Food and photography from an American in Tokyo

It is interesting to think about the minor changes one experiences while living in a different country. The major changes are inevitably going to stand out immediately and will be noticed without much effort. Changes like going from being part of the majority (blond-haired, green-eyed individuals are not rare in Minnesota) to being part of the minority, for example. Or going to the grocery store and having no clue what the check-out lady is saying to you because, um, it’s in a different language.

Yes, living in another country brings with it a large number of huge changes. There are the more subtle, quiet changes that peak out from around every little corner, waiting to be noticed. The slow, steady reliance on sign language as a way to understand that check out lady at the grocery store. Or the way you begin to notice the difference in sound between a restaurant that uses silverware rather than the ever-present chopsticks. The clanking of metal on the plates becomes a welcome, unexpected reminder of “home”.

One of the many small changes in our life since moving to Japan has obviously been our eating habits. We are blessed to be surrounded by amazing seafood- something vastly different from our lives in the landlocked states of the Midwest. Our rice cooker has become a staple in the kitchen. What could be easier than pressing a button and a short while later having perfectly made Japanese sticky rice? With our current state of chaos- OK, chaos might be too strong. Let’s try that again- we are blessed with work. Therefore, our rice cooker has been getting a good work out lately. Meals like this rice bowl topped with salmon sashimi, a poached egg, radish sprouts and a sprinkling of furikake have replaced our grilled cheese and tomato soup (which used to be our go-to meal when our schedules began to fill up.)

I love how the hot rice gently heats the salmon and the flavor of the creamy egg yolk brings each component of the bowl together (and yes, I am a little obsessed with poached eggs in case you were wondering.) And the furikake adds a great flavor- slightly salty, nutty, and in this case a little spicy, furikake adds a beautiful contrast. Comforting and simple. This dish is great for creativity, too. Instead of the salmon, you could use chicken, sauteed shrimp, or another protein. Or, skip the meat and stick to veggies and the egg. I really like adding a couple slices of avocado to my rice bowl as well.

We are on vacation in Michigan right now, but I wanted to take a minute to share a little fun from Japan with you!

A few years ago, I joined the team over at Japan Eats. It was great fun and they just recently put up a video of one of the Japan Booze Blind episodes that I was in. This one was a blind tasting of awamori, a spirit from Okinawa. It’s got quite a kick to it, so tasting 3 of them was tough work, but someone had to do it! Here is the link to the most recent post, plus a link to the very first one where we did a blind tasting of Japanese third type beer.

Three years ago today was the most terrifying day of my life. The shaking during the 9.0 earthquake in Japan was awful. I was in my second grade classroom with all of my students, their sweet faces peaking out at me from beneath their desks, not able to fully process what was happening. A few items fell off the wall. My arms bent at the elbows along with the movement of the tile floor. I had an inflatable globe hanging on the wall that bounced around like a ping pong ball. Once the earthquake stopped, there was complete silence (a rare thing to experience inside a school). The inflatable globe continued to sway, slowing down ever so slightly. The silence didn’t last long though. We quickly evacuated the school and made our way outside to the soccer fields where we experienced several after-shocks.

I watched the old, tall trees around us sway but it was not the same swaying trees do in the wind. The clouds above us were swirling in a very strange way as well. Everything seemed out of balance. Brad (we taught at the same school) and I looked out at the students sitting on the field and realized that the ground was literally rolling beneath them. We didn’t know how long this would last. We didn’t know if our dog was OK inside our first floor apartment.

We didn’t know that as we sat there a tsunami was forcing itself into the shore line.

We didn’t know the water would move so far inland that it would bring the sea floor along with it, burying buildings and people.

We didn’t know that as terrifying as the earthquake was for us, it didn’t end there for many others.

We didn’t know that 3 years later the struggle would not be over.

The fear we felt could not compare to what hundreds of thousands of others experienced that day. For many, the fear continues.

Brad traveled to Ishinomaki, one of the areas hardest hit by the tsunami, with a group of teachers and friends to help with clean-up a few weeks after the earthquake and tsunami. He met people who, despite having less than nothing to offer, showed hospitality to their group. In the midst of the loss and the fear and the continual after-shocks and the ocean sludge all around, they were able to show appreciation and composure in a way I believe is unique to the Japanese people.

After living in Japan for 4 years, I learned so much. I’m learning even more as I watch them rebuild and recover with grace after such devastation.

Hotels City Rating

Hotel New Otani Tokyo Garden Tower  4 stars

Tokyo Fabulous

Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku  3 stars

Tokyo Superb

Shinagawa Prince Hotel  4 stars

Tokyo Very good

Park Hotel Tokyo  4 stars

Tokyo Superb

Gracery Shinjuku  4 stars

Tokyo

Tokyo Marriott Hotel  4 stars

Tokyo Fabulous

Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo  4 stars

Tokyo Fabulous

Tsuruya  3 stars

Aso Superb

Yuyutei Iwaki  3 stars

Iwaki (Fukushima)

Royal Park The Shiodome  4 stars

Tokyo Superb

Shinjuku Washington  3 stars

Tokyo Very good

Shinjuku Granbell Hotel  4 stars

Tokyo Fabulous

Villa Fontaine Shiodome  4 stars

Tokyo Very good

Isaribi  3 stars

Higashiizu Superb

Kinugawa Onsen Hotel  4 stars

Tochigi Fabulous

Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu  4 stars

Tokyo Fabulous

Shiba Park Hotel  3 stars

Tokyo Fabulous

New Miyako Hotel  4 stars

Kyoto Fabulous

Hotel Niwa Tokyo  4 stars

Tokyo Superb