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Setagaya Firefly Festival

Today we had a chance to go to our first matsuri as residents of Japan: the Setagaya Firefly Festival. It sounded really cool when I found it on the Internet, but in fact, it was a pretty small neighborhood matsuri. The draw of this matsuri was the fireflies, which they brought in netted cages as well as a big darkened tent you could walk through and see their pulsing glow in the darkness. If you rarely or never see fireflies, it was totally cool. Many Tokyo dwellers who can’t get out to the deep countryside probably never see fireflies anymore.

The taiko troupe that performed was very talented and the rain gave pause for them to give the crowd a treat for about 20 minutes as the opening ceremony. Then it was off to sample the delicious festival foods like dango and takoyaki. Jeremy and Ayumi tried some interesting looking candy that was frozen on a block of ice.

We had the pleasure of having many members of Jayne’s family join us, so it was a good chance to hang out and catch up with everyone for the evening. Of course Japanese festivals are plentiful throughout the summer months (there’s one in the park across from our church tomorrow too) so we’ll be enjoying these for at least the next month or so!

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Life in Japan: Fresh Produce, Not Perfect

One of the joys of living in the outskirts of Tokyo is the wonderful blending of rural and urban elements. Five minutes from a super-department store you may find yourself walking between fields of corn, beans, and eggplant. But it doesn’t end there. Many of these fields have a small stand that faces the road. The farmers who tend the field sell the perfect vegetables to grocery stores and distributors. But where do the imperfect vegetables go? As it turns out, they go into these roadside stands, to be sold at a discount to anyone who doesn’t mind a little extra effort in produce shopping.

One might wonder how a busy farmer would have time to man a small produce stand which likely makes┬áthem less than $100 profit each day. The answer: they don’t! A lockbox is secured to the stand with a slot to drop your money in! In more rural areas, we have seen stands where you basically just leave your coins inside the stand, untended and unsecured. Such is life in a country that prides itself in honesty and fairness.

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Life In Japan: My Heartful Bread

The day we arrived in Japan, our friends pointed out this bakery as we drove by. Everyone, according to them, loves My Heartful Bread. We took note, but didn’t even have a chance to visit it before another friend dropped by our house with a bag full of goodies from there. When I finally visited on a weekday morning, 10 minutes after opening, workers were still bringing out fresh baked treats from the ovens. I chose a pear tart, shaped like a pear with a light croissant like pastry and filled with a creamy custard. Then the apple mango tart, blueberry tart, and a plain custard filled roll. For good measure, I bought a loaf of freshly baked bread. The five items set me back a little over $10 including tax. Panera doesn’t come close.

It’s easy to understand why people love this place. Incredible pastries both sweet and savory, a free cup of coffee with your purchase, and a choice location that happens to be between our house and the train station make it an easy place to pick up dessert or a snack any time of the day or evening.

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A Double Graduation Day!

We experienced a double blessing yesterday of having both of kids graduate from their respective schools, elementary and middle. We often take for granted what goes into such an accomplishment, but we want to thank all the teachers, fellow parents and family members who have invested time in the lives of our children to help them succeed in school and feel good about who they are. And of course we thank the Lord for watching over them and giving them the opportunity to grow, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

One more step in our journey toward Japan as both will start the school year in Japan in a new class structure. Only 18 days left before Japan!

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California Dreamin’ – Brown Sugar Kitchen

In my continuing quest to eat as many of my favorite foods as possible that will be difficult or expensive to get in Japan, I decided to make a stop at Brown Sugar Kitchen, home of what could be Oakland’s best chicken and waffles. This particular morning, I took our car in for service and the service manager said I had 3 hours to kill and a shuttle that would take me anywhere in a 3 mile radius. The decision was made in an instant.

Brown Sugar Kitchen is located in a part of West Oakland that you could charitably say isn’t the most desirable neighborhood. Signs posted outside the restaurant warn “Don’t Feed the Thieves”, meaning don’t leave anything valuable in your car if you don’t want to come out to a pile of broken glass on the street next to your shattered window. Inside, however, you could be in any hip neighborhood of Oakland, Berkeley or San Francisco. Hipster college students, retirees, and local residents all gather together to partake of a little bit of heaven: chicken and waffles.

These aren’t just any chicken and waffles. They are buttermilk battered chicken and cornmeal waffles with a dollop of brown sugar butter and warm apple cider syrup. Though the waitress tempted me with smoked pork hash (which smelled incredible when I walked in the door), I had my heart set on the chicken and waffles today. Focus, Todd, focus.

There is something amazing about the complexity of eating chicken and waffles together. Especially THESE chicken and waffles. First you have the flavor complexity: sweet syrup and butter, tart buttermilk batter, slightly salty chicken meat. Then you have the texture complexity: crunchy fried chicken batter and cornmeal waffle, slightly chewy chicken, and creamy butter. Put all that complexity together and it just explodes in your mouth. Seriously, how do two relatively simple dishes combine together to create something so incredible?

After my meal, I called for a shuttle back to the dealership and waited for my ride. When the driver pulled up, he smiled and said “I thought I might find you here.” As we drove back to the dealer, he pointed out a few other places he and his wife had tried around the neighborhood. “But,” he said with a knowing grin, “I’d pass them all up for Brown Sugar Kitchen.”

Brown Sugar Kitchen
234 Mandela Pkwy
Oakland, California
510-839-SOUL (7685)