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

Secret Sake Bar in Japan- Moto! Locals only but also welcoming! Forget the Golden Gai and come here!

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!

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


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.

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.


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.

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.

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!

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.

Tokyo Weekend!

This past weekend was a Tokyo bonanza!  SMS and I spent a lot of time, walked a lot of miles and have a continued appreciation for our awesome neighboring city.

Friday started off locally with a delicious BBQ dinner at our friends’ house.  We had amazing burgers with a huge spread of fixings.  We were a little late since I got off work and then prepped a few salads.  I made an avocado cucumber salad, a Caprese salad and a olive oil pan-cooked potato/garlic/ginan (gingko nut) salad on partially wilted rocket greens.  They were all pretty awesome and overall, we had a fantastic dinner.  The company was also great and it was so much fun to hang out with such good friends.

Yemenote Line, for real!
Our awesome team!  This is as close as we got to being on the Yamanote train all day!

The next day was an epic Tokyo adventure.  SMS and I got to Horinouchi Station at 0600.  We were on our way to Tokyo to participate in the 2015 Yamathon!  It’s an event where teams circle Tokyo by following the Yamanote line, checking into all 29 stations by taking team photos in front of each one. A team can go clockwise or counter-clockwise and it is an amazing way to see the city.  We went clockwise and joined up with another team of friends so in total, there were 8 of us circling the city.  

The Stowaways!

We ended up being inadvertent stowaways on the overnight train from Southern Japan as it made its way through Yokohama station.  Hyperdia told us to get on but no one else seemed to although we found out later that two acquaintances of ours did the same thing.  Since we didn’t have beds on the sleeper train, we were stowaways!

Scenes from Tokyo- the bottom right is from a long 1.5m tunnel we walked through near Shinjuku.  We felt like
the Ninja Turtles!
More cool things in Tokyo

The weather was absolutely perfect and there were several things throughout Tokyo that caught my eye.  It was a pretty cool day and definitely a little tiring by the end.  We had several stops throughout the day including City Bakery in Shinagawa and a lunchtime stop at a combini for an on-the-fly picnic.  We also came across several serendipitous finds- the Shinjuku Godzilla and the Owl Cafe!

Running away from the Shinjuku Godzilla.  No one else seems concerned.
Cool things in Tokyo: gnome with a tall hat, a smile-y restaurant, pretty flowers and the Owl Cafe!

On Sunday, we headed over to our friend’s house in Zushi for a delicious brunch.  There were several delicious baked goods, an egg dish and awesome sweet & savory crepes made by our friend Adam.  It was another great group of people and I’m so happy we’re getting so much friend time in before we go.

TY Harbor.  Not the best night shots but an absolutely fantastic place!

After a few hours, we headed up to Tokyo where we met up with some friends for Jenn’s birthday dinner.  It was at TY Harbor Brewery Restaurant and it was delicious!  It was very English friendly and the food and drinks were so good.  The venue was gorgeous.  All the windows were open and it was so spacious and airy, perfect for the clear, warm evening.  We had a great time and were pretty stuffed by the end.  I highly recommend the restaurant if you’re ever in Shinagawa on a beautiful evening.

Midweek Tokyo Vacation: Shibuya, Ramen Alley, Ueno

Day 3 of our mini-vacation!  We started off at The City Bakery.  We were a little earlier than the day before and ended up with an Egg Benedict each. Success!  It was a perfectly poached egg served on a whole, unsliced English muffin.  It was pretty delicious although the ham/bacon was a little thicker than I like on my perfect version of Egg Benedict but seriously, a minor quibble!
Next, we headed to Shibuya where SMS dropped off film and showed off various cool skyscrapers.  He wanted to take me to the Nikon showroom but it was closed for the Japanese holiday, which had been the day before.  National Foundation Day, Feb 11 for those who want to keep track.
After Shibuya, we headed to Tokyo Station and went to Ramen Alley (Yaesu South Exit).  SMS’ favorite is Honda, so we sat down and tucked into a delicious bowl of soup before heading to Ueno Station to the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum located in Ueno Park.
We saw the Neo-Impressionism Exhibit that was spectacular.  Seriously, it’s one of my favorite art exhibitions I’ve seen.  It was really well-curated and the chronologic sequence and flow and evolution of the style was clearly conveyed.  I like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, the later of whom had several works displayed from 1884-early 1900s and the progression into an early Fauvism was apparent. I would like to go back one more time before it closes but we’ll see.  There’s so much to do in Japan!
CW from Top Left: Shibuya, Reflecting Globe outside Museum, Arisugawa Park

After the museum, we headed back to Hiro-o to pick up the car so we could go back to the film shop and pick up SMS’ epic Mt Fuji print.  Before we got into the car, we took a brief stroll in my favorite nearby park, Arisugawa.  Although it’s currently not in its prettiest season, it was still very pleasant.

We picked up SMS’s print (it is FANTASTIC!) and headed out to dinner.  We ended up going to Pizza & Pancake in Zushi after unsuccessfully trying to go to Cactus Burrito (it was closed).

And that was our trip!  It was so much fun and so wonderful to explore Tokyo with SMS.  We saw new neighborhoods and had so many new adventures together, it felt very epic!

Tokyo Weekend

This weekend was awesome!  SMS and I had the best time and it was packed with activities. 

On Friday, I went to derby practice and SMS had a Japanese lesson.  Derby is a lot of fun and slowly but surely, I’m getting better on skates. After our individual activities, we met up at the apartment and headed over to Stacie and Jeff’s for dinner. They made an awesome white fish dinner with a garlic/tahini/cilantro/lemon sauce served in a grilled eggplant boat.  Yum!  Dessert was a multi-course smorgasbord. I had received two rich custards and two chocolate millefleurs mini-cakes from Kazu-San at work; SMS had bought macarons from a shop outside Daiei mall; and Jeff and Stacie provided mini-custard eggs. It was an awesome dinner and such a fun but mellow time. Liz and Carl were there too. It was a great time and we talked until it was pretty late. Since we had a sort-of early day on Saturday and we were tired from the workweek, we all headed out around 11. 
On Saturday, I woke up at 6:30 (boo!) and though I tried to will myself back to sleep, I got up around 7:20 and went for a 7.5 mile run. I haven’t been running much but as long as I try to stick to a long run a week, the half-marathon will at least be tolerable. I ran down to Kannonzaki and ran the trails during which, I was seriously sucking wind. Trail running is hard!

I got back, showered and SMS and I headed out to pick Carl and Liz up because we were off to Tokyo for the Japan vs Maori All-Blacks rugby match. It was awesome!  The game was really close and for about 10 minutes, it looked like Japan would win which would have been a HUGE upset. The final score was 20-18 with the All-Blacks winning; what a heartbreaker for Japan!

We started walking back to the hotel when we decided to go into the Tesla store. SMS was nervy and asked to test-drive the car and a half-hour later, we were cruising Tokyo in a Tesla. Sagoy!  It was an awesome ride and super cool. The touch console display is amazing. I know what’s on SMS’ Christmas list now!
We walked back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. We thought about Gompachi, but we decided that we were in the mood for pizza. We went to Roppongi and went out to a brew house that had pretty good pizza. We had a lamb/arugula pie, pancetta/sausage/ground meat pie, and a bechemel/mushroom pie along with Caesar salad. It was delicious and filling, which was great since we were four hungry people!  
Afterwards, we headed over to Mori Art Center and took the elevator to the 52 floor to see the Tim Burton exhibit. It was pretty amazing. He is a very talented, prolific artist and seeing the various sketches, storyboards, paintings, drawings and models were really cool. I particularly like his wry takes on common expressions like a man with seeing eye dogs, literally two little dauschounds and a puppeteer whose one puppet cut off his head to the horror of the other puppet (“Eek!”). 
We were pretty tired after that and decided to head back. On Sunday morning, we went to the New Sanno brunch and had a feast!  There was a pastry table, lox bagel fixings, prime rib, omelet station, waffle station, shrimp fried rice station, dessert table and two buffet lines with breakfast and lunch offerings. It was awesome and our bellies were full. 

Then SMS, Carl and Liz headed home while I waited for my bus to the airport. I took a quick walk and went to my favorite park before boarding and then it was time to go. I’m doing a whirlwind tour of the States for three otology interviews.  Wish me luck!

Linda & Rip Take on Japan! Day 8: Sayonara :(

My shot of SMS in the Park last December
The day started off with delicious Italian coffee (several steps up from FamilyMart!), pastries from Boulangerie Burdigala and breakfast in my favorite Tokyo Park, Arisugawa.  SMS has taken some beautiful photos here.  It’s so tranquil and beautiful.
Outside the Meiji Shrine Torii gate. (SMS)
After breakfast, we parted ways.  Linda stayed behind to have a relaxing morning while Rip, SMS and I took a tour of all the closed parks in the city.  First, we went to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, which are closed Monday and Friday.  Great.  Then we went to Yoyogi Park.  That too is closed since it was the epicenter of the first domestic outbreak of Dengue Fever in over 40 years.  All of the mosquitos have been fumigated to kingdom-come at this point but still, the park is closed.  Strangely, the park and shrine next to it are open even though I think the mosquitos probably cross the area pretty freely.  But that’s where we went!  We walked through the forest to Meiji Shrine in order to squeeze in one last shrine on the trip.  I wouldn’t want Rip to feel like he had missed out!  On the way in and out, we saw many old cars lining up for a road race/parade(?).  It was a little hard to tell but it was incredible how old some of the cars were!
Then, we walked around Harajuku before we headed back to the hotel to get lunch, grab our bags and head to Haneda.  Haneda was on our way home so SMS and I took Rip and Linda there.  Also, if anything happened, they didn’t have cell phones so we felt better seeing them off.
After they left, SMS and I headed home.  *sniff*

Linda & Rip Take on Japan! Day 1: Arrival & Yokosuka

So happy!  (SMS Photo)

SMS and I continue to have action-packed lives because this past week, we’ve been enjoying the company of his parents here in Japan!  We were so excited that they were coming to visit and the entire trip was amazing.  I’m going to space out my recaps since we did a lot.

Rip and Linda arrived on Friday afternoon.  SMS had a model audition so I drove to Narita Airport to pick them up.  Every bus trip I’ve taken has taken between 1 3/4- 2 hours.  This time, it took me a little over 3 due to a terrible traffic accident where a little Japanese zoom-zoom car decided to make out with the median barrier.  That did not go so well for the car, since the front hood was crumpled all the way into the front seats.  The wall appeared relatively unscathed.

In addition, my best friend Siri (not!), took me on a 15 minute detour because despite the presence of a map app, she has a terrible sense of direction and she can’t read Kanji.  So, yeah, borderline worthless.

Anyway, I whine about all this to tell you why I was 45 minutes late picking up Linda and Rip, which was really 75 minutes late since they arrived early.  Gah!  Fortunately, they were the picture of equinimity (I was, to put it mildly, not) when I found them in Terminal 1.  This was especially impressive after their long flight.  We went downstairs to the JR ticket office to exchange their JR vouchers for actual passes.  As a FYI, you can exchange the vouchers at the airport but pick a different day to have the passes actually activate.

We piled in the car, people and luggage to head back to Yokosuka.  SMS met us there after his model audition which sounds like it went well although no final word has come back yet.  It’s pretty funny that my Southern California husband might be adding actor/model on his resume thanks to Japan, rather than LA!  We went out to Hamakura for dinner and had sushi, tofu (me), tuna bowl (SMS) and salad for the table.  It was delicious and we pushed Linda and Rip to their jet lag limits.  We got home and everyone slept through the night.  Hooray for avoiding the 3-5 a.m. wide-awake thanks to jet lag!


Miraikan and the Poop Exhibit!

Over the Summer, I had heard about a museum exhibit with a toilet-shaped slide that kids could slide down wearing little feces hats on their heads.  This sounded awesome!  I feel like it would be one of those “Only in Japan” type of places and I wanted to be a part of it.  I didn’t know if it was a Toilet Museum, an exhibit, or what.  So, I looked into it and realized that it was a temporary exhibit at Miraikan, a science museum in Odaiba.  Further, it was closing this past Sunday and we were going to be out of town for the weekend.  Oh no!  Must move fast!  I decided to play hooky from work Friday afternoon since my work was done and I only had a morning clinic scheduled. While I wasn’t being too sneaky about it (I told my corpsmen and the other ENT I was leaving), I definitely got busted on the higher level since there were a few update meetings that afternoon about the forecasted typhoon.  Ooops, don’t care!

Anyway, SMS and I left Yokosuka around 1230 and, apart from a brief stop in Kamiooka for film shopping and onigiri, we made it to Odaiba around 2:45.  I was excited to go to Odaiba since I’ve wanted to go for awhile.  It’s a manmade island with several large malls/entertainment buildings.  It sounded really cool and a fun place to visit but I never had a specific reason to go…until now!
Our heroes!

SMS and I headed over to Miraikan, National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.  The exhibit was called “Toilet!?- Human Waste and the Earth’s Future.”  The exhibit started with a anime projection onto a toilet where our hero, Toile-no-Suke, is upset that humans do not appreciate him and his fellow toilets enough.  So, he goes on strike.  It is up to us, human toilet users, to gain a greater understanding of human waste and toilet function in the world!


So, away we went.  First, we looked at displays of different animals and their feces.  I think it would really hurt to be a Great Panda since their poop is essentially highly-textured hay bullets.  Ouch!  Then, we went to the human poop area where the Bristol Poop Scale was displayed via plastic models and there was a superhero, Superrunchi.  Next, there was an area where a person could mold their own feces and leave it in a little model squatty-potty for the next person to see.  Awesome sharing, guys!

Finally, it was the moment I had been waiting for- the toilet slide with feces hats and everyone, not just kids, could go on it!  YAY!!!!  SMS and I put on our little plush hats that looked like yellow-brown soft serve ice cream, got our picture taken and then headed up the ladder to the slide. We slid down the slide into the toilet- straight down, no swirling slide.  Then, we were in a tunnel with projections on the wall of enlarged microorganisms that were helping to break us down to be safe for discharge into the sea.  Thanks guys!

The rest of the exhibit was a blur since I was still so excited about the toilet slide.  I confess, I was trying to figure out how to double back and go again!  The exhibit ended with Toile-no-Suke feeling appreciated and he, along with several other toilets, sang a song about how great toilets are.  It was a feel-good ending for all!

We looked around the rest of the museum.  I would recommend it for families visiting Tokyo.  The exhibits are in Japanese and English.  There are a lot of interactive exhibits and even a children’s play area. We went into a deep sea submersible, looked at rocket engines and looked at the giant LED globe suspended from the ceiling.

Afterwards, we headed over towards Diver City Mall.  We had dinner at the Odaiba Oktoberfest followed by some window shopping in the mall.  We also saw a Statue of Liberty in Japan!  We headed home, a little on the tired side but happy we made it to such a funny, unique museum exhibition.