It’s December 7th and the sun is shining in Tokyo. A beautiful 13 degrees is just enough to jump out of bed and layer up for a day full of fun. Not to mention, December 6th was a rather stressful day which involved a 3 hour long Japanese test. So, it was the perfect day to celebrate my 24th birthday. Fortunately, I have the best sister in the world who had organised 2 wonderful surprise birthday activities!
- The perfect Disneyland alternative
The one thing I actually wanted to do on my birthday was go to Tokyo Disneyland. Obviously, because of COVID there is a limited amount of tickets available and they sold out immediately. But, Georgia managed to find the perfect alternative to a day with the big Mouse himself…a day with the little yellow, round, honey-loving bear. Yep, she found a Winnie-the-Pooh themed café! Just take a look at that food! (Oh, and see the placemat? We got to take them home afterwards!)
Oh My Café is a wonderful company here in Tokyo that takes over a different café every 3 months, and transforms it into a Disney-themed café. The café we went to, is usually ストーリーストーリー (Story Story) Café but has recently been overrun by little yellow bears and heffalumps and turned into ‘Hunny’s Café’! The theme was ‘In Strange Dreams’ which meant that heffalumps and woozles were on windows, placemats, and ceilings. But Pooh was there too of course, and all his friends from the Hundred-Acre-Wood. I loved Winnie the Pooh when I was a kid, still do! So it was absolutely perfect that the theme was all about the silly old bear himself. I had a great time! Of course, Tokyo doesn’t just decorate the cafe…but the food as well. All of the food on the menu was transformed to look like Winnie the Pooh, or taste like honey…sorry Pooh, ‘hunny’.
2. Cheffing it up, Japan style
Just when I thought the second surprise could hardly top the first…she surprises me with a COOKING CLASS!! Anyone who knows me knows that I adore cooking. It’s my happy place and I especially like being creative and make fun kinds of sweets. A little more difficult in Japan though, because of the lack of or difference of ingredients. So, I’ve wanted to learn how to make proper Japanese sweets for awhile so I could make local sweets using local ingredients that are readily available.
和菓子 (Wagashi=Japanese sweets) are an art form and the people who can make them well, are highly regarded. More common sweets are 餅 mochi and 団子 dango which can be found in every second shop, especially in tourist areas. Dango can come in different forms, we are very used to eating dango on hikes as they are a popular snack on mountain. Take a look at our Takao blog where we talk about dango! https://globetrottingpeanuts.com/2019/09/14/mt-takao/
In our cooking class…we had the amazing chance to learn how to make all 3! Dango, Mochi and Wagashi. We started by making the dango. This form of dango is called 花見団子 (Hanami Dango, Hanami=flower viewing). They are traditionally made and eaten during 桜の季節 cherry blossom season. The three colours (green, white and pink) all represent a different part of cherry blossom season (everything means something in Japan). The green, represents the young green grass of spring. White represents the last of the remaining snow from winter, and pink represents the cherry blossoms. They always appear in that order, its very important! These were actually very easy to make. With a bit of this flour and a bit of that flour, mix it with water, and hey presto! Okay, takes a little more effort than that. You also have to mix in the flavours. For green, it is usually green tea powder or mugwort (they warn that mugwort has a kind of ‘earthy’ taste, which is true. If you’re wondering what it tastes like, it tastes like what you would think moss would taste like). For white, its…nothing, just white. For pink, cherry blossom powder. Then they are boiled in water for just 3 minutes. That’s really it. So much more simple than I always thought it would be!
Next we made いちご餅 (ichigo mochi= strawberry mochi). If you go to any tourist hotspot in Japan, I guarantee you that you’ll find strawberry mochi. It’s so sweet, delicious, and easy to make (as we just found out). When our friends visited Tokyo in January, they even got to try strawberry mochi and they loved it! It’s also cheaper to buy strawberry mochi with an actual delicious strawberry inside of it than it is to buy actual strawberries in Japan. Bit of flour, sugar, water, white bean paste and a microwave, and you’ve got strawberry mochi! Though, our strawberries were MASSIVE and kind of took over the whole sweet, but they were delicious so it’s okay!
The last, and real test of artistic ability was the Wagashi. Wagashi designs are traditionally created to imitate flowers according to the season. Although it’s winter, we did make a cherry blossom Wagashi (because obviously they’re popular to make and it’s probably one of the easiest). The other we made was a stunning red and white winter flower that we can’t remember the name of. But, I dared to be different and turned mine blue because…why not? The actual process of making the Wagashi was relatively simple, there’s not much in it. But, the decoration takes the most time, effort, and concentration. I’m not super artistic so, it did take a fair bit of patience to get it right. Still, we’re super proud of how they turned out!
We’d like to take a moment to mention our incredible teacher. She is the most lovely Japanese women you’ll ever meet but also grew up and studied in America so, she is a native English speaker too! Not only does she do in-person classes in her apartment, but she also now holds online classes too! So, if the Corona blues have got you down and you’d like to try something a little different, please try one of her classes. She teaches people everyday from all over the world. She also has full Courses and Diploma’s you can take and she will help you to get all of the ingredients and tools you need. If you want more information about her and her wonderful classes, please check out her website or Instagram below!