Usually, my birthday is just another workday…especially when I’m overseas. But this year I decided to pamper myself and spend a three-day weekend in Tokyo. Bundt Lust being Bundt Lust, I’m not one content to sit in my room and do nothing, so a jam-packed weekend was in store!
First, I had another cooking class with Elizabeth Andoh at her Taste of Culture cooking school. This week, I learned how to make a wide range of dishes using Japanese soy products including Koyadoufu, okara, edamame, soymilk, kinako, fresh tofu, and more. Our dishes included a tofu burger, a vegan scramble, silken tofu with yuzu, and spinach with walnut sauce rounded out with homemade pickles.
After class, I had a private photography workshop through EYExplore Tokyo that taught me some useful guidance to shooting with a DSLR. My guide helped me to get some fantastic shots that really maximized the potential of my camera:
After that, it was check-in time to my home for the next two nights, Hotel Niwa. I loved the artful combination of traditional Japanese architecture (like shoji screens) with modern touches, including the headrest on the bathtub (I’ve never seen that feature before, but wished all hotels did that!). On Sunday morning, I had the traditional Japanese breakfast, which was served in a smaller, serene dining room overlooking the Japanese garden. The waitresses were dressed in beautiful kimono.
Sunday I spent the day window shopping around Shibuya and getting reacquainted with old favorites like Loft, Tower Records and Tokyu Hands. I also had the chance to visit Viron Boulanger and bought several food gifts as well as a chocolate raspberry croissant.
Sunday evening, I splurged on the most exquisite dinner I’ve ever eaten at Bon, which specializes in Fucha Ryori, Chinese vegan Buddhist cuisine (which differs from Japan’s shojin ryori). I was the only diner that night, and was free to roam the other private dining rooms, each with its own garden. Each course was explained in Japanese as to ingredients and preparation by the owner’s wife. As it was spring, the meal began with cherry blossom tea. I’ve tried shojin ryori in Kyoto, and fucha ryori had some uniquely Chinese-style dishes (sweet and sour soup, fried eggroll) that I hadn’t encountered at Japanese temples. It was an ethereal experience, with the scent of fresh tatami and the sparse accompaniment of gagaku (court music; only a drum and shakuhachi; if you’ve never heard gagaku, it can come across as dissonant and irritating, but I find it calming and focusing.)
There was far too much food for any normal human, but I did at least try everything! The owner and his wife even gave me a birthday gift 🙂
On Monday, I spent the morning exploring two of Japan’s most famous department store flagship locations as the both dated to the 1930s and are registered historic places. I loved the Art Deco elements, original elevators, and use of stained glass, it reminded me of the Marshall Fields store in Chicago.
After that, I visited the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, a dream of mine since seeing my first Miyazaki films (Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke) in high school Japanese class. It is notoriously difficult to get tickets to the museum as they limit the number of guests per day (and tickets can only be purchased in advance through specific vendors). Also, the museum will be closed for two months this summer for upkeep. The grounds were gorgeous, but no photos were allowed inside. Miyazaki-san’s visual influence for his films and museum was heavily influenced by Europe, and you’ll see those same design elements at work at his museum. There are murals, stained glass, and other tributes to his famous characters including Toroto and Kiki.
Inside, the visitors were French, American, Australian, Indonesian, Japanese and others; all became children again as they explored Miyazaki’s whimsical worlds with wonder (there are some great architectural details aimed at kids inside; I’m not giving away the surprises!). There were fantastic hommages to early filmmaking and animation, as well as actual cells and backgrounds from Miyazaki’s more well-known films. He was one of the very last studios that hand-painted cells until very recently.
I hit rush hour traffic in Shinjuku on my way back and didn’t get home until after 8 p.m., but it was a fantastic weekend and a birthday that I’ll always remember!