Category Archives: Japan

Fluffy pancakes we spotted in Tokyo in 2016 have arrived in the U.S. What next? A new kind of ice coffee maybe?

In July 2016, we were intrigued in an Tokyo coffee cafe to see Japanese people eating fluffy pancakes as an afternoon treat. Now comes work that those pancakes (apparently known as “souffle pancakes”) have come to NYC, Pasadena, LA and London, according to the NYTimes.

What next? I predict a new kind of ice coffee that we also saw in Tokyo circa 2016 — details below!

July 2016: At about 4 pm we stopped at a chic coffee cafe called 24/7 where people we eating stacks of fluffy pancakes. It didn’t occur to us to eat them any time other than for breakfast but must say they looked delicious. My ice coffee was served in a ceramic soup bowl with a giant block of ice and a little pitchers of milk and simple syrup. Made iced coffee quite exotic. Must try that at home.


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Where to find used and repurposed Kimonos in Kyoto



Kimonos seem to be having a “fashion moment,” with fall 2016 magazines trumpeting kimonos and flowered prints as a fall fashion trend. So… click here for details about the store we went to in Kyoto that sells used and re-purposed kimonos/”designer” clothes made from old kimonos…My aunt found another good place selling “vintage” kimonos near The Philosopher’s Path/Walk in Kyoto.


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Sayonara Japan


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Kyoto yakatori

I never heard any Japanese people use the word “Sayonara” while we were here but it seems the right word as we sit in Narita Airport, waiting to board a flight home via Minneapolis. (The Japanese guy at the Delta check in machine looked at our final destination DSM and said “I don’t know that one.”)

We had a last walk around Ginza and the Tsukiji  Fish Market  this morning and had enough time to take the bus rather than the Narita Express train from Tokyo Station. (The bus was 1000 yen/$10 – one third the price of the train and took about a half hour longer. The bus turned out to be faster than advertised (1 hour 15 minutes, with no traffic issues) and in some ways easier than the train. We just stood in line and paid the driver, rather than having to figure out the machines for the train track and navigate Tokyo station in search of our track.

We had four hours to kill at Narita and started by visiting Sushi Go Round, a conveyor belt restaurant where we scarfed down some more tuna shashimi and fried chicken. Nearby is an outdoor observation deck where you can watch the plans come and go so we trudged around in the heat and humidity briefly. Then time to try to spend as much of our yen as possible. We never did find the wasabi Kit Kats we saw in the Yamanashi bus station so settled for green tea Kit Kats and Oreo cookies to give as gifts.

Last night, I met a nice Japanese woman in the bath who was traveling with an American woman from Maine – both are involved in organizing an Andrew Wyeth exhibit. That was fun. Now starting to board. Goodbye Japan. Great trip!!!








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Sunday in the park with Tokyo

We went to Yoyogi Park this Sunday morning to do some people watching, thinking we’d KNOC4926 (1)see more Japanese kid culture.  Instead we ended up at a Brazilian festival, complete with performances by martial arts dancers and drummers and Brazilian churrasco (grilled meats). Like  the Japanese, we  went with the flow and it felt like we were in Central Park at times, except for the giant shrine nearby, Meiji Jingu, which was very Japanese and hosted several elegant wedding parties. From there we walked in the general direction of Shibuya, where we encountered more crowds. It’s pretty astonishing how many people there are out and about in this city.

We were not entirely sure which crazy intersection was the famous Shibuya Crossing. Several qualified. Traffic stopped in all four directions while a sea of people crossed the street in all directions, including diagonally. It was crazy to not only watch but join in. The stores didn’t interest us much but it was fun to see more kid fashion trends…including a store of baby doll fashion. (That get up is expensive.)

At about 4 pm we stopped at a chic coffee cafe called 24/7 where people we eating stacks of fluffy pancakes. It didn’t occur to us to eat them any time other than for breakfast but must say they looked delicious. My ice coffee was served in a ceramic soup bowl with a giant block of ice and a little pitchers of milk and simple syrup. Made iced coffee quite exotic. Must try that at home.

Back in our neighborhood near Tokyo station we ended up having tapas for dinner at Zion, a popular place, we noticed, with Japanese people and, it turned out, for good reason. The food was great and we sat at the bar watching the chefs prepare paella and mussels and plates of jambon. Time now for our last bath of the trip. Tomorrow home. It’s time but we loved getting to know Japan!




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Harajuku craziness, Aoyama class, Andy’s, Omotesandro Dori – Tokyo

imageBoomeranged back again to Tokyo from the countryside, which has turned out to be a good way to deal with the craziness and rush of this big city (i.e., in small doses).We left our little rustic Fuji Hakone Guesthouse in Hakone and took a slightly out of the way route so we could ride the old narrow gauge mountain train from Gora. It was fun creaking along a narrow track cut into the mountain, lined tightly with purple hydrangea.

image After one bus ride, three train and one subway (not as hard as it sounds) we were back at our sleek business hotel in Tokyo, Super Lohas where the lovely female staff  greeted us as old friends (this is the third time we have stayed with them during this trip.) After lunch at what turned out to be a Chinese, not Japanese, restaurant near our hotel (we went where diners were. Chinese was a nice change) it was time to brave the crowds and check out the crazy teeny bopper scene in Harajuku on Takesita Dori and beyond.

Takesita dori, Harajuku

Takesita dori, Harajuku

Walking along Omotesando Dori, we were in the quintessential dense crowd we’ve seen in movie depictions of Tokyo, with clans of kids dressed in all kinds of  costumes, from baby dolls to punks. (This is the first place in Japan where I’ve seen tattoos and pierced and trans Japanese.)  It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever been part of but everyone seemed to get where they were going and keep moving without crashing into each other. I wonder if people are so orderly here (for example, lining up for various subway cars) because it’s the only way to make a city with this many people function well.

Dinner tonight was at a packed hole-in-the wall tucked underneath the Yamamote train line rail in Ginza called Andy’s. Excellent, affordable, quick service. It was also one of the few places we’ve been that seemed to do it all, rather then specializing in say, sashimi, or yakatori (grilled meat/veg on skewers).  We had excellent everything–  asparagus, mushrooms, gyoza  stuffed chicken wings, fried chicken and garlic prawns (small portions so not too much food….) We walked back to our hotel through Ginza, with all its fancy stores lit up and flashing.

imageI bought a yukata (the traditional  cotton robe we’ve enjoyed at almost every hotel we’ve stayed at here) at the Oriental Bazaar.

We also wandered the narrow streets of Aoysama, an upscale neighborhood of fancy little shops and modern architecture homes that reminded me of London’s Covent Garden (even before we chanced upon a store called Neal’s Yard, an old Covent Garden favorite.)


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Open-Air Museum, Japan’s Ithaca, Fujiyama Hotel, Naraya Cafe – Hakone

IMG_1716 (1).JPGWe found the Hakone that lived up to the hype today.  After a haphazard journey that involved a bus (the wrong one, apparently) and then a train (which turned out to be the famous narrow gauge train through the mountains), we arrived at the Hakone Open-Air Museum in a downpour. Fortunately there were several closed air (indoor) galleries and several fantastic museum shops to explore until the rain finally became mist and then fog and then a few hopeful patches of blue sky that never really panned out.

But we were able to explore the famous sculpture garden for hours. So spectacular, especially with the atmospherics from the fog and mist drifting across the forested mountains and into the valleys.  We ended up staying almost four hours there and could have stayed longer. The combination of dramatic contemporary sculpture and gorgeous gardens was stunning. Everywhere we walked, we’d find sculpture and nature complimenting each other. Female bronze nudes popping out of a sea of tall grasses.  A bright red circular sculpture in a rock garden pond with orange and white koi swimming around. A grassy hillside dotted with bold sculptures. And this being a hot springs area, there was a long narrow outdoor foot bath for strollers to soak in while admiring some sculpture.

IMG_1711 (1).JPGIndoors was a really interesting exhibit of work by a contemporary Japanese artist (Tadanori Yokoo), another interesting permanent Picasso exhibit and a way cool exploratory exhibit on sculpture that included two podiums where you could stand and move around and a sculpture on a video screen would duplicate your position. Amazing.

We left reluctantly and took the train a few stops to Miyanoshita station, which turned out to be another highlight.  Wet and hungry (we delayed lunch so we could stay at the Museum), we found an ideal spot – the Naraya Cafe, a charming place that served not only great pizza but we ate it while sitting at a table with our feet in a foot bath underneath the table.  That was a first. We sat at an outdoor wooden table on the side of a mountain, with a tarp draped above us to keep out the pouring rain, eating delicious pizza and soaking our feet.  Oh happy day! The cafe was all wood and bonsai plants and gorgeous crafts. Reminded me of a place you’d maybe find in Big Sur.image

Miyanoshita  is the home of the famous old Fujiyama Hotel, where we peeked into the gorgeous wood carved dining room, wandered around the gardens and the old-fashioned swimming pool, and stocked up on some breakfast food at the hotel’s bakery. We also did a little walk on a narrow path in the woods, high above waterfalls and a ravine that reminded me of my beloved Ithaca.

imageTonight, we had a good Japanese meal at a little place near our guest house called Hanasai and ended up chatting with a mom and her two teenage kids from the Netherlands.  Also chatted with people today from Seoul and Kobe. Great day.

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Back to the futon at a Japanese guesthouse – Hakone

IMG_1744 (1).JPGWe’re not in Tokyo anymore….The Fuji Hakone Guesthouse is in a lovely secluded spot in dense woods on the side of a mountain in the hot springs resort area of Hakone, about a 2.5 hour trip from the frenetic Tokyo Station this morning, by various forms of public transportation including a subway, train and bus.

Now if I could just find a comfortable place to sit. Our room is traditional Japanese-style with two futons on tatami mats and a low wood table with pillows as seats. So I’ve doubled up the pillows and wedged myself against the wall for back support. Our sliding wood and paper screen window is open to a view of the woods and a mountain in the distance. We can hear wind or is it rushing water? And birds, frogs and crickets. (I’m guessing here.)

I’ve had onsen bath #1 – the small private indoor bath.  Dirck and I booked the private outdoor bath fo,a half hour this evening. ( When in Rome…) I’ve never taken so many baths in my life and have grown to look forward to them after long days as a tourist trudging around in the heat and sometimes rain. The small bath here was very hot and the water was cloudy, I’m assuming with sulfur but it didn’t smell bad.

We went to a small Japanese restaurant nearby for a bowl of udon with tofu for me and soba and tempura for Dirck. Then we took the cable car. Unfortunately the ropeway (which we are guessing is a chairlift or gondola )  was closed but will be open tomorrow. We’ll  take the area’s famous narrow gauge train part of the way home back to Tokyo on Saturday.

I am glad we opted to get the Hakone free pass at Shinjuko station in Tokyo which covers all our transportation to and from Tokyo and while we are here. It’s great not to have to pay for all the bits and bobs of public transportation we are using.



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Ginza, hole-in-wall ramen, moving feast – back to Tokyo


The farmers stayed later than planned in Yamanashi (many wanted to try the roller coaster behind our hotel) so we went back to Tokyo on our own, finding an incredibly convenient and on-schedule bus that went directly to Tokyo Station from the bus station smack dab next to our hotel. Much easier than expected.

Two hours later we were back at the Super Lohas hotel and soon after, having the classic experience of getting lost in Tokyo. But with time, we found our way to fancy Ginza, a 20-minute walk from our hotel, once we figured out where we were and needed to go. We managed to find a popular,  hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Andy’s (a Brit named Andy who married into a restaurant family here) but it was only open for dinner. Not to worry. We found another hole-in-the wall place, ban-nae,  underneath the Yamamote subway line (It was kind of eerie when the train rumbled above the ceiling we sat under) that had fantastic pork ramen, gyoza and edamame. There was a reason the place was packed with solo Japanese diners. The restaurant staff didn’t speak much English but were very kind and even walked us over to Andy’s, a few doors down (where we met Andy and reserved a table for Saturday night).

On to the two grand department stores, Matsuya and Mitsukoshi, where we toured the food halls in the basement and saw all kinds of amazing stuff, including square watermelon,  very expensive cantaloupe and waygu beef and Yamanashi peaches selling for about $8 a piece. We also managed to find an famous old coffee shop Cafe de L’Ambre, a kissaten/coffee shop that serves only coffee  and unusual coffee at that.  I had a #7 hot and cold coffee with a meticulously poured layer of sweet milk on top, served in a shallow wine glass. (“Don’t stir,” I was instructed)

Tonight we had a lot of fun at Nemuro Hanamaru, in the 5th floor of the  Kitte building on the elegant side of Tokyo Station– a “conveyor belt restaurant” where different dishes (mostly sushi but also some great fried chicken/karaage and odd stuff like grape juice, tiramisu and French fries) glided by on a moving belt while we sat, at the counter.

A nice young guy and his 13-year-old son (in photo above) sat next to us and helped us figure out how to do various things and even insisted on buying us a plate of tuna sushi.  People  here have been so incredibly nice.  In Tokyo Station, no fewer than four people asked today if we needed help. And we did. And they helped. (I’ve learned it pays to ask even when you think you know what you are doing because often you don’t. Or the people offering to help have a better idea!) I love this country!


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Mt Fuji day – Fujiyoshida City (Yamanashi)

IMG_0149 (1).JPGFinally figured out what city we’re in. I knew the Prefecture (Yamanashi) but not the city. It’s Fujiyoshida  and appears to be dominated by this hotel, the amusement park behind it and a commercial strip with restaurants, some with familiar names (McDonald’s, Big Boy, KFC,) but the good is different than the starts. Word has it the burgers at Big Boy were more like meatloaf with gravy. We stuck with Japanese food and went to Aiya, which we decided was the Applebee’s of Japan, a chain restaurant with serviceable fare – we had sashimi, tempura, tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) etc. We were the only westerners there (for awhile) and it was a useful experience to be in a place that didn’t cater to tourists (i.e., no English menu or English spoken). We sat next to a couple and their elderly mother who ordered a lot of food. (The woman started with an ice cream sundae.)

Today we went to Saiko lyashi no Sarto, a reconstructed ancient village with thatched roofed wood houses climbing up a thickly vegetated hillside lined with purple and pink hydrangea. We’d already had a taste of this environment in Kyoto and it reminded us a bit of Living History Farms in Des Moines but it was a pretty place to stroll and Mt Fuji peaked out from the clouds now and then.

After a good lunch at the Japanese restaurant in the hotel, we drove on the bus about 45 minutes to station 5 of Mt. Fuji, so we were actually on the mountain. Clouds broke up the view below but we could see most of the peak — dark brown earth with patches of green. Lovely. Just back from the onsen (bath house) feeling refreshed. On to the last banquet.


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Peaches to die for — Yamanashi

IMG_1646 (1)imageSoon after we arrived in Japan, I started craving fruit and eyeing, in particular, the perfect softball-size peaches in markets. But I didn’t eat one until today, when we were invited to eat as many as we liked while touring a peach orchard here. The peaches sell in markets for 400 to 600 yen ($4-6) each which is why I put off buying them. Today, I ate more than I’ll admit.

THey were amazing – soft but not mushy or mealy, white flesh and oozing with juice. We ate some that had been frozen and they were delicious. This was followed by homemade peach ice cream which was on par with Bauder’s ice cream in Des Moines.

The orchard was one of five or so fruit/veg businesses we visited in fields surrounded by mountains densely covered with green vines and what looked like kudzu. We also went to a rice paddy, a peach sorting plant, a greenhouse with grapes (that Iowans helped recover from a huge snowfall that damaged the building), a fancy fruit and food market (with ham and pork genetically derived from Iowa hogs).  At each stop, we were warmly greeted by staff, owners, workers, often receiving gift bags with caps and tenugui (hand towels) and fans, not to mention peaches and many other food samples.

At one spot, a television reporter greeted us. Must say this is a very cool thing about being an Iowan – having this warm longstanding relationship with a rural region of Japan that dates back to 1960. People here seem genuinely pleased that we came all this way to visit. And how cool that the Iowa/ Yamanashi sister state relationship is the first between a US and Japan state/ prefecture.

Midway through our tour we were ushered into yet another banquet hall for yet another excellent meal, beautifully served. We had special wide flour noodles made here, in a miso soup, greens and pickled stuff, some steamed chicken and vegetables, rice (of course) and what I think was mochi dusted with green tea powder.

Interestingly, Mt. Fuji has disappeared behind the clouds – you’d never know it was there so glad we had it for so long yesterday.

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