Highlights: June 2019

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The highlight of June was spending our anniversary together!  8 June…Happy Anniversary SMS!  6 years!  He bought me beautiful flowers, which are barely done any justice by the photo above.

We spent the day in San Francisco, walking around on a gorgeous day.  Towards the end of the afternoon, we headed over to Rich Table to wait in line for a walk-in seating.  [Edit: Lie!] We barely made it but we were seated.  The line-waiting was slightly stressful because there was a clear line.  Then people who arrived right before the restaurant opened lined up on the other side of the door from where the original line was.  It all ended up working out but the last 5 minutes was a little weird.  I think a few of the people had a reservation while there was also a couple definitely trying to skip the line, which doesn’t work all that well in front of a bunch of people who are waiting.

 

All was forgotten though once we were seated.  The food was amazing!  The menu changes but there are a few standards that are raved about in the reviews.  The dried porcini doughnuts with raclette drizzle were so good.  They may have been my favorite!  The sardine chip, horseradish, creme fraiche was very cool-looking, with the potato chip cut so the sardine fillet could lie in it as if it were belted in by a potato chip belt.  Mmm, that sounds delicious, a potato chip belt!  Although the execution was cool, it’s not necessarily something I’d get again- I would branch out to something else on the menu.  We ordered four oysters with an excellent mignonette, which was already portioned out.  The two dishes below were from the seasonal menu and I can’t quite remember what they are…blog fail!  It looks like one is a burrata-cheese puff and I’m pretty sure the other is a hamachi sashimi dish.  Oh, man.  I want to go back so badly.  I just looked up reservations online and, well, 10 p.m. seems to be a widely available time.  Sniff.  We’ll have to do the stressful bar line again.   But now I’ll know it’s worth it!

[EDIT: These paragraphs are lies!  The line-waiting of Rich Table is real but it happened in July.  The green sentences are the only thing that applies to this meal which happened at State Bird Provisions!  Sheesh!]

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Rich Table Amazingness

Food coma June extended to the next weekend since I went to Boston for a conference.  The first night, I went into the city by myself and treated myself to an incredible dinner at Neptune Oyster.  It has gotten really popular and seems somewhat touristy.  In another it-pays-to-have-connections moment, I totally saw a group of 6 get seated right away since the ringleader clearly knew the owner.  It was another weird line scenario because I was in the doorway for 45 minutes at the front of the line without any acknowledgement from the hostess.  Like, at all.  But I knew she knew I was there so I just held tight and patience was rewarded!  It looks like the keep the first two bar sets open for single diners so after I finally got my name on the list, it was only another 20-30 minutes before I got in.  And I ordered a feast!

 

I ordered 12 oysters and the razorback clam cocktail.  The oysters were so fresh and I tasted the one each from the menu.  I liked the West Coast and one local oyster the best.  The razorback clam was another local bivalve and was also tasty.  I would probably try something different next time just to get another experience but if you’ve never had it before, I recommend it!

So, for the entree, I was torn between the lobster roll and the daily special, sea urchin bucatini.  I had the Neptune lobster roll before and it is amazing.  Going into the night, that’s definitely what I thought I’d get but when I saw that daily special…I thought if one place would get sea urchin right (it has to be super fresh to be delicious), it would be Neptune.  And I was right!  The dish was insanely good.  If I’m there on a Tuesday again, this is definitely what I would order!

 

The next night, my colleague and I went into the city to watch a Red Sox game.  Apparently, he is known for getting ice cream in a helmet sundaes because when we texted two of our other friends/colleagues, one immediately texted back, “Ice cream?!?!”  We got amazing seats due to a military connection.  Initially, the guy told us that the military seats were standing room only, which we said was fine.  Right before he was about to print those out, he said, “Oh yeah, someone turned in tickets to give to military members.”  It was already in the second inning so I guess we would do!

It was a lot colder than I was expecting so I bought a sweatshirt.  Sorry, Dad, all they had were Red Sox!  I bought the kid’s sweatshirt on a discount so I didn’t give Red Sox Nation too much money!

 

The conference itself was pretty good.  A lot of research structure talks which got a little tiresome but there were a few really interesting groups I got to talk to.  We were out in Lexington near Lincoln Labs where we had an amazing tour! I missed the final overnight in Boston proper in order to get back to the Chief’s Dinner at work.  It turned out to be worth it because one, the event was great and the videos were very funny and two, I was awarded Teacher of the Year by the residents!  What an honor!  I was really happy and humbled.

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After an amazing start to the month, I started to get ready for my upcoming move.  I sold the couch set and after checking with Mom and Dad as to whether they wanted the money (no!), I bought myself an Occulus Rift.  It is a computer base station-less VR headset. I love it although I pretty much only use it to play BeatSaber.  The first video shows how cool you feel playing, the second video shows how lame you look playing it.

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I started the apartment cleaning process, which was painful but that it mostly a July discussion.  I did move out of my office to allow for the switching office shuffle to occur.  For the rest of my time, I was in a spare office, which was fine. I am including a picture of my cleaned out main office because it ended up looking great!

Highlights: May 2019

Well, my daily posting resolution lasted um, not so long.  But it’s time to catch up on this blog so my method of choice will be monthly recaps!  First up, May!  After a travel-filled April, May was a lot less busy.  I got back and the birds were still alive thanks to their favorite bird-sitter Will.  Will is the bird-lover who was nice enough to leave parakeet ornaments when he birdsat over Christmas last year.  The birds acted like I had never been gone, mostly because they just ignore me in general.

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Elizabeth River flooding

I finished up with my Orange Theory membership, which I liked but given my upcoming travels and move, it was time to say goodbye.  I transitioned to running outdoors (albeit, less often) and here’s a picture of the Elizabeth River cresting over its bank during high tide.  This is a fairly regular occurrence.

On May 18, I went to a family funeral for my Mom’s cousin and my “aunt” whose husband passed away unexpectedly.  Irish funerals are interesting since the sad occasion is honored by throwing a party and celebrating the life.  A lot of extended family came to the Virginia Beach area.  Both brothers came with their families and it was great to see them.

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SMS!

The weekend afterwards, I saw this guy!  I traveled out to Newport Beach to see SMS for Memorial Day weekend.  I arrived earlier in the day than he did so I walked around and treated myself to a Bueno Bowl at Alta Coffee.  It is so good!

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Bueno Bowl!
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Happy Memorial Day!

On Saturday, Mark’s best friend drove up from San Diego with his family.  We had an awesome lunch at the Lido Bottle Works.  The beers on tap were varied and interesting and the food was good.  The highlight, though, was the covered patio on the most perfect weather day.  Living in Southern CA is delightful!

We end the month with two baby pictures.  Above, L is looking around cutely with her big anime-like eyes while H, below, is upset that she keeps being given a plastic ring instead of food.  Life is rough, kid!

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Monthly Artsy Events!

Last month was filled with book author talks/signings such as Colson Whitehead The Nickel Boys, Rebecca Makkai The Great Believers, and Bruce Holsinger The Gifted School.  This month is a little less literary but still artsy.

Tonight, I went to a new-to-me book club where we discussed Frankenstein.  I skimmed it in order to finish it but I’m going to re-read it at a slower pace over the next few weeks.  Tomorrow, I’m going to see Noura at the Old Globe Theater.  I bought tickets through the Blue Ribbon program so they were very inexpensive!

On October 23, I’m going to see Lizzo with my friend Jenny!  She invited me to use her extra ticket and I cannot! wait!  I really like Lizzo’s last album and now I’ll listen to her more before the concert.

Finally, on October 30, I’m going to a different book club.  We’re reading Erotic Stores for Punjabi Widows by Jaswal which I’ve owned for awhile but never read so this is a good reason!

Sisters in Japan, Day 11: Ito and the Jogasaki Coast

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K’s House with another ryokan (now museum?) next door

After a leisurely morning, Brady and I headed off for the Jogasaki Coast.  While the trip was originally supposed to be a family affair, Ricardo stayed back with LR so it was sister! time!

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Our room

We eventually made it after driving high up in the mountains (and fog!), which is not a route that I’d particularly recommend.  We stayed at K’s House Ito Onsen.  It’s a budget hostel in a former ryokan/onsen and it is super cool.  The reviews for the place are great and well-deserved.  There is a small onset facility on site, but we also went to a larger onsen in the Hotel Dankoen where we had a discounted pass.  This was very cool because there was an outside onsen that provides a nice contrast between the cool night air and hot water of the baths.

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Drink machine in the Hotel Dankoen!  Liquid courage for getting naked!

On the way to the Hotel Dankoen, I stopped by a walk-up sake window because why not? It provided an experience that helped make up for the one I missed out on when the drive-thru daiquiri placed was closed in Louisiana during SMS and my Deep South road trip.

After the onsen, we went out to dinner at a restaurant that was delicious.  It was also a little more expensive than we were looking for but the town was pretty dead and not much was open.  The food was quite good.

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Balcony view from our room

Although the day wasn’t as jam-packed as the prior, it was awesome!  Brady and I got to have a ton of quality time in the most beautiful setting.  I love the Jogasaki Coast and highly recommend it.  Given how affordable and amazing K’s House was, I’d probably spend 2-3 nights there as a home base for exploring more of the peninsula.

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Screenshot of the Hotel Dankoen Guide Map- go to the hotel site for a .pdf!

 

Sisters in Japan, Day 10: Kanazawa and Yokohama

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I started my day with coffee at Curio Espresso and from there, I was on the move!  The day would feature the cool city of Kanazawa during a West Coast morning and the evening would feature my old East Coast stomping grounds of Yokohama with a Baystars baseball game followed by beers at the Thrash Zone.

The coffee shop was cute and very English-friendly.  I spoke with an Australian woman who was also leaving that day.  She was quite nice and it’s always nice to have a companionable cup of coffee rather than silently sip, waiting for the caffeine to hit.

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Quiet times at Omicho Market
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Crab and salmon roe bowl

After coffee, I decided to get a seafood bowl (don) at Omicho Market, a large covered market with over 200 stalls, mostly groceries/food.  Kanazawa is known as a foodie city and, since it’s on the coast, as a place with great seafood.  After walking for a bit, I picked a restaurant that wasn’t super busy but looked like it had a few regulars.  The breakfast was delicious and was similar to the delicious bowls I had in Hokkaido a few years back.

After my breakfast, I went to two shops.  The first was Mari-ya with its incredible assortment of threaded goods.  The most eye-catching are the kaga temari, embroidered handballs that are exquisite.

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After Mari-ya, I went a few doors down to 大樋焼本家窯元・九代目大樋勘兵衛.  I know.  I’m sorry.  What does that even say?!?  Well, thanks to Google translate, I can tell you that it’s a shop of Otsuki Yakimoto and the ninth generation family potter Oiso Kanbei.  I also remember this from the little handout I got but to summarize, this shop features a distinctive Kanazawa form where the vessels are hand-formed rather than on the wheel. I made some hand-formed pottery in second grade and, despite how well-loved my 10-lb Christmas ornament and super-ugly coffee mug are by my parents, these Japanese artisans are on a whole other level.

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Otsuki Yakimoto family pottery, ninth generation Oiso Kanbei
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Even shopping bags have a raincoat!  Tea seating area in background.

The woman inside was super-welcoming and had a handheld translator which didn’t work all that well but was a really thoughtful things to have.  Once she saw that I was going to buy a few things, she offered to make me tea.  They have a small open tea room in the back so it made for a unique shopping experience.  After I bought my two cups and one bowl, she packaged it up beautifully, including a plastic cover over the paper bag since it was raining outside.  Although the amount of packaging waste that results is eye-popping, it is also amazing how detail and contingency-oriented the process is.

 

 

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Dutch elements in the main gate to Oyama shrine.

Next, I went to the Oyama shrine.  It has a really pretty garden, which was especially vivid due to the rain/sprinkles.  There were a few school children groups so I got a few enthusiastic “Hellos!” from the daring.

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Kenroku-en
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Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en is considered one of the top three gardens in Japan and even though I had been there before, it seemed worth walking through it again.

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Higashiyama Chaya Street
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Two women in Higashiyama.  They were posing for photos for anyone who asked.

Time was starting to run out so what’s the solution?  A few more stops!  I took the bus over to the Higashiyama Chaya district, which was absolutely beautiful.  I only had time for a 15 minute walk, which was just enough to make me really go back for a more leisurely stay!  If I hadn’t had to make the Baystars game, I definitely would have pushed off my return.  But it was better than nothing and also a cool reminder that there’s always more to see.

I also stopped into the Fukumitsuya sake shop.  The brewery is just outside of town and, if you plan things a little more ahead of time than I, you can make a reservation for a tour.  Another thing for next time!

So, I was starting to cut it close.  I decided to take a taxi so I could stop in Omicho one more time to buy a mochi panda t-shirt for SMS.  I know, completely ridiculous.  It was a lot busier around lunchtime, so it was fun to see it more bustling.

I actually got to the train station early and almost made a slightly faster train but, unfortunately, the train was only reserved seating and thanks to the guy in front of me who bumbled with his wallet for several minutes (seconds), I didn’t make a reservation in time.  As a side note, it is a total pet peeve of mine when someone gets to the front of a really long line and then acts surprised when it’s time to pay, show a passport, etc.  Get ready people!  It makes everything go more smoothly!

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Never fear! I caught the train I had originally planned on so I got to Yokohama on time.  On the train, I enjoyed a delicious train bento that had a plastic insert explaining what all the little dishes were.  Bonus!

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Go Baystars!
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Baseball cheerleaders and mascot!
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Foul ball safety officer
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New friend!
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My littlest tomodachi.  I love the ear pro!

After arriving in Shin-Yokohama, I hopped on the subway to the Baystars stadium.  The were playing the Hanshin Tigers.  Brady, Ricardo, LR, and I had the best time.  We bought noisemakers bats, had some beers, and made friends with our neighbors.  It was the best!

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No posers!
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Thrash Zone IPA, baby-style

Afterwards, I brought Ricardo and Brady to The Thrash Zone, a small bar that specializes in IPAs and playing heavy metal vinyl.  We had another beer, spoke to a few Americans (whaaaat?  What are they doing there?), and then caught the train home back to Atsugi.

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Tiger Super Fan!

October Goal!

It is 1 October and I am way behind on my blog posts.  I’m still trying to catch up on my April trip to Japan.  Yikes!  I really like having my blog as an outlet and, in an effort to be more consistent, I’m going to write a post every day in October.  Hopefully, I’ll be caught up by the end of the month with all the trips between then and now.  There will also be a few posts like this when I run out of time and need a short filler piece to keep the streak going.  Tomorrow, Day 10 of Sisters in Japan!

Sisters in Japan, Day 9: teamLab and Kanazawa

Day 9 started out on the drizzly side.  After waking up and saying goodbye to Ricardo and Brady, I headed out to teamLab Borderless in Odaiba.  SMS and I had seen an exhibit in Palo Alto and thought it was pretty cool.  I had slight regrets in pre-purchasing my tickets since I now thought I’d rather get to Kanazawa earlier but the money was spent and off I went.

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Tile peacock

When I got there, there were hundreds of tomodachis already in line.  There was an employee holding a multilingual “End of the line” sign far from the entrance, which was simultaneously helpful and depressing.  Eventually, I got into the exhibit which was really crowded.  This is in contrast to the fake! news! website which features solo visitors only!  Of course, I wasn’t really expecting to be on my own.  It’s popular and very cool.  I do think that once you’ve seen one exhibit, that’s kind of enough since essentially, a large part of the exhibit consists of fancy light projector effects.

Part of my meh reaction to the exhibit is that I really had not allowed myself enough time since I had picked the time I wanted to leave for Kanazawa.  I wanted to arrive mid-afternoon so I could see a sight or two before closing.  I took a crazy tight schedule of two subways to Tokyo station and just made the shinkansen.  Running was involved, which always makes me feel like a crazed tourist godzilla but it’s an acceptable trade-off at times.

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Kanazawa was overcast and beautiful.  I saw one of the few sakura trees still in bloom, since the area is cooler than the East Coast around Tokyo.  I bought a bus pass and headed over to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.  When searching #kanazawa, I had seen pictures on Instagram of Leandro Erlich’s “The Swimming Pool” and I had to see it!

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A different way of hanging out in the pool!
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It really looks like a normal small pool.
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View from the bottom!
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Am I swimming through the water or jumping around like an IG influencer?!?!

It’s a really neat installation of a limestone pool with a glass bottom over a room painted aquamarine.  It’s a very playful way of tweaking assumptions of what we think we see in common objects and what they actually may be.

The whole museum was quite cool.  There are only a few exhibits but that allowed me to focus on them rather than have many go by in a blur.  There was a love exhibit that consisted of paintings that looked all the world like neon signs.

An added museum bonus goes to lockers that, while mandatory for larger bags, have a refundable Y100 charge.  Travel tip for people with hand luggage in Japan- lockers are everywhere and are awesome to avoid lugging bags around.  Even light bags can be heavy!  Just have several Y100 coins in your change purse!

After the museum closed, I walked back to the bus stop and headed towards my capsule hotel.  I had made an online reservation, which I feel is the way to go!  Especially since capsule hotels for women are not as common.

The capsule was clean and, since this was only my second time staying in one, a really unique experience!  I was given a goodie bag of towels and pajamas for my stay.

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Towels and pajamas. There are also toiletries in the bathroom, including single-use toothbrushes. A person doesn’t have to bring a thing!

Now, it was time to plan for dinner.  Kanazawa is known for being a foodie town, so I wanted to have something delicious.  I found an amazing sushi place online, but the it was small and I felt it was unlikely I’d get a seat.  Then I found Iwashigumi, a restaurant specializing in sardines.  This sounded so niche and quintessentially Japanese (focusing on one thing and doing it really well), that I decided I was in even though my familiarity with sardines is limited to Caesar salad dressing and occasional forays into trying to up my Omega-3 intake by queasily eating small fillets.

I walked down the 157 towards the river.  The restaurant had the type of wooden slated door, which always seems like such a commitment when I enter that I almost chickened out.  But I went in, sat down, and ended up having the most incredible dining experience!

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Door on the left

There were two main people I interacted with, an older man and older woman who worked there.  They didn’t speak English and I hardly speak Japanese so there wasn’t a lot of verbal conversation, but we still communicated with each other throughout the night.  It was an atmosphere of such warm hospitality that I felt at ease and at home.  I loved it!

There was an English menu, which was very helpful.  I decided to go all in and get the extended tasting menu.  I was hungry and I felt that I was in for a singular experience.  I wasn’t wrong!

The first three courses were a sardine salad with assorted sashimi, followed by a sardine croquette.  Next was a larger sardine served whole.  Given the size, there was a good amount of fish to eat.  I did not eat the whole thing- the head stayed!

After that was a sardine chawanmushi, which was delicious!  It’s one of my favorite dishes.  Sardines in wonton-like wrappers were next, with a sardine “meatball” tofu soup to follow.  Finally, the savory dishes ended with assorted sushi.

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The last dish was a little ice cream sandwich.  I do not think it had sardines in it but, given the theme, who knows!?  It did taste like fairly straight-forward vanilla.  During the dinner, I had sake served in a small pitcher shaped like a fugu.  It was very cute.

Afterwards, the chef gave me a little goodie bag with a box of sardine prep mix to cook at home.   I have instructions and I’m saving it to cook for SMS.  I’m not sure if it’s curry, soup, etc at this point but one of these nights, we’ll find out!  I also filled out my address and several weeks later, I received a postcard.  It was such a wonderful experience and I would recommend the restaurant to anyone (other than vegetarians!). It was such a warm, kind-hearted vibe that I absolutely loved the place!

On my walk home, I walked past Mariya, a shop my Dad had told me about.  The temari balls were beautiful and I resolved to go the next day when the shop was open.

Sisters in Japan, Day 8: Yanaka & Ebisu, Tokyo

Our Tokyo mini-vacation continued with another early morning walk-about for me followed by group touring a little later in the day.  Since LR would feed at 6 and then go back to sleep, the whole family would sleep in until 10.  Delightful!  Except my jet-lagged self couldn’t manage it.

On Day 8, I took the subway to Nakameguro where there was another City Bakery!  SMS and I had found the Hiroo outpost when we lived in Japan but it was under renovation during this trip.  The pastries are amazing!  I bought one for there and one (two) to-go.  I was so happy!

Afterwards, I took the subway to Shibuya and walked over towards Aoyama.   I went to MUJI Found and bought a fold-over pouch, piece of linen cloth, and fermenting paste for pickles.  Guess which one of these things I still haven’t used?  Hint: It weighs 1 kg and rhymes with permenting faste.

I headed back to Hiroo with a stop in my favourite park.  It was a long-ish walk and by the time I got back, everyone else was set to head out on our field trip of the day, the Yanaka neighborhood and the Asakura Sculpture Museum.  SMS and I had been there before and I wanted to show Brady and Ricardo how cool it was.

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Unfortunately, no strollers were allowed (lots of stairs) so Ricardo and LR chilled outside while Brady and I went through.  It’s really an amazing traditional house with a more Western greenhouse artist studio in the front.

Afterwards, we walked around the Yanaka neighborhood, stopping for a beer/sake along the main pedestrian street.

 

Next, we walked towards Ueno Park but came upon the cutest outdoor cafe, Ueno Sakuragi Atari.  This was an awesome find!  We had a beautiful seat outside under a veranda with climbing plants while enjoying beers and snacks (marinated eggplant was my choice).   I suspect this cafe is in a few non-US guidebooks since there were a few tourists but no Americans.  I would definitely recommend this place in any Tokyo guide of mine- it was great!

We caught the subway in Ueno and headed back to Hiroo.  After getting ready, I went out to Bar Trench in Ebisu to meet Norfolk friends for a pre-dinner drink.  Bar Trench was super cool with great cocktails.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to drink them rather quickly, which was a little bit of a faux pas I think since we didn’t seem to appreciate the craftsmanship.  But we did!  Just quickly.

Also, at Bar Trench, and a few other places in Tokyo, I noticed that there’s a seating charge.  It’s usually Y300-500 with higher prices noted in the highly touristed Golden Gai.  It’s not a big deal, but something I hadn’t noticed when I lived there.  Maybe I didn’t go to nice enough cocktail bars?

After drinks, we met up with Brady, Ricardo, Rachel and other friends for a shabu-shabu tabe-houdai (食べ放題) and nomi-houdai (飲み放題), aka, all we could eat and drink over a 90 minute period.  We were very good at it!  It was a lot of fun because it was an experience I’d never tried before and we were with great company!

After dinner, we walked from Ebisu to Hiroo for our last night at the New Sanno.  The next day, we were going to part ways with the M-R clan heading back to Atsugi while I went to TeamLab in Odaiba followed by a quick overnight trip to Kanazawa on the West Coast of Japan.

 

 

Sisters in Japan, Day 7: Ginza, Naka-Meguro, Shibuya, Shinjuku

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Japanese breakfast at the New Sanno!

Picking up where I left off, I woke up after a great Easter with family and friends to…room service!  I had a list of food I wanted to eat while in Japan and the New Sanno Japanese breakfast tray was on it- salmon, rice, miso, tamago (egg), pickles, and green tea.  It’s delicious!  In case you are interested, other items on my to-eat list included onigiri (rice balls).  Actually, that’s about it for specifics- New Sanno breakfast and onigiri.  Of course I had other general ideas (yakitori, sushi, ramen, pickled veg) but I only had two specific things I had to get.

After breakfast, I headed to Shibuya and the Hatchiko statue to meet up with Hillary and her Mom.  It was time for a day of shopping!  Our first stop was Ginza so we got back on the metro.  Ginza has a lot of high end shops and cool architecture, similar to Omotesandō.  I had a specific destination in mind though- Dover Street Market Ginza.  It is a multi-level high-end store that is a shop/temple/museum to high fashion.  It is super cool.  The displays themselves are very high-concept and arty, some incorporating the clothes and some there for art’s sake alone.

We took the escalator to the top and worked our way down through the levels.  I thought the clothes by Sacai were really cool but alas, I am not the size for haute couture in Japan.  So, we went next door- to Uniqlo, where all the poor fatties can buy clothes.  Hooray!

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This ant is too big for Dover Street and is on his way to Uniqlo!

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After Ginza shopping, I decided to change it up so we took the train to Naka-Meguro, with its beautiful canals, small boutiques, and little cafes.  We walked into a few shops.  I bought a hat that I really like.  We went to a small cafe named Mother Esta, which featured a lot of produce on the menu.  We each ordered different sets- salad, curry, and fish.  Each was plated beautifully and everyone agreed the food was delicious.

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Shibuya Crossing

We headed back to Shibuya to get Hillary and Barbara back to their hotel, but of course I pushed the agenda a bit and took them to Loft.  It is a wonderful store and a highly recommend a stop.  The stationary/pens, beauty department, and kitchen gadgets are extra binge-worthy.  I think both of them were a little jet-lagged by the end but we had a great day and it was so fun to see a college friend in a completely new setting.

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I headed back to the New Sanno and met up with Brady.  We decided to head to Shinjuku to try a Yakitori place I follow on Instagram and to try and find the sake bar recommended by my Kyoto bar friends.  I am so glad we went to Shinjuku!  I had only been once before when I was making a beeline for the Robot Restaurant.  This time, we had different destinations in mind and, at a slower pace, got to appreciate how cool the place is.

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We passed the Robot Restaurant though!

I am still old-school in that I like reading blogs and articles while trip-planing but Instagram can be helpful, too.  Not so much for primary research but more for onesie-twosie things that pop up.  Right before the Japan trip, I had somehow come across Garakuta-na, Nishi Shinjuku on Instagram (@garakuta_nishisinjuku) and started following them.  There is an energetic, enthusiastic vibe to the page so I thought it would be a fun place to go.

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Adult Melon Float- ordered in honor of SMS and yes, there were ice cubes in it!

Well, thank goodness for Instagram because I never would have made it to the place otherwise.  The building was easy to find and the restaurant was located on 4F.  The elevator opens straight into the restaurant and on the way up, fliers for restaurants on the different floors are on the wall.  Both the 3F and 4F restaurants mentioned their English menus but I think the vertical stacking of restaurants is still very intimidating.  It prevents a person from being able to scope out the scene from street level.  Instead, you’re just deposited into the middle of the action.  I realize that this is just how it is in Japan and it’s something to take in stride- it’s definitely out of my comfort zone though!

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Little Rickey is young enough and cute enough that the “No Outside Food” rule is waived.

The staff was really nice and we were seated right away.  There was a foodie tour group at a community table for a little while, but it was otherwise filled with Japanese people.  The English menu was very good, but we ordered using our limited Japanese and pointing.  I tried showing the Instagram to a few of the waiters but they look confused.  I wonder if the page just exists for marketing rather than something all the staff follow and post to?  Or maybe my attempts at showing that I was an avid fan of their establishment were not very clear?  This seems somewhat-to-very likely.

We ordered several yakitori.  My go-to’s are the chicken thigh with leek and the tsukune (chicken meatball).  There are a LOT of organ meats and cartilage so this is one menu that I try to order off of rather than say “Surprise me/Give me your recommendation” (or “Osusume” in Japanese).  There’s also the funny “Mother-child” dish that features chicken and an egg.  Ricardo joined us for awhile and then Brady and I split off to find Moto, the standup sake bar that had come so highly recommended.

Moto was challenging to find, mostly because our Maps program was one building off. Then, when it was on the right building, it was opposite of where the entrance was.  Honestly, I think I just overcomplicated it (whhaattt?) because I had been told it was really hard to find.  We eventually found it on the BF1 level.

Also, quick note on what I learned about the Golden Gai.  I had thought it was a different place entirely because there are several stations along the Yamanote line that have an alley of bars underneath the elevated tracks.  It has a gritty, get-it-done feel towards drinking with fairly bare bone establishments.  When I learned the actual Golden Gai was in Shinjuku, I wanted to walk by it.  Honest opinion?  While it is cool with its compact, vibrant bar scene, it felt a little over-touristy, aka, really high cover charges (Y600-Y700 so really, not that bad but a little opportunistic).  Many bars in Tokyo have cover charges, but tend to be a little cheaper unless the establishment is really nice.

Ok, back to Moto.  Brady and I showed up and while it looked full, the patrons moved a little closer together and voila, room for two more!  It was a tiny stand-up establishment with a U-shaped bar enclosing the bartenders and sake bottles in the middle.  There was a Y300 cover charge and, as a “complimentary” treat, an onion salad.  I liked it, Brady only liked it in a small quantity.  There was an English menu and one bartender whose English was quite good.  We each tried two different sakes during our time there, which was limited by the fact that they were closing.  It was a weekday, which means a lot of places seem to close in coordination with the train schedules, which allows people a better chance of catching the last train home.  I highly recommend Moto as the patrons were welcoming, the different sakes were great, the bartenders knowledgeable, and the onion salad to die for.  Haha, the last one is a joke.