Big Island Day Trip: First Stop Hilo!

Our retreat featured a grand expedition that would take us to the eastern coast of the island to visit the bustling Farmers Market in Hilo,  Volcanoes National Park and Big Island Candies. I started the day off with an invigorating yoga class with handstands (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) as our peak.

Once again, Mo packed up special meals for us to take on the road since we would be gone all day exploring sites on a tight schedule.  We loaded up the vans and headed out on Highway  200 traveling about 80 miles (2 hrs) across the Big Island to the densely populated city of Hilo where the lively market was in full swing.  We were joyfully struck by the vibrant medley of produce –lychee, bananas, squash, melons, pineapples, musubi and more fruits and vegetables that were exotic to us but native to the island. There were also flowers of all kinds in dazzling colors, including orchids and anthuriums.

Handmade crafts, jewelry and clothing suitable for the tropical environment filed the outer lying stalls. Everyone left the market with bags loaded with treasures and I couldn’t resist the pareros buying more to add to my growing collection!


Eating in Tokyo: Favorite New Foods From Adzuki Beans to Wakame

Japanese food is quite delicious, but figuring out what to eat in a restaurant or purchase in a grocery store, can be quite daunting, especially since the language presents a barrier that makes selecting food purely a visual choice.  However, I was a bit more daring with my culinary experiments this time. People often ask me what I ate in Tokyo–always assuming lots of sushi. I tell them “no,”  in fact,  what’s commonly eaten isn’t what most Westerners think. There are so many clichés about Japanese food and so much to learn and discover.  I came to realize that you will consume copious amounts of  bean curd in hundreds of dozens of forms; soba and udon noodles; miso and fermented foods; a myriad of things from the sea including fish, sea urchins, seaweed and many things I’ve never seen before; adzuki beans and lots of raw and cooked vegetables  and eggs.  I was also surprised to see a proliferation of coffee shops around the city and that tea is consumed privately at home.

Nevertheless, I developed a taste for some dishes, which became some of my favorite new foods.  At home I routinely prepared: raw or cooked cabbage with vegetables and black sesame seeds, sprouts, topped with bonito flakes and sesame dressing.  Additionally, a savory barley miso, was the base for soup I made almost every day with seaweed.  Soba noodles were consumed on an almost daily basis, but I particularly liked a lunch of cold udon noodles with sesame dip and a side dish of crispy chicken.  Colorful bento boxes  filled with a variety of small bites could always be bought daily in the grocery store.

Furthermore, Japanese curry is fantastic– fragrant and rich with flavor and hints of chocolate, leaving a delightful taste that lingers on the palate for hours.  I fell in love with all things matcha, from lattes to Meji Matcha ice cream.  Sumptuous fanciful deserts with a french flair, were a regular indulgence, as well as, tempura lunch specials.  I even tried to acquire a taste for Natto (pungent, fermented soy beans), but not sure if I ever will.

Overall, the cuisine is very healthy and remarkably good for my body–I slimmed down effortlessly and many persistent aches and pains subsided.  I’ve discovered through some research, that many of the foods have anti-inflammatory properties.  I always come back from Tokyo feeling and looking younger and physically lighter and hope that I’ll be able to take a cooking class on a future occasion. Meanwhile, although its difficult to replicate Japanese cuisine, I do my best to keep up with my Japanese diet while here in Los Angeles.

Erakokyuu Nakameguroten with Friends

Lots of Lights

A few of the students from TT 2012 wanted to organize a Yakaufune outing on the Tokyo river but bad weather forced us to make a change of plans.  We met instead for an outrageously fun and amazing feast at Erakokyuu Nakameguroten a traditional Japanese seafood restaurant. After a rendezvous in Nakameguro one chilly evening we walked under a canopy of budding sakura towards the restaurant which was situated on the canal of the Nakameguro River. After coming upon a the brightly lit exterior, we entered a rustic and lively setting primarily constructed out of wood. Expressively painted murals of sea themed images, including a rendition of Botticelli’s Venus–covered the walls, hand drawn banners listed the daily specials and colorful paper lanterns hung from the ceiling.
Today's Seafood Specials

A price is set per person for all-you-can eat and the meal was served at a steady pace throughout the evening.  We started off with a hearty miso soup flavored with fish bones, heaping bowls of sashimi and daikon, squid, crabs, salmon and roe, enormous clams, and Japanese fried chicken, mugs of beer and green or oolong tea.

Ensun Ahn Fusae, Natsumi, Mikiko in front of Venussaid that everything is caught and selected that day and even the scraps of seafood are used in the soup stock.  I stretched my culinary boundaries to eat some things, mostly raw, but couldn’t muster up the strength for others–particularly the “crab brains”–the innards of the crab which are considered a delicacy.

The meal evolved into laughs, stories and an exchange of gifts. One gift, scented eye pads, from Akie Asahi, heated up immediately once they made contact with the skin. We squealed with laughter as she explained their use the then said— “1 2 3 “zzzzzz!!!”  I used those eye pads a few nights throughout the training and they do put you to sleep immediately!  Mana Sasagawa gave me goody bag filled to the brim with treats and Tomoe Honjo, an illustrated book on kimonos.  She explained that she was one of the youngest experts on kimonos in Tokyo and carefully wrote out translated segments in key sections of the book. I looked around the able and realized that my students were now friends, and even felt in some ways like family especially since I was so far away from home.

For a good nights rest, gifts from Akie Asahi

I told them that I would always be able to offer help with their careers in the years to come. We made an agreement to meet at Nozomi Kadokura’s new venue Tulsi Yoga Studio in the weeks ahead, which included the presence of a few more students. That too was a special evening where we practiced teaching and gave informal evaluations and feedback followed by a pot luck, treats and gifts.IMG_2113Goody Bag from Mana...

Having a Great Reunion

(Left to Right) Nozomi Kadokura, Charlotte Kasumi Kabe, Romy Phillips, Mana Sagasawa, Eunsun Ahn, Akie Asahi, Mikiko Goto, Mimura Fusae, Tomoe Honjo, Natsumi Ishikawa

A Tuesday Morning at Tsukiji Market

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During the last week of April, Sachiko Inomata also invited me to join her for another outing on a Tuesday morning at Tsukiji Market.  Sachiko said that she goes there several times a year to stock up on special items.  The market opens to wholesalers at 3:00 a.m. and to the public after 9:00 a.m.  We started out early and took the Toei Oedo Line to Tsukijishijo Station, which features colorful murals and the pungent odor of fish which fills the air way below ground.

Boisterous and sprawling, the Tsukiji Market (Jonai Shigo) covers over 56 acres of land bustling with bikes, motorcycles, small trucks, machinery, throngs of people, amidst mounds of styrofoam crates and cartons.  As we walked amongst the aisles of stalls in the massive warehouses, I saw fish and seafood that I never knew existed, nor could I imagine eating.  Apparently there are over 450 types of fish and seafood represented and a visit here is not for the squeamish or vegetarians!  Yet, the market is a popular tourist attraction and I did enjoy the energy, excitement, visual and sensory stimuli.  The outer lying market (Jogai Shigo) is composed of blocks of restaurants, vendors and food stalls selling: fresh and frozen seafood, including sea vegetables; cooking utensils, especially knives and dishware; dried foods, such as, bonito, grains, beans; pickles, nori, ocha, seasonings and dozens of other delicacies.  Moreover, it was fascinating to see a multitude of exotic sources from the sea that are the basis for Japanese cuisine.

Sachiko and I of course had fresh sushi served up on large banana leaves at one of the narrow food stalls.  After our morning meal, Sachiko  picked up bundles of fresh bonito flakes to take home to her family.  She said that this particular bonito were the best quality and gave me a few packages as a gift. I have to agree with her–I have been sprinkling the flakes on salads or mixing them into soup broths, adding a delightfully distinct flavor to my meals. To my surprise I get a burst of energy,  which I’ve found is from the rich source of B vitamins that are inherent to the flakes.

As we set out to explore Jogai Shigo, we briefly visited the Namiyoke  Inari Shrine (c.1657)  which has been a fixture in the  marketplace for almost 350 years.  Namiyoke–“protection from the waves,” and Inari — “God of commercial prosperity and safe operations at sea.” Nevertheless, this shrine is designated as the unofficial guardian for the marketplace and traders.  The red and black male and female lion heads  (incarnations of Inari) are the highlight the annual “Lion Festival.” Sachiko lamented that the entire market and environs would soon be relocated to another part of Tokyo. This I couldn’t imagine, as there seemed to be so much history here.

Later, around twelve noon, Sachiko and I somehow ended up at a traditional Japanese tea house in Ginza where we had bowls of delicious sweets beans with cups of green tea. A very healthy dessert at the peak of the day!

Getting to Know Kichijoji

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Traveling around Tokyo to teach is pushing my boundaries in new ways this time,  forcing me to take trains further distances and explore different neighborhoods.  On my  first day of teaching in Kichijoji, Yuri met at the Gotanda station to show me the train route.  After class, I told Yuri that I wanted to stroll around the neighborhood and could get home by myself. She asked “are you sure?”  I said absolutely, “I remember how to get back.” I ended up getting terribly lost on the subway and it took me over an hour to reach my final destination! I slightly panicked because no one spoke English and I didn’t quite know how to get back to where I needed to go.  The subway map wasn’t quite making sense. I finally got some assistiance and found out later that I somehow got on the Chou “Blue Line” instead of the Chou “Yellow” Line. Furthermore, I should have changed trains at Shinjuku for the Yamanote Line (green)!  You really have to stay focused!

I teach two classes a week in Kichijoji and I absolutely love this location, its has a great balance of the old and new, affordable goods, and is bustling with creative energy. It’s also more manageable than, lets say,  Shibuya–even with the multitude of shops, cafes, restaurants, and stores–you get a sense of being in a close-knit neighborhood. Plus there is the beautiful Inokashira Park, which features a lake surrounded by hundreds of cherry blossom trees. I was able to get a first glimpse of the budding cherry blossoms earlier this week which will be in full bloom in the days to come.

Each Tuesday after class, I spend the afternoon wandering around, trying the local cuisine and taking pictures.  I’ve explored Nakimichi Street, Sun Road, and the surrounding areas.  Each turn down an alley or road reveals a new discovery. I literally walk until I’m completly exhausted before heading back to Gotanda. There may be more on Kichijoji before I leave Tokyo!

A Birthday Celebration at Yasai Ya Mei

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I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago and as usual,  I wasn’t going to celebrate it.  However, the students surprised me with a wonderful cake after class and later that evening, a festive dinner at a restaurant.  I was truly moved and surprised by the festivities—a cake made by one of Ahn Eunsun’s friends  (matcha, orange cream and chocolate) and then dinner at a nearby vegetarian restaurant–Yasai Ya Mei (vegetable house) at Gotanda Station.  I felt guilty because it was a tough weekend—back-bends—and I had just been hard on the students regarding their lackluster homework assignments.  I couldn’t believe that any of them would even want to talk to me after that lecture, yet alone celebrate my birthday!  However,  I did remember hearing Ahn announce to the students after the check in circle  a week ago, that they were all going to go out. I thought “that’s nice they’re going to be supportive of each other and do something socialable together.”

After we finished the cake,  I noticed people getting dressed up and as I was about to walk home, someone said, “Do you know where the place is?” I said,  ‘What?”  “You mean no one told you?”  Surprise!— and off we went about 26 of us!  Former 200hr graduates, Yumika Matsuo and Rysosuke Ishida also showed up (he generously assisted us one weekend).

We started off with drinks made of fresh ginger root and appetizers of raw root vegetables that were dipped in a heated mushroom sauce,  “Bagna Càuda” (vegetable dip).  On each table were “Shabushabu” (hot pots).  Large, colorful baskets–more like bushels–of assorted fresh vegetables were brought to the tables.  Shabushabu is a traditional dish in Japan that is usually meat based, but this was vegetable based.  We were instructed on how to make our own soup—first there were slivers of paper thin beef in the broth for seasoning (I’m not a rigid vegetarian), along with burdock root, mushrooms and leeks—we were then instructed to put greens and other vegetables from the basket in every five minutes.  As things stewed, we all took out what we wanted with “haishi” (chopsticks).  This went on throughout the evening until the baskets were empty and all of the vegetables created a flavorful broth which was then poured over bowls of rice called “zousui” (rice porridge) which is then sprinkled with seaweed.   Delicious!  What I liked most about the meal was the ritualistic process surrounding the preparation, communal aspect of sharing and resourceful use of ingredients—everything in the pot was utilized and consumed down to the last drop. “You have to give a speech” they said, “its the custom.”  I apologized for being so tough on them and they all laughed. Ryosuke got up and gave a toast, he’s a natural politician—the ladies love him!

This wasn’t just a party for me, it was for everyone.  Furthermore, I sincerely appreciated the students generosity.  That’s why I decided to post the photos because they want to see them. The Japanese like to celebrate—its very common to see groups of people out like this— very hard working as a culture, they go out together to de-tress and bond.  I noticed in class the next weekend that the small groups of students who usually sat together for lunch had grown into a larger circle.

Re:gendo with Keiko Okuno

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About a two weeks ago, I met up with Keiko Okuno, a former Yoga Works  colleague of mine who  moved back to Tokyo with her husband after spending five years in Los Angles. She is now a very popular yoga teacher in Tokyo.  A few months after the 2011 earthquake & tsunami in north-east Japan, Keiko made a brief visit to Los Angeles and the women from our  2007 Yoga Works Professional Program gathered to welcome her with a small reunion.  Now it’s almost a year later and the two of us are going to meet in Nishiogikubo, Tokyo, which would be for me, an adventurous journey by train.  The directions…  “from Sangejaya (platform 2) take the De-ontoshi Line to Shibuya, then the JR line (platform 1) to Shinjuku (platform 12) then take the JR Chou-ow (kaisoku) to Nishiogikubo and then walk to the south exit…”   Somehow I made it there and I would soon find the trip to be well worth it.  Keiko thought it would be nice to have “sweets” at a place nearby.  After a short walk  through a quiet residential  neighborhood we came upon a wooden house that she said had been relocated from somewhere in Japan.   To my surprise we entered the most delightful place— “Re:gendo”—rustic, simple and serene with airy rooms  featuring a  small boutique and cafe surrounding an enclosed garden.  We sat down at a wooden table covered with a faded patterned design and ordered the most wonderful “sweets” with exotic and colorful ingredients such as; honey green tea ice cream, black sesame paste, matcha mouse, black bean jam, and mango.   Coincidentally, while we were eating there was a small tremor putting everyone on alert but it soon passed and we all relaxed—everything was okay…

Later we  browsed the tiny store highlighting  handcrafted leather shoes made by the owner, clothing made from flax handwoven into linen fabrics in deep indigo, eggplant, and other natural tones. I was told that this type of fabric was traditionally used for casual kimonos. Glazed pottery, glassware, assorted kitchenware and haishi (chopsticks) rounded out the assortment of items.  The late afternoon sun began to cast a golden glow on the surroundings, adding another element to the spectrum of sensory appeal that is so prominent in the experience of Japan.

Eating in Tokyo: Mame-Maru

A week ago, few of my students, Ahn Eunsun, Yoshiko Okamoto, & Yuka Matsuo, took me to lunch in downtown Tokyo.  Ahn said that we were going to a “Kyoto Japanese Style” restaraunt, called Mame-Maru.  We entered a small place and after taking off our shoes, were guided into our own private room.  The floor was covered in tatami mats and we sat on cushions with our legs placed in a pit under the table which appeared to be hovering above the floor.  This soothing setting overlooked a tranquil garden on a rainy day.   A waitress wearing a warm yellow colored kimono served  us the most beautiful meal and numerous cups of tea.  The meal, “cha-kaiseki” would be considered a more casual form of “Kaiseki” which has its roots in Kyoto.  Visually appealing, kaiseki  is “an art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food.” That is certainly true indeed as evidenced from the images taken of the meal.

The Welcome Party

The YogaPlus staff  wanted to host a welcome party for me. It took us a few weeks to coordinate our schedules, but were able to gather last weekend, May 12, at Tofuro—a traditional style resturaunt with “the wabi-sabi ambience of the tea-house world.”  The party was lively with great food—platters of sashimi, soup that was made at the table, varieties of tempura and fresh tofu— and lots of laughs!  Here are a few pictures that captured the moment….

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Eating in Tokyo: Ootoya

Mixed Vegetables with Chicken, Rice, Cabbage Salad with Sesame Dressing, Miso Soup

Chicken and Rice Baked in a Clay Pot, Tofu and Seaweed Salad, Miso Soup, Pickled Vegetables

Food is a cultural highlight in Japan and much pride is taken in the preparation and presentation of meals. For me, the exposure to different and somewhat exotic dishes has become one of the most intriguing aspects of this trip. If you’re adventurous, you’ll experience real Japanese cuisine which may be some of this most delicious and interesting food you’ll ever have. I know have favorite places that I visit routinely and photograph the meals with unique visual appeal.  Some of  the meals have been disappointing, but some have been real standouts. Ootoya is a place I found during my first few days here.  It was raining and I had no idea where to go for lunch, I then saw a nice sign directing me upstairs. I’ve found this restaurant to offer the best value (large portions) for the price and the interior is comforting. You can also get as much green or barley tea with your meals. Each set photographed cost less than $10.00.

Grilled Mackerel with Horseradish & Seaweed, Mochi-Mochi, Pickled Vegetables, & Miso Soup

Grilled Mackerel with Horseradish & Seaweed, Mochi-Mochi, Pickled Vegetables, Miso Soup

Interior Scene, Ootoya

Counter by the Window, Ootoya