Tuesday, October 31, 2006


After hitting the breakfast viking - featuring both Japanese and Western-style food - we were able to purchase the one-day ferry and streetcar passport from the hotel front desk. At 840 yen, it's a good deal if you're heading out to Miyajima for the day, as was our plan. We checked out and walked the two blocks to the station, where we stashed our stuff in the station lockers before hopping on the streetcar.

After arriving at the ferry port, about an hour's journey, we tried the local okonomiyaki at the terminal and then boarded the ferry for the 10-minute ride to the island. Walking toward the beautiful floating torii that is such a famous symbol in Japan, we were accosted by some of the many wild deer that wander around the shrine's grounds and the surrounding area. Signs proclaim: "watch out for deer with horns!" but mostly they're gentle and peaceful creatures, who allow themselves to be petted and may occasionally give a passerby a nudge as a request for a snack, such as the shika-senbei that some vendors peddle at the roadside.

Itsukushima shrine
sits at the edge of the water and is built on stilts and planks, so that at high tide it seems that the whole shrine, and not just the red torii, is floating. After walking around the grounds for awhile (300 yen admission), we hiked up to the ropeway station and boarded the gondola for Mt. Mizen. Changing to a funicular car halfway up, we were interrogated by an old grandpa travelling with his wife and two grandsons. "Where are you from?" he fired off. "Where do you live?" and "What do you think of this place?" His charges seemed simultaneously amused and abashed.

Unfortunately for us, the islands famed wild monkeys did not make an appearance on the mountain. When my mom and sister visited two years ago, they got to witness the spectacle of a monkey chasing a young boy down the hill, the boy clutching a knapsack filled with snacks that the monkey was intent on capturing for himself.

The view from the top of Mt. Mizen is lovely, as is the walk back down the mountain through the Momijikoen - maple leaf park. Here we were able to see koyo - the fiery changing of the leaves, most prominent on maple trees.

Back in Hiroshima, we sought a vegan macrobiotic restaurant that had been discovered online by B. Supposed to be located next to the Kannon-machi post office, we went wandering around Kannon-machi trying to find it. We asked in a big post office only a block from the borders of Kannon-town, but even when an army of clerks pored over maps trying to help us locate the spot, they had trouble finding it. Finally we discovered that it was still a ways away, and procured a crudely drawn map. We went outside and hailed a cab posthaste, and the extremely friendly cabbie helped us to our destination.

The Maison de Croissant (I reviewed it on Happy Cow) is a beautiful little cafe and shop, fronted by tall columns and boasting two levels - upstairs is the gorgeous cafe, with about a dozen tables scattered around a big circular opening looking down into the shop below. Though the menu is limited, our "pita-pan" sandwiches were obviously made with great care and prettily presented. We asked the shop staff - she was the waitress, cook, and sales clerk - about the shop and the food, and she showed us the "kurumafu" - a wheat gluten product made in a wheel shape that had been prepared in cutlet form in one of the sandwiches. This is a lovely place to sit and ruminate while staring out the window into the blue dusk.

Back to the station to catch our train back to Yokohama, stopping to retrieve our bags and purchase some of the famous maple-leaf shaped cakes filled with a variety of yummy and gooey fillings like chocolate, cream, an, and maccha. One of the shop ladies gave us some omake - extras that we happily enjoyed on the ride back home.

Monday, October 30, 2006


Taking advantage of JRtours' great package deals for shinkansen and hotel, I. and I boarded the nozomi for the 3 1/2 hour ride to Hiroshima from ShinYokohama. As we woke up at 5 and left Shinyoko at 7 am, I didn't get much out of the ride down, except for jerky, drooling sleep. I. partook of an inari bento, a train-riding tradition that I'm all too often left out of. Alas, this was the case on this day as well.

We arrived around 1030 in time to hop on the street car from Hiroshima station and ride over to the Peace Park, where we parked ourselves next to the Genpaku Dome (aka A-bomb dome) to await the arrival of B. and M., over from Shikoku. Soon enough they crept up on us, and we walked through Peace Park, looked at the dome, and past several musical groups playing along the river, to the Peace Museum.

Relatively large, the museum is a monument to peace and the dismantling of nuclear weapons worldwide. There is extensive information about the day of the bombing and the aftermath, with some explanations of the people behind the bomb, the science of nuclear weapons, and the long-felt results. I enjoyed the walls covered with the letters of protest from the various mayors of Hiroshima to myriad world leaders voicing heated dissent from subsequent nuclear tests and manufacture of weapons. Especially stirring are the artifacts from victims of the bomb, both those killed and survived. Wax statues of people with their skin melting off, graphic photos of burn victims, and actual bodily remains, including a tongue and pieces of skin, are among the remnants that illustrate the stories of the nuclear targets.

After the sombering but necessary visit to the museum, we lunched at Tandoor, an Indian restaurant located in the Sogo Pacela building (a beautiful building) on the high street. Vegan-esque food was procured and we tucked in happily. After a quick stop at the Jupiter import store to procure salsa and novelty chocolate, we saw B. and M. to their bus and went back to our hotel, the slightly hoity (but not enough to be hoity-toity) New Hiroden, where we fell early into an exhausted 12 hour sleep, not rising until the next morning in time for the breakfast viking that came with the package.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

feeling fall

owls for the new cold weather

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

洟垂らし and 我が儘

Words of the day: hanatarashi and wagamama. Snotnose and selfish. I have some of each in my classes.

Monday, October 16, 2006


On the way to the Nakaochiai gallery in Shinjuku-ku, where we were to meet up with Chris and D., both vegans, we stopped in Ikejiri Ohashi to check out the rumored vegan bento place.
After walking up and down 246 for a few minutes, trying to find it, we finally hit the jackpot only steps from the north exit of the subway. Haotsu-ya is a Taiwanese take-out joint, offering excellent, large, and cheap bentos, vegan style! They have a variety of fake meat-ish dishes, like gluten, seitan, and tofu; and also, my favorite, they have both gyoza and spring rolls. Hallelujah! The fu-manchu sported by the old man working is a definite bonus. As was the (admittedly surly) monk who came in to get food just after I. did - a very good sign. Yummy yummy bentos. I never get to eat them, at least not the store-bought kind.

Chris's work was great, the gallery a really interesting space and very crowded. Both C. and D. loved their food, and I learned a great new expression. D's friend, a girl who lives outside of Tokyo, had a special name for her place of residence: DaSaitama. Saitama, she explained, is decidedly uncool, always striving to be like Tokyo, but never really making the cut. Dasai means uncool, unsophisticated. I told her that I also lived in the borderlands, but she begged to differ. Yokohama, she explained, has its own style. It's content in being itself. Not so Saitama. Thus ださいたま。

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

vegan healing

Meeting new friend D at Hachiko in Shibuya, we headed to the Vegan Healing Cafe near Tokyu Hands. I've mentioned it before and reviewed it over at Happy Cow, and it's good for a decent, healthy, vegan set lunch or dinner - an oasis in a sea of fishy tsuyu.

From there we headed to over to superdeluxe in Roppongi for some art schmoozing. Usually a pariah of uncool, famous for sleazy drunken gaijin and cheesy clubs, Roppongi in this case presents a little more low-key, high-brow club/space.

Monday, October 09, 2006


On the recommendation of "Weekend Adventures Outside Tokyo" by Tae Moriyama, we visited the town of Kawagoe, not far outside of Tokyo, on the edge of Saitama prefecture. Mr. Moriyama waxes philosophic about the kurazukuri, or old black two-story earthen storehouses, that abound in this old trading town.

After a drive of about an hour and a half from Machida, we entered Kawagoe and found free parking next to the Hikawa shrine, from there a quick walk to the main kurazukuri row. This street was really active, full of people looking at the old-time shops selling things like tea, liquor, and dried beans. Small alleys lead to little temples and shrines, one of which was holding a flea market. People thronged the sidewalks and an old market feeling was in the lovely crisp autumn air.

Most notable was the candy street, a few short blocks from the main row. This is a street filled with vendors selling traditional handmade candies, as well as other sweets and snacks like entire pickled cucumbers on a stick and sweet potato senbei. I bought hakka (peppermint), nikki (cinnamon), and candies with tiny flowers and faces molded inside. I also tried the delicious sweet potato soft cream - fantastic.

After visiting the candy street, we took a shortcut through the grounds of a museum, which happened to be the Kawagoe matsuri museum, and happened to be about to start a performance of matsuri dance. We quickly bought tickets and wound our way through the halls to the performance space, a lovely area with 2-story ceilings and huge displays of beautiful colorful floats.

After leaving the museum, we walked to the Toshogu shrine, which is a mini version of the grander Toshogu shrine in Nikko - but is supposed to have the same design, layout, except on a smaller scale. It dates from the 1600s, and is at the same location as the Kita-in Temple, where the 540 statues live. Unfortunately, we arrived just at closing time, so couldn't enter the statue park. We had to be content with peering through the bars at the numerous statues that are supposed to run the gamut of human emotion.

We wanted to try the local noodles made from potato, imo-udon or imo-soba, but couldn't find a place open at the strange hour of 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, we opted to eat cha-soba at Kotobukian right outside of the Kitain temple grounds. Decent food, mediocre service.

All in all, a pleasant day with beautiful weather. Kawagoe is certainly a good place to check out to get a feeling for old Japan.

Monday, October 02, 2006


We headed up to Sano city in Tochigi prefecture to visit R and K for the weekend. Deciding to try our luck on the highways, we took the car and some printed-out instructions from the navitime website, and hit the Shuto expressway.
We made good time, and after a few minutes of wandering around looking for the station, we located R and drove to his fresh new crib. No longer an ALT, R has a new job at a cram school and a swanky new pad to go with it. Electric toilet!
After settling in we drove out to the koi pond in the next town to feed the bubbling evil hordes of carp. We also climbed to a shrine on the top of the adjacent hill, and were rewarded with a rustic platform with beautiful views of the surrounding area and the small island in the middle of the pond that appeared to be a haven for heron. From there, a few big-box thrift stores, and finally, Indo-ya, a very good Indian restaurant in Sano that had great vegetarian food for hungry stomachs!
We reposed to R's place for an evening of Scrabble and wine.

The next day, we hit Sano's international festival, where booths from various countries sold crafts and food, and entertainment played steadily on the stage. After snacking on some tasty empandas from the Paraguay stand, I hit the flea market, where I overheard the couple browsing ahead of me conversing in Spanish. I smiled at them when they looked at me, and continued shopping, but they approached me and the man said hello. I answered him in Spanish and we began to talk about the festival, where we were from, and what we did. He introduced himself as Eduardo and his wife as Martha, from Bolivia and Peru, respectively. He then proceeded to invite me to his home in Bolivia after he returned there. We chatted for a few minutes and then went off our separate ways; but a little while later, while a posse of English speakers was hanging out in front of Sri Lanka, Eduardo came over to our group and asked for a picture. I introduced him around, and after the photos, he insisted that we come over to the Bolivian group and meet the crowd there.
There is a large South American population in Sano and in Tochigi, and according to a young man I met, another Eduardo with a beautiful singing voice, about 100 Bolivians in Sano; an impressive figure to me, since Sano seems like such a small town. He said that most of them work in factories. Eduardo senior told me that he had been an engineer in Bolivia; in Japan, he is a construction worker. We didn't get far into it, and I wondered why there were so many of them here; but talking with the group, they mentioned a deep divide in the country between east and west, and political unrest.
After a few minutes of chatting, Eduardo senior, definitely the most outgoing of the group, pulled me and some others out onto the cleared dirt to dance along to the music provided by Peru. Though I made a fool of myself, it was good fun.
We exchanged numbers and invitations to visit our respective homes.
In a final score of the trip, I found a Gocco PG-10 at Hard-off for 315 yen.