Walking Japan- Akihabara. For the otaku deep inside you.

Akihabara is an area in Tokyo that is famous for its anime and fandom-centric shops along Chuo street (Chuo dori). This big and long street is filled with shops and arcades that carry anime goods and figures, manga books, DVDs, costumes, anime body pillows, posters, and adult games and books. It’s an important physical embodiment of Japanese hobby culture.

There are a bunch of popular buildings on the Chuo street that are 9 stories tall, either owned by one retailer or operated in sections by small specialty shops. There are also floors that are dedicated spaces for shows or fan meet-up events.

On a Sunday, the entire Chuo dori was blocked off so that pedestrians could roam freely, jumping from shop to shop. You can see people of all ages enjoying their day, shopping for their objects of desire.20170305_135004 chuo dori is blocked off, sunday.jpg

Since I had so much time on my hands, I went to most of the buildings and went through all their floors.

Here are some PG13 stuff I saw while I was browsing.

Cards. “Buy this and make your family happy!!!”. 20170302_112227.jpg

I’ve only ever known Pokemon cards, Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic: The Gathering cards, so I was floored by the vast variety of cards out there. They certainly carry the franchises I’ve mentioned, but so many, many more.

I thought it was lovely that a married couple with a child were out shopping for cards, like they were back to their teenage years. The husband was carrying the baby in the front, with a heavy backpack on his back, so that his wife could browse freely. They chatted animatedly about which packs looked good. That’s love.20170302_112308.jpg

Stuff gets sold out, so get yours quick.20170302_112543.jpg

I often saw an empty space with long tables and chairs at the back of these card shops, blocked off from the rest of the sales floor. I wondered what they were for. Then, I got to witness the use of such a space in one shop. They are for tournaments! It’s a space where you can bring your cards and battle other people!!! Holy shit, Yu-Gi-Oh is real life! The space was full of high school students in black and white school uniforms, slapping down cards with gusto and and having a lot of innocent fun.

Wait, were they skipping school? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t lunch time when I saw them…

In some card shops, you can go to the back of the sales area (they are always at the back) and find naughty cards of naked girls and famous AV ladies for your personal collection. None of them had battle stats on them, so I guess you can’t play tournaments with those lol they’re just to look at.

As numerous as the cards shops are the figure shops.

Small Evangelion figures that you can put together at home.20170302_112824.jpg

Some of the pricier figures were really high quality. You could see each nail, muscle and vein strand shaped and painted appropriately. I’m not into this kind of stuff, but even I could appreciate the craftsmanship. 20170302_113114.jpg

There was a shop dedicated to selling doll parts, wigs, eyelashes, etc. so that you could build your own doll.20170302_120235.jpg

Lots of book stores. If you go to upper levels, you can also buy games, goods, life-sized posters, DVDs, etc. 20170302_122755.jpg

Some buildings have a floor dedicated to adult books and adult games. I entered those floors out of curiosity, and left with images etched in my brain that I can never erase. No matter how much I want to. Whatever fetish you might have, you could probably find an outlet for it in Akihabara.

I also passed by a costume shop where you could buy animal, schoolgirl, samurai, etc. costumes. They were mostly for bedroom enjoyment, as they were all quite sexy-looking. In fact, they were selling some rather scandalous lingerie at the back of the shop (always at the back, man).

You also pass by a lot of gachapon machines (capsule toy vending machines). Some machines carry capsules with rolled up parchment pictures, or pin-badges of anime characters.

There are two SEGA buildings on this street.20170302_124422.jpg

SEGA buildings have these UFO machines, where you can win figures and other goods like anime cushions, key chains, blankets, etc. The more valuable a good is, the more expensive it is to play.20170302_105520 sega.jpg

How to play on the UFO machines20170302_105852.jpg

On the upper floors of SEGA buildings are the arcade games. I saw a lot of young Japanese boys, girls, men, women (a wide range of age) playing on these machines on a godly level. Hands move so fast, you can’t see them.20170302_110336.jpg

Not too busy on a weekday. I saw some students here playing hooky and games.20170302_105338 sega.jpg

Akihabara is a wonderful place where anyone can come and spend a whole day looking at absolutely anything, even the weirder stuff, and no one will bother you. I saw responsible-looking adults in suits enjoy their time browsing cards, figures, posters, books, etc. and no one batted an eyelash. In North America, and even in other Asian countries, adults who spend money on anime stuff get ridiculed, but I didn’t sense anything like that here. What a non-judgmental atmosphere. I guess this is some sort of paradise.

A short walk from Chuo dori will get you to Akihabara metro station. There is a lot of food and shopping near the station, including an AKB48 cafe and a Gundam cafe.

I did not go into the AKB48 theater building on Chuo dori, because I have no musical interest in this group of 48 girls. Had I understood the Japanese language, I would have attended one of their live shows, for the sake of entertainment. I first heard about AKB48 after one of their girls shaved her head on YouTube, to apologize for being caught spending a night with a man, which is a violation of her contract.

Had I been with a friend, I would have loved to visit one of these cafes.20170305_134211 akb48 cafe, gundam cafe akihabra.jpg

I am not knowledgeable of popular animes and mangas, and I have never been into games or cards. But I nevertheless enjoyed walking around and seeing an interesting part of Japan’s hobby culture.

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Eating Japan: Donburi at Yoshinoya, Sukiya and Katsuya

If you’re looking for a quick one-bowl meal, get a donburi.

On the days I felt all the symptoms of a lonely solo traveler, I would opt for a small, humble meal. It felt all the more lonelier to sit at a big table with a party spread, just by myself. For times like that, I would buy some riceballs from a konbini or eat donburi.

You’ll see Yoshinoya everywhere. 20170303_194312.jpg

Ordered a small butadon (pork don). I only know the choices on the left, which are small and big size. No clue what the options on the right are. Maybe one of them is with an egg? And the other is a combo meal with soup and salad? Not sure. If I had the stomach space, I would have ordered one of the mystery options on the right. 20170303_194525.jpg

Thin slivers of fatty pork simmered with onion. Shit, now that I look at it, I ordered a large. I think I ordered a large out of the habit that a regular-sized anything in Japan always leaves me famished an hour and a half later. But here, a large is a large. That bowl is deep.20170303_194605.jpg

Sprinkled some spices and ate with pink-orange pickled ginger. You don’t get any side dishes unless you order them.20170303_194719.jpg

Another time, in Kyoto, I went to Sukiya.

Depending on the city, you’ll see more locations of a certain brand. Probably because the brand first started in the city, or a city nearby.

Sukiya menu20170317_150937 at sukiya.jpg

I only wanted a bowl, but the server thought I wanted a combo. Large bowl is 470 yen, and add 150 yen for a combo. This whole thing was 620 yen. Cheap, but very filling. Too filling for me. 20170317_151312 모르게 세트 시킴. 대자 470엔에다 세트 150엔. 총620.jpg

I’m never the one to leave crumbs or rice grains. The bowl tells me that Sukiya originated from Yokohama. Somewhere in Japan.20170317_153657.jpg

Ah, yes, I remember another donburi time. On a windy day in early March in Tokyo, I went to Katsuya. I saw this chain so many times in the Akihabara area. I had woken up at 4am as usual (the damn jet lag). I had nothing to do so I walked to Ueno Park and back and had early lunch…at 9:50am in the morning.

I don’t think I’ll ever go to Japan again (30 days is enough for my lifetime), unless there was an amazing job opportunity. Or I fell in love and he had to go to Japan for work or something, and I couldn’t bear to be apart from him. Well, that was a random thought about whether I would go back to Japan or not.

When I walked into Katsuya, I didn’t know what it was. I had seen people lining up to get in here the night before, so I thought, it must be good. Only when I walked in, I knew that it was a katsu place. Most people were eating the tonkatsu meal set that comes with soup and shredded cabbage. People here eat breaded, deep-fried meat for breakfast. How do they not fall asleep while working?

I didn’t want such a heavy thing for breakfast, and I didn’t feel like walking out and finding another place. So I tried to order something not deep-fried. Good luck doing that at a Katsuya. I thought the one on the left looked interesting, so I ordered it. 20170302_094906.jpg

Ummm….this looks heavy. And very deep-fried.20170302_095554.jpg

So much for ordering light. I had ordered a donburi with katsu slices (which were juicy, crunchy and heavenly, btw), shredded cabbage, mayo, topped with deep fried garnishes of spicy, crunchy batter. It was the most artery-clogging thing they had, and I had ordered that as my light, breakfast option. Gotta love not being able to read a language.20170302_095914.jpg

They had slices of oshinko that went really well with the rice and katsu.20170302_101459.jpg

I left with a very full stomach and wandered around the Akihabara area. 

Arcades in Akihabara. Pew pew pew pew. Ding ding ding ding ding. Zoing zoing zoing. *hollers of unidentified phrases in the Japanese language*20170302_105338 sega.jpg

Fully Explained: How to ride the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train)

I remember being scared about riding the Shinkansen! Not that I’m frightened of vehicles that travel at the speed of light (Disclaimer: hyperbole used), but I hadn’t had much experience in traveling by train, let alone the famed Shinkansen!

I believe Shinkansen is operated by JR (there are many different companies involved in the metro scene, as discussed here).

Let me tell you about my super comfortable and enjoyable bullet train experience in Japan. Even as I write this, I can remember the palpable excitement I felt during my first ride.

I rode the shinkansen twice. Once from Tokyo to Osaka. From Osaka, I took the regular metro to get to Kyoto, and stayed in Kyoto for 8 nights. I took shinkansen from Kyoto back to Tokyo.

Flashing my tickets; about to enter Platform 18. English and Japanese on display.20170306_101754.jpg 20170306_101751.jpg

Buying the ticket

Do NOT go to the machines – they are for people who actually know the system. Unless you’re a Japanese local, or a shinkansen connoisseur who knows what he’s doing, be humble, and go to the service desks. All the employees at the desk speak adequate English to be able to help you with purchase, and any questions. I had done some research beforehand about getting on the shinkansen, and I still had surprises!

Two fare tickets that will get me from Tokyo station to Shin-Osaka station (You would think it would take you to Osaka station, but nope, it goes to Shin-Osaka station; “Shin” means “new”). 20170306_102022 nozomi super express to Hakata edite.jpg

What’s written on the ticket?: I got the “Super-Exp”(ress) that only stops at major stations. You’ll also notice “(Reserved)” on the ticket; I let loose and bought a premium seat, which I heard has more leg room. Paid a total of 14,310 yen. Approx $200 CAD! Yup, it’s expensive as fuck (but it was worth it). The price difference between reserved vs. non-reserved was 830 yen (approx. $10 CAD). If I’m already spending around $200 bucks for a 2.5 hour ride, I wasn’t going to sweat about an extra $10. Fare price changes very frequently, depending on the time.  You can choose between window and aisle seat when you buy the ticket, and your seat is written on the ticket. The window seat gets sold out quickly.

The first thing the shinkansen desk employee asked me for was my used metro ticket stub, that I had used to get to Tokyo station in the first place. I gave it to him, and it seems that he deducted the 140 yen service charge, which he crossed out at the bottom of the second ticket. Thanks, man.

Why are there two tickets?: Beats me why they had to split into two tickets. I got stuck at the platform entry machine, because I didn’t know which ticket to put into the feed of the machine. Turns out you feed both, overlapping each other, at the same time, and the machine somehow knows to accept both tickets and let you enter. Don’t forget to grab the tickets when the machine feeds it back to you after you pass through the machine!!!

How fast is it? Car vs. Shinkansen vs. Bus: By car, it would have taken 6 hours, but the shinkansen only takes 2.5 hours to get to Osaka. The trains come pretty frequently. I bought the tickets at service desk on the day of travel, but I heard you should buy tickets in advance for long weekends and such, as the locals are also on the move during those golden times. There also express buses, and most people take the night buses that take about 6 hours one-way. Buses are a LOT cheaper, I think they were half the price of the shinkansen! However, I am not a fan of bus rides, and I was set on riding the shinkansen and eating ekiben inside the train.

Getting on the train

My train at Platform 18! 20170306_101915.jpg

But before getting on, of course, I had to purchase an ekiben. Ekiben is the standard term for a bento box eaten on the train. There are many shops in the station, and booths at the platform right by the trains, that sell a variety of ekibens. The contents of each box is on display, so you can just look and choose.

Finding my seat and admiring the Japanese bullet train culture

My ticket said Car 13, Seat 10-D, so I found my seat in Car 13 of the train. Super clean!20170306_103041 reserved seating shinkansen.jpg

And very roomy.20170306_103057 super roomy.jpg

Brah. REversiBle seatS!!! If you’re traveling in a group, you can make seats face each other!!!! See how the chairs in the middle of this picture is facing towards me, when all the others are facing the front? It was a group of 6 school boys (looked to be in high school) that blew my mind when they reversed the seats. I’m guessing they were on an exciting all-boys trip to Osaka. They played cards and spoke quietly during the whole ride so as to not disturb others.20170306_103759 brah, REVERSIBLE SEATS.jpg

It was a quiet 2.5 hours. What really floored me was how, before Japanese locals inclined their seat back, they would turn around and notify the person sitting behind them. “Is it OK if I put my seat back?”. Of course, it’s not really a question; it’s a polite notification. The answer is always “yes”, or a nod. I thought it was a simple, but courteous gesture that oozed with etiquette. I’ve never seen that before! So I did the same when I was about to put my seat back a bit. Hehe.

So much leg room.20170306_104423.jpg

Maps in the train to tell you where everything is. There are smoking sections, garbage disposals, washrooms, etc. They are spread along the 16 cars of this train. You might have to go to another car to go to the washroom. The washroom was spotless and odorless. Similar to airplane washrooms, but everything was motion-activated, so that you don’t have to touch any buttons.20170306_110002.jpg

Eating in the train

Train personnel come around to sell snacks, drinks and sandwiches. I’m pretty sure I saw beer as a choice, just like in airplanes. Not too surprising since it’s legal in Japan to consume alcohol on streets. 20170306_112133 selling snacks.jpg

After much deliberation, I had settled on very fishy ekiben called “Fukagawa-meshi”…20170306_113903.jpg 20170306_113910.jpg

Tasted great. It was pretty smelly and I wondered if it was bothering other passengers, but I consoled myself because it was sold at the ekiben store right by the train. I mean, it’s not just some gross, alien thing I had brought from home!20170306_114038 this was 980yen at the platform.jpg

Lots of people had brought bottled drinks, ate snacks and simple meals, like rice balls (onigiri), and katsu sandwiches. The ride is only 2.5 hours long, so you don’t necessarily need to eat a full meal on the train, unless you are famished. I’m always famished for ekiben. There’s just a nostalgic, peaceful feeling about eating a carefully packaged bento box in the quiet shinkansen train.

So that is the fully explained shinkansen experience.

Kyoto-to-Tokyo ride was a similar experience.

Kyoto Station to Tokyo Station. Only one ticket this time. 13,901 yen. It’s slightly cheaper than Tokyo to Osaka, since Kyoto is a bit closer to Tokyo. I got reserved seat on Nozomi again. The price difference is less than 1000 yen between reserved vs. non-reserved seat.20170318_113852 티켓두장이 한장에. 나즁에 jr chuo line도 공짜로 탐

Gotta catch the 12:05 at Platform 11. I gave myself 20 minutes to find an ekiben, hehe. 20170318_114337.jpg

The Hikari (in red) is the non-express; it stops at more stations than the Nozomi.20170318_115517.jpg

On Car 13 again20170318_120256.jpg

Ekiben again!!!!20170318_121139.jpg

The sensation I felt on these rides are indescribable. I felt flooded with possibilities and exhilaration when I got on the train. Traveling can be a real bitch sometimes, but there are these rare moments of rainbows and unicorns and butterflies that keep me coming back for more.

Walking Japan: Bicycles and anime everywhere

  • Bicycles

Bikes parked everywhere20170318_145217.jpg

I saw so many bicycles during my 30 days in Japan. The cyclists I had usually seen in Toronto were people trying to get somewhere nearby, or kids who can’t drive cars or people in speedos and shorts, trying to get a workout.

But in Japan, it was different. I saw the most unlikeliest people riding; People in full suits, mothers with their children, people who went grocery shopping, just riding it out. It was their primary vehicle of choice. Many bikes had a small basket attached at the front or at the back, that served as the trunk. It was easy to observe cyclists, since they roamed the pedestrian streets. In Toronto, cyclists must stay on the road along with the other vehicles, so this was new for me.

Befitting the quiet atmosphere of Japanese day culture, cyclists don’t make any noise. I think I heard someone ring their bell, once in all those 30 days. People innately know how to avoid collisions, almost like a 6th sense. In a busy city as Tokyo, everyone sticks to the left side of the road (on the right side for Kyoto), and so do the cyclists, so it’s orderly.

In especially narrow paths, I would remove myself by sticking close to the wall to let bicycles whiz through. They would nod at me as they passed by, as an expression of thanks.

I developed a habit of looking behind me before taking any stride to the left or the right. What if there was a bicycle right behind me?

I particularly remember a young man in a suit and I trying to avoid each other, but we kept moving in the same direction at the same time. In the end, he had to stop his bike because he was going to hit me if we continued our waltz.

A lot of tourists rent bicycles for a day or two to take advantage of this culture. Some hotels/inns provide rental, otherwise you can easily find a place to rent from.

  • Anime

As expected, I saw anime everywhere. I had considered myself a knowledgeable person on this topic, but clearly not. All the anime I had known were all outdated, and I failed to recognize the hotter animes that were found in the streets and book stores. I was behind the times, and it made me feel old and irrelevant.

This place even has anime characters on their store front sign. This store is related to the place I had my first breakfast, called Nomiu, as part of a chain. I am pretty sure they will replace the sign to a normal one after the promotion with the anime characters is over. Or maybe these characters were created specifically for this store? I wouldn’t put it past them.20170305_160815.jpg

I also saw pachinko places everywhere, and they would advertise the arrivals of “New Machine!” featuring the latest anime characters.

Japanese people are so reserved in their general interactions, so it would trip me out whenever I saw larger-than-life anime characters blending in with real people and everyday society like that.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

20170226_115400.jpg 20170226_140606.jpg

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.

20170227_152006.jpg

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.

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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.

Character Cafe Experience in Japan

On my 29th day in Japan, I decided to go to a character cafe…alone. People don’t usually go to character cafes alone, like, even in Japan, the land of eating alone, that’s not a thing, but when else am I going to be able to go to a character cafe?

So, um… I did it.20170322_110720.jpg

I’m a grown ass woman so I’m not really a fan of any character, so I just picked a cafe at random when I went back to Takeshita (Harajuku) for the second time.

As I was strolling, I saw sign about two character cafes upstairs, so I decided to eat lunch in one of them.

I took the elevator up (it had a security cam and you could see yourself; never seen that before). To my surprise, there was a line-up at 10:30am, for 11am opening time. 20170322_104554.jpg 20170322_110201.jpg

These were the two character cafes, competing right infront of each other. Literally no one went into the other one during the whole time I was at Pompompurin Cafe. Both are on the 3rd floor.20170322_110246.jpg

Menu de Chez Pompompurin20170322_110843.jpg

At 11am sharp, they started letting people in. They made sure to give some delay between the seating of each group so that the waiters could manage a flow of service, so it took a while for me to get in.

When I asked for a table for 1, the waiter had a pause, then nodded. I think he was surprised that someone came here alone. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel that anyone was judging me in a negative way. I think that in Japan, as long as you’re not harming anyone, no one gives you any trouble and no one makes you feel like a weirdo. Even if they have anything negative to say or think, they keep it to themselves and go on with their day.

Anyhoozzle, here are some pics I took once I got seated.

Kyaaaaa~~~~20170322_112353.jpg

Look at this cute set-up!!!20170322_110949.jpg

Look at these cute foods!20170322_111111.jpg20170322_111540.jpg

Merchandise section for all your Pompompurin desires.20170322_111645.jpg

A very age-diverse group inside. There were two girl friends in their 20’s, grown-ups with their little and not-so-little daughters, highschool girls, etc. That lighted pillar is a photo zone where a lot of people take their commemorative picture.20170322_110953 부녀 모녀 찬구 오른들도 오는 blog.jpg

Gong to a cafe is always a great opportunity to people-watch. I observed a strict-looking father with his cute, quiet daughter. She ordered a chocolate parfait and he sipped his water as she enjoyed it. Later, he helped her finish it. He then told her she should go look at all the merchandise, which she happily did. He maintained one facial expression the entire time, but it was nice to see a middle-aged father and his little daughter come out to Harajuku for some character-cafe dessert time.

I also saw a mother with her daughter who seemed about 16. The mother was really adorable; she took pictures of everything and had a grin on her face the whole time. I mean, the daughter was having fun, but the mom was really having a blast. It was like the daughter took her mother to Pompompurin cafe, if you know what I mean.

OOOOOOHHH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH20170322_114312.jpg

It took a while for my food to arrive. When I saw other people receive the same food I ordered, I saw the waiters giving the customers a small, white box. I got all excited, because I figured mine probably came with a take-home gift!!! And I was right!!! I got a copy of that Pompompurin shaped saucer in the photo.

Look at his lil tail beneath the egg-blanket!!! His hat is a mushroom and his face is drawn on with chocolate. Don’t forget the clover-leaf green pepper.20170322_114523.jpg

I’m so sorry, Pompompurin!!!!20170322_114653.jpg

They used glutinous rice so that the rice actually stick together in the mold and holds well once it’s taken out. I thought the yellow came from a curry powder, but I couldn’t smell any hint of curry…maybe they used the knock-off saffrons… The egg-blanket was fluffy and sweet. It tasted pretty good, overall. The cauliflower and broccoli at the back were cooked-from-frozen, so they tasted nasty.

Fluffy egg-blanket close-up, with some white cheese sauce that came in the Pompompurin shaped saucer.20170322_115042

Sigh… I had such a fun time. I mean, I’m definitely a grown-ass woman with grown-ass woman tendencies most of the time, but that all went out the door when I walked into this place. You try getting a plate of a bear with a mushroom hat, sleeping inside an egg blanket, and not gush over it.

I just googled what Pompompurin is, and it’s not a bear, it’s a golden retriever…I like my bear interpretation better.

 

 

Walking Japan: Harajuku (Omotesando and Takeshita Dori)

I thought Harajuku was the name of a market or something, but it turned out to be a whole district. There are two iconic shopping “dori”s (streets) in Harajuku, Takeshita and Omotesando. They’re only 10 minutes apart by walk.

Takeshita street is where all the youngsters go. This street is filled with pre-teens and teenagers getting their fashionable outfits and accessories for reasonable prices. You won’t find any fancy brand names here. You’ll also see a lot of desserts here; there are like, eight different crepe cafes, probably more, there’s the famous Zaku Zaku chou sticks, and cotton candy as big as your upper body. Also, student-budget cheap eats, like Lotteria, McDonald’s Yoshinoya, etc.

I saw this while I was walking from Takeshita to Omotesando on my second Harajuku visit. This kinda sums up what Takeshita is like. A lil kitsch, a lil lovable, and kawaii as fuck.20170322_134627.jpg

 

Omotesando street is where the adults go. Adults with money, anyway. You’ll find all the brand names and glitzy department stores. Similar to Ginza. A shopaholic’s dream come true. Also nicknamed the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo.

I found that with many famous streets in Japan, it’s not just that certain street that has good shopping. There are tons of interesting stores on the side streets that branch out of the main street.

I walked to Harakuju, but you can easily get here by metro. 20170227_112157.jpg

Welcome to Takeshita Dori! 20170227_113034.jpg

Cat Cafe in Takeshita dori20170227_113104.jpg

A cat & owl cafe, above a kawaii dress store, above a Korean-brand accessories store. Floors and floors of interesting stuff.20170322_104644.jpg

Crepe cafes all over the place20170227_113650.jpg

Crepes, crepes, crepes!20170227_114100.jpg20170227_114054.jpg20170227_114109.jpg20170227_120932.jpg

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Huge ass cotton candy flowers from Totti Candy Factory20170322_104348.jpg

I didn’t see the neon-green hair and straight-out-of-anime fashionistas like I had hoped to see, but these specialty stores exist, so they must be out there.20170227_113824.jpg20170227_113833.jpg

Kitschy stuff20170322_103501.jpg

Really cheap and cute earrings at this store, Paris Kids.20170227_124522 earrings.jpg

Cute shoes for cheap20170227_120113.jpg20170227_120300.jpg

Interesting looking stores20170227_121147.jpg

There is always a line up for Zaku Zaku’s croquant chou stick and their soft serve ice cream. The 2nd time I went to Takeshita, I lined up and got some. It was basically a good cream puff, but it was a stick instead of a puff, and there were crunchy bits on top. The milk custard cream inside was extra milky, and yes, it was “so fresh”. A bit disappointing though…20170322_124359.jpg20170322_125237.jpg 20170322_125902.jpg

Gets very busy on weekends20170322_103318.jpg

After Takeshita, I went to Omotesando. It was a completely different atmosphere.

The glamorous Tokyo Plaza on Omotesando20170227_125439.jpg

Went off to a seemingly boring looking side street and stumped upon a B Side Label store! The staff were super passionate and friendly.20170227_131517.jpg20170227_131620.jpg20170227_132739.jpg20170227_133005 b side label omotesando harajuku.jpg

The famous Omotesando Hills shopping mall. All the luxury brands. I ventured in on my second Omotesando walk, and I felt like a peasant. 20170322_140129.jpg 20170322_141041.jpg

After spending a total of 3 weeks in Tokyo, I had run out of things to do. So I went back to Harajuku, and had a peaceful character cafe experience at Pompompurin Cafe20170322_110720.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Walking Japan: Imperial Palace, Chiyoda and Jogging Park

In the heart of Tokyo city is a special ward called Chiyoda city. The heart of Chiyoda city is the Imperial Palace, where the Emperor of Japan lives, and this alone attracts tourists. However, the locals often go to Chiyoda for the scenic 5km jogging course.

20170225_105234.jpg On-grounds map, with the 5km jogging course highlighted in yellow

I walked the whole 5km jogging area, expecting to come across a few entrances to explore the inner grounds. And I saw at least 4 entrances. But they were all blocked off, and guards were stationed to ensure no one got in…The only area that was free-for-all is the very top-left rectangular portion, the Kokyogaien National Garden, and a bit of the East Garden. With the East Garden, you are only allowed to explore a little corner of the grounds, and not the whole “island”/section.

There is a FREE East Garden tour that happens on Saturdays at 1pm! I could have gone on it because I happened to visit on a Saturday, but I didn’t, because it was 2.5 hours long and I preferred to just walk in peace at my own pace. I never got a kick out of these kind of tours anyway. Maybe I would have been allowed into the more intimate parts of the grounds if I had gone on the tour…

This is the free tour website: http://www.tfwt.jp/Pages/default.aspx

Mind you, late February is definitely not the prime time to come here, or Japan in general. The cherry blossoms are not in bloom and some breeds of trees are naked and boney and sad-looking.

I still had a good time, enjoying the scenic 5km path.

20170225_104557.jpgThe jogging path by the waters. I went on a Saturday morning, and there were many locals running in jogging gear and tourists strolling and taking pictures.

20170225_105336.jpgCarefully trimmed bonsai trees (or at least, I think) in Kyokogaien.

20170225_110656.jpg Must take a lot of money to maintain.

20170225_110406.jpgSome important white house back there, no signage to indicate what it is. Entry is blocked.

After a nice walk around Kyokogaien, and I got back on the jogging course.

20170225_105532.jpgAs can be seen from the jogging course.

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20170225_105814.jpgBlocked off entrance #2

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20170225_111410.jpgFree admission to the East Garden. A short route, 10 minutes at most. Depends on how many pictures you take.

20170225_111658.jpgEarly sakura blooms in late Feb. There were a few trees that were ahead of the others.

20170225_113201.jpgNekked trees in East Garden (late February).

20170225_113259.jpg20170225_113321.jpgOld ladies sitting and painting watercolor on small canvases in the East Garden.

Got out of the East Garden, back on to my jogging route (that I walked, like the fatass I am).

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20170225_113935.jpg20170225_115243.jpgSenior gentlemen taking pics of the early-bloom sakura.

20170225_115311.jpgI waited until they were done and took pics too.

20170225_115456.jpgBlocked off entrance #3

20170225_120410.jpgThis was a designated photo spot. Would look beautiful when the leaves come in, instead of these bare branches.

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20170225_121146.jpgBlocked off entrance #4

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When I finished my 5km, I walked back to my hostel.

20170225_123234.jpgOn my way back to the hostel, I saw a fishing area.

20170225_123238.jpgBoat house for your rental needs in the fishing area.

20170225_123335.jpgFather and son spending quality time on a Saturday morning.

I would definitely go back to Chiyoda again when I return to Japan. Such a peaceful and scenic walk.