Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Interrupting the regularly scheduled blog posts about our trip to Japan to check in about these past few weeks. To recap, we recently flew to Florida to visit friends and family. We even went to Orlando to see some friends that I have not seen since we moved. It was really wonderful to walk around our old neighborhood, see downtown Orlando in a new light. It made me miss it, and it made me glad to have once called it home. 

We've been shopping at the Asian grocery store a lot lately. We've acquired a wok, deep bowls, soup spoons, pretty much everything for all of the noodles we've been buying and making lately. I've been really enjoying broadening my regular list of recipes with some inspired by our trip to Japan. 

We went to the traditional Japanese wood block printing class in Tokyo, and while we were able to bring our amateur prints home, we decided to splurge on a gorgeous piece of artwork. It's a print from the 1920's of two women in kimonos looking over a pond full of lily pads. This piece is so beautiful, and required so much skill. In certain angles and light, the texture from the wood block it was carved on can be seen on the paper. We have it in our dining room now, and I feel so lucky that I get to walk past it every day.

I finished the last pillow of three that I made for my coworker, the honeycomb pillow. There is something so cozy about winter that makes me look forward to evenings on the couch, knitting the night away, Mort by my side. In summer, knitting is the last thing I want to do. Instead of keeping my fingers warm, woven through the yarn, I'd rather be outside in a park, at a restaurant patio, or on a picnic at the community garden. Although we had a snow storm this week, it feels like summer is just around the corner, and I'm really looking forward to the change in season. It always seems to come just at the right time, right when you're really fed up with the immense cold or immense heat. 

Another souvenir we brought back, doorway panels! While many restaurants and shops have these at their entrance, we found that the perfect spot for these panels would be our bedroom. Our apartment is long; you enter the living room, walk through to the dining room, and walk further through to end up in the kitchen. The office is off of the living room, the guest room is off of the dining room, and our bedroom is the room off of the kitchen. When we have guests over, or when we're in the kitchen cooking or cleaning, it's nice to give our bedroom a bit of privacy without having to shut the door. After all, Mort sometimes like to lay on our pillows when we're in the other rooms. 

Besides looking forward to spring and summer, I'm looking forward to our anniversary. We will be married for four years in May, and we'll also be celebrating being together as a couple for an entire decade. We've planned a little weekend getaway to Wisconsin. We're renting a house on a dairy farm, and we get to bring Mort with us. There's breweries, cheese shops, hiking, and roadside attractions. A little weekend away from the city sounds nice right about now. 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Kawaguchiko, The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

Thursday, March 02, 2017

We used our credit card miles from American Airlines to fly round trip to Japan. With the fees we had to pay, our tickets only cost us $45 round trip, each. By saving thousands of dollars on airfaire, it was one of the reasons that we could afford to do Japan right: staying three weeks, getting the Japan Rail Pass for unlimited train rides, and a stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan. Ryokans are hotels that have guest rooms lined in tatami mats, and some have onsen (hot springs). 

We opted for a ryokan with a private onsen on the balcony, with a Mt. Fuji view. In Japan, the public onsens are separated by gender. Even more, most onsens do not allow people with tattoos. Having the private onsen insured that we would have the onsen experience, together. 

Like I mentioned previously, when we first arrived in Kawaguchiko, it was cloudy and we couldn't see Mt. Fuji at all. I looked at the weather forecast, and we were anticipating that the clouds would clear by 7am the next day. Oh, did it clear. With our room's view of Mt. Fuji, I woke up, realized what time it was, and sprung out of our shiki futon bed. There, through our large window, past our onsen and balcony, was Mt. Fuji clear as day. Once it came into view, I didn't want to leave the room in case it disappeared behind the clouds like it had the previous day.

It was a beautiful day, so we opted for a hike. I would have been happy soaking in the onsen all day, but there was plenty of time for that later. On the lake, there is a manageable mountain called Mt. Kachi Kachi. We took a ropeway up the mountain, and hiked down. The ropeway was a capsule with huge windows, where we got a great view of the tri-colored mountains, and the magnificent Fuji-san.

At the top of Mt. Kachi Kachi, we found a shrine. There were little pieces of paper tied up to it, blowing in the wind. I learned that at many shrines across Japan, you can get a small piece of paper with a fortune on it. If the fortune is favorable, you take it with you. If it's negative, you tie it up, and leave it behind, leaving the negativity behind. 

We took some time midway down the mountain to admire the view of Mt. Fuji. It was the most calming and beautiful sight I've ever seen. There is a folk tale that states Mt. Fuji's name means "without equal." I have to say, Fuji-san is the greatest mountain I have ever seen. It's no wonder that many Japanese illustrators include the beauty of Mt. Fuji in their art. I loved it so much, I brought home a little, plush Fuji-san of my own. Kawaii!

While walking down, we were surrounded by maple trees turning yellow and orange, some turning red. The older I get, the more I know that I am a mountains kind of girl. I hope to one day live (or retire) to some mountains like these.

From our ryokan, to the north was Mt. Fuji, and to the south, Lake Kawaguchi. From all angles, from all sea levels, Kawaguchiko was magnificent. 

Our ryokan host, the woman that served us our matcha tea in the afternoons and brought us our kaiseki dinner in the evenings, she was born and raised in Kawaguchiko. We wondered, were there days that she woke up, completely unphased by Mt. Fuji's looming presence? Does one grow immune to beauty when they're surrounded by beauty every day?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Fuji Five Lakes: Lake Kawaguchi, Japan

Sunday, February 19, 2017

We left Tokyo early in the morning and made our way to a small town called Kawaguchiko in Fuji Five Lakes. From our AirBnB in the Daikan-yama neighborhood of Tokyo, we took three trains to Kawaguchiko station. The last train was a Fuji-san express, where some of the compartments give you a view of Mt. Fuji as you approach the destination. It was a cloudy day, so our view was of the mountains, which were brushed with reds, oranges, and greens, the town starting to change to fall. Kindly, our ryokan (a traditional Japanese hotel) sent a shuttle to pick us up, so that we didn't have to roll our suitcases across town. 

We weren't able to check-in until later in the afternoon, so we rented bikes from a small shop and decided to ride around Lake Kawaguchi. It was a bit chilly since the sun was behind the clouds, but it was a pleasant ride. 

On the other side of the lake, we visited a Maple Leaf Tunnel, It looked like it was an old canal that was lined with maple trees on both sides. You could walk on either side, taking in the momiji (maple leaves). 

Nearby, there was an Autumn Festival with craft and food vendors. I kept an eye out for some ceramics, but didn't see anything that I wanted to purchase. Instead, we ate! We snacked on grilled corn on the cob, some grilled oysters, had a few beers, and we even tried these delicious bread rolls that were unlike anything I've ever had! They were quite dense, and only 50 yen so we had to go back for another! We tried using our Google translate app to translate her sign that was in Japanese, but unfortunately, we still had no idea what kind of tasty bread the woman made. 

Making our way back to the Japanese hotel so that we could check-in, we came upon a hill with a nice view of the lake. Up the hill were small, concrete stairs and at the top was a tiny shrine, hidden behind the trees.

We went back to the ryokan to check-in. When we arrived, there was a line of women dressed to the nines in their traditional kimonos. The woman that was assigned to our room led us to our floor. Once we went inside our room, she removed her sandals, and we removed our shoes, switching into the slippers since the entire room was covered in tatami mats.  She showed us around the room, and then made us matcha green tea before leaving. In the room, there were shoji screens over the sliding glass doors. Behind it should have been Mt. Fuji in the distance, but Fuji-san was shy that day, hiding behind the clouds. 

In the closets were the shiki futons for later in the night, as well as yukata (robes) and obi (sashes), so we changed into them before dinner. One block away from the ryokan was a Lawson convenience store (which we loved throughout Japan for their tamago sandos [egg salad sandwiches]) so before dinner, Steven picked up some shochu, a distilled alcohol beverage. Before dinner, we enjoyed the onsen (hot spring) on our balcony while drinking the shochu. 

We signed up for the kaiseki dinner, which is a traditional, multi-course dinner with seasonal small plates. Our ryokan host (I believe her name was Fukima) would bring the trays of food in one by one. They were so heavy that they would bend in the middle. I don't know how Fukima carried them from the hallway all on her own! Most of everything we ate were new flavors and textures for us. Some familiar items were raw meat cooked over a small, hot grill, as well as a miso soup heated over coals. There was a lot of seafood on the menu, which we both love, as well as chestnut and mochi/rice confections. It was all beautifully displayed, and a lovely experience - certainly a highlight of our trip. 
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