No curve was too sharp for them and their bicycle. No puddle was deep enough to stop them. -- Friends by Helme Hein

20 January, 2010

Most Memorable Wedding Gift Ever (for us and our neighbors)

Our friends Charity & Craig were sure they couldn't find the perfect wedding gift for us until their recent travels to Nepal. Obviously, they know us well enough not to buy us crystal candy dishes, but we never expected this:
In Nepal, the Narsingha is a traditional celebration horn. They are played in pairs at weddings. Charity & Craig were so taken with their tradition and sound, that they bought not just one, but two, narsingha and a special handmade carrying case to bring them back to Tokyo.

Charity and Craig with the shop owner in Kathmandu

This is their inaugural Tokyo performance. The horns echoed all the way to Shibuya and back, waking the neighbors, who yelled at us (in English) to quiet down.

17 January, 2010


Cool electric staircase in Akasaka Station.
Dining out seems to be the number one form of entertainment for Tokyoites, in close competition with karaoke and getting sloppy drunk. The combination of tiny apartments and the culture of entertaining clients after hours has pushed Tokyo into the culinary world. We've found that every taste palate can be satisfied and every dining experience partook. Theme restaurants are particularly popular in Tokyo with everything from Alcatraz (dinner in a cell?) to Buddhism and Cat Cafes (pay to play with cats while you sip your cappuccino) to Cannibalistic Sushi (eating a doughy representation of a body). We usually skip these places because we prefer good food over pricey gimmicks, but this weekend our friend Charity wanted to celebrate her 29th birthday at Ninja and we happily went along.

Your server greets you by jumping out of a hidden trap door and then guides you through a maze of dark tunnels, low ceilings and drawbridges. All the servers are dressed in ninja gear. Each table is in its own little room, some with tatami, others Western style.

The food was surprisingly delicious! We ordered the 7 course vegetarian set and loved it--this is tempura vegetables with salt and matcha dipping powder.

Steamed vegetables and miso dipping sauce came in a small pot with dry ice smoking.

Vegetable nigiri sushi--that's a tomato (not salmon!) with ginger on the side.

We even had our own Ninja Magician who wowed us with card tricks and disappearing coins.

Our server followed us out, did a few ninja cartwheels and flips and then unfurled this scroll for Charity.

02 January, 2010

New Year in Hayama

Happy New Year 2010!
2010 is the Year of the Tiger
In Japan, the coming of the New Year is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in Japanese culture. The entire country takes off from the 30th to the 3rd of January and goes to visit family and friends. Tokyo became a quiet shell of a city, with the exception of those performing Hatsumode, the year's first visit to the temple. We, too, left the city to stay with our friends John and Moegi in Hayama, a small beach town about an hour south of Tokyo.

New Year's Eve was super windy. We had planned to go kayaking, but the ocean was too angry us. What's left of the fishing boats after early October's typhoon were knocking into each other in the stormy seas.

We also checked out a little beach shack we are thinking of renting in Akiya, the next little beach town over. The 2 bedroom "bungalow" rents for $500 per month and we might go in on it with 2-3 other friends. It's a 30 second walk from the beach in a great location. It's in dire need of a fix up, but perfect for cheap weekends away from from the city.

John took us on a hike in the hills up to a lookout that gave a 360 degree view of Tokyo, Yokohama, Tokyo Bay, Fuji-San and the ocean.

Yokohama, Tokyo, and Tokyo Bay in the distance.

Back at the house and after some shopping for dinner, James and I made it to the beach to watch the sunset on Japan in 2009. It was painfully cold and windy, which you can probably tell by my scarf.

The sun setting on 2009 in the land of the rising sun. Fuji-San hid in the clouds just off to the right (or West).

James put on his most dapper attire for the evening's festivities.

After eating a strange mix of sushi, fried chicken, peppered duck, cheese, crackers, olives and my peanut butter cookies, we settled in with drinks to watch Kohaku Uta Gassen, the Japanese end of the year variety show, somewhat akin to watching the ball drop in Times Square. In the show, the year's most popular singers, J-Pop stars, dancers and actors are divided into two teams. The teams then perform and compete against each other to be crowned winner just before midnight.

Only 44 seconds to go! After midnight we went to the beach. The champagne had warmed me (or numbed me) enough to take a dip.

On New Year's Day, our friend Emi-chan made us Ozoni, a traditional new year soup made with mountain vegetables and mochi. It's part of a new year cuisine called osechi-ryori that is made up of small traditional dishes of pickled vegetables, seaweed, and fishcakes.

The ocean was a little more peaceful on the first day of the year. After lots of delicious treats, Moegi, Yuki and Emi took me for a new year onsen dip at a nearby ryokan. It was really nothing more than a double wide bathtub, but I felt renewed scrubbing away 2009 and welcoming 2010. After a few games of backgammon, we headed home on the train to prepare for this morning's disappointing Rose Bowl loss. Oh well, there's always next year.