Strings Intercontintental – summer afternoon tea

Here’s a write-up of an afternoon tea I did 18 months ago – I am only now trying to catch up on a backlog of afternoon teas which I’ve yet to post about. My blogging hiatus has been for a number of reasons but mostly it comes down to lack of time. Other priorities have take over which eat into blogging time – mostly work and swim training. Over the last couple of years I really ramped up my swim mileage training for marathon swims and channel swims etc. This meant most of my time when not at work was spent swimming. Any free time was taken up with sleep, bludging (ie Netflix – which I cancelled last year), and catching up with friends etc and trying to maintain a social life. Anyway, here is my attempt to try and get back on the blogging horse.

The afternoon tea scene in Tokyo has really exploded the last couple of years. So many places now offer it – hotels, restaurants and cafes. It used to be limited to just a few select hotels. But now hotels are offering seasonal teas so they are getting more varied and fancier, and with the changing menus with each season and sometimes monthly (!) – they now how to get customers to keep coming back.

So let’s rewind back to the summer of 2016 – the Strings Intercontinental hotel in Shinagawa was a hotel that I had not yet been to for afternoon tea so I jumped on the chance when they released a summer afternoon tea. Their offering was a summer kakigori (“shaved ice”) afternoon tea in a tiered round bowl vase.

The afternoon tea wasn’t overly special. It was light on the savoury bites and too heavy on the desserts. There were just a couple of h’ordeauvres (ie a sandwich and olives).

The rest were all sweets and only ok at that. Given the seaons, it focused on fruits and citrus flavours. The desserts tier included: a passionfruit macaroon, a passionfruit chocolate bonbon, a lime tart, and few other sweet treats.

As for the scones – a coconut one, and an acai one – both of which were new flavours of scones for me and not the standard fare. They were also very typical Japanese ones ie hard and dry. Very unlike Australian scones which are super soft, light, fluffy and buttery. No country does scones like Australia, I tell you.

I liked the servingware though. I’m always drawn to how different venues serve their afternoon tea and the presentation. This one come in an interesting tiered spherical bowl.

Each layer/tier of the bowl was unstacked and held food.

The differentiator of this afternoon tea, was the kakigori (shaved ice dessert) – a popular Japanese different in summer.

A different experience for afternoon tea – but the quality and taste factor of the food wasn’t quite there.

Nevertheless, another Tokyo venue ticked off the list:

How do you measure a year: 2018 – My TOP 18 achievements, life lessons, and other pot pourri.

“Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes – how do you measure,
measure a year?”

2018 – My TOP 18 achievements, life lessons, and other pot pourri.

1. I ran a full marathon. That’s right, all 42.195km of it. Tokyo Marathon – check.

2. I swam a fricking channel with a team (both swimmers and crew) of amazing people. It took us 18.5 hours to swim 42km from Honshu to Hokkaido (ie the Tsugaru channel). In 18-21 degree water. That’s teamwork, grit and insanity right there.

3. I took up hiking. Hiking for me is therapeutic and cathartic. I hiked lots this year. (It’s cheaper than therapy).

4. I like to try and visit one new country a year. This year I went to Belgium – the home of waffles, fries, beer and chocolate – a gastronomad’s paradise. No regrets at all going to Belgium, although the waistline begs to differ.

5. I swam over 300km in total this year. A lot. But not quite enough at the same time.

6. Tiger Balm patches are the bomb.

7. KT Tape is magic duct tape for the body.

8. Growth (success) and comfort cannot co-exist. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable (this means running with blisters, swimming in 17 degree water, taking cold baths, working overtime, making sacrifices, saving money etc etc).

9. I did a solo trek of the Kumano Kodo trail. One of my most memorable experiences this year. Hiking is good for the soul.

10. I changed jobs this year. Every time I change jobs, I try not to think of it as “work” but rather “you’re getting paid to learn every day”. This is a mindset which has helped me get through working life in Tokyo.

11. I scored a reservation at Narisawa – a 3 star Michelin restaurant in Tokyo. Life goals. Great food. Great company.

12. Discovered the joy and simplicity of savoury porridge. Now I can eat porridge for breakfast AND dinner. Cook your oatmeal in a simple broth, add bacon, mushrooms etc. Voila! Savoury porridge. Game changer for the lazy cook.

13. In 2018, I went to the dentist. Last time I visited a dentist was 6 years ago (gasp!). Don’t judge me. Also don’t hate me. I have good teeth. Never had a cavity, filling or braces in my life.

14. You should back up your laptop/computer. You never know when it might die. (Don’t learn this the hard way).

15. Sleep is awesome. It’s also underrated.

16. Elastic pants/shorts are your friend.

17. Everyone should own a thermos and a reuseable drink bottle. This year I made a conscious decision to drastically reduce PET bottle and single use plastic usage. Say no to straws. And refuse plastic bags where possible.

18. You’re stronger than you think. Keep on keeping on.

2018 – you were EPIC. Thanks everyone for sharing in the journey.

I don’t expect 2019 to be as eventful and epic as this year was, but one can always hope. (Challenge accepted).


These lyrics from the musical “Rent” are appropriate.
Song: Seasons of Love

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets,
In midnights, in cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles,
In laughter, in strife?

In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love.
Seasons of love,
Seasons of love.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty five thousand journeys to plan,
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truth that she learned,
Or in times that he cried?
In the bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died?

It’s time now, to sing out,
Though the story never ends.
Let’s celebrate, remember a year,
In the life of friends.

Remember the love, (Oh you got to, you got to remember the love)
Remember the love, (You know that love is a gift from up above)
Remember the love, (Share love, give love, spread love)
Measure in love, (Measure, measure your life in love)
Seasons of love,
Seasons of love (Measure your life, measure your life in love).

Tsugaru Channel swim: the EPIC video

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. I shall just say that 2018 has been an EPIC year for me. And hopefully I’ll get around to writing about some various highlight at some point before the year end.

But for the past 8 months of the year, I was swimming. A lot. I achieved a bucketlist item of swimming Tsugaru Channel (that body of water between Honshu and Hokkaido) and one of the Oceans Seven swims. I swam it as part of an international 3-person relay with two friends (also expats in Tokyo). And for the record, I’ve been trying to do this swim for the past 2-3 years and was never chosen for a slot. But at the end of 2017, I was finally notified of a last-minute slot for 2018 (I think due to someone else cancelling).

It was quite the journey in terms of training and build-up and the actual swim itself. Will eventually write an epic swim report, but for now, I will leave you with the EPIC video documenting our channel swim which we did on 19-20 July 2018. The film was shot and edited by my amazingly talented friend (and crew support on the swim) Matt.

For your viewing pleasure: (and yes, we really did this!)

Getting an epipen in Japan (Tokyo)

If you’re looking to get your hands on an epiPen in Japan – yes, they are available by prescription. The below info is from recent personal experience (August 2017).

Generally, they should be available at any decent medical health clinic or hospital. Note however, that only certain doctors prescribe it, namely skin specialists (dermatologists), and possibly also allergy specialists.

I previously received my first epipen through Marunouchi Clinic  but when I tried to renew my epipen recently, they refused to do so. Long story, the facts of which seemed suspicious to, but in the end they refused or were unable to issue me with a new epipen due to my old one having expired. So I needed to find a new clinic that would.

I ultimately got an epipen really cheaply through Tokyo Business Clinic which offers services in English.

I called the clinic in advance saying that I needed to renew my epipen. They basically said to come into the clinic to consult with a doctor.

The process.

Arrived at the Doctor’s clinic. Fill out health condition form. Considering I was not actually sick, most of the form was left blank.

I then saw the skin doctor, who was prepared for the fact that I was there for an epiPen (because I had called the clinic in advance).

She had an epiPen picture brochure and the doctor explained and walked  through the epiPen – when to use it, how to use it etc. The doctor will ask why you need it, what kind of allergy etc. I also had to sit through a DVD explaining how to use an epipen.

Essentially they need you to understand when and how to use it as it is a self-administered injection.

You’ll also need to sign a questionnaire/consent form to ensure that you understand the use and the risks of the epi-Pen. You will get a copy of this consent form.

All up, it took about 20minutes by the time I watched the DVD and answered a few general questions. And yes they speak some basic English although Japanese language knowledge is helpful to make the process go more smoother.

The doctor was satisfied and would write a prescription.

I waited back out in reception for about 20 minutes whilst they did paperwork etc.

I had to pay for the consultation fee and the epipen in advance. However, you generally will need to wait 3-5 days to get the epipen and you’ll need to come back to pick it up. For some reason, this clinic doesn’t do same day prescriptions for epipens, although Marunouchi Clinic used to be able to do same day, although they now apparently don’t dispense epipens but I am a bit suspicious as to the validity of this.

The charge for the epipen renewal was only about 7,800yen which I thought was really cheap. I got the paperwork and receipt for it and was told they would call me once it was ready for pick up in a few days time.

 

But I’m pretty sure that any decent medical clinic or hospital that has a skin specialist will be able to prescribe one eg Midtown clinic in Roppongi should also be able to prescribe EpiPens (but you might be referred to the skin clinic department).

If you can’t read Japanese though, I highly, highly recommend that you Youtube and watch a video online on how to use the epiPen, because all the instructions in the kit and on the epiPen are written in Japanese.

I recommend also writing out English instructions in the kit, just in case someone who doesn’t read Japanese has to administer you the injection (eg when traveling etc), although it should be self-injected where possible.

The epiPen is  usually only effective for 1-2 years. The expiry date will be written on the pen, and there is also a registration postcard which you should fill in and post back. They will they send you reminders when you should update the prescription.

How to use the epiPen:

The epiPen is encased in a safety tube. Remove the yellow lid.

Take out epiPen.

Remove the grey cap.

Hold the pen with whole fist.

Swing/insert/inject the black tip into the thigh, – swing firmly for around 10 seconds until you hear a click sound. No need to press anything, just swing and inject into thigh. Bare skin is fine. It can also pierce through light clothing, but remove clothing where possible.

Remove epipen.

An epiPen is only an interim measure for anaphylaxis, and not a cure for any allergic reaction, so an ambulance should be called.

 

Another way to get one in Tokyo – the easier but more expensive way – easier in the sense that you can do the whole process in English, and not have to do it Japanese is go through the National Medical Clinic in Tokyo. They are an English-speaking/International private clinic that serves a lot of foreigners/expats and their families in Japan. They are located in Hiroo. They have English, and Japanese speaking staff. It’s possible they have staff that also speak other languages as well.

So I called them first and the phone was answered in English. No need to fumble my way in Japanese.

I asked whether they have a doctor that can prescribe an EpiPen. And they said yes – only on certain days when that particular doctor was in.

They were very upfront about the expense involved.

If you’ve never been to that clinic (that is, not a regular patient with them), you will need to pay:

  • the first-time consultation free (first-time consultation is always a premium fee – common with most clinics in Japan);
  • the actual consultation fee; and
  • then the epiPen itself.

I was told the total would be approx. 25,000yen total (note prices subject to change).

I was told that I could possibly get it cheaper from a (public) hospital and was advised to check around although she had no idea what other places would charge for it.

I was told that if I wanted to book an appointment over the phone and order the epi-Pen through the National Medical clinc, that once booked, I would not be able to cancel. I would have to pay for the epiPen whether I turned up to the appointment or not. I decided to check with other clinics. I was sure that I could find an epiPen elsewhere for cheaper.

At the National Medical Centre, once they have prescribed one for you, they will do repeat prescriptions without the charge for subsequent consultations. Please note that I have never used the services of the National Medical Centre so cannot speak from experience.

 

Journey towards Tokyo Marathon 2018

Today I officially got accepted into the Tokyo Marathon! A bucket list item about to come true (if I make it to the finish line)!

I saw people on Facebook getting their rejection emails, so I checked my email and nothing yet. Hopefully no news is good news. I then finally got an email and was amazed to see that I had been accepted! I had previously applied 5 times and been rejected. So about time, I say.

Wow. Can’t believe I’m one of the lucky ones who get to participate.

Shit. This means I’m going to actually have to run and train! I don’t remember the last time I went for a jog and I’m at my heaviest weight ever!

So now I gotta train for a full marathon. I can’t believe my first ever marathon is going to be the Tokyo Marathon in 2018. I think the hardest part is over though – the actually getting accepting into it. I suppose running is the easy part but perhaps not for me. This is going to be a huge wake up call for the body.

First thing on my list is to buy a pair of running shoes. My current running shoes are so old and ruined that they are no longer wearable. I’m going to have to do something about.

And I’m going to have to find a lot of motivation to train for this. But it’s such a rare opportunity that I don’t want to squander it, so I really want to finish within the time limit of 7 hours.

I’m going to make an effort to jog, train and blog about my journey to Tokyo Marathon 2018! Bring. It. On.

 

Tokyo Art City video

 

I recently went to the Tokyo Art City digital art and light installation at Gallery Aamo produced by NAKED Inc. It was pretty cool. Really enjoyed the robot performances. Pretty mesmerising. A good way to while away about an hour or so of time. A great exhibition to really capture the essence of Tokyo.

Check out the video I put together with my new GoPro:

Flying over El Nido: aerial views

I went to El Nido in June for a swim race. The Philippines is my recent hot spot destination for open water swim races. Flying from Tokyo, I stayed a brief night in Manila before flying onwards the next day to El Nido airport. It’s great that AirSwift has direct flights straight to El Nido airport rather than flying into Puerto Princessa.

The aerial views towards and over the El Nido islands was pretty spectacular. Enjoying a window seat, I was in prime position. And as we flew into the airport, I also got a great aerial view of the actual swim course as well.

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The swim course – you can see the colour flag pontoons.

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Jade5 Tokyo Brunch

Jade5 is one of my favourite places for a solo brunch in Tokyo, located in the back streets of Hiroo.
The cafe only seats about 10 people and is a quaint cosy cafe to grab a coffee and eat a hot brekky with a book.

The small interior:

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The brunch offering is tasty and in the comfort food domain.
On this particular day, I was hungry having just been for a swim.

I ordered the Lumberjack and it didn’t disappoint.

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I may be back to try the rest of their menu:

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Michelin Star Tsuta Ramen – the easy way

Michelin star ramen?! Yes, it’s got to be done. It’ll be the cheapest Michelin meal you’ve ever had. Tsuta was awarded one Michelin star in the 2016 edition of the Guide.

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I had read many reviews and blogs with many complaining about the wait to get in. The small ramen shop only seats 9 and they operate on a ticketing system whereby you have to get there really early to then be allocated a dining slot. It’s not uncommon for slots to be taken up between 8-10am with diners having to come back between 11am-3pm at your allocated time.

I was prepared to spend a midweek public holiday Wednesday to get there early and do the wait, but as luck and preparedness would have it, I ended up rocking up on a Monday night and walked straight in.

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So what’s the trick? I follow them on Twitter. Every day they update on how many tickets are still available for time slots. They’ll update when slots are filled etc. They are also open for lunch and dinner, so I think dinner might be easier to get in as well. Many people prefer ramen as a lunch rather than a dinner. And a Monday night when less people are likely to dine out, I was able to just turn up after having monitored their Twitter statuses. Be also prepared to dine just outside of peak hour. 6-8pm is likely to be a little busy and harder to get in. I had finished work just after 7:30pm and saw on their Twitter that there were still several slots left for 8pm. They also close at 9pm. I gave them a quick call as well at 8pm and asked if there was currently a queue for the remaining slots. They said no there wasn’t but at the same time can’t guarantee you a slot either. It’s a first come-first served basis. I figured I could get there by 8:30pm. I doubted that other people would be trying to get in at that time on a Monday, so I headed on over. Tsuta is located in Sugamo on a quiet street but very close to the station. I got there about 8:30 and was able to walk right on in.

IMG_2290 Orders are taken via a vending machine. Select your ramen (which is actually called Soba at this place. This confused me at first). I went their signature ramen dish. It’s the top button, costs 1500yen and there’s a photo of it. (Most of the dishes don’t have photos on the vending machine). From memory most of the vending machine was in Japanese and not a good description available in English). Their signature dish is a soy sauce-based broth with truffle oil, with wontons, egg and chashu (slices of pork). Once you feed your money into the vending machine, you then hand your order ticket to the staff. There were a few seats available – all are counter seats of which there are only 9. I was seated in the waiting area until I was called up to a counter seat. They set out a tray and then you wait. IMG_2295

The place isn’t very fancy.Very small. Free water is self service which you pour from their water dispenser. I was surprised by the high staff headcount. Considering they only seat 9 diners at a time, there was 5 staff on shift.

IMG_2291 Once your dish is ready, they place it on the counter, which you then bring down to your tray. IMG_2301

IMG_2300 The ramen was very good. A bit of truffle oil hurt no one. Broth was clear and delicate. The egg was perfectly soft boiled. The noodles were skinny noodles (I guess, a kind of soba which is why all the dishes are called soba rather than ramen here). I generally prefer the fatter, chewier, mochi-er ramen noodles. The highlight were the wontons though. The meat inside them were super flavourful. And what was interesting about the wontons here are that they are mostly the wonton pastry which are super long. IMG_2296

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All in all, it was a very decent ramen. The  best ever? – debatable. I’m more a miso ramen fan myself with a penchant for the fat noodles. I like the Hokkaido style ramen which is a lot more richer, creamier and koi (deep) in flavour. The ramen here is more delicate and lighter. There is also a shio (salt-based) broth ramen as well as tsukemen (where the noodles are dipped into a broth rather than served IN the broth).

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It’s quite a simple, no-frills affair. I was in and out within 30 minutes and I was the last diner to leave at 9pm.

Another Michelin star acquired to my dining belt.