Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Welcome to Osaka Castle

Recently, I went to Osaka Castle, one of the landmarks of Osaka. Osaka Castle was an important castle in the unification of Japan during the 16th century, and was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the 3 major warlords in the history of Japan.

This period of history is very popular in Japan, and there have been countless TV dramas, movies, and books written about it. Because of this, the important castles and landmarks during this period of time are also popular tourist destinations, even for Japanese people.

The outside grounds of the castle is now a park. I saw countless people running, walking, and cycling through the grounds. It reminded me a little of Central Park in New York - a huge green space in the middle of the city. I seriously wish every major city had a park like this!

Japanese castles are surrounded by several layers of fortification before you get to the actual building. This is one of those gates.

Here is my ticket to see the inner building.

The main attraction of Japanese castles is to see the view from the top. The insides of the castles are usually not preserved, and are made into museums which display related artifacts or to explain the importance of the museum.  Since going to the top is the main attraction, many Japanese castles have elevators inside that takes you to the top (usually something like the 7th or 8th floor), and then you walk the stairs to go down, going through the exhibits at each floor.

The entrance of Osaka castles has this hilarious sign, written to sound like a Japanese warlord's comments:
"The strategy of the restroom:
- the restroom is on the 2nd floor
- when each second counts, go up using the stairs
- don't rush. Japan was not united by rushing"


Many castles of this era have golden koi fish at the corners of the top layers.  You can see much of Osaka city from the top.

The weather was beautiful, and I was able to take great pictures!

If you do decide to visit Osaka castle, it might be helpful to read up on Toyotomi Hideyoshi before you come. Along with Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu, these three people are probably the most important people in ancient Japanese history.

Hope you enjoyed this post, and I hope you'll visit Osaka some day!

xoxo, K

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: Lush Ponche shower gel - another shower gel inspired by holiday drinks

Lush seems to like to make shower gels inspired by regional holiday drinks. I reviewed Glogg shower gel 2 years ago, which was inspired by Swedish mulled wine. This year, Lush has released Ponche shower gel, inspired by Mexican holiday punches (Google leads me to believe it is called Ponche Navideño)


What it does: (from the Lush UK website)
Inspired by traditional Mexican Christmas punch – this shower gel is bright, boozy, fruity and uplifting. Freshly squeezed orange juice, plum and cinnamon infusions, a good shot of tequila and a fruity fragrance all add up to your own little party in the shower. 

Price: 4.25 GBP/100g in the UK, $9.95/3.3oz in the US.  This product is not available in Japan

Scent: This smells orange-y and woodsy, with a bit of spice. I didn't feel that it was boozy, as it says on Lush's website. This is not a very sweet scent and is a good change from typical sweet vanilla holiday scents.

Pros:
  • Surprisingly, this did not dry out my skin.
  • I like the scent!
  • This is a thin product but lathers well with a small amount

Cons:
  • the color. Lush is supposedly a "natural, earth friendly" company, yet this product is neon orange. Along with the Twilight shower gel and Northern Lights soap I reviewed recently, I'm seeing a trend in neon colored bath products from Lush.

Would I repurchase? Maybe. Similar to Glogg, this would be a great product to buy every holiday season, but I wouldn't hoard it throughout the year.

I adore both the scent of this product and of Glogg shower gel.  Spicey scents make me think of the holidays - that part of me is very American since there are no such traditions in Japan. What do you drink at your house over the holidays? 

Hope you enjoyed this review!

xoxo, K

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Weekly Reads #82: October 28, 2012


I've been SUPER busy this past week. Work is busy, of course, but since I've been writing more blog posts about visiting places in Japan and also about cooking, it takes a lot more time for me to write blog posts!
I've also realized that I desperately need a wide angle lens for my DSLR. Most of my pictures that I take when I go somewhere are of the scenery, and I would really love to be able to take a more sweeping view of it all.  I have a Canon - does anyone have recommendations for a lens?

What were your favorite posts this week? 

And the winner of my giveaway for the Hello Kitty pen is herroyalbleakness, who has already responded to my email!
Connect with me! I love chatting and connecting with people, and sharing interesting stuff around the web!
You can also subscribe to Cosmeddicted through the feedemail, or Bloglovin!

xoxo, K

Friday, October 26, 2012

K's Kitchen - Pork Belly Sliders from Macheesmo

Nick, the author of Macheesmo, said that this was his first recipe with pork belly. Apparently pork belly only recently caught on in the US. In Japan, it is often used for Kakuni (do a google image search if you are unfamiliar with Kakuni, they are delicious). Pork belly was also easy to find for me when I was in China.


Typically, though, Kakuni and other Japanese dishes using pork belly slow cook the meat until it breaks apart easily.  The fact that this dish did not do so intrigued me.

Adapted from Macheesmo, shared on Weekly Reads #66 (July 2012)

Yield: 6 sliders (see notes below)

Prep Time: 20 minutes Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients: (see notes below)

- 700g pork belly, scored on fatty side
- sesame seed oil, salt & pepper
- 6 slider buns (I omitted these)

Slider topping
- 120ml shredded carrots
- 1/2 thinly sliced cucumber
- 3 thinly sliced radishes
- pinch of sugar and salt
- 1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- cilantro sprigs

Sauce/Glaze
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon chili sesame oil
- 1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce (I omitted this)
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Notes:
- I opted not to make these into sliders.
- I did not make the slider topping, since the Vietnamese pickles that I made had a similar sour/crunchy texture
- I omitted the oyster sauce. Considering pork belly is very rich, I did not think my sauce needed extra umami

Directions
1. score the fatty side of the pork belly, so that the fat can render out.
2. Put the belly in a large roasting pan, rub it with sesame oil, and season well with salt and pepper. (Note: This is essential.  Salty pork belly = bacon without the smokey taste)
3. Heat your oven to 260 degrees Celsius and roast until browned, around 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 160 degrees and continue to roast for around 30 minutes.
4. Mix together glaze ingredients and baste (Note: taste the glaze before you baste the pork. The glaze should be sour, which is necessary since pork belly is very rich)
5. Mix together the slaw and let rest, around 30 min (Note: as said, I skipped this)
6. Once the pork is done, cut into slices. (Note: the original recipe has cut this into bigger pieces, but I think slices are easier to manage in a slider)
7. Assemble into sliders, if using

Pork belly is very rich and very filling. Although sliders are usually an appetizer, I think a few of these would be enough for a meal.

Hope you enjoyed this recipe!

xoxo, K

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Welcome to Mt. Maya, one of the 3 Top Night Views in Japan

Remember in a previous post about Kobe, I mentioned that Kobe people explain directions using the mountains?  The Rokko Mountains border southern Kobe city to the north, and the view from there is considered very beautiful. All the time that I was previously lived in Kobe, I thought about going to Mt. Maya to see the night view. I kept putting it off, though, thinking it was too inconvenient/touristy/whatever. I finally went recently, and I am really glad that I did!

Mt. Maya (摩耶山) is a mountain in Kobe and is one of the major peaks of the Rokko Mountains. From the peak, you can see all over the Osaka Bay area, including Kobe, Osaka, and all of the area in between. The 10 million night time view is considered one of the top 3 in Japan, along with Hakodate and Nagasaki.

It is possible to climb Mt. Maya, and I have heard that it is a relatively easy hiking trail. I took mass transit considering I wanted to see the night time view.

To reach Mt. Maya, the most popular way is to take a bus from Sannomiya station (the main train station in Kobe), and then take the Maya Cable Car (a cliff railway) and transfer to Maya Rope Way (an aerial tramway).  The name of the railways are a little confusing for English speakers since a cable car is usually what I would call an aerial tramway, when in fact Maya Cable Car is a train.

Maya Cable Car
There is a nearly 30 degree incline on this train - it is a little scary, especially coming down!

The view from Maya Rope Way

At the top of Mt. Maya, there is a park where you can see the very beautiful view.  I got there before sundown so that I could secure a good location to see the view. There were some photography enthusiasts who set up about 2 hours before sundown! On the other hand, there are people who come after the sun has set, since it is quite cold at the top of the mountain.

The sunset was also quite beautiful.
(This picture shows much of western Kobe city)

And here is the night view.  Stunning!
(This picture shows much of the Osaka area. The body of water toward the right hand side is Osaka bay. Kansai airport, the major international airport in this region, can be seen in the top right area)

Taking these pictures was quite a challenge to me since I don't own a tripod. Since the sun was continuing to set after I got there, I tried a lot of different settings. It was a great experience to learn more about how my DSLR works - and I think I got pretty good pictures, especially considering this was the first time I took night time pictures!


If you do come to Mt. Maya, please remember that it is a mountain, so it is significantly colder at the top than in Kobe city. I was wearing short sleeves that evening when I was in the city, but I definitely needed a coat when I took these pictures, especially considering I was there for a few hours.

Mt. Maya is planning to do major maintenance on the ropeway/cableways this winter. If you do decide to go, please take some time to check whether they are running. There are alternate ways to get to the top as well.

Hope you enjoyed this tour of Mt. Maya, home of one of the 3 most beautiful night views in Japan!

xoxo, K

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: Lush Northern Lights Soap - neon yellow!!

As soon as I got back to Japan, I placed an order to the Lush UK website. If you are interested in multiple Lush products, it is worth checking out. They ship worldwide and they have some products not available in Japan. Plus, depending how many products I order, the total with overseas shipping may be cheaper than the price I would pay in Japan.

(Be careful though - I have heard about products melting or products leaking. I would not order soaps or anything not in a container if I lived in a hot climate. Also several of the products in black pots leak)

I ordered several Holiday items, including the Northern Lights Soap.
(The yellow plastic thing is a soap dish that I love. I cut my soaps in 2 pieces)

What it does: (from Lush US website)
For our neon wonder, Northern Lights, a few of our lucky LUSH inventors traveled to Finland and were taken by the midnight light show called the aurora borealis. Once back in the UK they enlisted the help of our Finnish perfumer Pia, who created a phenomenally fresh scent that recalls the chilly adventure to the land of the midnight sun. She combined pine needle, cypress and lime oils to create a refreshing woodsy fragrance that’s as unique as the phenomenon this soap was inspired by. 

Price: 3.25GBP, $7.95USD. This product is not available in Japan

Scent: to me, this smells like lemongrass. I suppose this is the lime oils plus the woodsy oils.

Pros:
  • I like the scent
  • this soap cleans well
Cons:
  • This soap cleans too well. My skin became very dry and needed a lot of moisturizer.
  • The smell of this soap was very similar to the Lush Snow Globe soap, which is also being repromoted this winter. I do not consider this to be a winter scent.
  • The neon yellow turned me off. Fortunately, it does not stain.
Would I repurchase: No. Snow Globe works better for this scent.  I'm disappointed and surprised that Lush would release such a drying soap in the winter. This would work great in the summer!

Hope you enjoyed this review!

xoxo, K

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Weekly Reads #81: October 21, 2012

Have you seen my giveaway?  This is your chance to get your hands on a limited edition Hello Kitty pen which is only available in Kobe, Japan!

You may have noticed that I'm blogging a little bit more since coming back to Japan. I've been trying to go out sightseeing every weekend and also cook something new. Plus, I've been trying out quite a few new products. It has been great for the blog!


What were your favorite posts this week? 

Connect with me! I love chatting and connecting with people, and sharing interesting stuff around the web!

You can also subscribe to Cosmeddicted through the feedemail, or Bloglovin!

xoxo, K

Friday, October 19, 2012

K's Kitchen - Vietnamese pickles from Simply Recipes

One of the things I missed about living in Japan is fresh vegetables. Chinese people eat a lot of vegetables, but in the area I lived in, they were usually doused with sauce. It seems people are not very accustomed to eating raw vegetables, or in enjoying the flavor of vegetables rather than the sauce.


I love crunchy vegetables and I love the sourness of asazuke. These Vietnamese refrigerator pickles were even easier to make!  These are the pickles that are served with bahn mi sandwiches.

Adapted from Simply Recipes, shared on Weekly Reads #8 (March 2011).

Note: I have no idea whether these are Vietnamese or not, so please don't point that out! I'm just using the name of the recipe that was on the original website!


Yield: about 1 liter
Prep Time: 20 minutes Total Time: 8+ hours (these need to sit overnight in your refrigerator)

Ingredients: (original recipe halved, see below for my modifications)
- 450g carrots (I used 3 medium ones)
- 450g daikon (I substituted 3 medium cucumbers)
- 2 teaspoons + 120ml sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 190ml white vinegar
- 120ml warm water


Instructions:
1. Julienne the vegetables. Yes, they should be much thinner than what you see in the picture above.  I cut off half of the nail on one of my fingers while I was cutting the first carrot, and subsequently had less motivation to put in the effort to cut the vegetables.  A really careless accident - I forgot I hadn't cooked much in the past 2 years!
2. Put the vegetables in a large bowl and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Toss well and continue to mix as the vegetables soften, until they can be bent all the way over without breaking.  I highly recommend using as large a bowl as you have, it is much easier with a big bowl.
3. Rinse the vegetables well.
4. In a bowl, mix the warm water, vinegar, and 120cc sugar.
5. Pack the vegetables into containers and pour over the liquid. Sit in the refrigerator overnight before eating.

These were super easy and went well with the mushroom burgers I made last week.

Hope you enjoyed this recipe!

xoxo, K

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Welcome to Kitano Ijinkan-gai!

In Japanese history, there was a period of time when no foreigner could come into Japan and no Japanese person could leave the country, on penalty of death. This period, known as Sakoku, lasted more than 200 years from the mid-17th century to the mi-19th century.

In the 5 port cities that reopened after Sakoku ended, dedicated "foreigner foreigner living areas" were created. This is why you can see very old fashioned European style architecture in Hakodate, Niigata, Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki.

This area of Kobe was purposely avoided during the bombing of Kobe during World War II, and the buildings remain as cultural properties protected by the government (and thus, becoming a tourist attraction in Kobe).  This area of Kobe has very steep hills. Be prepared to walk!

 


There are several of these buildings in the area, and most of them charge admission. Watch out though - some of these are still residential buildings.
The former Hilton Residence, also known as the former Panama Consulate

The French Mansion and Ben Allison's house

The streets are narrow, not straight, and on an incline.  This is a very expensive residential area, but I don't think I would want to live here!

There are also lots of small shops. This area reminds me of Jiyugaoka, in Tokyo.


The Starbucks in the area is also in a building with a similar feel. (The menu itself is exactly the same)


Within this area is Kitano Tenman Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane.  Sugawara no Michizane was a historical scholar, and shrines dedicated to him are common places to pray for school-related things (getting accepted to a certain university, better grades, etc)





 
And finally..
Here is a little giveaway to thank all of my readers during the past 2 years.
I'm giving away a limited edition Hello Kitty pen which is only available in Kobe!
(This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for entering!)


Kobe-only Hello Kitty pen in Victorian era Western clothing 
(to depict westerners living in Kitano)


To enter, please comment on any thoughts you have on how I can improve my blog. This giveaway is open to my subscribers, and please be sure to leave your email address or your twitter name so I can contact you (you do not need to do this if we communicate regularly).  I will contact the winner on October 24th.

Hope you enjoyed this trip to Kitano Ijinkan-gai!

xoxo, K

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: Lush Twilight Shower Gel - my first Lush holiday item of 2012!

This is a review for the Lush Twilight Shower Gel. This is a limited edition product for the holidays (and the first Lush product I purchased once I got back to Japan, woohoo!). In Japan, this product is called the Twilight Moon shower gel.

According to Lush, this product was made because customers requested a shower gel to go along with the Twilight Bath Bomb. When I smelled the bath bomb in the store, it smelled strongly of lavender.

What it does: (From the Lush US website)
To our Twilight Bath Bomb fans, we heard your requests. Here it is, a Twilight shower gel, so you can lather up in iridescent purple lavender and tonka bubbles. If you haven't smelled this fragrance before, you're in for a treat! It's slightly sweet with the perfect herbal balance. Wonderful to use in the evening before bed, especially on cold, winter nights. Dreams do come true! 
Price: 9.95 USD/3.3fl oz,  4.25 GBP/100g, 900 JPY/100g.  The current strong yen makes this product nearly twice as expensive in Japan as it is in the UK.

Pros:
  • LOVE the scent. It does smell like slightly sweetened lavender, but it is not too sweet.
  • This is a very dark purple shower gel. I was very worried that it would stain, but it rinsed clean easily!
Cons:
  • If you don't like the scent of lavender, this product may not be for you.
  • Why is this limited edition??? I don't see the connection with the holidays.
Would I repurchase? Yes, if this were permanent. I want to try out the other holiday products from Lush first!

Please take a look at my other Lush holiday reviews from previous years!

Lush Buche de Noel cleanser 
 (this is one of my favorite holiday products. If you enjoy Angels on Bare Skin, I recommend you try this)

Lush Gingerbread House Bubble Bar

Lush Glögg Shower Gel
(This is one of my most favorite shower gels)


Lush Snowcake soap

I'm very surprised that Smitten Hand Cream hasn't been rereleased this year!

Hope you enjoyed this review!

xoxo, K

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Weekly Reads #80: October 13, 2012

The temperature is rapidly getting colder here. I'm so sad that sandal season has basically ended - I hate wearing socks!  On the upside, it never gets really cold in Kobe in the winter, and it is much milder than Osaka, Kyoto, or many other cities near here!

What were your favorite posts this week? 

Connect with me! I love chatting and connecting with people, and sharing interesting stuff around the web!

You can also subscribe to Cosmeddicted through the feedemail, or Bloglovin!

xoxo, K

Friday, October 12, 2012

K's Kitchen - Mushroom burgers from Macheesmo

Of the many things I was looking forward to when I came back to Japan, a big one was cooking. When I was in China, it was such a big pain for me to go to the supermarket that I didn't like cooking much.  I really missed it!

In most of my Weekly Reads, I posted a link to a delicious looking recipe from a food blog. Now that I'm back in Japan, I've started cooking some of them!

First up are mushroom burgers!

Adapted from Macheesmo, shared on Weekly Reads #77 (September 2012).

These burgers are made almost entirely from mushrooms and contain no meat. They were very savory and each bite was packed full of umami. The texture was great as well!

Yield: 6 small burgers
Prep Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 1 hours

Ingredients: (original recipe halved, see below for my modifications)
- 340g cremini mushrooms (white button mushrooms)
- 3-4 shiitake mushrooms
- 60ml minced onions
- 120ml breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 60ml oat flour or other flour
- 40ml grated parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- olive oil
- pinch of salt
- extra breadcrumbs for forming patties

Note:
- Any mushrooms work for this recipe, but I suggest having 2-3 types. I used 6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, a package of maitake mushrooms, and a package of shimeji mushrooms because they are cheaper than button mushrooms
- I left out the grated parmesan cheese. I got a huge flavor punch without it.

Instructions:
1. Clean and mince mushrooms. If you have a food processor, you can leave the pieces pretty big.
2. Cook the mushrooms in a frying pan with olive oil and salt until they release their liquid. Continue cooking until they dry out slightly.
3. Add the onion and continue to cook
4. If you have a food processor, pulse the mixture until it is a rough paste (I completely skipped this step by mincing the ingredients very finely in step 1)
5. Add the breadcrumbs, egg, flour, cheese (which I skipped), cayenne pepper, soy sauce, parsley, and mix well
6. Shape into patties, and dunk into breadcrumbs. This forms a crust on the outside which helps it hold its structure. Chill in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes, and grill 5-6 minutes per side on high heat. (I just formed the patties and cooked them immediately on a frying pan. The breadcrumbs + rest in refrigerator steps are supposed to help with the structure since the mixture is pretty wet. I didn't have any trouble cooking these, but it may be different if you use a grill)

These were delicious! I'll definitely be making these again!

xoxo, K

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Welcome to Kobe Harborland

Since I have only a little time to live in Kobe, I'm trying to make the most of it by doing touristy stuff in this city as often as possible. Recently, I went to Kobe Harborland.  Kobe Harborland is about a 10 minute walk from Kobe station.

Kobe is a city in the Kansai area, around 35 km west of Osaka, or 500 km west of Tokyo. It is the 6th biggest city in Japan in terms of population. Together with Osaka and Kyoto, this area is often called 京阪神  ("Kei-han-shin", taking one character each from Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe respectively).

Although Kobe is the capital of Hyogo prefecture, Kobe station is not the major "downtown" train station here. The major train station is Sannomiya station (三ノ宮 or 三宮, "Third Temple", in this case meaning the third branch of Ikuta Shrine.  More on Ikuta Shrine in a separate post).

Kobe port tower (the red building) is a major landmark of Kobe


Kobe is a port city, and there are several malls located along the ocean near Kobe station. This is very similar to the Motomachi area of Yokohama.

Most of the directions are to malls in this area

On this day, my destination was Mosaic Mall

Closeup of the ferris wheel

Mosaic Mall is an open air mall which is really directly on the waterfront. There are 3 levels of stores, restaurants, etc. The highlight is definitely the beautiful view.


Kobe is a city surrounded by the ocean to the south and mountains to the north.  Because of this, many people in Kobe will point out directions by saying "Ocean side" (meaning south) and "Mountain side" (meaning north).  You will find signs pointing to "Ocean side" and "Mountain side" even in some maps or along the streets.  This also makes it super convenient to know which direction you are headed, because you can see the mountains from just about anywhere in Kobe!

From the mountain side picture above, I turned around in the same spot and took this ocean side picture.

I turned towards the right after taking the above picture and took this one:
Kobe Port is definitely a working port

Another picture of Kobe Port Tower.

(The mountains you see in the background are a VERY EXPENSIVE residential district.)

Mosaic Mall is made to resemble Mediterranean architecture, or at least, what Japanese people think is Mediterranean. Disney Sea also has some areas like this.

There are lots of different stores, from chain retail stores that I can find anywhere, to stores selling Kobe souvenirs, to kiosks selling one of a kind jewelry.

A Sanrio store

A Kobe souvenir store

Kobe is said to be one of the first cities in Japan to have western influence. You can see it in many areas, for example, Kobe is said to consume the most coffee per person and have the most bakeries per square kilometer in all of Japan.

If you come to Kobe, I highly recommend you buy some Kobe Pudding to take home!
(picture from Kobe Pudding's website)

Hope you enjoyed this tour of Kobe Harborland, and I hope you drop by if you come to Kobe!

xoxo, K

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