Eat Moomin

Usually people have no clue about what or where Finland is, but in Japan I can proudly say I am from Finland. In few occasions with my Swedish friends, the people asking our origin don’t understand the word “Suweeden”, but start “aahing”, smiling and nodding when I say Finland. Why is Finland so well known and popular? Not because of ice hockey or Angry Birds (which is not so popular to begin with). It’s Santa Claus and Moomin!

Moomin cafe, Tokyo Dome
Moomin cafe, Tokyo Dome

After seeing the Moomin cafe in Fukuoka, I of course had go to see the other two highly popular ones in Tokyo as well.

Tokyo Skytree, waiting time unknown
Tokyo Skytree, waiting time unknown

The verdict (without actually trying the menu):
All of the Moomin cafes are very adorable, and they have the Moomin atmosphere. The plush toys and books are comfy addition to the decoration, and the moomin background “music” surely reminds of the animation series (even though in Japanese and with different voice-overs).

Finnish color theme and happy customers
Finnish color theme and happy customers

My favorite of the cafes is definitely the Tokyo Dome one. Where as the menus in all of the cafes are similar, Japanified versions of something people might eat in Finland, in Tokyo Dome they also have a pretty decent selection of what seemed like pretty decent breads. Unfortunately, the bread buffet couldn’t be ordered without a meal. Having been bread-deprived for the last half year, I most likely would have gone overboard with the buffet alone.

I have never heard about blueberry coffee in Finland - and the "naminami" (yum yum) munkki doesn't sound familiar, either
I have never heard about blueberry coffee in Finland – and the “naminami” (yum yum) munkki doesn’t sound familiar, either

The menus in each cafe are a bit different, but all of them have cute “breads” (=sweet bread rolls) with Moomin characters on them. In all of the cafes, one can also enjoy (or “enjoy”) the Finnish Lapinkulta beer.

Moomins welcoming customers to come feel at home
Moomins welcoming customers to come feel at home

Visiting Moomin cafes is definitely interesting, no matter if you’re Finnish or not. If you don’t know what Moomin is, it will still be an experience. For me, the cafes were something familiar, yet something completely different from what we would have back home. The meals were kinda close to Finnish style food, but still very much like in other lunch cafes. The shops attached to the cafe sell more or less Finnish Moomin products for high prices, but at least some of the stuff (or Chinese versions of them) you can buy from other places as well.

Enjoy the Finland feeling and fall in love with Finland and the Nordic countries. From the land of lakes and snow
Enjoy the Finland feeling and fall in love with Finland and the Nordic countries. From the land of lakes and snow
Advertisements

Peculiar shopping

What you can’t find in Tokyo, you probably don’t need. On the other hand, there are many things that you can find, but definitely don’t need.

The "shaker"
The “shaker”

Besides the 100y shop (God bless Daiso for solving the students’ everyday needs), there are many peculiar shops such as Don Quijote, that sell rather unuseless knick-knacks.

Dirty bellybutton?
Dirty bellybutton? This chipmunk can help!
Squeezing diet
Squeezing diet
Iittala, on sale!
Iittala, on sale!

While most of the stuff is fairly harmless and mainly just peculiar (not the Finnish design plates, but the other items and so much more), there are some things in the stores that I just find a bit…disturbing.

Fetish literature, Village Vanguard
Fetish literature, Village Vanguard
Actress DNA, bra hok, honey lingerie and whatnot
Actress DNA, bra hok, honey lingerie and whatnot
Toys?
Toys?

Some things just can’t be explained.

Yokohama humahuta

The title of this post will probably seem odd to all non-Finns, sorry about that. (The title is from a bad joke that involves a Japanese name, that’s actually all I can remember about it)

What's a city without a ferris wheel? Minato Mirai
What’s a city without a ferris wheel? Minato Mirai

Yokohama is the 3rd largest city in Japan with the population of 3 million people. It is conveniently located within half an hours train ride from Tokyo, and definitely interesting location to visit.

Skating rink by the red brick houses
Skating rink by the red brick houses

Yokohama is located next to the sea, and it was the first port to be opened to the outer world in the end of the Edo period in the late 1800’s. Originally, the city was divided for foreigners and the Japanese, and in between the Chinese built their own habitation.

A bit of China in Japan
A bit of China in Japan

Nowadays Yokohama is an interesting mix of the Western, Japanese and Chinese style with an area of contemporary and futuristic architecture. In one day you can go from the colonial infrastructure to China and see many interesting high rise buildings as well.

Cool as steel
Cool as steel

One can find various shopping, the tallest building in Japan (296m), Pokemon center, cup noodles museum (was all booked for the day I visited, boo), ramen museum, amusement park and God knows what else! (At least a museum for modern literature) in Yokohama. I also found The Little Mermaid!

Miniature version of the Little Mermaid
Miniature version of the Little Mermaid

I also found glass jars with Finnish words “sokeri” and “suola”, as well as the staple Moomin-stuff.

Sunset in Yokohama
Sunset in Yokohama

For something different than Tokio, or anything else in Japan, you should definitely spend a day in Yokohama.

Mother of all Mochi

I could make an entirely new blog for mochi, it seems like I have so much to say about it. Maybe this will be my last post about the rice cake, however I cannot promise anything.

As a break from recapping my winter holiday trips, I wanted to share the real, old school mochi making experience I finally got to experience – after so many tryouts and different variations of mochi!

Old-fashion mochi making
Old-fashion mochi making

Traditionally mochitsuki (mochi making) is New Years’ event. The mochigome (glutinous rice) is pounded with kine (wooden mallet) in usu (mortar made of stone). I got to try the pounding today, oh man it was fun! Not to mention the taste of the fruit of my labor…way better than any of the other mochi methods or variations I’ve tried before.

Sides and toppings for mochi: shoyu (soy sauce), kinako (soy bean powder) and daikon with sauce
Sides and toppings for mochi: shoyu (soy sauce), kinako (soy bean powder) and daikon with sauce

As my friend was trying to get rid of her soon-to-expire mochi, I started thinking of different ways to use the cakes. I have earlier mentioned about the usage of mochi. Apparently it is ok to fill mochi with anko (bean paste), kabocha (squash) or satsumaimo (sweet potato). However, it is considered odd to fill it with chocolate. Well, that didn’t stop me – and the Western friend, who usually doesn’t appreciate the bland chewiness of mochi, was rather pleased with the result! Fusion cooking at its’ best. I have not yet found a mochi that I actually like, but the interesting mochi journey continues…

Home-pound kinakomochi in a cup
Home-pound kinakomochi in a cup

Due to its’ sticky consistency, every year there are a number of unfortunate chocking deaths. Funny enough, since mochi represents several generations. This years’ number of casualties was 14. So, if you ever get to eat mochi, remember to chew!

Ichigo dango (strawberry mochi) in Tokiwa
Ichigo dango (strawberry mochi) in Tokiwa dept.store

Hakone

Hakone is a mountain region just few hours train ride from Tokyo. Mainly the area lives off domestic tourism. The Odakyu company, which owns at least a department store, trains and travel agency, offers special few days passes to Hakone region, with unlimited transportation.

From bustling Tokyo to the past
From bustling Tokyo to the past

The pass includes a suggested “sightseeing” course with an old-fashioned tram that goes up the mountainside, cable car over a crater and mountains, boat on a lake and discounts on different kinds of attractions, shops and restaurant all around the area. The information of everything was (of course) in Japanese, so due to my insufficient kanji-reading skills, we might have missed something great. It was pretty cool, anyways.

Cable car, or "keeburu kaa"
Cable car, or “keeburu kaa”

We stayed in Hakone for 2 nights just before Christmas, in a traditional minshuku (very little English spoken, of course). Interesting experience to sleep in a room with a semi-functioning heater, and waking up before 8 to have a Japanese, homemade breakfast. What comes to sightseeing, we took the tram and the cable car, but skipped the boat ride, Le Petit Prince Museum and Venetian Glass Museum (among others). We didn’t quite see Fuji-san due to cloudy weather, but the trip was still definitely worth it!

I did see Fuji-san!
I did see Fuji-san!

I could easily imagine people getting away from their big city life to relax in the small towns, but after two nights I was ready to go. In Hakone, there seemed to be only kamaboko (fish paste cakes) and omiyage shops after another. There was hardly any restaurants, all of the few offered only noodles or tempura. Since all of the shops close around 5, the rest of the evening is best spent in onsen, that are aplenty in the region. Unlike in Beppu, the Hakone onsen did not steam or smell.

True.
True.

If you ever go to Hakone, which you definitely should if you have a chance, I suggest taking the Special Limited Romance Car. The name is worth the extra price, though I don’t know what was so romantic about it. Other option would be to take the Odakyu metro train, which is quite uncomfortable for such a long trip.

Le Petit Prince, a bit lost maybe?
Le Petit Prince, a bit lost maybe?