Tag Archives: tokyo

Last Day in Japan

We woke up to our last day in Tokyo, a little sad. In less than fifteen hours, we knew we would be on our way back to America and back to the daily grind. Since our last day fell on a Sunday, we were set on going back to Yoyogi Park, but first we needed to get some of our own picnic supplies.

Downstairs in the basement of the Shinjuku Station we had plenty of options for picnic options.

We were at the park earlier this time. People were still bringing in their picnic supplies, cases of beer and bottles of sake.

We wolfed down our food pretty quickly, but fortunately there was plenty of food being prepared by vendors in the park.

Wieners!

That’s what she said!

This time the cherry blossoms were all blooming, What a difference one week makes. There were even more people out in the park too. We were out to see what more fun and interesting people, and that’s exactly what we got.

A woman sat and painted the flowers by the lake.

We found some people that brought a bear suit to the park. How fun!

Then we saw these people having an awesome time.

We wanted to find some new friends, and we did.

This was part of the friend selection criteria. The other half was that they had to speak English and be friendly.

These girls are yelling, “Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Everybody!” Good to know the Japanese take only the best parts of American culture.

This guy had too much to drink, and he had to go into work later that same day.

There were definitely some shows going on in the park. I think this one was the ending of the first Rocky.

All the drinking in the park made me hungry. Stopped into a  Yoshinoya. It’s really not too different from America, but for some reason it doesn’t seem gross here.

Michelle wanted to pick up more snacks from one of the stores in Harajuku. Easier said than done.

After doing a little more walking around the city, we realized we were pretty tired. We knew we would miss Japan and its people, but we were ready to go home. For our last meal, we popped into Ippudo, a famous ramen shop that has made its way to NYC too.

Creamy deliciousness.

And for Michelle, spicy, creamy deliciousness.

After returning from Japan, we laid out what we bought on the kitchen table. Pretty much all snacks, many purchased in the airport because we were unable to find a money changer.

Japan is such a wonderful country, and everyone should go visit. I mean everyone. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it. Nicest people in the world. We could all learn a thing or two from the Japanese. Let’s start with vending machine food ordering and better tonkatsu. We can work on our manners later.

Curry by Train & Lost in Translation

One of the restaurants we had on our list to check out was Niagara Curry. It’s a well known curry spot, and it has a cool surprise. The restaurant is completely train themed from the seats to the decor.

Your curry is even delivered to your table by train!

It’s Thomas the Tank Engine!

Our dinner has arrived by train!

All food tastes better when it’s delivered by train.

Michelle went with the hot curry. She said this was pretty hot, definitely the spiciest thing we had in Japan.

When you get your meal the owners give you a ticket along with it.

Here is the owner. He gave us conductor’s hats to wear. We designated him our Japan Grandpa.

There’s even a guest book that all the patrons can sign.

After dinner we went to the Park Hyatt Hotel to cross of one of our to-do list items. Go to the hotel bar from Lost in Translation.

They add a pretty hefty cover charge to your bill after 8 PM, so as 7:45 rolled around we asked for our check. We were slow to leave though, slow enough to catch a little live music.

Traditional Hanami Party

Remember when I said Japanese people play hard? We met up with Akiko after dinner at about 8 PM. She said she got off work at 6. As 11 PM rolled around, we met up with Marie and headed to a new spot. Midnight came and went, and Michelle and I excused ourselves and headed back to our hotel a little after 1 AM. We said our goodbyes for the moment as we were planning to meet up the next day for a picnic.

Noon the next day we met up and were immediately handed drinks. At first I thought I could get used to this, but when we asked what time Akiko and Marie went home, they said they went home at about 6 AM. I don’t think I can keep up.

We were celebrating the cherry blossoms with shared food and drink. Everyone’s looking at the camera except for me.

Everyone likes taking photos of the cherry blossoms, even the locals.

Guess which snack we brought to the party?

Yay for new friends! They even gave me a beer to go. I love Japan!

Bird Land, Jiro, & Night Life

The most confusing thing about Japan is trying to find the places you are going. In Tokyo (maybe all of Japan), the addresses are numbered in order they were built on the street. On any given street 123 may be nowhere near 124. Stores and restaurants always list directions on their website showing how to get to their location, but unfortunately we can’t read Japanese.

What we would do is get as close as possible to the mark on the Google Map, and then circle the block half a dozen times until we found our destination. If we couldn’t find it, we just found something else to do that looked cool. We almost had to resort to finding an alternate meal when we couldn’t find Bird Land, a well known yakitori restaurant below street level in an office building basement.

Yakitori time! What I noticed is disposable, wooden chopsticks in Japan don’t splinter like the ones we have in the states. Why is that?

Bird Land is well known for a reason. Their mastery of the grill is evident, but it’s not just that. They put together a great meal that was well balanced. If you look through the photos above, you’ll notice there’s a dish every so often that acts as a palette cleanser, a taste bud reset button. It allows you to power through the meal without getting overloaded with too much flavor.

Halfway through the meal we realized the restaurant across the hallway was Sukiyabashi Jiro. This is a 3-star Michelin rated sushi restaurant, which is arguably the best sushi restaurant in the world. A recent documentary has made Jiro even more famous. This is not a restaurant to consider dining at unless you’ve made reservations well in advance and also have lots of money to spend on a single meal.

Here Michelle stalks a sushi legend.

That bald head is Jiro, the Wizard of Sushi! After this picture one of the employees came out and told us we couldn’t take pictures, or maybe he was telling us to come in and have free sushi. We couldn’t tell the difference so we played it safe and left.

After eating and sushi chef stalking, we met up with one of Harrison and Annie’s friends to see what night life was like. Japanese people work hard, and they play even harder. This is one of the stops of the night, a bar that make it look like St. Patrick’s Day all the time.

 

 

Asakusa & Ueno

We were already a week into our trip, and weren’t in a rush to try and see anything in particular. Plus our feet were refusing to work. We decided to just check out a couple neighborhoods to see what was going on there, but first we had to get lunch.

Bomb dot com.

The shit dot net.

Asakusa is known for the Senso-Ji, an old Buddhist temple. What’s going on around the temple is anything but a religious experience. Vendors sell snacks and souvenirs on the blocks surrounding the temple. It’s like a flea market.

This woman was making a killing in front of the temple, grilling up meats and seafood.

We opted for the octopus.

Afterward we headed to Ueno. Next to the railway there is a maze of streets for shopping. Clothes, shoes, luggage…just about anything you could want is available for sale.

Ueno Park had its cherry blossoms coming into bloom like the rest of Tokyo.

“The cherry blossoms are but a fraction of your beauty.” BONUS POINTS!

Making new friends in Meguro

After hanging out in Akihabara and being disturbed by the maid cafe, we headed to Meguro. It is unlike any neighborhood we had seen thus far. It was mostly residential, very quiet. All the shops in the area were for housewares and furniture.

There are a lot of stores that sell dishes.

Furniture stores are also pretty popular here. They have somem really great stuff, and if I wasn’t in Japan, I might have bought something. Instead we used the store as a spot to rest our aching feet.

Our feet were killing us, but I told Michelle, “Just a little farther. We should walk along the river and see if there are any cherry blossoms.” There were!

 

As the sun was beginning to lower and I was still snapping photos, Michelle called for me to come over, where she was standing with some people. They were having an all-you-can-drink hanami party. Unlike the traditional picnic, they rented out what looked like a small art gallery. The great thing is because we were visitors, they let us join then for free!

You can’t even tell Michelle is from America!

I need to work on fitting in better, chucking up deuces Japan style!

We were like rock stars at this party. While I want so badly to be more like them, they want to learn English and be more American. The one thing everyone understands is, “Do you have Facebook?” We made a lot of Facebook friends that night. After we spent a fun time making new friends and drinking, the sun was long gone. Definitely a fun way to spend the day.

 

 

Akihabara: Electronics, Toys, and Porn

Akihabara is also known as Electric Town. You can buy anything electronic, or electronics related here. There are electronics stores everywhere, but these are not like at home. Imagine Best Buy, stacked on top of Fry’s Electronics, on top of a Game Stop, which is sitting on top of a Verizon store, and then add a camera store on top of that. This would be one of the smaller stores in Akihabara.

Here is one of the multi-level electronics stores in Akihabara.

There are even stores that specialize in old video games. Remember Star Fox?

Don’t forget F-1 Race.

Akihabara also has lots of toy stores in the neighborhood, carrying a lot of action figures and models.

If electronics and action figures weren’t enough to make you think this was a guy’s neighborhood, there is a lot of porn. Just like in the electronics stores, each floor is a separate category of products. Books and comics on floor one. DVDs on two. Video games on three. Yes, they have a floor full of pornographic video games.

Mr. Doughnut!

The first time I had these was in Taiwan.  Delicious.

Do you know what is super weird? Maid cafes. I don’t understand how there is a niche for this type of place. It’s a bunch of girls dressed in maid outfits, addressing customers as master, and charging a lot of money for food and drinks.  It just seems creepy more than anything.

They do make Hello Kitty faces in your drink though. That’s a plus, right?

Tonkatsu!

This is a best tonkatsu I’ve ever had, hands down. The meat is tender, and the breading isn’t heavy. It’s light aand flaky.

If it’s even possible, the shrimp was even better. The attention to detail in the presentation is perfect with the tails fanned out on every shrimp. Well played, Japan.

Nikuzushi: Can’t Eat This in America

Michelle and I went wandering Ebisu, looking for a restaurant we had on our intinerary. We walked back and forth along the block, where the restaurant was supposed to be located, but it looked like there was only one restaurant on the block. Looking through the window we could see it was serving noodles , not what we were looking for after two noodle museums. We decided to poke our heads in and ask where our restaurant was located.

We found this. It was a narrow corridor of restaurants, an indoor alley of street vendors. The air smelled of so many flavors, grilled meats and seafood, potent broths, and even some cigarette smoke. We charged forward finally finding our restaurant, Nikuzushi.

This place specializes in meat sushi. While their raising and handling of the animals used is much cleaner than America’s animal factories, there are still inherent risks. A year ago some children died after eating raw meat, so pork and beef are no longer allowed completely raw.

This is pork. It’s not raw, but this amount of pink in the meat would probably scare a lot of people back home. Very tender. I’d like some of this meat in a sandwich back home. Come on, Subway!

The meat on the right is beef, which looks more like roast beef. What’s on the left, however, is something you probably won’t find on a menu in the states. That is horse. A bit chewy, like any raw piece of meat. It’s lighter than beef, but beef is probably what I’d compare it most closely with, although some people say it’s also a bit like venison.

Ground horse, topped with a raw egg.

I liked the horse as a thin slice of meat. Tenderize it by grinding it up and stir in a raw egg, and you have a creamy, delicious dish. The texture on this is out of this world too. It’s soft and delicate, almost melting in your mouth.

The owner is super cool, and although his English is very limited, he helped us out and treated us like any of his other customers. If you get to Tokyo, please check this place out. Expand your mind and try not to think of food as normal or weird. It’s just different.

PS. It helps not to think of Sea Biscuit or Mr. Ed while you’re here.

 

Craft Beer and Fugu in Japan

During our trip Michelle asked me if I missed home. I told her, “Not at all.” Then after thinking about it for a moment I said, “Beer. I miss beer.” There is plenty of lager available, but I was craving an ale. Japan’s laws have recently changed to allow craft breweries to become a reality, so they’re not well distributed. Fortunately I put a spot on our map just in case I started to miss beer.

This is Craftheads, a place to get good beer and bourbon as well.

They carry beer from Fujizakura Heights Beer.

If you look at the list of beers they carry on tap and bottle, you’ll find some familiar brewery names like Stone, Lost Abbey, and Bear Republic. I decided to stay local and went with the Sakura Bock. So good when it hits your lips!

After a beer we headed down to Shibuya to watch a horde of Japanese people walk across an intersection. As one of the busier subway/train stations, Shibuya Crossing gets packed with people. Although they don’t like it, Starbucks is a great spot to take photos.

This is fugu, also known as puffer fish. It’s known to be poisonous but also a delicacy in Japan. We decided to try this rare food.

Skin, which seemed to be blanched. This was super chewy with little flavor, like a cross between tendon and jellyfish. I guess that’s kind of what we should’ve expected for a fish that can inflate its body to double the normal size.

We also ate fugu sashimi. This was also a bit chewy, though not quite as much as the skin. Flavor here was also very light, almost non existent.

Some pieces of fugu were set out for us to cook in a soup. When you cook the fish it actually becomes very tender, but before it’s cooked it’s tough. It also continues to move on the plate.

Did I forget to mention that our friends Jen and Charlie were also in Tokyo the same time we were? Actually they’d been with us since Yoyogi Park but I had no pictures to prove it. The good news is none of us died from eating fugu.

After fugu Michelle and I went to Albatross, a two-story bar that holds about five people on each floor. What you’re seeing here is about half the bar.

I can barely fit the bar in the photo, because there’s no room to back up.

One of the guys at the bar with us was an origami master. He was sitting there folding squares of paper in the dim light. He made us a cat!

He then proceeded to whip out a pair of scissors from his coat pocket and made this piece of art. He also made us Minnie too, which is even more intricate with a bow on the head and eyelashes.

I’m going to say it again. Japanese people are awesome.

Yoyogi Park

Imagine a place, where space is a rare commodity. You live in a tiny apartment. Work is a small office. To get in between the two places you are crammed in a subway car, pressed up against your neighbor. This is Tokyo. There has to be a place for you to unwind before you snap. That place is Yoyogi Park.

Just outside the park some kids were modeling their latest fashions.

At the entrance to the park, kids are playing double dutch.

Then you turn and see these people. Rockabilly music is blaring and they’re dancing relentlessly.

This guy seemed to be their leader for the day. He had the tightest jeans and the biggest hair.

They dance so hard that their shoes are taped up with black tape. When we left the park four hours later, they were still dancing.

This group performed nearby, but didn’t hold down the tough guy attitude.

We were very fortunate to be in Japan during cherry blossom season. It’s a huge deal in Japan. In order to celebrate they have hanami, flower viewing parties, which consists of picnicking with friends, sharing food and drink. Yoyogi Park is one large park where some of these picnics unfold.

There are people everywhere! Unfortunately the cherry blossoms were nowhere to be seen, because it had been a little too cold.

Business men and women also gather to see non existent sakura.

While most of the people in Tokyo stick closely to their circle of friends and are very quiet outside this circle, some were welcoming.

This is Dodge-bee, a game where you try to get as many people as possible to jump with a huge jump rope.

There was a man, blowing bubbles for the kids.

The park is also used to practice and perform just about every imaginable type of performance. Here is a group doing some color guard routine.

This was some type of dance routine. It was mostly confusing.

There was a drum line going on in the park too. They played on for 30+ minutes while people danced around and had a good time.

If you don’t have a drum, just bring a guitar and join this group.

This seemed to be the only professional performance group, doing some interpretive dance while painted gold.

Our trip to Yoyogi Park made us love the people of Japan even more. Everyone did their thing, and no one jeered or taunted anyone else for being different. If such a gathering of people with diverse interests ever came about back home, you’d have some kind of hobby war with skaters fighting dancers. Japanese rule. I’m only talking about the Japanese in Japan. I have Japanese friends in America, and they are assholes.