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Japan: Tokyo/ Omotesando/ Gluten-Free (Natural Cream Kitchen)

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If you have food allergies like I do, you know how daunting traveling may be, particularly when it comes to overseas travel.  But, a great man once uttered, “Nothing is impossible,” and indeed with growing food allergy awareness, traveling with food allergies is becoming much easier than it used to be.  The only caveat is that you must do your homework ahead of time, which many of us who have allergies are accustomed to doing anyway.

In this new blog post, my purpose is to introduce you to a wonderful little café located in Omotesando, which offers all natural, gluten-free items on their menu.

Natural Cream Kitchen opened in spring of 2015 and bills itself as an “additive free sweets café.” However, sweets are not the only things offered on their menu. Here you will find delicious items such as chicken and roast beef entrees, meatloaf, pasta, sandwiches, quiche and salads.  Their drinks menu includes soft drinks, herbal teas, beer and wine! They even have a brunch menu featuring oatmeal and omelets among other items!  Everything is prepared using natural ingredients, no sugar and no additives.  Their tarts, breads and cakes are created with rice flour and sweetened with amazake  (a traditional sweet, low- or non-alcohol Japanese drink made from fermented rice) and sugar beets. Their signature roll cakes come plain and in chocolate cake flavors and are available in sizes up to 50cm (19.6 in). For Christmas you can order the Christmas cake version. Oh, and did I mention their sweets sampler tower?

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You can choose to dine in the cozy café decked out in a bright and soothing décor or take your food out. There are large vases filled with white flowers, white washed tables and chairs, exposed white brick walls and a giant chandelier comprised of eating utensils.

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The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, able to answer any questions you may have regarding the menu (provided you speak Japanese.)  Even if you can’t speak Japanese, the menu has pictures of the items available so you can just point to what you would like to order.

Whether you have food allergies, are health conscious or just want to try delicious tasting foods, Natural Cream Kitchen should be on your list of places to visit when in Tokyo! The café is open Mon-Sat from 10AM-8PM, Sun & Holidays 9AM-8PM. It is easily accessible via the Meiji-Jingumae Station (Chiyoda, Fukutoshin Lines) or the Omotesando Station (Ginza, Hanzomon, Chiyoda Lines).

 

Web page:                        https://naturalcreamkitchen.com/

Location:                           GYRE B1F 5-10-1 Jingumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001

JAPAN: Drinking Culture

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It is common knowledge that alcohol is an important and accepted part of Japanese culture which extends to everything from social and business drinking to religious rites and traditional customs. The drinking age is 20 and public drinking and intoxication are not considered illegal in Japan. If anything, alcohol helps the Japanese to relax and serves as a social lubricant for essential bonding in an otherwise strictly regimented and lonely society.

Oftentimes, dining and drinking with your coworkers are an unspoken requirement in some companies. Many Japanese feel that after work parties are an important way to enhance relationships. It can be useful to understand who your coworkers are, their typical mindset when they are relaxed and outside of the office. In a typical Japanese company every aspect of the employee’s work is regulated. Everyone is seated right at the start of the day, lunch is strictly one hour from twelve noon sharp and talking with your colleagues is considered “shigo (private talk)” which should be kept to a minimum. Since there is not much room for establishing good or personal relationships at work, activities outside of office become necessary.

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Bosses, “Joshi,” and senior team members,“Senpai,” invite the team, “Buka,” or junior staff, “Kohai,” to a quick dinner or a drink (which is never quick nor just one drink). The invitation is often with good intentions, to give them a chance to talk in case they had issues at work. Even if the conversation is not interesting, most of the Buka and Kohai just deal with it as it usually means a free drink or meal at a place they could not afford on their own.

A common saying in Japan is, “if you want to work your way up the corporate ladder you have to drink.” This was how many older generation workers established relationships and considered this the normal way of doing business. However, corporate life and culture have changed a lot in the last decade or so. The work environment is more flexible and accommodates the needs of individuals according to their lifestyle and stage of life. Career changes are more common and easier. If one corporate culture is not a fit, moving on is an option and there is less emphasis on building relationships that need to last a lifetime.

Still, drinking parties, “Nomikai” are still prevalent and seeing the salary men making a beeline to the izakaya, restaurant or nightclub is not uncommon in 2016. The nomikai differs from the traditional year-end drinking parties known as, “Bonenkai (Forget the year party)” which generally involve the entire company.  Nomikai is limited to only one section or department of the workplace. Oftentimes, the nomikai is followed by an after party called, “Nijikai” with “ni” signifying “second” and after it concludes there may be a “Sanjikai,” with “san” signifying “third” party. Now it is easy to see that drinking and bar-hopping can go on all night.

Izakaya

Izakaya

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Typical Izakaya Menu

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Further, there is an etiquette to follow during these parties where one tries to avoid filling their own glass and instead fills the glasses of the other members in attendance. This is especially true for the Senpai-Kohai relationships where the lower ranked or younger employee will offer to serve his or her superior. The relationship is reciprocal, and the superior will often fill the junior’s empty glass. But keep in mind that people are not pressured to drink alcohol at these parties.  Participants may elect to drink non-alcoholic beverages or leave their glasses full to signify that they are not willing to drink more alcohol.

Beer and sake are the preferred drinks during drinking parties but whisky is also popular and it is not uncommon to find bars keeping their patron’s favorite bottles on the shelf with the party’s name tag dangling from the bottleneck. Women tend to prefer wine or clear spirits such as shochu (a Japanese distilled beverage less than 45% alcohol by volume. It is typically distilled from rice, barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, and even brown sugar) or chuhai (shochu highball).

The Japanese love games and drinking games such as “Ikkinomi (Down in one),” are common.  Unfortunately many Japanese are unable to drink too much as they lack the necessary enzyme to break down alcohol.  Despite this, they still insist on playing the games, bar-hopping and typically end up turning a frightening shade of red after consuming too much alcohol and falling asleep in some of the strangest places imaginable. It is all too common to take the late trains and find some sloshed salary man fast asleep across from you.

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Aftermath

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But don’t misunderstand, Japan is not a nation of alcoholics.  Though alcohol consumption has quadrupled in Japan since 1960, Japan still ranks sixth in the world for beer consumption after China, the U.S., Germany, Brazil and Russia!

When visiting Japan, you may encounter intoxicated people leaving bars late at night on any given day and you may also be lucky to get invited to a drinking party. The Japanese are quite curious about a foreigner’s ability to handle alcohol so don’t be surprised if they pour you a drink after drink. Just understand the culture and always remain polite.  These parties are generally quite enjoyable and as they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!”

 

 

Japan: Tokyo/ Setagaya (Lupopo Cafe & Gallery)

The Setagaya ward in Tokyo has a reputation for being an upscale district and is home to the popular shopping district known as Sangenjaya. Here you will find a diverse gathering of affordable eating establishments, small boutiques and thrift stores selling everything from household items to clothing and just about everything in between. The area is easily accessible from Shibuya via the Tokyu Den-en-Toshi line, exit at Sangenjaya Station.

Just a short walk from Sangenjaya Station is a little café and gallery known as Lupopo. The shop is incredibly small but the Japanese are renowned for fully utilizing any space no matter how small.

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Upon entering the café you will notice a wall of wooden boxes containing tastefully displayed arts and crafts for sale. These items include jewelry, candles, stationary and small items created from felt. Certainly a great place to pick up that unique omiyage to bring to the folks at home. Overall the café offers a cozy, cottage-like atmosphere and depending on when you arrive, you could quite possibly have the café to yourself!

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The menu includes wonderful latte drinks, teas, lunch set items, salads, noodle dishes and desserts. You can also order a beer or a glass of wine for only ¥500. The latte drinks are served with a small container of brown sugar cubes and a little wooden spoon.

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On each table there is a small notebook and a container of various colored pens. Patrons to the café leave notes to the owners in these notebooks, messages like, “Thank you, the latte was oishii!”

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Maguro/ tuna salad

Maguro/ tuna salad

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Noodle dish

Noodle dish

So after browsing through the shops at Sangenjaya, won’t you take a moment to stop off at Lupopo Café & Gallery? You can just kick back and enjoy a nice cup of latte and browse the various wooden boxes and discover what they have to offer. The café is open from 11:30 AM until 7:30 PM. They are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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Address:          1 Chome-35-20 Sangenjaya, Setagaya, Tokyo

Web page:       http://lupopo.net/

Japan: Yokohama (The Nanja Monja Cafe)

Oftentimes there are moments from our childhood that we would like to relive or, moments we wanted to experience and never had an opportunity to do so, which compels us to capture those times in our adulthood. How many at one time or another wanted to have a tree house but couldn’t? Well, if you happen to be in Yokohama, Japan, you just may be able to make that dream come true.

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Located at Mitsuzawahigashi town 5-55, Kanagawa-ku, Yokohama, is a unique café that is actually a tree house! Constructed atop a Chinese Fringetree, known in Japanese as Nanjya Monjya, the The Nanja Monja Cafe is a honest to goodness tree house for adults! The café only has about 6 tables and lines can get pretty long at times, particularly on Saturdays. Further, the café does not operate in inclement weather since most of its seating is outdoors so it is best to confirm the weather before your visit.

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Patrons place their orders at the counter located inside before being seated. The menu is very limited, consisting primarily of bagels for 350¥. On Saturdays, customers can enjoy the popular French toast bagels which tend to sell out quickly as the restaurant only offers 30 at a time. The beverage selections include coffee, tea, apple cider, orange juice and banana juice which sells for 600¥. For those more adventurous souls who do not worry about tumbling down the stairs in an alcoholic stupor, the café serves Kirin beer for 700¥. Bagels and beer you might ask? Well, there are all kinds of tastes out there.

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The French Toast bagel

The French Toast bagel

The café is open from noon-5:30 p.m. and closed on Sundays. It offers a truly unique setting in which you can sit back with friends and enjoy the views of suburban Yokohama below while sipping your coffee.

Web page: http://nanjya.jp/cafe/