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Niijima Open water swim (ows) again

Another belated swim race report from last year.
Race date: July 2015
Venue: Niijima island

You might recall that I did this race back in 2011. Back then it was the longest distance open water swim race I had done before. Since then I’ve done a few 5km, an 8km and a 10km race. I’ve pretty much gotten to a point where I usually don’t like to enter in swim races less than 4km. Am trying to do more endurance swims, but I’m still pretty slow.

Last year, we got a small posse to come to Niijima island for the swim race again. In addition, a small group of Aussies from the Brighton Icebergs also came to Japan to do this swim and I got to meet up with some them.

The Niijima swim once again involved getting an early jetboat ride from Tokyo to the island. Perhaps too early for some.
Here is everyone passed out or perhaps they are just conserving their energy.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

Here we are wide awake!

From Niijima OWS 2015

We had rented a van for the six of us to make the most of weekend.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

Again we were blessed with another beautiful hot sunny day. And the water conditions were good.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

A beautiful day for a swim. And the water so clean and blue.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

I like this particular race. It’s always well organised and entry fee includes refreshments and a free towel for every finisher.
The bananas this year even had messages of motivation which was a really cute touch.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

Gaijin swimmers represent!

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

The race has a great atmosphere.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

And yes, this is why we swim:

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

A cool close up of a grasshopper:

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

I did the 4.5km distance and my time was super slow. 1 hour, 49minutes. The last time I did this swim, I did it 1hr, 36min. I was 13 minutes slower.
Last year was not a great swimming year for me. In 2014, I ramped up my training to do some endurance swim races so last year I significantly cut back on swimming. This year, I am trying to ramp up again with my eyes on a couple of marathon races.

I’ve signed up for 4.5km swim race again this year on Niijima island and I’m hoping to improve on last year’s time. But I feel I’m getting slower as I get older.

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Snowboarding weekend in Hakuba

I have a massive backlog of blog posts. I didn’t snowboard much this past winter. Only managed to get out a few weekend. But here is a post from Winter 2015 (March last year) of a snowboarding trip to Hakuba.

Just photos. No words.

From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba

Break time:

From Hakuba
From Hakuba

Enjoying an apres drink:

From Hakuba

Japan open water swimming race calendar 2016

Out of the goodness of my heart, I have compiled a translated list of open water swim races in Japan for 2016. This is mostly for the benefit of the foreigner community in Japan, who can’t navigate through Japanese. Also, there does not appear to be a consolidated list of open water swim races in Japan (even in Japanese), and I have scoured the Internet to compile this list of races all around Japan. Mind you, I’ve already done quite a fair chunk of the swims on the list over the last 5 years, so I kinda knew what was out there, plus found a bunch more as well. There are about 50 swim races to date around Japan with probably a few more to be released. Not all dates are confirmed yet as it still early in the season.

The list can be found on a Google docs I’ve created here. Please note that this is a working document and I will try to update it regularly as and when race dates become available.

I’ve compiled and translated all the necessary info for free as a community service. Please do not republish or rip off this list. Instead, please link to my blog. This will ensure good karma!

I’m more than happy to help people out if you’re interested in the open water swimming scene in Japan.

Cheers!

Katsuura open water swim

So, last year I didn’t get around to posting up any open water swim reports. But I did do about 5 or so races last year. Here is a belated account of the first open water swim race from last year.

Race date: 21 June, 2015.
The event was the Katsuura swim festa and the race was held at Moriya beach in Chiba. I had actually been to this beach before on a day trip where we SUPed and snorkeled.

From Katsuura OWS 2015

Race distance was a short one and I went with a couple of friends. We did the 1.5km swim (which was the longest distance on offer). Water was a cooler side, I think about 21 degrees. It was a bit fresh without a wetsuit.

Here are a bunch of pics from the day:

From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015

Conditions were decent enough:

From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015

Race course:

From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015

This was a slow swim for me. I’m not 100% sure, given that it was nearly a year ago, but I think my time was a shameful 45minutes for a 1.5km swim. Can’t be sure that is right though but it was the first race for the year and a cold one at that.

From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015
From Katsuura OWS 2015

Overall a nice easy race doable from Tokyo. But yes, was a bit a cold and I was a bit out of practice. It’s always good to do a short distance swim to start off the season.

2015 Onjuku open water swim

Another year, another Onjuku swim. This one is tradition on the racing calendar with a decent enough following with fellow swimming friends. We had a small contingent of us turn up for this race, back in September last year.

It’s a 3.84km swim at Onjuku beach, one of the better beaches around and a favourite in the summer. Had also swum in the previous year.

It was a nice day for a swim with a good atmosphere:

From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows

Water conditions weren’t great. There was lots of seaweed upon entry.

I have also spent quite a fair bit of time at Onjuku, and what was surprising this year was the amount of jellyfish out there. I was a bit worried and thought about pulling out when they had warned us of jellyfish. I thought I’d at least start the race.

Holy moly, I have never seen jellyfish this big. These were really big ugly jellyfish that were the size of soccerballs. It really was quite phenomenal. I, of course, got stung on the hand by a big one, but decided to still swim on. It was a bit of a tough race trying to dodge all the jellyfish. I always find the Onjuku course quite tough. It requires swimming into the ports at each of the beach.

My time was on the slow side and it was slower than last year as well. For 3.84km, my time was 1hr 31min. But ok considering I was stung badly on the wrist and had to actively dodge jellyfish for the rest of the race. Had never seen jellyfish so big and so ugly. They were nomura jellyfish.You should google them. Ugly things. I ended up getting quite a bad reaction from the water here and ended up with a rash. Last year was particularly bad for my swimming rashes. I get really bad allergic reactions.

Another funny thing about this swim was that both The housemate and I featured on the race promo poster! It was an action photo from the previous year’s race that was used for the 2015 event.
I’m the one that is basically stacking it in the water, yes, ever the clutz am I. We were able to score a few of these posters as well.

From Onjuku ows
From Onjuku ows

Will most likely enter this race again this year too.

Tokyo afternoon tea, Captain Cook

Did another afternoon tea recently. The brief was a bit of a challenge. It was a friend’s birthday and only had about a week to book it. Everything in Tokyo needs to be booked 2-4 weeks in advance so getting a table anywhere for five people was going to be tricky. I tried about 5-6 venues to no available. Another hurdle which unfolded was the budget. They wanted an afternoon tea for about 3000-3500yen which is hard to find in Tokyo. The third hurdle was the time. Most afternoon teas don’t start until about 2pm but we needed one for a lot earlier for around 12:30pm.

I finally found a place that offered tea for 3000yen and they had availability. However, when I requested the time, they informed me that afternoon tea wasn’t offered until later in the afternoon, but they so kindly offered to prepare it earlier for our group. Yay, success.

The place in question was Captain Cook Cafe. And it was quintessentially British. It was a like a little piece of England in Tokyo.

From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea

The venue is two floors and we were seated upstairs. Interior was very British and cosy.

Upstairs:

From Captain Cook afternoon tea

Downstairs:

From Captain Cook afternoon tea

Look, there’s even HP sauce:

From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea

The menu features all things British and they’re open for brunch and dinner, featuring classics such as roast beef, pie and chips, sausages, and even the good ol’ hot English breakfast. I will definitely be back to sample more of their fare.

Afternoon tea was on the agenda for this particular Saturday afternoon, or rather lunch.

From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea

There was plenty of food – most of which was very sweets heavy. There were just a couple of morsels of sandwiches which were the only savoury components. The rest were all sweets and cakes.

From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea

This sample was yummy:

From Captain Cook afternoon tea

I would say that the sweets and cakes were either a hit or miss. The cupcakes were probably the worst (they tasted stale), but everything else was edible. The scones unfortunately weren’t very British. We had such high hopes especially given that the birthday girl was British. They were skimpy on the jam and cream though. Not quite enough for 5-people serving and then we discovered they charged us for the extra cream that we had to ask for:

From Captain Cook afternoon tea

The service though was wonderful. The staff were very accomodating and super friendly. And I really loved the venue and the interior. Lots of British paraphanelia.

As for teas, you choose the one kind but then unlimited hot water refills so we went through quite a few pots of tea.

All in all, a lovely quaint afternoon tea for the price tag. And I’ll definitely be back to try other dishes. It’s a nice venue to drop by for a cup of tea and a book, to be sure.

From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea

Elusive kamoshika spotting

Over the winter, whilst on a snowboarding trip to Nozawa Onsen, I spotted me an elusive kamoshika. A kamoshika is a Japanese goat-antelope animal usually found in the mountains. I was surprised to find this one near the streets of the village, right outside my favourite onsen at Nozawa, it was just amongst the bushes.

They are rather an unusual looking animal, and it was the first time I had ever seen one.

From Kamoshika
From Kamoshika
From Kamoshika
From Kamoshika
From Kamoshika
From Kamoshika
From Kamoshika
From Kamoshika
From Kamoshika

High Tea at Aman, Tokyo

The newest hotel to arrive on the Tokyo scene is the Aman Hotel which opened up in Otemachi (near Tokyo station) last year. This hotel, or rather it’s high tea offering has been on my radar for a while now. But bookings have been near impossible with a lot of frustration on my part. I am a rather impatient person.

In September last year, I tried to get an afternoon tea booking. But they were extremely busy and I was told that there were no seats until middle of October. Seriously, who are all these people who are doing high tea? With bookings full 4-6 weeks in advance, I had to drop pursuing this one for a while. I also did a few overseas trips at the end of last year (Australia in November and Palau in December) so wasn’t available for afternoon tea.

So back in January, I tried again to get a booking, only to be told that they were fully booked until February. Geez, I’ve never known a harder reservation. Getting a Michelin star restaurant reservation would have been easier that this afternoon tea. By this point, I was asking the hotel, let me know all your available days and time slots. How about you tell me when I can get a booking rather than when I can’t. It was at this point, that they enlightened me that they actually offer it everyday! And not just weekends which I was had been trying for. And not only was it offered every day of the week but from 11:30am to 9:30pm. Again not noted on their website (which states available from 12-5pm). With every day offering and a much later timeslot, I opted to do an evening afternoon tea instead. So I was able to finally get a booking for a Friday evening in January. So instead of dinner we went for high tea at 7:30pm after work, which was a little weird. Let’s hope all this trouble was worth it.

From Aman high tea

The high tea is offered in their Lounge Bar of the Otemachi Tower building and it’s called the “Black Afternoon Tea”.

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

You’ll be pleased to know that this is all-you-can drink tea and you can choose as many different kinds of tea as you like. Tea supplier is Ronnefeldt (same as the Four Seasons).

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

As for atmosphere, one word – Dark. Interior was varying shades of black, charcoal and grey.

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

A glass of sparkling: to begin the Friday evening:

From Aman high tea

Everything was black – the napkins were black. And even the teapots were black:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

I did love the fact that the teapots came on tea warmers. One of only two places I have ever been to in the world so far where they do. This always wins brownie points in my book.

From Aman high tea

Afternoon tea for three:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

Savouries:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

The pate was amazing. The savoury portions were a little too small for my liking.

From Aman high tea

And the menu also said it had a fritter, but we think they mean frittata.

I also felt that the petite sweets dishes way outnumbered the savoury dishes. They could have had less sweets to make the afternoon tea more balanced, especially so when they offer afternoon teas until 9:30 in the evening. They could do with less sweets or more savouries for a more balanced dining experience.

There were only 5 savoury bites compared to about 10 sweets (not all pictured below), plus scones! This was a little too much sugar load for dinner (in lieu of a proper meal).

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

The sweets though were impressively handcrafted with a fashion theme.

From Aman high tea

Check out the chocolate handbag and high heels. And hat as well.

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

Edible fashion is a lot of fun:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

And the handbag came filled with berries:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

And the high heel was caramel filled:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

And there was a jelly as well.

From Aman high tea

And jubes that came in an edible chocolate shell basket:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

I washed all this sugar down with about 4 pots of tea.

And of course, there were also scones to be had: Though shalt not go hungry with the Aman high tea.

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

So the overall verdict:
Filling, yes. Ideal for sweets lovers. Was a little too light on the savoury elements. And not the most amazing scones ever. Unlimited teas and coffees is a big bonus though. The whimsical edible fashion sweets are a drawcard for girly girls. I’ll always be persuaded on flavour though. Not all the sweets were to my liking. I can’t say I ever really enjoy a jelly.

Standard price is 4,600yen plus tax,so about 5000yen without the champagne. Not bad considering the establishment, food and unlimited tea. Other downside was the smoke. We were unfortunately seated near the cigar library room which meant that cigar smoke pervaded the lounge area. I would recommend asking for a window seat to avoid the smoke. Don’t know that I would go back here again.

Ryuzu: a 2 star Michelin restaurant

I have a year’s worth of blogging to catch up on. Recently, I’ve managed to rack a few Michelin dining experiences under my belt over the last six months. This is one from last October.

I had an arranged to take a half day off work along with a friend and we went for an impromptu Michelin lunch around the corner from our work (we work in the same building). Without a reservation, we dropped by on a chance there were would be availability. Who knew that this was hidden in the one of the back streets of Roppongi. We went to Ryuzu – a French cuisine restaurant with 2 Michelin stars with reasonably-priced lunch options. The chef has trained under Robuchon establishments and I could see the influence in Ryuzu, even right down to the similar plateware.

There are three lunch course options ranging from 3,600, 5800, or 8.400yen. We decided each on the Menu du Jour for 5,800yen. Ryuzu was very understated and for that reason, I really liked it. I liked everything about it – the food, the service, the ambience. You can basically enjoy the likes of the Robuchon establishments without the massive price tag without compromising on quality.

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

We were surprised we were able to get a table without a reservation.

Interior was warm and comfortable especially given the fact that it was a raining Thursday.

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

We ordered a glass of champagne to start with. (I was in a celebratory mood for reasons to be explained in a later post).

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

First up was a pumpkin soup to amuse the bouche:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

The obligatory serving of bread typical at most French restaurants:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

We each ordered different starters with our course so we could try each others.
The foie gras:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

The shiitake mushrooms:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

Here are the rest of the dishes:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

Sharing:

From Ryuzu Michelin

For mains, we got the fish and the pork between us. The food was so light, fresh and flavoursome:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

Dessert was pretty amazing. I decided on the mango and my friend got the chocolate. I had a little bit of dessert envy.

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

Petit Fours:

From Ryuzu Michelin

A wonderful lunch.

Naoshima Diary: At Uno Station

The Cliff notes of my long weekend trip to Naoshima:

Friday night: Depart Tokyo station after work. Board 7:30pm shinkansen to Okayama station. Arrive Okayama station at 11pm. Check into hotel for the night and crash out into bed.

Saturday morning: Early breakfast. Check out of hotel at about 8:10am. Board the 8:24am train departing Okayama bound for Uno station. (Change at Chayamachi enroute to Uno). Alight at Uno station about an hour later.

Destination Uno reached. A most awesome name for a train station and a small port town.
I was quite excited to be at a place named after a card game.

From Uno station
From Uno station
From Uno station
From Uno station

At Uno with numero uno!

From Uno station
From Uno station

Okay, let’s try that again and let’s try to not get hair obscuring the face.

From Uno station

That’s more like it.

Outside Uno station are two giant monuments. This one….

From Uno station

And this one: the Goddess of the Sea:

From Uno station

And now it’s time to smell the cheese:

From Uno station

And incidentally, ticked off another prefecture – Okayama prefecture done. Only another 8 (?) to go!