September 29, 2016: The Japan Round-up!

Posting all the pics that didn’t make the blog while I was in Japan…

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We visited a “space” exhibit in Ginza.  This paper cut-out display challenged you to discover three contrary cut-outs in the crowd: a child, a woman with an umbrella, and a cat.  I found the woman with the umbrella and think I spotted the kid, but no luck with that cat.

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Part of the same exhibit.

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Tokyo’s interesting architecture.

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Subway warnings.  Watch those kids!  And drunks!

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Some of the goodies at Dandelion chocolate in Tokyo.

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Me, ready for chocolate-making action.

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Ramen stop.

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The true 4D experience rumbling, wind, and scent.  I’ll leave it to you to provide the requisite tie-in joke.

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Umeda station isn’t named after the plum.

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Osaka at night

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Osaka during the day.

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Akemi just can’t resist.

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We spotted quite a few of these circular dead vegetations outside several izakayas.  No idea what they were.

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My friend at the farmer’s market – TamaNegiAtama!

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Another farmer’s market friend – he of the spicy pepper powder.

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Some Osaka shopping.

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Avocado tofu – surprisingly good.  As is most of the tofu in Japan compared to what we get in North America.

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Osaka fish market where you can just stop, point, and have it raw or cooked.

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Selfie-er’s beware!

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My take-out meal on the shinkansen.  Heavy on the fried stuff!

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Waiting under the giant spider.

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Green velour pants in Ginza.

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Some…interesting accessories – Ginza.
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Chef Masa (Sushisho Masa) is a huge fan of the anime One Piece.  Some of the restaurant’s bathroom decorations.

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One of the colorful dishes at Esquisse.

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Dessert at Esquisse.

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Kumamon, the mascot of Kumamoto prefecture.  And Akemi.

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Fresh fruit convenience machine.  Looks pretty popular.

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Doggy bentos.

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One of Hiroo’s popular eateries.

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More of Tokyo’s interesting architecture.

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Interesting window display – Omotesando.

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Akemi, thrilled to be at Pizza Seirinkan.

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Pina Colada-inspired dessert at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

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Akemi watched Angry Birds on the plane and insisted I watch it because the main character reminds her of me.

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Scallops at Benoit.

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Akemi and I got matching Gudetama t-shirts.   They reflect my current mood.

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Tokyo bakeries are insane.

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One of the weirdest desserts of the trip.  Ingredients included black truffles, parsley, and dill.  Very interesting – in a horrible horrible way.

September 20, 2016: Tokyo Day #6!

Well, I spent most of the day thinking and worrying about my french bulldog Lulu and how best to proceed with her soft palate surgery, then the other most of the day thinking and worrying about the show’s third season.  In the case of the latter – I mean, sure, I know where I want to go, have worked out all of the character and story progressions, but actually getting there is always the challenge as, invariably, you get these inevitable curveballs thrown your way.  It’s alway so unnecessarily complicated.  It shouldn’t be but, really, welcome to show business.

But I’ll save that little rant for another time.

Tokyo!  Day #5!  Another 22k_ steps!  We covered a lot of ground today!

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Apparently, outside of Tsukiji Market, there’s not all that much to do in Tokyo early morning.  Rather than hang around our hotel room, Akemi and I decided to take a walk through Hibiya Park – a little oasis in the heart of the urban mayhem.

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We’ve been missing our dogs so much that we’ve resorted to pestering local dog owners for some time with their pooches.  Pictured above – Akemi and her now pal.

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We arrived early in Naka-Meguro, about an hour and a half before lunch, so we took a stroll through the neighborhood and came across this little dessert(ish) shop.  Akemi had apparently heard about it.  The shop’s owner incorporates vegetables into all her desserts in an effort to get kids to eat their veggies.  A few of the menu items on display…

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Not so strawberry shortcake, in which the strawberries are replaced with Japanese tomatoes and greens.

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Avocado cheesecake!

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And the intriguing but daunting asparagus tiramisu.

I know, I know.  Perfect Weird Food Purchase of the Day potential.  But I didn’t want to ruin my lunch.

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We ended up at my favorite pizza join in Tokyo – Pizza Seirinkan.  Your choices here are simple.  You can have the Margherita.  Or you can have the Marinara.

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One of the cheapest meals of this trip and one of the best.

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Akemi agrees.

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For dessert, a stopover at Jean-Paul Hevin.  Despite the triple chocolate order, our waitress professed her faith in our ability to polish them off.  Her confidence in us proved well-founded.

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I picked up this terrific Crayon Shin-Chan t-shirt at the T.V. Asahi store.  This way, there will no longer be any confusion when I visit set.

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With the entire afternoon in front of us, we decided to broaden our artistic horizons by checking out some of the local exhibits.  First up: The Dali exhibition and a Venetian Renaissance Paintings exhibit at the National Art Center.

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Then, we walked over to The Mori Art Museum for The Universe and Art, part of the TeamLab exhibitions Akemi was very eager to check out.  This one was more her speed.  Some of my highlights…

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Part of artist Laurent Grasso’s Studies into the Past.

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Artist Jia Aili’s “Hermit from Planet Dust”.

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Jules de Balincourt: “Cosmic Chaos” and “Space Investors”.

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Sorayama Hajime’s “Sexy Robot”.

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Artist Neri Oxman’s “Saturn’s Wanderer”: “Saturn’s Wanderer is created to adapt to the vortex storms on Saturn. It has a large surface area that would contain bacteria that converts the planet’s hydrocarbons into edible matter.”  Love it!

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A little something to add to Melissa O’Neil’s wardrobe in season 3?

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SEArch/Clouds AO: “Mars Ice House” – 3D printed resin model with wood base, internal light.

And then there was an amazing, full room video experience from TeamLab.  A small excerpt:

With that done, we headed to Roppongi Hills for a little more walking.  And I happened to come across these DC comics-themed characters –

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Hey, check it out!  It’s Jason Momoa!

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Finally, for dinner, we went to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

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The sea urchin in lobster jelly with cauliflower cream to start.

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And a chartreuse souffle with pistachio ice cream.

Today, we head to Akihabara – Electric Town – Anime Central – Geek Heaven.

Perhaps another Periscope coming your way?

September 17, 2016: Tokyo Day #4!

So, that finale…

Yeah.

I’ll avoid commenting suffice it to say we are hard at work, providing answers to a few of the, uh, outstanding questions we were left with at episode’s end.  And, I guarantee you – BIG answers coming your way in season 3.

But, for now, I’m still enjoying Japan with Akemi.

Yesterday, we were super lazy, sleeping in (after our 40+ piece sushi extravaganza) and only getting out of a bed a little after 7 am.  Then, we headed to Tsukiji Market where I did a little Periscope session –

Tsukiji Market Periscope

Still getting the hang of these damn things.  At least I know to title them before starting.  Now, all I need to do is keep them to around 5 minutes – oh, and, uh, avoid saying “basically”, “actually”, and “uh” and they’ll be perfect.  Stay tuned!

So, after breakfast, Akemi and I went our separate ways.  Temporarily.  I headed off to a regular (annual) lunch favorite of mine, Butagumi, with my friend Moro-san.

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This appetizer is unbelievable and, dare I say it, the best thing on the menu: crispy pork, garlic, green onions, soy and shichimi spice.  I always get a double-order.

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Three types of pork – Iberico, natta-buta, and a third one I can’t remember…that was actually my favorite.

While I was at Butagumi, Akemi was in Shinjuku checking out the sights:

“There are a bunch of geek people taking pictures of this wall…”

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We got together again in Omotesando where we paid another visit to La Maison de Chocolat.  Not pictured – my ice cream sundae.

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An ad for what looks like a new yakuza cooking show.  Akemi suggests we could do our own version: “Cooking with THREE”.

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Checking out the Belgian beer festival in Roppongi.  Akemi stops to admire the giant fries.

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The city is dotted with “kobans”, police boxes (more like kiosks).  They update a daily count of the city’s injuries and fatalities.

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A walk through a surprisingly quiet Harajuku yields this fabulous find: Transformer longboards.

Yesterday saw us shattering our previous step count record by racking up an impressive 25k+ steps

September 17, 2016: Tokyo Day #3! Oh, and that Dark Matter season finale!

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Tonight, following the season premiere of Z Nation, it’s the season 2 finale of Dark Matter.

This episode changes everything.  Trust me.  Fans are going to be feeling passionate after this one.

And, while you’re all watching Dark Matter, I’ll be continuing my Tokyo travels.

Yesterday, we took the shinkansen from Osaka (arriving in a lightning 2.5 hours).  Check out the view outside the window…

Zippy, no?

We did a lot more walking, this time through Roppongi, before finally ending up at our very favorite sushi restaurant in the world: Sushisho Masa.  Now, the thing that differentiates Sushisho Masa from every other high end omakase sushi restaurant is the sheer inventiveness and variety of sushi.  All other places will serve a set number of pieces of nigiri, between 12 to 18, all usually top quality and fantastic. Masa, on the other hand, serves roughly 40 sushi bites, ranging from the grilled octopus shirako to melt-in-your-mouth tuna nigiri.  Last time we visited, Akemi could barely walk after her meal.  This time, she asked for the “josei portion” and, while she did leave the restaurant feeling full, she only insisted on an hour long post-meal walk.

Some of the highlights:

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Masa-san does something I’m never seen any other sushi chef do.  Before serving o-toro, the prized, highly marbled top end tuna belly, he carefully trims the paper thing individual fat layers.  He claims this results in a much more pleasurable taste and textural experience.  I’d have to agree.

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Masa-san and part of his team.  ’til next year!

Well, I’m off to the Tsukiji Market.  If I have time, be prepared for a live Periscope!

September 12, 2016: Tokyo Day #1!

September 11th back west but the 12th here.  This blog entry comes to you from the future!

So, the fallout from Friday night’s Dark Matter double-header continues to resonate.  I’ll hold off talking about it until our international fans have had a chance to catch up but, suffice it to say, if you found the ending of episode 212 shocking, you’ll be downright devastated by our season finale.

Meanwhile, I’m in Japan.  After a typical sleepless pre-flight night and a relatively sleepless eight hour flight, I arrived in Tokyo at 4:00 p.m. local time, about midnight my time.  Once Akemi and I had caught caught the shuttle bus from Narita, checked into our hotel, enjoyed a late night of yakitori –

Thigh, breast, meatball and, of course, chicken butt!
Thigh, breast, meatball and, of course, chicken butt!

I forced myself to stay up until 9:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m. Vancouver time).  By 10 p.m. I was OUT.  Then, following a deep sleep, I roused awake in a panic, assuming I had slept in and wasted much of the afternoon.  I scrambled to check the time on my iPhone.  What was it?  8 a.m.?  9?!  10?!!!  Try 1:30 a.m.  I’d been asleep for all of three and a half hours.

I slept fitfully until 6 am when I woke up – much to Akemi’s relief as she had been up since 4 a.m. – then we got dressed and headed over to the Tsukiji Fish Market for our traditional Japanese breakfast –

Nikki-dofu (left) and "guts bowl" (right)
Nikki-dofu (left) and “guts bowl” (right)

We walked around Ginza.  We walked around Omotesando.  I humored Akemi by agreeing to a vegetarian lunch where I enjoyed was served about a dozen dish small dishes.  The overarching theme of the lunch was bitter-goopy.

My review: Bleeergh!
My review: Bleeergh!

Then, it was off to La Maison de Chocolat for second-lunch.

Iced chocolate, two chocolate macaroons, a chocolate eclair, a couple of chocolate almonds, and a chocolate square.  And an iced tea for Akemi.
Iced chocolate, two chocolate macaroons, a chocolate eclair, a couple of chocolate almonds, and a chocolate square. And an iced tea for Akemi.

Well, my Snow Monkeys are off to a horrendous start in fantasy football league play, putting up an abysmal 64.14 points.  It’s going to be a looong season!

Akemi is thrilled to be here.
Akemi is thrilled to be here.
Ah, Japanese toilets - how I've missed you!
Ah, Japanese toilets – how I’ve missed you!
Check out the window cleaner waaaay up on top.
Check out the window cleaner waaaay up on top.
A surprisingly uncrowded Ginza dori - at 7 a.m.
A surprisingly uncrowded Ginza dori – at 7 a.m.
Rule #1 of traveling with Akemi: Stop to take a picture with every street corner mascot.
Rule #1 of traveling with Akemi: Stop to take a picture with every street corner mascot.
Welcome to Tsukiji
Welcome to Tsukiji
Imagine the size of the plate!
Imagine the size of the plate!
Two types of sea urchin in charcoal bun.
Two types of sea urchin in charcoal bun.
7:00 a.m. lineup for sushi breakfast.
7:00 a.m. lineup for sushi breakfast.
Akemi - super bummed the Sanrio shop was closed.
Akemi – super bummed the Sanrio shop was closed.
Who needs menus?  Just pick and point.
Who needs menus? Just pick and point.
Okay, okay.  Akemi has been talking about this for years.  I promise to try it before I head back home.
Okay, okay. Akemi has been talking about this for years. I promise to try it before I head back home.
According to Akemi, it's a specially designed spoon attuned to the vibrations of your hand that makes the ice cream melt faster.   Hmmm.
According to Akemi, it’s a specially designed spoon attuned to the vibrations of your hand that makes the ice cream melt faster. Hmmm.
Sad robot.
Despondent robot.
A Jean-Paul Hevin chocolate macaron.
A Jean-Paul Hevin chocolate macaron.
Akemi misses the dogs so badly, she's taken to bonding with the animatronic ones.
Akemi misses the dogs so badly, she’s taken to bonding with the animatronic ones.
Uh oh.  Sad rabbit.  The memory card in Akemi's camera conks out.
Uh oh. Sad rabbit. The memory card in Akemi’s camera conks out.

Sushi tonight, then we’re off to a chocolate-making class tomorrow before catching the bullet train to Osaka.  Akemi had me call the shop last month to find out if the class was offered in English.  Sadly, the answer was no – but, undeterred, Akemi signed us up anyway.  “It’s only one class,”she said.  Right.  Only one FOUR HOUR class!

May 2, 2014: Places you may want to avoid! Cast your vote for our July Book of the Month Club read!

I’m enjoying reading your comments on yesterday’s entry (My Top 5 Never-Before-Visited Vacation Destinations!) both for the travel recommendations AND critiques. Don’t be shy or fearful of offending.  I’d love to learn about your those negative experiences as well.  After all, not every city is for everyone.  For instance, I’ve only been to New Orleans, San Francisco, and Hawaii once, but had a tremendous time on all three occasions and would go back to any of them in a heartbeat.  Paris, on the other hand, probably not.  I’ve visited twice for business and, while it’s architecturally beautiful and home to some marvelous restaurants, I found its locals somewhat…let’s go with “rude” and leave it at that.  It’s bizarre because I’ve met French nationals on my travels, even here in Vancouver, and they’ve all been nothing short of wonderful: friendly, spirited, helpful.  Interestingly enough, when they hear about my Paris experience, they invariably inform me that Paris is very different from the rest of the country and then insist that, the next time, I should visit southern France .

So, do tell.  What are some of the places you WOULDN’T pay a return visit? Details, please.

Alright all you voracious readers.  It’s that time again.   Time to vote for the July Book of the Month.  The nominees are…

1December Park by Ronald Malfi

In the quiet suburb of Harting Farms, the weekly crime blotter usually consists of graffiti or the occasional bout of mailbox baseball. But in the fall of 1993, children begin vanishing and one is found dead. Newspapers call him the Piper because he has come to take the children away. But there are darker names for him, too . . .

Vowing to stop the Piper’s reign of terror, five boys take up the search. Their teenage pledge turns into a journey of self-discovery . . . and a journey into the darkness of their own hometown. On the twilit streets of Harting Farms, everyone is a suspect. And any of the boys might be the Piper’s next victim.

1Defenders by Will McIntosh

The invaders came to claim earth as their own, overwhelming us with superior weapons and the ability to read our minds like open books.

Our only chance for survival was to engineer a new race of perfect soldiers to combat them. Seventeen feet tall, knowing and loving nothing but war, their minds closed to the aliens.

But these saviors could never be our servants. And what is down cannot be undone.

1American Woman by Robert Pobi

New York City is experiencing a seemingly interminable heat wave. NYPD homicide detective Alexandra “Hemi” Hemingway has just learned she’s pregnant when she catches a disturbing case: the murder of a child. No suspects emerge. Then another child is killed. He looks amazingly like the first child, and his parents, like the first pair, are profoundly wealthy. Then another, same parameters. In the midst of the carnage, Hemi questions the wisdom of bringing a child into such a world. The detectives stumble on a thin lead: the mothers of the murdered children all used an exclusive, extraordinarily expensive fertility clinic.

1White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Special Agent Pendergast arrives at an exclusive Colorado ski resort to rescue his protégée, Corrie Swanson, from serious trouble with the law. His sudden appearance coincides with the first attack of a murderous arsonist who–with brutal precision–begins burning down multimillion-dollar mansions with the families locked inside. After springing Corrie from jail, Pendergast learns she made a discovery while examining the bones of several miners who were killed 150 years earlier by a rogue grizzly bear. Her finding is so astonishing that it, even more than the arsonist, threatens the resort’s very existence.

Drawn deeper into the investigation, Pendergast uncovers a mysterious connection between the dead miners and a fabled, long-lost Sherlock Holmes story–one that might just offer the key to the modern day killings as well.

Now, with the ski resort snowed in and under savage attack–and Corrie’s life suddenly in grave danger–Pendergast must solve the enigma of the past before the town of the present goes up in flames.

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Nebula Awards Showcase 2014 edited by Kij Johnson

This year’s Nebula winners, and expected contributors, are Kim Stanley Robinson, Nancy Kress, Andy Duncan, and Aliette de Bodard, with E.C. Myers winning the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.

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Putting together this list was a lot tougher than you’d think.  I went through the several hundred titles released in May, eliminated hardcovers, crappy/cheesy covers, continuing instalments in an ongoing series, tie-ins, reprints, vampires, werewolves, zombies and, in the end, those books that failed to capture my interest and, in the end, came up with less than a dozen potential reads (!).  But some very interesting candidates.

By the way, publishers take note.  It’s not necessary to tell us it’s a novel (ie. Bloodgrave: A Novel or Goldfish of the Blue Apocalypse: A Novel).  I know it’s a novel.  If it was a collection of short stories, it would say so.  Alternately, if it was packaged food or a bicycle or hiking boots, chances are still pretty good I’d be able to tell the difference.

Still, I’m sure it happens.  Be honest now.  Who hasn’t, at some point in their lives, made the embarrassing mistake of visiting their local bookstore to pick up this:

1But brought home this instead:

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Come on.  Let’s see a show of hands.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.  So, in hindsight, maybe it’s a good thing that publishers are taking the time to point out the seemingly obvious.  I mean, thank goodness they did otherwise a simple trip to your local bookshop may well result in an embarrassingly erroneous purchase, criminal charges, or worse!  Please, take note.

This:

1NOT this:

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And this:

1NOT this guy:

1Whereas February was a great reading month, full of surprises, April was peppered with disappointments.  But I’ll elaborate on those in a dedicated entry.

Oh, and that reminds me: Finish up reading The Rich and the Dead, our May Book of the Month Club pick, and get ready for Monday’s discussion.

I’m going to have plenty to say on this one.

May 1, 2014: My Top 5 Never-Before-Visited Vacation Destinations!

Tokyo, Montreal, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.  Whenever I travel, it’s usually to one of these four cities.  But I’ve been thinking.  Maybe it’s time for something different.  Not Hawaii or Hong Kong or New Orleans or San Francisco – all places I’ve already visited.  I’m talking about somewhere I’ve never been before. Somewhere brand new to discover.  I’m thinking…

1 Savannah, Georgia

I actually started researching Savannah for a pilot I was co-writing and the more I learned about this sultry southern city, the greater my desire to visit.  I’ve always had an affinity for things southern, from sports teams to food,  so this trip is long overdue.  It also helps that I have some reliable guides in my buddy Jeff and his wife Barb who head down annually.

1Madrid, Spain

Ever since we watched a Food Network show called From Spain with Love, a series that took viewers on a tour of the city’s culinary hot spots, Madrid (and Barcelona) has been on the top of my (and Akemi’s) list of Places to Go.

1New York, New York

Okay, technically I have been to New York – but it was a business trip that lasted less than a day so I’m not counting it.   As far as foodie cities go, this one’s at the top of the list.

1Tuscany, Italy

I’d like to follow a friend’s lead: gather a bunch of friends and rent a villa.  Hire a chef to cook for you or simply take a ride into town for some of the local fresh produce you can bring back and cook yourself.

1Charleston, South Carolina

Warm, beautiful, great food, and, by all accounts, “insanely nice” locals.

So. what makes your list?

December 14, 2013: Planning the Fan Campaign! And next year’s Group Holiday!

Okay.  Pursuant to yesterday’s blog entry, some careful strategy is required.

I think that, rather than striking out now as everyone – especially those in a position to make the decisions – prepares for the holidays or, in some cases, is already off on holidays, the campaign should hold off in order to maximize its efforts.

Plan and coordinate now, then launch in the second or third week of the New Year when everyone is back at the office – and eager to start green lighting those new projects!

I leave you to pick a target date.

And, speaking of planning, what do you all have planned for the coming holidays? Visiting relatives?  Staying close to home?  Getting away from it all with a trip to an exotic locale?  Bora Bora?  Fiji?  Vegas?

Given the choice, if you could spent the holidays anywhere in the world EXCEPT home (or the home of a loved one), where would it be?

My Top 5 NOT Home For the Holidays Destinations:

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5. Christmas in Hawaii

Well, why the hell not?  Sure, there’s nothing like a white Christmas, but after one too many festive deep-freezes in my home town of Montreal, I think I’d appreciate a little change of venue.  Maybe less snow and more sand.  Less spruce and pine and more palm.  Less roasted chestnuts, more poi.  And, oh yeah, the beach.

14. Christmas in Hong Kong

The view from Kowloon of the colorfully lit buildings lining the Central Hong Kong across Victoria Harbor is absolutely stunning.  Not quite the rest and relaxation offered by a Hawaiian getaway, but certainly a hell of a lot warmer than an east coast winter, and maybe even more cosmopolitan.  If you’re looking to shop away the holidays, this is the place!

13. Christmas Tokyo

Well, of course.  Tokyo out Christmases most North American cities with its stunning seasonal displays and spirit.  Granted, the Japanese don’t quite celebrate the holiday like some of us do, eschewing family in favor of romantic dinners for two, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the festive mood.

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2. Christmas in Savannah

I chose Savannah, Georgia because I’ve been researching the city of late, but I’d happily do Charleston, S.C. as well or any other down home American city that offers a southern take on the holiday complete with pecan pie and bourbon-spiked eggnog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1. Christmas in Las Vegas

Well, surprise surprised?  Not really.  Unlike any of the other places listed, Vegas is only a few hours away, offering fun, sun, and restaurant lineup to rival New York and L.A.

So, let’s all start planning for next year!  Where are we all going?

November 20, 2013: Tokyo Day #15!

This is what I've bee reduced to: whiling away the afternoons in my hotel room eating $3 bananas.
This is what I’ve bee reduced to: whiling away the afternoons in my hotel room eating $3 bananas.

The old adage is true.  You never truly appreciate something until it’s gone.  Like, say, your appetite.  Or even the ability to eat something without having it transform your stomach in a raging maelstrom.  At the beginning of this trip, I was on the top of the world, assuming I’d get to try anything and everything.  The bechamel-laced gratin croquette from Tokyo McDonalds.  The ice cream waffle sandwich from Ginza’s Manneken.  A casual lunch-time visit to Pizza Seirinkan in Naka-Meguro.  I figured there’d be time.  But there wasn’t.  Instead, there was a banana and sliced bread and a manuka honey throat lozenge Akemi picked up at Mitsukoshi department store the other day.

Not even a final drink at Star Bar or a return visit to Butagumi for their delicious braised pork appetizer.

Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.  I don’t fly out until 6:05 p.m. tomorrow evening.  Maybe there’s still hope?

We started our Tokyo trip with lunch at Sawada sushi and ended it with a dinner there.  As always, excellent.  On last night’s visit, we ended up befriending some of our fellow diners and retiring to Star Bar for a nightcap – cocktails for them and a medicinal stomach-settling amaro for me.

New friends!
New friends!

So, we fly back to Vancouver today.  By the time you read this blog entry, Akemi and I will already be thinking about eventually heading to the airport to catch our flight back to Canada.  Unless, of course, you read it much later in which case we’ll already be in the air.

Random shots:

Me in happier, hungrier, more hopeful times at the beginning of my journey.
Me in happier, hungrier, more hopeful times at the beginning of my journey.
The zen garden outside the hotel.  I'm tempted to crawl in and attain some inner peace.  Especially so far as my stomach is concerned.
The zen garden outside the hotel. I’m tempted to crawl in and attain some inner peace by quelling the inner turmoil. In my stomach.
A beautiful day in Ginza
A beautiful day in Ginza
My awesome new t-shirt from that NHK show I don't watch but should.  It look awesome.
My awesome new t-shirt from that NHK show I don’t watch but should. It look awesome.
A pre-wedding snap
A pre-wedding snap
Akemi all dressed up
Akemi all dressed up
The green "health juice" Akemi made me drink.
The green “health juice” Akemi made me drink.
Avoid swimming in this without a certified lifeguard present.
Avoid swimming in this without a certified lifeguard present.
Fresh orange jelly.
Fresh orange jelly.
Tokyo is the worldwide home of individually-wrapped items.  Like, for instance, bananas!
Tokyo is the worldwide home of individually-wrapped items. Like, for instance, bananas!
Warrior woman at the Robot Restaurant
Warrior woman at the Robot Restaurant

Thanks for coming along!

P.S.  I am NOT looking forward to that 90 minute shuttle bus ride to the airport.

November 19, 2013: Tokyo Day #14! Back on the horse! Oden! A return to an old favorite! And, of course, desserts!

I think I actually put on some weight on this trip.  No.  Really.  Upon my arrival in Tokyo, I had a choice between two notches on my belt – the first, a little tight; the second, a little loose.  I opted for the latter and, fourteen days later, that loose notch is actually kind of snug. Wha- happened?!  I thought all the walking I was doing would burn off the extra calories.  Okay, granted, I have been eating a lot – but no more than on previous visits.  I even took a bit of a break today, not so much out of a desire to curtail my culinary spree as it was the fact that I just wasn’t hungry after “the ramen debacle”.  I was up most of the night and into this morning nursing a sore stomach and I simply couldn’t do it today.

But that didn’t stop me from trying.

For lunch, we went out for oden, a traditional Japanese “comfort food” consisting of daikon radish, fish cake, boiled eggs, and konyakku, a flavorless potato noodle with a consistency like jelly.  It’s all served in a dashi broth and is beloved by many here, including Akemi.  Me, not so much, but I didn’t mind.  If Akemi was willing to eat deep-fried pork tonkatsu with me, I was certainly willing to eat a giant steamed radish for her.   True love, huh?

Following the line of customers into the restaurant.  The joint is jumping.
Following the line of customers into the restaurant. The joint is jumping.
Akemi's oden lunch setto, minus the daikon that has yet to arrive.
Akemi’s oden lunch setto, minus the daikon that has yet to arrive.
Karashi, a Japanese mustard that is about a thousand times hotter than what we have back home.  I'm going to have to pick up a jar to bring back with me.
Karashi, a Japanese mustard that is about a thousand times hotter than what we have back home. I’m going to have to pick up a jar to bring back with me.

Otakou: 2-2-3 Nihombashi, Tokyo

After lunch, I was feeling surprisingly “not terrible”, so rather than head back to the hotel, I accompanied Akemi on a stroll through Nihombashi.

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I wonder how hot it gets in there in the summer.
I wonder how hot it gets in there in the summer.

Although I still wasn’t hungry by the time we returned to Ginza, I figured I had to get back on the horse, just like a real athlete plays through pain.  With only days to go before my departure, I have a lot of ground to cover after all!  So we started off easy, sharing a meager two dessert snacks that we picked up at the Peninsula Hotel and brought back to our room:

Chocolate hazelnut cream cake and a mango pudding.
Chocolate hazelnut cream cake and a mango pudding.

One of the desserts Akemi was dying to tru was the famed Peninsula Hotel mango pudding, purportedly THE BEST mango pudding ever. So, I had to try it as well.  And the verdict?  It was pretty damn good mango pudding!  I never thought I’d ever say those words.

1Akemi also surprised me with a box of assorted chocolates from Madame Setsuko, an Osaka legend.  She gifted me a similar box after our first date way back in 2009, dropping them off at my hotel on her way to work the next morning.  Sweet, no?

Well, with time winding down on our trip, we’re making the most of our last few days by paying second visits to some of our favorite haunts. Last night, it was L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon for another excellent dinner:

111Followed by a romantic night-time stroll through Roppongi:

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P.S. In retrospect, that Hattendo fresh cream bun before bedtime was huge mistake.  I was up all night!

November 18, 2013: Tokyo Day #13! The Fine Art of Ramen! H.H. Giger prepares my meal at Chikuyotei! I finally pay the price!

Nobody appreciates the fine arts like I do and it should come as no surprise that there’s nothing I enjoy more than hitting the local museums whenever I visit a foreign city.  Such was the case yesterday when Akemi and I woke up early so that we could catch the bullet train to Yokohama and check out one of its most famous museums: The Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum.  There, we checked out the masters who dabble in oils, broth, and noodles…

On the shinkasen, headed to Shin-Yokohama
On the shinkansen, headed to Shin-Yokohama

Truth be told, it’s not really much of a museum.  The educational portion is scant, but the hands-on experience is plentiful with a wide variety of ramen to choose from.  The lower level of the museum has been transformed into a latter-day Japan complete with winding back alleys, shuttered old time bars, and numerous ramen-yas.

Night falls on old ramen town...even though it's broad daylight outside.
Night falls on old ramen town…even though it’s broad daylight outside.
The back alleys remind me of some of the old Stargate sets.
The back alleys remind me of some of the old Stargate sets.

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A chart at the entrance gives you a rundown of the dozen or so chefs and their respective ramen.  Then, it’s up to you.  Choose a place and enter your order at the little machine outside the restaurant.  Then, all you have to do is grab a spot in line and wait to be seated.

The choices were overwhelming, so I simply went with what I thought looked good.  We started at a place called Ganja where we ordered…

Thick noodles and a slice of pork...
I had the thick noodles and a slice of pork…
...with spicy broth.
…with spicy broth
While Akemi went with the thin noodles
While Akemi went with the thin noodles
...and the regular broth.
…and the regular broth.

It was, hands down, the best ramen I’ve ever had.  Both broths were incredibly complex, rich with levels of flavor.  The thick slice of pork was incredibly tender, the egg I got with my broth perfectly cooked, and the noodles terrific.  I honestly could have ordered another bowl – not because I was still hungry, but because I didn’t want the meal to end.

We ordered two small bowls so that we could sample some of the other ramens being offered.  The busiest ramen-ya by far was Sumire that had a line-up that snaked around the corner.  We dutifully lined up, placed our order, and gradually inched our way toward the entrance…

Order your ramen here.
Order your ramen here.
I had the miso ramen.
I had the miso ramen.
Akemi's shoyu ramen.
Akemi’s shoyu ramen.

Wow.  And not in a good way.  After Ganja, what a letdown.  My miso ramen was fine but I found Akemi’s shoyu ramen was possessed of an unpleasant, oily flavor.  In fact, both broths were surprisingly oily.

There was a couple standing behind us in line.  She didn’t want ramen but he did.  Unfortunately, the house rules state that everyone taking up table room must order ramen.  So, they compromised.  He sat down and ate his ramen while she stood outside and watched him.  Weird.

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Uncle Charumera, former mascot of an instant noodle company.  And Jim Beam whisky.

We finished up by taking a tour of the “museum” section and shop that offered everything from ramen keychains and chopsticks to your own personalized box of ramen.

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum: 2-14-21 Shinyokohama, Kohoku Ward, Yokohama

111We took a little stroll through Shin-Yokohama, then caught the bullet train back to Tokyo where we took an even longer stroll through Tokyo Station.  An unintended one as we got turned around at some point and spent close to an hour trying to find the subway back to our hotel. The place is huge!

1Finally, we made it back!

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LIGHT at the end of the tunnel!

I arrived back  at the hotel to discover a package awaiting me.  It was from Akemi’s mother and it was filled with what I estimate to be about a year’s word of matcha (ceremonial green tea)!  Between this and everything I’m planning to pick up, it looks like I may have to invest in a second suitcase.

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We tried to work off dinner with a walk along Ginza-dori…

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These guys were very popular.
Akemi getting into the Christmas spirit
Akemi getting into the Christmas spirit

For dinner we went to Chikuyotei, one of the country’s oldest unagi restaurants.  It holds special meaning for Akemi because it was a favorite of her grandfather’s who used to take her there when she was young.

Alas, no tables available so we had to settle for floor seating.  And by “floor seating”, I mean we sat on the floor at a low table.  Apparently, this isn’t terribly uncommon in Japan and many Japanese have mastered the art.  I, unfortunately, have not and spent much to the meal shifting uncomfortably between kneeling, sitting cross-legged, and stretching my legs out underneath the table.

We ordered from an English menu that helpfully warned us to “be careful for the eel bones”.  So we were.  As for the meal…

Grilled eel "kabayaki".
Grilled eel “kabayaki”.
The eel guts soup.  From the kitchen of Chef H.R. Giger
The eel guts soup looks like a prop from the last Alien movie.

Another great meal and, I’m sure, very natsukashii for Akemi.

Chikuyotei: 8-14-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Well, I think the law of averages has finally caught up with me.  I fear I’ve done in – not by the little aliens in my soup or the countless cream-filled desserts or even the chicken sashimi.  It was the ramen!  I woke up this morning feeling like my stomach has undergone a mochi massage…