Allison Day


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2012 Japan Trip


After spending the morning getting lost and the afternoon satisfying our wanderlust, we were hungry. Time to eat!


Red light district? on the other side of the river

We headed across the river, and found ourself on a large, busy street full of clothing stores and fast food. We could have stopped at a McDonald’s, or Burger King, or Subway (or even Baskin Robbins!), but we weren’t quite that hungry. (Although we did eat at a McDonald’s the first time we went to Japan (for our very first meal!) and it wasn’t *that* bad. Better than American McDonald’s, definitely.)


Large building by the river


Woman in a kimono

Instead we kept walking, and walking, and turned down another walking-only street, and hey wait a minute, something about this place looks familiar

Turns out we found our way over to the mall behind Nishiki Market without even realizing we were in the area!

This was a very good thing, because there are lots of good eats in this mall.


Gindaco - takoyaki restaurant


Worker making takoyaki

I’ve been on a takoyaki kick throughout the entire trip (and ever since we got home, too!) so when we found a takoyaki shop, of course we had to try it.


Takoyaki

We ordered takoyaki covered in cheese and spicy roe mayo. Yes, it sounds weird, that’s partially why we got it – what’s the point of traveling if you don’t try all the weird foods you can’t get anywhere else? ^_^


Takoyaki


Takoyaki

However, as weird as it sounded, it was freaking delicious. I never, ever would have thought cheese atop takoyaki would be a good idea… but it turns out whomever thought of this is a genius.


All gone!

A little further into the mall, we found a place called Churro Star.


Menu at Churro Star

Sounded interesting, so of course we had to investigate.


Churro Star sign


Mall, near closing


Allison with the churro

We got a churro that came with something called “strawberry milk” – very interesting.


Close-up of the churro and strawberry milk


Dipping the churro in the strawberry milk

The churro was fantastic. The strawberry milk was… well, it had the texture of caramel, and tasted like a strawberry-flavored Hi-Chew. While you can’t ever go wrong with strawberry Hi-Chews, it was kind of a weird combination with the churro.


Churro with strawberry milk

More wandering…


Shop near Nishiki market

(Even the Subways there are nicer!)


Subway restaurant and cafe


Outdoor street in the mall


Lots of Chopper dolls

Then we found a sock store. With awesome socks. Yes, I had to buy some. Yes, I actually wear them. (The Totoro ones are my favorite.) ^_^


Socks!!!


Sandwich case at Choco Cro

Before we left Tokyo, Rachael said we should definitely try Choco Cro. There was one in the mall by Nishiki Market, so we stopped in and bought one to go.


Pastries at Choco Cro


Matcha Daifuku Croissants at Choco Cro

Unfortunately by then, it was late enough that all the restaurants were closed. So we headed back to Kyoto Station… where got lost again… and by the time we found ourselves, everything was also closed.


River at night


Lit-up building in Gion

So we went back to our hotel, stopping at a Family Mart on the way.


Choco Cro

We ate the Choco Cro (chocolate croissant) back at our hotel, and it was delicious.

(Oh hai, Twitter!)


Choco Cro

Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a Family Mart dinner, yo.


Dinner!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – convenience store (combini) food in Japan is better than grocery store food in the US. Seriously good stuff.

Sushi, salad, zukemono, and ice cream. And then an Icy Hot bath. All that walking makes for a sore Allison…


Mango ice cream

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After spending the morning going in circles, we once again left our hotel, and walked to the train station. This time we went to the station nearest us, which – go figure – was not a JR Station. However this time, we had an actual goal in mind.


Double decker train

At Son’s suggestion, we were heading to the Gion area of Kyoto – an area famous for its Geishas (or, as they’re called in Kyoto, Geiko).


Historical building in Gion area

We took the local subway to the Gion-Shijo station, which let out on Shijo street, which is the main street in the Gion area.


The main street in the Gion area


Street in the Gion area

It’s a busy street, and obviously caters to tourists.


Signs on the main street in the Gion area


Man on a motorbike


Maiko on the main street


Maiko

Eventually we turned down a side street, and just wandered.


Beautiful houses down a side street in the Gion area


Smaller street lined with restaurants in the Gion area


A restaurant in the Gion area

We found our way to one of the busier side streets, where there was a traffic jam of cars lined up all the way up and down the street.


Cars lined up in the street


Lantern

According to a woman on flkr who is apparently familiar with the Gion area, this is a lantern in front of the Tama ochaya (tea house).


Maiko

It was the time of day when the maiko were beginning to make their way around the area.


Large building next to a theatre


Woman with umbrella and two dogs


Alley in Gion

This narrow alley holds the entrances to the two most popular okiya (geisha houses) in Gion Kobu: the Tama (left sign) and the Tsurui (the right sign).


A geisha getting mobbed by tourists wanting to take her photo

We also saw one or two geisha… or at least, we got quick glimpses before the poor geisha got mobbed by tourists wanting to take photographs. We kept our distance, but some people had no problem getting right up in her face, crowding all around her to take their pictures. Crazy.


Alley in Gion


Back alley in Gion


Street in Gion

We headed off on another side street to avoid the crowds and try to see more of the area, and ended up at a temple.


Structure in the middle of the park


Park in Gion

We wandered the temple grounds for a bit, Son taking pictures, me taking pictures of him taking pictures.


My view for most of the trip


A pathway in the park

It was late enough in the afternoon that everything was closed, but it was a beautiful, serene area.


Pathway out of the park


Entrance to a restaurant in Gion


A restaurant in Gion


A cafe


Crossing the river

By that time we were getting pretty hungry, so we headed across the river to try to find somewhere to eat…

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Our first whole day in Kyoto was such a jam-packed day that I’m splitting it into three posts. Looking back, I can hardly believe we managed to fit so much into one day… and yet can now totally understand why I was so sore I could barely move that night.


Kyoto street

We started the morning off walking to Kyoto station from our hotel.


Curry pan

We stopped by a tiny hole-in-the-wall bakery to buy a curry pan, which unfortunately was one of the few not-so-good things we ate on the entire trip.


Kyoto street


Kyoto alley


River in Kyoto


Kyoto street


Kyoto street


Smaller river in Kyoto

We managed to find our way to Kyoto Station, and then spent the next ten minutes trying to figure out where we wanted to go.


View of Kyoto Tower between two maps

We were looking for a park, somewhere that we could sit and eat the onigiri we had bought at Family Mart earlier that morning, and take some time to relax after the hectic week in Tokyo.


Map

All we found were temples… and somehow it felt like it would be a little weird to go to a temple just to sit, eat, and read.


Allison looking at a map

So instead we went to Mister Donut.


Donuts at Mr. Donut

Mister Donut (along with Bassanova and Beard Papa’s) are one of our must-visit places when we go to Japan. We had already gone once in Akihabara, on our third day in Tokyo. But obviously, once was not enough.


Chocolate pon de ring doughnut

We got a chocolate pon de ring doughnut, and a ginger doughnut (which was one of their summer specials – they had a huge ginger promotion going on while we were there.) The chocolate was good, but the ginger was better. A nice strong ginger flavor, with a delicious white chocolate frosting.


Ginger doughnut


Mugicha

We also had a bottle of mugicha and a tamago onigiri that we had bought at Family Mart earlier that morning.


Tamago onigiri wrapper


Tamago onigiri


Display for the upcoming Tanabata festival


Mister Donut

After we ate, we were all ready to head out… and then we realized that someone (*cough* me *cough*) had forgotten their JR Pass at the hotel. Oops. Guess we weren’t going anywhere after all.


Chocolates

Instead, we explored the train station, and wandered around the food mall downstairs.


Pastry shop


Tsukemono shop


Mochi shop

We love these food malls (you may remember we were kind of obsessed with the one in Ueno station while we were in Tokyo), because they always have so many delicious things to buy!


Mochi shop


Godiva shop


Grocery store cashier


Fried foods shop


Octopuses


Potatoes and pork


Maki sushi


Maki sushi and inari-zushi


Maki sushi


Inari zushi


Futomaki


Bento shop


Inari sushi shop


Yakitori shop


Yakitori shop


Samples


Salad shop


Taiyaki shop


Worker flipping taiyaki


Tempura shop


Meat shop


Pastry shop


Confectionary shop


Cake shop


Chocolate pudding cups

Son is kind of obsessed with creme bruleé, so we bought one at a fancy dessert shop.


Fruit cups


Confectionary shop


Mochi shop


Lanterns


Confectionary shop


Purse shop


Kyoto tower


Creme brulee box

We headed back out of the station, and sat on a ledge to eat the creme bruleé.


Shattering creme brulee

It was just as good as it looked. It shattered perfectly, and the custard was creamy and smooth. One of the better creme bruleés we’ve had.


Creme brulee


A building near Kyoto Station

… and then we got to walk back to our hotel.


River

It was a very hot day, so we took a little break and ate onirigi and a bag of chips, before heading off to our next adventure…

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Our ninth day in Japan was our last day in Tokyo. We started the morning by finishing up packing (and ate a couple of onigiri), before checking out and leaving our baggage with the front desk so we could do a couple more things in Tokyo before heading to Kyoto.

We met Rachael and her girls at their hotel, and headed to Kappabashi – the “cooking street”.


Kappabashi


Chef Statue in Kappabashi


Kakigori (shaved ice) machines


Mini brands for mochi


Rice cookers


An aisle in a cookware shop

Kappabashi is a street in Tokyo where many restaurants buy their supplies – cookware, dishes, signs, even the insanely realistic fake food that is often displayed in front of restaurants.


Stacks of pans


A street by Kappabashi


Ceramics

We bought a few things there – a plate, a set of coasters, a silicone doughnut mold, a ramen strainer, and a couple of ramen spoons.


Allison and Rachael looking at rice molds


Colorful baskets


Sushi stickers


A fake food store

We really wanted to buy some of the fake food (or maybe a keychain or magnet) but we were in a little bit of a rush.


Fake seafood


Fake sushi

Seriously, though, doesn’t that yakitori look like it should be sizzling, ready to eat?!)


Fake yakitori


Fake food keychains


Sign shop


Aisle in a cookware shop


A man carving wood


Alley near Kappabashi


A view of the Tokyo Skytree through a side alley


Golden statue


Another side street


Lots of dishes

We always say every day is a sushi day, but how about every minute? :D


Sushi clock


A wall of knives


Knife shop


Chef statue outside a shop

After we walked down Kappabashi and back, we took a train to the Ginza area for lunch.


Tall clothing store in Ginza


A map in Ginza

… and promptly got lost.


Allison walking in Ginza


A restaurant in Ginza


Nikon Plaza in Ginza


Allison walking in Ginza


A street in Ginza

We were looking for a yakitori restaurant that one of Rachael’s friends had suggested. After a good bit of time wandering around Ginza and trying to ask for directions, we finally found it thanks to Son managing to locate it on his iPhone.


Torigin

The entrance to Torigin is in a small alleyway, which is part of why it’s so difficult to find from the larger streets.


Apartments in Ginza

The restaurant is in the basement of the building, so you go down a flight of stairs once you enter the front door.


Allison entering Torigin


Torigin menu

But once you’re there, you can smell the smoke of the yakitori being grilled. Delicious!


Yakitori

Son and I shared two plates of yakitori (and Rachael shared the same two plates with her girls).


Yakitori

There was a huge variety – from grilled peppers to these odd, ball-shaped eggs, meatballs to chicken livers.


Mostly-eaten yakitori

All of it, delicious.


Yakitori


Painting in Torigin


Torigin window display


New Torigin

(There’s also a shop right next door called New Torigin. We have no idea if it’s related to the one we went to, or if it’s even a yakitori place. Let us know if any of you ever go there!)


New Torigin


Apartments in Ginza

After we all ate, we got a taxi back to our hotel and said our goodbyes.


Bug giving Son a hug


Both girls giving Son a hug


Skylight in our hotel

We still had a little time before we had to head to Shinagawa station to catch the Shinkensen to Kyoto, so we hung out in the lobby of our hotel for a bit.


Allison in the lobby of our hotel


View of the floors from the lobby


View of the train tracks from the hotel


Beard Papa's

And then ran to Beard Papa’s to get supplies for the trip. It’s a terribly long trip from Tokyo to Kyoto. A whole three hours! So obviously, we needed cream puffs in order to survive a trip that long.


Allison buying cream puffs


Tokyo tower

Then we caught a taxi to Shinagawa station, ate a cream puff while we waited for our train, then it was off to Kyoto!


Speeding past rice paddies in the train


Zooming past small villages


View from the train


View of an empty platform from the train


View of a house from the train


View from the train

By the time we got there it was late in the evening and pouring rain, so we caught a taxi to the Kyoto Hyatt Regency Hotel and ate a couple of onigiri and a cream puff that we had left over from earlier that day, and passed out.

Stay tuned for our few days of Kyoto (and Osaka!) adventures, coming up soon!

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On the eigth day of our Japan trip, my true love gave to me… cookbooks, udon, and sushiiii!!!

(Sorry, now that Thanksgiving is past, I’m in a bit of a Christmas-y mood!)

So. Day 8. This was a hot, hot day!

Our eighth day in Japan started out like this.


Itch cream

If, like us, your legs get attacked by crazy biting bugs when you’re out late at a park, then you’ll want to acquire some of this apparently fairly popular cream at a pharmacy. Luckily for us, Rachael knew just what we needed.


Itch cream

We had decided on sushi for lunch that day, since it was eight days into our trip and we hadn’t had a single sushi meal yet.


Outside the train station in Shibuya

So off we headed to Shibuya, Rachael’s old stomping grounds.


Walking past the train station in Shibuya


Japanese police car


JR Station in Shibuya


Crossing the street


A canal


Line outside a restaurant


Construction


Combini

We went to a kaiten sushi restaurant (“conveyer belt” sushi) that she liked.


Kaiten sushi


Man cooking the rice


Sushi chef


Sushi chef


Salmon with mayo and lettuce


Maki sushi


Ebi sushi


Salmon nigiri with mayo and lettuce

(Kaiten sushi, or “conveyer belt” sushi, is a type of sushi bar where the sushi chef(s) stand in the center and make the sushi, and then place each plate on a conveyer belt that revolves around them. The customers sit at a bar around them, and take a plate off the conveyer belt anytime they see something they want to eat. You pay by plate (sometimes they color-code the plates; here all the plates cost the same amount, except for a few specially-marked ones) so at the end of the meal they just tally it up for you.)


Maguro sushi


Octopus sushi


Ebi sushi


Gunkan maki


Nigiri sushi


Mango pudding


Mango pudding


Stack of plates

We ate our fill, for a fairly reasonable price – just 1560 yen (about $19) total, for Son and I to eat our fill of sushi and each have an incredibly refreshing mango pudding for dessert.


Outside of kaiten sushi restaurant

After lunch, we headed back to the other side of the Shibuya JR Station, past the famed Shibuya crossing.


Walking back towards Shibuya Station


Building in Shibuya


Shibuya crossing


Starbucks overlooking Shibuya crossing

We were headed to a store known as Tokyu Hands – a Japanese homegoods store that seems to have pretty much everything. We got some cooking utensils there – silicone saibashi, and a rice paddle.


Octopus statue


Japanese clothing


Japanese fans


Leaving Tokyu Hands


Shibuya


Shibuya

After taking some time to browse Tokyu Hands, we stopped at a combini and had ice cream in a pouch – it tasted like a Ramune slushie, and was exactly what we needed in the middle of that sweltering day.


Coolish


Shibuya


Shibuya

After that, we took a train to Roppongi Hills, for the second thing we wanted to do that day.


Shibuya JR Station


Train station mosaic


Train tracks


Bakery inside train station


Exiting the train station


Building in Roppongi Hills


Spider statue in Roppongi Hills

It was terribly windy in Roppongi Hills. We nearly got blown away while the girls were running around beneath the spider statue!


Beneath the spider statue


Rachael's girls running around beneath the spider statue


Spider statue


A building in Roppongi Hills


Car demo at Roppongi Hills


Roppongi Hills


A small park in Roppongi Hills


A small park in Roppongi Hills


Roppongi Hills


Roppongi Hills

After walking around Roppongi Hills for a bit, we headed to the Tsutaya bookstore – I really wanted some Japanese cookbooks, but needed Rachael’s help picking them out.


Starbucks inside the bookstore


Bookstore


Bookstore


Outside the bookstore


Leaving the bookstore

As you can see from a photo I took later that evening, we ended up with quite a haul of cookbooks, design books, and a hiragana/katakana for beginners book!


Cookbooks


Allison


Bug with an ant

Rachael and her family had a dinner with her husband’s work at a super expensive place, so we decided to pass up the invitation to join them, and instead take Rachael’s recommendation to go to her favorite udon place.


McDonalds in Roppongi Hills


Roppongi


Roppongi


Tour bus

As Rachael describes it, “the bowls are the size of your head.”


Display bowls of udon


Roppongi


Roppongi


Udon restaurant

The place is called Tsurutontan, and there are apparently several locations around Tokyo.


Display bowls of udon


Menu at udon restaurant


Allison in udon restaurant


Menu at udon restaurant


Menu


Menu


Son's nabeyaki udon

Seriously, Rachael wasn’t kidding about the size of the bowls. I could’ve taken a bath in mine!


Allison with her curry udon


Son taking a picture


Curry udon

I got curry udon, and Son got nabeyaki udon. Both were delicious, but I think the consensus was that mine was better. The meal was about $40, but totally worth it.


Nabeyaki udon


Allison eating


Shrimp tempura in curry udon


Kitchen


Allison outside the curry restaurant

Happy and full, we wandered Roppongi a bit, stopping in another bookstore for a few minutes on the way to the train station, and then at the magazine stand back in Shiodome where we got a few more cooking magazines.

Then it was back to our hotel room, to pack, rest, and eat vanilla ice cream topped with blueberry sauce. You know, priorities.

Only one more day in Tokyo – stay tuned for our next post, where we visit Kappabashi street, and then head off to Kyoto!


Kajitsu blueberry ice cream

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This post was supposed to go up a week or two ago, but then Hurricane Sandy hit. While I’m on the west coast, and not directly affected by the storm, I felt like it would be a bit insensitive to be posting about a fairly minor typhoon in Japan while everyone on the east coast was dealing with the Hurricane.

The TED blog has a great post about ways you can help those who were affected by the hurricane. There are lots of people who still need our help, so if you can, I’m sure they’d appreciate any donation, no matter how little.


Walking to the Ueno Zoo

Our seventh day in Japan was a rainy one. Or, more specifically, a typhoon-y one.


Map inside entrance to Ueno Zoo

So of course we decided to go to the zoo.


Sleepy panda bear

We met our newfound best friend Kate at Ueno station, and then headed over to Ueno Park to visit the zoo there.


Thai Pavillion inside Ueno Zoo

(It’s about 600 yen per person to get into the zoo.)


Thai Pavillion inside Ueno Zoo

We had a lot of fun walking through the zoo and seeing all the animals they had there.


Elephant trying to eat the leaves


Elephant


Life-size baby elephant picture


Otter


Seals


Black bear hanging on a tire swing


Snowy owl


Capybaras


Capybara


Building


Prarie dog


Prarie dog


Spider monkeys


Marsh in the zoo

But, like I said, a typhoon was expected that day, so periodically pre-typhoon winds and rains would send us looking for shelter.


Marsh in the zoo


Marsh in the zoo

On one such occasion, we took shelter in a covered eating area, and decided this would be a good time to stop and eat something.


Pancake box

Kate brought us peanut senbei, which were ridiculously good.


Senbei box


Pancakes

Then Son and I shared pancakes that had a maple syrup filling, and came with squeezable blueberry jam. It was really good, for zoo food, and only cost 300 yen.


Pancakes

Rachael got each of her girls a karaage (Japanese fried chicken) kids meal.


Bug eating karaage and fries


Blueberry jam container


Squeezing blueberry jam on the pancakes


Pancake with jam on it


Rachael taking a picture, Kate eating


Squirrel eating, Allison smiling

On top of the senbei, Kate also brought us yaki imo that she had baked for us. That’s serious comfort food right there.


Yaki imo

Son and I also got an energy drink, which was actually pretty darn good (I’m not usually a fan of energy drinks, but the Japanese ones are much better than most that you can find here in the US.)


Energy drink


Map inside the zoo


Peanut senbei


Buildings by the zoo


Marsh inside the zoo


Jackass penguins


Jackass penguins


Kangaroos


Flamingo


Ring-tailed something


Meerkats


Bat


Nocturnal animal with big eyes


Nocturnal animal with big eyes


Zebra


Allison with a penguin picture

On our way out of the zoo, we walked through a little temple known as Fox Temple.


Fox temple


Bread desserts?


Leaving Ueno Park


Alleyway


Candy street

We then walked through a street known as Candy Street. Rachael said there used to be a food vendor there that she wanted us to try, but unfortunately she was unable to find it.


Fruit display on candy street


Candy street


Candy street

We headed back to our hotel to rest a bit before dinner (and eat a little more of a lunch).


Spicy onigiri

Son got a “spicy” onigiri (which he said was hardly spicy at all), and I had coffee and a salad.


Salad


Coffee


Allison with the melon pastry

We shared a melon-flavored cookie sort of pastry filled with custard. It was pretty good! Son wanted to go right back and get another.


Melon pastry


Inside of melon pastry

After we rested up, Son and I spent a little time browsing a little bookstore kiosk downstairs in the train station before we were to meet Rachael and her family.

Then we took a train to Tsukishima to meet with Keizo for dinner.


Ginger ale

Keizo took us all to a monjayaki place.


Workers at the monja place

Monja is kind of like okonomiyaki, but with a runnier batter. I believe it’s like the Tokyo version of okonomiyaki.


Monja ingredients

The place where he took us was in the middle of a street that consisted of nothing but monja restaurants.


Corn with butter


Pork


Monja ingredients


Making monja


Making okonomiyaki


Okonomiyaki

This place reminded me of a lot of KBBQ places here in LA, in that you have a griddle and cook your own food. However, since my side of the table had no idea what we were doing, the employees and Keizo luckily were happy to help us out.


One of the employees making the food


Okonomiyaki


Outside of the monja place


An alley near the monja place


The typhoon is coming in

By the time we got out, the typhoon was definitely getting stronger. Rachael and her family headed back to their hotel (it was getting late), but as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, Son was still hungry.

If you’ve read Keizo’s blog, you’ll know that the guy eats a ridiculous amount of ramen. He had planned to go grab a bowl before going home anyways, so he let us tag along to the nearby Tsukishima Rock.


Tsukishima Rock menu


Menu chalkboard inside Tsukishima Rock


Businessman at the bar in Tsukishima Rock


Beer tap


View outside from inside Tsukishima Rock


Tsukemen

Keizo’s friend got the tsukemen.


Tsukemen

Keizo tried their shio ramen.


Shio ramen


Shoyu ramen

And Son got their shoyu ramen.


Shoyu ramen

And then it was a sprint in the strong winds and heavy rain back to the train station, to head back to our hotel and listen to the typhoon come in.

It was supposed to be at its worst around midnight, which meant we didn’t get much sleep that night.. we were too busy listening to our hotel (we were on the 28th floor) creak in the wind and get pounded by rain!


Typhoon on the news

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On the morning of our sixth day in Japan, we planned to go to Tsukiji fish market with Rachael.

Key word: “planned”.

We dragged ourselves out of bed around 3am. Neither Son nor I are morning people (we’re more likely to be going to bed around 3am), so there was definite dragging involved, however before long we were up and ready to go see some fish!

And then we got stuck in our hotel.

Seriously.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the lower levels of our hotel connects to a train station, so that’s how we would usually get across to Rachael’s hotel, since hers is just on the other side of the station.

But what we hadn’t realized, is that they close the train stations overnight. Completely shut. No way in, no way out. (Probably to keep out homeless people and mischief-makers when the trains aren’t running during the wee hours of the morning.

In fact, even the doors to our hotel were locked – we had to go through the 24-hour Family Mart connected to the hotel to get out… and then to get back in, once we realized that there was absolutely no way to get into the train station.

(The people in Family Mart must have thought we were fools, trying to get out at that hour!)

So we finally made our way back up to the first floor of our hotel (which was an adventure in itself, since all the escalators had been turned off as well).

Once there, we wandered about, trying to figure out how the heck to get to Rachael’s hotel – up until then, we had always gotten there through the train station.


Jaywalking at 4am

Finally, we got to the Conrad. By that time, we were fretting, because we were certain we were too late to get to Tsukiji on time anyways – apparently you had to be there by 4:30am to have any chance of getting in, as they only allow very few people in every morning.

And… Rachael was nowhere to be found.

I tried messaging her. No response.

Okay, so now we’re panicking. What if she went off looking for us? What if she’s waiting in front of our hotel, while we’re over at hers? When we all went out, she usually used our Pocket Wifi, so we started worrying that she couldn’t get any of our messages, either.

So off Son went, running around the area, trying to locate our missing Rachael.

He ran back to our hotel. No Rachael. He jogged down to the train station, which was just opening up. No Rachael.

By that time, half an hour had passed since we were supposed to meet her, and we were at the end of our wits.

Then I got a message. “I just got up and realized my alarm didn’t go off!!! I am so sorry!”

Yep, Rachael was still in bed, NOT wandering the streets of Tokyo looking for us! We were so relieved. By that time there was no chance of getting to Tsukiji on time, so Son and I headed back to our hotel and got a few more hours of much needed sleep.


Morning sky

Five hours later, we were up and getting ready for the day once again.

And by getting ready for the day, I mean watching an NBA game Son found on TV.


NBA on TV in Japan!

But soon enough we were ready, and met Rachael and her girls (this time we were all able to find each other without any problems) so we could all head over to Hamarikyu park. (300 yen per person to get in.)


Flowers in Hamarikyu park

Son got a bit of videotaping done while we wandered around in the park…

(If you’re lucky, he’ll have time to process the videos soon so you can all see them!)


Son taking video

But our real purpose of the trip was to take the waterbus from Hamarikyu Park, up the Sumida River to Asasuka. (730 yen per person.)


Inside the waterbus

We decided to sit on the lower level, where it was much less crowded.


View from the waterbus


View from the waterbus


Egg onigiri packaging

While on the waterbus, Son and I shared an onigiri with a soft-boiled egg inside that we had purchased earlier that day.


Onigiri with egg


View from waterbus


View from waterbus

Once off the waterbus, we headed over to Nakamise-dori, the “shopping street” leading up to the Senso-ji temple.


The enterance to temple street

This street is lined with about 89 shops, selling all sorts of different things.


Temple street


Hashi store


Temple street


A side street


Temple street

We stopped at a shop selling freshly made senbei and taiyaki-type pastries (they weren’t fish-shaped, but aside from the shape they seemed to be essentially the same as taiyaki… so that’s what I’ll be calling them).


Senbei/taiyaki shop


Buying taiyaki

Rachael bought some senbei, and I bought some of the taiyaki.


Taiyaki


Oh, hi!


Allison with the taiyaki bag

A little closer to the temple, there was a shop selling fried mochi.


Sweet potato yaki mochi

Both Rachael and I got mochi filled with a sweet potato paste. Delicious!


Sweet potato yaki mochi

Once at the temple, we rested in the shade for a few moments – it was a really hot day, especially with so many people crowding the streets there.


Sensoji temple


Allison drinking water


Rope art at the temple


Sensoji temple


Fortune telling at the Sensoji temple

We spent a little time walking through the temple, but like I said before, it was quite crowded there that day, so we didn’t stay long.


Sensoji temple


Tokyo Skytree as seen from Sensoji temple


Allison with one of the taiyaki in front of Sensoji temple


Schoolgirls getting their fortunes told


Side of Sensoji temple


Sensoji temple

Of course we had to stop for ice cream on the way out. (Seriously, it was so hot that day, I think I nearly got heat stroke – I was swaying and dizzy while waiting to order, and I think the ice cream helped a lot.)


Bug with her ice cream

Then we stopped at a park – or rather, the girls stopped at the park, begging to get to play. So we sat there for an hour (I did my part pushing them on the swings!) while the girls ran around, and we got to rest in the shade for a bit.


A man pulling people in a cart


A woman pulling tourists in a cart


Walking back to the train station


View of the Skytree from a side street


Gyu-kaku


At Sensoji temple

Eventually we got back to our hotels, with just enough time to run up and freshen up really quickly before we had to be at their hotel for our next adventure… dinner at one of Rachael’s favorite places.


View from the taxi

We all took taxis, both for ease of getting to our destination, and so we wouldn’t be late for our reservation.


GPS in the taxi

We were headed to a little place in Shibuya, called Kaikaya by the Sea.


Kaikaya by the Sea


Windows outside of Kaikaya by the Sea


Allison inside Kaikaya by the Sea

Rachael raves about this ginger ale served in a cold copper cup, and I can see why. It was delicious.


Ginger ale with a copper cup


People who work at Kaikaya by the Sea

We started with a Chinese chicken salad. Everything was family-style, and it was a set meal.


Chinese chicken salad


Sashimi

Then some delicious, wonderfully fresh sashimi.


Sashimi

There was a battered, fried shrimp dish with a mayonnaise sauce that reminded me of the walnut shrimp that’s common in a lot of Chinese restaurants in the US…


Shrimp with a mayonnaise sauce


Kampachi carpaccio

… and a fantastic kampachi carpaccio that was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.


Kampachi carpaccio

Rachael always raves about the tuna “spareribs” (actually tuna cheek, but prepared like spareribs), which was pretty good.


Tuna ribs

But what we’re still dreaming about are these corn and shrimp fritters…


Corn and shrimp fritters

… and this fried buttery goatfish.


Fried buttery goatfish

Seriously, holy cow. I’ve had some great fish before, but that goatfish was incredible.


Fish mouth!


Fried buttery goatfish

The meal wound down with some sort of lighter-than-usual fried rice.


Fried rice

As well as miso soup made with fish (though I can’t recall trying any).


Fish miso soup

For dessert, green tea cheesecake. (Rachael and her husband had sakura ice cream, since they don’t drink green tea. I got to try a bite of Rachael’s and it was really good!)


Green tea cheesecake


Standing outside Kaikaya by the Sea after dinner


Leaving Kaikaya by the Sea


Walking to the main street from Kaikaya by the Sea

After dinner, Rachael, her family, and her husband’s coworkers (who had joined us for dinner) all had to head back to their hotels, but Son (of course) was still hungry.


The main street in Shibuya

So we went back and walked around Shibuya a bit.


Fancy car-cycles in Shibuya


Allison in the gyoza shop

On the way toward the train station from Kaikaya by the Sea, Rachael had pointed out her favorite gyoza chain, so of course we had to go back and buy a box.


Gyoza box

Then we headed back to our hotel to try them. I was still too full to eat more than one, but had to agree that they were delicious.

And, more importantly, they filled Son up. Success! (And time to pass out.)


Gyoza

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On our fifth day in Japan, we spent the morning without Rachael and her family, as they had another commitment.

So what did we do with our time by ourselves? Well, our first order of business was Beard Papa’s. Which, by now, probably doesn’t surprise you one bit.


Coffee cream puff

On this visit, we got two types of cream puffs.


Coffee cream puff inside

This coffee cream puff had a crunchy exterior, with a coffee custard mixed with coffee jelly cubes inside.


Coffee cream puff with a better view of the coffee jelly

Our second cream puff was one that Rachael insisted we try – the shiro cream puff.


Shiro cream puff in the packaging

The shiro cream puff (“shiro” means “white” in Japanese) was made with tapioca flour instead of regular flour, which gave it a chewier texture – almost mochi-like.


Shiro cream puff

And on the inside, rather than having a custard filling, it had a cream cheese-based filling.

Holy cow. This instantly became our very favorite (aka we’re totally obsessed and incredibly sad we can’t get them in the US) type of Beard Papa’s cream puff.


Shiro cream puff with cream cheese filling

After gorging ourselves on cream puffs (just kidding, we shared both of them), we wandered around a bit, exploring the area.


Allison wandering

We found the Old Shimbashi Station – what used to be Shimbashi station, before it was replaced with the gigantic station that is in use now.


Old Shimbashi Station

It was pretty interesting to get to see the history, even if we couldn’t always understand everything.


A plaque talking about Old Shimbashi Station

Then we went in search of Don Quixote (aka DonKi).


DonKi craziness

This place is… craziness embodied. It’s pretty much a Walmart on crack, in about 1/4 of the space.


Our DonKi haul

And we went a wee bit crazy. But can you blame us? Their snack section is insane!


Mustard-flavored potato chips

These mustard-flavored potato chips are weird, but oddly addictive.


Mango passion tea frappucchino with mango pudding

It was a ridiculously hot day in Japan, so after all that walking about, we headed to the Starbucks across from our hotel and bought something you can’t find in the US – a mango passion tea frappucchino, with mango pudding cubes mixed in.

At 630 yen (about $8) it’s definitely not something I’d buy again, but it was worth trying once, and actually pretty good!


People taking pictures of... Son?

After a short nap, we met Rachael and her family downstairs, then headed off to Bassanova so they could try it too (because seriously, I will never turn down an opportunity to eat at Bassanova!)

(Oh, and remember that picture we had of a bunch of people taking pictures of some huge poster in the train station? Well, the photo above is from the perspective of the poster – Son actually ran out in front of it, stopped to take a quick picture of all the people taking pictures, then darted away!)


On the way to Bassanova

Once again, I got the green curry soba.


Allison's green curry ramen

This time, Son tried the cold ramen that they only offer during the summer. It tasted like it has a definite Vietnamese influence.


Son's cold ramen

But the ramen, for once, was not the coolest thing about visiting Bassanova.


Kate, Allison, and Rachael outside Bassanova

No, the coolest thing about that evening was that we got to meet Kate!!!

Kate is one of our awesome Miso Hungry Podcast fans who lives in Japan. She’s been super-sweet to us, so we thought it would be cool to get to meet her while we were there. (She says she’s our #1 fan! ^_^)


With the kids

Kate is now one of our very favorite people. Seriously, she rocks so much.


Walking through Tokyo

But… unfortunately, thanks to a gluten-intolerance, Kate couldn’t partake in the ramen with us. (I know, we felt so bad!) So after ramen, we walked to a combini to find some things she could eat.


Meat bun

(And, uh, remember how I’ve mentioned my boyfriend has a bottomless pit for a stomach? Yeah, that’s why we ended up with more food, too – a meat bun and some sort of Korean onigiri.)


Korean onigiri

We headed off to a park, where we sat and ate for a bit (and then got eaten by the bugs).


The park in the dark

Kate was sweet enough to run around with the girls (she is SO good with kids. Seriously, I cannot rave enough about this woman.), and Son wandered off to take some pictures.

These pictures of the park? They were taken in near complete darkness. Seriously. Son has a freaking ridiculous camera.


The park in the dark

Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Kate soon after, since she had to catch the bus back home. But stay tuned, because this wasn’t the last we got to see of her! ^_^

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On our fourth day in Japan, Rachael’s husband rented a car (both he and Rachael are licensed to drive in Japan) and we went on a road trip!


Driving to Mt. Fuji

This was especially cool, because this meant Son and I got to see a side of Japan we would have never gotten to see if we were there by ourselves, taking the trains everywhere.


On the road

One such example is the Japanese rest stops.


Outside of the rest stop

We stopped at a rest stop on the way. Holy cow, Japanese rest stops there are extravagant!


Allison and the Fuji's outside of the rest stop

It had lots of restaurants, shopping areas, and tons of parking. It was practically a mini-mall.


Bird's nest at rest stop

Then it was back on the road.


Back on the road again

So where were we going, you ask?


Approaching a tunnel

Through the countryside, under mountains, to a very well-known Japanese mountain…


Driving through tunnels

Mt. Fuji!


Chocolates at the Mt. Fuji gift shop

Or rather, Mt. Fuji gift shops!


Mt. Fuji gift shop

Mt. Fuji wasn’t open for climbing yet, and for good reason – while it was hot and humid down in Tokyo, it was freezing, rainy, and incredibly windy up the mountain.


The Fujis on Mt. Fuji

So it was a game of dart outside for a photo…


The Fujis on Mt. Fuji

…then back into the gift shop where it was relatively warm.


Mt. Fuji gift shop

Then wait for a break in the rain and wind to venture out to the viewing deck where you might ordinarily find a beautiful view up the mountain to one side, and down the mountain to the other.


Path up to the viewing deck at Mt. Fuji


Fuji family walking up to the viewing deck


Part of a temple


Viewing deck at Mt. Fuji

(Though we mostly just got clouds.)


View from the viewing deck


Temple at Mt. Fuji

Then a sprint back to the car with Squirrel gripping onto my hand and running alongside me, because oh my goodness, it was so cold and windy and rainy!


Walking back towards the gift shops

By then we were all starving, so after the winding drive down the mountain, we drove around in search of a place to eat.


Allison's udon

We found a little udon place in a strip mall. It was one of those places where everyone stared when we walked in, and they had no English menu. A very good sign!

Thankfully both Rachael and her husband are fluent in Japanese, so it didn’t take too much trouble for us to order.


Son's udon with horsemeat

I got a half-bowl of udon with aburaage, wakame, and egg. It was fantastic (though to be honest, we were all starving by then), but the best part by far was the noodles. They were very obviously made in-house and hand-cut, and they were delicious! After all that wind and rain, this really hit the spot.


Allison's udon

Son got a slightly more exotic bowl of udon. Any guesses as to what kind of meat was in his!


Horsemeat udon

Horsemeat!

It was the only meat they had available (the woman taking our order was very apologetic to us gaijin for that). It was interesting – like a lean, very flavorful beef.


Inside the udon shop

And for only 950 yen for both bowls (about $12) it was a steal – we all left stuffed to the gills.


Squirrel at the udon shop


Parking lot


Mr. Fuji inside the udon shop


Other shops in the strip mall


Classic Japanese drink vending machine


Fujilings in the car

We started to head back… and then somebody decided they needed a potty stop as we were about to get on the freeway.

Luckily, Son realized that we could turn into the Mt. Fuji Visitor Center and use the restroom there, which meant that we got to check out the Visitor’s Center really quick before we left the area.


Mt. Fuji Visitor's Center


Visitor's center


Visitor's center


Outside the visitor's center


Visitor's center


Map outside


Driving back

And then we were off!


Oh hi, traffic

But we weren’t heading back to Tokyo just yet.


Hey, is that a Coco's?

(Random question: is it weird that every time I see a restaurant that I consider to be “American” – like this Coco’s, or a Denny’s, or, as you’ll see in a minute, Red Lobster – I kind of really want to go try it out, just to see how it’s different?)


Small-town Japan


Driving on the left side of the road

No, we had a very important detour to make.


Hey, nice car!


Red Lobster

We went to Costco!


Costco

Seriously. We went out of our way (since we were paying to rent the car all day anyways) to visit a Costco.


Entering Costco

It was probably the freakiest experience of the entire trip.


Japanese Costco looks just like American Costco!

A Japanese Costco seriously looks just like every single Costco you ever see in the US. Same layout, nearly the same signs…


This is seriously weird.

The only difference is that their seafood selection strikes envy into my heart. Seriously, why can’t we have ridiculously fresh uni and tuna and ikura and 20 different kinds of seaweed at our American Costcos? (Yes, I’m whining. You would too, in my position.)


Costco

So seeing Costco was cool, yes. (Did you know that you can use your Costco Membership Card anywhere in the world? Kind of wish we had brought ours!)

But just seeing a Japanese Costco was not the real reason why we came here.


Allison with the Hokkaido milk soft cream in the Costco food court

Nope, we were here for the Hokkaido Milk Soft Cream. (200 yen)

After all the times Rachael has mentioned it while we record our Miso Hungry Podcast, of course I had to try it.

It was ridiculous. So good. I want more. I can see why she raves about it!


Hokkaido Milk soft cream

Rachael’s girls needed several more potty stops after we left Costco, so we ended up stopping at a 7-11 and picking up a few things to eat later.


Fried rice onigiri

Son got a fried rice onigiri, and picked out a couple more things for me that I ate later that night.


Motorcycle shop

Then it was back to Tokyo, for real this time.


Checking out a Honda


Honda butt


Hello again, Tokyo

The Tokyo Tower looked mystical all lit up in the fog.


Tokyo tower at night


Empty Tokyo streets


Traffic and a train


Shiodome offramp

Once we got back, we left Rachael and her family at their hotel (and returned all the now-broken umbrellas they had borrowed from the hotel that morning – the poor umbrellas didn’t stand a chance against the crazy Mt. Fuji winds!) then headed back to our hotel to rest for a bit.


Son with all the Fujis' broken umbrellas


Inari from 7-11

We got into another of the 7-11 purchases – an inari with some sort of mixed rice inside.


Inside of inari

Then we headed out to wander Shimbashi station, looking for something to eat. We had passed this place called Soup Stock several times already, and it always smelled good, so Son decided he wanted that for dinner (I wasn’t very hungry by then).

We got a meal that included butter chicken curry, Tokyo borsch, rice, and orange juice. I wasn’t too much of a fan, but Son enjoyed it.


Soup Stock

And for dessert, a custard-like tart from a nearby bakery.


Tart


Ikura onigiri

Son got his soup and a yummy custard tart, and I ended up in bed with an onigiri.

Yep.


Allison in bed with an onigiri

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