Tag Archives: japan

World Cooking – Japan

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Japan
Progress: 78/193

Although the post for my last world cooking country went up two months ago, it has actually been six months since I last made anything for this challenge. It started out because of the panic buying in March followed by the quarantine meaning ingredients were hard to come by – then other things happened.

Usually I keep a tight watch on the continents in this challenge to make sure I do a different thing week on week. However, as this was my first one back, I wanted to go with something that ranks as one of my absolute favourites – which is how I ended up making Japanese food and, because of taking too much on too quickly, ended up needlessly panicking about everything I made despite the fact that everything ended up tasting amazing.

Since I cook a fair bit of Japanese food anyway – mainly tonkatsu, yakisoba and curries – I wanted to make something that was a bit more out of my regular cooking routine. I was originally going to make three things, but given the complexities of the two I did end up making, I ditched the idea of trying to make tempura for the first time. However, I did find out that there is a Bengali version of this using squash blossoms – so all is not lost.

Main: Futomaki

When it came to deciding on what to make for a country, sometimes you have to go with the obvious choice because you know it’s going to be perfect. I mean, there are few foods out there that are as quintessentially Japanese as sushi. Also, and I completely forgot about this before I started writing, it allows me to cross something off.

List Item: Make your own sushi
Progress: Completed

As Bob Ross would say, this was a happy accident.

Now, back in the mists of time I have made sushi before. However, it has been many many years – and the last time I sliced my finger so bad that the blood loss made me want to throw up. So, despite loving sushi, I haven’t been the most eager to return to it. Plus, given the rules and variety, there is something quite daunting about making sushi.

For this challenge, therefore, I decided to keep it ‘simple’. Rather than make multiple types, I opted to just make sushi rolls. I don’t have specialist equipment other than a rice cooker – so these are all hand rolled (without a bamboo mat) and the rice was cooled with a handfan. Also, because of expense reasons and availability, I used risotto rice instead of proper sushi rice. In the end, they’re both short-grain rice of the same species and behave pretty much the same.

Thanks to Just One Cookbook, I was able to perfectly season the rice. I didn’t follow her ideas for the futomaki filling though, instead I went with what I enjoy: salmon, cucumber and avocado. There was also some surimi in there for my husband.

This sushi was a lot easier to make than I thought it would be. I haven’t had sushi since lockdown began, so to have it seven months or so later made for a delicious homecoming. Given how expensive it can be, especially if you get it as a delivery, I think I might actually start making my own as a part of the larger cooking rotation.

Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake

For my birthday last year, a friend of mine got me a really pretty Japanese cookery book called Tokyo Cult Recipes. Since then, I’ve really wanted to make something from it for when I did Japan for this particular challenge. So rather than make the spaghetti recipe, I went for this really lovely cake.

If you watch enough anime, you will have seen this cake somewhere. Recently I have seen it reference in Nichijou and in one of my favourite scenes in K-Onand it also has the honour of having it’s own emoji character. Like, outside of making mochi (which was never going to happen because I am not a rabbit and I don’t have the proper equipment) or something using matcha, this is the obvious choice for a Japanese dessert.

I may have gone a bit crazy with the piping (but hey, this is only my second time using a piping bag), but I couldn’t help but want to make this cake pretty. The sponge is extremely light with a cherry syrup soaked in and a thick layer of cream and sliced strawberries in between the cake layers.

Aside from the false start where I was convinced I ruined the cakes by not folding the ingredients properly (which turned out to be untrue), this cake showed me how much fun baking can be. I have already had a request to make this as a birthday cake and that been told this may be one of the best cakes I ever made – so this is a real winner of a recipe and this whole post has reminded me just why I did this global food challenge.

Lost In Japan: Day 16 – Tokyo to London

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

At midnight I received an email from British Airways informing me that our flight was going to be delayed by two hours. It was 5am when I saw this message, in two hours the pre-booked bus would I be arriving at the hotel giving us four hours at the airport.

No matter, I just reasoned that it would mean more time in Japan. Plus, I had seen what the Japanese have done with turning buildings into ridiculously cool malls, I was sure that Narita Airport would follow the same pattern. Thankfully I was right.

I was pretty sleep deprived at this point (weird dreams about being best friends with a history teacher followed by one where I was Lisa Simpson tend to do that) so I was pretty much wafting around the pre-security area checking out the many shops and restaurants. Hubby said he wanted to try a more traditional Japanese one (unlike McDonalds, which was offering a surprisingly large number of breakfast items). Since the first place we came used natto in their breakfast (blech) we just went next door.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood items: Turnip greens and Tamari shoyru

Whilst he went for the ‘Japanese Breakfast’ I went for the cheaper option of tempura and hot soba noodles. I had written today off as being one where there would be no food items, and here were two at once. I am pretty sure that I have done the tamari shoyru previously in the holiday, but this was he first time that I heard the waitress specify it as such. It also gave me my first taste of turnip greens, which went well with the broth that the noodles came in.

Progress: 775/933

In order to speed along the time we had a proper explore of the airport, including the observation area and the airports Pokemon Centre store. We managed to whittle away our extra yen through extra souvenirs (including an adorable plushie of Narita airport’s mascot) and some extra sweets to bring home.

The flight itself (twelve and a half hours long) reminded me of how good the food was in a Japan and just how long 12 and a half hours can be. I know that in-flight meals are not typically gourmet (although Qantas was particularly nice), but this was a real comedown.

Still, it afforded me time to do quite a bit of drafting for Tripadvisor reviews, de-weed by Animal Crossing town, remind myself of how much I loce Juno and stare out at some spectacular scenery (pictured: a Siberian plain). It also allowed me to get incredibly annoyed at a Japanese woman in front of me who not only tilted her seat all the way back, but also managed to twitch so much that I got repeatedly winded by the fold-out tray.

A hour and half car trip later (curse you M25!) and we were home.

List item: Stay up for 24 hours
Status: Completed

Yes, this was not how I had wished to complete this list item, but seeing how I woke up at 5am it just ended up working out this way.

Still, when there is half price Domino’s Pizza knocking at the front door I guess staying up for that long isn’t too bad. Plus, thanks to this we were both able to minimize the post-Japan jetlag. We woke up the next day at 4:30 in the morning… but as long as we are able to stay up until 9:30 tonight we should be fine.

We spent the morning sticking on the laundry and unpacking all of the souvenirs we bought… it was a lot more than I think either of us expected. The last minute addition of a Narita Airport mascot plushie (the plane-bird thing on the far left) really rounded it off for me.

List item: Have and maintain a collection
Status: Ongoing/Completed

During our trip to Sicily I decided that I really wanted to resurrect my childhood keychain collection. I also got a really nice one in Luxembourg. I feel that now that I have bought a whole lot of these from different amazing areas in Japan I can now definitively say that this collection is back up and running. Now I just need to find a place to display my favourite ones in a way that makes me not look like a Boy Scout.

And… that’s it. That’s the end of my Japan trip and honeymoon. Truly, it has been the best time I have ever spent on holiday (second is a three-city trip to Australia back in 2010, a trip I never thought could be topped). A time so amazing that I have started working out the itinerary for our next visit in a few years (Sendai, Osaka and the tropical island of Yakushima are candidates).

Lost In Japan: Day 15 – Last Day in Tokyo

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

So this was it, our last full day in Japan before heading back to real life back in Blighty. It was a day marked by two main things: crossing Tokyo through extensive use of the absurdly punctual subway system and hiccups that literally lasted all day.

We started out early (for us) and headed straight for Asakusa, a central part of old Edo. It is hard to miss the entrance to the Sensō-ji temple as there is a whopping great lantern attached to the gate. This lantern is also a major spot for tourist photos, for obvious reasons.

Now, something that we have become used to seeing when visiting some of the major shrines and temples is the number of peddlers on the street leading up. This was especially true for the Ginkaku-ji and for the Kiyomizu-dera. It was a whole level here in Asakusa. I’m not complaining, in fact this allowed us to engage in good spot of souvenir shopping. A fan for my mum (to add to the pile of her souvenirs), a daruma doll and some chopsticks for hubby’s family.

With our souvenirs stowed in our stringy bags we went inside the main temple. We were quite privileged in that there was someone going on at the time so we could hear the loud continuous banging of the large drums as well as a lot of chanting.

I know that with visits to some of the most amazing temples and shrines I have been spoiled, but this was rather underwhelming. Maybe because the commercialism around the temple was so over the top? Or maybe it is because a lot of it was less than 50 years old (due to bombings in World War Two).

Anyway, after Asakusa we decided to head for the Tokyo SkyTree. Seeing how it is 634 metres tall (a figure chosen as in Japanese 6, 3 and 4 forms the word Musashi) after a previous name for where the SkyTree now stands.

On the way we passed a rabbit cafe, where you can take tea accompanied by rabbits. Sadly it was closed, otherwise I would have dragged hubby in.

It is an incredibly impressive building, shining a blueish-white in the mid morning sun. Of course, where there is something tall there is a shopping mall with numerous restaurants. The SkyTree also boasts a Moomin Cafe on the ground floor where seats are taken up with large stuffed Moomin toys! Now, if only there was a Kirby equivalent.

We perused the shops and food courts, with our ongoing search for hachinoko (bee larvae) for the food list coming up empty (seriously Tokyoites – how do you do a weekly grocery shop) and made our way up the tower.

At Tokyo SkyTree there is a thing where if it is your birthday that calendar month you can get a sticker and a ‘surprise’ at the top. Hubby, of course, put me up for this which resulted in a large number of Japanese people wishing me a happy birthday and (rather oddly) clapping me on the way to the lift and giving me birthday wishes. It’s very sweet, but I had to take the sticker off as it got a bit embarrassing.

The view from SkyTree was spectacular, even though it was rather poor visibility whilst we were up there. On a really good day you should be able to see Mount Fuji. We just about managed to see the area surrounding Tokyo Disneyland. So we could still see pretty damned far!

They also had a glass floor like they do in Toronto’s CN Tower, and like in Toronto there were plenty of children who were petrified of it.

Two subway lines later and we were in Omotesandō – the rather high end area of Harajuku. It felt like we had walked into a substantially less crowded and more aesthetically pleasing version of Bond Street. Sadly, despite being in Harajuku, we saw very few people in weird outfits. Then again, this was 2pm on a Wednesday. We also got our share of weird when going into Kiddietown, a large toy store, which was an official seller of figurines depicting naked preteen boys wearing different hats. I would look this up to try and prove this is real, but I would rather not end up in jail.

At the end of the street was the park, which houses the Meiji shrine. The shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his consort, was in the middle of preparations for an annual dedication. As such there were displays of chrysanthemums and, more impressively chrysanthemum bonsai. At the temple were a number of food and sake dedications (including bottled water, apples, sweets and instant ramen) from different companies from different regions of Japan. I am not sure how the spirit of a departed emperor would interpret an offering of instant ramen, but I am guessing that it is the thought that counts.

Also on the way to the shrine was an obscenely large torii. Apparently it is the largest wooden torii of this particular type (over the course of this trip to Japan I have seen a number of varieties).

The shrine itself was so incredibly peaceful. It was like an antidote to the loud and busy shrine in Asakusa. As I stood there the thought occurred that this would probably be the last shrine that I see in Japan and it really made me sad. This sadness, however, was quickly overtaken by a sense of extreme hunger.

Some more subway lines later and we were in Roppongi, our final area of the day. We chose to go there because of Roppongi Hills, one of the two microcities within Tokyo.

Microcity really is the word to describe Roppongi Hills. Not only does it have its own iconic piece of sculpture in the form of a nightmarishly giant spider, but it also has it’s own apartment buildings, museums, restaurants, shops and a multi-screen cinema. For the first I time since coming to Japan there were times where I could look around and not see a single Japanese person, it was just that full of expats.

Wandering around in wonder of the microcity didn’t do much for the appetite though, and most restaurants were closed as it was after 3…

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Bamboo shoot

We found a ramen place that was still open and ducked in there for a late lunch. I have to say that I have heavily fallen for the prepaid ticket system of eating. It gets rid of a lot of the awkward smiling and gesturing, plus there is no asking for the bill meaning you can leave immediately. It was a really unusual ramen too, the broth was flavoured with yuzu this lending the dish a fresh citrus edge to it.

After a final peruse of Roppongi Hills it was back to the hotel room via a FamilyMart so I could have my final bottle of Pepsi Ghost (I’m really going to miss that drink) amd we could make plans for our final dinner in Tokyo.

Food item: Gazpacho

Okay, so we went to a really great tempura restaurant in Shinjuku and it had a no photograph or phone policy. It looked mouthwatering, and we had the benefit of being right next to the chef doing the tempuraing (probably not a word?). Over the course of the meal there were two prawns, a white fish, lotus root, a fish cake made from smaller prawns and a saltwater eel fillet that had all been cooked in the tempura style. Alongside this were small bowls of clam miso soup, rice and gazpacho soup. They even provided us with an “ABC guide to tempura” explaining how to use the supplied salts, sauce or minced daikon to accompany the food. As last dinners go, it would be hard to argue against.

Progress: 773/933

So there it is, my honeymoon to Japan. All that is left to do is pack and fly on home.

Lost in Japan: Day 14 – Mt Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Another trip out from Tokyo today. The aim: to get a good view of Mount Fuji. I had already managed to get an amazing view of Mount Fuji on the plane between Tokyo and Hiroshima.

We had hoped that by booking seats especially on the left hand side of the Kyoto-Tokyo trip we would get a more ground level view. However a large amount of cloud and fog prevented this from happening.

So, even more pressure on this trip to get a good view

First things first though, breakfast. Our last ekiben of the honeymoon! It was probably my favourite too, which is lucky since I only picked this box because it looked pretty. Maybe I should learn to make my own bento boxes for work… I’d just need to invest in a rice cooker.

Our destination for views of Mount Fuji was Kawaguchiko, one of the five lakes of Mount Fuji.

It was a 2 hour trip out from Shinjuku. The second leg of which we got onto an adorable train with lots of Mount Fuji cartoons on the side.

The limited express trip to Kawaguchiko was gorgeous. We were always surrounded by tree-covered mountains, all of which were in the process of changing to their autumn colours.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 54/100

Sight: Mount Fuji
Location: Japan
Position: #459

It wasn’t too long until we started getting flashes of Mount Fuji. Due to the distance to the mountain (and because it is a trickster) it did not always stay in view for too long. Dashing behind mountains or suddenly appearing on the other side of the train.

By the time we got to two stops enforce ours, we were able to take or first decent photo without it disappearing.

From Kawaguchiko station, it was very easy to point out.

After buying some acerola soda from a very cheap local supermarket playing a muzak version of Enya’s Orinoco Flow (muzak always seems to be playing in convenience stores, I have probably heard the same muzak rendition of a-ha’s Take On Me 3-4 times now) we headed for the lake itself.

Due to high winds the local cable car was out of commission, which is a real shame as it would have afforded us some great views. Still we began to walk around the lake, taking in the technicolor mountains.

Mount Fuji fully emerged from behind the nearest mountain about 5-10 minutes into our walk. Honestly, we just couldn’t stop taking pictures. Just having, right there in front of us, something so iconic… well it was just extraordinary. We must have spent the next hour and a bit taking picture after picture after picture.

I also took a picture of a Mount Fuji manhole cover. Why not right?

Later into our walk we arrived in a park where it was suggested that an ideal visit is August because of all the lavender being in bloom. Me, I just go nuts when I see all the ginkgo trees in the park turning gold. Hubby thought I was about to burst into song, that’s apparently how stupid I was being about these beautiful golden trees.

We meandered our way back to the station, via a souvenir shop so hubby could pick up some treats for his office and so I could get another keychain.

Since we missed the connection on the way back (and we skipped lunch again) we got some ramen at Otsuki station. Arrived in less than 5 minutes and it tasted better than most of the ramen you get in the UK. I despair for how I am going to feel about ‘Japanese food’ back in London.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Food items: Geoduck and Salmon sashimi

On the way to getting the delicious chicken a few days ago we passed a sushi place that did geoduck. Since I have been having some trouble with food items in the least few days we decided to go there.

It was a lovely place and they sat us right at the counter, mainly because the other seats would require us to take our boots off, but it worked out better this way. When we got the menu, however, there was no geoduck. So hubby, who is as much into this food list as I am, asked about the geoduck.

Keep in mind now, we are in Japan asking for geoduck and pronouncing it in the correct way (ie gooey duck). We must have had 3 waitresses and 2 sushi chefs over at us with them all staring at us and trying to work out what us stupid westerners were on about. One of them kept saying how this is a sushi place, so it was all fish and no duck with me assuring her that it was a shellfish.

So I wrote it down and hubby took one of the waitresses down to show her the menu (since it also had the kanji on it) with the hope that this would clear things up. Whilst he was away, one of the chefs looked it up on the web, bent down behind the counter and produced the clam end of a geoduck going with a big smile on his face saying “ah you mean this!”

I bet that after we left we are going to turn into a story about weird westerners who wanted to eat a phallic looking clam. What was it like? Nice enough. I mean I preferred it to the abalone, but it wasn’t really all that. Of course after all the fuss we made I couldn’t be honest. I played up about how good the geoduck was, and the head chef eventually stopped watching us eat (I think he was mildly curious about if he would have to swoop in and give us a fork).

Progress: 771/933

Tomorrow is the last day here in Japan. After so long planning it I can not believe that it is almost already over.

Lost in Japan: Day 13 – Tokyo Disneyland

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

This morning I woke up with the giddiness of a small child. Not only was it my birthday (26, eek), nor was it a birthday that I would be spending in Japan. It’s a birthday where I would be spending th edgy in Tokyo Disneyland.

Now obviously we had no time to be breakfasting. Tokyo Disneyland is, after all, the second most visited the park in the world. I wanted to make sure we got there in good time so that we could be able to go on as many rides as possible.

We managed to get the connections just right to get to the park not too long after ten. Just walking through the gates and hearing music from Disney movies just made me so gleefully happy. Also, since it was the week before Halloween, the park was allowing people to come in wearing Disney themed costumes. Being Japan, I would say that 20-25% were wearing a costume of some sort (some of them being quite deep cuts like Bernard and Bianca from The Rescuers)

For our first ride it just had to be It’s A Small World. I am never quite sure if this ride is beautifully idealistic or downright racist. It was interesting to hear the song being sun in Japanese during the last section of the ride.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Churros

Being Disneyland there are snacks all over the place, this strawberry flavoured churro being one of them. More interesting, are the flavours of popcorn. Now I remember having some rather gross coconut popcorn from Disneyland Paris, so when we saw the carts with Soy Sauce and butter popcorn it was an easy pass.

Progress: 769/933

Over the course of the day we did try two of the more unique flavours – curry (which was polished off during a low Thunder Mountain queue) and honey (which we ate during a parade).

Speaking of parades and queues. The queuing at Tokyo Disneyland was ridiculous. The hope was that by being there on a Monday it would be a bit emptier. Since some of the rides were saying that there was a 150 minute queue I am guessing that this was a normal-busy day.

Now, this queue was for their unique ride featuring Winnie the Pooh. Since we knew that we would never ride this again unless we returned to Japan, we had to ride it. The queueing for this ride was ridiculous. Never have I known a queue to be so stationary (it didn’t help that they were overselling Fastpass Tickets which got complete priority).

This long stationary queue did afford us some great views of one of the parades. So small victories there.

Luckily, the Winnie the Pooh ride was amazing. One the best ride experiences of the day. It’s done so that you are sitting in giant honeypots and you are following a Winnie the Pooh story. However, the way that these pots move is pretty random and controlled by a computer, so every ride on this would be different. It was one of those great cases where not knowing Japanese didn’t really hinder at all.

Another highlight was the Haunted Mansion. I usually quite like this attraction, but this time I loved it. Why? Because they had completely decked it out in Nightmare Before Christmas gear especially for Halloween.

In fact, the whole park was beautifully done up with ghosts and pumpkins wherever you turned. I do not envy the task they had dismantling all this and putting up the Christmas decorations.

Since we were in the park for 11 hours we ended up having lunch and dinner there, both were burger meals (the Japanese places had even longer lines). For lunch it was a “Donald Burger” which was a shrimp burger in a yellow bun shaped like duck feet. For dinner, a beef burger with avocado and pineapple. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food. The dinner burger especially.

Before it was time for the final ride, it was the final parade of the day (due to high winds, they cancelled the fireworks). I know I turned 26 today, but I genuinely felt the magic when Donald waved in our direction.

Now we weren’t always the idiots shaking our fists at those with a Fastpass. We managed to grab one for Space Mountain before they ran out. It’s starting to become s tradition of ours to have that as our last ride at a Disney park. So we get there at the exact moment the Fastpass is set to start and the woman looks at me and tried to tell me that I might be too tall for the ride. After me trying to say that I would be fine a male park worker materialises and beckons us to follow him into the ride. He leads us through a back entrance into Space Mountain and through some of the, what could me, maintenance corridors. Rather quickly we get to a room with a spare Space Mountain kart in it and I show him how, if I cross my legs, I am fine to fit in there (with there being more room if I am in the front row).

He beams at us and he leads us off again, this time to join the queue about 3 groups from the front! Quickest Fastpass ever! After a view looks of realisation from the staff as I get to the front of the queue (he warned them I was coming) we get into the front seat and have an amazing time. Sadly, it appears that there are no souvenir ride photos in Japan. Pity really.

Of course we did more rides throughout the day, but it’s been a long day and I need sleep. This really has been one hell of a great birthday.

Lost in Japan: Day 12 – Pandas and Sunshine City

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Identity. It’s one of those really interesting things in Japan. Being out in rush hour means you see a sea of black-suited men (with the very occasional dark grey or navy blue) on their way to work. Then you have the cosplayers and members of groups such as the gothic lolitas who strive to look as different from the crowd as possible (within rules).

I got to thinking about this because of a trip to Shibuya.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 53/100 Sight: Shibuya Crossing
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Position: #157

At this huge sprawl-style crossing it becomes easy to see the homogeny in clothing and hair styles versus the lesser number who choose not to. I can imagine at the peak of rush hour that this crossing would be utterly hypnotic to watch. However, neither of us wish to play sardines on the Tokyo subway.Today was also the first time that I saw a mascot. The mascot for Shibuya, in fact, standing with a group advocating child abuse awareness as they posed for a picture with a famous statue of Hachiko.

Also, on the subject of identity, each subway station has its theme music (which explains a lot about a feature of Animal Crossing). They are all over-elaborate too. Some sound quite sweet/magical/welcoming, others (like our nearest stop sounds like it was composed by a baroque musician who has just been lobotomised.

Anyway, more about today.

One of the big things we planned for today was a trip to Ueno Zoo. Why? Not only because I love zoos (and wanted to scrub the memory of Himeji City Zoo from my brain), but because they have pandas. We got into the spirit of things by having panda bread for breakfast!

When we entered the zoo (600¥ each! What a bargain) at about 11 we went straight for the panda enclosure. I may have been so excited at the thought of seeing a panda that I found it hard to nod off last night.

List item: See a panda
Status: Completed

Of course, when we got to see the panda, he was doing what all pandas do best – napping. Impressive actually considering all the noisy children who were standing outside his enclosure.

About this time my friend Rhiannon joined us for time at the zoo. One of those cool coincidences where a friend is on a short term contract where you have chosen to go on honeymoon. We just went around looking at the animals whilst chatting and catching up. It was really nice.

Lunch time at the zoo apparently meant hot dogs with luminous melon soda (a huge gust of wind almost sweeping everything off the table at one point). Strange how the snack food in the zoo resorted to hot dogs, burgers and fried chicken. It was only in the more formal looking restaurants that you found more ‘traditional’ looking food.

Penguins, the reptile house and a repeat visit to the pandas later (where we saw one of them eating bamboo, but by the time we got within photo-taking distance they had already fallen back asleep) and it was the end of our time at the zoo.

Truly, it was a good time at the zoo.

We bid my friend farewell at the subway station and made our way to our final destination of the day: Sunshine City. This is one of the more famous shopping malls in Japan, mostly because it has it’s own aquarium, 60th floor observation tower and a number of theme areas with rides.Now, obviously the Pokémon Center was our first major stop. Hubby would not have had it any other way.

If you are a Pokemon fan, this is an impressive place to be. Cool life-size displays of Pokemon can be found in the store and of course…

… a whole lot of Pokemon merchandise. Plushies, chopsticks, glasses cases, file dividers, instant noodles – there was a who lot of Pikachu to be found. Sadly, there was nothing with either my favourite (Wiggytuff) or hubby’s favourite (Porygon) Pokemon on it. We got ourselves some merchandise, but I do wish that we could have got something with our favourites on.With a bag of Pokemon merchandise in hand, we went into Namjatown – a themed area created by Namco with a number of attraction inside. All of it in Japanese, so for the most part we were completely lost.

Some of the attractions were very accessible to us. There was a cool one where you fire targets by using a ball gun that you operate with a crank. I got so into it that by the end of it my right arm was pretty much a limp noodle and I now have a blister on the inside of my thumb.

Aside from the funfair-style attractions and the gorgeous way that they have decked out the place there is one Huge reason to visit Namjatown.

Ice Cream World. This stall contains 51 flavours from all over Japan form the more normal vanilla to the more unusual such as beef tongue, eel and coal. This was a place that we heard quite a bit about, so we bought 2 trays of 6 20cc tasters. So between us we tried 12 different flavours:

In order (clockwise from top left): Indian curry, Double mango, Tulip, Vanilla and honey, Basil, Benihoppe (Japanese strawberry)

IMG_2822In order (clockwise from top left): Salt, Hyuganatsu (a Japanese citrus fruit), Haskap (a Japanese berry) with white chocolate, Whisky, Grilled aubergine and Rum-Raisin

Aside from the grilled aubergine (which tasted a bit like charcoal) they were all really delicious. I can just imagine serving the basil ice cream on top of some freshly chopped tomatoes or having the curry ice cream whilst sat on a beach somewhere. Being the boring/traditional person I am my favourite flavour was the Imperial vanilla with honey. I do wonder what the beef tongue flavour would have been like though…

Before heading out of Sunshine City we swung by one of the many restaurants to grab dinner. Hubby had been wanting a second round of okonomiyaki after having it in Hiroshima over a week ago, so we found a place that did them. What we didn’t know, is that we would have to cook it ourselves.

Luckily for us the waitress got us started, but I let hubby do the flipping and timing (it’s a pancake and he’s Dutch… do the math) whilst I made it pretty with sauces etc. Together we made a good okonomiyaki team.

Lost In Japan: Day 11 – Tsukiji to Akihabara via Odaiba

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Our first full day exploring Japan and the first half hour is spent getting lost in Shinjuku station. For the busiest station in the world (3 million+ use it every day) it is a labyrinth. The trouble being that you have multiple companies operating multiple lines and not all of Shinjuku station actually links up underground. If, like us, you are not entirely sure which entrance to use for a particular line it can be a nightmare.

We eventually find the right part of the station and make it to our first destination just before 10.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 52/100Sight: Tsukiji Market
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Position: #141

It’s a Saturday at the biggest wholesale market in the world. Even though all the bluefin tuna auctions have finished hours ago and a number of fish have already been shipped out, it is still a hub of activity.

When you arrive to Tsukiji Market the first section you come across will either be the fruit and vegetable markets or the many restaurants (mostly sushi) that surround the main market. In order to see any fish you need to follow your nose and delve deeper so you get closer to the port itself.

It means having to duck and weave around pick up trucks and motorised trolleys, but it’s worth it when you make it inside.

Never have I ever seen so many varieties of fish and shellfish in one place before. I may have seen whale meat, but I am not so sure.

Being a follower of the 1001 Foods book, I was spotting a lot of list food including red snapper, razor clams and geoducks (pictured). So many cases of the “if only” and “what ifs” were going through my mind.

After being nearly run over for the seventh time we made an exit from the market, passing a lot of buckets containing fish remnants. This is truly not a place to go if you are squeamish about dead fish.

Breakfast was, of course, sushi! Places right next to the market fill up obscenely fast, but don’t worry there will be another bunch around the next corner. Most of these are small, so you are able to sit at the counter and watch the chef expertly slice and dice you fish.

The sushi we had will probably forever remain the freshest that I have ever had. The maki rolls (not pictured) and the tuna were exceptional.

The next place we went to, Odaiba, was a choice of the husband. I think the main reason he wanted to go was so he could ride the futuristic looking Yurikamome Line there and back.

Compared to the crowds and the closely packed tall buildings of Shunjuku, Odaiba present a very very different side of Toyko. Everything is a lot more spread out and, in the case of the Dream Bridge leading to Ariake, quiet.

Of course there are a lot of big malls on this island. Having been in Japan for nearly two weeks I continue to be amazed by the number of huge department stores and malls they have. During our time in Odaiba we went to two of them. The second one, Palette Town, was not particularly interesting other than the large Ferris wheel they had.

More interesting was Decks. In here there are major attractions such as Madame Tussaud’s, a Lego Discovery Centre and a Sega Joypolis (which we did not go to since we will be going to a different one later). However I was more interested in…

The Takoyaki (fried octopus ball) Museum! Which isn’t an actual museum, more a place to take cute pictures, buy Takoyaki based souvenirs and to eat a variety of Takoyaki.

List item: Play on a pinball machine
Status: Completed

One of the cooler features of Decks is how a lot of it is set up like the souvenir stalls you would find by the sea. They also had areas filled with games such as whack-a-mole and a number of old pinball machines. How could we not give the Super Mario Pinball machine a whirl? Hubby even turned out to be pretty good at it!

By the time we left Odaiba and got to Akihibara it was getting close to 3:30 and, once again, we forgot to have lunch. So we got ourselves a snack:

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Acai

Yes, I know. Burger King again. But these acai drinks aren’t exactly something you would find in the UK! Also, it made me notice that a lot of Japanese people seem to eat alone in these kind of establishments, which is rather different to the UK.

Now, if there is one word to describe Akihibara that word would be “chaos”. It is, frankly, a nuts place filled with shops selling any sort of technology you can think of.

 One of the places we went to, Yodobashi, had seven huge floors filled to the brim with pieces of tech whether it be rice cookers, player pianos, earphones or self-righting scooters. Then there was the glorious toy department!

It was the beginning of us walking around a lot of stores looking at games from any console you could think of, whilst trying to avoid the more adult games on offer (I have seen too many cartoon vulvas for one day/the rest of my life).

The last store we hit up was a quite well-known one called Super Potato. Since hubby bought me a Sega Mega Drive for my birthday (which was so sweet of him since he had to reveal to me via photos on his phone) I was on the look out for a Japanese game to go play on it.

However, we were not the only people on the look out there. There was a camera crew for a local Tokyo TV station who asked if they could interview us on camera about why we came to Akihibara. We never did see the broadcast, so I wonder if they used it at all. Still, if they did, how cool is it to say I might have been on Japanese TV.

By the time we were done in Akihibara (side note: there were so many girls in costume advertising maid cafes… all the affected higher voices got a bit disturbing) it was getting really late. So it was a trip to dump stuff at the hotel and go for dinner.

Food item: Akita Hinai-jidori Chicken

After the weirdness at the restaurant yesterday I was on a bunch of websites looking for another, hopefully more friendly, place that did this chicken. Would you know it, there was one right here in Shinjuku.

The restaurant was pretty well hidden. It didn’t help that I knew it by the romaji name instead of the characters. We were the only ones in there and the staff looked very relieved to have customers between us we ordered the 6 piece set with two extra skewers with vegetables since hubby doesn’t really like chicken.

Would you know, that this was probably the best chicken I have ever had. There was no seasoning on it apart from a bit of salt. It was just so juicy and full of flavour. Hell, even hubby really liked it! Now, one of the ways you can have this chicken is as sashimi (ie raw), but the English menu didn’t offer this.

I think that having the set of skewers actually worked out better though as I was able to sample 5 different parts. As well as the more usual breast and thigh meat here was also skin, liver and (I think) tail. The breast and tail having the best meat of the 5. How can I go back to normal chicken now!

Progress: 768/933

So, to round up the day, it was back to the hotel with today’s weird snack food. Avocado cheese crackers… I mean why not I suppose?

Lost In Japan: Day 10 – Nikko

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

This was the day that our trusty JR Rail Pass ran out. It’s been a good friend over the last week and has given an extraordinary peace of mind when it comes to Japanese train travel. Definitely a must when we return.

So, since today is our last day we used it to venture 2 hours north of Tokyo into Nikko. It meant a Shinkansen both ways and meant that we have added two more Shinkansen route names to our talley (Nasuno on the way in and Yamabiko on the way back).

We were not about to make the same “forgetting to eat” mistake that we made on our Himeji day. So whilst hubby grabbed something that looked like a hockey puck made of rice I grabbed… yakisoba in a hog dog bun. Before you judge me, I only went for this because I saw people go nuts for it in an episode of the World God Only Knows anime.

We arrived to Nikko at around 11:30 and despite it being so close to midday the surrounding mountains were nearly all shrouded in fog.

So there I am in a t-shirt surrounded by people in jackets and gloves. In the hours before we leave Nikko it starts to get so cold that you can see your breath. My cheeks started to feel rather numb by the end of the day. In fact, they weren’t exactly full of feeling by the time we reached the Shinkyo Bridge around midday. Good thing I’m a Brit is all I can say.

The World Heritage area of Nikko is only a 30-ish minute walk from the JR station. Here there are four main temples/shrines to visit (we missed out on the Futurasan Shrine) with quite a bit of renovation activity taking place.

The first temple you come to is the Rinnoji Temple. It has been undergoing some form of restorative work since 2007 and it is not due to finish until late 2019.

Because of this it was not allowed for any pictures to be taken within the area. It did, however, afford us the opportunity to take a far closer look at some of the statues which would otherwise be behind temple regalia.

The two main statues that stood out included a large golden wood statue of a many armed Buddha figure and a series of smaller statues that represented the different signs of the Chinese zodiac. Of the series the one representing the Rooster was particularly impressive since it was the only black one and had a backdrop of rising flames.

Uniquely, this ‘work in progress’ allowed us to see what they were doing to restore the temple. Think of it as a giant 3D jigsaw where they had perfectly catalogued and piled the pieces for later construction. It was fascinating.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 51/100Sight: Tōshō-gū Shrine
Location: Nikko, Japan
Position: #374

And now the reason we came to Nikko – the Toshu-gu Shrine, the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu. I did little to no research about it other than where to find it, and was probably all the better for doing so.

It was all go at the shrine. School parties, a bonsai exhibition and, yes, even a wedding was happening. Added to that, there was some extensive restoration being done to one of the big gates. So, I am not entirely sure that we saw Toshu-Gu at its very best.

Still, there was plenty to admire including extensive and elaborate carvings, a huge pagoda whose top is equal in height to Tokyo SkyTree (due to the mountains elevation) and many other beautiful buildings that required the removal of shoes. But hey, I had on sensible socks today!

It also had a massive great staircase leading to the inner shrine where he is actually buried. I swear, I have seen so many more stairs on this holiday than I normally do in 6 months.

Our final religious visit of the day was the Taiyuin Temple. Interestingly its the same as the Toshu-gu Shrine, just on smaller scale. This made the appearance of near identical drum and bell towers make a lot of sense.

My favourite part of this temple had to be the four guardian statues based on Indian deities. The white one looked particularly ferocious.

Now, but the time we were done with all the temples it was approaching two. It meant that it was a bit late for us to be going to the nearby lake and sample some of the autumn leaves. So we pondered a plan over some food in a local restaurant/gift shop. After wrestling with the Nikko free wi-fi and giggling over the dysfunctional waiting staff (it appeared to be a large family) we decided to walk around a bit.

Luckily enough, there was a well signposted circular walking route in Nikko so we just followed that for the 4km it had left. In doing so we got to some really breathtaking views of the mountains, forest and river.It also lead us through the Kanmangafuchi Abyss (abyss being a synonym for gorge) where we passed a whole lot of statues wearing red hats and bibs. I later found out that some of these hats and bibs are left by parents who have lost their children and want to make sure they are safe in the next world. Seeing new every red hat in this long line really tugged at my heart.

So, a Shinkansen ride later we were back in Tokyo. It was my hope that this would be the day that I get to tick off the Akita Hinai Jidori Chicken item off of my food list. There was a place that offered this on the second floor of Tokyo Station. However, the moment we walked in everyone looked at us very confused and a cook came from behind the counter, crossed his arms saying “No” whilst quickly ushering us out. All I wanted was a piece of chicken.

Feeling hungry and dejected we went down the floors looking for food. That’s when I found…

Character Alley! I never realised this existed, but on B1F of Tokyo Station there are 10-15 stores each dedicated to either a studio (e.g. Ghibli, Jump) or to a particular franchise (e.g. Pokemon, Nijntje, Rilakkuma). When I saw the Ghibli store there was no longer any dejection, only the yearning for ALL THE THINGS!

So whilst hubby busied himself buying a location-specific Pikachu plush wearing a train driver uniform, I wandering around the Ghibli store mesmerised by all the merchandise. Should I get the gorgeous statue of the Baron from a Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns? The My Neighbour Totoro toilet seat cover? A Porco Rosso mug? Choices!

After making a purchase we became more in need of food. Hubby had been groaking at my Katsu Curry so I agreed to have it again when we came across San Marco. Where the chicken place kinda shattered my faith in Tokyo Station restaurants this rebuilt it completely. Who cares if I had two Katsu curries in one day! This was delicious and it looked so gorgeous with the fried vegetables acting like rice jewels!

Full and happy it was time to head back to base camp where it is now time for me to snuggle up with my new Totoro friend and rest up for tomorrow’s next adventure.

Lost In Japan: Day 9 – Hello Shinjuku

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Yet again we are on the move. There was still so much in Kyoto that we did not get a chance to do in the two days we spent touristing about. Still, I guess that’s why I am planning trip number two for… who knows when. All I know is that Nara, Osaka and Sendai are candidate cities.

After a breakfast of rather delicious pastries from the Kyoto station (my favourite was the pesto and bacon one). 

It was all aboard the Hikari line once more (fourth time now) for our two and three-quarter hour trip to Tokyo. Apart from a woman who dropped her phone between the train and the platform. I think we had to leave her behind as well as her husband and an older couple who I am venturing were her parents. Every modern commuters worst nightmare!

Of course, we brought some bento boxes with us. It took us ages to decide on the ones we wanted (the agony of choice) but I went for pure cosmetics and got one with Mt Fuji on it. Makes sense since this this trip is meant to afford some of the best views as long as you sit on the left hand side of the train. Being saddos (or smartos) we got a later train just for this view… which sadly never materialised because it was too cloudy,

I also opted to go for some Hikaru Utada music for some of the journey. Listening to J-Pop on a bullet train? Talk about living the dream! I just wish I had a CD player to play the Hikaru Utada album I bought in Hiroshima.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Food item: Umeboshi

Since this was one of the first days on this trip where I might not have been able to link back to a particular food/sight/other list item I was on the lookout for one of two foods. Luckily for me, I managed to find a dessert onigiri that contained umeboshi (pickled plum).

Hubby opted, as his dessert choice, some mochi triangles stuffed with sweet potato. I might have swapped some riceball away in order to try this.

Konichiwa Tokyo! And hello Shinjuku, the base for our remaining time in Japan. But before we explore a bit, it’s time to settle into the hotel and think about dinner.

Food item: Fugu

Before heading for Japan my mum tried to make me promise that I wouldn’t have fugu. I could not make that promise. The thing is, if something is safe enough that there is a restaurant chain (think more Prezzo than Pizza Hut) where parents feel able to bring their children… what is there to worry?

That’s pretty much my thought on the matter. So we went to Torafufu in Shinjuku (eventually, because Tripadvisor sent us the wrong way) in order to try fugu – in three different ways: sashimi, battered meat and fried skin.

When sliced for sashimi it doesn’t really taste of much. We had a soy-ponzu sauce with the fugu and you actually needed it. I have to say that it was a lot nicer deep-fried. It tasted a lot like cod cheeks/kibbeling when deep fried. Although, I have never had to contend with a deep fried pectoral fin before. The fried skin? Well there isn’t much to say other than it tasted like the salt and cayenne pepper it was seasoned with.

Progress: 766/933

After defying death it was time to explore Shinjuku… and I have to say that, as an area, it felt like Time Square on ‘shrooms. The whole place is a marvel of neon signs, huge buildings and crowds of people. I can see how it can be easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle.

We decided that we would just follow the lights. It lead us to a seven floor arcade, a 17-screen cinema that was showing Pixels (remember that film?) at 1am and so many many restaurants.IMG_2607

Now for most of this I was walking ahead like an eager-eyed child, but eventually I have hubby the reins and said he should choose the next direction. That is how was accidentally ended up in the “sex area” of Shinjuku. We found this out because a guy came up asking if we wanted beer, sex or massages. Saying no to these he got very affronted and basically yelled “well what do you want then, this is the sex area”. Now I’ve never met a purveyor of sex before, but he seemed awfully rude. I did my best not to guffaw and hubby quickly led us back out and I took the reins once more.

The long exploring and altercation with a sex salesman made us hungry again, so we broke a little rule of ours and bought a snack in Burger King. The rule being that it had to be Japan exclusive – so we got a Shogun burger, because why not.

Lost In Japan: Day 8 – Himeji

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 49/100Sight: Himeji Castle
Location: Himeji, Japan
Position: #352

I am truly counting my lucky stars here. Himeji castle has been under restoration work for about five years and has only been fully open to the public since I first booked the plane tickets back in March of 2015. As buildings go it is absolutely stunning. It is the fourth thing I have seen on this honeymoon that has been able to take my breath away (not bad considering that this is eight days in).

Standing there and admiring it/taking photos of it on my iPhone I began to think just how much this put Hiroshima castle to shame. Then again, this wasn’t completely destroyed in a nuclear blast and was camouflaged in the war… so not really a fair point of comparison.

 Now, despite it being a Wednesday in school term time I was amazed at just how busy the place was. They had already made preparations for huge queues of people and , being just before lunchtime when we made our way into the castle keep, I can imagine there were still buses full of tourists and school parties showing up.

The castle itself was actually pretty bare inside. Surprisingly so. Considering that this castle has a rather interesting history it would be prime real estate to do a bit of explaining. Then again…

With the castle being newly restored it was shoes off for everyone. Unluckily for me, and (I guess) thanks to the coin laundry, I was once again in my pink dinosaur socks in a important piece of Japanese cultural heritage. When we do another load at our Tokyo hotel I swear that I am not going to wear those when we go to see anything composed of wood.

By the time we reached the second floor do the main keep everyone was being ushered into a queue system. Since there is nothing on display in the castle I guess it makes sense that everyone is there to either say they have been inside the castle, or to take photos of some of the gorgeous views (although a lot of these are inhibited by wiring in front of windows).

If you want to learn anything about the castle and its history, then you need to head on to the west bailey buildings. In there you will find the “Long Corridor” and Cosmetic Tower. These are a lot less crowded, but a whole lot more interesting since you learn things such as the story of the well haunted by a woman who was framed for stealing an expensive plate. Also, just how close the castle was to being beyond repair if not for the rise of tourism within Japan.

It also included a video (in Japanese, obviously) that showed how they actually went about the recent restoration. It is mindboggling to consider that that actually took this castle apart as if it was some 3D jigsaw. It looks fantastic, so congratulations to everyone involved in this labour of love.

After visiting the main keep and chomping on an ice cream in the Princess Sen Peony Garden we went to the nearby Koko-en Gardens (tip: buy the combined ticket to both the castle and the gardens to save 260¥). We have see a lot of beautiful gardens in Japan already and these were definitely some of the best planned of those we have seen.

The Koko-En is divided into a number of separate smaller gardens with particular theme. All of their names were fairly literal (the “garden with a hill and pond” taking the cake somewhat) and each of them was executed with surgical precision. Almost literally. In the “flatly landscaped garden” there were four gardeners hard at work, one of whom was actually shearing the grass with a pair of oversized scissors. This really is a case of good not being good enough.

By the time we left the gardens it was 3 o’clock. Since we didn’t want to be back too early we decided to duck into the Hiroshima City Zoo. I really wished that we hadn’t. I have only seen zoos like this in documentaries. It really was a case of there being animals where it looked like they had just given up or had gone mad. The worst that we saw before I just started feeling sick and had to leave were the polar bears. Two of them just pacing back and forth on a concrete floor with little more than a bathtubs worth of water in the middle of the enclosure.

We left Himeji soon after that. I also reported the zoo to an animal charity. I may be looking at this through western eyes, but polar bears should not have to withstand a Japanese summer.

I had a major crash and fell asleep on the way back. This is why you remember to have breakfast, lunch or both. Good news though. Kyoto station is an absolute cornucopia of food. We got ourselves some takoyaki (octopus balls) and just ate them quickly because they were not, delicious and slathered with teriyaki sauce and Japanese mayonnaise.

Wills fortified, we finally went up Kyoto Tower as a way of saying goodbye to the city. It was nice up there, but I do wish that it had been open air like a lot of tall buildings in New York, or the windows were slightly taller like in the CN Tower. Still, with free binoculars and the large windows available we got a great view of Kyoto at night. Sadly, because of the reflective nature of the glass it was hard to get a picture.

Food item:  Shichimi Togarashi

After an hour back at the hotel hunger struck again. Thanks to Tripadvisor we found that there was a highly recommended ramen restaurant three blocks away. Because it was so small inside (15 seats by my count) we had to do a 20-30 minute wait. Towards the end of our wait a friendly German couple came up to us after leaving the restaurant telling us that it was worth the wait.

Well they weren’t wrong. The ramen and the gyoza that we got were gorgeous. It was also such a great atmosphere since we were all sat at the bar as this couple (probably in their early to mid 50s made all the food with such incredibly prescition. The Shichimi Togarashi comes into play because it was one of the condiments on offer alongside pepper, chilli oil and a sesame seed grinder. The Shichimi definitely gave a gentle heat to proceedings which just gave the ramen that extra oomph. I made sure to pay it forward to some other western tourists who were waiting outside by telling them that the ramen was worth it. It appeared to perk them up.

Progress: 764/933

I’ve been looking for konpeito for a bit now. I wanted just wanted to taste the sweets that the soot sprites get fed in Spirited Away. They are basically just knobbly sugar balls with some flavouring. Pretty addictive though. The green ones are easily the best because of their strong melon taste. I might see if I can get some in Tokyo to bring home.