Tokyo, Japan: Ueno Park, Akihabara… oh, and a giveaway!

Cherry blossoms
Photo courtesy of David Calhoun

I’ve never been much of a traveler. (Though you wouldn’t know it from my itinerary for this year.) Up until a couple of years ago, I had only been to a few states aside from California, and never been off the mainland. And certainly never to another country.

However, I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. I just never thought I’d get the opportunity to – certainly not for a while, at least. But earlier this year the opportunity presented itself: some of Son’s friends decided they wanted to go on a photo tour of Japan. I didn’t think they were serious, but it wasn’t long before we had the trip booked for just a couple of months in the future.

Excited? You bet I was!

The next two months couldn’t pass quickly enough… the ten hour flight… yeah, I could have done without that. And then trying to figure out our JR Passes (a must-have if you’re visiting Japan – buy them outside of the country, because they can’t be bought in Japan), then the hour-long train ride to get to our hotel… we crashed that first night. But I was excited… so excited about the food! Of course. I’m food blogger, what else would you expect? So you must be wondering, what was our first meal?

McDonalds. *facepalm* Yeah… it wasn’t my idea.


After a quick breakfast, we caught a train to our first destination: Ueno Park.

Catching the train

Finally, some Japanese food! There was a takoyaki (octopus balls! no, not those kinds of balls… they’re little fried balls made of octopus bits) stand right at the entrance of the park… so of course we had to get some.

Takoyaki on a stick

That’s some good stuff right there.

Takoyaki in a box

Street food? Oh yes. That’s where it’s at, people.

Takoyaki nom!

Then we finally got into the park, and were surrounded by cherry blossoms galore! ‘Twas glorious.

Cherry blossoms!

Inside Ueno park, there’s a little temple (and a zoo we didn’t go to, and a museum that we’ll talk about later).

Temple pillar

Son, taking the previous photo

Temple with cherry blossoms

Sweeping up all the cherry blossoms

Photo courtesy of David Calhoun

Proof that yes, we were actually there in Japan!
Photo courtesy of David Calhoun

After our little stroll through the temple, off to Tokyo National Museum (which was just across the plaza in the middle of the park) we went!


Red statue


Lots of cool stuff there.


Especially the swords.


Ooooh, the swords.




Behind the museum was a pretty little garden, complete with a few gorgeous tea houses and a little lake (filled with gigantic crows!)

Cobblestone path

Son peeking around the tea house
Photo courtesy of David Calhoun

And in the vending machines at the museum, we found my new favorite drink – Nectar. Like a peach in liquid form… so good. So refreshing.

Anyone know if Nectar is available in the US? I haven’t looked yet, but I’m hoping they’ll have it at some of our local Japanese supermarkets…

(And yes, if you’ve ever heard that vending machines are everywhere in Japan, it’s true!)


After the museum, we headed to Akihabara…


… land of electronics and cosplayers.


For lunch we went to a food truck (thought I was back in LA for a moment there) that was serving pita-type sandwiches filled with cabbage and a meat that was sliced off a big rotating spit. Delicious, but *sigh* not Japanese! And not my idea. *grumble*

Photo courtesy of Francis Castillo

A little while later we went to a multi-story restaurant that was serving curry and some other dishes… it was just alright. But it was our first encounter with using vending machines to order our food (you pay at the vending machine, then give the ticket you receive to the people inside the restaurant).

Heh, talk about confused American tourists. πŸ˜‰


We stopped by a several-story arcade where there were all sorts of old-school arcade games…


… and took a break for a quick game of air hockey. πŸ˜€

Air hockey

And then… Mister Donut!!! I first heard of it on Todd and Diane’s blog, so we had to stop by and try it. We tried the chocolate-coated custard-filled donut, and the adzuki bean-filled donut rolled in sugar… both very, very good. There’s something about donuts (and pastries in general) in Japan… although they appear to be fried just like those here in the US, they are SO much lighter. Dangerous, really, because it tricks you into thinking you can eat that much more. πŸ˜‰

Mister Donut

On our way out of Akihabara, we saw a little shop that was serving onigiri, so we had to stop there. Son and I shared a chicken-filled one (which somehow we entirely failed to get any pictures of)… oh man, after a day of very little Japanese food, that really hit the spot.

Ramen kitchen

What a day! After months of mostly sitting around (I’m a programmer, so almost all of my time is spent in front of the computer), a day full of walking was exhausting. We went back to the hotel and crashed for a couple of hours… then ventured out in search of dinner. We wanted something Japanese… which was harder to find than you’d have thought! We found McDonald’s, French places, Italian restaurants, even an Irish pub… after walking around for an hour, we finally found a little ramen shop just around the corner from our hotel.


Son and I shared a bowl of ramen and an order of gyoza.


It was perfect. Just perfect.


Okay, so I know you’re all wondering… what was all this I said about a contest? Well, as you’ll see in a future post, we stopped by the fish market on one of our days there, and found a cute little store selling cooking-ware, and a shop that was all about seaweed. So, this being a sushi blog, I decided to get a package of nori and a rolling mat – from Japan – to give away to you. (I got two of each, so there will be two winners).

So how do you enter? Just leave a comment on any of my daily posts about my Japan trip before Wednesday, May 12. Only one comment per person per post will be counted, so you can get up to 8 entries. I’ll announce the winners by the end of that week!

29 thoughts on “Tokyo, Japan: Ueno Park, Akihabara… oh, and a giveaway!”

  1. Audrey -

    Wow! Pretty pictures!!! <3 Love this <3 PS. I wanna go to Japan!! :'( Soo jelly of you right now!!

  2. Friar -

    Forgive me… I don’t understand what that “(N?) ECTAR drink is”>

    What is it? An A$$-flavored beverage extracted from pink butt-cheeks?

    (I’ve heard of weird vending machine stuff in Japan!) πŸ˜€

  3. Katrina -

    Lovely photos! I live in the Pacific Northwest and love seeing the cherry blossoms every spring, but my photos don’t look nearly as nice as yours. Thank you for my moment of pink.

  4. Harry Covair -

    Cherry Blossoms, vending machines, and temples notwithstanding… what did you and Son see in Akihabara that is/might not be sold in the US yet. Oh and your pics ROCK!

    Friar: It’s a Peach Nectar drink.

  5. Nicole -

    Lovely photos (as always)! Sounds like a trip worth repeating? You’ve become quite the traveler, Su.. er, Allison. πŸ˜‰

  6. Allison -

    Thanks for the comments, everyone! πŸ™‚

    Friar – Read the post, silly. Like Harry Covair said, it’s a peach nectar drink. πŸ˜‰

    Michelle – JR is one of the main railway companies in Japan. A JR Pass will allow you to take any of their trains for however long the pass is good for… we got a 1-week pass for our trip. Although you’ll still have to pay to use non-JR trains, the JR Lines are so extensive, it’s really worth it to buy the pass outside of Japan, if you’re planning a visit. Almost all of our traveling within Tokyo was on JR trains, and we even used it to take the Shinkasen to Kyoto and Nagano (there will be posts about those later in the week). πŸ™‚

    Harry – Well, there was the new Street Fighter that people were lining up to play… and lots of cosplayers and maid cafes. πŸ˜‰ Oh, and there was a cool store with some very, very old-school video games… and by old-school, I mean games from the 80s and early 90s (even some from before I was born!) πŸ˜‰

    Scott and Nicole – It was a fantastic trip, definitely one worth repeating! Maybe even worth moving to Japan for a year or so… πŸ˜€

  7. Japan Australia -

    Sounds like you had a great time in Japan. Fantastic photos and I really enjoyed reading about your trip. Nectar is a fine drink!! I know you can buy it here in Australia at Asian food stores/supermarkets, so it should be available in the US if you have a local Asian supermarket.

  8. Jennifer -

    You’re so lucky, I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. I’m afraid to, not knowing the language first, though. I watch countless shows on the food there and would give a pinky toe to get to photograph it! Looks like you guys had a great time, barring the McDonald’s…..haha

  9. jenjenk -

    ahhh! reading your posts on Japan makes me excited for my trip this summer!! thanks for sharing the beautiful photos!!!!

  10. Allison -

    Thank you for the comments everyone, the trip was so much fun. πŸ™‚

    Heather – You definitely should! It’s a wonderful country to visit – the people are very welcoming, and it’s a lot of fun, not to mention absolutely beautiful there. πŸ™‚

    Japan Australia – Awesome… we have quite a few Japanese/Asian supermarkets here, so when I have time I’ll go look and see if they carry Nectar. πŸ™‚

    Jennifer – Don’t worry about that at all, especially if you go to Tokyo – many of the signs there are also in English (although not so much once you get out of Tokyo and go to smaller cities like Nagano). Everyone there is super friendly and polite, and they make a huge effort to try to communicate with you, even if they can’t speak English. None of the people I was with spoke any Japanese at all, and we managed just fine. πŸ™‚

    jenjenk – I’m looking forward to seeing pics from your trip too! We already wish we could go back… any room in your suitcases? πŸ˜‰

  11. mlmnttlkr -

    The pictures are beautiful! I’ve had several friends visit Japan, I’m waiting for a suitcase I can crawl in πŸ™‚

  12. Melanie -

    I have checked out your blog for a couple of years. I am so happy for you that you got to visit Japan.YAY just a little jealous! The photos were beautiful and I hope to go there someday too.

  13. Elizabeth -

    This is my first comment here, or on any blog. Just wanted to say that I’ve read your blog in its entirety and I adore it! I am itching to make sushi.

  14. jayme -

    I don’t know about the same brand, but you can get peach (as well as guava, mango, apricot, strawberry, etc) nectar in the US. The brand is Kerns and many regular grocery stores carry it. It may be different, but worth a try if you can’t find the Japanese stuff.

  15. katrina -

    Can’t be said much better. After reading this entry it hit me that my roommate was just like this! He never stopped kept talking about this kind of stuff. I will forward this article to him. I’m pretty sure he will love it. Thanks once again for showing this.

  16. mia -

    Haha, cabbage and meat filled pita… that is a dΓΆner kebap and it’s a classic from Turkey
    πŸ˜‰ interesting to find this kind of food in Japan…