Saturday, September 24, 2016

Adventures in Japan: 2014

In 2014, I took an epic trip to Japan during the cherry blossom season, and I haven't had a chance to write about it. I wanted to make sure I did the trip justice, and I fell into a funk of nothing but business, career, and job. Now that I've got my priorities more settled, it's time to share my amazing Japan trip with you!

It was a whirlwind fifteen days. I visited cousins, gave my respects to my ancestors at our temple, visited our ancestral house, and trekked up a cliff to visit our family grave surrounded by citrus trees. I dressed up as a geisha (maiko to be specific) in Kyoto, hugged deer near Hiroshima, got lost on the Tokyo train system more than once, and explored the enchanting Ghibli Museum. Most of all, I ate tons of amazing Japanese cuisine, and I can't wait to share it with you.

Yawatahama's many graves on the hillside
I thought a bit about how I wanted to present all the information and pictures without turning this blog into a travel blog, but also not leaving you with the impression all I did was stuff my face (to be fair, it was a main feature). So for each city or province I visited, I will have a short post with some history, pictures of what I did besides eat. This regional post will be followed by a review of a restaurant if possible, or perhaps an overview of the regional food will be worked into the first post if not. Lastly, I will have a recipe for each place inspired by my visit. I hope you enjoy sharing my adventures, and I hope that my recipes will allow you to experience a little bit of what I enjoyed on my travels!

This post will stay on top until I complete my Adventures in Japan series so that you can skip to places at your leisure! Each region page will have a list of all the ingredients and recipes associated with it linked at the bottom!

Miss Mochi at Miwajima Island
Fukuoka, Fukuoka prefecture, Kyushu region
Yawatahama, Ehime prefecture, Shikoku region
Beppu and Yuifin, Oita prefecture, Kyushu region
Hiroshima and Miyajima, Hiroshima prefecture, Chogoku region
Kyoto, Kyoto prefecture, Kansai region*
Tokyo, Tokyo prefecture, Kanto region*

*coming soon! check back!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Hiroshima and Miyajima!

The places in Hiroshima we visited weren't exactly fun, but they were important.

They really made me wonder what would have happened if Japan hadn't tried to expand their power into the mainland and fought in WWII. Would I be fluent in Japanese? Would I have known my relatives in Japan better? Would I even exist? All the fear and hatred of the Japanese here in America: would my grandmother have known a life without that constantly over her shoulder?

And I know that going to such a museum and thinking about how everything affected you and your loved ones is probably the height of arrogance, but that's how I felt. I also felt numb at how pointless it all was, the wars, the bombs--every time someone picks up a gun in the name of their country. A city devastated, thousands killed, nothing gained, and ultimately everyone loses. And we as a species do it over and over again. I think that what depressed me the most is that I couldn't think of a good way out of this spiral of hatred. It's been over 70 years and we are still killing each other.

A beautiful but sad sight: millions of paper cranes
We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also known as the A-bomb Dome (shown above), the only building left standing in the atomic bomb's hypocenter, and visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Inside the museum, we saw many artifacts from the blast as well as details of their survival following radiation exposure. What stuck me most was the Peace Watch, which resets itself every time a nuclear test is performed around the world. It struck me how fragile peace truly was, with so many countries not only capable of leveling an entire city with a single missile, but actively testing the technology.

After a sobering day of memorials and millions of paper cranes, we went to Miyajima island and I have to say it was probably the prettiest part of the entire trip. The cherry blossoms were at their peak and it was mind boggling. The petals really do cascade like snow falling when the wind blows, and I danced around in them without shame.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Burger Boss

Mr. Mochi loves a good burger. He loves everything from cheap fast food burgers to Umami burgers, and everything that lies in between. We have had serious debates and conversations about the various burgers we've had together, tackling tough topics like "which is better: In-N-Out or Five Guys?" Our answer: they exist on two different price points both monetarily and calorically and therefore cannot truly be compared besides personal preference, however I like In-N-Out better and he like Five Guys better.

Burgers are honestly one of his favorite foods, so when we got invited to try Burger Boss of Lake Forest's menu in advance of their grand opening, I knew we had to take a break from blogging about my travels through Japan and go check them out.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Beppu and Yufuin!

Beppu and Yufuin are both resort towns in the Oita prefecture in Kyushu. We stopped at both along our way back from Yawatahama back to Fukuoka.

Beppu and Yufuin are both famous for their onsens, but the Eight Hells of Beppu (別府の地獄), where you can see plumes of steam rising was quite the impressive sight! Even when driving around we could see plumes of steam rising around the city. It was very eerie as it looked like the whole place was about to go up in a volcano.

Check out the steam plumes!
After leaving Yawatahama (I fell asleep on the ferry back, it was a very long day), we arrived in Beppu to spend the night at the Umine hotel in Beppu. Our relatives wanted us to try the onsen hot springs that Beppu is famous for, but worried that we would balk about getting naked in a public onsen. So instead, this hotel had a private onsen bath with an ocean view in our hotel room! The hot spring water is piped into an outdoor patio for private enjoyment without having to even leave your room.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tenjosajiki Cafe (天井桟敷)

After leaving Beppu, we drove up and down mountains to reach Yufuin. We stopped by Yufuin on our way back to Yawatahama for a quick visit so our relatives could show us more of Kyushu.

While in Yufuin, we stopped by Kamenoi Bessou (亀の井別荘) a ryokan (inn) that included hot springs, a wonderful souvenir shop, and a restaurant space upstairs that was a cafe during the day and a bar after 7pm, called Tenjosajiki Cafe and transforming into Yamaneko (山猫) at night.

The ume pound cake
We picked up some citrus jam from the ryokan shop and ate it with toast all throughout our trip. It was less like a kitschy American souvenir shop and more like a luxury specialty shop that focused exclusively on regional and seasonal items. I loved browsing through there!

And stepping outside to take in the greenery surrounding this ryokan was magical: the mists swirled around lush greenery, cherry blossoms, and leafy trees. For a Southern California resident used to nothing but drought, it was truly like being transported to a magical forest.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Onsen Tamago (温泉卵)

In Beppu, there is a whole cuisine of cooking using the hot steam that erupts from the earth. Called jigokumushi (地獄蒸し), it literally means "hell steaming" which is perhaps my favorite name for a style of cooking, ever. Baskets of food are lowered into the surprisingly powerful steam of the hot springs and a short time later you have fresh produce, thin cuts of meat, and eggs cooked in the steam. There is even a jigokumushi pudding, where a flan is steamed in the mineral-rich steam that jets out of the earth.

I obviously couldn't share a recipe with you on jigokumushi as I don't know about you, but I don't have any hot spring jet steam handy and I think my steamer at home wouldn't be a good substitute. So I am sharing something just as traditional to both Yufuin and Beppu: Onsen Tamago (温泉卵).

Onsen Tamago literally means "hot spring eggs," and as you might have guessed, is named because the eggs are traditionally cooked in hot springs and served at ryokans (inns). Rather than the steam jets of jigokumushi, the eggs still in their shells would be lowered in baskets or nets directly into the hot springs themselves.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Yawatahama!

Do me a favor and google some travel blogs for visits to Yawatahama. Okay, how about Shikoku in general? Not finding a plethora of pictures?

Not a lot of westerners make it to Shikoku island at all, let alone Yawatahama, but that is where we went next on our adventure through Japan. Our wonderful relatives drove us all the way from Fukuoka to Beppu, where we caught a ferry to Yawatahama to see our ancestral home and our family's grave site.

Shikoku is the smallest and least populous of the four main islands of Japan, and the JR railway express only has one rail line on the entire island that runs along the perimeter, to give you some scope of how rural it is compared to the massive Tokyo metropolis. Shikoku is famous for its Shikoku Henro, a Buddhist pilgrimage that goes along 88 shrines around the four provinces of Shikoku.

Of course, there's no pilgrimage stop in Yawatahama. Yawatahama is a port city, with the largest fish market in Shikoku with a natural harbor. The main agricultural export is the mikan, or the satsuma mandarin. This reminded me a lot of my home here in Orange County, California as I grew up playing in an orange orchard.