Japan Trip: Tokyo Leg 19th – 25th May 2013

We were fortunate enough to spot Mt. Fuji on the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo! Little did we know that it will also be our last time seeing it, but more on that later.

Mt. Fuji

The bullet train ride was expensive, but it was still pretty exciting because it’s my first time riding a train going at speeds of up to 320km/h. It honestly doesn’t feel that fast whilst we’re on it, and I even enjoyed my bento breakfast along the way.

Shinkansen

The first thing that hit me when I arrived in Tokyo was how crowded this city is. At any given time of the day, most places are perpetually filled with people walking about, commuting, standing around waiting at train stations. I also observed that Tokyoites very often do things alone, even when it comes to having meals. I guess most of the population come to the city only for work, and their families are hours away in the suburbs.

Our hotel for our 6 nights stay was at Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku.

http://www.hotelsunrouteplazashinjuku.jp/en/

It was affordable and most importantly, a 3 minutes walk from Shinjuku Station Southern Terrace exit. The room has a double bed and a private toilet, but we did not have enough space to even open our luggage because it was really tiny. Everything else was good though!

Our first meal there was the famous 六厘舎TOKYO at Ramen Street, First Avenue Tokyo Station. The special Tokusei Tsukemen there is the best Tsukemen I ever had. The dipping soup had so much ingredients and the stock so tasty that I knew I had to come back again (I eventually did).

Tokusei Tsukemen

Their noodles are also different from the thin yellow ramen noodles; this was more chewy like udon. I am salivating just thinking and writing about this. There is no doubt a long queue so be prepared to wait about 30 minutes or so.

http://www.tokyoeki-1bangai.co.jp/en/

First Avenue Tokyo Station also has a Character street, where Michelle had a good time at the Rilakkuma and Totoro stores. Actually, Tokyo Station is a train station cum shopping mall so massive that Ion Orchard is probably minuscule compared to it. 

Shopping at Shinjuku alone exhausted us on our first day, so we took a day trip out to Yokohama the day after to relax and visit some museums! Yokohama is about 30 minutes via subway from Tokyo, and is the second largest city in Japan by population.

Our first stop was the Ramen Museum, which was actually quite a disappointment. It’s located a few blocks away from the Shin-Yokohama Station, but we could not spot the building in the rain; our mood was also quite low because of our soaked shoes.

http://www.raumen.co.jp/

Anyway, it was not much of a museum, but more of a 1900s themed ramen restaurant that gathers some recognized brands together, much like Ramen Champion at Bugis+.

Yokohama Ramen Museum

Therefore, it felt a bit ridiculous for us that we had to pay an entrance fee, and are also obligated to order a bowl of ramen when seated. (You would have noticed by now that I seem to be eating ramen throughout the entire trip, but don’t worry I eat soba noodles and tempura sometimes too~)

Luckily, the Nissin Cup Noodles Museum was a much better place that cheered us up from the gloomy weather.

Yokohama Cup Noodles Museum

The fun part was we get to make our own instant noodles! We paid 300yen to decorate our cup, choose 4 ingredients together with our preferred soup base, and take it home with us!

Cup Noodles Ingredients

Michelle and I chose chili tomato and curry respectively, and it was really good! They are also more generous with the ingredients there than the ones we buy off the shelves. Also, I checked almost all the stores in Singapore but they only seem to stock the Seafood flavor cup noodles. Anybody knows why not Chili Tomato/Curry?

Michelle's Instant Noodles

Michelle and her well-decorated Rilakkuma Instant Noodles.

That was about all for our Yokohama day trip. Cosmoworld was closed due to the rain, but I read that they had a roller-coaster that goes into an underwater tunnel. Sounds pretty cool!

A tourist attraction not to be missed in Tokyo is the newly built Tokyo Skytree. Our visit coincided with their 1st Anniversary celebrations; lucky for us because Tokyo Banana’s outlet there had a special flavored spotted Tokyo Banana – Chocolate Cream.

Tokyo Banana Limited Edition

Starbucks also had limited edition tumblers for sale for their 1st Anniversary at Tokyo Skytree. (Needless to say, I grabbed both designs and have spares for sale. Interested buyers, PM me)

Skytree Starbucks Tumblers

A ticket to the Tembo Deck 350 metres up in the sky costs 2000yen. To go further up 100 metres to the Tembo Galleria is another 1000yen more.

http://www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en/

It’s really beautiful up there with a 360 degrees view of Tokyo City Skyline. There’s the famous top 3 “million dollar night views” in Japan (三大夜景), but I think this new skyscraper stands as a strong contender.

Tokyo Skytree Night View

Me at Tokyo Skytree

On the way to Tokyo Skytree, you can make a short detour to check out Asakusa and the famous Sensoji (Asakusa) Temple. There are many rows of shops outside the temple, and this is also where you can find the most delicious melon pan (メロンパン) in Tokyo!

Asakusa Melon Pan

http://asakusa-kagetudo.com/

It’s called Asakusa Kagetsudo (浅草 花月堂) and their melon pans are big and fragrant. The skin/crust on top is really crispy because they’re fresh out of the oven.

Here is some proof that I eat food other than ramen while in Japan. We went to Midori Sushi (美登利) at Mark City, Shibuya. Their set meal is famous for being good and affordable. At 2100yen, it is quite a bargain for the sushi they serve.

Midori Sushi Set

However, Michelle and I do not have the acquired taste to fully enjoy their sea urchin (uni) sushi and crab roe paste salad. The prawn’s brain juice also disgusted Michelle so much that we had so much laughs during the meal.

Prawn Brain Juice

The Hong Kong tourists next to us, thinking that we don’t understand cantonese, were commenting on how wasteful we are, while slurping the brain juice from the prawn’s head and devouring the uni fresh off their black poky shells. This really was a memorable meal for the wrong reasons haha.

We also ventured out to Tsukiji Fish Market to try fresh sashimi. However, we were not crazy enough to queue 3 hours for the Omakase at Sushi Dai or Daiwa, hence we settled for a Donburi at Nakaya (仲家). I had a bowl of fatty tuna and salmon, and Michelle had fatty tuna and salmon roe. We found it to be decent, but slightly expensive because we weren’t able to discern how fresh it actually was.

Nagaya Donburi 1

Nagaya Donburi 2

Food enthusiasts would burn us at the stake, but we think the sushi bought from Daimaru’s basement was equally nice and much cheaper.

What’s a trip to Japan if we do not visit Mt. Fuji right? We took a 2 hour long train ride to Hakone-Yumuto Station anticipating a stunning view of the snow-capped mountain. We were so disappointed. The moment we reached we figured something was wrong because there were no Mt. Fuji to be seen, and it was confirmed by the tourist guide checking the webcam – that it was too cloudy that day.

So to all readers, please heed my advice and check the webcam BEFORE you head over to Hakone.

http://www.fujigoko.tv/english/

You can save yourself a lot of time and money this way.

Since we’re there, we decided to relax at an onsen. There are many hot springs there, but we chose the Tenzan Tohji-kyo (click link) because the reviews on Tripadvisor were #1. It costs 1200yen and we brought our own towels, or else you have to pay for 1.

Tenzan Onsen

The onsen was indeed very close to nature; it was open-air, and there were several pools and tiers to soak in, with varying temperatures. They also have a cave-like sauna where you have to rub yourself in salt before going in to roast. I didn’t try it because it really reminded me too much of 盐焗鸡 (Salt-Baked Chicken) that I really love eating.

As I couldn’t take pictures inside, here’s one that is a fine representation of what I saw.

Onsen

Yes you got that right, I saw too much. HAHA [Image taken from another person’s blog about Tenzan Onsen]

Back to touring attractions, we dropped by the artificial island of Odaiba one evening to do some shopping and sightseeing. I guess the best mall to go to is Diver City, easily recognizable by the built-to-scale 1:1 Gundam standing guard in front of the entrance.

Odaiba Gundam

Nearby, there is an outlet shopping area at Palette Town, but the main eye-catcher there was the pet shop on the first floor.

Odaiba Palette Town

They have such adorable puppies and kittens for sale, including corgis and munchkins. If we lived in Japan we would have brought one or two home with us already. They easily costs $3000 onwards though, but I guess that’s the price you pay for cuteness.

Michelle had been longing to go DisneySea the entire trip, and we were blessed with good weather (or rather we checked the weather forecast to avoid the rainy days). We bought the open-date tickets from JTB Singapore Ion Orchard so we need not queue in Japan, but it’s slightly more expensive at S$85.

Monkey at DisneySea

They have a few exciting rides there and I read/heard that the Tower of Terror is the best one to go to for thrills. However, the Toy Story Mania Ride is also pretty fun. It only opened last year so the queueing time can be up to 2 hours, even on weekdays.

Toy Story Mania DisneySea

Be sure to buy the alien mochi ice-cream while queueing to omnom.

Alien Mochi Ice Cream

Also, if you do not understand Japanese, please do not go to the Turtle Talk exhibit. It’s an interactive talk show featuring “Crush” from Finding Nemo, and it features some top-notch technology that combines animation with real-time conversations with the audience. Entirely in Japanese. It was funny because we sat through the 20 minutes talk show laughing along with everyone else.

Another advice for DisneySea visitors is that their Fastpass system works differently, and is not like your usual express lane. You enter the park and grab a Fastpass ticket specific to the ride but for a much later timing, and come back at the given timing without the need to queue. Hence, you can have meals/watch other shows while waiting for your turn to come. The downside is, the popular rides have their Fastpass tickets sold out within an hour of the park opening anyways.

Michelle at DisneySea

It was lots of fun and definitely not just for kids, and we spent nearly the entire day there.

One of our last activities in Tokyo was spent walking around the Shinjuku Gyoen Park (literally around). It’s very much like our Botanic Gardens but they charge for entrance, hence there is only one or two places of entry near the Shinjuku Gyoen-Mae Station. We didn’t know that, and had to walk the perimeter of the huge park just to find the entrance.

Shinjuku Gyoen

Nevertheless, we were rewarded with much greenery and little kids running about playing Mr. Wolf.

Shinjuku Gyoen Kids

One last thing to say before I end off this Tokyo post, and also my final Japan post.

Look out for this Salt and Camembert Cheese Biscuit from Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory!

Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory

It’s the best cheese biscuit ever, and I seriously regretted buying only 1 box. I know they sell it at Tokyo Skytree, but I’m not sure where else.

I think this is a much better gift than the boxes of omiyages that they overprice and sell at the tourist souvenir shops.

Thanks for reading!

Japan Trip: Kyoto Leg 15th – 18th May 2013

Japan Trip: Osaka Leg 12th – 14th May 2013

*If you are going to Japan and are a fan of Starbucks, please comment below. I need some help buying/collecting Japan’s Starbucks Cards. Thanks!

Japan Trip: Kyoto Leg 15th – 18th May 2013

Osaka and Kyoto are actually very near each other, and when I reached Kyoto Station I was amazed at its architecture. It kind of reminds me of Star Vista (Buona Vista MRT), but on a much much bigger scale.

Kyoto Station

Our hotel, APA Hotel (Kyoto Eki Horikawa Dori) was a 5 minutes walk from the Kyoto Station, and in my opinion was the best accommodation we stayed out of the 3. It was fairly spacious by Japan standards, and the room was well equipped with fast wifi.

I was chatting with an Australian in the sento the night before and he told me there’s a Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) happening the morning we are to arrive at Kyoto, so it was awesome coincidence that we got to witness our very first Japanese Festival. The tradition began way back in the 7th century, and is one of the 3 most famous festivals in Kyoto.

Aoi Matsuri

After watching part of the procession, we wanted to go visit Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion). However, genius me misread the name and we ended up at Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion) instead.

Ginkakuji

Nevertheless, it was part of our itinerary anyway and the beautiful garden was worth a visit! The said pavilion was not anything near silver though. It was intended to be covered with a silver foil overlay with water reflecting onto its lacquered finishing, but it never came to fruition.

Our next stop of the day, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most people come here to drink the water flowing down from the 3 channels into a pond, and hope their wish would  be granted.

Kiyomizudera 3 streams

Others come here to attempt walking with their eyes closed between 2 love stones, and if they succeed, they will find their true love.

Lovestone

However, my Japanese teacher told us that in the past, people actually go to more drastic measures to have their wish fulfilled. It is said that if you jump down from the Kiyomize-dera’s stage (as shown below) and survive, your wish would then be granted.

Kiyomizudera

You can imagine the look of horror on our faces when we were told that so many people jumped down from that great height. Anyway, thankfully quite a majority survived.

On day 2 of Kyoto, we took a day trip out to Nara to visit some temples, but mostly to see deers roam about freely in the parks. It’s quite cool that these deers and humans can mingle around rather amicably.

Nara Deer Park

On the day we went, there were large numbers of both and it was like a scene from the movies. School girls (and some boys) were screaming and running around, with the deers chasing them for deer snacks.

Deer Snacks

These deer snacks can be bought for just 150yen, and it’s a sure way to get deers to come close to you.

Deer Feeding

After playing with deers, we visited Todaiji (東大寺), which is the world’s largest wooden building. Inside the buddha temple, we also learnt that the building had been brought down by fires twice, and is now 1/3 smaller than its original structure about 400 years ago.

Todaiji

There were also kids queueing up to crawl through a tiny hole in one of the wooden pillars in the temple. I was so curious as to why they were doing so, as even their teachers were pulling them through one-by-one.

Lucky Tree Hole

After doing some research (google google), I found out that you will get lucky if you crawl through that hole! It looked more like they were doing it for fun…

Day 3’s main attraction was a visit to Kinkakuji (金閣寺). It was majestic and the golden structure just shone with brilliance under the sunny weather. “Perfect photo opportunity!”, thought every single tourist that entered the garden and blocked the pathway, till security have to chide people to move on.

Kinkakuji

It was quite a short and relaxing walk through the garden though, with the gold-leaf covered structure being the centre of attention all the time.

Jeremy Khong

The rest of the day we spent shopping at Teramachi and Shin Kyogoku Shopping Arcades. Most of them are local brands that we couldn’t afford or have no interest in, but we did find plenty of great deals at the 100yen and 300yen shops littered along the street.

We also took a look at the famous Nishiki Market, which runs parallel to Shijo street (四条通). It was quite a disappointment for us though, mostly because they sell lots of fresh whole fish or preserved Japanese appetizers that we weren’t exactly looking to buy.

Our last day in Kyoto was a bit more exciting! We travelled to Arashiyama (嵐山), which is known for its bamboo forest.

Arashiyama

It’s actually a very touristy place with lots of souvenir shops and restaurants along the main street.

Getsukyo

During spring, the cherry blossoms will bloom and can be seen from the Togetsukyo (渡月橋), but when we went all we saw were more tourists.

Michelle posing for pictures amidst the bamboo forest.

Michelle

If you’re lazy to walk, there are muscular, young & charismatic (adjectives provided by Michelle) rickshaw drivers ferrying people along this scenic route too.

Rickshaw

Another place of interest in Kyoto is the Fushimi Inari Shrine. You will better recognize it as the place with lots of bright orange Torii gates.

Inari Shrine

They represent holy gates and are iconic of Shinto shrines. But as usual we are just there to take pictures because it’s a beautiful place to camwhore.

Torii Gates

A different city warrants another visit to the cat cafe! This one is Nekokaigi (猫会議)

http://www.nekokaigi.com/english/top.html

Cat Onsen

The cats here are not like the pedigree-ish cats in Osaka, but more like regular cats. However, the owner here have a unique way of interacting with and getting the cats’ attention. You will have to go there and see for yourself to find out!

Turtleshell Cat

During one of our nights there, we ventured out to the bars at the Kiyamachi area and walked into a narrow lane (Pontocho Street) where we were lucky enough to spot a few Maiko (left) and Geisha (right) going to one of the many nondescript teahouses.

Maiko

It is said that if you are not a guest of a regular customer, you probably would be denied entry into some of the high-class restaurants.

We finally settled on a bar called ING Bar, that is tucked away on the 2nd floor of an old building. It’s about the size of a 2-room flat, musty and dark, and has the atmosphere of a quaint Rock n Roll bar from the 80s. Would still recommend it though, as the owners are friendly and speak english.

http://www.kyotoingbar.com/

My last bit about Kyoto will be about Gogyo Kyoto’s (京都五行) burnt ramen!

Gogyo

The soup base is really pretty burnt, think black and sooty. It’s also very thick and flavorful. If you’re seeking a good ramen place in Kyoto, this would definitely be it. It’s a short walk away from the Nishiki Market and is very easy to find.

Burnt Ramen

That sums up the Kyoto Leg of my Japan Trip!

Please stay tune for my last Tokyo Leg post coming soon.

Japan Trip: Osaka Leg 12th – 14th May 2013

Japan Trip: Tokyo Leg 19th – 25th May 2013

*If you are going to Japan and are a fan of Starbucks, please comment below. I need some help buying/collecting Japan’s Starbucks Cards. Thanks!