Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kamakura 鎌倉

My dad came to visit Japan! It's been two weeks now since he and my mom returned to the U.S., but I have a few great travel posts from the fam's visit to share. It was my father's first visit to Japan, so we hit up a bunch of the big sites, and did a bit of traveling. First up, Kamakura.

On our way to Tsurugaoka Hachiman Jingu.

The sakura were just blooming out during our visit, but a few flowers were still around on the street leading up to the Hachiman Jingu. After a quick tempura rice bowl lunch, we headed into the shrine itself. It was great to visit Kamakura after being away for four years; I have many happy memories of visiting the city when we lived in Yokohama, so a return was definitely in order.

The guys near the entrance to the shrine.
Candied grapes as sampled by little man.

The shrine is nearly one thousand years old, and until March of 2010 had a huge thousand year old ginkgo tree standing in front of it. We had visited the shrine only a few days before the tree fell, and I can remember the strong winds of the storm rattling our windows in Yokohama all night. I also recall how shocked I was to learn that the tree had fallen, and how glad I was that I had the chance to see it. The stump of the tree is still there, and is visible in the bottom left corner of the photo below. There are shoots growing around it, so life goes on, but it is also a potent reminder of the loss of what once was a truly magnificent tree.

Ema at the shrine. People write their wish on the ema and leave it at the shrine.

Sakura on the shrine grounds.
One of two weddings we saw at the shrine.

When we left the shrine, we headed back to Kamakura Station with a brief stop for ice cream along the way (sweet potato for me, vanilla for the fam). By this point the day had turned from a sunny one to a downpour, but we soldiered on. We took the Enoshima Dentetsu, an adorable little old railway, over to Hasedera to view the sites there, including Hasedera and the Daibutsu (great Buddha) at Kotokuin.
Enoshima dentetsu.
It stopped raining for long enough to take this photo.
Sakura daibutsu money shot!

Dating from the 13th century, the daibutsu is over 35 feet high. Visitors can go inside of it, which little dude thought was amazing. At first he asked where the bones of the Buddha were, and then moved on to comparing it to a hollow chocolate bunny. There truly is nothing quite like the art historical analysis of a four year old.

Our next stop was Hasedera, and it really started to rain hard on the short walk between temples. By this time we all had wet socks and were feeling a chill, but powered through for one more temple.

Rain, rain, rain.

 One of little dude's highlights from the day was the cave at Hasedera, or the Benten-kutsu Cave.
Entering the cave. 
Benzaiten and her biwa, carved into the cave walls.
Hundreds of tiny Benzaiten in one of the caves. Visitors can purchase the mini statues to wish for good fortune.
Flowers at Hasedera.
The Kannon hall. Inside are three 30 foot high sculptures. We spent some time lighting candles inside and "making wishes."
Outside the Kannon hall.
At this point in our rainy adventure my feet may have been damp and near frozen, but the rain did make everything look quite beautiful!
Jizo at Hasedera.
More Jizo.
Back in the cave for another visit. Seriously, it was the best part. This photo also shows how many of the tiny Benzaiten there were.

More flowers!

At this point in the afternoon the rain began to clear up. We made a brief refreshment stop and walked over to the nearby beach to gaze out at Sagami Bay.

Entranced by the waves.

The fam on the beach!
A parting shot of the Enoshima Dentetsu on our way back home.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

花 Flowers

A home that we pass in the evening.

Being a megacity, Tokyo has a reputation for being a hyper-built environment. This is definitely true in some parts of the city- there are office complexes that seem like something out of the Jetsons, all concrete, glass, and steel, with no soil in sight- and likely it is more true for the touristed parts of the urban core (places like Shibuya or Shinjuku, for example). However, in a regular neighborhood such as the one I live in, the amount of things in bloom on a weekly basis is astounding. Sometimes it seems that every one of the hundreds of houses and business we pass are growing a multitude of potted plants on their steps. All through the winter there were pansies and camellias, and now that spring is in full bloom the flowers on my daily commute are ever more lovely. All of these photos are from the 10 minute walk that I take to get little man to school and myself to the train station. It's probably less than a half mile total, and this is just a sampling of the many botanicals that we see.
Business steps loaded with flora.
On the way to little dude's school.
All the wisteria! This house smells amazing.
A restaurant down the street from our apartment.
In front of a random house. I love that the plants are allowed to grow. Isn't a living thing better than chemical weedkiller? I think so.
Azaleas along the major street near our apartment.
Neighborhood coffee shop.
Even the bus stop has a small garden.
A home on the way to the train station.
Bushes near the train tracks.
This amazing thing!
This is about 1/4 of the pots in front of one of the houses we pass on the way to little man's school. Seriously amazing. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Greek Stew

It seems like it's been a while since I've posted about a recipe. This isn't for a lack of food in my life (believe me!), but between traveling and family visits I haven't really had anything new going on in the kitchen. Enter tonight's meal of Greek Stew. This recipe was inspired by one I saw on Budget Bytes, a food blog that I frequently peruse for ideas. I modified the recipe a bit, partially due to available ingredients and partially because I was too lazy to actually reference the internet while shopping or cooking, but if you look at the original, it's not too different. This dinner got a big kiddo seal of approval (as in, let's eat this again tomorrow night), and was super easy to make, so a win-win.

First off, I sauteed a clove of garlic and a small onion in olive oil for a few minutes. Then I added a serving (one tin) of chopped wheat gluten as a chicken substitute, and a very generous amount of dried oregano. Next came a can of diced tomatoes, and a package of salad beans (soy, kidney, lima, and a mystery bean that I didn't look up before tossing the package, this was my Japanese substitute product for chickpeas), a splash of white wine, and about a 1/4 cup of water, plus sprinklings of basil and thyme, salt and pepper. I let it simmer on low heat for about half an hour while the rice and stock cooked away in the rice cooker. I served it with fresh parsley, cubes of feta (so expensive here, but totally worth it!), and a side of Greek olives. For a bigger meal or a dinner party it would be great with sides of pita and grilled veggies like eggplant or red peppers, a cucumber salad, or perhaps a veggie dip appetizer. Yum!

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Mmmmm.... eggs......

Well, Easter is just about over here in Tokyo. We had an eventful weekend filled with celebrations of spring, and I tried to do as many "normal" Easter activities as possible. Easter is not a thing at all here in Japan, most people are not really even aware of what it is, so finding traces of the holiday proved to be quite difficult. The only conspicuous sign of the holiday is the marketing for Tokyo Disneyland's Easter Celebration, which goes through June. I should also make note that we are not a religious family, so our celebration of Easter is one of celebrating the coming of spring, more in line with the original pagan holiday than the Christian one. 

One activity we did was to dye eggs. As I love hard boiled eggs, this is a fun and productive activity for me. Without access to any type of dye kits, and in keeping with a natural lifestyle, we made our own natural dyes. This was a step trickier than it would be in the U.S., as certain commonly used natural dyestuffs, such as red cabbage, are not easily found here. I went with three colors that we could simply create from our local market- blue/purple from vegetable juice, gold from turmeric, and light green from spinach.
Boiling spinach and turmeric.
So much excitement!
Waiting, waiting.
The finished product.

Our eggs turned out pretty well- the turmeric and juice dyes worked the best, and I might try red wine next year, as well as red cabbage and perhaps beets. 

Little man also received presents from the Easter bunny on Easter morning. This was the true challenge of the day, finding Easter candy. On Friday I went to Tokyo Station on my way home from the archives to hunt for Easter foodstuffs. I thought this would be a simple task- Tokyo Station has two giant floors devoted to food and confections- but it turned out to be a bit harder than I anticipated. In almost an hour of shopping I found four things amongst the tens of thousands of square feet of food- bunny cookies (500 Yen, bought), Easter decorated hard candy (500 Yen, skipped), a chocolatier offering 800 Yen bunnies and 1200 Yen chocolate eggs with additional candies inside (bought), and another chocolatier offering 2000 Yen bunnies and 6000 Yen chocolate eggs (this is $20 and $60 respectively, perhaps obviously, skipped). I also picked up a box of pastel pink and blue Skytree chocolates, and was fortunate to receive some imported chocolate chicks from a friend. I splurged a bit more and bought some train candies, a train t-shirt, and a new toy train, which of course were the favorites this morning. No plastic eggs and grass, and no baskets this year, but we were still able to make a go of it. It was also great fun to have Joe on Skype as little dude searched our apartment for his bounty.

The rest of our day was pretty normal, though I did take us out to dinner at Hard Rock Cafe in Ueno to have the most Western style food possible, and we watched It's the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown, which was the perfect way to end the day.

No matter your beliefs, I hope that you have a lovely holiday, and are able to celebrate the coming of spring in some form. Happy Easter!