We made a fun gem-inspired cocktail for a spring shoot. This drink features all locally-made Oregon spirits. We've included the recipe so you can make your own!
1 1/2 oz Branch raw honey rye from Dogwood Distilling
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Iris liqueur from Elixir
1/2 oz simple syrup
Shake over ice and strain. We garnished ours with rock candy!
Photographer: Katie Dessin Photography @katiedessinphoto | Coordination & Design: @strucksured | Florals: Brenna Burnett Designs @brennaburnettdesigns | Models: Jasmine & Gio @jmgilmore; @gio_t | Beverages: #mintandmirth | Makeup & Hair: Ilona Kobylinsky @ilonakobylinsky | Jewelry: Twiggs Hood River @twiggshoodriver | Calligraphy @inloftcalligraphy and @camelandbirdie | Stationery: @sarahjdesignco
We recently interviewed Miranda, entrepreneur, and jam lover based in Portland, Oregon. Her jams have been featured at farmers’ markets, in blogs and magazines, and even in Saveur. Today, we are pleased to share her entrepreneurial journey with you, in her own words.
I've been interested in food my whole life. After college, I apprenticed with a chocolatier here in Portland. I did that for 4 years, and then moved to New York in 2009 to pursue a MA in Food Studies at NYU. After that, I bounced around in the food media world, working at Food & Wine magazine and Food52.com, among others. I moved home to Portland in 2012, and was lucky to land a job at local cocktail magazine Imbibe, but after a few years there I finally allowed myself to realized that I didn't want to work in food and drink media. I missed the physicality of food.
In my chocolatiering days, jam was a hobby. I made jam for myself, for friends and for a brief while for Podnah's brunch back when they were super small and still on NE 15th & Prescott. They served my jams as Miranda's Jam. It was mostly just for fun, but years later, I found myself thinking about how I might dip my toes back into the world of food making. I decided to see if Miranda's Jam could be something I could actually bring to life and make into a career. I wanted to call it something that told a bit more of a story than "Miranda's Jam" and so I decided to call it Plum Tree Jam, named for my a plum tree in my mom’s backyard in northwest Portland. Her tree gave so much fruit one year that I decided to teach myself how to make jam to use up all the fruit. The rest is history!
The Business Outreach Program run by Portland State University has been huge in helping me get my feet on the ground as far as the world of business goes. My background is in food writing and food making, not business. I also took advantage of the Mercy Corps NW Business Foundations class, a six-week course that covers the necessary basics for launching a small business. I am also fortunate to have a small business accountant for a Mother-in-Law. She helped me launch the business on the right foot, as far as legal licensing and registrations go. I also asked friends in the food world for advice as I was just getting started. I have a lot of curiosity, and I think my background in writing and research was helpful in terms of figuring out the initial how-to of starting a business.. As the business grows, I find that my understanding of business concepts also must grow, so it's a neverending journey. I am never bored.
Every time sales take a dip, or I am in a slow, no-market season (usually January through March), I have fears that things will never pick up again or somehow I am just a huge failure. I push through by allowing myself a day off here and there to refresh. I'll plan to take a day off, which is unbelievably easy to forget to do when you are a one-person business. Allowing myself a day where I don't look at email, don't worry about social media, etc etc etc. can do wonders for my morale and for renewing my enthusiasm for Plum Tree.
Sometimes a great day at the farmers market will fix my mood, and so if that syncs up with a period of time when I am feeling blue, that's pretty lucky. If people are friendly and loving the jams, it'll renew my passion. I love to watch people try my jams for the first time. It makes me feel confident and so happy and purely satisfied.
Reaching the end of your day and feeling like you did work you're proud of is an incredible feeling. I also love starting the day and looking forward to what's on my to-do list (or at least not dreading it). If you are a woman thinking of opening your own business, I would advise you to reach out to entrepreneurs you admire and ask for help getting started. A huge part of entrepreneurship is about being afraid and doing things anyway. Get used to feeling a little afraid, and jump on in! Don't brain drain or waste someone's time, but see if someone you admire would be willing to meet you for a cup of coffee. Engage in the business community and find mentors. You'll be surprised how many people are willing to help out, or at least offer encouragement.
Quite a few people have helped me along the way, but in particular I have found a friend in Sarah Marshall of Marshall's Haute Sauce. She's generous and warm, and I really admire her. Early on, I introduced myself to her and asked her the occasional question here and there and she's always been kind enough to answer. I hope I haven’t used up too much of her time, as I know she’s a busy lady! I also hope I can help out other women who are just getting started in the same way that she has helped me. Many of our small local food businesses here in Portland are women-owned, and I am so glad to be a part of that particular community of women. It's an exceptionally supportive and inspiring—not to mention ever-growing— group of people.
To learn more about Miranda and buy some of her delicious jam, check out www.plumtreejam.com
As seen on Green Wedding Shoes
How does one throw a tropical bridal shower? We’re glad you asked, because that’s what today’s post is all about. Here's everything you need to create an island-inspired interior.
For this gorgeous party, stylist Kimberly Wilder of Black Sweet Raspberry took inspiration from her honeymoon in the lush jungles of Nicaragua. She wanted to create a similar environment of tropical greens, and she pulled it off perfectly. Combining the rich textures of tropical florals with a bright, modern bridal shower, Kimberly looked to the talented photographer Maria Lamb to help capture a sunny, warm vacation “getaway”.
Now let’s travel south of the Equator for a fun and unique bridal shower!
The Decor + Backdrop
You can change the entire mood of the room by adding either large sheets of painted craft paper, or swaths of fabric! Both of those options help frame the space + can add a really fun + funky vibe to the walls.
The backdrop was a labor of love for calligrapher + artist, Marley Beyer. Marley created an oversized, overflowing water color jungle that pulled the entire room together.
Florals, florals, and more florals. Bramble Floral opted for giant monstera leaves, baby pink orchids, a sprinkling of bougainvillea, and punchy pops of sunset-hued flowers. To tie it all together and get the most bang for your buck, make sure to add in a lot of greenery (which typically is less expensive than florals).
Calligraphy quotes are a lovely way to dress up plain white walls! Got a favorite song or mantra? Use it. And of course, no decor scheme is complete without plush pillows.
If you have no idea where to start, don’t worry — it’s not that difficult to put together a delightful spread! This DIY spread is perfect, since everyone can customize their own and it’s less prep for you. Also, we LOVE the use of the halved coconuts for the bowl.
What You’ll Need:
Greek yogurt or vanilla pudding
Oats or a delicious granola
An assortment of nuts — sliced almonds, chopped walnuts, macadamia nuts
Berries — raspberries, strawberries, blueberries
For some extra sweetness — brown sugar, agave syrup, or honey
Mini donuts are always a hit! For a light protein dish, small bites of pork belly with a fruity spread make a delicious option. Any opportunity you can incorporate a cake — you should. Who doesn’t love cake? :) For a tropical-inspired bridal shower, it’s only fitting to have one that is filled with fruit! Oh and we’re crushing on the way each dish is labeled — so chic.
The Guest Attire
When you’re putting together invitations (Minted + Wedding Paper Diva have great options) and trying to figure out what to put down for attire, we suggest something like this: pull out that piece you love, but never know what event to wear it to! Or, for something more specific — don a flowing dress that makes you feel like an island goddess. Florals + light, bright colors are encouraged!
Giving off ultimate island vibes, Nai Zhao styled the ladies in long maxi dresses in cream, blush, + floral prints. Makeup artist Kristie Wight kept the gals looking fresh with dewy skin and peachy lips.
How fun are these hairstyles by Ebel Artistry? Perhaps you + your friends can try out possible looks for the big day during the shower.
Cocktails are a MUST, and this is the perfect time to whip up something fruity! We created some yummy cocktails for this party. Feel free to pop a bottle of rosé, too. Flavors to play with include: pineapple, mango, lime, orange, and passionfruit. Basically anything zesty or with a citrus flavor! Darling Press provided drink recipe cards, which are a great reminder for your guests to take home + make later. Garnish with mint, fruit, or maybe even a little umbrella.
For the tablescape, we love the use of teal + bright green, with neutral accents, and pops of gold. This palette reflects the ocean and perfectly rounds out the whole tropical island theme!
A little potted plant at each setting is a welcome ‘Thank You’ gift!
So bright + airy! For centerpieces, opt for lush florals or go green — as seen here with the monstera leaf.
A huge thank you to the dream team behind this Tropical Bridal Shower! Feeling inspired? We’d love to see your take! Leave us a comment below or tag us on Instagram:
Photography: Maria Lamb Photography // Venue Name: Urbansphere, Portland, Oregon, Usa // Event Design: Black Sweet Raspberry // Planning: Ginger + You Events // Florals: Bramble Floral // Wedding Dress Boutique: Wardrobe Stylist - Nai Zhao // Hair Stylist: Ebel Artistry // Makeup Artist: Kristie Wight // Paper Goods: Darling Press // Calligraphy: Marly Beyer // Catering: White Pepper Pdx // Cake: Sweet Heart St. Johns // Tabletop Rentals: Something Borrowed // Furniture Rentals: Something Borrowed // Models: Casey, Mika Rane And Beth Hanna
This guest article is by firstname.lastname@example.org.
When florist Red Williams, 38, first heard that same-sex marriage was legalized in Oregon, he dropped to his knees and cried. After 14 years of being together, Williams and his partner, Kevin, 57, were finally able to get married.
Williams hopped on his black Harley Davidson and rode home, eager to tell Kevin the big news. The reality of the new law didn’t hit Williams until he walked down the aisle on the day of their wedding.
“I remember being so emotional that my friend had to literally hold me and help me walk down the aisle,” Williams said. “When you don’t have something for so long, it’s a big deal. You don’t take this for granted.”
According to a census analysis at the Williams Institute, there are 11,773 same-sex couples in the state of Oregon. As of May 19, 2014, those couples have been able to acquire marriage licenses with the same rights and benefits as traditional heterosexual couples.
It has only been half a year since same-sex marriage became legal, but professional wedding vendors are already starting to notice some gradual changes in the atmosphere and in the wedding industry.
Steve Sharp, 66, is a wedding officiant who has been joining couples in holy matrimony for 12 years. According to Sharp, there is a different feeling, a different vibe at gay weddings. He remembers officiating a wedding for two men. When he pronounced them husband and husband, a woman in the audience stood up and started singing Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration.” Soon, everyone else in the audience stood and danced as they sang “Celebrate good times, come on!”
“I remember watching them all dance and I thought, ‘you don’t see this at many weddings,’” Sharp said. “In same-sex weddings, there’s a feeling of breaking a mold, not sticking with convention. A little loose, a little more creative.”
Playful swing music fills the room in a small shop on a busy corner in southeast Portland. Along the walls are rows of smooth jackets, trousers, and vests. A colorful tie bar sits on a small table. A giant poster on the wall contains silhouettes of a man and a woman wearing suits as they pose next to the words, “Finest custom clothier for all.”
Duchess Clothier is a small business that prides itself in creating custom clothing for everyone. It is the place that many people who identify themselves as part of the queer community can go to find his or her wedding outfit.
Engly Lim, 33, a newlywed who just married her girlfriend of 6 years, knew she always wanted to wear a suit on her wedding day. “I’ve always considered myself a very colorful person so I wanted to wear something that would emulate that,” Lim said.
“It can be hard for women to find the perfect suit to get married in,” said Katie Reynolds, general manager of Duchess Clothier. “We’ve seen an increase in our business inquiries especially now that same-sex marriage is legal.” Duchess Clothier is one of the only clothing lines in Oregon that offers styles that are queer-friendly.
“We want everyone we work with to feel respected and beautiful on their wedding day,”
Lim met with Duchess’ Reynolds to put together a suit for a summer wedding. After ten weeks of planning and designing, Lim married her fiancé in a light gray suit with purple silk lining. She wore bright purple leather Oxfords top make the whole ensemble even more special.
“The more businesses treat all their customers with respect and make them feel special, the better off this community will be,” Reynolds said. “Hopefully we can lead by example.”
Joni Whitworth, founder and owner of bartending service Mint & Mirth, believes that despite Oregon being a fairly gay-friendly environment, there have been some companies that have not fully accepted same-sex weddings as a part of the state’s wedding landscape. After organizing and designing a styled bridal shoot that featured a wedding with two male grooms, Joni decided to submit the photos to various bridal blogs.
“One of the blogs said that we weren’t in line with their publication guidelines. They were basically saying, ‘we don’t do gay weddings,’” Joni said. “They didn’t want two guys kissing on their pretty little blog.”
Many people opposed to marriage equality cite religious reasons. Some vendors rallied together to form the Christian Wedding Professionals Association. The group’s mission statement states that their goal “is to provide professional wedding vendors the insight, ideas, support, information, and many other critical needs in order to be a successful Christian business.”
“At queer weddings, there will always be the unspoken weight of the people who don’t show up to the wedding. I felt this at my own wedding,” Joni said. “But the people who do come are almost super-fans. They have a boundless love for the couple. They are so supportive, and they want to be totally committed.”
Lane Bigsby, owner of event rental business Something Borrowed, is one of the many vendors looking to get rid of the exclusive nature of the wedding industry.
“Weddings are about love, something that everyone can experience,” Bigsby said. “We as vendors have a responsibility to show that we support all types of love.”
In light of same-sex marriage legalization, Bigsby began making changes to the company’s website and contracts. She removed exclusive words such as “brides and grooms” and replaced it with more inclusive language like “Partner A and Partner B” on their contracts.
“When you use language like 'bride and groom' on your PR, we have to be okay with knowing that you have uninvited and dis-included all the couples that have one or more genderqueer, trans* or gender-fluid people, or two grooms or two brides,” Joni said.
It has only been seven months since same-sex marriage became legal in Oregon, but the future for the wedding industry looks bright.
“It isn’t like the 80’s or the 90’s anymore, where all the weddings were religious and traditional,” Williams said. “The picture of what a family looks like is different now, it can look like many different things and I see that diversity showing itself in the weddings that I do. People are creating their own traditions.”
Flamingo confetti, waffle bar, face masks, and inspiring words from Janine made for a fabulous Galentine's! We came together to celebrate our victories, histories, and sisterhood - share our stories, discuss opportunities for allyship, feast, and do Korean face masks together.
Podcaster and women's rights advocate Janine Gates spoke about creating a girl-supporting-girl culture. We shared stories and feasted on yummy waffles and all the toppings, including syrup - butter - nutella - sprinkles - whipped cream - peanut butter - chocolate syrup - honey - fruit - powdered sugar - fruit sauce - bacon! I made bourbon cocktails and dished out cheap champagne like it was going out of style.
Thanks to our amazing sponsors and collaborators!
Co-planner & Decor Design: www.instagram.com/together.events
Co-planner & Cocktails: www.instagram.com/mintandmirth
Tabletop Rentals: www.instagram.com/something_borrowed_pdx
Linens, Tables, & Chairs: www.instagram.com/thepartyprosrentals
Small Business Saturday with Egyptian-Born Wedding Vendor Sherine Iskandar of Vintage Meets Modern Event Rentals
We recently interviewed Saria, an up-and-coming wedding vendor in the Portland, Oregon area. Today, we are excited to share her entrepreneurial journey with you, in her own words.
I've been living in Portland since 1998. I went to the University of Portland and got my BA in Marketing. After that, I moved to Italy for a year to study Graphic Design. I'm a designer by trade; I love everything branding! My work experience has been focused on branding and event planning, but after a while of working a full-time job with long hours, I was drained. I felt like I wasn't able to give 100% to either my job or my family (or myself). I wanted to do something I had a say in and a stake in, and something I would enjoy and nurture.
This is how I found a perfect niche for myself and decided to open Vintage Meets Modern. Being part of a special celebration, especially a wedding, in such an intimate way is a wonderful place to be. It's how our stories get written, through words, through photos, through those that surround us, through those that love us. I love building my brand, collaborating with others in the industry and being my own boss.
Failure is part of entrepreneurship. I've had a couple of failed inventory investments. I have a vision for my business that involved carrying wedding rental inventory that is unique and high quality and have unfortunately worked/hired a couple of businesses or individuals that did not come through for me. This resulted in both time and money lost, which was hard to swallow. I did feel like giving up for a brief moment, but turning one year old and looking back at the small accomplishments, knowing I could only grow from here, was an incredible feeling.
Self promotion/marketing can be a challenge. I've always shied away from "sales" jobs because I used to lack the confidence and persistence that it takes to sell something. When it's your own business and you believe in your product or service, however, you can slowly break that barrier. You can gain confidence and learn to sell to clients. Then, once you do get a client, you treat them like royalty! Be good at customer service, be proactive, address ALL their concerns, be on time, and do extra unexpected things that you know will make them happy.
I’ve felt marginalized within the business community because of my race, but I advise creative entrepreneurs in marginalized groups to go be brave and go ahead with what they want to do. I've always thrived on being "different"! I think it's a positive to stand out, not a negative. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities and go for your dream.
We interviewed Filipino-American Florist Saria Dy of Rue Anafel to find out more about her life and business. Saria is an up-and-coming florist in the Portland, Oregon area.
Today, we are excited to share her entrepreneurial journey with you, in her own words.
After years of being a freelance photographer, I felt tired of sitting in front of a computer all day. Although I shot a lot of film then, I longed for a tangible art practice, where I created something with my hands. I have always loved nature, I grew up in Utah where the main source of entertainment was to hike into the mountains. I had a liking to styling, to photographing, and to nature, so naturally I became intrigued with floral design. After feeling unsatisfied with what I was doing in terms of career,I one day decided I wanted to be a floral designer, and so I sought out to do just that. I ended up freelancing for a few years, and in a time where I was in between jobs a friend motivated me to take the leap and start my own floral design business. I was hesitant at first, because I felt I was too young and inexperienced, but I decided to take the leap regardless and am happy I did.
I have many mentors in my life, as I’m constantly humbled and inspired by the strong women I’m surrounded by in my life. I was raised in a large family with many aunts and female cousins. All independent, strong, and intelligent in their own right. I also believe it is important as a woman to have an immediate lady tribe. I was a tomboy growing up and always leaned more towards having male friends. My life has been much more fulfilled since making it a point to have other women in my life, and they serve as mentors to me. I believe friendships would always be purposeful, and friends should help one grow in some aspect of themselves. My mother, above all, is my main mentor. She is an entrepreneur herself. Her mantra to me was, “Don’t ever rely on anyone but yourself.” As well as, “School and your career before boys.” She is a self made woman with a fascinating story who moved herself and her family from the Philippines to the United States to give her children a better life. At times I feel marginalized within the business community because of my race, color, and ancestry, but my love and dedication for floral design is rooted in my desire to connect with my femininity, other women, and my matrilineal ancestry.
Having a business is difficult when one doesn't have any money. I am completely self financed at the moment. What I have and earn on my side jobs and from my business funds my business. Success is an interesting concept that I’m constantly working to deconstruct and reconstruct for myself. I think it’s known that success is not objective. As it is always changing, at the moment, success to me means being able to pay rent for my work studio purely based off of money I've made through my business, as well as further making connections with my community. The reality is that running a small business is difficult; it's not easy or as glossy as social media makes it seem. I like to joke and say that its easy as hell to start a business, the difficulty is in running it. These aren't the things we speak about on social media, but it's the truth for many small business owners I know and for myself.
Being a floral designer means working with perishable materials in a world where there are problems surrounding sustainability, consumption, and workers rights among a plethora of other issues. Sustainability is important to me, but it’s difficult to be sustainable in a consumer world with limited monetary funds and consumer demand. I try my best to source naturally grown, local, and fair trade materials. It's a constant struggle trying to only buy product that is sustainable and local, while at the same time affordable, especially when the client is asking for peonies in spring. I'm still learning how to navigate these problems, and I’m learning from my own experiences and reading the experiences of the flower community..
If you are thinking of starting a business, I say take the leap! Even if you need to take it slow, step away for a little and come back to it, or keep brainstorming ways to pull it off, the journey has been fulfilling and worth all the sacrifices and stress. I’ve built a community, learned new things about myself, and meet so many creative, driven, and inspiring people. There’s nothing in my life that has challenged me as much thus far. A piece of advice I have is to remember to not hold your self worth in your business and don’t forget the piece of yourself that is independent from work. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
What kind of cocktail would you make for a Guatemalan wedding?
We were recently challenged with answering this question for our friend and fellow wedding vendor from Heart of Celebration event planning in PDX. She called upon her familial heritage to put together a lively, rich shoot full of earth tones and vibrant floral touches. We researched traditional Guatemalan flavors, menus, and drinks. We called around to friends and bars. Finally, the big day came and we participated in a wonderful photo shoot that featured artists from all walks of life.
Our favorite aspect of this shoot was the opportunity to collaborate with vendors who were almost all women of color. How often do you see that? Not very frequently in any industry, and definitely not in the wedding industry. That's why we've been getting more active in this arena. Recently, we spoke at Mercy Corps NW (@mercycorpsnw) for a "Women in Business" seminar. There, we heard from an inspiring group of 40~50 female solo entrepreneurs who are working on growing their businesses.
Diversity and inclusion is a key focus of our efforts in 2017 and we can't wait to share more information about upcoming events in the community. Mercy Corps NW's Saturday morning small business series includes free childcare, so if this is something you need, please reach out to us and we will help you get registered and set up. 💕
This cocktail features creamy, cane-distilled, lightly barrel-aged rum that is sure to get everyone on the dance floor.
Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake until the tin is frosty. Pour into large ceramic mug or highball glass. Top with crushed ice and garnish with mint, lime, and a flower.
This Wes Anderson-inspired dinner party was a blast to design for, and we were thrilled to be working with some of the best wedding friends and vendors in town! Creativity and humor shine through every aspect of this shoot. We know you'll love the little details.
Boy with Apple:
Here's how to make our original Wes Anderson cocktail:
Shake and strain! Easy as pie.
On this shoot, we were excited to be working with a power couple of friends known as "The Gay Beards". Here, Brian and Johnathan share more about their story and what they aim to inspire with their funny, creative shots:
"It was close to dusk on a summer day back in July of 2014 when the very first flowers landed themselves in our beards. Something about that moment was very special for us, unforgettable in a sense. Having been best friends since we were 8 years old, both of us have developed a strong friendship and creative bond with one another. Positivity runs deep in our veins, and humor is very much the glue that holds us together.
Ever since that warm day in July, we have set out on a journey to put our creativity out into the world, and do our best to give people a reason to smile. The Gay Beards has become a growing platform where we not only get to bring our beards to life, but in the process, try and fill the world with a little more love."
Check out their hilarious getups:
We went to Tokyo for our honeymoon and had an incredible time. I would highly recommend Japan as a vacation destination for anyone who wants a peek into a country that lives, in many ways, a futuristic lifestyle years ahead of ours. Tokyo was one of the best places we’ve ever traveled to. We feel grateful to have experienced a classy, advanced culture full of art, design, tech, food, and the very best things life has to offer.
In this guide, I won't be recommending too many touristy things to do. Powell’s Books has plenty of incredible guidebooks to explore. I'll be focusing mostly on strategies and advice for navigating the city and its foodie culture, as well as a few choice recommendations for food and drink.
Tokyo doesn’t have a modern cocktail culture, and the cocktails we tried there were poorly-made and extremely sweet. This isn’t a criticism, just a cultural difference. Foreign liquor can be expensive to import, so it isn’t yet realistic to expect a cocktail bar to be able to offer the variety of products and flavors we are used to in the States. Instead, I’ll focus here on the amazing and intricate world of sake!
We hired a guide, Satoko, to help us dive into the world of sake tasting and distilling. She shared her encyclopedic knowledge of ancient and modern sake making techniques. She taught us to taste the variety of flavors sake has to offer. She even gave us instructional note cards to remember what we learned, which was so appreciated, because when you are tasting multiple sake types, you won’t have the best recollection powers by the end of the night. We appreciated being able to look back on those notes the day after and refresh our memories.
Sake is a lot like wine in that it has widely varying qualities, tastes, and flavors associated with the terroir of the rice that it's made with. I appreciated being able to see and touch the different types of rice that are used to get a better understanding of how sake is made and why the tastes vary so much. I recommend hiring Satoko to help you explore the sake scene if this is a topic you are interested in.
Thanks to our brilliant, funny, and kind friend Satoko, I have a much better understanding of how to order and taste sake! Even though I can't read or write Japanese, I know what to look for when I'm buying sake and how to judge its quality to ensure I'm getting a great product.
Coffee (and Tea!)
Delicious hot tea will be available almost everywhere you go, so make sure to indulge! A few favorite types to try:
Here are some other coffee shops recommended to us by Culture Trip:
This is going to sound crazy, but my favorite overall food experience in Tokyo was checking out the food found at the epic and omnipresent convenience stores! Tokyo has a couple of main brands of convenience stores that are found throughout town. The primary ones are 711, Family Mart, and my favorite, Lawson's. They have an amazing variety of snacks and fun drinks! They even have yummy healthy options for a breakfast: salmon onigiri, bento boxes, and hot buns. The drinks are so affordable, usually only $1 or so.
In Japanese culture, it is considered rude to eat and drink in public, especially in the subway. Try to find a park or a private place to sit down and enjoy your snacks.
When picking a restaurant, try to find an establishment that specializes in just one thing. You wouldn't go to Italy and order Italian food, because the regional cuisines are different! It's the same thing in Japan. If a restaurant serves all the types of Japanese food that you know about, chances are, it's a tourist trap and not good.
The best ramen places serve only ramen and operate by vending machine order. You simply walk up to the vending machine and insert your coins, select the picture of the food that you want, and the machine will print you out a tiny receipt. You then take this receipt up to the counter and hand it to them. They will make your order and bring it out to you.
There are tons of curry restaurants all around the city. We didn’t get to try as many of these as we’d like to, but you can find them in every neighborhood. Curry is inexpensive and a great way to warm up with comforting, filling food!
Modern Japanese cuisine has a new trend involving fermented foods. The best restaurants we tried or ones that dabbled in fermentation techniques, which are actually old techniques that are going through something of a revival. In fermentation restaurants, you’ll get to sample many different dishes that all involve exquisitely smoked and fermented foods. These were some of my favorite food experiences in Tokyo.
Thanks to our honeymoon gifts, we were fortunate enough to be able to take a sushi-making class with a home chef named Mayuko! She is one of the very few female sushi chefs exploring feminist cuisine in Tokyo. I was worried that we wouldn't actually be able to recreate any of the recipes because all of the ingredients and techniques would be too difficult. To my surprise and delight, Mayuko had already printed out all of the recipes and instructions for us. Not only that, but all of the ingredients were things we could get at home! I can’t wait to use what we learned and recreate some of the delicious recipes back in Portland. Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm not a huge fan of cooking at home; I find it to be too time-consuming. I love to eat out and try new places all the time, which is not the healthiest option. The recipes we learned in Mayuko’s class were easy and fun.
My biggest takeaway from the class? A sharp knife! The main thing you need for making sushi is a very very sharp knife so you can slice the delicate fishes and veggies and position everything perfectly into the roll.
You can find Mayuko’s cooking classes by searching Airbnb for guided travel experiences in Tokyo or by calling her at +81-80-3502-2005. She speaks perfect English.
On our last night in Tokyo, we had an exquisite dinner with our new friend Satoko. The staff, service, ambiance, and food were so incredible that I can guarantee I will never forget it. We tasted the world’s most delicious and nuanced flavors through a progression of multiple courses and small plates. The female-owned and operated restaurant is called Sake Scene（ますふく/□は枡記号) and can be found here. See some of their mouthwatering menu items here.
When you’re full, spend a few hours exploring Kitchen Street, also called Kappabashi Street. Here you can pick up many affordable kitchen products and beautiful, high-quality Japanese knives. You can also admire the fake food! One of my favorite blogs wrote a whole post about the art of fake food in Japan: “Sampuru, derived from the English word “sample”, is nothing short of an art form in Japan. Picking out a restaurant can be like viewing an art exhibition of fake food so accurate it really does look tempting enough to eat. To compete for customers, restaurants go all out with their window displays, hiring the best craftsmen to turn their menus into a parade of palatable plastic.” Read more here.
In a neighborhood called Asakusa, you can sample sweets, sweet potato cakes, marzipan creations, macarons, matcha cookies, and lots of street food.
Why go to Japan and buy art when you could go to Japan and make art? We took a class called “Calligraphy in Motion” to find out more about traditional creative arts in Japan. The class is taught by Soufu, an accomplished calligrapher who regularly creates beautiful lettered art for the Japanese government and its institutions, as well as private collectors. She usually teaches the art of Japanese calligraphy to Japanese people but has recently opened up her studio workshops to include foreigners. We were honored to be able to study her masterful techniques. I was surprised to learn how difficult it could be just to make one single perfect stroke. Her studio is beautiful and includes examples of different techniques, both modern and ancient. It’s a blast to learn about these and try to replicate them yourself. We were able to practice a lot and then create our own large print to take home! My immersion in the Japanese culture was so much stronger because of Soufu's teaching.
Amy F. recommended that we see one act of a kabuki play, and we’re so glad we did! Actors wear elaborate colorful costumes and bright face masks, and express the nature and meanings of their characters using exaggerated poses and gestures. All roles are played by men, but so skilfully do they control their gestures and voices, that it’s often hard to believe that the female characters aren’t played by women. Kabuki actors are also masters of vocal expression, so much so that much of the meaning of a Kabuki play can be picked up without understanding any of the words themselves. Some theaters provide English translation devices. Read more here.
Misc. Travel Tips
Japan has so many things figured out that the United States does not. This is not to say that Japan is without its problems; they have a shockingly gendered culture and can be a bit conformist. We were also mystified at how such an advanced and technology-based society could run on cash and not accept credit cards. Aside from those points, we loved Japan.
You will want to take out all of the cash you need for your entire trip in advance and bring it with you. The good news is that the country is so safe that you needn't worry at all, not even for a second, about if your money is going to be safe. It will be. Japan is a cash-based society. At home I don't think I touch cash or transact with cash more than a few times a month. In Japan we needed coins and small bills hourly. This is just such a vast difference that I wasn't prepared for it.
Taking money out of the ATM while you're in Japan isn't too difficult. 7-Eleven has an incredible brand presence throughout Tokyo and you'll be able to find their convenience stores with ATMs that accept American cards in nearly every neighborhood.
To get around without speaking Japanese, you’ll need Wi-Fi access or data on your phone, so figure this out ahead of time. I'm a tester of Project Fi, which is the new cell phone product from Alphabet (Google). The concept of the service is that instead of having one cell phone carrier, you actually have access to every cell phone carrier in the world, for the same rate. Google just routes your service around to whichever tower is closest, no matter what country you're in. You have high-speed, high-quality cell and internet service no matter where you are, and you never pay international fees! This is a great option for people who need to travel frequently. Based on the last couple months of service, it's the best network I've ever been a part of. The service is impeccable — I would expect nothing less from Google.
One thing I wasn't fully prepared for was the enormity the city. The city is more comfortable in size to an American county. 14 million people live in the city itself, and a great number more live, work, and play in the suburban areas that surround Tokyo. It can take 90 minutes to get from one neighborhood to another, so plan ahead. When you “visit Tokyo”, you're not really just visiting one central downtown area; what you're going to most likely be doing instead is walking around and checking out multiple districts or neighborhoods that all have their own unique character. Tokyo doesn’t have one certain vibe or one certain characteristic, because it's an enormous city with many unique neighborhoods. You can have a completely different experience depending on which neighborhoods you go to.
For example, one day we went with a new friend to see her urban farm in a less-central district of Tokyo. We were shocked to see family farm operations happening right there within city limits. In the same day, we visited Ahikabara — one of the busiest and most urban areas of Tokyo. There you can find the neon lights you've heard about, video game culture that is so advanced and niche you most likely won't be able to participate, maid cafes, cat cafes, owl cafes, sex shops, and everything else the heart can desire.
You'll probably find your own special corners of the city that make you feel most at home, but for me, I had the most fun and felt the most comfortable in Koenji, a youthful neighborhood with lots of musicians, cute bookstores, little coffee shops, and tiny hipster bars that only have a few seats in them.
We went in winter. If you’re going then, be ready to dress in layers! When you're outside it can be quite windy, especially downtown where all the tall buildings are, but then when you go downstairs to the subway the air is hot, hot, hot.
Cassandra K. gave the brilliant advice of “if you want to stand out, dress in bright colors and patterns; if you want to fit in, bring all dark colors”. This was 100% true and I appreciated the insight. Tokyo is an extremely homogeneous society. People tend to dress almost exactly the same. Most people wear black on black or navy on black or brown on black, especially during the weekdays.
Bring comfortable shoes so you can do plenty of walking around and adventuring around town. Bonus points if these comfortable shoes are slip-ons. You will need to remove your shoes at the entrance of most homes, some businesses, fitting rooms inside clothing stores, and many other places.
I could go on and on for a long time about what to do in Tokyo, but it's the kind of place where everyone is going to have a completely different experience based on their outlook, expectations, and desires.
With this trip, I tried hard not to get too obsessed with seeing every single touristy site and taking every single tour (my normal method of traveling). I usually don't like missing out on a single thing and try to pack the schedule with dozens of activities. In Tokyo, however, I kept our agenda light and laid-back to go with the flow every day based on how we were feeling. This decision made for a perfect trip. The city is too big to try to plan every minute of your day.
Tokyo is a magical wonderland that we can’t wait to go back to as soon as possible. I hope this guide has been helpful and that you’re able to have your own adventure there soon!
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