An American Picker in Japan

We took a drive to Togochi in Yamagata-gun, Hiroshima. It is an old country town that used to be a booming center 50 years ago. We were told that the Hondoori area had been filled with people, shops and pubs back then, including 2 movie theaters! They were putting in the Kabe line linking Kake with Sandankyo completing it in 1970, just 3 years before I came to Japan! This is what the old main thoroughfare looks like now.


Mr. Yoshihiro drove me there. We took the mountain road through Yuki Onsen, turning off at the road for Tsutsuga Village. On the way, we stopped to get a picture of this huge gingko tree, which is over 250 years old. The protrusions that hang down from the trunk are sometimes called “chichi” (tits) as they look like a cow’s udder. This tree is designated as a natural heritage site of Hiroshima Prefecture.


筒賀のイチョウ (beside  Otose Shrine)





Gingko Leaves on the gigantic tree!

On to Togochi Town! Yoshihiro-san had told me about an 88 year-old woman who was having a “going-out-of-business” sale at her shop, everything half-price. The items were old and dusty, and things we don’t see today. Unfortunately this shop was closed today. So we went to Komoto Shoten”instead, the very last shop on the road.


The sign used to say 河本酒店(Komoto sakaten)

I wasn’t disappointed! Most of the shelves were bare but I found 3 chawan mushi cups I wanted. I had no idea if bargaining was appropriate but I said out-loud, ” I like these cups but they are a little too expensive for me.” The owner offered to mark them down, and finally made them half of hte original price.

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Today’s treasures!

I ended up getting some interesting items. My picking partner, Yoshihiro-san also bought an old-fashioned razor and shaving brush. I found a very “Showa era” aluminum kid’s lunch box, an unusual sake pitcher and the cups.

We went to another shop down the street which was basically a hardware store that also sold miscellaneous housewares. That’s where I found this cool knife and bought it for just ¥100 (about $1.00!) All new items. Here I am with owner Yoshimoto-san. She was very nice on her prices for us. I don’t think she is used  to having customers negotiate the price, but she gave us some amazing deals. I recall that at one point she said, “Well, I’ll be having a “going-out-of-business” sale myself before long.”


It was noon and we were hungry so stopped at an old Okonomiyaki shop, run by this very young-looking octogenarian, Ayako. She told us she has been there for 30 years, previously having run a coffee shop. She was really nice to us and seemed to think I was a celebrity, saying “I’ll never forget this day!” Ha Ha !

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Ayako in front of the Yamane Okonomiyaki Shop


I was very satisfied. I like her old sign outside that says “Akinai-chu”, an old phrase that meant “open for business!”

She is the one who told us that this was such a lively place back in the late sixties when construction on the railway was going on.

I am thrilled to see these places and wondered how they still hang on. At the same time, I realize they will disappear in just a matter of years.

That makes me very sad. I hope I can visit more of these shops in the countryside before they are gone forever.


Komoto-san talks to a customer

Mostly empty shelves at Komoto Shoten

Iwakuni Sandwich Shop

Today I visited a unique and very American-style sandwich shop near Iwakuni Marine Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture. My friends, Takako and Junko accompanied me there. It took about 30 minutes as we took the Expressway as far as Otake.

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The shop called Sako, has been around for awhile but the present owners took over 6 years ago. The interior is bright and cheerful. We ordered Avocado BLT and several other sandwiches from the wide menu.

Takako ordered a Coke and I thought the bottle was very retro as we don’t see these bottles in Japan nowadays!

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The owner, Missy and her husband prepare the sandwiches. Missy is fluent in English and very good with people! Missy also has quite a collection of Japanese antiques and pottery including “maneki neko”! The prices on them were quite reasonable!

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Avocado BLT at Sako, Iwakuni


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Missy in her red apron

The sandwiches were delicious and we  really enjoyed chatting with Missy and volunteer staff, Yukiko-san!

Missy and her husband decided to take on this new business after retiring even though they had no previous experience in the restaurant business! It’s hard to believe as they have created a great atmosphere and prepare wonderful sandwiches. There was a steady stream of customers!

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Masaru-san, friendly cook!

Go early as the hours Tuesday to Friday are 11:00-2:00. On Saturdays they are open until 7:30! (Closed Sunday and Monday)


Very reasonable!!

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Takako and Junko enjoy lunch!





Location: 2-chome 8-5 Kuruma-cho, Iwakuni-shi, Yamaguchi(山口県岩国市車町2-丁目8-5)

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Owner,Missy Hamano and me!

Car Trip to Izu

Omihachiman 近江八幡

We reached our first destination before noon and went straight to the William Merrell Vories Memorial Hall. Vories came to Japan in 1906 as an English teacher with the intent of telling people about Christ. Later he founded the Japanese Mentholatum company and also an architectural firm, jointly called the Omi Kyodaisha. (近江兄弟社)He married an aristocrat named Makiko Hitotsuyanagi and finally became a Japanese citizen.

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Vories Museum in Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture



William Merrell Vories

Many buildings designed by Vories still stand here and in other cities. We saw several of them as we walked around this area. The old post office was very interesting. as was the Omihachiman Church.


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Bungo-san, guide at the Vories Museum

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Omihachiman Post Office (Wm. Vories)

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Omihachiman Church (Nihon Kirisuto Kyodan)

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Omihachiman YMCA (Wm Vories)

Walking around, we found an antique shop and, though most things were out of our price range, I bought some old postcards of Omihachiman and an old “fujin-zashi.” (Woman’s magazine. ) Here I am with the owner of Nakajima Shoten. (中島多吉商店)

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Members of the Local HIstory Research Club (地歴探訪倶楽部のメンバー)

At lunch, we happened to talk to a few of the members of a unique club based in Osaka. They visit many historic sights with a guide twice a month to learn about local history. They have been to many areas like Nara, Himeiji, Kyoto and so on. They learn about places and events that are not so well known! I thought this was a great idea and envy them! There are about 50 members in their club.

Junko-san had urged us ot visit the Sweets Shop called La Corina. (ラ・コリーナ)We were so surprised at this amazing “living” building. There were so many people even on a weekday that we didn’t order any desserts. We found a small bakery behind the main building and bought some rolls there! Amazing place to visit!

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La Corina Cafe in Omihachiman

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From there, we drove up a very winding mountain road to our inn, the Hotel Wellness at Yunoyama Onsen, Mie Prefecture. It was a kind of scary road and I was glad HIroo was driving and not me!

Inuyama (犬山市)

Our next stop was at Inuyama Castle, the only castle remaining from the Senkoku Period.  (1467~1603) It was built in 1537 by Oda Nobunaga’s uncle. It is a designated National Treasure. The Steps inside that lead up to the watchtower on top of the tenshu were quite steep for me ot climb. But hte view from  the top is definitely worth it.

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View from atop Inuyama Castle

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Watchtower atop the Castle

I enjoyed the old buildings along the streets beneath the castle and ate “gohei mochi ” at a little shop there. I wish I’d had more time to enjoy the area. But I had an appointment to meet a very interesting person at the Million Dollar Cafe!

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WIth artist and cafe owner, Takeshi Ozawa,(百万ドルカフェ、犬山市)

For 50 years, Mr. Takeshi Ozawa has run this cafe. It was first a pub, then a unagi restaurant, and now it is a karaoke cafe. We ordered coffee only but look what they served us.

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Ozawa-san is an artist. He told me that at a very low point in his life he dreamed of a dragon. He had the same dream three times. Then he painted the dragon and after that he continued to paint。

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I was so glad to meet his business partner (former wife) Chitoshi. She and I hit it off. I liked her a lot and she was so friendly and easy to talk to ! You should definitely stop by this place. YOu certainly can’t miss it if you are driving by!

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Million Dollar Cafe, Inuyama

Yui Port- Mt Fuji- Izu

Hiroo wanted sakura-ebi tempura on rice for lunch so we found the Yui Port and got in line. There were tables and everyone eats outside. I enjoyed my tempura, but Hiroo got a bad stomach after eating his boiled shrimp and shirasu donburi! I don’t recommend you get that!!!

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Seafood on Rice at Yui

From there, we headed toward the Izu peninsula. ANd suddenly Mt. Fuji appeared in front of me. I’ve been here going on 44 years but never seen this symbol of Japan until now! It didn’t disappoint! What an amazing and thrilling sight!! I took over 50 pictures, I think!

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We took a central route into the Izu hanto, passing through the Shugenji Onsen (or hot springs) area. This hot springs appears in Kawabata Yasunari’s novel, The Dancing Girl of Izu. We took a break and had Japanese sweets and iced latte.

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Japanese sweets at Shugenji Onsen area 

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Shugenji Temple, Izu

I especially enjoyed the ashi-yu foot bath that is heated by the hot springs. Then we travelled on to Shimoda.

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Relaxing Foot Bath at Shugenji Hot Springs

On the way, we stopped at what we thought was a “Michi-no-Eki” souvenir shop but were pleasantly surprised that it was really a Literary Musuem. Novelist Inoue Yasushi  lived in Yugeshima near here.  He was sent to live with an old woman there from the age of three until he left elementary school. He wrote the autobiographical novel “Shirobamba” about that time.

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Two bald men at Shugenji


There is a very old and famous tunnel nearby called “Amagi Tunnel” which is also featured in the story of the Dancer from Izu.


Amagi Tunnel from “The Dancing Girl of Izu”

I really wish we had reached here earlier in the day. I wnated to hike to the tunnel and see it for myself but it was 1.8 kilometers each way. It was already 5:00 PM so I had to give up on that.


Shimoda is where Commodore Matthew Perry signed the pact to trade with Japan in 1854. Here is the temple where it was signed. We can visit the “Kaikoku Museum” and walk along Perry Road. Many old buildings with namako-kabe walls still remain and give a special aura of Meiji era to the town.

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Perry Road with lots of little shops and cafes


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Treaty signed here at Choraku-ji

We stayed in a really wonderful hotel on the ocean called Yamato-kan. The outdoor bath ( rotenburo) on the roof has a fantastic view of the bay. I enjoyed three different hot tubs and wished my daughters were here to enjoy it too!

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The view from our balcony at Yamato-kan hotel

I wanted to eat samma-zushi (mackerel sushi) and we found the one shop that sells it at the small port of Irozaki(石廊) at the tip of the Izu peninsula. Unfortunately, they were sold out, so if you hope to try samma-zushi,  you should call ahead!

I enjoyed chatting with the owner of Fujiya sushi shop, Mitchan. She has been operating this restaurant  since she came as a bride in about 1971.

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The only place that makes samma-zushi!

The samma-zushi was a recipe that her own grandmother used to make in Shimoda using vinegared-mackerel in oshizushi style. She said to salt down the mackerel for one whole day and then put into nibaizu marinade (酢100cc+砂糖大さじ1.5+塩少々)for a day before making the sushi. SHe also puts slices of fresh ginger in the marinade. Let’s make it some day!!

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I’m still disappointed that i couldn’t eat it! Next time! ANd I’ll hike to the tunnel too!!Who wants to go with me?

We made it safely home! The new Nagoya station building was crazy! So big and so many people there as it just newly opened, it seems. I’d avoid that!

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Iwashina Gakko, Matsuzaki

The last night in Izu, we stayed at a friendly family-run inn. These women are married to two brothers, one who runs a fishing boat every day. We had fresh fish. These sister-in-laws are 77 but full of energy. We all agreed we should keep working as long as we can. They seem to enjoy running the inn!

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At Sanrakuso Pension (三楽荘、松崎、伊豆)

I met Nobuko next door. She is 90, born in Taisho 15. (1926) Although she no longer runs an inn, she seems very energetic! It inspires me!

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Great trip. But next time, I’ll plan one that is not quite so far away. Hiroo had to drive really far! I guess over 1500 kilometers! Otsukaresama!


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Everyday Cupcakes


From the time my girls were little, I used to bake these versatile cupcakes, adding chocolate or lemon zest or apples and cinnamon. The kids loved them even un-iced! They are so easy as you only need one bowl and very basic ingredients. Use either butter or margarine and just one egg to make 12-16 cupcakes!




100g. margarine

1 cup sugar  (180-200g)

2   1/2 Teas Baking Powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 whole egg

1   3/4 cups regular flour  (210g)

180-200 cc milk

Cream butter and sugar. Gradually add slightly beaten egg. Mix flour with B.P. and salt. Alternately stir in dry ingredients and milk. Fill cupcake papers half-full. Add either vanilla essence or lemon.( For chocolate, melt 3 Tbsp butter and add 7 T cocoa. mix. Stir into batter.)

Preheat oven. Bake at 375F (190C) for 15-20 minutes. Cool well before icing.CookingCUpcakes

Old Friends

This week old friends visited the farm! Mayumi was my English student in junior high and high school. I hadn’t seen her in 12 years! It was great to meet her husband and kids. They live in Sweden, about an hour from Stockholm.

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Mayumi and daughter Maya,10

I was worried for Hiroo’s sake that they couldn’t speak Japanese, but fortunately even the kids spoke good Japanese as wella s English. Swedish is their main language and it sounded strange to my ears!

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Unfortunately, it rained the whole time and never let up. But we had a BBQ anyway, under the tent and on the porch!

They were staying at the nearby Green Pier resort but without meals so when we heard that, Hiroo decided to make sushi for dinner! He went to Kurose to get fresh sashimi and make a great meal. It seems the kids mostly eat salmon sushi as that is plentiful in Sweden.

We had a great time and I appreciate guests who wash all the dishes! Maya and her Mom made rice balls ( o-musubi). Maya was good at that!

Thirteen-year-old Leo is a soccer player and studies Spanish at school. ( His 4th language!!)

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Too bad we couldn’t play in the ocean or on the beach but the whole family really got into doing “take-zaiku” or bamboo craft, making chopsticks and bowls from green bamboo.

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Good sushi, Hiroo!

We enjoyed eating and talking together and I was glad to see her Mom Kay, after so many years! It is good to see old friends!

Mayumi’s husband, Bosse, was really nice and laid back! I’m glad to have the chance to meet everyone! And honored that they took the time t come all the way to Yasuura to see us!


Setsubun and Chasing Away the Demons!

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At the beginning of February, we celebrate the coming of spring , although this year we had snow up into March! The Setsubun Festival is held on February 3rd. Setsubun  means “seasonal division.” Associated with the Lunar New Year, it is kind of like a new year’s eve and thus includes a ritual to cleanse us from last year’s evil spirits.

Mamemaki (Bean-throwing)

It is customary to put on a oni (demon)mask and throw roasted soybeans from the entryway while shouting Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi! (Demons Out! Good Luck in!!) Here we see Sumiko doing that!

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Sushi Roll (We cut it! Uh-oh!)

Eating Uncut Makizushi

Around here people have a custom of eating a whole uncut roll of sushi while facing in whichever direction is determined to be this year’s lucky direction.

Another food-related custom is eating sardines and the hanging the head (or the whole set of bones on your front door. This is also to ensure good fortune and prosperity in the coming year.

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This year Itoh Mama was visiting me so we decided ot try all of these customs! Mostly eating! And I discovered that salted sardines (shio-iwashi) are delicious! I had previously thought they were a vile, smelly fish..but these salted, partially dried ones are really good!

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Hanging sardine bones on the entry brings prosperity

Many shrines hold bean-throwing rituals, also throwing mochi or sweets. I heard that people used to throw coins and children would scramble for them too!

Mamemaki in Kobe

Ikuta Shrine in Kobe, THrowing Lucky Beans!!

For more information you can look at this GetHiroshima site! Lots of fun!

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We also tried making the Cake de Sale that Namika gave me the recipe for! It has bacon, spinach and lots or gruyere cheese. Surprisingly good, it is a savory cake that goes with wine!

Finally, we did a sewing project together and made these for my bathrooms.

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Itoh Mama and me! BFF

Even though we see each other only once a year, it seems like we were never apart. Such a good sister-friend! I love  you!!




A Old-time Cookbook

I was looking for a recipe I posted several years ago and found some smart lady had put all of the great recipes on Thingaday into one nice “cookbook” for us. I had made many recipes from the  American Heritage Cookbook. One of my favorites was  Mormon Spit Pea Soup which has meatballs and potatoes and is a main dish in itself.


Mormon Split Pea Soup

We recently met a man who traps and butchers deer and wild boar and he has given us lots of delicious meat. The Thingaday Cookbook is a good reference so I want to tag it to my blog! You can find hte recipe for Barbecued Venison, which is actually cooked in a pot!


BBQ Venison

I want to make the Creole Gumbo again! Ane Prune Bread! Lots of good recipes on this site!!

Prune Bread

Prune Bread

Here is the deerslayer on the far right! Mr. Nakabepu! He also has six goats,100 chickens and 600 blueberry trees.

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Yoko is holding an egg from one of his “arokana” chickens!

We were thrilled to make friends with this interesting guy and it happens that he speaks English quite well…and took part in our English Bible class last week!! We all had a great time!

Check it out!

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