Posts Tagged With: Japan

I’ll have the mystery meal please.

Yes, I’m the girl next to you on the flight that brings out the buffet of food that I’ve stored in my carry on. Pre-cut veggies, dips, fruit, nuts, crackers and so on. I usually just say “No thank you” when they offer the complementary meal, as I’ve never been a fan of the mystery meat and dinner roll they serve you. This round I thought I’d branch out a bit after I realizing that you get options for specific meals as long as you request it at least 48 hours before your flight. Why not?

First up is a short flight from Chiang Mai Thailand to Bangkok. I picked “Vegetarian” since I had some pumpkin seeds with me and I figured it would be a decent combo. I was served fruit, raw veggies, salsa and a side salad of raw veggies with a dinner roll. Good thing I wasn’t battling hunger (and it was a quick flight) so I just wrapped it up to take on the go.

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First snack of the journey? Leftovers from the previous flight (seen above) with those pumpkin seeds I had in my carry on.

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Next flight was a bit longer traveling from Bangkok to Shanghai, China. For this journey I previously selected “Gluten Free”. They served me poached eggs, steamed vegetables, two servings of fruit and some sort of gluten free bread (I’m assuming made from rice). Please keep in mind this is all for the experience and hopes for something new on a flight. I am in no way intolerant or allergic to any foods nor am I a proper vegetarian. I simply love food and surprises! For this one, I chose to eat the eggs and toast and save the fruit for a separate snack.

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What’s this… left over pumpkin seeds? Perfect!

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I still had a few hours to go while waiting in China, so I busted out my other carry-on meal which was a packet of miso soup. In the Shanghai airport, they have machines that deliver complimentary warm, hot or boiling water. You’d think this would be common, but more often than not, hot water is hard to find. I usually carry my own tea and oatmeal so I’m frequently in search of a cafe that will just put hot water in a cup for me or I settle for paying for the water since they “have to heat it”.

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Quick photo break! Here’s a few shots from the airport in Shanghai, clean with an open layout and traditional shopping options.

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Moving on to the flight from China to Tokyo, Japan. I wasn’t able to pre-select my choice for this 2 1/2 hour jaunt, so when the stewardess came around, I just asked for which ever had the most vegetables. My surprise platter consisted of fruit, rice crackers, veggies, potatoes, beef and a chicken salad. For dessert (I think) was what looked like a firm white custard-type jiggly puck shaped item.

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Although I’m not a vegetarian, I’m certainly a picky meat eater and airplane beef and questionable chicken is far from my first choice of protein. With that said, I transferred all of the veggies to one dish, stashed the rice crackers for later and offered the rest to my neighbor (a teenage boy that was eager for more food). Even he stared at the “dessert” for awhile and with a confused look just covered it up with his napkin.

Landing back in Tokyo my mind is satisfied with the experiment and my stomach is horribly confused and probably a little frustrated with me. Oh we’ll, I’m still happy, healthy and no longer have extreme curiosity of the meals I’ve always skipped on flights.

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Hello Japan, home sweet home? For now.

Categories: Edibles!, Travel talk, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trains, planes and a tuk tuk equals an emotional high!

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, you’ll know that my experience has ranged from volunteering in small villages to helping out in grand hotels. Ive gotten to live in a tree house, van camp, hitch hike and lets not forget the random events of spoiling myself during “holiday” with friends from home. I’ve crossed paths and reunited with many other backpackers and have stayed with numerous friends from around the world. All of these events lead me to realize that I’m extremely (fill in the blank here with any positive word that represents or resembles lucky, blessed, fortunate, kissed by karma, etc).

After enjoying a luxurious month in Japan with my cousin, I’ve decided to return to my solo backpacking and spontaneous volunteering adventure that I started this whole expedition with.

I packed a small bag, bought a one way ticket and boarded a flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia… Butterflies included.

To give you an idea of where I am and what I felt getting here, I’m going to take you on a quick 24 hour journey from a train station in Japan to the very bed I’m sitting on as I write this.

“Hey Brandon, would you mind giving me a hand please? So, Ill be back in…. Hmmm, probably just… Well, I’ll let you know”.

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First flight served up Japanese noodles with sauce and seaweed sprinkles, a tomato based spicy seafood pasta, what I think was a shrimp potato salad, bread and butter next to some orange juice. Complimentary red or white wine was also an option.

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The snack of the morning was hot tea, a bag of peanuts, a mini snickers and a triangular rice patty stuffed with salmon.

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My layover in Kuala Lumpur, brings me a smile and the first new friend of this trip. Meet Rochaq, born in India, raised in Australia and currently on his way to surprise his mother near the Himalayas. Over hot milk tea, (thanks again for that treat!) we had an in depth conversation of health and fitness followed by the usual travel wishes and stories. I joked about having different currency to tip with and just as quickly, he matched my pile. Combined, we money from India, Malaysia, Japan, Australia and the USA. Our time together ended with info exchange and a “see you again…somewhere…sometime”.

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Who’s this? It’s the glowing smile that sat next to me on the flight from Malaysia! Bree is from the states and is now traveling from Bali to Cambodia. I think the most beautiful part of our conversation was the undeniable energy we shared trading opinions of yoga and backpacking to living a life with an open mind while maintaining a conscious awareness. Considering our Asia map has similar destinations, maybe… just maybe Ill see this sweet girl again!

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Landing in Phnom Penh gives me a sense of freedom. I’m not sure why, but either way, my heart is racing with excitement while my shoulders drop a notch with each step. I feel at peace.

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Why do I look like a giggling rabbit? Instead of taking a bus or cab, I opt for the $7 tuk tuk ride to my first volunteering home. A tuk tuk (dependimg on the type and location are also known as a Samosa, tempo, trishaw, auto, rickshaw, autorick, bajaj, rick, tricycle, mototaxi, baby taxi or lapa) is a motorbike with an open air carriage attached to the back for its passengers. The obvious choice for financial and entertainment purposes.

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Backpack between my legs and my bag tied around my shoulders, I’m ready to hit the road!

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Rather than describing each photo, I’m going to highly suggest that you actually take a moment to look at each one. You’ll see mothers with children on their laps, locals hard at work or hardly working and abundance of other random sights.

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By this point in the journey, I’m fighting back the lump I feel in my throat and trying to keep my focus on the vibration I feel in my body (and I’m not talking about the motorized bumpy tuk tuk ride). These emotions can only be expressed as the deep appreciation I have for being exactly where I am at this very moment in time.

I am so grateful for my life.

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Upon arriving to my new “home”, I’m instantly invited out for lunch by one of the house roomies. Ill introduce you to that cozy place and the others soon. For now, I hop on the back f her scooter and head to a vegetarian restaurant.

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She ordered an egg sandwich and I had a mushroom patty with cucumbers and soup. In the middle we shared fried tofu with black pepper and lime juice. Including the warm tea, all together this lunch bill totaled $5 (in USD). Kind of pricey for these parts (sarcastic giggle) but we got to sit at a table, with silverware and additional sauces. Amazing!

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We arrive back and I’m shown to my room which is where I sit at this very moment writing about my last 24 hours.

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It’s only just begun…

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Wait, it’s not Halloween yet… Is it?

After a day of exploring the Shrine we decided to keep the energy going and visit the popular Takeshita Street that leads to the crossing of Harajuku Street. For all of my California friends, think of it as the “Haight and Ashbury” of Tokyo if you will. This energetic strip has it all! Unique gift shops, local eats, costume boutiques, candy buffets and lets not leave out the 90’s themed collectors store!

Ill start off fresh with a picture that I snagged for all of my “car loving” buddies. This beauty caught my eye simply because you don’t see things like this very often while “backpacking” around.

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It’s not Halloween, however year round you’ll find girls dressed in eccentric costumes just out doing their thing and always willing for a photo.

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There’s definitely no question if we’re here as we approach the main entrance to Takeshita Street. Time to kick it up a notch!

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Let us take a photo tour, walk with me!

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You know, my backpack does have quite a bit of wear and tear. Maybe it’s time for a new one?

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Sweet tooth anyone? Fruit on a stick or crepes and ice-cream!

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Fruit not good enough to subside your sugar craving? How about a candy shop! A few things to be looked for in this set of pictures:
#1 The adorable host outside that is passing out free candy.
#2 The size of Jessica’s marshmallow and the gummy worm (I mean snake!) that Brandon found.
#3 The girl dressed in all black needs to be added to the list of crazy attire you’ll see around here.

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I skipped out on the candy store so I could snag a Japanese single serving dish. This little bowl had root veggies, soybeans, green squiggly things and dark brown circular objects. All glazed with what tasted like a ginger teriyaki sauce and it even came with chop sticks! Is it just me, or am I starting to take on a Japanese appearance?

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With the sun down and a walk behind us we slowly made our way back towards the station.

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Street food! Octopus and squid balls that consist of fish, egg, spices and flour pressed into a circle before being deep fried and served.

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Although I love a tasty Kabob once in awhile, I had plenty of those in Europe…

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Wait! I can read a part of that menu and I see, “healthy… green…” and “…exotic”!

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Salad coming up!

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Too bad we already ate, this place looked inviting with several tempting combinations. I would have went with the fig, kiwi and yogurt mixture.

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As we exit the main strip, the modern city buildings hypnotize you with their crazy structures and mind teasing appearances. The first one is actually formed with a series of angled mirrors!

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A deep breath (of city air) is necessary to take it all in. It’s reminds me of Time Square in New York City, except nobody is yelling and there’s not a slice of pizza around every corner.

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Categories: Edibles!, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Shinto Shrine of Meiji Jungu

Lets pause for a minute and (re)introduce you to my amazing cousin Brandon. We grew up seeing each other once every few years when our paths would cross at family gatherings. Our beautiful grandmothers are close sisters and have kept the connection tight. Describing him is simple, he’s patient and kind, yet assertive and witty…. trusting him is easy due to to his sincerity that matches his genuine personality. I know that sounds like a lot of “nice” words thrown into a sentence, but he truly is a quality individual. Here we are almost 20 years ago followed by a picture from last October.

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After enjoying a wonderful visit last year, I’ve returned to Japan to spend time with him and connect with his stunning girlfriend Jessica. She’s the gorgeous girl photoed below that naturally enhances everything around her with a vibrant smile and bright eyes. I would describe her as strong and sweet with just enough spice to keep him on his toes. Between the movie quotes, exaggerated imaginations and our compatible sense of humor, this is definitely a couple that I enjoy being around!

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Today we’re off to visit a sacred park in the city of Harajuku. Traveling throughout Japan is relatively basic due to the convenient train system. From our door step to the nearest station is a simple 5 minute walk and from there, we took a few transfers as we made our way towards Tokyo. Along with us is one of their friends Kennedy, he’s also in the Navy and has been stationed here for 2 years.

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Pit stop for two sweet treats! I feel like we should all live up to the “adult” status and have dessert first once in awhile. Mini cookies made with sweet Japanese potatoes and chocolate chips.

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Ice cream that comes in a handy pouch? Really think about this, no spoon or messy cone, just a perfect serving in a resealable container on the go. Brilliant!

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We’ve made it just in time for a short walk through the city (check out the size of the super crosswalk!) and an hour of exploring at the park. Note to future travelers, the inner park is generally open from 9am-4:30pm.

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Before entering the shrine it’s courteous to cleanse in respect for Meiji Jingu. The proper sequence is to rinse your left hand, followed by your right. Then pour water back into your left hand to rinse your mouth. Continue by rinsing your left hand again and finish by rinsing the dipper.

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Just before bowing through the entrance, I took a brief moment to capture a handstand shot and create a neat photo of this door that caught my eye.

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As you approach the center, you’ll find families, tourists, people dressed in authentic costumes and a variety of exhibits.

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On this day, we even got to witness a wedding!

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Brandon surprised me with a “safe travels” blessing trinket from the shrine. Thanks cousin!

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Leaving the location brought us through a forest that was created in honor of the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken for their souls to dwell in. Each tree was placed and planted by hand!

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An upside-down handstand (in respect of the Shrine and to prevent the Japanese guard from blowing his whistle at me…again).

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After the visit, we took the long route back to the station through the popular Harajuku street. This ended up being so entertaining, that I’m going to save it for the next post! Here’s a sneak peek…

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Categories: Edibles!, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

You know you’re in Japan when…

You know you’re in Japan (and not a local) when…

…you run out with money in hand to what you think is the ice-cream man. Then after looking around confused, you realize it’s the garbage collectors truck playing that sweet music. Not funny guys… not funny.

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…you go for a jog outside, in public and alone. It’s extremely rare around here.

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…you hesitate washing your hands because the sink oddly resembles a yurnle.

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…after looking both ways, you casually walk to the other side of the road… even when the crosswalk sign signals “wait”. You’ll often see several local pedestrians patiently standing at a crosswalk waiting with absolutely no chance of a car coming in either direction.

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…you board a train without some sort of personal electronic entertainment system.

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…your friends think they order chicken and beef and instead, get served blubber and liver.

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…you go to stick a thermometer in your mouth at the doctors office and they panic before acting out the clarification. Turns out it goes under your armpit, oops.

…you return for the third time trying to by spearmint gum. What was attempt number one and two? Melon and lemon lime.

…you’re the only one not in the single file line.

…you think everyone is greeting you until you learn that “Hi” really means “yes”.

…the toilet has more buttons than your smart phone.

…your taxi driver is wearing a bow tie.

…there’s no one working behind the counter and there’s just various money left to make change for whatever you are taking out of the store.

…you stop to take a photo of the children’s “game section” of the grocery store.

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Categories: Travel talk, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Buddha

Brandon and I decided to be tourist for a day and venture to the 2nd largest Buddha in Japan!

The Great Buddha of Kamakura (Kamakura Daibutsu) is a bronze statue, which sits on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple. Although I had read that is was towering at a height of 13.35 meters (slightly over 44 ft), I didn’t realize it’s massive size until I was actually standing in front of his peaceful presence.

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Let’s rewind just a bit to the few photos I snapped along the journey there. One thing I love about Japan, and most other countries I’ve seen, is the convenient public transportation. Instead of driving, we got to enjoy our journey with walking, taking trains, getting lost and then more trains… Just the way I like it!

Leaving Brandon’s neighborhood, we start on foot and head towards the station.

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I have yet to mention the uncountable amounts of vending machines that line the streets, malls, neighborhoods, schools and sidewalks of each city. In 2008 there were over 5 million vending machines here, which means there’s a machine per about 23 people populating the island! Your options range from snacks, drinks and hot meals to clothes, electronics, live fish and other items (that I probably shouldn’t mention on a family friendly blog).

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Here’s a fun thought: So you’re walking to work, and you you’re ready for your coffee- Vending machine. Mmmm, a warm muffin and jam sounds good – hey look a VM (vending machine). I don’t really want to hit the store on the way home to pick up my fresh eggs and milk – VM. Oh, I forgot it’s my bosses birthday, I’ll get him a tie – VM. Well shoots, it’s starting to rain… Where will I ever find an umbrella? Of course, a vending machine. I don’t know if I can carry all of this to work today, I better just buy a smart car – Vending Machine!

*You should google “Japan vending machines” to get a kick out of the creative items being dispensed from this handy little devices!

On we go to the train station!

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Easy enough, just read the signs (enter sarcastic laugh here) and line up.

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Quick bathroom break before we transfer to the adorable old school train that will take us to the bottom of the walk to see the Great Buddha.

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A few pictures from our walk (slight detour) as we eagerly head (so we thought) towards the statue.

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Check this out, fresh octopus with a smidge of flour pressed on a grill then handed directly to you all nice, warm and crispy!

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Thirsty after that? Vending Machine! This is an alcohol serving machine that actually cards you before you’re aloud to enter money or select your choice. Can it read American drivers license? I have no idea, I was just pretending to do it. Now I wish I would have tried!

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We finally reach the entrance of our destination. This is where you have the option to cleanse your hands prior to visiting Buddha.

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Here is the sight when rounding the corner.

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Students get to come here for field trips, what an adventure… I wonder if this is extremely exciting to them, or if it’s just another day, seeing another Buddha.

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More photos that I took before we got to enter inside the beast of copper.

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Handstand shot!

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I enjoyed finding different angles with a variety of effects to capture his unique great beauty.

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What a brilliant sky for our backdrop all day!

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…till next time Buddha, thank you.

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Categories: Art, Edibles!, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Sushi hopping in Japan

A situation that posed a bigger challenge that I expected was trying to order without someone who could read and/or speak Japanese. How silly of me to assume that the menus would have pictures or English versions. On one hand, what a great sign clearly proving we weren’t settled for the tourist spots. On the other hand, it found us with empty stomachs, holding a menu of Japanese characters with a shy waitress eagerly waiting for our order.

I didn’t feel appropriate taking photos in some of the places we chose to ate at, but here are some shots from a few of our successful and “attempted” meals.

This dining experience turned out to be a noodle specialty house with only 2 tables and 3 tatami rooms with a chabudai (a low setting japanese table with no chairs). We took off our shoes and climbed in.

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To order, we literally pointed to a picture on the wall and gave a thumbs up (with fingers crossed). She walked towards the kitchen and giggled as she relayed our request. Returning gently with our bowl of delightful goodies, she properly served us after watching our awkward attempt.

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This was a restaurant that provided you with your own grill and a menu of fresh foods including pork, beef, chicken, tofu, vegetables and more. All served to you raw for you to cook at your preference. The boys went with beef and chicken and I complemented their choice with fresh veggies.

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As if that wasn’t enough, Brandon added a bowl of spicy noodle soup. We thought it was going to come out in a cute mini “miso” cup… We were wrong, but it was delicious!

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I just wanted to show the amount of grill smoke that was constantly floating around. I also smile every time I look at the sweet girls face to the left of the picture, adorable!

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With this evening attempts, we decided to jump on the train and “sushi hop” around a new city. The rule was to split a sake or a beer and order one thing before we move to the next place. We were joined by a willing friend Maddox that was along for the ride! The adventure began…

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Snack #1: 7 seats total, one famous chef with a cheerful assistant, a local couple (who loved Brandon’s Halloween mask), an order of grilled peppers with fish flakes and of course… local sake.

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Stop # 2: American classics decorated the walls including Elvis records in the restroom and “The Marlboro man” ads lining the hallway. Hey look! We found another local that liked his mask.

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Sushi #3: When was the last time you had a beer at a bar with no shoes on… Legally?

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#4: We had a hard time figuring out to get into this one. The entrance was a sliding glass door which had a covering that you had to duck under. Following that was pebble stones to stand in before taking off your shoes to be seated. I caught the giggles here (if you know me well, you understand how hard this can be to maintain) and the more confused that Maddox looked, the worse it got. He couldn’t figure out what was so funny!

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Last stop: We were the only ones here except the sweet woman chatting it up with Brandon. Friendly bartenders, a funky Dj’s booth and different decor made this upstairs gig a unique one.

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The walk home presented a tiny debate (maybe from all the sake). What do you think… Is the character on the sign an elderly man with a beard or a hamster?

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Categories: Edibles!, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Snacks, Japan style!

This post is the first of few as I look back on my stay in Japan. I feel my time there was way too short and has left me searching the calendar for a return date.

Could it have been the fresh food and unlimited amount of tea options? Maybe it was all of the kind people with their gentle demeanor. Possibly a balance of all of the above in combination with the perfect host.
Meet my exceptional cousin Brandon. A man with a huge heart, a positive attitude, and a sense of humor that left me tearing up as the locals stared in confusion at our ability to laugh without breathing for minutes at a time.
He’s here starting his 6th year in the Navy as a Seabee construction electrician, which is just one example of his strong drive and self discipline.

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Our grandmothers are sisters and have lived nearby one another for most of their lives. This means, that although Brandon and I weren’t raised side by side, we’d randomly connect over summer breaks and family holidays. Unfortunately I don’t have any embarrassing childhood photos of us on hand, but here we are now!

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First category, edibles! We had way too much fun snooping around the local shops checking out what was lining the shelves. From confusing items (that to this day we still can’t figure out) to food that found us curious enough to purchase and try at home.

From the hundreds of food photos I snapped, here are a few from each section.
This first one took me for surprise since I assumed everything in Japan was tiny. Check out the size of this apple next to a lemon!

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Pickled everything! This is flavored garlic with some type of herb. We both love garlic so we chose the pink one (you can see it in the background) to take home and try. I wish I could of captured the look on our faces with the first bite. Not only did it taste far from the distinct flavor of garlic, but we were left questioning if this was indeed even what we thought it was! Him and I spent the first half of my trip trying it everyday with high hopes that some new flavor would jump out all of a sudden. “No, I really don’t think this is garlic”, was the common response.

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Care for a baked sweet potato? Here, we’ll just keep it warmed up over hot stones at your local grocery store… Love it!

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Fish anyone?

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As far as convenience is concerned, they’ve got snack size options dialed in. From fish jerky to pretzels, nuts, single packaged hard boiled eggs, a slice of raw salmon paired with cucumber, rice wrapped tuna and flavored seaweed kelp packs.

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I may have went a little over board when I saw all of these individually wrapped snacks at a specialty store. Each time I visit home from abroad I bring my siblings a variety of treats from around the world that (especially being from a small town in Oklahoma) they’ve never seen and generally wouldn’t try.

Side note: This is a surprise, so if you know my family, shhh….

I wish I could tell you what all of these are, maybe after we try them I can give you my best guess. I know a few are fish based and some are sea greens. We found a tiny jar of marshmallow cream with a wooden spoon and several different chocolate treats.

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I have no idea what these are. The circular item on the left has the texture of tofu or pressed cat food with no picture on the wrapper indicating what it might be. The other is a tube of liquid with what appears to be soggy meat, fish, tofu or dog food. Hmmm, we’ll see!

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The first is an extremely popular item here that comes in a range of flavors. This is the original chocolate. The second photo is green tea and green tea with cherry blossom Kit Kat’s. Both along side a box of dark chocolate swirled with green tea flavored white chocolate.

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If there is one thing I must add to the list of all countries have in common, its sweets! I suppose we should face the simple fact that most humans love sugar. At the stores in Japan, you can find a huge variety of desserts ready to be taken home and consumed with a small side of guilt… hold the regrets.

This is a sample of the red bean ice cream, delicious! So was the green tea, cherry plum and my favorite… sweet potato!

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The white and green items are rice balls filled with a sweetened red bean paste and next to them is the brown bean paste coating the outside of a rice ball.

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Oh no he didn’t… yes he did! This is a hotdog, sandwich styled, banana stuffed Twinkie!

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A soft chocolate bread, slightly crispy on the top filled with some fudge like frosting.

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The item at the bottom of the plate is a real baked sweet potato, coated in sugar dust. The other is the same rice balls from above except this time covered in sesame seeds.

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After all of the store adventures, we’d often find dinner being an assortment of “Ooh, that looks weird” next to “Yum, let’s share that!”. Here is a sample spread… Can you spot the pink garlic that didn’t taste anything close to what it looks like? Its near the black stuff that pleasantly tasted like the ocean. Not to be compared with the sweet teriyaki flavored omelette or fresh salmon slices on Daikon radish. How about out the banana dog-o-twinkie?

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This wraps up the grocery food to go. Next post… Restaurants!

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