Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Sumida Aquarium in Tokyo

The Sumida Aquarium is not Japan’s largest or most exciting aquarium, but it gets special props for being located at the base of the tallest building in the city – the Tokyo Skytree.

I like this aquarium because it has a special Zen quality to it, something echoing of the Japanese minimalist style.

This tank reminded me of Rhein II by Andreas Gursky.

This very chic aquarium is also educational, in that it offers glimpses of the jellyfish lifecycle. 

I also really loved their atmospheric jellyfish walk way. You can tell that this place tries to set a certain mood. 

The main (and largest) attraction of the aquarium is the penguin exhibit. I tend to consider penguins animals of the land and will always find it strange to see them in aquariums. 

There were also a few large tanks that provided opportunities to see giant aquatic animals. 

There is also a sweet walkway of goldfish that was stylized like a festival parade. Overall the aquarium really spoke to aesthetics. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Tokyo Street Style

The purpose: trip to Tokyo
The setting: July, middle of summer 99% humidity and 100 degrees. 
The challenge: light breathable layers that I could mix-and match for new looks each day (this stuff has to fit into a suitcase after all). 

Day 1 Look: 

Lace Top: from a thrift store
Dress: Target
Sandals: Target
Bag: vintage Coach

Friday, March 16, 2018

What did I eat in Kyoto?

Having just picked up several Japanese magazine dedicated to travel and food in Kyoto, but list was long and expectations were high. Here’s what the list boiled down to:

1. Food I wished I had but didn't: peach shaved ice
2. Food I had but wished I didn't: udon – not memorable, we were in a hurry
3. What should have been on the list: eel don – its famous in Kyoto
4. Biggest surprise: pate sandwich
5. Most delicious meal: Sukiyaki from Kimura

Kyoto classics

Sukiyaki from Kimura – Sukiyaki was at the top of my list so I made sure to start searching for a place the moment I arrived. Many were very expensive and were fully booked each night, but I found this lovely family-run place called Kimura, recommended by Popeye magazine. It was only about 3,000 per person, a very fair price, and it was excellent. We really enjoyed our meal on the old red carpet with views overlooking the covered shopping arcade.

Kyoto Parfait – there are so many places to get these famous parfaits that I didn’t bother to stress about the exact shop. I stopped into a few random places and was please with the outcome. The hallmark of a good parfait is that it blends multiple wa-fu (Japanese) flavors, like matcha (gren tea) with black jelly, mochi, anok (red bean), kinako (peanut), and goma (black sesame).

Kyoto sweets – unlike the parfait, I knew exactly where I wanted to go for some fine Kyoto mochi. Zen Café offered some premium Japanese sweets for tasting.

Eel don – I didn’t realize Kyotos famous eel don with a scrambled egg on top was such a hallmark dish, so I didn’t get around to visiting this place until the very last hour I was in Kyoto. It was stressful because the line was long and we had a train to catch, but I'm glad I got to see what all the fuss was about.

Korean food

Korean BBQ – our group stumbled upon a cute little Korean BBQ restaurant where we all cooked over our own tiny grills. 

Western food

I hadn’t intended on eating wester food in Kyoto (my Japanese food list was long enough!) but a few times necessity outweighed intent.

Mentaiko spaghetti and spaghetti carbonara – this was one of those time we were too hungry and had to eat the closest thing. But I love this chain and Japanese pastas so there was nothing to regret.

Ham and cheese sandwich from Arabica – this sandwich was recommended t me by a friend in Tokyo who said she has it every time she goes to Kyoto. It is rely an excellent sandwich, with a crispy baguette, soft prosciutto, and butter.

Curry plate lunch – this was from one of my favorite cafes, Independents. We had their set lunch plate that say which was a Japanese take on Thai curry with a salad and soup. Technically not a western dish, but very inspired by western interpretations of taste.

Pate sandwich and Egg sandwich – both these sandwiches were from Gabor Café, and I am so, so, so glad we decided to get them. The pate sandwich was the best I have had anywhere, and the egg sandwich (on the cover of a magazine) was divine. This café also has an excellent ambiance and drinks.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Tatami Starbucks of Ninenzaka

I have visited interesting Starbucks locations all over the world, but my visit to the 5-day old Ninezaka store in Kyoto definitely rises to the top of cool.

This one-of-a-kind store stands alone from the others in that it is not in a newly constructed building, but opened in a century-old machiya house in a very traditional neighborhood of Ninenzaka.

The shop is literally occupying one house in a row of private, residential homes. When I got there in the morning (right when they opened at 8:00am) there were children in uniforms on their way to school, old ladies sweeping porches outside their homes, and people hanging their laundry. This really is a neighborhood.

With respect to their location, Starbucks employed one security guard who keeps people in line and keeps crowds from forming. I went so early that I was one of the only people there, but I have no idea how busy this place gets on say, mid-day on the weekend.

From the outside, the house is discrete. Only the Starbucks-branded Noren (cloth doorway) marks this building as a café. The exterior is almost otherwise untouched. Though, upon leaving I did catch sight of the subtle mermaid silhouette on a light outside.

hanging the Noren in the morning just before the store opens

the Noren signifies that the store is open

subtle Starbucks logo details

Inside, the house has been heavily redone, but not to the loss of it’s original character. For instance, it smells exactly like my century-old house in Shimane. The first floor is dedicated to housing a long line of people, a counter where you can order and select sweets, a small sitting space, and a back room where the drinks are made. Upstairs contains rooms and rooms of seating. As I walked around, I noticed that they basically kept the frame of the house, and used traditional materials to modernize it, so that it still had an authentic quality.

the entrance seems generic at first

Japanese-flavored food

decoration at the entrance 
the back room drink stand

the back room where you pick up drinks


natural lighting

Guests still on pillows on tatami (woven straw) matts. Tokonoma (alcoves) in the room display kakemomo (paintings) and ikebana (flower arrangements). Shoji (sliding paper doors) section off the rooms as in a traditional house. There is also a room with modern chairs and seating arrangements.

Japanese style (left) and western style (right)

I am impressed that Starbucks refrained from putting it’s logo on everything…actually, anything inside the house. The art and displays are complete unbranded, as are the cushions and all other decorations. It would have felt cheesy if there were mere moderns replicas but Starbucks kept it classy this time. How they manage to keep this place clean, tidy, and undamaged with all the unruly tourists running around is beyond me.

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...