Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

May your day be filled with lots of food, family, and fun...

In Japan, Thanksgiving is about to end but I am going to bed happily stuffed with my mom's ham (as well as turkey on the side).
In a year filled with blessings, I'm thankful that Andrew and I were able to spend Thanksgiving with my parents this year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday Means Mongolian BBQ

I feel a little guilty with this post, since I know how much my Uncle Rich and cousin Andrew love Mongolian BBQ but there you have it. It was Wednesday night, which means Mongolian BBQ night on Zama.

Quick recap on Mongolian BBQ, it's the same concept that you see in the Fire and Ice chain of restaurants in Boston. You pick your own combinations and amounts of vegetables, proteins and sauces and it's cooked stir fry style and served with rice.

As you can see in the picture, there were tons of vegetables to choose from, including some of my favorites such as bean sprouts, green peppers and green beans:

For proteins, there was shrimp, chicken, beef, pork and turkey. I tend to stick with pork since I've come to realize that it's my favorite type of meat, especially in Asian-style cooking:

Continuing the trend of misspelling names, my name picked up an extra "u" from last year and Andrew's name somehow got interpreted as Angela. In case you're wondering, somehow my dad ended up with the most at the table (18 ounces) but in his defense, he did pile on a lot of vegetables. I'm always eager to see the ounces just as a competition amongst the family, but it's also important because you get charged by ounce to determine how much you pay ($.75 per ounce).

Andrew enjoying the free Chinese vegetable soup that comes with the meal:

And, Andrew getting his first taste of Mongolian BBQ:

I caught my dad mid-chew with his monster bowl, when cooked, doesn't seem like much after all:

My own meal - colorful and delicious! You can't go wrong with soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and sesame oil for flavors:

Meiji Jingu - Emperor's Shrine

I'm still feeling proud about this accomplishment. Andrew and I could see Meiji Shrine from the observation deck (thus fulfilling the "old" part of that post) so we decided to forgo the trains and walk directly to it.

It immediately reminded me of Central Park in NY - while it's not the only park in Tokyo, it went from being completely urban on the outside to being a quiet forest on the inside. It was originally built in 1920 in memory of Emperor Meiji (great grandfather of Japan's current emperor) and Empress Shoken. The original was destroyed during WWII but was rebuilt in 1958. Of course, the entry way was marked with a Torii gate:

We took our time walking down a long path lined with trees - according to our guidebook,
the evergreen forest consists of 120,000 trees of 365 different species that were donated from people all around the world:

Once we arrived at the inner sanctum of the shrine, we followed the typical cleansing ritual before entering:
This is the main gate of Meiji shrine that leads into a large inner courtyard:

From reading the shrine's brochure, you got a strong sense of the love and respect that the Japanese had for the emperor and empress, which extended into the public's efforts to build and rebuild the shrine. I could literally see the love in the ornate work that decorated the shrine's front entrance:

Once inside Meiji Shrine's inner courtyard, I took Andrew's picture outside of the shrine, as no photography is allowed inside it:

I also managed to capture a quick photo of Japanese visitors wearing traditional kimonos:
And the best thing ever, soon after we arrived, a procession made its way through the temple.

After watching them for a few seconds, we realized it was a wedding procession! Although the guidebook said that the temple was popular for weddings, they typically take place on weekends or holidays so we were incredibly lucky to witness this first hand.

It was heartwarming to hear the crowd gently clap (with happiness while quietly with respect to their surroundings) for the couple and they looked so happy while posing for pictures:

We left Shinjuku thinking that we had experienced a lot in a few hours, and although our feet were sore, we happily trudged back to the train station to catch our ride home.

Old and New at Shinjuku

I took Andrew deep into the heart of Tokyo today, by visiting the section with the busiest train station. As one of our guidebooks puts it, Tokyo's population (around 34 million) is the size of California's population squished into an area the size of Hawaii. Walking around Tokyo's streets definitely confirms this description.
Upon leaving the Shinjuku train station, Andrew and I took Rich's advice and headed for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It is a must see for anyone that visits the area because it is literally right outside the train station (a quick five minute walk), it's free to use their observation deck and simply, the building just looks cool (its exterior was apparently was designed to look like a microchip):

I don't know if you can get a sense of how tall the building is but...

...maybe this perspective will help. This is from the observation deck on the 45th floor looking down at the spot where we took the first picture:

The observation deck gave us 360 degree views of Tokyo, including one of Andrew's favorites, the Tokyo Dome (where the Red Sox played a series):

What was equal parts interesting and reassuring was the information on how the building was designed to withstand earthquakes:

Another stunning view of Tokyo to give you a sense for how densely populated it is. If the day had been clearer, we would've been able to see mountains and perhaps even Mount Fuji in the distance:

Although the lighting was horrible, we did manage to grab one kind Japanese woman to take a picture of us together to commemorate the experience:

As we were leaving, I couldn't resist snapping a shot of the lobby's ceiling - notice how the microchip theme is reflected in the interior?

Breakfast at the Golf Club

My apologies to my readers - this is going to be another one of those posts that are boring unless you've lived on Zama!

This morning, we gave Andrew his first taste of the golf club by having breakfast there. It sounds fancier than it really is, you don't even have to be a member to eat there. In fact, we used to eat lunch at the golf club when we were in high school.

The interior pretty much looks the same as it did ten years ago when I was in high school and at 10 am, we were the only ones in the whole joint for most of our meal:

Here's the handsome guy that treated us to breakfast:

Andrew went with the Eagles Nest with eggs over easy, french toast, sausage and bacon:

My dad stayed fairly healthy with an omelet, toast and hash browns:

I satisfied my sweet tooth and my salty tooth with a waffle with bananas and hash browns, no lemonade for me this time:

For Camie

Milk tea (in a bottle). For the record, Andrew wasn't a fan, and switched back to coffee. And yes, that's Souboudai-mae in the background.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Andrew's First Hamburg Set

As Enoshima (the island) was mobbed with tourists - and to be honest, filled with scary seafood - we crossed the bridge back over to the mainland to grab a quick lunch at a city convenience restaurant (aka fast food) place that my dad had eaten at with Amy and Rich on a previous visit.

I don't ever remember seeing these restaurants when I lived in Japan, but I'm beginning to notice them everywhere, especially since there's now one in Machida. They're apparently known for their flavored potato fries, which was a little annoying when we were ordering. All we wanted was plain fries, and we couldn't explain that to the cashier with our limited language skills, so Andrew and my dad went with BBQ fries since that was the only recognizable flavor. I chose consumme, thinking the fries looked plain in the picture and I was pretty sure it was a type of French potato soup - in case you were wondering, the other flavors were hot chili, jagabata (apparently their most popular flavor but what the heck is it?), mental (?) butter and cheese. Unfortunately, everything was written in Japanese inside the restaurant, and we didn't see this sign with all the flavors until after we had ordered, otherwise I definitely would've gone for another flavor!

I was able to order one of my favorite sodas, C.C. Lemon, Andrew went with a Pepsi and my dad's beer somehow didn't make the order (they kept telling us it wasn't a part of the package meal and I kept trying to explain to them that we wanted to order a beer a la carte):

At first, Andrew looked horrified at what Japanese put on their hamburgers (just kidding, I just happened to catch him with an odd expression):

But after biting into the burger that was topped with cheese, bacon, an egg, tartar sauce and ketchup, he decided that it was edible:

All sets of the fries came in a bag doused with flavored powder that you were supposed to shake around. They were OK, but there was a little too much powder, and consumme kind of tasted like the chicken flavoring that comes with ramen.
Andrew had definitely noticed that there were a ton of Japanese restaurants offering "hamburgs" but now he truly had an understanding that these were not your typical American burger, especially in terms of toppings!

Visiting Enoshima - Japanese Beach Town

After a pleasant train ride along the sea coast, we arrived at the Enoshima train stop and walked over the causeway to Enoshima Island. Like Kamakura, it was crawling with tourists but that didn't stop us from pushing through to see the sights:

Enoshima consists upon levels upon levels of stairs, with Torii gates, shrines and restaurants scattered along the way:

It was refreshing to stop climbing at scenic points, take a breath of salt air and take in the scenery:

The stairs and paths, while narrow, were lined with tourist shops and restaurants
pushing all sorts of odd sea creature-related junk. You could even purchase your very own blowfish:

If you were hungry, you could grab squid on a stick or a steamed clam...

Even big chunks of juicy grilled octopus tentacle:

It being Japan, there were vending machines everywhere and Andrew stopped to try another brand of coffee (with the Enoshima light house behind him):
The only disturbing sight on the island were the frighteningly large and colorfully marked spiders - ewwwwww!

One of my favorite sights of the day, the turtle dispensing cleansing water at one of the shrines (there was also a dragon statue releasing a constant flow of water in the women's bathroom, as opposed to a traditional sink):

It was very cool to round a corner and see a shrine built into a cave, complete with its own dragon guardian:
This picture is an attempt to show the many levels on the island - just picture many flights of stone steps leading from the top level down, all of which we climbed up:
While most of the climb was more mountainous in nature, as we approached the western end of the island, the stairs suddenly lead to the sea. The birds you can see in the picture are the peregrine falcons that flock around the island, there were literally dozens of them flying all over. I think we only saw two seagulls the whole time we were at Enoshima:

One of the more amusing signs on the island, perhaps not so much for the inhabitants as I don't even want to imagine a tidal wave hitting:
As we were blessed with another warm, clear and sunny day of weather, we decided to take a closer look at the rocks and the shoreline:

Between huffing and puffing on the flights of stairs and the warm weather, we shed our coats at some point - and they stayed off for the rest of the day!

Dad was the only one that was smart enough to bring sunglasses with him:
On our descent, we passed this random sign with a rather charming message:
To top it off, at around the same place, there was a musician in a clearing that started playing Pachelbel's Canon in D as we walked through. As this is the song that Andrew and I will be getting married to, I couldn't believe our luck to be walking through at the right moment to hear it playing. It was a perfect end to a great day.