Thursday, 10 March 2011

Mmm Onigiri...

I spent most of this afternoon making onigiri, also known as rice balls. I love making them and I take them to work and eat them on my lunch! They are really easy to make, can last a few days and can be re-heated. They can be quite filling too which is great if you need a little boost when walking to work or to school/college in the morning.

Clcokwise from top left: sushi rice, wasabi paste, nigiri mould
sesame seeds onigiri mould
 I got a sushi making kit last year for my birthday as well as these onigiri moulds. Onigiri are different to sushi as they are made with plain sushi rice (sometimes salted). Sushi rice is seasoned with vinegar, sugar and salt which preserves it. Do not get them mixed up!

Sushi rice

Boiling the rice

Making rice balls is pretty self explanitory. I find 1 1/2 cups of rice is more than enough to make several onigiri and nigiri. Boil your rice for 15-20 minutes and make sure all the water has been absorbed by the rice. Stir frequently as the rice can stick to the bottom of the pan...and don't have your heat too high! Leave your rice to cool to a workable temperature. This is best done in a large glass bowl with a damp cloth placed on top.

You can make riceballs without moulds, this involves placing cling-film in a cup and pouring your rice in and moulding it that way. I like the moulds as they can be re used again and again!

Pack your mould with rice

Place the back on the mould and press

Remove the rice

Adding sesame seeds adds flavour!

Pickled ginger can be placed in the middle as
well as other fillings

Pickled ginger filling

Dried nori (seaweed)

Ta da!

There are many websites which give you more information on fillings. Popular ones include: pickled plum (umeboshi) and tarako (salted cod roe). I love this website which will give you all the information that you need!


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Harajuku heaven...

Harajuku is a must see for anybody visiting Tokyo. Even if you find yourself just spending one day in the city, make sure you head here! My fiance and I spent a week in Tokyo and found that there was plenty of opportunities to head back here just to people watch!

Outside Harajuku station

The crowds gather early...
It isn’t hard to see why Harajuku has become such a honey pot for the youth of Japan. In 1964 Harajuku’s station became the gateway to Tokyo’s Olympic village, drawing scores of international visitors. This resulted in an influx of young and fashionable Tokyoites looking to Harajuku as the place ‘to be seen’.

Takeshita dori is a fantastic street located just a stones throw away from Harajuku station. In the early 1990s, this was the place to buy fake and counterfeit goods. In 2004 the government had a major crackdown on such goods being so freely available and now, it is the place to go to buy clothing, gifts and accessories from the many independent boutiques that line each side of the street.

Takeshita dori

Even the graffiti is pretty...

In my original Japan travel blog I mentioned Angel Hearts and Marion Crepes. Two fantastic crepe shops, directly opposite each other. If you have the stomach for it, sample one from each and tell me what you think. I had a #21 from Marion Crepes, custard and ice cream with chocolate sauce…one was enough for me!

For a bit of peace and quiet, head to Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife the Empress Shōken. The shrine can be found by heading over Jingu bridge (the one where all the cosplay and visual kei types hang out on Sundays).
Meiji Shrine is located in a forest that covers an area of 700,000 square-meters (about 175 acres). This area is covered by an evergreen forest that consists of 120,000 trees of 365 different species, which were donated by people from all parts of Japan when the shrine was established. The forest is visited by many as a recreation and relaxation area in the center of Tokyo.

The last and most impressive torii
The last of the main torii before the main shrine is one of the most impressive. Made from 1500 year old cypress trees from Mount Tandai-san in Taiwan. The whole structure is 12 meters high.

Main shrine courtyard
Traditional Japanese Shinto weddings happen quite frequently at the shrine. Processions can vary in size but it is always great to see a newly wed couple in traditional wedding attire. 

Newly wed couple
Gwen Stefani sung about them, fashion designers have based their collections on them and any good guide-book will tell you to go see them. Harajuku is now synonymous with ‘Harajuku girls’ and cosplayers (both girls and boys). Try get there as early as you can (within reason) but be prepared for a crush of photographers and tourists all eager to fill their cameras! I have been told by friends who have been that some do not like their pictures been taken and will lift their hands up to stop you. This is perfectly understandable so please respect their privacy and always ask permission! I never had this problem but it depends who is there… 
Jingu bashi
Be prepared for extreme fashion statements!
Gothis and Lolita fashion...
Lolita kei

Ota Memorial Museum of Art
A fantastic little museum not far from the hustle and bustle of the station and Omotesando. The museum is dedicated to the late Ota Seizo, whose vast collection of ukiyo-e prints are displayed inside (the collections are changed every month so keep checking back to try to see them all…if you can!).
Kiddy Land is a mecca for anybody who  can’t resist cartoon/anime merchandise. Situated on Omotesando (Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées) it is not hard to miss! Each floor is dedicated to different types of cartoon characters. There is for example a Snoopy floor and of course a Sanrio section featuring Japan’s best love cat…Hello Kitty. Another shop worth visiting down Omotesando is the Oriental Bazaar, a great place to pick up souvenirs as well as traditional craft items.

Kiddy Land

At the time of writing the Omotesando Kiddy Land has moved to a temporary location. More information can be found here:

A stroll around Yoyogi Park and a shopping splurge in LaForet are a couple of other activities that can be fit in to any busy Harajuku itinerary. Just wandering around the side streets and alleyways can amaze and excite!

Harajuku station is on the JR Yamanote Line, only a couple of stations south from Shinjuku, a great base if staying in Tokyo!

Don’t forget to visit Hachiko! Hop on the Hachiko bus to visit one of the world’s most famous dogs…More information on Hachiko bus routes can be found on the following website. Click on the link:

Hachiko bus


Sunday, 6 March 2011

So I have my wedding dress...

Hello again...

So yesterday I went wedding dress shopping with my mum. York is an important place to me personally so I always wanted to get my dress from there! One of the first shops we went in wasn't very interesting. Some of the dresses were nice, but there was a limited selection and the staff did not once ask us if we wanted any help...ONLY until we were about to leave. I think if your running a bridal shop, where your customers are looking to spend over the odds for their perfect dress then you must be attentive and willing to help. Without your customers, you don't have a business!

To cut a long story short, I found my dress at a beautiful shop in the centre of York. It did seem like fate when the lovely owner told me one of her customers had postponed their dress consultation until next week! I'm not going to say too much about the shop and what the dress is like because my fiance might read this! But it is stunning, and going against all wedding dress shopping protocol, it was one of the first few I tried on!

Next...bridesmaid dresses! I have an idea of where I will be getting them from, but that won't be for a few months yet until I finalise my colour scheme. I will probably opt for high street dresses as I think they are just as nice as standard bridesmaid dresses. I am having three bridesmaids altogether. I have known Lisa and Danielle since I was at infant school, and I have known Jess for a few years through work and mutual friends. They are all on the same wavelength as me and I trust them completly. I am very lucky!

Here are a few bridesmaid dresses I like:

Petula dress, £110 Monsoon

Noah Cocktail dress, £150 Monsoon


Thursday, 3 March 2011

School uniform fancy dress...

My friend is having a 21st birthday party this month and I have decided to go as a Japanese school girl. All the components of my uniform were already in my wardrobe. So no extra money has had to be spent.

Bow tie from J-List

Skirt (Primark, a couple of years ago) Cardigan (Ark)

Shoes (Topshop) Socks (H&M) 


Osaka, Kansai’s culinary capital…

Osaka is a must see destination for anybody intending on visiting Japan. Not only can you get flights straight to Osaka (depending on where you are flying from) but the airport itself is truly unique as it has been built on its own artificial island and makes for great viewing when coming in to land!

Kansai International airport

Osaka itself can be reached via Nankai Railway’s limited express train which takes you straight to Namba station in approx 39 minutes, Namba being a great base if you are intending to stay a few days in Osaka. Osaka is home to some of the most iconic images of Japan. You may just recognise a few of them…

Kani Doraku...specialises in kani (crab)

Zuboraya doesn’t just specialise in blowfish!

Glico, the makers of popular Japanese confectionery such as Pocky and Pretz

Osaka is currently Japan’s third largest city, behind Yokohama and the capital Tokyo. Due to the vast amount of space the city occupies, Osaka is home to a number of popular tourist attractions which I highly recommend you visit as some of them could easily rival those found in Tokyo! All the attractions are easily accessible via Namba station (we found anyway) and take no more than 30 minutes to reach.

Osaka castle
Osaka castle is a must for anybody interested in the history of Osaka and the castle itself. When visiting the castle, it is recommended you start from the top (where you have a fantastic panoramic view of the city as well as the castle grounds) and work your way down. At the front of the castle there are a number of fast food vendors (octopus balls are a delicacy in Osaka) and gift shops… and if you go on a hot day like we did, there is a decent selection of vending machines to cool off!

Feeding the birds...

Octopus balls

View from the top

Strolling around the castle grounds is a must. The area is particularly popular during the cherry blossom viewing season. If you can’t get there for April/early May when the blossom is in full bloom, fear not! It is still a pleasant place to take a stroll if you have a bit of time to kill.

The ‘Road Train’ which runs between the Otemon Gate and the Sakuramon gate

Signs available in English

Depending on how you approach the castle it is possible to visit the castle and include some of the area’s other main attractions too. On leaving Osaka-jō station, take a walk around the vicinity of Osaka-jō Hall, a multipurpose arena used for everything from concerts to sports championships. After visiting the castle head to Hokoku Shrine, one of a number of Toyokuni shrines built in honor of the most famous shoguns Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Outside of the grounds, away from the shade of the plum groves is the Osaka Museum of History. A fantastic museum which explains the history of Osaka through the use of lively displays and pictures. Information in English is very limited but there is more than enough to look at to get an idea of what you’re looking at. At each level there is a section where you can sit and watch the castle in the distance

Osaka Museum of History

Sumiyoshi Taisha is a beautiful Shinto shrine located in the Sumiyoshi ward of Osaka and is one of the most important of the Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. The shrine is a stones throw away from the station and sits opposite a large garden. If you appreciate shrines and gardens then this will be a real treat. The area is peaceful and the buildings are stunning. The shrine ’shop’ sell a number of good luck charms or omamori and are run by the shrine maidens called ‘miko’.  

Sumiyoshi Taisha grounds

Hozenji Yokocho
Hozenji Yokocho is a long , narrow alley lined with restaurants and bars and is noted as the place where the atmosphere of old-time Osaka is projected. The original area was bombed during WWII, but has since been restored and has become one of the best places to eat and drink. 

The Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan Harbor Village is another highlight of Osaka and must not be missed. Not only is it one of the largest aquariums in the world, but it is also home to an impressive collection of fish and mammals including the giant Whale shark. There is also the opportunity to get hands on in the ‘touching pool’ where you can stroke a number of sharks and rays.  There are two gift shops in the aquarium and a number of decent shops and restaurants in the Tempozan Harbor Village.

The Tempozan Giant Ferriswheel
Osaka Aquarium exterior

The Umeda Sky building offers some of the best views of the city, but not suitable for those who suffer from vertigo! It is the seventh tallest building in Japan at over 40 storeys high and features The Floating Garden Observatory. A definite must!

Umeda Sky building

Dōtonbori is Osaka’s number one tourist attraction. Here is where tourists, as well as the Japanese themselves, come to eat and shop and see some of the famous sites Osaka is famous for. Osaka is noted as the culinary capital of Japan and Dōtonbori is the place to go to sample some of Kansai’s delicacies such as takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (a kind of omelette/pancake dish mixed with fish or shrimp and topped with cabbage and an egg). Here is where you will find the famous crab restaurant Kani Doraku and Zuboraya with its blowfish lantern.

Dōtonbori, Osaka’s number one tourist spot

The above are but a small number of attractions to visit while in Osaka. Other places can be found in guidebooks available at your local bookstore, I recommend any by Lonely Planet, Rough Guide or Berlitz. We only spent four days in Osaka but had we had more time, we would still have found plenty more places to visit. My Japan blog is available here and features our trip to Osaka as well as Kyoto and Tokyo