Tokyo honeymoon route

I’m playing around with how to embed Google Maps into wordpress. And what better way than to experiment with our Tokyo honeymoon route. Gee… Here’s how it looks like. Took me about 15 mins to draw.

Interesting… This will be useful for visualizing places that we’ve visited or places of interest both outside and within Singapore.

Now, how do I change the marker symbols? And what about marker colours? Line colours? Lots of things to learn. Tips, anyone?

-Dear1

Tokyo honeymoon feast

One very unforgettable aspect about our trip to Tokyo was its food. After all, we spent about 40% of our cash on food. So many delicious food, everywhere, around every corner. And because we wanted to sample as many variety of food as possible, we decided to adopt the strategy of only ordering 1 portion of anything (whenever possible). We also try to order 1 expensive portion and 1 cheaper portion from the same restaurant to sample their difference. This way, we can maximize our wallets, our stomach capacity, as well as our aim to try many different types of food. This is not a complete list, it is just some of the more memorable ones. So, let’s begin, in chronological order.

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1. Ryokan dinner @ Ichinoyu Honkan, Hakone

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Our dinner consists of never ending rice, numerous side dishes, and shabu shabu pork.

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This is our boiling pot, very much like steamboat except that the ingredients are Japanese style.

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We order an extra chef’s recommendation – boiled sea bream fish.

We had our first big dinner at the Ichinoyu Honkan. Ryokans like these normally includes dinner as part of an overnight stay package. And if you watch Japan Hour a lot, you would have realized that whenever they talk about a ryokan, there are 2 items that always must be featured – onsen and dinner. So this is it, a traditional ryokan dinner.

For this dinner, the rice was surprisingly good, very strong in flavour and very appetizing. In fact, Dear2 had a second helping, which was rare because she’s not exactly a rice person. I had 3 bowls. :P

The pork was nothing to rave about, just good pork in steamboat soup. Luckily, the portion was not stingy.

Now, the so called highlight of the night, the boiled sea bream fish. This one was a chef’s recommendation and supposed to be a ryokan specialty, which was why we decided to order it (at a charge). Perhaps expectation was high, but we both felt it was not very nice. In fact, we thought a normal wedding dinner fish would taste better. Vietnam fish is still the best. Now, what’s wrong? The fish meat felt tough and not tender. It didn’t have that great first impression where you immediate know it’s a fresh fish. It was just passable and we manage to finish the whole thing. But come to think of it now, it may have been because of the climate. We live in South East Asia and are so used to the local fish we have here. Maybe the climate and species of the fish is just different because Japan is a different climate altogether.

2. Lavender soft cream @ Herb Museum, Kawaguchiko

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We decided to seek shelter from the freezing winter outside and sat down for a purple lavender soft cream in a warm cafe. Ironic. :D

This lavender soft cream (they named it soft cream) is a specialty in Kawaguchiko area, so we just had to try it. It tasted quite weird at first, maybe because it was new to us. But after a few slurps, it started tasting better and better. In fact, it was quite addictive. There was a light lavender scent in the soft cream which was quite soothing. And being able to taste *and* smell lavender at the same time created quite a relaxing mood. For once, it didn’t make me want to gobble down the whole thing because it was delicious. Instead, it made me want to enjoy it slowly.

3. Teuchi udon @ just outside Fujiyoshida station, Fujiyoshida

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Dear1 had tempura udon. All that crispy deep fried vegetables. Crunch crunch.

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Dear2 had tamago udon. Whole cooked eggs actually tasted better than beating it into the soup.

We know that Fujiyoshida is known for their famous handmade udon, so we had to try it out since we’re in the area. There’s a tourist catalog at the tourist centre at Fujiyoshida station. From the attached map, we found this udon shop that is just 1 minute away from the station, and so that’s where we decided to eat. Also take note that these udon shops in Fujiyoshida only open during lunchtime.

We ordered 2 types of udon, the tempura and the tamago version. It tasted great. The soup was clear and sweet, while the udon was soft and easy to chew (unlike those instant udon sold at some foodcourts in Japan). It was only later that we discovered there was another ‘special’ udon on the menu where the udon will be deep fried in tempura style but still served with soup. In fact, it was featured in a food magazine as the shop owner showed us a photocopy of the magazine article. But at that time, we were rather full to order another bowl of udon, a pity. If anyone happens to be in Fujiyoshida area, I would definitely recommend trying out the local specialty there, teuchi udon.

4. Strawberries @ supermarkets, Kawaguchiko & Mito

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Very normal looking on the outside but very sweet and juicy on the inside. Dear1 and Dear2 both became strawberry lovers despite disliking strawberries in Singapore.

Strawberries like these can be easily found at any supermarkets in Japan. We bought ours at Kawaguchiko, and later bought another pack at Mito. The strawberries came in many sizes and prices. We bought the 2nd cheapest option on sale just to try out the taste. Wow! It was sweet. Somehow, we’ve never tasted sweet strawberries in Singapore before, but those in Japan was surprisingly delicious. No wonder they produce so much of strawberries related food, such as cakes, drinks, ice cream, waffles, etc.

5. Premium beef @ Steak house satou, Kichijoji

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The cheapest item on the menu, oil yaki set, consists of sliced beef from various cuts of meat.

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The second most expensive item on the menu, premium beef steak, cooked using the high grade marbled beef.

We’ve heard about this restaurant in Kichijoji that sells premium beef at affordable price. And knowing how Japan is famous for their beef, we decided that we should at least splurge a little bit and try out this luxury food.

We arrived at the restaurant promptly at lunch opening time and were the second group of customers in the restaurant, so no queuing time, yeah. We decided to order the lunch special which is the oil yaki (less than JPY1000 (SGD16)), and one more premium beef. The chef offered 3 grades of beef. The best one cost around JPY8000 (SGD130) while the second best cost around JPY5000 (SGD80). Feeling a bit heartache at this point, we decided to go with the latter choice.

We ate the oil yaki first. The sliced beef was very good, the meat was tender and the spices wasn’t too strong. I would think it’s well worth its price, but nothing jaw dropping. Then we decided to eat the main course, our chunky premium beef. First off, the serving was quite generous so we felt a little less heartache. When we pick up a chunk of the beef, we noticed that the inner portion was rather raw (we ordered medium), so we half expected it to be a little intangible to the bite. We pop a chunk into our mouths and chewed, it went through, our teeth easily tearing through the tender meat. We chewed again, sweet fatty juices ooze from the meat, coating our tongue and gum. Mmm… So good… This was the first time we ever paid so much for a serving of beef and we were really enjoying it. It was beyond our expectations (but then maybe we had rather low expectations). And after we tried the first chunk of premium beef, neither of us wanted to eat the sliced beef anymore. Gee…

If we have the chance to pass by Kichijoji again, we’ll surely return to this restaurant for another round of premium beef.

6. Mixed stew @ Echigoyuzawa station, Yuzawa

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Hot steaming vegetable and intestines stew was such a big welcome considering it was snowing outside.

There were rows and rows of food stalls within Echigoyuzawa station and this particular one caught our attention. We were at Yuzawa to visit its snowy mountains and for our skiing trip. Naturally, it was cold and snowing outside. We just returned from exploring the town and saw this group of young people with skis on their back, sipping away at this bowl of steaming soup. As we were also freezing, we decided to try it out.

It was a simple stew with radish, turnip, onions, carrots and some pig intestines too. Maybe the weather was affecting our perception of food but the stew tasted great as we gleefully sipped away at the bowl. Hot stew on a cold day just tasted so much nicer. And I’m sure that’s what the group of skiers we saw were thinking about too.

7. Hotel breakfast @ Hotel Yanagi, Yuzawa

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Rice and miso soup breakfast is a standard in business hotels. But the half boiled eggs was a surprise. A yummy kind of surprise.

We had breakfast at our business hotel at Yuzawa. The last business hotel breakfast we had was at Toyoko Inn at Yokohama, but it was nothing special. They served steamed eggs there. So we were rather surprised at the half boiled eggs at Hotel Yanagi, another first for us.

It was different from our Singapore half boiled eggs in many ways. First, it’s cold. Next, it had a larger yolk to white ratio and it looked more cooked than our local version. Lastly, it was served with Japanese soya sauce, not dark sauce and pepper we were used to. The result? Fantastic. We can taste the natural sweetness of the egg, especially the yolk. The egg yolk was a more intense orange colour, yet it was clear and fluid, unlike our viscous and murky version in Singapore. Since this was a business hotel breakfast, I’m sure it’ll taste even better if we had the chance to eat it at a specialty restaurant. But we didn’t come across any during our trip, so this was the only time we had this half boiled egg.

8. Tonkatsu @ Tonki, Meguro

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The crispy looking tonkatsu is the star of the show. But the supporting cast of shredded cabbage is good too.

Another famous restaurant that came up during our research. We dropped by this restaurant late one night before retiring to our hotel. It is one of the few restaurants that actually open until late, 10.45pm iirc.

Upon entering the restaurant we were asked to place an order immediately, while we were still standing, and so we order one tonkatsu set meal to share. Next, we were ushered to sit at the waiting bench that stretched along the entire wall of the restaurant, and just behind the backs of customers sitting at the counter. As we were at the end of the bench, we expected the people to shift themselves along down the queue and to be served when we finally reach the head of the bench. But that was not the case. In fact, we were queuing for the seats immediately in front of us. Then, as and when the customer in front of us leave, we’ll take their place. So you can imagine an element of luck was required to determine our waiting time. Luckily, we were able to get our seats after about 15-20 minutes.

Another thing we noticed about this restaurant was that the oldest chef, who was timing the deep frying of the tonkatsu, picks up the tonkatsu from the boiling oil using his bare hands. :O Veteran chef indeed.

The tonkatsu tasted good. It was very well fried and marinated. The fried skin detached from the pork beneath it and created a very nice bite to the tonkatsu. The pork itself was a bit on the tough side for me. Overall, good but fell short of its perhaps overhyped reputation. The shredded cabbage was surprisingly tasty. I think its filled with natural cabbage sweetness and the thinly shredded pieces made it easy to chew. I think Dear2 liked the cabbage more than the tonkatsu itself.

One thing to note was that the set meal cost JPY600 (SGD10) more than the alacarte and the difference was for bottomless rice and miso soup which I thought was a bit overpriced. Next time, if I ever visit again, I’ll just order the tonkatsu alacarte.

9. Unagi @ Izuei honten, Ueno

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The Prince bowl. There are 2 big pieces of unagi on top of the rice… and 2 more pieces of equally big unagi under the rice!

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And here u see the additional pieces of unagi hiding under the rice. Wuahahaha…

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Dear2 order a different unagi set meal. This meal has just 2 big pieces of unagi on the rice, but it also comes with sashimi and an exotic looking raw egg mixture.

Dear1 is a big unagi fan. Whenever we ate at a sushi restaurant, Dear1 will without fail order the unagi sushi, and anything else that has unagi on it. So we just had to splurge a bit on a famous unagi bowl in Japan. Our pre-trip research led us to this restaurant about 5-7 minutes walk from Ueno station, and in the direction of Ameyoko too, very convenient location. We also printed out this coupon (if its still available) from the Internet that gave us free drinks each.

Let’s just ignore the nice fresh sashimi, the exotic but not too bad raw egg and the sweet and clear fish soup. Let’s just focus on the unagi rice bowl. Firstly, the unagi bowl was huge, at price tag of around JPY3500 (SGD60). And so was unagi. Just seeing the size of the unagi already had me drooling. The first bite came as a surprise, the unagi was warm. Maybe I was too used to eating cold unagi, but then it just made me realized that warm broiled unagi tasted so much better. Dear2 liked her unagi too and was quickly munching away at her unagi bowl. The unagi tasted fresh and soft, and the flavour was strong without being overwhelming. It tasted authentic and was way better than what I’ve eaten before in Singapore.

We both enjoyed our unagi bowl and leisurely chatted over our early dinner. I was sort of conserving my piece of unagi, taking only small bites, and making sure I distribute my unagi evenly over the amount of rice I had. Dear2 was clearly doing the same, savouring every bite of her delicious unagi. And then it happened! As I plunged my chopsticks into the rice near the bottom of the bowl, the feedback from the chopsticks indicate a different consistency there. It was not rice, and it was not the bottom of the bowl either. I pushed away some rice to reveal the culprit, 2 more pieces of unagi beneath the rice! OMG! Suddenly I felt this meal was thoroughly worth its money. And after conserving the top 2 pieces of unagi for the entire bowl of rice, I now have more unagi than rice! Upon seeing this, Dear2 quickly dug through her bowl in search of the prize. But there was none. The hidden unagi only came with my bowl, the -Prince Bowl-. Slurp! And I was drooling again.

We had a great meal, and a memorable one too. Even now that we’re back in Singapore, we would occasionally fondly remember the unagi bowl we had at this restaurant. Truly yum yum.

10. Sweet potato apple pie @ Lapoppo, Ueno

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Sweet potato on the inside, apple slices on the outside, drools.

We just happened to stumble upon this stall while wandering around in Ueno station. The concept was interesting and definitely not something we’ve seen before. Sweet potato apple pie? I wondered how that would taste like. No use wondering, let’s try it out. And so we bought the smallest pie on sale for JPY777 (SGD13).

Its a bit hard to explain. There’s a kind of sweetness from the top glaze, some fruity tasty from the apple slices, some citric sour which was nice and some sweet potato softness. It was very flavourful and tasted great as our late night supper. By then it had already turned cold but it still tasted good. This made us really want to try the freshly baked version. But the portion was a little bit too large and generous. We had already ordered the smallest pie and yet it was too much for the two of us to stomach. In the end, we had to keep 1 quarter of the pie for breakfast the next day. The sweet potato was just too filling. Good for maybe 3 persons to share.

11. Baum kuchen @ Matsuzakaya, Ginza

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Baum kuchen, aka King of Cakes, is a kind of layer cake much like our kueh lapis, but drier and also it features a special crust.

While we were walking along the very upmarket Ginza area along Chuo-dori, we passed by this shop on the ground level with a long queue. And so curiosity killed the Singaporeans in us, and we had to find out what the queue was for. A peep through the stall’s glass window revealed this odd looking longish log-like thing with uneven surfaces. And it was rotating on a stick in the baking oven (or heater?). We thought it was a kebah. After some more observation, we realized that it was in fact a kind of cake know as baum kuchen. We’ve never heard of it before, but since so many Japanese locals were queuing for it on a rainy evening in Ginza, it must be good. And so we joined the queue.

The packaging on this cake really left an impression. First, we ordered a quarter slice (which was the smallest slice on the menu). Then, it was packed in a box, and then into a paper bag. Everything was standard affair so far. And then, the salesgirl put a transparent raincoat over the paper bag and meticulously taped it down to the underside of the paper bag. And this was because it was raining outside. Talk about excellent service culture.

The baum kuchen itself was crispy and sweet. The texture was a little bit dry but nothing to affect the taste. I would say it was quite nice and I would like to try it again if the queue is short. Yum.

12. Curry rice @ Curry house, Kamakura

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Pork curry rice set, and look at that gigantic mountain serving of rice.

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Scallop seafood curry rice, the most expensive item on the menu. You can spot little pieces of scallops in the curry ya.

So we were wandering around Kamakura, hungry, but didn’t know what to eat. *sniff* Nice. *sniff sniff* And our nose brought us across the street and into a small alley. Oh, there’s a queue here. Smell + queue = food. So we joined in. :P

We ordered 1 standard pork curry rice and the specialty of the restaurant, the scallop seafood curry rice. The first surprise was that the curry didn’t occupy half the plate. In fact, it was served beside the rice. And the rice serving was huge! I thought one plate would be enough for the 2 of us. But I was wrong. It turns out that the curry was so yummy that we just couldn’t stop eating and soon the rice was all gone. Every single grain.

Dear2’s pork curry was very fragrant and rich. It wasn’t like normal Japanese curry rice, so I have to assume that they’re using a different style of cooking, Kamakura curry maybe? The curry was thick and the pork had already ‘dissolved’ into the curry. Traces of meat chunks could still be seen and it’s really soft, literally melted in our mouths. Dear1’s scallop curry was even better. The taste was even richer with very strong flavour of scallops and a taste of the ocean. It was very refreshing and very addictive.

This was really a surprise find for us and we felt so satisfied after this meal. The portion was generous and the curry was so alluring. Definitely recommend this restaurant to curry lovers if u visit Kamakura. Just follow ur nose.

13. Sweet potato croquette @ on the way to Great Buddha, Kamakura

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It’s purple, it’s fried, it’s a sweet potato croquette. :D

As we were walking towards the Great Buddha from Hase station, we came across this interesting purple stall. Everything was purple. Purple ice cream, purple chips, purple mochi, and purple croquette. But it’s a different purple from the lavender soft cream that we had earlier. So we decided to try the croquette to warm ourselves up in the cold weather.

Wow! So sweet. It was freshly baked (fried) by the stall owner just as we were placing our order. The crust was so crispy and it left a satisfying crunch in our mouths. The inside was soft and moist and it felt good seeing the steam escaping from the croquette with every bite. It was much sweeter than normal potato croquette, and it was not from sugar but from the natural sweetness of its main ingredient, purple sweet potato. Best croquette we’ve had thus far in Japan.

14. Ice cream @ Baskin robbins, Tokyo Tower

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Fresh strawberries on strawberry milk ice cream with pink spoons. We went mad about strawberries ever since arriving in Japan.

Baskin robbins can be found all over Tokyo but we just happen to crave for ice cream when we were at Tokyo Tower. There was some promotion going on for the strawberry ice cream cone so we ordered that one. Next, we were asked to choose a flavour of ice cream from the mind boggling menu of endless flavours. We decided that why not just make the whole thing strawberry, and so we picked the strawberry milk flavour.

It was mouth watering. The ice cream was very solid and smooth, not much ice in it. The strawberry and milk flavour was quite well balanced, I particularly enjoyed the milky taste. Dear2, who don’t really take much ice cream in Singapore, really liked it as well. It was very rare for an ice cream to receive compliments from Dear2. It’s that good. The fresh strawberries were just as good too, very sweet. To top it all off, we get to keep the pink plastic spoons, and we brought it back as a souvenir. :D

15. Omelette rice @ @home cafe, Akihabara

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Meow~ The cutesy maid drew a cat on our omelette using tomato ketchup. See the cat paw?

This cute little omelette rice deserved an honourable mention. We visited a maid cafe to get a feel of a real maid cafe and the otakus. And this omelette rice seemed like quite a standard item when it comes to maid cafes. The maids really possessed great drawing skills, being able to draw this cute cat using ketchup. There’s even a chicken nugget cat paw at the side, very well thought out.

Taste wise, it was average at best. The rice was a bit soggy and there weren’t much ingredients either. The nuggets were just plain cold chicken nuggets. One thing good about the omelette covering the rice was that it kept the rice warm while we slowly ate our meal over the 90 minutes limit that we were allowed to stay in the cafe.

Overall, we had fun casting magic on our food and drinks, observing other otakus mingling with their maids and just taking in the culture of Akihabara.

16. Monjayaki and yakisoba @ Sakuratei, Harajuku

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The raw ingredients of monjayaki was nothing more than simple cabbage, mushrooms, corn and onions. Raw ingredients?

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Yes, becos we had to fry our own monjayaki!

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Noodles, prawns, cabbages and meat. What could this be?

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Ta-da! Dear2’s homemade yakisoba. Yum.

We wanted to try something local to Tokyo and monjayaki was a clear choice. However, most of the famous monjayaki restaurants were at the Tsukishima area which was rather inconvenient. So we decided to go to this restaurant in the heart of town, Sakuratei at Harajuku.

First, take note that this was a teppanyaki restaurant where the customers had to fry their own food. So needless to say, it was very smoky and will definitely stink our sweaters and jackets.

The menu came with a user friendly cooking instructions which we followed to cook our monjayaki. We made quite a mess of the whole thing, but the monjayaki turned out to be not bad. Must be because it was made by Dear2. Yum yum. On the whole, it’s a bit softer and more ‘flow-y’ compared to Osaka’s okonomiyaki. And the natural sweetness of the cabbage can be tasted throughout.

Since we hadn’t had a chance to try some yakisoba so far, we decided to cook some ourselves. The finished product looked quite professional with all the right ingredients. Haha… The noodles were much more ‘rubbery’ compared to our local noodles. Dear2 didn’t like it, but Dear1 think it was ok.

Still, I think its not a fair judgment as it was not prepared by a trained chef. If there was a chance again, we should really try out the real thing where the chef actually cooks for us.

17.  Sweet potatos @ roadside pushcart, Harajuku

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Eating hot steaming sweet potatoes while shopping along Takeshita-dori is great.

Dear1 and Dear2 are easily attracted (distracted) by crowds. And so we saw this group of young trendy people gathering around a steaming pushcart. We went over to take a look and found them eating steamed sweet potatoes. Naturally, we bought one too. Gee…

It’s very very very good! The skin was well scrubbed, no trace of dirt at all, and can be eaten together with the rest of the sweet potato. There was no fibre at all, making the whole eating experience uninterrupted. The sweet potato itself was very soft to the bite and very sweet. Its a wonder how Japanese are able to cultivate such sweet and fragrant fruits and vegetables. This natural sweetness beats our Singapore sugar dipped steamed sweet potatoes hands down.

18. Gourmet cakes @ Ginza Cozy Corner, Shibuya

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Our late night supper, beautiful strawberry cake and cheese cake that we almost couldn’t bear to eat.

Ginza cozy corner is a chain cake shop which can be found in many places in Tokyo. I remember seeing one inside Shinjuku station. It so happened that we bought ours at Shibuya, right next to the famous Shibuya road junction.

Of the 2 cakes, the strawberry one left the greater impression. The top coat of the strawberry cake looked like cream but was actually some kind of cake coating. It tasted like cake crumbles and it was soooooo soft and fluffy that it felt like I wasn’t biting anything at all. The cream was not greasy at all and complemented the cake well. Too bad that we only had 1 slice to share. Huhuhu…

The cheese cake was also different from what we have in Singapore and I’ll be inclined to say this cheese cake was better. Its not as thick and the consistency was more like a cake. The taste of the cheese remains strong and a bit on the salty side. Nice.

19. Sushi @ Sushi Dai, Tsukiji

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The most sought after fatty tuna (otoro) in front and some other fish I can’t remember at the back.

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This is something different. Rice *inside* the sotong.

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Sea urchin on the left and… yellowtail, I think, on the right.

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I can’t remember the name of this fish but the pleated sushi is a work of art.

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Free steamed egg that the sushi chef offered to us (and everyone else in the restaurant) half way through our breakfast.

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The eel is overwhelming my rice. Good.

Which Japan trip can be complete without a sushi feast! We finally made our way to the Tsukiji market to visit the famous tuna auction as well as patronize the freshest sushi in Tokyo. When we arrive at the restaurant block at around 7am, Sushi Dai was the only restaurant that had a queue. On closer examination, half the queue consisted of tourists while the other half were locals. This must mean good food since the locals were willing to queue for it. This also meant that we’ll also join the queue. Luckily for us, we were able to get inside the restaurant after about 20-30 minutes wait.

We took 2 different set meals to try out as many different types of sushi as possible. The pictures above came from a combination of the two set meals. Dear2 commented that the sushi looked bloody and that she didn’t know fish could be so bloody. I found it was ok because I thought the ‘blood’ was actually sauce. Haha… I wonder who’s right. It was an expensive breakfast but nobody’s complaining. The sushi was generous and the fish normally overwhelming the rice underneath.

The chef was also kind enough to explain every sushi he served to us in English, and also taught us the proper eating method. Actually, I liked nearly every sushi, including the exotic looking sea urchin. It turned out that the one I enjoyed the least was the most prized sushi in the market, the fatty tuna or otoro. It was a little tough to bite for me, a bit intangible. But on the whole, the fish were all very fresh, the meat was firm, and all so very delicious.

20. Tempura @ Daikokuya, Asakusa

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Ebi tempura consists of 4 large prawns. And its more expensive than the rice bowl below.

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The signature black tempura mixed rice bowl. There’s 1 prawn, 1 fish and some mixed vegetables.

Our pre-trip research brought us to yet another famous restaurant, right next to Sensouji. There was supposed to be a long queue everyday during lunch time, but we arrived early and walked right in.

Dear1 had the ebi tempura and loved it. The prawn was fresh and the meat was very succulent. The tempura crust was very loose yet crispy. Dipping the tempura into the clear sauce will help to remove the greasy feeling but without affecting the crispyness.

However, Dear2 liked her black tempura bowl better. The black tempura tasted a bit saltier and less crispy than the normal tempura. And it went well with the rice. In the end, we both had our preferences and enjoyed the rest of the meal. The food fell a bit short of our expectations but still good tempura nonetheless. We should really learn to expect less from so called famous restaurants.

21. Ramen @ Aquacity, Odaiba

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Clear broth ramen with char siew. See the rich colour of the egg yolk. Also see the thoughtful spoon design.

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Miso based broth ramen. It uses a wooden spoon, not too sure why. Look at the large pieces of meat.

We went to Aquacity at Odaiba to visit this ramen competition where ramen chefs from across the country set up their ramen restaurant right next to each other at Aquacity to compete for the title of best ramen. And this made a great opportunity for us to try ramen from different parts of Japan without actually going there.

There was only 6 ramen restaurants competing. Still, it was a difficult choice. We decided that we should try one ramen of clear soup and one of miso. Dear1 like the miso based ramen while Dear2 like the clear soup version. Haha. Luckily, there was enough choices of ramen to go around. Both ramen tasted good and we finish both bowls down to the last drop.

However, neither left a lasting impression. It was definitely better than any Japanese ramen we had in Singapore, but it felt more like an incremental improvement rather than a giant leap. Or maybe its the fact that both ramen stalls had (Chinese) staff who communicated with us in mandarin that diminished the whole feeling of eating Japanese food. Dun think we’ll ever visit this place again.

22. Donuts @ Krispy Kreme, Shinjuku & Shibuya

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We got 2 free original glaze just by joining the queue. Yeah!

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Assorted donuts that we dabao back to our hotel. Not that fantastic.

We had our first taste of Krispy Kreme in Hong Kong. It was great, better than any in Singapore. We ate it twice, at Mongkok and at the airport. In Japan, we spotted Krispy Kreme again, we just had to taste this wonderful donut again.

We caught sight of a Krispy Kreme restaurant between Takashimaya Times Square and our hotel in Shinjuku. There was a short queue outside the restaurant, out in the snow, but we decided to join the queue anyway. Moments later, a waitress from inside the restaurant brought out a tray of original glaze donuts and started distributing to the people in the queue. Arigatou. Arigatou, the patrons went. Arigatou, we said too. The taste of warm, freshly baked donuts while waiting out in the cold was just heavenly. The best part was it was free! I dunno if this was a winter-only thing or a one time promotion. The Japanese girl behind us in the queue was just as surprised to receive her free donut. So we ate our free donut while still in the queue and went in to order 4 more assorted donuts for a takeaway supper.

Sad to say, the assorted donuts wasn’t nice at all. The donuts were far too hard and dry and the fillings wasn’t really satisfying either. In fact, J.CO donuts tasted so much better.

But the original glaze was fantastic. We liked the original glaze so much that we queue up for it again when we spotted another outlet in Shibuya. This was the only restaurant (minus convenient stores) that we visited more than once during our whole Japan trip. This time, we got our 2 free original glaze in the queue, we held on to it, and order 1 more assorted donut for eat in. So that’s 3 donuts for the price of 1. And the original glaze still tasted so much better against the assorted donut even in the warm indoor restaurant environment. So the conclusion is, we’ll only eat original glaze from Krispy Kreme next time. Yum yum.

====================

That’s it for the restaurants part. Let’s see when I will get around to cover the food we ate from vending machines, convenient stores and ekibens. Gee…

Thank you readers for staying with me and reading this very long Japan food review all the way to the end. I’ll always remember this wonderful food feast we had in Japan. And I look forward to going to Japan again! When can we visit Japan again dear? This time we’ll go to the Kansai region. ;D

-Dear1

12 Days Tokyo Honeymoon – the last 6 days

…continued from Day 1-6

Day 7

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The Ltd Exp Super Hitachi bound for Sendai. We got off at Mito station after a 70 minutes ride.

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This was an unexpected find, the Mito bus 1 day free pass. But we were lucky to have bought it. Kairakuen was really not within walking distance from Mito station.

We started the day by taking a train to Ueno where we transferred to the Ltd Exp Super Hitachi to Mito. This would be the last day of our JR East Pass. Our purpose to Mito was to visit one of the three great gardens in Japan, Kairakuen. We had intended to walk from Mito station to Kairakuen, but we noticed two salesperson selling Mito Bus Free Pass at the Mito bus interchange. This pass was specially introduced during this time of the year because of the Plus Blossom Festival. Yes, Kairakuen is a famous plum trees garden. We decided to buy the free pass for 400 yen per person.

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A bridge, a small river and plum blossoms along the sides. So tranquil.

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A close up of the plum blossoms.

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We managed to spot this trail in Kairakuen with pink and white overarching plum blossoms on both sides. It looked like a romantic scene in a Japanese movie.

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The mixture of different shades of pink and greens creates a beautiful canopy. We were there a bit too early and the plum blossoms were not in full bloom yet, otherwise it would look even better.

We would spend the whole morning at Kairakuen. The scenery was spectacular. Both of us liked it a lot. The plum blossoms were not at full bloom yet but it was already showing the colours of spring.

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The sudden heavy snow. The snow had already started to accumulate on the the roads and vegetation.

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This is Izuei Honten at Ueno where we had quite an unforgettable unagi experience. We even printed out a discount coupon from the internet that allowed us to get a free beer or soft drink.

We headed back to Ueno in the early afternoon by the Ltd Exp Fresh Hitachi. It started snowing on our way back. This was the heaviest snow that we experienced in Japan. Within 30 minutes, the snow was heavy enough to accumulate on the ground and also on the vegetation. At Ueno, we decided to go for an early dinner at this Unagi specialty restaurant. Having two pieces of unagi on the rice *and* two more pieces of unagi below the rice was just heavenly.

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This is the pond at Ueno Park. We still dunno what were those brown tall plants growing out of the pond. From a far, it looked like a padi field, but its definitely not.

We tried to visit the Ueno Park, but the weather was simply too cold to walk around outdoors. So we turned back towards Ameyoko to seek warmth in the narrow alleys. It was still too cold, so we decided to head back to Shinjuku to do some indoor shopping. We also bought our Disneyland tickets in advance at the Disney shop at Takashimaya Times Square. An interesting observation: tickets for 14 March (White Day) and 7 March (the Saturday before White Day) were sold out.

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The Krispy Kreme conveyor belt. After eating about 6 different types of donuts, we found that the original glaze tasted the best!

We ate our first Krispy Kreme in Japan. The shop was about 2 minutes walk from our hotel. At the hotel at night, we decided to check out the weather for the day as it was really cold outside. Air temperature turned out to be a low of -5 degrees Celsius to 5 degrees Celsius. The wind temperature was lower than that. News described the day as a full fledged winter day. No wonder we were freezing.

Day 8

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We bought our Kamakura Enoshima Excursion ticket from the Shinjuku ticketing office. This pass will be worth its money if we took a train from Shinjuku to Kita Kamakura, a train from Kamakura to Hase, then Hase to Enoshima, a monorail from Enoshima to Ofuna, and finally a train from Ofuna back to Shinjuku.

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We caught a glimpse of this large Buddha statue at Ofuna station. Not really sure about its history and significance though.

As usual, we woke up early. Luckily it was to be a bright sunny day. We bought our Kamakura Enoshima Excursion Ticket from the Shinjuku JR Office and set off to Kamakura. We manage to sight this large statue from Ofuna station where we were transferring to another train.

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A nice day with good weather, best for our Kamakura walkaround. This is the steps leading to the Hachimangu Shrine, one of the few free entry shrines in Kamakura, and so it was very popular among locals and tourists alike.

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The shopping street in one of the back alleys. Its called Shopping Town. You can also see the rickshaw trade off to the left side of the picture. The rickshaw pullers were generally young men.

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The great Buddha. Truly quite majestic looking. In fact, the temple itself was destroy several times by earthquake and typhoon, but the Buddha statue survived through all these years.

We started our walk from Kita Kamakura and walked all the way to Kamakura station while visiting shrines along the way. At Kamakura central area, we stumble upon this interesting shopping alley crowded with people as oppose to the relatively quiet main street. We had lunch at a curry house in the alley. We explored Kamakura until late afternoon, visiting the Great Buddha and also the beach.

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The famous Tokyo Tower at night. We didn’t take the lift up to the observatory, we just admire it from the foot of the tower.

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A major junction at Roppongi with Roppongi Hills on one of the sides. Roppongi Hills was very much like Lan Kwai Fong in Hongkong. Lots of pubs, lots of foreigners.

We returned to Shinjuku by the transferring from Shonan Monorail to JR lines. In the evening, we visited the Tokyo Tower and walked to Roppongi to visit Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown. A letdown of the day was that we saw a lot of ang mohs today, both at Kamakura and Roppongi. It made us suddenly feel very touristy and not the kind of blend-in-with-the-locals feeling we had earlier in the trip.

Day 9

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Akihabara! There were so many of such buildings there that we became confused pretty quickly. We had intended to look for the Ishimaru building but then we realized there were not less than seven Ishimaru branches in Akihabara.

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The @home maid cafe at Donki that we visited. It cost 700 yen just to sit down in the cafe, and there was a time limit of 90 minutes. No photography was allowed inside so I had to take this photo from a bit further out.

The first stop of the day was Akihabara. There were indeed a lot of electronic shops there but I was rather surprised by the lesser number of anime and manga shops. Perhaps this really is Electric Town and not Manga Town. Anyway, the main street was not opened to pedestrians after the Akihabara incident and somehow the atmosphere just wasn’t as lively as seen in the many Youtube videos. We also dropped by a maid cafe to enjoy being “masters” for an hour.

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Takeshita-dori where lots and lots of young people gathered. This place was filled with small shop selling young fashion, much like the kind of shopping we have over at Bugis 3rd floor and Hereen 4th floor. The difference is that Japanese fashion was much more cool and stylish looking.

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The famous Prada building at Omotesando. Even in the picture, it looked like some kind of bubble building. Very unique indeed.

The afternoon brought us to the Meiji Shrine and Harajuku area. We had a Tokyo local food, monjayaki, for lunch and spent our time along Takeshitadori and Omotesando. Somehow, Omotesando was rather boring for us.

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The famous junction at Shibuya with the 109 building as the backdrop. We crossed this street quite a number of times, vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, just to experience the Japanese crowd. We even tried crossing the road when the green man was flashing and had to hastily run across the road together with the locals. :D

In the evening, we visited Hachiko at Shibuya station and enjoyed ourselves crossing the famous Shibuya pedestrian junction many many times. So many people, so many people. After hours of shopping, we retired to our hotel early to rest for a long day the next day.

Day 10

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The live fish auction at Tsukiji market. The fish auction area was out of bounds for tourist so we had to watch this from the carpark. The workers there were also handling dangerous looking hooks to transport the tuna around. Its really quite a harzardous place for so many tourists to be around and being an obstruction to these working people.

Alarm clock rang at 4am in the morning and there was only one place we need to go this early, Tsukiji Fish Market. Luckily, the subway was just at our hotel entrance and we took the subway to Tsukijishijo. The market was a bit confusing and I think we got lost a few times. We walked all the way inside to catch a glimpse at the live fish auctions. Dear1 initially wanted to hug the giant tuna for a photo but it was precisely for that reason that tourists are banned from entering the auction area, too bad for Dear1. ;P

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The famous row of fresh sushi breakfast restaurants. We ate our share of fresh sashimi from the most famous of them all, Sushi Dai. It was also the only stall that had a queue that day.

We had breakfast at Sushi Dai after a 20-30 minutes queue and then set off to our next destination for the day, Disneyland.

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The castle at Tokyo Disneyland. Definitely much much grander than the one at HK Disneyland. And we had nice weather for the day too!

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There was an afternoon parade in celebration of Tokyo Disney’s 25th anniversary. Mickey rode the last car of the parade.

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This was one of the many many story displays at the Winnie the Pooh ride. We queue about 20 minute just to get the Fastpass for this ride at about 9.30am and the timing we got was 1.20pm. Definitely one of the more popular rides in Disneyland.

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Then there was the regular night electric parade. We can’t really see the Disney mascots at night because it was too dark, so its more of seeing the parade car displays.

We arrived at Disneyland just before its 9am opening. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw so many people at Disneyland at 9am in the morning on a weekday. Can’t imagine what its like for it to be sold out on White Day. We would spend the whole day in Disneyland. Luckily, it was a sunny day, but the winds were chilly. There were two parades (one day and one night) and one fireworks show. This was our second fireworks of this trip. We attended all the live shows for the day but only managed to take 2 Fast Pass rides because we didn’t know how to fully exploit the system. In total, we managed to take 13 rides and 7 shows at Disneyland. We left Disneyland around 9.30pm and headed back to our hotel after a long but enjoyable day.

Day 11

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The Imperial East Gardens. Well, we actually found it rather unimpressive. Maybe we should have signed up for the free guided tour that would bring us into the Imperial Palace itself.

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Another famous landmark, Kaminarimon at Asakusa. Truly impressive lantern, but there was another bigger and grander one inside, at the entrance of Sensoji Temple. Surprisingly, there were quite many Japanese school girls at this temple place.

The first stop of the day was the Imperial Palace East Gardens. After a brief walk, we took the subway to Asakusa where we visited the Kaminarimon, Nakamise and Sensoji Temple.

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We took the Sumida river cruise from Asakusa that would bring us down the river and also cruise pass no less than 10 bridges. The ceiling of the boat was also transparent so that the passengers and look a closer look at all the unique bridges along the river.

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Another unexpected find, a large flower bed in Hamarikyu. Really looked like those in the movies. Its actually not to vast like those in the countrysides, but it was really a nice surprise to be able to see so many flowers and this vibrate yellow. Brightens up our day.

After lunch, we walk to Sumida Park and took a river cruise bus to Hamarikyu. At Hamarikyu, there was also several plum trees but we were most surprised to find a flower bed there. It was surreal, such a large flower bed in the backdrop of modern skyscrapers. It was a pity part of the garden was under renovation and there were construction vehicles everywhere, spoiling the scenery.

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The futuristic Fuji television building in Odaiba. We took about 30 seconds to admire it, really nothing much, overrated.

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The night view of the Replica of Liberty in the backdrop of the Rainbow bridge. This was easily one of the best views of Odaiba.

We walked to Shiodome station and transferred to the Yurikamome to Odaiba. We then had both our lunch and dinner at Aquacity where there was a ramen competition going on. We had a chance to try different styles of ramen from different parts of the country there. On the whole, we found Odaiba rather lonely and deserted. And one thing that irks me was that there were a lot of Mandarin speaking sales staff in Odaiba, and a lot of Mandarin speaking tourists as well. Not my cup of tea.

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No, I didn’t take this photo from a helicopter. Lol. This was a scale model of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building found in the North Observatory. The night was too rainy to see very far and the photos turned out bad, so I took a photo of this scale model instead.

On our way back to the hotel, we dropped by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to visit the free observatory. But it was a rainy day and visibility was very very poor, we couldn’t see much of the night scenery. Moments before we reached our hotel, it started snowing again.

Day 12

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The morning at a Kabukicho bus stop. Kabukicho is a famous red light district in Tokyo, and just like any red light district, there are great entertainment and food here, but the problem was, they open only after 7pm.

It was to be our last day here and the flight was 5.45pm. Taking into account the check in time and travel to Narita, we only have a morning left in Tokyo city. We decided to stay in Shinjuku and explore the east Shinjuku area as well as Kabukicho in the morning.

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We took the Keisei line back to Narita airport. There’s a choice between Sky Liner of Ltd Exp. Sky Liner is about 10-15 minutes faster but cost roughly twice at much. We took the Ltd Exp. If boarding the train at Ueno station, its almost confirmed got seats.

Needless to say, Kabukicho was quiet with nothing much going on. We did our last minute shopping at Odakyu before heading to Ueno to catch the Keisei Ltd Exp back to the airport.

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Our plane home. :(

At the airport, we ate our last ekiben in Japan while shopping for goodies to bring back for our friends and family. We bought 5 boxes of Shiroikoibito and also Tokyo Banana amongst others. We bid farewell to Japan and eagerly started to plan our next visit to this great place.

Day 13

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The end of our trip, we miss Japan. *Sob*

We arrived at Changi Airport around 12.30am and had to take an expensive midnight cab home. -_-” Remember to factor this in as part of the air ticket prices if you want to fly by Northwest Airlines.

-Dear1

12 Days Tokyo Honeymoon – the first 6 days

We are back from Japan! :D

What a trip! After spending 12 days in Japan, our bodies are tired, our pockets felt lighter, but we really enjoyed ourselves. What was unexpected was that it rained most of the days that we were there, and it snowed on at least 4 days too. I think we’ll have a lot of thoughts and emotions to write regarding our honeymoon, so let me start the ball rolling by doing a quick itinerary recap. Here we go.

Day 0

Our flight with Northwest Airlines departs at 6am, so in order to save on taxi fares, we decided to travel to Changi Airport the night before on the last MRT around 11pm. We spend the night wandering the 3 airport terminals and finally checked in at around 3.30am and spend the rest of the time inside the duty free area.

Day 1

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Breakfast from Northwest Airlines was really bad. Egg was grossly overcooked and hashbrown was soggy. If I need to pick the best of the lot, it would be the instant sugar which I added to the coffee.

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The view from our seat about 20 minutes to arrival at Narita. You can see a small Japanese island in the ocean.

Northwest Airlines food sucks. We arrive in the early afternoon and went straight to the JR ticket office to exchange for our 4 day flexi JR East Pass. We also reserved our train seats for the upcoming few days. And we bought the Narita Express & Suica Combo too. And off we go to Yokohama.

Upon arriving at Yokohama station, we experienced our first culture shock. There were so many many train platforms and we totally didn’t know where to go. Luckily, the staff at the station was very helpful and guided us to the correct platform. We boarded the train for Kannai, and checked in to our hotel at Toyoko Inn Yokohama Nihonodori-eki Nichigin-mae.

After a short break, we went to Sakuragicho to visit the famous Yokohama cityscape. After dinner, we decided to head home as we were tired after the 7 hours flight.

Day 2

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Our first Japanese breakfast, taken at Toyoko Inn. Rice balls tasted surprisingly good and we really liked the tenderness of Japanese eggs.

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The empty Yokohama Chinatown in the morning that we went.

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The famous skyline of the Yokohama Minato Mirai area. This picture was taken from Yokohama International Passenger Terminal.

We had breakfast at the hotel and then spent the morning exploring the Chinatown area and the Yokohama bayside area. By late morning, we had checked out of the hotel and enroute to Odawara on the Ltd Exp Odoriko. We saw Mt Fuji from inside the train, and it would turn out that this was the only time we got to see Mt Fuji throughout the whole trip.

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Odawara Castle was about 3 minutes walk from the North Entrance of the park, and about 10 minutes walk from Odawara Station.

At Odawara, we visited the Odawara Castle and also bought the Odakyu Hakone Pass. Next, we took a bus from Odawara station directly to our ryokan for the night, Ichinoyu Honkan. It was still early to check in, so we left our luggage at the lobby and went out to explore Hakone.

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The view of the streets of Hakone on our way climbing up the steps from our ryokan to Tonosawa Station.

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We had made our way to Sounzan without knowing that the Hakone Ropeway was closed. We were rather angry that they didn’t have a signage at Gora to inform us about the closed ropeway. Or maybe the announcement was made in Japanese?

Originally, we had intended to complete the famed Hakone round trip before dinner, but unfortunately, the Hakone Ropeway was closed due to strong winds. It was a pity that we couldn’t visit Owakudani to observe the volcanic sulphur pools and eat the volcanic eggs.

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This was the port at Togendai where we missed our sightseeing boat after making a long detour from Sounzan to Gora to Senkyoro-mae to Togendai by bus.

We took a detour to reach Togendai to take the sightseeing boat around Lake Ashi only to miss the last boat of the day by 5 minutes. Since it was going to be dinner time soon, we headed back to the ryokan.

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The private onsen at Ichinoyu was a great way for us to get into the culture of hotspring bathing. We were still not very comfortable with the idea of going naked at a public bath yet.

That night, we have a sumptuous feast at the ryokan and also enjoyed our first onsen experience at the private family bathroom within the ryokan.

Day 3

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It was a rainy morning at Motohakone port. The Hakone Shrine was nearby but we didn’t have enough time to visit it.

We woke up early to try to use the private bath again. Luckily, no one was  using it at 7am, so we went in for it again. So relaxing. Next, we had breakfast at the hotel, checked out, and took a bus to Motohakone. From there, we took the sightseeing boat that we missed the previous day to Togendai to enjoy the views of Lake Ashi. From Togendai, we took a bus to Gotemba station. It was raining since the morning, and it would continue for much of the day.

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Gotemba Premium Outlet is a huge discount shopping village, almost like a shopping theme park.

At Gotemba, we took a shuttle bus to visit the Chelsea Premium Outlets. The prices there were at a discount but we couldn’t find anything suitable.

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The sewage covers at Kawaguchiko were decorated with the scene of Mt Fuji. In fact, images of Mt Fuji can be found everywhere, on signages, traffic lights, instant noodles, soft toys, etc.

At around mid afternoon, we boarded a bus from Gotemba station that would bring us to Kawaguchiko station. At Kawaguchiko, we bought the retro bus free pass and checked in to K’s House where we will be staying for 2 nights.

It was to be the last fireworks of the winter to mark the end of winter and to welcome the spring season. The fireworks lasted more than 30 minutes and it was truly spectular to see the fireworks standing at the edge of the lake.

In the evening, there was a fireworks display at Lake Kawaguchi and we had the opportunity to witness the wonderful fireworks in Japan that was often the romantic scene in J-drama and anime. I managed to upload the video onto Youtube, so enjoy. :D

Day 4

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Mt Fuji can be found everywhere. :D

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A model of Mt Fuji outside the Nature Living Centre at Kawaguchiko. It also says that Mt Fuji Day is celebrated on the 23th of Feburary every year.

Our plans was to spend the entire day exploring Kawaguchiko and Fujiyoshida area. In the morning, we took the retro bus from terminal to terminal to view the areas around Lake Kawaguchi. It snowed today, the first time we saw fresh falling snow.

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The Kawaguchiko retro sightseeing bus. We happen to be the only young people on board. The other passengers were all Japanese senior citizens.

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This is the shop where we ate the handmade udon at Fujiyoshida, 1 minute away from the station. It is managed singlehandedly by this kind old lady. We were able to have a good chat with the stall owner as we were the only customers at that time. She even gave us a page of the magazine where her shop was featured in several years ago.

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The weather was cold and the wind was chilly so it didn’t make sense to ride such a tall and high speed roller coaster. Excuses. :P

In the afternoon, we took the retro bus to Fujiyoshida and tried the famous handmade udon at a little shop own by a nice old lady. We also stopped by Fuji Q Highland but the rides looked a bit too scary, so we didn’t go in.

The retro bus schedule ends early at around 4.30pm so we had to make our way back to Kawaguchiko earlier than expected.

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The weather was cold so all we had to do was to leave the juice next to the window to enjoy cold apple juice the whole night. Slurp!

We dropped by a supermarket on our way back and it was having its evening sale. Most of the shelves were already emptied and a lot of Japanese aunties were rushing to grab the last of the discount meats with their already fully loaded shopping carts. Even the bread counter was swiped clean. In the end, we were only able to get a packet of apple juice at 88yen, cheap!

Day 5

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Satou Steak House at Kichijoji where we had matsuzaka beef for lunch. At ~SGD80, it was definitely the most expensive piece of steak we had ever eaten, and it was truly the best beef we had ever eaten.

We woke up early today to catch a train to Otsuki where we would transfer to the Ltd Exp Kaiji for Mitaka, and transfer again to Kichijoji. We stopped by Kichijoji to try the famous matsuzaka beef. But we had to leave Kawaguchiko area without even seeing Mt Fuji once. :(

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The Shinkansen Max Toki which we took from Tokyo to Yuzawa. Total duration was 77 minutes.

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The foot of Yuzawa Kogen resort. This is the lift for the easiest of the beginner slopes. Also the first time we saw so much snow. Mountains of snow!

After lunch, we continued our journey to Tokyo station where we transfer to our first Shinkansen of the trip to Yuzawa, Max Toki. We would reach Yuzawa in mid afternoon and checked in to Hotel Yanagi for the night. We spent the rest of the day exploring this snow town. It was the first time we’ve seen such thick snow. In the evening, we decided to go to the hotel onsen as Yuzawa is known to be an onsen town and our hotel had the baths on the second floor. Truly relaxing in the winter cold. Somehow, the onsen warmth was able to penetrate into our bones and rejuvenated our bodies.

Day 6

Fresh snow fell through the night and continued in the morning. The snow flakes here were much finer and firmer than those at Kawaguchiko. The snow flakes would literally bounce off our winter coats upon contact. Breakfast was provided at the Izakaya within the hotel.

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We took the Yuzawa Kogen Ropeway to the mountain top. The weather was too foggy and so skiing was prohibitted. We threw our skis down and played in the snow instead. Snowballs fight. Go Go Go!

In the morning, we went skiing. Neither of us knew how to ski, but we still went ahead and took the lift up the slope. It was so scary becos we didn’t know how to stop and the snow felt so slippery. After 5 mins of struggling, we decided to detach our skis and walked down the slope where we would spend some time practicing first on flat ground. By the time we got the hang of it, it was already noon and we had to catch our train back to tokyo. Lesson learnt: half a day is not enough to enjoy skiing.

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The view of Yuzawa town taken from inside the Yuzawa Kogen Ropeway on our way down to the foot station. Indeed a town built in a valley, bordered by mountains on both sides.

In between, we also found time to ride the largest gondola car in the world, the Yuzawa Kogen Ropeway. The view of the town from up in the mountains was breathtaking.

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Wako building at Ginza. It looked very outstanding because of its more historic architecture in the midst of all the standard rectangular modern buildings in the Ginza area.

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Dior building in the picture. While we were at Ginza, we were somewhat shocked by the size of the showrooms of these big brands. They don’t just have a shop space like in our Orchard Rd. They have the whole building to themselves. Floors and floors of Dior was just mind boggling.

We took the Shinkansen to Shinjuku where we checked in to our hotel for the next 6 nights, Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. In the evening, we took a train to Tokyo station and explored the area and south towards Ginza before calling it a day. We made a last stop at Meguro station to try out a famous tonkatsu shop there too.

to be continued Day 7-12…

-Dear1

Honeymoon update – Japan!

Who would have known that planning for our sweet sweet romantic honeymoon would be such a roller-coaster ride. Let’s do a short recap of how this whole episode has played out over the past few months.

It first started with our views on a honeymoon, whether is was necessary for newly wed couples to embark on the societal norm honeymoon. After our customary wedding, we decided that, yes, we would like to have a trip to celebrate our wedding. And with that, we started our survey of friends and travel agencies. We finally decided that we’ll visit Japan the free and easy way. Then, because of some opportunities, we actually went to Vietnam and had a really great time there. Was that going to be counted as our honeymoon? Nah, it wasn’t. Back to the drawing boards on our Japan trip, until the financial slump went into full swing and investors flock to buy the Japanese yen @%$^@#*! We had to change our plan to Korea package tour instead, in total contradiction of our dislike for tour packages.

All went well in the months leading to our departure date. We’ve changed a fair bit of Korean Won, which is really cheap nowadays. We bought our winter wear and everything. But there was still something, a weak link that could jeopardize our plans. The date of our departure cannot be confirmed until there is a minimum group size of 10 people. We happen to be the first 2 persons to sign up for the tour group, and that was back in Dec 08. Week after week, I would call up the travel agency to check how many people were in the group. Finally, some good news came about 4 weeks from departure. There were then 8 people in the group, only 2 more for confirmed departure. The deadline for the sales was 2 weeks before departure, so that gave the tour agency another 2 weeks go hard-sell and gather another 2 persons for this group. Prospects looked good…

1 week after that (or 3 weeks from departure), the travel agency called me and declared that the trip was going to be canceled due to insufficient group size. I was furious! There was still 1 week to the deadline and they had decided to call off the trip early. Despite numerous discussions and suggestions, they wouldn’t barge and insist that we either select another departure date of the same tour package or we take our full refund. Unfortunately, other confirmed departure dates for Feb 09 were all unsuitable for us. That left us with no choice but to take the full refund, and it also left us with a luggage full of winter wear but no travel plans.

Our travel window was rather tight due to both our work commitments. At the time of the Korea package being canceled, there was only about 3 weeks away from our intended travel date, what can we do? We could look at Korea tour packages from other agencies and hopefully some of them can depart on our dates. But we had already looked at those options and we didn’t like their itinerary. We could start to plan a free & easy to other countries such as Taiwan or China. But with our schedules right now, we dun have the luxury of time to start reading up on a new place and planning a full 10 day itinerary. We had to work with what we already knew. Japan.

We retrieved our earlier 16 day Fantastic Japan plans and scaled it down to fit our current budget. Meanwhile, Japanese yen continued to appreciate against SGD @#$%@&!, so we finally settled on a 12 day Relaxing & Romantic Tokyo free and easy itinerary. Time to make our bookings! And that was when the next hurdle hit us.

There was no problems with the flights as the plane was still quite empty when we selected our seats online. The real problems laid with the hotel bookings. In order to keep a low budget, we had shortlisted highly recommended and popular budget hostels or business hotels with ensuite rooms (it was our honeymoon after all). But with barely 3 weeks to go, these hot tourist properties had already been fully reserved. So it’s back to the drawing boards for us yet again. Slowly but surely, we had to increase our accommodations budget to find vacancies. That took us another 1 week before we finally decided on one that was about 30% more expensive than our original intent. Pricey, but at least we now have a roof over our heads, a silver roof no less.

With all the bookings confirmed, we’re now all ready to go! Despite our higher than expected budget for this trip, we will be visiting many places, take lots of photos, eating delicious food, play in the snow, and enjoying our very first long distance overseas trip together – our honeymoon. I love you dear.

-Dear1

First time giving out Ang Baos for CNY

We had our customary wedding late last year, so this year, we’ll be ‘married’ in the Chinese cultural sense and we’ll be giving out ang baos as married adults to our unmarried juniors. Just for your info, we’ve already escaped giving out ang baos for the past 2 years. :P

After receiving CNY ang baos for so many years, it does feel rather awkward to be actually handing them out this time round. When we were younger, ang baos had always been a big source of income for us. I especially remember the times when Dear1 and Dear2 starting dating, that was during our schooling times. We had no other source of income and CNY was always a big bonus for us. Trust me, dating isn’t cheap for school boys and girls. Maybe modern kids these days are more pampered by their parents, but I certainly recall eating 60 cents beehoon for lunch everyday at school so that I can save up some money to go out with Dear2 on weekends. For us, we typically receive around $200~$300 worth of ang bao money during CNY and that will probably last us about 6 months or so. Oh, how we looked forward to CNY back then.

Fast forward a bit. We gradually found ways to increase our income. I went to army for National Service (NS) and receive some measly salary each month, both of us started giving private tuition and we worked hard at school so as to put ourselves in a good position to receive scholarships offered by various organisations. Finally, after we graduated, we entered the workforce and earn our monthly salary. Over the years, our notion of money change as we accumulated more life experiences. The ang bao money we received last year hasn’t changed all these years; we still receive the same $200~$300. But it didn’t impact our lives as much as it did 10 years ago. At our age, receiving ang baos isn’t about its monetary value anymore. Rather, it’s more about the symbolism our elders extending their sincere wishes to us for the coming year through the giving of the ang bao. It is with this thought that we continue to receive ang baos and that we start our act of handing out the good fortunes of the new year.

Of course, there is a monetary value to every ang bao and we need to seriously consider them. The dollar value of the ang bao is somewhat a representation of the relationship between the giver and receiver. Ya, it’s a skewed manifestation of our modern capitalist world but at least its a socially accepted guideline with which we gauge the strength of the bond and the affluence of the giver. As much as we would like to giving out $100 ang baos to everyone we meet, we simply cannot afford it. Hence, we reserve the big ang baos for our respected elders, namely our grandma, and our parents. Next in line at our close cousins whom we keep in contact with throughout the year. And last are those that we hardly recognise but vaguely recalled that they fall into our extended family tree (I’m just being frank).

But there are some problems with giving out ang baos. And that is to consider who the recipients are and whether is it appropriate to give them ang baos. One such example is that of an elder cousin that is not married. Or even an uncle or aunt (one generation older) that is not married. Ang baos are traditionally given to unmarried persons more junior than ourselves in the family line. The older recipient may feel some awkwardness receiving the ang baos, and if that’s the case, we should consider creating the appropriate mood and atmosphere to give them our well wishes or perhaps to not give the ang bao at all. Another problematic case is the uncle who is younger in age. I think there’s one case of such in my extended family, but I doubt I’ll get to meet him this year, so no problems here.

Now, what about friends? The problem is really multi-fold. First off, marital status. Second, age. Third, social status. Fourth, nature of social circle. Fifth, place of meeting. Example, ur unmarried supervisor younger than u comes for a CNY gathering at ur house with a few other colleagues. Tricky ya? For us, to simplify things, we decided that we’ll give to friends (senior or junior) that visit our house during CNY since we’re playing host to them. Everything else goes on a case by case basis. Always have spare ang baos in ur pocket. When in doubt, just give an ang bao in the spirit of the new year and make it as light hearted as possible.

And here’s wishing all our readers a prosperous new year ahead. Happy Chinese New Year!

-Dear1

Delayed Honeymoon – Japan or Korea?

For some time since our wedding, we’ve been pondering about whether to go on a honeymoon or not, and later, how to conduct our honeymoon. We’ve always had the intention to visit Japan and we’ve started on our research on Japan. As we spend weeks and months on our research, we came to a realization. That is, Japanese Yen (JPY) is becoming way too strong for our comfort. Partly also becos we’re planning a free and easy trip in Japan, we’ll be very badly affected by the bad exchange rate.

Our initial budget for a 16 Days Fantastic Dear1 Dear2 Tokyo, flying by Northwest Airlines, inclusive of 2 nights stay in Yokohama, visit to Odawara castle, 1 night luxurious dinner and onsen at Hakone, endless shopping at Gotemba Premium Outlet, 2 nights at scenic Five Lakes Area which coincides with a day of fireworks and Mt Fuji Day celebrations, 1 day ski pass (all equipment included) at snow covered Yuzawa and 1 night ski lodge experience, visit the origin of ekiben at Utsunomiya, visit the Tobu World Square at Kinugawa, 2 nights minshuku stay at Nikko, Tokyo Disneyland, 7 nights stay in main Tokyo city area with day trips to Kamakura and Mito. All these and including estimate budget for food and shopping works out to be SGD6800 for two.

That was when we first started our planning and the exchange rate was at 1000 JPY = 14.4 SGD. Now, the exchange rate had become 1000 JPY = 16.3 SGD. Our Japan trip suddenly increased to SGD7500, an addition of SGD700 purely becos of exchange rate differences! :( And there’s no sign of recovery in the next future. Let’s take a look at the exchange rate charts (taken from Yahoo!). Higher is better for Singaporeans.

sgd2jpy

Really very saddening. There goes our Japan honeymoon. It doesn’t make much economical sense for us to still push ahead with our Japan plans in times of bad exchange rate. No more experiencing romantic snow. No more skiing. No more private hot baths. Huhuhu…

Until we suddenly hear from the news that ‘Korean Won has hit its lowest level since DDMMYYYY……’. Truly music to our ears. :D Maybe snow and skiing is possible after all. Maybe romantic Nami Island from Winter Sonata, scenic Jeju Island from All In, one-of-a-kind teddy bear museum from Princess Hours, and charming Everland from In Love With Red Bean Girl will make for a great honeymoon. Let’s take a look at the Korean Won (KRW) chart first. Again, higher is better for Singaporeans.

sgd2krw1

Wow! Korea suddenly sounds like a good idea. It’s geographically quite near to Japan if that’s any consolation. :P Yup, let’s go to Korea instead. And so, we started scouting around for Korea plans.

But there’s a major consideration now. For Japan, becos Dear1 can speak some basic Japanese, we planned the entire trip F&E. But for Korea, there seems to be a big language barrier. So, after much thought, we decided that maybe we should go with a packaged tour instead. Partly so that we will be able to cover a larger part of the country. And also partly becos of the relative lack of information, there is no google maps details for Korea as of now. So maybe we have to change our stance a little and look for packaged tour instead of F&E.

Our search brings us to ASA travels, their Korea package was voted best Korea tour package by the Korean Tourism Board. Sounds good. Let’s take a look. I’ll just type out everything on their catalog here. 8 Days 6 Nights, Asiana Airlines 6 breakfast, 5 lunches, 5 dinners, including Ginseng chicken soup, BBQ, hot plate, stone pot rice (bibimbap), steamboat, BBQ black pork, abalone porridge and mini imperial dinner. Places of attractions include Yongduam Rock, Seongsan Sunrise Rock, Submarine tour, Horse riding, Jusangjeolli, Teddy Bear Museum, Mysterious Road, Daejangjeum Theme Park, Everland (include Free Pass), Mount Sorak National Park (include cable car), Blue Canyon Water Themepark, Phoenix Park Ski Resort (include all equipment except gloves), Dongdaemun Market, Lotte World Adventure Park (include Big5 ticket), Korea Traditional Cultural Centre, Kimchi making lessons, Nanta non-verbal stage performance, and Seoul city tour. Price after tax is SGD3400 for two.

That’s about 45% of the price of our final Japan trip budget! Although half the number of days as well. And of course, this price is before food and shopping. But since most of the meals are already included, we’ll only be buying some roadside snacks. The main spending will likely be shopping since KRW is cheap now and its a good opportunity for us to buy more things in Korea. But it’s quite unfair to compare this way as air tickets are fixed cost and transportation and accommodations are all different (budget hotels vs 5* hotels). So let’s not compare. Instead, let’s just look at it this way. Times are bad and everyone is hounded by the economic downturn. In times like this lies big investment opportunities. Then, doesn’t it make sense for us to spend less and save more so that we have the capital to make investments when the market recovers, ya?

Okay, set. Let’s go Korea for our honeymoon dear! It’s going to be cold, so let’s start shopping for our winter wears. :D

-Dear1