Egg Sandwich Pringles: A Cautionary Tale

I love me some Japanese snacks! Kit Kats get all the attention, and people clamor for new or limited edition flavors. There are even Kit Kat boutiques. Personally I’ve never really cared that much for them. Regular Kit Kats are fine, but I actively dislike their most famous Other flavor, Matcha (green tea). I bought a bag once to try them out, and no one in the family liked them at all. We even threw away a mostly uneaten bag. Considering that my children have always attacked any dessert or candy as if it’s their last, that’s saying a lot. It tasted like white “chocolate”–already a bad start–combined with chalky, undissolved matcha (green tea) powder. They’re super popular both in Japan and overseas. Just not in our house.

A representative sampling of assorted Kit Kat flavors at our neighborhood grocery store

But potato chips? Oh boy. Love me some fancy flavored potato chips! Japan does not disappoint. I’m not sure how I went down the road of seeking out strange potato chip flavors, but it’s become a bit of an obsession. My poor friend Maki has been drafted as my lieutenant in the quest. Any time I find a new, strange flavor I send her a photo, a review, and ask her to confirm my understanding/translation of what exactly I’m eating.

Read on for some recent examples.

Let’s start with Pringles, that American favorite.

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Party Chicken Pringles

While finishing up a ladies’ ski weekend and shopping for snacks to eat on the train, I grabbed a green can of Pringles without reading it, assuming that I got sour cream and onion flavor. I did not. Instead, I got Party Chicken Pringles. Which pretty much tastes like the smell of the box from takeaway fried chicken. Not terrible, but not so great either.

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Grilled Chicken Pringles

To continue chicken-themed Pringles, I present Grilled Chicken Pringles. Tasted sorta like Party Chicken Pringles. Just not exactly.

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Smoked Cheese Pringles

Next up: Smoked Cheese Pringles. These were actually pretty tasty–they sort of tasted like smoked Provolone, only moreso. I would eat these again.

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Sukiyaki Pringles

Maki, my patron saint of Japanese junk food mentioned above, got in on the action with this next gem, Sukiyaki Pringles: “I’m at Haneda. Just found sukiyaki flavor. Kanto region limited.” Exclusivity and Limited Time-ness are hallmarks of odd Japanese food flavors, and Sukiyaki Pringles hits both marks. Sadly we don’t know how they actually taste–because apparently even the patron saint of Japanese junk food has her limits. But it’s safe to say that they were either OK, or really gross.

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Egg Sando Pringles

While stocking up for a hike in the Kamakura hills, I took it too far with Tamago Sando (Egg Sandwich) Pringles. I picked up and set back the can several times, then decided to go for it. How bad can they be, I reasoned? Pretty bad, it turns out. Egg Sandwich Pringles taste like regret.

I saw these in a convenience store and go so excited! Mystery Flavor Pringles!! What could they possibly be? Some kind of chicken, it turned out. More like Grilled Chicken Pringles, and not so much Party Chicken Pringles.

Moving beyond Pringles, here are some other brands and flavors.

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Consomme (Chicken Soup) Chip Star

Chip Star is Japan’s local/blatant Pringles imitation. They like their chicken flavors as well, as demonstrated by the Consomme Chip Star pictured above. For those of you who haven’t attended culinary school or a dinner party in 1957, consommé is a clarified chicken stock. So basically, we’re back to chicken flavor.

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Chip Star Salty Lemon chips

I could read the lemon (レモン)but not the salted part–Maki to the rescue, again! They were mostly salty with a hint of bright citrus notes. So lemony, but not too much. I liked them! Also this is hands down my favorite packaging. Isn’t it beautiful? I didn’t save the container, and I’m seriously considering buying another pack so I can keep the cylinder. Because I am insane. Since Chip Star packs its chips with a plastic bag inside the cylinder, I won’t even have to worry about a greasy container.

Next up we have another iconic Japanese brand, Calbee.

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Calbee Pizza Potato Chips

Honestly I’m not sure what to think of Calbee Pizza Potato chips. Are they amazing? Disgusting? A guilty pleasure? All of the above? I can’t quite decide. I keep trying them and wondering what I think. Meanwhile, other people definitely love them, as exhibited by the uproar of the Great Pizza Potato Shortage of 2017, as documented by the truth seekers over at Sora News 24.

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Calbee Nori (Roasted Seaweed) and Salt chips

Another Calbee flavor, Nori (roasted seaweed) and I think salt, based on Maki’s help with an earlier flavor. Nori is a pretty popular flavor, and most companies offer some variation of it. I would like a little more nori flavor in these, but they’re still quite good.

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Calbee Edamame and Garlic chips

Calbee’s Edamame and Garlic chips: lots of garlic flavor, and super tasty! A winner.

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Koikeya Ume chips

OK, time for a little confession. I’m not 100% that these are ume (pickled plum chips) since I didn’t confirm the kanji with Maki. But there’s a picture of ume in the upper right corner, so we’ll go with it. I was surprised to see this last week at the grocery store, since I’ve seen ume chips in February/March as the ume trees blossom across Japan. Of course pickled ume are available year round, but ume as a seasonal flavor seems like an early spring thing. Ume are salty and sweet, and absolutely delicious inside an onigiri rice ball. So they make for pretty tasty chips as well.

 

Momma’s in a Rock ‘n Roll Band

When I learned of our move to Japan four years ago, I immediately imagined the killer things we would see and do. Like watching sumo. Or traveling around Japan to go skiing, or look at wisteria and toilet museums, or visit temples near Yokohama. Joining a rock band wasn’t really on my radar. Yet.

About a year before leaving DC, seven-year-old Cy started drum lessons at Music On the Hill, our fabulous neighborhood music shop. After a few months of watching Cy tap away on the practice pad and then a starter electronic drum kit, I decided that I needed to get in on the action. I started drum lessons myself, and six months later we moved to Japan.

After arriving in Yokohama, the Google led me to my first music-related break: the lovely and talented Marcos, my drum teacher. Cy and I toiled away, performing in annual recitals with Marcos’s other students.

As loyal martayaki readers may recall, the big break came in 2017, when local band Honmoku Blues Express needed a bongo player for upcoming gigs. Lead singer Tom saw Mark and asked if I knew how to play bongos. “Well she’s a drummer….”, Mark replied. And that’s how I bought bongos and taught myself to play, with guidance from Marcos and YouTube.

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Playing at YC&AC, June 2018

A few months later some guitar-playing friends asked me to join them for casual jams, which eventually turned into gigs in the Members’ Bar at our club, Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YC&AC). After a few months I cajoled the rest of the band into letting me play the drums instead. Gradually we added a bass player, a lead singer, keyboards, and a new name: Mamonaku. Mamonaku is Japanese for up next, and you hear it on train platforms as a train approaches.

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A little after that, another band was born: Tempura Crime Scene. Bass player Brad tapped me as the drummer. Most of the TCS band members work for Nissan, so it’s widely known as the Nissan house band.

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Tempura Crime Scene’s debut at YC&AC, March 2019

Our friends come to hear both bands play. But here’s the crazy part: they keep coming back. After a few gigs word got out that there are two more gaijin (foreigner) bands on the Yokohama music scene, and we started getting invitations to play with other bands, and at other venues.

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Mamonaku at Antenna America, November 2018

It’s been absurdly fun. I mean, I get to play in a band! How fun is that? It’s a lot of work, but I love it.

The craziest part is that I’m only an OK drummer. Sure, my friends heap praise on all of us after every gig, which is really kind. Because who doesn’t love getting called a rock star? But honestly, I’m not that great. I’m competent, and I can keep a beat pretty well, and I practice a lot. I mean, A LOT. Between Mamonaku and Tempura Crime Scene, I’ve learned around 50 songs in the last year. Singers can find lyrics online, and guitar players can find tabs (chords) from different sites and apps. They still work hard to learn songs, but at least the web gives them a starting point. There aren’t really the same resources for drums; learning a drum part means listening, memorizing, and maybe transcribing some challenging intros or fills. (And in case you were wondering–yes, there is standard drum notation. Though I’ve been known to scribble “pssht on 3” and similar.)

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Both bands have varied levels of musical ability. Some of our musicians are phenomenal, and some are pretty OK. I’m toward the pretty OK end. But a band playing together well doesn’t require absolutely phenomenal musicians in every spot. All you need is a baseline of competence, the ability to get along with others, and lots of patience for each others’ mistakes, suggestions, and crappy song ideas. Playing nicely with others is huge, and not just in a band. Think of examples in your own workplace or social circle. It’s easy to think of the brilliant writer who can’t meet a deadline, or the phenomenal soccer player who insists on taking every shot on goal himself instead passing the ball, and so on. Playing in a band is like that.

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An example of *not* playing along nicely with others: caught in the act of posting unflattering rehearsal photos of fellow band members to the group What’s App chat

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Tempura Crime Scene rehearses at Cloud 9 practice studios. Sometimes we’re nice to each other. And sometimes we grimace at questionable song ideas that thankfully don’t make it onto the set list. Like here.

I learned a lot from Marcos, as I still do from my weekly lessons with him. He gives me exercises to tweak skills that I struggle with, and gives excellent feedback after a gig. I’ve also learned a lot from actually playing gigs. Learning songs at home mostly means playing along to a recording. Playing with other people means that *I* keep the beat, not the recording. If the song is dragging then I try to catch the bass and guitar players’ eye to speed up the tempo. If I make a mistake, I keep going without grimacing. If someone else makes a mistake–maybe missing a cue, or coming in early–the rest of us all follow along.

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Mamonaku at Golden Cup, March 2019

During a gig I’m constantly listening to myself play, and my inner dialogue runs nonstop. Am I dragging a little behind the beat? Did I get that kick rhythm right? There’s a big fill coming up. High hat control isn’t quite right, so keep it closed. Wow, Clapton drum parts are really tedious. The syncopated high hat rhythm is off, so go back to straight eighth notes. The toms are too flat and I keep hitting the rim; remember to pitch them forward more after the song ends. The ride is too far back; pull it forward between songs. Gah, the singer came in early, adjust! And so on. So for those of you who tell me that I look really serious when I play or that I should smile more–this is why.

So what’s the best part of a successful show? Afterwards, when a fan comes up to me and says, “That was so cool! I want to learn to play drums too!”.

Our next show is coming up on May 11 at Benny’s Place in Motomachi. Come on by!

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Dziadziu Visits Japan: All Kyoto, All Day

This morning we set out for our first stop, the National Modern Art Museum of Kyoto. After the crowds of the previous days we enjoyed the quiet solitude of the galleries.

From there we continued on to the shrines nestled along the Higashiyama mountain range. After strolling through Nanzenji shrine, we continued on to my favorite, Eikando. Eikando draws huge crowds during the peak autumn foliage season, or momiji. The rest of the year it’s a fairly quiet place, which I love.

After pausing for some refreshment of matcha green tea and a red bean paste sweet cookie…

… We continued on to Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion.

After lunch we headed for easily the most crowded spot of our trip so far: Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion.

All day, everywhere, we saw sakura. Cherry blossom fatigue starts to set in with so many trees around, and so many people determined to capture the perfect shot. I know–poor us.

For our last dinner in Kyoto, we enjoyed the varied offerings of an izakaya. On our way to the restaurant, we blended in with the foreigner crowd on foot determined to find an excellent meal. But once we reached the restaurant, we saw nothing but Japanese customers surrounding us–always a good sign, especially in a heavily touristy area such as Gion. We ordered an assortment typical to an izakaya: grilled chicken skewers, assorted vegetables with miso sauce, a soft boiled egg nestled atop potato salad with anchovy, and steak cooked to perfection.

It capped off a lovely day with amazing sites, perfect weather, so much sakura, and the best company.

Tomorrow we board our final Shinkansen: back home to Yokohama.

Dziadziu visits Japan: Hiroshima and Kyoto

I can’t believe that it’s only day two of our trip! We’ve seen and done so much already.

This morning we headed out to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Loyal martayaki readers may recall that I visited this museum back in 2016 when Grandpa Don came to visit. The experience was a bit different this time due to a recent renovation–but still utterly gut wrenching.

The Children’s Peace Monument

After the museum we strolled past the Children’s Peace Monument and Genbaku (Atomic Dome). At all three sites the size of the crowds struck me. Here is probably the least fun thing you can do on vacation, looking at photos of brutal death and destruction. Yet people care, and spend their free time learning about such dark times in history. It gives me hope.

The former Bank of Japan branch, designed by my friend Marcos’s grandfather

Right as we were leaving the museum, my friend Marcos sent me a suggestion to check out a building that his architect grandfather designed. Since the building was only a few minutes walk away, we headed over to see it for ourselves.

Built in 1936, the building originally served as the Hiroshima branch of Bank of Japan; it survived the nuclear blast and now serves as an exhibition space. We enjoyed the photo exhibit on display.

After a quick lunch, we boarded yet another shinkansen, this time bound for Kyoto.

After relaxing in our hotel for a bit, we headed for Kyoto’s busiest tourist site, Fushimi Inari shrine. It’s not only the most visited tourist attraction in Kyoto but also in all of Japan. The late afternoon visit proved to be a wise choice; we experienced fairly uncongested pathways as well as the Golden Hour for photography, right before sunset.

We enjoyed a traditional Izakaya dinner then called it a night, enjoying the sites on our stroll back to the hotel.

Dziadziu Visits Japan: Himeji Castle and Hiroshima

My dad’s here! Dziadziu (grandfather) came to see the grandkids and see what our life in Japan is like. After a few days of Yokohama sites, it was time to hit the rails.

Dad said that he wanted to see Hiroshima, so I decided on a stop at Himeji Castle along the way. So we boarded our first Nozomi Super Express Shinkansen of the day.

As loyal martayaki readers may recall, I visited Himeji Castle once before.

We arrived in Himeji and saw tons of people. And sakura (cherry blossoms)! Honestly I had no idea that the castle is surrounded by them, so it was a lovely surprise. A gorgeous Sunday afternoon with sakura in full bloom brought out the masses, but somehow no one seemed to mind. The long lines moved along at a steady pace, and the announced wait time of 60 minutes to enter the Main Keep (main part of the castle) turned out to be about 20 minutes. Our fellow line standers all seemed in good spirits. Call it the magic of the sakura, or simply good manners–but everyone waited patiently, enjoying the beautiful day and incredible scenery.

Standing there, looking at these breathtaking flowers, and this stunning castle–I swallowed a huge lump in my throat. It’s impossible for me to feel anything but pure gratitude that I have this opportunity, and that I shared it with my dad.

After the castle Dad sampled his first bowl of katsudon (pork cutlet with egg over rice) and soba noodles.

Then we returned to the Shinkansen for a quick 60 minute ride, continuing on to Hiroshima.

We arrived late afternoon, checked in to our hotel, and relaxed a bit. Then dinner!

If you mention a visit to Hiroshima, you’ll get very different responses from Western and Japanese friends. The Westerners frown a bit and ask if I went to the Peace Memorial and other sites related to the atomic bombing. Meanwhile Japanese friends light up and enthusiastically ask, did you try any okonomiyaki?!?

So for dinner Dad and I headed to Okonomimura, or okonomiyaki town–really a building with several floors of okonomiyaki stalls. We carefully reviewed the stalls, weighed our options, then judiciously chose one. Kidding! We sat down at the first place with two open stools, then ordered beer and a Deluxe Okonomiyaki.

Well nourished, we retired to our hotel for a solid sleep ahead of Monday’s plan: a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome.

Hong Kong: Street Art

My favorite aspect of Hong Kong was also the biggest surprise: the amazing street art adorning building all over our neighborhood. We rented a studio on U Lam Terrace in a somewhat pretentious/chic area called PoHo (from nearby Po Hing Fong).

As soon as we started walking we saw amazing murals and street art on every block. It made getting lost in the maze of streets and stairs so much more interesting! I’ll let the photos tell the story.

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Hong Kong: Food and Shopping

I arrived in Hong Kong with high expectations of delicious food, and Hong Kong delivered! Our first night we enjoyed an amazing Nepali meal in our neighborhood. Many of Yokohama’s Indian restaurants are actually operated by Nepali nationals, and I wish some of the dishes we had in Hong Kong appeared in Japan more often instead of the parade of mediocre curries.

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Our second night we tried French fusion dim sum. We loved the setting and beautiful presentation while appreciating the novel twist on traditional dim sum, but we both agreed that it wasn’t our best meal. Foie gras in a dumpling….not so much.

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Another night we grabbed a bite at a restaurant near a street market. We sat at long, communal tables and heeded our neighbors’ recommendations.

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For our final night’s meal, we sought out a Michelin recommended hole-in-the-wall. The rather utilitarian ambiance and entirely Chinese clientele foretold a great meal. And it was!

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Like many Asian cities, Hong Kong features several street markets, night markets, and “antiques” rows featuring loads of colorful baubles and trinkets to tempt the eye. We wandered and picked up a few treasures.

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Our hands-down favorite shop was right in our neighborhood, and I lost count of how many times we popped in. Every surface was covered with both Western and Chinese vintage records, eyeglasses, cameras, toys, and more.

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The final installment: street art.

Hong Kong: Views

Last week Cy and I headed to Hong Kong for spring break. We ate amazing food. We saw cool stuff. We climbed. So. Many. Stairs.

Here’s the first report: views!

The Hong Kong Museum of History provided and excellent overview of the many people who have occupied Hong Kong over the centuries. I loved the vivid displays that recounted Hong Kong’s fascinating and turbulent history. The United Kingdom officially handed control of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, and the museum’s displays abruptly stopped at this point in time. Because apparently no history happened since then….? Still, I really enjoyed what I saw and learned.

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We ventured out on the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor one day….

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…then braved the crowds to ride the Victoria Peak Tram to stroll wooded paths and catch the views from the top.

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And the stairs. So many stairs! Streets abruptly became flights of stairs, and we were so grateful that our visit wasn’t in the steamy summer months as we climbed them every day.

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We stopped by Hong Kong’s most famous temple, Man Mo…and were extremely underwhelmed. “Hong Kongers are not a religious lot,” our guidebook drily noted. No kidding! I can think of a dozen temples and shrines within five minutes of our house in Yokohama with more to offer.

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Next up: food and shopping.

Let’s Eat Haggis; Or, Burns Night at the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club

Last weekend Mark and I donned the tux and gown and headed over to our club, the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YC&AC) for Burns Night. What’s Burns Night, you ask? I hadn’t heard of it myself until moving to Yokohama. So let’s start with a little background….

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I absolutely love that kilt and kimono are both proper attire for the evening!

Robert Burns was a Scottish poet (“Oh my luve’s like a red, red rose….”) and his birthday falls on January 25. So on the weekend nearest that, Scots around the world gather to toast ole’ Rabbie with whiskey, haggis, Highland dancing, and bagpipes. Kilts are encouraged and black tie tolerated if your man doesn’t feel like baring the legs in late January. YC&AC’s first members included plenty of Scots, so Burns Night has enjoyed a spot on the YC&AC social calendar since the club’s founding in 1868. YC&AC calls its celebration the oldest Burns Night in Japan.

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My favorite kilt-wearer of the evening was the Japanese gentlemen third from the left. It really suits him! He totally kills it.
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Enjoying our first course of haggis, neeps (turnips/rutabagas), and tatties (potatoes) with the fine folks of Table Alloway (Photo: YC&AC)
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Our table got its name from Burns’ birthplace, Alloway

I suspected Scots outside of Scotland tend to celebrate Burns Night more than those living in the home country. My Scottish friend Jason confirmed this. Picture a watered down Groundskeeper Willie accent from The Simpsons when you read this next part: “Mostly awld faaahrts in cloobs git togather far it.” Meanwhile my friend Iain–born in Scotland, reared in Canada, and both a wearer of kilt and player of bagpipes–disagreed, stating that plenty of people in Scotland, both young and old, raise a glass to Dear Rabbie.

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Mark the Whiskey Bearer delivers his toast to the piper

The evening includes a series of toasts and speeches, and Mark played an important role as the Whisky Bearer during the procession of the haggis. Moments before the procession began, Mark sprinted over with an important assignment for me. As the master of ceremonies stabs the haggis, a women is supposed to scream loudly. Was I willing? As if he had to ask! I warned Iain who sat directly in front of me, then let out a blood-curdling shriek as knife and haggis became one.

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After I snapped this photo my tablemate asked me, What on earth will you do with a photo of a haggis?!? A fair question, I think
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Emma and Iain. Aren’t they the cutest?
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Iain positively identifies the Haggis Stabbing Screamer

Mark joined the procession of the haggis bearing a bottle of liquid gold, and even remembered his response to the question, “And to whom do you toast?”. “To the piper!”, he declared.

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Taking a break from Highland dancing to snap a quick photo with Emma and Iain

Highland dancing was tons of fun. The dances have names that sound incredibly dirty and hilarious after a few glasses, such as Strip the Willow, Highland Fling, and Threesome Reel.

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Highland dancing the night away, either Stripping the Willow or Highland Flinging at this point (Photo: YC&AC)

We ate. We drank. We danced. We selfie-ed with the bagpipers. A smashing evening all around!

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Yay, YC&AC Burns Night 2019!!! (Photo: YC&AC)

Beer and Blondies, The Dinner of Champions

I’m on the Shinkansen with the boy, headed for a ski weekend in Niigata prefecture with my friend Caroline and her family. It’s my third visit to Bears House, a lovely hotel right on the slopes of Ishiuchi Maruyama ski resort. So by now I have the drill down of getting there: local train to Tokyo station, arriving early enough (about 40 minutes) to buy a bento dinner for the 75 minute Shinkansen bullet train ride.

I think you all know where this is going.

So I met Caroline on the platform of our local station, Yamate. We expected a 50 minute, no transfer ride to Tokyo Station. About halfway there the train stopped right after the first car entered Kamata station.

We sat there for about ten minutes with periodic announcements in Japanese. After a bit people started getting up and heading toward the front of the train to get off, and we followed. When I saw that one car made it into the station, I assumed the worst: that someone jumped in front of the train. Unfortunately this is a fairly common occurrence in Japan. But when I didn’t see a white fabric barrier erected at the front of the train I figured it was something else. The JR East status website quickly listed “unidentifiable noise” as the cause of the delay. If it were a jumper then the status would reference personal injury.

The plan was to get off the train and somehow magically make it to Tokyo Station in time for our Shinkansen.

And on the platform in Kamata Station, our guardian angel appeared: Katayama-San, the neighbor of our drum teacher, Marcos. Katayama-san and I have exchanged friendly waves and genial small talk and appeared together in music recitals for three years. Caroline’s family also takes lessons from Marcos, so Katayama-San knew all of us.

Because the universe had my back today, Katayama-san was taking a group of boys to the same ski resort, and riding on the same Shinkansen. He and Caroline were even in the same car.

On the Yamanote line to Tokyo Station. It wasn’t even crowded at this point.

So he said, “Follow me!”. And we did. We sprinted about a kilometer from one station to another and hopped on a Keikyu train, then got off at Shinagawa and stuffed onto an overcapacity, rush hour Yamanote train, where there may or may not have been train pushers at work based on the crush that climbed aboard at every station.

We arrived at Tokyo Station with six minutes to make it on the train. We ran from one platform to the next and made it with two minutes to spare.

We absolutely would not have made it without Katayama-san’s help. Given the train delays we could use our tickets for the next Shinkansen, but we would likely end up standing the whole way.

With the whole 40-minutes-to-buy-bento-dinner thing out the window, I settled in with the snacks I packed: beer and blondies.

When I went back to deliver beer and blondies to Katayama-san and Caroline and her crew, I found Caroline dispensing her dinner/snacks in a method familiar to every parent of more than one child: counting out potato chips/crisps one by one to each of her three children.

We arrive at Echigo Yuzawa in 30 minutes. I really, really hope the bento stands are still selling dinner when we arrive.