Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Cake

Christmas came and went here in Tokyo, and we enjoyed the day to the fullest. Santa brought presents, we played around the house, took an afternoon walk to the park, Skyped with family in the U.S., and made a lovely dinner of smoked salmon pasta with cream sauce. We also partook in the Japanese Christmas tradition of Christmas cake. This is a fluffy white cake with a layer of cream and strawberries, and lots of whipped cream frosting on top, similar to a really airy, milky strawberry shortcake. It even came with four bubble wrapped (!) strawberries for the top, and three small candles. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Eve at Tokyo Disneyland

This year we spent a magical Christmas Eve at Tokyo Disneyland. The decorations were beautiful, and it was a great chance to do something special for the holiday. We even spotted a snow-covered Mt. Fuji on our way into the park!

In addition to the holiday decor throughout the park, the Christmas parade was really fun. We saw all of little man's favorite classic characters, and even saw Santa at the end. Plus, some of the floats had "snow" coming from the top, giving the illusion of a light snow flurry on a 50 degree day.

It's a Small World was decorated for the holidays, inside and out.

A view of the park from the platform for the Western River Railroad.

We had dinner at the Queen of Hearts Banquet hall, immersed in one of my favorite movies- Alice in Wonderland.

The castle was dressed up to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the park opening.

We ended our day with the Main Street Electrical Parade before taking the trains back home.

Hope your holiday was full of warmth and joy!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

荒川車庫 Arakawa Streetcar Yard

As we have a young train enthusiast in our midst, we took a trip down to the Arakawa Streetcar yard. This is a small but neat little attraction along the Toden Arakawa line. Bonus- it's free! The yard has it's own streetcar stop, which is near Kajiwara.

At the yard, one can check out all of the streetcar controls and board two cars from now defunct lines. Both of the cars had small exhibits on Tokyo streetcar history, as well as some books to peruse, and a stamp station to get a souvenir stamped paper.


 You can't enter the actual yard, but you can easily view it, and see how the workers do maintenance above and below the cars. At certain times during the day trains will pull in and out of the yard for regular checks. We saw the pink car being checked.

Our budding photographer documenting his adventures.

One of the exhibit cars.

Back by Kajiwara, one can visit the Meibi sweets shop and try a monaka shaped like a streetcar. Monaka is a sweet bean paste filled wafer. These come in a variety of boxes that are customized to look like the Toden Arakawasen.

The sweets shop also sells streetcar pins, and the local toy store sells old-school metal streetcar wind-up toys. A perfect retro afternoon excursion.

Monday, December 23, 2013

荒川遊園 Arakawa Amusement Park

 My family arrived in Tokyo late last week! We've spent a fantastic few days exploring local sites and adventuring around the city. Our first day out was at Arakawa Amusement Park, a small kids park that is close to our apartment. This was a great way to spend our little dude's birthday- it is affordable and small enough in size to be accessible, and contains lots of fun rides for kiddos. The Ferris wheel had a great view of the city, including the Sky Tree.

There were a variety of small rides such as JR Trains, Thomas trains, bullet trains, and Japanese cartoon characters like Anpanman and Doraimon. The park also had bumper cars, coffee cups (like the Disney teacups), a small train ride, a small roller coaster, a sky bike, some games, a fishing pond, and a small petting zoo/animal area. We enjoyed watching the monkeys for a while, as well as the meerkats. For a full review of the park in English, click here.

There was also an indoor area with a train display where kids could drive a train on the huge model railway. Needless to say, this was a hit with our family.

What I really loved about the park was the old school feel. It was clean and well maintained, but there weren't too many screens or flashy rides- just simple enjoyments. It reminded me of the kids amusement parks I grew up with in Chicago- Santa's Village and Kiddyland. While I really have no way to judge what those were *actually* like, I got the same vibe from the Arakawa Amusement Park- happy. I'm sure many afternoon trips to Arakawa are in our future.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum 文化学園服飾博物館

Museum exterior.

 Today I headed down to Shinjuku to view the exhibition, Imperial Court Costumes of the Meiji, Taisho, and Pre-War Showa Era at the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum. The museum had two large galleries, and an amazing mosaic of 1920s fashions installed in the lobby. The exhibition that I viewed covered court costume between the 1880s and 1990s, and contained men's military and ritual costumes as well as formal women's dresses in European styles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and women's ritual costumes. The clothing was impeccably constructed, and the fabrics lush and impossibly luxe. Some of the women's European style dresses had amazingly detailed beading and embroidery, and the women's ritual costumes were constructed of more than ten layers of finely woven silk.

While it's one thing to view these types of dresses as artworks, and easy to desire such beautiful things for one's self, I think it would be quite another thing to have to wear them regularly. The photographs of the women in their lovely wears that accompanied the costumes didn't really exude a feeling of comfort, joy, or fairy tale. This is something I'm constantly thinking about in my own research- the members of the imperial family didn't really (and don't still) have much control over their own lives. Rather, they were (and are) representatives of the nation, and as such we can't really know who they were as individuals. Sure, they have seemingly infinite resources and material possessions that many look upon with envy, but they are also limited in their personal choices (career, marriage, social circles, etc.). Contemporary society has constructed a princess narrative that we sell to young girls and women in the form of Disney princesses and fairy tale weddings, but the reality of the lives of royalty doesn't really seem to me like something to envy. So where do we draw the line between an escapist have-it-all princess fantasy and a consideration of the reality? Is there harm in the princess narrative? Certainly I think the princess wedding is a cultural institution that we could do without, but what about for young girls? Shouldn't we be empowering them with realistic choices instead of fantasies of palaces and pretty dresses? As a mother of a little boy I am so grateful that I don't have to navigate that minefield of feminist issues within my own family, but I do think that we as a society need to consider the messages we are relating to women and girls.
The cover of the catalogue- beautiful things contained within!
 Walking through Shinjuku on the way back to the station. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Miso glazed salmon

I've been really into variations on this basic combination lately- rice, greens, fish. Today it was garlic bok choi with a hint of mirin, and miso glazed salmon. The fish that we can get here is amazing- the quality is phenomenal, the cuts are fresh, and the price is cheap. I got this large piece of salmon at the grocery store for about $3. Prices are slightly higher at my local fishmonger, but I also know that when I buy from them the fish came from the famed Tsukiji Fish Market that morning. Plus with the fishmonger I'm supporting a local business, and I get conversation, fish-related advice, and free samples to boot. But sometimes they are closed, and sometimes I have other things going on, which was the case today. I marinated the salmon in an impromptu blend of about 2 parts white miso, 2 parts sake, 2 parts mirin, 1 part soy sauce, a few drops of sesame oil, and a liberal heap of powdered ginger. It was the perfect blend of sweet and savory, and the nicest addition to a great piece of salmon.

Holiday Party- Egg Nog, Toffee, and Bruschetta

This past weekend I had a party for a group of friends here in Tokyo. It was a pot luck of drinks and snacks, and I provided egg nog, toffee, and bruschetta.

Egg nog is a holiday tradition in my family, but something that is not commercially available in Japan, so I decided to make it myself. It wasn't too difficult, but the beating of the eggs would definitely have been easier with a stand mixer. I started with 8 yolks, which I beat until they turned a lighter color of yellow. I then added about half a cup of sugar and mixed for a while longer. Add 2 cups of cream, 1000 milliliters of milk, and stir some more.

Then comes the good part- an entire bottle of whiskey. Our tradition is Southern Comfort, and many people use bourbon, but I went with the resources at hand.

Two tablespoons of nutmeg.

And the final step, beating 8 egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and then add another half cup of sugar. The egg nog was creamy and smooth, and the whiskey was hidden beneath all of the layers of dairy and spice. I will definitely be making another, though smaller, batch before Christmas.

I wanted to provide some sweets, but my tiny microwave-convection oven doesn't really lend itself to baking cookies. I went with a homemade toffee topped with chocolate- one batch with peanuts, one without. Toffee is just butter, sugar, salt, and water, so it is quite simple to prepare in the microwave, then pouring out onto a sheet of foil to harden. Melt some chocolate and pour on the top, and there it is. 

And finally, something savory- bruschetta. Something I realized in brainstorming appetizers is that so many holiday appetizers that we make in the US have cheese in them, something that is quite expensive and hard to come by here in Japan. I opted for roasting tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil in the oven for about an hour, until the tomatoes were roasted enough to crush easily into the olive oil. Mix it all together and it's an easy bruschetta or pasta sauce. 

Hope your holiday parties are full of joy and warmth this season!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Karaoke カラオケ

It was a long week full of ups and downs, and so by the time Friday night arrived I was in need of a reset/release. Thankfully, I already had plans to go out with my friend Sara. We met up in Ikebukuro, had a great dinner at an izakaya, and then sang our hearts out at karaoke for two hours. Karaoke in Japan is generally in a private room with just enough seats for your party. Drinks and food are delivered to your room, and you order via a phone on the wall. The place we went to had eight floors (!) with probably a dozen rooms on each floor. The lobby was packed when we went to leave around 10 pm. One thing I love about living in Japan is that it is generally a very quiet place- my neighborhood is silent most of the time, it is against the rules to talk on your phone on the train, and there is very little chatting at work outside of the designated tea time. While this is great for daily life, it is nice to have the chance to get into a karaoke room and be loud and crazy every once in a while.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tokyo Christmas Tree

 Well, a certain little person in my life informed me that the tree I previously purchased was too small. According to kiddo logic, if the tree is too small, Santa won't be able to put presents under it. So much for my 500Y decorations, I now have a full-sized tree which I purchased complete with blinking lights, a cute Santa-themed base, garland, bows, and ornaments. I don't think I've ever had blinking lights before, so that's a novelty. I chose this particular tree-in-a-box for the ornaments.

First up, chubby-cute Santa.

Next, a glittery snowman. Tokyo may have a mild climate, but this dude can handle it.

Always a kid favorite, a train.

Santa suit!

Two shiny gift boxes.

A Santa boot. This one actually makes me really nostalgic for my tree at home. I have a Santa boot ornament that was handmade by my grandfather, and it is always one of my favorites to put on the tree. 

And finally, a very gold reindeer.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

秋二 Autumn 2

The weather in Tokyo is gradually cooling, but autumn is still hanging on a bit here. On Monday I had business to take care of at the Ward Office. Difficult applying for preschool translating and explaining a US 1040 Tax form into Japanese tax language kind of business. Luckily, the workers there are really kind, and the woman processing our application was super nice. Now we just need to keep our fingers crossed that we can get in! In any case, the walk to the Kita-ku Ward Office is along a path beside this dry-for-winter riverbed, past a lovely arched bridge and near some fiery red maples (above). After my two hour (!) consultation and trying to pretend like I understand the US tax system, as well as learning about the Japanese tax system (preschool rates are based on taxes), I took a little sanity break and walked over to Oji Shrine (below), which is very close to the Ward Office. A great place to take a deep breath and return to a balanced state.

Tuesday was rainy and chilly, and as I walked through Ueno this morning the ginkgo leaves were falling from the trees. I am obsessed with their perfect golden color, and lovely curved shape.

Even though the 40 and 50 degree temperatures are nothing to complain about, the blowing wind and rain gets chilly while walking outside and standing on train platforms. My favorite anecdote is a hot yuzu drink from the vending machine- it warms your hands and your body, and matches the golden color of the ginkgo leaves.