Saturday, March 19, 2011

Post earhquake update

Dear all,

My 85-days in Japan were cut short of two weeks due to the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami. After much thought I decided to come home early and now I am now home in NY in the company of my husband, reflecting on everything that has happened in Japan.

Even though I am now physically in NY, my heart is still in Japan.

Over the two months that I stayed in Japan I fell in love with the country and with its people. My love is now coupled with deep admiration and respect of their shared humanity. Its all in the details of how they have coped with this tragedy. For example, the shelves in the convenience store in my town had no food or water, yet nobody looted or took advantage of the elderly couple that was selling vegetables next door.

If any of you got to enjoy or love Japan through this blog, I urge you to donate some money to the Red Cross or AmeriCares to help bring much needed provisions to the disaster victims. Even the smallest amount will help.

My thoughts and prayers are with Japan.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Weddings at Meiji Jingu

While Natalie was here, he spent a lovely morning at Meiji Jingu, the Shinto temple dedicated to emperor Meiji. In my previous visits to Japan this temple has always been incredibly crowded. This time, we visited the temple during low season and it was so pleasant and peaceful. Here are some selected pictures:

So quiet
Gardening tools on Temple Grounds
Wishes left as Meiji Jingu

We went to Meiji Jingu on a Saturday so we got to see many Japanese weddings taking place. It was so beautiful and different to Western weddings. Here are some more pictures.

Wedding Guests

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sugamo: Harajuku for grannies

We had a guest speaker in marketing class that gave a lecture about Sugamo Bank. To make the long story short, we learned that Sugamo is a section of Tokyo nicknamed "Harajuku for Grannies" because the elderly come to visit this area.

Grannies and gandpas walk around a street called Jizo-Dori, named after the nearby temple that has a famous Jizo (a statue of a bodhisattva). Jizo-dori caters to these older Japanese folks and it gets particularly busy on the 4th, 14th and 24th of every month (auspicious days for older people).

Jizo-Dori, Sugamo

So why would I want to go hang out among the geriatric? Very simple, the professor told us that on these 3 dates of the month a lot of traditional food stalls open up to cater to the traditional tastes of the older Japanese. That means that I could find TASTY SENMBEI (rice crackers) and other traditional Japanese food. So today I hopped on the JR line and headed to Sugamo.

As soon as I got there I saw tons of elderly people. If I could do a bell distribution of the age of people walking Jizo-Dori today I would be on the end of the left tail (yeah, I am a stats dork).

Grams and Gramps!

And another thing I saw right away was the amount of shops selling senbei. My food tour started with a piece of freshly grilled senbei. It was crunchy, sweet and salty.

Senbei Heaven


Most shops in Jizo-Dori carry inexpensive clothes for older people. The most interesting of these stores is Maruji. Maruji sells red underwear that elderly Japanese believe to be lucky and keep them warmer than other underwear. I saw three Maruji stores in Jizo-dori, so clearly they are very popular!

Busy busy Maruji

After scouting food for a while, I saw various stalls selling some kind of very flat Okonimiyake (if you know the name of this food please let me know). One particular stall had a long line, which in Japan is indicative of a good stall. So I queued up and got a ginger okonomiyake.

This one was mine. Can you see the steam coming for it?

It was delicious! The flat dough was soft and the sweet sauce went really well with the bite from the pickled ginger. An awesome find for 150 yen.

My next snack were some fried sweet potatoes. They were pretty good but the best part was the sweet couple selling them. Not only were they so sweet to me and put up with my horrible attempts at speaking in Japanese, but they also were happy to let me take pictures.

In fact, they insisted I take a picture of the sweet potatoes they were using. So here it is.

The next item was amazake (sweet, hot sake with very little alchoholic content). I am in love with amazake and start looking for it in any commercial street like Jizo-Dori. Sorry, no pictures of that, my hands were full!

So what other things do old folk want to shop for? Pickles! This was such a cute daikon radish stand it made me smile.

A cute Jizo

Lastly, I got this pastry. Not sure of its name, but I got "castella" flavor.  It was freshly made and warm, with a nice creamy center. Once I finished it I was completely full. I walked around for a while longer and bought some more senbei for the road.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spring in Kamakura

During Natalie's visit we spend a beautiful early spring day in Kamakura. Here are some selected pics.

A shinto priestess

Amazake (sweet, hot, low alcoholic sake)  for 250 yen
Butaman (pork teamed bun) and local beer

Hello :-)


Spring is coming

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kiddy Land, where I get my cute toy fix

 I have been meaning to write about Kiddy Land since the very first weeks of my stay in Japan, it is one of my favorite places in Tokyo. Kiddy Land is a store tucked in a cute side street in Omotesando known as Cat Street. It is basically 3 floors full of the cutest animated characters the funkiest little toys.

 The first floor is filled with various cute characters like the San-X classics like Rikakkuma. They have a section devoted to Studio Ghibli films like Totoro and Ponyo. Let's just say that I lingered in this section of the store A LONG TIME and it took all my will to move on without buying any Totoros.

How cute is this Totoro baby set?

The second floor is split between toys for boys, like Lego and trains, and funky little toys (a good much made for dorks). Naturally, I went to the funky/dork section for A LONG TIME too.

Onigiri and Bento Box playing cards

Miniature Hello Kitty plastic food, you never know which one you will get!
Display of the miniature Hello Kitty plastic food
Display of miniature Rikakkuma plastic food

The second floor also has a whole row of machines where you put in coins and get fun toys to hang from cell phones, as well as other funky collectibles. I am a total sucker for these machines and I gladly give them all my money in exchange for cell-phone accessories.

These cats stack up on top of each other
For 200 Yen (~$2.40) you can get a deeply apologetic Salaryman for your phone
StarWars accessories. How awesome is this?
I was not able to take pictures of the last floor. But it is basically devoted to the Sanrio and Peanuts brands. It's full of Hello Kitty, Little Twin Stars, Cinnamon Roll and Snoopy. Pretty sweet.

So what did I get at Kiddy Land? Check out my Mameshiba edamame phone accessory.

Still in the pack

At first sight, it looks like a little plastic edamame

Surprise! You can pop them out and the go right back in!!!

And the piece de resistance ... Mameshiba, a dog shaped bean is in the middle!

This Mameshiba edamame is part of the "Mugen" series. Mugen means infinite in Japanese, referring to a bunch of toys designed to be played with over and over again. Other Mugen favorites are designed to simulate the feeling of popping bubble wrap and opening beer cans. If you are in Tokyo, make sure you go check out Kiddy Land!

To see more toys of the Mugen Series click here