Travel – Tokyo, Japan (Part 3) – Snow & my birthday

On Monday it snowed a lot in Tokyo. I was a bit astonished. The day before it had been almost warm enough not to need a coat and the next morning it’s bombing down with snow. It was serious snow. It was coming from every direction and almost instantly formed thick ice on the roads and pavements.

Snow in Japan

It was quite exciting at first to be out in such big fluffy snow. That excitement wore off in about 5 minutes as we were almost instantly soaked through and freezing cold. Still, we braved it and got the train to Akihabara, the electronics district, where there’s a restaurant that Nick wanted to try.

Snow in Akihabara, Tokyo, JapanAkihabara in the snowAs we wobbled down the road towards Kanda Yabu Soba I knew we were in for a treat. A tiny little gem tucked down a back street, it almost feels like going back in time. As we approached, a lovely Japanese lady helped me brush all the snow from my coat and tried to dry it as much as possible with a towel before we entered.

 

Kanda Yabu Soba in the snow, Tokyo, JapanKanda Yabu Soba, Tokyo, JapanWe sat down at a regular table, although there was space around the edges of the room to sit at a low table on pillows. As it was so cold I had my soba noodles in a hot dashi (a type of broth) whilst Nick had them in a more traditional style, with the soba noodles laid on a tray which are then dipped into a cold broth. Both were delicious but the portions were very much on the small side.

Kanda Yabu Soba Tokyo Japan

When we were finished we headed back to the train station with the intention of visiting a temple. However, some of the lines had already been closed due to the snow and there were delays on many others. It was only 1.30pm but we decided to head back to the hotel and I’m glad we did as we didn’t get home until about 4pm with all the delays!

Emma from The Style Box in the snow in Tokyo, JapanYou can just about see the tiny lighter patches on my coat that were still dry!

Given that the portion of soba we’d had was so small we popped into a Freshness burger on the way home. It was amazing. Exactly what I needed at that moment. I had a regular cheeseburger but Nick definitely chose better than me as his burger had huge chunks of avocado on top and I could easily have eaten several.

Freshness burger, Tokyo, Japan

The next day I turned 25. I’m quite excited to be 25. The day was bright and sunny again which was nice and a lot of the pavements had been cleared of the snow by people shovelling it out the way so it was much easier to get around. We didn’t really have anything planned so we decided to go to Senso-Ji, the temple we’d missed out on the day before. We stopped for some gyoza on the way.

Gyoza in Tokyo

Tokyo in the snow(This isn’t the temple…just a road to illustrate the snow clearing…)

We were under the impression that this temple was going to be in the middle of a park, as on the map it was pictured in a big mass of green. So we were rather surprised when we arrived to find it surrounded by a touristy marketplace without a tree or blade of grass in sight. Needless to say I was glad we hadn’t bothered making the trip there in the snow the day before.

Senso-Ji, Tokyo, JapanSenso-ji temple, Tokyo, Japan

After that we walked back to Ueno station and decided to explore the park behind there. Again, nowhere near as green as our map had suggested, although at least there were some trees. We found the lakes and watched as some people held out their hands to feed the birds.

Ueno Koen park, Tokyo, JapanMan feeding birds in Tokyo, JapanMan feeding the birds in Tokyo, JapanBird in Tokyo, JapanJust before we got back on the train we decided to explore an alley to look for some food, which turned out to be Ueno market. I wasn’t a huge fan of that either but Nick found some takoyaki (balls of pancake batter with octopus inside) which kept him happy.

 

Man at Ueno market

Takoyaki octopus balls in Tokyo, JapanThen we got the train back to Shinjuku and went to one of the big department stores so Nick could buy some sake to take home. We found a Yasube to eat ramen in for dinner. It’s kind of a chain but it’s one of the best ramens we had while we were there.

Our trip home yesterday was long and I was very glad to climb into my own bed with it’s lovely soft pillows!

Travel – Tokyo, Japan (Part 2) – Imperial Palace East Garden & Meiji-Jingu

On Saturday we went back to the market near Tsukiji fish market to buy a knife for Nick’s dad. The atmosphere could not have been more different. You could tell it was Saturday as the place had sprung to life and was heaving with people bustling about getting their shopping and eating food. We happened to walk past a stall selling deep-fried whale. Nick doesn’t look convinced in the picture below but he assures me it was quite nice but a little offal-y.

Market in Tokyo, JapanNick eating whale

Sign in Tokyo, JapanAfter that we walked back to the station through Ginza and made a quick stop in the Sony building to play around with all the latest gadgets. It was amazing! We had a go on a 3D TV, some ridiculously good video cameras, sat in a full-blown home cinema and gawped at the incredible detail of an 84 inch TV playing Blu-rays.

Then we walked to the Imperial Palace East Garden that’s surrounded by a moat and an enormous sloping wall made from huge stones. It was very impressive but a little barren at this time of year. I can imagine it’s tremendous in the Spring with all the blossom and colourful flowers. I can’t wait for augmented reality stuff to really take off. I would have loved to have been able to carry my iPad around and hold it up to see what it would have looked like in the olden days rather than looking at a dull placard with some squares on.

Imperial Palace East Garden in January, Tokyo, JapanRooftops at East Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo, JapanImperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, JapanImperial Palace East Gardens, Tokyo, JapanBamboo in East Imperial Gardens, Tokyo, JapanAfter a long walk and rest by the waterfall in the park we headed to our dinner venue for the evening, Tonki. It proved slightly difficult to find as it was a bit hidden down a back street but it was worth the wait. Tonki only serves Tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet with rice). The layout is fantastic. The kitchen is a large open square taking up about 80% of the space in the middle of the room with all the seating around it, facing inwards so you can watch the chefs as they work. I had to stifle a giggle as we walked in as it was super quiet and they all shout what I assume to be ‘hello’ as you walk in and everyone looks round which made me feel as if I was late for class and we had to sneak in! It was one of the best dining experiences of my life. The atmosphere was so calm and peaceful. None of the chefs were shouting at each other, there was no background music and it was just perfect. It was so entertaining watching all the chefs doing their individual jobs and the food was incredible. Nick was saving himself for a later restaurant so didn’t order anything but they still bought him a plate of salad so he could share my pork if he wanted to. It would be easy to mistake Tonki for a new, trendy restaurant but apparently it’s been there years. Easily one of the best places I’ve ever eaten at.

Tonki tonkatsu restaurant, Tokyo, Japan

When we’d finished we walked to Ebisu and Daikanyama, catching a rare glimpse of Mt Fuji at sunset from one of the hills. Ebisu and Daikanyama were so achingly cool, full of design shops, fixie bike shops, antique furniture and Japanese hipsters. The perfect location for our destination, Tatemichaya (a Punk Rock Izakaya).

View of Mt Fuji at sunset, Tokyo, JapanTokyo, JapanAn izakaya is a Japanese bar that serves food, so you’re likely to order several small plates rather than a big dinner. Tatemichaya was also a bit difficult to find (as all the best places are) and a friendly policeman pointed us in the direction of a set of stairs leading down to a basement. As you open the door to Tatemichya you are blasted with warm air, cigarette smoke and pumping punk rock music.

We took some stools in front of the door that looked through the hole in the wall to the kitchen beyond the main grill directly in front of us. The chefs all look like rock stars and puff away on cigarettes while preparing your food, singing along to The Ramones. Nick ordered deep-fried tofu, nato and a selection of yakitori including chicken skin, chicken gizzards and cartilage (which nearly made me throw up listening to him crunching on it). Despite the fact that I had just eaten (I have a bottomless stomach), I ordered yakisoba, which are fried noodles and they were totally delicious.

Sunday was absolutely gorgeous weather-wise. It’s been bright and sunny every day but Sunday was also gloriously warm. To start the day off we went to Taishoken which is located under a bridge in Ikebukuro. It’s a ramen place that is the home to the guy that invented Tsukemen, which is where you have the noodles on the side of your soup and you dip them in as you eat them to avoid the noodles becoming overcooked. Again, the seating was arranged around the edge of the kitchen which took centre-stage in the middle of the room and you order your food on a vending machine type thing at the door (which is entirely in Japanese so we needed help!)

Ridiculously full, we then headed back towards Ikebukuro to visit the Cat Café, where you basically sit around stroking cats and drinking tea. However, they wanted £7 an hour each and I thought that was a bit steep, especially as I have two cats at home, so we left.

Then we went to Harajuku to get a look at the Harajuku girls that hang out there on a Sunday but we must have been a bit late in the afternoon as we only spotted a group of about 5 gothic-looking girls dressed up. While we were there we kind of accidentally stumbled into the gardens of Meiji-Jingu which is apparently Tokyo’s, if not Japan’s, most splendid Shinto shrine. It was originally built in 1920 in honour of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, under whose rule Japan ended its long isolation from the outside world but it was destroyed by bombs in WWII and was reconstructed in 1958.

Entrance gate to Meiji-Jingu, Tokyo, JapanSake barrels at Meiji-Jingu, Tokyo, JapanA collection of sake barrels given as gifts in a huge display

Lanterns at Meiji-Jinku, Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

There were literally thousands of people walking towards the main temple down a huge tree-lined path. Having absolutely no clue what was going to be at the end was kind of fun! Once we reached the temple we were treated to the sight of a wedding procession in full traditional dress.

Meiji-Jingu shinto shrine, Harajuku, Tokyo, JapanRoofs at Meiji-Jingu, Tokyo, JapanRoof at Meiji-Jingu, Harajuku, Tokyo, JapanI seem to have developed an obsession with Japanese roofs…

Wedding procession at Meiji-Jingu, Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

Then we wandered into Harajuku and quickly got away from the main strip which was so busy you could hardly move and was full of the same old shops that you find all over Tokyo and the rest of the world (Zara, H&M, yawn, yawn, yawn). We disappeared down some alleyways and found some cool boutiques and the most awesome treehouse café called Hideaway where we enjoyed some sake, a cup of tea and a slice of cheesecake.

Hideaway treehouse cafe, Harajuku, Tokyo, JapanHideaway treehouse cafe, Harajuku, Tokyo, JapanThen we just got the train back and walked through the blinding lights of Shinjuku.

Shinjuku at nightMemory Lane (aka Piss Alley), Tokyo, JapanI would definitely recommend Japan to anybody. People have a preconception that Japan is expensive but I’d say it’s about the same price as London. It’s just a case of keeping your eye out for cheap flights to Tokyo, finding a reasonable hotel and probably not going in April when everyone else goes to see the blossom.

Travel – Tokyo, Japan (Part 1) – Ghibli museum & Tsukiji fish market

I got up nice and early today so that I could fit this post in otherwise my little brain is going to forget all the things I’ve done! (Warning: this is long, photo-heavy and contains images of fish butchery)

Firstly, I love Helsinki airport. It was like landing in a winter wonderland! We escaped for a little while to play in the snow. And, they’ve got loads of seats that are laid-back so you can snooze on them. Genius. Also, Finnair are amazing. I really hate flying but this flight was lovely. Not a single ounce of turbulance (which I know isn’t controlled by the pilots but it’s pretty much the single most important factor for me when judging a flight). Also, we flew over Russia and the Siberian desert and seeing the vast, bleak mountains at sunrise was one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen.

Flying over RussiaAfter arrived at our hotel around 2pm (our room is hilariously small) and went out for a bit of exploring and to grab some food. We wandered down Memory Lane (aka Piss Alley) and had a few bits of yakitori (grilled chicken) and Nick had some unagi (eel). We managed to stay awake until 6pm and then slept for about 13 hours!

Memory Lane, Tokyo, JapanI’m turning 25 in a few days and my birthday present from Nick was a trip to the Studio Ghibli museum as I’m obsessed with their movies (particularly My Neighbour Totoro). My birthday is actually on Tuesday but that’s the one day of the week that it’s shut.

It’s the coolest place ever. It’s in a huge building that looks like it’s straight out of one of the movies. Full of little alleyways and winding staircases that feel like a game. There’s a little cinema, a cafe, a gift shop, a cat bus to play in (I was too old – boo!)as well as several exhibitions, my favourite being the room covered in all the pencil drawings from the film that takes you through the process of how they are made. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos inside the building (but I did sneek a cheeky one of the cat bus on my iPhone!)

Totoro, Studio Ghibli Museum, JapanStudio-Ghibli-museum,-Mitaka,-JapanLaputa-robot-at-Studio-Ghibli-museum,-Mitaka,-JapanCat bus, Studio Ghibli museum, JapanAfter that we hopped on the train back into the city and got some more food and headed to Kappabashi Dori which is basically a whole street selling catering supplies – including the fake plastic food that restaurants use! Nick is a knife-geek so dragged me round to look at those and we bought some cool ramen bowls. Then we fell asleep at 6pm again!

Chef-head-at-Kappabashi-Dori,-Tokyo,-Japan

The next morning we woke up at 4am as Nick wanted to visit Tsukiji fish market. I have to admit, although it didn’t sound like something I’d be into, it was pretty cool. And surprisingly, didn’t at all smell like fish. It’s not something I’d recommend for vegetarians though or people who don’t like looking at dead things because there are literally hundreds of thousands of fish and shellfish of every variety all over the place either already chopped in ice buckets or being killed and butchered as you walk past. Looking at such an enormous amount of fish and knowing that happens every single day did make me wonder how on earth there were any fish left in the sea though.

Tsukiji-fish-market,-Tokyo,-JapanYou have to be really careful wandering around as there are hundreds of guys on these scooter things bombing around the narrow alleyways.

Tsukiji-fish-market,-TokyoTuna-lined-up-at-Tsukiji-fish-market,-Tokyo,-JapanAlleys-in-Tsukiji-fish-market,-Tokyo,-JapanTuna-fish-head-at-Tsukiji-fish-market,-Tokyo,-JapanClams-at-Tsukiji-fish-market,-Tokyo,-JapanTuna-at-Tsukiji-fish-market,-Tokyo,-JapanNick-at-Tsukiji-fish-market,-TokyoTuna at Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo, JapanTsukiji-fish-market-sellers,-Tokyo,-JapanEmma-from-The-Style-Box-at-Tsukiji-fish-market,-Tokyo,-JapanThis is my ‘I’ve been up since 4am, why the hell haven’t you fed me yet?’ face

Slicing-tuna-in-Tsukiji-fish-market,-Tokyo,-JapanNick-at-Tsukiji-fish-marketOnce I’d finally convinced Nick we’d seen enough dead fish to last us a lifetime he jumped into the nearest sushi place to try some of the fish market’s wares. (There was a picture of Emma Stone & the Spiderman cast eating in there on the wall!)

Just round the corner from the fish market is a regular market which contains a knife shop called Aritsugu which saw me waiting very patiently while Nick bought 3 Japanese knives with some inheritance money he had from his granddad.

Engraving-a-japanese-knife-at-Aritsugu,-Tokyo,-JapanOur surname being engraved in Japanese characters

Despite being awake since 4am, I didn’t get fed until about 4pm by which point I was ravenous and practically inhaled the bowl of ramen that was placed in front of me.