Monthly Archives: March 2016

Canal City Hakata, Fukuoka

Looking up at this gorgeous building, Canal City Hakata, Fukuoka, was impressive enough but imagine at the same time a symphony concert synced with the fountains.  It’s one of those goosebump moments when everything comes together just for your pleasure.  It’s sight and sound and the whoosh of water spray.

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Straight ahead, through those doors is the lobby of the Hyatt Regency, Fukuoka.  That’s where I first experienced iced coffee.  I’m an espresso girl.  Don’t try to talk me into cold coffee. But, I was urged “just try a sip, you’re going to love it”.  I tasted it, and okay, it’s okay.  “But wait, we haven’t put the cream in yet.”  Oh My Gosh!  Who knew iced coffee was so great?!!!

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Walking out of the Washington Hotel where I was staying in this massive complex, past the shops, restaurants, theatre, cinemas, and fountains to the Hyatt Regency entrance, there was so much to see.  It was a little more complicated and confusing because of all of the Japanese characters.  I’m so glad that pictures are a universal language all their own.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of the water in the canal.  It danced.  Undulated.  Swirled. Then the fountains stopped spraying and the water became calm.  Until, a soft breeze rippled across the mirrored surface in the most intriguing shapes and reconfigured them again and again.

These reflections look more like paintings to me than photos of water.  Well, actually they do look like photos of water.  But they are definitely inspiration for paintings.

Don’t you love going somewhere you’re never been before. Everything is new.  It’s as if your eyes were seeing for the first time and your ears had the volume turned up.  Maybe it’s an alertness…..all of your senses are enlivened…..that comes with being out of your comfort zone and in an excitement zone. “I love being in the SherrieZone.”

Japanese Tea Ceremony And Starbucks

The closest I’ve come to a Japanese Tea Ceremony, after a week in Japan, is still just a quick scene in a movie years ago.  My memory of it was a quiet, respectful preparation of tea by women in beautiful kimonos.

One description I read said that it was the choreographic ritual of preparing, serving and drinking Japanese Green Tea called Matcha and sweet pastries to balance the bitterness of the tea. The ritual is intended to elevate the everyday act of making tea to an art form.  The hope is that you leave such a ceremony feeling more awareness of your everyday routines and having a desire to make every moment more meaningful.

I was expecting to seeing tea houses in Japan; instead, I saw coffee shops on almost every street corner and usually several in between.  The big chains like Doutor Coffee, Starbucks, and Excelsior Caffe are everywhere.

They all offer Matcha tea as well.  It supposedly gives a caffeine kick that is lifting but more calming and easier on the nerves than coffee because the caffeine is released slowly preventing coffee’s typical insulin and adrenaline spikes.

Dana Velden describes it this way:  “The caffeine hit of an espresso can be a bit like having an express train screaming through the middle of your body; a deep, powerful, jittery roar.  I find the effects of matcha to be just as stimulating but in a more delicate, refined way, as if a thousand butterflies have descended on my body; beating their wings until I’m lifted, gently but resolutely, a few inches off the ground.  (Seriously)”  Wow!  That’s a great description.  Doesn’t it make you want to try some right away?!!!

I’ve noticed Matcha Tea on the menus of many US coffee shops, even our local Jamba Juice store.  Goggle “matcha recipes” and join in on the latest health craze to sweep the internet.  Besides smoothies, you’ll find tiramisu, cupcakes, pancakes, yogurt popsicles, etc.

Matcha tea is stronger than regular green teas because it’s a powder that includes the leaves.  Most green teas have you steep the leaves, strain them and then throw them out. That’s a good reason right there to search out organic matcha from Japan.

Smaller, independent coffee shops are thriving too.  They have a more limited selection of beans, but their coffee is stronger.  In fact, in many places American coffee is listed on their menu…’s much weaker than the Japanese prefer. They offer a slower pace.  You are greeted at the door and if there is a table, you are invited in.  If not, you must go.  Yes, that’s right. Go. There’s no standing room and no take-out.

Of, course, there are so many coffee shops, just go down the street two or three doors and the next one will probably have a table for you.  The cups are porcelain and the pastry and cakes wonderful.  French bakeries are everywhere.  It’s so easy to fall in love with Japan.

A Sashimi Feast

Watching fish being cut into sashimi and then arranged into a work of art on a bed of shredded daikon radish and shiso leaf is fascinating…..we were an audience revering an artist and master.  So impressive!

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Our hosts invited us to a feast of sashimi. We had no idea what to expect except that it would be wonderful because of the way they raved about the chef.  Long trays of nigiri sushi were also placed in front of each of us with beautifully arranged strips of eel, octopus, etc.  These strips were so long we thought they should be cut into bit sized pieces; but, no, they are folded over and put into your mouth whole.  Each one is a huge mouthful. The mouthfeel is luxurious, creamy, well…..not really creamy but smooth and fresh.

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A very sour, pickled plum (ume) was included with each tray.  Ume is a digestive and generally believed to contribute to good health.  We mixed wasabi into the soy sauce we used for dipping sashimi.  But no, no, no, not the nigiri sushi because…..the rice would fall apart.  It was so nice to have experts guiding our every bite.  So much fun!  We each had a small bowl of potato salad and bowls of rice and miso soup with vegetables and tofu. What an amazing feast!

We love the Japanese tradition of presenting everyone with oshibori, a warm, moist cloth before a meal. It feels wonderful to come in out of the cold and refresh yourself by wiping your hands.  After watching everyone else doing it, we quickly fell into the routine. With each new experience, our respect for the Japanese people and their traditions grew.

There are so many different kinds of feasting.  We feasted on food, of course.  We feasted on kindness and generosity.  We feasted on the visual beauty of the time and place.  We feasted on our new and exciting experiences.

While feasting can be interpreted as gluttony, we now have our own definition.  Feasting: enjoying the moment to the fullest and basking in it’s revelatory love and light.  Isn’t that the difference between a meal and a feast after all: our intention and perception?!!!

The Spirit Of Young Satsuma

Positioned proudly on Amu Plaza is The Spirit Of Young Satsuma monument celebrating the nineteen students who defied the Overseas Travel Ban in 1865.  They were brave young pioneers of the emerging new Japan in the nineteenth century, symbolizing freedom from the oppression and old traditions of the Shogunate.  They look out in all directions, a sculptural metaphor for venturing out into the world to learn from the technologically advanced European countries and the US.

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Many of them returned home years later to be diplomats, educators and industrial leaders. One became a pioneering settler in California, the state and the era’s leading viticulturist earning him the title Grape King.  They all had different abilities, interests and perceptions, of course. They all had different experiences.  And, they all contributed to the modernization of present day Japan.

There is so much more to the story having to do with Kagoshima’s location, it’s unique ability to trade with other countries, the foresight and bravery of it’s leaders and the daring of each individual young man and their families. It’s a monument rich with the symbolism of creative thinking and pride of accomplishment.

In a way, we’re all erecting  monuments with the living of our own lives.  Who we are becoming is contributing to the lives of our families, friends and business associates and by extension our present day world.  I enjoy thinking about my ancestors coming to Utah from Sweden, Ireland and England in search of freedom, well-being and happiness.  I love watching my children and grandchildren thrive as they pursue those same dreams.  Life on planet Earth is miraculous and delicious.  I’m busy savoring it.

Amu Plaza, Kagoshima Chuo Station


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I have such respect for bullet trains in Japan.  They’re so comfortable.  The seats are large and comfy.  They zoom along at 250 miles per hour so smoothly and quietly, whoosh, the countryside just swishes by.  When the train approaches a station, a very pleasant voice calmly lets you know it’s time to gather your belongings and line up at the door.

Lining up at the door is essential, because when the train stops, the door slides open for 45 seconds.  Think about it.  How many things do you do in 45 seconds?  Hopefully, anyone ahead of you in line will move quickly through the door and out of the way so that those following will have time to do the same.  Because, 45 seconds later the door closes and the train starts accelerating.  Wow!  Talk about efficiency!

I recently heard about a travelling mother, in a similar circumstance, telling her children: “Hocus, Pocus, Focus”!  I love that. It’s such a concise message. It certainly applies in this case.  Pay attention.  There’s no time to dawdle.

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The Amu Plaza terminal building is a huge mall with 190 restaurants and stores.  Commuters can relax and have a steak or quickly find anything from that item they’d forgotten to sushi, sandwiches, snacks, coffee, or bottled drinks to enjoy on the train; plus, local specialty sweets and souvenirs.  To top it all off, see a movie in the 10 multiplex theatres and check out the ferris wheel on the sixth floor.  It’s so dramatic!  Bullet trains in Japan are the best!

Kagoshima Black Pig

You’ve heard of Kobe Beef; but, have you heard of Kagoshima Black Pig?

Kagoshima is known for its black pig, I was told.  When I heard that, I immediately thought of Kobe Beef…..really my only reference point.  But, when you start discussing the particular conditions that must be achieved to label beef Kobe, people start yawning.  It must be Tajima cattle, born and fed in Hyogo Prefecture, be slaughtered in certain places, have a certain marbling ratio, a certain meat quality score, etc.

Well, I was curious anyway…..what is black pig?  This is a much simpler discussion.  The Kagoshima Kurobuta, trademarked black pig, is a rare breed of pig originating from the English county of Berkshire.  It is known for its juiciness, flavor and tenderness.  And, you can find it all over Japan.  It’s delicious!

Kagoshima Kurobuta

So far, my favorite pork dish in Japan is Tonkatsu.  It’s a pork cutlet coated in flour, then egg and finally panko bread crumbs and then fried or baked.  It’s served with rice and fermented peppers and a spicy curry sauce.  Tonkatsu is served in most restaurants.  I even had this very dish in a restaurant in the Narita Airport as a last supper in Japan.


A Japanese friend told me about the curry sauce mix that can be found in grocery stores. The brand I found is Golden Curry.  It’s medium hot…..and so good.  The directions on the package have you stir fry some meat and onions, add some veggies, cover with water and simmer til everything’s tender and then add the sauce mix and stir until it’s thickened. That’s good too.

But I prefer frying a pork cutlet, steaming rice and adding the sauce on the side.  Be prepared to want to lick the plate.  Whether you will or not probably depends on who you’re with.  My advice:  Don’t give a rip what anyone else thinks!  Go ahead and lick.

My Alice-In-Wonderland Tokyo Experience

Arriving in Tokyo, suitcase in tow, on the bullet train was an Alice in Wonderland experience for me.  A wonderful sing-song voice warns of the approaching station.  Then everyone begins collecting their belongings and lining up at the doors of the car in anticipation of disembarking.  The train pulls into the station, everyone who wants to get off does, hopefully, and 45 seconds, did you register that:  45 seconds later the train pulls out of the station.  I stood there for a few minutes in sort of a comatose shock on the landing.

And then…..the escalator going down from the landing into the station offers no clue as to the gargantuan, light and shiny, shopping mecca below.  Again, I have to take a minute to grasp where I am, who I am and what is this place…..?!!!  It’s beautiful.  It’s people are bustling in every direction so smoothly, so purposefully and so politely.

Then, slowly, because there are so many sights and sounds in every direction clammering for my attention, I make my way through the mall and up another escalator to street level. Here again, going through the doors to the plaza outside, I almost heard a symphony heralding another new, exciting panorama.  It was like the music reinforcing a glorious sunset in a movie or the exact moment HE saw HER and knew it was love at first sight. There I was in the center of the Ginza District with it’s Cartier’s, Bulgari’s and Chanel’s… seven days a week.

I’ve read in fashion magazines about Barneys New York.  I’ve read about the innovations Barneys offered in the way of brilliant window design and introducing New York shoppers to designers from all over the world.  So when I found myself standing in front of Barney’s New York Tokyo store it was a no-brainer, I had to check it out.  Most of the main floor was devoted to food.  There was counter after counter of fresh fish, sashimi and sushi being cut and prepared right in front of us.  All kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables:   beautifully arranged eye candy.  The french bakery smelled and looked just the way that I think heaven does.  Dazzling!

I loved staying at The Hotel Monterrey La Soeur Ginza.  Yes, there are hotels more familiar to Americans in Ginza like Marriott, Hilton and Four Seasons.  But, I loved the unfamiliar, charming, total immersion experience I had.  I thought it interesting that the restaurants in the hotel were Italian, San Michele, and french, Escale.  Though I quickly learned the french influence is everywhere in Japan.

In Tokyo, it’s obvious someone has put some thought into making the manhole covers attractive, even little works of art.  Don’t you love attention to detail. I enjoy manhole covers.  I know!!!  But, it’s a fact.  Really.

At home, our manhole covers are printed with “water”, “sewer” or one I particularly enjoy walking past everyday:  “South Davis Sewer District Established 1959” with a picture of a landmark silo in Layton.

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As I walked along the streets, I noticed there were no trash cans set out for public use. After a while, I began to look for them.  Then I noticed, there were no paper cups or scraps of garbage on the streets either.  Tokyo is immaculate.  Does everyone carry their garbage home?  Pinch me.  Am I dreaming?  Or, is my name Alice?

Okonomiyaki Pancake

Konpai!  It all started with a big mug of beer and went from there to sake, whiskey and finally to tea…..oolong tea for digestion at the end of the meal. Who would guess that we were there to taste the famous Osaka Okonomiyaki Pancake?!!!

asahi beer

Osaka is famous, I was told, for the Okonomiyaki Pancake.  Okonomi means whatever you like and yaki means cook or fry.  It was brought to the table with a dramatic flare.  It smelled wonderful.  We cut it into wedges and shared it.  Describing it hardly does it justice.  It was at once, creamy and rich and crunchy and fresh.

okonomiyaki pancake Osaka

In Japan, it seems, the meal may feature a local specialty, but, it still includes sushi, miso soup, ginger, wasabi, fermented veggies and rice.  I’m experiencing withdrawal symptoms just thinking about the aromas and flavors.

Toto Washlet In Japan

When was the last time you went into a restroom in an airport or restaurant or hotel and saw a hole in the floor…..granted a good-looking, clean, porcelain mounted in tile, but, nonetheless, hole in the floor.  I’m speaking to women.  I haven’t been in the men’s restroom.  I hadn’t been warned in advance.  Which makes me smile.  I’ve learned since that they’re called squat toilets.  And, yes, you feel it in your quads.

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I’ve peed in the dirt, in a bucket and over the side of a boat.  So, I’m not unaccustomed to making do.  I’ve just never had this experience before.  After my turn in the restroom, I watched many well-dressed women in very high heels enter that space without a scream of shock or chuckle of surprise and come out looking relieved….and just as poised as when they went in.

My experience was that if there were more than one toilet stall, say two rows of stalls, one side was equipped with Toto Washlets and the other with squat toilets.  I soon began to watch who was going into which side.  Japanese women used both sides as they became available while others waited for the Toto.

At first, I wanted to live as the natives do; but, soon I realized that the Toto’s not only had a seat, but it was heated.  HEATED!  Life had changed for me.  My wish list is now topped with a Toto Washlet.  Did I mention that the Toto is also a bidet and massager and blow dryer? And, they have already come to America.  I haven’t heard a word about it.

If you google it you’ll find some calling it the Japanese Wonder Toilet.  I agree!  Think about it.  You sit on a warm seat, comforting in itself; then, when you’ve finished, you wash, massage, giggle a little, and dry.  It’s like going through a car wash.  You feel so much better when you emerge into the light.


Korean Barbeque

I live in the west, in the western United States, in Utah.  That means I live in close proximity to cowboys, cows, horses, chickens and barbeque.  I’m familiar with differences in barbeque from the South to Texas to California; every state and region seems to have their own special methods and recipes. Barbeque is a well-known staple, especially in the west.

But, Korean Barbeque…..never heard of it.  Boy has my head been in the sand.  In the Salt Lake area, where I live, there are now at least six restaurants specializing in Korean Barbeque on my list to try as soon as possible:  Myung Ga, Jang Soo Jang Korean Restaurant, Cafe Seoul, Korea House, E Jo and It’s Tofu.

It would have been a shame to miss out on it while I was right there in Korea where it originated.  Fortunately, friends knew right where to go in Daejeon for great barbeque.  It was roasted in a hot kitchen just outside the restaurant door and then brought to the table sizzling on an extremely hot plate that was placed over an in-the-table grill.  As we emptied plates of onions, mushrooms, edamame, radishes, cucumbers, peppers, green onion salad, fermented vegetables, kimchi, rice and miso, attentive waiters kept replacing them until we said “no more, please”.

The combination of hot and cold, sweet and spicy, salty, crunchy and sumptuously smooth and rich made this meal a memorable experience.  I vote yes for Korean Barbeque.  I must admit though, that the detailed instruction and explanation of how to eat it was so enchanting that the food could have been crap and I would still have been romanced.  There’s nothing that makes a meal more satisfying than interesting, enjoyable companions.