Archive for the 'Japan' Category

Arima Onsen and Mata Ne, Japan

November 22, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s been an excellent two weeks and I fly home tomorrow. The flights start in the afternoon so I’ll have time for a leisurely breakfast and not much else. I get back to Boston at 5:00pm. Flying back in time, It will be quite a long day. I’m so excited to see the people I love and practice yoga again, but I’m also a little sad about leaving Japan. I’m just starting to “get it” and be comfortable here. Also, I really like Japanese culture.


Yesterday was a great day. I had a meeting in the morning that was so fun and successful. I met with two men from a real estate management company. The meeting lasted an hour and a half. We discussed the US election for a while, then the expatriate real estate market, then we talked about differences between culture in the US and Japan and talked a lot about toilets. The men were shocked we don’t have “shower toilets” in the United States. After that I visited two Sake breweries near the meeting and had lunch at one of them. I got some Sake to share on Thanksgiving, and then worked in the Sannomiya area. Dinner was linguini with shrimps and olive oil at the hotel, and a cocktail of plum wine and ginger ale.


This morning I finished work and had a lunch meeting. Then I took to the bus to Arima, outside the main city closer to the Rokko Mountains, to visit an onsen. An onsen is a Japanese public bath. Like shower toilets, plums, bowing, taking off shoes, and formal exchange of business cards, public baths are also a big deal in Japan. I’m so glad I went.

This is what happens in the public bath (for women) — take off your shoes, drop off your clothes, take a shower at one of the stations, clean off your station (and little chair), put up your hair so it doesn’t get in the bath, then go soak. This one in Arima is special because there’s a hot spring bath. They had a regular bath, a “white ion” bath with extra oxygen bubbles, a hot spring bath that was golden (brown), an open air area which is great because the hot water feels extra nice against the cold air, cold showers, and a sauna. There are no bathing suits allowed, everyone is naked but they separate the baths for men and women!


I stayed there a long time, relaxing, skinny dipping in the hot spring. It wasn’t crowded, just a few people. They have a changing area and very high tech massage chairs that squeeze your legs for after you get dressed. Reading about Onsen before the trip, someone wrote that it’s nice to take off what separates us (the clothing) and focus on what makes us the same. After the bath I felt very renewed. Soft from all the sauna and hot springs, and very happy about being a human and a woman! I think public baths are very good for community building. If you go to Japan I’d highly recommend this experience.

Hope you are well!

Love, Annie

Shin-Sunday and Kobe

November 20, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

I have been thinking, maybe the emphasis on super toilets with bidets everywhere is connected to the quantity of plums Japanese people consume. Hm.


Today I woke up early, left the little guest house with the tatami mats, and took the Shinkansen to Kobe. “Shin” is in front of the name for the bullet train stations “Shin-Yokohama” “Shin-Kobe.” But you don’t have to put two in!*

The train was crowded but very easy, only 45 or so minutes ride with one stop in Osaka. I got a very involved bento box (sour plums included) at station to eat on the train for breakfast. It was satisfying but only okay tasting.


I left my luggage at the hotel and went to work. It’s sunday but I worked because I’d like to do some touristy things here like go to the onsen in the mountain hot springs and some sake breweries (there are many right in Kobe), but not on a weekend when it would be too crowded.


Work took me to Rokko Island, which had one of the weirdest vibes of a place I’ve ever visited. It was eerie, pretty open spaces yet deserted with dated architecture and of course supermarkets with imported food. The malls were only half full of stores. Apparently expatriates live here; I’ll find out more tomorrow.


I had a throbbing headache all day today and felt especially lonely on the train, but now I feel all better. I didn’t sleep well on the tatami mats and am pretty happy to be in a nice hotel for the last three days of the trip. Also I have an awesome view. I didn’t try Kobe beef yet but maybe for lunch tomorrow. Have a great Sunday!

Love, Annie

*It’s a dreidel joke.


Day of Tourism in Kyoto

November 19, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

Hope you are having a nice weekend! Today was a day off and it was filled with sightseeing, eating, and shopping around Kyoto. Pure tourism, aside from a tiny bit of work on the morning, but finished before 8am.


First stop was the Gekkeikan museum to learn about Sake brewing and taste sake. It was underwhelming but for three dollars a solid activity. One thing I learned is that unlike wine, sake shouldn’t age… drink it now. Makes sense because sake is brewed like a beer because it’s made from a starch, like beer, instead of a fruit, like wine. So when people call it “rice wine” it’s very misleading. The museum was crowded, even before 10:00am. On the way there I got a street food breakfast, a hot rice cake with red bean paste, in order not to drink alcohol on an empty stomach.


After the sake museum I took the train(s–it was not close) to West Kyoto, to the Arashiyama area. First order was a proper meal. I visited a tea house and got a set lunch with rice, pickles, and huge sardines, and so much tea.


Three different kinds of green tea throughout the meal. They had some books about tea and Japanese culture so during lunch I read  about traditional Japanese values and the way of the Samurai. After lunch I walked around the tea rooms with one of the women who worked there, and she taught me some things about the  very traditional tea ceremony.


One tradition is always walk into a room leading with your right foot, and walk out leading with your left. And don’t step on the edges of the tatami mat. And drink all the tea at once, and slurp a little bit audibly when you’re finished so you can let the tea master know you’re done without having to use any words. Something to try at family dinner. Lunch was “sit on the floor” style which made my legs hurt a little and have pins and needles multiple times, even with all the yoga.

wp_20161119_16_05_40_proAfter the meal I walked around and visited Hogonin Temple (and gardens), walked around the Hozu river, and then visited Tenryiu-ji Zen temple (and gardens). My mom told me to visit the Zen temple, she was right, it was really cool! The inside, very sparse with tatami mats, and the garden shown in the picture.


I think it’s a thing for Japanese people to rent traditional Japanese dress to visit these sites. There are a lot of people in traditional clothing taking selfies and rental places for Kimonos and the equivalent for men. Kimonos are very beautiful especially with fall colors. After the temple I walked through a street lined with bamboo and wandered around not sure where. At this point it was getting dark. I visited a plum shop and tried the traditional Japanese pickled plums from 2% salt to 19% salt. Eek . I visited some other shops and got Sake cups for myself, and a few other gifts. I think if there were ever a time to get gifts, this would be it.


By then it was around 7:30pm and it was time for dinner. I walked into a shop that specialized in boiled tofu, and tofu everything. Apparently it’s pretty famous. On the set menu was boiled tofu (first course shown above), tofu in a warm orange with miso and chestnuts, sesame tofu with wasabi, and fried tofu. It was another sit-on-the-floor style dinner, still a little painful. My favorite dish was the sesame tofu with wasabi (it was a gooey texture and good flavor) but at this point I’m completely tofu-ed out and ready to try Kobe beef. Fortunately I’m headed there tomorrow.


So Kyoto during the peak foliage season (now): It’s so beautiful and colorful which makes it worth it, but so so crowded. I think if you want to have peace and a less expensive hotel, visit during a different time.

Love, Annie


November 18, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s been a nice three days since the last blog. Wednesday I woke up early in Tokyo and visited the Tsukiji Wholesale fish market (where they have the famous 4am tuna auctions).

wp_20161116_08_23_40_pro-1It was just two stops away from my hotel. I’ve come to love the Tokyo metro system. Of course the market was closed that day (they have one “set holiday” per month and this was it) but the restaurants in the outer market were still open. I tried steamed oyster with ponzu sauce, grilled crab in its shell with miso paste, and then went to a sushi counter for some pieces, and finished off the meal with a mochi with a strawberry in it.


Then I had a meeting and worked the rest of the day. There were some stores I visited in Shibuya, which has a famous crowded crosswalk.

For dinner I visited the neighborhood of my hotel again, near Hamamasutcho and Daimon stations. I’ve decided that’s my favorite neighborhood now. It’s really low key, quiet, and the little restaurants are filled in the evenings with businessmen getting totally hammered!

wp_20161116_20_15_02_proI walked around to find a good atmosphere intending to eat whatever was good. I decided on a restaurant that, when I walked in, the manager beamed! So welcoming. It was small, just 8-10 seats or so. He was super animated, fun, and very slightly heavier than average and didn’t speak English. I asked for no smoking? he said “yes smoking!” but I still ate there because it seemed like this guy would take care of me. I let him know that i’d eat whatever he thought was good. There were all sorts of dishes including some potato salad with something on it, I had to ask. Kind of looked like a sausage. It was “fish eggs” but honestly it was like a whole womb. I ate it all because that’s what’s respectful. And I like salty foods, and enjoy trying to figure out why people like to eat certain things if at first I think they are disgusting. At that dinner I got to eat all sorts of “presents” like edamame and extra special sake.

wp_20161117_14_42_45_proThursday morning I woke up and had a meeting, the first one I was able to find on my own 🙂 and then took the train to Yokohama, which took only about 45 minutes. Yokohama is its own city but very close to Tokyo. Some people live in Tokyo and commute to Yokohama. Some people live in Yokohama and commute to Tokyo, but really only if they want their kids to go to the international school in Yokohama.

wp_20161118_10_34_57_proI had another meeting in the afternoon there, worked, walked around the main shopping street, ate dinner, not much else. This morning I finished work and took the Shinkansen, the bullet train, to Kyoto where I’ll be for the weekend. The bullet train is very cool, and obviously very fast. I’m staying in guest house here in Kyoto. It was a little difficult to find it, and “check in” but that was because I was a early for the reservation but the issues turned around quickly.

wp_20161118_16_14_54_proI went to Fushimi Inari shrine and had a “road soda” of Kyoto beer on the walk there:) and then stayed wandering around the shrine until dark. It’s on a mountain, which you can climb up and the entire way is covered with gates. At the bottom it was so busy, but at the top it was very peaceful. There must be at least 100,000 of the gates, so cool! On my way down I stopped for a matcha latte and then visited Gion area. There are a ton of shops and restaurants. It was a little busy for my taste at that point but I took a deep breath and appreciated it.


I walked around for a while visited a “leek-themed” restaurant and sat at the counter and got more “presents.” The chef let me taste things when I looked curious. I’m always curious and tried things that were only on the Japanese version of the menu, not for English speakers.

Now I’m exhausted and excited to sleep on the Tatami mat.


Hope you are well and have a great weekend!

Love, Annie

Working Days in Tokyo: Rush Hour and Afterwards

November 15, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

The past two days have been great. I’ve just come from dinner of dumplings, radish salad, and sake.

wp_20161115_21_25_41_proYesterday I had the first experience with the metro at rush hour. It’s certainly crowded. At the entrance to some stations, the current of people is so strong it’s hard to get through. While the metro systems are pretty straightforward, addresses in Tokyo are not. Building addresses aren’t by number on street name, they are by section of block, which is not intuitive at all.


There are many buildings in each block… I’m not sure how it works yet. Most of the streets don’t even have names. I was late for meetings yesterday and today because of this issue. For both instances I had to call the offices and someone came downstairs and found me. Fortunately, everyone understands the issue.


After the meeting yesterday I had a lunch of eggs benedict at a fancy hotel, because that’s what I was craving. It’s survey, so I’m especially in tune to my own needs and cravings, and am in a pretty good position to satisfy most of them (the food ones, at least). I spoke to my sister during this lunch and she asked if Tokyo felt polluted. I said no (the city is very clean), but after thinking about it, I think there is notable air pollution. My eyes have been stinging. After lunch I priced the department stores in Ginza, the fancy shopping district.



Everything is expensive in Tokyo except for panty hose. Really great quality panty hose from fantastic brands and tights are 1/3 of the Boston prices here. Even less, maybe. My excitement only partially translated to the employees at Mitsukoshi who helped me figure out the right size. I tested them out today and will head back to stock up before leaving the city.


After the department stores I went on a search for Tempura. It was certainly a day of decadent foods. I found a corner bar and sat outside, drank sake, transcribed prices, and enjoyed the tempura. It started raining during the dinner, and the server/chef of the restaurant gave me an umbrella even though I told him he wouldn’t get it back. It was raining hard so I was thankful! Wow! After dinner I had a hair washing and drying appointment. They had warmed chairs. Mmm.


Today I worked, ate chicken katsu for lunch, and then went to the Muji store :). Then I went back to the hotel and did some hand washing of my clothes. Then walked around the neighborhood of my hotel to find some dinner. I chose a place because of the atmosphere. Turns out it was a dumplings and chicken wings specialty bar so I’d eat dumplings. Yes, they were outstanding. I ordered the ones they recommend with three garlic icons on the menu and ate them with homemade spicy sauce mixed with soy sauce, as you do. There were some businessmen there getting so drunk! I didn’t get drunk, my plan for tomorrow is to wake up early and visit Tsukiji fish market for a sushi breakfast, then it will be a long day of work.

Hope you are well!

Love, Annie

Sunday: Ueno and Asakusa

November 13, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

Today was another big day. I woke early and walked to the Tokyo Tower area. There was a waiting list at the breakfast in my hotel so I ate rice crackers and bottled tea and espresso latte from Lawson’s to have something before a great option happened.

wp_20161113_08_52_33_proI visited a temple and then the Princess Park Tower hotel for work. I pretended to have work on the 33rd floor in order to go up to the sky bar and get a view. As you can see, worth it! After that, took the metro to Ueno. I walked around Ameyoko street, a market for cheap things and seems like a slightly shady area, and then around Ueno park. The park is huge. I ate some more gooey octopus pancake balls and tried some local foods from this Sunday event including a rice ball covered in sweet sesame paste.

wp_20161113_13_06_39_proUeno Park is home to the Tokyo National Museum so I visited that and saw among other things a special exhibit on Zen Buddhism. My museum stamina was low. It was crowded and it’s a lot to take in when already the entire city is like a museum where I’m constantly learning new things. Also, it’s hard to pronounce the names of the artists and subjects so it was hard to stay focused. But still I was there for a few hours and saw approximately 25,000 scrolls.

wp_20161113_14_11_24_proThen I walked to Asakusa, the next neighborhood over. The walk was through more local residential areas, which was great. Asakusa is fantastic. First I visited a tiny Isakaya bar and drank sake, did some transcribing work, and had small dishes including fried tofu with fermented bean stuff on top served with hot mustard. Then kept walking around through the kitchen-supplies sector, then towards the Sensoji temple.


I had some matcha gelato from a multi-vendor complex that reminded me of Boston Public Market (so it was a little pricey not low-key, but awesome) and wandered around more. Asakusa is kind of far away, about 9 stops on the subway from my hotel’s stop, but without a transfer. I’d really like to go back there for some tempura over the next few days! It’s a really cool neighborhood with all sorts of low-key bars and shops.

It’s a full work day tomorrow and I begin with a meeting at 10:00am. I will try to go super early in order to avoid the rush hour metro traffic and find breakfast near the meeting. Hope you have a great Sunday!

Love, Annie


November 12, 2016

Hi Family and Friends,

It’s been a while since the last post and the last survey, but I’m back on the road for a two week survey of Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kobe, Japan. What fun! The flight to Tokyo was direct and uneventful, filled as usual with Bradley Cooper movies, some tears (I cry so easily during movies on Airplanes, it must be something about the air pressure) fidgeting, and decent snacks, until we were getting off the plane. wp_20161112_07_52_07_proThe man sitting next to me (in the window, we were just two on one side said, “you look familiar!” Turns out we had just begun to work together and I’ll be visiting his office on Tuesday. Oh wow.We had quite a laugh about this, funny it didn’t come up during the 14 hours we sat very close to each other.

I took the Narita Express train from the airport to Tokyo Station, then a cab to the hotel. I was too overwhelmed and exhausted to do it by subway.  Then went right to bed by 9.

Today was a big day. I visited three supermarkets, took two connecting subway rides, and two taxis. After the first market I visited a park next to the market. For lunch I ate at a sushi bar and had a great time hanging out with the chef. wp_20161112_15_50_59_proWe didn’t speak any words in common so “talked” with eyes and smiles. Pretty great. After the last market I somehow stumbled upon a farmers market and Sake fest, though the sake fest was already winding down.

I walked around Harijuku for a while, and then went to Ginza for dinner.  I ate at a little place that served these half-cooked pancake balls with octopus in them (food to eat with a beer). Sounds weird but surprise! they are delicious. I would have had a more substantial dinner but am too tired tonight. Also, I had a lot of food samples today from the markets and farmers market. Maybe more than I’ve had in one day ever and certainly tried some interesting things. Looking forward to a nice day tomorrow.

Hope you are great.

Love, Annie


Hi from NRT!

April 19, 2013

Hi Family and Friends,

I’m back on survey again, currently hanging out at the airport in Tokyo. Only three more hours to go before the flight to Bangkok. In a bit I’m going to find some noodles to eat. They have nice and fast fee wireless here. The 11 hour flight from San Francisco didn’t have personal TVs … grrr.


It was an old 747. Hopefully the flight back home will be on a more modern plane. I shouldn’t complain too much, though, because I got to stretch out across three seats and sleep (kind of).

This trip is to Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam. The specific cities are  Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Yangon, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Vung Tau.

I’ve had a awesome in-between-trips time. The first picture is from sailing on the Charles River with a friend a few weeks ago. We did some very informal racing which was exciting and not too intense. I had never been in a sailboat race before! The boat was small-ish, only 19 feet, and it was pretty windy. 20130413_185048I thought we were going to go swimming a few times in the Charles (we did not).

I also went on a great “spooky” walking tour of Boston. It took place in the north end. The second picture is of that tour. That’s me and and friends Alex and Suzanne. We learned about the questionable activities that happened on Ann Street, the Molasses incident, and Goody Glover (and more things, of course). We had a few drinks before the tour, and it was all around great fun.

I hope that everyone in Boston is safe. I just learned there were just some more violent incidents. Also, Bubbia, I hope you are feeling better, I love you very much!