Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Road sign revision

Remember this road sign I showed you earlier?  I thought it was a girl and her mother?  Well, my mom pointed out to me that the older person was probably the girl's brother, not her mother.  I scoffed at her, but check this out.
This is the sign I showed you earlier.
You see?  Here is an adult with a little girl!  The adult is much taller, so clearly the person in the other one is also a child.  ;)

Here is an adult man!  You see the difference?
I apologize for the confusion and the incorrect earlier post.  ;)  And hello from Kyoto!
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Farewell for a few days!

Just a note to say that we are off to Kyoto for Golden Week!  You may not hear from us if we don't have Internet!

Scrabble to a whole new level

Those of you who know me, know that I enjoy Scrabble immensely.  (Remember the picture from our wedding slideshow, the one of me beating Dan handily?  ;))  Anyway, we had the opportunity to play with a world-class Scrabble player the other day!  What an eye-opening experience.
Jason is a Tokyo Googler, and we played a quick game with him at the office.  I mean the word 'play' in a loose sense; basically, Jason would lay down his tiles, and then glance over at ours and help us out if we were at too much of a loss.  I have never seen Scrabble played in this manner before.  
I normally try and get some high scoring words, use a couple strategic spots, but that's the end of my strategy.  I never use all of my tiles, but apparently, that's very important to do, especially when the other player does it about twice during the game!  Also, he does a lot of the parallel plays, which I suck at because I have a limited repertoire of 2 and 3 letter words.  And it's better to exchange your tiles than play a crappy word.  Always know which letters to keep!
Anyway, check out our final board:
Amazing, huh?  I don't even know what half the words mean!
You can compare it to some of my old boards.  You'll see the difference immediately.  :P

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Homestyle food, buffet style

We discovered that one of the best way to try a variety of Japanese foods is the buffet!  We loved buffets here, mainly because we didn't have to deal with the trouble of ordering and reading a menu.  Most of these buffets have a good selection of fairly healthy, homestyle Japanese foods.  Stuff your mom might cook, if you were Japanese.  They weren't particularly cheap, though, so go hungry.  :)
1. Keke, in Landmark Tower 5F, Yokohama

As you can see, great selection: fresh vegetables (loved the cherry tomatoes!), noodles, tempura, lots of fish.  Also wide variety of drinks (tea, coffee, juices)

2. Saishokukenbi, Shinjuku:
This was probably my favorite of the buffets, but it is all-vegan, so if you're not into that, don't come here!  Warning: they only serve dinner buffet on Friday and Saturday nights, so plan accordingly.  I will write a more detailed review when I put up my vegan restaurants post. (Sorry, still getting to it!)
Very homey atmosphere

I loved the cute plates with 9 compartments!  Lots of good fake meats, lots of vegetables!

3. No-no-budo, IMS Building, 13th floor, Tokyo
This was a fantastic buffet.  Nonobudo concentrates on traditional Japanese dishes, prepared organically and locally.  There are salads, organic vegetables, curries, noodles, tempura, and everything else your heart could want.  We definitely overate at this buffet, there was such a great selection.  The best part was that they kept bringing out new dishes all the time!

They even had this lovely negitoro over rice, with grated yam, seaweed, and salmon eggs.

They had great desserts, including some sponge cakes, soy milk with mochi, bread and jams, almond jelly, grass jelly, cheesecakes, etc.
So if you don't speak Japanese and need a good solid meal, try one of these buffets.  Just don't end up with tummyaches like we did.  ;)
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Some more random thoughts

1. There are no guns in this country! 
We had dinner with some Japanese folks last night, and we were comparing the different types of crime here in Japan and in the US.  In Washington Heights, theft and mugging seem to be fairly common crimes.  In Japan, the most common crime is 'molestation' on the subway, or basically, men touching women's behinds.  There are no problems with guns here because no one, except for possibly the Mafia, has guns!  Not even the police carry guns!  Our friends could not believe how commonplace guns are in our country, nor could they believe the amount of violence to which we are accustomed.  I wish we had much tighter gun control laws.  No matter what people say about 'the right to bear arms,' violence in our country is out of control, and I believe its roots lie in the ready availability of guns.

2. Cigarettes are so cheap!
As in $3/pack!  One thing we do right in the US is levy high taxes on cigarettes.  At $3/pack, people smoke like chimneys.  A couple of packs a day?  Sure, no problem.  But try that in NYC, where a pack can run you almost $10.  Go New York!

3. Suicide by subway is quite common.
A 'popular' way to commit suicide is to jump in front of the oncoming subway car.  Our friend estimates that there is one of these suicides every two weeks or so.  You can see it on the subway status board, indicating why the train is late.  The government has tried to combat this by instituting a huge penalty on the family.  A family may have to pay more than $1 million! The amount you pay varies by how much disruption in the subway line you have caused.  If you commit suicide during rush hour, you cause the Metro a lot of money, and your family will have to pay even more.

4. The trains here are almost always on time because if they aren't, customers complain and complain.
Our friend who works in the Metro department explained why trains here are so punctual.  If they aren't, they never hear the end of it from the customers!  I guess in NYC, we are so used to trains running late, that we never complain.  It's such a commonplace occurrence that when the train breaks down, we all just continue to read our magazines calmly -- and I've been stuck on the train for over 30 minutes before!

5. Each train line has its own jingle.
The jingles are played when the doors are closing.  I'm not entirely sure if it's each station or each line that has its own jingle?  Does anyone know?  In any case, the jingles are remarkably catchy and I bet they would be great cell phone ringtones.  Today I was on the Fukutoshin line, and they had really melodic (think polyphonic) jingles.  Very impressive.

All right, I think that's it for now.  :)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Japanese-style pasta

Ponto Iru in the basement of Tokyu Plaza serves up some pretty good Japanese-style pasta. Italian food here is extremely popular, with pasta restaurants almost as frequent as Japanese noodle shops!  Anyway, we didn't really want to try Italian pasta here in Japan (so much other good Japanese food to try!), but when my friend suggested Japanese-style pasta, who were we to refuse?
Japanese-style pasta has a good fusion of both East and West.  They use many Japanese ingredients, like vegetables and even fish eggs, but they also use Western cream sauces and cheese, etc.  The combination turns out very well!
Here is a sampling of our pastas:
Lotus root, tomato, eggplant, soy-sauce beef: so good, they used a ton of olive oil so it was nice and creamy.

Karasumi pasta: Karasumi is salted and dried mullet roe.  Apparently it's a great delicacy of Japan and is quite pricey.  That's why there is only a sprinkling on this pasta.  :P

Pasta in minestrone soup!

Mushroom, meatball, etc. in a soymilk broth
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More medical stuff...

I have seen a few colonoscopies and EGD's here at Keio, and one thing in particular struck me.  The patients never emitted any sounds!  No complaints, no gagging, no moaning, nothing.  As a matter of fact, the procedures look fairly, dare I say, comfortable!  They are lightning fast here; right after an EGD, the patient walks right off the table and goes to sit in the recovery room.  I guess they use less anesthesia too?  

I had trouble asking about this in English, but I finally found one attending who remarked that it might be a combination of technique (he said they do more EGD's here) plus stoicism.  The Japanese patients are less likely to complain, he said.  Just not in their culture.

Wow, it was pretty cool to see such efficiency.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Midori Sushi

You knew I couldn't stay away from food posts for too long.  There are so many more things I want to tell you about!  
Our favorite sushi place is called Midori Sushi in Mark City.  We walk by this place every day, and the line is always absurdly long.  After watching people queue up for 3 weeks, we decided to give it a whirl as well.

This line is no joke!
My chirashi-zushi: for Steve, this was better than Ajihei's!  :)  They give you a HUGE amount of fish for a very reasonable price.  I gave all the things I dislike to Dan, including the pickled vegetables and the ikura (salmon eggs).

Dan's prix fixe sushi platter: for $21, this can't be beat!  The sushi is fresh and plentiful, and it also comes with a crab salad, an egg custard, and miso soup.

We also ordered a few items a la carte.

We went back again for a second visit because Dan is obsessed with this place.  This time, there was a new 'early summer' prix fixe special.  We got all this for $30!  It includes otoro, chutoro (fatty tuna), conger eel, sea bream, clam, salmon eggs, ankimo (fish liver -- and Dan's favorite), and some other stuff.  The hand roll was all pickled vegetables, though, and got a thumbs down in my book.  Oh, at the bottom left are two pieces of mediocre sponge cake for dessert.

Close-up of the ankimo

It came with a crab soup!  We weren't sure if we were supposed to eat the crab or not, but turns  out you aren't.  ;)  It was a bit disturbing drinking soup out of a bowl with a crab staring straight at you.

We tried their California roll, because it seemed different from the American California rolls.  It was all right, and used real crab, but there was way too much mayo.

And then our favorites are these pieces of broiled tuna.  The restaurant will blowtorch the tuna so that it's lightly broiled on top.  Delicious!
That's it, I am a bit tired of sushi, so hopefully this is my last sushi post.  ;)  
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cute characters

Sanrio and San-X do some amazing marketing here in Japan.  I was familiar with characters like Hello Kitty, but there are so many more of them now!  Have you ever heard of kogepan?  He is a burnt red bean bun who tries to find acceptance in the bakery filled with normal red bean buns. He drinks milk as beer and gets drunk often!  

Another funny bunch of popular characters now are beans: red beans, green beans, black beans. (Sorry, I can't find their names anywhere online.)  Beans!  Whoever thought to popularize beans into stuffed animals has a pretty good imagination. 

My own person favorite is Rilakkuma!  I didn't know this, but Rilakkuma means "relax" + "bear" in he is a very lazy bear.  He's always depicted as sleeping or laying down.  If not relaxing, he is eating his favorite foods: mochi, doughnuts, and pancakes!  He is truly a bear after my heart!

Apparently, San-X comes out with a new character every month.  Do all these characters come with a book or TV show or something?  Or are they just characters?  

Also, can someone explain Sanrio vs. San-X?  Are they different brands?  I can't seem to locate anything definitive online.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Well, I have gotten some complaints (ahem, William) that Dan and I eat too here is a bona fide non-food post!
We went to Kamakura this past weekend, and it was glorious.  The weather really cooperated, and we had a great day of temples and hiking.  Kamakura is famous for its many temples and big Buddha.  It's also great because it's so close to Tokyo.
The first temple we went to was called Engaku-ji.  The Rough Guide considers it the "second most important but most satisfying of the Kamakura Zen temples."  Knowing our tolerance for temples, we decided to try this one out.  This is no small temple; the grounds extend on and on!  Very beautiful gardens and buildings.  Must be tough to keep it so clean.

I like how they shade their flowers with umbrellas!

This is a famous bell, called Ogane.  It was forged in 1301!  We had to climb a lot of stairs to get here, so we paused for some tea and sweets (you saw the pictures in a prior 'dessert' posting.)  The view was amazing from up here!

Then we took the Great Buddha Hiking Trail and wandered into this place.  Everyone here washed their money in the small stream.  Apparently, whatever you wash in the stream will double!  Dan wanted to try a $10,000 yen, but I chickened out and made him do a $1000 yen instead.  I mean, what good is it if you rip your $10,000 yen note!  I noticed a lot of people were washing coins, anyway.

Walking up the steps to the shrine of Sasuke Inari

His messenger is the fox.  As you can see, there were fox statues everywhere!  I think you could buy one and leave it there, maybe for good luck?

Finally, after much walking, we made it to the Great Buddha (Daibatsu)!  It was amazing!  I'm so glad we made it before closing.  Look how peaceful and elegant Buddha looks.  He was built in 1252, isn't that amazing?  It has withstood all sorts of natural disasters -- fires, earthquakes, typhoons, and tidal waves!

Here is Buddha eating some green tea ice cream.  :)

This was the coolest part -- you can actually go INSIDE Buddha!  For only 20 yen, you can walk around the inside of its body.  This picture is a bit disorienting, but the empty cavern up there is where his head is.  
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Goya champuruu!

We randomly stumbled into an Okinawan restaurant the other night and happened to sit next to a party of Taiwanese people!  They were so excited that we speak Mandarin, so they gave us all sorts of advice on what to order.  Turns out they live right near by my aunt too!  Anyway, they recommended this goya champuruu, which is the most famous Okinawan dish.  It is bitter gourd, tofu, egg, and pork (they used spam, I believe).  According to Maki of, "it's supposed to give you lots of energy yet cool your body at the same time, making it perfect for the tropical climate of Okinawa."  I loved everything we ordered here!  I guess I'll have to try more Okinawan food.  :)
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Spiky durian!  Can you believe it costs $38?!
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