Shonan No Hoseki Illuminations Event in Enoshima, Japan

Enoshima is a gorgeous island near Kamakura where people go to take a break from the city, see some local shrines, and spend the day with their families. Right now in December, there is a lovely illumination event in Samuel Cocking Garden near Enoshima Shrine.

It cost 200 yen to inside and an extra 300 yen to go up the tower. The lights were impressive, and stepping into the area felt like walking into a new world.

47239218_2189782451349313_3317647350356246528_n

Illumination events appear all over the cities in Japan around December and January. Though not always festive, they are a public version of Christmas lights that people can enjoy this time of year.

47234483_303657616916995_1976997798813368320_n

47146030_1807119576065864_8067611911052591104_n

They certainly pushed the boat out at this garden. Together with the walk past the breathtaking Enoshima Shrine and with a nearby cafe selling french toast, coffee, and other goodies, it was a lovely evening out with friends.

47172465_372866026804179_3248844267786862592_n

If you’d like to see this illumination, the event will run until February 17th, 2019. For more information about opening times, see the website below.

Illumination Event website
Access

A Hidden Gem in Kanagawa: Tamagawa Daishi Temple

Back in my tour guide days, I used to dread hearing the words “hidden gem.” Tourists claim to want to see unknown places that no one knows about, but if tourists went there, they wouldn’t be hidden. I know some of the popular places in Tokyo, but I wasn’t aware of many places that “no one knows about.”

However, today a friend took me to a temple in Futago-Tamagawa. Futago-Tamagawa, much like other places in Kanagawa Prefecture, has undergone a lot of development in recent years. Young people often visit for shopping and dining. But there is more to the area than department stores and restaurants.

After walking for around fifteen minutes after a delicious Korean lunch near the station, we reached a small temple called Tamagawa Daishi. Now, it didn’t look like much from the outside…

47032342_510148032822176_630881982263328768_n

But what made this very old temple special was that it was much, much bigger once you ventured underground.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures on the inside, but here is an account of what we found.

After offering a five-yen coin, ringing the gong, and saying a quick prayer, we ventured inside. The temple was stuffed full of old treasures: ancient gongs, statues of various Buddhist gods blackened by time, and solid gold bells and things I didn’t recognise. Incense burned and the smell of wood filled the air.

smoke-1943398_1280

It cost 100 yen to go down into the underground. We signed our names, put on the provided slippers, and headed down there.

“Last time I was here, we got into trouble for screaming,” my friend told me. “The monk had to tell us off.”

Apparently, it was so dark down there they got freaked out and started shrieking. She wasn’t kidding; it was pitch-black and we had to walk slowly, hands sliding along the wall. I’m not sure what the point of a dark tunnel in a Japanese temple is, but it might give you the feeling of walking into another world.

After several minutes of feeling our way along in the dark, we reached this amazing underground room. Again, taking photographs was prohibited and I wasn’t about to disrespect the rules, but there was a long corridor full of the 88 monks of the temple from back then. Some of them had unlit candles or other treasures placed before them.

There were also statues of angels, one enormous stone statue of the monk who built the temple, and various models of the gods of fire. At one point, we came across a god who helped take unborn deceased children to the afterlife. A month ago I had a miscarriage, but instead of being upsetting, the statue of a god with smaller cherubs clinging to his robes filled me with wonder (though I did feel my eyes burning.)

My friend said later that she had forgotten about my misfortune when she had invited me, and apologised profusely. I told her it was fine; I had wanted to visit a temple with these statues anyway, so in a way, it was beautiful, if a little heartbreaking.

46837445_2140217659528517_1792986118359089152_n

Fortunately, we were allowed to take pictures outside.

46844438_259058001438588_2952736861484744704_n

Then we headed to Musashi-Nakahara to see a small farm of pansies. The pansy is the symbol of Nakahara Ward and is popular to buy around December. Some of the arrangements in the picture below were being sold for 30,000 yen (About £206 GBP or $265 USD)!

47070265_313314789505125_1313640340464336896_n

All in all, it was a great day and very different from what I usually do. If you’re in the area, Tamagawa Daishi is worth a visit for the vast array of authentic treasures that are hundreds of years old. It’s a little surreal to be in an underground temple surrounded by priceless artifacts from temple worship.

Access link

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Caitlyn (Book One) Three Bloody Pieces” by Elizabeth Davies

Although I adore new worlds borne from the imagination of fantasy writers – they push the boundaries of their fictional universe, creating a new history, races, and cultures that we can explore and discover – I also have a soft spot for historical fiction. Exploring the story of characters that live in the real world gives them a sense of wonder and magic. If I read a story that is set in our world a few hundred years ago, we know that our ancestors lived in a similar world, facing the challenges and obstacles the character does.

I recently came across a historical fantasy called Three Bloody Pieces. It is the first of the Caitlyn trilogy, written by Welsh paranormal author Elizabeth Davies. Always eager for something new to read, I delved straight into this novel after enjoying the free sample.

Three_3bloodypieces_e_Cover“A dead king, a queen who is more than she seems, and a witch who uses the dark arts to entrap her. Queen, widow, beggar – Lady Caitlyn is all three, and now she can add murderer to the list. When death and treachery propels her south to Normandy, to seek sanctuary with the exiled Prince Alfred, visions of a woman with ancient eyes travel with her. Herleva is a woman filled with ambition and greed. A woman who intends to be more than a commoner. A woman who gets what she wants by whatever means possible, even if she has to practice the dark arts to achieve her goals. A woman who is a witch. Caitlyn finds herself caught up in a magic which changes her very being. A magic which produces a king to change the lives of every man, woman, and child in England.”

Davies’ writing style was authentic and vivid. I followed the story at her comfortable pace, finding it easy to imagine the scenes around me. Sometimes you come across books that focus so much on the description that they lose you on the way. This didn’t happen with Three Bloody Pieces. There was enough description to conjure images of the characters and surroundings without overwhelming us with unneeded “fluff.”

We are thrown into the action from the very first page. Lady Caitlyn has lost everything: her kingdom, her husband, and the victory she’d expected in their battle. Her husband is lying dead at her feet, the approach of enemy soldiers heavy on her shoulders. With barely enough time to bury King Rhain before they have to flee, Caitlyn must set her grief aside and focus on survival. A queen by birth and also by marriage, she is in danger from her husband’s enemies and forced to leave her unfortunate people behind to fend for themselves.

This novel kept me on my toes. Every time I thought I’d be able to guess what was coming, the story went in an entirely new direction. This gave it an incredible lack of predictability which, to me, is very important.

I also really liked Caitlyn’s character. She was brave and could get on with things even when a weaker person would have crumbled. I suppose that by entering an arranged marriage at a young age, she had accepted what fate had in store for her and had even grown to care for her husband; this situation must have prepared her for a life of adapting to her situation even if it were terrible. Caitlyn was certainly pushed to her limit several times, but she never despaired.

The first part of the novel was like a gritty fantasy adventure. Caitlyn was getting strange visions of a terrifying, unknown woman who cut up dead bodies and performed strange rituals with them. Caitlyn and her temporary protectors fled from her homeland in Wales and to a nearby lord who might be able to help her.

I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more of a build-up between two very important scenes, but that might be personal preference. The overall mood of the book changed halfway through with a strange twist. If you’ll look at the other reviews on Amazon, you’ll see I’m not alone in thinking this twist was a little weird. I actually almost stopped reading, but I was invested in Caitlyn’s life and was curious as to what would happen next.

As well as being brave and adapting to her unfortunate new lifestyle, Caitlyn remained an empathetic, caring person. She also had a great amount of sass that had me laughing aloud sometimes. This added realism to her character – she wasn’t just a noble queen with a brave attitude, but quite down-to-earth, relatable, and funny with her sarcasm and comebacks, especially the ones she thought to herself as she held her tongue. We’ve all done that before! I can’t list most of my favourite quotes without giving away spoilers, but one of the funniest was “She looked as though the last contact she’d had with water was at her own Christening.”

Even though the aforementioned twist was hard to swallow, the book redeemed itself. I watched Caitlyn and the challenges she had to face, some keeping me at the edge of my seat. Three Bloody Pieces was so charming and well-written that I couldn’t help but buy the others of the trilogy right away. I won’t be forgetting this story in a hurry and I’m eager to read the next.

I want to give Three Bloody Pieces four and a half stars, but unfortunately, that’s not possible. Therefore, I’ll be giving it four stars on this blog and five stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

4stars

Get Three Bloody Pieces on Amazon US
Get Three Bloody Pieces on Amazon UK

8 Tips For Making a Daily To-Do List That Will Change Your Life

We’ve all been there: you have a list of things to do in your head, but really all you want to do is play video games/nap/see your friends/curl up on the couch with a book. “I’ll do it later,” you think, and suddenly it’s 10pm, the day is over, and you’re left with nothing to show for your day except guilt and regret.

Hashtag relatable, amirite?

I was like that, too. On my days off, I would promise myself I’d get to writing or planning out my next novel, only to spend the next seven hours playing Dragon Age or Horizon Zero Dawn. Although I love games and it’s completely fine to spend your day gaming every now and then, it started to become a bad habit, and the deeper you are into a bad habit, the harder it is to get yourself out.

When we moved to Musashi-Kosugi, it felt like a fresh start in a fresh new apartment. However, I don’t believe that moving somewhere new really got me organised. What did sort me out was something ancient and extremely simple, yet more effective than I ever could have imagined: the to-do list.

Do it. Do it right now. Open Google Docs in another tab. Label it with tomorrow’s date (or today’s date if it’s still early while you’re reading this) and write a list of things you need to do. Done right, it can help you be more productive than you could ever have guessed.

Here are some tips on your to-do list and how to stick to it.

checklist-2077024_1280

1. Make it Realistic

There’s no use sticking eight hours’ worth of solid work onto your list. Start off slow – maybe add one or two things such as “pick up the children from school” and “write 500 words of new book.” Even things you were planning to do anyway should be on there.

Adding too much to your list can just make you feel more overwhelmed than ever, and you’ll end up getting none of it done at all.

2. Add Easy Things for Momentum

I always start my to-do list with two things: “make coffee” and “kiss my husband.” Both of these things are easy and part of my morning routine. When you already have two items on your list ticked, it’s much easier to get started on the next. At the time of writing this article, I’ve already finished the first two things, getting me mentally ready for the third (which was writing this).

3. Prioritise

You might have an enormous amount of things to do: housework, personal projects, freelance projects, things you simply can’t put off, and things you could probably put off for another week. Think about what needs to be done now.

For instance, do you have a paper that has a deadline? Get that done before working on your personal project.

4. Start Early

On days where I’m not working at my day job, I try to start the things on the list at or before 9:00am. That way, by lunchtime I have already finished three or four things on the list.

Starting early, when possible, also gives you the evening to do whatever you want, completely guilt-free. You’ll feel much better when you’ve had a productive day. You may even feel motivated to do more work, but be sure to take a rest, too. Playing Dying Light in the evening is way more enjoyable after a day of getting stuff done.

winning-1529402_1280

5. Be Specific

Adding things like “work on new book” or “practise guitar” is all well and good, but be sure to have concrete goals. Add exactly what you want to get done that day. For example, when working on a proofreading project, I’ll aim to edit 25 pages as one task, which will usually take an hour or so. That way, when the 25 pages are up, the task is ‘finished’ and I can rest for a bit.

Some people may rather put time instead of tasks (for example, “proofread for one hour”), but I personally think tasks are more important. You can easily get distracted by your phone, making tea, or whatever else, and the hour can waste away rather than being a time slot of solid work.

6. Allow Time to Rest… But Not Too Much

Allow small breaks, but stick to them. If a break is fifteen minutes, make it fifteen minutes. You may find your motivation is high after completing tasks on your list, though, so feel free to power through if you want to! I’ve found that ticking tasks from my lists just makes me feel more motivated to start with the next one.

Never feel guilty for taking a break, though. Sometimes your mind needs a short break to refuel. Just be sure that your break doesn’t accidentally turn into three hours of nothing.

7. Add Variety

Dedicating a day to your main hobby, task, or skill development is all well and good, but you’re going to burn out quickly if you just have “work on thesis for eight hours” on your list. Here is a quick example list for a student working on her dissertation.

  • Have breakfast
  • Take a shower and get dressed
  • Write 300 words of dissertation
  • Vacuum room
  • Plan second half of essay
  • Call Mum
  • Email lecturer about deadline

etc, etc, etc.

Breaking up your list into various kinds of bitesize tasks makes it a lot less overwhelming. You also get a lot more done in your day. It’s surprising how much can be achieved in less than twelve hours.

business-1067978_1280

8. Make Your List the Night Before

Don’t wait until morning to make the list for that day! Before you go to bed, make a clear, easy-to-follow list for the following day, complete with easy tasks like eating meals and showering. That way, when you wake up, you can get started with task 1 with a clear mind.

You may be surprised at how much you can get done with a simple to-do list. In the time I’ve been making a daily list, I’ve completed writing assignments that I’d kept putting off, planned out previously difficult details of a book I’m writing, and proofread a huge chunk of a novel for a client. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a list-less life, and you shouldn’t, either.

So what are you waiting for? I want to see your to-do list for tomorrow! Get cracking!

How to Eat Japanese Shabu-Shabu at Home

Now that winter is on its way, hotpot dishes such as sukiyaki, nabe, and shabu-shabu are regaining their popularity in Japan. People love to visit shabu-shabu restaurants to chow down on meat and vegetables in various flavours of sauces, along with a beer or two.

What is Shabu-Shabu?

Shabu-shabu consists of one large bowl of some kind of soup. This can be soy-sauce based, spicy, or tomato flavour; some restaurants offer a wider variety or special bowls with two kinds of sauce inside. Shabu-shabu is typically a social meal and is usually enjoyed as a group of two or more people sharing the large bowl of soup.

44475042_322657998519630_5657636818451955712_n

Diners order ingredients to put into the soup themselves. The meat is cut thinly so it only needs to be dipped (and then “shabu-shabu’d” or moved around inside the soup to quickly cook it), then mixed briefly into sauce and eaten.

Shabu-Shabu Restaurant Prices

Going to a shabu-shabu restaurant will easily set you back a couple of thousand yen, and more if you plan on having some drinks as well. Red meat, in particular, is expensive in the land of the rising sun and it’s not uncommon for the majority of your bill to be towards a plate of beef.

Some eateries offer special all-you-can-eat deals or special lunchtime prices, but even then you’re looking at a minimum of 2000-3000 yen per person.

Well, we recently decided to buy the ingredients ourselves, and not only did it come out much cheaper, but just as delicious as any shabu-shabu restaurant! Here are some tips on eating this yummy Japanese dish at home, including typical prices, what you’ll need, and how to prepare it.

The Ingredients and Equipment

The priciest part of eating shabu-shabu at home is the equipment. You’ll need a nabe bowl and a gas-powered cooker to go with it. You also need a canister of gas, which you can buy for a couple of hundred yen at most supermarkets.

*Hint for shopping in Japan: check your local supermarket for a point card! Some supermarket offer discounts for point card holders, and some shops such as Foodium give bonus points for not using plastic bags. If you’re living in Japan, make use of the free points system for rewards and benefits.

44461915_744548085903928_3926677247687131136_n

Ingredients (for a large meal for 2-3 people):

  • 200g thinly sliced beef. Ideally it should say しゃぶしゃぶ (shabu-shabu) on the packaging
  • 200g thinly sliced pork
  • 1 spring onion
  • 1 carrot
  • Chinese shiitake mushrooms
  • Enoki mushrooms
  • Half a head of lettuce
  • Ponzu sauce
  • Momen dofu (tofu). There are two kinds, and this kind is much better for hotspot dishes.
  • 200g Shirataki konyaku noodles

You’ll also need:

  • One large pair of serving chopsticks
  • One regular sized pair of chopsticks for each person. A fork or spoon will work as well.

Directions:

  • Mix 550ml of the ponzu sauce and 550ml water in the nabe bowl.
  • Chop the vegetables and tofu up into bite-sized but chunky pieces and arrange them on a plate (or two plates if needed)

44526623_331514490731792_4809703166327128064_n

  • Prepare smaller bowls of sauces of your choice. This can be the ponzu sauce (add water if needed as it’s a little salty). Another great choice is sesame-based dressing which goes very well with pork.

44539057_561589397608261_8243054792448933888_n

Once you’ve got everything ready, you can start adding the ingredients to the soup. Some things, such as carrot and tofu, need a couple of minutes to boil. Other things like lettuce and meat don’t need much time.

Add a bit of everything, and then “shabu-shabu” the meat. Use the serving chopsticks to dip the meat inside and mix it in the liquid. You’ll see it cook in the boiling soup right before your eyes! After around thirty seconds (or when it looks done) you can take it out and add it to the sauce. Some people like to eat it piping hot straight away, and others prefer to wait a bit.

44477879_2189400564632091_422164705029652480_n

Pork goes well with the sesame dressing and beef suits the ponzu sauce better. The vegetables are delicious with both. You’ll find that this healthy dish is surprisingly filling!

It’s really easy to enjoy shabu-shabu at home for a fraction of the price you’d pay in a restaurant. The ingredients, plus the gas canisters, cost less than 1,500 yen each (two people) including some drinks! I recommend that everyone living in Japan tries a home hotpot at least once. If you feel confident in making this yummy dish at your place, you can even invite people over for a shabu-shabu party.

Like lots of Japanese food, shabu-shabu is both healthy and delicious. Why not give it a try?

Traditional and Affordable Japanese Food in the Middle of Nowhere

A group of my students sometimes take me out for lunch. They’re a sweet bunch who love English and like to treat me sometimes. I’m very lucky for that.

Today we took a taxi somewhere in Kanagawa from Mizonokuchi, waited in an elevator, and suddenly came upon this traditional restaurant where the staff members wore kimonos and a scent of soy sauce based cooking filled the air.

We all ordered the special set lunch, which had several delicious courses including a dessert.

1. Sweet Cod, Egg, And Daikon Radish

This was yummy. The fish was sweet, boneless, and easy to eat. The daikon was crunchy and refreshing.

2. Sashimi

Next was maguro sashimi (raw fish) with some vegetables and soy sauce for dipping. As a huge fan of maguro (tuna), this was a great bonus! There was just enough to get your appetite going.

3. Tomato Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki is a special hotpot dish. It bubbled on its own mini stove while we are everything else. We took bits out to mix with the half-boiled egg. Sukiyaki isn’t usually served with tomatoes in it but it was delicious.

4. Chawan Mushi

Chawan mushi is sort of like soup but thicker. It has the consistency of soft boiled egg and inside I found a mushroom and a single soy bean!

5. Tempura

We also had tempura, which is deep fried vegetables and prawn. Tempura is a popular dish in Japan and this one, served with sauce and grated radish, did not disappoint.

6. Rice and Soup

There was also miso soup and “Mugi rice” with barley and bits of plum inside, making for a healthier option than just plain white rice. It was an excellent palette cleanser. At the back you can also see “tsukemono” or pickled vegetables.

7. “Azuki” Red Bean Dessert And Green Tea Served with Coffee

We chose coffee as an after-meal drink, and it was served at the same time as the green tea and dessert, which was unusual. As per many Japanese desserts, this sweet bean treat was very sweet so that the bitter taste of the green tea complements it.

I was very full and satisfied afterwards! Can you believe all this food cost just 2000 yen? If you go for dinner, the price will probably double, but going for lunch means you’ll get a real bargain.

(I’m going to check on the restaurant’s name). It’s about a ten-minute walk from Miyamaedaira Station on the Den en Toshi line, which is a bit of a trek if you’re staying in Tokyo. Going here was an inexpensive way to enjoy real Japanese food, so if you find yourself in Kanagawa, give it a try for lunch!

The “Girls in Love” Books by Jacqueline Wilson are Great for Teenage Readers

For late 90s/early 2000s nostalgia (a similar timeframe to the brilliant Darren Shan saga) I picked up Jacqueline Wilson’s Girls in Love. I remember it being a TV show years ago although, like Tracy Beaker (another Wilson book), it wasn’t much like the novel.

There are four books in the Girls quartet: Girls in Love, Girls Under Pressure, Girls Out Late, and Girls in Tears. Most of Jacqueline Wilson’s books are about girls around 8-11 years old, but in this series we follow Ellie, who is 13, and her two best friends in the same year at school.

These stories really reminded me of being a teenager. No mobile phones or iPads, lots of drawing and reading, and the very early times of having one computer per household (any other 90s kids remember the “computer room?”).

In Girls in Love, Ellie and her two best friends, Magda and Nadine, all get boyfriends… kind of. Nadine dates an older guy, Magda is a little jealous of said guy and chases after a boy at another school, and Ellie, self-conscious and green with envy, makes up a boyfriend, named after the dopy and nerdy boy Dan she met on holiday and based on her gorgeous neighbour.

We got to learn a lot about Magda, Nadine, and Ellie in this book. Like many of Wilson’s main characters, she is shy, creative, and self-conscious. She loves to draw and is worried about her friends (who, in her opinion, are much prettier and cooler).

Click here to get Girls in Love.

Girls Under Pressure was much more serious. Ellie develops an obsession with her weight, which threatens to turn into something more serious.

Wilson has an excellent way of writing from the eyes of a teenager, and many people can probably relate to how Ellie is feeling.

Click here to buy Girls Under Pressure.

I also enjoyed Girls Out Late, where Ellie gets her first proper boyfriend!

I’m not sure whether I really like him or not. He tends to get jealous of Ellie’s friendship with the girls and demands a lot of her attention. Still, it’s perhaps more realistic as he’s only 16.

Click here to get Girls Out Late.

Girls in Tears is heart-wrenchingly sad and I actually felt angry and upset myself while I was reading it.

Ellie deals with family problems, her friends having private jokes, and even betrayal from her boyfriend. It shows how difficult life can be for teenagers and Wilson delivers it perfectly.

Click here to get Girls in Tears.

I like these books a lot, and it was fun to engage in some nostalgia in the week it took me to read them. If you have a teenager, she might like these books.

Taiwan Festival in Ueno Park

It’s rainy season at the moment so the weather consists of thick clouds and the odd shower. I didn’t want to sit in the house all day though so we went to Ueno Park, about half an hour away from our house by subway, to the Taiwan Festival.

It was actually surprisingly busy, but most places in Tokyo are at the weekend. There was merry music and an exotic, sweet smell of Chinese cooking in the couple of rows of stalls.

We started with a drink. Ken got some Taiwanese beer and I bought some mango juice. 500 yen felt like a bit of a stretch but it was thick, not too sweet, and very refreshing.

Ken got all excited so we went to get some food as well. Due to the sweet sauces they use, although it was a chicken and rice dish, it tasted very different to Japanese food. We sat on the damp steps of the park and people-watched while we ate. It wasn’t the most glamorous day out but I was full of happiness because I was with my favourite person.

We went to get some dumplings too but upon getting to the front of the line we saw the guy emptying a bag of frozen ones onto the grill! They weren’t fresh, so Ken got some noodles instead and slurped them while I drank a matcha tapioca milk drink. We listened to some taiko drumming, lined up to throw away our trash (which would probably never happen in other countries) and wandered back.

There are a lot of cool little shrines and things in Ueno Park, and we found ourselves at Hanazono Inari Shrine. It’s a cute row of torii gates and apparently a place to visit to strengthen your relationship, whether its friendship, family, or romantic.

We walked down hand in hand down this path and rang the bell to make a wish. Then, overcome by lethargy from food and the drizzling weather, took the long train home.

Little adventures like these are everywhere in Tokyo if you know where to find them by doing some research first. I happened to find the Taiwan Festival on Tokyo Cheapo, one of my favourite sites for finding events in this great city.

Though it was a little far, it was a nice date. Festivals are always done well in Japan so be sure to check one out when you visit… so long as you don’t mind the crowds.

Japanese Alcoholic Strawberry Milkshake

When I arrived at my homestay family’s house on Friday, my ‘Papa’ said to me, “You’d like to drink, right?” Well, I’m not one to turn down kindness, so he promptly bought me a load of stuff. I tried to say no but darn it, he’s persistent 🙂

1

Because they live in the countryside, their supermarkets and such tend to be much bigger than in Tokyo since land is less expensive. I was surprised to see a bunch of drinks I’d never heard of before.

You can usually buy individual cans for around 100 yen each. I saw this really interesting-looking strawberry milk… with alcohol in it. It’s called いちご&ミルクハイ or “Ichigo & Milk Hai.”

2
Since strawberry milkshakes strike me as something children would be more likely to drink, I thought this was fascinating. So what would it taste like? Well, I just tried it. I poured it into a glass to check out the consistency. It was actually thinner than a regular shake, but I was still hit with a powerful scent of… well, what you’d expect a strawberry milkshake to smell like.

3

It actually tastes exactly like a milkshake! You can hardly tell there’s alcohol in it at all. At 3%, it was never going to taste strong. You could easily give this to someone who is unaware it’s alcoholic and for them to not notice.

Papa said that it’s sort of an “initiation” drink for those who’ve turned 20 (the legal drinking age in Japan) because it’s nomiyasui or goes down easily. Other 3% alcohol beverages like this include the Horoyoi range and things like mango or orange ‘hai’s.

Anyway, that’s the Ichigo & Milk Hai for you! Think you’ll give it a try?

Delicious Monja-Yaki in the Heart of Asakusa

My boyfriend grew up in Asakusa, East Tokyo. Since it’s almost an hour away by train from our house in Meguro Ward, we don’t go there very often. When he was in high school, he’d climb over the fence and dash off to the local monja-yaki place, where he’s good friends with the owner. She’d let him sleep, smoke, and even drink beer there when he was fed up with school. She’s been like a cool aunt to him for years.

Q-PbQgT9

We went to that restaurant together about two years ago when we first started going out. This time, I walked in and she grabbed my hand, saying “I remember you. Welcome back!” We also met one of Ken’s old friends and her two children, and ate delicious food (and got very drunk).

1

So what is monja-yaki?

Monja-Yaki

Japan enthusiasts might have heard of okonomiyaki – the savoury pancake from Osaka that is a tasty and popular street food. Monja-yaki is Tokyo’s version: ingredients mixed together before they’re fried on a large grill. Okonomiyaki was also served here as well as other foodie bits. We started with sausages and cabbage, nom nom.

Monja works by mixing up all the ingredients in a bowl.

mix

I don’t know all of what was in there, but monja typically contains cabbage, meat, spring onions, beansprouts, and other things. Water, flour, and soy sauce are added so that you can pour it onto the plate.

pour

Put the ingredients in a circle then pour the watery part in the middle. It’ll all start to bubble and boil.

After that, you use a little scoopy thing to grab some, press it to the plate to cook it almost to burning, and shovel it into your mouth. It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it’s absolutely packed with flavour. My mouth’s watering just remembering it.

We ate some other things, including the heavenly buta kimchi (pork and Korean spicy cabbage), some weird fish cakes, and scallops. I’d never had scallops before and put the whole, chewy thing in my mouth, which took about eight years to swallow. Won’t be trying that again.

foodo

Food always seems to be better when made by an old dear who’s been doing it for years. The monja-yaki was mind-blowingly good and it was a lot of fun eating and drinking with good people in my favourite city.

The restaurant is super local; I didn’t see any tourists, and we had to walk through residential areas for ages before we reached it. The owner is awesome – would you believe that she is 82 years old?

If you visit Tokyo, do try monjayaki. It’s one of the city’s best dishes! You can often get both monja and okonomiyaki at the same restaurant, so try them both and see which you like the most. They’re both delicious and are both cooked in the same way, but are quite different.