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5 posts categorized "Talia Sabato"

06/15/2016

Snack Around Japan (without having to travel)

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   Japan is so packed with delicious foods and snacks that it might be a little overwhelming. However, if you’ve been in Tokyo for a while, you start to get the hang of things. But what if you want to get a taste of the rest of Japan, but can’t leave Tokyo? The dmart47 project has the answer. For a short period of time, the project has an open space in Shibuya where you can get your share of diverse local flavors. Located on the 8th floor of the Hikarie mall, you will find a tiny, but very colorful konbini. It might be a bit puzzling at first to see a little convenience store snuggled in between art exhibits on this floor, but it’s selection make it not only unique, but fun. The little pop-up is definitely aimed more towards local Tokyo-ites, but it also offers plenty of fun for any visiting student or tourist.

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              You walk in the door, a cute voice chimes “D-maaaaaruto” over the intercom, and all the goodies lay out before you. While the size is not very impressive, the space was very neat and all of the stock looked amazing! Most of the stock here you won’t find in any other local konbini, and some of the selection is not even produced on a large scale anymore, (A fact that was confirmed by my host parents, when I brought back a favorite childhood snack for them). The space was divided into several sections, the closest being favorite household goods, stationary supplies, and other odds and ends. This is the most eclectic collection with goods ranging from nice soaps to weirdly expensive umbrellas priced around 8,500 yen! (near $85 dollars) Thankfully the umbrellas appeared to be the only very expensive thing in stock, weirdly enough. The next selection was snacks and candies. All carefully packed in cute wrapping, the selection ranged from dried squid, to crackers, and sweets. My favorite section however, was the drinks. The entire back wall is chock-full of sodas, beers, juices, and sake. Most of them are so tempting, and that was just from their cute packaging. I did cave, and bought a delicious pineapple cider from Yamagata.

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              Unfortunately, the pop-up konbini ends mid-June, but Hikarie’s 8th floor has various other interesting rotating exhibits to offer all year round. Ranging from limited art shows to conceptual design stores, a “creative comic” café, and minimalist book store, the “museum floor” has a lot to offer, and that is just this month’s selection. Of course, if you’re looking for a change of pace, you have an entire mall at your disposal. However, I highly recommend keeping an eye out for pop-ups here and in other parts of Tokyo. Since I come from a small town, the idea of pop-up stores is particularly special, and being in a large city gives you the opportunity to check out conceptual stores like this. Keep your ears to the ground, eyes on the internet, and a good Japanese friend close, and you are sure to find an interesting pop-up store like this one.

 Here is their promotional video, if you would like to get a further taste:

8/TV/088 d mart 47 - 47都道府県のご当地ものコンビニ - / 日本のちゃんとでお買い物編 from 8/TV on Vimeo.

06/14/2016

Sometimes It's Good to Take a Break

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     Bustling subways, colorful lights, busy streets—if you’re in the city for a while, Tokyo life may seem as if it’s what all of Japan is like. It’s too easy to forget there’s a whole other country out there when you’re caught up with the daily commute, school, and events with friends. While Tokyo is beautiful and fun, it’s good to step out of the city every once and a while and see what the rest of the country is like. After all, you wouldn’t say someone who has only experience New York City has experience all of America, right?

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              This past weekend I was lucky enough to delve deep into Chiba prefecture to get a real feel of the county life in Japan—and it was stunning. Only after an hour the city had melted away and verdant rice paddies spread out on either side of the highway. A little farther and we were in a thick forest, sunlight filtering down from above and dappling the road. The contrast between Tokyo was breathtaking, especially at how quickly the congested city turned to wild countryside. Our car popped in and out of tunnels as we passed through small slopes until we were far away from all city sound. Fake bird calls from train stations were replaced by a loud chorus of birds and the sigh of the wind. It felt quite therapeutic and calming, especially after over two months of being in just the city.

              We spent some time hiking through the woods and had a lovely picnic with our host family, eating in a little wooden gazeebo by the road. Just a little way down the path from us we could hear children playing in the nearby waterfall. Back in the car again, we wove between small roads, which were occasionally dotted with signs warning about tanuki (a Japanese raccoon-dog) or monkey crossings. Who knew that just outside Tokyo, tanuki were running around everywhere? But in all seriousness, it was beautiful.

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              A little farther along in the trip and the terrain started changing again. Trees started to look a little more tropical and forests gave way to beaches. We had made it to Kamogawa. The little seaside town had a strong Floridian vibe—with little resorts and its very own (small) Sea World to match. There were quite a few differences however, one being the plethora of onsen spas sprinkled throughout the area. While some might be a little hesitant to be naked in front of strangers, the experience is actually not embarrassing at all. Some of the onsen in Kamogawa even have a lovely ocean view from their outdoor bathes! Nothing beats a soak in a hot bath next to the ocean after a long day of hiking and travelling.

              While leaving Tokyo may seem like a bit of a hassle at first, it as an experience completely worth taking. Getting a feel for a place of a completely different pace is not only rewarding, but also completely fun. You meet different kinds of people, try different foods, and experience some lovely onsen.

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06/07/2016

It's Coffee Fest Time

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    Once you’ve been in Tokyo for a little while, you start to notice people here really love coffee. From traditional kissaten (cafes that also often have smoking sections) to more mainstream cafes and coffee shops, Tokyo has a lot to offer in terms of coffee culture. You can even find small boutique coffee shops aplenty with just a minimal search. While any of these previous options are available all the time, sometimes there are special events as well. I was lucky enough to attend this year’s spring Tokyo Coffee Festival, which was held at the Saturday’s famer’s market in front of UNU (United Nations University) in Shibuya. A short walk from the Omote-Sando Metro station (or a slightly longer walk from Harajuku or Shibuya station), the location is very convenient and easy to spot. Before entering the coffee festival, the actual farmer’s market was being held, so lots of local goods and fresh produce was out on display (and looking quite nice). Several nice food trucks were also parked right in front of the university entrance, so I got a quick snack before my big caffeine binge.

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              How the festival works is pretty simple: you buy a “ticket” for 1,000 yen and receive five stickers, which you can use at different coffee stands to sample their coffee, and five small cups. You can also enter the festival without the stickers, but you won’t be able to taste test; you’ll have to buy a full-sized beverage. The stickers you redeem at different stands will go up to display, and each coffee stand vies for the most stickers, and therefore the most popularity. The whole air of the place was quite festive and fun, with all of the stand owners eagerly calling out to new customers.

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              While there were a lot of people at the festival, the lines actually went quite fast, so no need to worry about waiting (I waited 10 minutes maximum for one of the more popular stands). Most stands offered cold or iced coffee, but be warned it was almost always black! I’m weak for cream and sugar, so the raw coffee taste was a little overpowering, but it was still quite an enjoyable experience. Thankfully for me, one of the stands was a Thai iced coffee shop, so I got my sugary fix with all of the added sweetened condensed milk.

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              One of the greatest aspects of the festival was being able to meet and chat up the owners/employees of the stand and learn a bit about their coffee. Most of the shops proudly displayed all the sources for their beans, and each stand had a very particular way about preparing their special brew. It was very fun to watch and see how made their coffee just-so (and good to know if you are planning on buying any of their beans, which are also for sale at every stand).  A few of the shops even had additional merchandise such as coffee mugs, shirts, and bags also for sale. Even some non-coffee-related shops were there, including a little bakery that made gorgeous and delicious cupcakes. Overall, the festival was a great way to spend a nice, spring Saturday afternoon. Just prepare for the big caffeine buzz after downing five different types of coffee in a row!

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05/10/2016

A Landscape of Sculpture: Sapporo's Moerenuma Park

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  There is nothing like the feeling of being made small. Hokkaido’s vast natural landscape and huge mountains can surely make you feel tiny, but there is also a human-made place right outside Sapporo that instills that same sense of awe. Moerenuma Park, open all-year round, is a massive expanse on the outskirts of Sapporo. Famous sculptor Isamu Noguchi designed the park, which started being built in 1982. It wasn’t until 2005 that the park had its grand opening, but is easy to see why it took so long to create. Everything about the park is huge. The park is a great exhibition of Noguchi, a hugely influential artist and landscape architect. This park was his final project, as he finished designing it shortly before he died. It is quite the legacy.

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              Noguchi’s installations run from the size of small buildings to as big as the landscape itself, with geometric pyramids and hills scattered through the grounds. The whole place is wonderfully odd and impressive all at once. The geometric shapes seem completely inorganic, yet were designed to be completely environmentally friendly. Apparently the area was converted from a waste treatment plant into the beautiful place it is today. Even the air-conditioning system of the onsite Glass Pyramid museum uses green energy to run. And the Glass Pyramid is beautiful. Inside are several rotating exhibition galleries, a gift shop, a café, and a viewing platform high up. The area is cleverly designed to be a great place for people to gather and relax. Sometimes they even hold small concerts inside, often featuring local artists. Besides the sculptures and the museum, the park also contains a track and a full-sized baseball triangle for the public to enjoy.

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              The park is open for the whole year, but each season is quite different. I visited this spring and it was beautiful and, even though it wasn’t very warm yet, there were many people outside taking walks, having picnics, practicing sports, walking their dogs, and more (even someone having a wedding photoshoot!). During the summer the giant fountain in the center has wading pools for everyone to enjoy and winter is especially known for cross-country skiing and sledding. The park is full of many paths through small, cultivated forests where you can see the cherry blossoms in the spring, which is quite beautiful. Everything is placed with a geometric vision in mind, and even just walking through the open areas gives your eyes a lot to take in.

              If you want to visit the park, it’s open every day from 7 AM to 10 PM, and admission is completely free. Even admission to the galleries inside are free, which is quite nice. Parking is also free, and since the park is right on the edge of Sapporo, it does not take long at all to get to. The park is well worth going to, and having the entire experience for free makes it a real treat. For more information you can visit the official site (http://moerenumapark.jp/english/), and you can also see how the park drastically changes with the seasons. It’s a wonderful place, and if you’re in Sapporo, it warrants at least a few hours of your time.

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Hokkaido Ramen is Famous for a Reason

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Hokkaido is a beautiful and amazing place, but springtime is chilly and wet, and sometimes you just need a pick-me-up. And what’s one of the best ways to do that? A gigantic bowl of steaming, delicious ramen. Sapporo is famous for its ramen for a reason, so I went to check it out. In fact, there is a whole street dedicated to the noodles called “Ramen Yokocho.” Not only is this tiny street jam-packed with a variety of ramen stores, this place has been dubbed as the birthplace of miso ramen. No, these shops aren’t modest in their boasting – several of them flaunting signatures of famous visiting celebrities and chefs – but they have a reason to boast. Anthony Bourdaine along with several other prominent chefs have even written books about the place. It may sound like a bit of a tourist trap at first, but you have to know what you’re looking for if you want to find it (easy to do with a map app). Therefore, even though it might be a bit busy, you can still have a great time without wading through huge throngs of tourists.

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Once you head off the Sapporo main streets, Ramen Yokocho is clearly marked with a big yellow sign, so even though it’s narrow, it’s not too hard to find. Inside the alley is a collection of with tons of shops, most displaying different local types of seafood (though one did specialize in just beef and pork, if seafood is not your style). I could only fit one bowl of ramen in my stomach for the night, so I selected a place that specialized in miso ramen with clams. The restaurant’s name is Shimijimi (しみじみ)and it sits about ten people max. And the small size was perfect. Right at the counter you can chat and watch the chef duo whisk, boil, and mix your meal into perfection. Then your beautiful bowl is delivered right in front of you, piping hot and mouthwateringly delicious.

Each bowl comes with spring onions and mushrooms, and almost all of their ramen feature seafood here – and the fresh Hokkaido catch is delicious. You can also add egg and pork if you feel you can fit it all in your stomach. Ordering is simply done from a ticketing machine, though be warned, it is all in Japanese (though if you can’t read, the pictures of all the different bowls are displayed with labels outside). The two chefs were very friendly and totally fine with pictures and questions!

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After enjoying your ramen you can go to the end of the street where a brief history of Ramen Yokocho is posted. Also the location is right in central Sapporo so you can have a nice long walk to work off a warm, bellyful of noodles. The city really comes alive at night, so there is no shortage of things to do. And Sapporo Tower is just a few minutes away by walking, so you can stroll in the park around it as well. If you find yourself in Sapporo, Ramen Yokocho is a fun, cheap, and interesting place to stop by for a wonderful meal.

 

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