Transit-Induced Phone Photo Dump

So I’ve been in Japan for two months and I am getting a little melancholy over the fact that my time here is more than half way over. How can this be??  Cody and I are in Narita overnight, with a flight to San Francisco tomorrow to see our new nephew. After our visit with family we are headed back to Tanegashima until the satellite launch. Because my brain functions are stunted during travel, I’m offering a smattering of random photos to hopefully hold you over until I can do words again.

spicy ramen

Spicy ramen at our favorite place near our hotel.

stepping lion

The mural at our favorite burger/jerk chicken restaurant: The Stepping Lion.

jerk chicken

Jerk chicken platter at the Stepping Lion.

large carrots

Japan is apparently the land of mammoth carrots. Potatoes on the left, onions on the right.

fried rice

Fried rice and katsukare (curry with fried pork) at my OTHER favorite lunch spot in Minamitane. Fourteen dollars for everything in the photo.

KFC chips

Remember how I said KFC is real popular here?

new years dance

New Year’s performance that is sort of a cross between Christmas caroling and trick-or-treating, but with drums and dancing and chanting and men dressed in kimonos. Very cute.

I really really like it here, you guys.

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Birthmas on Yakushima

yakushima rainbow

On Christmas/my birthday I woke up in our rustic little cabin on monkey island, walked out the door, and saw a rainbow. Not a bad way to start the best day of the year.

yakushima cabin

Determined to make the most of the culinary situation in town, we set out in the morning in search of french toast. Our target restaurant was scheduled to open at 9:00, so we planned accordingly, but they were closed for the holiday – much to our dismay. By the time we actually found a breakfast place that was open, we were starving and willing to eat anything put in front of us.

japanese christmas breakfast

Which turned out to be a good thing. Salad, ham, and egg is a pretty typical “western” style breakfast in this area, but the spaghetti, fried chicken, and potato salad were unexpected.

yakushima dog

After breakfast we wandered the town and found a cute Yakushima dog to pet.


Then we drove into the mountains and spotted a few Japanese deer. To me, they look like American deer chopped off at the knees.

yakushima deer

That one is just a little bigger than Murdock.

yakushima deer

Even though our hikes were basically rained out, the clouds made for some nice, moody lighting.

yakushima mountains

yakushima bridge

trees on yakushima

yakushima mountains

Dinner was pizza. Durn good pizza at a restaurant I’m going to write more about later.

yakushima pizza

The guy who makes the pizza on Yakushima also makes his own bread and oh dear. Such bread. It was better than most of of the European style bread I’ve had in America.

bread and cake

I flitted off in the afternoon for a massage at a fancy hotel and, while I was having my shoulders pinched and kneaded, Cody and our traveling buddies put together an impromptu party for me. With candles! I was genuinely surprised and maybe got a little misty-eyed but played it off super cool like I do. After cake we watched a Charlie Brown Christmas and, truth be told, I didn’t feel a twinge of homesickness all day.

yakushima cabin

No place like a cabin on an island for the holidays.

  1. Sounds like a ideal birthday/ you will never forget! Love the pictures.

    Lisa — January 15, 2014
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  2. pretty much the best birthmas anyone could ever ask for.

    hannah — January 15, 2014
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  3. All of these pictures are so much fun! And that bread looks delicious!! :) xo TJ

    TJ — January 16, 2014
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  4. Okay those deer are cracking me up. Happy birthmas!

    Miranda — January 16, 2014
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  5. It was, indeed, a very good birthmas. Thanks guys!

    courtney — January 16, 2014
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  6. i keep trying to double click your pictures to "like" them. such good stories and writing...

    callie — January 17, 2014
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  7. callie, your'e too kind!

    courtney — January 20, 2014
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Sama Sama

sama sama restaurant tanegashima

I’m kind of embarrassed I haven’t written more about the food I’ve been eating. Because I have been EATING. I want to do these places justice though, so be patient with me plz. Ok, so lets begin: one of my favorite restaurants in the town of Minamitane is Sama Sama. I have no idea what Sama Sama means, but when I hear it, I think of yakitori.

yakitori at sama sama in tanegashima

This is a plate of mixed yakitori shio (chicken skewers seasoned with salt…somehow they taste like more than the sum of their parts). If you’ve watched “The Mind of a Chef” season one with David Chang on Netflix, you know what the first skewer on the left is: a painstakingly unraveled chicken wing. The next is chicken with green onion, then a dark meat skewer, a thin-sliced pork belly skewer, and the last is white meat with wasabi. The Japanese word for what these are is oishii (meaning delicious). Oishii is one of the first words I learned in Japanese and I use it all. the. time.

sama sama restaurant tanegashima

That’s Masa-san, the cook/owner grilling some yakitori on the left, and a close-up of his handiwork on the right. Are you guys seeing how atmospheric this place is? It’s cozy and feels like every piece of it has been sort of, I don’t know, collected? The fact that it’s run entirely by two people helps too.

fried camembert at sama sama tanegashima

Breaded and deep-fried Camembert cheese. Yup.

salad at sama sama tanegashima

All the salads in Japan are awesome. The national obsession with freshness is really highlighted in salads: no brown edges or soggy bits here. Sliced pork and sesame dressing on top.

yakitori tare at sama sama tanegashima

This is yakitori tare (pronounced ta-ray) – similar to the yakitori shio, but topped with a sweet, brown sauce called tare which is sort of similarish to teriyaki. I should probably look that up.

cheese pancake at sama sama tanegashima

That up there is a Korean style green onion and cheese pancake, cut into wedges. Nice and crispy on one side, cheesy on the other.

duck at sama sama tanegashima

They have these mini table grills you can order to grill your own meat over Japanese white binchotan coal. Masa-san fills them with hot coals and sets a lava stone on top to use as the grilling surface. This one’s being used on some duck.

mackerel at sama sama tanegashima

Masa-san torching some marinated mackerel, table-side.

chicken wing dumplings at sama sama tanegashima

These things are out of control. Chicken wings that have been carefully slit open and stuffed with gyoza filling.

chicken wing at sama sama tanegashima

Deep fried chicken. Wing. Gyoza.

masa san at sama sama tanegashima

Bottles of sake and Masa-san. This place has basically charmed my face off, and Masa san is a great cook. If you ever go to Tanegashima, head to Sama Sama and eat all the things. Actually, if you’re anywhere within a thousand-mile radius of Tanegashima it would be very much worth the trip to eat at Sama Sama. Just go, ok?

  1. Our neighbors are Japanese and I keep hoping to be invited to dinner because it always smells so gooooood.

    Caitlin — January 10, 2014
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  2. It's a generalization, but the Japanese seem to be good reciprocators. So if you take them something you make, you might get something awesome in return. Small tangent though: isn't trying to meet new people outside of college the worst?

    courtney — January 10, 2014
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  3. Oh how I miss Sama Sama. I made the chicken wing dumplings for my wife once and now she asks for them at least once a week.

    Pope — July 23, 2014
    1. Those things were so good. I need you to show me how to de-bone a wing though...that seems like a tricky thing. If we ever do, lets make a few hundred so we never run out!

      courtney — July 24, 2014
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A Thought About Eating in Cars

eating in cars

Americans are obsessed with food lately. So much that we devour books and shows about food almost as much as creatively repurposed corn products. I, for one, recently read the French food culture book “French Kids Eat Everything” and it, combined with a few lines from an Alton Brown podcast, (more food media there, consumed unselfconsciously) fueled a bout of introspection that led me to…an opinion (yikes).

American food culture has been turning more toward the slow, the simple, and the real, and for this I’m very happy. In this process, the car as a location for eating has been stigmatized. French people, in their great food-centric culture, as I read in “French Kids Eat Everything” hold sacred the act of eating at the table.  They also would probably not eat a sandwich from a wrapper, and would never ever eat in a car. This strict devotion to proper meal time with chairs and tables and cutlery is part of the reason French people are, on average, healthier than Americans. Alton added his voice to my brain stew by expressing some sadness over the common occurrence of Americans eating at desks and in cars and the infrequency of eating as families at tables – a sentiment I can agree with. But America is geographically huge, and our drive thru culture evolved as a response to the fact that many Americans have to spend a lot of time in their cars. And lots of us don’t have time to cook before or after (or during) our big commutes, but that’s another can of worms.

While  I’ll admit that most drive through food is nutritionally deplorable and exemplar of our nations obsession with fatty, salty, fast, and cheap, there are things worth preserving in drive through culture. The fast-food hamburger as perfected by In-N-Out for example, or the ideal fountain coke with just the right amount of bubbles, which can be found only in paper cup with plastic lid.

So here it is: I love a drive thru. And while I get that frequenting fast food places is bad for our waistlines and probably our minds and family dynamics, I don’t get the all or nothing mentality that seems to be necessary with every American fad. Let’s apply some Cookie Monster moderation to the drive thru – make it a “sometimes” thing.

Eating is about more than consuming fuel anyway, it’s about connecting. And some of the best conversations of my life have taken place in cars parked in drive-through parking lots, late at night, over a bag of paper-wrapped tacos. I don’t know what it is about sitting side by side in a parked car and sharing fried food, but it inspires camaraderie and honesty like few other situations do. Eating at a table is for polite conversation and wholesome family bonding. Drive through parking lots are for confessionals,  making confidantes out of mere friends, and talking through big choices. French fries and burritos grease the wheels of truth and bond us like bandits. Your teen won’t talk to you? Take them to Sonic at 1am and see what happens. Worried about your best friend? Buy her a chocolate shake and let her spill her guts in the safety of your company.

Should we all be eating fast food a lot less? Clearly. But is eating in a car  every now and then something to be sad or, even more American, feel guilty about? I don’t think so.

(P.S. Thanks to Caroline and Jordan for modeling the awkwardness of posing for a car-dining picture. And for not getting mad at me for using your pretty faces without permission. K?)

  1. I'm filing a lawsuit.

    Jordan — January 6, 2014
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  2. I'm not mad. We're clearly sharing a moment. <3

    Caroline — January 6, 2014
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  3. Also, I find del taco to be the best for bonding. Or something equally disgusting. If you drive up together you've already confirmed a pretty telling characteristic about your personality.

    Caroline — January 6, 2014
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  4. an opinion! and even still, your opinion is moderation. you and i are a lot alike. i totally agree with this post. i think eating at the table, particularly at dinner time, is a tradition worth hanging on to, but do i think we should burn down every single drive-thru? absolutely not. you, of course, said it a lot better than that.

    miranda — January 6, 2014
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  5. Jordan, I will buy you a 12 piece mighty wings if you reconsider. Caroline, the Del Taco on University Avenue is indelibly etched in my memory as a place of sisterly bonding. There's no going back. Mir, we are brain twins.

    courtney — January 6, 2014
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  6. I just read the French Kids book too and was feeling guilty and frustrated (though our daycare does serve home-cooked vegetarian meals!!).... But I like your perspective and I think it is really true. Some of my fondest high school memories are at Sonic in the little stalls eating extra long coneys and slushies.

    Caitlin — January 10, 2014
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  7. Hey Caitlin! I'm glad to hear my little drive thru theories actually do extend beyond my own little circle! As for the guilt part, I think our puritanical American heritage hasn't really set us up to value long lunches and cultivating our children's palates. As much as I like the idea of feeding my future babies shredded carrot salad and roasted beets, it's an uphill battle when you don't have a culture that backs you up. Moving to France might be an easier option.

    courtney — January 10, 2014
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A Close Encounter


Yakushima, aka Monkey Island, is gorgeous, even in the rain. So when hiking seemed like a bad idea, we went for a drive.

driving on yakushima

Up in the mountains we saw something.

monkeys by the road

Are those…?

more monkeys by the road

This is where I begin hyperventilating. Stop. The. Car.

yakushima monkey

Casual regard from an actual wild monkey. Get ready for a monkey photo overload.

yakushima monkey

And while I was distracted taking pictures of this guy, adorably contemplating his fingernails, something happened.

monkey on the car


taking photos of a monkey

Documentation of once-in-lifetime event.

monkey at the window

Just a wild monkey on our side view mirror.

monkey at the window

Grooming, or showing off?

disinterested monkey

Meanwhile, this guy is about to fall asleep on top of his post.

monkey feet

Are they toes? Or fingers?

big monkey little monkey

Big M, little m, what begins with M?

hello monkey

Monkeys. The answer is monkeys.

monkeys in the road

Monkeys everywhere. And I’m rendered incoherent by the photos almost as much as the real thing. Hence the babbling. But MONKEYS.

  1. i love that they are always inspecting their nails. haha that's so awesome you got to see them all in the wild.

    miranda — January 3, 2014
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  2. That one is obviously a boy, because a girl monkey would examine her nails by extending her fingers for sure.

    Amy — January 4, 2014
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  3. They're so human in their gestures, it's hilarious.

    courtney — January 5, 2014
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