With Miyuki In Chiba-ken!

While I’ve loved the time I’ve spent living in Tokyo, I’ll always treasure the memories and people I met– one of whom is Miyuki! Miyuki and I have texted on a regular basis since I left and we’ve discussed meeting up sometime, but it just never worked out. Before I left, I knew it was important for me to see her one more time. Thankfully, we managed to make the happen!

We met up in Kisarazu and Miyuki kindly drove us to a nearby theme park, the German Village. Once you get past the entrance, you’re greeted with fields of different colors fujizakura (the flowers you’ll see below) and shops with a German theme. To start off the day, I hadn’t eaten any breakfast, so before checking out the flower fields I checked out the menu. What I decided to get was a mixed sausage plate, with mustard that was as spicy and sharp as wasabi! I tried eating the mustard with a pretzel, but it literally made my eyes water and my face turn red. むり! (Impossible!)

Next we wandered around the park, focusing on seeing the flower fields.

They also offered pictures in front of the flower fields, which makes for a pretty cute souvenir! 

Here are some close-ups of fujizakura:

We took a nice walk around the park and had a long talk in both English and Japanese. It was around then that I realized it’s much easier to speak Japanese when I’m comfortable around my conversation partner. I never realized how much I clam up because I’m just so nervous, but it was the complete opposite with Miyuki! It was amazing to see her again!

After the German village, Miyuki thought it’d be fun to go back to Tateyama and check out Shiroyama. Before you check a map, Tateyama is super far away, but she kindly offered to drive us there. It was so crazy being back in my old town! I kept thinking I’d of course run into some of my old students, but the only one I saw was Miyuki.

Also, Shiroyama was beyond beautiful, as it always is, and had up some koinobori, which are the koi/carp shaped flags for childrens’ day. I love koi and carp, so I always get excited to see those flags out and on display! I don’t have a close-up (sorry!) but the flags were also more detailed and lovely than the usual ones; a few of them had metallic shimmer added to them so they would sparkle in the sunlight. 

The view of Tateyama from Shiroyama is also fantastic:

At the base of the castle mountain, there’s a dango (dumpling) shop. Miyuki had visited recently, so she wanted me to try out some dumplings. I, of course, was thrilled to do so. We also happened to be there during a time when they were serving sakura dango (cherry blossom dumplings), but they took 30 minutes to prepare. We had ordered them before ascending to the castle, so when we made our way back down the dango were waiting for us. 

These dumplings had sakura (cherry blossoms) mixed with shiroan (white bean paste) and were topped with a single sakura blossom. The sakura in this, and many sakura dishes, is actually salt-pickled, so it has a complex flavor which goes perfectly with a sweet dish.

After our sakura snack, we headed up to Kimitsu and had an Italian dinner at a place Miyuki recommended. The interior of this restaurant was really cute and when we got there we happened to be the only customers (we were having an early dinner). Because of that (I assume) they brought us a complimentary appetizer along with our other dishes we ordered. Everything was super tasty! We ordered some roast beef, bagna cauda (a dish where you dip steamed vegetables into an anchovy cheese sauce), and pizza. The complimentary dish seemed to be a poached chicken breast drizzled with a balsamic reduction and a somewhat sweet garlic sauce; really quite good!

All-in-all, an action-packed day which I hope to remember always. It’s always fun to see good friends and try new things!

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Kawasaki Again!

One of the biggest regrets of my time in Tokyo was when we had to leave Anata no Warehouse because the smoking wasn’t mixing well with my bronchial infection. Because of that, it was on my list to return. But before we went to the warehouse, we went out for some korean food and a little dessert parfait!

We then went over to Anata no Warehouse and played pool, arcade games, and I won a friggin’ ice cream machine!

After winning the ice cream machine, I proceeded to jump around screaming with pure glee. Also, the bathrooms are super funny! The mens’:

And the ladies’:Overall, an awesome night and an amazing place.

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Ajitoism (Fusion Ramen)

Let me be frank: Ajitoism is not for the traditionalists out there.

Once you’ve tried enough different types of ramen, it can be a nice change to try something completely random. Ajitoism is that. Most of their staple menu is composed of Italian/ramen fusion, with their most popular and well-known dish being… ピザそば (Pizza soba)! This is an Italian style of mazesoba, which is a soupless style noodle dish. They also have つけ麺ペペロッソ (tsukemen pepe roso) which is a dipping noodle dish with a spicy tomato base.

Pizza soba. There is cheese and sauce hidden underneath that mountain of toppings. If I went again, I’d opt for no anchovies, since that was sometimes an overpowering flavor. 

Tsukemen pepe roso. Purely tasty with the simple Italian soup blending quite well with the seasoned noodles. 

 

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Nikko (Loads of pictures!)

After my parents left but before we started to take care of moving, Sam and I wanted to make sure we got in one more trip; for this we visited a place which I had been dying to go to for a few months: Nikko. Nikko is North of Tokyo, in Tochigi, near a national forest and in an area filled with historic sites and shrines. We stayed in a lovely hostel, Nikkorisou Backpackers, and did our best to thoroughly explore the area. In one day we must have climbed over 500 steps… My legs were killing me.

While in Nikko, aside from the shrines there is also tons of yuba, or tofu skin. This is one of the town’s specialties, so it’s a must-have when in the vacinity! We partook of quite a bit of yuba, including a yuba set meal. Take a look:

Under the glare it says “(11) Osuimono” which is the name of that type of soup and “(12) Yuba Coffee Jelly”

We also had a giner pork bowl, since Sam doesn’t love yuba as much as I do. Also, pork is said to be pretty fantastic in that area as well, so we wanted to see if this was one of the special pork bits. It was quite good.

We also had a age yuba manju, which is a fried yuba manju (a type anko filled cake-y bit). This had a sprinkling of salt and was divine, but then I binged a bit too much…

The second day of our trip we went to a huge historic mansion, Tamozawa Villa, which also had extensive gardens:

After we finished there, we went to an area called the Abyss, which was an area with little stone buddhas, a rushing river, and pure serenity.

We then grabbed some yuba soba, which was absolutely delicious, and then went to our final shrine before we trekked back to Tokyo:

The shrine was under renovations, but they had a museum type of area where you could wander around in. Unfortunately, as with most of Nikko, pictures were off limits for most locations.

***

After we made it back to Tokyo, we relaxed off the train with some kaitenzushi, which happened to have a young green onion sushi I’d been wanting to try! It was as good as I had hoped:

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Stardom women’s wrestling

Last month, we went to a different kind of wrestling show. In Japan, women’s wrestling has been regarded with equal prestige as men’s wrestling for decades. And while women’s promotions aren’t selling-out 30,000-seat stadiums like they were in the 90s, some of the best wrestlers in the world (male or female) are still putting on amazing matches for fans.

The hot promotion right now is called Stardom, and is home to excellent performers such as Kairi Hojo, Io Shirai, and Mayu Iwatani, aka “Threedom” the top three stars of the company:

We thought it would be interesting to go to a non-NJPW show, to see what the differences between the promotions are. As a bonus, the event was held in the legendary wrestling mecca of Korakuen Hall (the same venue where we saw our first show last year).

Because of the fancy lighting setup, a lot of our pictures didn’t turn out great, so I’m mostly using pics from the internet.

As expected, the show a lot of fun, and had a totally different atmosphere from NJPW. Stardom has a much more casual presentation compared to NJPW’s very official, sports-like vibe. During the matches, the Stardom wrestlers would interact with the crowd a bit, and even hang out and chat with the audience after their matches.

Additionally, the show is presented like a pop-music concert, with musical interludes, and a J-pop girl group opening act:Even the ring announcer came out to dance with them before beginning the show.

Also, people threw tons of streamers for their favorite wrestlers:

And the costumes are way better:

All in all, it was a really fun show, and a great experience. Here are a couple of clips from the final two matches from the official Twitter account, just for some context (click the blue play button to watch):

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Parents’ Visit

For a few days my parents stopped over on their way back from China. It was a great visit, but I don’t know that I took so many pictures so be warned about that. Anyway, the weather was supposed to be windy and rainy most of their trip, so the first day they were here we went to Shinjukugoen to make sure they got some good looks at cherry blossoms. Before that I made the mistake of taking my mother to a department store to check on some things, as well as buy some bentos for the cherry blossom viewing, so we spent several hours doing that.

Later that night we went to a jazz club in Shinjuku named the Jazz Pit, where we listened to the transpacific trio NEO and also listened to a rendition of Moon river with the violinist Tomohiro Ishii, who is not the NJPW Tomohiro Ishii I was expecting when they announced his name. We also met up with Chihiro and had a general lovely evening.

***

On the second day of their trip, we went to the Harajuku area for a trip to the Ota Museum, which was doing an exhibit on animals depicted in woodblock prints. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the exhibit, but the qualifying elements of the picture ranged from stray dogs wandering in the background to famous kabuki actors’ faces with the bodies of koi attached, as a half fish half actor hybrid. One of my favorite pictures was done during a time when depicting prostitutes was illegal, so everyone in the picture was anthropomorphized birds.

The second night of their visit we went to a famous jazz club, the Blue Note. There we saw the Raul Midon Trio.

Raul Midon is a blind musician who uses every skill available to him in his music, which results with segments of his songs having him play the guitar with one hand, the bongos with another, and performing a vocal rendition of a trumpet with his mouth, all of which are somewhat independent of each other and, when together, make music you wouldn’t assume was coming from one person.

***

On the third day of their visit, we showed them around our neighborhood of Togoshi, making stops on Togoshi Ginza and our nearby shopping street. While my dad took a break, Sam and I took my mom to the salt store on our ginza where we were able to sample salts from all over the world and from different regions of Japan. There was also a special salt for Togoshi Ginza, which is a curry salt mix. When we all heard about it we figured it might be alright, but upon trying it we found that it was actually quite delicious.

For dinner we wanted to get something we haven’t had much in Japan and my parents might enjoy, so we went with shabu shabu, or Japanese hot pot. We went to the same restaurant Sam and I visited on my birthday last year, but this time we did try a broth base I’ve been wanting ever since I first saw it; it has healthy seeds, fruits, nuts, etc. and together they create a really fantastic base for the hot pot. We went all out on all-you-can-eat, until I was too lethargic to think in complete sentences.

On our last full day in Japan, we took things kind of slow: going to our local ramen shop, visiting some shops, and then going to karaoke before dinner, with Chihiro joining us as well! My parents had never done karaoke, at least the Japanese version, so it seems they were pleasantly surprised.

For dinner we wanted to get some good sushi, but hadn’t made any reservations for the night. Thankfully, I remembered the fishing restaurant which Chihiro had previously visited with us! After Chihiro made a reservation for us, we met up with Sam and all wandered over. There we sat down and got to work on catching our dinner. Everyone was having a great time and I managed to catch us two fish; a sea bream and a flounder!

I may look happy, but I was on high alert for that fish plopping back into the water and all my hard work being for naught.

We tried a variety of cooking methods, which you can order once you catch a fish. For the seam bream, we just went with sashimi for the meat and the bones went into a surprisingly delicious miso soup. The flounder was bigger so we could do three different methods, so we went with one side fried, one side sashimi’d, and the bones fried as well.

***

The next day we trekked out to Narita, huge suitcases in tow, and bid my parents a temporary farewell. At least, with the little time we have left here, we were able to further impart to others why we love Tokyo so much.

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Sugamo (Japanese garden and Michelin Starred Ramen)

With my job coming to an end and our final days in Japan upon us, we knew we needed to really think about what we wanted to get done and experience before we got on our plane– Sugamo had two things on our list. Sugamo is a stop on the Yamanote line here in Tokyo, but it’s most well known for Rikugien and Tsuta, the first being a beautiful park which was influenced, design-wise, by Waka poetry, giving it a unique feel; the second (Tsuta) is a well-known ramen shop– possibly the best known ramen shop right now– which was awarded a michelin star.

With Tsuta, there are special procedures in place which are needed to be followed to get a bowl of their ramen. First, you need to get there and get a ticket (with a 1,000¥ deposit on that ticket) to come back at a later time. These tickets are offered after 7:00am and the earlier you get there the more time slot options you’re given. We got there at around 7:45 and opted for the noon timeslot.

After getting our ticket, we wandered around the area for a bit and headed over to a shrine, which we figured was likely to be open at 8am. It was a small, nice shrine, which was oddly filled with business people exchanging their business cards. I don’t know why… Anyway, we sat there for a while so we could wake up some more. We also checked out some turtles.

After resting for a bit and watching the office people interact, we wandered back over to Rikugien, one of the most treasured places in Tokyo, which is especially clear when you see the swarm of crowds which trekked over there on a weekday morning.

After we finished up there, we went back to Tsuta to take our place in the next line. We ended up both getting the shoyu (soysauce) based broth with the addition of wontons, which was well worth adding even though it might not make the picture prettier.

The flavor of this ramen is different than one might expect, mainly because the focal ingredient is truffles. While that is the most notable, non-traditional ingredient that was used, this restaurant takes great pride in their ramen and seems it as a uniquely Japanese meal; because of this they have a list of where the ingredients comes from within Japan, so their customers can know the exact farms or prefectures that helped create their delicious meal.

Some of the most notable aspects of this ramen were the wontons, which were only pork with not addition of seafood; the menma (marinated bamboo shoots), which were kept in a rustic, lengthy style which seemed to include the notches of the bamboo; the abura (oil) on top, which seemed to be a chicken oil which was cooked with truffles to impart more flavor; the ajitama (seasoned egg), which Sam said was probably the best he’d ever had; the chashu, which was beautifully cooked; and finally the noodles, which held onto the broth perfectly.

The meal was exquisite and was one of the best bowls of ramen we’d ever had, which is notable since neither of us really love truffles, while Sam actually seems to hate them. All-in-all, the ticketing procedure is a pain in the butt, but worth it if you don’t mind that process to try something tasty. If you only have a few days, there are other bowls of ramen which you can, and should, try, but this one is also worth a visit.

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