Wednesday, January 9, 2013


So, I haven't updated in a couple days so here is the long and short of it.

Today is my third day in Tokyo. We arrived in the evening on the 7th and proceeded to make niku jaga. It is kind of like beef stew, but less, well stew-y.

The ingredients are: Potatoes, carrots, onions, sliced pork that kind of looks like bacon but is waaaayyy bigger, sugar, aji mirin and soy sauce. If you're looking to make this, it is kind of hard to find aji mirin stateside, or at least in the Eugene area. It is usually kept near vinegar and can be a little pricey. As for the meat, I have yet to find the proper meat in the us, but bacon or beef stew bits cut up really small are good substitutes. The good thing about it is you can generally add just about any kind of seasonal vegetable and a lot of the seasoning is to taste. You can even make it without meat if you like, but it's meant to have meat in it.  I tend to like it a bit soupier, but here is the way I was taught and how I like to make it:

For 2 people you will need:
  • Potatoes - 2 medium potatoes
  • Carrots - 1-2 carrots
  • Onion - 1 small
  • Bacon/ Beef Stew Bits - 6oz/ ~1/4 pound --- this really depends on how much meat you want
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sugar
  • Aji Mirin
  • Olive Oil - 1 Tablespoon

 If you choose to use bacon you will need to cut it into strips about 1 1/2 inches long. If you choose beef stew bits it is best to cut them up into small pieces that will cook quickly. Add Olive oil to your pot and over medium heat cook the meat until it is done. Then add onion and cook until they are see through. Once that is done, add potatoes and carrots. Cook until there is an opaque edge to the potatoes and stirring occasionally. Once the potatoes are ready add water until it is level with the top of your ingredients for a soupier style niku jaga. If you prefer it less soupy add about half the water adding more as needed when it dries out. From here you'll want to boil your ingredients adding soy sauce, aji mirin and sugar to taste. Don't worry about it being too weak, you can always add more later. Once the potatoes are soft enough to poke easily with a fork it is done! Best served with white rice!

Moving on. Carrots in Japan are HUGE. Ours are really long and skinny and kind of spindly right? Here they are fat. I'm talking like 2 1/2 inches across. Here is a picture of my friend with one of the small ones at about 7 inches long. The biggest I've seen about about a foot and half long.

Ayumi with a carrot! They're so fat!!!
Yesterday I decided to brave the train system to Shinjuku. This was really confusing because there are sooo many lines. I come from a city with a bus system and it is very straight forward. Want to go to the bus station? Take bus number X. No ifs ands or buts. Here however, I've learned that sometimes there are up to 4 trains that go the same direction, but don't necessarily make the same stops. So far it seems like the local train will make every stop along it's route, but sometimes there are special expresses with no stops or semi-special expresses which make only one or two of the stops.

While most of the trains have both English and Japanese electronic displays and messages over the intercom system it's probably best to get a map of the train lines. These can be picked up in the Tokyo stations from the people in the booths near the area where you take enter and exit the train system. When in doubt, just ask! It can be very confusing to follow arrows and signs and think you're in the right place but you're not quite sure. So ask someone if you really don't want to end up completely lost. Even if your Japanese isn't perfect, it seems that most of the time that people will generally understand and help point you in the right direction!

So, on to Shinjuku. Let's just say I didn't get any actual shopping done. After managing to find my way up to the street I blanked. Though I had looked at maps of the area I had no clue where I was. Nothing was familiar and I was terrified of getting lost. Since Ayumi was in class I would have no one to call to come rescue me so taking a left, I was at the west exit by the way, I found myself on Mosaic Street. It's a short little street between HUGE department stores that has lights all strung up along it. I was there in the daytime, so I didn't get to see them all lit up, but here's a picture from the good old interet.

Photo copyright of Walktheworld1
So the first department store I ended up in was "My Lord." Let me just say, this place is freaking massive. I'm not talking like just big. I'm talking huge. It's at least 6, maybe 7 stories tall and probably takes up about a good... i don't know, 1 and a half city blocks square. It was floor after floor after floor after floor of clothing, jewelry and accessories for women with the occasional cafe thrown in. I've never seen so much clothing in one place in my life. Since I tend to run an XL in the USA I probably had no hope for wearing any of this clothing so I didn't poke around much. What I did look at though seemed to start around $15 on the accessories and go up.

So My Lord connects to another even larger department store called Odakyu (spelling?). If I thought My Lord was big, this place was massive. It is 13 stories tall and probably at the very least a football field long and just about as wide if not larger. The sheer number of shops involved was so enormous. When I think department store I think of somewhere like Kohls or Macy's so I was expecting one or two shops per floor. Max. Boy was I wrong. I think there was someone in the area of at least, I'm talking minimum here, 20 stores per floor all running into one another with everything from books to clothing to housewares. Walking through you hear calls of "いらっしゃいませ!" (irasshaimase) which pretty much means welcome. If you hear people yelling something like this when you walk into a store don't worry! You aren't in trouble!!!

So anyways, after about 2 hours of walking around and looking it was about time to go meet Ayumi for lunch. After about 15 minutes I managed to make my way back down the gate I came out of and while waiting I looked around the bottom floor of the Keio department store. This was probably the most expensive place I'd walked into so far with Jewelery and the like as far as I could see. The funny part was the clearance sale bins. All these women were crowded around them jammed in side by side trying to dig through the bins of scarfs, handkerchiefs, gloves, etc. I'd almost call it a madhouse.

I quickly made my escape from the store and waited for Ayumi. I quickly found, much to my dismay, that when I tried to reply to her message I couldn't remember how to get to the English function. So, some ten minutes later I finally manage to form a very badly formed Japanese sentence telling her where I was waiting. We then went to a little convenience store/restaurant where we proceeded to this machine to order.

It was weird. So you walk up to this machine and there are all these buttons and each button has a picture, the name of the meal and the price. So you put your money in the machine, select what you want and it prints out these little tickets with your selection. When you're done you push the change button and then proceed to the counter where they jot down your order and then you wait. I'd say it was less than five minutes later when they arrived with our food, took our tickets and we were able to eat. I had grilled chicken, some kind of cabbage salad, miso and rice. As for drinks there is a little machine with water and tea options with little cups on the side. And when I say little, I mean little. Think of waiting rooms with the water machines and little dixie cups. I'm talking that size.

After that I managed, with a little help from strangers about which train was which, to make it back to the apartment where I proceeded to pass out rather quickly and slept for a good 14 hours or so. So Yeah, that's my first Shinjuku/trains alone adventure. I'm sure I'll go back again and actually see Shinjuku sometime! Haha!

Oh! Almost forgot to mention. Next to the train station is this little water way that is maybe 6 or 7 feet across. I looked down and saw these HUGE koi swimming down there! Ayumi says she has no idea why they are there, they just are! So enjoy!!

Today I'm off to attempt to find Seiyu (Japan's Walmart) and tomorrow I am supposed to go to Harajuku with Ayumi!


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