Cold Stone Creamery or Tipping, Tokyo Style

2015-05-10 19.57.38Often we find American stores or restaurants in Tokyo, but there’s always something just sort of “off” about them – the clothes are sized to the market, or the desserts are a bit less sweet, or something of that nature.  It’s really fine, though – companies have to cater to their clientele in the location.  We have come to accept that we get authentic Americana in…, well, America.  This little oddity at the Cold Stone Creamery, though, really gave me a giggle.  The ice cream scoopers at the Cold Stone always sing if you put a dollar in their tip jars in the U.S. but in a culture like Japan, where tipping is not customary, it seemed pretty weird to have a tip jar on the counter.  And then I put in Y100.  The video shows what I saw!  Not quite the same as the bit of hokey-ness at the American counterpart.  You decide: better or worse!?

Click the link above for the video!

Japanese Efficiency – At The Salon!!

The incredible Aiko-san, massaging my right hand while I clumsily take a bad picture with my left. She is more beautiful in person.

The incredible Aiko-san, massaging my right hand while I clumsily take a bad picture with my left. She is more beautiful in person.

In my limited salon experience, when you get your hair cut, you get your hair cut.  When you get a massage,  you get a massage.  At my mom’s salon in Florida,  hair coloring is separate from cutting, even! (But we wouldn’t know about that – we’re natural blondes, right Mom?)

This separation of services is not the case in Japan, I have come to find out.  Today as I (ahem) had my hair  cut and colored, my favorite stylist, Takano-san (at May’s Garden Spa in Roppongi Hills – go there – it’s amazing) told me they were having a special on hand and forearm massages and if I wanted to do it, the esthetician  would come right over.  The price was right and I was curious, so why not?  I am hooked.  It was unbelievable.

While I was waiting with the color on, Aiko-san massaged my right hand and arm, starting with a hot towel, going through the massage with cream, and finishing with a “pack-u” – or what I would call a “mask” for my hand. Right as she got the mask on, however, it was time for me to get a shampoo to rinse out the color.  As we all know, hair coloring waits for no man – or woman – or hand massage. But that didn’t faze Aiko-san.  She just rolled her little cart over to the sink where I was getting rinsed, and she started on my left hand.

Yes, that’s right. I got that fabulous head massage and shampoo combination about which I constantly rave, AND the hand and forearm massage  at the SAME TIME.

At one point the shampoo man was massaging my temples and Aiko-san was massaging my left palm.  Bliss.  Purse bliss.

Just as the hot towel went on my forehead and then under the back of my neck as usual, Aiko-san finished applying the mask to my left hand.  So I had to get up (shakily) and walk back to the haircut chair with my hands raised. As soon as I was seated and Takano-san was ready to cut my hair, Aiko-san was right there removing the hand mask and then applying moisturizer before finishing it off.

I understand this was a special treat and not something I can have regularly.  I am very privileged to do these things, lest you think I take it for granted.  But I do think it’s simply brilliant to have salon services put together so nicely.  It saves time for the customer and I’m sure it makes the salon work more efficiently.  What a day.  I’m just going to appreciate it for what it is: Japanese work flow at its best.

Restaurant Review: Le Pot Aux Roses, Azabu Juban

The wine was so great that it even went well with the dessert!

When walking from Roppongi Hills, past Tsutaya and toward Azabu Juban Shotengai, there’s a  corner building that has huge windows on the fifth floor.  It’s more noticeable at night when the darkness highlights the window, but it can easily be seen during the day as well.  After talking about it and seeing people sitting in the window for months, my husband and I decided to see what was up there.  What we found was a delectable feast of the senses called Le Pot Aux Roses. (They don’t have a website, but you can see a few things here)

My husband and I took the elevator up on a random Saturday night on the early side, before 7pm.  We were greeted in Japanese by a lovely young woman who was the server, and then in English, by a man who was clearly the head chef, based on his outfit and demeanor.  What struck us as funny – and then delightful – was that the chef spoke English with a thick French accent, not a Japanese one.  He later told us that he spent many years in France, but many years ago.

The menu was a nice size, with many items on it, but we have found that in most places when the chef offers a course menu, it is generally the best he has to offer and we should just take that.  He even came over to us with a basket of raw mushrooms, showing us what he had and what was special for the season, and promising us a warm, sauteed mushroom salad that we wouldn’t forget.  He was right.

As in most restaurants, we were given the drinks menu first and we decided to skip the cocktail and go right for the wine.  The wine list was extensive but not overwhelming, and we chose a light, but dry white from Sancerre.  The chef approved of our pairing, and I really do think that he was the type to correct us if we didn’t chose well.

But the salad wasn’t the first course – we had mussels first.  The mussels were in a slightly thickened sauce of garlic, butter and wine.  It was a healthy serving, large by Japanese standards, but we couldn’t help mopping up a little of the broth with the fresh crusty bread served on the side for that purpose.  The salad was second, and as promised, it was wonderful.  There were three or four varieties of mushroom lightly sauteed and served over mixed greens.


Following the salad, we had a fish course of cod broiled in a lemon-butter sauce, which melted in the mouth.  Served in a bowl, this was the only course of the evening that was a small size; everything else was fairly large.  Our main course was a duck leg stewed in a red wine sauce.  It fell off the bone in a red mass of sweet and savory combination that I have never tasted before.

Dessert was a lovely slice of French apple pie with a side of vanilla ice cream, but the flavors were complicated by the caramel sauce on the plate underneath the pie, and chocolate sauce on the plate under the dollop of whipped cream.  It was quite the combination.
While our idea of a reasonably priced dinner is arguably skewed since living in Tokyo, for the city, this dinner was indeed a good deal.  The set menu was Y6300 per person, with the wine at another Y7000, which means we had a very full dinner including drinks at under Y20,000.  Just trust me – it’s reasonable for Tokyo.  Don’t covert to another currency.

It was a wonderful evening out with my husband and a delicious meal to boot.  Special occasion or regular Saturday night, Le Pot Aux Roses is bound to be a hit.

New Year in Japan

New Year is a special time in Japan.  It’s not an over-the-top party type of special; it’s more like a quiet, reflective, be-with-family type of special.  In that vein, there are traditional games that  children play and intricate performances to watch, all to ring in the new year with a sense of luck, happiness and prosperity.

Every year, Roppongi Hills, a trendy area not far from our home, has a little festival in their center arena.  We’re not often here for New Year, so this is our first time attending.  The kids got to spin tops, and juggle with professionals as well as watch a dragon performance and a group of Taiko drummers.  The tops are the type that are spun with a string, and to wind them and then “throw” them properly is quite a skill.  The professional organizers of the day spent as much time as each kid wanted with him or her, patiently helping until the child could do it.  It really was an amazing feat of patience.

The Taiko drummers never fail to enthrall me.  They dance and move as they drum in a synchronized rhythm of crescendos and descrescendos.  It’s so exciting to watch and I can barely keep still!

Here are a few more photos on the day.

Sydney learned to wind a teeny tiny top


This dragon lady touched the heads of children in the front row to bring them luck


Look carefully: these are all tiny tops - the players throw them onto the drum and they spin to knock each other out to determine the winner

Restaurant Ordering Via IPad

The Menu of the Hong Kong Kitchen

This weekend, we had dinner at the Hong Kong Kitchen in Roppongi Hills.  Most people think of Dim Sum for weekend brunch, but this restaurant has an all-you-can-eat Dim Sum Menu in the evenings.

Dim Sum is a Cantonese word for “snack” but is commonly comprised of a meal of individual dumplings.  Some examples include: pork shumai, spinach dumplings, shrimp dumplings and individual servings of roasted duck on rice.

We don’t go to this restaurant particularly often, but often enough to notice, after we were seated, that they had changed the menu slightly.  Then the waiter came over to our table and handed us an iPad.  He showed us how to look over each item on the menu on the machine – seeing the items together or individually.  They we could select the items, choosing the number we wanted, before going to the final place to press “order” and the entire order would go to the kitchen.  Since it was all we could eat, we could do that as many times as we wanted. The food magically appeared a few minutes after pressed

Marc and Sydney pour over the menu!

“order” each time.

It was SO COOL!

We couldn’t do anything else on the iPad – it was configured to run only one program, but it was still neat to order in that manner.  And there were no mistakes.  We got everything we ordered perfectly.

I love technology and of course, living in Tokyo.

Foodie Friday – An Extra Posting

Today is a holiday in Japan – it’s A Former Emperor’s Birthday (current Emperor’s birthday is December 23rd) – so Marc and I decided to go out to lunch.  (The kids were in school and Marc’s birthday is tomorrow, so it seemed like good timing!)  We went to a great restaurant in Roppongi Hills called the Hong Kong Kitchen, where they serve Chinese Dim Sum all day.  I really wanted to show you the appetizer that comes with the lunch set menu, which in my mind, Japan-ifies the Chinese food. All of the items were served cold.

From left to right, the items are: 1. Brine-soaked jellyfish cut in strips; 2. strips of cold, salt-marinated chicken; 3. marinated burdock – a root vegetable; 4. cold sauteed Chinese broccoli.

The rest of our lunch consisted of either a fried pork-bun or a spring roll, five yummy dim-sum dumplings, a bit of honey pork on rice and a dish of anan-tofu, a sweet, almond-flavored dessert.  Each dish was tiny, but satisfying.  Yes, my top reason for loving Japan so much has always been the food and it’s no different now than ever.

Sneak-peek Sunday!

My book, Lost With Translation, is due to come out from Discovery 21 publications sometime in the late fall.  Enjoy this little teaser!

This particular doozy is from the Diesel shop in Roppongi Hills. I checked carefully, and this is an actual Diesel Jeans Advertising campaign.  If you look on their website, they list their marketing campaign with their “smart is” and “stupid is” comments.  However, I think the campaign would be more effective if the words were spelled properly.

Check out the spelling on this one!

Just as a side note, I think Diesel, as a company, has some wildly interesting advertising campaigns.  A few months ago the front of this store read (in bright red blow-up letters, not written on the window, but displayed in the window) “Sex Sells. Unfortunately, we sell jeans.”  That one was spelled properly.

Kaiten Zushi

The sushi just travels on plates around the restaurant until a diner picks it up.

On Sunday evening, after a grueling two and a half hours on the soccer pitch, we went out with our good friends the Mitchells (Chris, Saori, Kazuma and Saya) for a special meal at a Kaiten Zushi restaurant.  Kaiten Zushi is sushi served not by hand, but by a conveyor belt that circles the restaurant.

As in most sushi restaurants, the sushi chefs are visible from almost all locations – at the bar and at the booth – but they focus on the production at this type of restaurant.  The restaurant, called Pintokona, is located in the basement of Roppongi Hills.  At the bar, you can keep your shoes on, but if you sit at a table, you need to remove your shoes on the tatami and put them in conveniently placed lockers at the front of the shop.  You put in your shoes, then take your key for safekeeping, thus ensuring that no one steals your shoes.

The eight of us squeezed into a back booth and the conveyor belt was only at one side of it – so my kids were the only ones next to it.  The point of this experience is that you start eating

right away.  Bailey and Sydney immediately started pulling plates of shrimp (nigiri style – raw over a bed of rice) off of the conveyor belt for themselves and Kazu and Saya.  We had to slow them down a little bit – the four kids wanted everything!

The waitress does come around to take a drink order, even though the green tea is made right there at the table.  Every table has a box of green tea powder and a hot water spigot.  Saya expertly made tea for everyone.  But

when the waitress came around, Chris and Marc had a beer and Saori and I had our favorite: plum wine.  The kids stuck with tea and water.

If we did not see what we wanted, we had two choices.  We could either wait until we noticed a waitress, or we could shout through, over the conveyor belt, to the sushi-chef behind it.  The kids, predictably, opted to shout out to the chef precisely what they wanted, so it appeared through our little “window” in seconds.

With the conveyor belt, there’s always a concern about freshness – how long is that fish on that belt anyway?  But here’s a quote from about Pintokona: “A modern conveyor-belt sushi shop with a high-tech element – an electronic chip in each plate keeps track of freshness, and fish is taken out of rotation after thirty minutes.”  I am not sure how other shops keep track of each plate, but this place is great about it.

We ate pretty typical sushi – all nigiri style: maguro (tuna), salmon, eel, fatty tuna, and then some tekkamaki – tuna rolls.

The plates all sit on the table until you’re done with the meal because that’s how they know how much you’ve eaten: they count the plates.  But it’s not simple counting –

The magic wand goes up the stack!

the color of the plate matters.  The blue plates are one price, the gre

ens are another price, and so forth. The kids had a contest to see who had m

ore plates on their stack – them or the adults.  The kids won – they ate more than

the adults.

At this particular locat

ion, the method of calculation is rather interesting.  Each plate is fitted with a microchip, so the server comes along, and waves

her magic wand machine from the bottom of the stack to the top.  Then she is able to read the machine and print out an exact bill for us to take to the front to pay.  Many places have the old-fashioned counting method, but this is high tech and super accurate.  And interesting to boot!

Greetings at the Salon!

Here is the entrance on the second floor of the Hollywood Hat building in Roppongi Hills. See the door into which I entered on the right.

After a long summer in the U.S., I was really looking forward to having a haircut. I got to May’s Garden Spa in Roppongi Hills.  I’m sure I’ve posted a description of the joys of a Japanese haircut – the massage, the hot tea, the massage, the quiet atmosphere, the massage…anyway, you get the picture.  This time, because my kids had only half days of school last week, I scheduled myself for a 9am haircut – just enough time to drop the darlings at school before scooting to the salon.  (Please bear in mind that scooting is a relative term – we do not hop in the car and go to the salon here.  We walk over.)

Well, it turns out that I was the first customer of the day.  When I walked toward the entrance from the escalator, which is on the second floor of a very open building, the door was closed and I could see about 25 people standing in the front lobby.  I retreated from the door, figuring that since I was about 3 minutes early, I would wait until they opened it.  But one of the hostesses of the place hurried out to get me and bring me in.

So I walked into the lobby with about 25 people all bowing to me, saying – somewhat singing – “Irashaemasse!” Loosely

It really is a gorgeous salon.

translated it means welcome and please spend money here.

There were literally 25 aestheticians, beauticians, hostesses, masseurs, everything – greeting me.  Apparently they do this for the first customer of the day every single day.  They gather at the front, have a brief morning meeting and wait for the first customer.

What a country.