Asia Day 61: Tokyo (Shibuya – Meiji Shrine – Okonomiyaki)

Asia Day 61: Tokyo (Shibuya – Meiji Shrine – Okonomiyaki)

Photo of the day: Okonomiyaki bowl (before cooking) @ Sakura Tei.

We decided to take it easy on our last full day in Tokyo and as a matter of fact, of our entire trip. It is crazy how time flies and it is unbelievable that we have traveled for 61 days now. Aaron and I both had friends in Japan, so we will be spending some time with them separately tonight. It is also the first evening, that we will be apart since the beginning of this trip! That’s pretty amazing and we are very grateful to have had this opportunity to spend so much time together.

Aaron’s been wanting some good Japanese curry since we’ve arrived, so for brunch today we went to CoCo Ichibanya. It was similar set up to the curry place we went to at the Shinagawa Train Station the other day. We ordered as soon as we arrived then once we got our seats, our curry was soon ready. I choose the stewed chicken curry with some spinach as an add-on. Here, you can also choose the rice amount, as well as the spice level. Aaron had the Tonkatsu curry with “level 3 spice”. I tried some and it was spicy. My regular spice was still a little spicy. I guess I have this misconception that Japanese curry should be more sweet rather than spicy. I realize that curry is not my favourite type of food, but Aaron quite enjoyed his meal. P.S. I later watched a Simon and Martina episode on CoCo Ichibanya and realized we did it all wrong. I was trying to be all healthy but then there are so many more tasty add-ons (e.g. cheese, roasted garlic, soft-poached egg, fried chicken!!), which can definitely enhance your experience. We missed out!

IMG_0686.JPG
Chicken and spinach in pork curry sauce @ CoCo Ichibanya.

Next, we stopped by Excelsior Coffee to catch up on some blogging/emails. We’ve been seeing it everywhere and it kind of feels like a Japanese Starbucks. The seating on the top floor was quite nice overlooking a typical Japanese intersection. I quite enjoyed it especially since today was such a nice sunny day to be enjoying some tea and catching up on blogging by the large windows. Note though that there is no wifi here, so we had to rely on our portable wifi. The royal milk tea here was better than the one Aaron had in Thailand, but we wonder if that was because we were so used to the super sweetened Thai iced milk tea at that point, so this less flavourful tea seemed less appealing.

IMG_0688.JPG
Royal milk tea @ Excelsior Caffe.

 

There was a Muji across the street, so we made a trip there to pick up some essential oils for our diffuser as well as some stationeries. It was quite a large location with many floors, including one with cafe/restaurant. It really was like a Japanese version of Ikea! Just like with Daiso, I really enjoyed looking at the little travel sized items and organizers available here. I wish we had one in Ottawa! It was interesting to see that the tax-free counter here will seal your purchases, as to prevent consumption of it prior to leaving the country.

After dropping of some stuff at home, we went our separate ways to meet up with our friends. I still had a couple of hours prior to our meeting time and the Type A personality in me wanted to visit one more tourist attraction. I got off the train at the Kita-Sando station and walked into Yoyogi park towards Meiji Shrine. This popular shrine is open from dawn to dusk, which was soon approaching, so I walked quickly, especially as I saw most people were leaving and no one was going towards the shrine. It was a nice walk around the park, away from the busy Tokyo streets. I can even smell the trees and felt very much like I was in a forest. It wasn’t long before I reached the shrine. It was quite similar to the other shrines I’ve been to with the large arches at the entrance ways. Unfortunately, it was under renovation, so I wasn’t able to appreciate the full beauty of the place. There were again fountains at the front, a stall to buy charms, a place to get fortune telling scrolls and places to pay your respects. There were even instructions on what to do. First, place a coin in the offering box. Then bow twice. Clap your hands twice. Then bow again. One thing that was special about this shrine was that there was an area to write your wishes/prayers on a piece of paper. A offering should be placed along with your wish/prayer into an envelope and this was all placed into a wooden box. This will later be set in front of the alter in a ceremony. There were also Ema votive tablets for 500 Yen, for visitors to write their prayers on, which will also be offered in a ceremony.

IMG_0708.JPG
Ema votive tablets @ Meiji Shrine.

The park wasn’t that large, since I soon reached the busy streets of Harajuku/Omotesando again. I went into a multi-level cosmetic shop for the first time in Japan and it was quite impressive. Unlike Korea, where I would see multiple copies of individual brands, I see larger stores with multiple brands. This is nice because you can pick up everything at once. Skin care is also a huge deal here and they conveniently labelled their top selling products as no. 1, so it was not difficult to find the most popular products. Again, they seal your purchases here if you want to claim the tax-free benefit. I would have to say it makes it more annoying to pack because you cannot stuff little things here and there. It becomes an odd shaped ziplock you’ll have to deal with.

I met up with my friend shortly after at Omotesando station and I must say it was the perfect weather to be walking around. If I were in Seoul’s cold winter climate, I would have probably just taken the train instead. It is always nice to catch up with friends after years of not seeing them. We chatted about her experience in Japan so far and how she managed to be fluent Japanese after 1.5 years of study. I was very envious that she was able to learn a new language and become fluent it in. I find it very difficult to be able to learn at new language and I would love to have been able to speak more Vietnamese/Thai/Korean/Japanese during this trip. She also helped me understand certain cultural practices of the Japanese people, including my concerns about the no soap situation in the public washrooms. I was also reminded that Japan is quite large and there are still so many prefectures that I have yet to see. 

For dinner, we went to Sakura Tei, a restaurant specializing in Okonomiyaki. I have never had this before and was excited to try. At every table, was a large flat plate for cooking. We ordered 1 order of the Okonomiyaki, which originated in Osaka, then we also had the Monjayaki, which was Tokyo’s take on the Okonomiyaki. We also had the Sakura salad to start. It was not bad with bonito flakes adding a lot of flavour. I noticed that there was something quite gooey in the salad and was told it was Tororo, the pureed yam that we had the other day with our Gyukatsu meal. It was not my favourite thing. My friend encouraged me to try doing the cooking so I did. First, oil was poured onto the hot flat plate, then ingredients of the Okonomiyaki are mixed well. This was all poured onto the plate and spread out like a large pancake. The meat (in our case, bacon) would be laid on top. After the bottom was well-done, the whole pancake will be flipped over. It was tricky to not have the whole thing fall apart. Then an egg was cracked beside the pancake and the pancake was moved on top of the egg. Top it off with some sweet sauce, mayo and bonito flakes and then it is good to eat! We cut it up into slices and dug in. It was quite tasty and reminded me of Takoyaki, I guess because it had the same toppings. Next, I had to cook the Monjayaki, which was a little more complicated. I had to first scoop out the solids of the bowl leaving the liquid mixture intact. Then I had to stir-fry these contents for a bit. Next, I would move these contents to create a large donut. The liquid mixture was then poured in the center. The goal was for the liquid not to spill over the donut fence. The solid component is slowly moved into the centre of the donut until another pancake is formed; however this pancake will soon spread and look like a large spreading rectangle. To eat, there were little spatulas that we used to “play” with the cooked bits on the edges until it stuck to the spatula and then you would eat it. The concept was quite interesting. It was definitely not meant to be a quick bite as you slowly work through the large gooey pancake. I liked the novelty of this dish but I preferred the texture of the Okonomiyaki. For dessert, we had the dessert Monjayaki with banana, ice-cream, “corn flakes” and chocolate syrup. The regular price is 550 Yen (~$6.50 CAD) but there was an option to play rock paper scissors and if you win, you get it for free, whereas if you lose, it’s 700 yen (~$8.25 CAD). I am usually not a fan of gambling because I don’t trust my luck but where else will I get to play rock paper scissors with a server in hopes of getting a free dessert? And I won! It was awesome! She asked if we wanted to cook or if we wanted her to cook, so I said I wanted to watch her cook. She first scrapped the flat plate clean, then placed everything on top. She smashed everything up and the cooking method was pretty similar that what I did for the first Monjayaki, except she did it with such ease. The consistently was like oatmeal and it tasted really delicious – like banana and chocolate milkshake with cornflake bits.

IMG_0748.JPG
Our ingredients for the carbonara Monjayaki – before.

IMG_0755.JPG
Carbonara Monjayaki – after.

So that was how I spent my last evening in Tokyo. I ended the night putting on a facial mask and packing up for the last time on this trip.

Advertisements

Asia Day 60: Tokyo (Odaiba)

Asia Day 60: Tokyo (Odaiba)

Photo of the day: Yakitori @ Oedo-Onsen Monogatari. Photo credit: Aaron.

Today, we wanted to explore Odaiba – an artificial island with entertainment suitable for the whole family. But first we stopped for some tea/coffee at a nearby coffee shop called Cafe Bleu. They had a very reasonably priced breakfast so I ordered one set of that. A meal consisted of a plain omelette, salad, toast and a drink, all for only 600 Yen(~$7). A coffee or tea is around the same price so why not get some breakfast along with it? The omelette was so soft and smooth, just like the egg you would expect over an Omurice. The toast was thick and nicely buttered and the salad was not bad as well. The ambience of the cafe is really nice except for the fact that smoking is allowed, so we did not stay too long. This was one thing I found travelling in Asia. Smoking is not prohibited indoors and it is difficult to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke. Even in establishments with “smoking rooms”, they are either not completely sealed or once the door opens, you get a nice big whiff of smoke anyway. I can see this being a problem for those I know with asthma or reactive airways. But I digress.

IMG_0587.JPG
Breakfast @ Cafe Bleu.

There were several ways to get to Odaiba, but we selected the route including the Yurikamome Line since it’s a skytrain and allowed us to see some views of Tokyo Bay along the way. After around 50 minutes or so, we reached Odaiba. We got off at the first station and took a walk along the beach and around Daiba park which used to be a gun battery. The weather was very nice today and it was such a pleasant stroll without too many people around.

IMG_0596.JPG
Odaiba beach with the Rainbow Bridge in the background.

Our walk lasted longer than we expected and we were getting hungry. We went to Decks, a shopping/entertainment complex, to find some food. We found a sushi chain restaurant called Tsukiji Sushi, who claims to get their ingredients fresh from Tsukiji market. They had a pretty reasonable set menu and they had a buffet menu for dinner time. I found it amusing that they had a 1000 Yen price difference for men versus women because they should not underestimate the eating powers of the female sex. Their sushi was very good. I usually would not order squid sushi given it’s often tough and chewy but the one I had here as part of the set lunch was the smoothest, most tender squid I’ve ever had. It opened my eyes to the fact that I should not dismiss an ingredient I’ve tried before, as it might not have been the particular ingredient but the way it was prepared, or the freshness of ingredient used.

IMG_0079.JPG
Sushi @ Tsukiji Sushi. Photo credit: Aaron.

After lunch, we took our time exploring the many malls in the area, including Decks and Aqua City. At Aqua City, we met Chihira Junco, a robot working at the information desk. You are supposed to be able to ask her questions but she kept going on about facts on the island so we just moved on. Here, we also picked up some kitchenware from Daiso. It’s actually quite fun walking around looking at all the little things they have here especially with most things at a very affordable price of 100 Yen (~$1.20 CAD) plus tax. It was raining so we picked up an umbrella here for a good price as well.

IMG_0629.JPG
Meet Chihira Junco @ Aqua City.

We didn’t walk to far before hiding out at DiverCity in hopes of finding a nice cafe to just chill. Unfortunately, the mall is packed with people and we couldn’t find a quite cafe. We did end up trying the cheese ice cream that Aaron has been looking for here at Cheese Craft Works. It was really delicious! Think cream cheese in ice cream form.

IMG_0080.JPG
They’re moving this ginormous Gundam model @ DiverCity! Photo credit: Aaron.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Odaiba with Aaron without visiting Venus Fort and its car museum. They even had his Datsun there. What I enjoyed the most there was their cafe. It was quiet, where you can relax in chairs made with real car seats, with free wifi and phone charge cables coming out of toy cars. We finally got to take a bit of a breather here sipping on some tea and coffee, while catching up with blogging/admiring the cars. You can also test drive some Toyotas here if you have an international license but I figured I could also do that in Canada, so I passed.

IMG_0081.JPG
Datson 240Z @ Venus Fort’s History Garage.

The time has come. There was one thing on our trip to Japan that I’ve been avoiding. As a matter of fact, I was pretty adamant on skipping this activity prior to embarking on this trip. We did not really plan to go but we kind of ending up here on a whim. What was it, you ask? I was ready for my first Japanese Onsen experience. To give you some context, I’ve always been a very conservative person. I was taught from a young age to be fully dressed before coming out of the bathroom. It was only until I went to Europe with some girl friends that I learnt it was ok to walk around in a towel. At locker rooms, I always preferred to change in private rooms and not out in the open. This idea of being completely naked in front of a bunch of strangers is definitely something that I would have never considered. But something about travelling, which makes me want to try new things and push my limits. Or perhaps it was the massages I’ve gotten in Southeast Asia where privacy was thrown out the window?

Whatever it was, I’ve arrived at Oedo-Onsen Monogatari. First impression was that it seemed quite busy as we entered the front lobby. This sight of all these people made me question my decision a little. Hopefully they are not going into the bath all at the same time as me. Let me walk you through the Onsen experience here, as it can be confusing. First, we must take off our shoes and place it in a shoe locker. Here was where we got our first key. We then received our wristband with our second key at the reception area. No payment was needed yet. Our wrist band will track all our purchases and we pay for everything at the end of your stay. We then head over to the Yukata station to choose our Yukata as well as the ebi we wanted. There were around 4 designs for each gender to choose from. This part was pretty fun. Next, we entered our segregated big locker rooms and find the locker corresponding your wrist band with second key. As I was changing into my Yukata, I noticed people around me being quite discreet, using the Yukata to cover their body while changing. This I found interesting because shortly after, everyone was going to be completely naked anyway! We were allowed to keep our undergarments on at this time under our Yukatas. I placed all my belongings in the locker and just took my phone with me. I then entered the main hall of this Onsen-amusement park. This area was quite pretty, decorated as if you are back in the Edo period of Japan. There were lanterns and cherry blossoms everywhere we looked. There was a relaxing atmosphere with everyone walking around bare feet in their Yukatas. There was a souvenir shop as we entered. This is also where you can pick up a Yukata to bring home if you wanted. There was fortune-telling stall as we walked along. Next, there was a huge food court with multiple food stalls (mostly Japanese, but one Korean. There was table seating as well as tatami rooms for sitting as well. There were two Izakaya restaurants, or drinking establishments, which also serve food with drinks. Think pub. It was actually really exciting seeing everything that this place has to offer! We decided to go to the foot bath area first to start off the night. This was located outdoors and covers were provided but there was a  limited quantity. It was fine because today was not too cold and the water really warmed me up. I tried walking along the stoned path in the water but did not get very far as it was quite painful. There were also fish foot therapy too if this is something you were interested in.

IMG_0656.JPG
Inside Oedo-Onsen Monogatari.

Finally, Aaron asked, are you ready to try the baths? I took a deep breath and then we split up into our own gender-divided bath rooms. Here I was given two towels, one large and one small. The large one stayed in yet another locker in the bath locker room. The small one is for covering important parts of your body. I was pleasantly surprised that this “small towel” wasn’t a tiny face towel I was expecting but instead a large enough towel, that when hung vertically, can cover all the important bits in front. I took another deep breath and placed everything except for the small towel into the locker and walked into the bath. Here goes! There was an area where you can scoop warm water to rinse yourself as your entered. There were also standing showers as well. Then to the right, there were rows of sitting showers with soap, shampoo and conditioner to get all cleaned up before entering the baths. Once I was in the first bath, being naked didn’t matter anymore. The water was perfect at around 40 degrees C. There were so many baths throughout the area, some warmer, some cooler. There was a cold bath area to totally cool off. In addition, there was one sauna and one steam room too but I felt a little awkward sitting in those. My favourite part was actually the outdoor baths. On the ladies side, there were individual-sized wooden tubs, which were nice for those who wanted their own space to relax. It was so nice to soak in hot water while feeling a light breeze. Aaron and I said we would meet up in 30 minutes back outside but we did not realize how many baths there would be. We agreed once we met outside that we would probably need do another round of the baths again later.

We then had some snacks and drinks at one of the Izakaya. The food was decent. Not terrible to also not the best. We read a lot of poor reviews about the food here but I guess the point of coming here is not to eat the best food in Tokyo, so we set our expectations right prior to coming. We walked around some more and had some of the lightest, most airy shaved ice ever. It was neat because we can see her shave the big block of flavoured ice. Next, we went upstairs to relax in the relaxation lounge with reclining sofas with an attached TV set to each chair! It was so awesome! There was even a room just for women too if you did not feel comfortable sleeping in a co-ed room. This Onsen is open until 9 am the next day, so for a surcharge, you can stay here overnight. We seriously considered that for a bit because we were enjoying our time here so much! We ended up just enjoying another bath round, then snacking some more on some late night ramen before calling it a day and headed home. Funny story: because this was unplanned, I did not bring clean underwear to change into; however, these were conveniently sold in vending machines in the locker rooms. I scanned my wristband and got my individually wrapped new underwear only to realize that I had chosen the one for children! I can fit into it but the fit was like granny patties but with small leg holes. It was quite hilarious. I knew I shouldn’t have picked the one with the cute bear on it.

IMG_0669.JPG
Shaved ice @ Oedo-Onsen Monogatari.

We really made the most out of our night as we had caught the last train home. We saw others miss their train as the gate closed. It is also at this time of the day where a sea of taxis are patiently waiting on the streets to come to the rescue of these commuters. It was quite an interesting sight to see. So that ends our fun-filled day in Odaiba! See you tomorrow on our last full day in Tokyo.

Asia Day 59: Tokyo (Ginza)

Asia Day 59: Tokyo (Ginza)

Photo of the day: Tonkotsu Ramen @ Ippudo. Photo credit: Aaron.

We had a lazy start to our day today, sleeping in until lunch time. It was nice after an eventful weekend to Kyoto. We decided to spend the day in Ginza today. It felt to me like the Gangnam of Tokyo. Streets were filled with tall buildings, business people, and many jumbo-sized stores.

IMG_0571.JPG
Ginza.

For lunch, Aaron brought me to Din Tai Fung, which is a Taiwanese restaurant specializing in the Chinese Xiao Long Bao, but since we were going to Taiwan this trip, Aaron thought Japan would be a good place for me to try this. We, of course, ordered the original Xiao Long Bao, as well as a special set with a variety steamer of crab meat, uni and scallop filling dumplings. At the front of the restaurant, you can see the dumplings being meticulously prepared, which each dumpling weighed in a scale to ensure consistency. We also had the spicy pickled cucumber as a starter. The cucumber was ok. Not the best I’ve had. The variety set was creative but definitely not as good as the original. Out of the three, I preferred the crab as it took away less from the pork filling. There was an instruction sheet advising us to place some strands of ginger and vinegar in our spoons, then placing the dumplings into the spoon. You are then to puncture the dumpling slightly so the soup would leak out before you enjoy this delicacy. The original dumpling was nice and soupy but not the best I’ve had. Overall, I was somewhat disappointed. I will stick to eating Xiao Long Baos in Vancouver.

IMG_0564.JPG
Hard at work making Xiao Long Baos @ Din Tai Fung.

IMG_0073.JPG
Spicy cucumber @ Din Tai Fung. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0562.JPG
Crab meat Xiao Long Bao @ Din Tai Fung.

IMG_0074.JPG
Xiao Long Baos in their natural habitat. Photo credit: Aaron.

After lunch, we wanted to find a nice coffee shop to catch up on some work. We went into Hoshino but quickly realized it’s more for socializing rather than working. Still on a journey to find the best Japanese soufflé cheesecake, I had to try a piece here. It was not exactly what I was thinking of, as it was less airy the one from Uncle Tetsu, but it was still amazingly smooth and light. It got pretty busy, so we decided to head somewhere else so we were not taking up their table for too long.

IMG_0573.JPG
Souffle cheesecake @ Hoshino.

We’ve been trying to avoid Starbucks and to try more local coffee shops but it was raining and we were desperate to get some work done. We decided to go to the first Starbucks in Japan. I had the Sakura cream latte there, as it is something I probably won’t get in Canada. The taste was ok. It was very sweet, just like most other specialty lattes at Starbucks. I also realized I’m not a fan of Sakura flavoured things. It was pretty busy and the internet was not very good but I still managed to upload one post, so I’m happy.

IMG_0576.JPG
Sakura Blossom Cream Latte @ Starbucks.

We were getting hungry, so we started looking on Foursquare for food choices. Apparently there was a ramen restaurant, Kagari, specializing in ramen in chicken broth, which had a incredible 9.3 rating. We read it was a small 8-seater restaurant and wanted to try our luck but it wasn’t our lucky day. There were at least 12 people in front of us and we weren’t too keen on waiting, so we went to Ippudo, with still pretty good ratings, instead. Aaron ordered the original Tonkotsu ramen (see photo of the day) and I had the spicy minced meat one. I got to choose my spice level and I choose 8 spices. We also got a small order of Gyoza. Aaron’s ramen can first and we both had a sip of the soup immediately. It was very rich and full of pork flavour. It felt very authentic and pure. The noodles were also very tasty and different than any other ramen I’ve ever had. It was very flavourful. My ramen came shortly after with a vibrant orange oil over it. It looked amazing and it also tasted very vibrant and full of different spices. If you prefer more complexed taste and more spice, then this would be your choice. If you like simplicity and authenticity, then have the original one. The Gyoza here is also very good. It was served with a Shichimi paste, which really added another dimension to it. We ended up ordering another plate because it was so unique.

IMG_0077.JPG
Spicy minced meat ramen @ Ippudo. Photo credit: Aaron.

After dinner, we made a obligatory stop at Nissan Crossing to check out cool cars. Then, Aaron went on a shopping spree at the largest Uniqlo in the world, while I just walked around to check out the area. It’s not just Uniqlo. There were multi-storey versions of Zara, H&M and other well known brands here as well. Most were still open while we were there around 8pm. Some stores also offer tax-free shopping in Japan, but you’ll need to spend 5000 Yen and up. It is fully tax -free, unlike Korea, which charges a small fee. Just remember to bring your passport. We called it a night and went home after Aaron was done purchasing his wardrobe for the next year, or until the next time he comes to Japan.

IMG_0078.JPG
Nissan GT-R NISMO edition @ Nissan Crossing. Photo credit: Aaron.

Asia Day 58: Kyoto – Tokyo (Gion – Mariyama Park – Ponto-Cho – Nishiki Market)

Asia Day 58: Kyoto – Tokyo (Gion – Mariyama Park – Ponto-Cho – Nishiki Market)

Photo of the day: Special outside skirt Kobe beef @ Yakinikubaru Han No Daidokoro.

After checking out of the Ryokan, we headed to E-fish for some breakfast. It had a nice view of the river. I ordered the tuna, cottage cheese and avocado sandwich, and Aaron had their beef balls soup. The sandwich turned out to be humungous so we shared. The taste was ok. The contents also kept spilling so I felt it was a bit messy. The beef balls soup was pretty good. Aaron was meeting up with a friend, so I used this time to do some blogging. My keyboard has official stopped pairing properly with my devices, I have been needing to rely on typing with my thumbs on my phone or awkwardly typing on my iPad mini. It was also a busy place, so I felt uneasy occupying the space for so long. I was considering visiting Kiyomizu temple since it was close by (a 20 minute walk) but read that the temple itself requires a lot of walking up steps, so I decided against it. My feet were still not in top shape.

IMG_0518.JPG
Tuna, cottage cheese and avocado sandwich @ E-fish.

After Aaron finished, we walked along the river to Gion. I felt like I didn’t get to fully appreciate it the other night since it was so late and it was so dark. The ancient architecture can be seen today and it was actually really beautiful, especially with all the people in Kiminos. We even bumped into a few Geisha walking around. We eventually ended up in Maruyama Park, which was full of people and even had some street food stalls. We were getting hungry but didn’t feel like street food, so we walked back to Ponto-cho hoping to find some food. It was around 2:30pm now and a lot of the restaurants seemed to be on their break between lunch and dinner, so we walked towards Nishiki market instead.

IMG_0532.JPG
A group of young ladies in Kimonos in Maruyama Park.

We finally decided on a restaurant specializing in Soba noodles called 有喜屋. I was originally attracted to their chicken and egg dons but decided to try their specialty instead. I had the Soba in soup with chicken and Aaron had their regular Soba with tempura. I realized I prefer to dip Soba noodles instead of eating it in a broth. Aaron seemed to have enjoyed his meal. At the end of Aaron’s meal, they brought over some of hot water for him to add to the dipping sauce so he can drink it. That was some concentrated soup!

IMG_0547.JPG
Chicken with Soba at 有喜屋.

We wanted to do some shopping in the market and found some lockers at the main shopping area. We’ve seen these everywhere in South Korea and Japan. They are very convenient and found in many tourist attraction sights as well as train stations. We placed our backpacks in there to relieve some pressure on our backs while we walked. My priority was to buy new shoes to see if it would make a difference to how my feet felt. I’m a picky shopper so it took me a while to find something comfortable but also looks good. I ended up getting some sneakers with memory foam that made me feel like I’m walking on clouds. Hopefully my investment will not be wasted. (P.S. It was definitely not. My feet were no longer in pain for the rest of the trip.)

IMG_0549.JPG
Lockers!

Aaron was more interested in the little spices and snacks in the market. The food market was not big but Aaron was curious to try everything. I eventually had to split up to visit the public washroom. To my dismay, it was a squattie. Not the dirtiest I’ve seen but not the super fancy Japanese toilets I’ve been used to with a million functions such as deodorizing, background noise-producing, bidet, and seat warming. I am also starting to really wonder why there is rarely ever any soap and hand towels found in washrooms of a country, which places so much importance in cleanliness. It’s not a problem for me since I carry around hand sanitizer with me. But what about everyone else? I later confirmed with a friend who lives here that you are expected to carry around your own hand sanitizer and handkerchief here. Phew! We’re ok!

We must not leave before getting some more cheese tarts from Bake. This time, Aaron decided we should get a box to go, so we can snack on the train. Apparently, they also had franchises in Tokyo, so I guess we didn’t need to load up on them now, but I can’t complain! The trains were definitely busier around 6:30pm. We had walk through a pretty full train before deciding to get off to wait for the next one, which came shortly after.

It was nice to finally be “home” again. It’s actually quite nice to have a home base, then take short trips from this central hub. We dropped off our bags then went out for some Kobe beef! Aaron found a place called Yakinikubaru Han No Daidokoro. I realized it was actually Korean BBQ as I saw the kanji for Korean on the signage as we walked it. We got a seat near at the bar, which was a great decision because our server/trainee chef was so fun to interact with throughout our meal. Our first order was the “special outside skirt” and the ribs. We were given a small appetizer with a cabbage and sliced beef in a vinaigrette. They set up the grill for us and then the meat came shortly after. We were instructed on how to cut the meat then it was time to eat! The “special outside skirt” was the fattiest piece beef I’ve ever had. It would just melt in my mouth. I ordered some Korean lettuce on the side but did not want to cover up the taste of such good beef with it. It came with a miso paste so I just ate the lettuce dipped in miso paste instead. There were a few options for dipping the meat. There was lemon juice, a special Yakiniku sauce and soy sauce with wasabi. My preferred way of eating this was dipping the beef in Yakiniku sauce with some wasabi on top. The ribs were also very good. It was definitely different than the beef we had in Korea. We also ordered the Aburi beef sushi and our server kindly reminded us to eat it fresh. I don’t think I’ve ever had raw beef sushi before so this was quite exciting. The beef was so soft, I couldn’t even tell it was beef! I can tell they really took pride in their food because they were so appreciative when I said it was “Oishii” (delicious)! For drinks, I tried the citrus plum wine hoping it would have some Yuzu flavour but was disappointed as it was just sweet. Aaron really enjoyed their Makgeolli, his new favourite drink. We couldn’t just stop here. We had to order more beef. For our second order, we had some “beef finger meat” (which I later learnt was actually the meat between the ribs) and the regular outside skirt meat. The finger meat was definitely tougher, while the regular outside skirt meat was still quite good but once you had the “special” one, there is no turning back. We also had some of their Bancho salad to balance out all this beef. We were warned it would be spicy and it sure was! This was a great way to wrap up our weekend. It was really late by now, but I’m glad we decided to spend more time in Kyoto since we really only had 2 full days there. The non-reserved seats option on the bullet train is so flexible and made our last minute decision a lot easier to pull off.

IMG_0556.JPG
Kobe beef @ Yakinikubaru Han No Daidokoro

 

Asia Day 57: Kyoto (Arashiyama – Kinkaku-Ji)

Asia Day 57: Kyoto (Arashiyama – Kinkaku-Ji)

Photo of the day: Arashiyama bamboo grove. Photo credit: Aaron.

We were hoping to see the beauty of the Arashiyama bamboo grove but Aaron also read that it gets really busy, especially since it is the weekend; therefore, we got up early for the earliest seating for breakfast at the Ryokan at 8am. We had ordered the traditional set menu. I really enjoy eating traditional meals because there were so many little dishes to try. Our breakfast came with fried salmon, Tamago, tofu, pickled goods, Nori, pumpkins, rice and miso soup. The food was not bad except the fish was too salty.

IMG_0053.JPG
Traditional Japanese breakfast @ our Ryokan.

We had a bus to catch so we quickly finished our meals and were off! The buses here were boarded through the back and then you would pay when you got off the bus from the front. We made use of our one day pass which provided us with unlimited bus access and limited subway access. The train system is not as extensive here and it made more sense for us to bus. It took us around 1 hour to reach Arashiyama, meaning we arrived around 9:30 am. It was another 10 minute walk to reach the bamboo grove. It wasn’t too busy when we got there but it was still difficult to snap a good picture without any tourists in it. I was a little disappointed amount the appearance of the bamboo first since it looked not as vibrant and magical as in pictures. We later tried to do some colour editing on our phone and was able to get the same appearance. With today’s technology, it is easy to be deceived. Please note the photos here are unedited, so you can fully appreciate how it would look in real life. It was still a very nice area to walk along especially in the morning when there were still not too many people. There were many temples and shrines along the path. We visited Nonomiya-jinja, where princesses used to come to purify themselves. Here you can pray for marriage and even a smooth delivery.

IMG_0058.JPG
Arashiyama bamboo grove. Photo credit: Aaron.

Next, we visited Okochi Santo, the villa previously owned by a famous actor, Okochi Denjiro. He put a lot of effort to build a beautiful environment for him to meditate and enjoy the mountain views.  Perhaps the 1000 Yen (~ $12 CAD) entrance fee was a bit of a barrier to entry, there weren’t too many people when we visited, creating a very peaceful environment. The views were definitely worth the visit. I can imagine how much more spectacular the views would be with Sakura blossoming or snow falling. There were various lookout points throughout the villa/garden and there were signs everywhere to show you which way to go on this one way circuit trail. At the end, you can visit their teahouse, where you will receive free matcha tea and sweet. It was a particularly lovely day, so we were able to sit outside to soak up some sun while enjoying the tranquil ambience.

IMG_0441.JPG
View from Okochi Santo.

We loved our visit to this garden/villa so much, we decided to also visit Tenryu-Ji, a Buddhist temple, which a supposedly gorgeous garden. We entered via the north gate and got our tickets for the garden only visitation, meaning we needed to purchase another ticket to visit the interior of the temple at the main entrance, if needed. We were again pleasantly surprised by the amount of blossoms on the trees. We then reached the area temple was situated by the pond and it was absolutely gorgeous. Again, I can only imagine how beautiful it would look during cherry blossom season or with the autumn foliage.

IMG_0064.JPG
Plum blossoms in Tenryu-Ji. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0067.JPG
The central pond within gardens of Tenryu-Ji. Photo credit: Aaron.

We were getting hungry, so we headed to the Main Street for some lunch. There was a good Kaiseki place called Hanana but it had a significant line up. We waited for 30 minutes without much progress before giving up and deciding on eating some “soy milk skin” or Yuba instead. Apparently, this is a thing in Kyoto. The restaurant which caught our eye was 嵯峨とうふ稲 北店. There wasn’t too much of a wait to be seated, which was nice. We took the seats by the window with a good view of the busy street down below. Unfortunately, it took maybe 20-30 minutes before someone took our order and perhaps another 15-20 minutes for our food to arrive

IMG_0487.JPG
People watching, while waiting for my food.

During that time, I watched as the people walked by downstairs, many dressed in kimonos. I started researching how kimono rental worked. So many kimono rental stores are set up at main tourist attractions, where you can get dressed and then do sightseeing in the kimono. They usually allow you to keep the kimono until the end of the business day. The cost is around 1500 Yen (~$18 CAD) and up depending on the quality of the kimono you wanted. There were packages for friends as well as couples. There were also optional add-ons such as luggage storage, a studio photography session and hair styling. I really appreciated how so many people dressed up, since it really adds to the ambience of the whole area. I feel like I’m transported back to ancient Japan. It made sense that a lot of people decided to rent it and walk around at old temples and old streets. It’s a great photo shoot opportunity. Imagine walking around modern Shibuya wearing a kimono. It just doesn’t work as well.

Finally our food arrived. It was again full of little dishes. I had the Yuba in a tub (Kumiage Yuba) and Aaron had the Yuba in a thick sauce in some rice. Our sets were similar, with some gelatin on a stick dipped in a hoisin like sauce (Namafu No Dengaku), a homemade tofu, white miso soup, “Kyoto pickles”, as well as a powdered rice cake. My meal had a bowl five-grained rice on the side instead of with my Yuba like with Aaron’s set. Aaron had some tempura vegetables which is dipped in this deliciously addictive green powder, while I had the seasoned Okara, a byproduct of Yuba making. My Yuba came with two dipping sauces and according to the instructions on the table, I can dip the Yuba in or add the sauce to my tub and drink it like a soup. The Yuba was pretty bland, relying on the sauce for some taste. The soup tasted like a diluted, unsweetened soy milk. Overall, I wasn’t too impressed with the Yuba itself. I did really like the tofu, which was super flavourful especially paired with wasabi.

IMG_0068.JPG
Aaron’s Yuba set meal. Photo credit: Aaron.

We still had some time before our bus was due to arrive, so we had some soy milk and matcha ice-cream from the stall just outside the restaurant. Both were really good. It was sad to say that this 300 Yen (~$3.50 CAD) soy milk soft serve was so much better than the soy milk meal we had at more than 10 times its price.

IMG_0069.JPG
Soy bean and match soft serve. Photo credit: Aaron.

We headed over to line up for our bus. Unfortunately, our bus did not arrive and after waiting for some time, we decided to take the more reliable train instead. Again, I must emphasize that the train system is not as developed as Tokyo’s since we still needed to transfer to another bus to get to Kinkakuji Temple with the famous Golden Pavillion. We arrived at 4pm and the temple closes at 5pm. One would hope that there would not be as many people near closing time but the temple was packed. I felt like I was in the Louvre again, where everyone was trying to get a selfie with the Mona Lisa. Aside from the pavilion, there is also a tea house to relax in and the Fumo-do, where you can pay your respects, get some fortune slips (Omikuji) from a vending machine (they even had English scripts!) and little stalls to get lucky charms and shuin stamps.

IMG_0070.JPG
Kinkaku-Ji. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0504.JPG
Omikuji from vending machines.

The temple was soon closing and my feet were really hurting, so it was time to bus home. I guess the last two months of daily 10+ kilometres walking has finally taken a toll on my feet, even with my trusty Merrell trail running shoes. The bus ride home was long and incredibly crowded, so when we arrived at the Ryokan, we immediately asked if the bath was available. There’s nothing like soaking in a nice hot bath after a long day of sightseeing.

For dinner, we decided to stay close by, since my feet aren’t up for too much more walking. We decided to go get a simple Gyoza a meal at Sukemasa. It was a cozy little place, mostly with locals. We ordered two of the Gyoza meal sets. One set consisted of 12 Gyozas, rice, soup, and pickled vegetables. The Gyozas were perfectly fried with a tasty filling. I appreciated how every restaurant we’ve been to had their own take on miso soup. Here they had minced pork in it, which Aaron thought to be the same pork as the one they put in the dumplings. I saw they had Yuzu liquor available here, so I ordered one with soda. Aaron liked it so much he ordered one for himself too! I definitely was overly ambitious with my sightseeing goals today and underestimated how long it would take to get from one place to another here. I was pretty exhausted and ready to call it a night!

IMG_0072.JPG
Gyoza @ Sukemasa.

Asia Day 56: Tokyo – Kyoto (Nishiki Market – Hinamatsuri – Sukiyaki)

Asia Day 56: Tokyo – Kyoto (Nishiki Market – Hinamatsuri – Sukiyaki)

Photo of the day: Cheese tarts @ Bake. Photo credit: Aaron.

We’re taking a short weekend trip to Kyoto. We already purchased the Shinkansen, AKA bullet train, tickets online but needed to get to Shinagawa Station to pick it up from the travel agency and to board the train. Our host was nice enough for us to have use of the apartment for the weekend, so we left our carry on suitcases at the apartment and just brought our small backpacks with us. The travel agency wasn’t open yet when we got there but right at 11pm, the blinds were lifted, numbers start appearing on the big screens and the man kept yelling out numbers. I felt like the stock market just opened or something. It went from calm to lively in a matter of seconds. Our number was called and we were given a long English instruction sheet to read while the agent prepared our tickets. We got our tickets and it was time to find food.

Aaron found a curry place but it was in the gate of the subway station. We ended up having to pay a fee just to enter the area to eat. The restaurant is called Camp Express. There was a short line but it was fast moving. We ordered within a few minutes. I ordered the vegetables special and Aaron had the beef tendon curry. You can also select the level of spice as well as the amount of rice you wanted. Again, typical of Japan, it was all bar seating with a shelf under the table for you to put your purse. The food arrived very quickly in an small, individual-sized pan. The utensils looked like little shovels and the water is in a thermos. I love how true they stayed to their camp theme. I was a little disappointed that my curry was spicy and not sweet as I would’ve expected from a Japanese curry. Aaron’s tendon curry on the other hand, was sweet and very tasty.

IMG_0357.JPG
Vegetable special @ Camp Express. 
IMG_0044.JPG
Beef tendon curry @ Camp Express. Photo credit: Aaron.

Aaron had loaded the timetable for the trains on his phone. Although there is conveniently a train to Kyoto every 10 minutes, some had fewer stops than others, resulting in a shorter trip. Our train of choice came exactly on time, as expected of Japan. We had a ticket for the non-reserved cart and it was pretty busy. We were not able to get seats on the right side of the train as we had wanted to since we wanted to see Mount Fuji. Luckily we were still able to see the base of it as we passed by. You don’t realize how quickly you are going (approximately 300km/h) until you stand up and watch the scenery go by. There was a food cart that came by once during our 2+ hour ride to sell snacks and drinks. It was mentioned during the announcements that there is free wifi but it did not work for me. I was hoping to get a lot of reading and blogging done but the ride was so fast that we were in Kyoto in no time. At the station we exchanged our voucher for a city day pass and we were off. It was very nice that our Suica cards worked even in Kyoto, which made commuting very convenient.

IMG_0362.JPG
The base of Mount Fuji on the Shinkansen.

We arrived in downtown Kyoto and I can immediately sense the difference between its quiet streets compared to Tokyo. The architecture also had an older, more traditional feel compared to Tokyo. We decided to stay in a Ryokan for the days that we are here. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns, which usually have traditional rooms with tatami flooring and futons to sleep on, a public bath or onsen, as well as traditional meals served. Our Ryokan is not really traditional, as there were no public bath or traditional dinner but they do have a private bath as well as an optional traditional breakfast you can reserve. The room itself was simple with 2 leg-less chairs and one coffee table. The bedding and our Yukatas (Japanese pyjamas) where in the closet. There were cute cartoon instructions on how to make our own beds and wear our Yukatas, when we were ready to rest at night. There was a bathroom with shower in the room. This Ryokan also had western-styled rooms as well with beds.

IMG_0371.JPG
Day time seating in our room at the Ryokan.
IMG_0051.JPG
Night time sleeping arrangements at the Ryokan. Photo credit: Aaron.

After settling down, we took a little walk around the area and came across the Nishiki Market. This is a street full of food and souvenir stalls. Besides the actual market, the surrounding area has plenty of shopping and good food as well. Here, we tried the most delicious cheese tart and chicken Karaage. We also tried some black sesame balls and Natto beer nuts. Of course, it’s a great place to shop for cute clothes and little souvenir gifts as well.

IMG_0047.JPG
Chicken Karaage. Photo credit: Aaron.

Today was March 3rd or “Girl’s Day”, AKA Hinamatsuri. A doll’s display was set up in the lobby of the Ryokan as a way to celebrate the day. Each tier of the display had a specific arrangement of dolls. Traditionally, the display must be taken down March 4th or else the girls of the household will have difficulty getting married. We were invited to join in some festivities at the Ryokan so we headed back from our little walk. First, we assembled our own Chirashizushi. Usually, it consisted of sushi rice with raw fish on top, but here we had various pickled vegetables, shredded egg, tuna and pretty rice cakes as toppings. We were told each household has their own take on Chirashizushi and the toppings would vary. This was served with a soup, traditionally a clam soup. After eating, we enjoyed some Sakura tea and a sweet rice drink while learning to fold some origami. It was a nice way to experience and learn about the festivities around Hinamatsuri. It was too bad that not too any guests decided to participate in this.

IMG_0373.JPG
The dolls display for Hinamatsuri. 
IMG_0049.JPG
Aaron’s Chirashizushi. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0050.JPG
Sakura tea with origami paper. Photo credit: Aaron.

After the activities, we enjoyed the a nice hot bath drawn by the staff. I’m not one to be comfortable with being naked around other people, so I actually appreciated that they offered private baths compared to the more traditional public baths. Stay tuned for more about this in a later post.

I read that there was a Sukiyaki place nearby so we went for a walk towards Gion. This area is supposed to have a very traditional vibe with some sightings of Geishas. Aaron said during the spring time, the cherry blossoms would bloom above the bridge and it would be beautiful. It was late at this time and we were getting tired, so we did not end up seeing too much of Gion. We arrived at the restaurant, Gion Gyuzen, which specialized in Shabu Shabu and Sukiyaki. We chose the American beef option, which was quite reasonably priced at 1900 Yen ($~22 CAD) per person, especially for an all you can eat menu. The service was very efficient. As soon as we sat down, our meat, eggs and vegetables were all on the table already. I immediately cracked one raw egg in my bowl, and waited for the broth in the pan to boil. They did not instruct us on how to cook here compared to the Shabu Shabu place last night but we figured it’s basically the same. We put in some vegetables first, then beef. As soon as the beef is done, we would dip it into the egg to consume. Sukiyaki is definitely more flavourful than Shabu Shabu. The broth is sweeter and this is where most of the taste comes from, whereas in Shabu Shabu, the taste is mostly from the dipping sauce. The grade of the beef is less important here because it is basically getting all its flavour from the broth, so you can taste less of the beef. Their vegetables menu is quite extensive and so I got a little excited and ordered quite a bit of vegetables. Even though I ordered many and I emphasize, MANY, different types of vegetables, each order is pretty small so it worked out in the end. I was a bit worried after ordering that we would have mounds of vegetables to finish. We ended our meal with some udon to soak up all the flavours of the broth. It was a very satisfying meal, yet I did not feel too stuffed after. We walked home, while enjoying the quiet streets of Kyoto at night.

IMG_0052.JPG
Sukiyaki @ Gion Gyuzen. Photo credit: Aaron.

Asia Day 55: Tokyo (Tsukiji Fish Market – Hama Rikyu Gardens)

Asia Day 55: Tokyo (Tsukiji Fish Market – Hama Rikyu Gardens)

Photo of the day: Plum blossoms in Hama Rikyu Gardens. Photo credit: Aaron.

We decided to see the Tsukiji Fish Market today. We were not up for coming here at 3am to get in for the 5am fish auction, so we just got here for 10am see the intermediate wholesalers area instead. Our point of entry was through the busy stalls of the outer market. Here, we tried some Hokkaido Uni (sea urchin) straight from the shell. I am usually not a fan of Uni but I gave this a try and it was pretty fresh and tasty.

IMG_0030.JPG
Uni @ The Tsukiji Fish Market. Photo credit: Aaron.

We also walked by a slew of restaurants serving Chirashi don (raw seafood over rice), but we decided to get some from a small stall where everything is laid out in front of you and you can just stand off to the side to nimble on your goodies once you’ve made your choice. We chose the one with some regular and fatty tuna. It was not mind-blowing but it was special eating fresh tuna straight from the stalls of the fish market.

IMG_0031.JPG
Fresh tuna on rice next to a tuna head. Photo credit: Aaron.

Next, we walked by a stall where they were cutting up tuna straight from the fish, which is lying on the table. They were giving out samples to try and these were so fresh. Next, we saw some really good looking fatty tuna and got 2 pieces for 600 Yen (~$7 CAD). It was worth every yen because it was the best piece of fish I’ve had all day. It was so fatty it just melted in my mouth and slid down my throat.

IMG_0032.JPG
Super fresh tuna straight from the fish? Yes please! Photo credit: Aaron.

IMG_0033
Tuna galore! Photo credit: Aaron.

Next, we sampled some green tea and Aaron got to try some good coffee from Yonomoto Coffee. So it turns out we got too distracted from all this good food and drinks that we completely missed the intermediate wholesalers area time, which was only open to the public from 10-11am. My disappointed quickly faded as I thought how we probably would not have enjoyed seeing fishes in styrofoam boxes as much as we enjoy having these fishes in our bellies anyway. Aaron wanted to try some of the Tamago (egg) on a stick before leaving. There were quite a few people lining up for it. The man making the Tamago was so skilled. He would measure the exact amount of egg mixture using a scale then poured it into 3 metal rectangular pans. He would repeat that layer by layer until the product is finished. It was beautiful. The Tamago itself was the perfect sweetness without tasting too artificial. And this was all for the cost of 100 Yen (~$1.20 CAD)!

IMG_0034.JPG
Tamago on a stick. Photo credit: Aaron.

I saw that we were very close to the Hama Rikyu Gardens, so we walked over to take a look. The entrance fee was only 300 Yen (~$3.5 CAD) per person, so we paid the fee and crossed our fingers in hopes that there was some kind of life form visible at this time of the year. We saw a few other people in there, which is reassuring. At least we’re not totally crazy for going to a garden during the winter time. We immediately saw many lush green trees near the entrance. We kept walking to see a couple taking their wedding photos in a beautiful field of yellow flowers! I later find out these flowers were rape blossoms. It was so surreal to see this large patch of yellow appearing in the midst of quite a barren background. We spent quite some time there enjoying this spectacular view.

IMG_0036.JPG
Beautiful field of rape blossoms in Hama Rikyu Gardens. Photo credit: Aaron.

We walked on, not expecting to see too much, then we came across one tree some with white/pink blossoms! We were so excited and thought these were early Sakura bloomers. We snapped a few pictures then kept walking feeling very grateful. We then came across a field of these blossom trees. We did some research and found out these were actually plum blossoms and not cherry blossoms but one can’t be too greedy!

IMG_0326.JPG
Plum blossoms.

One of the things I’ve been interested in doing since we were in South Korea was to enjoy some tea in a traditional tea house. There was one here in the middle of this garden called Nakajima no Ochaya, so we made our way across the bridge leading to this lovely tea house. The ambience was very peaceful and I can imagine it being so nice during the spring/summer when you can enjoy the tea outside on the porch, enjoying all the blooming flowers. We took a seat on the tatami mats by the window and enjoyed the view of the pond and garden. We sipped on some matcha along with nibbling on a piece of their delicate sweets. I must say Japanese sweets are not my favourite dessert as it tasted too doughy. It began to rain but there is no use waiting out the rain here in Northeast Asia (compared to Southeast Asia) as it would go on for hours. We grabbed our umbrella and walked around some more to look at the waterfront before heading back to Shibuya.

IMG_0342.JPG
Matcha and sweets @ Nakajima no Ochaya.
IMG_0039.JPG
The view from inside the tea house.

For lunch, Aaron found a ramen place near our accommodation called Usagi. Aaron had the deluxe Shoyu Ramen with eggs and Char Siu and I had the regular Tsukemen with seasoned eggs. The broth of the ramen was very different than the burnt miso we had the other day. It was lighter and more simple in taste but still good. Aaron felt his noodles were more like Chinese noodles and liked the noodles of my Tsukemen more. The thing I love about Tsukemen is the intensity of the dipping sauce. If ramen broth is not rich enough for you, then Tsukemen is for you! This was a lot less thick than the sauce I’ve had in Vancouver but I actually enjoyed it more. My favourite part of the meal, though, was the perfectly seasoned eggs. I am so glad I paid the extra dollar for it.

IMG_0040.JPG
Shoyu Ramen with Char Siu and egg @ Usagi.
IMG_0347
Tsukemen with seasoned egg @ Usagi.

Aaron had some work to do back home and we also had to run a load of laundry. I don’t understand how Japan is such a technologically advanced country but their washing machine is so difficult to operate. It’s basically manual requiring us to choose the water level. Or perhaps it was just the place we are staying? Anyone else have the same experience with washing machines in Japan?

For a change of work environment, we moved to FabCafe for some coffee, tea and wifi connection with superb speed. The space was very modern and they even had a 3D printer for your 3D-printing needs! It was still raining, so I watched as many businessmen and women rushed about outside with their umbrellas opened across the busy intersection.

We were getting hungry and it has fortunately, finally stopped raining. We tried to find a Shabu Shabu place Aaron found on Foursquare, unfortunately we found out when we got there that they have closed down. Aaron found another place called Hanasakaji-San, which apparently had a halal menu. One will not run out of good food options in Shibuya. We found out their halal menu was essentially Wagyu beef Shabu Shabu. We ended up just getting the regular beef Shabu Shabu. It came with the dipping sauce, some small side dishes and some vegetables. We had to order rice on the side. Aaron asked for recommendations for Sake and the server found one for us based on our preferences. I quite enjoyed this sweet Sake but Aaron would’ve preferred it to be a bit more dry. I also wanted to tried their Hanasaki beer, which turned out to be the sweetest beer I’ve ever tasted. It was more like a radler. Our server was very attentive throughout the meal, not only teaching us the techniques of Shabu Shabu but also coming back to give me new chopsticks and hand towels, as I was super clumsy tonight dropping and spilling things all over the place. Back to the meal. So first you wait for the broth to boil, then you add the vegetables, then you wave the incredibly thin slices of beef a few times in the broth, then you put everything in the dipping sauce and then you eat it! It was perfect because the room temperature dipping sauce helped to cool down the food so you don’t burn your mouth. Plus, it made the food super tasty! I had my reservations about Shabu Shabu because I heard it was more bland compared to Sukiyaki but this was actually very flavourful. We ended up ordering another serving of beef and vegetables since we enjoyed it so much. It was also here that I realized the Japanese really enjoy dipping their food. From sushi to tempura to soba to Tsukemen to Shabu Shabu, it seems that there is a specific dipping sauce for everything! It just adds so much more to the taste of the food and it always pairs so well! At the end of dinner we acknowledged that our server’s English was very good and turns out he is not Japanese but Indonesian! Interesting!

IMG_0042
Shabu Shabu @ Hanasakaji-San.

After dinner, we stopped by a 7-11 to print off some documents for our train ride tomorrow. Apparently you can upload documents to 7-11 and then retrieve them from the printers at the store. The menu on the printer was in Japanese but we were able to figure it out with some guessing and some Google Translate. I must say that Google Translate’s camera function is super helpful for a language like Japanese that doesn’t use the roman alphabet. I wish that this was available for Thai as well. Aside from figuring out which buttons to press, this was actually a really convenient way to print documents when you’re on the go! Following our printing adventure, we headed home to do some light packing for our short weekend trip to Kyoto tomorrow.