Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jan 8 - ただいま

This morning, I originally wanted to take the subway. But then I remembered there's a bus that would take me to Shinjuku station from my hotel (see Jan 5 blog). In fact, it'd be easier because I didn't need to carry my luggage up and down the subway stairs. So, I arrived at Shinjuku without lifting my luggage more than a few steps.

I took the Narita Express when I arrived and at that time I already bought my return ticket. Before boarding the train, food time :) I went to the underground food court and had the following, crab meat plus salmon roe over rice.

Yesterday, I said I wouldn't do any shopping at Narita. But today I changed my mind. Well, I just bought the following since it's so attractive that I couldn't resist.

My flight was around 5pm. So, at around 3pm, yet more food again :)

This is chazuke (茶漬け) where they pour tea over rice and in my case unagi (eel) as well. The name says tea but I thought it's actually clear broth, as I tasted the soup afterwards and found no trace of tea.

Goodbye, Japan! I will be back!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Jan 7 - part 2/2 オッジ ダルマット



Dinner again was quite an adventure. After my shopping at Shinjuku, I went back to the hotel, dropped everything off, and went for dinner. The place is called Oggi Dal-Matto, and it's an Italian restaurant. Technically, it's Italian-Japanese fusion. I knew of this place from the singer song-writer Karashima Midori (辛島美登里), of whom I'm a fan. In one of her blog entires (, she talked about this restaurant and the food looked delicious. I was intrigued but didn't know whether I'd have time for a visit. After I returned to the hotel, I went online and realized that the restaurant was just a few blocks from my hotel in Hiroo. And so I went.

I think this restaurant serves familiar customers and so my presence was a bit odd. Anyway, the reception was great and the food excellent.

It's a prefix menu, or omakase (おまかせ).

Mind my poor Japanese. I was not able to understand the explanation of the following dish from the waiter.

Bread served with olive oil. There're 3 kinds of olive oil. Starting from the left, it got progressively heavier and more spicy.

Various vegetables and sashimi. The middle one was not a sauce, but instead it's like a soup for its own consumption. My Japanese was limited and so I was only able to know that the item at 5 o'clock outside was sea urchin on stop of sashimi.

The following was neither foie gras nor pork. It's chicken served with red wine sauce and vegetables!

This was their open kitchen.

Pasta with strawberries and tomato.

The main course, Japanese beef and vegetables.

Oyster pasta with cream sauce.

The desert, matcha cake (抹茶ケーキ).

Karashima-san, thank you so much!!!

As I mentioned earlier, today's my last activity day. And this pretty much concludes my Japanese trip.

Jan 7 - part 1/2 ゆっくり歩いて、買い物する

Today's pretty much my last activity day in Tokyo. Yes, I can do shopping in the airport tomorrow but I don't plan to. My flight is 5pm. That means I have to arrive at 2pm, and since Narita is around 1 hour 30 minutes from Tokyo, I have to leave my hotel at noon at the latest.

Today, I continued to walk in nearby Azabu. I planned to return to Shinjuku for some last minute shopping as well. I wanted to buy more Japanese tea, and some books and CDs for learning Japanese. Last quarter at my Japanese school, one of my classmates showed me a very nice book+CD series. They are divided by listening levels according to JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). The books include short stories, cultural themes, and Japanese myths. The accompanying CDs represent the audio version of the books. I think they're good because of their all-roundedness in reading, listening and to a certain extent speaking, albeit non-conversational. The English web sites have huge markups and shipping charges that I'm better off buying it here. I hope this won't backfire tomorrow as United Airlines have a pretty strict limit on luggage weight.

As I was walking on the street, a group of 6 Japanese women ran in front of me and entered a soba restaurant. This must be good, I thought. So I looked at their menu and decided to have lunch there. I ordered their あさりそば, or clam soba. The menu says it's an Azabu speciality and is only available in winter. Here's how it looked like.

Later, I found out that they're famous for their 担々麺, or Tantan noodle (This is actually Chinese noodle famous in the Sichuan province). Everyone ordered the Tantan noodle except me! Well, I have only one stomach, so next time :)

Here're the Japanese women who led me here.

In the afternoon, I found this coffee place in Azabu Juban called Ueshima Coffee (上島珈琲). It's very relaxing and the best part was their smoking area was completely isolated. I ordered their caramel milk coffee.

I was writing this portion of the blog as I was enjoying their coffee. Very delicious indeed.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Jan 6 - 東京で歩く

I spent the whole day walking in the nearby area, which included Azabu (麻布), Roppongi (六本木), Tokyo Tower, and Akasaka (赤坂). I first thought they're pretty far, but they're actually quite close. There's this area called Azabu Juban (麻布十番), that I've heard about it for a long time but didn't get the chance to go there. So, here I was.

I woke up pretty late in the morning and so it's about lunch time by the time I've reached Azabu Juban. I decided to try sashimi, and I found this restaurant called Arakokyu (鰓呼吸), or breathing with gills.

Here's the inside of the restaurant.

I ordered their Tekka Don (鉄火丼), which is raw tuna over rice.

After I lunch, I walked further and I realized that Tokyo Tower was really close. Even though this is my 8th time in Japan, I have never visited Tokyo Tower. To be honest, I don't think it's that spectacular. Anyway, since it's within walking distance, I decided to give it a try, but I never thought of going up the tower though.

So, here's a photo I took outside.

I always thought the tower was built on a huge flat area, but Tokyo Tower was actually built on a small hill. It's interesting that they chose such a location. If I had entered the tower, I could have read the whole history but I didn't do it.

I returned to the hotel early evening. For some reason, I wanted to have yakitori (焼き鳥) tonight. So I asked the front desk what's good yakitori restaurant in Shibuya. They gave me one by the name of Fuku Mimi (福みみ), and also gave me a map. It took a while for me to find it. But it's cheaper and better than yesterday's "all you can eat".

Grilled chicken liver and grilled chicken meat loaf (they call this tsukune, つくね).

I don't know how to translate. It's chicken wrapped with sea weed. They call it Shisomaki (しそ巻).

Chicken skin and chicken soft bones.

Chicken gizzards and nori mayo tsukune (のりマヨつくね, sea weed + mayonnaise + grilled chicken meat loaf).

Chicken soft bones again. I don't know what's the difference between the first one but they have different names.

Cold tofu from Hokkaido.

Yaki onigiri (焼きおにぎり, grilled rice ball) and soup made with chicken bones.

Finally, the desert - Shiratamaccha (白玉ッ茶). It's ice-cream with matcha powder, red bean paste, and rice flour dumplings.

Two more days, and I'll not be able to have food like this :(

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jan 5 - 東京へ移動

Today, I'm returning to Tokyo.

I had a really weird dream last night. I saw my high school classmate. We're co-workers (in the dream only) but he's being laid off. I asked him if he's found a new job. He said he's going to retire because a few years ago, he bought an apartment in Hong Kong and now has steady income!

I should seriously consider something similar :)

This morning's breakfast was the same as 2 days ago, ham, scrambled eggs, potato, garlic bread etc.

The owner was so kind that she offered to drop me off at the train station. If you're looking for a homey and quiet place to stay in Nikko, I would highly recommend Logettel St. Bois. The owner came from Kobe (神戸) 15 years ago and has been operating this hotel with her daughter since.

I bought a bento at the Nikko train station. So, this is my lunch.

I'm staying in the Apa Hotel in Azabu (麻布). The closest subway station is Hiroo (広尾). Azabu is home to a lot of foreign embassies, including the Chinese. It's a pretty quiet area. This is the hotel building.

Across from the hotel, there's a Lamborghini showroom. The price tag says 14.8 million yen, which is around US$200,000!

Every time I travelled in Tokyo, I almost always used the subway. There're only 2 times that I was on a bus, and both times were of the same route. This afternoon, as I was walking around the hotel, I saw a bus stop indicating that there's a bus to Shinjuku station. It only costs 200 yen, regardless of how far you travel. I think it's much cheaper than subway to Shinjuku, albeit slower. So, I boarded the bus and went to Shinjuku for shopping. Traveling by bus has the advantage of seeing the streets, and helps me develop a sense of direction and orientation.

I then went to Shibuya because I wanted to see a Japanese Apple Store. But first, dinner. (My friend already told me that I sounded like a plump, because I have been talking about food all the time. But I am not a plump! Plus, food is a BIG part of traveling in Japan.) I saw a restaurant called Gyu-kaku (牛角). I think I saw it being mentioned in a travel guide somewhere before. In fact, I think there's one in New York that I've been to. Gyu-kaku is a chain store and it specializes in charcoal grill. And then I saw the sign 食べ放題, which translates to "all you can eat." And so I entered :)

The waitress said there'd be a lot of people during dinner time, and I had to leave in 70 minutes. So, it came down to "all you can eat in 70 minutes." Here's how some of the food looked like. It was cheese on the left hand side in the first picture, and I was supposed to dip the grilled beef into it. So I guess it's like Fondue!?

Here's the desert, Annintofu (杏仁豆腐), or literally almond tofu in English. I think it is a Chinese desert because I have had the same thing back in Hong Kong. Anway, don't be fooled by the word tofu. It's not made of tofu, or so I was told. But the texture tastes very much like one.

I was so full getting out that I'm not going to another "all you can eat" restaurant again for the rest of the trip.

The Apple Store located in Shibuya is no different than the stores in US. Moreover, the accessories portion of the store were selling the same brands like Griffon, Belkins etc. And it's much cheaper in US given the strength of the yen. I was not surprised. My 2nd purpose of my visit was to see if the Japanese store, like the US ones, offered free WiFi. And they did! I was able to sync my iPhone with iCloud. In Japan, unlike US, coffee shops usually don't offer WiFi, let alone a free one. WiFi services in Japan are offered by local mobile carriers like Docomo (I think it's similar to the model in Hong Kong as well).

Tomorrow, I think I'll just relax, walk around Azabu, and maybe go to Roppongi (六本木) and Akasaka (赤坂).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Jan 4 - 武射祭+戦場ヶ原でのハイキング

Every year on January 4th, the Samurai Archery Festival (武射祭) is held at Futarasanjinjya Chugushi (二荒山神社中宮祠). The jinjya is located on the Chuzenji Lake (中禅寺湖), which is half way between Nikko downtown (currently where I am staying) and Yumoto (where I last stayed). The festival began at around 10:30am, and because it would take 30-45 minutes to get there, I had to really hurry this morning to catch the bus. Here's my Japanese style breakfast.

Since the New Year holiday was over, there're only a few people at the festival. In fact, when I mentioned it to the hotel owner this morning, she said she didn't know there's such a festival.

Anyway, it's very interesting experience, as I've never been to a Japanese matsuri (祭り, or festival) before. At 10am, several priests led a prayer for all the participants. There were around 15-20 people altogether, males and females.

And look at the female samurais.

After they circled outside the jinjya, they went to the archery field at around 10:30am, where it was just located beside the main temple of the jinjya.

The participants were divided into 4 groups. The first group had just 1 person, and I think he's one of the priests. The 2nd group had 3 people, and I suspect they work for the jinjya. The 3rd and the 4th group had around 5-6 people each. They didn't look like jinjya people, but they must have close relationship with the jinjya, and so I think. Each group fired 2 rounds, and in each round each person fired one arrow. After each round, someone would hit a drum and exclaimed. There're reporters and one TV crew, and of course they were given the best seats. Here's one of the participants after he fired one. These people must have practiced throughout the year as I don't think a layman can do it.

The whole event lasted around 30 minutes. After all arrows were fired, what happened? Well, people would roamed and tried to find them!

And here's a lucky person who found one. I think those arrows are supposed to drive off evil spirits.

After the festival, I did some hiking at Senjogahara (戦場ヶ原). As I mentioned before, I had wanted to hike it when I was staying at Yumoto, but didn't have time. Today's my last activity day and so this was my last chance. The trail is flat and it takes about 2 hours. I was not disappointed. Here's some of the photos I took on the trail.

Ah! While hiking, I spotted a monkey, eventually!

The weather was quite unstable, as snow was falling from time to time. I started at around 11:30am and by the time I finished, it's already 3:00pm. I was very lucky because there's heavy snow after 3pm while I was waiting for the return bus.

I didn't have lunch. Instead, I brought a cake with me and ate it while waiting at the bus stop.

There is one more place that I wanted to go though. For some reason, the place was very intriguing to me. It was an abandoned gasoline station. I passed by it a number of times while I was on a bus. I thought it was beautiful. So, on my way back, I stopped by and took a few pictures. Again, I was lucky as the sun had set just after I was done. This is one of the pictures I took.

Have you ever seen the inside of a gas pump? Now I know how it looks like!

Dinner included pickles, salad, grilled seafood, yuba, grilled fish, clam soup, and ice-cream (the same ice-cream served in the past 2 days). Here they are.

This pretty much concludes my adventure in Nikko, as I'll return to Tokyo tomorrow by the 11:30am train. I don't plan to do anything tomorrow morning.

I wish I could come back in autumn so that I can enjoy the Koyo (紅葉 or fall color).