Cherry Blossom Season and Philadelphia Taiko Center

19 02 2012

The Philadelphia Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival is right around the corner, from March 23-April 21. Events around the city include performances by the Tamagawa Taiko Drum group, the Blossom Bash, Sakura Sunday (our favorite), and kabuki theater performances for the first time ever.

Matt has established the Philadelphia Taiko Center and is teaching taiko drum lessons at the Asian Arts Initiative. So far the classes are a success, and this is a perfect way to get in the mood for cherry blossom season! He is teaching a special introductory level class on March 24th. You can visit Philadelphia Taiko Center on Facebook for more information, or see below.

Taiko classes are held at 1223 Vine Street, in the Asian Arts Initiative. Introductory classes are scheduled for 9:30 – 11:00 on Saturday mornings. Beginner adults runs from 11:00 – 12:30 Saturdays. Participation in the intro class or instructor ok is required for beginners and beyond classes. Email for more information and registration details. Cost of class is $55/month (typically four classes every month). Follow Philadelphia Taiko Center on twitter: @PhillyTaiko


Roppongi Hills, Tokyo

29 06 2009

On a recent trip to Japan I scheduled in a trip to Roppongi Hills, an upscale space in a gaijin-centric part of Tokyo. I had avoided The Hills when I lived in Tokyo but decided that as a tourist I really should check it out.

The Star Wars-like architecture of Roppongi Hills boasts open spaces, stone walls, wind tunnels, and space age design. The area didn’t win me over, but I’m glad I finally saw it and got to laugh at the boutiques of plastic bags selling for over $100.
Roppongi Hillsexplanation whywind tunnelgot milk?cascadesspiiiderI love you spider!

We took the Minato City bus to the Hills from the apartment but walked back (a few miles, 7 miles total all day)

Timing: Got bus at 10:30, arrived Azabu Juban at 11:00
Cost: 100 yen per person (one way)
Time elapsed: 5 hours
Walked home: free
Accomplished: omiyage shopping, gawking at Roppongi Hills, walking on a 65-degree day in February
Breakfast: Starbucks, 900 yen
Lunch: bakery, 1000 yen

Meiji Jingu Wedding

15 06 2009

I’ve been trying to figure out how to use my iMovie Application and so far I have figured out how to edit the beginnings/ends and add titles. Progress! Here is my latest project from our trip to Japan in February, a wedding at Meiji Jingu in Harajuku.

Ghibli Museum: Six Years Later

13 05 2009

Matt is a recovering anime geek and I am a fake one. We both love Miyazaki films. Anime became a part of my life when I was 8 years old, living in Japan with my family, and the only kids’ shows on TV were An Pan Man and Dragonball.  My 4-year-old brother and I would watch and learn random Japanese phrases.  When I met Matt, he was President of the Anime Club at his university.  “What a dork,” I thought.  And then the memories of my summer in Japan came flooding back, as well as the realization that Tonari no Totoro, one of my favorite films, is anime.  The horror!  I slowly gave in to the part of myself that likes some anime and in 2003 I went to the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo for the first time (read my story on that here).  Matt had gone in 2002.  When we finally went to Japan together in February, we went back to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo together.  Fun stuff! Except that adults still can’t play on the neko bus and you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside. I did my best.



water fountain



the compound




dust bunnies



giant totoro


Not the Neko Bus, but it does Spirit You Away!

Buying tickets for the museum can be tricky. At any Lawson location you can purchase them through ticket machines. Very confusing, even with some language ability. Your best bet is to bring someone who reads the language or ask a kind shop worker for help. 

This website has step by step guidelines:

The only extra step not included in the guide is that you are asked to enter your name in hiragana on the screen following the last one they show. If you know hiragana, just enter your name as best you can (romaji was not an option) and take it to the counter.  If you don’t know hiragana, ask a kind shop worker for help.

Tickets are 1000 yen and you have to choose an entrance time (10:00, 12:00, 14:00, or 16:00) and then you can stay as long as you want to. The bus directly to the museum runs from Mitaka station on the Chuo Line very regularly. One way tickets: 200 yen. Round trip: 300 yen.

Ukai Toriyama

3 05 2009

Way out in the mountains of western Tokyo is a restaurant called Ukai Toriyama. Getting there is not for the faint of heart (or for those who hate traveling long distances just for dinner). From where we used to live in the boonies, Musashi-Sakai, it took about an hour. From central Tokyo, we take 3 different trains and a private bus, or 2 hours, to get to the restaurant. We’re always glad we do.

The ambience is what really makes this place special.  Lanterns, traditional huts, koi ponds, and knowing that you are literally in the mountains, transports every visitor away from the frenetic nature of Tokyo.






There are an abundance of private rooms, all sizes, for romantic meals for two or opulent dinners for companies.


In our private room for four, we ordered the house sake in bamboo and Kirin lager.  There weren’t many options for sake–the house was decent but it may have been the bamboo playing tricks on us.


We ordered the kaiseki menu because we wanted to try as many of them as possible during the trip.  The first dish was boiled daikon (radish) with mountain vegetables and a spot of mustard.  I liked the flavor but the texture was a bit too mushy.  Matt thought it was “meh” (exact words).


This was our second-favorite course.  All mountain vegetables: mushroom tempura (we think they were Hen of the Woods mushrooms) and greens with ground mustard and mayonnaise:


Next up was broth with tsukune (ground chicken ball) and mountain vegetables, carrot and seaweed–the taste was bland and non-offensive.

tsukune soup

Sashimi–lovely tuna and chewy white fish:


Chawanmushi: this version was egg custard with pieces of pork–good but not to everyone’s taste.


Ayu: grilled sweet fish fish with salt and lemon (before):

fish before

Ayu after. The flesh is tender and delicious and since the bones are still attached to the spine, it’s easier to eat around them:

fish after

More tempura with shishitou (mini green peppers) on the side–our guess at the English translation was that this was a lily bulb–it resembled garlic cloves or onion but didn’t really taste like anything:


The best part of the meal was cook-your-own wagyu beef with miso paste.


That stone was hot:

meat w miso

Cooked just the way I like it–the convenience of DIY meat:

cooked meat

The steamed rice was delicious, but it is served with a yam paste that I chose not to eat.  We can’t remember the rest of the dishes because it has taken us 2 months to write this review.


Matt liked the flavor of the yam paste but the texture is unique because the starch in the ground-up mountain sweet potato creates a paste.  Matt’s words: “glutenous, goopy, and gooey.”


Zenzai for dessert: sweet bean soup with roasted rice cake.  This is Matt’s favorite Japanese dessert.  I would eat it again but would rather have chocolate.


Overall thoughts:Ukai Toriyama is gorgeous.  The food was pretty good but nothing was incredible.  The total bill for drink and food for 4 people was $400 (no tipping in Japan).  Obviously this was more about the experience than the food, and they know that.  The non-fabulous menu total: $400.  The look on your husband’s face when he walks through the grounds for the first time: priceless.

Getting there: Keio Line from Shinjuku station to Takaosanguchi station. Private bus to restaurant. (We took the Chuo line to Takao station and then got on the Keio Line because our rail passes were only good on JR trains. Chuo is JR and Keio is not.)

Sweet Potato: Asakusa

29 03 2009

Down a pedestrian side-street in Asakusa is an amazing shop that sells variations of sweet potatoes, a famous winter food in Tokyo.  Walk down Nakamise-dori towards Sensoji Temple and turn left on Shin Nakamise-dori (click here to view an easy-to read map).


The pureed sweet potato baked in an apple is 525 yen and big enough to share between two people.  The potato is browned and crispy on top.  The apple is baked to perfection and is soft enough to eat with a plastic spoon.

sweet potato baked apple

Another option is a steamed sweet potato for 100 yen:

sweet potato roasting

Jizo at Zojoji, Tokyo

22 03 2009

I decided to film a peaceful moment in the middle of Tokyo–the jizo statues with pinwheels at Zojoji Temple in Minato-ku. You can also hear the noisy crows in the background.

Zojoji Temple, founded in 1393, sits in the middle of a very busy and affluent neighborhood in Tokyo called Minato-ku. It is frequently photographed for postcards and promotional materials because Tokyo Tower looms behind it and the contrast between old and new is obvious.

The statues in this video are called “jizo” and symbolize the Ojizo-sama divinity that protects children, especially those who have died before their parents.

Zojoji Temple
Jodo Shu Main Temple
4-7-35 Shibakoen Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0011 Japan
Tel: (81)3-3432-1431

The closest subway stations are Onarimon or Shibakoen Station on the Mita Subway Line and Daimon Station on the Oedo Subway Line. The temple can also be reached in a ten minute walk from Hamamatsucho Station on the JR Yamanote and JR Keihin-Tohoku Line.