Japan 2014 – Tokyo and Ueno

I am currently writing this from Sydney and already this is giving me ‘take me back’ feels. What is it called when you feel homesick about a place that isn’t home? I’m already planning my next trip back! Beginning this post with a quick bit about my lodgings, we stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi.

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The view from my room. Tokyo is so, uniform. Sure there are much more remarkable city skylines and most people don’t even like looking at cities. I love it, there’s beauty in manmade forms too. And something about this particular city’s consistency makes it look so unreal from above. Like Tokyo was made completely from Lego blocks.

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I was definitely quite amused when mom said she’d book our stay at this notorious red light area but our hotel was amazing! Photo of where I spend my mornings, at the hotel pool! It is really a lot more glamorous than this photo shows but most of the time I am there while I am still sleepy so I wasn’t really bothered to take a photo. Plus hotel reviews? Like I don’t already review every single thing in my life? Anyway, it was super fun to go every morning. The earliest I woke up to go swimming was 5.30 am on the day we had to go to Mount Fuji. The inside of the changing room is also really spiffy, they have all the usual towels and different types of bathrobes plus also massage chairs and healthy snacks like nuts, green juice and fruit. As I was exploring it, I came to approach the sliding door which leads to the sauna. The door has a sensor and slid automatically so I ended up coming face to face with an old Japanese lady who was meditating whilst completely naked.

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Our hotel was also across from a Lawson’s store which became the source for all my breakfasts during our stay in Tokyo. The top left hand corner is oden which is kind of like a hotpot stewed in soy-flavoured dashi stock. Yes your local konbini Japan sells hotpot! I never used to order oden specifically because I always thought it looked quite bland and unappetising, especially in murky brown soup. But as it turns out, oden is delicious and so perfect for winter. I love the softness of the fishcakes and tofu but hands down my favourite oden ingredient is shirataki! I eat a lot of it in Sydney already but they definitely don’t taste as good as the one from Lawson’s. Yes I am actually raving about food from a convenience store, it’s a combination of Japan being that amazing and me not being as food snobby as I appear to be 😛

The top right hand corner is our entire breakfast haul. I never ate any of the sandwiches in Japan because I was always saving my stomach for onigiri. Which totally makes sense since you can’t really get good onigiri in Sydney or Malaysia but at the same time, I’m pretty sure those sandwiches were damn good because my stepdad always got egg sandwiches for breakfast or as a snack, even from non-Lawson’s places.

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In Japanese konbinis you can get perfectly cooked boiled eggs, something which some Sydney/Malaysian cafes can’t even get right. Egg yolks in Japan are a much deeper colour than eggs I’ve had anywhere else. Look at how orange this is #nofilter I promise. I did a Google search and some sources are saying it is because of the diet of the chickens and the breed and such but it is probably the freshness too. The closest hue I’ve seen to this are the kampung chicken eggs in Malaysia. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve just spent the last 500 words writing about egg yolks, swimming pools and cityscapes.

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And now of course for the grand breakfast finale, onigiri. For someone that doesn’t usually eat much rice, I LOVE onigiri. To clear the matter up, onigiri isn’t sushi. It lacks all the added flavour that is usually put into sushi such as vinegar and sugar. There’s a bit of salt in it but that’s it. You can get them in a billion different flavours such as umeboshi, kakuni, cooked salmon and tsukudani (another one of my favourites). If you go back to my previous post on Japan you’ll see the “green stuff and wasabi” flavour. This one that I am eating, also the only type of onigiri I ate throughout the entire trip is mentaiko onigiri. The reason I love onigiri is because of the simplicity behind it. The rice isn’t sticky or too dense but is juxtaposed against the crunch of fresh nori, carefully preserved in really smart packaging so it never gets soggy from the rice. I’ve also probably watched way too much anime, Japanese films and Japanese-themed novels because I get smacked in the face with so much nostalgia each time I take a bite. Onigiri is quiet and humble in the same way uni and ootoro is boisterous and swag. But if I was seriously hardcore and zen about my breakfasts I would probably eat onigiri that was more bland but at the moment I’m stuck on mentaiko which is probably the saltiest of the lot. As a side note, I’ll try to limit the amount of photos of Sam with food as there’s am embarrassing amount on my camera. Now with breakfast out of the way I can finally start writing about going out and about!

My mom, my stepdad and I have all been to Japan several times but never together as a group. It’s initially quite a struggle to decide on where to go during our limited time here as we all have vastly different interests. In the end I don’t think any one of us got to go to every place we wanted to. But in hindsight I’m glad we veered away from some of the places I would have typically gone because I got to see Tokyo through the eyes of my parents. Sorry kids, no Harajuku or Meiji jingū this time. On our first day in Tokyo we ventured to Ameyoko (アメ横).

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Ameya-Yokochō or Ameyoko (the Japanese are so fond of abbreviating names) is the outdoor market located along the Yamanote Line train tracks. It’s sandwiched between Okachimachi and Ueno stations and is incredibly busy. I was curious as to why the name is partly written in katakana but my quick research tells me that “Ame” stands for America, because back in the day, the market used to peddle lots of American products – black market style.

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We’ve barely stepped foot into the market and already we’ve found something to eat! We got one taiyaki and one box of mua chi. I have no idea what mua chi is called in Japanese but I am fairly sure what we got is exactly the same thing. Mua chi is glutinous rice flour rolled in grounded peanuts and sugar, it’s one of my stepdad’s favourite desserts.

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Taiyaki is the term for fish-shaped cake. The filling varies but the most common one is azuki or red bean paste. I wouldn’t say I am the biggest fan of azuki after being force-fed red bean tong sui all my life. It’s probably a combination of my love for novelty items and half my childhood spent watching anime which led to me buying it. In my 2013 trip to Tokyo I was also harassing Desmond and Kazz to bring me to a taiyaki place!

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Pachinko is crazy popular in Japan and you can find parlours at almost every corner. One of my host fathers in Nagasaki used to run several of these establishments. I’ve personally never played or even stepped inside but this clip from Bleach is what always comes to mind when I think of pachinko.

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Ameyoko is huge, with stalls hawking anything you can imagine. I wish I took more photos of things around me but most of the time my mouth was full of food from whatever it was the street vendors gave me to dupe me out of my yen. There’s clothes, make up, Japanese delicacies, matcha, even sports gear.

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Markets are such vibrant places. You probably have the same amount of stores at any old mall but a market differs in that energy you get from the sellers, presumably because most of the time they are vouching for the sale of their own wares and not of some large label. It’s fun to see even timid and polite people like the Japanese, stand on a stool and call out incredible prices to entice people into taking a look.

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Enough nori to last me a lifetime. Japan has so many variations of the one thing, most of the time I am left confused at what to get and end up not buying anything. I hope to improve my Japanese to a point where I can actually read labels in their entirety.

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After all that walking in the cold it’s time for lunch. We’d previously spotted Yabusoba earlier and I made a mental note to go back to it. We didn’t know too much about it as everything was in Japanese except for the sign which said ‘Since 1892’.

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My stepdad and I love eggs so a must order is always tamagoyaki. I have made this so many times (even in Sweden because of Armin) but it has never successfully turned out like it does in the restaurant. I think I am too stingy with the sugar.

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Tempura is one of the rare Japanese food items that I don’t like. I made a tiny exception for this anago eel tempura but I would’ve probably preferred it grilled anyway. Just a personal preference of mine, my parents devoured like it was going to run away. In the back are tempura shiso leaves, something I also quite enjoy eating.

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Your stock standard tempura, although mom says the batter is very crisp and not oily unlike most places.

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Two zaru sobas to share although I am unsure of what type of soba it is exactly. The colour is strangely quite light compared to other soba noodles that I have had and of course not green like cha soba. Mom declared the soba to be al dente and cultural appropriation aside with that term, I had to agree. Super springy with a nice bite, you can tell by the bad photo that I hurried to snap a picture of it before it got eaten up. If anyone is sold into visiting Yabusoba, the address is below, click to view more details on Lonely Planet.

Ueno Yabu Soba, 6-9-16 Ueno, Taito-ku

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That concludes breakfast and our little trip to Ameyoko so here’s a gratuitous photo of me. I’m not sure how many billion Japan posts I am going to have and how long-winded they will be considering how much of my word count I have spent just explaining my breakfast. But unlike other foreign countries in my travel posts, Japan will always be written a bit differently. You may have read in my previous post about how much visiting Japan for the first time was such a dream for me, going back each time feels just as wonderful as the first. I can guarantee you that going to Japan with me will be an awesome experience, not just because of my ‘alright’ knowledge of the place but because I get excited over every little thing. Even a ball of rice.

samanthawxlow

7 Comments

    • Tokyo is seriously just one big party, it’s hard to pick just one area to go to especially if you’re pressed for time. I do recommend checking it out. You might not buy anything there but it’s great to people watch. And not pictured in this blog post but I had seriously sweet, delicious melon on a stick while I was there. It’s also quite close to Akihabara which is another great place to get lost in.

    • If you experiment with eggs and their timings you could probably achieve the same thing. Not sure about that luminous orange hue though! Haven’t seen it in Australia before

  1. Love love LOVE this post! So informative and beautiful photos- it feels like you transported me there with you. Japan looks like such an awesome country to visit.

    • Thank you so much! Writing is more my forte but I really try with the photos too. I have so many things to say/show so I’m going to have heaps of posts on Japan. Hope you’ll enjoy them! Highly recommend visiting.

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