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.

Christmas in Hawaii, The Lava Edition: The Big Island

After a fantastic five days on Kauai, we hopped on a one-hour flight to the Big Island of Hawaii. We started in Kona, the city on the perpetually-sunny western coast famous for its coffee, sunsets, and Ironman competition.

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Mark’s youngest brother Marshall moved to Hawaii this summer from Washington state. Though he now lives in Hilo on the Big Island’s rainy eastern coast, he lived in Kona for several years. He drove over to meet us, and we enjoyed a sunset visit to one of his favorite surfing beaches.

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The next day we headed out to a nearby exotic animal rescue, Three Ring Ranch. The caretaker Ann Goody told us about her resident zebra, monkeys, birds, turtles, bison, and other animals. While she spoke she noticed cues from one of the monkeys, then declared that the monkey chose Marshall as his special friend. So Marshall followed Ann’s instructions, greeting the monkey with the appropriate lack of eye contact, handshake, and so on. She said that the monkey will remember Marshall as one of his chosen friends even if he waits a few years to visit again.

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After a great weekend in Kona, we drove across the island to Hilo.

In December 2016 we visited Hawaii and rented a house in Vacationland, a community of (surprise!) mostly vacation homes. When Kilauea erupted and the lava started flowing in May of 2018, I quickly learned that Vacationland lay in Lava Zone 1 as designated by the U.S. Geological Survey, making it the most vulnerable area to lava-related annihilation. Unfortunately the lava flowed exactly as USGS predicted, wiping out hundreds of homes. I was surprised to hear that most of those homes had no homeowners’ insurance because the risk of lava damage was so high.

The following map shows the extent of the lava flow, as well as points along our visit. The location of our 2016 rental house is marked with a yellow star.

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Yellow star: the location of rental house where we stayed in 2016; Blue star: the road we drove in on and accessed the lava; Green star: the road to the lighthouse at Cape Kumukahi

We drove as far as we could down Government Beach Access Road, just to the right of the bright blue star in the photo above. The road ended abruptly at a wall of lava, so we parked and joined our fellow lava tourists already on the rocks. We followed a slightly crushed-down path marked by shells and coral left behind by previous visitors.

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Driving toward the lava flow on Government Beach Access Road
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The end of the road, marked on the map with a blue star

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As soon as we climbed up the lava, I swallowed hard and blinked back tears. It was impossible to forget the hundreds of houses entombed under this unfathomable blanket of rock. The house where we celebrated Christmas, the legendary Champagne Pond and Kapoho Tide Pools where we snorkeled. All of it just gone.

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Following Hawaiian custom, earlier hikers marked the trail with light-colored shells or coral

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I can’t even begin to explain the power and sheer vastness of the lava field before us. The lava radiated heat as we walked across it. At first I assumed the black surface simply absorbed the sun’s heat, but then I started passing blasts of warm air from below. A physical geographer who worked with the evacuation told us that the lava would stay hot for at least two years.

IMG_0943 2So remember that map above? Go ahead, scroll up. We parked at the blue star, then climbed across the tiniest little corner of the lava field to the road to Cape Kumukahi, immediately under the green star. We scrambled for a solid 15-20 minutes each way across that tiny corner of the lava field. I can’t even comprehend just how much hardened lava came from the Kilauea eruption, and how little of it we could see from our vantage point.

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Along the road to Cape Kumukahi Light, marked on the map further above with a green star

Steam vents in the distance perked away.

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We headed back to the car and drove around to the southern edge of the lava field for our next stop. Along the way we drove over metal plates on the road just outside Leilani Estates, another subdivision affected by the lava flow. Before the lava started flowing in May 2018, cracks and steam in the road appeared right before fissures in Leilani Estates opened up. Road crews quickly patched up the cracks with those metal plates, and steam vents still bubble away along the side of the road even now. Crazy.

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Near Leilani Estates, driving past roadside steam vents percolating away

While the road outside Leilani Estates “only” cracked, other roads were completely covered by lava. As soon as the lava cooled enough for road crews to get out there, the crews poured asphalt on the lava and reopened the road. We drove over those new roads on our way to our next stop, Isaac Hale Park.

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We arrived at Isaac Hale Park, a state park that both survived the lava flow and experience some incredible changes. The park’s boat ramp used to lead to open water, as boat ramps do. The lava flow cut off the boat ramp from the ocean, so now that ramp leads to a pool of water completely isolated from the ocean. Signs warn swimmers to stay out of the water because the lack of ocean access means that the stagnant water harbors high bacteria counts. People splashed away anyway. Ew.

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The boat used to lead to the ocean, but the new wall of lava created a germy swimming hole instead

In addition to a new, bacteria-filled swimming hole, the lava created a new black sand beach.

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After enjoying the rather aggressive surf there, we headed out for another, older black sand beach, Kehena. Marshall warned us in advance of its clothing-optional reputation. Hence the from-a-distance or thisclose photos that follow. Because, you know. Nekkid people.

IMG_0959IMG_0961IMG_0962IMG_0963Our last night, Marshall took us to a famous weekly night market in Kalapana called Uncle Robert’s. With food, crafts for sale, and music, it reminded me of a Hawaiian mashup of an Asian street/night market and a weekend street market in the US. The weekly market takes place every Wednesday, and it’s the social focal point for the eastern half of the Big Island. Most people within an hour’s drive come several times per month.

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And that’s a wrap on Hawaii 2018!

Christmas in Hawaii: Kauai

In 2016 we went to Hawaii and really loved our time there. Traveling to Hawaii is much easier from Japan than from Washington DC, so we decided to visit Hawaii again before leaving Japan. Mark’s youngest brother Marshall moved to Hawaii this year, so that made our decision easy.

We started on the island of Kauai, where we enjoyed a visit to Waimea Canyon…

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….the ubiquitous chickens, whose population exploded with the destruction of Kauai’s chicken enclosures after Hurricane Iniki in 1992 …..

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….a stop at the National Tropical Botanical Garden…..

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A ziplining tour with Koloa Ziplines….

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….and our favorite, a helicopter ride over Waimea Canyon, the waterfall from the Jurassic Park movies, and the utterly breathtaking Napali coast.

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After five days of beautiful Kauai, we moved on to the Big Island–stay tuned for that report!

Autumn Colors at Mount Takao

Last week my friend Miho invited me to join her on a hike to Mount Takao, a popular hiking destination on the outskirts of Tokyo. I eagerly agreed to join her, since previous attempts to hike Mount Takao got rained out. So on a beautiful Friday morning Miho and another friend Svitlana picked me up, and we set off.

I really enjoy visiting sites with Japanese friends. When it’s just my immediate family, I spend a lot of time figuring things out on my own as I drag the four of us out and about. Though it’s gotten easier the longer we have lived here, speaking only a little Japanese and reading almost nothing means that I spend a lot of time flying blind. So I happily settled in to the outing while Miho decided our route and explained things as we went.

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The slightly boring exterior of the 599 Takao Museum….

We started our day with a visit to the 599 Takao Museum, which gets its name from Mount Takao’s elevation of 599 meters (1965 feet). It’s easily the nicest nature museum I have ever visited. Though the building looks rather unremarkable from the outside, the stunning, airy interior features open spaces, lots of light, and gorgeous displays that highlight the flora and fauna of Mount Takao. We checked out the stuffed animals, insects, plants–and poops. Then we set out for the trailhead.

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….led to a stunning, airy interior

Miho decided on a rather rugged route that gained elevation quickly. We started our hike and quickly shed layers as we climbed stairs, enjoyed the autumn colors, and dodged trail obstacles and other hikers.

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Here we go! All smiles at the trailhead

Whew, she made it! Svitlana conquers a path-blocking tree like a pro

I noticed the distinctive mountain fashion that afflicts hikers and climbers all over world. In Japan, fashionably dressed female hikers pride themselves to be yama garu, or mountain girls. We saw plenty of examples of the highest in mountain fashion, both on the women and the men.

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Yama Garu, or mountain girls, in their hiking finery

Eventually we reached the summit, where we were met with the well-earned, peaceful isolation of a strenuous climb.

Kidding!

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So much for a peaceful summit experience. And are those….vending machines, on top of a mountain? Of course they are, because we’re in Japan.
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Still smiling at the summit

We immediately faced hundreds of visitors who reached the summit via cable car. I was stunned by the size of the crowds considering it was a weekday. I can only imagine the mayhem on a weekend.

As for lunch, never mind handfuls of trail mix or packed lunches. We had our choice of restaurants, then settled on ramen.

Our lunch spot, and the delicious dango roasting out front

After lunch we visited a cluster of shrines. Miho explained the intricacies of each feature, whether the worshipers asked for love, or good health, or fortune. Luckily we happened upon a procession of priests headed for…actually I have no idea where they were heading. I happened to stand right in front of them as they started their procession, and no one cleared their path. They simply charged ahead, knowing that the crowd would part. And we did.

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Once we passed the queue for the cable car ride down, the crowds eased. Instead of the morning’s rugged climb over dirt paths, we opted for a quick descent down a steep paved road.

Victorious after our hike, we celebrated with mochi and green tea along the shopping street at the trailhead–then headed home.

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Sunday Morning in Tokyo: Museums, Shoe Shopping, and Food

Tessa has joined a drama program in Tokyo. So cool! Less cool is getting her there and back, since the program runs from 9AM to 1PM every Sunday until April. The commute involves roughly 75 minutes and three trains, or one hour and two trains if the trailing parent takes pity and drives the commuters to a slightly more convenient station. Eventually we hope that she will take the train there herself, but for now a parent accompanies her.

So this week was my turn! I was excited at the thought of four hours to roam free. But I quickly learned that Sunday morning activities in Tokyo proved harder to find than I expected. Most museums and even large stores open around 11AM. Mark googled “things to do in Tokyo on a Sunday morning” and the number one answer was “sleep in.”

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Mori Tower, with The Mori Art Museum on its top floors

So I dropped Tessa off at 9AM and returned to the subway. After a coffee and newspaper interlude to await my first stop’s 10AM opening, I headed to the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills. Admission included two exhibits, Fujiko Fujio: The Exhibition and Catastrophe and the Power of Art. I visited Fujiko Fujio first and learned that FF is the pen name of a manga writing duo. I didn’t recognize A, the primary character featured in these exhibits. Later I learned that the duo created Doraemon, who I know. [And did you know that Doraemon is a cat-shaped robot? I didn’t until I learned that in Japanese class!]

IMG_0539IMG_0531IMG_0532IMG_0536I wandered the Tokyo View floor of the museum, with the exhibits displayed before floor-to-ceiling windows that offered amazing views of Tokyo. On a clear day you can see all the way to Mount Fuji  97 km (about 60 miles) away, but not with today’s hazy skies.

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This next artwork proved quite popular with the crowd. What appears as a black canvas in regular light reveals its image with the flash of a smartphone.

 

Next I headed up to the Catastrophe exhibit. Not surprisingly the exhibit focused on Japan-centered disasters, such as the earthquakes in Kobe (1995) and Sendai (2011). But the exhibit also featured other works, including images of war zones from around the world and 9/11 related art from New York.

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The final room featured a large installation by Yoko Ono. Guests are handed shoe covers and a small tray with smeary Cray-Pas crayons (remember those?), then invited to write on any surface he or she can reach. The most common theme, hands down? Love.

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After my dose of culture, it was time to go shopping! I headed for Omotesando, a fancy shopping area in Harajuku. After some obligatory photos in the mirrored entry of Tokyu Plaza…..

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….I headed straight to the Onitsuka Tiger flagship store. After rockin’ a pair of silver Mexico 66 kicks for over two years, I was dangerously close to actually blowing a hole through the soles. I seriously got my money’s worth! I briefly checked out the fancy/artsy/not-for-sale shoes on display, mulled my viable options, then decided to replace my silver pair with the same thing. I already own another pair of yellow and black Tigers, so sticking with the silver pair seemed wise.

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I already own the yellow pair shown along the wall; since I don’t really wear yellow clothing, yellow sneakers have proven far more versatile than I would have guessed
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I ended up buying the silver pair in the back
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So fancy! But alas, not for sale
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Can’t buy these either

And just like that, four hours flew by! I headed back to pick up Tessa, and we grabbed a quick lunch of soba noodles for her and soba and tempura set lunch for me. Then it was back to Yokohama, only to repeat the drill next Sunday.

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Swish Swish: Making Shabu Shabu for Dinner, At Home

One of our favorite meals out is shabu shabu, a style of Japanese hotpot. In a shabu shabu restaurant, a pot of broth simmers on a tabletop burner and the diner cooks his or her own meat, veggies, noodles, and tofu in said pot. The name shabu shabu is onomatopoeia for swish swish, the purported sound of swirling meat in the cooking liquid.

A split shabu shabu pot is pretty common, with two sections for two different broths. Our local shabu shabu joint called Dontei offers several choice of broth. We’re fans of the spicy one, and not so much fans of the “delicate” (bland) broth, which consists of water with a single piece of konbu seaweed inside. After the spicy broth our second choice is a salty/sweet liquid that’s actually used for sukiyaki. To Americans sukiyaki looks a lot like shabu shabu, but there are a few subtle differences: sukiyaki meat is slightly thicker than shabu shabu, and the meat is usually dipped in lightly beaten raw egg just before eating. Also, the most important difference: Dontei won’t let you get spicy shabu shabu broth and sukiyaki broth in the same pot, even in different sections. So after our last visit, we decided that it was time to make shabu shabu at home, on our terms.

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Sukiyaki broth and spicy shabu broth—in the same pan!!

First, I set out to buy the special equipment. I picked up a tabletop burner fueled by cans of liquid propane gas at the hardware store, Konan [in Honmoku Front shopping center, same building as Sanwa grocery store]. These burners are available at any hardware store in Japan, plus several larger grocery stores. In the US, Asian markets like HMart sell them. I paid about 2000 yen for the burner, or around $18 USD.

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The LPG cans are available everywhere: hardware stores, grocery stores, and even 100 yen stores like Daiso. And yes, they’re really called My Bombe.

And how about this awesome split pan!

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I agonized over this purchase for a while before committing. Do I really need a pan for only one thing? Yes, yes I do. I went with the slightly fancier version from Aeon department store (sort of like the Japanese Macy’s). The absolute cheapest pots have a curved metal divider welded into place, and every review on Amazon Japan mentioned leaks between the two sections. The cast version that I bought was around 4000 yen, or about $37 USD. The cheaper, welded version wasn’t that much cheaper at 3000 yen, or $28 USD.

Then I assembled my ingredients.

For the spicy stock: chicken stock, gochujang pepper paste, and miso.

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For the sukiyaki stock: sake (酒), mirin (みりん), soy sauce (しょゆ), and sugar.

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Two different kinds of noodles: kanzashi (かんざし), a hand-cut udon wheat noodle with thicker ends; and harusame (はるさめ), glass noodles made from starch and water.

 

Thinly sliced beef and pork; in a Japanese grocery store look for  しゃぶしゃぶ (shabu shabu) on the label.

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I found sesame shabu sauce (goma shabu, ごましゃぶ)and yuzu shabu sauce(pon shabu, ぽんしゃぶ)in the condiments aisle.

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I also cubed up firm (momen, もめん)tofu, which sadly did not rate its own photo.

And finally, the veggie platter: enoki mushrooms, carrots cut into thin diagonals, sliced cabbage, and mizuna chopped into 3 inch (10 cm) pieces.

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So here are all of the components, ready to cook!

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I’ll admit that it’s a lot of work to get all of this together, especially the first time. But now that we’ve done it a few times at home, it’s actually a pretty quick meal to pull together. It helps that I always have ingredients like chicken stock, soy sauce, mirin, sake, miso, and gochujang on hand. So a quick stop at the grocery store for meat and a few veggies means a little chopping, and dinner is ready to go.

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As we pull the cooked meat, veggies, and tofu out of the broth we use a bowl of cooked rice to catch the juices. Then it’s a quick dip in shabu sauce.

Followed by lots of dishwashing.

 

The “Are You Really in Japan?” Stuff: Middle School Volleyball

Living in Japan for three years, we have had a lot of amazing experiences that we would never have done if we were still in DC. Like visiting Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, and Taiwan. Or skiing Olympic venues, just a few hours’ drive from our house.

But sometimes, having school-age kids means doing school-age-kid stuff, like middle school sports. Some things have a uniquely Japanese flair–like bowing to your opponents before and after the match–but for the most part school sports are the same whether I’m sitting in a gym in Yokohama or in the Washington, DC suburbs.

Like last year, Tessa is playing volleyball for her school’s team, Saint Maur International School. Here on the international school circuit, middle school girls’ volleyball has A, B, and C teams, with A team featuring the best players, usually eighth graders. In most schools this means tryouts and actual selection; since Saint Maur is a small-ish international school, returning players (seventh graders) are automatically on A team, along with a few first-timers (also seventh graders) to fill out the roster. There are just enough players to field two teams, while most other schools have three teams with lots of subs. So basically Saint Maur loses a lot builds lots of character during games.

So the other week Tessa and her teammates went into their matches against cross-town rival Yokohama International School (YIS) expecting to lose big. And while they did lose two of three matches, they totally–and I mean, TOTALLY–hung in there. The A team girls lost those two matches by only two points, and they even pulled ahead from time to time. And the girls were so excited! They were absolutely contenders the whole time, and they couldn’t stop grinning.

And I’m going to brag here a bit–Tessa had some absolutely killer serves. I don’t know where she gets it, since me and ball sports don’t really get along, and Mark’s athletic career reflects swimming, water polo, and triathlon. Right as she hits the ball she gets this fierce scowl on her face, then sends a bullet over (though sometimes into) the net.

A disclaimer about the photos below: I have been a soccermomphotographer for years, and I’m totally spoiled by taking action shots outdoors. Fast moving thing indoors–not so easy. I’ll try and do better. And obviously buying a fancy new lens will make everything better….

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Walking the 800-Year-Old Asaina Pass into Japan’s Ancient Capital, Kamakura

We’re back in Japan! The weather has been absolutely glorious the last few days.  So instead of hiding from the heat in the air-conditioned indoors, I cajoled the family into a hike along Asaina Kiridoshi, one of the mountain pass entrances into the city of Kamakura. Loyal martayaki readers may recall previous visits to Kamakura for temples and hiking.

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Kamakura was the most populated area of Japan in the 12th and 13th centuries, making it Japan’s de facto capital from 1192 to 1333 CE. It’s an oceanfront town surrounded on the other three sides by mountains. “Natural fortress” seems a bit of an understatement.

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As the sign at the Asaina Pass entrance so helpfully explains:

Asaina Kiridoshi is one of seven opening passes of Kamakura. This pass leads to Mutsuura, an important port supporting the logistics of the capital Kamakura during the Kamakura period. 

Under the direction of Yasutoki Hojo, the regent of the Kamakura Shogunate Government, the construction work took place in 1241. It underwent numerous repairs since then.

Wear good shoes, I told everyone. The trail is wet and muddy in spots.

Not at the height of summer, Mark replied. It hasn’t rained in ages.

This bold proclamation in our forested setting reminds of a joke: If a trees falls in the forest, and there’s no one there to hear it, is the husband still wrong?

Mark was definitely wrong.

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Thankfully the mud and shallow spring waters washing over the path proved quite manageable. We hiked up and down the gentle slopes, admiring the carved cliffsides and marveling at the stones that paved the road in places. A side trail led us to the lovely Kumano Shrine.

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Many descriptions call this trail a sunken road, so I expected something rather flat and, you know, road-like. It was in some places, but I was surprised to find some sections requiring actual scrambling up rocks. We managed just fine in running shoes, hiking boots, and overall 21st century attire. But I couldn’t even imagine crossing the steep sections with animals or a wagon, as ancient visitors likely did–never mind attempting said journey wearing the attire and especially footwear of the 13th century.

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The trail is a straight out-and-back, so we could have started at either end. I decided to start on the Yokohama end so we would end our hike at the entrance to Kamakura itself. Given the increasingly beautiful scenery along the route and waterfall finale, I’d say that we chose well.

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After reaching the actual end of the road, we turned around and headed back to the car, ready to enjoy another Japanese tradition: lunch from Seven Eleven.

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Access:

For the ultimate Entering Kamakura Experience, start your hike at the Asaina Pass Kanazawa Entrance (〒236-0034 Kanagawa-ken, Yokohama-shi, Kanazawa-ku, Asahinachō, 朝比奈町545) and finish at the Asaina Pass Juniso Entrance ().

By public transit, to Kanazawa (Yokohama) entrance:

Take the Keikyu Line south to Kanazawa Hakkei station. Catch the 08 bus bound for Ofuna and get off the bus at Asahina bus stop. Continue walking in the same direction as the bus and turn left at the first road, where you’ll see a sign for Asaina Pass.

By car, to Kanazawa (Yokohama) entrance:

Definitely, definitely start at the Kanazawa (Yokohama) entrance instead of the Juniso (Kamakura) entrance; that way you’ll avoid the typical heavy traffic heading from the Yokohama-Yokosuka Road toward Kamakura proper.

Set your navigation system for the Seven Eleven at 459-1 Asahinachō, Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa-ken 236-0034. You will find a tiny paid parking lot called Time Parking (not the better known Times Parking) directly across the street from Seven Eleven; it’s not on Google maps.

After parking, cross to the Seven Eleven side of the road and backtrack along the main road that you drove in on. Continue for a few hundred meters until you see a sign on the left pointing you to Asaina Pass.

MariCAR! Go Karting on the Streets of Tokyo

We’re in the US for our annual family visit until mid-August, so I’m taking the chance to catch up on some recent experiences in Japan that I didn’t blog about at the time. First up: MariCAR go karts, that tourist and gaijin (foreigner) rite of passage.

My friend Nina came for a visit in May, her second time in Japan. I told her about MariCAR go karting, and she was all over it. So on a balmy Saturday night in May Nina, my friend Caroline, and I headed down to MariCAR’s Akihabara location, driver licenses in hand [scroll to the end for details on that].

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…and our rides.

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The streets will be closed to traffic, right?, asked Nina.

Nope, I replied.

Silence.

OK then!

….and off we went.

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The streets were definitely, absolutely *not* closed to other cars. There were moments of sheer panic and a whole lot of How Is This Possibly Legal.

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We zipped. We zoomed. We waved and posed for the photos of passers-by. These go karts have been around for a while, so I assumed that most Tokyoites were Over It. But apparently not!

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After two hours of fun we headed back to the garage, where we posed for one final, triumphant shot of our own….

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…and one with the next crew, a group of Korean students decked out in their superhero and Japanese schoolgirl finery.

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Pro Tips!!

Location and Time

MariCAR has several locations, and each one has its own website–and in English! I chose a two hour tour in Akihabara starting around 5PM, assuming that we would see some cool neon as dusk settled in. And we did! By the end of our tour it got a little dark and slightly scary to drive, so if I do it again I will definitely aim for finishing before sunset like we did.

For you Yokohama locals, MariCAR now has a Yokohama location. Find details on their Facebook page.

Driver License

You absolutely must have a license that is valid for driving a car on Japanese roads. The exact requirements vary depending on what country issued your driver license, so check the MariCAR website for the exact specifications. If you are a foreigner visiting Japan then the easiest is probably getting an International Driving Permit–but you have to get it before leaving your home country.

Tour Guide

Book a guide! Even if you know the streets of Tokyo well, you probably don’t know them well behind the wheel of a stinky, 49.3 cc engine vehicle. Focusing on driving and occasionally, you know, looking around took most of my focus. I can’t imagine paying attention to navigating as well.

Our booking did not come with a guide automatically, but thankfully the other two people on our tour booked the guide. We paid a little extra and joined them, and I’m so glad we did.

Another friend booked through the same company a few weeks later and her tour guide was included. So check to make sure you have a guide when you book.