(Friday) Thoughts from Places: Inside a Kaiten Sushi Restaurant

Written (mentally) as I was sitting in my local kaiten sushi restaurant on Friday; written (actually) a few days later.

In my previous post, I wrote about my weekly challenge of eating in a restaurant alone in my city. After much internal psyching up, I completed the challenge at Hamazushi, one of many conveyor belt sushi restaurant chains that Japan is famous for. As I was, of course, alone, I had plenty of time to ponder life, Japan, and sushi. Here are those thoughts:

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(Thursday) Weekly Challenge: Eat Alone at a Restaurant

This week, I challenged myself to finally eat at a restaurant alone in my town.

Maybe you are an extravert and this challenge seems ridiculously simple. But for me, an introvert who only knows basic Japanese, the prosepect of eating alone can be daunting. Of course, I’ve done this once or twice before in Japan. On my solo adventure days in Nikko and in Tokyo, I’ve eaten alone at restaurants, because the other option is to starve for a day.

However, whenever I am home in Yuuki, Ibaraki, I’ll either cook or I’ll drop by the konbini for a quick meal. I only go out to restaurants in my own city when I’m with friends. Why? Because I’m a coward – I worry that alone, my Japanese isn’t good enough to understand the menu, to order food, to respond to questions. It’s always more reassuring to have a friend alongside who you can figure everything out with.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I ate alone quite often when I lived in France. I would go out to lunch two or three times a week by myself because my schedule didn’t match up with the schedules of the other girls who studied abroad with me. I had a handful of favorite lunch restaurants in Strasbourg, the top three being 1) a Lebanese place called Le Tarbouche, 2) a brew pub called Au Brasseur, and 3) a tarte flambée chain restaurant called Flam’s. Sadly, there aren’t so many Lebanese or Alsatian restaurants in my part of Japan, although there might be a few in Tokyo. Goodness, I want to fly back to Strasbourg right now, just to eat real hummus and spätzle-choucroute…

Anyways, I don’t want to be a coward anymore, at least not about silly little things like eating alone at a restaurant. I’ve lived here for a year and a half, for crying out loud! This isn’t even a particularly difficult challenge! But these challenges are all little things to push me outside of my comfort zone, and I was nervous all the same.

So, I allowed myself some training wheels: I chose to eat at a restaurant that I was already familiar with, a restaurant where ordering food is done on a tablet and requires no Japanese speaking ability—

—Hamazushi.

Yep, I went to my local kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant after work on Friday.

What can I say? I was craving sushi. Words that I never, ever thought I would say (or write) a year and a half ago.

Anyways, I sat at the counter at Hamazushi, ordered from the tablet (the menu is in Japanese and English!) and ate a few plates of yellowtail with yuzu (my favorite) and duck “sushi” (slices of cooked duck with garlic sauce over rice). Then, I went home. In total, I was only there for about half an hour. All that freaking out for only a half-hour…

My feelings about the whole experience? Well, I was nervous at first—when I’m alone, I’m more conscious of the stares—but I got used to it fast. I wasn’t the only solitary person eating at the counter that night. I also never get sushi unless I’m at enkais or out with friends, so it was a nice chance to switch up my cuisine. And so cheap! Only ~\600 (yeah, I’m clearly not a big eater).

Will I do this again? Yes, of course. I just have to summon up a little courage and ignore the stares. Will it become a weekly habit, as it was in France? I honestly don’t foresee that happening, but I’ll be here for another year and a half, so it’s possible!

Chicken Hearts and Yuzu; First-time Foods in Japan

I wasn’t an especially picky eater before arriving in Japan… although, nor was I a particularly adventurous eater. But when you move to a new country, being even slightly picky goes out the window. Whether you want to or not, you’ll face some very new foods. They’ll become foes, or new favorites — the choice is yours.

Just for fun, here’s a list of foods that I’ve eaten for the first time while living in Japan, most of which I really like, and three of which I really…don’t…

Raw fish – I don’t go out of my way to eat sashimi or sushi, but I also don’t have to. Because of drinking parties with coworkers or cheap conveyor-belt sushi dinners with friends, I seem to eat raw fish about once a week, whether I want it or not. After all these months, though, I can finally face raw fish without dread! Tuna and Yellowtail are my favorites.

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Raw fish, raw shrimp, fish eggs…. facing all my previous fears at once!

Raw shrimp – I try to avoid raw shrimp. It tastes so much better cooked!

Raw squid – Personally, I think that raw squid is probably the worst thing on this list. The texture of raw squid is awful, and I have a really difficult time even forcing myself to eat it.

Fish eggs – I dreaded fish eggs until I actually tried them… they’re good, but interesting.

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Anecdotes 4: Guacamole

My lovely friend J is a fantastic cook. Sometimes she brings me tupperwares of food on Wednesday nights, when we meet for Japanese class. A few weeks ago, I was excited to receive homemade guacamole, straight from her kitchen!

Having nothing prepared for the next day’s lunch, and waking up too late to run to 7/11, I ended up bringing the guacamole and a bag of tortilla chips to school on Thursday as a last-minute lunch. And this is what happened:

Me @ 12:30: (happily starting to eat lunch at my desk)

Chemistry teacher: (passes by my desk on his way to the photocopier. Stops and stares at the green stuff in my tupperware). After a few more covert, curious glances, he throws caution to the wind and asks me “What’s that?”

Me: “Oh, this is guacamole! It’s made with avocados. Would you like to try some?”

Chemistry teacher: (hesitant but intrigued) “Yes, please.”

So I offer him some tortilla chips and the guacamole, watching as he tried the green stuff cautiously. He seemed mystified by what exactly it was, but he seemed to like it, and he thanked me.

A few minutes later, a JTE also spotted my lunch: “Karen-chan, what’s that?”

Me: “Oh, it’s guacamole. Do you know it? No? It’s a sort of Mexican dip. Here, try some!”

And so began my base school’s discovery of guacamole. No less than 8 teachers taste-tested it (some even asked for seconds!), and then they all gathered around my JTE’s computer and googled “guacamole” in Japanese.  After reading the Wikipedia page, they all seemed more confident about what exactly they had eaten.

And they all confessed that now they felt like drinking a beer to go along with my strange lunch.

2 lessons learned: grassroots internationalization can start with guacamole. And Japan knows very little about Mexican food aside from tacos.

8 Things to Do at the Sapporo Snow Festival

Otherwise known as: how to make all your co-workers insanely jealous.

Sapporo’s annual Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri) is arguably the most famous winter festival in Japan. It is THE PLACE to be for the second-ish week of February. Attending the festival seems to be high on most of my colleagues’ bucket lists. Like many of my fellow JETs, I managed to head up north for a few days to discover the magic for myself… and I was not at all disappointed.

Without further ado, here is a list of 8 things to do in and around Sapporo during the festival, especially if you only have a few days to enjoy it all.

1. Pose with all the Snow Sculptures at Odori Park  (and intensely photograph the rest).

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The Odori Site is especially fantastic at night! Everything is lit up, there are illuminations projected onto some of the larger sculptures, there are light shows, and there is hot food and drinks for sale everywhere! There are also a lot of performances. We saw the end of a Shakespeare play (in Japanese, of course), a few pop idols, and a snowboard jump competition.

Star Wars was a pretty popular subject matter this year. There was a huge Attack on Titan sculpture, too (not pictured) that everyone was very impressed with. My personal favorite, though, was the giant cathedral (especially the when illuminated).

Fun fact: members of the Japanese Army, based in a nearby city, build the massive snow sculptures every year. It’s considered an important training exercise!

2. Be a little adventurous… book a Snowmobiling Tour!

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This is also a great alternative to skiing or snowboarding. Because in the minds of many people, Hokkaido = skiing / snowboarding. People expect that you did one of the two in Hokkaido. Surprise them.

My friends and I booked through Snowmobile Land Sapporo. They picked us up at a nearby hotel, and within forty minutes, we were in the mountains above the city, suiting up to snowmobile through an “adventure course.” The scenery was absolutely stunning and the guides were excellent. None of us had ever snowmobiled before (one of my friends doesn’t even have her driver’s license) and yet we managed just fine!

Also, it was a fantastic opportunity to look a little like firefighters. Highly recommended.

3. Eat ALL THE FOOD. 

Because it’s HOKKAIDO. My friend seriously planned our whole holiday around the food we both wanted to eat, and it was AMAZING. How can you resist? Here are my top 3 food recommendations:

1. Head over to Ramen Alley for some ramen, of course! Hokkaido is really known for miso ramen, so be sure to order miso broth. I also suggest trying butter ramen!  I’m sure someone who actually lives in Sapporo could give a better ramen recommendation, but… if you can’t find a local willing to reveal the best ramen shop in Sapporo, Ramen Alley is still a great bet.

2. For something sweet, LaTao Double Fromage Cheesecake is quite sinful (and quite famous). You can find several LaTao shops peppered about the nearby city of Otaru (which you’ll probably end up visiting… because almost everyone who visits Sapporo takes a day trip to Otaru).

3. As for seafood, I really suggest making your way to Sapporo Jogai Ichiba, a roadside fish market located a 15-minute walk from Soen JR station. They sell all types of seafood there, and there are quite a few restaurants serving up sushi, sea urchin, and crab. I splurged for a deluxe crab bowl, and my friends feasted on sea urchin, roe, crab, and slices of fatty salmon. All three of us walked away very, very happy.

4. Release Your Inner Child

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I went to the snow festival with 40 other Ibaraki JETs, but my main group consisted of three friends — one from SoCal, the other two from Singapore. They were ecsatic to play in the snow, which led to snowman-making sessions, snow angels, and snowball fights.

If you really want to act like kid in winter, I suggest heading over to the Tsu Dome Site for a more hands-on experience with snow (like free tubing!). Honestly, this is the designated area for families with young children, so nothing is TOO exciting, but it was still a great opportunity to act like I was seeing snow for the first time again, too.

5.  Feel Like an Adult at an Ice Bar

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Pick your poison.

I seriously thought that this was one of the coolest parts of the entire Snow Festival. For 700 yen, we were given gloves, chisels, and blocks of ice, and we were able to carve our own glasses. We then chose from a selection of alcoholic beverages and sat back, enjoying life.

Mine is the green drink (J kept telling me that it actually looked like poison)… it’s a light, sweet Japanese liquor called “Midori.” J’s drink was a Bacardi daiquiri of some sort, which actually looked way cooler in the ice glass than I thought it would.

We were the envy of all the parents, I swear.

6. Hold some Ice Lanterns at Otaru (and Take Some Couple Pics)

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Otaru is for lovers, apparently. This city has an ice-lantern festival at the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival, so it’s great to check out both. Otaru is especially pretty along the historic canal, with the huge icicles dangling from old warehouse rooftops.

There’s also a lot of opportunities for slightly bizarre “couple” photos — lots of ice hearts to hold along the canal, and lots of snow hearts to pose in. J and I aren’t a couple, of course, but we were randomly given ice lanterns by some of the festival volunteers and asked to stand in one of the snow hearts, resulting in the above photo! It was really quite funny.

One of our favorite parts of Otaru’s festival was a short, twisty tubing hill built out of snow, and slightly hidden at the old train-track area of the city. The volunteers were so enthusiastic, cheering for every festival-goer who dared to tube down, carrying the tubes up to the top of the hill again, cheering some more. It was really quite heartening.

7. Eat Breakfast with a View

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On our last day in Hokkaido, we headed to the 35th floor of the JR Tower Hotel Nikko for a breakfast buffet with a panoramic view over the city. Although a little pricey, it was a fantastic way to end our holiday. The buffet offers both Western and Japanese-style breakfasts, and we were able to sample all the Hokkaido specialties that we hadn’t checked off our list in the days before. Specifically: soup curry, special Hokkaido potatoes, and Hokkaido milk ice cream.

8. Get a Rowdy Group Together for a good time at the Sapporo Beer Garden

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All you can eat Ghengis Khan (lamb), all you can drink Sapporo beer, 40-some friends. What could be better? It was a very memorable dinner, to say the least. The Sapporo Beer Garden is located right next to the beautiful old museum and it is the perfect place for a party. Fair warning: it’s smokey inside, but it’s also very cheery and cozy. I only wish I had had time to tour the brewery museum! I would have liked to learn more about this famous beer.

BONUS! Buy all the Omiyage!

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Because I am split between 5 schools, and because I used two days of nenkyuu on otherwise normal school days, I bought enough omiyage (souvenirs) for 175 people… and 35 of those people were JTEs or vice principals, so they received an extra gift or two apiece!

My wallet cried. But at the same time, I was more than happy to do it, because of the kindness and generosity I have been shown over the past seven months. (And everyone was very grateful).

Anyways, I recommend heading back to the airport early to buy all your omiyage (you don’t have to worry about it until the end of your holiday). The two most famous (and most popular) gifts to bring back are Shiroi Koibitu and Calbee Jaga Pokkaru — the latter is so popular that there is actually a limit on how much an individual can bring home! Also, note that if you get the bigger packages of Shiroi Koibitu (such as the 34-pack, or the 54-pack), the cookies come in a special tin that some teachers will actually fight over. I also bought some Royce Chocolate cookies as extra, because they were cheap and quite useful to give away to forgotten colleagues.

I’ll end with one last photo. Cheers.

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“I’ll Be Home for Christmas ~

— if only in my dreams…”

It’s Christmas Eve, and you will never guess what I did today.

I went to work. No, wait, that’s not the surprising part. Then I was invited to a sushi lunch with coworkers. That isn’t shocking news, either.

Then, at 2:30 this afternoon, one of the older P.E. senseis informed me that a few of us were “training.” But I didn’t need to change out of my skirt and ballet flats to do this mysterious “training.” I followed everyone outside… into cars… and to, of all places, a driving range.

Yes, I spent a good hour today–an hour I should have been “working” (in actuality, desk warming, as there is very little for me to actually do)–at the driving range with my coworkers, practicing my golf swing. For the very first time in my life, in fact; that is, if you don’t count miniature golf.

Never a dull moment…

The other day, at the same school, I was invited to a 1 o’clock “meeting.” Which is silly, because I can’t understand Japanese, but I went anyway. And it turned out that this “meeting” was really just a gathering of 10 teachers for tea and Christmas Cake.

Four beautiful Christmas cakes — chestnut cream and meringue mont blanc, strawberry shortcake with sugar snowmen, chilled chocolate cheesecake, and a bread-y cake roll filled with tangy strawberry mousse — split between ten people over mugs of Jasmine tea. The best “meeting” ever.

My mom will soon arrive in Japan for New Year’s, so just a few more days till a very welcome reunion. Happy holidays, everyone! Or, as the Japanese say,  よいおとしお!

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Thanksgiving Away From Home

It was one of those moments where you realize that you really are living in Japan: the night of Thanksgiving, and I was eating raw fish.

This year marked my second Thanksgiving away from home (the first time, I was living in France). The holiday did not go unnoticed, however; I spent the night of Thanksgiving at a little enkai with my coworkers; communicating through a mixture of charades, laughter, puzzled facial expressions, and the random Japanese words that I’ve picked up in my months of being here; and eating various fish dishes, including sashimi (I guess the restaurant was fresh out of turkey). It wasn’t quite the Thanksgiving dinner that I was accustomed to, but it was a very happy one all the same.

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This is sushi, not sashimi… and I ate this particular plate back in October… but you get the point. Not a typical American Thanksgiving dinner by any standards!

Plus, I was about to get a second Thanksgiving, complete with all the American food I was craving. Because for the first time in my life, I was hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

Back in October, I came up with a little scheme to hold my own Thanksgiving dinner. I talked to J, and she jumped on board, and soon we were planning a full-out grown-up dinner party (complete with official invitations). We invited a few fellow JETs and JTEs, so Singapore, Japan, and America (both East Coast and West Coast) were represented at the celebration.

On Black Friday,  after work, J and I drove out to the closest Costco (in Tsukuba, 1 hour and 20 minutes away) to buy all the necessary ingredients. We cut it a little close, though–we arrived less than 30 minutes before Costco closed, so with our lists in hand, we ran through the store, making split-second decisions on how much of everything to buy. (This led to a gross overestimation of our produce, and so after the whole party, we still had 10 apples, a whole bag of onions, and half a sack of potatoes left over).

J slept over, and then all day Saturday, the two of us cooked. Here’s all the things that I felt particularly thankful for as we prepared the big meal:

  1. I was thankful that my kitchen is much larger than a typical Japanese kitchen, even though we still had problems finding counter space.
  2. I was thankful that I have an almost American-sized fridge (J and a few of my other friends have refrigerators the size of the mini fridges that college students store alcohol in). Despite this, we still ended up playing Tetris to fit everything inside my fridge.
  3. I was thankful that we DID NOT buy the 17 pound Costco turkey (my oven here is like all Japanese ovens–it’s smaller than a typical American microwave. We would not have been able to stuff a turkey into it.)
  4. I was thankful that J had brought her oven over to my apartment for the event (it made cooking things a lot faster. Two is better than one).
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We ran out of counter space pretty quickly….

Our guests arrived a little early, and we finished cooking everything a little later than intended, but all in all, everything came together perfectly.

Our menu featured: Costco rotisserie chicken, homemade gravy, cranberry sauce from a can (dolled up with some oranges and sugar, served warm), homemade stuffing, homemade pumpkin bread, homemade garlic mashed potatoes, homemade sweet potatoes, homemade sauteed carrots, and homemade fruit salad (my family’s recipe). Dessert was Costco pumpkin pie (with homemade whipped cream) and homemade apple crisp.

Quite a few of our guests had never eaten Thanksgiving dinner before and the general consensus was that they were most excited for the mashed potatoes. And they were not disappointed; J made the best garlic mashed potatoes I’ve ever eaten. Another hit, surprisingly, were the carrots (credit to my grandma–it’s her recipe).

Like any successful Thanksgiving, the seven of us ate until we could eat no longer; all our guests left with more food than they had arrived with (tupperwares stuffed with leftovers), and even then, J and I both ended up eating Thanksgiving dinner for the next week! It was a very special Thanksgiving, indeed.

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Osaka Weekend Part 2: Eating Our Way Through Osaka

Day 2, Distance Walked: 14.2 km (8.8 miles)

Day 3, Distance Walked: 9.7 km (6.0 miles)

Osaka has a few tourist attractions (such as USJ and Osaka Castle) but the city is really known for its food. So much so, in fact, that the first question everybody asked me upon returning from Osaka wasn’t “Oh, what did you do?” or “How did you like it?” — no, the first question I was asked was, “What did you eat?”

And the answer is, lots of this:

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Yes. Osaka is very well known for its tako, or octopus. So much so, that there is a giant octopus along Osaka’s main shopping/tourist street, Dotonbori. So I ate takoyaki (octopus balls) and tako yakisoba (fried noodles with octopus) several times during my three day holiday. If you look closely, you can see that the Dotonbori octopus is even holding a takoyaki ball! Although, fun fact: in real life, octopuses have been seen engaging in cannibalism, so I guess it isn’t impossible.

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Dotonbori also features a few other famous sights, the most famous of which is by far the giant Glico Running Man poster. I’m still not sure why he’s famous, but like every other tourist, I waited on the bridge for the other tourists to clear out so I could snap of photo with him.

It’s cheesy, I know, but it was also kind of fun.

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There’s also the giant crab (which lots of people were taking pictures of, so I figured he was famous for some unknown reason) and this angry-looking dude who I found hilarious. Dotonbori seems famous for these kind of characters, all of which appear above restaurants. The crab and the octopus I could understand… and even the angry chef guy, I can understand. But there was also a restaurant with a huge dragon above it, and I really don’t know what kind of food that was selling…

Our second day in Osaka consisted entirely of eating and walking. We did spend an hour or two at Dotonbori, but we explored other parts of the city as well, breaking up long periods of walking with well-deserved meals or snacks.

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Our third day in Osaka really only consisted of Sunday morning (we had reserved seats on a bullet train back to Tokyo for 1:30 Sunday afternoon) so we saved Osaka Castle for last.

Japan seems to have a preoccupation with naming a “Top Three” of everything, so it was a chance for me to cross off one of Japan’s Top Three Castles. It was also my first time at a Japanese castle, and it was refreshingly different from the French and English castles I’ve been to. Like many of Japan’s castles (and to be honest, like many castles worldwide), the current Osaka-jo is a reconstruction — the original was built in 1583, destroyed numerous times by conquering armies or lightning strikes until it was finally burned down in 1868, and then restored for good in 1931.

We arrived at the castle grounds on Sunday morning in time to witness a fantastic 10-minute downpour, which created huge puddles perfect for reflection shots once the rain cleared. Time prevented us from going inside the castle in the end–soon enough we found ourselves on the bullet train back to Ibaraki.

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Chestnuts and Fireworks

Last weekend was the annual Tsuchuria Fireworks Festival — one of the top three fireworks competitions in Japan, held right here in Ibaraki! It’s an opportunity for fireworks companies to show off their best and their brightest, so the hype and the proximity to Tokyo draws about 70,000 people to sit in rice paddies and watch fireworks for two and a half hours.

Which is exactly what I did last Saturday. I sat on the edge of a rice paddy with a number of other Ibaraki JETs and we watched fireworks for two and a half hours.

All in all, it was a fantastic evening. I was highly amused by the people who brought beach chairs and actually sat in the middle of the flooded rice paddies. The fireworks were lovely, but not overwhelming — there would be a minute-long pauses of dark, empty skies as companies took turns shooting off their fireworks . And of course, there was delicious festival food to be enjoyed as well (like baked potatoes topped with butter, corn, and kimchi. It sounds weird, I know, but it was actually a great dinner).

The nightmare began, though, when I realized at 8:28p.m. that the last series of trains I could take to get home left Tsuchuria at 9:17. Thirty seconds later, the firework competition ended, and 70,000 people all packed up their beach chairs and started booking it back to the train station (a half-hour’s walk away).

Understandably panicked, I ran, dodging hundreds of tired festival-goers on the streets, trying desperately to make my 9:17 train.

And I would have made it. Really, I would have. Because I arrived at the station at 9:08…

Only to find about 5,000 people also waiting at the train station. Nobody was moving. Mobs of people were crowded around the four staircases that lead up to Tsuchuria Station, and police officers were blocking all of the entrances. Every so often, one staircase would receive the green light and for a few minutes, the mob around it would be sucked into the station, but then there would be a lot of police whistles and the standstill would recommence.

It took me a solid 80 minutes of waiting in the crowds (in spitting distance of the station!!) to be finally allowed up one of the staircases and onto the platform. In that time, I witnessed two fights (Japanese 20-something punks who were throwing punches) and was actually concerned about being trampled when the police opened the staircase I was waiting for (the mob’s excitement at the chance to enter the station led to some pushing and shoving). It was the most un-Japanese experience I’ve had here, though I guess it was still pretty calm compared to what it might’ve been in America. And of course, it was all for nothing because I missed all possible ways of getting home for the night. Luckily, I caught a north-bound train and crashed with S, who kindly offered me a futon and a toothbrush at her place.

In the end, it was pretty lucky that I stayed with S. It turned out that her little town (Iwama) was having a Chestnut Festival on Sunday, so the two of us met up with 3 other Ibaraki JETs and attended, if only to see what a Chestnut Festival would be like.

Chestnut everything. That was the festival.

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The five of us ate chestnut cakes, chestnut ice cream, chestnut rice, chestnut and chocolate shaved ice…. We enjoyed skewers of  hot-off-the-grill pork (which was featured because the pigs were fed chestnuts with the idea that their meat would be sweeter — I got a real kick out of this. Not sure if it was true, but the pork skewers really were delicious).

We walked around, listening to the live band and eating all things chestnut. We watched children decorating chestnuts. We watched people try their hand GOLFING with chestnuts (which turned out to be highly amusing, since chestnuts are not perfectly round and therefore do not roll in the direction you intend them to go).

Basically, it was the best Sunday ever.

So lessons learned for next time: leave the Tsuchuria Fireworks Festival at least 20 minutes before the end so you can beat the mobs and actually make it home. But… if you don’t learn from your mistakes…. crash on someone’s couch and enjoy the Chestnut Festival. Because who doesn’t love a day of chestnut fun?

An Afternoon in Provence

I just discovered my favorite place: Cafe la Famille, a half-acre of France that lost its way and settled in the middle of a Japanese neighborhood.

It was a grey and drizzly day yesterday, so a friend and I decided to postpone our hiking plans and we settled instead for a late, leisurely lunch. I suggested trying Cafe la Famille, the French bistro in Yuki city that everyone in Ibaraki has recommended to me. Seriously, residents of towns 45 minutes away from Yuki have raved about Cafe la Famille, so I was expecting the food to be pretty good. What I was not expecting was this:

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It was as if we had stepped straight into a little French farmhouse in the countryside of Provence. And the café itself was absolutely charming:  rustic wood tables and chairs, servers in black-and-white striped shirts, a combination of Celtic and Parisian music playing in the background… Not to mention the food!

We ordered galettes — thin, buckwheat crêpes from the Brittany region of France — and bottles of cidre doux (sweet hard cider). Japan likes 3-course set meals, though, so we ended up starting with a pumpkin soup made from Cafe la Famille’s own garden-grown pumpkins. Our galettes followed, and they tasted exactly like the ones I used to eat in France. They paired perfectly with the cidre, which was of course imported from France for authenticity! Following the meal was dessert: a delicious little pumpkin scone (again, made using the cafe’s own pumpkins) topped with vanilla ice cream, and accompanied by iced chai teas.

All of this for 2,300 yen per person (about $21)!

We learned that the menu at Cafe la Famille is always changing because it is based upon the produce in season (as well as what they grow in their gardens) — the way it should be in restaurants.  My friend and I both loved our experience so much that we want to make lunches here a monthly occurrence, especially so we can sample all the different the seasonal menus. Plus, the entire staff was unbelievably kind to us — showing great patience, using easy Japanese, and asking us curious questions. As we left, they all warmly invited us to return, and there is no doubt in my mind that I will be back.

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Finding Cafe la Famille is like discovering a home away from home. Whenever I really need it, an afternoon in France is just a few steps away.