November Writing Challenge Day 26: Ramen

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

Nothing beats ramen on a cold night.

My wife and I visited Japan a few years ago while our daughter was studying abroad for a year. It was an awesome 10-day trip and we’re always talking about taking another trip there.

We stayed in Tokyo the entire time and thanks to our daughter we got to explore the city like locals, since she’d already been there for six months when we showed up. The public transportation is efficient and clean, and we never needed to use our non-existent Japanese to ask for directions.

Around the neighborhood where our daughter was staying were a few local ramen shops and we ate at one in particular a few times during our stay. In fact, we ate at a different ramen shop nearly every day we were in Tokyo. I thought we would’ve gotten tired of it, but we didn’t.

Of course, the ramen is better in Japan than back home in the States. Every bowl of ramen was deeper in flavor, fresher in ingredients, and cooked better overall. We liked the efficiency of the local shops: once you entered, there were little kiosks where you entered your order and paid, then sat down and gave the server your ticket. A few minutes later and your piping hot bowl of ramen was placed in front of you.

We learned basic etiquette on the first night we were in Tokyo, like slurping is OK but rubbing your chopsticks is not. We also learned to love the library quiet of all of the shops we ate in. The locals enjoyed their meals with a minimum of chit-chat and there was no music blaring or sports yakking from any televisions.

Besides the ramen itself, it’s the whole dining culture that I miss the most. When we came back home, we noticed how LOUD American restaurants are. It took us awhile to really enjoy a nice meal out, and we’ll still mention Japan whenever we sit down at a local eatery and get bombarded by noise.

The bowl pictured above, unfortunately, is not from Japan. It’s a tonkotsu from our local ramen joint, which would shutter its doors within a week if we were in Tokyo. But we’re in the Inland Empire of Southern California so when we’re craving ramen and don’t want to make the long trek to Los Angeles, this is the best we can do. If it was better we’d probably eat it more often. But even if it was I’m not sure we would: like all of the restaurants here, it’s LOUD.

Happy New Year!


Nayarit, Mexico

I don’t have an official New Year’s Resolutions list for 2017, but one of my goals is to blog more often. After blogging every day in 2015, I only posted a handful of blogs in 2016. I did blog about board games every day in August, but that was the last time I wrote anything here (I do post twice each week about board game news for

I had a few posts in the queue that I never completed so I’m condensing them into this one post. The TL;DR version: Besides my trip to the Philippines a few years ago, 2016 was the best travel year of my life.

My wife and I began the year in Nayarit, Mexico, where we stayed at one of those all-inclusive beach resorts. It was the first time we’d done an all-you-can-eat-and-drink trip and we loved it. We spent a few days at our resort just soaking up the sun and enjoying the non-stop flow of pina coladas. I’ve never been a fan of pina coladas, but this trip changed my mind.

Of course, I’d enjoy almost any drink with this daily view:


Wake up, eat, stroll down to the beach, sip pina coladas while reading a book, then take a dip in the ocean: not a bad schedule for a few days while back at home it was raining.

We ended our stay with a couples massage next to the beach:


We nearly melted into those massage tables. Neither of us wanted to leave after doing some major chillaxing.

A few months later we went to visit our daughter in Tokyo. She was finishing up her study abroad program so we flew out to spend almost two weeks with her, which was beyond awesome. My wife and I had never been to Japan and having our daughter show us around was the best.

Now, I appreciated our all-inclusive vacation to Mexico, but typically when I travel I prefer to soak up the local culture. Our time in Tokyo was exactly that: we were staying at our daughter’s rental which was a bike ride away from her school. We did not see any fellow tourists or travelers anywhere, except at the school or when we ventured into the busier parts of Tokyo. It was fun to see the local residents go about their day. Sure, it wasn’t as relaxing as sipping pina coladas on the beach, but it was much more real.

We had an amazing time, especially since we were fortunate to book our trip during cherry blossom season:


My picture on a cloudy day doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the cherry blossoms.

Another thing that photos can’t capture is the deliciousness of the food we ate in Tokyo. From the local ramen shops to the restaurants we tried in the heart of Tokyo, there is NOTHING that compares in the U.S. Yes, I’m a full-on Japanese food snob now. Sushi and ramen have been forever ruined for me.

This lunch special was at a quiet little spot near the famous Tsujiti Fish Market:


The sushi master served us these meals and we gobbled them down, keeping our voices low as we raved about each piece.

This was the most interesting thing about Tokyo: for such a densely populated city, it wasn’t nearly as loud and overwhelming as I thought it would be, especially inside all of the packed restaurants we visited. It was noisy at the train stations, but it wasn’t anything worse than the U.S. But in the restaurants it was so nice being able to enjoy our meals in library-like quiet. When we got back home that was the first thing we noticed: the volume level.

However, we found one place that was not as quiet or reserved as the rest of Tokyo: Dear Spiele, a cool board game cafe located upstairs in a nondescript building. Thankfully, our daughter is a pro with Google Maps because I would’ve gotten lost a few times trying to find it.


The photo above is of one of the walls filled with games. We played Timeline, Camel Up, and Splendor (I wanted to play King of Tokyo, of course, but the cards were all in Japanese). There were two groups of young people while we were there; one of the groups was in deep thought playing a strategy board game while the other group was playing a party game, based on their laughter. It was almost shocking to hear such loud outbursts after we’d experienced nothing but quiet throughout our trip. I had a big smile on my face, though: it was the sound of gamers having fun.

People really are alike, no matter where you go.


Day 322: Green Tea Pocky

Green Tea Pocky

Green Tea Pocky

Thanks to my stepdaughter, I tried Green Tea Pocky for the first time. I also had a Green Tea Kit Kat, but I preferred the Pocky.

According to this website, “For those who are interested in experiencing the soul of Japan, please try the Wagokoro Series!” which includes the Green Tea Pocky (Kyoto Uji Matcha).

I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad flavor of Pocky and the green tea was tasty. I’m not sure if I experienced the soul of Japan by eating a snack, but I’d do it again in heartbeat.