Hiromitsu Agatsuma Live at Japan Society

Hiromitsu Agatsuma live at Japan Society NYC

I made my way to New York via Detroit with a brief layover in Chicago. While many of my friends were perfectly content to continue on in the greater Detroit area, I followed the advice of Doctor Who wholeheartedly, “RUN!” I don’t regret it one bit. But one thing I left behind was being at the core of a magical musical scene.

Richie Hawtin was coming to great fame in Europe, but back home, he was just one of us. Our crowd would go to extremes to feel the pulse of the techno blood that back in the day poured through my veins. Often this meant risking your life in some of the most neglected ruins of the industrial era not to mention the constant alert one had to be in for fear of the police busting up the party.

So what does any of this have to do with the out of this world live performance I saw last night at Japan Society? Agatsuma holds a special place in my heart for healing a major musical void. Sure Sneaker Pimps and a few others came and went. But my move to NY and the distance from the epicenter of techno turned the volume way down. It was an impossible act to follow. And then, I have no idea how, I stumbled upon Hiromitsu Agatsuma. The joy of music returned.

kenny endo taiko drums

I had never heard anything like it. What Agatsuma-san is able to do with the shamisan blew my mind. Ironically the song that got me hooked was Beams. The year was 2002 and the intro song literally was a transit from my old love to the new. The fusion of traditional and electronic was fresh and thrilling.

It was about the same time that I discoved Kodo’s Sai-So remix project, albiet a little late to the party. I was already developing a taste for taiko at that point but here was another amazing feast of old and new brought together to create something unique.

kenny endo taiko with hiromitsu agatsuma shamisen

I admit that I still feel out of touch with music these days, but last night’s performance with Kenny Endo on taiko and Agatsuma’s shamisen was truly uplifting. They each performed a few sets solo and then a few pieces together. The best piece was their encore. It was relaxed, high energy, and you could tell they both had arrived at that place of harmony where the artist is removed and only music remains. They literally rocked the house. From my front row seat I could hear the stage lighting reverberating. A friend of mine was leaving class at Japan Society and said even in the halls outside the auditorium it was pretty much out of this world.

I’ll leave off with the program. Wish I could have bottled up the evening to play it over and over again!

Kenny Endo Set

      Kotsuzumi (traditional)






    Spirit Sounds

Hiromitsu Agatsuma Set

      Tsugaru Aiya-bushi (Aomori Prefecture folk song)


      Kami no mai


    Tsugaru Jongara-bushi (Aomori Prefecture folk song)


      Tabaruzaka (Kumamoto Prefecture folk song)


      Yume no Pahu (Endo)


    Yosare (Agatsuma)

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

On a perfect spring day in San Francisco, a Wednesday to be precise, with just 15 minutes before closing, I entered the Japanese Tea Garden for a stroll.  This traditional garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is the oldest of its kind in the United States.  Perhaps it was because it was a work-day, its hard to know for sure, but I practically had the place to myself.  There were a young family completing a vacation to-do, a romantic couple oblivious to all and basking in each other, as well as two local ladies quietly bringing each other up to speed on the latest gossip. I, well I was the one squatting here-and-there or leaning precariously over the water’s edge, camera in hand clicking away, wishing to put to film some of the surrounding beauty.

golden gate park japanese tea garden

Admission $7.00. This time of year the park officially closes at 6:00pm.  What I learned is you just need to arrive by 6; the bonus, once inside, you can linger long after the main gate is closed.  While this meant missing the gift shop and tea house hours, the experience was perhaps more delightful.  No commerce to distract oneself with thus putting more emphasis on taking in the charm of the garden.

kakitsubata japanese rabbit ear iris

I have a soft spot for kakitsubata, rabbit ear irises, and there were several patches in bloom and dotting the water’s edge.  They symbolize June for me and foreshadow the coming of long summer days.  Monet kept coming to mind while gazing into the reflections on the water’s surface.

pagoda at japanese tea garden sf

japanese moon bridge in garden

Sunset wasn’t far off and the angle of the sun’s rays reflected the moon bridge perfectly into the pond it adorns. This seemed to me like a visual metaphor where the reflection closes the circle.  This allowing the bridge to mimic the full moon by day only to be replaced by the actual full moon at night.

worlds fair japanese garden in san francisco

lord buddha with hydrangea

sf japanese garden koi pond

japanese garden stepping stones

The garden is small but well laid out. I can imagine it is less romantic when crowded on busy days. So I hope, if you visit, that you too will be fortunate to have a little slice of the garden all to yourself like my experience.

Bonus Trip: San Francisco Frill Stop

Sometimes having a “corporate” job and being a “creative” type is challenging.  But every now and then it rewards you with an incredible treat.  Last week I was urgently sent to San Francisco for meetings at a new branch of our company.  Poor me.  He-he-he.

The trip was short but had enough wiggle room to squeeze in a very expeditious tour of my favorite SF spots:

Angelic Pretty

san francisco angelic pretty milky planet

Walking into AP was a lolita’s dream come true – a major shipment had just arrived and dresses were literally everywhere! Milky Planet adorned the window along with a gaggle of Shyness Bear socks.  They were too tempting; I walked out with a pair in sax plus a Milky Planet Ice Cream pin.

Baby The Stars Shine Bright

san francisco baby the stars shine bright

I was slightly disappointed at Baby.  For some reason the shop seemed to be pretty thin on variety.  At first I thought, maybe it was my perspective after the experience at AP.  But I don’t think that was the case.  Last time I was there I was ready to blow the bank and walk out with about 4 different dresses.  This time a floral chiffon piece was the only temptation.  So I managed to keep my credit card nicely tucked away.

That didn’t stop me from splurging on a couple goodies at…

New People the Store

kawaii goods at new people store

Came home from New People with a Ribbonholic Tripple Ribbon bag charm and kawaii deer earrings.  I have an idea of reusing the earrings somehow with Milky-chan. There were lots of Liz Lisa and Rilakkuma items on the main floor as well.  Too much cuteness!

Needed to chill for a few minutes to check in on emails and make a call so made myself at home in the Crown & Crumpet tea cafe.  Not a bad place to work remotely if you have to ;) The decor was a mix of Victorian and French Country somehow perfectly blended into the ultra modern building.  The tea pot flower arrangements were simply adorable.

SF crown and crumpet japantown


daiso moco moco and nail art

Up next was a race through Daiso.  Everything is $1.50 so impulse shopping is fairly safe.  I walked away with lots of moco-moco gloves and legwarmers for next winter, pink sparkly nail art packs, a couple plastic ribbon hair ties, rhinestones to deco my new camera, and set of pink strawberry bento boxes to keep sewing embellishments in.

West Mall

sailor moon binder and file folders

Best find of the day was a Sailor Moon 3-ring binder and plastic file folders.  While Usagi-chan is not very good at homework, she will be a good inspiration for me to do mine. (Semester 5 Japanese just got underway!)

After speed shopping I realized the Japanese Garden would be open for another 40 minutes just before sunset.  Figured it was worth a try… but that will have to wait until another post (still need to sort through the ton of photos.)

Tokyo Omiyage: Karin Coron Sesame Peanuts

karin coron soy sesame

To celebrate the holiday weekend we opened our second omiyage snack bag from Karin Coron.  We had such a blast walking around the busy shops that line the path to the temple in Asakusa.  This bag contained peanuts hidden inside a crispy shell covered in either white or black sesame seeds.  Of the two snacks, the Wasabi Mame comes in first place.  But the Sesame is also very very tasty.

japanese sesame peanut snack

Its official, we are going to go back to Japan in the spring.  So I had better hurry up and post all the memories from this trip before then ;)

Tokyo Day 4: Gora Kadan Kakou Suite

“Welcome home.”  I wish!  I’ve long been drawn to the simplicity and elegance of traditional Japanese rooms.  And then I remember that I am a pack rat and where on earth would I put everything?  Anyway, back to the point.  Today I want to take you on a tour of the suite at Gora Kadan.  This is absolutely a part of the trip that has been added to my “I’ll be back” list.

Kakou Annex Suite

As you approach the suite, a short stroll from the main building, you first arrive at a private gate.  Slide the wooden doors open and walk down the lantern lined courtyard to the genkan.

entrance to our japanese villa

kakou annex suite gora kadan

Once inside, slip off your shoes on the stone step and transport yourself into Old Japan.  To your left is a hallway and bench where fresh yukata are laid out waiting to be slipped on as you sink into the relaxing atmosphere of the onsen.

straw zori japanese ryokan

onsen his and her yukata

Just beyond the hall is the bedroom.  Two twin beds, a television and a view of the mountain side.  A balanced blend of the old and the new.

gora kadan ryokan bedroom

Slide open the fusuma screens to reveal the sitting room overlooking an open-air stone bath and small garden.

onsen tatami sitting room

onsen open air big stone bath

At the end of the hallway you will find all the amenities of a modern bath room but designed to be elegant and true to the principles of maximizing space.  A counter with double sinks, the toilet, a deep wooden soaking tub, and an enclosed steam shower follow one another.

japanese wooden bath tub

Returning back to the genkan (entrance) and to the right you enter the living/dining room.  The tokonoma instantly comes into view, with its display of seasonal flowers and an auspicious hanging scroll featuring pine and bamboo. To your right are oshiire quietly hiding extra futons and bedding.  To your left shoji screens frame a wooden terrace overlooking the mountains.

inside the traditional tatami room

gora kadan kakou living room

tokonoma auspicious hanging scroll

Tucked into each side of the room, hidden behind the shoji, before entering the terrace are a reading nook and writing desk.  Both cozy and functional, these miniature rooms make excellent use of the space.  (The reading nook instantly became my home-away-from-home blogging station.)

tatami room reading nook

traditional japanese writing desk

I hope you enjoyed the tour.  If you are looking for an escape from the busy city and appreciate high standards of customer service be sure to plan a stay at Gora Kadan.

Link: Gora Kadan | Kakou Annex Suite

Tokyo Day 4: Hakone Onsen & Gora Kadan Ryokan

Day 4 of the Tokyo trip began off with a very serious hangover.  You can’t drink that much sake and not pay the price.  So I was pleased that our plans were very low key.  Hop on a train to Hakone and soak in the hot springs.  Mother Nature decided on rain that day to boot.  So chilling on a train taking in the scenery versus juggling an umbrella and shopping bags worked out grand.

We took the subway from Ebisu to Shinjuku.  While many had suggested a 3 train journey to our destination, Asumi knew best.  If you are willing to add a little extra time to your adventure, it is a much nicer route (and 1 less train connection) taking the Romance Car to the Switchback train headed towards Gora.

The Romance Car was simple enough.  Big train at a big station.  We reserved seats at the counter in the station and were off.

tokyo express romance car

The second leg of the ride was the best part.  We were on the Hakone Tozan “switchback” train which zig-zags its way up the side of the mountains.  It is one of the oldest trains and the driver and conductor change shifts as the train reverses its travel direction, slowly making its way upwards.

hakone tozan switchback mountain train

odakyu hakone switchback-train

Gora Kadan

In just under 2 hours we arrived at our destination, the ryokan Gora Kadan.  I can’t even believe that we debated adding this to our trip plans.  I think everyone needs to experience the beauty and tranquility of a traditional Japanese inn.  The proprietress, Miwako Fujimoto, heads a first class establishment that is the former summer villa of a member of the Imperial family.  We were also now in the care and service of Taka-san, our personal attendant, who was very attentive and pretty much adorable.

gora kadan proprietress miwako fujimoto

After a quick stop to the main building to check in, Taka showed us to our suite.  Some girls plan their dream wedding and honeymoon.  Not me, don’t need it.  However, I have long dreamed about Japan.  So we spared no expense on certain activities of the trip; this being one of them.  We booked the annex suite “Kokou” and will never regret it.

Stay tuned for the next post to see a tour of the Gora Kadan ryokan suite.

Tokyo Omiyage: Karin Coron Wasabi Mame

Spring is in full effect here in NY now.  Most of the flowering trees are shedding their blossoms.  And thanks to a healthy breeze, today was a doozy for allergies.  Ahchoo.  I decided to hibernate inside hoping to avoid the onslaught, despite it being simply gorgeous outside.  After a bout of post-vacation laundry (finally got through it all) decided it was time for a cocktail and a snack.  So I dipped into my stash of Tokyo omiyage.

Karin Coron

Karin Coron is located at the end of the arcade and on the cross street just before the Hozomon, the last gate, approaching Sensoji temple in Asakusa.  They specialize in traditional karinto and bean snacks.  And if you are looking for a great treat and are in need of omiyage, gifts to bring back from your vacation, then do not miss stopping by this shop.

karin coron wasabi beans

I picked up three packages to try a sample of their different goods.  Today’s selection was wasabi mame (beans.)  They are so delicious.  Just enough wasabi to give them punch.  A perfect crunch; not to hard not to soft.  And a hint of nori gives them flair.

What originally drew me into their shop was their packaging.  The paper used to wrap each snack bag is a gift in itself.  I plan to iron out the folds and perhaps frame them.  Such beautiful designs.

karin coron packaging design

omiyage from asakusa tokyo

Karin Coron is officially added to my “I’ll be back” list for Tokyo.  You can learn more on their website karin-coron.blogspot.com and here is the street view from Google maps if you plan to visit.

Tokyo Day 3: Dinner at Aoyagi Part 2

So where did we leave off.  Oh yes, the sake was flowing…

lots of dassai sake at aoyagi

… and flowing…

3 friends and lots of sake

Course 5

And the food was still flowing as well.  And the proportions suddenly grew making me wish I had worn an elastic waist skirt that night.  Course 5 included sashimi adorned with daikon cut in the shape of falling cherry blossom petals served on dish featuring a willow and a bridge.  So appropriate for the season.  The sashimi was accompanied with a seaweed soup and a small side dish which my memory has failed to remember exactly what it was.  I do know it was very very tasty.

aoyagi meal 5th course

Course 6

Up next was a few bites of grilled eel. We were all chatting and interested in the technique used to prepare the eel.  It was very soft and not chewy at all.  At which point Kimiko magically produced a book full of incredible photos from the restaurant.  She showed us a 2 page spread featuring preparation of this specific dish.  The cutting technique is critical to its success.  And the flavor imbibed from the grilling was extraordinary.

aoyagi meal 6th course

picture book of aoyagi dishes

Course 7

Up next was a tuna sushi roll and a piece of pickled myoga ginger. Forget the typical slices of ginger that are served with everyday sushi.  That little chunk of ginger was spectacular.

aoyagi meal 7th course

Course 8

I am not an anime otaku by any stretch, but when this single piece of sushi arrived I couldn’t help but channel Haruhi from Ōran Kōkō Hosuto Kurabu. FATTY TUNA!!!  Need I say more?

aoyagi meal 8th course

Course 9

Surely, I thought, the fatty tuna must be the climax of the meal.  I was wrong.  More dishes were still ahead of us.  Next up, a slice of grilled fish.  The grilling gave it a wonderful bouquet and a distinct texture.  Still soft on the inside but moist on the outside.  Adi raved about this dish the entire cab ride home.  As he is our resident chef, I think that says something.

aoyagi meal 9th course

Course 10

I confess, when this mystery bowl arrived I was nervous.  How on earth am I going to eat any more.

hum what is inside this bowl?

And then more and more and more plates kept coming.  And then a giant nabe of rice too!  The good news, we had reached the grand finale.  The bad news, it was a delicious conclusion and I just couldn’t eat it all.  Lucky for me, Asumi had no issues and helped me out. Dōmo Asumi, dōmo.

aoyagi meal 10th course

Dessert 1

Ah, but wait, there’s more.  No meal is complete without dessert.  This evening it was a slice of musk melon and a strawberry topped with a sauce and mint. おいしいですね!

aoyagi meal 1st dessert

Dessert 2

Maybe I should have split this post into 3 parts.  Cause even dessert was turning out to be a serious affair.  This dish has a little story to it.  On the surface it looks like a straight forward manjū, bun filled with anko bean paste.  But this little treat was especially made using Dassai sake lees.  A very thoughtful and special touch for our dinner party.

aoyagi meal 2nd dessert

What is Going On???

As I mentioned in the last post, while this all looks very posh and proper, the giggles in our little private room were anything but.  There were jokes relating those in our party’s ability to consume sake as compared to Starbuck’s serving sizes.  I am a “tall” if you must know.  And some very interesting attempts at translating using a combination of Japanese, English and French.  But those are our secrets and shale not be spoken about further.

However, it seems I have some gaps in memory not just about the food.  My camera captured a few shots where I am still not exactly sure what was going on.  Looks pretty serious!

don't drink and play with wabocho

And so that concludes our evening at Aoyagi.  I’ve been fortunate enough to dine at some of the best restaurants in NYC.  Sorry Daniel, but I did just find my new, most favorite restaurant on the planet.

2丁目-3−20 Azabudai
Minato, Tokyo 106-0041, Japan

Tokyo Day 3: Dinner at Aoyagi

I cannot rave enough about Aoyagi restaurant in Minato-ku.  If you are fortunate enough and in a position to invest $500/person on a fine dinning experience, then Aoyagi is not to be missed when visiting Tokyo!

The evening began with popping the cork on a bottle of sparkling Dassai sake.  One of my absolute favorites.  Sparkling sake is having a second life right now.  It has been around as long as sake has, but went out of favor.  Thanks to some very clever marketing (positioning it as Japan’s sister to champagne) it is becoming quite popular these days. And that is a good thing.

a glass of sparkling dassai sake

The minute we sat down in our private room the chef got to work.  That is some pretty impressive knife work.  And so the night was just beginning.

the aoyagi chef gets to work

Course 1

I should of had a notebook with me to jot down what all the delicacies were during the meal – but I didn’t.  So I hope my photos are enough to make your mouth water as you accompany me on this food-porn journey.  What I can say about course 1, it was a fish in a lovely silky gelatine.  And it melted in my mouth.

aoyagi meal first course

The attention to detail is incredible. For example, even the o-hashi (chopsticks) are thought through.  They were moistened before being placed at our table settings.  If the chopsticks were used dry, then the flavor of the food would impart itself on them never to fully be removed. Which would spoil the subtlety of the dishes we were about to enjoy.

Course 2

This one I do remember.  It is ebi (shrimp) with white asparagus topped with a raw egg yoke sauce.  One of my pet peeves is America’s fear of raw eggs.  Thank heavens the Japanese do not share this paranoia… because course two was out of this world.

aoyagi meal 2nd course

Course 3

Of all the dishes served that evening, this one is my favorite.  While others had more interesting flavors, none were as charming.  When the dish is served, the long narrow o-bento box is closed.  I slowly opened mine to reveal what I can only describe as a treasure chest full of miniature edible jewels.

Accompanying the bento was a small side dish with scallop and a dried piece of bonito (I believe).  The dried fish is not to be mistaken with “jerky”.  It was still silky and so packed with flavor – I have never had anything like it.

aoyagi meal course 3

And tucked in yet another secret compartment of the dainty bento was a single piece of delicate sashimi adorned with a single daikon pearl.

aoyagi meal course 3 part 2

At this point in the meal, the sake had been flowing generously.  So what started out as a very prim and proper occasion was about to relax into a much sillier affair.

the dassai sake is flowing freely

And the chef continued to turn out the most amazing dishes all the time.  Here he is preparing wasabi for what looks to be a heavenly sashimi course.

aoyagi chef preparing wasabi and sashimi

Course 4

The sake is taking its effect now.  I believe this was a dumpling in a gelatine topped with daikon and adorned with a bitter flower blossom.  But your guess is as good as mine ;)

aoyagi meal course 4

The dinner was approaching halftime but I had no idea how many dishes were yet to be served.  It was clear though that this was no ordinary meal and that there was no rush.  We were in the right place to enjoy exquisite food and the company of dear friends.  All in our own private room with our personal chef and very attentive but never interfering service from older sister Kimiko and younger sister Sachiko.

So I must keep you in suspense a little longer regarding the rest of the meal.  The post will never load if I continue with my photo euphoria.  So for now consider this part 1 with part 2 to soon follow.

Disclaimer:  I am not affiliated with Aoyagi or Dassai Sake.  But I am very good friends with Dassai’s sales and marketing director.

Tokyo Day 3: Harajuku

After visiting Tsukiji we came back to the apato to freshen up.  Then were off again to meet Asumi in Harajuku for a some fun before dinner.

takeshita dori harajuku tokyo

Adi was smart and his first stop was Starbuck’s across from the Takeshita-Dori arch… must be well caffeinated to face the crazy crowd. Also, doesn’t he look smart in his Yohji Yamamoto jacket! He got it in Paris, wears it in NY, and now it has come home for a visit.

harajuku wonder rocket

For me this was a stealth mission to get a feel for where to shop when I return later in the week.  Having Asumi as a guide was awesome and it meant we could do purikura with someone who (is a pro and) can read all the instructions.

harajuku purikura

I want to save my money for BTSSB and AP… but could have easily gone crazy in Smile Camp.  It is like being wrapped in a rainbow.  So cute!!!!!!!!

smile camp harajuku fashion

I bought a cloth chain necklace from the new Kate Spade Saturday. There were several dresses also that caught my attention. I had fun chatting with the shop girl.  She said that it won’t be until next year that more locations of this hip new shop open up in other cities.

tokyo kate spade saturday

Someday, just someday, I might actually grow up.  But here I am, 40 years old, and still madly in love with crazy colors and loud fashion.  So on that note, here is the rest of the photospam from our walk down Takeshita-dori and around Ura-Harajuku.

clam shell salopette short pants

black and white cherry coordinate

thrift finds in harajuku

gross design sweatshirts harajuku

And if you can believe it, there is still more to Day 3…

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