Category Archives: People

A Japanese Adventure: “Kindred Spirits”

All throughout our trip my sister jokingly said that most of my adventures revolved around food… and she was probably right. I’m a foodie, I can’t help it. 🙂

After our adventures and exploration in Shibuya we headed to dinner at “Ippin”.
(https://www.facebook.com/ippin.ebisu)

And we came across this fantastic beauty while we were walking to Ippin:

Ippin was another quiet and dimly lit peaceful restaurant… perfect for a relaxing meal at the end of a touristy kinda day.

Now, everywhere in Japan, everyone we met was extremely polite, gracious and helpful.. but here’s the thing about Ippin…. they had the friendliest and ‘awesomest’ staff of all the places we’d been to!! 🙂

You could tell the minute you walked in… They were kindred spirits.
Their contagious smiles and light-heartedness was just what we needed. One hostess in particular was so full of life (Ok.. I’ll admit it… I totally had a crush on her.. 😉 … ) and energy, we just watched her as she went from table to table, full of smiles, making sure everything was alright.

Now… the food… I was not in a noodle-mood, so while everyone else in our group had noodles, I decided to be a little adventurous and order (if my memory hasn’t failed me) hot garlic chicken…. it was epic… !

As we left, the super awesome staff was kind enough to pose for a picture with us 🙂

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We made our way back to the hotel, full stomachs and hearts overflowing with warmth…
If I ever go back, I’ll definitely visit Ippin again!
The next blog post will cover our trip to none other than……. Mount Fuji … aka Fuji-san! 🙂

But before I sign-off, just a couple of thoughts on photography:
Most of the pictures I took on the trip were on my iPhone 6 Plus and occasionally some on my backup phone, the Samsung A5… and both were fine. One of our tour group members had an amazing alternative: Instant Prints.. courtesy of Fujifilm instax mini 90 neo classic. I’d highly recommend that if you’re into photography, you carry a small instant camera to capture some prints as memories.. 🙂

A Japanese Adventure: The Little Things …

Akihabara was amazing, energizing and refreshing… I loved every minute I was there.

You hear a great deal about Japanese culture, and you can experience it, wherever you are in the world, through their unique media culture but it’s a whole other experience when you are actually there, surrounded by it. You understand the scale of certain subcultures and how fascinating they all are.

I realized that there were certain things that as a tourist you had to do to truly experience these aspects of Japanese culture that you only caught a glimpse of when you were back home.
Here are a few, regardless of whether you are a fan or not:
– Actually go to a manga store and buy a manga
– Explore anime and buy one that you think interests you
– Visit a themed cafe (like the Gundam cafe in my last post)
– Buy KITKAT! (Coming up in a blog post soon)

Keeping this in mind, and having visited the Gundam Cafe, we decided to take a walk to ‘Mandarake‘ to try to check off the anime/manga exploration.

Background:
Mandarake is an anime/manga paradise. Manga, both new and pre-owned, anime collections, and more importantly… collectibles! Tons of figures, posters, artwork, etc.. for fans of any franchise. (http://www.mandarake.co.jp/en/shop/)

A very unique experience indeed! I was a little in shock (and awe) and didn’t take many pictures.. instead spending more time appreciating gaping at the shelves and shelves of goodies.. 🙂
What’s a little surprising is that despite floors and floors of manga you’ll find it very hard to find any manga in English… perhaps a small single shelf in a corner.. with maybe 5 manga on it… 🙂 … So unless you are a fluent in Japanese, it becomes a little bit tricky. The same goes for anime..
Since I’m not fluent in Japanese I wasn’t able to pick up either from Mandarake (I did pick them up later in the trip.. stay tuned.. 🙂 .. )

If you’re like me then though you might enjoy hours and hours of browsing stores full of amazing collectibles you still prefer actually walking outdoors and breathing in the culture… the environment, the sunset, the people, the atmosphere. Although Mandarke was fantastic, simply walking from the Gundam Cafe to Mandarake and then walking the way back to Yodobashi camera was great… 🙂

Our dinner stop for the night was a touch of Mediterranean cuisine at ‘Al Mina’.
Mediterranean cuisine: Healthy + Delicious… always a good option.
The salad, appetizers, and grill were awesome… make sure you try the ‘Banana-Date-Honey Smoothie’ … 🙂

That was it for the day… almost…

On the way back we caught our first glimpse of some of the unique KitKat flavors in Japan:

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Stay tuned for a post just on  KitKat awesomeness… 🙂

 

A Japanese Adventure: Akihabara and … Gundam Cafe!

After a quick lunch at Bosporus Hassan (Turkish cuisine) we headed to one of our most eagerly awaited destinations…. Akihabara!

Background:
Akihabara (秋葉原), also called Akiba after a former local shrine, is a district in central Tokyo that is famous for its many electronics shops. In more recent years, Akihabara has gained recognition as the center of Japan’s otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are now dispersed among the electronic stores in the district.
(http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html)

It is the place to go to enjoy technology, anime, manga, and a fantastic atmosphere!
I had my map (an actual paper map) and I had Google Maps, and I was energized …. I was ready!

The group bus dropped us off at the Yodobashi Camera megastore... a shopper’s paradise.
Whether you are looking for mobile accessories, computers, Apple products, consoles and games, models, crafts, gifts for children…. this is the place to visit. 🙂

After browsing the many many floors of Yodobashi Camera I decided it was time for a little exploration… and the first stop was… the Gundam Cafe!

Background:
In case you’re not familiar with ‘Gundam’: Gundam are mech or mecha or human/pilot operated robot suits (also called “mobile suits”). The Gundam franchise has been running since 1979 (so before I was even born) and is extremely popular.
You can read more about the history of Gundam here:
(http://io9.com/a-history-of-gundam-the-anime-that-defined-the-giant-r-1690326227)

I never actually watched Gundam.. until Mobile Suit Gundam 00 which aired between 2007-2009. This was my first ‘contact’ with Gundam and what fascinated me was the depth of the narrative, the political context and the character development. This particular incarnation of the franchise is set at a point in time when humanity has finally turned to solar power as its source of energy and has evolved technologically to the point where it can harness solar energy through receivers in space and transport that energy efficiently back to earth… thereby causing oil dependent economies to start to collapse…. an interesting political/economic backdrop isn’t it? 🙂

Anyway, back to the Gundam Cafe. In Japan you’ll find many ‘themed’ cafes or restaurants or stores. These are outlets dedicated to specific franchises and the Gundam Cafe is all about Gundam.

We were able to find it easily.. thanks to Google Maps.. 😉 … and I was in for a treat.
The menu was actually based on Gundam 00.. the only franchise I had watched… so I could actually appreciate all the references! Woohoo!
I ordered the Tieria Erde (my least favorite Gundam Meister.. but hey.. it was berry flavor).. 😛

Another surprise was that they had strawberry shortcake!
So.. I’d been hearing a lot about how I absolutely had to try strawberry shortcake and I finally got my chance. It was deeelicious!

For someone who enjoys Anime, Gundam, Food… this place is perfect. I loved it.. it was the icing on my strawberry shortcake of a trip.. 🙂

I picked up a few souvenirs from the attached Gundam souvenir store and we continued our exploration of Akihabara.. more to come in the next blog post! (Hint: More Gundam adventures too.. ;)… )

A Japanese Adventure: Welcome to Tokyo!

Tokyo! Finally!
We reached The Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu hotel a little tired… but excited!
While in Kyoto there had been a sense of peace and calm all around… Tokyo was different. Even though it was a little late and relatively quiet, there was a vibe of energy…

The hotel was quiet, with a 24*7 mini-mart downstairs and a direct connection to a shopping mall to the right… and as expected, there was ‘Kawaii’ merchandise in the lobby to purchase.. 🙂

The room was comfortable and spacious, at I was more than happy to get a chance to recharge and prep for the next day.

The next morning my first objective was to explore…… breakfast! I have to be honest and say that it was actually a little disappointing, especially after the amazing options back at our hotel in Kyoto (Tokyu Hotel). It’s not that it was bad… it’s just that it was.. ordinary. IMG_5465

Although it was fairly early, we decided to explore the connection to the nearby shopping mall. Nothing was open at that point but that didn’t stop us from taking some snaps.. 🙂

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With the rest of the group up and about, we set off to our first stop in Tokyo: Isetan department store. Unfortunately, I was too busy browsing to take many pictures. It’s massive! Floors focused on fashion, ceramics and more! Although I didn’t pick up anything (I was hoping to pick up an Apple Watch at the Apple store inside Isetan but I decided to pass), my sister found some great items!

I didn’t spend much time at Isetan because, together with a couple of other members of the group, I walked to a couple of nearby stores (outside Isetan) searching for sports merchandise. Walking and sightseeing is much more fun than browsing department stores! (Or so I thought till I went to some unique stores later on in the trip .. 🙂 …. )

One place I regret not trying:

After a mini-shopping spree at Isetan, we headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building to enjoy an awesome view from the top.
Background:
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (東京都庁, Tōkyō Tochō) in Shinjuku is often visited by tourists for its free observation decks which provide good panoramic views of Tokyo and beyond. The 243 meter tall building has two towers, and each houses an observatory at a height of 202 meters. It had been the tallest building in Tokyo until it was overtaken by the Midtown Tower in 2007.”
(http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3011_tocho.html)

The view was definitely enjoyable but it was difficult to take pictures without reflections in the glass:

It finally gave us a bit more insight into the size and scale of the city….. massive!

On our way out we stopped at the Tourist Information Center where I finally got some decent pictures and more importantly, picked up a map of Akihabara (post coming soon!)..!

Coming up in the next post: Lunch at Turkish restaurant:  Bosphorus Hassan and finally: Akihabara! 🙂

 

A Japanese Adventure: Heavenly Bites and Nagoya Delights

After our flashback into the past – Ninja Style – we ‘stealthily’ made our way to lunch at ‘”Chitoseya Nishikiten”…
A combination of a hot pot and unbelievably delicious bento (even better than the previous one)!

The bento had a mix of chicken, fish, some delicious salad and seaweed… and every item was delicious. The dessert was perhaps the best dessert so far: Mango Pudding!… Soft, sweet and flawless. The hotpot was thoroughly enjoyable, but I have a limited appetite, and after polishing off the bento, I couldn’t bring myself to wrap up the hotpot. It’s supposed to be eaten in stages… they bring in noodles later on to add to the hotpot… I was completely full by then. Others in the group though, couldn’t get enough of it. 🙂

The restaurant was very comfortable, the service was great (as it was everywhere), and the meal gave us the energy we’d need very very soon… for our next stop…. Nagoya Castle!

The walk from the bus to the actual castle takes about 10-12 minutes… and the view is great.. the castle is like a hidden gem, peeking out from between the trees… the walls apparently designed to keep even climbers out…

The castle is absolutely gorgeous… it’s hard to grasp how such structures were built in the past…

Although there are multiple levels at the castle, we didn’t go through all of them.
Our main goal was to get to the top and enjoy the view… (as well as the souvenir store that is always at the top floor of such sites).. 🙂

I picked up a couple of unique souvenirs (which I shall discuss in a separate post on souvenirs)… 🙂

The elevators to go up to the top and back are usually crowded, but not unbearably so.There is a lot to enjoy, not just the view. As always everything is ‘Kawaii’ and you can’t help but pick up a little memento.

As we made our way back down and to the bus… I couldn’t help but stop at the snack store to pick up a little treat to cool off…

Yup… some shaved ice with strawberry syrup… an absolutely essential treat for every outdoor excursion.. 🙂

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I’m breaking up my adventure into tiny little posts so that I can relieve it piece by piece. From Nagoya castle, we headed to Nagoya station to take the bullet train (Shinkansen) to Tokyo! 🙂
(The Shinkansen (新幹線, new trunk line) is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen)

I’ll cover our first experience taking a Shinkansen, (even our first visit to a Japanese train station) in the next post!

 

A Japanese Adventure: Ninjas!

Another day, another adventure… this time with a little more action!

Our first stop of the day was the ‘Ninja Museum’ (http://iganinja.jp/en/) …
If you ever visit Japan, this is one place you simply must visit.. history, culture, action and fun.. all in one 🙂

There are 3 main areas to visit at this site:
– A ‘performance’/show demonstrating the use of real ninja weapons (in a humorous play/skit)
– A ‘Ninja-house’ demonstrating secret passages/hiding places actually used by Ninjas in order to conceal themselves, escape when in danger, or hide valuables
– A Ninja Museum where you can learn more about the weapons/artefacts and history/culture of the period

The performance is amazing, short but thoroughly enjoyable. Queues were long and there were many excited mini-ninjas all dressed up and excited for the show!

The performance is hilarious and we were allowed to take pictures, although capturing videos was not allowed. It features one amazingly powerful ninja-girl who overwhelms her opponents through martial arts, ninja weapons and wraps up her performance with a casual and ‘kawaii’ ‘V’ sign for the cameras… 🙂 Smoke effects and sound effects were perfect, keeping kids energized and most of us laughing along.. and the humor was punctuated with explanations of what was being used and more serious demonstrations with swords and shurikien.

Interesting note: As Ninjas were essentially undercover, they had to be able to do their cover-roles perfectly, whether as performers/entertainers or as farmers.. so it wasn’t just about being a good assassin, it was about stealth and maintaining your cover.

After the performance, we also had the opportunity to throw shurikien at a target.
Background: “A shuriken (Japanese 手裏剣; literally: “sword hidden in user’s hand”) is a traditional Japanese concealed weapon that was generally used for throwing, and sometimes stabbing or slashing. Ninja stars, or Shuriken, were invented in the Three Year War (1083-1087 AD) by Tadamasa.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuriken)

I wasn’t great… but I was, surprisingly, not all that bad either.. 🙂

We then moved on to the Ninja House! Hidden revolving panels/doors, secret staircases, observation passages near the ceiling. Hidden swords, valuables and escape passages… impressive! I couldn’t capture many photographs, and videos were not permitted… 😦

The last stop was the museum and souvenir store. Perhaps the most interesting piece of gear in the museum was the pair of wooden slippers used by ninjas to walk over water!

A few hours well spent, our adventure of stealth, intrigue and shurikien target practice complete, we were all set for lunch and a trip to Nagoya castle.. which I’ll cover in the next post. 🙂

 

A Japanese Adventure: Towering Brilliance and Bite-Sized Beauty

After having petted and fed deer, and after having found some unique souvenirs (special post on that coming soon), it was time for another Japanese lunch!

Now, I have to confess, I don’t remember the name of the restaurant.. which I feel quite guilty about and I’m going to have to do some research… research done… itinerary consulted…  it was called: “Matsumotoya” .. 🙂 (Couldn’t find an appropriate web site/link)

It’s a restaurant as well a snack and souvenir store. They had a sign out front, with our name on it… literally! What a lovely welcome.

It was refreshing, and quiet.. just what we needed. The food was simple and delicious. I savoured every bite. It’s amazing how much you can grow to love a cup of cold water after the outdoor adventures!

Verdict: Bento = Fabulous! Loved every bit of it (and yes, I helped myself to what my sister didn’t finish off.. haha!)

There was quite a bit to see in the store. As always everything was ‘Kawaii’! 🙂

The beauty about Japan, and this came as a surprise to us, and to those we told after our trip, a lot of this snacking and shopping is not particularly expensive.. in fact, coming from Dubai, you may find a lot of goodies that are much cheaper than what you’d pay back home.

After lunch, we headed to the Horyu-Ji Temple!

Background:
Horyuji Temple (法隆寺, Hōryūji) was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku, who is credited with the early promotion of Buddhism in Japan. Horyuji is one of the country’s oldest temples and contains the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures. It was designated a world heritage site in 1993. (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4104.html)

Prince Shotoku (574-622), a member of the imperial clan, exercised political leadership from the end of the sixth century to the beginning of the seventh century….[…]…He created Japan’s first constitution, known as the Seventeen-Article Constitution, which established rules for officials engaged in political affairs. For example, it stipulated that officials serving in the imperial court must obey the orders of the reigning monarch and that there must be fair trials. Prince Shotoku also devoted his efforts to the spread of Buddhism in Japan, building many temples and dispatching envoys to China. (http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/explore/history/q1.html)

It’s actually just a 5-10 minute walk from the restaurant and on the way we came across a little untouched beauty:

The temple is an architectural, historical and engineering marvel… of that there is no doubt…
One can only wonder at how they were designed to be able to withstand natural disaster and the passage of time… it seems the only weakness that all ancient wooden structures we have come across is… fire.

Our tour guide, was helpful as always, making sure we went through the brochures and guides we were given, and making sure we understood the significance of each structure, each statue and each site.


We also visited a museum area, however, photos were not allowed, and words cannot accurately describe the well preserved artifacts: statues, tools, clothes, tablets, and structural models – a fascinating experience!

As we made our way out of the temple we stopped at one my favorite Japanese delights:
A vending machine! 🙂  Unfortunately, the pictures aren’t clear due to the lighting used in the vending machines – they add a bit of a flicker.
– Interesting things to note: ‘Fanta Melon’ – never seen that before!
– I asked a Japanese group member for a recommendation of a drink to try… Something ‘Japanese’ and they recommended ‘Calpis’ ..!
I did try it and it was refreshing and delicious!

Background:
Calpis (カルピス) is a Japanese uncarbonated soft drink…[…]…The beverage has a light, somewhat milky, and slightly acidic flavor, similar to plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt or Yakult. Its ingredients include water, nonfat dry milk and lactic acid, and is produced by lactic acid fermentation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calpis)

Our next stop was a shopping district followed by a delicious Moroccan dinner… which I’ll cover in my next blog post.. 🙂