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8 posts categorized "Tyler Pircio"

07/23/2014

Ramen of Tokyo

Ramen in the States often has the misconception to be only a quick and cheap packaged food that is really nothing special.  But in Japan, it’s a warm delicacy of perfectly cooked noodles, delicious broth, marinated egg (almost always cooked to perfection with a golden yellow yolk, making it often the best part of the ramen), slow cooked pork, and other toppings depending on the shop.  It may not be very healthy, but it is one of the most satisfying foods of Japan. 

            My first inclination was to check out Ramen Street in Tokyo station, filled with some of the most famous ramen shops in Tokyo.  First I tried a restaurant serving a classic shouyu or “soy sauce” broth ramen, called Honda Ramen.  There was a bit of a line, but it moved relatively quickly and the anticipation may have made it even better.  Once we got our seat, we quickly received our ramen.  The presentation was pretty; nice, simple, elegant.  It was really tasty, and included one of the best marinated eggs that I’ve had.  Overall rating: 8.5

            We soon went back to Ramen Street to try another ramen shop there, this time going for a Tsukemen (the noodles are separated from the broth, so one dips the noodles into the broth, hence the name “dipping noodles”) restaurant called Rokurinsha.  It was my first time having Tsukemen, and I quickly became a believer (though I still prefer classic ramen).  The broth here, was exceptional.  Overall rating: 8

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            I had been hearing rave reviews of a very accessible ramen shop near to Sophia University campus, a ramen shop serving “tomato ramen.”  It sounds slightly revolting at first, but it’s rapidly growing trend in Japan.  I decided to order the “cheese ramen” and in it was tomato broth, thin spaghetti-like noodles, celery, and loads of parmesan cheese.  It was much better than I expected, and I would certainly go back for more.  Overall rating: 7.5

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            Next was another place of easy access, this time located near our dorm.  Nicknamed “Protein Ramen” by many of the students living in the dorm due to its overwhelming amount of pork, and overall oversized portion for an unbelievable 600 yen, this Jiro Ramen copy is only suggested for the extremely hungry.  Inside is no talking, only eating.  Maintaining concentration is key.  The broth is an extremely fatty Tonkotsu or “pork bone” broth.  Larger portions of the already immense bowl of ramen are offered, but it seems to be only for the big guys.  The sluggish feeling after eating this ramen that occurs may not be worth it, though it is tasty while eating it.  Overall rating: 5.5

            On the contrary, the small chain Ippudo (haling from Fukuouka on a Southern Island of Japan) which has a shop in New York City, offers a clean and simple ramen, with thin noodles, non-fatty pork, an array of toppings on the table in an elegant Tonkotsu Broth.  It was great.  Overall rating: 8

            In Japan, there seems to be a low tolerance for spice, so it’s easy for spice lovers to crave something extremely spicy.  This led us to our ramen adventure in Kanda, to the devil’s shop called Kikanbo.  The décor is of demons with endless demon masks, and music playing is intense percussion music.  After placing your order, you are asked how spicy you want your ramen on two different levels: “hot” spiciness, and “numbing” spiciness, both offering three levels from which to choose, and if you can eat level three, they give you permission to get “demon level.”  But I got level 3 of “hot” and level 1 of “numbing.”  The broth was just hot.  The topping were different: baby corn and white onion.  It was good, and definitely satisfied by craving for something spicy, but the after effects for my stomach were not fun.  Overall rating: 6

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            The next place, located in Shibuya, was really great for it’s beef.  It was a slowly cooked, pot-roast-like beef that came on top of noodles with the broth in another bowl, therefore making it Tsukemen.  The meat was completely falling of the bone, and had unbelievable flavor.  The broth was great too, hinting at small amounts of perhaps tomato, carrot, and other unusual ingredients.  The noodles, here, were cooked to perfection.  Overall rating: 8.5

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            The next shop is a very famous shop in Tokyo, despite its obscure, hard-to-get-to location.  Located in Rokucho, the only way to get here is by the Tsukuba Express train line, which can be slightly hard to reach.  Then, it’s about a 15-minute walk from the station.  Once we arrived, there was a long line of people waiting outside the brightly lit shop.  We got on line, and it luckily moved very quickly.  Our order was taken while on line, so we got our famous, extremely rich tonkotsu broth ramen upon sitting, and it was amazing.  The scallion was piled on, and it contained some of the best pork that I’ve had in ramen.  The egg, was unbelievable.  Overall rating: 9

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            Next was a place famous for their combination tonkotsu-soy sauce broth.  Named Bario in Ochanomizu, this shop has the character for “men” all over the shop, and supposedly, if one can finish the entire dish, the bottom of the bowl says “you are a real man.”  There was no way I could finish; the portion size was huge!  Bean sprouts were piled on high, and there seemed to be endless noodles. It was tasty, yet we all felt slightly sick after consumption. Overall rating: 6.5

            Lastly was a place that cooks their ramen broth at a temperature so high that it’s called “burn miso ramen.”  Called Gogyo and located in Roppongi, this shop is quite tricky to find.  But if you can find it, it’s worth it.  Inside, the tables look like they are just chopped trees, giving a very natural feel to the interior.  The ramen came out, and the broth was dark, but it smelled irresistible.  Everything about the ramen was perfect; the noodles, the toppings, the broth, the egg, the pork, the portion, the atmosphere, etc.  It was surely my favorite ramen of Tokyo, due to its extremely unique taste.  Overall rating: 9.5

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Mt. Fuji Trek

Climbing Mt. Fuji was treacherous, exhausting, fun, long, and cold, but the climb was just half the battle; both preparation and the descent are parts we may forget about, yet they are certainly just as arduous if not more so than the climb up.   It may have been one of the most grueling things that I’ve ever had to endure, but once at the top, it was all worth it. 

            Preparation was stressful because everyone seemed to be over preparing, buying tons of gear and really creating a stressful environment before the hike.  Luckily having each other, though, was helpful as we could all find out exactly what we needed from those who have had more experience hiking. 

            On the day of the hike, we all met at Shinjuku at 7:30 to catch the bus to Mt. Fuji.  There were 18 of us, all ready and raring to go at the start.  Once we arrived at the mountain, we grabbed some lunch and sat for a bit to get acclimated to the thinner air.  Then the hike began.  It was a misty day, a constant light spray of rain.  Visibility was low; off the side of the mountain, we could only see white clouds.  We were worried as to what we would be able to see from the top of the mountain. 

            The beginning of the hike was easy-going.  It was a relatively low-incline slope, though rocky.  But it quickly became more difficult, with steeper slopes and slippery rock.  We had to take breaks every 30 minutes or so everyone could grab water, and to make sure no one was getting altitude sickness.  Our goal was still five hours away. 

            We climbed and climbed, making it to the different stations of Mt. Fuji, and entered thinner trails that got more crowded with people.  People on their way down who had reached the top had informed us that they could see nothing because of the clouds, really bringing our spirits down.

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After what seemed like days of hiking in the rain, we finally reached the eighth station of Mt. Fuji at 6 pm, which was our resting stop for the beginning half of the night.  We stayed in a hut there with many other hikers, getting curry for dinner and a bento for breakfast before our hike to the top.  The hut was crowded, damp, and dirty, and other hikers were getting sick and fainting.  Yet we were so exhausted, that it was just nice to have a place to rest. 

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Many of tried to sleep, but failed.  At least our bodies rested for a few hours.  At 2:00 am, we headed up the remaining two hours of the mountain.  It was dark, very cold, and extremely crowded at this point on the trail.  However, the rain had miraculously stopped, and we could even see city lights all the way at the bottom of Mt. Fuji! 

After stop and go traffic of people up the rest of mountain, we finally made it to the top!  We arrived about and hour before sunrise, so in the meantime we tried to stay warm.  The sun began to come up, and it was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.  The colors of the sunrise were magnificent, and the view below of lakes, towns and smaller mountains was breathtaking.  I wish I could relive that moment. We were later informed that we got to view one of the best and clearest sunrises that occurred in almost 30 years on Mt. Fuji, making it all worth it. 

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After the sun had arisen, we went to check out the rest of the summit, seeing the gigantic, snow-filled crater, as Mt. Fuji is a volcano, as well as going to the highest point of the mountain, all while viewing the impeccable landscape around us.  It was so strange to be up so high, but it is something that I’ll never forget. 

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The hike down was miserable.  The first two hours down, we could barely move because the trail was so thin and people were going both up and down.  And once past that, our legs and feet were so tired that it was hard to maintain balance. We were on a winding, never-ending trail of gravel, causing many of us to fall.  Luckily, I didn't. 

We finally reached our starting point, and most of us wanted to sleep on the ground until the bus came.  Instead, we got some Mt. Fuji famous “cowberry” ice cream to end our long but awesome hike.  It’s something I would probably never do again, but I couldn’t be happier to have done it. 

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07/22/2014

Nikko

It’s easy to take advantage of the train system in Japan to take day trips out of Tokyo, and sometimes it’s necessary to get out of such a bustling metropolis.  Nikko is a perfect example, only two hours away, hosting some of the most beautiful natural scenery and traditional Japanese shrines. 

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            The train ride was simple, yet we messed up, forgetting to transfer and causing us to go further than needed.  We realized this pretty early on, fortunately, and were able to catch a train going to Nikko at one of the stations.  The train we caught, however, was peculiar.  It was two cars only, and was old-fashioned with various decorations on the inside.  While on the train, people were selling pickles, and later we were given maps of Nikko.  I’ve never been on such a train while in Japan, but it was certainly a cool experience. 

            When you arrive in a place of misty mountains, you know you’re in Nikko.  The town was small and quaint with shop-lined streets.  It’s easy to navigate Nikko if you buy an all-day bus pass that takes you anywhere in Nikko. 

            Our first stop was the famous Tosho-gu Shrine.  There, we were able to immerse ourselves in the culture by entering through a straw ring, circling through it three times before going up to the temple.  We also witnessed a Buddhist ritual occurring, seeing a monk chanting a sutra while making a fire. 

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            Next was lunch.  We found a street filled with restaurants, and we went for some excellent tempura.  We checked out some shops, including an interesting music box shop with music boxes playing traditional Japanese music, and then headed for Kegon falls.

            The ride to the massive waterfall was long, up a tall mountain via a winding road on a big, speeding bus.  It was a little scary, but fun nonetheless, and the awesome views helped too.  After thirty minutes up the mountain, we arrived at the top and falls, and it was raining hard.  We could hear the waterfall, but couldn’t see it because of the mist.  But as we got closer to it, it began to appear. 

            It was such an amazing sight.  Despite the rain and long bus ride, the view made it all worth it.  The mixture of the tall mountains and soothing sound of the waterfall provided for a magical experience. 

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            A giant lake was nearby, so we walked to check that out.  It was mysterious, with fog floating eerily above the lake.  A giant red Torii gate with lake in the background made a really cool view. 

            On the way back to the station, there was one more thing on our list: get some honey ice cream, as it was the first time we had seen it Japan.  We all loved it. 

            Although Nikko is known for ninjas as well, we unfortunately did not get to see any.  And the rain couldn't ruin our day, because we got to see some great sights of traditional Japan. 

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06/23/2014

Hip Cafés and Koffee

Being that Japan has such a strong tea culture, coming here, I was slightly worried that it would be hard to find good coffee.  With the abundance of good coffee and some of the best coffee cafés in the world in New York City and surrounding area, I’ve always been a little spoiled when it comes to coffee, forming me into the not-so-a-typical “coffee snob.” 

            During the first month or so in Japan, I thought I was doomed.  All I found were corporate bulldozers and their sugary coffee creations: Starbucks, Doutor, etc.  This is not the coffee I aimed to drink.  However, after exploring some of the hipper and upcoming areas of Tokyo, I found more and more cool cafés.  Finding these cafés, though, is not always easy. 

            The best area in Tokyo for coffee and café culture is surely the Omote-Sando/Aoyama area.  It’s filled with young Japanese people interested in new and upcoming trends.  The first café I bumped into accidently was called Streamers, and I happened upon it with a friend when we were lost searching for another store.  Located on the back roads of Omote-Sando, this extremely “hipster” café immediately lured us in.  Inside, a large wood table extending through most of the shop offers a relaxed environment, only helped by the comfortable armchairs and couches.  Much of the décor was camouflage print, a major trend right now in Tokyo.  Both the employees and customers exhibited a sense of “hip” and youth that was very refreshing. 

            Upon stepping up to the counter, there were some small treats, including a camouflage donut, flavored with their signature mixture of caramel, matcha (green tea) and chocolate.  There was only one left, so my friend and I had to split that.  The menu was a decent size, with offerings of seasonal drinks and the regular drinks you can find at any good café.  I decided to order my favorite drink, a Gibraltar or Cortado, as this was the way I could truly test how good their coffee was. 

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            It was amazing.  For the first time in Japan, I was completely satisfied with my coffee.  The donut too was delectable, with a surprise chocolate ganache filling.  I’ve gone back many times to do work or hang out, seeing many of the regulars there in this hidden café.

            Omote-Sando must hide their coffee shops, as another hidden shop even further in the back streets of Omote-Sando was shown to me by a friend.  Located in a traditional Japanese style house, Omote-Sando Koffee is the ultimate hipster location for coffee.  A warning though, it may take a while to find, as it is in a residential area with no real landmarks around to distinguish it. 

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            This coffee shop is not a café, but rather a place to simply enjoy an amazing cup of coffee, not a place to sit around and talk or do work.  Outside is small garden featuring maybe four or five small seats, and inside is only the coffee bar where one orders.  It is extremely minimalist: only one man working as the barista, cashier, and everything else, I question as to how he does it.  Behind the bar is the espresso maker, blender, coffee grinder, and ingredients.  The inside has only a bonsai and a few other traditional Japanese decorations, accented by the tatami flooring, dim lighting, and wood-beamed ceilings.  The menu is simple, as you can order anything hot or iced.  The only thing “to stay” is the espresso shot, while everything else comes in a to-go cup. 

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            I decided to order the most popular drink the first time I went: an Iced Cappuccino.  To make it, the barista puts one or two ice cubes, milk, and espresso in a blender, making it frothy and especially creamy.  He pours it in a cup and tops it with cinnamon.  A perfectly sized straw is given, but no lids are available.  I also bought their Kashi, which is the only food offered, and is basically a cubical version of a French Cannale.  I was completely blown away by everything.  It was some of the best coffee I’ve put in my mouth. 

            I’ve returned to this coffee haven many times, trying some more off their menu, including their iced Mochaccino, regular coffee, and their special Bailey’s cappuccino.  I also purchased their coffee beans so I could brew their coffee at home. 

            The next place I stumbled upon was place less hidden away.  An import from France, a café called Coutume in Aoyama immediately lured my friend and I in when we saw the hipster baristas.  When I walked in, the décor was fresh and modern, but was place I’d want to stay a while; it was comfortable.  But the thing I was most blown away by was the Steam-Punk Machine.  A brand new, innovative machine utilizing steam to brew coffee, the Steam-Punk has been something I’ve been craving to try for months, but since I found out about it just days before coming to Japan, I haven’t been able to.  They also had a traditional water drip coffee maker in the corner, slowly brewing some delicious looking coffee.  But I knew this was the perfect opportunity to try the Steam-Punk coffee.

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            The first sip.  Different.  I was not sure what to think. Yet as kept drinking the coffee, I became obsessed.  The Steam-Punk really exhibits all the flavors of the coffee, creating a cup of coffee more exquisite than I’ve ever had before.  I crave this coffee almost everyday.  I’ve yet to try the different food offerings, but they all look delicious, and I will go back soon to do so.   Another plus: this is one of the only cafés in Tokyo with available wi-fi, and you don't even have to sign up first!

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            Café and coffee culture in Japan can be bland if that’s what you make it.  But with a little exploring, you can find amazing places unique to Japan that really make a difference.  Maybe someday, I can have a café of my own in Japan

Tokyo Disney

Who wouldn’t want to go to place where “dreams come true?”  Disney Land is a perfect place for a day off.  Additionally, living only a short thirty-seven minute train ride from the park makes it easy to go whenever we have an urge to go, unlike in the States where it can take hours to get to a Disney Park. 

            My first experience at Tokyo Disney Land was amazing.  I met my friend who attends Keiyo University, and fortunately for me, she is a Disney connoisseur; she planned out exactly where we should go and when, so that we could ride as many rides as possible and see all of the shows. 

            Going on a Sunday, I expected the park to be crowded, not just because it was a weekend and it’s Disney Land, but also because it was Easter Sunday and it’s located in Tokyo, where it’s troublesome to find attractions that are not crowded at all times.  Yet to our delight, we found the park to not be too crowded at all.  I’ve heard stories of lines being over a two hour long wait, yet the longest line we found was one hour. 

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            To my surprise, the entire park was decorated for Easter, with bunny and egg forms of all the Disney characters.  I found out, however, that this was not just for Easter Sunday, but for an entire three month event of Easter celebration. 

            As we went on rides and waited on lines, something curious happened.  Because I am rather tall, especially in Japan (at 6 feet 4 inches or 193 centimeters), while waiting on the lines I was asked to come to a back room where they had “testing cars” and I had to see if I could fit in.  I’ve never “tested” to see if fit on a ride in the United States, yet I have been “too tall” to ride certain rides in certain theme parks. 

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            After being to these secret “testing” rooms, my friend and I were often offered to cut the line and go directly on the ride for having been “burdened” with this test.  I didn’t mind at all, but not waiting on line is just another benefit of being tall. 

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            Tokyo Disney Land is very similar to the layout of Orlando Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  Almost all the attractions are the same, and the park is organized is basically the same way.  They even have a monorail, like in Orlando, running through the grounds of Disney in Tokyo. 

            Luckily, my friend from Osaka was visiting Disney Land, and invited me to meet her there, so I got to go again.  With the proximity of the park, I was able to easily go after school, and enter at six o’clock for half price.  Unknowingly, I went on the night of the premier of a brand new Disney Show, Once Upon A Time, where Cinderella’s castle was illuminated, and presented an entire show projected on the castle. 

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            Tokyo Disney Land was great, and I can’t wait to go to Tokyo Disney Sea next! 

A Pan-Asian Weekend

Japanese food is some of my favorite food, yet eating it daily can cause cravings for foods of other ethnicities.  Although Tokyo has an abundance of foods from other cultures, the foods are generally “Japanese-ified” or toned to fit Japanese taste, whether that be due to lack of ingredients, use of different cooking styles, or just to make it less spicy.  However, venturing to new parts of Tokyo-area where there are clusters of certain ethnic groups has proven to provide some of the most delicious foods from around the world.  IMG_6653

            The first part of the world we were able to experience was “Little India” located in Nishi-Kasai, a 45 minute train ride from the dorm in which we live.  When we first departed the station, it looked like it could be any stop in Tokyo area.  However, venturing into Nishi-Kasai, the smell of delicious curry began.  We were on a mission to find the recommended restaurants Spice Magic Calcutta, one of which, serving Northern Indian food, is located five minutes walking from the North exit, while the other, serving South Indian cuisine, is located a five minute walk from the South exit of the station; we decided to get Northern Indian cuisine.

            The restaurant was hidden on a side street, yet was easy to find due to the alluring smell flooding the street.  It was beside a few other Indian and South Asian restaurants that looked good as well.  Upon entering the restaurant we were warmly welcomed by the friendly staff.  It was a small restaurant, with a mix of Indian families and locals inside.  I ordered a set that came with Curry Chicken, Chana Masala (a Punjabi dish of chickpeas), Naan bread, a Samosa, Papadum, Aloo Tikki, rice, and a lassi.  I decided to order mine at a spiciness level of 3 out of 4.  We all dug in as soon as our food came.  Personally, after going to other Indian restaurants in Japan, I was not expecting the food to be spicy, as I have order other Indian dishes at the highest level of spiciness, and it was only tinged with spice.  These dishes, however, were spicy and some of the best Indian I’ve had in my life, and I’ve eaten copious amounts of Indian food. 

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            We next went to a small shop of all Indian ingredients, and stocked up so that we can begin to make Indian food at home.  The shopkeeper was extremely nice, and offered us Indian snacks and even made us Masala Chai while were shopping.  We can now soon make some of our favorite Indian dishes together. 

            The next day we headed toward China Town in Yokohama.  After getting of the train, it was a little more obvious that this was China Town as compared to Little India.  There were red gates and lanterns lining the streets, as well as other Chinese symbols in the area.  It was also much bigger than Little India, with seemingly endless restaurants and shops all owned by Chinese immigrants. 

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            It was our goal to eat lots of dumplings, so we went to an all-you-can-eat dim sum restaurant.  We put in our first large order, and kept on ordering.  I think the five of us that went ate twice as much as we should have.  After being so full that we could barely move, we decided it would be a good decision to eat more, so we headed to a Taiwanese “shaved ice cream” and boba store next door, where we ate this famous Taiwanese delicacy in addition to Bubble tea.  This was my first time having shaved ice cream, not to be mistaken for shaved ice, and it is now one of my favorite desserts. 

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            After this Pan-Asian weekend, I thought that I would never want to eat again.  The food was great and authentic.  If you are ever having a craving for Indian or Chinese food, I would definitely recommend visiting these two areas. 

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05/29/2014

The Northern Island

    It seems like everybody in Japan wants to visit Hokkaido, and for good reason.  The food is good, the air is fresh, and people are nice.  I was convinced to visit Sapporo before coming to Japan after watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations television show, Sapporo edition. 

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            Getting to Sapporo from Tokyo is a simple one and one half hour plane ride, which is seemingly nothing after the 14 hour plane ride from New York to Tokyo.  We immediately went to our hostel after landing, and we were pleasantly surprised to find our room to be traditional Japanese style, with Tatami mats and Futon.  After unpacking, we quickly headed to the famous ramen street of Sapporo, only a five minute walk from our hostel.  We all ordered butter-soy sauce-miso-corn ramen, and devoured the entire bowl.  Even after a huge bowl of ramen, we were still hungry, so we headed for Hokkaido Milk Ice Cream.  It was a great night of food. 

            The next morning we woke up early to head to Mt. Moiwa, taking the historic streetcar of Sapporo to get there.  To get up the mountain, we took a ropeway half way up, and then walked the rest.  During our walk, we encountered an older man who talked to us for about thirty minutes about what we were doing in Japan, a great experience for us to talk to a local and practice our Japanese.  The view at the top was indescribable.  On one side, there was a complete view of all of Sapporo city, and the other was a beautiful view of the mountains.  IMG_5822

            After our descent down the mountain, we headed to Maruyama Park, where we were able to view the last of the Sakura blooming.  However, it seemed as though every citizen of Sapporo was barbequing and picnicking.  It seems like it would be amazing to be a local and hang out at the park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  We ended our day with more of the delicious, creamy ice cream. 

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            On our last day in Sapporo, we went to the outskirts of the city to go to the Shiroi Kobito Chocolate factory, where they make the most delicious white chocolate cookies.  Outside of the factory is a gorgeous park with old-style, German style architecture and fields of flowers.  Inside the factory, you can watch the cookies being made, as well as learn the history of the factory and the cookies. 

            After our chocolate factory adventure, we headed back to Sapporo station, but had extra time so walked to another park; Sapporo people really appreciate the outdoors.  There, we saw people playing violin, people dancing, and more picnickers.  We picked up some famous Hokkaido cheese to eat during our stroll throughout the park.  At the end of the park, we found two slides that looked “natural” or as if they should be in the park, as they were carved of stone, on which children were playing.  When we decided to go on the slides, we received many stares and smiles.  IMG_5929

            It was difficult to leave Sapporo, as there was so much to see.  I hope to return to Hokkaido, to explore some of the more rural sections.  When in Japan, Sapporo is a must see. 

Fresh Air and Mountains

Tokyo is a great city, yet a prolonged stay can make you feel claustrophobic with crowds and endless lines.  We were finally able to escape the swarms of people and jam packed trains through a getaway to the mountains of central Honshu. 

            Our first stop was Kamikouchi, a picturesque, Japanese national park that has the nickname of the “Japanese Yosemite.”  Located in the Hida Mountains, which also bears a nickname, the “Japan alps,” it is a three and half hour bus ride from Shinjuku station.  Luckily, the view from the bus was breathtaking enough to make the time pass quickly.  IMG_5599

            Upon arrival, we immediately noticed the drastic temperature difference from Tokyo (Tokyo being around 65 degrees Fahrenheit and Kamikouchi being only about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  After leaving one of New York’s harshest winters in late March, I hoped to see snow for the last time until next year, but there was an abundance of snow up in the mountains. 

            After a five minute walk from the station, Mt. Hotoka is in sight and your consciousness of the cold is gone.  There are a few hiking trails to follow from there, with different ranges of difficulties, and we chose the middle difficulty.  It was about a 2 hour hike to Lake Taisho, an gorgeous lake formed by a volcanic eruption.  We headed back soon after to catch our bus to our next stop, and in the time in between, stopped at a gift shop, where you could buy all types of Kappa goods.  Prior to this, I was not entirely sure what a Kappa was, but it is a figure from Japanese legend, and an inspiration for characters in Japanese games (like koopa troopas for anyone who plays Mario games). 

            We were greeted by the owners of the hostel at which we were staying at the station of Matsumoto, and the were kind enough to drive us to the hostel from the station.  The best part of the hostel may have been the hospitality of the owners.  After an exhausting day of hiking, our stomachs needed food A.S.A.P. and in large quantities.  We asked the owners there suggestion, and they immediately pointed us in the direction of locally famous ramen shop.  I’m not sure if it is because I was extremely hungry, but that was the best ramen I’ve in Japan up to this point.  IMG_5734

            The next day we got an early start, and headed to Matsumoto castle.  A traditional style Japanese castle, Matsumoto is a beautiful sight.  Leading up to the castle were some vendors and small shops, where we were able to find vintage post cards and maps of Japan, as well as Taiyaki for the road.  

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            Our next stop was Nagano.  To get to Nagano, we took the most scenic train ride.  Once in Nagano, our goal was to eat soba, for which Nagano is famous.  We asked some locals for opinions on the best soba, and they led us to a place hidden in a basement.  We entered, and it was very traditional and filled with all the local people.  We were served the best soba that anyone could ever want. 

            Soon after, we headed to Zenkoji temple.  On the way, we got the creamiest, and best ice cream of Japan ice cream on the way.  We were also asked to be on video with a bull for some television show.  At the temple, we were lucky enough to view a Buddhist ritual outside of the temple.  After viewing the grounds and gardens, we picked up some sweet potato ice cream and headed back to the station.  We were stopped again on the way, this time for an interview for a television show in Nagano, asking us whether we knew what basket of edamame was or not.  From there, it was time to go home.  

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            Our trip out of Tokyo was refreshing; we breathed fresh air, ate good food, and saw some of the most beautiful natural sights of Japan.  This would be the inspiration for more many more trips away from Tokyo.