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March, 2010

  1. Did I mention I just love sakuras?

    March 28, 2010 by yuming

    It’s seven degrees out, brrrr…. But the sakuras have started to bloom.

    On our way back from Hakone (yes, we took yet another trip there, but this time with Mrs Kangaroo in tow), we took the train to Yoyogi-koen station so Mrs Kangaroo could at least stroll through an avenue full of sakuras. She adores flowers so she enjoyed the walk despite the chill.

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    We were amazed that hanami party-goers sat resolutely under the cherry blossom trees with their drinks and snacks in this weather.

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    Yoyogi Park wasn’t chock-a-block like during the peak of the season, but there were still enough people picnicking to create a happy, lively vibe.

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    We wanted to show Mrs Kangaroo the Rockabilly dancers but I think even they thought it was too cold to have a session today.

    It’s been nice having the kangaroo’s mum around. I think mothers tend to lend a softer, nurturing touch to things (she just squeezed some Crabtree & Evelyn Summer hand cream on me; “The air is so dry,” she mused to me a moment ago) and she’s been clucking around the kangaroo and me.

    We squeezed in two road trips within 10 days so I have lots to share but am exhausted from lack of sleep and too much activity. But you know, it’s a happy type of busyness that I’m enjoying. If you asked me what I was doing this time three years ago, I was actually alone strolling past sakura trees wondering if I would ever get my feet grounded in this sprawling, crazy, complex beast of a metropolis.

    You can read my past hanami posts here and here.


  2. Botejyu: Stylish okonomiyaki

    March 25, 2010 by yuming

    Hello again, I have yet another food review for you. I know a lot of you like to read about Japanese food, so I’ve been much more diligent in taking food photos.

    Okonomiyaki is a fave amongst gaijins, because it’s sort of like a pizza without the crust, and its hearty flavour endears it to almost everyone.

    It’s no wonder that the pizza-munching kangaroo would name this as his number one love when pressed to choose his favourite Japanese dish. Thankfully, there’s a good joint right next to Akasaka-mitsuke station, where we live and its plus point is that it’s open on Sundays when many establishments are closed.

    Why do I call it “stylish”? Well, the restaurant looks classy compared to most down-to-earth okonomiyaki joints and you don’t make your own, either. The hot plate in front of you is heated gently to keep your okonomiyaki warm whilst you chow down.

    That’s not to say there isn’t regular Japanese pub grub available here.

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  3. Tokyo Nugget #22: Three days cold, four days warm

    March 22, 2010 by yuming

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    In the month that leads up to spring (yay!), the weather goes a bit wonky in Japan — some days actually feel like spring and others are chilly and windy.

    There’s a saying for this and it’s called, 三寒四温(さんかんしおん;sankanshion) that literally means three days cold, four days warm.

    The winds on the cold days can be huge, whippy ones, as if winter is being pummelled out of the city. On warm days, people out on the streets wear light coats and pretty colours, as opposed to the sombre tones of last season’s.

    As I’m writing this, it’s a cold day. I checked the weather report for this week on Yahoo Japan and sure enough temperatures are low for three days and go up on the fourth.

    Photo credit: here


  4. The land of vending machines

    March 18, 2010 by yuming

    If you have ever visited Japan, one of the first things you’d notice are the abundance of vending machines. In fact there is one vending machine to 23 people — wow.

    It always amuses me that even in the boonies, there are vending machines. I went camping once and there were two vending machines next to the site (which came in handy when we ran out of Coke for the whiskey). Contrary to popular belief that there are vending machines for everything in Japan, I don’t think your lay person would encounter all of them, much less on a daily basis.

    In reality, as an expat living in Tokyo, I only really come across vending machines that sell drinks and cigarettes. When I travel outside Tokyo, I tend to see a wider variety of vending machines, like those that sell ice-cream, “gourmet” coffee (proper lattes and cappuccinos), cup ramen, beer/chu-hi, and hot snacks.

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    I’ve only ever tried taiyaki (fish shaped doughy dessert stuffed with azuki, or red bean, paste) and takoyaki (round doughy balls stuffed with octopus) and for vending machine nosh, they were actually pretty good. I thought they would be overcooked but they weren’t.

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    For more “sensationalist” vending machines, you can click here and here.

    Not meaning to be a wet blanket but some folks seem to think Japan is teeming with out-of-this-world weirdness. It can be true but tends to be confined to a very small minority and everyone else just goes about their own way. So please don’t ask your Japanese friend if there are vending machines that sell underwear (dirty or otherwise) all over Tokyo because it’s kind of gross on so many levels.


  5. A rainy outing in Hakone

    March 15, 2010 by yuming

    So since my big announcement on getting engaged, the kangaroo and I have been doing research on places in Japan to tie the knot. On the shortlist is Hakone, a hot springs town just an hour away from Tokyo, where it’s also a popular wedding destination.

    The heavy rain (which became snow later) didn’t deter us at all as we were excited about location hunting. Not only that, we had a few firsts on this little day trip.

    #1 We rented our first car in Japan.

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  6. Tokyo Nugget #21: Circle versus tick

    March 12, 2010 by yuming

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    What I now accept in daily life was not quite what I was used to in the past — ’tis part and parcel of being an expat.

    For example, to answer “Yes”, “Agree”, or “True” on Japanese related grammar workbooks, you have to put a circle, not a tick, in the box. You don’t circle anything, so you just pen a round line in the space provided. It took me awhile not to use ticks, to be honest.

    It’s also called maru that means around or round or circle in Japanese.

    “No”, “False” and “Disagree” are still a cross X.

    But if you make an “X” with your fingers, you are calling for the bill in a restaurant in Japan.

    Photo credit: here


  7. Gomaya: Neo-Japonesque izakaya fare

    March 9, 2010 by yuming

    What’s “neo-Japonesque” cuisine? Well, it’s basically a mix of European/Asian faves and Japanese dishes with a twist. The twist could go either way: a Japanese dish with a European touch or vice versa.

    This approach is very common in Tokyo izakayas — you often find pasta and pizza next to hot pots and sashimi salads or what I call Japanese-Chinese dishes like mapo anything (from tofu to prawns) and fried rice, cha-han. Despite the attempt to make things fusion, there is almost always nothing complicated in a neo-Japanese izakaya.

    Now there are those who do it okay and those who make it a little more special and I think Gomaya (details here) is a cozy nook in the heart of Shibuya that does neo-Japonesque well.

    The dishes are simple but very full of flavour and it won’t cost you very much (3,500 – 4,000JPY).

    We started with a few salady things as usual.

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  8. Where to get an awesome birthday cake in Tokyo

    March 5, 2010 by yuming

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    This seems like a strange blog post but I asked this question myself when I had to buy one recently and was truly stumped.

    In my neighbourhood, Akasaka, there are two options: confectionary chain Ginza Cozy Corner and Haagen Daz. The former has pretty good cakes but they only have three designs and unfortunately I have bought the chocolate one for different people’s birthdays, maybe even twice for the kangaroo, but he didn’t notice so that’s okay. I wanted to make a little more effort in not presenting the same birthday cake twice so hence why this serious hunt for a decent (different) one.

    Though Haagen Daz is always a winner (who doesn’t like ice-cream cakes?), it costs almost 5,000JPY for a small 500g one that will maybe feed five people tops. Also, if you are in a screaming hurry, this is not a good choice because you need a minimum of two hours before 6pm for them to prepare your cake.

    And to make one at the last minute was just out of the question. Some expat folks do that here which is pretty impressive in my book.

    So what’s an expat girl to do?

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