Happy Place

It was supposed to rain all afternoon but I got lucky and had clear skies. I have more than a few plants in my apartment and nothing makes me more happy and relaxed than looking at them and fussing with them. A couple I’ve had since I first moved to Japan! They make a sakura imitation rice ball daifuku even more cute. I love having matcha set breaks throughout the day, no matter what is going on, it is the perfect way to unwind and start fresh.

Plants & Flower Snackies

Another double feature day. This time, featuring new plants! A clover and a strawberry plant. From Kichi-Zoh・吉蔵, a daffodil namagashi and forsythia gelatin sweet. At the risk of hyperbole, Kichi-Zoh has the best namagashi in the world. There’s something about the texture that really sets in above nearly everything else in terms of a classic namagashi. So happy and lucky to be so close to it.

February Snack of the Month: Dorayaki・どら焼き

I love this calendar so much! Dorayaki are little sweet pancakes, usually with red bean sandwiched in between but there’s a huge variety. The one I got is white bean and honey paste, and was really lovely. Dorayaki are not my most favourite (I probably have 50+ favourites….) so it was a nice chance to try one again.

White Bean & Honey Dorayaki

Hiking In Aso: A Continuation of the Most Amazing Place

This is another day from my hiking trip last week, a little further south in Aso which is very famous for it’s beautiful scenery, nature and parks. Even the drive up (left photo) was incredible.Our first hike was a quick little warm-up on Mount Eboshi・烏帽子岳 (right photo). We started off close to the crater and just did a quick loop around.

The view from the top! It felt so different from the scenery the day before in Kuju, an hours drive away.

Back at the bottom where we started, you can spot my friend in the bottom right picture. We took a quick peak close to the crater where we could see some volcanic activity.

It really felt out of this world walking around the peaks. We headed up to Minamidake (South Mountain) and onto Nakedake (Central Mountain). The visual history of the terrain was breathtaking. Again, we were the only ones on the whole mountain range that we saw.

We had another incredible sunset at the top, this time at Nakadake with the active volcano behind us.

We couldn’t resist not using the little burner again so we had cup noodles and coffee. Also, all the restaurants close around 7:30pm so there are not an overwhelming amount of choices at night. Honestly, nothing takes as good as noodles at 1700m with this view.

Eventually we made our way back down and were spoiled with the clouds and sunset. I can’t believe how lucky we had been. The hike before there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky and we were covered in stars so we really got the best of both worlds each day.

It was painful to leave, and now I am constantly searching for the next place to go.

Here is the course we took on Yamap.

Valentine’s Day Sweets

It was uncharacteristically sunny and warm on Valentine’s Day so we got to sit on a little rooftop patio to enjoy little pink sweets. I went to Kichi-Zoh because I knew they would have the heart sweet, but when I saw the set I there was no way not to get it. In Japan on Valentine’s Day women give chocolate to their partners, crushes (本命チョコ・honmei choco・true feeling chocolate), male coworkers (義理チョコ・giri choco・obligation chocolate) and friends (友チョコ・tomo choco・friend chocolate). On March 14th men will give chocolate to their romantic partner or crush. It can be quite an expensive day for women having to buy obligation chocolate for every an in the office but with all the remote working that seems to have changed.

Back to the sweets! I did give my honmei choco but of course did not stop there. Kichi-Zoh had the pink rose with white bean in the center, a white heart with pink & white bean paste, and a white bean paste with black bean ‘snow-topped mountain’ (left plate) and also plum jelly and soba flour yōkan (right plate). They were perfect and I loved them. I’m eagerly awaiting candy sales in the week to come.

Leaving The House: Hanabishi・華菱 and Shofuen・松風園

I have been waiting for a chance to go to Hanabishi・華菱 since I saw they opened a last year. They sell incredibly beautiful daifuku with pieces or fruit and white bean paste wrapped inside. You are meant to bisect the daifuku bu cutting it with a red piece of string. The store is immaculately designed but still has a sense of fun.

They only have take-away so I went back to Shofuen・松風園 to have some tea and eat in the park. We had the honeydew melon and Muscat green grape. They sell out constantly and it’s easy to see why, they were some of the best fruit daifuku I’ve ever had, I immediately wanted to go back and try more.

Back inside at Shofuen tea house I got a sticker in celebration of Hina Matsuri・雛祭り, or Girl’s Day later in March. The house was decorated with the traditional dolls and was really special to see.

Hiking in Kuju・九重 AKA The Most Beautiful Place I Have Ever Been To

Mid-week I took a little vacation so a friend and I could hike around the Aso region. I had been pretty busy with work and had done barely the minimum amount of preparation for the hikes. Which worked out wonderfully, I was completely overwhelmed with the beauty of the place. It is unbelievable to me that these views are so close (kind of) to where I live. We got so lucky in so many ways: weather, trail conditions, no closures due to volcanic activity and we didn’t see a single other person the entire hike. We had the whole mountain range to ourselves and it was something I’ll always remember.

Even though it’s still technically winter it was warmer than I had thought it could be. The ground was still icy but it was very beautiful. In the first part of the trip we walked through some valleys with buried signposts and eventually reached Hutate Pass (bottom left picture). Then it’s time to really start going up. There is this golden grass everywhere and at this time of day it was just magical to climb up (bottom right picture) to the first peak, Mt. Shiroguchi・白口岳.

Here we are at the top, ready to make lunch. I have often seen people using these little campfire burners on hikes and I cannot believe I waited until now to get one. Coffee has never tasted better than it has at 1700m. We had funny ‘just-add-water’ camping food and it was just the best. In the distance you can see the Sleeping Bhuddha made up of the 5 main peaks in Aso.

These are in around the second peak, Mt Inahoshi・稲星山. All this area was formed by volcanic activity, and some of the volcanoes are still active.

At 1786.5m, we made it to Mt Kuju・久住山. It was so windy and incredible. It’s easy to understand how addictive mountain hopping here can get; there are just so many, so close and every view is more beautiful than the last. You can see the crater (right, middle picture) surrounded by mountains and if you look very closely you can see the ash coming from the Nakadake in the distance. Tragically, just after we got to the top my phone completely shut down so the bottom right picture is the last I was able to take for a while. As we were descending the sun went down and I got one last picture (bottom left). There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so our view of the stars was maybe the best I’ve ever seen.

I took all of these photos on my old, half broken phone and wish they could do more justice to reality. It was the best.

Here is the course I took on Yamap

Pre-Valentine’s Sweets

After a little out-of-town vacation this week I am back in the usual routine with work, study and sweets. I got these super adorable Valentine’s Day wagashi at Rabbit Moon・兎月. There was no way to choose which one to get and I have no regrets getting both!

The white one was named Love Letter, and was light and fluffy like a marshmallow with a smooth creamy mochi around a little piece of chocolate. It was as fun to eat as it was cute. The one on the right is a red bean with cocoa and yōkan jelly hearts. The flavour was really rich and deep, both were really not typical wagashi flavour styles but were amazing. If I didn’t know how much else there will be to try I would go back for another round.