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4 posts from July 2015

07/16/2015

Tokyo Skytree with a friend

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Two years ago when I came to Japan I made an awesome friend named Yumi. She is so cute and such a kind person. I was looking forward to visiting with her while I was here, but I don't know if we will be able to meet up again since we are both busy. It was really nice to get to see her though, and I really valued the time we spent together. I think when you go to another country to visit it's important to try and make connections with people. Learning about them and their life in a place unfamiliar to you is a good way to broaden your world view and learn something new. Yumi will start her job soon and I'm really rooting for her to achieve her goal! I am also hoping that she will be able to come and visit me one day and I can show her around Washington D.C. 


For the first time in months I finally got to cook an actual meal! I was overjoyed you have no idea. I love being here, but I really miss being able to cook for myself and Austin. We always had fun whipping up something, and I definitely had fun doing the same with Yumi. We picked out a recipe in her cookbook and picked up the items as well as a yummy dessert. The main dish was a sort of donburi (rice bowl dish). We cooked together ground chicken, carrots, onions, red pepper, and basil into a mouthwatering concoction then topped on to rice. We also made a soup that had ocra and seaweed in it. I think my first time trying ocra was here in Japan. Yumi and I talked about family and boys and the future while we ate. For dessert we had croissant taiyaki. Taiyaki is a fish shaped cake usually filled with sweet red bean paste. These were slightly different and I loved them!

Yumi is lucky enough to live five a minutes walking distance to Skytree, so after our meal we headed over to the Skytree village to shop and go to the planetarium. Skytree is the tallest free-standing broadcast tower in the world. No, I did not pay to go up there. I already have a great view from my house, remember? I did walk around the village area and browse the Studio Ghibli store (haha), and then see an awesome planetarium show entirely in Japanese. Ok, I didn't really know what was being said most of the time, but I learned that Sasori means Scorpio (for anyone who likes Naruto). I would definitely recommend coming here to see one of the shows. They are beautiful and fascinating in and of themselves even if you can't understand them. There is also a nice aquarium in the Skytree village I would recommend. I went there two years ago though. 

After a day wonderfully spent with a great friend I returned home, already planning my next visit there to the chocolate cafe (which I already did by the way)! It was amazing. 

07/15/2015

Discoveries and suggestions

Just like that, and there is only less than a month before I complete my study abroad term in Japan. There was time when I felt a bit homesick, but now I do not want to leave. There are still so many things I want to do here in Japan, yet time is so limited. However, I do not think I will leave Japan with any regrets, because I have spent every moment in Japan very wisely. 

I always have an agenda and plan every day. It was pretty overwhelming to have a mindset of wanting to visit all the places and try all the food in Japan. I cannot go a day without opening my agenda, and looking through to see if there are any open spots for me to fit more places/ restaurants in there. I managed to go to at least one unique town/ spot of Tokyo, or try the food that I haven’t tried before, or go to a restaurant that I cannot find outside of Japan. I am always doing something every day. By doing so, at the end of the day, I feel very satisfied because I don’t want to waste a single moment to explore Japan (mostly Tokyo in my case). Also, by keeping a calendar, it helps me remember the places that I have been to and the things that I did in Japan. I want to forever remember the joy and happiness that I experience daily in Tokyo.

With that being said, I understand how stressful it is to having to keep up with everything, so I am coming up with the list of the places that I have been to, and want to recommend to everyone.

 One life-saving tip: utilize the “save” button on Google Map. Whenever I find a new place, I immediate go to my Google Map, look it up and save the location so I don’t end up forgetting everything, or having a long list untouched.  

There were several great shops which I do not remember the names, but I will try my best to make sure the best places are listed.

Note: I am a big foodie, so most of the places will be restaurants, but food is such a large part of the Japanese culture (especially sweets!). I am not sure about others, but the Japanese food/ sweets give me such a strange feeling of happiness that I don’t think I can find it anywhere else.

Most of these places can be found immediately using just the name on Google Map, so I hope finding these places will not be any problems.

 Restaurant:      

-       Nabezou / Momo Paradise / MK Restaurant (they have many different branches, from Shibuya to Harajuku to Shinjuku)

  • All you can eat for Shabu Shabu (hot pot) and Sukiyaki (special Japanese dish stew served in hot pot style)

-        世界で2番めにおいしいきたてメロンパンアイス in Shibuya

  • The one and only place that sells this unique melon bread filled with ice cream!

-       Soup Stock Tokyo (right outside Sophia in the Atre Building)

  • Famous healthy and delicious soups with a wide variety. They also serve curry and different lunch sets

-       Hatsudai (初代) in Ebisu:

  • White potato cream curry udon (shiroi kare udon)

-       Japanese Ice Ouca in Ebisu

  • In my opinion, has the BEST ice cream with the most unique flavors (4 tea flavors alone, pumpkin, premium milk, different fruits, cream cheese, etc.)

-       Bittersweet Buffet/ Sweet Paradise in Shinjuku/ Ikebukuro/ Shibuya

  • all you can eat Japanese sweets (the crepes and waffles here are amazing), on top of salads, Italian cuisines, drinks, etc.

-       Cosme Juicery in Daikanyama, Shibuya’s Hikarie Building

  • Healthy organic cold-pressed juice/ smoothies

-       SASA Grill Burger in Daikanyama

  • Serve avocado, salmon, mushroom, and all types of unique and delicious burgers with great atmosphere

-       Burn Side Café in Harajuku

  • Soufflé pancakes! One of the best

-       Rainbow Pancake in Harajuku / Honolulu Coffee in Yokohama:

  • Madacamia nut cream pancake

-       Pablo Cheese Tart in Shibuya

  • They have seasonal flavors! This is a great gift to buy and enjoy with host family because only a whole cheese tart is sold here (but it was so good that I could finish the whole thing by myself).

-       Rapoppo in Shinjuku Station/ Shibuya Tokyu Store B1/ Sky Tree:

  • Sweet potato sweets!

-       Bills at Harajuku/ Yokohama:

  •  Hot cakes!

-       Ichiran (一覧)everywhere

  • Known as the best ramen restaurant

-       Harbs in Shibuya/ Shinjuku Lumine Est

  • Mille Crepes with fruits filling- one of the best creations in the sweets industry in my opinion

-       Tsurutotan in Roppongi

  • Authentic and delicious udon. The size of one serving is three times bigger than normal, and the “udon” is all you can eat, so enjoy

-       Ice Monster in Harajuku:

  • Taiwanese ice shave

-       Bake Cheese Tart in Jiyugaoka/ Shinjuku

  • Famous baked cheese tart- there is always a line but it is worth it

-       Quil Fait Bon: fruit tarts

-       Croquant Chou Zakuzaku in Harajuku/ Shinjuku:

  • Premium Milk Ice Cream from Hokkaido and churros with custard filling

-       Pancake House: Dutch pancake

-       Gyukaku (every where): all you can eat yakiniku (Korean BBQ)

-       Croissant Taiyaki

 

Interesting shops to check out:

-       Kiddy Land

-       Tokyu Hands

-       Book Off

-       Troll along Harajuku/ Shimokitazawa for unique cheaper goods

 

Small local towns:

-       Daikanyama

-       Ebisu

-       Shimo kitazawa

-       Kagurazaka

-       Yanaka Ginza

-       Enoshima/ Kamakura

-       Nakano

-       Nakamekuro

-       Jiyugaoka

-       Tsukiji

-       Ameyoko

-       Jimbocho

There are many more places that I want to talk more details about, but I am sure if students take time to explore the local stops on their route home, there will be plenty of hidden gems are waiting to be discovered. 

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-       Soufflé Pancake at Burn Side St. Café

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- Melon Pan Ice (Melon bread filled with ice cream) at世界で2番めにおいしいきたてメロンパンアイス

 

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-       Ice shave at Ice Monster

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-       Premium milk ice cream at Croquant Chou Zakuzaku

 

One PIECE MUSEUM

Studying abroad in Japan has given me all kinds of opportunity and benefit. Even though I did not start off learning about Japan from anime and manga but through the arts; I have become a huge anime lover over time. Being in Japan, especially Tokyo, gave me countless access to anime so I can let the inner otaku me runs free. I have been to several anime-related places like the Jump Shop, Naruto Museum, to Manga Museum (Kyoto), Anime/ One Piece shops on the 6th floor of Parco Building in Shibuya, and even the Ghibli museum. However, the place that I have enjoyed most is the One Piece Museum on the Tokyo Tower. 

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One Piece has been one of my all time favorites since forever (beside Detective Conan). Since One Piece is very popular especially in Japan, the admission for the museum is quite expensive (3600 yen). I had a hard time deciding whether or not to check out the museum with this cost, but since this will probably be the only chance and place for me to check out the One Piece museum, I have decided to go for it with no regret. 

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The museum is much larger than the Naruto museum that I have been to in the Mori Tower. There are three floors with several different activities. The first floor consists of life-size One Piece figures and walls full of One Piece important moments and story lines. The set up of all three floors really reflects the setting of the anime. On the second floor, there are special rooms/ spaces with unique themes for each specific One Piece character. For example, there is a sword training room for Roronoa Zoro, who is a “bushido” in the anime. There is also a casino room, a haunted house, and “sniper” contest space among others. Each room is filled with special 3D effects that one can barely tell which is real and which is not. Lastly on the third floor, there are two cinema rooms; one is for a special short video that is only available inside the museum, consists of the past, and future clips of the anime. Another cinema room is used for a live-action show of One Piece. Everything was done very elaborately with great details. I have really enjoyed myself there.

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Many who do not know much about Japan, usually see Japan as a place filled with anime/ manage geeks and cosplayers. However, anime-related matters are just parts that made up the characteristics of Japan. Anime/ manage-related museums is not just there to promote the anime/ manga, but also to show the real progress of creating the work, which reveals many other aspects of the Japanese culture as well. For example, it requires highly advanced technologies to create these special affects. It also demands high collaborations and great passions to create the arts and the story lines, especially for long-running anime/ manga like One Piece.  Going to the One Piece museum really helps me understand a lot more about the process. It is no less interesting than the Ghibli Museum, where the development, the work of arts were show cased. Being exposed to unexpected museums like this makes me appreciate Japan even more. I can always find a nice balance and mixture of every little thing here. Even with anime museums and anime shops everywhere, the environment here clearly indicates that anime is not just for the “anime geek,” but it is a huge part of modern Japan culture that many Japanese people are very proud of. It is not just about the anime alone, but about the people behind the scenes and many other aspects which together built a unique characteristic that makes Japan, Japan. 

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07/13/2015

A Day Trip to Nikko

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Nikko was such a cool place I wish I could go back! If you travel north to the very end of the Nikko line, you will reach this delightfully quaint town. I went with my very good friend Mac, and it took us about two and a half hours (plus accidentally getting on the wrong train) to get to there. Nikko is a World heritage site and home to the Toshogu Shrine. I am actually learning about this shrine in my art history class so I was pumped to get to visit! It was built for Tokugawa Ieyasu, and he is enshrined there. He then became deified as the shinto god of the shrine, and he was known as "the Great Illuminator". The Yomeimon (Sun-bright gates) was actually the most expensive structure of the time period (Edo period). They felt like flaunting their wealth with this giant and elaborate gate, which was unfortunately covered up when we went. :( However, all of the buildings at this shrine were intricately decorated. Tucked into the forest and surrounded by lush mountains, it was probably the most breathtaking shrine I have visited yet (architecturally too, because my favorite shrine is still the Fushimi Inari in Kyoto). There are lots of animal motifs in the buildings as well. The three monkeys-hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil- are carved into one structure, there is a sleeping cat on another (not sure why though), elephants, and a room with a giant dragon painted on the ceiling. This place had it all.

So this adventure began early on a Saturday, to where I took a train to meet Mac in Ueno. We then took another train to....I forgot the name of the station, and once there I got a delicious teriyaki hotdog wrapped in a tortilla. These things will be the future of hotdogs. I'll make sure of it. It was another two hours to Nikko after we got on and off the wrong train. Luckily we didn't miss the one we actually needed. It was cool watching the landscape change from urban buildings to rice fields and trees. I am always fascinated when I can actively watch the bustling city of Tokyo melt into a natural paradise. 

As soon as we made it to the rural town it began to rain. Ok, downpour is more accurate. Mac and I were desperately searching for a place to eat, and we settled on a small restaurant that offered Nikko's specialty-Yuba. Yuba is the thin layer that accumulates from boiling soymilk. Sounds weird, like how would you eat that? But it was interesting, aside from slightly resembling a soggy plastic bag. Go try it, it actually tastes good. And it's nutritious! The entire meal was delicious and comprised entirely of several small plates.

 

After our lunch we set off towards Toshogu Shrine, but the rain was relentless. I took pictures anyways, because dangit I needed them so I could write this blog! I actually really like the way they turned out, so I was not mad about the rain. In fact, there was a point in which it was raining so hard, I just laughed and laughed because what else can you do in a situation like that? I actually brought my smaller umbrella with me so I could put it in my backpack, but that also meant my backpack and purse were basically soaked. But lets be real, I was pretty much just wet in general. Mac kept joking about getting trench foot because he wasn't wearing waterproof shoes, and the hairspray he sprayed on them due to strong encouragement of his host mother did nothing to help. Maybe laughing in the face of the onslaught from the heavens actually proved to be good luck because the rain let up once we made it to the shrine. 

After the shrine we visited a temple next door, but it was under construction. It was an interesting experience but it felt more like a museum. Because it was contained inside a metal building, it didn't have the charm of the naturalistic elements that play in to the architecture of a temple or shrine. When they are finished reconstructing or whatever it is they are doing, I'm sure it will look amazing; but if you should go to Nikko and see this building that is supposed to be a temple, I can't say I would recommend paying to see it. However, Mac and I walked up several flights of stairs to view the scenery from up high (we climbed a lot of stairs that day). I think my favorite part of being in Nikko was seeing the thick steam created from the rain billow out of the forested mountains. It was so mysterious and alluring. Thank you rain!

Other things that happened on our trip:

  • I got a death glare from a European girl (I don't know why)
  • We saw a man walking his ferret
  • We got gelato and talked with the woman working there. She was vey nice.
  • I celebrated the 4th of July by consuming my second hot dog of the day, which happened to be from a French bakery...