Sunday, December 30, 2012


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
I spent the long weekend in Hakone, at a rather fancy hotel, Hatsuhana. The weather actually cooperated, so we got to see Ashinoko (although Fuji was being coy as usual), the Little Prince Museum and I watched Matcha-kun transform into a samurai. It also unfortunately came with some angst (on my part, surprise) which now I shall have to work through...
This period can be really hard for expats in Japan, with Christmas being a blingy couple-centered affair, and New Years being when all your Japanese friends go back to their hometowns. We have to find our own traditions, and enjoy the free time to the fullest. I for one have cleared out Tsutaya's shelves of Ghibli and SF movies, pencilled in several runs and decided on an unconventional New Years with a friend. Maybe even hit up the sales at the running store.

One of the awesome parts of New Years is that suddenly Tokyo empties out, and the trains are full of available seats. On my way to another Hash (which I couldn't go to before because of sheer busyness) it seemed as if currently Tokyo has the number of people it should have, rather than the excess it usually has. And thank the kami for other crazy runners, because there is simply too much cake in my diet these days, and I need to make up for it somehow.

I wish everyone a wonderful 2013, and hope that the Year of the Snake will be peaceful and happy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Food News Flash

Harken to the food gods、for they have seen it fit to answer my prayers!

In Minamiazabu, walking distance from my office, I found a tiny falafel shop, and it is phenomenal. There are few things more satisfying than a giant pita stuffed with fresh falafel, hummus, veggies and pickles, topped off with tahini... and yet more hummus. With the weather getting really raw, and the ever present danger of catching a cold, it is important to make sure you are properly fueled at all times, and this is a delicious way of doing so. The nice lady at King Falafel even gave me a free sample of her homemade black sesame hummus, which was pretty sinfully tasty.
With everybody rushing about to get things done before New Years, and clients coming by to pay their respects, we end up with some odd things stacking up in the office. While most of it is paper (endless supplies of calendars, greeting cards and coupons), some are edible.

The Pinanciers from Fukuoka Airport were pretty good, although the Amao strawberry coating didn't taste any different from regular strawberries. The low brow version of the famous Royce chocolate-covered potato chips (which has now been launched in stores, if you are curious) was quite weird. If nothing else they are good for those times you cannot decide between salty and sweet!
Just four more days until my 48 hour onsen vacation... I hope to have good things to say upon my return!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hidden Tokyo: Ikedayama Koen (et al.)

One of the best parts of joining a 'free-range' running club is that you get to go off the beaten track, and see parts of the city you would most likely never come across otherwise.

While a friend and I were running about, trying to figure out a good trail for a future run, we came across Ikedayama Koen. It is far enough away from any station that it was completely empty on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, and it is a perfect little jewel. We both promptly forgot about time, and stopped to look at the autumn leaves glowing in golden sunlight. Moments like this just make you glad to be alive :)
And for some reason that is when it hit me: it is time for a trip. For work I will go to Dubai, and for filial piety Italy, but that is not the kind of travel I have in mind. I want an unscheduled week in a country I have never visited, with views I have never seen and mysterious foodstuffs (yes, I am actually completly ruled by my stomache). It is time to go. Jump on an airplane or boat with just a backpack, notebook in tow.
 (No, these are not my photos. If you don't want people using your pictures, then don't put them on the internet)
Ah, but there lies the rub. Being gainfully employed means you have the funds for such trips, but not the time. And if you have the time, most likely you do not have the funds. I guess it will just have to wait until August...
In the meantime Wave-chan (who is also currently suffering from the travel bug) and I will drool over travel magazines and pictures of the Galapagos.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Definitely one of my favorite expressions in Japanese, it perfectly encompasses the uselessness of trying to change/help a situation/person.

Since I am mostly aquainted with people who have a strong interest in broadening their experiences, learning new things or taking on new challenges, I am not sure what to make of those few who drift along and complain without trying to fix their situation.

Conversation this Sunday:
X-chan: 'Omg I am so bored... what am I supposed to do? Is it like this for all people who work?'
Me: 'You could take some kind of fun class? Yoga is great and not too expensive'
X-chan: 'But that costs money'
Me: 'Go for a run or a walk?'
X-chan: 'But it is sunny out, I might get burned'
Me: 'Well, if you want to make more money and are bored, why not get an extra job one day per weekend?'
X-chan: 'Mendokusai...'

Okay, I get it, you don't actually want a solution, how unfeminine of me to not get that...

And every time I am preparing to go off on a trip all I hear is 'iinaaa, I want to go somewhere toooo'.
Then go! But no, it always goes back to 'my boyfriend doesn't wanna' (as if it is impossible to travel with friends or *gasp* by yourself) or 'you make more money than me' (false, actually you make more, I just manage it better).

If you want to have fun, you need to be proactive about it. Admittedly I may have taken it a bit far, with running AND koto AND yoga AND freelancing AND traveling, along with the usual nomikai and other stuff that pops up. I would love to take drawing classes, and am thinking of taking a course in real estate too. This kind of lifestyle may be busy but hell, you meet a lot of people and have a lot of fun!

I have also recently been dealing with several clients who have little to no life outside of work. Some say they play a sport or do an activity once a month. Others say that playing with their kids is their hobby (no, sorry, that is called 'good parenting'). Seriously? You only get to live once (unless you believe in reincarnation), and you are okay with spending that life at work?!

Such as waste... perhaps in their previous lives they were ants or other such industrious critters?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Let the Festivities begin.... (oy vey)

December has landed, with its usual accountrement of bounenkai, Christmas parties, weddings, more bounenkai and the general rushing around one must do before the winter holidays.
I tried to plan it all out, to balance the fun (but tiring) carousing with restorative walks in the park... it is only December 5th, and that plan is already out the window!
Still, things kicked off well. The Hash House Harriers Christmas Party was a blast. I somehow got awarded 'Best Trail', complete with personalized t-shirt and two kilos of baby carrots I am trying to find a use for. We took over the New Sanno Hotel, which is entirely owned by the US Armed Forces, and provides a very strange little bit of America in the middle of Tokyo. Go if you ever have the opportunity, it is a rather surreal experience.
Amidst all this rushing, Matcha-kun informed me that we were going out for kushikatsu. Of course, I was completely uninterested and reluctant, as I hate all delicious deep-fried things (right...). Upon arriving at Kushitei, I was immediately seized by a sense of deja-vu. Our first date had been at their Ebisu branch. Apparently Matcha-kun remembers times and dates, which is more than I can say for myself.
The omakase course is fantastic, everything was delicious, and sometimes graced by special yuzu or pesto sauces. I may have ordered 3 sticks of cheese and pesto...and enjoyed every second of it. Kushi and spumante make a wonderful combination :)
Let us all try to get to our Christmas/New Years vacations alive!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Saturday in Fall: Koishikawa Korakuen

Dear readers, family, friends and goats, I admit it: I am a koyo freak.

The leaves, bright against clouds or blue autumn skies, fascinate me. I turn to stare at every bit of red or gold that I pass on the train or taxi. The low, warm sunlight through the leaves makes me incredibly happy, as does the chance to jump on the crunchy leaves which have already fallen.

Saturday I kidnapped Matcha-kun and submitted him to a long tour of Koishikawa Korakuen... although admittedly, he didn't seem to mind at all. As with many Japanese gardens, it was smaller than I thought, and Tokyo Dome loomed in the background. However, it is filled with secret little corners, like a treasure hunt. Bridges and stepping stones, a miniature rice field and strange little tombs all appear as soon as you turn a corner. The garden is famous for iroha momiji, which have tiny little leaves, and turn a very striking shade of red.

Sunny autumn afternoons have a special, glittering romance to them, which we continued by walking over to nearby Kagurazaka and hiding out at Gelateria Theobroma. While the main draw may be the icecream, the spiced hot chocolate was perfect to warm up from the chill, thick and truly chocolaty. I love the location as well, away from the main drag and designed to look like one of Rome's buttery yellow buildings.

The only sad thing is that the leaves will only be around for another couple weeks... perhaps I should take a few days off just to stare at the trees?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Toyoko Line Love: Motomachi Chukagai

I feel that Yokohama is somewhat overlooked. Although a 30 minute train ride from Shibuya will get you there, somehow it has been submerged, taken for granted as a part of the sprawl that is Tokyo.

Admittedly, to some extent I am also guilty of this. A lot of my time is spent around Tokyo, with occasional side trips. To remedy this on a fine day we went off to explore the Motomachi/Yamate area, with its air of Meiji nostalgia and opportunities for walkies.

The old houses of diplomats and other of Japan's first non-Japanese residents sit upon a hill, brilliant in paint and copper, interspersed with fancy tea houses and the Foreign Cemetary, a testament to Japan's evolution towards being a more cosmopolitan nation. I was pleasantly surprised to see that many non-Japanese women were buried with their Japanese husbands, which gives me yet more ammo for when people say that the 'gyaku-kokusai couple' is a recent phenomenon.
The Motomachi shopping street is full of expensive stores, fine for window shopping but obviously mainly targeting an older, more monied set than myself... although the store with the oversized chair in front of it was a hit!

Monday, November 19, 2012

For the Love of Men

'Men' as in 'noodles', naturally.
(Ah, I can just hear the disappointed sighs of naughty-minded readers).

It may be genetic, but my live affair with all things noodle-y is well-documented.

Starting with my least favourite, soba. Kansai is known as an udon eating area, and I have been heavily influenced. However, I have found two places with really exceptional soba. My favourite is unfortunately not in Tokyo, but rather all the way out in Karuizawa. Kagimotoya is deservedly famous, and right next to Nakakaruizawa station. The tempura set and sansai versions are my favorite.

The other is a fav of my boss's, which we often use to entertain visitors from abroad. Kawakamian takes on the noodles with a modern twist. For instance with duck-topped soba or, my go-to order, soba with a chestnut dipping sauce. I have never seen this dish anywhere else, and it is amazing.
川上庵 - 料理写真:ランチコースのせいろ(くるみだれ付き)。
Next on the list is udon. I eat it so often at home that when going out I tend to ignore it. By my great love is Tsurutontan, famous for their ginormous bowls, fusion dishes and extravagant interiors. My fav is the one amongst the host bars of Kabukicho, and decorated to match. They are open until 5am too, a great place to hang out if you miss the last train.

And finally, the king of noodles, ramen. The varieties are endless. For those seeking a curry kick Toratake in Kabukicho is really good, and unusually even has private rooms and a few other non-ramen appetizers. In the spring the vegetarian ramen and gyoza at Kagetsu are phenomenal and light. A weird but tasty combination, the cheese tsukemen place hidden beside the tracks of Nakameguro station is worth a try.
Mmmm, tasty, convenient carbohydrates.

And speaking of convenience, here are a few recent finds. The vending machine is in Daikanyama, and I think it speaks volumes for its location. I mean, I often regret the lack of guava jam in ordinary jidouhanbaiki...

The other is a drink I recently came across at the *gasp* convenience store. Yes, even I occasionally succumb to the 24 hour charms of the combini. It can be hard to get enough calories after a session with the orthodontist, as the pain of chewing puts me off. But this glorious, sugary, protein-filled 'latte' does the trick. Perfect before a long night run with the Hash. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Food, Writing and Inconclusive Thoughts

And once again I find myself at the counters of my regular kaiten sushi in Saitama, observing my thoughts marshal by, in time with the little plates. I wonder what it is about movement and noise that make a conducive writing atmosphere.

While I am a regular customer and big fan of Lu's Cafe (which I have written about before, and where I recently had French toast with a friend) I simply cannot write there. As welcoming and relaxing as it, or as my room or Shinjuku Park are, all I want to do is chat or curl up with a book.

But put me in a busy, crowded cafe, kaiten sushi or, better yet, train or plane, and my hand automatically reaches for a notebook or (more recently) smartphone.

Perhaps it is the coming and going of other people that is inspiring. I see my thoughts projected on other people. Odd for an introvert, you would think.

But perhaps a silent room leaves too much space for all my thoughts, which all come to quickly and then dam up, leaving me with an empty or doodled page. Perhaps the act of writing in public is a kind of escape from the busyness around me.

As a lover of great food, I nonetheless cannot write in its presence. I am far too busy enjoying it, and doing little seated dances of glee. But I do not need to feel that enryo about kaiten, train onigiri or (kami forbid) plane food, which I usually don't eat anyway. Writing replaces food, perhaps?

I am currently reading an odd little book, published in the 90s and found in a delightful used bookstore in Kagurazaka, called 'Tokyo Kitchen' (which is unavailable in translation, I fear). It is rather fascinating, as I often wonder how people think about day to day things, if they think like me, or I am unique in my weirdnesses (unlikely). Food being so intrinsic, it is interesting to hear what others think, what dishes speak of home, comfort and love, how one eats alone or in company.

It becomes obvious that those who chose their surroundings well are often more settled and likely to cook. Others seem content to eat pancakes or conbini udon everyday, usually in a cramped, noisy usagigoya. The presence of a stable, welcoming home is comforting, and the act of writing is a 'home away from home' for many.

Hmm. Kaitenzushi musings.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Sunday in the Mist: Karuizawa

Runners are nuts. I can say this with full confidence, being part of this global tribe of insane people.

Seriously, we spend huge amounts of our precious income travelling to far away places, to essentially beat up our bodies and exhaust ourselves... if possible in the near vicinity of pretty scenery, good food and boiling onsen.

I was thinking along these lines when I went out to Karuizawa to run the 5k time trial of the two day Karuizawa Resort Marathon extravaganza. It was rainy, foggy, cold, and the last thing I wanted to do was remove my nice warm coat and warm-ups. However, perhaps I should be thankful to the weather, as the promise of putting on layers after the finish line may have propelled me to higher speeds, as I ended up 16th in the race (woo!).

I love Karuizawa and the race was a perfect excuse to go back. Koyo has already started there (since it is bloody freezing), and the rain stopped right after I crossed the finish line (handy!), which meant I could go exploring before jumping on the Tokyo-bound shinkansen.

First order of business after any race is food. I had heard good things about Karuizawa Flatbreadz, which was also close by. While they have lots of sandwiches, I was lured by their individual fondue set. For just under 1000 yen you get a pot of melted cheesy goodness, along with fresh bread, salad and soup.
After refueling, I caught one of the rare buses towards Taliesin, which I had not been able to visit last time around. The grounds were a bit smaller than I imagined, but the trees and Meiji era houses were lovely. The mist and fog shifted around, sometimes concealing, sometimes clearing, making for a terribly evocative atmosphere.
Amateur photographers were out in force, but it was still very peaceful and relaxing, despite the cold. I felt very lucky to be able to get a preview of the fall colours, as the leaves have yet to turn in Tokyo.
While there are several cafes in the park itself, I decided to go to the Library Cafe just outside the gates for a cup of tea and some scones, both excellent (caramel/nut scones, yum!). I also ran into my boss (!) there... small world.
As I am done racing until the spring, now I need to find another excuse to go hang out in Karuizawa. I throughly recommend it for a weekend getaway, I always come back feeling refreshed and rested... although in this case with slightly sore calfs, hehe.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

For the Love of Layers

The morning air outside of my comforter is taking on an edge, a warning sign of the cold mornings to come. It makes the extra 5 minutes I give myself before getting out of bed, all curled up in a ball of warmth, even more delicious.
But I shouldn't complain too much, as after getting out of bed there is the exciting opportunity to get decked out in fall fashion, layering to my heart's content. Fall is a procession of awesome jackets, swinging light coats, chunky accessories and bright colours.

 It is also the perfect season for kimono. No sweating from the heat in summer, or freezing your toes off in the winter, but a perfect balance between layers (again!) of silk and unusual stoles. The lower angle of the autumn sun reflects off the gold and silver of the obi, and lights up the cream colours from within.