Monthly Archives: September 2013

Wrap, Wrap, Wrapple

wrappleWrapple was our first craft shopping stop in Japan. I’d read about it on Hello Sandwich‘s blog (and in her Tokyo Guide) and wanted to see all of the wrapping, washi tape and packaging goodness Wrapple had to offer. Parco

The store is located inside Parco,  a large boutique shopping center in the Shibuya neighborhood. Parco is kind of like a mall, except each “shop” seems to flow into the next. Wrapple is tucked into the corner on the fourth floor in between a clothing shop and a coffee shop. They have a ton of papers, rubber stamps, scrapbooking supplies, stickers, boxes and ribbons–really anything you might need for crafting projects or to package a gift sweetly. They offer workshops, too, varying from paper crafts to slipper making (with ribbons!) wrapple washi tape displayWrapple had the best selection of MT tape of any store I visited in Tokyo. For those who don’t know, MT tape is the original washi tape and it is the highest quality washi tape of all. It is made in Japan and nothing tears better, removes better and re-sticks better than MT. It also stays on posted envelopes better than any other paper tapes out there. (I complete agree with this washi tape evaluation.) MT not only performs beautifully, but their line has everything from wonderfully simple patterns and solid colors to crazy-unique designs like pancake recipes, solar systems and grass-munching cows (I bought all three.) MT releases seasonal patterns as well, and we were there to see Wrapple receive some new designs. (Fun stuff!) I bought a load of washi tape from Wrapple. And we went back a second time so I could buy a few rolls of MT Casa, extra-wide washi tape designed for decorating walls and furniture. MT CasaThese are the ones I picked. I have zero plans in mind right now, but I picked some nice neutrals and a pool blue with high hopes that we can use them in our (some-day-freshly-painted) bedroom. The tallest one is eight inches high, the middle two are four inches and the tiny blue one is two inches.  I would have killed for an air mail tape for my walls.
Sadly, it does not exist (though I think a petition is in order…)

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Hello Sandwich Workshop

Kimberly Ah Hello Sandwich WorkshopDo you know of Hello Sandwich? I’ve been reading her blog for quite awhile now and I’m a big fan. Ebony Bizys (THE Sandwich) is an Australian artist and designer living in Tokyo. She’s had all sorts of creative jobs, and now she is working for Martha Stewart crafts in Japan. I love how colorful and quirky her crafts are. No one can mix patterns and color the way Hello Sandwich can!

For my birthday, Naoto gave me the Hello Sandwich Tokyo Guide, a zine all about Ebony’s favorite spots in Tokyo. We used it quite a bit while we were on vacation, mainly for hitting up some great craft and stationery stores. And, I have the Hello Sandwich Craft Book. It is packed full of fun things to do in an afternoon. It’s written in Japanese, but the pictures are enough to follow along. (Though I do make Naoto read some of it to me just so I can hear the stories behind the crafts. He loves doing this for me…)

When we planned our trip to Japan, I kept an eagle eye on Hello Sandwich’s blog and twitter feed with the far-fetched idea that she would be giving a workshop around Tokyo during our stay. Imagine my surprise when she announced that she was hosting a Martha Stewart Crafts workshop at Isetan (a large department store) on the weekend of our visit!! I made Naoto call Isetan and reserve my spot right away. (Ah, the perks of living with a Japanese speaker!) Marta Stewart Crafts at IsetanThe workshop was all set up in the crafts and stationery section of the store. Naoto and Hisae came with me, and we were thinking that Naoto would have to stay and translate. But, lucky for him, Ebony delivered the workshop mostly in English and had a Japanese translator interpreting. There were four of us in the workshop and the other ladies and I had a wonderful time creating and playing with the lovely Martha papers and punches. We used the Martha Stewart Circle Edge Punches to create and ornament and added layers of pictures and other punched papers. We finished off our ornaments with lovely ribbons. (My creation is below…I have to admit that mine was the worst looking one in the class! I have a hard time making things not all matchy-matchy, and I’m definitely out of my comfort zone when black and grey is not involved!) Martha Stewart Crafts punchWhile I was in the workshop, Naoto and Hisae (freed from their interpreting duties) went to lunch. They weren’t back by the time the workshop was over so I wandered around the stationery department at Isetan. Isetan had some really gorgeous stuff. I’d highly recommend a stop there to any stationery lover! I was starting to get a little nervous that Naoto and Hisae abandoned me when this sweet, tiny, older woman (who worked at Isetan) dashed up to me, breathed a huge sigh of relief, grabbed my arm and escorted me back to the crafts department. Naoto and Hisae were there waiting and chatting with Ebony. All was well.

Thanks for a fun afternoon, Hello Sandwich!

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Dreams Come True at Mister Donut

I don’t know where Mister Donut gets its music. Some days it was this “Misdo Club” radio station (the announcer spoke in English and it played mostly American music) and other days it was a little bit more random. No matter which format was playing, we sat there for an hour or so every single morning and the song above played at least four times.

Every day.

Same song.

Four times.

I was the first to notice it. Then Naoto noticed and every time the song came on we would laugh. No one else in the restaurant seemed to notice at any point. It became weird, but very catchy. It’s kind of an ear worm. I have no idea what she’s saying, or how to say what she’s saying, and I find myself singing along. When we got home and Naoto found the video, it was exactly how I pictured it.

Upon further research, Naoto learned the song was written for Mister Donut…if you go to iTunes Japan site, you can see the donut on the album. Sadly, I haven’t found it on the American iTunes site…so I guess I’ll just have to watch the YouTube video over and over and over again to relive my Misdo mornings!

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My Love, Mister Donut

mister donut 4If there is one thing in Japan that I miss most, it’s Mister Donut. More than amazing office supplies, more than fancy stationery, more than MT tape…I miss Misdo (affectionate for Mister Donut). naoto at mister donutkimberly mister donut

In normal, everyday life, I think donuts are fine. Naoto and I go to Dunkin Donuts almost every day for the coffee. Sometimes I might get a donut, but it’s really just to quash a morning sugar craving (or make the sugar craving last all day, as the case may be). Dunkin Donuts donuts are not really delicious to me. (No offense Dunk…but you guys truck them in…how can you even think that’s a good idea?) But at Mister Donut, donuts are a must. They taste different than American ones. First of all, they are made fresh on the premises. Naoto and I went to the Mister Donut right at opening on our first day in Japan (hello, jet lag!) and they were filling the shelves for the whole first hour with fresh-from-the-oven delights. Aside from the freshness, the donuts are just…different. They are lighter, less sweet and have a better consistency than American donuts (bakery & Dunkin). I seriously have never had a better donut. mister donut chestnut menuThey also have different flavors than typical American donuts. Misdo’s glazed donut is glazed with honey (not corn syrup), there is a green tea old fashioned, there are savory donuts made with puff pastry filled with a hot dog or au gratin potatoes… And, Mister Donut has new flavors that they roll out with the changing seasons. When we there there in 2011, I gorged myself on a variety of sakura (cherry blossom) donuts. This time the new flavor for fall was chestnut. Those were all amazing. Would you like to see every single donut I ate on my vacation?

1: hot dog donut, glazed pon de ring, brown sugar pon de ring

Day 1: hot dog donut, glazed pon de ring, brown sugar pon de ring

Day 2: chestnut filled chocolate pon de ring, brown sugar pon de ring, chocolate glazed pon de ring

Day 2: chestnut filled chocolate pon de ring, brown sugar pon de ring, chocolate glazed pon de ring

Day 3: hot dog donut, old fashioned, strawberry frosted pon de ring, chocolate frosted pon de ring

Day 3: hot dog donut, old fashioned, strawberry frosted pon de ring, chocolate frosted pon de ring

Day 4: old fashioned, chestnut chocolate frosted pon de ring

Day 4: old fashioned, chestnut chocolate frosted pon de ring

Day 5: chestnut filled with chestnut cream, brown sugar pon de ring, chocolate glazed pon de ring, strawberry dipped cruller

Day 5: chestnut filled with chestnut cream, brown sugar pon de ring, chocolate glazed pon de ring, strawberry dipped cruller

Day 6: hot dog donut, chestnut filled chocolate pon de ring

Day 6: hot dog donut, chestnut filled chocolate pon de ring

Day 7: old fashioned, honey glazed old fashioned

Day 7: old fashioned, honey glazed old fashioned

Keep in mind, I shared those donuts with Naoto…I didn’t eat all of them on my own. We had fun each morning choosing the next one to try, or going back for old favorites like the hot dog. I cannot tell you which is my favorite. It changed by the day. You just really can’t go wrong with Misdo. mister donut 16In “our” Mister Donut (the one by the hotel…hey, we were “regulars”!), you walk in and pick up a little tray and tongs and choose your own donuts. At the cash register, the staff transfers your donuts to a plate (and warms up your hot dog donut if you wish) and places the plate on another tray with your coffee. Then you can take your tray to your seat at a table or a counter by the window. When you sit in the restaurant, your little red Misdo cup is a bottomless cup of coffee. The Misdo staff comes around and pours refills periodically, carrying a little basket with creamers and sugars. Naoto and I drank a lot of refills, especially because we were up so early and had a lot of time to kill before places opened at eleven.

mister donut 15On our last full day in Japan, Naoto had to pick up his suit–He bought a suit in Japan!–so I stayed at Mister Donut alone and wrote my postcards and people watched. He was a little bit worried about the language barrier, but really, I didn’t think “more coffee please” would be that difficult to communicate. (It wasn’t.) kimberly naoto mister donutmister donut 12I’m already dreaming of my next Misdo visit…mister donut 5

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Conveyor Belt Sushi

Naoto at conveyor belt sushiNaoto wanted to take me to conveyor belt sushi during our stay in Japan. Conveniently, Sushi Daidokoya was just a block away from our hotel. (Seriously…it was the best hotel location.)Sushi Daidokoya

Conveyor belt sushi restaurants are kind of “fast-food” sushi, without the mystery meats and paper wrappings. They are just quick and cheap places for sushi. The restaurants have rotating conveyor belts of different offerings. The sushi chef is usually in the center of the belt slicing up different cuts of fish and making the sushi. He puts each serving on a little plate (about the size of a saucer) and then the customer chooses which kind of sushi she wants from the belt.

When we walked in, we were greeted by all of the restaurant staff (much like the izakaya experience, and really all dining establishments in Japan). We took our seats at the communal table surrounding the conveyor belt and Naoto filled up our tea mugs. There were hot water spigots at each seat, making it easy to help ourselves. A woman handed us a hot towel and then we were on our own to pick out what we wanted from the conveyor belt as delicious sushi offerings glided by.

conveyor belt sushi hot water spigotconveyor belt sushiWe chose several things directly off of the belt. It was lunchtime so everything was freshly made and snagged up quickly. We didn’t see my favorite roll–the tekka roll (tuna and wasabi wrapped in rice and seaweed)–so Naoto special ordered it and the sushi chef passed it over the belt to me.

Here’s a little video of the view from our seat. Things move around pretty quickly so you have to be on your toes and know what you want!

At the end of the meal, the woman who gave us our towels came over and counted our plates. We ate twelve plates of sushi and our bill was less than $20. It was awesome. stack of plates from conveyor belt sushi

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Scenes from the Izakaya

Izakaya family dinnerNaoto & I spent several evenings in Japan with family and friends drinking and dining in izakayas. An izakaya is a Japanese pub. The style is similar to tapas where you order several small dishes and share. I am not a huge food sharer (once I ate Ethiopian food with a guy with a head cold…it scarred me for life!) but I am a huge fan of the izakaya. I love the casual atmosphere. I love when you walk in and every. single. server greets you, no matter where they are in the restaurant. (I always feel like Norm walking into Cheers!) I love the hot towel (oshibori). I love that Naoto can order some “safe” dishes for me, and some wild and “crazy” dishes for himself and the family. (See whole fish below…Naoto had the honor of eating the head.)izakaya grilled fishizakaya menuMost izakaya menus are entirely in Japanese. The first time we went to Japan, Naoto tried to read the entire menu to me. That got annoying, (I’m sure for both of us) so on this trip, I just told him to order what he wanted, and to make sure there were a few things that I would enjoy. I mean, there was really no point in him telling me about the six-headed squid on the menu when I would never eat it.

So while Naoto was devouring his fish head, I could eat sushi and sashimi, chicken skewers, goma-ae (pictured below, spinach with miso sesame sauce…I love this!), and other vegetable dishes.izakaya goma-ae izakaya Naoto, Satoshi and HarukiWhen we had dinner with Naoto’s family, we sat at a long table in the main room of the izakaya. The other times, with Hisae and then with Naoto’s friends, we sat in a smaller, private rooms. In Japan, the servers are not constantly checking on you like they are (for the most part) here in America. If you need something, you just ring a bell (as we did in one of the establishments) or yell out, “Sumimasen!” (excuse me) and the server comes to take your order or clear your plates or bring your bill. (It’s a beautiful concept…American restaurants, let’s talk about adopting this.)izakaya beer and cocktailBecause I’m not a huge beer drinker, and because I wanted to avoid a Tokyo hangover at all cost, I mostly drank cocktails. Usually they consisted of some kind of house-made liqueur (yuzu or lychee or peach or plum) and soda water, or some secret concoction. We also drank sake (of course!) and shochu (not my favorite). izakaya drinksWhen we met up with Naoto’s college friends (Jessica and Keiichi, along with their son Ethan) we ended our meal with zosui, a rice soup made with chicken stock and other vegetables. Ours was cooked at the table, which was awesome because we were all cold and wet from the downpour we walked through to get to the izakaya. (None of us had umbrellas, which is unheard of in Japan.) The zosui had chicken, scallions, mushrooms, tofu and cabbage…Jessica literally stuffed the pot with the vegetables and they cooked down into the delicious broth. It was so comforting! zosuiizakaya with friendsMany thanks to our friends and family who made our izakaya visits so much fun!

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Spending the Yen 1: Bunbougu Cafe

SyuRo box from bunbougu cafeI’m not sure it’s necessary to blog about each and everything I bought in Japan…

I bought a lot…mostly washi tape, stationery, pens, Biore products, some craft supplies and some seriously tasty snacks involving green tea. (The Green Tea Kit Kats sold at the airport are my favorite things on earth!) Naoto was very much an enabler. Every time I wavered about buying something, he reminded me that we are only in Japan once every year or so. I rarely argued with this reasoning. Even so, I regret about five things I chose to not purchase…ahh next time! syuro box from bunbougu cafeThese are the stationery bits I bought at bunbougu cafe. I chose some calendar stickers, two rolls of MT tape, message cards and this lovely silver box. The box is covered in tiny scratches, which I love because it’s not so precious that I won’t use it. (I always need more wabi-sabi in my life.) It’s large enough to hold pens or post-its on my desk and has become a catalyst for the Great Desk Clean-Up. (Remember this post? Yeah, it’s that bad again.)

Syuro silver boxThe thing I loved about the box is its story. The box is handmade by artisans in Shitamachi (an old section of Tokyo) who used to make tea containers.  Since most people are buying mass-produced tea tins now (because they are cheaper, of course) the makers branched into creating other useful household items in order to keep their livelihoods and to preserve the act of making goods by hand. Each box is handmade and hand scuffed, giving it all those tiny scratches, and celebrates monozukuri (simply, the act of making things, but for a more complicated answer, click the link.)

I love having a little piece of handmade Japan on my desk to remind me of our trip, bunbougu cafe and (most importantly) to keep my desk clean!

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Our Haircuts in Japan

haircut in JapanHisae scheduled a haircut for Naoto and I while we were in Tokyo. She took us to her place in the Ichikawa, Chiba (just outside of Tokyo) to meet Mika at Tribe. I’ll admit, I was a little bit nervous about the whole thing. My hair has a very different texture than Japanese hair, and I was nervous about getting a try-hard Japanophile haircut that looked ridiculous on my Midwestern white-girl face. I shouldn’t have been so worried. Mika was fabulous. She speaks English so I was able to tell her what I wanted without having to rely on Naoto to translate. She is a surfer–the tannest person I saw in Japan–and she plays a Hawaiian radio station in her salon. Nothing gives a place a more relaxing vibe that Hawaiian music! Plus, who else would look so cute in leopard-print wedge sneakers and leopard-print pants?!Tribe salon in JapanGetting a haircut in Japan was much like it is here. A conversation, a wash, a cut, a blow-out and styling. Mika’s assistant washed my hair. There was a wonderfully relaxing head massage during the wash, and a very hot towel was placed on my head for a few minutes. It was so calming and dreamy. After the wash, Mika started cutting. Once she was done with the initial cut, she put something on my hair and wrapped my head in a plastic bag. Then she rolled over this big donut contraption and plugged it in. The donut swirled around my head, warming the conditioning treatment on my hair. While the donut was working its magic, Mika brought me a cup of tea and a piece of miso cake. Treats should always be a part of haircuts! IMG_3698After the donut, Mika’s assistant dried my hair,Mika gave it a few more texturizing cuts and then she styled it with hot rollers. (Does anyone still use hot rollers? I am amazing at how quickly they worked to give my hair a little oomph! I just might be a convert!) Tribe Salon, JapanTribe was quite a train ride away, but it was totally worth it.

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Naoto and his momThey say you can tell a lot about a man based on how he treats his mother.

Naoto was somewhat of a mystery in this department for most of our relationship, since I hadn’t seen him interact with his mom until we’d been married for five years. (Though, I did have some insight–he sends her $100 worth of American cherries every spring…if that doesn’t say love, I’m not sure what does!) When we finally got to spend time together with his mother on our first trip to Japan together, I had a chance to observe my husband in a different light. Naoto and his oka-sanNaoto is very kind and patient and giving and caring in everyday life. When he is with his mom, though, he is extra kind and patient and giving and caring. There is a soft strength that comes out when I see him speaking to his mother and holding her hand and helping her along. When I watch them interact–him explaining about his jobs, her teasing him about being “American fat” (P.S. He’s not!), him asking about her health, her talking about the grandchildren–I can’t help but melt a little bit and love my husband even more. Sure, maybe it’s the novelty…we don’t see Naoto’s mother very often…but I think their time together is very telling of their relationship. And it’s very telling of the kind of man he is.

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Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Sky TreeThe Tokyo Skytree is the tallest structure in Japan and the tallest tower in the world. It is pretty new, opening in May 2012. Hisae got us tickets to see it on Thursday evening. It was the perfect time because we got to see it in the bright sun and then see the view change as the sun went down that evening. We took a comfy Skytree bus to get there…it was a nice change of pace from standing on the trains! Tokyo Sky TreeAs with most of Japan, there is plenty of shopping inside the Skytree. We did a little bit of shopping and snacking before we shot up in the elevator. The sun was setting and painting the sky perfect shades of pinks, purples and golds. It was interesting to notice that Tokyo looks like any other large city from two thousand feet in the air. view from Tokyo Sky Treeview Tokyo Sky Treekimberly naoto tokyo skytreeThere is a glass bottomed section in the Skytree that made us feel all daring as we stood on it, tempting fate. Of course, the metal grid underneath the glass made it less exciting…feet in Tokyo Sky TreeI’m a little bit sad to say that I haven’t been up in Tokyo Tower, the famous-but-shorter tower in the city…maybe next time?

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