Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Zushi Beach

We had a wonderful opportunity on Saturday to share Zushi with our friend Ashley. Ashley was our favorite bartender in Great Lakes. We frequented the base bar enough to develop a nice friendship. She is in Japan for her yearly trip to visit her family. Zushi Beach had their Zushi Candle Festival on Saturday. Ashley joined us to view the candles and for dinner.

We had a good laugh at the candle arrangements. It took us a minute to figure out which way to view the display. Once Dave convinced us we were looking at it upside down… We flipped around and laughed – at ourselves and the Japanese. The Japanese had jokes. They wrote, “We’ve moved Fuji” with the candles. It made us laugh. For a couple reasons. One, they made a candle outline of Mt. Fuji. Two, it was cloudy so we couldn’t see Mt. Fuji from the beach. It was like a Japanese magic trick/joke. Haha.

The candles and the blue lights on the water were so pretty.

We had fun playing with the settings on Ashley’s iPhone 8. Can you see our shadows on the water? Yet again, I’m reminded how much I’m ready/excited to upgrade my phone when we move back.

Before getting on the train, we stopped at our favorite chu-hai stand in Zushi. The tree next to the stand had been wrapped with sweaters? Not really sure the purpose. Maybe the locals thought it was chilly. Regardless, it was definitely kawaii!

It was so fun to see Ashley. Having the opportunity to see friends when we are so far away helps fill our happiness buckets.

Ashley and I have plans for a day in Tokyo on Tuesday. I can’t wait to enjoy my favorite city with a “local.” We also discussed where to find our favorite Japanese foods in Chicago. So many things to look forward to… in the meantime, I’ll work on eating as much maguro (tuna) as possible.

Osaka

Dave and I spent the long weekend visiting Osaka. We caught the Shinkansen from Shinagawa on Saturday. It was about a 2.5 hour trip from Tokyo.

Taking the Shinkansen is always my favorite part of trips around Japan. This time we even splurged and bought Green Car Tickets. The additional ¥4000 ($40.00) gave us more room and fancier seats. Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t cleared and we didn’t get a view of Mt. Fuji.

Osaka is a large port city in the Kansai region of Japan. It is the second largest city in Japan, after Tokyo. I think I’ve mentioned before how orderly everything is in Japan. Especially, the lines waiting for the trains and escalators. So far, everywhere we have traveled in Japan, it is expected that you stand on the left of the escalator so people in a hurry can pass you on the right. The first thing we noticed in Osaka, everyone stood on the right! Just when we thought we knew what to do… Fortunately, we caught on quickly.

Osaka is known for modern architecture, shopping, and street food. After checking into our hotel, we set out to explore the Dotonbori. Dotonbori is the area along the canal known for its restaurants and shops. Many had elaborate store front displays.

We walked and walked around the shopping area. There was so much to see! We stopped for sushi dinner. The tuna sashimi and avocado dish was delicious. I wasn’t going to share. But, I needed help dissecting the recipe. I ate most of it and then decided to share and order a second! It was so good!!

More street views of the city. The shopping area was expansive and filled with so many people. It was covered in many places making it great during bad weather. We could actually smell the Lush store before we saw the sign! Check out the Don Quixote store. It actually had a Ferris wheel!

We went back to the hotel in time to catch the Happy Hour at the rooftop lounge. It wasn’t the highest building in the city but it was still pretty to see the sparkling lights of the city.

Sunday morning we were up and moving before many people went to bed. Dotonbori was formerly known as a “pleasure district” of Osaka. We saw several groups each morning who clearly enjoyed an all night party!

Sunday morning we walked down to the Nambayasaka Shrine. The small Shrine has a very large lion head stage. It was on my list because it is so different than most Shrines.

The second Shrine we visited was the Namba Shrine. It was a small Shrine near our hotel.

It was apparent they were having a small festival. Later that same morning, as we were shopping, there was a small Mikoshi parade down the shopping street near the Shrine. The man carrying the lions came over to us and shook the lion’s head above our heads. I’m assuming for good luck!

We continued shopping and by noon we were ready for lunch. We decided since we were so close to Kobe, we should try Kobe beef ramen. I would give it a four out of five stars. It made my Japan ramen top 10 list. Maybe at number 6 or 7.

After a bit more shopping, we decided to work our way over to the Umeda Sky Building. The Umeda Sky Building is one of the most iconic buildings in Osaka. An escalator crosses the atrium between the two towers. It is the World’s highest outdoor escalator.

As we were walking back to the train station, we came across a meat and beer festival. We of course had to stop in and check it out. We bought tickets and purchased beer and meat! There were crowds around what we think were Japanese Pop Stars. But, we may have just made that up!

Another highlight walking back to the train station was the green bear fountain. I mean who doesn’t want a green bear sitting and spitting outside your office building…

For dinner Sunday night, we found a nice dive bar that offered burgers. There were about 10 places to sit in the bar/restaurant and only one person working. He had his burger making down to a science. They were delicious.

We enjoyed tasting our way around the city! Thank goodness we walked so much each day to help burn calories. Saturday we walked over 10 miles and Sunday we walked over 14 miles! Monday morning we walked around the shopping district one last time before catching the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.

Osaka was an interesting and exciting city. It had an intense party vibe. We enjoyed the chance to see and experience another area of Japan. Thanks for reading about our adventure!

Kinmokusei Blossoms

I have chased so many flowers while living in Japan. It’s been one of my favorite hobbies. The Kinmokusei is one last flower I must share with you. Visually, it isn’t showy like the Sakura, Hydrangeas, or Wisteria. In fact, it’s possible to walk past the flowering tree / shrub without even seeing it. However, you will definitely smell it. The fragrance of the Kinmokusei smells like a orange blossom. Or more like an orange blossom on steroids. I smelled it our first year by our house at the end of September / October and it wasn’t until last fall that I actually knew where the smell was coming from! Here is a large Kinmokusei tree near our house.

Do you see the tiny orange blossoms? Here’s where I admit how I’m a ding dong. The first year we were here, I thought the smell was coming from the trash can. I thought housing sprayed an air freshener into the trash can. I know. It sounds ridiculous. Every time we leave our house, we walked by both the tree and trash can. I never noticed the tree or the tiny flowers, only the trash can. (Shout out to Hooptie in the background. She’s still going strong (knock on wood)).

Last October, one of my English students brought a clipping to class to share. I was dumbfounded. That beautiful smell was coming from that tiny flower!! Look how small the blossoms are.

The blossoms haven’t quite opened. However, another typhoon is coming this weekend and I was worried the blossoms would be damaged. Plus, it’s such a beautiful day today. Perfect for appreciating flowers.

Now that I know the odor and the plant, I find myself looking for the tree or shrub whenever I smell it. I’ve noticed (smelled) them everywhere. On runs, walks, around the base, in Zushi, and in Tokyo!

Through my research I learned, the flower only blooms when the air quality is good. Also, it blooms from the end of September until the middle of October. The Japanese associate the scent with autumn. All of these facts, make me appreciate the flower even more. If only I could incorporate odor into my blog post! Happy Autumn!

Yebisu Beer Land

Dave and I have a trip to Osaka planned for next weekend. After doing my own research and working with the travel agency, I realized it would be cheaper for me to book the hotel and buy Shinkansen tickets myself. Buying Shinkansen tickets is super easy and can be done the day of travel. However, I wanted to take care of the details in advance. Plus, Katie needed to purchase Shinkansen tickets as well. We decided to head to Shinagawa to purchase tickets and investigate hotels we both might consider using over Veterans Day weekend. After completing our requirements, we were ready for lunch. We took the Yamanote Train Line to Yebisu Station. Dave and I have been to this location several times. Mainly for lunch at Pizzeria da Michele and also to see holiday lights. I decided to share my favorite pizza in Japan with Katie. Check out the guy over my shoulder laughing. I wish we could have understood the joke!

After lunch, we had plans to visit the Museum of Yebisu Beer. Or as we came to call it, Yebisu Beer Land.

The museum was free to enter and only charged ¥400 for a glass. The beer menu and the food menu was on a board as you approached the counter. You used the machine to change your yen into Yebisu coins. The coins could be used to purchase both food and beer.

I sampled the Yebisu Meister and Katie had a glass of the Perfect Yebisu. It was interesting to watch the bartender pour the glass. To get the perfect Japanese pour, there is a small nozzle on the side to add foam.

We also ordered a small snack plate. A little crunch as we sipped our beer. They all had interesting flavors. The dried peas were pretty tame. The large goldfish crackers were drizzled with honey. The fish jerky was surprisingly pretty good. They croutons were probably my least favorite. They had a strange smoke flavor.

After our refreshments, we were ready to complete the museum tour. Yebisu is one of the seven Lucky Gods of Japan. He is the God of luck and always portrayed with a fishing pole and holding a fish.

After our Yebisu Beer Land adventure, we started working our way home. We made a few stops along the at, enjoying the journey. It was a productive rainy day of trip planning, gathering research, and appreciating good pizza and beer!

Menkake March

This past weekend when Dave and I were in Kamakura, I saw a flier for a Menkake Procession being held at the Goryo Jinja Temple in Hase. Dave obviously had to work today and couldn’t join me. Fortunately, Katie was free and accompanied me on this interesting adventure. The parade wasn’t until 2:30pm. We decided to meet earlier and enjoy lunch by the beach. Katie suggested a cute little cafe called Cocomo that she has been interested in visiting. It was adorable!

The view was spectacular! We had a seat directly in front of the large open window that overlooked the beach. It reminded me of the Belvedere in Virginia Beach.

The food was delicious. I ordered the margherita pizza and Katie ordered the shrimp and avocado salad. We highly recommend both!

After lunch, we went to the Goryo Jinja Temple. We wanted to make sure we knew where to go and have time to see what was happening. Upon arrival, we found a huge crowd gathered around the traditional music being played. It was beautiful to listen to as we walked around the temple.

We decided to walk down to the beach and wait for the procession to begin. We were lucky to catch the Enoden train as it passed by the Temple.

It was a beautiful beach day! The day was full of faces. We passed a man making a face in the sand. Kawaii!

Once it was closer to the time of the procession, we walked back to the Temple. While we were waiting, I did a little research so we could better understand the significance of the Menkake Procession.

According to my research, the legend goes something like this. The samurai leader, Yoritomo Minamoto, impregnated a girl of a lower house. When the girl’s family would come to visit them, they wore masks to conceal their identities and poorer backgrounds. The Menkake Procession includes ten masked men. The masks they are wearing are over 200 years old. This is a special celebration and can only be observed in Kanagawa. As a result, the procession has been designated as a Intangible Cultural Asset by the Prefectural Government of Kanagawa. There was a good crowd viewing the procession and the street was very narrow.

With a little persistence, I was able to get a few good photos of the masked men.

Also part of the procession was a masked pregnant woman wearing a kimono. The crowd was encouraged to touch her belly. Her pregnancy is a symbol of good luck and good harvest. The mask in front is of Fukurokuju, one of the seven lucky Gods.

As with all Japanese parades, a Mikoshi was pulled. The Mikoshi is a Shrine for the God to be transported during the procession.

We enjoyed the afternoon. Especially, lunch and beach time. The procession was fun to observe. There are so many interesting and small events in Japan. I feel fortunate when I happen to find out about one in time to enjoy it!

Pay it Forward

When we arrived in Japan, July 31st, 2016, Dave’s sponsor, Ed, provided us with an amazing laundry basket full of essential items, candy, and snacks. I remember taking a picture of it and writing a blog about it. Unfortunately, that was one of my “lost blogs”. With respect to the care package, Ed told us to pay it forward for the next person. I also remember waking up at 2am that first night, starving, and diving headfirst into the laundry basket. Jet lag is no joke when you cross the international dateline! Keeping with the tradition and gratitude, Dave and I made a “welcome to Japan” laundry basket for his relief and his wife. It had multiple layers and a mixture of American and Japanese snacks and puppy snacks.

I have a feeling you will have many questions. Yes, Dave’s relief has arrived. Dave also has his orders. We will be leaving Japan in January 2019. We are heading to Naval Station Great Lakes where he will be the CO of TSC. Right now, we are in the stage where we are:

  • Making lists of everything we need to see and do in Japan before we leave.
  • Host a few more visitors! (My favorite!)
  • Eat as much sushi and ramen as possible.
  • Looking forward, we are eager to see our family and friends when we return in 2019. We love you and miss you so much every day. Kanpai! To moving and more importantly to reunions!
  • Tokyo Fish

    Katie saw an advertisement for a goldfish (Kingyo) aquarium art exhibit called, Art Aquarium, being held in Tokyo. We compared our schedules and booked tickets for Monday 9/10. The exhibit was held in the Ginza area of Tokyo. It opened at 11:00am. We arrived shortly after the opening and received our tickets.

    The ceiling of entrance contained glass fish bowls with mirrored sides. As you walked underneath the bowls, you could see the goldfish from many different angles.

    The exhibit was contained in two large rooms. Music was playing throughout the exhibit and the lighting was constantly changing colors. Overall, it seemed on the smaller side. Especially, with so many people! Even on a Monday morning!

    Along the back wall was the Aqua Gate exhibit. The exhibit consisted of several large prism shaped aquariums stacked on top of one another. The lighting added a dramatic visual element.

    Smaller tanks in another area contained very interesting looking Kingyo with large sacks under their eyes.

    At the back of the room was a huge tank full of Orange Kingyo.

    In the center of the room was a ginormous fish bowl with large carp. I took several pictures to give you a size perspective.

    The front wall of the room had a very cool exhibit. At first I thought they were screens with projections. Then I realized they were fish tanks with Kingyo and projections. Plus, constantly changing lighting.

    Here is a short video of the projections.

    http://wabisabisole.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/img_1370.trim_.mov

    The final exhibit in this room was the Floatingrium. The cylinder gives the impression there is little separating you and the highest quality carp, Nishikigoi.

    The second room had more goldfish and even more people. We couldn’t get over how excited everyone was for the entire exhibit. The final display with the sword and fish reminded me of Dave’s and my visit to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa!

    This last one was my favorite. It looked like a bubblegum jar filled with goldfish.

    After our art experience, we stopped at the cafe and enjoyed a fish beverage. Don’t worry, the floating fish was only candy!

    The next place to visit in Tokyo during our Fishes of Tokyo Day was Platinum Fish. Dave’s niece and her son watched a train special and sent me information about a cafe in the middle of two railway tracks. I saved it on Google Maps several months ago. When Katie and I were planning our day, I realized it was very close to the area we would be visiting. It was a cute little cafe. The waitress was unfriendly and unhelpful as we tried to order food. Finally, we gave up ordering food and just ordered a beer. As we sipped, we waited for the trains to pass.

    Katie used Yelp to help us find a place for lunch. To our surprise, we were right next door to a craft brewery. Hitochino Nest Beer is one of Katie’s favorite Japanese micro breweries. We were thrilled to enjoy a tasty craft beer. The bartender was super friendly and very helpful with our order. We had a modest pork cutlet sandwich for lunch!

    When we came out of brewery, we wandered around a bit more taking in the sights in this part of the city. Before too long, it started to rain. We decided to work our way back to Yokohama on the train and enjoy dinner at the station. We stopped at Luke’s Lobster for a lobster roll before heading home.

    It was a fishy and fun day in Tokyo. Tokyo is always an adventure. You just don’t know what will happen or what small little gem you might find. Thanks for reading!

    Sunday & Monday in Izu

    After a surprisingly restful night sleep on our futons, we woke to intense thunderstorms over the water. This curtailed our plans to walk to the 7-11 for coffee. Another interesting thing about the Ryokan, it only had green tea available. We sipped green tea with each meal. We had to wait until after breakfast for our coffee. Breakfast was another interesting experience. Our dining time was 8 am. Again, when we arrived, the table was already set and the dishes were prepared for us. I counted five different dishes with fish. Including the one on the grill! Even the salad had fish on it!! Plus, rice and tofu.

    At breakfast we were able to see the beautiful view of the water and islands from our dining table. Breakfast with an assortment of fish was very different. Surprisingly, the grilled fish was actually pretty good. It was a little tedious to pick out the bones, but it had great flavor. Needless to say, our chopstick skills were tested this weekend!

    After breakfast, we went out for coffee and a walk. The rain had let up a little bit. We walked up the hill so we could see the hotel. Our hotel was the pink one. You walked into the lobby on the fifth floor. Our room was on the second floor. We had to take the elevator down to reach our room from the lobby. The restaurant where we ate was on the fourth floor. It made my head hurt each time we went to the elevator! I took a picture of the hotel map to help the layout make sense.

    Before too long, it was raining again. We had planned to take a boat ride to explore the caves. However, the continuous rain showers deterred us. Instead we relaxed, ate sushi lunch, and soaked in the hotel onsen. The hotel provided yukata (summer weight kimonos) for guests to wear to the onsen and to dinner if you liked. We did wear them to the onsen, but picked our clothes to wear at dinner.

    Before dinner, we went out to watch sunset. We were amazed with the spectacular sunset. I suppose the rain was worth it!

    Before leaving for dinner, I took a couple more pictures of our room. Aren’t the leg-less chairs adorable?

    Our dinner Sunday night was a little less intimidating than Saturday night. There was a lot of sushi, appetizers, crab legs, soft shelled crab, tempura vegetables, bone soup, rice, udon soup, cabbage, and more sushi!

    About the only thing difficult to stomach was the sea whelk. Not my favorite. In fact, after Dave told me it was worse than sea urchin, I passed.

    Before they brought over the three soups, they asked us if we wanted them. No, thank you. We were so full! Instead, dessert was served. Yum, fresh fruit! My favorite!

    We returned to our room to find our futons setup for us.

    We couldn’t help but laugh at the distance between them! We moved them closer and again added a few more futons, comforters, and our own pillows. Ahhhhh. Much better.

    Monday morning, we had a chance to get out for coffee before breakfast. As we walked and talked, we both discussed how delicious an American breakfast sounded. Instead we had more fish. This time, only three fish dishes, a cold poached egg, tofu, squid, rice, pickles, a salad with tiny croutons, and seaweed soup. Plus, a great view!

    We loaded up the car and checked out of our room. We made the trip back home safely and without issue. We also agreed to enjoy a few traditional American meals this week. It was a great weekend. We had fun relaxing and exploring when we could. The biggest adventure was definitely the meals!

    Izu Peninsula Roadtrip

    Dave and I planned a road trip to the Izu Peninsula for Labor Day weekend. We left Friday afternoon and drove to Shimoda.

    Friday night we stayed at the Shimoda Prince Hotel. The hotel came highly recommended by a couple friends. Honestly, I was a little underwhelmed with the overpriced dinner option and the dated accommodations. The room was plenty big for the two of us. The separate twin beds are pretty typical in Japanese hotel rooms. Fortunately, it was only for one night.

    Saturday morning, we were hoping to catch the sunrise over the water. Unfortunately, rain and clouds prevented much of a view.

    Originally, I planned for us to visit a near by nature reserve with 7 waterfalls. The rain made us rethink those plans. Instead, we decided to make our way to the other side of the peninsula where we would be spending Saturday and Sunday night. We kept our fingers crossed for sunnier skies on the other side.

    We stopped at a marina along the way. The rain had let up a little and the view was lovely.

    At the marina gift shop there were a lot of wasabi products. This area is known for growing wasabi. We purchase some wasabi, wasabi salt, and wasabi ginger dressing. In case you didn’t know what a wasabi plant looks like, I snapped a picture of the sample they had on display. The edible part is the root. The leaves resemble the leaves of elephant ears.

    We finished our drive over to Dogashima and parked at our Ryokan. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese Onsen (hot spring) Hotel. Ryokans are very popular in this area because of the thermal vents near Mt. Fuji. The view from the parking lot was spectacular! Plus, we managed to get away from the rain!

    We arrived before our permitted check in time. This gave us time to grab lunch and do a little exploring. We opted for a sushi lunch. The squid was the best I have tasted!

    At lunch, we noticed a poster we saw during our walk. We inquired about the Nishiizu Beach Candle Night. It was scheduled for Saturday evening. The restaurant owners said the event was about a 10 minute walk. However, it was weather dependent. We kept our fingers crossed for good weather!

    After lunch, we walked around the town a little more and explored some of the cliffs. This area is considered one of the top three beautiful viewpoints in Japan. It was stunning and on a clear day, I’m sure it would be even more lovely.

    After our walk, we made our way back to our Ryokan. We checked into our room. Dinner and breakfast were included for each night. We were asked to schedule a time for both. We selected 7 pm and 8 am. We were also allowed to schedule time at the larger private hotel onsen. We picked 8 pm for Saturday night and 4 pm for Sunday afternoon. After arranging our itinerary, we were then escorted to our room. It was clearly marked. The room was very spacious. The floors are covered with Tatami mats. No, I didn’t forget to take a picture of our bed. It wasn’t set up yet!

    The room also had a small balcony with a private onsen. Our view was incredible.

    At one point as I was taking pictures, my phone slipped from my hand and fell into the onsen!! I immediately grabbed it. And to my delight it still worked. Dave suggested I use the hair dryer to make sure the charger and headphone sockets were completely dry. I can’t believe my amazing luck!! Here was the last picture I took before I dropped it and the first picture I took after I turned it back on. Whew!

    The weather seemed to be holding as sunset drew closer. Dave and I decided to walk down to se if the Beach Candle event was still going as scheduled. We were excited to see everything being set up!

    Soon, numerous volunteers were lighting the many candles. As the sun faded, the glowing candles became even more beautiful.

    We made our way back to the Ryokan for our dinner reservation at 7 pm. We walked into the dining room and found our table already set! I had never seen anything like the it! The spread was incredible. There had to be 15 different courses!

    Several types of sushi (including lobster), a grill for steak and vegetables, salad, pickles, small appetizers, soups, rice and so much more!

    The most shocking experience of the evening was the live abalone (sea snail) being cooked on the small grill in front of us. I honestly wasn’t prepared for this. I was grossed out and mesmerized watching it cook.

    I did try it after it was completely cooked. It wasn’t my favorite. It was very chewy. Fortunately, they gave us a knife and fork so we could cut it into bite sized pieces and didn’t have to use chopsticks! Dave ate the remainder of what I couldn’t eat. This meal (and the three others) included many Japanese delicacies. We didn’t have an option of ordering food. The table was set and the food was prepared before we arrived. It was a culinary experience like nothing we’ve ever experienced. We were treated with wonderful hospitality. It was a wonderful opportunity and experience even if it pushed us outside our culinary comfort zone.

    After dinner, we returned to our room. While we were at dinner, housekeeping setup our futons for us.

    After our huge dinner and soak in the onsen, we were ready for a slumber. We did modify the futons a little bit. We brought our own pillows and placed a couple extra futons underneath us. Surprisingly, we slept pretty soundly.

    I’ll share our Sunday adventures next time. More to follow tomorrow!

    2018 SRF Bon Festival

    On Friday, August 24th, SRF-JRMC held their 2018 Bon Festival. All week there was discussion about how Typhoon Cimaron might disrupt the festivities. At one point, it looked like the Typhoon might be a direct hit over the Tokyo area and cause the festival to be canceled. The good news, the storm weakened and made landfall further south of Tokyo. Our area had wind and rain during the day on Friday. Fortunately, by the time the festival started, only the wind remained. The warm and muggy wind felt like hot breath as we enjoyed the festival. But, it was better than no wind at all! Dave and I dressed in traditional attire again this year. I wore a summer kimono known as a yukata. Dave wore a Gin-be.

    My friend, Saori, helped me go shopping for my yukata. I really loves the colors; especially the yellow.

    I invited my friends, Atsuko and Manami, to be my special VIP guests for the evening. They enjoyed the opportunity to experience a Japanese cultural tradition on the Navy base.

    During the week, Dave and I attended dance lessons during lunch time. The traditional six dances are performed as a group in a circle. The steps and rhythm are repetitive. Theoretically, they should be easy to learn after a few sessions. I felt pretty good going into the evening to perform the dances. Then I learned the dancing was at 8pm. After I had a couple of chu-hai. We gave it a shot anyways. I obviously needed more lessons. In this picture Manami took of Dave and me, I’m clapping when I should be digging!

    In the end, it was a wonderful night. This was our third and final Bon Dori Festival. It made me a little sad to think about missing the party next year. Maybe Dave and I can be creative and figure out ways to incorporate our favorite Japanese traditions and holidays into our life when we return to the US next year. Who doesn’t love a party!?! Perhaps without the dancing!

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