I’m a little late posting about this since life has been a little more than hectic lately, but I wanted to recap my January trip to Japan. I know, I know, wasn’t I just there? But Japan’s got a special hold on me and DD and I wanted to explore some new areas this time.
And don’t worry if you’re here for sewing, I did go fabric shopping, so stay tuned!
We hit up my old digs, as usual, by going to Sado Island right away. We stayed in a ryokan called the Oiya which was basically a family’s house where the guest rooms were upstairs. The owner, Mineko-san, was super awesome although she talked so fast I could barely keep up! The meals were decadent and home-made by her.
Our room was spacious and warm thanks to the aircon heater. The hallways, on the other hand were freezing! It’s typical in Japan to only heat the rooms you’re using. It saves energy and also helps keep the blood flowing when you run from warm and toasty to frigid when you have to use the toilet.
We were able to spend a couple of days with my friends, and this time I was able to see Mihoko for more than just 5 minutes! Yay! We all went with my other friend Hiromi to participate in a taiko (drumming) workshop with a Kodo apprentice. It was a ton of fun although right before we got there, I got super car sick and barfed in the snow. DD used his limited Japanese to make fun of my situation and proceeded to talk about my “asagohan kakkigori” all day. That’s “breakfast snowball/shaved ice.” Mihoko and Hiromi got a kick out of that.
We had a great rest of the day and met up with my other friend, Yuuki. We ate lunch at a new cafe where the cashier was one of my previous students! I totally remembered her as she was a student at the school that had like 11 kids total, so it was easy to remember them all. I showed her a picture of us from 10 years ago to prove I did remember her and it was a great reunion. 😀
That night, we went to the local restaurant/pub in Akadomari called Casa Blanca and had dinner with more friends! It’s always a great time and I am so blessed to have good friends on the other side of the globe!
The next day I was feeling much better and we checked out a new year’s ritual with the Oiya family. You build a bonfire and burn offerings to the Shinto god of the new year while roasting mochi (chewy rice cakes) and squid. The mochi is placed on the end of a bamboo shoot as pictured below:
That night, we went to another bonfire in the next village over where we met up with my friend Hidemi, who I haven’t seen in 10 years. She is still as lively as ever. We had a nighttime bonfire in the rain and wind, then went inside for drinks and food. Everyone was so friendly!
We had another party to attend, so we went to another restaurant in Akadomari to see a couple more friends! I was able to partake in some beer this time, so there were a lot of laughs and it was a ton of fun.
Thank you always to all of my friends on Sado Island! They are the greatest people and know how to party!
The nest stop was Niigata City, so DD and I hopped in our rented Mazda Carol and drove to the ferry terminal.
Niigata is known for its delicious rice and sake. In the Niigata train station, there is an area where you can try over 100 types of sake. 500 yen (about $5 USD) gets you 5 coins to have 5 tastings. There was a nice businessman visiting, too, who started talking to us and spoke very good English. He told us his favorites and we had a good time trying sake!
And what visit to a foreign country is complete without eating some weird stuff? DD and I went to an izakaya and I saw “kujira bacon” on the menu. Kujira is whale and DD had never tried it before, so we ordered it. [Please reserve your personal opinions about whaling – I’m just here to share different experiences!]
Well, I was sad to see the “bacon” part was really just blubber… so although there was a little meat hiding in there somewhere (tastes like cow), the rest was just oily, thick fat. That might be why I gained weight on this trip…
Another new experience was checking out a cat cafe!
DD and I went in the evening and were the only people at this particular cafe. The kitties were so friendly and we spent a good half hour hanging out with our new furry friends.
This was DD’s favorite cat since he has crossed eyes. His name is Koko and he’s a Tonkinese! What a pretty sweetheart!
Niigata City has some pretty good shopping at the Bandai Mall area. It’s great because it’s not as crowded as Tokyo, so you don’t feel so cramped while shopping. There was a Miyazaki store there!
It was super themed-out and had cute areas themed from different Miyazaki movies. The one below is the kitchen from Howl’s Moving Castle. Kawaii!
Speaking of kawaii, Niigata is home to a few famous manga artists, namely my favorite – Rumiko Takahashi. There is a bus dedicated to one of her more famous series, Inu Yasha!
You know I rode on that one! The Inu Yasha bus took us to the old downtown area of Niigata where I found a shop entirely dedicated to cat merchandise!
I bought a cat scarf… of course I couldn’t leave empty-handed!
Since Niigata is known for many manga artists, they’ve rebranded it as the “City of Anime/Manga.” There is a Manga and Anime Museum in the new downtown area where you can learn about how it’s all made as well as play with lots of interactive exhibits!
Lum-chan from Urusei Yatsura, another famous Takahashi manga.
Probably one of our favorite parts of our stay in Niigata was eating at Jun-Chan… an oden restaurant.
We love oden (a winter stew with lots of veggies) so we were excited to eat at Jun-Chan. It was so good we ended up going three nights in a row! On the second night, I asked if they had snow crab and the owner apologized and said no. We went back on the third night and he looked super relieved to see us. I was wondering why we got such a response until he brought out snow crab that he bought just for us!
Now THAT’S service! By the way, the green crab guts are the BEST and we learned you pour sake in there and eat it that way. Yummm!
Of course we ordered sake and they busted out the gold flakes for us. Great service!!
Then, we just went omakase (chef’s choice) and they gave us cod milt. That’s cod sperm sacks…
…and they taste just like you would imagine. DD said he liked them, though. Hmmm.
Anyway, here’s the great staff of Jun-Chan! Thanks for the great memories and wonderful service!
Now it’s time for… Fukuoka!
Fukuoka is near Kumamoto, which is home to the creator of the famous anime One Piece. There was so much One Piece merchandise everywhere and there was even a Mugiwara (Straw Hat) Store! You can even pose with some of your favorite… or not-so-favorite-but-weird-enough characters!
Throughout Japan, there are capsule toy machines where you can get a surprise toy. I was fascinated with the cat hats and may have brought some home for the boys…
We explored Fukuoka on foot and saw this famous and GINORMOUS float for the Hakata Gion Festival.
It was so beautiful!
OK I know I promised fabric shopping, so here we go!
There was a Yuzawaya at one of the malls in Fukuoka, so I of course had to check it out. DD only gave me about 30 minutes, so I had to act fast. We were on a tight schedule to check out more of the city and I didn’t really need a whole lot of new fabric (shhh, don’t tell him).
I snuck in some crappy photos since I always feel awkward taking pictures in stores.
The Nani Iro section! ❤
This was one of the easier stores to shop in compared to my 2016 trip. It was spacious and everything was organized.
I couldn’t resist these cat macarons and ended up getting a little bit of the grey one for jeans pocket lining.
I also bought a good bit of this cute pink Daruma Kokka fabric and have already made something from it! I’ll share that a bit later as I still have a ton of makes that are queued up to share still. I’m terribly behind! 😦
I was most excited about this rayon cat fabric, but in a sad twist of fate, it shrunk like nobody’s business just from a cold wash! Womp womp!
All of that fabric shopping got me hungry, so let’s see more weird/controversial/delicious food choices!
It has always been on my bucket list to try raw horse meat ever since I heard you can get it in Japan. I have to say, I was not disappointed. It was the most delicious, sweet, lean meat I’ve ever had. And for those of you thinking about your favorite riding horses, the ones for consumption in Japan are specifically bred and raised just for meat. So these aren’t your typical show ponies.
P.S. I’ve always loved horses and used to want one as a kid, so I’m not a complete heartless beast. Again, I just like trying new things. I think I’ll draw the line at eating humans, though. :-\
Next from the bucket list was raw fugu! Blowfish!
DD and I went to a pretty upscale sushi restaurant in Fukuoka. Although you’ll be safe eating this potentially poisonous delicacy at any restaurant in Japan, I’m glad we went upscale as they made their own yuzu dipping sauce to go with the fugu. Fugu alone has basically no flavor as it’s all about the texture (slightly rubbery yet delicate). The dipping sauce was AMAZING and allowed us to chow down with no regrets on the price.
We also tried some other “weird” dishes, like sea cucumber guts, sazae (I can’t get away from it!), and other fun things from the sea. This restaurant had a way of making everything that sounded awful to be really delicious! I’m lucky that DD is super curious as he struck up a conversation with one of the sushi chefs… or he tried to in his terrible Japanese, forcing me to jump in and translate for him. That chef was so nice and just gave us random stuff to eat/try… on the house! That’s one of the things I love about Japan… if you’re a foreigner and show some curiosity about their food or culture, they’ll hook you UP. DD and I also got 3 meals comped by other customers throughout our trip just because we went to places foreign tourists don’t usually go and they appreciated our openness to try new foods and trying to speak Japanese instead of forcing everyone to speak English to us. A little assimilation can go a long way and we made some really good memories!
So we said sayonara to Fukuoka and konnichi wa to Tokyo! If you ever visit Japan, I highly recommend saving Tokyo for the tail end of your trip. Go somewhere quieter for the first part as you’ll be jet-lagged as hell and everything is so busy and confusing in Tokyo. I find I enjoy Tokyo much more this way!
DD and I were interested in the craft beer scene going on in Japan, so we met with some brewery owners. The first stop was at Devil Craft.
This is their brew house, which is normally not open to the public. We got in touch with them beforehand, so we didn’t just randomly drop in! Devil Craft is owned by 3 Americans and they have multiple brew pubs in Tokyo. Their beer is mighty tasty and they serve Chicago-style pizza!
The beer and pizza were delicious and a welcome change to fish guts. ;-p
We also stopped by Brimmer Brewing Co., which is also owned by an American. More delicious beer and the brew house had the most gorgeous copper German equipment!
Thanks to Devil Craft and Brimmer for the hospitality and putting up with all of our questions!
Next stop is the Harry Hedgehog Cafe in Roppongi!
That lady dashing up the stairs encompasses all of our excitement.
This is Bob, their mascot. He’s the fattest hedgie I’ve ever seen. He didn’t run on that wheel, he just kind of… stood there…
The albino hedgie was the sweetest out of our pile of 3. The one in DD’s hands was a meanie and was trying to bite him! They can grumpy little buggers… I had a hedgehog named Piglet 13 years ago and she was the most adorably grumpy pet I’ve ever had.
Next is the icing on the cake… there was a Fennec fox!
Don’t let this photo fool you… this little guy was HYPER as HELL and did not stay still until DD wore him out after playing fetch for 30 minutes straight. Poor little guy was beat after that, but made a new friend with DD. He is on the top (3rd) floor of the Harry in Roppongi in case you want to meet him. There are bunnies on the 2nd floor along with hedgies. I vote for Fennec foxes over all of them.
And… that’s it! Of course we did a whole lot more, but I don’t want to write a novel or share hundreds of photos!
I am grateful for our time in Japan and will cherish all of the memories I made. ❤
Have you eaten any “weird” foods? Pet a hedgehog? Stayed in a ryokan? Share your experiences in the comments!