Archive | August 2010

High Tea at the Westin Hotel, Tokyo

Last Sunday was not spent competing in an open water swim race. Instead, I spent it indoors enjoying a glorious summer Sunday in Tokyo. First, it was to the Tokyo Metropolitan Photography Museum, followed by High Tea at the Westin Hotel. Both are within metres from each other in Ebisu. According to my research, I have so far found approximately 38 places in Tokyo to do high tea at. I’ve already been to about 6 of them. I am aiming to do one a month, but at that rate, it’s going to to take a few years! Might have to make it a fortnightly thing. So it’s been about 2 months since my last Tokyo high tea. Most of my weekends throughout the summer have been consumed by OWS races. It was nice to take a day off and indulge with pots of tea and food treats. The Westin Hotel in Ebisu, is a very nice hotel. Grand lobby and a great Lounge, where the afternoon tea is offered. I had made advance reservations and was glad I did, because there quite a few people. We got lucky and had window seats. We were on ground floor so not much of an aerial view but it did look out into a courtyard with a water feature. It was a very standard high tea set. The 3-tiered platter, complete with desserts, scones, and sandwiches. The vegetarian option for Skye came with salad sandwiches and a vegetable sticks with dips (in place of the quiche). I thought the desserts were quite nice, but both the sandwiches and scones were disappointing. I didn’t realise how difficult it is to get decent scones in Japan. Really, they’re not that hard to make but by golly, my goodness, I am yet to eat decent scones in Japan. The sandwiches were also so-so. I did enjoy the quiche. Service here was good, as is the decor and ambience. The sofa chairs were so comfy. And it’s an easy venue to while away time. That’s probably why they set a 3hour limit. The food wasn’t up to par as some of the other venues I’ve been too. The tea selection whilst not overly expansive, was still very decent. They used great leaves and most teas were served in glass teapots. The great thing here is that you can order as many pots of tea as you like and try any of the teas or coffees on the menu. Both Skye and I consumed four pots of tea each during our 3.5 hour tea session. Mind you, each teapot got you 2-3 cups of tea. So after drinking about 10-12 cups of tea each, after two hours in, we were pretty much playing tag team for toilet runs. We overstayed the limit by an extra half hour but we weren’t harassed out at all. In fact, after 3.5 hours, we left on our own accord, only because we kept running to the toilet back and forth that we decided we should leave. I still have to admit that the best High Tea in Tokyo is the Peninsula Hotel. That has become the standard, the yardstick by which I measure all other highs tea by (in Tokyo anyway). St Christophers Tea Garden also rates up there in the top 3. The High Tea at the Westin is a flat 3500yen per person which is standard and good value for the all food and unlimited tea (extra with an alcoholic beverage). Afternoon tea is served between 12-6pm (3-hour time limit). It is also a very convenient hotel to get to. Take the JR train to Ebisu station. Take the East Skywalk exit which will take you out to Ebisu Garden Place which is like a big forum, square. Walk right through the Garden Place past the French chateau and it’s the hotel clearly marked on the left hand side.

Looking ahead

One of my little life’s philosophies is: Always give yourself something to look forward to. It can be something as simple as a dinner with friends, watching a movie, getting a massage or manicure, or something as big as a holiday, trip overseas, a big function or event.

These Open Water Swims (OWS) throughout this summer have really given me something to look forward to. Surprisingly, I enjoy competing, and I look forward to race day. Even though it’s challenging, it’s keeping me fit and focused during the week. It’s also made me realise how much I love swimming. Swimming has always been there in the background of my life, but lately it really has occurred to me that’s a huge part of my life, and it’s kind of nice to take it up more seriously. I’ve been really obsessed with swimming lately, in particular long-distance swimming. I really want to push myself to swim longer distances and get up to 5km, 10km swims. I think this is something that I really want to pursue – yes, long distance swimming. It’s kind of my niche sporting activity at the moment. I’ve been obsessed with looking up long distance swims on the Internet and I’ve got some goals in sight with some swims over the next year or so in some exotic destinations. Having something to look forward to is an important motivation. Lately, it feels though my time is counted by the number of swim races I can do.

Tomorrow, I’ve got a 2km open water swim in Shizuoka. I feel ok with the training I did this week to do the distance comfortably. I was more focused on being comfortable with the distance rather than speed. Since last Sunday’s race, I managed to do the following: Monday – 2km swim in about 45min

Tuesday -1km swim

Wednesday -4km jog, 1km walk (total 45min cardio – cross training)

Thursday – rest.

Friday – 2.2 km in about 45min

Saturday – will be rest.

And tomorrow race day.

My motivation at the moment, is my upcoming trip to Egypt. I’ve got three weekends, and two swim races to get through and then I am treating myself to a nice holiday.

Food Frenzy in the ‘fu: Brunch and Bake-off

I was back in Hirafu a fortnight ago for the Hokkaido Lake Toya swim. The Saturday was spent eating up a storm. First was brunch at Sekka. Brunch has taken over as my favourite meal of the day. It’s actually a bit of toss-up for me to say whether I like brunch or high tea better. A nice pot of tea to wash down bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms and pancakes well – it was breakfast and lunch together. Hence they call it brunch. You’re eating two meals in one! As if all that wasn’t enough (well, maybe I wasn’t quite full), Fi and I decided to have a bake-off. Basically kinda like a mini quick-challenge in Top Chef lingo. The key ingredient was ‘chocolate’. We headed off to the supermarket to load up on ingredients. We each spent a bit over 3500yen on ingredients alone! Who knew baking was so expensive. The bake-off was off, but not before we made some cocktails – Pimms Punch, apparently a British favourite consisting of lemonade, Pimms, orange slices, pineapple slices, mint, and strawberries and cucumber slices (optional). Cocktails and Cooking – a great combo for a Saturday arvo. The final culinary delights were: chocolate and green tea muffins, a chocolate cake, and rocky road – all made by me. Fi made a yoghurt chocolate mousse and a chocolate cheesecake. According to the panel of taste-testers, Fi’s chocolate cheesecake won. I still maintain that I make the best rocky road ever. The best translation of rocky road into Japanese is “deko boko choco”! In the evening we hit the pub where I hosted the local trivia night. More alcohol units consumed to wash down a meat pie and mashed potato. All that indulgence certainly took its toll the next day in the Toya swim with some rather slow swim times. Check out the culinary cake creations below. I can bake as well as I eat.

Brunch at Sekka

Pimms Punch

chocolate bake-off

chocolate cake with white chocolate icing

dekoboko choco = rocky road

Minami Boso, Iwai beach, OWS numero 3

Another swimming Sunday to start off the month of August. I set off early for the 2 hour train trip to Iwai beach which is in the Minami Boso region of Chiba prefecture. I was up at 6am and took a limited express train (a semi shinkansen) to Iwai. I was lucky to make the Sazanami limited express train from Tokyo. What I didn’t realise was that the platform at Tokyo station (the Keiyo line) is a good 1km walk from the regular JR train platforms. If you’ve ever taken the train from Tokyo to Disneyland, you’ll know it’s that underground platform far far away from all the other trains. Just making the train in time, I at least traveled in comfort to Iwai. It was pretty empty at 7.30am.

The weather was hot and muggy but really overcast and smoggy. I got to Iwai station a bit after 9am and followed some other guys that looked like they were also there for the swim (they were). I got to the race venue just a tad before 9.30am. The mercury had already hit 33 degrees and Iwai beach was packed. It was the most crowded beach I have ever seen in Japan. The amount of people that were there well before 9.30am was unbelievable. I’m guessing it’s a pretty popular beach.

Iwai beach was the setting for my third OWS and the third prefecture (having already done Shizuoka and Hokkaido). I was registered for the 1km swim. A nice standard distance at a beach (an ocean swim). This is kind of my comfort zone at the moment. Like the Atami swim this event was an JIOWSA swim event. I had initially wanted to spend the weekend in Chiba near the beach to save me the trouble of an early start on the Sunday. But alas, there was no available accommodation whatsoever. This is becoming a bit of a problem. Next week’s swim in Shizuoka again, I was not able to book anywhere. Iwai is a small coastal beach town so accommodation is limited and what is available was already snapped up, despite my efforts to try and book accommodation 2 weeks in advance. I tried like every single accommodation near Iwai to no avail. I can now see why there were no available lodgings. That whole coastline was packed. I guess it didn’t help that it was a hot summer’s day, a weekend, and school holidays to boot. The conditions were hot andI was sweating like nobody’s business. Even the sand was too hot to walk on barefooted. There was no shade whatsoever. The heat was relentless. Vitamin D intake exceeded.The sun cream I was applying was basically turning to sweat. My race didn’t start until a bit after 11am. By this time as well, I hadn’t had anything to eat. No time in the morning for breakfast, I had just made the trains in the morning and hadn’t eaten anything on the 2 hour journey.

When I got to the beach, there was of course no food nor vending machines. I was hot and wanted to keep hydrated as well, but also need to preserve what little water I had for after the race as well. I had wanted to squeeze in a conbini run but didn’t come across any. There was quite a decent turnout for this race. I even recognised a couple of people that were there from the Atami swim. 1km isn’t that far, but when you look out into the ocean, 1km looks really far. Those buoys look impossibly distant. The first race was the 400m event. They then moved the buoys even further out for the 1km course. It was a triangular course, swimming out to the right, then across the beach parallel to the shore, and then back into the shore.

There were enough competitors to have two starts for this event. All up, according to the program schedule, there were 33 females and 87 males for a total of 120 competitors in the 1km swim. We were given bright orange swim caps for the 1km. The water temp was beautiful, I reckon about 24 degrees, The first 300m or so were hard. I always find the first few hundred metres of a race the most difficult as the body is trying to warm up and adjust until you find a rhythm. The start is also where it’s the most violent and you wait for the pack to thin out. I was enjoying the beautiful water. This was probably the most enjoyable ocean swim to date. I didn’t think too much about the race and was really enjoying just being in beautiful water and being able to cool off.

As far as beaches in Japan goes, this one was pretty good. Not too many waves, although bouncy enough out there, perfect water temp and clean clear salt water. There were patches out there in the ocean though where the water was really cold and then you’d hit a warm patch again. It was a most refreshing swim and I felt comfortable with my pace. Vision was my biggest problem in this race. After passing the 400m mark my goggles started to fog to the point where I couldn’t really see the buoys so I had to spend a couple of seconds treading water and clear them but when I put them back on again a little salt water had gotten in and I didn’t want to waste time letting the water in, so one eye got a bit of salty water in it for the rest of the race.

One thing I find with ocean swimming is that I often swim semi-blind. Because I wear glasses and obviously don’t wear glasses or contact lenses in the water, and I’m only wearing goggles, it means that I can’t see long distances out in the ocean. I actually have trouble seeing the buoys and I actually just rely on other swimmers. I follow other swimmers and let them guide me. They really need more buoys between the main buoys to guide your way to the next one. When there is no buoy for 400m or so until the next one, it makes it hard to know if you’re on course or not. I remember feeling quite thirsty out there too – all that salt water in my mouth. After passing the 2nd last buoy before heading back into the shore, I came upon a little problem. I was not alone either. We had just swum across the ocean and were heading back into the shore but after coming around that buoy we couldn’t see where to go next. Myself and some other swimmers had to stop for a second to get our bearings. After coming round that buoy and looking back into the shore, all we could see was a totally packed shoreline and we had no idea where our set-up finish line was because all we could see was people along the whole coast that we had no idea in which direction to head back in to. One of the other swimmers yelled out to a nearby patrol guard for the direction and we were pointed the right way. I then tried to follow other swimmers as best I could using them as my eyes. When I could see the sand at the bottom of the ocean again, I knew that I was getting closer to the shore. When swimming in to the finish line, I never know at what point to keep on swimming or stand up and run to the finish. Is it faster to run through the water, or swim through??

I got position 44 out of 120 of all competitors in the 1km swim, which I thought was pretty decent. In the top 3rd. I felt my time would be average around the 20 minute mark. My time in fact was 21 minutes and 16 seconds for a 1km ocean swim. I placed 8th out of 10 in my age category. I’m always placing 7th or 8th. And placed 19th out of 34 women across all age groups. An average swim result. But it was a swim that I really enjoyed. I felt good in the water. By now I was pretty hungry, thirsty and damn hot. The day just kept getting hotter and the sweat just kept coming. The next event was the 3km. There were more people in the 3km race event than there were in the 1km – I thought that was pretty impressive. I think the longer distance events are quite popular. 3km – that’s pretty hardcore. The buoys had been moved out even further and they had to do do two laps. Just before 1pm I headed back to the station to head home. Not a single conbini and no food in sight. By this time I still hadn’t eaten a morsel of food since the night before. Iwai is a real inaka place – it’s a place that’s in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains and a coastline. Not much by way of facilities. No conbinis, nor eateries. I came across an omiyage store near the station and settled for a pineapple ice block. Hot, sweat and hungry I downed a water from the vending machine, and two ice creams (the aforementioned pineapple calippo-like ice block and a vanilla Coolish which I ate on the train back. Coolish is a soft serve ice-cream in mini bladder bag which you suck out. Tastes better than the way I have just described it. Still two ice creams was not very substantial.

Made it back to Tokyo with time to catch a movie with a friend in the afternoon – Toy Story 3 in 3D, dubbed in Japanese (yep, my friend booked tickets to the wrong one – the dubbed Japanese version rather than the original English). It was still such a great movie though. Highly recommend. It was funny and touching. The Ken montage scene to Le Freak is GOLD! I really want to see it again in English! By the by, the first day of every month is cheap movie day in Japan. It’s called “First Day” all tickets on a tsuitachi (first day of the month) are 1000yen. 1300yen because we saw it in 3D. This weekend was also the opening weekend in Japan for Inception which was actually our first movie preference but tix were sold out. A satisfying Sunday.

So I’ve accomplished my goal to do at least three open water swims this summer in Japan. But I’m not stopping there. I’m already registered for another two swims. The distances to date have been quite tame. I am ramping up the distances from hereon. Next weekend another swim – a 2km ocean swim in Shizuoka prefecture again. Not sure how I will go with these longer distances. It’s been a while since I’ve done some real long-distance swimming. Even more concerning is the 4km ocean swim in another few weeks! Here are some open water swimming advice/tips that appear in the swim program. The whole program is written in Japanese except for the following three bits which appear in English, which I think is really random: “‘Distraction’ means keeping your mind busy and away from negative thoughts, thinking thoughts unrelated to your swimming – eg. going through lists of things in your mind, such as your favourite movies, books etc.” “Open water swimmers require a completely different type of mental toughness to pool swimmers, as there are completely different aspects and challenges they face when out there in the open water.” “some issues you encounter under the stress of open water swimming can be extremely difficult unless your mind is programmed for mental toughness.”