I’m a Tokyo Housewife

A few people have commented that our new lives seem totally hunky dory, filled with nothing but fantastic foods and twinkling LEDs.  Well, those are just the parts that are fun to share.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my new state of non-employment.  But moving to a new place is hard, especially when you suddenly find yourself in the grocery store and completely illiterate.

While making my to-do list this morning, it occurred to me that perhaps some of you would be interested to hear how I spend my time.  So, with a bit of commentary, here is my list for today:

  • Laundry – check!

This entails a bike ride, with laundry bag strapped to my back, to a nearby laundromat.  I have no idea what cycle, water temperature, speed the machine is using, I just plop in my coins and push the big orange button.  Most of the clothes then hang dry in our bathroom, where there is a special wet t-shirt button on the exhaust fan.

  • Buy weird spray deodorant – check!

I snapped a photo so you can see what I’m working with.  It is really hard to find deodorant, I’ve been to 5 places already (I found Dan some imported Speed Stick and it cost me $8).  Finally, I discover these spray cans.  I have no idea what they mean, so I pick blue hoping it is the least fruity/flowery.  Hopefully it’s not blueberry.

Update – consider this a victory!  Though my armpits are tingling, is that bad?

  • Clean apartment – check!

I do this often, perhaps because our apartment is teeeeny and stuff accumulates.  Luckily the process takes me approximately 3 minutes.  This includes sweeping up the small animal hair I shed everyday.  Yeah, gross, but it’s hot and I’m a mammal, dammit.

  • Pick up groceries for dinner – check!

In an effort to save some yen, I make dinner at home most nights and we save eating-out for the weekends.  I have become an expert at wandering the aisles of the 6 groceries stores and 2 produce stands within biking distance of our neighborhood.  I usually avoid the “international” grocery store, though it does have a basket of dented produce in the back for cheap.  Yep, I’m that girl buying the ugly peppers.  The time of day I go out affects my grocery store choice, since some have better lunch bentos than others.  I also now avoid the one where the cranky cashier yelled at me for not understanding the word “chopsticks.” Her loss, because now I don’t know what she is going do with those ugly tomatoes.

  • Study Japanese – hmm, working on it…

On a normal day I spend my entire morning going back and forth between Rosetta Stone and my list of 2,000 kanji to memorize.  I can now read the sign for “fire extinguisher” and tell you that no, I do not speak Japanese.  I’m on kanji #250 and feel that the road ahead is very long.

I’ve been moving a bit slow this week due to a doozy of a summer cold. As I’ve mentioned to anyone that will listen to me whine (in English), snot and sweat should never mingle. I’ve had a few Japanese folks tell me that my cold is certainly due to the heat. I’m sort of curious to see if that has any scientific backing, but don’t have the energy to move from the couch to the desk to look it up.  And, because I desperately want them to be my friends, I will nod and smile at just about anything they say.

Today my to-do list also includes packing, since Dan and I are heading to South Korea tomorrow morning.  A work trip for him, I’m riding out the free stay at a hotel in downtown Seoul, and in a very uncharacteristic move am rather unprepared for the week in a new place (though, it was on the plane to Tokyo that I first realized I didn’t know any words in Japanese).  So forgive me if the blogosphere is a little quiet next week – I’ll be sure to file my report when I get back.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Quarter Pounder With Noodles

What’s your million dollar idea? You know the one. The thing that occupies your mind when you’re scraping mangled receipts and Post-it note reminders out of a washing machine lint trap. (By the way, the inventors of Post-it notes worked at 3M until retirement…I find something awfully depressing about that).

Anyway, what I was getting at was this:

I can barely wrap my head around this. I can definitely wrap my stomach around it, but my head, not so much. That beauty is a Ramen Burger, and I call dibs. I’m bringing this back to the States, and I’m going to make a sensible, not-outlandish living as a Carnie, hopping from town to town, county fair to farm show, introducing America to something they didn’t know they loved.  I’ll make enough money to throw slices of fresh bread to the ducks, not that week-old stuff. That stuff is for the birds.

This past weekend our neighborhood was overtaken by food vendors, a lot of them, for the Azabu-Juban Noryo Festival. The streets filled up with Tokyo folk (Tokyoites? Tokyojin? Tolkeins?), creating a thick wall of people on every street, and picking up groceries meant redefining my personal comfort zone. But on the positive side, picking up groceries also meant stopping for grill pit fish, giant scallops swimming in a shell full of butter (or mayo, it’s hard to say, my eyeballs were salivating), potato chips on a stick (dibs again), and draft beer. Lovely stuff.

The Ramen burger can’t be that hard to make. It’s cooked ramen noodles, griddled into the shape of a bun. Then you throw in some roast pork, spring onion, bamboo shoots, cabbage, and a broth-inspired sauce (soy, miso, or tonkotsu – heavenly pork bone). Brilliant.

Oh, and that thing on the right is just some delicious potato topped with butter, mayo, salt, kimchi and corn. Whatever.

Food Porn

In preparation for the Azabu Juban Noryo festival happening in our neighborhood this weekend, where I plan to eat my way from street-to-street for 3 straight days, I thought I’d clear some space on my camera and share a few food pics I’ve had in the vault.  I’m not sure our hurry-and-take-the-photo-so-I-can-shove-this-in-my-mouth photography really deserves the label “food porn,” but in any case, I thought these few photos were worth sharing.  Itadakimasu! *

A few weeks back, I was wandering the streets of Kappabashi (the kitchenware district, this site does a great job of describing it) and it was sooo hot and I was sooo hungry.  I stepped into the only restaurant I could find, where, alas, there was no English to be had, so I ordered the daily special, which was a gigantic plate of tempura.  Luck be a fried shrimp! (Two actually, along with mushrooms, okra, eggplant, and shiso.  This meal was also served with rice, soup, pickles and tea.  Oofdah.)

Dan and I discovered this place while wandering the streets of Shimokitazawa, a hip neighborhood of Tokyo that has been compared to Williamsburg in NYC.  May I present a ball of rice wrapped in bacon (!), sort of like a meat version of onigiri.  I may have put mayonnaise on mine.

Last weekend we found the ramen shop Gogyo, where the ramen is served black!  I had the kogashi shoyu, Dan went for the kogashi miso.  Both were “burnt” ramen, and I’m not sure how they got it that way, but the open kitchen had big flames and the ramen had that delicious almost-burnt, grilled-meat flavor.  We’re definitely going back for the black (alliteration is irresistible!).

Tokyo summers — the bad part is that it’s hot, the good part is that there is kakigori, a shaved-ice mound of sweet deliciousness much like the slushie I wrote about a few weeks ago. Kakigori is seasonal, so I plan to eat as much as I can in the next month.

I went for red bean and green tea, and Dan had fresh strawberry with a sweetened condensed milk glaze. These poor guys really didn’t stand a chance.

There you have it.  Don’t get me wrong, we eat a lot of weird and perhaps not-so-good things too (including the random mystery vegetables I try to cook at home), but those aren’t as fun to share.  Or are they?

* Your language lesson for the day: Itadakimasu いただきます roughly means “I humbly receive,” and is a traditional greeting before a meal.

A Declaration of Craft

It was a busy one for me here last week.  Not only have I upped the ante on my Japanese study, I’m still trying to figure out how to do laundry/shop for groceries/live here, etc., but I also discovered two – yes, two! – new-to-me craft stores.

Now those of you who are new to the craft scene (aka, all of you who come to this blog for the food and are tricked into reading about fabric) may think all craft stores are the same.  Not so, dear friends.  Some are like warehouses where you have to dig through piles of musty fabric for a scrap of gold, and some are classy establishments, like La Droguerie.

La Droguerie is beautiful.  (No photos are allowed inside, so I snapped that shot on my way out.)  It is probably the most beautiful craft shop I’ve ever seen, and I have seen many in my short craft life.  Bobbles and buttons are kept in big glass jars on well-lit shelves, and colorful rows of ribbons hang amongst fabric and other notions.

La Droguerie is a French chain that sells mainly their own brand of yarns.  I learned later that you are not supposed to rummage through the jars yourself, but rather wait for a salesperson to come over and do it for you.  Whoops.  I totally had my hands in some piles of felt.  It just couldn’t be avoided.  Also, everything was very expensive.  I wanted a tiny bit of some trim that was unpriced, and thought, “How expensive can some trim be, anyway?”  Well, expensive.  Though, now I have a mighty fine improved-upon Ikea lamp to show for it:

La Droguerie was nice to look at, though I’m not sure I need to visit it too often.  Especially because two days later, I found Yuzawaya ユザワヤ — eight buildings of crafts spread out along three city blocks.  After the excited/frantic and perhaps unintelligible text message I sent to Dan, he reminded me to breathe and eat, advice I thankfully followed or I certainly would have passed out.  In fact, as I inhaled some deep fried tofu skins (don’t cringe, it’s delicious!) while standing in an alley behind a 7-11, I realized I might indeed have a problem.  But, more on that later.

I spent a lot of time at Yuzawaya that day and only made it through 1.5 of the 8 buildings before they closed their doors for the night.  A felted wedding cake anyone?  How about an adorable DIY stuffed mouse?  Or a Hello Kitty kimono?  It could all be mine!

It was while at Yuzawaya when I realized that making things is more than just a hobby for me.  It doesn’t have to be a problem — why not embrace it?!  (Cue light bulb.) Though this Declaration of Craft will not surprise many of my friends and family, I have somehow surprised myself.  And so, I have a new focus for my time here in Tokyo — in addition to exploring a new city and learning a new language, I’ll be venturing on some other craft-related endeavors.  Huzzah!  I promise to share in due time.

For those of you interested in visiting these places yourselves:

La Droguerie Ometesando
Omotesando LH bldg 1F
4-13-9, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Ometesando station – behind Ometesando Hills

Yuzawaya ユザワヤ
4-12, Nishikamata 8-chome, Ohta-ku, Tokyo
Kamata station – take a left from the West Exit, walk under the tracks, look for signs to your right

I’m currently compiling a Tokyo craft guide, so check back for that in a few weeks.  Thanks!

Nikkō

Have no fear, folks — no talk of afterbirth today, just pretty pretty pictures.

A few weeks ago we took our first day trip out of the city to Nikkō.  Tokyo was experiencing its hot, sticky, rainy season and Nikkō was cool and so very pleasant, so we congratulated ourselves on our good timing.

Two hours north of Tokyo by train, Nikkō (日光市, meaning “sunshine”) is home to the World Heritage-listed Tōshō-gū shrine. We were looking for both culture and trees, so it was the perfect destination for us.  We picked up some bentos at the train station, and off we went.

Let us begin with a little history (because it’s fun!): when the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu died in 1616, construction began on a shrine and mausoleum to honor him. Ieyasu’s grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu, declared that it should be the most splendid and impressive shrine ever built, and that the feudal lords, or daimyō, should pay for it (in order to prevent them from acquiring too much money of their own, you see?  Smart grandson!).

Artisans from all over Japan were brought in, and for two years some 15,000 of them worked on the shrine.  I think my guidebook describes it best with, “Almost anything that can be decorated is.” Gaudy or gorgeous, either way, it’s pretty awesome.



We went to Nikkō in search of culture and trees, but what we really found was a crowd.  Tōshō-gū was packed full of tourists and school children, and we spent a lot of time trying to keep either ahead of or behind them.  Despite the awesomeness, it wasn’t long before we decided we’d had enough of Tōshō-gū shrine and went looking for something else.  Tōshō-gū shrine is the big attraction in Nikkō, but we’d heard nearby Taiyūin-byō shrine was worth the visit.

Some more background (and more fun!): Taiyūin-byō shrine was finished in 1653, and is the mausoleum for Tokugawa Iemitsu — that’s right, the grandson.  Iemitsu turned out to be an extremely powerful shogun — he was the one responsible for closing Japan to foreign commerce, isolating it from the rest of the world for almost 200 years.  So he got a pretty impressive shrine as well.

The shrine built for Iemitsu feels like the antithesis of his grandfather’s.  Where Tōshō-gū is flashy, Taiyūin-byō is serene, set back amongst the cedar trees where it blends in with the landscape.


I fell in love with these lanterns.  There must have been hundreds of them scattered throughout both shrines, though the ones at Taiyūin-byō were more eerie, all covered in moss.


Nikko has been considered a holy place for over 1,200 years, when as legend has it, the Buddhist priest Shōdō Shōnin was helped across the river by two snakes who appeared and formed a bridge, then vanished.  The red Shin-kyō bridge marks the spot.

Walking back to the train station along this river was a refreshing end to our day — the water was so cold we could feel a rush of cool air go by as you stood next to it.  The scene was completely lovely, and we stood there for a long time.

For those interested, we took the Tobu line from Asakusa station using the Nikko World Heritage Pass.

Let Them Eat…

Where to begin?

I fear I may be taking this adorable travelogue down a dark, dark path.

Yes, Marie Antoinette is holding a giant bottle of placenta. No, it is not a mistranslation, they are actually selling placenta. Yes, I stood in the middle of Shibuya train station, one of Tokyo’s busiest, trying to wrap my head around the ad. No, you aren’t supposed to apply it to your skin so you will look younger. Yes, you are supposed to drink it, “it” being the placenta, an actual placenta being sold for human consumption, so your skin will look younger. No, if you send me $60 and your address, I will not walk out to my local health food store and buy you placenta and mail it to your house. Just kidding, yes, I will do that for you.

Perhaps there are additional questions? To be honest, I really don’t have too many answers, so let’s turn to the Web site of the good folks at Placenta-Pro, makers of “the world’s long awaited placenta elixir with 30,000 mg of ‘Horse-origin:'”

Q: So….

A: “Those who pursue health and beauty throughout the world have overwhelmingly praised the placenta.”

Q: What?

A: “Particularly because it is in a drinkable form, the fresh placenta components are easily absorbed and condition both body and skin health from within.”

Q: Right, but…

A: “PLACENTA-PRO 30,000 contains an extravagant 30,000 mg of 100% pure horse placenta extract.”

Q:  Everyone knows pig placenta is the way to go for softer skin. Are you trying to pull one one me?

A: “The fact that horses have high temperatures and delicate constitutions alleviates any concern about viruses or germs.”

Q: Oh, well that makes sense. I guess it’s true what they say. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s afterbirth ear. Where do placentas come from?

A: “Placentas come from horses raised in an excellent Kyrgyz environment.”

Q: I’m going to stop you right there.

A: “Guided by the government of the Kyrgyz Republic — contracts are drawn up with carefully selected farms in the rich natural surroundings for our supply of exceedingly nutrient-rich horse placentas.”

Q: We’re done here.

[There is a need for a few editor’s notes: 1) Placenta-Pro is not the maker of “The Placenta.” The Placenta might actually be made from pig-origin. I’m sorry to deceive. 2) I’m not making fun of another culture. I’m making fun of quacks. 3) A quick search of the Internet will show plenty of people have already addressed the great placenta debate. 4) Placenta-Pro 30,000 comes in orange.]

Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu

The other, less prolific half here. Sorry, no adorable pictures this time. Just cold, cold, print.

Today was a bit of a milestone for me, in that I had to introduce myself to a room full of co-workers. In Japanese.

For those keeping score, it might seem odd that I’m just getting around to introducing myself to most of my co-workers. And you would be correct. For 2+ months, I have been floating around the office as, “that new guy who doesn’t look like any of us and doesn’t speak our language and what exactly is he doing here, well at least he doesn’t drink all the coffee,” (my words, I think).

My Japanese is not good. I’m not being humble. Sure, if you meet me, and you don’t speak Japanese, you might be wowed – or discomfited – by the swiftness with which I can order a draft beer. But that’s about it. Otherwise it’s a whole lot of mumbling and bumbling.

So here’s what I wanted to say, followed by what I was capable of saying:

Hi, I am Dan./Hi, I am Dan.

Pleased to meet you/Pleased to meet you.

Please excuse my accent. I’m sorry I can’t speak better Japanese./ I’m sorry. I cannot speak Japanese.

Unlike a lot of people my age, I’ve managed to stay in the same city for a number of years. It was about that time that I either made roots, or picked up and tried a new town, you know? I chose the latter, so here I am! You’ve been wonderful hosts so far. I’m so happy to be here./ I am from Washington, DC.

I work for —–. But beyond that, I really look forward to meeting all of you. You all seem like interesting people, and you obviously get along very well. Seriously, stop by my desk. We’ll go out and get a drink./I work for —–

Please treat me well./Please treat me well.

Oh by the way, how do I use all of the buttons on the toilet?/…..