2012 Japan Trip
Japan Day 10, Part 3: In which we get lost, find ourselves, and then get lost again.Posted on February 4th, 2013 · 5 Comments »2012 Japan Trip, Japan
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.)
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.
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.
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? ^_^
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.
A little further into the mall, we found a place called Churro Star.
Sounded interesting, so of course we had to investigate.
We got a churro that came with something called “strawberry milk” – very interesting.
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.
(Even the Subways there are nicer!)
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.) ^_^
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.
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.
So we went back to our hotel, stopping at a Family Mart on the way.
We ate the Choco Cro (chocolate croissant) back at our hotel, and it was delicious.
(Oh hai, Twitter!)
Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a Family Mart dinner, yo.
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…
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.
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).
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.
It’s a busy street, and obviously caters to tourists.
Eventually we turned down a side street, and just wandered.
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.
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).
It was the time of day when the maiko were beginning to make their way around the area.
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).
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.
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.
We wandered the temple grounds for a bit, Son taking pictures, me taking pictures of him taking pictures.
It was late enough in the afternoon that everything was closed, but it was a beautiful, serene area.
By that time we were getting pretty hungry, so we headed across the river to try to find somewhere to eat…Continue Reading
Japan Day 10, Part 1: In which we end up right back where we startedPosted on January 7th, 2013 · 8 Comments »2012 Japan Trip
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.
We started the morning off walking to Kyoto station from our hotel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So instead we went to Mister 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.
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.
We also had a bottle of mugicha and a tamago onigiri that we had bought at Family Mart earlier that morning.
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.
Instead, we explored the train station, and wandered around the food mall downstairs.
Son is kind of obsessed with creme bruleé, so we bought one at a fancy dessert shop.
We headed back out of the station, and sat on a ledge to eat the creme bruleé.
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.
… and then we got to walk back to our hotel.
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…Continue Reading
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 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.
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.
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.
Seriously, though, doesn’t that yakitori look like it should be sizzling, ready to eat?!)
We always say every day is a sushi day, but how about every minute?
After we walked down Kappabashi and back, we took a train to the Ginza area for lunch.
… and promptly got lost.
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.
The entrance to Torigin is in a small alleyway, which is part of why it’s so difficult to find from the larger streets.
The restaurant is in the basement of the building, so you go down a flight of stairs once you enter the front door.
But once you’re there, you can smell the smoke of the yakitori being grilled. Delicious!
Son and I shared two plates of yakitori (and Rachael shared the same two plates with her girls).
There was a huge variety – from grilled peppers to these odd, ball-shaped eggs, meatballs to chicken livers.
All of it, delicious.
(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!)
After we all ate, we got a taxi back to our hotel and said our goodbyes.
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.
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.
Then we caught a taxi to Shinagawa station, ate a cream puff while we waited for our train, then it was off to Kyoto!
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!Continue Reading
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.
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.
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.
So off we headed to Shibuya, Rachael’s old stomping grounds.
We went to a kaiten sushi restaurant (“conveyer belt” sushi) that she liked.
(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.)
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.
After lunch, we headed back to the other side of the Shibuya JR Station, past the famed 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.
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.
After that, we took a train to Roppongi Hills, for the second thing we wanted to do that day.
It was terribly windy in Roppongi Hills. We nearly got blown away while the girls were running around beneath the spider statue!
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.
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!
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.
As Rachael describes it, “the bowls are the size of your head.”
The place is called Tsurutontan, and there are apparently several locations around Tokyo.
Seriously, Rachael wasn’t kidding about the size of the bowls. I could’ve taken a bath in mine!
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.
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!
Japan Day 7: Visiting the zoo in the middle of a typhoon!Posted on November 13th, 2012 · No Comments »2012 Japan Trip, Japan
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.
Our seventh day in Japan was a rainy one. Or, more specifically, a typhoon-y one.
So of course we decided to go to the zoo.
We met our newfound best friend Kate at Ueno station, and then headed over to Ueno Park to visit the zoo there.
(It’s about 600 yen per person to get into the zoo.)
We had a lot of fun walking through the zoo and seeing all the animals they had there.
But, like I said, a typhoon was expected that day, so periodically pre-typhoon winds and rains would send us looking for shelter.
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.
Kate brought us peanut senbei, which were ridiculously good.
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.
Rachael got each of her girls a karaage (Japanese fried chicken) kids meal.
On top of the senbei, Kate also brought us yaki imo that she had baked for us. That’s serious comfort food right there.
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.)
On our way out of the zoo, we walked through a little temple known as Fox Temple.
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.
We headed back to our hotel to rest a bit before dinner (and eat a little more of a lunch).
Son got a “spicy” onigiri (which he said was hardly spicy at all), and I had coffee and a salad.
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.
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.
Keizo took us all to a monjayaki place.
Monja is kind of like okonomiyaki, but with a runnier batter. I believe it’s like the Tokyo version of okonomiyaki.
The place where he took us was in the middle of a street that consisted of nothing but monja restaurants.
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.
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.
Keizo’s friend got the tsukemen.
Keizo tried their shio ramen.
And Son got their 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!
Japan Day 6: One fish, no fish, raw fish, goatfishPosted on October 23rd, 2012 · 1 Comment »2012 Japan Trip, Japan
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!)
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.)
We decided to sit on the lower level, where it was much less crowded.
While on the waterbus, Son and I shared an onigiri with a soft-boiled egg inside that we had purchased earlier that day.
Once off the waterbus, we headed over to Nakamise-dori, the “shopping street” leading up to the Senso-ji temple.
This street is lined with about 89 shops, selling all sorts of different things.
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).
Rachael bought some senbei, and I bought some of the taiyaki.
A little closer to the temple, there was a shop selling fried mochi.
Both Rachael and I got mochi filled with a sweet potato paste. Delicious!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
We all took taxis, both for ease of getting to our destination, and so we wouldn’t be late for our reservation.
We were headed to a little place in Shibuya, called Kaikaya by the Sea.
Rachael raves about this ginger ale served in a cold copper cup, and I can see why. It was delicious.
We started with a Chinese chicken salad. Everything was family-style, and it was a set meal.
Then some delicious, wonderfully fresh 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…
… and a fantastic kampachi carpaccio that was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.
Rachael always raves about the tuna “spareribs” (actually tuna cheek, but prepared like spareribs), which was pretty good.
But what we’re still dreaming about are these corn and shrimp fritters…
… and this fried buttery goatfish.
Seriously, holy cow. I’ve had some great fish before, but that goatfish was incredible.
The meal wound down with some sort of lighter-than-usual fried rice.
As well as miso soup made with fish (though I can’t recall trying any).
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!)
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.
So we went back and walked around Shibuya a bit.
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.
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.)
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.
On this visit, we got two types of cream puffs.
This coffee cream puff had a crunchy exterior, with a coffee custard mixed with coffee jelly cubes inside.
Our second cream puff was one that Rachael insisted we try – the shiro cream puff.
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.
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.
After gorging ourselves on cream puffs (just kidding, we shared both of them), we wandered around a bit, exploring the area.
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.
It was pretty interesting to get to see the history, even if we couldn’t always understand everything.
Then we went in search of Don Quixote (aka DonKi).
This place is… craziness embodied. It’s pretty much a Walmart on crack, in about 1/4 of the space.
And we went a wee bit crazy. But can you blame us? Their snack section is insane!
These mustard-flavored potato chips are weird, but oddly addictive.
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!
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!)
Once again, I got the green curry soba.
This time, Son tried the cold ramen that they only offer during the summer. It tasted like it has a definite Vietnamese influence.
But the ramen, for once, was not the coolest thing about visiting 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! ^_^)
Kate is now one of our very favorite people. Seriously, she rocks so much.
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.
(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.)
We headed off to a park, where we sat and ate for a bit (and then got eaten by the bugs).
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.
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! ^_^Continue Reading
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!
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.
One such example is the Japanese rest stops.
We stopped at a rest stop on the way. Holy cow, Japanese rest stops there are extravagant!
It had lots of restaurants, shopping areas, and tons of parking. It was practically a mini-mall.
Then it was back on the road.
So where were we going, you ask?
Through the countryside, under mountains, to a very well-known Japanese mountain…
Or rather, Mt. Fuji gift shops!
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.
So it was a game of dart outside for a photo…
…then back into the gift shop where it was relatively warm.
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.
(Though we mostly just got clouds.)
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!
By then we were all starving, so after the winding drive down the mountain, we drove around in search of a place to eat.
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.
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.
Son got a slightly more exotic bowl of udon. Any guesses as to what kind of meat was in his!
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.
And for only 950 yen for both bowls (about $12) it was a steal – we all left stuffed to the gills.
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.
And then we were off!
But we weren’t heading back to Tokyo just yet.
(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?)
No, we had a very important detour to make.
We went to Costco!
Seriously. We went out of our way (since we were paying to rent the car all day anyways) to visit a Costco.
It was probably the freakiest experience of the entire trip.
A Japanese Costco seriously looks just like every single Costco you ever see in the US. Same layout, nearly the same signs…
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.)
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.
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!
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.
Son got a fried rice onigiri, and picked out a couple more things for me that I ate later that night.
Then it was back to Tokyo, for real this time.
The Tokyo Tower looked mystical all lit up in the fog.
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.
We got into another of the 7-11 purchases – an inari with some sort of mixed rice inside.
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.
And for dessert, a custard-like tart from a nearby bakery.
Son got his soup and a yummy custard tart, and I ended up in bed with an onigiri.