Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dove Beauty Moisture Body Wash

So the entire Dove brand is on sale at my local drugstore. Oh boy. I took a deep breath and backed away very slowly, but still made out with this small loot - a Dove Beauty Moisture Body Wash & Refill Set. Only 498yen's worth of damage, which is not any damage if you ask me ^.^

Normally, the Dove body wash in the pump bottle itself (550mL) is at least that price, and the refill (400mL) is at least another 3-400yen. So essentially I got the refill for free. Plus 4 samples, 1 each of Dove Deep Moisture Care Shampoo, Conditioner, Treatment, and Leave-in Treatment. And a kiddie toy. Nice!

Sample packet with 4 samples inside.

1 each of Dove Deep Moisture Care Shampoo & Conditioner

1 each of Dove Deep Moisture Care Treatment (tube) & Leave-in Treatment (round pump bottle)

And a pink elephant toy to put onto the pump cap. It squeaks every time you pump for soap LOL!

When I was in Japan last, I have used Dove body wash before, but it was an older Cool Cucumber scent similar to the Aqua Moisture Cucumber Green Tea in the lineup. In fact, that particular Dove Body Wash was my favorite as the scent was heavenly. The texture was runny and thin, and it foamed like crazy, you know, all the features commonly seen in many other Japanese made body washes such as those from the Naive brand. When I came home, I grabbed the first Dove Body Wash in the Cool Cucumber scent at my local Target, only to be sorely disappointed as it didn't smell or feel anything like its Japanese counterpart :(

Dove Body Wash Aqua Moisture Cucumber Green Tea

The same promotion set was also available in the Renew Raspberry & Fresh Lime scent, but hubby refused to try it, so we agreed on the original Dove scent as I haven't tried it before either. Let me tell you, I was very, very tempted to grab both, and I just might go back for the Raspberry & Fresh Lime one if there are still any left :)

Dove Body Wash Renew Raspberry & Fresh Lime
***Pictures from Unilever Japan - Dove Brand.

Ha. I was surprised again with this Dove Body Wash. I expected it to be thin and runny and it's not! It was actually thick like shampoo, so not quite as thick as those body washes in the states but still, this is much thicker than your average Japanese-made body wash! It foams a whole lot still, but it was moisturizing, true to what it claims to do. That said, it's really humid so I don't know how this would perform when it's actually drier, if it ever gets drier. Urgh.

The pump bottle contains 550mL of product (and toy).

And it smells really nice, by the way, nothing like the "original" Dove scent in the states but more like the original Caress bar LOL! Hubby really likes the fragrance too.

The refill contains only 400mL.

Toy in action *squeak*squeak* ^.^

Udon Sunday

After a nice, sunny and warm day the weather revert to its cold and dreary self :( So I made udon in an attempt to warm up. Sorry, no recipe for this really, because it's really in the broth, which I winged it with a combination of tsuyu and dashi. The rest are just store bought toppings.

Hubby's bowl was filled to the top.

Mine had more broth and less noodles and toppings :P

A Saturday at John Lennon Museum, Saitama, Saitama, and Senso-ji, Asakusa, Tokyo (Picture Heavy!)

Following the serendipitous meeting of N. at Yodobashi Yokohama a few weeks ago, hubby and I made a new friend. I must say we were damn lucky to have met her!

N. is a huge fan of anything British, and somehow our conversation drifted into music and, alas, the Beatles. She told us of a certain John Lennon Museum inside the Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, and after a decade's run Yoko Ono is doing away with it, not wanting it to be attached to certain locations and be forgotten over the years. I sympathize. Turns out the museum is closing permanently this coming Thursday, September 30, and N. urged us to go check it out before it's gone forever. I like the Beatles, not as much as some folks out there but I grew up listening to them as my parents and aunts and uncles were all fans. So I proposed for us all to go together, and although N. had already been to the place twice, she agreed in a heartbeat.

A view of the Saitama Super Arena from the connecting train station. You can see the train tracks below!

At the train station, N. introduced us to her BFF M., who had lived in Brooklyn for 3 years during college and speaks fluent English. The fascinating thing is that given all her time in NYC, M. actually speaks with a Scottish accent, thanks to her Scottish boyfriend K. (silly me gushed to her how cool her "English" accent was upon our meeting - doh! My bad, sorry M. :X). Let's just say N., M. and K. turn out to be some of the nicest and substantial people hubby and I have ever met! Seriously, you don't just run into people like that, and meeting them make the both of us miss our friends in Jersey so dearly.

The John Lennon Museum as seen from the outside.
If you're wondering why there's a guy in black suit holding a speaker phone, it was because there happened to be a Metallica concert at the stadium inside the Saitama Super Arena. So the guy is actually directing the folks who are line up for the concert, joining the line that is probably about a freakin' mile long!!! I had no idea Metallica is that popular in Japan...

The museum lobby where tickets are sold.

The museum was done tastefully enough, I thought. It was a bit of a maze, but by the time the exit comes around, I had learned more about John Lennon, and somewhat about Yoko Ono, than I ever anticipated. You know, most museum sort of just show you the "cool stuff." This museum, however, tells all of John's ups and downs and you really get to know the guy and where his inspirations sprang, from his childhood trauma to boy-band fame to love struck fool to peace activist to emotionally struggling artist to loving house husband and devoted father to, finally, being the musician he always wanted to be. Just when he thought he had figured things out and, perhaps, found his inner peace, some stupid dumbass went and took the life out of him. Such is the life of John Lennon. Tragic, truly.

No, these are not the 2 friends N. introduced us to, though it would have been superbly awesome to meet John Lennon and Yoko Ono ^.^ I was glad we visited the museum before it closed.

After the museum visit, N. and M. took us to Senso-ji in Asakusa, a fine temple and popular tourist destination in Tokyo. It was only a 40 minutes train ride away.

Me, N. and M. in front of the Senso-ji's outer gate, the Thunder Gate - Kaminarimon.

Close up of the gigantic lantern hanging from the gate.

Underneath the lantern is a really cool wooden dragon carving!

Beyond the Kaminarimon is Nakamise-dori, a street lined with souvenirs and snack shops on both sides.

Approaching Nakamise-dori, we immediately detected a sweet and warm fragrant, and looking around we saw people flocking to a snack shop. Of course we joined the crowd and bought ourselves some ningyo yaki, a traditional Japanese dessert that consists of a pancake shell with sweet bean paste filling. Ningyo yaki comes in many shapes and are handmade with molded pans, though many shops nowadays also employ a machine that stamps these out at a faster rate.

Ningyo yaki machine at one shop.

Ningyo yaki made and wrapped by said machine.

Ningyo yaki by hand and molded pans at a different shop.

As you can see, the ningyo yaki made by hand with molded pans is not as perfectly shaped as the machine stamped ones, but in all fairness the handmade ones from this particular shop actually tasted a lot better. The pancake shell were softer and fluffier whereas the machine stamped ones were a bit more chewy.

Fresh senbei, it was still hot when I bought it. Mine had shichimi sprinkled on it.

Nure senbei, which is soft and moist and tasted like...the senbei before it was grilled/baked LOL! Is this Japan's answer to cookie dough? :P

The ubiquitous dango. I love mochi, and I love dango, but I'm not so keen on the sweet/savory soy sauce-mirin syrup it's dipped in. I've tried many dangos at different places but still can't get used to the taste of that syrup. And usually I love the sweet-salty mix too. So odd!

A very thin, paper like cracker with a thin spread of umeboshi paste in the middle.

Made it through Nakamise-dori, we reached Senso-ji's inner gate, the Treasure-House Gate -Hozomon. It is much larger than the outer Thunder Gate but features a similarly large red lantern.

Beyond the Treasure-House Gate looking straight ahead is Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon (Guan Yin).

Beyond the Treasure-House Gate looking left is a 5-story pagoda.

In the front court yard of Senso-ji, there are omikuji (fortune telling) stalls, where in one donates a 100yen coin then proceeds to shake a metal hexagonal box vigorously until a random bamboo strips falls out of the tiny hole underneath the box. Labeled on the bamboo strip is a number, and matching up this number among one of the wooden drawers, the seeker will find his/her printed fortune stored inside.

My luck of the draw? "Regular fortune," (kichi, 吉) was what the leaflet says in English. Hubby was worse, he got "Bad fortune." We left both of our leaflets behind, tying it into a knot on the wire rack where everyone left their so-so/bad fortunes behind. I tied mine next to his, hoping my "regular" will at least pull his "bad" up a bit ^.^ Our friends N. got "Medium fortune" and M. was even luckier with "Super fortune." M. ended up taking her leaflet, i.e. her luck, with her.

Then we got in line to come right up to the temple to pay our respect. The main hall was closed, of course, but there was a box metal box where you can throw in a coin and bow your head to pray.

We hung around some more afterwards until it got dark. When we left, the shops at Nakamise-dori were all closed although the lights were still on and bright. We didn't have time to go to the Asakusa Shrine, but we did walk around until settling into dinner at an open front dining bar on a street lined with one dining bar after another.

After dinner, N. introduced us to yet another one of her closed friends, C. and we all decided to go grab some ice cream at a nearby Baskin Robbins. And then the funniest thing happened! Hubby and K. passed on the sweets, so it was just us 4 ladies eating ice cream in front of the shop. Then an older uncle entered the shop with his wife, and moments later he stuck his head out of Baskin Robbins' door and motioned for the 2 guys to come in with him. Hubby and K. weren't sure what was happening, but they were game anyway and came inside the store as told. Turned out the old uncle wanted to buy them both ice cream LOL! Politely, hubby and K. refused but the uncle was in great mood (...or drunk) and was insistent about buying them some ice cream. In the end, hubby and K. gave in and indulged themselves with the smallest kid's cone on the menu. I guess that means my "Regular fortune" must have somewhat helped hubby's bad luck ^.^ What hilarious, though heartwarming, experience!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Caudalie Vinotherapie Hand and Nail Cream

After my ho-hum experience with Caudalie Nourishing Body Lotion, I'll be honest but my expectations for this Vinotherapie Hand and Nail Cream weren't too high at all. And then I spotted it in this really nice set called Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa in a Box and the rest of my logic and reasons went down the rabbit hole. What the hell, why not, right?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Culture shock much?

This is my second time in Japan so I'm sort of used to how different things are here. However, there are 2 things that have unfailingly cause me to do a double-take.

Sorry, no pictures to show in either instances. Here it's actually quite rude to take pictures of someone without their explicit permission. And I can't do it discreetly either, because crediting all the perverts who like to take up-skirt photos of schoolgirls, Japanese phones all have automatic noise/music function built into their cameras that cannot be turned off or even tuned down :X

1 - Grandmas with neon-colored hair
Yes, the vast majority here are very daring when it comes to self expression, but I have to wonder whether there is a difference between Harajuku fashionistas or cosplayers with electrified hair and grandmas in daily outfits, some in traditional kimonos even, with hot flamingo pink or neon purple hair. Whatever floats their boats and I'm not trying to pass judgment here. Just that I couldn't help but, discreetly mind you, stare. Every. Single. Time.

2 - Kids groping each other
No, I'm not talking about rebellious high schoolers making out on the subway. That would actually be interesting, not their tongue sparing session of course but rather the surrounding reaction to it. I'm talking about adolescent-teenage boys hanging all over each other in a very, umm, intimate fashion. The other day on the train a group of middle-schoolers were being boisterous after a baseball practice session. Looking over, I noticed one of them were fondling another's butt cheek. No, not the 2-fingers pinching but the full-hand massaging. 

When I was a JET, this was one of the very first elements of culture shock for me, the interaction between the kids. I taught at 2 senior high schools, so this touchy feely stuff is not toddlers' play. What mind-havoc am I talking about?
- During class one day, Boy A climbed onto Boy B's lap, put his hand over his friend's shoulder, and they shared a text because Boy A had forgotten his at home. Every once in a while, Boy A would lovingly smooth out Boy B's meticulously groomed arches with his fingers, and Boy B would then snuggle his head into Boy A's collarbone. I swear they were trying to distract me from that day's lesson because I had to pick my jaw off of the floor several times.
- Then there were the cafeteria sessions that made spectacular lunchtime idol dramas. Boy C was eating his lunch when Boy D sat down across the table and proceeded to opens his mouth wide, asking for a bite. Boy C fed his friend a spoonful, then tenderly wipes off the corners of the friend's mouth with his own thumb. And so on and so forth.

If I didn't know better I'd have thought they were married. Nor any of them effeminate or somehow less "manly" to the rest because of their intimate gestures. If anything, those boys were all star athletes of the school and were quite popular among the gals.

So why is it so hard for my to wrap my head around this? Because in my experience with the Japanese senior high classrooms, the boys and the girls were almost always seated separately, boys on one side of the room and girls on the other. Any proximity between certain boy and certain girl will get them both teased to tears. And sharing food or drink between a boy and a girl? Oh no, forget it. That is considered an "indirect kiss." But interaction between the same sex? Grope and fondle away! Uninhibited displays like the above mentioned, boys among boys or girls among girls, are completely normal and acceptable in this society!

See, five years later and I'm still trying to cope. It doesn't help either that I was raised in a Puritan society where anything less than football machismo is derided with all sorts of nasty homophobic slurs. Definitely not an excuse, I fully understood, nor do I think such derision is acceptable, which is why I'm trying very hard to accept this fact of life on the other side of the planet. It's actually a truly refreshing (and amusing) change, though it would have been so much easier for my narrow little mind if they were just openly touchly feely all around, the boys and girls together, but it just doesn't work that way. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Kirimochi - Savory Mochi

So hubby and I bought a small toaster oven for our tiny apartment, and we noticed it had instructions for something called "kirimochi" along with a funky picture of a square with a lightbulb coming out of it.

Now what in the hell is that?!? LOL

So I googled kirimochi and found this Gourmet Traveller blog along with instructions on how to make savory mochi. As soon as I saw the pictures on the blog post, I connected the dots. I've seen these countless of times at the local groceries, just never thought to pick one up and take a good look at what it was. I have had many soups with chunks of mochi in them, but as much as I love mochi, I don't love them when they're gooey in a bowl of soup. My little toaster oven just made me realize I can have these mochi cakes toasted to a puffy crunchy goodness!!! Yay ^.^

Of course I had to buy a 1 kilo bag. Anything smaller wouldn't do. I'd eat these all day they're so yummy :P

I prepared my sauce with 2 teaspoons of brown sugar (or cane sugar) instead of honey, and about 2 Tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce.

At first I used a small nonstick skillet, testing out the method as shown in the Gourmet Traveller blog. While the mochi did not stick just as the post said, it actually burned before it had time to properly puff up and even my skillet charred a little since there wasn't anything else in the skillet other than 2 pieces of mochi. So that didn't work out too well. Perhaps I had the heat on too high?

So then I went back to my toaster oven and does as it instructed. Pop 2 in, turn up to 1000W and toast for 3-4 minutes. Wahlah - it worked - of course it has to work, right? Silly me.

And it was perfectly brown too!

After dipping into the sauce, I wrapped it with nori and ate it ^.^ It was yummy.

And since then, it has only been 5 days but my 1kilo bag already had 2/3 of its content eaten LOL! Hubby is not too keen on it, but I love its dual crunchy and chewy texture. I love it especially when eaten with spicy mentaiko - delicious!

And check this out: moffles - mochi waffles made with these mochi cakes, though it looks like this particular kind is rounded and not squarish rectangular like mine. That's not to say the squarish rectangular ones won't work, it probably will. Damn, now I wish I have a waffle machine!!!

The Body Shop Aloe Gentle Exfoliator

One of the few things I brought with me from home was this Body Shop Aloe Gentle Exfoliator. I normally use my Shiseido The Skincare Cleansing Massage Brush along with any night cleanser in use, but I didn't bring the brush with me to Japan. I was afraid in the humidity, the brush wouldn't dry properly and who would want to use a mildewy, or worse, moldy brush on their face? Eeeps. Yuck. Not me. So I left it at home in the states and brought what I thought would be a temporary solution. Temporary because I assumed I would be able to buy resupply with something of the like from the local drug store.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Electric Free Budget Portable Dehumidifiers

When I was a JET, one of the biggest complaints I hear from my fellow JETsters was that their clothes, futons, blankets, etc., all get moldy. Of course, being in Japan humidity is a given. However, with Toyama located on the Western, i.e. wet, side of the Japanese Alps, I remember the humidity was much much worse there. After all, average rainfall in Toyama is almost 3 times much as rainfall in Seattle!

Of course there are plenty of dehumidifiers around, some come by themselves, some built into the AC. They use up lots of electricity, and thus can be costly. But there's also this nifty electric free dehumidifier that comes in a portable plastic box the size of my hand. Now I need to emphasize that these are budget items (about 150yen/3-pack) and I have no idea how environmentally friendly they are. That said, using up tons of electricity is not environmentally either :P

So these plastic boxes have 2 compartments inside: an empty bottom compartment and an upper compartment containing white dry silica beads of sorts. Actually, I'm not certain they're silica, but they sure look it and I've never tried to pry one open to look. The instructions on the aluminum seal say to peel the seal off but to not break open "moisture-permeable trim" underneath, so I didn't try, not wanting to ruin it. Even if I did, I wouldn't be able to tell if that stuff is silica anyway.

Here's the white "moisture-permeable trim" underneath the aluminum seal.

Get rid of the aluminum seal and that's it, and the electric free budget portable dehumidifier is ready to be placed anywhere you wish to keep dry. I had tons of these around my JET days apartment in Takaoka and nothing in my possession was ever moldy. Here I popped 2 in my closet, 2 in the sleeping area, 2 in the main room and 2 in the foyer right outside of the bathroom.

How does this plastic box work? Well, whatever those white dry beads are, they draw moisture out of the air and into the box, storing the water at the empty compartment at the bottom. The beads melts as they collect water, so after a few months or so, you'll have to check if the beads are gone and the water below is full and replace the box as needs be. To get rid of the box, poke a big hole on the white trim, dump the water out, then toss the plastic box into its proper bin.

Of course the apartment can still get very damp, especially after it rains cats and dogs, so don't expect any miracles with these boxes but in general, they're pretty neat stuff.

Look, mine's already collected about 1cm of water after sitting for 3 weeks! And this is just 1 out of the 8 I have out!

Etude House Happy Tea Time Cleansing Foam

I read all the buzz about this Etude House Happy Tea Time Cleansing Foam all over the web when they first came out but didn't buy. That is, until I saw them on sale for, like, $5 including S/H on Ebay. Yep, I bought all 5 available scents of Aloe Tea, Green Tea, Lemon Tea, Milk Tea, and Peach Tea :D Sadly, I didn't pack all 5 with me to Japan, because, well, they're freakin' huge, each containing a whopping 150 mL (5.07 fl oz.) of product! I'd be backpacking around the world a few times and still wouldn't be able to finish using them! But then now I'm sorta thinking I should have pack them all with me. Why, because they're actually quite nice, of course!

I only packed 2 tubes, Aloe Tea and Peach Tea, and I picked Peach Tea to use first without researching further what each is supposed to do. Well, I finally looked on the back of some of my tubes and online and learned that...
- Aloe Tea is for moisturizing
- Green Tea is for clarifying
- Lemon Tea is for revitalizing
- Milk Tea is for softening
- Peach Tea is for brightening

So I packed and picked yet another brightening cleanser to use. Doh.

Luckily for me, the Peach Tea cleanser, my first Etude House cleanser by the way, wasn't too bad. In fact, it's much milder than I expected and I love it! It lathers up a nice and creamy foam that cleans well but didn't leave my face feeling squeaky and stripped. That isn't to say it doesn't rinse clean as it rinses totally clean!

There is one thing I don't like about it though - the fragrance. It actually smells like a peach, a very overly ripened peach, and that's just too, please excuse my lack of imagination, peachy for me. I guess I'm just too used to the fake peach scents that don't smell anything like a real peach, but at least they don't smell like they will start to rot any day now.

But of course this is a trivial complaint and I'm not going to stop using this excellent cleanser because of it. The ripened peach fragrance isn't that bad at all and if you happen to like ripe peaches, you're golden with this cleanser!

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