Saturday, July 26, 2008

Week six and Emily's visit

Okay, I haven't blogged for a while, mostly because I'm so angry! My camera was either lost or stolen (in America) and of course I hadn't got the final pictures off of it! So the vast majority of pictures of mom and I? Gone. The final pictures of me at work? Gone. I'm so angry about it...and this refrain is going to return in the next blog because I'm really really angry about it.

But I'm hoping it will be cathartic to write this blog.

First--Emily came to visit me in Tokyo around the sixth week. It was awesome! We had a lot of fun and we went out on the town every night.

Night 1--Only planned on getting something to eat after E got in, but got approached by a couple of Australians to see if we knew any fun places to go. We all went to Roppongi and then to a dance club in Roppongi hills, which was very fun. I don't know how E made it though--I don't think we got home until six in the morning. The oddities from that night: I was served french fries with honey on them (tasty and strange) and a guy bought a round for the bar (which I've seen in movies but never experienced in real life).

Night 2--For some reason, I thought we should go out in Kabukicho Shinjuku, the red-light district of Tokyo (probably because I didn't want to go by myself). We went in the first place I spotted with English on it's sign. It was down a couple flights of stairs and was the size of a walk-in closet. That being said--it's a very unique experience to be dancing to AC/DC in a closet in Tokyo with people from all over the world :) It was well-lit and clean, and didn't seem all that seedy.

Here is a picture of me in the smallest bar in the world:

Our waitress--real close to the happiest person I've ever met:

Night 3 through the last night--We tended to end up in Roppongi. One of the nights, we were at a bar and I went to move a stool and heard a squeal--there was a DOG in the bar. I just thought that was bizarre. I love dogs, but when I'm trying to chat with a friend, I don't really want to be shaking off a puppy's amorous pursuit of my leg.

We stayed out late every night but didn't drink much, which was good, because each beer was about $8.

It was a great time! We did wander around during the day. For example, we walked ALL the way around the imperial palace. I was exhausted by the end but E looked fine, so I thought I was just being a baby. Later I found out that walk was about 5 miles and all of my co-workers were shocked that we did that!

During the walk around the palace:

This is me after the walk around the palace--I don't look TOO bad...

At the Meiji Shrine:

We also found a sample sale and bought some awesome designer clothes for cheap! But as we were walking away I saw:

A store that said NoJess! I apparently wasn't allowed in this store! So that made me sad..... :)

I think one of the most surprising things that I noticed in Japan was how many women wear kimonos. I guess I thought that kimonos would only be worn for really formal events--and they are worn for those--but they are also worn more casually. I think they are beautiful--

(oh, and women carry parasols A LOT)

Monday, July 21, 2008

End of week five and Russian Roulette??

So I know you are all angry at me for my lack of posting. I'm a terrible blogger! I'm sorry! I think I'm going to end up posting a set of twoblogs so make sure to look for them both :)

First things first, I got to go to Japanese cooking school twice! It was super awesome! Both times were taught by famous (in Japan) cooking school chefs and it was a blast. What did we make?

I got to make four delicious dishes:

First, we made tenderloin in a tomato/caper sauce. It was delicious! The most interesting part was how we made the pork tenderloin--it was pan fried, which I would never have thought could have cooked it all the way through (I would have expected burned on the outside, raw on the inside)! It was seriously tasty.

The second thing we made--a sort of cake made out of cabbage, belly, and some sort of EXTREMELY salty Chinese root vegetable that I had never seen before. Isn't it pretty though? It was tasty, although extremely hard to eat with chopsticks. Some things are much more easy to eat with chopsticks--for example, selecting one piece of food among a lot of foods, or anything that will fall apart if you skewer it. But SOME things, like cabbage cake, are really difficult to eat with chopsticks. I HATE cutting with chopsticks--I have this terrible fear I'm going to launch food across the room.

The third dish we made was deep fried pork with potatoes. Yum! This is one of those dishes you just can't go wrong with. The interesting thing about this dish was that we put the potatoes in the oil BEFORE turning the heat on--which is totally different than any way I've ever seen to fry anything. But they were delicious!

The final dish was stir-fried pork in a miso sauce on a bed of lettuce. This was good but, frankly, I make something similar at home, so it wasn't that exciting.

Kimchi! Lindsay, I'm totally channeling your experience in Korea here!

Yakiniku! I hadn't tried Yakiniku yet but it's one of those TOTALLY Japanese food styles (well, except it totally came from Korea, but let's not mention that). You take the raw meat, place it on the little burner in the middle of the table, dip it in sauce, and eat it. Yum!

The Japanese just LOVE intestine. Now it isn't as terrible as I would have expected. That being said, it's not that good either. And it's really really fatty. So it lights on fire when you are grilling it, which was by far the best part.

There are a lot of restaurants in Tokyo that have private rooms for groups. I've only eaten in a nice one once but it was really exciting! Any time you walk on tatami mats you have to take off your shoes--I haven't gotten used to taking off my shoes in public places.

The restaurant also had a cute little dessert--orange sherbet in an orange peel. Tasty AND adorable!

We also went to the Meiji shrine. The Meiji shrine is one of the most famous Shinto shrines in Tokyo. It's a pretty cool shrine. Really beautiful and sooo calm. It's one of those places in Tokyo where you would never guess you were in a big city...which always amazes me.

Barrels upon barrels of sake...that's a HECK of a lot of sake! And there is a matching line of whiskey on the other side!

People write their wishes or prayers on little wooden cards. At certain times, the cards are burned and the wishes are sent up to the gods. I'm just saying--I wrote on one of the cards and my wish DID in fact come take from it what you will :) And if you want me to write anything on a card for you, let me know in the next day or two!

There are TONS and TONS of weddings at Meiji. I was told that Meiji is one of the shrines that rich and/or famous people want to get married at.

I'm no kimono expert--in fact I know about zero about them but I had never seen the big fancy hat before.

I've been to Meiji twice now...and probably seen about six or seven weddings. Super cool!

A giant fish market tuna. I know you've all seen pictures of the tuna at the fish market before but they are amazingly huge. I mean, look at that fish in relation to the people!

Watermelon kitkats! Now THESE tasted strange. They DID in fact taste like watermelon. It was just really strange.

You know, I love going to eat places that offer me my own personal mortar and pestle!

This is totally random, but I found a bagel place in the train station called Bagel and Bagel, which I think sounds like a law firm staffed by Bagels.

I got an everything bagel and a basil bagel. The Everything bagel was particularly interesting. I really wished I had a toaster but...I don' I had to microwave them. Still pretty good!

The cream cheese came with it's own little pad. Unfortunately, I chose the basil cream cheese. It was WAY too much basil. A sickly amount of basil....ugh....

People were asking about the little fishes that I've eaten (whole I might add)--you eat them totally, head, belly full of eggs, and all.

So where is the Russian Roulette that the title speaks of? The Japanese Izakaya's have this dish known as Russian Roulette. It basically consists of six or nine little octopus puffs. But ONE of them is incredibly super spicy. And there is no way to know which it is. So one person in your party gets their mouth burned out!

In other news, I was watching Hannah Montana because it was the only thing in English on. And Miley's love interest is named "Jake Ryan"--do you think the young'uns even GET that reference? And how in the world do the hillbilly jokes that Dolly Parton says translate into Japanese?

Monday, July 7, 2008

End of week four and ENGAGEMENT! Part 2/2

First off, this may be a long blog--I have a LOT of pictures :) And I'm going to date a second one directly behind this blog, so be sure to look at them both! Plus, this is exciting blog, so stick with it!

Josh came up on Thursday and on Friday we went to Kyoto and Osaka, and then onto Himeji where there is a UNESCO World Heritage Site castle that is considered one of the best in Japan. We took the bullet train, using a JR JapanPass, which is really a good idea if you are ever going to Japan--it's only for foreigners and you have to buy it in your home country, but it's a pretty good deal for traveling.

First thing we decided to do was meander around Kyoto. This took us an exceptionally long time--although it was exciting to stumble upon a shrine in a residental area. I think these are fairly common in Japan.

On the front were swastikas. As most of you probably know, swastikas mean "to be good" and were usually used for luck. They are very common in the Buddhist religion. The symbol is about 3,000 years old. Here is some really interesting history on the symbol.

As we kept wandering we came to a river. It was really calm and pretty and there were ducks all over! I love ducks. Duck feet aren't really made for walking up slippery stones so they would fall back about one step for every step they made forward---slow going :) They all had pretty blue patches on their wings, which would probably tell me what kind of duck they were, if I knew anything about birds.

We also saw a crane. I think these are the same cranes we saw in the zoo, which means this crane was ENORMOUS.

Of to more wandering. This would have all been helped by having a map that was a even a little more precise then the map in the "So you want to go to Japan" type book I had with me. It really reminded me of that Simpson's episode where Homer is trying to navigate the Nile (I think it was the Nile) using the side of an animal crackers box.

At this point we came to another shrine. A big one. Like most of the shrines in Japan, it had calm, nice, cool places to sit, so Josh and I got a soda and sat there. It was also one of those times where you know that all the stuff around you has meaning--but you don't know what any of the meaning is. What do I mean? There were dried leaves all over. No idea why, but there was obviously a religious reason. I mean, other than being a very attractive backdrop to the picture.

So we kept walking. Walking, walking, walking, and finally stumbled upon another big temple. A temple that is the Chion-in temple (I think--if anyone knows better, please, please correct me!).

Josh and I started wandering around--the temple was almost entirely deserted. We took some pictures.

We were walking along this path (well, this picture is from the opposite direction, so use your imagination) when IT HAPPENED!

Josh dropped to his knee and asked me to marry him!!! With a beautiful (and distinctive) blue bag in hand--and in it? A Tiffany's ring :) Exactly my style-- not too flashy but beautiful diamonds and a platinum band. Of course, I said yes!!

The ring is even my size! I'm not sure how he managed that!

Here is the ring--

It's seven diamonds and beautiful.

Here is a picture of us in front of that fateful spot :) It was truly romantic! What a great location and time. Everyone keeps asking if I knew it was coming and I really didn't. Josh had considered asking me at Himeji or seeing if sensei would help him with the setup but he got stressed out carrying the ring around. The location was great :)

How exciting!! And it's a great thing Emily's coming in a week because I have so many ideas that I want to talk about! And, I'll see Rachel when I get home to talk her ear off too I'm sure :)

Obviously, we continued to explore the temple.

Josh and Buddha. It was mentioned to me at work that we pledged ourselves in front of their gods, so they will look out for us.

Me in a field of giant flowers, trusty guidebook in hand:

The graveyard:

So that was obviously super exciting!!! It's hard to know what to follow a proposal up with so we went to another temple. This temple was the only temple we went to where we had to pay money to get in. I liked several things about this shrine. One, the koi filled pond. I love koi and have been horrified to hear that the Japanese eat them. They are for decoration, not for eating! And they have lots and lots of bones! Second thing I loved--this bell. It had a sign saying not to try to ring the bell with the giant stick. Come on, who would think they were allowed to do that?? But, obviously someone did, because not only do they have a sign, but it's in English.

Thirdly, Josh and I are both very fond of foxes and Inari's foxes, so we were excited to see a set of them (even though they are very common in temples). This one had a ball in his mouth,

And this one had a scroll--here is Josh, doing his best Inari impersonation

After that, we were pretty tired and sweaty (well, Josh was sweaty, as a lady, I was glowing, but glowing rather profusely), so we got back on the bullet train and headed for Osaka. I was pumped about going to Osaka!

I had managed to find my high school Japanese teacher and we were planning on meeting him when we got to Osaka. I was slightly worried that we would have a hard time finding each other--it has been nine years (terrifying thought!) but no worries--we both looked identical to the way we looked back then :) Sensei was one of my favorite teachers of all time and it was absolutely great to catch up with him--plus Josh got to ask all of his kanji questions to someone who actually knew some answers :)

I think that sensei was also excited to be involved in our big day--so that was awesome. I will admit, some heavy drinking occurred, and we all left the bar p***-drunk. In fact, I was bemoaning the fact that I forgot to get a picture when I looked through the camera--and there was a picture! So Jennifer, Erin, Mom, and Dad, you should all be happy that I got a picture! The other lady in the picture is involved in the movie industry here--she was super nice.

From Osaka we went Himeji, where we went to the Himeji castle. Unlike most places in Japan, the Himeji castle is really really well signed and easy to spot--lot's of signs with pictures of castles and arrows, which was really nice. It was so majestic! I've never been to a castle before so I was really excited.

It was very beautiful--and behind THREE moats! We almost had to stand in line to get this picture taken--the background makes it a popular place to stand :)

The architecture was absolutely stunning and I think a fair amount of the castle is still original. I really recommend reading the wikipedia page--it's truly interesting.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

End of week four and horse sushi! Part 1 of 2

This is one of two blogs series so be sure to check tomorrow for the other, more exciting (most of you know what I'm talking about, wink wink), blog! I updated this blog about twelve hours after I first posted it, so you might want to read it again :) These two blogs are a little random, so you should read them

When Josh got to the station we found a little restaurant and I ordered my new favorite drink--the grapefruit sour.

You combine it yourself, so you KNOW it's fresh! It's made out of shochu (a kind of Japanese alcohol that is made out of potatoes--kind of like a watery vodka), club soda, and a grapefruit that you squeeze yourself. Sometimes when you order a big one, they give you TWO grapefruits. Of course, it's healthy because of the fruit and the workout you get making it :)

The next day we got noodles. Menus can be really hard for me because of all the kanji, so Josh took to just going out to the front (if they had models, which seems to be about a quarter of the time, max) and pointing. He was shocked to find that these noodles were cold. Still pretty tasty though!

Josh drank the only Mountain Dew that I've seen in Japan--said it tasted exactly like it does in the US. I wanted to know what "chiffon" was. I should have read the label closer--milk tea. What is milk tea? Milk mixed with tea. Not tasty. Not tasty at all.

Josh snapped a picture of this sign--I love it! You need to watch for happy ninjas who want to steal your baggage. Look how happy he is!

This sign is great too. "I threw my cigarette butt into the drain. That is to say, I hid it in the drain". I don't totally get it--are you going back for it later? And why is the guy bigger than his car? And that rat is enormous!

In Himaji, where we went to the castle, we saw a little lizard. He had a BRIGHT blue tail. I didn't know they had lizards in Japan, so Josh and I were very excited. He was less excited about seeing us, however, and kept running away.

We also went to the zoo in Himeji. People kept telling us that the zoos here weren't like the zoos at home but I wasn't really paying attention--I didn't know what they meant. They meant that the zoos in Japan are depressing and where the US was in zoos about a hundred years ago. Tiny cages that people can walk right up to, animals that are completely stressed out and pacing, birds that have no feathers because they've plucked them all out. Horrifying. I'm not going to post the picture of the chimp because it was one of the saddest things I've ever seen.

Here's an example--this hippo doesn't have NEAR enough room.

Shockingly, they had baby animals. These cranes had eggs...

I did like this sign though--don't feed things to the monkey, it makes him sick.

The only pluses of this zoo?

They had a big barrel of guinea pigs and I (and with me, about ten Japanese teenage girls) got to pet!

And a HUGE pikachu! So cute!

Ha! Here's a picture of Josh in Ginza, standing next to a sign with his hometown on it. I feel I'm less likely to find "Des Moines" on a sign here, but I'm hoping!

We got really hot when we were wandering around Kyoto so we stopped for something to eat. I got a BLT and Josh got a sundae. The sundae had green tea ice cream (so far so good), and a cute little cracker that looks like bunny ears, a pocky, some other candy, and so on. But...what's that in the bottom of the cup? Corn flakes?? And what's dripping down the side of the sundae...oh no....the ubiquitous red beans. Red beans have NO place being on a sundae. Adding sugar does not make beans dessert! Josh ate the whole thing though.

Ah, mochi, mochi, mochi. I LOVE mochi in the US, where they are a kind of rice dough filled with ice cream. Little did I know that the word "mochi" only refers to the rice dough. Josh and I were PUMPED in Osaka because we thought we stumbled on a mochi ice cream spot. was mochicream--they are filled with a sort of (sadly untasty) cream :( Still on the hunt for the ice cream mochi!

Blue Hawaii Pepsi. I saw a blog about this--apparently they are being sold on ebay for $8 a bottle! It's a limited edition Pepsi that is only available in Japan. So Josh and I tried it. Blech--horrible! It managed to taste nothing like Pepsi and like a disgusting fruit punch with cheap alcohol in it--even though it's non-alcoholic. Don't waste your money on this, unless you are a huge Elvis fan and want it for your collection .

Ah, Beer Pretz, my nemisis. I love these so much that I have been known to eat four boxes in a single day. They are like pretzels without the salt and these are spicy chicken flavored. They aren't spicy and they don't taste like chicken--but they sure are terrific. I only saw one box at the store today, so I'm really nervous that they are a special edition and their time is over...I hope that's not the case!

Josh and I went out in Tskuji for sushi. Tskuji is the most famous area in Japan for sushi because of it's giant fish market--the largest in the world. This place had huge fish tanks of fish that they would fish out and butcher--super super fresh. I was a little nervous because I think sushi restaurants can be really intimidating (even in the US) but this one seemed fairly easy going.

This sushi was fairly good but the mayo type spread on the bottom--truly bizarre.

Half of these were fatty tuna, the other half spicy. The spicy were delicious but they weren't kidding--super spicy! Yum!

More tasty sushi. On the top left, sea urchin, which looks utterly disgusting, but Josh says wasn't too bad.

I told Josh that people would be impressed by him if he ate horse too--so he did. I present to you: horse sushi, lightly toasted:

Josh's beloved...ramen. I swear that is an entire pigs worth of pork around the outside.

There were a lot of food-related things that I was waiting to try until Josh got here and could try them too. Some of them were just things I wasn't excited at all about eating and wanted Josh here to enjoy (suffer) through too.

Food from old blogs that I have now eaten, but not blogged about, yet:

All of the kit-kats!

So Josh and I had a little tasting buffet of all of the KitKats I've collected:

Little ball KitKats--
Mango--not very good, but they did taste like mango on the outside. But cloyingly sweet.
Banana--like all other fake banana treats. They tasted a LOT like Laffy Taffy but crunchy.
Cherry--the most disgusting flavor you could ever imagine in a KitKat. It's like you took you took a ball of KitKat and soaked it in cough syrup for a while. They even SMELL like cough syrup.

Little bars--
Strawberry--not too bad although I wouldn't go out of my way for it. They taste like really cheap chocolate covered strawberries

Full size KitKats
Azuki (red bean)--not as disgusting as it could be. The thing that made it gross was the white chocolate, we couldn't even taste the red beans (a blessing, I'm sure)
Strawberry and blueberry--the fake strawberry totally overwhelmed the blueberry, which I didn't even taste. And the "strawberry" tasted EXACTLY like Nesquick. I wasn't a huge fan of that flavor when I was five, and I'm not now, either.

  • Roast Turkey Pringles --These Pringles taste totally differant from the ones in the US--they DO have a roast turkey taste, believe it or not, but they aren't salty or crunchy enough.
  • Strawberry Cheetos--Not as bad as I expected! They don't have any cheese flavor on them and the strawberry is pretty satisfying --and so is the crunch. Actually, they are fairly addictive--too bad they aren't on the shelves anymore!
  • Ritz crackers, cheese, and salami--Horrible. I LOVE Ritz crackers but these were bland--they needed more salt. The salami and cheese were really weird too--and not in a good way.
  • Chestnuts--Horrifying. I don't know if these WERE chestnuts or not but whatever they were--icky.

Food from old blogs that I haven't eaten yet:
  • Green tea in giant carton--totally forgot about it again
  • Caramel Corn stuff
  • Mysterious product with child
  • All Apple thingies
  • Cake soda
  • Coconut pudding
  • Panda heads on pikes
  • Apple jelly
  • Blueberry pocky
  • Cesear Salad Pringles