Eating Japan: The most famous tonkotsu ramen shop in the country- Ippudo (+ short rant on traveling alone)

I got that title “The most famous tonkotsu…” straight from the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page for Ippudo ramen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ippudo), because I’m such a legitimate source of information like that, you know?

But seriously, this was THE best bowl of ramen I had in Japan. I was near tears as I ate it. Hell, I had to hold them back because I was in a public place.

I am no ramen expert, but I am a genuine lover of tonkotsu ramen, and I could have had two bowls of this in one seating, if my stomach would have allowed it.

It was a rainy day, and I was looking for a warm bowl of anything, to replenish my mana. It had been an extra tiring day, as I had not taken an umbrella when I left the hostel. I had to fit my schedule and travel routes for the day around the sporadic drops of rain that came whenever it pleased, and now, it was pouring heavy. Putting a shopping bag over my head that contained a scarf I had bought earlier, I was able to save myself from looking like a drenched raccoon. And I was hungry.

I had heard about the Ippudo ramen chain from a YouTube video the day before, and had plans to visit a location before I left Japan. Incidentally, I found it appearing on Google Maps on my way back to my hostel. I thought this was fate, and I sat on the waiting chairs outside the restaurant. Even on a rainy Wednesday night, there was a line-up.

I recognized the Ippudo logo from a YouTube video I had watched earlier. Otherwise, I would have passed right by. The Internet really is an amazing tool for travel.20170315_183424 ippudo!!! 비오는 날에도 줄이.jpg

As usual, a menu is provided while you wait, to make efficient use of time.20170315_184025.jpg

When in doubt at a ramen place, I pick the most expensive bowl available. I am usually unable to go back to the same ramen place twice because there is just too much stuff to eat in Japan. So I pick the bowl with the most stuff in it, and hope the bowl is a culmination of everything that the ramen-ya is proud of.

After a short 15 minute wait, I was already facing my beautiful bowl of Akamaru Modern Special (1,080 yen). 1,080 yen is pretty expensive, but I had no doubt that it would be worth it.20170315_185057.jpg

The men was pretty thin, so I could guess that the broth would be somewhat drinkable.20170315_185232.jpg

The broth was just amazing. While the kyoto-style ramen I had at Sen no Kaze left something to be desired, this broth struck the right balance for me between saltiness, fattiness, and richness. I purposely sipped slowly on the broth to stretch it for as long as I could.

Lots of toppings you can put in yourself, like benishoga, pickled veg, spicy bean sprouts, pepper, sesame seeds, soy sauce, etc. They also had a vegetable side dish that was available upon request; I regret not asking for it!20170315_191659.jpg

Their egg left me in a mindf**k. Seriously. The egg being perfectly cooked for a creamy and runny yolk and soft whites was just the beginning. There had to be some witchcraft behind this savory egg. 20170315_185727.jpg

The egg had come whole, not sliced in half like most other places. Also, the egg had retained its natural color, and there was no tint of soy sauce or other colored seasoning anywhere on, or in the egg. Yet, the yolk was seasoned perfectly. It was just the right level of salty, and it seemed like a Caramilk mystery- How did they get the salty in the egg?! Was there a breed of hen that laid eggs with perfectly seasoned yolks? The whites of the egg wasn’t salty, so I was struck by the mystery of how they got the salt to penetrate to the yolk. I am starting to sound obsessed, but that’s because I am.

I had heard of ramen masters steaming eggs in salt casings, and the saltiness from the casing naturally seeps into the egg, so could this be the case? But the whites wasn’t even salty. HOW DID THEY DO IT?

I was overwhelmed by the amount of beauty in this single bowl of ramen. My stomach was full, but I didn’t want this to end.

So I ordered kaedama – an extra serving of just the noodles. I saw many customers ordering extra men. Ippudo highly encouraged customers to do so on their menu, with an English comic illustration on the concept of kaedama.

My plate of kaedama. I made the mistake of asking for asking the noodles be cooked firmer (they have three or four levels of cooked-ness that you can request) because I wanted to try a different mouthfeel. They came verrrry al-dente, and I regretted it. I think they literally put it in boiling water for 20 seconds and gave it to me. Should have just let the ramen master give me the usual noodles. Why did I pretend like I knew what I was ordering?!20170315_190313.jpg

After I soaked up the remaining broth with my extra serving of hard-cooked noodles, I was stuffed. I solemnly washed out the remaining trace of the broth in my mouth with a gulp of the iced tea they provide, and headed out the restaurant. A much longer line-up of customers had formed, despite the still-heavy rain.

Feeling full, satisfied and full of wonder about that magical egg yolk, I walked back to my hostel in the peace of a rainy Kyoto night.

Walking along the huge Kamo River bridge of Kyoto alone…You can see the beacon of light that is Kyoto Tower in the distance. They have a law in Kyoto that no building is allowed to be built higher than the Tower.20170315_201635.jpg

A closer shot of Kyoto Tower and the houses on the other side of Kamo River. How beautiful.20170315_202351.jpg

When you travel alone, there are times when a wave of emotions hits you full-on, and you just have to ride it out. Walking along the Kamo River bridge on a rainy evening was one of those times. I was struck by a snowball of emotions as I strolled quickly alongside all the cars. Happiness, sadness, fear, calm, loneliness, pride and envy all hit me at the same time, and no emotion was the principal. In a matter of seconds, I toggled between feeling like a giant and like a tiny insect; between feeling like I was exactly where I should be, and like I was in the most wrong place at the most wrong time.

Traveling alone can be wonderful at times, but it can also be crippling at times. It really depends on the person whether it’s the right way to be. I still haven’t come to a conclusion yet on which kind of traveler I am; solo or group. Maybe I am a mix of both. Maybe we all are.

 

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Eating Japan: The famous Kyoto-style ramen of Sen no Kaze

I was walking around Teramachi dori (a long shopping and eating street, with lots of smaller side streets for even more eating and shopping) for the third time or so, with the goal of finding good ramen. I had been craving ramen for the whole day, and was walking around to develop some hunger for dinner time.

Sometimes, I feel like I travel, in order to eat… That is, I walk around for the sole purpose of working up an appetite. Sigh.

Surprisingly, I didn’t stumble across any ramen shops simply by strolling around, so I had to resort to searching “ramen” on Google maps. This is how I found Sen no Kaze (translated 1000 Winds).

You have to get to this ramen shop by getting off Teramachi street, and going into a backstreet. I thought it was going to be an obscure local spot because of its hidden location, but how wrong I was.

Super tourist-aware door flap: “NO. 1 in Kyoto. NO. 1 in the World. Kyoto Style. Kyoto Taste”. Humble much? Menu by the door has full explanation of each ramen in English.20170316_172124.jpg

There are signs in English at the front, instructing that you must enter the shop first and get a number. You might be seated right away if there are spots open, but otherwise, you get a wooden plaque with a number on it.

It was a father, mother, daughter team running the shop. The father and daughter speak enough English to give you your number, tell you how long of a wait it is, how many people are waiting before you, etc.

This place is so popular that there is almost always a wait. I went at 5:30pm on a Thursday, and I became the third person in line. The first two in line get seats inside the shop to wait, and the third or later have to sit outside the ramen shop.

I was customer #12. They have portable chairs and heaters outside the shop, as it was pretty chilly in mid-March.20170316_172252 모녀가 하고있었다. 제인 덜 진한 라멘, 교토 스타일..jpg

I was provided a thick menu book to peruse while I waited. It had pictures of all their offerings and translations in English and Korean. From what I saw, 90% of the customers were tourists.

After a 30 minute wait, I got a seat at the bar. The have a table right by the door, a long seating bar that covers the entire kitchen, and some more tables at the back. It’s a good-sized ramen shop, but it wasn’t big enough for how popular it was.

I ordered their spicy miso, and wait for another 20 minutes. It was cool to see the mother-daughter duo (I saw the father leave while I was waiting) mass produce piping hot bowls of their prideful Kyoto style ramen. They were wearing matching Western-style outfits and straw hats.

Finally, my bowl of spicy miso after a 50 minute wait!20170316_180508 차슈가 입에서 부서짐. 기름은 녹음. 겉에 간장맛이 나타남.jpg

This place is famous for their underseasoned soup and freshly re-fried char siu that supposedly melt in your mouth. Ermahgerd, so exciting.

Spicy Miso, 950 yen. Bit more expensive than other places, but you get a whole egg (the egg wasn’t seasoned. Probably explains why it was only 20 yen extra instead of the usual 100 yen), three hearty slices of char siu, and a lot of parboiled bean sprouts, which most ramen places do not provide as a standard topping.20170316_180513 차슈가 맛있고 달걀은 간이 안 돼있다. 950엔. 노달걀 93.jpg

Itadakimasu…The men (noodles) is of the very thin variety, which makes sense. They say the milder your soup, the thinner your noodles should be, so that more soup clings to the noodles.20170316_180615 국물이 싱거워.숙주많음.국에갈은고기.차슈다시구워줌.jpg

It wasn’t my favorite bowl of ramen, but I’m glad I tried it, despite the 50 minute wait. This was the most clean-tasting ramen I had in Japan. You could drink the soup, without writhing in worry from all the salt you could feel yourself consuming. The soup had pieces of ground beef (it definitely didn’t taste like pork to me) that added flavor and texture. I liked that they provided a mound of bean sprout that added some chew. The char siu was pretty darn great, as rumored.

I am a big fan of really thick tonkotsu, so this tasted too mild for me. However, I can see how some people would appreciate the softer, more elegant taste. It would also be a great intro ramen for those just starting to get into it.

Being back in Toronto now, I would be more than happy to have another bowl of this if I could… I miss having easy access to amazing, soulful ramen wherever I went!

When in Kyoto, try Kyoto ramen!!!

 

Walking Japan: First day in Kyoto. Interesting things I saw while strolling around

Kyoto was very different from Tokyo. There were bridges, a lot of bridge over a lot of rivers everywhere, big and small. Kyoto is also home to temples of all sizes, and I saw lots of shrines located in small neighbourhoods.

I saw this shrine in the hostel’s neighborhood, near Shichijo station. It’s just on a small, regular street. Fresh flowers, so someone must be maintaining this.20170310_164822.jpg

Stray cats are not rare20170310_165744.jpg

Small bridges over a river. They were all two seconds away from each other. Why?20170310_165813.jpg

Kyoto is definitely a lot quieter than Tokyo, in general. Not so many people in suits. Of course, it’s very city-like near Kyoto station, but other than that, it has that countryside calm.

I had arrived at Kyoto station from Osaka around 2pm. Since I had no idea what I wanted to do on my first day, I dropped my bags off at the hostel and walked around the area and in the general direction of Kyoto station for fun.

Creative signage. The sun casts a shadow of the letters onto the fabric handing behind the glass. A very pretty shop with lots of expensive craftswork, near Kyoto station.20170310_170856 such creative signage.jpg

An expensive inn near Kyoto station. They had a whole zen-garden ecosystem going on in that glass room for all passersby to admire.20170310_171944.jpg

Oh, you thought temples only used regular old electricity? Nah, they harness energy from the sun. Get on that level.20170310_172959 even budd temples gotta get on dat.jpg

Near Kyoto station, I found this alley I nicknamed the Sexual Harassment Alley.

Never judge an alley by its dim, horror-movie atmosphere. This was the famous alley that I had seen on TV, a collation of cozy (and by cozy, I mean tiny) bars that can each seat only 5 or so people.20170310_175111 좁고 컴컴한 술집 길.공공 야외 화장실.jpg

These bars in the alley were almost all owned by the middle-aged to seniorites, and frequented by clients of the same age group. It was only 5:50pm when I stumbled upon it, so it wasn’t busy.

The alley had a communal washroom at the middle, and it had no doors. I legit saw a grown man take a piss (with his back facing me, of course) in the urinal as I passed by in horror, not knowing that it didn’t have a fucking door. He didn’t even seem to care. As I write this, I can still hear the acoustically enhanced and echoed trickle of his piss, as I passed by quickly, my ears and eyes widened in horror.

Strangest alley experience of my life. But it wasn’t the bad sort of strange. It was the “transported to another world” sort of strange. This alley was a few-seconds walk away from the main road near Kyoto station, and it was strange to suddenly enter such a quiet and stagnant atmosphere, away from the cars and big shops with colorful signs.

I didn’t take any pictures of the bars, as they are all so tiny and grabbing a picture meant having the owner’s face in it, and I didn’t think they’d appreciate that.

I wanted to have a drink at one of these bars (when will I ever stumble across something like this again?!), but it was definitely not a place for a young female traveler to fit in nicely. This was one of the few times during my 30 day trip that I wished I had a local friend, so that I could have someone to share this intimate drinking experience with.

After this frozen-in-time kind of moment in the alley, I continued with my walk and strolled into Yodobashi, a multi-floor shopping centre right across from Kyoto station.

The store directory said that they had a food court on the 9th floor. Only when I went up, I saw that it surpassed a regular food court. It was a floor of smartly curated gallery of full-sized sit-down restaurants that you could have a nice, middle-income family meal in.

Yodobashi The Dining, on 9th floor of the Yodobashi shopping centre across from Kyoto station.20170310_180637.jpg

Is this real life? A DIY deep-fried skewers buffet. I went with two friends from my hostel two days later.20170310_180801.jpg

You can drink an unlimited amount of alcoholic or virgin drinks for an hour for 980 yen ($9 US). IS THIS REAL LIFE?! This all-you-can-drink system is called “Daisen”. I love how the red text on the sign says, “You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the mornin’. Making your friends and your family more interesting“. You get me, Japan. I really wanted to do this, and internally cried that I didn’t have a friend to do this with me. 20170310_181113 싸...싸다.jpg

Fake food display at a Japanese Italian restaurant. They had fusion pasta, like salmon cream pasta, and pollock roe cream pasta.20170310_181200.jpg

Okonomiyaki! My okonomiyaki experience in Osaka was quite underwhelming and it hadn’t tasted very good (overcooked and dry), so I had been wanting to try it again. And here was a nice looking okonomiyaki restaurant while I was hungry. This was fate.20170310_181505 오사카보가 훨 쌈.jpg

After walking around for an hour on that one floor of food heaven, I decided on Okonomiyaki for dinner for my first night in Kyoto. More on this later…

 

Eating Japan: High-end konbini instant ramen

I bought one of the high-end instant ramens from a konbini (convenience store, like 7-11 or Family Mart). The “high-end” really means it’s around 300 yen per bowl, while the cheaper ones are around 150 yen each.

This is a product made from Nissin, Japan’s most famous instant ramen manufacturer (they have a museum and everything!), and is based off of a tonkotsu ramen from a famous brick-and-mortar ramen shop. The point of this is that you don’t have to travel far to the actual ramen shop to have a taste of their specialty ramen.20170306_074124.jpg

It comes with a dried piece of chashu (slice of cooked pork topping), a packet of liquid soup essence that contains a lot of fat, and a packet of dried soup powder. 20170306_074201.jpg

Pour the dried powder and desiccated chashu into the bowl. The dried powder packet consisted of white stock powder, dried green onion bits and dried beansprout legs. 20170306_074328.jpg

Pour hot water up to the line, and cover the lid with chopsticks and the liquid soup packet. I poured in extra hot water because I was trying to make it less salty. The liquid soup packet is pretty heavy in weight, so it does a good job keeping the lid covered, but also, you’re heating up the fats in the soup packet so that it’s easy to pour later.20170306_074559.jpg

Having morning ramen at my hostel at 7:47am in the morning…I thought I was strange for having such a heavy breakfast, but I saw another lady eating a tray of sushi, and another girl also eating instant ramen at the same time as me.20170306_074821.jpg

These packs of chopsticks are distributed by the convenience store clerk when you buy the ramen. It has a toothpick inside!20170306_075033.jpg

I waited 4 minutes, then stirred in the fatty, brown liquid soup from the packet I was heating up, and just started eating. You can see the green onion and beansprout that came in the dried packet floating at the top. The chashu looks pretty gross, if I do say so myself.20170306_075302.jpg

For an instant ramen that I bought off of some shelf, it was of a quality I have never tasted before (I had only had instant ramen in Canada). However, I strongly felt that the next time I want ramen, I should just take the time to go to a ramen-ya, pay about 500 yen more, and eat freshly cooked ramen.

It just wasn’t the same…The meat, green onion and beansprouts had their textures compromised by being dried, and they tasted pretty lifeless. Also, the noodles were cooked by me and not a real ramen master, so it was edible, but they didn’t have much of a bite.

Lesson of the day; if you want proper ramen, go to a ramen restaurant.

Eating Japan: Deep fried beef- Gyu Katsu

It’s the fad that sweeped the nation and fascinated Asia; Gyu katsu (gyu=beef).

I remember when this first came out in Japan, I believe early 2016, it was on the news all over Asia and was quite the talk amongst food lovers. I thought it was just plain strange, like, “Oh, Japan has done it again!”, but at the same time, I was intrigued.

So I went to a location near Kyoto Station for early dinner. There is always a line for this at peak meal times, even on regular weekdays.

The red lighted wall sign says “Kyoto style beef, Wagyu beef, Aging beef”. It’s beef, we get it.20170314_174215.jpg

I went inside at 5:45pm on a Tuesday and the place place was packed. By the time I had finished my meal and exited at around 6:15pm, a short line had formed, and it was sure to grow longer. This gyu katsu fad was still going strong after a year since it started, so I guess it has proven itself out of being a simple fad. It has entered the arena of Japan’s must eats.

The menu features different qualities of beef (like wagyu) and different cuts, all of them dry aged. You can also choose the amount of beef for some items, and the price will increase accordingly. I got their most popular regular beef cutlet, 130g (can also choose 100g or 160g).

Draft beer and gyu katsu…match made in heaven. Rice with barley, miso soup, gyu katsu with shaved cabbage and freshly grated wasabi, curry sauce, and sansho peppers in the sauce plate. Two empty sections on the sauce plate for you to pour soy sauce and worcestershire sauces that are available on the table for self-serve.20170314_174947.jpg

There are instructions on how to eat with all the different combinations of sauces. You can have it with wasabi and soy sauce, sansho peppers that came on the sauce plate, worcestershire sauce, curry sauce, and raw egg or yam (if you had ordered them). You can also use the raw egg and curry sauce on the rice. The rice is refillable at no extra charge!20170314_174951.jpg

*Heavy breathing* Cooked on the surface, raw on the inside.20170314_175140.jpg

To be honest, I was skeptical on how good this could be…I had eaten raw beef and medium-rare steak before, so I just thought it’d be that familar taste, plus the crispy katsu crust.

But I was so, so wrong… The meat was chewy (had a spongy, springy bite to it), flavorful, and the fat of the beef melted on your tongue nicely. So this is what dry aging does to beef!

It wasn’t heavy at all despite being deep fried, and with so many sauces to compliment it, your mouth could go on an adventure.

I deeply regretted getting 130g of beef…Should have gone for the 160g…The 130g was the enough amount for my stomach, but not for my heart… I did not take advantage of the free rice refill, because I was stuffed. It was a lot of food! Probably because I drank a whole glass of beer though…

The grated wasabi was not too spicy and had a natural sweetness to it20170314_175435 입자 보소....생 와사비. 달다, 달아!!.jpg

Finishing off the meal with the remaining curry sauce poured on to the rice with barley…The curry sauce was quite sweet as well.

20170314_181155.jpg

The meal was so satisfying that I was going to go a second time before I left Kyoto, but I had other foods to conquer. There are also locations in other parts of Japan, so I could have gone to another location in Tokyo, but alas, too much good food to be had in Japan, and too little time!!!

Walking Japan: Arashiyama (Bamboo forest)

Arashiyama was one of the few tourist sites I was determined to visit during my 8 days in Kyoto. It’s mostly known for its trail of bamboo trees, so I thought Arashiyama was just a big bamboo tree forest. How wrong I was…

Arashiyama is a big tourist site with bridges over a huge river, shops, and various walking trails. The bamboo trail is just one of the shorter trails that takes only 8 minutes or so to complete… I was expecting to have a Mulan moment where I dance in the midst of the tall bamboo stalks whilst I outsing Christina in “Reflections”.

When will my reflection show, who I am, INSI–I–I–DEEEE20170312_144710.jpg

When I got to the bamboo trees, it was a not-so-intimate trail with the trees blocked off behind a fence, so it’s not like I could walk amongst them at any point of the trail. I also found myself being pushed along by the waves of tourists behind me. It also angered me when I saw that a lot of people had etched in scribbles into the skin of the bamboo trees that were within reach.

Anyways, here are pictures from my walk.

Arashiyama was huge! I only walked the easy and popular trails. Maybe I would have attained my zen moments at some of the more obscure trails. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.20170312_135453.jpg

Yuzu tree near the entrance! Fresh yuzu growing from real trees!!! These are not so rare in Kyoto. I found yuzu trees in the streets near my hostel as well. I saw a school kid carrying a good-looking, fresh yuzu back home. How I envied him so…20170312_140316 yuzu tree at arashiyama.jpg

Melon flavored ice cream from one of the shops near the entrance. There are lots more shops at a big street once you cross the bridge, and the quality is a lot higher in that area.20170312_140532 메로나 ㅋㅋㅋ 멜론 아이스크림 250엔.jpg

Crossing the main bridge20170312_140823.jpg

Once you cross the bridge, you can go off in many directions. There are rentable rowing boats by the water.20170312_141931.jpg

I think these legit boats were for guided group tours… Most people were on the rentable blue rowing boats/canoes. 20170312_141947.jpg

Beautiful Japanese girls in bright kimonos. They were so pretty that I couldn’t resist taking a picture. 20170312_155557.jpg

Path of Bamboo… the reason I had come to Arashiyama. This was a sign at the big street off the bridge, with all the souvenir and food shops that looked like regular houses from afar. I’m sure they were residental houses at one point, but they were bought out by businesses as the street developed into a money-making opportunity.20170312_143746.jpg

Achievement Unlocked. Entered Path of Bamboo. Not the intimate, quiet trail I had hoped for… There were a lot of tourists, but that really shouldn’t have come as a shock to me. It’s a famous place, of course there are going to be a lot of people on a sunny day. The disappointment still hit me, though.20170312_143856.jpg

I think I put my phone up higher than the fence to get this shot…all bamboo-y areas were fenced off.20170312_144153.jpg

Reached over the fence and harmlessly touched a bamboo tree for the first time in my life. So smooth…Fuck the people who etched stuff into these trees (at the top of the picture).20170312_144141.jpg

The bamboo trail only lasts 10 minutes at max. At the end of it, you can go off in different directions to enter different paths.

Some of the paths take you right to residential areas. This is someone’s backyard. More yuzu trees (the tree with yellow dangling fruits)20170312_150203 ppl live on the 0ath.jpg

Several temples on these paths 20170312_150744.jpg

Another path; this one led me to some sort of park, and the park leads into to a mountain, but ain’t nobody like me got time or stamina to conquer a mountain after all these trails20170312_151505.jpg

A nice view from the hill of the park I stumbled across20170312_152155.jpg

Back on the Path of Bamboo20170312_154004.jpg

Never a shortage of bamboo trees here, I guess. Nice fence material.20170312_154229.jpg

I spent a total of 2.5 hours at Arashiyama, and got on the train to get back “home”. 20170312_162234.jpg

It’s quite far from all the other tourist sites and hotels. Not the most convenient location, but still very much worth a visit.

 

Walking Japan: Shibuya

I really had only one reason to go to Shibuya. The famous Shibuya crossing. It’s basically a huge intersection right outside of Shibuya station, and tons of people cross it everyday. It has been featured in commercials, films, animes, and even listed as a tourist spot in all the travel sites and TIME magazine has it in their top 10 things to do in Tokyo. That’s a lot of credentials for a freakin’ intersection.

I got to Shibuya station, and I was looking for the best exit. It took me a good 30 minutes to find the right exit. In the end, I resorted to looking up which exit is best on the internet. As I neared the recommended exit, I came across this scenery from the station window.

This is the famous Shibuya crossing? Looks kinda small…20170226_104841.jpg

Wow, um, cool, I guess.20170226_104951.jpg

At the time, I was elated to have found the intersection, and I just stood inside the station, watching the crossing happen at least two times. I couldn’t believe that I was in Japan, in Shibuya, looking at the famous crossing that I used to be so curious about. After 5 minutes or so, the elation wore off and I realised I was just looking at a goddamn intersection.

Thankfully, I knew Shibuya wasn’t just about the crossing; it’s a huge shopping district, so I knew I could get a full day out of the area.

So I got out of the station, and proceeded to experience the crossing myself.

Seems the station is a popular meet-up spot for teenagers. The station exit was more crowded than the crossing.20170226_105443.jpg

A picture I took while waiting for the lights to cross20170226_105521.jpg

So I crossed. I remember feeling very excited at the time, despite a little tinge of disappointment darkening the corners a bit. When I was in the moment, when I was walking that crossing, my thoughts progressed as follows: “I’m doing it! I no longer have to wonder what it feels like, because this is what it feels like! Wow, it doesn’t feel all that special”.

Now that I look back on it now, around 2 months later, the feeling of disappointment is even stronger. Now, I’m sitting here, thinking, “What the hell was I so excited about?”. Nothing really happened. I crossed an intersection, an activity I do on the daily back at home.

The crossing wasn’t all that crowded. I thought maybe I would bump into a guy, and my books would fall onto the ground (why would I be holding books, I do not know), and we’d both bow to each other to apologize, and our hands would touch each other’s as we both tried to grab my books, then we would look sheepishly into each other’s eyes and smile out of embarrassment, and we would both hurriedly try to get out of the intersection before the lights turned red and run to the same corner, then we would be married in a year’s time. But none of that happened. I just crossed an intersection. But it was in Shibuya, damn it.

Anyway, at the time, that crossing was a magical little place. I crossed it at least 3 more times that day, and I even came back on another day before I had to leave to Osaka to go shopping, and cross it again. The shopping was just an excuse, I really just wanted to cross it one last time.

Walking across an intersection is hard work. I felt pangs of hunger so I grabbed some McD’s.

Tiny teriyaki burger, small cup of melon Fanta, and American sized fries (the only American sized thing they had).20170226_110149.jpg

And then I went shopping. I had made a pact to myself before I set out on this 30 day trip, to be a minimalist. Don’t buy useless souvenirs, only buy small gifts for friends and family, don’t buy clothes,  don’t search for happiness in material things, because it hasn’t worked until now, so why would it work now?

While I was in Japan, I kicked myself for having made this decision. There were so many cute and pretty things that I wanted to buy, but I couldn’t because I had brought a tiny carry-on. Of course, I could have bought another luggage bag and stuffed it with purchases, but that would have made me feel like I had some sort of a mental problem.

However, I have come back to the conclusion that my decision really was a smart one; so many times, I have bought stuff from my travels and never looked at them again. They just gather dust on my desk and I put it away because it just feels like clutter. Seeing a miniature Eiffel tower in my room doesn’t bring me back to my days in Paris, it just looks silly and out of place in my cold room in Toronto. I guess I’m not as sentimental as I like to think I am.

Anyways, I took some pictures of some stuff I came across while shopping in Shibuya.

Sticker-heaven section at Loft20170226_121017.jpg20170226_132856.jpg

If you’re an iPhone user, you’re in luck. There is a phone case for whatever fetish you have. If you’re an Android phone user, your selection of cute phone cases is reduced dramatically. 20170226_121709.jpg

Futchiko-san glass toppers on display. You pick a box, and inside is a random Futchiko-san doing one of her adorable and quirky poses. The official name of the charming lady is Futchiko-san, and it’s not some creepy name I made for her myself.20170226_124527.jpg20170226_124834.jpg

I got one. Yes, I’m a grown-ass woman, but come on. 20170226_163030.jpg 20170226_163126.jpg

Muji and Uniqlo. Classic. Muji was just as expensive as it is in Toronto, but the store had much wider selection of goods, and it made me realise how sad the store in Toronto is. Yes, we only have one Muji store in all of Toronto. Uniqlo had similar selection as the stores in Toronto, but it had a lot sweeter sales.

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I shopped around at a lot of stores, but felt bad taking pictures when I wasn’t buying anything.

Eventually, I wandered off to the basement floor of a large department store, because I could look at food for 3 hours as opposed to anything else. All department stores in Asia always have a whole floor dedicated to food, and it’s always in the basement.

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You can watch a live demo of how the food on display is made20170227_152359.jpg

Omg, just look at that Japanese precision. They look so perfect, that they look fake.20170227_152542.jpg

Meticulously made seafood crackers and whole dried shrimps. Expensive snacks.20170227_152800.jpg

Some of the stuff are very affordable, and looks a beauty. How much fun would it be to eat those squares of sushi? 20 squares of different flavors in one box! For less than $10!20170227_153445.jpg

Raw shrimp as big as my hand20170227_153707.jpg

Fruits in Japan are expensive. Fruits in Japanese department stores are extra expensive. $5 for half a pineapple. 20170227_154008.jpg

*Heavy breathing* 20170227_154643.jpg

After an exhausting walk around Shibuya and going through an emotional rollercoaster of desires, I’m back at the crossing. Again, it’s not as crowded as I’d like it to be, but what can I do.20170227_155423 shibuya crossing again.jpg

Shibuya is a great place for some casual shopping. Not as glitzy and intimidating as Ginza or Omotesando (Harajuku), with all those luxury brands everywhere that make me feel like the peasant that I am. It’s got a great energy both day and night. Lots of music and videos being played on huge screens on the streets, and sometimes, you can’t even locate the source of the catchy k-pop song they have on full blast. But you enjoy it all anyway.

And also, you might as well just walk the crossing while you’re there, in case anyone ever asks if you did it, and then you could be like, yup, crossed it 4 times. No one will ever ask you, but it’s good to have it in your back pocket, just in case the day ever comes (it won’t).

Eating Japan: Paying for my very Japanese breakfasts with a vending machine

My first breakfast in Japan was at 7:30am at a Nomiu at the huge Roppongi dori in Tokyo. I had woken up at 4am because of jetlag, and killed 3 hours just walking around the neighborhood.

When I walked into Nomiu, there were a bunch of middle-aged men in suits getting their breakfast before they had to start their day at the office.

20170224_075613 roppongi dori ATT New Tower.jpg

I sat down at an empty seat at the horse-shoe shaped booth table. Many people stared at me, wondering what a student was doing with make-up on at 7am at a Nomiu.

The server came and pointed me in the direction of a machine. He said a bunch of stuff in Japanese, but of course, I couldn’t understand any of it. When I approached the machine, I realised that I had to get a ticket from the machine to order my meal.

Thank goodness for the pictures. Most of these machines have an English option; this particular machine did not.20170224_072747.jpg

I picked the weirdest looking one, and paid with my yen coins. It spit out a ticket, which I gave the server. He immediately brought a cup of cold matcha tea, and brought my tray in just a few minutes.

I recognized rice, miso soup, sliced-up okra, some cooked beef thing, raw egg, and katsuobushi flakes in a plastic bag.20170224_073227.jpg

I had no clue how to eat this. Why had the provided me two yellow bowls for the egg and fish flakes? I knew Japanese people liked to eat raw eggs in the morning, but what was I supposed to do do with it? Thank goodness an old Japanese man sitting two seats to the left of me had ordered something similar, and got his meal at the same time as I did. I creepily watched this man prepare his meal, and repeated exactly as he did.

He broke his egg into one of the small bowls, discarded the egg shells in the second bowl, then poured soy sauce into the bowl of egg.

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He mixed it with his chopsticks, and poured it over the rice, then topped it off with the fish flakes.

20170224_073437 20170224_073440 20170224_073442 20170224_073451

He grabbed some benishoga from the self-serve condiments caddies situated conveniently between every few seats, and proceeded to eat.20170224_073528.jpg

The benishoga was sweet, salty and sour and I could understand why people ate this with every chopstick-ful of rice. Some people piled up a mountain of benishoga into their bowl, and seemed to enjoy it more than any other of the other things on the tray.  The tiny beef dish provided some fat, which was missing from every other item on the tray. The hot miso soup loosened me up from the harsh February winds, and the rice was cooked to perfection. The thawed-from-frozen slices of okra seemed out place, and it felt out of place as I ate it, but I welcomed the addition of this healthy vegetable in my breakfast.

This meal cost only 350 yen, but it was really filling. I had walked in with an empty stomach and left bloated. It tasted great and all, but what really struck out was how slimy it was.

The trifecta of slime; okra, raw egg and these mushrooms in the miso soup that had a slimy texture. These mushrooms are supposed to be slimy (not because they were rotten), and are often found in miso soups.

.20170224_073635.jpg 20170224_073440.jpg  20170224_074451.jpg

I didn’t mind the slime, because it’s all natural slime. If your never had okra, trust me, it’s slimy. Raw egg, as you know, is slimy, and these mushrooms, they’re definitely slimy. AND I LOVE THEM. If you’re not a fan of slippery stuff in your mouth, avoid these breakfast items in Japan. Oh, and mountain yam, the king of slime.

I had mountain yam for my breakfast at Matsuya, a very common don restaurant chain.

Matsuya. You’ll see Matsuyas everywhere. It’s the most grimy and low-quality of all the places I’ve been in Japan. Maybe the location I went to was just badly managed.20170305_094146.jpg

Paying for my breakfast meal at a vending machine.20170305_094244.jpg

The machine had English! I got the grilled salmon set, which is more expensive than the other options.20170305_094421.jpg

Never a lack of condiments at Japanese food places. The cheaper the place, the more condiments they provide. Usually, it’s to mask the crappiness of the food, but I found this unnecessary in Japan. The general quality of food was much higher than what I’m used to in Toronto. 20170305_094937.jpg

The bowl of grated mountain yam is topped with slices of nori (dried seasweed). More seaweed provided in a plastic bag, some pickled napa cabbage, bowl of miso soup (no slimy mushrooms, boooo) and a super salty piece of grilled salmon.20170305_095045.jpg

I put some soy sauce in the bowl of mountain yam, and mixed rapidly with my chopsticks to get the sliminess up to max levels, as I have seen locals do. Also copied their practice of dipping seaweed sheets in a bit of soy sauce, and wrapping some rice with it and then eating the blanketed rice. 20170305_095311.jpg

I did not enjoy the salmon, as it was heavily brined and I used up all my sodium allowance for the day with that thin piece of fish. Food in Japan is generally saltier, but that piece of fish was almost painful to eat.