Monday, July 23, 2012

The Possibility of Tokyo

"What if I went to Tokyo for a week to take cooking classes?"  I asked Jason.  "You know how we talked about me going to a conference somewhere.  Well, I am not big on conferences.  It's all schmoozing and no cooking, and it wouldn't cost any less than going to Japan.  Of course, this is completely crazy and you are welcome to veto this."  Jason thought about it for a minute.  I could see him trying to figure out the kid drop off and pick up schedule in his head, the traffic, the possibility of working from home, and everything else involved with taking care of a 2 year old and 5 year old all alone.  "I think we can make this work," he said.  "How many chances will you get to go to Tokyo and have someone to stay with?  Go ahead and talk to Junko about it."

Junko and Stephen are the reason that my dream of going to Tokyo had a chance of materializing.  We became friends the first week both of our families moved to Natick, MA.  Our daughters were the same age and we frequently got together for play dates.  We were devastated when we found out only a year after we met that they have to move to Tokyo for work.  Our daughters still talk about each other even though they haven't seen each other for 2 years and when Junko and Sophia were visiting Boston this week, it was like not a single day has passed.  The girls were giggling, dancing, and playing together instantly.  Junko gave us an open invitation to visit them as a whole family, but the maximum amount of flying and jet lag that you can get on this planet with 2 little kids was more than we could sanely undertake.

Having kids put the idea of going somewhere alone into the realm of science fiction.  There are times and places for things.  This is the stage of my life when I should be joining a PTA, chaperoning school trips, and redecorating the house.  But there is a strong chance I'll go mad if I go down this perfectly reasonable path.  Putting all form of adventure on hold for the next 15 years because of guilt hasn't worked well so far.  But why should going somewhere by myself be so unreasonable?  Professional women do it.  All my friends who are doctors, engineers, and researchers go to conferences, and they love it.  Of course, they have to do it.  Their managers are requiring them to go and paying for all the expenses.  Since I run my own business, I don't have to do anything unless I decide that it's worth it and am willing to pay for it.  I have finally decided that it is indeed worth it.  Jason and I joked that it was cheaper than therapy and infinitely more fun.

After everyone went to bed, I went to my computer and started searching for cooking classes in Tokyo in English.  By 1am, my hope was deflated like a souffle that wasn't eaten quickly enough.  I knew Tokyo was expensive, but I never realized quite how expensive.  I guess people weren't kidding when they told me about $12 for a glass of coke.  Everything I found was in $400-500 range for 3 hours of instruction.  I just couldn't bring myself to spend this kind of money on a trip that was making me feel a little guilty to begin with.

That's when I remembered about Elizabeth Andoh.  I've used her recipes before with great success and was wondering if she was still teaching in Tokyo.  People call her Julia Child of Japanese cuisine for good reason.  She is fluent in both languages, has lived in Japan since the 70's, went to culinary school in Japan, and wrote several cookbooks about Japanese cuisine in English.  What better person to learn from than Elizabeth!  I found her site (tasteofculture.com), but to my disappointment learned that she was not currently offering any classes.  I couldn't even find her e-mail address.  "Oh well, maybe it wasn't meant to be after all," I thought.  "There is always a sushi academy in LA."

But I wasn't ready to give up on Tokyo so easily.  The next morning, I thought of someone who could help me reach Elizabeth -- Matthew Amster-Burton.  Matthew is a food writer from Seattle.  We share many interests: Japanese knives, feeding children without relying on chicken nuggets, dry-aged meat, and understanding why things in the kitchen work the way they do.  When we finally met in person on our trip to Seattle, it felt as if we have known each other for years.  A few years ago, Matthew went to Japan with his daughter.  Surely he'd know how to reach Elizabeth. I e-mailed Matthew and got an immediate reply with Elizabeth's e-mail and reassurance that I don't have to bankrupt my family on this trip.  I e-mailed Elizabeth right away, but didn't have high hopes.  Imagine how many e-mails like mine she gets.

That very day, I was up to my elbow in dough when my business line rang.  I picked up the phone with one clean hand, squeezed it under my cheek, and tried to extricate myself from the goop.  "Helen's Kitchen.  How can I help you?" I answered. "Hi Helen, this is Elizabeth Andoh."  I almost dropped the phone into the dough.  Elizabeth Andoh?  The Elizabeth Andoh?  "Elizabeth Andoh from Tokyo?" I asked hesitantly.  "Yes, but I am now in New York, which is why I am calling," she replied.  "I got your message and wanted to talk to you. You are a teacher, and you sound serious about learning Japanese cuisine.  I am trying to put together a group of 3-4 people like you for a very intensive 3 day program.  My hope is that you can pass this knowledge to your students in the US."

Good thing Elizabeth was doing most of the talking because I was speechless.  "This can really happen!" I thought.

If you have any travel advice, leave me a comment.  I am interested in everything: where to get the best priced airfare, where to eat, what places to visit, knife shops, ceramic shops, classes, demos, guidebooks, good websites, Japanese language sites.  Oh, and toy shops.  I'd better bring home some wicked good toys, and hello kitty stuff for my kiddos.


11 comments:

Ella said...

Helen, it sounds like Julia Child movie story, very exciting :). Enjoy it with all your might! :) I am looking forward to what you are gonna teach us after you come back!

Anonymous said...

Tsukiji fish market! It was absolutely the highlight of my trip to Tokyo as a foodie. Plan to go crazy early in the morning and have sushi for breakfast. Yes, really.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsukiji_fish_market

Anonymous said...

Kind of an oddball suggestion, since we don't know each other... but I've been reading your blog for a while now, so I'll make the suggestion:

A lot of times you can get cheaper airfares by using frequent flyer miles. I actively sell mine (a penny a mile). I just quoted a random flight from BOS to Tokyo (not Narita but Haneda) on random dates (12/3-12/8). It looks like it could be done for 50,000 or $500+taxes.

It's just a suggestion, but it could save you some money.

Helen Rennie said...

Hi guys,

Thank you so much for all your wonderful suggestions. Of course I am going to Tsukiji. That's part of the reason for going to Tokyo :) Sushi for breakfast sounds awesome.

Dear Anonymous reader who is offering his/her miles for sale. Wow -- Thank you! Would you mind e-mail me with more details? I don't know much about how miles work. you can reach me at helenrennie AT gmail DOT com

Will said...

Helen, this is so awesome. In terms of advice, I only suggest that you call your carrier to unlock your phone so you can still remain connected (if you want to). Otherwise, it might be worth calling to activate for international data roaming in case you need it.

Will said...

Also, if you want to make the most of your trip, avoid jetlag: http://daringfireball.net/linked/2012/03/05/fasting-jet-lag

Helen Rennie said...

Will,

Great advice. I've never been abroad with a cell phone before ;) will have to find out how this. I wonder if the carriers charge you some exorbitant fees if you use your phone in another country. The jetlag diet sound makes perfect sense. I'll need all the help I can get to adjust to Tokyo time quickly.

Cheers,
-Helen

ken said...

Did you go?
What what did Andoh's course cost?
Sounds intriguing...

Helen Rennie said...

Hi Ken,

I am going in the beginning of November. Elizabeth Andoh's course is roughly $600 for 3 days of classes (it depends on the going exchange rate).

Why? Want to join us? I think she still has 1 spot open.

Cheers,
-Helen

ken said...

Finally remembered to check this...I'd love to go w/ foodies :-O
Any idea what the other costs are (flight/lodging) and how long the trip is? I'm in the Boston area too.

Helen Rennie said...

Hi Ken,

I got a flight for about $1200. I am staying with a friend, so don't know how much hotels are. Elizabeth said there is a hotel near her that's reasonable by Tokyo standards. The class dates are Nov. 6,7, 9. If you are serious about going, send me an e-mail and I'll put you in touch with Elizabeth.

Cheers,
-Helen
helenrennie AT gmail DOT com