A Travellerspoint blog

Lost in Translation and Lost in Tokyo

Daily Obs: I'm going to miss Tokyo but I'm ready to be able to speak the language of the country. Also, the Japanese people have this traveling thing down to an exact science.

Last day in Tokyo! Michelle left this morning at 7a and I basically stayed awake catching up with things on the computer. Starting to regret not sleeping in longer right about now.

I did not have any real plans for today except that Janelle figured out that we were both in Tokyo at the same time and we were going to meet up for dinner. I did have quite a bit of anxiety worrying about what I was going to do with my luggage for a whole day, but I decided I would roll the dice and head to Shinjuku Station which is where the airport limo bus takes off from and which is a huge area with lots to do and eat. At Shinjuku Station, I was praying for a medium size (500Y) coin locker to be open somewhere. The ones that you see immediately were obviously all full but I somehow found this huge section of lockers under the West underground plaza exit near the basement of Odakyu. I had no problem fitting my luggage and my extra bag I've acquired from purchasing goods. I grabbed my pin and I was in my way, making sure I took pictures to help me identify my way back to my luggage.

About 40 lbs lighter, I decided I should probably try some actual ramen in Japan. I headed to Menya Musashi. It wasn't difficult to find knowing that there was a samurai on the curtain. I am extremely grateful that the udon shop we went to was a vending machine order and that Michelle had already taught me how to operate it because that was the ordering method here. The menu wasn't in English at all so I chose #1 which by the picture looked good. I really wish I had known which number was for the dipping ramen because it looked even more delicious. After getting my ticket, a worker asked me regular or large size noodles. I opted for the regular. I waited in line until a previous stool opened up for me and sat down. Almost immediately, I was served a steaming hot bowl of delicious ramen with a perfectly soft boiled egg and 2 huge pieces of pork belly. I quickly dug in (which seems to be the only way you are supposed to enjoy ramen). Because of the atmosphere and size of the place, I felt pressured to keep eating faster and faster. But wow that ramen was delicious. The broth was a lot lighter than normal and helped with the nausea sensation I usually get after eating ramen. The pork belly was super tender. After scarfing the ramen down, I left and headed for Hanazono Shrine.

This shrine is in the middle of Kabukicho, known for Yakuza and being the red light district. I think if I hadn't read about kabukicho being dangerous, I don't think I would have felt unsafe, but seeing as how I did, I walked a little faster especially because I got really lost. All things considered, the neighborhood just felt dirtier and lined with more "random" women. When I got to the shrine, I was surprised to see blossomed Sakura trees! The shrine itself was fairly small but impressively in the middle of all these buildings.

I left the shrine and decided to wander about Shinjuku. I went to department stores especially Bic Qlo, the famous mash up of BIC Camera (like fry's) and Uniqlo. It was an interesting store to say the least. I also made a stop at Sanrio Gate to pick up a specific souvenir while I was face timing and showing my nieces how crazy Tokyo. I love portable wifi. My mission after that was to try to find places to sit but most of the coffee shops were packed and overflowing with people. So I continued to wander and sat whenever I found random places until dinner time.

We decided on curry so we went to CoCo Ichibayan West Shinjuku Exit. It was delicious but I think Golden Curry is still a good substitute and the place in Honolulu is still the best hands down. The nice thing about CoCo is that they give you unlimited pickles for your curry. Mmmmmm. It was nice catching up with janelle and her hubby. They were off to an onsen and to Hong Kong tomorrow. And I headed off to the limo bus to go to Haneda knowing it would be filled with open seats.

Since writing this in Haneda, the shops here are very nice. This terminal was upgraded in 2010 and it has a very modern feel. The coolest part is the Edo Marketplace where a band happened to be playing live. There is also an observatory and souvenir shops to keep everyone entertained. I really wish I wasn't leaving and that this charging station was next to some real seats....until next time, Japan!

Posted by E.M.N 06:47 Archived in Japan Tagged shinjuku haneda ramen menya musashi Comments (0)

The Sakuras that refused to bloom early

Imperial Palace, Chidorifugai, Maisen at Tokyo Station, Harajuku, Shibuya Crossing, Hachiko, Tenma curry

Observation of the day: Tokyo is WAY CROWDED on the weekends. Also, department stores in japan are WAY BETTER. Foods for days.

My 3 Day Tokyo Metro Card, which has been extremely convenient and cost saving, became a little bent and apparently the ticket stalls can no longer read it. So all day today the metro guards have been really helpful and understanding but for some reason instead of issuing a new card they just let me through. You just cannot beat hospitality and service here.
We started today at Imperial Palace. This apparently was the largest castle in the world in the Edo era and the emperor still lives in it today. Most was rebuilt due to bombing in WWII. The palace is completely free of charge and people were picnicking throughout the fields of flora. The weather today was so much warmer than the other days, so it was nice to be able to enjoy the outdoors. Had we been any smarter, we would have brought more snacks or bento boxes to enjoy. The main downside was that the cherry blossoms or Sakura weren't in full bloom yet. We still walked all the way to Chidorifugai to see the rental boats on the water and the cherry blossom trees. I could imagine how beautiful it would be 2 weeks from now in full cherry blossom season. A picture perfect landscape.

Famished, we left Chidoya and went to Tokyo Station to find delicious tonkatsu at Maisen. Tonkatsu ruined. This Panko was so light and so fluffy. It is hard to believe tonkatsu can be so much better than what I've eaten my whole life. Why must you torment me, Tokyo?? I have to admit it took us a long time to actually get out of Tokyo station and find this restaurant hidden on the 12th floor of Daimaru. We headed down 2 floors to Tokyu Hands and shopped around for souvenirs and trinkets, but mainly for the STATIONERY AND PENS. I'm officially obsessed with "Frixion" Pens. USA, you really need to step up your pen game.

Then we decided to brave the SWARMS of people at Harajuku but only after we stopped by Tenma curry for a curry pan snack (so yummy). The Takashita street in Harajuku was packed with people mainly wanting to buy crepes but also goods that stall owners were peddling. It was a really fun place to walk around and see Americanized Japanese fashion as well as the unique Japanese doll/frilly/lacy fashion. The less crowded areas and side streets were extremely hipster. Felt like walking down haight. Shoes here are so awesome in colors but really expensive. Kicks for days. Being unsuccessful in purchasing goods, we headed to Shibuya.

The first thing on our agenda was to get ice packs for Michelle's furikake souvenir. We traveled to one of my favorite places to visit: the food show I'm the basement of a department store. How do I explain heaven? The food show is basically produce, warm food, baked goods, and snacks all put together in the basement. Almost any type of food you could want is available there. The best part is you get to hunt for samples like at Costco only wayyyy better. The hugest secret I'll let you in on is that when it is about to close, all the food goes on sale!!! What a way to shop. Anyways, Michelle bought some salmon sashimi and we went on our way. We headed out to the famous Shibuya Crossing and *gasp* crossed it! It surprisingly didn't feel as crowded as it looks. We crossed with determination because I was on a mission to get to the Disney store, which is awesome in Shibuya. It isn't quite as large as Times Square's but it is more whimsical. We went looking for something called tsum tsums which are basically the cuter versions of all the characters. Then, we went to a store called Loft so Michelle could find more stationary and pens. Haha. Actually, the loft store had a wider selection than Tokyu hands. I chose to stop bleeding money and sat in a random archway to recover the feeling in my worn out feet.
After shopping, we walked around looking for good places to eat and settled on getting discounted sushi, sashimi, croquettes, and boas in the basement of Tokyu. The only downside to eating at the department store is trying to find a place to eat it but we were successful and had a delicious but thrifty meal. Full, we headed back across Shibuya Crossing to the Starbucks 2nd floor. I bought a Sakura chocolate frappucino which tasted like a white chocolate milk shake and headed upstairs to find a seat. (fun fact: you can go to the second floor of the adjacent music store and sneak in for the viewing that way) I lucked out and got a perfect seat to people watch. It's unfathomable how busy Shibuya Crossing is. Every time the lights changed green, there was always a massive group of people to cross in EVERY direction. The best part of watching was wondering why there were always a significant amount of people crossing after the walking light turned red. Seriously, so many near hits with cars. People would run into the intersection, try to attempt to go further, and then cowered back to the closest curb. Funny logic going on a red light. Being the last night in Tokyo, we took a picture with the statue of Hachiko, the famous dog that waited diligently for his master. With only tomorrow daytime left for me, the reality I starting to set in that I actually have to leave this wondrous place full of good eats I cannot have and fun times with my crazy little. At least, I am ready to not live out of a suitcase and be able to shower with a shower curtain.

Imperial Palace entrance
The East Gardens
Maisen - pork tenderloin katsu "chamiton"; that katsu sauce though.
Michelle had it before so she tried it in sandwich form!
Delicious Curry Pan
Harajuku - Takeshita St. (SO INCREDIBLY CROWDED but fun)
Nothing better than DISCOUNTED japanese food. (cheapest sashimi and sushi ever)
Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks 2nd floor
So many people crossing when it is RED!

Posted by E.M.N 18:17 Archived in Japan Tagged shibuya palace imperial harajuku hachiko chidorifugai Comments (0)

So Say Geronimo

Yokohama, Cup Noodle Museum, Chinatown, Kaiseki A511, Karaoke and bars in Roppongi

Observation of the day: I will truly miss how hospitable it has been in Japan from the wet towels to clean your hands when you enter an establishment to the fully stocked bathrooms to the very gracious bartenders. The new level of wasted to be is Salaryman Wasted.

Today we traveled to the beautiful seaside city of Yokohama. We went mainly for the Cup Noodle Museum which seems to be a popular children destination. We learned all about Momofuku Ando, who invented the Cup Noodle and the first instant chicken ramen. I owe many a meal to this guy. We were able to make our very own Cup Noodles. I made a seafood based noodle with crab, corn, kimchi, and fishcakes. Steps to follow in the picture. You can also sign up for cooking lessons on ramen which seemed to be mainly children driven. There is a noodle bazaar with noodles from all different countries. The base noodles are the cup noodle noodles. We ordered the 150Y ones. What a delicious snack. I had a pork kimchi one.

We left the museum for Yokohama Wharf. We lucked out because it was such a gorgeous day and we were able to enjoy the walk along the wooden filled harbor. I wish we could have biked along it. I loved being seaside as well. We then headed to Yokohama Chinatown which is unlike any other chinatown I have been too. It was basically restaurants and bakeries galore without produce markets and the dirtiness that comes with stateside Chinatowns. We stopped at Ryumon and had the 850Y lunch special. We got so much food in comparison to what the pictures on the menu showed. It was quite delicious but on the sweeter side which is apparently how Japanese people like their Chinese food. Michelle ordered some buns that were delicious. But this chinatown did not ruin Chinese food at all.

Feeling rundown, we headed back home for some rest before our kobe beef dinner at Kaiseki A511. We had some difficulty finding this place but when we did, it was full of foreigners. It was the first time we had really been in a place so full of non Japanese people. The wait staff as always was extremely courteous and explained our entire meal in English. We chose to go the full course set Japanese style and we were glad we did compared to the Western style meals we saw served to our neighbors. Each dish was carefully planned out and were delicious, giving us a chance to try different parts of the kobe beef of the cow. The only drawback was that the meal seemed slow paced and took us about 2.5 hours. Each kobe beef we had was tender and juicy with different subtleties in taste. The main kobe beef steak was EXTREMELY tender and they serve it with this soy sauce mouse and wasabi that makes it other worldy. By far the highlight of the meal. I chose to upgrade to the tenderloin over the sirloin that Michelle had and it was well worth it. See pics below for the full course set. Upon leaving, they graciously gifted us kobe beef curry packets to take home!

Wanting to see Roppongi and experience the nightlife with fellow ex pats, we met Jade up there. We went to Bar Rise and some other bar with a guy who had crazy hair. Both bars were tiny but the small bar made for a more intimate environment with the bartenders giving each drink extra attention. At the second bar, Michelle and I truly experienced "Salaryman Wasted." A salaryman is basically a businessman and in Japanese culture, they tend to go out and drink after work with their boss. According to Jade, you drink until your boss stops and typically they stay out all night and a lot pass out on the streets of Tokyo in a park or on a sidewalk. Crazy culture. Anyways, at this bar, one salaryman tried to walk away but ended up loudly crashing into a small fence/wall structure. He was extremely drunk and in the states, this would be means for automatic dismissal out of the bar. Instead, the bartender was so comforting and gracious and offered the man water and let them all stay. Amazing. We left this craziness and headed to a Karaoke Kan building. It had 95 ROOMS! It wasn't even the only game on the block. Japanese people love their karaoke. We were able to sing our hearts out to American songs and left happy to have experienced Tokyo nightlife in Roppongi, filled with salarymen and international strangers.

Wall of ramen at Cup Noodle Museum in Yokohama
Sayings of Momofuku Ando - ironic he is actually Taiwanese!
Step 1: Design your Cup Noodle
Step 2: Put noodles in
Step 3: Choose 4 toppings and a base flavoring
The one on the right is: seafood based with crab, fishcakes, corn, and kimchi.
Step 4: Seal the top
Step 5: Cellophane wrap and shrink
Step 6: Inflate the pillow to protect your precious cup noodle for travel!
We really lucked out in Yokohama for weather. It was GORGEOUS to be seaside.
The famous Wharf
Yokohama Chinatown
Ma po tofu and pork belly lunch specials
Kaiseki A511 Japanese Complete course set
Grilled kobe beef and sea bream with onion puree (part of the round)
Seasonal appetizers that included a fish fried with a rice covering/cherry blossom/broad bean, sea bream with plums, tofu with kobe beef
Domyoji and kobe beef in dashi soup (sticky rice with shredded beef basically)
Tempura kobe beef and vegetable wrapped with tofu skin and spinach (i really liked this one)
Seaweed and bamboo shoot stewed in dashi
Cabbage and kogomi salad (the dressing was really good on this)
Kobe beef Tenderloin 100g
The delicious melt in your mouth shoyu mousse and wasabi
Kobe beef sirloin 100g (looks better than the tenderloin but wasn't as tender)
Kobe beef chirashi and miso soup (the chirashi was sooo good)
Sakura ice cream with fruit (the ice cream tasted almost like a light coconut - I wish I could buy it in grocery stores)

Posted by E.M.N 05:40 Archived in Japan Tagged chinatown museum roppongi wharf yokohama kaiseki nooodle a511 cupnoodle Comments (0)

A Tale of Eating, Just Eating.

Tsukiji Market, Ueno Park, Sensoji Temple, Nakamise Dori, Tokyo Skytree and Akihabara sort of

Observations of the day: I still cannot predict when trains will be busy. It seems like people are off work at almost all times.

Michelle and I wanted to go to Tsukiji Market to watch the fish auctions but Jade (Michelle's) friend said it is basically old men yelling at fish, so we decided to sleep in and got there around 1030a instead. The market is everything you would imagine. People are peddling food, sushi, sashimi, knives, and souvenirs. By this point we were starving since we skipped out daily morning onigiris, so we bought these delicious roasted scallops and scarfed them down. We then attempted to go eat at the famous sushi Dai/daiwa but the lines were probably 2 hours+ long. Instead we found a nice place to sit and got to choose our nigiris. It was delicious and cost me about $15 including an otoro nigiri! The theme of the day has proved to be EATING and more eating. So in addition to the sushi lunch and scallop, we sampled just about everything we could from fish jerky to sardines to tea to Mochi and it was all delicious. I really wish I could bring back so much food. We bought a strawberry red bean paste Mochi which was so delicious and sweet and of course like all foods in Tokyo seem to be, ruined Mochi in the USA forever. Michelle also wanted to try these raw Japanese oysters and I am so glad she did because it was so fresh and the soy sauce vinaigrette was an excellent addition. To my dismay, we left the market and headed to Ueno.

When we got to Ueno, we stopped by a food court that had Wholesome bakery and bought a turtle melon bread, a panda bread with chocolate inside, and a curry pan. It was such a good snack and as always all the bread was yummy. We then walked around Ueno Park. The park had a lot of museums, a zoo, and some shrines. We forewent the museums and zoo but walked by the shrines and the 3 huge ponds. Along the way to a shrine, we encounter a line of food stalls and caved into eating a charcoal grilled fish on a stick and the best ever yakisoba. So delicious. After that we went I go stare at the crazy swan paddle driven boats covering one of the ponds. The swan boats are pretty hilarious and we soon got our fill of watching people fail at paddling and driving.

We went to Sensoji Temple and walked straight through the heavy foot traffic by the Nakamise-dori. We bypassed this to see the temple first which closes at 5p. The temple was built in honor of a gold statue named Kannon. The temple is an extremely popular tourist destination. We visited the temple and the pagoda and even watched a monkey performance! It was a very crowded place overall and we tried to brave the nakamise-dori. The only thing we bought were these fried mochis, one black sesame with red bean paste and the other custard filled. Mmmmm. By this point on was on a hunt for my favorite Japanese noodles, Udon, so we did some googling and chose Kamau, Sanuki Udon which is near an amusement park about a block away. This was such a lucky choice because this was by far the best Udon I have ever had. The broth was perfect and clean while the noodles were the perfect chewy consistency.....UDON ruined forever! Continuing the trend for the day, Michelle bought a wasabi seaweed cracker along the way out of Sensoji.

With our bellies full and warm, we headed to over to Tokyo Skytree. The line was about 45 minutes long to get into the Skytree and it was extrememly packed but the views of Tokyo at night are amazing. It really comes to life at night. You can really appreciate just how large the city is from this view and how small San Francisco is in comparison.

We left with high hopes of exploring Akihabara but found most things closed by 8p. We were able to enjoy some drinks at the famous Gundam Cafe and explored some intense anime collector stores. Ultimately, we headed home but not before stuffing our faces with one last snack: A Mcdonald's Tonkatsu burger. (Not worth it.)

Roasted scallop
Lines for Sushi Dai and Daiwa that we refused to wait in line for
Delicious sushi - amaebi, otoro, chutoro, snapper, anago
Super fresh delicious Japanese oyster
Strawberry mochi
Panda and turtle breads
Ueno Park
Kaminarimon Gate
Wafting incense for good health
Awesome monkey
Fried mochis
BEST UDON EVER - with tempura squid (only 560Y!)
Freshly made crackers
Asahi building and Tokyo Skytree
View from tokyo skytree of fireworks and a ferris wheel
Drinks from Gundam Cafe
Mcdonald's Tonkatsu burger

Posted by E.M.N 16:31 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo ueno park temple market sensōji dori skytree nakamise tsukiji Comments (0)

Good View Tokyo

Meiji Jingu, Nakajima, Gyoen National Park, Tokyo Metropolitan Building, Omoide Yakacho, Robot Restaurant

Observations of the day: I'm going to miss how clean public bathrooms are as well as heated toilet seats. Go figure. Also I am tired of the wind chill. I need warm weather ASAP.

Today has been a long day so photos will come. We started today getting snacks at a Don Quijote. Literally has everything including the random kit Kat flavors we bought. We moved on to Meiji Jingu, a shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his Empress. The surroundings were huge. Torii gates always remind me of Naruto. We did the traditional washing of hands and mouth as well as making offeratory prayers. We walked around and found the treasure museum which basically houses portraits of all the emperors. The running joke is that we are the BIG FAT DIRTY AMERICANS and it held so true when we were whispering in the museum but the only other Americans were being loud and obnoxious.

After Meiji jingu, we went to shinjuku Nakajima, which is a 1 Michelin star restaurant that specializes in sardines. Sounds gross but man it was so delicious. It was also only $8 so it tasted even better. I got the sardine sashimi which was tender and delicious with the minced ginger combo. Michelle got the sardine with egg which was super delicious and tender. Can't beat this place despite having a line and closing at 2p for lunch. Another michelin star under the belt and in the belly.

We left sardines behind and walked over to Shinjuku Gyoen National Park which has a 200Y entrance fee. This park is huge and gorgeous. If it was warmer, we are sure all the sakuras would have blossomed by now but at least we were able to see some select trees defy the odds and bloom cherry blossoms. After traveling around the national park, we made our way to what we thought was the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. It turned out to be a different building but made it over eventually. The view from the 45th floor observatory is unobstructed and free. we went to the south tower which has a better view of the more recognizable landmarks and then moved to the north tower which has a better view of Mount Fuji (if there was no clouds) and opened until 11p.

After that we met up with Jade at Omoide Yokocho or Piss Alley and had some yakitori. It was delicious and we may or may not have had whale Katsu. Haha. We moved on to a place with ginormous honey toast and it was so delicious and diabetes inducing. Then we finally made it over to the Robot Restaurant, seizures included. There are no words to describe this show and thank goodness we had quite a bit of alcohol. The show basically comprised of loud music, lights, and robots. What an experience that I would like not to relive. Tokyo is a strange strange place.

Torii Gate to Meiji Jingu
Sake offerings
Apparently it'a popular for children to collect stamps at tourist attractions
Spirit Tree with the shrine in the background
Nakajima Sardine Sashimi
Sardine with egg
Gyoen National Park
Sakura! (Not very many were in blossom)
This park was gorgeous and tranquil
View from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Sunset from the North tower
Raw cabbage at yakitori
A sliced beef salad?
Pork cartilage, tongue, and rib bone
Omiode Yokocho
Super diabetes inducing honey toast
Robot Restaurant CRAZINESS

Posted by E.M.N 16:23 Archived in Japan Tagged park national meiji jingu sardines yakitori nakajima gyoen omoide yokocho Comments (0)

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