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July 14, 2014

Risonare Yatsugatake | First Winery Resort in the Japanese Mountains

As Facebook fills up with Summer holiday threads, images of icy cool water and vivid nail polish amid the regular humdrum of daily life prove ever so alluring. With no plans to travel afar in the next month running up to the birth of our child, I have been living vicariously through these news feeds. Saving them in my Best Places to Visit in 2014 folder, alongside the Top Movies of 2014 for a family of couch potatoes (oh the irony!), I have started to streamline our options.

One which remains at the top for a re-visit is Risonare Yatsugatake in Yamanashi. Thick with memories, we celebrated our wedding in Japan to take advantage of the Klein-Dytham Leaf Chapel, we have intended year on year to return in celebration of our anniversary.

Now that our son is a little older and we can enjoy the water facilities together and sample local Japanese wine alone, I am looking into Risonare and their many resorts and luxury ryokans again. Interestingly the company is set to expand to Bali which is another destination on our list.

Do you have any favourite holiday destinations in Japan, complete with good service, good food and spa facilities?

July 07, 2014

Mamimu | Manhole Cover Tea Towels

Often a gift brought back as a souvenir for friends in Japan, I was surprised by perplexed faces as to what should be done with the big piece of cloth, or tea towel, so standard in my kitchen growing up. I usually start with its dish-drying qualities, to be met with surprised faces and remarks of its cumbersome size again. I have even feverishly suggested that it could make a pretty tray cover upon which to serve guests tea, knowing all to well that I have never used it for this purpose myself.

Then I noticed our oil-stained, mangy tea towel tonight and realised it was time to refresh the collection. Often I keep these sentimental, awkwardly big pieces of material far beyond their best-buy date and it is because they hold some meaning for me. Mamimu hits the mark in this regard. With eyes glued to the pavement, lest I fall over, I have been fascinated by Japanese manhole covers since my first days of sightseeing in Tokyo some Summers ago.

I am delighted to have rediscovered Japanese designer June Mineyama’s Tokyo Manhole Teatowels.

July 05, 2014

Cookpad | Japanese Cake Artistry

When learning a language, in my case Japanese, your motivation is often linked to your success rate. Far from where I should be after almost 5 years living in Japan, I seem to have progressed most diligently in the food arena.

With a Mother-in-law who knows her way around the kitchen as a guide I have become interested in a whole spread of Japanese mountain vegetables that I never knew existed before arriving in Yokohama. As I am still learning what to do with them all let alone what their English names are, I have been using familiar ingredients to keep Summer kitchen time to a minimum and up the enjoyment time with the family.

After a few flops with my everyday basket of vegetables, I decided to give Cookpad another go. Cookpad is a widely used Japanese cooking site with a variety of recipes that are easy to whip up for bentos, hanami picnics or just a good old family meal. What was once my learning tool for Japanese cooking vocabulary has now also been translated into English which now has my lazy self hook line and sinker.

Our energetic toddler so full of delight and I have been in quarantine for the past few days dealing with  a bout of Chicken pox (水疱瘡), so I have been putting his fire to good use as a grating, chopping and blending companion. Our focus is his birthday cake. Specifically a spotty carrot cake, Mr Tumble inspired, but I am thinking there is some leeway to  channel Yayoi KusamaDamien Hirst or any other modern artist. Got lost here.

Hirst Cake

July 03, 2014

Esther Horchner | Onsen Girl Teacups

In a spirited move for a previously bashful onsen-goer, a couple of girlfriends and I made our way to Ito in Shizuoka Prefecture this past weekend. Far from comfortable disrobing for Japanese public baths before having a child, I seem to have overcome the fear and somewhat embraced it. I say 'somewhat' as the  onsen was not entirely throbbing with ladies at the time.

What made it a special experience for me is that I am 7.5months pregnant and was unsure as to whether I could use the onsen while pregnant, both from the etiquette, safety and heat perspective.

Given, my beetroot face rivaled the colour of my kinmedai come dinner time, but I had the most relaxing time, my skin felt amazing and I slept through till morning in spite of third trimester insomnia. Now when I came across these fabulous naked lady tea cups recently, by Dutch designer Esther Horchner, I knew that they must be mine. Happy onsen memories with these in hand… is it too early for a Christmas wish list? Perhaps a Push Present!

Creative Crockery | Onsen Girl

June 23, 2014

Yusuke Yonezu | Japanese Children's Illustrator

A dreamy contorted duck on an envelope from a private student is what first drew me to Japanese illustrator Yusuke Yonezu's whimsical animal drawings. I then started noticing his designs all over the place. A friend's wallet sported his owl. A neighbour's calendar showcased his French bulldog. And I stumbled upon a whole range of his animal-themed stationery in our local Japanese bookstore, Tama Plaza Yurindo. So, I got myself some kawaii note-paper and a slimline paper-sleeves to keep my work notes in order.

It wasn't until I started to search for some fresh wall art for the new baby’s  that he popped up yet again. I just cannot get enough of his endless genius. And his Japanese kids book illustrations - too delightful - I cannot sing his praises enough.

June 19, 2014

Kakigori Syrup | The Pantone Palette

A mild obsession around ours right now is shaved ice or kakigori (かきごり) in Japan. Not shy to partake in my pregnancy craving for anything ice related, the toddler has become quite the connoisseur asking for coconut syrup, a dollop of pineapple cream topped off with a sprinkle of iced berries.

My initial collection of strawberry, melon and Blue Hawaiian broadened somewhat thanks to the stealthy acquisition of a large bottle of gum syrup at Kaldi. On each overseas visit I have collected my favourite flavours from the baking section and we have started to make our own customized flavours.

With a lot of trial and error and the excitement of a budding scientist to spur me on, I am on the lookout for a set of test tubes to take our experimentation to the next level.  It is this smorgasbord of flavours awaiting us and the expense of Monin syrup in Japan, that excites me to turn our dining room into a kakigori lab this summer.

Kakigori Flavour Chart: Tomato through to Cassis-Orange

June 18, 2014

Kodomo no Kuni | Kids Chalk Graffiti

We hit the roads with great gusto this past weekend en route to Kodomo no Kuni (子供のくに). Located in Yokohama, the name means Children's Country and a mere half hour ride from Tama Plaza we were able to get in early and leave before the masses arrived. Highly recommended to go early if you favour empty car parks, shaded picnic spots and a piece of gravel for the children to chalk up.

Our toddler who is no stranger to drawing on a wall enjoyed the colourful floor-designs in equal measure. In fact it was only on the way out that we embarked on chalk graffiti so it was a tight squeeze between Japanese animation characters and summer-themed drawings of kakigori (かきごり). Popular scribbles too were Anpanman, Doraemon and some that were too abstract to make out. We added a handful of polkadots to the mix before calling it a day.

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