Postcards from Abroad - March Update

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I've finished the first batch of "Postcards from Abroad" (with the few exceptions I've intentionally waited to do). They were so much fun to make, drawing while battling the rocking motion of the train, using green tea as water for the watercolor, writing details about my trip, and awkwardly buying stamps at the post office. Thank you to the kind recipients for their sweet responses, photos, and blog posts about the postcards. Really made me smile.
Now, on to the next leg of my journey! Same rules apply--when ordering the postcards, please specify your preference (if any) for location.

March 1-3: Tacloban, Philippines
March 5-10: Thailand - Chiang Mai, Elephant Nature Park (illustrations from my previous visit)
March 11-18: Laos - Gibbon Experience (hopefully), boat ride along the Mekong River, Luang Prabang, Vientaine
March 18-20: Siem Reap
March 21-24: Singapore - for a wedding! :)

More silliness in Japan (mostly food)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The greatest hamburger-themed stickers Disney has ever produced.
 Delicious izakaya in Tokyo with Merrick, Leo & KB. My favorite dishes were the kimchi udon pasta & the tofu cheesecake. YUM.
 Gion Kitana, as recommended by Tara (formerly) of Sweet Breams. Make sure you get the dekitate, their fresh ice cream. So good.
 Yakisoba at Mizuno, Osaka. Their okonomiyaki is out of this world. I discovered the restaurant by following two people in Osaka who seemed to be on a mission to eat. I do that when I travel. Not creepy.
 Sushidai in Tokyo.
Matcha green tea paste at Ippodo Tea, recommended by Yoko of Homako.
Kaboucha fried goodness.

Thanks to the lovely friends who sent suggestions and made our trip that much more delicious and delightful. Special shout to Merrick for housing KB & me, and teaching us some key Japanese words. Good host. Arigatou gozaimasu.

Temples & Totoro in Japan

Monday, February 25, 2013

In Kyoto, Kevin took me to Kanga-an Temple, a temple with a hidden bar once the sun goes down. 
We sipped on Japanese whiskey (finally!!).
“The pace is slow here so it calms you down,” says Yamada [the bartender]. “It’s not the drinks, it’s the garden that relaxes you” (from the Japan Times).

After Kyoto, Kevin & I stayed in Eko-in Temple in Koyasan. The train ride was so pretty.
Best tofu ever.
The view! It was nice to wander the halls and find random rooms and studies. The best parts were the fire ceremony in the morning, relaxing in the onsen, and the table in the room with an electric blanket as the tablecloth. Glorious. We basically lived under the table.

And then there was Totoro! I happened upon him many times before actually saying hello at the Ghibli Museum.

Hokkaido, Japan

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I've been to Japan once before for the Sakura Festival. Next on my list was the Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. Boy was it cold but beauuuuutiful (and delicious!).
The snow festival in Sapporo is well known, but there's also one in Asahikawa, the second largest city in Hokkaido. We got to see the ice artists in action chiseling, sawing, and brushing away the blocks of ice into gorgeous, tremendously detailed sculptures.
This Transformer tripled as a sculpture, a performance stage and, to the right, a gigantic slide! You sit your bum down on a piece of laminated newspaper with a loop of nylon rope and slide down 150 feet of ice into a pile of snow. So. Much. Fun.
Miso ramen from the original Santouka in Asahikawa. They have locations in CA, and even in the Philippines!
A piping hot bowl of broth and scallops for 400 yen. Yes please.
8am breakfast at Donburi Chaya in Sapporo.
Cheesy ramen at Karin in Furano.  
 Blue & brick building is Otaru Brewery. I had a "smoked" beer. Delicious. Worth a visit.
Genghis Khan lamb dinner at the Sapporo Biergarten (we already ate the lamb).
Kita No Ice Cream in Otaru. Left, uni & taro. Right, sake and squid ink. All very good.

Hokkaido is known for their dairy so if you do visit, please have cheese, caramels, hot milk & sake, and most importantly, vanilla soft serve ice cream. It is so very much unlike anything you'll ever taste (my favorite ice cream in the world), you will eat it walking through the snow, in 20 degree weather. It is that good. At least Kevin and I thought so :)

2013: A Year of Travel & Renewal

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I have yet to share my 2013 intentions because I didn't have any until an hour ago. I've been rushing around (doing a lot of nothing, which someone once told me I do a lot of). Of course I don't mean literally, but I do tend to stress myself out, running around doing work without really enjoying or being aware of the work I'm doing. Now I can sit down and really think about what 2012 meant to me, and how it will inspire a different, new year.

My personal goal for 2013 is to "have an adventure." This means traveling, trying new things, discovering new abilities and traits about myself. With the itinerary I've planned for myself, I think I can do it.

Business-wise, I find myself in a different position where growth doesn't mean doing more of something or making more of something. It means restructuring and redoing a lot of things I've been lazy about doing. It comes at a perfect time as I think my intention of adventure has pushed me to think outside of numbers and sales, and approach my business more abstractly and big picture. So, my 2013 business intention is "renewal." This means new website, refining my brand, new product photos, and sadly, retiring old prints and cards to make way for new ones.

The first four years were to prove I could make a living doing "art." Now that I know it's possible, it's time to find a way to do it more efficiently, in a way that minimizes stress, and maximizes happiness (mine and yours!) and creativity. I do think there's a correlation between happiness and productivity, so if all goes according to plan, expect sweeter, more refined art in the months and years to come.

Sukiyabashi Jiro

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sukiyabashi Jiro!! We did it!! 

Kevin and I waffled back and forth a bit about starting our trip to Japan on such a high (and expensive!) note, but we figured, why not! We love sushi so much, and after having late night, mediocre sushi in Asakusa, we were eager to have the real deal. 

If you're unfamiliar with Jiro Ono, I highly recommend watching "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," a documentary about the greatest living sushi chef and the best sushi bar in the world. You'll appreciate sushi as a dazzling art, its preparation as a well measured and precise performance, and come to love an old man who is so meticulous with his craft. I watched the documentary in theatres, followed by a Q&A with the director, David Gelb.  He discussed visiting other sushi chefs and bars in search of a story, so I wondered, was it really the best sushi he had ever had? He didn't pick my raised hand but at least I now have my own answer to that question.

We visited the Roppongi location where the younger son, Takashi Jiro, runs the show, not the infamous Ginza location where 86 year-old papa Jiro Ono works. This location has two Michelin stars, as opposed to three Michelin stars at Ginza, but they take English-speaking guests. Win! We were also able to make our lunch reservations the day of through the kindness of our hostel.

To answer some immediate questions you may have:

1. It was the most expensive meal I've ever had--$48,000 yen ($512 USD) for both of us, just green tea, at lunch time. Dinner costs more because there are more "courses."
2. It was worth every yen.
3. It was the best sushi I've ever had. Honestly, the best meal I've ever had in my life. Sorry, mom.

First of all, when you make a reservation (which you should), they warn you of their 10,000 yen cancelation fee if you change it less than 2 hours prior or don't show.  Second, the location was actually a little tough to find. It's in the back corner of a fancy shopping area, Roppongi Hills. Perhaps the construction made it difficult to navigate, but certainly their maps were not very helpful. Ask the information guide (look for someone in a smart, black suit and a red band on their arm that says "information") to direct you through the maze of high end shops and restaurants. 

Kevin & I got there early and nervously waited outside until it was 12:25 pm (reservation at 12:30 pm). Upon entering, they took our coats and seated us at the end of the bar. There were two groups there before us. The day revealed that we were the last of their lunch guests. The staff makes it a point to memorize who is coming so there's no glancing at paper. Serious stuff.

I unfortunately don't have any photos of the meal (no one was taking pictures and I didn't want to be THAT person), but you'll have to take my word for it and know that it was beautiful.  They asked us if we wanted to start with sashimi or go straight to sushi (nigiri). SASHIMI!! I'm so glad we did, too. Something new I'd never had before was bloody crab sashimi. It had a similar texture to squid or clam, but very sweet and somewhat delicate. I think it's a rare item because I can't seem to find a photo of it via google. After three sashimi dishes, we moved on to our 15 courses of nigiri. We had ika (so delicious & perfect), anago (it melted in your mouth!), uni (my favorite and the best, fresh from Hokkaido), prawns, tuna, mackerel, scallops, fish I'd never heard of and can't remember, etc etc. There was rhythm to the way Takashi Jiro artfully brushed the soy sauce on each piece and pressed the fish and rice together with two fingers.  Occasionally, he instructed in a low voice, "no soy sauce". The wasabi was freshly grated in front of us. The chefs were straight up perfectionists, not shy about sending  less than perfect cuts back to the kitchen. Their tomago was like a sweet, moist sponge cake rather than anything that resembled an egg omelet. I wanted to cry because I realized I had only been eating carbon copies of the real thing. I actually did get teary eyed. Food so good that it makes you emotional. Or I'm just emotional :P

The folks next to us probably ordered two or three times as much as we did. How the heck did they fit so much food! All in all, the meal has a steep price tag but it's worth it. Not only are you eating the best sushi, you're watching masters of the craft in their element. Do visit. At least just once. It's a spiritual experience of sorts or something.

Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi
Address: 6丁目-12-2 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032, Japan
Phone:+81 3-5413-6626
Open for lunch & dinner, closed Wednesdays.
Transit: Roppongi Station
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