[CONTEST INSIDE] Japan Trip: Tokyo Leg 24th April – 3rd May 2015

Want to win a tour in Tokyo, Paris, or London? Read on to find out more!

Work and life has been a little busy, but I’m pleased to share my final blog post on my trip to Japan in 2015!

I stayed in two different hotels within Ikebukuro (池袋) during my Tokyo leg; I had not explored this part of Tokyo previously and I was pleasantly surprised. Did you know that Ikebukuro Station is the second busiest station, surpassed only by Shinjuku Station. However, unlike it’s more popular counterpart, Ikebukuro is a cheaper location to stay in without missing out on any of the hustle and bustle.

Between the B Ikebukuro and APA Hotel Ikebukuro-Eki-Kitaguchi hotels, I very much preferred the former.

the B Ikebukuro lobby
the B Ikebukuro

1-39-4 Higashi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku Tokyo 170-0013

http://ikebukuro.theb-hotels.com/en/

APA Hotel Ikebukuro-Eki-Kitaguchi

2-48-7 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku 171-0014

http://www.apahotel.com/hotel/shutoken/14_ikebukuro-eki-kitaguchi/english/

These two hotels were both great choices for under S$150 a night, but the location for the B was much more convenient and in a better neighbourhood. Basically, APA was too close to drinking bars/clubs and the night entertainment area for my comfort, and a bit further away from the train station.

Everyone must have heard about Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場) closing its operations and relocating in November 2016. It becomes a must-go destination not only to observe the early-morning tuna auction, but also to taste the fresh seafood at the popular stalls there. I had a tiring red-eye flight, so I had to give the auction a miss. Those who want a piece of the action must be prepared to wake up at 3am to queue, as admission is on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Sushi Zanmai

I reached Tsukiji around 10am, and the much raved Sushi Dai (寿司大) or Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司) were not feasible ideas when I’m carrying a luggage straight from the airport. I settled for chain restaurant Sushi Zanmai (すしざんまい) the King of Tuna, which was in fact very decent.

http://www.kiyomura.co.jp.e.sv.hp.transer.com/

I ordered what I needed to, tuna – otoro (大とろ) –> chutoro (中とろ) –> akami (赤身) –> Salmon Belly

Tuna Sushi

Moving on, I wandered the narrow streets of Tsukiji and stumbled upon grilled scallops, tamagoyaki (egg potong stick), ramen and many more. I was full and satisfied within 2 hours of stepping foot in Tokyo.

Tsukiji Scallops

Tamago Yaki ShopTamago Yaki

There is also a snaking queue for this clear broth ramen from 中華そば 井上 (Chuka Soba Inoue)

中華そば 井上

中華そば 井上中華そば 井上

I know it’s rare to hear this, but the ramen chef really prepared the bowls with finesse. They do it 10 bowls per batch, and everything was done so orderly. Slurp.

Harajuku Crepes

Another area I love to visit in Tokyo is Harajuku (原宿) and Omotesando (表参道). It is interesting to stroll through Takeshita Dori while snacking on crepes, but one of the main highlight for me is the LINE store at the end of this street. One of only two stores in the whole of Japan (other store is in Sendai), this is the place to stock up on your LINE merchandise.

http://fs.line.me/en/harajuku/#index

LINE Brown's Room

Look how big Brown is. Some people like to slap his face and leave hand-prints…

Giant Line Brown Bear

One of my favourite Starbucks in Tokyo is at Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku, at the road junction not far from the LINE store. It is located on the rooftop and has a large garden terrace for relaxing and coffee chats.

Omotesando Starbucks

Tourists being tourists, I had to make a visit to the Kaminarimon (雷門) Thunder Gate. A short walk from the Asakusa (浅草), you won’t miss this place with hundreds of people thronging the narrow street leading up to the temple. Within the gates lie Tokyo’s oldest and most famous temple – Sensoji (浅草寺). It’s fun to walk around and look at the handicrafts/souvenirs they have for sale, but do note that they (prices) are targeted towards tourists.

KaminariMon

I passed by Tokyo Dome City during the last day of my previous trip, and I so badly wanted to check out this amazing place in Tokyo that has a roller coaster! I specially went there this time, just to sit on the Thunder Dolphin. It costs 1,030 yen per ride, and a roller coaster adrenaline junkie like me didn’t regret it at all. Watch the video below for the first person point of view!

Tokyo Dome City

Friends who know me well understands that I love ramen. It’s my comfort food, and since I was staying at Ikebukuro, I had to try the Mutekiya Ramen (無敵家). Address: 1-17-1 Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku 東京都豊島区南池袋1-17- (Ikebukuro Station East Exit), Tokyo, Japan. They open until 4a.m. so it’s the perfect place to go for a warm hearty supper after a night of drinking / partying. But really, you don’t need a reason to have good ramen. I went around 11a.m. before the lunch crowd arrived, but I wasn’t early enough. Standing in the hot sun for about 30 mins waiting for my ramen only whet up my appetite. Turns out it was good, but not fantastic-come-back-again-tomorrow kind of good. Only 六厘舎TOKYO Ramen at the Tokyo Station made me do that.

Mutekiya Ramen

Mutekiya Ramen

When you ask a Tokyoite about Monjayaki (もんじゃ焼き), inevitably Tsukishima Monjya street comes to mind. Monjayaki is a kind of Japanese-style pancake, in which you can cook it on the grill by yourself, and eat off it afterwards. I was recommended to go to Bambi, as it had an English menu and the food was decent. I guess I was there more for the experience, being a first-timer I think my Monjya actually tasted mediocre at best.

Bambi

Monjyayaki

I am really happy to have re-visited Japan, and I would take it up again in a heartbeat if an opportunity knocks on my door. It’s truly one of my favourite countries in the world.

Now comes the exciting part – GIVEAWAY CONTEST!

YOU can win a free self-guided tour on the popular app GPSmyCity. Rules are really simple:

  1. Comment on THIS blog post the city you would like to go next, and tell me why!
  2. Bonus points will be given for creative entries.
  3. Share this post on Facebook so your friends can be rewarded too.

Contest dates are from 8 February 2016 – 29 February 2016. 20 lucky winners will be chosen and will receive a special promo code to download the app. Winners will be contacted via email, so please provide a valid email address.

Based on the comment, the winner will get the specific city’s guided tour app. Please refer to this link for the full list of cities. 

GPSmyCity app is compatible with both iOS and Android devices.

Good luck and happy travelling!

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!