"Harajuku kids" pose for photos

"Harajuku kids" pose for photos

Walter:  On a recent trip to Tokyo, I informed my wife’s Japanese cousins of my impending arrival and was met with the following email which I shall simply offer with no interpretation.

Dear Walter,

Hello, It becomes seem energetic and dependence.

I’m energetic as usual.

It continues, and the recession worries also by

the company because of the business slump here,too.

It wishes that it want you to recover business early.

Of course your country too.

So this Sunday, I’m looking forward to seeing you.

The business trip must go well.

And, become happy trip, Naoko.

I promptly replied with a much less poetic message espousing my energy.  Apparently my last trip to Tokyo in late 2009 had been taken as a clear sign that the global economy is in recovery.   I was delighted to receive an equally positive series of messages from another cousin, including this one:

It decided it.

Harajuku Station (Omotesando entrance) at 1:00PM  of Sunday, the 27th

Shinichiro, Naoko, and I go.

It looks forward to meeting soon.

Please do happy travel, TAKIKO   \(^o^)/

I upheld my duty to bring positive energy into Tokyo and set out to spread the word on my favorite feel-good food: chocolate.  Seeing an opportunity in their enthusiasm, I quickly recruited Naoko-san, Takiko-san, Shinichiro-san to help with a little experiment – Street Tasting in Tokyo.  But how would I get people, Japanese people no less, to eat chocolate on the street in a culture that considers eating in public places to be rude and that is generally in a state of near-panic about the spread of H1N1?  I decided to stage my little experiment in one of the few places where Japanese are allowed to behave like someone else: Harajuku.

Tasting Chocolate in Harajuku

Harajuku is a Tokyo neighborhood famous for its “Harajuku kids” – kids and young adults dressed in wacky fashions of their own invention.  It’s been going on for years as a safe form of youthful rebellion.  Often groups of kids will dress in a coordinated theme or you might see individuals doing their own thing.  It’s well-known that Japanese culture doesn’t exactly encourage individualism, but the Harajuku scene provides an opportunity for creative expression at least for a few.

I’ve visited Harajuku some 10 to 15 times, but only recently observed what appears to be a new trend: the kids are no longer just kids.  People of all ages have gotten into the act.  Why not?  If anything, adults are more, not less in need of an expressive outlet – to slip out of character, to be someone else for an afternoon or just act a little goofy.  This time, I found “Charisma-man,” a dancing dude, and a guy wearing something that looked like furry pink Mickey-mouse ears.  All grown adults.

So with plenty of potential victims to choose from, we approached the crowd with a video camera and some Taza chocolate.  After explaining that this was special stone ground, organic chocolate from the USA, we asked people to compare two flavors:  Taza Chocolate Mexicano Vanilla and Taza Chocolate Mexicano Yerba Mate .  We filmed it all,  but I have to apologize for the video quality because my camera apparently didn’t survive the trip as well as I did and something was wrong with the exposure.  Anyway, the video is too entertaining to skip, so please try to get beyond the orange skin tone.

This first guy enjoyed bouncing around to the beat of his own boom box.  He had a little routine where he would take his shirt off in a dramatic way only to put it back on again and repeat the whole process for a new audience.  His favorite was Yerba Mate which he said “felt good on my tongue.”  He also described the chocolate  as “crispy” and having a “very swift, light taste.”  Although these wouldn’t be my choice of words, he did capture part of the unique charm of Taza’s stone-ground approach – a rustic more granular texture.

Charisma man is ready for action

Charisma Man

This guy was a riot with his faux marshal arts moves and some kind of monologue in Japanese that flew over my head.  I got a little concerned when 30 seconds after we started our interview the police showed up and started questioning him.  Even though I feared we had broken the “no filming people eating chocolate on the street law,” I kept filming through it.  It turns out that some tourists simply wanted to know when Charisma Man would start jumping around again.  And with a little help from some dark chocolate, he did.

Charisma Man liked the Taza Stone Ground Vanilla the best for which he thanked us…repeatedly.  Apparently, our friend in the yellow jumpsuit is an aspiring comedian and uses Harajuku as a sort of viral marketing environment for self promotion.  Good luck Charisma Man!

Harajuku Kids

For our last interview we found some youth even if they weren’t dressed in typical Harajuku kids attire, if there is such  a thing.   These two girls were best friends, one around 15 and the other a bit older.  While the adults struggled to find something specific to describe this interesting and unconventional chocolate, using general words like “crunchy” and “sweet,” it took a  15 year old to really understand the characteristic fruitiness of minimally-processed chocolate.  Maybe it was because her taste buds had not yet been dulled by years of cigarettes and shochu or maybe it was because she was too young to have any preconceptions about what flavors belong in chocolate and what don’t – a mind and a pallet open to any possibility.  Either way, she nailed it in one word: “raspberries.”  Amazing.

These girls both liked the Stone Ground Vanilla Dark Chocolate the best, bringing the final score to 3-1 in favor of vanilla.

How to Get There and What to See

Major airlines service Tokyo’s Narita Aiport daily. Once you exit baggage claim, go straight across the hall to the counters where you can buy tickets to the limousine bus service to your hotel for about 3000¥.  A taxi to downtown would be easily more than $150).  Some people prefer the speed of the Narita Express train.  You can buy train tickets near the limousine bus counter or follow the signs downstairs to the train ticket counter.  This train takes you to Tokyo Central Station and from there you can take a taxi to your hotel.  This option is slightly more expensive, but may be faster during rush hour.  There is space at the end of each train car for large bags.

Once in Tokyo, hop on what has been called “the most important train line in the world” – the Yamanote line (yah-mah-no-tay).  The Yamanote circles Tokyo and hits most of the important and interesting neighborhoods.  Best of all, the stations and trains have signs and maps in English and are relatively easy to use.

To see the Harajuku scene, get off at the Harajuku stop.  Follow the crowd through the turnstiles to exit the station at the Omotesando exit and continue straight on.  After you are outside of the station, follow the sidewalk around to the right and you are there.  Bring your camera and ask first before taking photos.

Continue past the “Harajuku kids” and you will see a gigantic gate entrance to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, one of Tokyo’s largest.  Expect to walk about a half mile along wide gravel paths to reach the shrine (yes, you can push a baby stroller on this path with some difficulty if you are determined).  The walk is enjoyable in itself as you pass through a forested oasis in the middle of Tokyo.

Pass the Meiji Jingu Shrine entrance and follow the sidewalk around the bend to the left and then just to the right are usually street vendors and the entrance to Yoyogi koen (park).  This is a nice spot if you are still in the mood for a walk and want to watch people relaxing or teenagers playing pseudo-martial arts games.

Shopping and Eats

To find a plethora of restaurants and shops, exit the station and go left to cross the street using the overhead walkway.  The first few blocks are mostly restaurants, and the shops begin after that.  There’s a ramen  shop on the corner when you come down from the overhead walkway that has a line out the door on the weekends, so it must be good.  The Omotesando mall is up on the left about ¾ mile.

If you want to see some funky shops where the “Harajuku Kids” get some of their garb, go left inside the station as soon as you exit the turnstiles, cross the road and follow sidewalk to the left.  Take a right down the street on this map that has a McDonalds and 7- Eleven.  You’ll find some fun tee-shirt shops as well as crêperies for a snack.

Please feel free to write if you want other recommendations. To learn more about chocolate, visit my other blog: KokoBuzz.

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Disclosures:  I paid for all of the chocolate tasted in this story.

Premium cotton bud variety pack

Premium cotton bud variety pack

Walter: I noticed these black Q-Tip-like things in the stores when we lived in Japan, but never bothered to take a closer look.  On my last business trip to Tokyo, I decided to buy some and to satisfy my curiosity despite the fact that I had free “cotton buds” (AKA cotton swabs) provided in my hotel room.

As it turns out, they are basically a premium cotton swab with a few unique features.  First of all, they are all-black.  Why black I wondered?  Could it be because white is the color of death in Japan, or so I’ve read that you should avoid wrapping presents in white for this reason (although I’m starting to get the distinct impression that some of what I’ve read about Japanese culture has become outdated) .  Perhaps it’s just too much to insert miniature white death-swords into the side of your head.  But I’ve seen white cotton buds in the stores too, so what gives – foreign influence on the personal-care sub-culture in Japan?  Doubtful.   Besides I did also attend a Japanese wedding near Tokyo where, much to my disappointment, the bride wore, not a traditional kimono, but a western-style white gown (she was clearly not at a funeral or anything of the sort).  She later changed at least twice into other colored party gowns at the well-choreographed reception that included remote-controlled spot-lights and long speeches by significant people in the bride and groom’s past. No, it seems that white is not off limits.

Detail of the little ridges on each bud.

Detail of the little ridges on each bud.

Any way, back to the all-black cotton buds.  My most likely explanation is that the black color is to hide the junk that comes out  of  your ears.   Makes sense to me, but to be sure, I called our Japanese friend Mika and asked what she knows about this important mystery.   She had a simple explanation:  black is hot in Japan.  At least in terms of personal care products: tissues, face masks, cotton buds and the like.  “It’s a trend. I so wished I had bought some when I was in Tokyo last.”  Well, she won’t get mine.  No way! I want to stay super-hip in my bathroom, so I’m hoarding my stash of black cotton buds for now.

Finally, a far more function feature is the little ridges they put on the end – sort of like a series of little squeegees for your ears.  A fine way to dry off after a relaxing bath. I kind of like these and when Kenji is being more than uncooperative about getting his ears cleaned after a bath, I pull out the trump card of “want to use the Japanese ear buds?” and that usually gets him.

Hey, check out my new chocolate blog!

I started this post nearly a year ago and never finished. Nonetheless, I really wanted to share the trip and pictures with you. So here goes:

Daibutsu with lotus pods in the foreground

Daibutsu with lotus pods in the foreground

 

 

 

 

Genevieve: Over the holidays, we decided to make our way out of the big city to Kamakura. Kamakura lies about an hour south of Tokyo by the sea of Japan. Kamakura is perhaps best known for the Daibutsu (or big Buddha) which is nestled in the hills overlooking the distant ocean. It’s the second largest Buddha in Japan, at over 13.35 meters tall and 121 tons.  Originally, it was housed inside a temple but a tidal wave swept it away in 1498.

Although I’ve visited the Buddha many times, this was the first time I had gone inside the Buddha. It was more for Kenji’s benefit than for either of us. As Walter has mentioned in previous posts, Kenji is very fond of temples and shrines, and really likes Buddha. Walter referred to the other gods and figures as “Buddha’s other brother” or “Buddha’s cousin,” to help entertain and interest Kenji (if you’re familiar with Dr Seuss books then you will find this funnier). Anyway, we had a really nice time seeing the Buddha, even though it was freezing cold outside.

kamakura-014

Kenji was almost as big as the Buddha. Well, not really.

 

Kenji and me inside the buddha

Kenji and me inside the Buddha

 

Walter and Kenji cleansing themselves before visiting the buddha

Walter and Kenji cleansing themselves before visiting the Buddha

 

Walter and Kenji at the big buddha

Walter and Kenji at the big Buddha

 

An expression I'm very familiar with.

An expression I'm very familiar with.

 

Kenji all bundled up and asleep

All this hanging out with Buddha can be tiring for a 2 yr old

 

Meiji Milk Co., Tokyo

Meiji Milk Co., Tokyo

Walter:  It’s been almost a year since we’ve returned from Tokyo, but I started writing this one before I had left.  So, Genevieve thought it might be interesting if I write about my work.  Of course I really can’t tell you too much about my job or company, but I can tell you a bit about my walk to work (I don’t know if this is interesting, but it’s been one of the greatest simple pleasures in being here) and a few other tid-bits.  My walk is typically a once per week adventure of about 25 – 30minutes.  I ‘m still doing it now in January 2008.  This is a random photo of a building on the way to work (Meji Milk Company).  I find this one interesting because it seems like something of a relic among the mixed architecture and much newer development on the main roads that I walk.

 

Most days I take the train to work – about a 20 -25 minute commute overall including walking to and from the stations on both ends.  When you take the train, you spend at least 5 minutes walking in and out of the ground.  So even though the train ride itself is not long, it takes almost as long as walking. I suppose that when it’s cold, it’s more comfortable than walking, except that in the morning you are packed in like sardines, or maybe bonito, if you prefer.  Certain trains are impossibly full, but it’s hard to predict which ones.  The proper etiquette for getting on full train seems to be:  1) step into the train normally, 2) turn around with your back facing the other riders, 3) slowly walk backwards so as to compress the crowd with your back and butt.  Don’t make eye contact.  When getting off the train you are subject to the laws of physics.  You behave more like part of a fluid than an individual.  The doors open and the force of the fluid pushes you off the train.  If you are standing near the door, you must get off whether it is your stop or not. Then you simply stand aside and reboard before the musical chimes tell you that it’s time to go.

Small shrine on a small hill.After I arrive at Shiba Koen station and come up out of the ground, I walk by this very new little shrine on a hill (first picture).  At new years time, you’re supposed to go to a shrine or temple and say a little “wish” for the coming year – a wish for good healthy, prosperity, happiness – the usual stuff.  I neglected to do this when we went to one of the biggest shrines in Tokyo (Meji jinku), so I finally stopped at this little shrine on my way to work and did my thing.  After passing this shrine, I usually go through some small back alleys (the same place where I saw the one and only Japanese guy in Tokyo actually eating in the street) and past another very small and much older neighborhood shrine. Whenever I pass it, I always find it ironic that the cat and dog statues in front are encased in green industrial chicken wire cages to protect them from bird poop or something.  So to keep them beautiful, they are made ugly or at least obscured by their little cages.  It kind of reminds me of all the grand churches in Europe that are covered with scaffolding for 5 years so that they can wash off the acid rain damage.  

It also reminds me, albiet less, of the Zen concept that to own something creates a burden.  Once you aquire stuff and that stuff has value, you need to spend energy to protect it from damage, theft, decay….  The more valuable it is, the more energy you need to spend (waste?).  To rid your self of such stuff or to avoid aquiring it to begin with liberates you from this burden.   In the end it is a loosing battle because everything is temporary.  OK, now back to work and making money so that we can aquire stuff…

A well-protected shrine cat

A well-protected shrine cat (or maybe it's a fox, but who can tell with the cage around it)

This is where I worked in Tokyo - in the Mita Kokusai Building

I worked in the Mita Kokusai Building in central Tokyo

 Finally, I arrive at the Mita Kokusai Building, a twenty-three-or-so-floor office complex near Tokyo Tower.  To get this picture of Tokyo Tower, I walked out in the middle of the road right in front of our office on a fine Saturday in October.  Our office is pretty typical of Japanese companies.  There are almost no individual offices with doors and there are no cubicles; just one large room with managers sitting at open desks at the end of a row of back-to-back desks for the “workers.”  Managers get arm rests on their chairs and workers don’t.  Also, at least in our company, Managers sit furthest from the door – this considered the most respected position.  For instance, if you are holding a meeting, the guests (in a conference room or restaurant…) would sit furthest from the door even if they are not the customer. 

 

 

 So when I arrived on my first day of work, I was shown to “Walter’s Corner” – a semi-cubical like area with a rather larger modular desk and PC in the corner (so I am essentially facing into the corner) right next to the door.  So, even though I am a manager and DO have arm rests on my chair, I’m not sure what mixed message I am getting here.  Anyway, space is at a premium and this was probably the only reasonable option since they couldn’t put me at one of the worker’s desks.   I actually like the set-up fine since I can focus and it’s easy to shut out the Japanese office banter since I don’t understand most of it except the long endings to phone calls…. Hai, hai, hai, hai! Yuroshiku, agrigatooooooooooooo!

 

Most people arrive between 8 and 8:30, well before the Westminster chimes plays over a loudspeaker to signify that you best start working now.  At lunch, another tone plays and the entire office stands up at once and leaves to get their food.  At 5:15, the chimes play again to signify, I assume, the official end of work, although this has nothing to do with reality.  The only person that sometimes leaves at this point is the secretary.  As far as I can tell, 50% of the staff are there until 7:00.  A handful of people go up to the cafeteria to watch TV or have a beer at about 6 or 6:30 and there are a good number of people still working after 8:00 PM despite typical train commutes of 90 minutes.  I think this explains the abundance of noodle shops in train stations as well as the availability of relatively high-quality prepared foods at the ubiquitous 7-Elevens.  The only thing left to do is sleep. 

 

Tokyo tower seen from the road in front of my office

Tokyo tower seen from the road in front of my office

There are various office rituals and norms, many of which seem mundane to me now, so I’m not sure what might interest you.  One that I did not follow is the use of office sandals.  Many men arrive at the office and go to a little locker area in the back.  Here they can hang their coats and trade their dress shoes for some form of indoor sandals.  I’ve seen everything from heavy leather things to something that looks like one step up from plastic shower sandals.  Always worn with socks.  A bit odd to see matched with a business suit, but comfort trumps.  Maybe we should start this trend in the US?

Kenji and Kai

Kenji and Kai

Genevieve: It’s been half a year since our last posting. I guess you could say that we’ve been a bit busy.

Since then we had a baby! His name is Kai and he’s a wonderful chubby peach. Kenji is doing pretty well in the role of big brother, although he has his moments.

Walter is still with his company, plugging away. We’re still daydreaming of Austin, but so far no jobs have come through.  For now, we’re enjoying summer in New England and adjusting to being a family of 4.

To keep track of our current lives, you can visit our new blog at: kenjikaiandus.wordpress.com

Esaka SenseiWalter: As I mentioned in my first posting, I’ve been practicing Iaido for a short while as a way to become more directly immersed in the Japanese culture.  Iaido is an ancient traditional art form originally used to defend against surprise enemy attacks in fifteenth and sixteenth century Japan.  Iaido, “the way of the sword,” embodies methods of quickly drawing, cutting and returning a long, curved sword to the scabbard.  I also decided to practice this art as a means of stress relief and to improve my mental focus.  Since your opponent is imaginary, you don’t actually spar or interact directly with other practitioners, but you spend a lot of time refining the kata (form).  Because of this focus on kata, you might say it has more in common with tea ceremony (Chado) than with say, Karate or Kendo.

My KatanaBefore WWII you had martial arts in Japan like Jujitsu, Iaijitsu, etc. Shortly after the end of WWII, these were seen by the occupying forces as fighting methods with military application so they required that Japan basically stop practicing these techniques.  However, the Japanese came back and made a case that these were culturally important art forms with very limited military value (can you imagine a bunch of guys with swords and sticks facing a modern army?) and so changed the suffix to –do, meaning “way” or “path.”   Now you have Judo, Iaido, etc.

I started practicing in Cambridge with a wooden “sword” (bokken) under the guidance of an excellent sensei at Boston Iaido.   The dojo in Tokyo is located in Shibuya and is lead by one of the most highly respected teachers in all of Japan and hence the world, Esaka-sensei (he is immediately to my left in the photos).  This guy is well into his eighties and sharp as a whip.  I saw him do a demonstration for a group of French tourists that included some rare forms involving structured sparing and he was amazing.  Upon arriving for my first practice in Tokyo, they informed me that I would be using a sword (Iaito or Katana) from the start.  After borrowing a katana for a while, my own arrived (see photo).

Group shot at DojoMost of my instruction came from the dojo treasurer, Nashima-sensei (immediately to my right in the photos).  He is one of the most senior sempai (senior students) at the Esaka-dojo.  He instructed me mostly in Japanese which, as you can imagine, was a slow process.  But one of the phrases I heard most often in English was “more softly please.”  I had a tendency to grip the katana tightly and power down into the cuts with all my strength.  The proper form is to grip the katana more loosely with some fingers and use the right hand only to guide the alignment of the sword while the left hand provides moderate power (I’m leaving out many details).  In short:  less effort, more skill.  “More softly please.”  This is really a lesson that can be applied to life in general.  We tend to exert extraordinary effort to deal with problems or day-to-day tasks, only to waste a tremendous amount of energy on things that actually don’t matter or to get poor results when less effort would have been more effective.  Isn’t it better to back up and evaluate a situation and decide what is the most skillful path before proceeding?  The most skillful action might be to do nothing at all. 

yamagata_nov_2007-067.jpgAt work, I sometimes find myself pounding my keyboard at as I type on my computer or gritting my teeth when I’m in a politically charged meeting.  At one such meeting, I felt myself spending a lot of energy getting ready to resist some guy’s political agenda and feeling terribly annoyed by it all.  I just stopped myself, decided that it wasn’t going to be threatening to me, my career or my agenda and then I could calmly listen to what the dipsh*&t, um, colleague, had to say. I just accepted that this guy had a point of view (no matter how much it was politically motivated) and could relax and decide what to do next.  There are probably better examples, but you can use your imagination. “More softly please.” 

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

Seafood nabe cooking on stove

Cutting vegis for seafood nabeGenevieve: One of my favorite things about this time of year is the food. In general, I’m not a big fan of cold weather, in fact I kind of hate it. But one thing I do enjoy is sipping hot cups of tea, baking warm treats, and making winter dishes like seafood nabe. Typically, you cook the nabe (hotpot) right at your dining table, using a portable gas burner. I was told that sharing nabe with someone can mean that you want to become their friend or show that you feel comfortable with them to relax, sit back, and nosh. After all, you are basically dipping from the same bowl.

Takei and dad at Happo En shrine

Our friend Takei recently sent us a lovely care package after his visit to us a few weeks ago during my dad’s visit. Many years ago he lived in the States and specialized in making organic miso and homemade mochi. The package was filled with local organic vegetables, homemade umeboshi (pickled plums) and mochi (pounded rice patties) from Gunma ken, where he lives. Takei lives out in the country about an hour by shinkansen from Tokyo where you can still find farmer’s markets. All of the vegetables were so sweet and delicious. Many of them ended up in the seafood nabe pictured above, but I had enough left over to make a vegetable pasta primavera later in the week. I’ve found that I can only eat so much Japanese food in the span of one week—even though I love it!

Wax sushi for sale on Kappabashi dori

Wax food models in store along Kappabashi Dori

Photos of wax shops along Kappabashi Dori featuring sushi, beer, pizza, pasta dishes, salads, fake meat, sundaes, bento boxes, etc.

Inside a pottery shop along Kappabashi Dori

On our recent trip to Kappabashi dori, a famous wholesale cooking area in Tokyo, I bought the nabe pot you see in the top photo. I have a weakness for Japanese dishes (inherited from my mom), so we spent a lot of time in pottery shops. The one in the photo was so filled with pottery from the floor to the ceiling, that you literally had to hold your purse and jacket against you to make sure you didn’t accidentally create an avalanche of broken dishes. Along with pottery, you can also find stores specializing in those wax models you see on display in front of restaurants here in Japan. I saw a documentary the other night that showed how each model is hand made by a craftsman—hence the steep price (a single glass of beer costs around 5000¥, roughly $50). There are also shops specializing in laquerware, bamboo, knives—just about anything you can think of related to cooking or eating.

Shin, Takiko, Dad, and Kenji

Kenji, Dad, and Takiko at dinnerGenevieve: Grandpa (or “baba” as Kenji calls him) returned home earlier this month after a 3 week visit. During his time here, he was really busy visiting all of his family and seeing old friends, but we managed to get in some good time with him too. Since the last time he had visited, it had been 15 years. Somehow time had passed more quickly than he planned, I guess.  So it was a big deal for him to come back home, although I think America has replaced his definition of home. Although he can still speak the language (he first left when he was 23), he’s more American than Japanese now, both in the way he thinks and acts.

Dad and KahoDad and Kenji counting Yen

In our Yukatas

Mom and Walter at dinnerGenevieve:As I mentioned in my post on Yamagata, we had the most delightful experience at a Japanese Hotspring Inn (Onsen Ryokan) there. Yamagata is famous for its hotsprings, so I had made sure that this would be part of our agenda. It’s one of those experiences that you definitely don’t want to miss if you ever have the opportunity. Of course some are nicer than others, and there really is quite a range both in price and feel. Some can be really utilitarian, while others are very natural and often feature outside baths.  We were lucky to stay in the latter, at a place called Matsunoyu.

Kenji in our room’s bathOur room had its own private hotspring bath with skylight, and was traditional, in that it featured tatami mats and low tables. A yukata (cotton robe) was provided for each of us (even Kenji), along with all of the toiletries we would need, including a small souvenir towel to be used in the bath.  My mom and I wrapped these around our heads as we sat in the hot baths after washing ourselves down.  Since I’m pregnant I didn’t stay in the bath for long since it seemed pretty hot, but it was still really enjoyable and relaxing.

Ryokan meal

From the accommodations to the food, everything was incredible. The food was not only delicious, but probably some of the most beautifully presented that I’ve ever had. On the plate in the photo, you can see just a portion of our dinner there: salmon roe with fresh lime, walnuts and ginko nuts, saikyo miso fish, marinated mushrooms with chrysanthemum petals, raw egg with black roe and edible flowers, and kombu with herring roe. In the photo above with my mom and Walter, you can see tuna and other assorted sashimi (raw fish) on the yellow plate, along with an udon nabe pot with fresh vegetables for each of us.

Breakfast at the ryokanBreakfast was also enjoyable, although the salad featured mayonnaise, which if you know Walter, you know that he despises the stuff.  We had our own special room and attendant for all of the meals (which was arranged by my Uncle), so the service was impeccable. Although the one thing that I’ve noticed is that the Japanese don’t drink nearly as much as we do. And when they do drink, it often consist of caffeine. I’ve found myself often longing for a simple glass of water. Honestly, I drink more than anyone I know here.

 Mom and Kenji with their mouths fullKenji and attendant at Ryokan

Here are some additional photos of the ryokan…sorry mom for the not-so-flattering photo. It really does help capture the experience though, don’t you think? At least you don’t have rice on your chin like Kenjiroo. Click here for a pic of Walter and Kenji at breakfast: Walter feeding Kenji breakfast

Snow at the ryokanThat evening, snow was still falling outside as we entered the steam filled baths. It was quite peaceful.

It was Thanksgiving when we stayed there, but all of us were so overwhelmed by the experience that we forgot the holiday somehow. But it was the perfect way to celebrate it, with family and great food. And hey, no clean-up!

Prego friends at party

Genevieve: So a few of you have asked me for pics that actually show my belly—proof that I actually am pregnant. Believe me, at this point I feel VERY pregnant (even though I still have 100 days until I’m due—but who’s counting?)

Belly line

Prego friends in Tokyo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some pics which include some friends in Tokyo who I’ve occasionally been teaching prenatal yoga to.

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