Our Tokyo mini-vacation continued with another early morning walk-about for me followed by group touring a little later in the day. Since LR would feed at 6 and then go back to sleep, the whole family would sleep in until 10. Delightful! Except my jet-lagged self couldn’t manage it.
On Day 8, I took the subway to Nakameguro where there was another City Bakery! SMS and I had found the Hiroo outpost when we lived in Japan but it was under renovation during this trip. The pastries are amazing! I bought one for there and one (two) to-go. I was so happy!
Afterwards, I took the subway to Shibuya and walked over towards Aoyama. I went to MUJI Found and bought a fold-over pouch, piece of linen cloth, and fermenting paste for pickles. Guess which one of these things I still haven’t used? Hint: It weighs 1 kg and rhymes with permenting faste.
I headed back to Hiroo with a stop in my favourite park. It was a long-ish walk and by the time I got back, everyone else was set to head out on our field trip of the day, the Yanaka neighborhood and the Asakura Sculpture Museum. SMS and I had been there before and I wanted to show Brady and Ricardo how cool it was.
Unfortunately, no strollers were allowed (lots of stairs) so Ricardo and LR chilled outside while Brady and I went through. It’s really an amazing traditional house with a more Western greenhouse artist studio in the front.
Afterwards, we walked around the Yanaka neighborhood, stopping for a beer/sake along the main pedestrian street.
Next, we walked towards Ueno Park but came upon the cutest outdoor cafe, Ueno Sakuragi Atari. This was an awesome find! We had a beautiful seat outside under a veranda with climbing plants while enjoying beers and snacks (marinated eggplant was my choice). I suspect this cafe is in a few non-US guidebooks since there were a few tourists but no Americans. I would definitely recommend this place in any Tokyo guide of mine- it was great!
We caught the subway in Ueno and headed back to Hiroo. After getting ready, I went out to Bar Trench in Ebisu to meet Norfolk friends for a pre-dinner drink. Bar Trench was super cool with great cocktails. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to drink them rather quickly, which was a little bit of a faux pas I think since we didn’t seem to appreciate the craftsmanship. But we did! Just quickly.
Also, at Bar Trench, and a few other places in Tokyo, I noticed that there’s a seating charge. It’s usually Y300-500 with higher prices noted in the highly touristed Golden Gai. It’s not a big deal, but something I hadn’t noticed when I lived there. Maybe I didn’t go to nice enough cocktail bars?
After drinks, we met up with Brady, Ricardo, Rachel and other friends for a shabu-shabu tabe-houdai (食べ放題) and nomi-houdai (飲み放題), aka, all we could eat and drink over a 90 minute period. We were very good at it! It was a lot of fun because it was an experience I’d never tried before and we were with great company!
After dinner, we walked from Ebisu to Hiroo for our last night at the New Sanno. The next day, we were going to part ways with the M-R clan heading back to Atsugi while I went to TeamLab in Odaiba followed by a quick overnight trip to Kanazawa on the West Coast of Japan.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!