Chicago-Style Pizza in Tokyo! Devil Craft in Kanda

It's no secret that I enjoy food. I'm not into crazy culinary creations by celebrity chefs at $50 a plate - I'm more of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives variety. In fact, I made it a point when traveling in America to eat at DDD restaurants as much as possible.

And now that I've been in Japan for nearly half a year, I have learned to deal with the cravings for those delicious meals I can't (easily) find here. I make my own tacos. I get my hot dogs from Ikea. I eat at McDonalds (tastes better and fresher than in America) or Burger King (which has an awesome spicy chicken cutlet for only 100 yen) occasionally. I haven't had chicken wings since arriving, and my craving for spicy food means that I either live off of Burger King fried chicken cutlets or make my own spicy curry (I make my own curry, and it's awesome).

One thing I miss out here is a good Chicago-style pizza. I like New York thin crust too, and would pick up a slice in SF at Taraval Pizza about once a week. Japanese pizza is super-thin, and just doesn't satisfy like NY and Chicago pizzas do.

I ran into a teacher I know from another school and they mentioned a craft beer bar/Chicago-style pizza restaurant, and I knew I had to go sometime. I found that opportunity Sunday.

Devil Craft is in Kanda, a two minute walk from the JR station. They have limited seating, so arrive early. Amanda and I got there just before four pm, and by the time we left there was a good crowd waiting for tables or seats at the bars.

They have appetizers, and the waffle fries looked and smelled really good (it's hard to mess up waffle fries). The wings we saw looked okay, but nothing to write home about. But we were there for the pizza. They have small personal pizzas (just right for a full meal for one person) and larger pizzas that would feed three people. The two of us took on the challenge of a large pizza. We got the supreme-style "Devil Works."

It's veggie-heavy and the sauce is full of tomatoes, though there is meat included! I have to say it was delicious. The crust was very crisp and thin, and tasted great. The ingredients were fresh and flavorful. It was almost everything I'd want in a Chicago-style pizza. I couldn't talk Amanda into the Abe Froman (meat and cheese) or Meatzilla (super-crazy amounts of meat) so I had to settle for something kind of healthy. Next time, I take on the Meatzilla.

They also have classic pizzas, salads, and the previously-mentioned appetizers. The place focuses on imported craft beers. Sound Brewery is their featured brewer, and I tried the O'Regan's Revenge Irish Red Ale. It's pretty good for a red ale. I also had a great wheat beer, which must have been the Lagunitas Windsansea Wheat. Very fruity and flavorful and exactly what a wheat beer should taste like!

I'll be back, for sure. Chicago pizza isn't cheap in the States, and it isn't here either, so this is a once-in-a-long-while trip. But if you live in Japan and want Chicago-style pizza, you really need to check this place out.

Oh, and if you know of any other Chicago style pizza restaurants in Japan (especially Tokyo), leave a comment!

Oishii-so: Give me a break! KitKat Flavors in Japan!

Japan is known for it's flavor. More specifically, it's odd flavors. I haven't had much of a chance to try the ice cream flavors, though I see green tea flavors in almost everything. I tried some steak flavored cheetos last month. That was an adventure.

Nothing seems to be more coveted than the variety of Kit Kats found in stores, though.

Some of them are available only for a limited time, or in certain places. The key is to always keep your eyes open!

The first flavor is one I found in a special box, and it didn't come cheap. 800 yen for a souvenir box from Yokohama.  This is the one in the middle-right package above, and as you can tell from the picture, it's flavored like a strawberry cheesecake. The flavor is awesome, just like you'd expect from a strawberry cheesecake. It isn't as tart as a cheesecake would be, though - more sweet. It looks like this:
From there, we move on to the other white-colored Kit Kat, in the white wrapper:
This has a cookies and cream taste, with a black Oreo-style center. The cream flavor is stronger than the cookies, but it is pretty good! There is an aftertaste similar to eating just the center of Oreo cookies.

Next, let's get one of the patriotic ones. How about the blue-edged wrapper?
The chocolate tastes different on this Kit Kat. It came in a bag of three different types (whatever happened to one of them I don't know - or maybe it was only two types). It is supposed to be some sort of worldwide edition, so maybe this is a dutch chocolate or something!

And as for the red-edged wrapper:
The chocolate tastes more "normal" - in fact, there really isn't much diference from normal Kit Kats. Maybe they are normal for me - perhaps English.

Next, the green wrapper:
Green tea!

They taste just like green tea, but similar to the cheesecake, are sweeter. These are pretty good too! But I don't care much for green tea, so they aren't a favorite.

Last, my favorite bunch:
Pink Kit Kats! Strawberry flavored, these are super-sweet and strawberry-y. I really like these Kit Kats! 

And one more for good luck. These aren't mini Kit Kats:
This is a long bar, and costs about 100 yen. This is "Salt and Puff" flavored. There is a hint of salt flavor, and little cereal puff balls around the "cookie" part of the bar. It's really good!

As I find additional flavors, I'll let you know. There are dark chocolate bars out there for sure, plus I know I'll come across some other flavors over the year. Here's hoping I find a blueberry flavor soon!

Mailing and Money Orders: A Trip to the Japanese Post Office, plus: Receiving Packages

It took me long enough to get to a post office, and even then it was a trip initiated by Amanda, my new coworker. She wanted to send some money back home (really, this was a bit of a bad call since she just got here, but that's not the point) and send a "care package" with some goodies for her family. I wanted to join her, both to help her navigate the insanity that is Japanese paperwork and to send a small package off to America to get an idea of how it works.

Mailing a tiny package to the US isn't that difficult. My envelope was small enough I didn't need a customs form, though the weight brought the price to 400 yen. Still, not too bad. Amanda wanted to send two packages - one a return to a company in the US and the other to her family. She didn't end up shipping stuff home, but the large package was sent via EMS, which is basically airmail. That package needed a shipping label, which is about the same as sending an international package from the US.

As for the money order she had to change yen back into US$. This, a couple weeks after we changed the US$ into yen. (But anyway....) The post office can handle this quite easily. You fill out a form and pay the fee - 2000 yen in this case but usually 2500 yen. It takes a bit of time for the teller/postal worker to handle the transaction, but eventually we got our receipt and money order, in US dollars!

A word of advice on sending money back to the US: try to do it infrequently in larger amounts. The 2500-yen fee is a flat fee regardless of the amount you send. You can send up to 100,000 yen (about $1200 with the current exchange rates) on one money order or instant transfer. This is exactly what I'm planning on doing early next year.

One more word of advice. Any time you fill out an official form in Japan - at a bank, the post office, work - it needs to be perfect. If it isn't, you have to start all over again. As we navigated a couple of the forms at the post office last week, and a simple cash withdrawal form at the bank today, we had to redo them after they were completed because of minor mistakes or even a stray mark. So should you mess up on the form, you might as well start over. White out, cross outs, and extra marks just aren't allowed. Be prepared!

The post office experience took a couple hours, partly because it was our first time. Next time I go, I should be in and out in 30 minutes flat. The nice thing about Japanese post offices, banks, and other service-type businesses is the take-a-number setup. There is plenty of seating and you even sit in the lounge area while they complete your transactions.

As a little bonus feature in this post, let me tell you how great JP Post is. They won't leave packages at the door of my apartment (theft is just way too easy) so they leave the "We missed you!" slip in the mailbox, just like in America. But when you call back (yes, call), you select the date and time you want the package redelivered, in a 2-hour window. Yes. Date. Time. Two hour window. I've had a few deliveries since arriving (furniture provided by my employer, official documents, my internet modem, and a couple personal packages) and this is the most awesome thing in the world, if you ask me. Many times, I've been able to have it redelivered at work instead of having to be at home. And on Saturday at 4PM, we scheduled the most recent delivery to arrive between 7 and 9pm that night. A three hour turn-around time? That is service.

Let's go clothes shopping in Japan!

I brought a lot of clothing from America to Japan. But I very quickly realized that the clothes I carried across the ocean wouldn't suit me for a full year.

Most people living in Japan don't have dryers, and the washing machines certainly aren't as effective as the ones back in the States - many of them only use cold water. While my clothes are clean enough, drying is certainly an issue. My simple standard-weight t-shirts from Old Navy, etc take nearly a full day to dry. Staples such as pants, dress shirts, and cottom boxers take quite some time too. Jeans can be even worse! Right now is the rainy season, so I can't leave my clothes out all day. I did laundry this morning, and I need those clothes dry in about an hour.

My other problem is with the clothes I brought over. I didn't bring a summer work wardrobe. Just wearing a standard cotton t-shirt under a dress shirt was stifling! And most of my dress shirts are heavyweight - great for the cooler months but certainly no fun once the weather turns warm.

So this past month I've been trying to build a collection of clothing to be my summer wardrobe.

Those of you who know me in person know I'm not exactly fit. I've lost a good bit of weight since I arrived but I still have work to be done. Plus, at 5'9"-5'10", I'm a little taller than most Japanese men. I knew finding clothes would be difficult, so for those of you who might have to go through the same, here's my story.

In US sizes, I'm somewhere between a large and an XL - more like a large now. Japanese sizes are smaller than US sizes, though, and XL in America translates to 3L here. Luckily, I found a great store in the Koshigaya Laketown mall called Shirts Code. They carry dress shirts in sizes up to 3L that look pretty nice. They come in a range of prices - I picked up six nice bargain cool-biz shirts for 8000 yen. This way I won't have to worry about laundry too often!

As for underwear, Don Quijote (the Japanese version of K-Mart) carries a broad selection. I found packs of four cool-biz undershirts for about 700 yen each, plus some comfortable summer boxer-briefs. (Note: I would stay away from the long-john looking things. Unless you like wearing long-johns in the summer.) The undershirts are up to size 2L (but I usually wear a size smaller on undershirts so they fit better). The bottoms I bought were about 500 yen each but they're designed for athletics, so I can wear them on my active days at work or on the weekends when I'm running about. Don Quijote isn't too great a place for shirts and pants for larger people, though their sizes could run large.

UNIQLO is an inexpensive clothing chain, but they don't really carry larger sizes in most stores. You might have better luck in Tokyo. The Gap can be found around Japan, and their sizes are larger - I would probably fit in a Gap size XL shirt. But those clothes are expensive!

For those living in Saitama or willing to make the trip, the Daiei in Shin-Koshigaya/Minami-Koshigaya carries plus-size guys clothing.

100-yen shops like Daiso will carry cheap undershirts, socks, ties, belts, even dress shirts. The undershirts are good in a pinch, though the one I bought as a "tester" is unraveling at an armpit seam after only the second wash. I've had better luck with a pair of socks and several ties I've picked up.

I still need to buy a pair of dress pants (thanks to weight loss, I can only wear two pairs of dress pants that I brought), some casual shorts and a couple casual shirts. I'll let you know how that goes... I'm planning on visiting a couple Tokyo-area flea markets this weekend and next and I'll be keeping my eye out for casual clothing. Though I may be buying all the rest of my clothes from Daiei!

Location: Kasai Rinkai Park

Yet again, I've gone a long time (this time, a full month!) since posting. As many of my students say, it's difficult. I should get into a writing routine again, like I had in California.

To give you an idea of how far behind I am, these pictures were taken in mid-February. Yup.
 Kasai Rinkai Park is located right on Tokyo Bay, next to the Arakawa River and the Tokyo Disney Resort. It has its own rail station, Kasairinkaikoen.
 On the west side of the park sits the ubiquitous Ferris wheel. It towers over everything in the area and, of course, offers some nice views.
 Looking back towards the train station (which is actually in the upper-left corner of the picture), you can see this nice little lake with a bridge. There were a couple ducks in the water.
 Visible across the park to the east is the Disney resort area. Well, mainly the hotels. The west side of the park has a couple estuaries. There weren't many birds in February but I'm sure they show up in the summer.
 To the south is a pair of beach islets, one of which is accessible by the bridge seen here. The tide was heading out while I took these pictures, exposing more of the beach surface.
 I'm sure in the summer, this path is nicely shaded by the trees.
 A view of the estuary looking back at the Ferris wheel.
 Another view of the estuary.
 And yet another. The dome on the right is the aquarium, next to an observation deck, looking out on the Tokyo Bay and back towards this estuary area.
 The bridge to the beach is fairly attractive and modern in style.
 This picture is deliberately out of focus. I really wanted to run up that ramp like a little child (and I think some have tried).
 The tide was out by the time I arrived at the beach, which was perfect - not many people were out on the beach due to the cold temperatures so the sand was untouched by feet. The little lumps seen in the waves of sand are from clams just beneath the surface.
 The sand almost looks fake here.
 A random clam shell sticking up out of the sand. I suppose the clam had become food for another creature recently.
 And this crab had met its match earlier as well. Maybe he died of old age, as it didn't look like the birds had found him yet.

 A view into the Ferris wheel.
 Golf is very popular in Japan, but space is limited. Driving ranges pop up all over the Tokyo area.
 Looking towards the Asakusa area of Tokyo, and the not-yet-open-at-the-time SkyTree.

I like this picture. It's fun and colorful! Tokyo can be a very drab city, especially in winter. The buildings are all grey or tan, and with no leaves on the trees everything has a dull look. Thankfully this inflatable in front of the Ferris wheel can brighten the end of the post!

Kasai Rinkai Park is free and open every day. There is an aquarium, food services, the Ferris wheel, and a couple other small attractions which have additional charges, and these close on some Wednesdays. I don't think swimming is allowed (I wouldn't recommend it - there are non-stinging but still unnerving jellyfish in these waters) but you can go wading on the beach with your kids. I spent a few hours there exploring the park, but it could be just a nice place to stroll or relax after a day at Disney. The park can get very crowded on holidays and Sundays, especially in the afternoons. Also note that, like many other places in Japan, toilet paper may not be available in the restroom. Please plan ahead and bring some or ask at the service center.