After a few days in Tokyo, it was really nice to hop on board the “Limited Express Romance Car” and head to Hakone for some time in the country. On the way, our conductor made sure we got to the other side of the train for a glorious vies of Mr. Fuji. It was like a miracle seeing it on such a clear day!
While in Japan one thing I really wanted to do was check out an Onsen. Public baths are a huge part of the culture in Japan and I love a good soak. I had read about Hakone, the hot spring town, and I really wanted to check it out because it sounded amazing. We wanted to stay in a traditional Ryokan which means that you wear a yukata (summer kimono) and sleep on tatami mats on the floor. It’s pretty tough to find one with vegan options but I did it! Kansuiro Ryokan promised to be a completely traditional ryokan that also catered to any sort of dietary needs. In the ryokan, you have your own room where they bring you a feast course by course. We were overwhelmed by all the food. Then while we were hanging out in our outdoor onsen overlooking the mountains they take all the food away and change it into a bedroom. It was a very different experience. Our hostess barely spoke English but she helped us make sure everything was perfect. Until the morning, that is, when she insisted we have a gigantic breakfast right at 8am. They called us at 7:30 and started yelling “hurry! hurry!” because we weren’t out of bed yet. It kind of killed the relaxing atmosphere and after the giant spread the night before I couldn’t handle another full on breakfast.
On New Year’s Eve we found ourselves in the district of Asakusa the home of the Buddhist temple Sensō-ji. It turned out it was the perfect place to be. New Years is a big holiday in Japan, maybe the biggest and there are lots of traditions. The main one is that you go to a temple and put in your prayer for the new year. It’s important to do this as fast as possible once the new year starts so there are tons of people lined up waiting for midnight to approach the temple. Sensō-ji had an atmosphere of a huge festival with vendors selling snacks and charms for blocks and blocks on the way to the temple. Inside the grounds, you could also get your fortune scroll after making an offering and picking a lucky number. Mine said I’m going to lead a revolution.
We waited around but it was pretty cold and so we left for a little to warm up at a bar in a fancy hotel overlooking the sky tree where we were completely underdressed but still treated with kindness and respect. Japan is really great. In Asakusa you have a great view of Tokyo Sky Tree which is lit up at night. Also, it’s just one stop over from Uneo station which is home to another T’s Restaurant. On New Years you are supposed to eat Udon Noodles for luck and this was the spot to do it for sure.
We made it back over to Sensō-ji for midnight where we got to hang out by some VIPs who were ringing the toki-no-kane (bells of Time), for New Years. It rings 108 times and every single ring is made by a different person. It was a magical night as we ushered in the Year of the Dog!
Sweets in Japan are a pretty big deal but vegan ones aren’t always easy to find. Unless you stroll into the tiny Brown Sugar 1st where you will be overwhelmed with things to buy like coconut popcorn and yuzu cookies and soft serve ice cream and cupcakes.
A district in Shibuya, Harajuku, is unlike anywhere I’ve been in my life. It became famous for the “Harajuku Girls” who come out to shop in the most fabulous clothes you’ve ever seen. And girl power is definitely the name of the came. Everything is kawaii (cute), in pastel colors, and looks like it was designed by the coolest committee of twelve-year-old girls anywhere. There are cat cafes, bakeries, crepe shops, animal costumes, and stuffed animals everywhere. And this is for sure the place to pick up that glitter filled cell phone case you’ve been dying for. I would want every girl in the world to have a neighborhood like this to wander around, there were so many small groups of unchaperoned girls just having the best time. It made our trips to the mall in the 80s seem pathetic by comparison. And yes, we did spend way too much money on this giant rainbow cotton candy!
Maybe you’ve heard the story of Hachikō, the dog that waited at Shibuya station for his human to get off work every single day. He was so famous for his ever-present to folks in the neighborhood for his unwavering attitude that when he passed they built a statue of Hachikō, waiting in his spot.
Shibuya is probably the area that you think of when you picture Tokyo in your mind. It’s like times square on some sort of intense Japanese drugs that they only have in anime movies. Everywhere you look there are giant ads, giant building, and millions of people everywhere. The day I was at the famous intersection across the station enjoying my matcha latte at Starbucks, I even saw a bunch of people driving go-carts dressed like all the characters from Mario Kart, Luigi, Toad and the Princess were all there. They say the intersection is the busiest in the world and it’s super interesting to watch the lights change and see it swarm with people.
Aside from the many stores and coffeshops, (one has a David Lynch theme!) there are plenty of vegan options. We tried Afuri which was very different than other bowls of ramen in Japan because it was positively swimming with bright, colorful vegetables. It was very tasty and I recommend it for sure. There are a ton of other options and many are open late so check Happy Cow and Yelp to see what’s what.
I am really excited to finally blog about the HUMONGOUS bakesale that we are going to have next Saturday on April 2nd.
A couple weeks ago Kathryn, the blogger behind The Austin Gastronomist mentioned on twitter that she wanted to set up the bakesale. I volunteered to help organize because I really wanted to do something for Japan. Last year, we had a lot of success with vegan bakesales for Haiti and I thought it would be really interesting to combine efforts with the whole Austin food community.
Since we started planning so many other people have joined up to organize and bake or donate money that it is kind of like the final scene in It’s a Wonderful Life, we now have 5 locations all over town, business sponsors, and lots of people signing up to help. Our goal is to earn 10,000 dollars for Americares, at first I thought that was crazy but now I think we can TOTALLY DO IT!
I really hope that the Austin vegan community will participate. So far, most of the people signed up are local foodies, and food bloggers & journalists and I want them all to see how wonderful our baked goods are and that the vegans in Austin are all so awesome and such a caring group. Plus I want to buy most of your delicious baked goods for myself.
I am also really excited to announce that the Red Rabbit Donut Cooperative is going to have their FANTASTIC donuts at the sale. If you haven’t tried them yet, you are going to be transported to a wonderful world where everything is made of donuts and filled with love. So please, sign up to donate baked goods, other items or volunteer at the tables with me. If you can’t be there for the sale I am happy to have you guys drop stuff off at my house the day before and I think we have another location too.