Miyakojima

We went to Miyakojima in Okinawa with a friend.  The island is mostly flat with many beautiful beaches surrounded by coral reefs.

We had lots of yummy Okinawan food, including sea grapes (a kind of seaweed) and goya (bitter melon) stir fry.

We also had the most delicious lobster lunch!

We went to a local izakaya where the owner performed traditional Okinawan songs and also shot fireworks at the beach.

We visited about half a dozen beaches including doing lots of snorkeling.

The sand at this beach was amazingly fine and white.

The snorkeling was quite fun.  We saw clown fish among the colorful reef fish and many different kinds of coral.

We hiked along the beach to a cave where we swam to a stalagmite formation.  We saw a huge fish while we were snorkeling back.

Can you see what's looking back?

Overall, it was a nice long weekend in the sand, sun and sea.

 

 

Oct 9

Hakone Girls' Weekend

My friend and I went to Hakone for the weekend to enjoy the cooler climate while it was still hot in Tokyo.  We arrived on Saturday night and had a relaxing time at the onsen.  The ryokan had a nice view of the lake and all the green hills.

We went to the Hakone Shrine and took the pirate boat across the lake with views of Mount Fuji in the distance.

We toured around Owakudani and ate some eggs boiled in the sulfuric pools.  Their shells turn black and each one you eat is supposed to add 7 years to your life!

We also took a stroll around the silver grass meadow as well before returning to the ryokan and relaxing in the onsen.

There was beautiful weather for our trip and it was such a relaxing and fun weekend!  Thanks M!

 

Sep 30

Dance Dance Awaodori

Besides the big Awaodori festival in Shikoku, Koenji, near Shinjuku, holds another festival with many dance groups - including Microsoft!

We hung out and watched the colorful dance groups - the kids were especially cute.

 

They each had "bands" with them and some of them were quite interesting.

Check out the shoes and the hats they danced in!

 

 

Sep 29

French around the corner

I guess it's been a while since we've had a good food porn post so here goes…

While Henry was checking out the restaurants around our neighborhood one day, he ran across a French restaurant right around the corner from our apartment - Restaurant Bacar.  It was ranked Top 50 Tokyo restaurants on a popular restaurant review website.  I called 2 months ahead for 2 days to get a reservation and it was clear that this place booked up fast.  We went to celebrate our anniversary with a special dinner.

The waiter was quite entertaining and we started off with an amuse of caramel covered cherry tomato with salt and pepper.

We also had the bagna cauda made with crab miso for dipping lots of fresh, colorful veggies including an oyster leaf (that really tasted like fresh oyster!) and fried ayu!

Then we had an appetizer of eel and foie gras with mango.

Yummy! The main dish was a roasted quail filled with grains.

We also had a rice course - I had chicken and negi and Henry had eel.  Dessert was peach with chamomile ice cream and hazelnut souffle.  It was an amazing, simple, delicious meal that ended with freshly made caramel.

 

 

Aug 29

Collon

It's called "Collon" and it looks like a colon with white filling.  Looks similar to an american treat…hrmm

collon

 

Aug 26

Nan taco

Yup, MOS Burger has created something that we've never imagined before!  It's the nan taco.  Basically, taco filling and tortilla strips on top of a nan.  It was quite good, but not good enough for me to eat it > once a month?

nan taco

 

 

Aug 25

K class cars

Japan has small cars.  There's a different class called "K" class which looks like a Scion XB, but is cheaper and has less taxes.  The fuel efficiency and utility value make the car very popular.  Most people like them as their second car for the house.  We've rented them before, but this Mazda..  wow, it was a weak ride.

The license plate is specifically yellow to indicate that it's a K class.

k class front

The car is small, but quite roomy, although this rental car was definitely bare bones.

small car

Max speed of this car?  120 km/hr.  Thats only 74.6 mph!   The car was literally struggling at anything over 100.  Well, at least the engine was crazy loud.

speedometer k class

The inside of the car was pretty darn cheap.  The radio was a standard size DIN radio, but the car didn't have any speakers.  So half the radio was a tiny speaker.  Lastly, we did rent this from the Mazda dealer.  I was shocked at the prices.  1 car battery > $500 USD.

car battery

Can of oil > $80

oil

Gas'ing up the car was a funny experience.  We went a full service place, and it was the usual 'mantan kudasai' 満タン, full tank please.  However, the full service also means that the guy will go into the street, and slow down traffic, so you can pull out of the gas station.

Self serve was even more fun.  The panel to select fuel is insane!  The left side of the pump says, please touch here first!  Yup, that's to get off the static electricity from your hands so you can pick up the gas pump.  I really wonder how many times I could've died in the US without this (sarcasm intended).  The second thing you do is push the button for type of gas.  In our case, it's the under the #1, and the red label for "regular".  You must be careful not to press the green one, because that's heating oil.   Yup, kerosene or something for your house heater…  Then the bottom middle grid of buttons needs pressing.  Left is full tank, or you can have any permutation of liters, or yen price.

So, after pressing the right buttons (with the help of Yuka), I realize that wow, you can fill first and then pay in the office.  No credit card slots on the pump either.

gas pump

Pumping gas in a K class car.  I think I need to be a dwarf.  There's no clip to latch the gas pump on, so my "static free" hand needed to be there to hold the pump at all times.

K class car pumping

 

 

Aug 23

Oma Maguro

In our trip to Aomori Prefecture 青森県, we immediately stopped by Oma 大間.  Oma is very well known for their tuna.  Diana and I both have to admit, this was the best tuna that we've ever had in our lives.  Yes, in our whole life.   It was a detour from our ryokan/hotel in Oirase, but well worth the trip.  Oirase is a 4ish hour drive south of Oma.

oma map

The rental car people recommended a place to us in Oma.  This store is has it's own ship and is named after it's own ship.

tuna ship

We ordered the special seafood bowl containing maguro (tuna), uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon roe).  Our friend, Yuka talked them into substituting what was supposed to be ika (squid) as ikura.  We definitely got our money's worth here.  Ikura is a specialty 名物 of Hokkaido (northern island of Japan), but we're so close to Hokkaido, that we knew it was gonna be good.

Everything in that bowl was legendary, yup legendary.  The uni was so fresh, it was just like having a fresh taste of the ocean.  The ikura had tougher skin than typical ikura, but you could easily taste the freshness.

seafood bowl

The pieces of maguro in the bowl were huge!

tall piece of maguro

We also ordered some otoro 大トロ, which means the highest fatty tuna.  The pieces were huge and extremely thick.  Basically, the size would pretty much fill your mouth.  The tuna basically just melted in my mouth.  So great.  It was so worth the trip.

otoro

During our meal, the owner or store manager kept showing us pictures of their largest tuna catch, and some magazine articles describing the store.  One of the articles is in the Japanese playboy.  True to the playboy journalistic style… the magazine was mostly articles for men, and less pictures.  Hence, Yuka was enjoying it.  haha.

playboy

So, Oma sits on the most northern point of Honshu.  We took a photo to say that we've been here.

oma point

And, we took a picture of Hokkaido in the distance.  Yup, you can see Hokkaido from here.

hokkaido view

 

Aug 22

Aomori, Hirosaki, Apple fun!

Our friend Yuka invited us to go on a trip to north japan (yes, Tohoku 東北 region, but more north) to do a ryokan stay in the mountains near Lake Towada 十和田湖 in north Japan.  We took a ton of pictures on the trip, so I'll split this trip into a few posts.  We could've picked many places to end up on the shinkansen, high speed rail, but we decided to go all the way up to Aomori 青森.

Aomori is near the top of the island of the main island of Honshu.  The whole prefecture was known for their apples.  So, immediately on arrival at the rental car place, we got cans of apple juice.

The cans have ratings for sweetness 甘味 and acidity 酸味.  This can was 3/5 3/5 and tasted great!

back of can

It wasn't apple season, which starts in October, but there was still plenty of apple pies to go and see.

apple pie guide

An example description of the apple pie.  There's the sweetness 甘味, tartness/acidity 酸味, texture 食感, and cinnamon シナモン ratings.  Not many pies had as much cinnamon as the US style.  Most of the pies are on pastry dough, so it was a little bit more like a danish, than a real pie.  All being said, they were still quite delish.

example pie detail

There's so many pies!

pies!

The red pin map below has every single place that was listed in the guide for Hirosaki city.  In the trip we ended up visiting about 4 of the places, but only 3 of them yielded apple pies.  We lucked out for one, because they make it fresh, so we had a 30 min lunch while waiting for the pies.

red pin map

During the middle of our trip, we kept coming up on many places with apple vinegar リンゴ酢 drinks.  I guess it's popular to make this when the apples are out of season.  Basically you get some of this vinegar liquid and have it with milk, soda etc.  Most people have it with soda 炭酸.   There were 2 apple favors, so I had the fuji apple flavor.

vinegar flavors

This is a blueberry flavor with soda pictured here.  I kinda forgot to take a picture of mine, but you get the hint.

blueberry vinegar and soda

One of the apple pies that we ate.  Sorry, no pictures of the other ones, because we ate them too fast!

pie

 

Aug 21

Used clothing bingo

Some signs never make sense to me.

 

Aug 21
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