Fujisan

There was an earthquake this morning at around 4:30. Not a big one and probably wouldn’t have woken me up, not like some of the other ones we have had.

You know how I know about it? I installed this app that alerts you to coming earthquakes… the problem is… the alert comes to your phone and I swear to you its as loud an emergency PA system. Not to mention that it’s in Japanese. So to say I was startled, concerned, freaked out is quite the understatement. I saw my life flash before my eyes and panicked thinking I would die being so confused about everything because there was no English. Alas, hardly anything shook, it wasn’t a big deal and I have since disabled that feature but that didn’t stop me from being awake since 4:45.

Before heading to the outer fish market at Tsukiji this morning, I thought I’d share some about my Mt. Fuji hike last weekend.

We started the hike in the middle of the night at the 5th station (at about 7k feet) with the plans to climb to the summit (at 12+k feet) overnight. It’s quite the traditional route to leave in the evening and travel up the mountain to arrive at the summit at sunrise.

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It was the highest I had ever been before and it was breathtaking to say the least. Watching the sun slowly rise and then shine in all it’s glory was remarkable. What was equally remarkable was that we didn’t have a single drop of rain on the way up or back. Clear starry starry skies on the way up, and sunny blue skies on the way down.

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All in all, I think I was prepared for a hike that was going to be much harder than it turned out to be. Maybe that was because it was dark, maybe it was because I was just excited to be climbing Fuji, maybe it’s because you climb the mountain fairly slowly due to the altitude, or maybe I’m in better shape than I thought (doubt it).

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At the end, we were going to walk around the crater but decided it was cold, we hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours, and it was best we just start our descent home.

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While I recommend you hike Mt. Fuji if you can and you do so at sunrise, I don’t think I’d ever recommend doing it twice. The descent is steep continuous switchbacks going down, down, down in thick lava rock gravel, that you can only imagine in your hiking nightmares. Oh my knees. They still ache just thinking about it. Actually, I think they still physically ache. But for this… I’d have achy knees any day.

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Adventures in Japanese Cuisine

Because I have the uncanny inability to sleep in on the weekend (it’s Saturday here) and I’ve been up since 5:30, I thought I’d finally share some of my favorite meals from my time in Japan so far.

The food has been so good and what I like most besides the general deliciousness and variety is that the portions are normal sized. So even if something is rich and indulgent, you aren’t given too much of it, unlike the gluttony present in the US. However, there isn’t an overwhelming presence of fruits and vegetables. Oh and did I mention… fruit here is SO expensive. I think I actually had a heart palpitation when I saw 6-8 strawberries for 500 yen, that’s nearly $5!!

The flavors of Japanese cuisine are simple but delicious. One of my favorite meals has been this udon which has a thin piece of fried tofu on top.

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Okonomiyaki is a specialty of the Kansai region of Japan (Kyoto, Osaka, etc.) and was by far my favorite meal in Kyoto. It is a savory pancake-like dish filled with vegetables, seafood, etc. and served on a hot skillet.

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Unagi is barbequed eel served on rice. It was so delicious, but what isn’t delicious served with BBQ sauce.

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What I have been most surprised by is that fact that some of my favorite food here isn’t Japanese. There is an Indian restaurant that I have been to nearly every Thursday for the vegetarian curry special with the most delicious nan bread.

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There is a pancake craze in Japan. With breakfast food being my favorite, I have enjoyed this thoroughly. I swear, these are pancakes.

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Oh and these crepes. The best 450 yen you will ever spend.

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In terms of beverages, I am obsessed with Chu-hi (pronounced chew-hi) which is a low alcohol content soda-type drink and the most delicious refreshing thing, ever.

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There is so much more: The best sushi you will have in your life. Soba noodles. Tempura. Green Tea/ Matcha everything. The list of delicious goes on and on.

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That being said, I have a list of foods that I can’t wait to eat when I get home including black bean burgers, baked oatmeal, watermelon, general fruits and vegetables. And I am most looking forward to getting back into a full size kitchen and trying to recreate some of my favorite meals from my trip.

It’s time for some breakfast now!

Cup Noodles and Hydrangeas

This past weekend was filled with Cup Noodles and Hydrangeas… as the title clearly suggests.
Saturday I went with two co-workers to Yokohama to visit the Cup Noodles museum.

I really enjoyed Yokohama. It was about a 50 minute train ride from Tokyo. Once you are there it feels much more “residential”. Everything is a little more spread out and roomy and the view from the bay isn’t too shabby either.
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Instant Ramen was invented in Japan in 1958 by a guy named Momofuko Ando, a cute old man. He spent months in his tiny shed trying to find a way to enjoy delicious ramen witout taking so much time. In preparation of the trip, I had Cup Noodles for dinner a few nights beforehand. I am completely serious when I say, I forgot how delicious it is! I have since had Cup Noodles for dinner on more than one occasion. I can’t get enough. And if you’re concerned about my salt intake, don’t worry – the trick is not to drink all the broth.

One of the best parts about the museum is the My Cup Noodles Factory  where you get to decorate your own bowl and choose your flavors. It was so much fun. I felt like a kid in a candy store.

This photo is all of the finished soups before being packaged and shrink wrapped. I chose kimchi (!), corn, green beans, and fish cakes with a seafood base.

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After they seal it, you get to put it in this weird blow-up packaging that you can then wear as a necklace. I’ve never felt so cool…

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On Sunday afternoon after church, I met up with a different co-worker to go to the Hakusan Shrine to catch the last day of the hydrangea festival. It was a warm one with the sun shining but the flowers were beautiful!

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There were so many varieties that I had never seen. There was also a jazz band playing in the garden and had there been a place to sit, I would have plopped down and just enjoyed the music the rest of the day.

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Time has been going by so fast and I now have less than 5 weeks left before I arrive back in Seattle and only 4 weeks until I leave Japan for Hong Kong.

Mt. Takao

Saturday, I got up early and spent a few minutes chatting with my Dad and sister before heading to catch the train for Mt. Takao. I hadn’t heard about Takao until the managing partner at the office recommended I check it out after I had mentioned I love hiking and was planning to hike Fuji in July.

Takao is about an hour outside of Tokyo and just a quick train ride away. There are quite a few trails to get to the top of Mt. Takao, which reaches 599 meters, and then a number of trails continue on and around Takao. I opted to extend the hike to go to Mt. Shiroyama which goes a little higher, up to 670 meters (about 2200 ft). There were a few times up the hill that were a little slow going but the Japanese are generally polite to move out of your way to let you pass and after I got past the main Mt. Takao peak, the crowds tapered off, but neither trail ever felt overwhelmingly crowded.

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It was a crystal clear, 70 and sunny day but 100%, undoubtedly, the highlight of my hike was that because of the gorgeous weather, Mt. Fuji was clearly visible. As I crested the last little hill, I audibly awed over the sight of it. So breathtaking and majestic. Oh, my heart was happy.

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And then I thought, hmmmm, that is ALOT of snow to melt in 2 months when official climbing season kicks off on July 1st. However, I know we’ve got some warm weather ahead and it’ll be good to go by the time Cale and I head there to climb on July 5-6.

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From the top of each point, you could also see a view of the massive expanse that is the Tokyo metropolitan area. It just continues on and on and on.

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I’ve also come to the realization that I’m developing a minor obsession with all these tree roots, I’m my mother’s daughter. She’d take a picture of every rock, flower, flora, fauna given the chance.

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On the way back, I stopped at a shop near the train and picked up a few fresh steamed buns. One was filled with vegetables and SO delicious. The perfect post hike snack.

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If you ever make it Tokyo and have an extra day to spend and the weather is clear, I’d highly highly recommend taking some time for Mt. Takao. Great hike and great sights!

P.S. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MOM! I can’t wait for our adventures in just a few weeks! I love you more than words can express. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Starting to Settle In

The weather here has been out of this world awesome. 70 and Sunny. Pretty much my perfection. I know come early June, it gets quite humid so I am soaking up this spring time sunshine while I can. That being said, I have tried to be outside as much as possible this weekend. I’d say it was a success.

Saturday, I walked to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. It ended up being a little further than I had expected but with the sun shining, I couldn’t have been happier, although by the end of the day, my feet probably would have said otherwise!

The palace is amongst the high rises and skyscrapers. It’s quite the vivid dichotomy of the past and present.

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I spent an hour or so just laying on the lawn of the East Garden. It was glorious.

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The trees and plants here are such a vibrant shade of green, it almost doesn’t seem real.

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Really, ALL the plants and flowers have the most vibrant, saturated colors.  I should note although it may be obvious, I don’t really edit my photos because that would require a skill set I don’t have, so these colors aren’t enhanced. What you see here is pretty darn close to reality and it’s amazing.

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The walls of the palace are massive and quite a feat of engineering and architecture as they have been standing since the 1600’s.

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Today, I went around with a fellow trekker, who had just ended her rotation, to Gotokuji Temple, also known as the “cat temple.” It was obvious that I had to go. While it’s known for all the cat statues (see below), the grounds are equally impressive, so serene and expansive.

_DSC0564This cat, “Maneki Neko,” is said to bring luck. Really, I just think its cute.

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CATS! CATS! CATS!
_DSC0574From there we grabbed lunch in Omotesando with a beautiful view.

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The main street of Omotesando is often referred to as the Champ d’Elysees of Tokyo. This was the first time I felt crowded and slightly overwhelmed by the amount of people that live here. There were so. many. people.

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I ended today in Harajuku and walked down Yakeshita Street, also very crowded. It’s where a lot of the “eclectic” people shop BUT they have shops that only sell socks and for that, I’ll be going back.

IMG_1801I have a lot more to share but I’ve reached the limit of most attention spans with this long one so, I’ll try to share more tomorrow or Tuesday.

Tokyo Time!

As most of you know by now, I have just started a 3 month rotation to work out of our Tokyo office. It’s a program called “Tax Trek” and it sounds so nerdy but accountant folks think it sounds cool and adventurous and now we are all on the same page if I ever refer to this trip as a “trek.”

So here I am in Tokyo. Jet lag has been pretty exhausting, I thought I was doing pretty well after have a full first day, but now it’s 5:30 PM Monday as a I write this and I really want to go to bed now.

On Sunday, I was lucky enough to have one of my good friends from Seattle vacationing in Tokyo and we were able to spend the day together. It was so nice to see a familiar face on my first day out and about in Tokyo. We spent much of the day in the Ueno district and surrounding areas.

Yushima-Tenjin Shrine is located near the University of Tokyo. This is where many hopeful students go to write a prayer/wish that they will get into the university.

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You can make your prayer known through writing it on a wooden block that gets tied outside the shrine.

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I am amazed by the attention and exactness to every detail, even the light fixtures.

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Unbeknownst to me, the Japanese climate can grow outrageously beautiful and HUGE peonies. This one in particular is outside the Iwasaki’s (Mitsubishi’s founder) former residence.

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Akihabara is the electronics mecca with multiple stores at least 7 stories high and packed full. And of course, Anime.

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Today I ventured out on my own, after having a sushi lunch with a fellow ‘trekker’ and co-worker from the Tokyo office, I spent some time in Shinjuku, specifically the Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens that was once a Feudal Lord’s residence, transferred to the Imperial family in the early 1900’s, destroyed during WWII and rebuilt as a public park.

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The last of the cherry blossoms in the park. I wish I could have caught them in full bloom but was glad to have been able to experience them at least a little bit.

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First day in the office tomorrow, wish me luck!

Hiking and Almond Granola

After living in the Seattle area for 2 years… I finally ventured to hike the infamous Mt. Si on Saturday! I went with a co-worker turned friend and another great friend and frequent hiking partner-in-crime/sweat.

4 miles up and 3,150 ft. of elevation gain gets you this. Well not this exactly… take the three of us out and that’s what you get.

We booked it up the mountain, climbing the first 4 miles in an hour and 40 minutes. Yeah that’s right, all 3,150 feet elevation gain. The average time up is about 2.5 hours. Let’s just say, no one passed us.

Talk about timing, we got up to the top and had a view of Mt. Rainier for about 5 minutes and then the clouds rolled in.  (You can see it just faintly). The panting, “let’s uh talk uh later uh because uh I can’t uh breathe” moments, and unreal amounts of sweat (so sexy) were worth it.

The 4 miles down, we took a more stroll-like pace, laughing and chatting. I’d imagine the people going up were probably extremely perturbed at those “happy laughing girls.” We’re ladies… get it straight.

“Hey, you guys look at those pretty berries.”

“Oh, oh, and those moss-covered trees are so cool! I’ve got to take a picture.” It’s all about appreciating the flora and fauna, folks. AND I’m so turning into my mother, she’s never seen a rock that didn’t catch her eye.

What better to do after 8 miles? Make granola, duh.

If I had thought this through a little more, I would have made granola in time for a pre-hike breakfast but hindsight’s always 20-20, as long as I’ve got my contacts in.

Start with the dry goods. Oats, coconut, raisins, almonds, wheat germ (not pictured, I forgot about it until step 3), cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg and a dash of ginger.

Add in the wet. Agave nectar and canola oil.

Mix the dry and the wet ingredients all together. Is it weird that I thought this tasted good? Post-hike delusion maybe?

Spread it on a lined baking sheet in one thin layer and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until golden in color.

Serve with your favorite yogurt, by itself, or some nice cold milk.

Raisin Almond Granola

This is a combination and tweaking of multiple recipes so I could get what I really liked. 🙂

2 c. Rolled Oats (not quick cooking)

1 c. Slivered Almonds

1 c. Raisins

1/2 c. Wheat Germ

1 tsp. Cinnamon

Dash Nutmeg and Ginger (about 1/8 tsp. each)

1/2 c. Agave Nectar

1/3 c. Canola Oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, combine all of the dry ingredients. Add add the oil and agave and mix to combine. Make sure everything is well coated with the oil and agave mixture.

Spread in one thin layer onto a parchment (or foil) lined backing sheet and place in the oven. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until golden, mixing and turning 2-3 times during the cooking process.

Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to week.