crepes again. 

Ironically, there's a store in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles that specializes in crepes and tea. 

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We had worked up quite the sweat from karaoke, so we needed to refuel with....crepes. They have branches of this store all over the city. This one was in Shinjuku, like I mentioned above. 

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Soy-milk based steamed red bean bun, in Nikko. 

The above is a type of manju, a pastry adopted from Chinese mochi. It was originally called "mantou" in Chinese, but the name was changed to "manju" when it came to Japan in the 14th century. Manju is made from steamed bun of flour and rice powder, and a filling of anko. In China, they're called "baozi" now, instead of "mantou." 

There are many regional varieties and also ingredient varieties. For example, Miyajima in Hiroshima is known for "momiji manju," shaped like maple leaves ("momiji"), and where I live, Saitama Prefecture, is known for "jumangoku manju" (meaning "100,000 stones manju"). I have yet to try one of those, but I brought back a box of momiji manju for my host family from Hiroshima.

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 Another type of manju is deep-fried manju, "age-manju," which I found at the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa. We all know deep-fried foods are a requirement for fairs and carnivals, and it seems Japan is no exception. In America, you can find deep-fried bananas, ice cream, and candy bars. In Tokyo, you can find grilled mochi, octopus, fish, squid, meat, and deep-fried manju, as well as a plethora of other foods. This one was green tea-flavored. 

As they say in Japanese:

どうぞ、salivate してください (please, go ahead and salivate)

They don't actually say that. They say "please, go ahead and try it."

05/25/2012

Perfectly Speechless!

Finally a blog post about circles (clubs) at Sophia!

I know I promised this a long time ago, and I apologize for the delay!  I'll do a brief overview of the サークル that I've joined, but with special emphasis on one called SPH48: a girl dance group at Sophia University that dances to songs by popular Japanese group AKB48.

 

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We wear 制服 (school uniforms) for our dance routines!

 

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Practice with SPH48 is always fun!

 

The group has multiple dance performancesーmost of which us 留学生 (study abroad students) won't be around for, but Hana and I were fortunate enough to get the chance to participate in a promotion event at a CD shop! In honor of a new single that AKB48 came out with, our group danced for about 5 hours in front of a store (Muto) in 高田馬場 (Takadanobaba), a busy college area of Tokyo. 


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Waiting in the back room of the CD shop for our dance shift!

 

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Some of the guys who worked at the shop were scarily good at dancing to AKB songs! This one surprised us by running out in his own uniform and joining us for a few numbers!


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Dancing to 完璧〜ぐのね (Perfectly Speechless)!

 

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Out of the crowd watching, these two gaijin may have been my favorite audience xD


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A couple people stop by to take a few pictures and videos.

 

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Everybody join in!

 

Besides SPH48, I've joined a few other groups at Sophia University: notably KGK (Japan's version of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship) and Sophia Wandervogel (Hiking) clubs!

 

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Group photo from KGK's welcome party!


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食べ放題(All-you-can-eatyakiniku with the Wandervogel club!

 

This might just be an overdose of photos, so I'll stop myself here. But there will be more to come soon! :)

05/23/2012

魔法の国のアリス [Alice themed dining]

Recently I went to a little restaurant called 魔法の国のアリス, or something along the lines of Alice's Magical Country, with one of my very dear friends. This is a small chain (they recently opened their fourth location in Tokyo), and the entire restaurant is Alice in Wonderland themed.

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Themed dining is a popular attraction in Tokyo- examples of other themed restaurants include butlers, ninjas,  vampires, maids, and prisons. Because these experiences are viewed as an attraction, locations go very over-the-top to bring you the most unique experience they can- and Alice was no different.

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The menus popped out of this box, decorated like a scene straight from Alice in Wonderland. The restaurant requires that each person orders at least one drink and one food item. The drink menu was in the shape of a top hat with playing cards scattered on it- the drink names were on the playing cards, which opened to show you a picture of the drinks. The actual menu was adorable as well, and the food was all Alice themed. 

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We were served a small appetizer while we waited for our food.  The food itself was delicious- we both ordered a cheshire cat pie, and the flaky pastry dough was perfect. Of course we had to order dessert as well, and that came in the form of a cheshire cat-shaped parfait- smile and tail included!

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More so than the food, themed restaurants are about the experience. They want the customers to feel like they've entered a completly different world. It truly felt like I fell down the rabbit hole and landed in Wonderland, complete with a maze-like confusing layout and all of the important characters. 

I haven't been to any other themed restaurants, so I cannot compare them; however, I highly recommend  going to Alice. The waitresses are extremely friendly, the food is amazing, and the experience has left me gushing for the last two days. With jazzy Disney music playing in the background, I have truly had an experience  that I will never forget! 

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05/22/2012

Rabbit Cafe!!

I know I promised a post on my Golden Week, but I'm super excited about something else right now that I had to share: RABBIT CAFES. (ウサギカフェ<3)

I'm mildly obsessed with bunnies. I think they're the absolutely cutest animals ever. I have bunny prints clothes (H&M had a really cute line; just saying), I have at least five stuffed animal bunnies (from when I was younger...). I used to own two bunnies-- Choco and Cocoa!

I've really been missing cuddling with my bunnies, but thankfully I'm in luck by simply being here in Tokyo, home to the bunny cafe phenomenon. Ra.a.g.f, "Rabbit and Grow Fat," is the cafe I chose to go to, conveniently located in Harajuku. With the option to pay 600 yen for a half hour or 1000 yen for an hour, cafe patrons get to relaxingly sip on iced coffee or lemonade while playing with the many cute bunnies there. For those looking for a new pet, there are even some bunnies for purchase! I'm not really sure how the system would work, but they were all very adorable. 

I highly, highly recommend. I will be going back very soon~

579913_3629858979565_1066800011_3294693_2034829804_nCherise in front of the store sign~

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Bunnies for sale~

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Cherise and I playing with the bunnies

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Our drinks/free food for the bunnies by simply liking them on Facebook!

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A massive feeder rabbit cuddling up to one of the cafe workers

And that's it for now! Again, if you have the chance, go. So worth it. 

 

 

05/19/2012

Was Golden Week really that long ago?

皆さん今日は!久しぶりですね... >_< Hello all, it's been awhile!

It's hard to believe that we're already almost finished with the month of May! Time passes way too quickly on this side of the world. I feel like it was just Golden Week and I just left Izu (see Halee Haggerton's blog posts for pictures of that trip!) and crazily packed my bags for my weekend trip in Osaka!

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Standing in front of the Sun Tower(太陽の塔/taiyou no tou) at Expo Park (万博記念公園/bankpaku kinen kouen)with my travel buddies, Julie and Jessica!

I left Tokyo later than the other two, and got down to Osaka by means of night bus, which was a crazy experience all in itself! The rest stops along the way are pure magicーin Japan, a travel rest stop basically constitutes a clean bathroom (sometimes even with heated toilet seats), food stalls, drink vending machines that give you a straw and put the lid on your beverage for you, restaurants, you-are-here blinking maps with information on where traffic is bad, souvenir stalls, and maybe even a Starbucks or another foreign establishment!

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The night bus I rode for 12 straight hours.

 

Although sleeping through transportation is a great way to save time, I was pretty tired upon arriving in Osaka. No time to rest for the adventurers that we are, however! :) We managed to hit the 大阪海遊館 (a popular aquarium that had a whale shark), various souvenir shops, street vendors, アメリカ村 (America town), Dotonburi, and a lot more in the first day!

 

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Bonsai Guest House was our abode for the weekend! It's a wonderful place with super friendly and multilingual staff! :) I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a reasonable place to stay at in Osaka!

 

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In front of a supposed emblem of Osaka. :)


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Grabbing takoyaki from a local stall in Dotonburi. We ate from multiple establishments in the same night because food is that important and delicious here!


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We went to a Kaiyukan, a famous aquarium in Osaka! The animals were fantastic...but I may have been more charmed by the adorable Japanese children swarming the place! ^^

 

Our second day in Osaka we decided we wanted to do something for Children's Day, so we went to a huge park called "Expo Park" that was recommended to us by the staff at the hostel. We spent a long afternoon there wandering the park and checking out the different activities available for the day! After this, we explored the area around Osaka Station and ate lots of delicious food. Our trip to SpaWorld, a sort of onsen theme park, at the end of the day was particularly memorable and fun, but for obvious reasons I have no pictures from that segment! >< We ended the day with a delicious fugu dinner and omiyage shopping. :)

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Arriving in Expo Park makes one jump for joy!

 

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The weather in Osaka was simply beautiful while we were thereーperfect weather for getting soft serve ice cream while wandering around!


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Beause we were in Osaka for Children's Day, there were many activities oriented to kids there. Here a large crowd of children sing 勇気100%(100% Courage)! xD


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A busy tourist street in Dobutsuenmae and the outside of the fugu restaurant we chose to eat at.


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Ready to devour the fugu (pufferfish)!! :)

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Gazing out over the mini-view from the top of SpaWorld.

All in all, we left Osaka far too soon, and I look forward to the next opportunity to go back! Hopefully next time I can also make a trip to Goboーan area 2 hours outside of Osaka that apparently my grandpa's side of the Japanese family originates from!

05/07/2012

My oh my how time flies

Please don't remind me that we're over a third of the way through the semester. Please.

Golden Week is coming to a close, and classes will start again tomorrow, and then time will just hop on by. 

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Vegetable udon in Nikko

The first day of Golden week, I went to Nikko with three of my friends to hike. 

And to see the monkeys. Everyone I've asked says there are monkeys in Nikko, but we didn't see any. They must have been on vacation.

Or maybe we were just in the wrong part of Nikko. 

We walked towards Toshogu Nikko, one of UNESCO's "Shrines and Temples of Nikko," which was built in 1617 by Tokugawa Hidetada for his father, Tokugawa Ieyasu. We had to keep stopping and asking people where to see the monkeys. One person said they would be right up the road, in the shrine, so to the shrine we went. It wasn't until we got to the gate that I remembered, I've been here before, 3 years ago with my parents. The monkeys at Toshogu aren't real monkeys, they're carved into the wood, saying "hear no evil, "see no evil," and "speak no evil." 

Let's call this a learning experience.

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Buy all the monkey souvenirs. We stopped in here on the way for monkey souvenirs, and, needless to say, I'll have enough souvenirs to last me a few years.

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Hanging up her wish at the shrine. It will be burned at the end of the day and carried on the smoke to the gods.

Sunday we spent in Harajuku, at the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade, a small parade around the hub of Harajuku, one of the cheaper shopping districts in west Tokyo. It wasn't as big as a parade in, say, Los Angeles or San Francisco, but I wonder if queer issues are featured less in Japanese politics than in American politics. My friend explained to me that, though LGBTQ people in Japan don't have as many rights as they do in the States, it also isn't as hot a topic. LGBTQ life is tacitly accepted, not condemned, so they must not feel the need to fight as hard or as loudly for equal recognition. 

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The Nyan-cat car!

A break from excitement was needed after that weekend, so I decided to take it easy on Monday. We met up near campus and went to Ginza together, to find the candy store in Tokyo Station that sells an array of kit-kats in various flavors, and then out of the station for Kimuraya, the first shop in Japan to sell an-pan (red bean paste buns). 

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I was told before coming to Japan that I needed to find the kit-kats and ice cream, and I've since discovered that, not only do they have as many flavors of kit-kats as one can imagine, as well as of ice cream, they also love soft cream (a softer version of ice cream.) We each planned out how many we'd buy, and started a small kit-kat trading circle. But they were better than trading cards. We had red bean paste, molasses, blueberry cheesecake, strawberry cheesecake, wasabi, red pepper, strawberry, orange, and cherry blossom/green tea. 

And then we had an-pan from Kimuraya. 

Inspired by our sweet-filled evening, I decided I wanted to do a weekly pastry tour of the city, trying one new place each week, so I created a Facebook group called Tokyo Sweets, where I create an event each week for a new destination. Last Wednesday was Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi, the basement of which has a whole floor of famous patisseries, and this week I'm going to Namjatown in Ikebukuro for the tens of flavors of ice cream they have.

If you look hard enough, you can find anything. 

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Because we hadn't made any plans to go out of Tokyo for our vacation, we decided this week was the best time to go to Tokyo Disney. I've only ever been to Florida Disney (Disney World), because I live in North Carolina and go down to Florida occasionally. Though I go to school in Los Angeles, I still haven't been to the California Disneyland (shame.) We went to Disney Sea, right next to Disneyland, with some water-themed attractions, and organized into geographic regions. 

It was pouring, but we powered through, making our way around "New York," "Cape Cod," the wilderness, Ariel's underwater palace, and Agrabbah, while grabbing the oddly-flavored popcorn at each stop. They had strawberry, curry, milk tea, and others. Curry popcorn is something I need to do often. 

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The koma-tora of Agrabbah; Shinto shrines are marked by "koma-inu," guardian dogs flanking the entrance. In this case, there are tigers, "tora." You can tell the koma-inu by their mouths: the one on the right is voicing the Sanskrit syllable "ah," and the one on the left, "m," together saying "om," the primordial syllable, from which creation springs. 

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Slightly distressed by how much money I spent during orientation and the first few weeks of school on food, and my lack of non-food cultural experiences, I decided to do my own weekly tours of Tokyo, choosing a new theme each week. I started with Shinto shrines (and also visited a Buddhist monument), and then moved onto parks. This week will be art galleries and museums. 

Unforunately, the weather was just slightly more than detestable the day I wanted to go to the parks, and I woke up late because my clock was an hour off (I blame gremlins), so I only went to two of the four locations I had planned: Shinjuku Gyoen and 21_21 Design Sight, an art gallery on top of Tokyo Midtown (I'd planned on going to two parks in Roppongi, but decided to stay close to Midtown and went to the gallery instead.) 

Shinjuku Gyoen was created as a garden for the Tokugawa shogun family, in the middle of Shinjuku. It consists of 3 sections: the Formal French section, the British section, and the Japanese Traditional section. The greenhouse was under construction, so I walked around the first part, which I assume was the British section based on the looks. And on my way back to the station, I discovered a curry restaurant.

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The point of my explorations is to force myself to see things I hadn't heard of or thought to see, and to go away from the train stations. On my way to each location, I might get lost and discover a whole side to the district I'd never seen, or I might go to a district I hadn't yet visited. When you're abroad, you should take the initiative to see what's around, and go out of your way to discover something new. Also, you should do things you might not have imagined yourself doing (like eating octopus-flavored ice cream, or riding a rollercoaster in pouring rain.)

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21_21 Design Sight is a design museum that focuses on reimaginations of everyday ideas and objects, and is located on top of the Roppongi Metro, and luckily you can walk underground all the way up to the front door. The current exhibit, which will end after our program in August, is called "Tema Hima: The Foods of Tohoku," and is about food and crafts from Tohoku. The exhibit follows one on clothes by Issey Miyake, one of Japan's greatest fashion designers, and pays homage to the area affected by the earthquake last year. Entrance to the museum is 800 yen, but I highly recommend the price, as being inside is a more calming experience than perhaps any monastery can show you.

 

I've finally figured out how to balance my time between my CIEE friends, studying, exploring on my own, getting to know my family, and engaging in extra curriculars. I wouldn't say my schedule is consistent, but I always enjoy the surprises I find each week, and welcome any challenge to try something new. 

05/06/2012

Golden Week in Izu!

This week has been a school holiday, a chain of national holidays that fall over about 10 days. In Japan it is known as Golden Week. During these holidays most popular tourism spots such as Kyoto, Nikko, and Hakone are flooded with tide of vacationers. For my Golden Week vacation I decided to go to Ito city on the Izu peninsula. Even though it's near Tokyo (only 2 hours away by normal train) the peninsula has a completely different feel. Ito sits on the coast, as do most towns in Izu, and really does have a beach-town sort of feeling. There were many small shops and "Mom and Pop" style restaurants and attractions. Best of all, it wasn't crowded at all!

We chose "K's House Ito" as a place to stay and WOW! Did we ever make the right choice! I know K's House to be a great hostel chain because I stayed at the Kyoto branch during my trip last semester. However, the Ito house was extra special. The hostel is located in a 100 year old building that sits right along the river and the rooms all have little overhanging balconies. It is very traditionally styled- tatami rooms and beautiful raw wooden beams and supports. The whole place had a very ancient feel to it and the sweet smell of the tatami grass pervaded the entire building. The rooms had traditional paper screens and we slept on futons. It felt far nicer than most hotels I've been in, not to mention hostels! The best part of K's House Ito by far is that it boasts its own onsen! It felt great to be able to come back at the end of the day and soak away the soreness. Even though the baths are located underground where the spring emerges and therefore have no windows, the water felt wonderful.

1: Shimoda On the first day my friends and I decided to adventure down the peninsula to a little town called Shimoda. Shimoda is best known as the landing place of Commodore Perry's black ships when he arrived to initiate trading between Japan and the USA. However, the town also sports a beautiful coastline, great beaches, and many interesting temples. The town itself is nestled between mountains and extends all the way down to the water. We arrived in the morning after a beautiful train ride and the weather was great for exploring. We walked through the town and then down around a small peninsula that has many small islands just off the main coast, accessible by walking suspension bridges. The water was crystal clear and we could see the rocky bottom and many fish of all sizes. We continued on our hike, passing other walkers and local fishermen (and the packs of cats that hang around for scraps). We walked past a "floating aquarium" which was in a netted off inlet. This was an interesting and very conflicting thing to see. For one thing, I had never really seen a dolphin up close, much less a porpoise or a sea turtle. They really are magnificent. That being said, the place made my skin crawl (The Cove anyone?). Needless to say, we didn't linger for too long.

After that we walked further around the coast (I was really eager to find a nice white-sand beach). We ended up stopping in for food at a tiny restaurant by some hotels hidden away in a cove. The place was empty but for the proprietor and a friend of his, both of whom were just sitting there chilling and enjoying the great weather. We had a great meal of vegetable nabe (hot pot) and soba noodles, paired with some amazing fresh melon juice. All the while the guy in the restaurant kept up a conversation with us and spent a good amount of time teasing us.

 

It was a great experience- the man said that foreigners rarely stay in the nearby hotels and was surprised to see us- and the food was amazing! After our meal we were treated to a free cup of siphon-brewed coffee. It was incredible, one of the best cups of coffee I'd had in a long time. Super strong and very sweet thanks the the cream and sugar we were directed to apply liberally. After our meal we managed to find our way back to the main town of Shimoda and set of in earnest to find a beach as the sun was going down. We did eventually find our beach, though the sunlight was fading fast at that point. It felt great to run through the surf and collect seashells. The water was surprisingly warm, not at all like the California end of the Pacific that I'm used to. It was a pretty good way to end our time in Shinoda, and we sang Disney songs all the way back to the train station, where we had a quick meal before getting on our train back. The onsen that night felt particularly good as we had spent the whole day walking.

Day 2: Ito City and Jogosaki Coast We had done our Shinoda adventuring on the first day because the second was supposed to be cloudy. However, the day dawned beautiful and clear so we made the most of it. After breakfast we headed to the Ito Marine Town which is a more touristy area that looks as if it was trying to copy a Maine beach town but had got its color inspiration from a Crayola advertisement. It was a row of incredibly gaudily painted buildings which were full of Japanese tourists. We left from there for a underwater boat tour of the bay in a boat shaped like a multicolored dolphin. We stayed above board for the first part before going down to where there were windows in the hull. It was a very surreal experience to be in a small enclosed space while looking out at the fish swimming around- almost like a backwards aquarium tank. After our tour we headed back to Marine Town for some excellent ice cream. The place we went to would mix just about anything you wanted into an ice cream for you (I went with cassis, banana and vanilla). It was great sitting in the sun, watching the multicolored fish in the harbor, dangling our feet in the public foot onsen.

After our visit to Marine Town we went back to the hostel where we met up with some other friends. Together we decided to go to the nearby Jogasaki Coastline, a particularly dramatic length of coast boasting a 9km trail, a lighthouse, and a walking suspension bridge spanning an inlet. We walked around and took lots of photos, both scenic and silly. I got a bit daring and went right down to the water's edge and was rewarded by getting soaked by the incoming waves. Ah well, it was worth it and the water was bearable. When it started getting pretty dark we caught the train back to the hostel and went to a nearby hotel for an outdoor onsen. It was very nice, with natural rocks, a garden surrounding the pool, and a few waterfalls. After some melon shaved ice we headed back to K's house and played around next to the river with a bunch of sparklers that we got at a nearby convenience store. It was a great way to end a fantastic weekend.

 

 

I really enjoyed seeing Izu and it made me realize that there are so many wonderful sights to see right outside Tokyo. I definitely hope I can do a lot more exploring this semester!

Until next time,

Anica