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Retrospective - Japan 2018

Pictured: The world famous Shibuya Crossing

This is another Retrospective post on a trip I've already taking and just reminiscing. And I got tired of writing about Singapore. I have a couple more posts on Singapore but I'll take a break for now.

Japan is a good food-orient country to visit if you travel mainly for food, like I do. But the people and culture are the standout. For a extremely densely populated and technically advanced country, they are extremely disciplined, respectful, and still deeply rooted in their culture. For anyone thinking of visiting this country, it is pretty foreign friendly where most Japanese people can speak English and pretty friendly and helpful to foreigners. They are willing to help foreigners with out asking (we experienced it ourselves). It is a pretty clean country even if you won't see any trash cans in public (due to a terrorist event in the past). Ride the subway and you notice that although it can be very busy, people are orderly and respectful. While you're in the subway train, you can pretty much hear a pin drop since they refrain from talking within the train. And the sibways and train are always on time, to the second.

Our trip to Japan was in December of 2018. Japan Airlines has a direct flight from San Diego, which is about 9 hours. I was a decent flight. I think the seat arraignment was the 2-3-2 or 2-4-2 type.

The meal for Economy was pretty decent. I liuke how they keep it the bento box style. I remember getting Haagen Daas ice Cream after the meal.

We arrived in Tokyo in the early evening if I remember correctly. When we got settled into the hotel, it was somewhat late where most of the regular restaurants were closed. Since we were in the Shinjuku area, we decided to venture int the Golden Gai area, which is a bunch of alleys with bars and restaurants. It's a night spot for bar hoppers.

We decided an a ramen spot which seem like it was in the attic in a building. The stairs had a pretty steep incline, almost 45 degrees. It probably would fly for the Osha requirements in the US. We climb up there and there is a ticket machine for ordering food, which is the norm for Japan. We're starved and order our bowls and find a seat at the bar. The restaurant is tiny and cramp, but that is probably the norm for bars/restaurants there, and all of Japan for the most part.

So we get our ramen. Nice looking bowl. It looks ike the noodles are made in in-house as they are thicker and look like they were cut by hand. I notice the broth and it's grey. Unfortunately for me, the broth is sardine-based. It was extremely fishy tasting and not in a good way for me. Extremely pungent. I try to power through the bowl. The pork was pretty nice and tender but couldn't save the bowl. And unfortunately I ordered on an empty stomach and ordered the large bowl. I committed the Cardinal Sin in Japan and didn't finish most of my bowl. I felt bad but I just couldn't finish it. Not saying it is a bad bowl, it's just not for me. And it was my first real meal in Japan. Oh well, it does get better from here. Much much better.

Although very industrial, Tokyo is a very beautiful city. When night hits, you feel like you're in the movie Blade Runner. Alhtough that movie has the dystopian look, Tokyo is the opposite. It is bustling but with people co-existing and navigating around each other, in a city that still tries to hang on their culture which embracing technology. This is where both Sony and Godzilla live

Shibuya crossing was a must-visit as it is the iconic crossing. The Starbucks overlooking is probably the most prized location in that area. I had to broadcast live on Facebook when we crossed.

After a day in Tokyo/Shinjuku, we took a bullet train to Kyoto. The bullet train was a nice ride, and you didn't feel like you were going close to 200mph. It was about a 2hr ride. The only regret was that we didn't think to get one of those cool bento boxes before going on the train.

The hotel in Kyoto (Hotel Gracery Kyoto) was pretty nice. Unfoturnately I don't have many pictures, just of the toilet as this was the first time I experienced a bidet.

I tell ya, bidets are a revelation. I think the US should adopt the use of these. Would definitely reduce toilet paper use. Buying a bidet during the Pandemic was a life saver. So the bidet in the hotel was a technical marvel with a bunch of controls for water stream strength/position and for seat warming. There's even a button for music is case you're too noisy down there.

Oh yeah the hotel lobby had a helper robot.

One of the nice things about the hotel was that it was right next door to the Nishiki Market. It a pretty large market that spans a few blocks. It is mostly covered. It has a bunch of food stalls and grocers for vegetables, fruits and seafood. A perfect place to get your eat on.

In no particular ordered (and pictured above), a few things we sampled were:

  • Kobe Skewers

  • Large oyster

  • Toro sashimi

  • Large buttered prawn

All were fantastic.

One evening we went to a nice Tonkatsu place that served the Bershire pork which is considered the wagyu of pork.

It was an excellent meal. The Pork Tonkatsu was the best I ever had. It came with unlimited cabbage and (I think) rice. There was a few different sesame-based dipping sauces and they give you some sesame seeds and intructions on how to grind them in themortar and pestle and combine with the sauces.

We went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine while in Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of Mount Inari. There are different paths you can take with varying degrees of effort. The full path to Mount Inari may take a couple of hours. We took the short path.

After a few days in Kyoto, we headed back to Tokyo. Since we were both techies, we had to visit Akihabara. Akihabara is is considered by many to be the epicentre of modern Japanese otaku culture, and is a major shopping district for video games, anime, manga, electronics and computer-related goods.

Akihabara did not dissappoint. It is a techie Disney World with a plethora of shops full of gadgets and video games. The main street where most of the electronics related store spans quite a few blocks so you can spend alot of time there. Lost of restaurants too. There was a Yoshinoya there too.

Here are some random food shots. Japan is pretty quirky with it's food. First of all, they love their vending machines. You can find them in pretty much almost every street. They offer a variety of unusual drinks, some offer warm canned drinks. Some vending machines offer hot food and even full meals.

Walk into a 7/11 and you'll see a big difference to the US ones. Japanese have an exponentially larger selection of food and drink. A lot of the food is made fresh daily, ranging from sandwiches to onigiri to full entrees like chicken teriyaki. There is even fried dishes in the counter. A vast selection of ramen with hot water to cook your ramen and microwaves to warm up any food you purchase. People sometime go to 7/11 for most of their meals

Some department stores have a full food court with different food stalls, vendors and even butchers.

And Kit Kats are an obession in Japan. The company will release unique flavors mostly in Japan.

Pictured and in no particular order:

  • Mister Donut

  • Cheese filled and french fry crusted corn dog

  • Melon Bread with ice cream

  • Hokkaido milk ice cream (yum)

  • Department store sandwich

  • Random vending machine

  • Tokyo Banana (Japanese version of the Twinkie but with less preservatives)

  • Haagen Daas ice cream sandwich

  • Unique Kit Kat flavor

One of our obession in Japan was Ichiran Ramen. It is a chain of restaurants with a unique setup. Ordering is ticket based where you go to the ticket machine and order the ramen set you'd like. What makes it different from most other restaurants is that seating is in booths for privacy. There is a blind in front of you where the server takes your ticket order and serves you the ramen. There is an ordering form that you give to the server. There you will choice several options, like the richness of the broth, spice level, firmness of the noodles, amount of garlic, etc. When you're ready, you press the button to call the server and give them your ticket and order form. They take the ticket and close the blinds. Minutes later, your food comes and they close the blinds to maintain privacy. Even though there are booths, but the side wall partitions can be removed so you can talk with your dining partner.

Even though this is a chain, and there's probably better ramen restaurants in Japan, we absolutely loved Ichiran. The broth was so flavorful. Better than anything in the US, even Menya Ultra in San Diego. We loved it so much that we had Ichiran 3 times while we were there. The nice thing about Ichiran is that most of them are open 24 hours. The first time we went was at 4am as we were still fighting jet lag.

On our last night, we decided to splurge and went to an All You Can Eat Waygu Restaurant called Rokkasen (which I found through Mikey Chen/Strictly Dumpling YouTube channel).

It was as good as you would imagine. You get a 90 minute time limit. You order from a iPad-like tablet and can order 4 meats at a time. There are certain cuts of waygu offered but I forget what cuts. There are lesser grades (non-wagyu) meats but they are as well-marbled and almost the same quality. I remember we were impressed with the beef tongue. There is a grill in the middle, and the meat only takes a few seconds to grill. The meat was so tender and fatty. You get a few dipping sauces. It also comes with lobster tail which is a nice touch. The 90 minute time limit was enough time as we got our fill within this time. For dessert, we got mochi ice cream. A very nice end to the meal and for the trip.

Japan is a must-visit if you travel for food. There are other parts of Japan to discover, such as Osaka and Hokkaido. Hopefully I can make a return trip.

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