Sunday, November 27, 2016

Finally time for Food!

Hi there!

Well it's time for that post.  Japan is a fascinating place for the foodie in me and the food is pretty, let me say, different here.  While many more people know Japanese food than knew Zanzibari food, I'm going to tell you about my experiences here nevertheless.  Maybe you'll see something that we can try together when I get back to America!  One thing I've struggled with a lot in Japan is the lack of eating and drinking while walking or doing anything publicly.  The Japanese are very private, and this extends to food as well.  You don't eat a burrito or drink a coffee while you walk to work, so eating on the go is uncomfortable.  Definitely something to get used to, especially once I realized how different it was during my few days in Korea, where everyone had coffee and a snack in the streets.  

And I've had some nice fancy meals too!


The snacks are probably the best part of Japanese food.  A staple of casual food culture are "konbini" which are the convenience stores like 7-11, Family Mart, and Lawsons.  These konbinis are open 24/7 since they must always be convenient.  Since this is Japan, everyone is incredibly nice and polite, so whenever you walk into any konbini or restaurant or store or literally anywhere, you are greeted.  Also, you can buy just about anything your heart desires at konbinis, from snacks to booze to toiletries to full-fledged meals.  And the best part of buying the meals from konbini is that they'll warm up your meal for you and give you a towel and chopsticks to eat it with.  The options are literally endless.

Bugles still exist in Japan, and they're teriyaki flavored!

These mushrooms are a gift from the heavens.  A cookie stem with a chocolate head, it's bliss.

Look at that little mushroom!

Japan loves European food (mostly French but they do spread out) so they're not hard to find!

Sweets in Japan aren't very sweet which is a huge relief from how sweet things are in America.  And most sweets are made from some form of rice.  These are rice balls lightly sweetened.

Japan absolutely loves Kit Kats.  These are matcha (green tea) flavored

And these are sake flavored.  Eat enough and you'll get drunk.  Seriously.

These are apparently bean-like sweets.  I don't really know what they are but they're amazing.

Red bean paste is a common sweet here and is in almost everything.  I'm not a fan of it but it's okay in small portions.


Those balls are takoyaki.  They're rice balls filled with bits of octopus and are probably the most famous street food.

Japan is also famous for their over-the-top ice cream parfaits and the hype is worth it.

Of course, sushi.

Matcha (green tea) ice cream with matcha powder sprinkling.  The best ice cream ever.

This is tayaki.  This pastry is filled with anything from red bean paste to sweet potato to custard.  Except the red bean, they're amazing.

Soba (buckwheat) noodles and shrimp, veggie, and seaweed tempura.  Restaurants and businesses here can also be hundreds of years old.  This is one of the oldest restaurants in the world, sitting at 551 years ago, founded in 1465.

Sweets and matcha

This was some bread filled with matcha ice cream and I devoured it.

Also at konbini you can buy full-on meals.  This bento box was prepared so nicely!

Soba (rice noodles) in a hot broth.  Great warming dish, I really need to find a place that sells this in Colorado, since it would be perfect for skiing lunch.

This is okonomiyaki.  That translates literally to "fried choices".  It's a rice flour with bacon on top.

And alas, the famous Kobe beef.  It's cooked on a hibachi and pre-cut up for you so you can eat with chopsticks.  It's amazingly tender and the best meat you'll ever eat.  Order it rare.

Grocery Shopping:

So grocery shopping is a bit weird in Japan.  I struggle really hard with it since everything's in Japanese and in Japanese only so sometimes I just look at the labels on things thinking that maybe if I look at it long enough it'll just translate but it never does.  Also, be sure to bring your own grocery bags or get charged lots of money!  And be ready to bag your own groceries.  Be prepared to spend an arm and a leg on fruits and veggies though.  If it's not a $9 bushel of grapes or a $3 apple, it's a square watermelon for $18!  

Pro tip: If you want to save a bit of money, go later in the day.  Since the Japanese value freshness more than anything else, the longer food sits out, the more discounted it gets.    


There's plenty of seasonal brews to choose from at konbinis.  I just loved the design of this one.

There are very few craft breweries in Japan, but of course I found one!

Matcha tea + Kahlua cocktail

Sake of course.  Still not a fan of sake, but I keep trying and keep not liking it.

And finally, a whisky tasting at Yamazaki Whisky, who have won more international whisky competitions than any other distillery, so aka the best whisky in the world!

This is only a snapshot of all the options in Japan, but I've already posted too much.  I hope y'all learned a bit of something since I certainly have while eating all of this!  Thanks!


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tourism: A Land of Contradictions


I'm gearing up for the last two weeks of the quarter here with lots of final projects, presentations, papers, and exams so that's been taking up lots of my free time!  I'm still making time to go and visit various places around Kyoto though.  One of my classes here is Cultural Tourism where we've been taking a special look at how Kyoto has been managing its rising number of tourists, so I thought this would be something interesting to talk about for this post.

In 2014, Kyoto was named the "Best City in the World" by Travel & Leisure Magazine, and in 2015, it again gained the #1 position.  In 2016 it dropped to #2 behind Charleston, South Carolina, but it's obvious to see why Kyoto held onto that top spot for two years (and in the top 10 for years prior).  This has led to a surge in tourists traveling to Japan and Kyoto to see the temples and shop and eat.  Kyoto is a very small city and is not exactly equipped to deal with this many people.  Hence, the major tourist attractions are incredibly overcrowded, there are fewer hotel rooms than tourists, and locals are developing a poor attitude towards tourists.

Something that's very sad to me is seeing these temples and shrines that are thousands of years old crowded by tourists trying to get the same photo for a popular Instagram post.  And I am not without fault, I have participated strongly in this and I haven't felt more like a tourist at any point in these few months here than at one of these temples, elbowing my way through a crowd.  I often think about the architects and builders of these places and what they would think of their masterpiece sectioned off with tape with tourists crowding around to take photos.  Below are a few expectation v. reality (all photos are mine)  

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Fushimi Inari Shrine

And let's not even start on the Kurama Fire Festival where I was shoved up against the side of someone's home with a group of people I didn't know for 20 minutes to watch this festival walk by 


These honestly aren't even very close to the actual crowds, I honestly would rather not take photos than take photos with hundreds of people in them.  Kyoto is currently working to advertise itself only to the luxury tourist markets.  Personally, I think that's a wonderful idea.  Kyoto is this beautiful, but very small, city with this amazing blend of history and culture and modernity and it's a shame it's fallen into this tourist trap.  Especially for the luxury tourists who already come to Japan and want to see Kyoto, they're not going to want to pay these luxury prices to push through crowds.  This was actually part of the reason why Kyoto fell from the top of Travel & Leisure's list was due to the complaints of crowds.

Image result for travel and leisure worlds best kyoto

Currently, tourism is only expected to increase, especially with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics coming up.  Kyoto is estimated to need 10,000 more hotel rooms to deal with this trend by 2020.  There needs to be more diversity in what it offers to tourists so that they don't come to Kyoto only for Kinkakuji and Fushimi Inari, but come for onsen or the food or hiking, just to spread these tourists out more.

What's interesting to me is that, while Kyoto isn't managing its booming tourism well, can you think of a city that has managed tourism well?  This is a problem around the world, and we need a lot of people in order to solve it.  I definitely don't want to discourage you from coming to Kyoto, it is truly an amazing place, but just be prepared for your expectations to not exactly meet the reality.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016



Things have been pretty busy here between classes (graduate study abroad involves a lot more work than undergraduate study abroad) and trying to see as much as possible.  Life in Kyoto is slow, it's much more of a small town feel and it's fairly quiet most of the time.

But sports here are definitely something else.

This past week I had the pleasure of stumbling upon a free ticket to a Sumo event and going to a Doshisha University baseball game.  I can honestly say the crowds at the two sports couldn't have been more different and neither could have been more different than any sporting event I have been to in the US.  Let's start with Sumo:

Sumo, the ancient Japanese wrestling, is still a huge phenomenon in Japan, and has gained international attention.  Kyoto doesn't host much in terms of Sumo, most of that is in Osaka, but it just happened that there was a tournament last week.  First, upon arrival, I was given a goodie bag with FREE SNACKS, tea, brochures about the wrestlers, and more.  Definitely the first time I got a gift for coming to a sporting event.  When I got into the arena, it was close to full (I mean the event had been going on for about 4 hours at that point, but I had class) with the expensive seats on the floor next to the ring, less than 10 feet away from huge men wrestling each other (and a few men fell into the crowd so if you want the full experience with the added danger of possibly getting crushed by an almost-naked 325lbs man, go ahead).  We didn't have the expensive seats.

This was by far the most cordial sporting event I have ever been to.  There was no booze, no screaming, no arms in the air.  Just golf-claps for the wrestlers before and after they fought.  The Sumos even bow to each other, in true Japanese fashion, before and after their match.

All in all, Sumo is an incredible sport that has gained worldwide attention and it was very nice to see this extreme form of sportsmanship still present today.  If you ever have the chance to watch Sumo, I highly recommend!


Through friends here who actually speak Japanese, I learned that Doshisha had a home game against another Kyoto university.  So obviously I wanted to go see my favorite sport.  I knew that Japan loves baseball, I would assume as much as the US loves baseball.  Well, you know what they say about 'assume'...

When I got to the off-campus stadium, I was once again given a goodie bag that included a program, thundersticks, and a Doshisha Sport scarf with baseball decals.  This is starting to look like an awesome trend.  I got to the stands on the third base side with all the other Doshisha students, and thought that this was a pretty good showing for a college game.  That wasn't even half the people who would show up by the 2nd inning.  As I struggle to blow up my thundersticks, the cheerleaders (yup, cheerleaders for baseball) started coming into the crowd to amp people up.

Trust me, they didn't need to put in the effort to get people amped up for baseball.

First very weird thing: home team bats first.

Second very weird thing: When Doshisha was at bat, the entire student section is on its feet (not so weird) being led in organized chants and thundersticking by the cheerleaders.  This is legitimately nonstop in English and Japanese.

Third very weird thing: When Doshisha was not at bat, the entire student section is on its feed being led in organized chants and thundersticking by the cheerleaders.  This is legitimately nonstop in English and Japanese.

Fourth very weird thing: Between innings, we played Rock, Paper, Scissors with the cheerleaders.

Fifth very weird thing: No 7th inning stretch and "Take Me Out To The Ball Game".  No Sweet Caroline or Dirty Water either (insert crying emoji).

Sixth very weird thing: After Doshisha won 2-1 the teams lined up and instead of shaking hands, they bowed to each other and it was so nice.  I assumed they would bow to each other and to the fans and then we'd all be on our merry way.  Again with the 'assume' thing...

Seventh very weird thing: Both teams turned to face the Doshisha fan side.  One cheerleader (apparently he's the loudest one) dressed in traditional Japanese clothing led us through a screaming thing that was coordinated with everyone else except me.  I have no idea what they all chanted but it was very loud and we unraveled a HUGE Doshisha flag that made it look and sound like we were about to head into battle.  I thought maybe just the winning team does this, but NOPE, we turned to face the other team's student section and they did something similar.

All in all, sports are very different here than in the US.  And did I mention that none of these events had even a single drop of alcohol?  I guess that makes the events much more cordial than events back in the US but my ears were ringing from the nonstop cheering.

Thanks for reading!  Any suggestions on what you'd like to hear about?  Leave a comment!


Monday, September 26, 2016

Very Sharp, Very Knife


If you've read many of my blog posts, you know I usually write about cultural aspects of where I'm traveling instead of just telling you that I went somewhere, ate something, and saw some cool stuff because I find that boring.  But today, I'm going to tell you a story.  I guess it has a cultural background, though, since this is very Japanese and something you find only in Japan.

Food is great though!  These are takoyaki, pan fried balls of rice flour with pieces of octopus inside!

Everyone who knows me knows I love to cook.  I especially love good knives.  So it comes as no surprise that I would buy Japanese knives while here.  So today I'm going to tell you about the most amazing place to buy handmade Japanese best-in-the-world knives that's far from the business of the more touristy areas of Kyoto.

I'll be the first to say that I did not stumble across this place by myself.  One of my professors in Denver teaches at Doshisha Business School and she got the info on where to go that's not the one super touristy knife place.  These knives are just as good as those (AND CHEAPER).

The first barrier as to why this shop isn't as visited as the main tourist one is that it's hard to find.  I basically wandered around a general area looking for one small sign outside of one small building.  Naturally, I went in circles for a while until actually finding it.  When I walked in, I was greeted immediately, as is customary in Japan, and I was amazed at how many knives there were in such a small space.  The entire shop is probably the size of my dorm room and has hundreds of knives, scissors, shears, anything sharp, and not just stuff for the kitchen either (hair scissors, thread scissors, and more).

This is 90% of the shop, and there's another whole wall of knives, floor to ceiling, to the right

Anyway, it's a father and son (at least that's what I gathered) who run the shop and the father spoke enough English to tell me how he makes the knives and showed me the three layers of steel he puts together to make the knives.  It's obvious he loves his craft and has been doing it for a long time.  And just to drive home the point that his knives will last a lifetime, he showed me a knife his wife had for over 40 years that's significantly smaller than it was when it was new but still just as sharp.  Even though the best Japanese knives are expensive, they're the only knives you'll ever need and they last a lifetime.

See that knife on the left?  That used to look like the one on the right and is still super sharp even though it's been grated down over the last 41 years by the owner's wife.

Once I decided on the knives I wanted (two for me, two for gifts), it took me a while to figure out that I was being asked which name I wanted inscribed onto the opposite side of the knife.  So I wrote out my name so that it could be phonetically converted into Japanese.  I just thought he would take the knives I took out of the cabinet and inscribe them.  Nope.  These were just the models.  His son comes from the back (there was a back in this tiny place?) with never-been-touched individual pieces and the father then spends a good 20 minutes washing them, drying them, sharpening them, and making sure they're sharp by gently dragging them through a newspaper and watching them effortlessly slice the newspaper in half.  It was amazing.  He just put so much care into each knife, and then to inscribe my name, takes out a nail (it looked basically like a small flathead screwdriver) and a small hammer to hand scribe my name in Japanese onto the knife.  I don't know what I expected but it sure wasn't that.  

He's hand engraving my name in Japanese onto my knives!

After inscribing each knife, he hands them to his son who places them in perfectly-formed boxes and wraps them in beautiful paper.  While I'm waiting for all of this (since it takes a while to do a craft properly!), I'm asked how I heard about this place, and I mentioned it was because of my professor, and I explained that I'm a student at Doshisha.  He hands me a guestbook to which I take it as "find the person who recommended you come here" which I did!  The guestbook was so cool because not only did it have people from all over the world writing how much they loved their experience here, but this man took the time to write down what each person bought below their signature, so he was able to show me what my professor bought when she was here a few months ago.  I also signed the guestbook, expressing how happy I am to have these beautiful works of art and how excited I am to cook with them!

Such beautiful packaging!  Thanks for taking some of the Christmas wrapping chores away from me!

My knives are all packed and I'm ready to pay and take them out the door, and I say thank you many more times than is necessary in both English and Japanese (because I never feel as though I can express how thankful I am for something in any other language but English) but I really feel as though I got the point across by how much I was smiling.  As I was heading out the door, the son said "Wait!" and I though I forgot my wallet or something, but he was stopping me to give me a cookie.

Look for this sign with the scissors in black with a bit of yellow
This sign!

Needless to say, I love these people and everyone should bring their business here.  Directions below:

The name of the place is Hayakawa Hamonoten.  From the Shijo station off the Karasuma subway line (subway stop K09), head East on Ayanokoji Dori for three blocks until you get to Sakai-machi Dori.  Turn right (South) on Sakai-machi and it will be on your right.  The location is on Sakai-machi Dori between Ayanokoji and Bukkoji Dori.  Google Maps location is below.  Look for the sign outside!  

If you can read Japanese, check out their website at