A five-day trip that will take me months to complete blogging! One thing for sure, I could not be a “professional blogger”. ‘Cos I won’t ever survive in this cut-throat business of having to constantly generate fresh material, in a timely fashion, to sustain the interest of readers. 🙂
Back to Tokyo.
Thanks to a friend, we had the opportunity to eat a very delicious and affordable Hakata ramen from this ramen joint called Hakata Tenshin. It has a number of outlets in Tokyo, and we went to the Kabukicho outlet in Shinjuku. The eatery is a simple place where the locals drop by for a meal. We like to sit at the counter so that we could watch the ramen chefs cook the ramen, with clockwork precision.
Hakata Tenshin’s thin noodles were cooked perfectly (rhetorical point since we are talking about the Japanese…?), the way I love my Hakata noodles which means they have to be slightly hard on the bite. The piping-hot pork broth is gloriously rich, milky and tasty. A standard bowl also comes with a large piece of nori which I love.
Before I forget, I need to note the location of this Kabukicho outlet here ‘cos I am definitely going back to this ramen joint when I next visit Tokyo.
^ The outlet is located approximately 50m from the entrance of Kabukicho, the red-light district in Shinjuku, on the left row of shops. Watch out for the eatery’s huge pig mascot standing outside the shop.
This is something I do every time I visit Japan – collect souvenir stamps of the places that I have visited in my travel guidebook. Or in a little cute notebook. Ink stamps can be found at certain places of interest, such as temples, museums and Japan Rail train stations, in Japan. Each stamp is individually designed for a particular place of interest, and is typically a sketch of the temple, museum or building that it represents.
Not every place of interest has an ink-stamp. So looking for the ink stamp has become like a little treasure hunt that I play (with myself) everytime I go to somewhere new in Japan. Japan never fails to bring out the inner-child in me. I will be running around trying to catch sight of a table holding an ink-stamp and ink-pad. If I don’t spot any, I will usually ask someone working in the place of interest using barely passable Japanese: “Stampu doko desu ka? And when I find an ink-stamp, I pray that there is ink in the ink-pad!
It makes me so happy whenever I manage to add a new ink stamp to my collection. Apart from the fun factor, these ink stamps make a really nice souvenir of the various places that one has visited in Japan.
I was very proud of my last collection of ink stamps which were kept in a copy of the Lonely Planet, collected painstakingly during a number of trips to various parts of Japan. We lent the guidebook to someone and it has not been returned to us. And we cannot remember to whom we lent the guidebook to! Argh.
Now, I have to re-build my collection of ink stamps. During my last trip in October, I collected ink stamps from a couple of temples in Kamakura, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and certain train stations in Tokyo in cute Rilakkuma and Jiji notebooks.
^ Harajuku JR Station
I read on the Internet that the JR East railway line has stamps in 77 stations, and thought that it would be super fun and cool to do a stamp rally in Tokyo. Travel around Tokyo on the subway to all the 77 stations and collect the ink stamps.
I wish we had something similar in Singapore. For example, we could organise a stamp rally which revolves around the tourist attractions in Singapore, and people who have collected a certain number of stamps would be entitled to a commemorative gift. I am pretty sure it will be a hit with children (and adults like me)!
Before we left for Tokyo, a friend recommended a tempura restaurant called Tenmasa to us. The restaurant was featured on an ANA inflight programme and he said that the tempura looked very good.
I did some online research on the restaurant, and read that Tenmasa has been around for over 70 years. The restaurant has been run by three generations, from grandfather to father to son. It is now located in the Marunouchi Building near Tokyo Station, so it quite easy for us to find the restaurant.
We visited Tenmasa twice in the one week that we were in Tokyo. We really liked the food. It was very good. In terms of cost, I feel that the restaurant charges reasonably for the level of quality in the food that it serves. I have eaten tempura in Singapore that costs alot more than Tenmasa but is not half as good.
Tenmasa’s menu has set meals and ala-carte orders. The set meals come in three differently-priced options, but customers can add ala-carte orders to their set meals anytime. We tried the lowest-priced and mid-priced options during our two visits and a couple of ala-carte orders mid-way through the meal.
Tenmasa uses a very light batter in making its tempura. I could hardly taste any flour when I bit into a succulent piece of scallop, prawn or crab. Also, the oil that is used to cook the tempura is frequently changed by the chefs.
How it works at Tenmasa is this: the restaurant has three small dining rooms. Each room has a horseshoe-shaped table which sits between 8 to 10 guests, and is manned by one tempura chef, who cooks the tempura in the presence of the guests. Trays of fresh food waiting to be dipped into batter and then hot oil are laid out on the table-tops, and the chef will describe to you the food that he is preparing for you next.
I like this sort of cosy setting where one can chat with the chef, and listen to the conversations that are taking place around the table.
Now, for the food porn…! We ate alot more than that what is shown in the photos below. (Photos are a little orangy-yellow because of the lighting).
^ Shirako tempura, cod-fish milt. This was fab, fab, FABULOUS! I was very fortunate that this was in season when I visited. It was piping hot and creamy. Tasted soooo good, especially with a pinch of salt.
^ The grated daikon was so sweet and delicious, so unlike our local radish which has a slight bitter taste. I ate most of the daikon that was served in a separate bowl, even though it was intended to be a condiment to put in the sauce, and not eaten on its own.
^ Mouth-watering good. Every item on the ala-carte trays looked so delicious, I wanted to eat all of them, but at the risk of having my cholesterol levels shoot above acceptable limits.
^ Yuzu sorbet – my favourite Japanese dessert.
^ Asari, clams.
^ Like most Japanese meals, this ended with plain rice, pickles and miso soup, or ochazuke, or tendon, depending on which set meal one chooses. Dessert and coffee/tea are served after the rice course.
Tenmasa is definitely a restaurant that we will visit the next time we visit Tokyo. For those who are interested, this restaurant is located on the 35th Fl, Marunouchi Building. Except for New Year’s Day, Tenmasa is open from everyday: 11am – 2pm for lunch and 5pm – 10pm for dinner.
Every time I am in Tokyo, I make it a point to visit the Sensoji temple at Asakusa. I don’t exactly know what is it about this place that draws me to it but a trip to Tokyo doesn’t seem complete without me going there.
For some folks, it could be a compulsory visit to Tsukiji market to eat a plate of sashimi or sushi for them to feel that their trip to Tokyo is complete. For others, it might be a visit to the Tokyo Tower.
Me, it is Asakusa. Specifically, the Sensoji temple.
Every time I visit the temple, I tell myself that THIS WILL DEFINITELY BE MY LAST VISIT! I am never going back again!
Because the place is so touristy, the crowds make me dizzy, and the incense smoke annoys me.
But I still go back time and again.
^ I can think of one reason why I like to visit the Sensoji temple. The Nakamise-dori shopping street. It is a stretch of small shops leading to the temple which sells souvenirs like the Maneki Neko, touristy knick-knacks and Japanese snacks.
I am always on the look-out for cute Japanese clay figurines of animals in the Zodiac signs and traditional wooden Japanese dolls. And these things can be found at Nakamise-dori.
I love browsing in these shops, looking through the piles of wares on display and wondering if I might find something interesting or silly to bring home or as gifts for friends and family.
Fridge magnets, the odd postcard, floral-printed pouches, Japanese clay figurines, dolls, etc. You never know.
Notwithstanding the touristy-ness of the place, I enjoy soaking myself in the atmosphere of street shopping and people watching. I like the bustling vibe of the place which is a different sort from the other places such as Shinjuku, Shibuya or Harujuku.
However, the shop-owners in this shopping street are some of the most unfriendly Japanese whom I have encountered in Japan. Glares, curt remarks, bad attitude, etc. I don’t even understand why I patronise some of these shops when the people running them are so un-welcoming.
But I still have to go back to Sensoji temple during my next visit to Tokyo because I have not tried agemanju, the famous fried azuki bun sold at a stall near the temple.
Tokyo Banana! It is very delicious. (Well, only if you like sponge cake and banana custard…)
They have quite a few variations of the Tokyo Banana but my favourite is the original version, which is just sponge cake filled with banana custard.
During my recent trip, I bought a box of 8 pieces and am still slowing savouring them. They come individually wrapped in the box and make great souvenirs especially when they are easily available at the train stations and airports.
During my first trip to Tokyo a decade ago, a friend had asked me to get her a box of Tokyo Banana without explaining that it was a Japanese snack. It is very famous in Japan but clearly, its fame had not yet reached me.
I thought it was a fruit. Bananas specially grown in Japan. I went on a wild goose chase hunting for bananas in the Japanese supermarkets until I discovered my folly while browsing in a Japanese snack shop in one of the main Tokyo train stations.
Tokyo Banana tastes especially good with hot coffee.
I have always wanted to visit the observatories in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to enjoy the paranomic city views from the observation decks located in the north and south towers but never got around to doing so.
Since we were staying in a hotel just across the road from the building this time, there was hardly any reason not to to so. Best of all, entry to the observation decks is free.
^ The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Building and the ubiquitous Japanese salaryman in his black suit. Something about the look of this building reminds me of Star Wars.
^ View from the North tower. One can see Mt Fuji from this spot on a clear day. It was too bad we couldn’t catch a glimpse of the mountain on the day that we were up there.
^ View from the South tower. They say that the view at the south tower is better than the one at the north tower. Looks pretty much the same to me!
Both observation decks have shops selling souvenirs and cafes to fill one’s tummy and quench one’s thirst. I was pretty much distracted by the ongoing children’s activities at the observation deck in the South tower – some kids were making origami while others were sketching. There was an activity booth where they gave out blank postcards for one to apply ‘stamps’ of a plethora of leaves in various autumn colours. Even the adults (including me!) were happily ‘stamping’ away on their postcards.
Looking back at the photos of our trip to Japan in 2006 makes me feel that I have to retrace the same route one day.
But with the DSLR this time.
Below are photos of some of the places which we really enjoyed visiting during that trip, taken with our trusty Panasonic Lumix.
^ The Itsukushi Shrine torii gate in Miyajima, an island off Hiroshima, which is built over water and appears to float during high tide.
^ Bamboo groves behind the Tenryuji Temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto.
^ Osaka Castle
^ Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome which is the remains of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Building after being the target of the atomic bomb attack on August 6, 1945.
We also spent some time in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum where we watched video clips of the devastating Atomic bombing and the aftermath. The sights shown in the clips were very disturbing and I felt quite ill after that.