Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tokyo - A few of my favourite things - Part 1

Some of my favourite things in Tokyo

So my trip to Tokyo with Brad was well over a month ago, but I only just got around to editing all the pictures. Life, that annoying thing! Rather than do an overly in-depth post, I thought I would just share some of my favourite places to eat, and some of my favourite things about Tokyo…

Hot green tea (with no sugar) from vending machines and onigiri from convenience stores for breakfast, or afternoon tea.

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Seriously, there’s really nothing better. And it’s so cheap! Also can tea in a bottle without sugar be more of a thing over here? It’s seriously refreshing/comforting. Substitute hot tea with a can of beer for dinner options as well. 

Kids wearing traditional garb on  the ‘Cultural Day’ holiday at the Meiji Shrine.

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Think my ovaries were seriously about to burst. Was almost stalking kids down and cooing over how cute they were. I mean, look at that little tux, seriously!

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Although I’m not in love with the branding, I love the bakery itself. Freshly torched frozen smores, with chocolatey nutty fillings, beautiful cakes, chocolate chip cookie shot glasses with vanilla milk (the best at about 9pm in the evening) and flaky Kouign Amann’s that are still amazing the next morning when you have it for breakfast. Don’t bother hitting it up on the weekend; lines are insane, plan to be in Harajuku/Omotesando mid week and you’ll be just fine. 

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Viewing Deck

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This is free. It’s great. Best on a clear day and/or night!

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So it’s totally confusing when you first rock up at this little joint, as downstairs says they’re serving soba, and upstairs says they’re serving ramen. Downstairs is lying to you. Kagari in Ginza actually serves up ramen and even at 2pm there’s a good 7 people long queue to get into the tiny little eatery that seats about 10. The ramen here, is unlike many you’ll find though, the ‘tori-paitan ‘soba’’, has a very creamy and rich chicken broth which is intensely comforting, sweet and savoury. The spongy and slightly thicker than usual ramen noodles just adds to this comforting feeling. One of the best things I probably ate this trip honestly. There’s also a ‘niboshi-shoyu ‘soba’’ which in contrast is dark and much more savoury, less rich, made with dried sardines. Definitely a spot I would highly recommend. (Thanks Richie for convincing the usually impatient me to wait). 

Toraya’s traditional sweets

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My friend who happened to be in Tokyo at the same time as us, introduced us to Toraya’s cafe in Midtown, where you can get very traditional desserts and sweets. I particularly liked this dish with chestnut puree (Yes yes yes), jellies, red beans and syrup; with a cup of green tea on the side. It’s a refreshing break from the western styled cakes that I kept getting seduced by. 

Soaking in Senso-ji

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I think I talked about Senso-ji in my last visit to Tokyo, but I always love returning every time I’m in Tokyo. It’s probably one of my favourite temples anywhere, with the lively strip of shops out front where you can delicious traditional sweets; including one of my favourites, ningyo-yaki, cooked in an iron mould and filled with red bean paste. Nothing better getting them freshly made when they sit warm in your hand.

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I also just adore watching the locals go about their business, making offerings and praying; the incense always smells so good. 

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Getting my fortune always reminds me of the manga and anime I read, and I love shaking the box to see what number stick I get. This year my fortune was okay; Brad got a better one fortunately!

Asakusa Kagetsudo’s giant melon bread

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I never really god the hype with melon bread; it’s a popular snack item at many bakeries in Japan, and in anime and manga it always pops up. But then I had Kagetsudo’s melon bread on my last visit to Senso-ji, and I’ve been hooked since. It’s the size of your face, less than $3, fluffy and light and with a sweet and crispy outer layer (which is actually made of cookie dough). Seriously addictive. It looks huge, but it doesn’t take long to chomp your whole way through it!

Mont Blanc’s

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Oh my god. Can I just lose my shit over how much I love Mont Blanc’s? Chestnut puree goodness? I love the earthiness, the nuttiness, but the gentle sweetness as well; and I’ve been lucky enough to be in Tokyo recently the past two years in fall, which is chestnut season.


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I always get a Pierre Herme mont blanc, which I always, always enjoy. I also loved Henri Carpentier’s mont blanc as well!

Akiba Fukurou Owl Cafe

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Yes. An owl cafe. More of an owl ‘house’ than an owl ‘cafe’, as they don’t serve you any drinks or food, but who really cares because you’re here to see owls after all!

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It’s really just a cuteness explosion. You can make a booking online a few days in advance, or rock up on the day and see what your chances are like. Bookings run on the hour from around 12pm, and each session lasts one hour in total. 

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Oh my god. So much freaking cuteness. After a thorough briefing, you’re greeted by over 20 different owls, of all sizes, just chilling out on their perches. Some are sleeping, some are hopping around; all are incredibly well looked after and content little creatures. You can only touch them very, very gently on their forehead, but can ask staff to carry up to two of the cuties on your hands. Simply smitten. For around $15, it’s a total bargain and such a unique (and utterly adorable) experience!

It’s super touristy, but you’ve got to do it once in your life. Similarly to the owl cafe, the Robot Restaurant is less of a ‘restaurant’ and more of a show. THere’s food, but it ain’t worth your while to order it from what I’ve heard.

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Even before you get to the show, I love the bar that they send you in to wait at, in all it’s gaudy glory. Think chandeliers with rainbow neon, floor to wall screens with ladies riding through fields of explosions on unicorns, pimped out gold seats, and what seems to be Daft Punk in an alternate universe playing lounge music. It’s just so bizarre, but so damn fabulous.

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The show itself is also quite a spectacle to behold. I probably wouldn’t rate it as the most amazing thing I’ve seen in Japan, but just due to the scale of the show and the things that show up, it’s damn impressive. I won’t spoil it too much for those who plan to see it!

Tori No Ichi Festival

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You thought the Night Noodle Market was busy? Try heading to one of the smaller local shrines around Tokyo on the night of Tori no Ichi - essentially day of the rooster, which is a festival held every 12 days through November, which are the days of the rooster. 

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We made our way to the Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku, and holy hell; it’s amazing. Easily 60 food stalls, lining the pathways of the shrine, all the way out and spilling well onto the streets. You’re sardined as you move around, but the energy and the relaxed nature of the event is just catching. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the middle of one of my favourite anime, eating takoyaki and delicious fried chicken (at only around $5 a pop), watching children try to catch goldfish, and seeing all the other favourite festival foods be made. It’s a real experience, and a delicious one too. 

Hagen Daz Crispy Sandwiches 

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Sweet potato is the best. But chestnut and green tea flavours will do too!

Alternative Absinthe Bar

Surely there can’t be anything more amazing than stumbling into a random basement bar after feasting at a temple festival, that sits just 5 people, where no one really speaks English, but they give you free shots of gin and juice and a ‘secret’ shot of absinthe. 

Our bartender Jun was all smiles, song, and laughter, curating the music with heavy pumping bass through youtube on his iPad; and before long we had our hands all over it, me surprising them with Japanese songs I knew and could sing along to, and them showing just how great Japanese hospitality is and making requests for English songs.

Throw in a gay couple from England who also stumbled down the rabbit hole like us, and 5 hours of our night disappears in a heartbeat (along with some Tina Turner, and Whitney Houston). I have not had so much fun in ages! 

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Japan is undisputedly the land of the cute; so of course I make a specific trip out to Koenji, about 20 minutes from Shinjuku by train to visit Floresta donuts. Floresta make the cutest animal shaped donuts; there’s heaps of animals to choose from, which can make it a bit tricky! 

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Other than being cute, these donuts are actually super tasty; I love that despite Japan’s great love of sweets, none of their desserts are ever too sweet or sugary. They use a gentle hand when it comes to the application of sugar. These donuts are no exception, there’s a lovely density, they’re not just full of air. It’s also great to know that Floresta uses organic and local ingredients, hence why they don’t have so many locations around I suppose (unfortunately).

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If you do decide to make a trip out to Koenji, there is also awesome vintage shopping, and the neighbourhood is just pretty adorable; there’s more than just donuts!

Brad buying canned hot coffee from vending machines

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How good is Japan? Brad’s consensus is that the coffee is not amazing, but it’s perfectly drinkable; better than some of the bottled coffees we’ve got back in Australia. He always bought Boss and although he tried different flavours, struggled to figure out the subtle variations in flavour.