Sisters in Japan, Day 7: Ginza, Naka-Meguro, Shibuya, Shinjuku

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Japanese breakfast at the New Sanno!

Picking up where I left off, I woke up after a great Easter with family and friends to…room service!  I had a list of food I wanted to eat while in Japan and the New Sanno Japanese breakfast tray was on it- salmon, rice, miso, tamago (egg), pickles, and green tea.  It’s delicious!  In case you are interested, other items on my to-eat list included onigiri (rice balls).  Actually, that’s about it for specifics- New Sanno breakfast and onigiri.  Of course I had other general ideas (yakitori, sushi, ramen, pickled veg) but I only had two specific things I had to get.

After breakfast, I headed to Shibuya and the Hatchiko statue to meet up with Hillary and her Mom.  It was time for a day of shopping!  Our first stop was Ginza so we got back on the metro.  Ginza has a lot of high end shops and cool architecture, similar to Omotesandō.  I had a specific destination in mind though- Dover Street Market Ginza.  It is a multi-level high-end store that is a shop/temple/museum to high fashion.  It is super cool.  The displays themselves are very high-concept and arty, some incorporating the clothes and some there for art’s sake alone.

We took the escalator to the top and worked our way down through the levels.  I thought the clothes by Sacai were really cool but alas, I am not the size for haute couture in Japan.  So, we went next door- to Uniqlo, where all the poor fatties can buy clothes.  Hooray!

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This ant is too big for Dover Street and is on his way to Uniqlo!

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After Ginza shopping, I decided to change it up so we took the train to Naka-Meguro, with its beautiful canals, small boutiques, and little cafes.  We walked into a few shops.  I bought a hat that I really like.  We went to a small cafe named Mother Esta, which featured a lot of produce on the menu.  We each ordered different sets- salad, curry, and fish.  Each was plated beautifully and everyone agreed the food was delicious.

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Shibuya Crossing

We headed back to Shibuya to get Hillary and Barbara back to their hotel, but of course I pushed the agenda a bit and took them to Loft.  It is a wonderful store and a highly recommend a stop.  The stationary/pens, beauty department, and kitchen gadgets are extra binge-worthy.  I think both of them were a little jet-lagged by the end but we had a great day and it was so fun to see a college friend in a completely new setting.

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I headed back to the New Sanno and met up with Brady.  We decided to head to Shinjuku to try a Yakitori place I follow on Instagram and to try and find the sake bar recommended by my Kyoto bar friends.  I am so glad we went to Shinjuku!  I had only been once before when I was making a beeline for the Robot Restaurant.  This time, we had different destinations in mind and, at a slower pace, got to appreciate how cool the place is.

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We passed the Robot Restaurant though!

I am still old-school in that I like reading blogs and articles while trip-planing but Instagram can be helpful, too.  Not so much for primary research but more for onesie-twosie things that pop up.  Right before the Japan trip, I had somehow come across Garakuta-na, Nishi Shinjuku on Instagram (@garakuta_nishisinjuku) and started following them.  There is an energetic, enthusiastic vibe to the page so I thought it would be a fun place to go.

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Adult Melon Float- ordered in honor of SMS and yes, there were ice cubes in it!

Well, thank goodness for Instagram because I never would have made it to the place otherwise.  The building was easy to find and the restaurant was located on 4F.  The elevator opens straight into the restaurant and on the way up, fliers for restaurants on the different floors are on the wall.  Both the 3F and 4F restaurants mentioned their English menus but I think the vertical stacking of restaurants is still very intimidating.  It prevents a person from being able to scope out the scene from street level.  Instead, you’re just deposited into the middle of the action.  I realize that this is just how it is in Japan and it’s something to take in stride- it’s definitely out of my comfort zone though!

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Little Rickey is young enough and cute enough that the “No Outside Food” rule is waived.

The staff was really nice and we were seated right away.  There was a foodie tour group at a community table for a little while, but it was otherwise filled with Japanese people.  The English menu was very good, but we ordered using our limited Japanese and pointing.  I tried showing the Instagram to a few of the waiters but they look confused.  I wonder if the page just exists for marketing rather than something all the staff follow and post to?  Or maybe my attempts at showing that I was an avid fan of their establishment were not very clear?  This seems somewhat-to-very likely.

We ordered several yakitori.  My go-to’s are the chicken thigh with leek and the tsukune (chicken meatball).  There are a LOT of organ meats and cartilage so this is one menu that I try to order off of rather than say “Surprise me/Give me your recommendation” (or “Osusume” in Japanese).  There’s also the funny “Mother-child” dish that features chicken and an egg.  Ricardo joined us for awhile and then Brady and I split off to find Moto, the standup sake bar that had come so highly recommended.

Moto was challenging to find, mostly because our Maps program was one building off. Then, when it was on the right building, it was opposite of where the entrance was.  Honestly, I think I just overcomplicated it (whhaattt?) because I had been told it was really hard to find.  We eventually found it on the BF1 level.

Also, quick note on what I learned about the Golden Gai.  I had thought it was a different place entirely because there are several stations along the Yamanote line that have an alley of bars underneath the elevated tracks.  It has a gritty, get-it-done feel towards drinking with fairly bare bone establishments.  When I learned the actual Golden Gai was in Shinjuku, I wanted to walk by it.  Honest opinion?  While it is cool with its compact, vibrant bar scene, it felt a little over-touristy, aka, really high cover charges (Y600-Y700 so really, not that bad but a little opportunistic).  Many bars in Tokyo have cover charges, but tend to be a little cheaper unless the establishment is really nice.

Ok, back to Moto.  Brady and I showed up and while it looked full, the patrons moved a little closer together and voila, room for two more!  It was a tiny stand-up establishment with a U-shaped bar enclosing the bartenders and sake bottles in the middle.  There was a Y300 cover charge and, as a “complimentary” treat, an onion salad.  I liked it, Brady only liked it in a small quantity.  There was an English menu and one bartender whose English was quite good.  We each tried two different sakes during our time there, which was limited by the fact that they were closing.  It was a weekday, which means a lot of places seem to close in coordination with the train schedules, which allows people a better chance of catching the last train home.  I highly recommend Moto as the patrons were welcoming, the different sakes were great, the bartenders knowledgeable, and the onion salad to die for.  Haha, the last one is a joke.

Sisters in Japan, Day 6: Easter in Tokyo

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Ask any weightlifter, leg day is exhausting!

Easter Sunday was a great day with family and friends!  After a mellow morning in Atsugi, we piled into the car and drove into Tokyo.  I had made reservations at the New Sanno for three nights.  Ricardo and Brady had done extra research and decided that Easter brunch at the New Sanno sounded awesome so off we went!

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He liked the bowtie way more than he looks in this picture!

Ricardo had bought Rickey the cutest Easter outfit complete with bowtie (which, let’s be honest, made the outfit!).  So, after some chilling in the “My First Easter” onesie, Little Rickey spruced himself up and outshone us all, even though his parents also looked pret-ty good!

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Such a cute family!

Brunch was delicious.  It’s always an interesting mix at the New Sanno since the crowd can seem pretty eclectic.  We sat next to a group where the sponsor was a DEA employee at the embassy with his family and two friends/couple from Denmark who were visiting because one of the women had been an exchange student with the wife’s family many years ago.   They were really fun to talk to- so much so that we closed the place down!

After brunch, I got ready to meet up with my friends Hillary and Jason who are vacationing in Japan for two weeks.  Jason was an exchange student for a whole year (!) in his early teens so part of his vacation included seeing his host family in Kyoto.  But we had arranged to overlap in Tokyo for a few days (which caused me to miss another friend’s wedding, *sniff*  Congratulations Sarah and John!).

We met at the hotel where Jason, Hillary, their girls, and Hillary’s Mom were staying.  The girls, although always cute, looked like death warmed over.  Jetlag was hitting them hard after being woken up from 1800 naps.  We went to an izakaya that Jason had found and enjoyed a really delicious meal.  We took a picture outside which, unfortunately, may not be of high enough photographic quality to make it into our alum magazine, but oh well.  It’s good enough for this blog!

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Williams ’02 Mini-Reunion

 

After dinner, we went for drinks in the upstairs bar with a pretty spectacular view over Tokyo.  Jason and I started out, Hillary joined us, and then Jason quickly bowed out.  Hillary and I had some nice catchup time and we also talked about our plans for the next day- shopping!

Sisters in Japan, Day 5: Osaka and Kyoto

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We checked out of Hotel Keihan in the morning after drinking some Tully coffee and packing up.  Tully’s was right across the way from our hotel, which was great since it’s one of my favorite chain coffee in Japan.  Forget Doutor coffee, Tully all the way!

The hotel was nice and the location was fantastic.  A minute walk from the train station and a two-minute walk to the front gate.  I still think it’s crazy that there’s no re-entry but even without the ability to do mid-day naps on the same pass, it is really nice to have a short walk back to a room rather than fight the train crowds at the end of the day.

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It was a gorgeous day and Brady wanted to see Osaka castle.  We walked through the park and up the hill to the castle.  We passed several groups having belated hanami picnics under the sakura’s last gasps.  It looked like so much fun!  Even though our walk was pretty meander-y, it was perfect for such an amazing Spring Day.  Highlights include the litter samurai, fighting park trash with his sword trash pick-uppers and the ichigo (strawberry) shave ice.  Yum!

 

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After our Osaka Castle walk, we made our way back to the Shinkansen.  On the local train, we accidentally got onto the women’s only car.  As you can see in the picture below, one man was banished and another was allowed to stay.

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Little Rickey keeping guard against unauthorized creepers entering the ladies’ only car.
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Rubber chicken eats the rice from a karage (fried chicken) bento. Sagoy!

On the train, I made the last-minute decision to hop off in Kyoto for a mini-visit.  Brady and Ricardo continued on with their little samurai.  My main goal was a hike behind the Silver Temple but I got waylaid by wanting to go to Nishiki Market.

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The Nishiki Market was crowded!  It seemed more touristy than when I was there before, with a few more souvenir shops and many more tourists than locals.  But it was also the end of the day, so people who actually use the market for food/business shopping had likely come and gone much earlier in the day.

I took a break from squeezing by people in a stand-up sake bar.  The A4 Wagyu yakitori is what first caught my eye, but a small plate of pickles and a mug of beer seemed like natural accompaniments.  I spoke with an American-Spanish couple from Seattle for a bit.  They were super-nice and Emilio said he was going to send me his email of Madrid recs, which should work out well for my likely trip next Summer.  A less friendly fellow was the cardboard cut-out man behind me but we gave each other space and everything was fine.

I hopped on the city bus to Genkakuji (Silver Temple) to do a hike I had wanted to do back in 2014.  The Silver Temple takes awhile to get to by bus and it was getting dark but I decided to go for it!  I’ve used my iPhone flashlight for trail light before when marathon training so I figured it would be ok.  I also grabbed a hiking stick to fight off the wild boars of Kyoto (which I’m pretty sure do not exist.  But not totally sure).

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The hike was pretty straightforward.  There are a few good write-ups that go into a lot of detail, so I’ll just link to them.  A few people passed me heading out of the forest (hmmm…) but when I got to the top, there were several small groups hanging out, some with picnic supplies.  I looked over the city and thought it was really beautiful.  I couldn’t stay long because I had to get back to catch the last Shinkansen back North, which left earlier than I had thought but fortunately I checked the schedule.  I’ve learned that lesson the hard way more than a few times.  IMG_5049

So, yes, I would definitely recommend the hike.  Maybe a little earlier in the day than when I did it, although I imagine the sunset would be pretty awesome.

Sunday Soliloquy #9

Konnichiwa from Japan!  I am in the middle of my vacation to meet my newest nephew and revisit some Japan stomping grounds.  I am also going to see some college friends tonight who are also in town for vacation.  This was intentionally planned but still, it is so cool that everything has worked out!  It’s been a great vacation and, unfortunately, I think I have just reached the halfway mark.  Boo!

*Reading: The Overstory by Richard Powers.  Recommended by a book club member and next up for discussion, I started this book when it was “only” shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and now it’s won the Pulitzer.  Sagoy!  It is an excellent book so far and I’m excited to continue.  My reading is slightly fragmented since I’m also trying to trip plan on the fly but I am really loving it!

*(Not) Watching: The newest Game of Thrones.  I’m still in the middle of Season 6, so I will try to catch up by the next Sunday or two.  Brady and Ricardo are up-to-date and may watch tonight but I’m enjoying trying to get through the series.

*Loving: Japan!  I have missed it!  I have also had some fun travel adventures to include meeting a super nice American/Spanish couple at a Kyoto stand-up sake bar and going on a Kyoto hike I’ve been meaning to do for a couple of years.  Now, I’m starting a 4 day visit in Tokyo which will be a lot of fun since I didn’t see as much of Tokyo as I wanted while I was stationed here.  After this will be a two day, one night trip to Kanazawa and an overnight on the Izu Penninsula.  This vacation has been amazing and my little nephew is the coolest baby I know!

*Also loving: Packing Light.  I’m doing pretty well.  I am benefiting from the comparison to two parents who are carting around newborn supplies, hahaha.  I am also loving high-speed data plans.  This is good for keeping in touch and searching for last minute trip ideas.  Finally, I am also loving keeping up with my blogging as I travel, which I may try to do for future trips rather than take notes and blog later.  TBD.  This will likely be hit or miss, depending on the trip.

*New trip planning idea that sounds so bougie but is amazing: The Louis Vuitton City Guide.  I know!  This sounds so ridiculous and yes, I am a doctor but employed by the Navy, not a boutique private practice so hear me out.  There are a lot of good recommendations that include low(ish) to moderate price points so I would recommend!

Sisters in Japan, Day 4: Universal Studio Osaka

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Harry Potter, Har-RY Pot-TER!  Yes, it was Harry Potter World time!  Hooray!

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Crowd around the gate. View from hotel window.

I started the day with my Japan early wake-up (boo!).  I bought sunscreen and coffee for the group (yay!) and because everyone else was still sleeping, I headed into the park.  I went to Harry Potter world to check out the scene.

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I think I’ve said it before but I am so in awe of J.K. Rowling.  She is so creative to have dreamed up such a world and to see it come to life was really cool.  It almost felt magical!  I’ve never seen the movies but I’ve read the series twice.  I walked through the forest and into Hogsmeade.  The buildings were super cute, but I waited until I was with Brady and Ricardo to go into the shops.  I made a beeline for the rides, but I got confused between the Flight of the Hippogriff (baby roller coaster) and stood in that line for 5 minutes.  I left and went to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  I went into the Singles line, which moved quickly.  The line snakes through Hogwarts castle, with its many rooms filled with talking portraits that have mouths that move with English words but overdubbed in Japanese.

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The ride is awesome!  My favorite was the VR parts where I felt like I was riding on a broomstick right behind Harry (Potter, not the Prince!).  I definitely recommend it.

I had done some pre-reading about Universal Studios Osaka and one common theme was the crowds.  We went on a weekday and were charged the “low-peak” ticket price.  The park was crowded but the worst wait I saw during the day was 90 minutes.  The waits were also shorter than the estimates.  For our particular visit, I was glad we hadn’t bought the Express Pass, Since we were moving at a mellow baby pace rather than racing from ride to ride, it wouldn’t have been worth it.

One thing that I really think would make the experience better is if re-entry were allowed.  It seems crazy to me that a park with nearby hotels and catering to kids does not allow parents to take a mid-day break and come back.  Boo!  This should definitely be fixed!

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This is what kids look like without re-entry!

Anyway, back to our day.  I texted Brady and Ricardo and asked what house LR was in.  Gryffindor, naturally.  So, I played the part of proud auntie and bought LR a little wizard robe.  I was very excited for the photo ops and it should be big enough that he can wear it for Halloween.  I also rode the Hollywood Dream coaster, that was fun.

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Best family!

Next, I met up with Ricardo, Brady, and LR at the entrance and we headed back to Harry Potter World!  After several photos, we entered Hogsmeade and promptly bought a Butterbeer.  I bought mine in a souvenir cup because I am a big sucker.  Then, we went to the Three Broomsticks and sat by the Black Lake.  Brady and Ricardo ate but I wasn’t super hungry.  We did, however, graduate to adult beers.

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Maybe next time! Keep drinking milk, LR!

We went to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  LR missed the height requirement by a few centimeters.  🙁  Brady and Ricardo were set up with the “Child Switch,” which involved taking turns on the ride and waiting in a little child-friendly room in the interim.

After the ride, we walked through the shops of Hogmeade.  I had spent my allowance already on LR so it was just window-shopping for us.  I would have loved a wand but they were so expensive!  I felt like a Weasley.

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Ricardo wanted to check out a live show so we went to Waterworld which was stunt after stunt.  The pre-show entertainment was also very funny.  It felt like a Japanese game show with lots of slapstick humor. And lots of water guns and water pails, with contents aimed at an unfortunate group of Japanese students.

After WaterWorld, we went to Jurassic Park where we went on Jurassic Park: the ride and the Flying Dinosaur, which was an insane roller coaster.  The rider gets in and then the seats rotate 90 degrees so that the rider is hovering like a pteranodon!!  The hills, loops, and twists were super intense.  We all liked it but also felt like our head were partially blown off.

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We ended our night with the Hogswart Magical Celebration.  The light show was amazing although the best part was the houses being announced in Japanese.

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So.  You think our night is over?  Wrong!  Brady had gotten a recommendation for an Osaka izakaya and even though we alternated in thinking we were too tired (first her, then me), we decided to go!  KannoMiho is an izakaya with great sake and sashimi.  I also ordered “Ichiban gohan” after the guy next to us told us it was recommended by his rice connoisseur friend. [Note to self: Must get more niche-friends.]  We had a great night out and got back to the hotel after midnight.  It was a crazy, great day!