Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Tokyo, Mount Fuji Free-and-Easy Itinerary

Having been to Tokyo a few times, I find that there are still many places that I have yet to explore! As this is the first time that we brought our children to Tokyo, we chose to visit places that are not too crowded. As for the accommodation in Tokyo, we decided to stay near Tokyo Dome, where is not as crowded as places like Shinjuku, and yet it is accessible by 3 subway lines, and there are supermarkets and restaurants available.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3 
  • Nagameguro 中目黒 - Starbucks Reserve Roastery Tokyo, Traveler's Factory
  • Lunch: Afuri ramen
  • Science Museum
  • Caretta Shiodome (watch winter illumination and light show)
  • Dinner: Marugame Seimen udon 丸亀製麺 @ Caretta Shiodome
  • Stay: Toyoko Inn Korakuen Bunkyokuyakusho Mae
  • Transport: use Tokyo Subway Ticket (72-hour)

Day 4

Day 5
  • [Take subway from Kasuga to Shinjuku Nishiguchi. From Shinjuku, take Keio line to Takao, then change to JR Chuo line to Otsuki, and then free hotel shuttle bus to Toyoko Inn Fuji Kawaguchiko Ohashi]
  • Saiko Iyashi no Sato Neban 西湖いやしの里根場 (Japanese ancient village)
  • Fugaku Wind Cave 富岳風穴
  • Mifujien Hotel hot spring
  • Dinner: Gusto ガスト
  • Stay: Toyoko Inn Fuji Kawaguchiko Ohashi
  • Transport: use Suica card for trains, and Kawaguchiko Sight-seeing Bus 2-day Pass

Day 6
  • Oishi Park 大石公園
  • Lake Bake Cafe
  • Lunch: Ogino Supermarket
  • [Take free hotel shuttle bus from Toyoko Inn Fuji Kawaguchiko Ohashi to Otsuki, then take JR Chuo line to Takeo, then take Keio line to Shinjuku, and then subway from Shinjuku Nishiguchi to Kasuga]
  • Dinner: Daiei Supermarket
  • Stay: Toyoko Inn Korakuen Bunkyokuyakusho Mae
  • Transport: use Suica card for trains, and Kawaguchiko Sight-seeing Bus 2-day Pass

Day 7
  • Bunkyo Civic Centre Observatory
  • Sugamo 巣鴨 (buy Japanese tea)
  • [Take JR to Ikebukuro, then take Tobu line to Kawagoe]
  • Kawagoe 川越
  • Lunch: Mitsuyado Seimen 三ツ矢堂製麺
  • Ikebukuro 池袋 - Pokemon Mega Centre @ Sunshine City
  • Dinner: Katsumidori Sushi 活美登利 @ Seibu Ikebukuro
  • Stay: Toyoko Inn Korakuen Bunkyokuyakusho Mae
  • Transport: use Suica card, and Tobu Kawagoe Discount Pass Premium

Day 8
  • Koishikawa Korakuen 小石川後楽園
  • Lunch: Seijo Iishi 成城石井 Supermarket @ LaQua Tokyo Dome City
  • Narita Airport - home sweet home
  • Transport: use Suica card

Our Expenditure (2 adults and 2 children)
Air tickets (Japan Airlines) = ~S$2800
Accommodation (7 nights) = ~S$900 (we paid less than this amount as we used Toyoko Inn member discount)
Transport = ~S$400
Admission tickets = ~S$60
Total damage = ~S$4800

Post Trip Reflection
Our actual itinerary is slightly different from what we planned, because it was raining on Day 3 so we had the indoor activities that day. I though it was a wise decision to go to Mount Fuji area for 2 days to relax (except for the long train rides from and back to Tokyo). 

If I have more days and more budget, I would love to visit Karuizawa 軽井沢 and Izu 伊豆! Hope to visit these places next time!

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Tokyo Food Guide - What to Eat in Tokyo?

What to eat in Tokyo? There are so many different types of food, but we have limited space in our stomach, and limited budget. In this post, we are sharing with you our Tokyo food guide.

Tsukiji Fish Market
It is often a misconception that Tsukiji Fish Market has moved to Toyosu Fish Market. Well, it is actually the inner part of the market that has moved, the outer market is still vibrant with many tourists!

Tsukiji Fish Market is easily accessible by subway. You can either take Toei Oedo Line to Tsukijishijo Station 築地市場駅 (exit A1), or Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line to Tsukiji Station 築地駅 (exit 1).

Let us share with you our Tsukiji Fish Market Food Map!

base map: Google Maps

Marutoyo (丸豐) rice balls  
The rice balls went into our stomach without any photo taken as we were too hungry! There is a variety of types of rice balls, for example, salmon, pork with miso, deep fried prawn and so on. The price is around 200+ yen (~S2.50) for each, and the size is bigger than those you can find in convenient stores. Other than rice balls, there are also various types of sushi and rice bowls.

Yamachou Matsue (築地 山長) tamagoyaki / sweet egg omelette  
There are many stalls that sell tamagoyaki (sweet egg omelette), and we had ours from Yamachou Matsue. It was rather therapeutic to see the chef skillfully preparing the egg through the glass window. The egg is mixed with dashi, so it is very tasty. It is only 100 yen each, and I think it is a must-try street food at Tsukiji Fish Market.

Stewed squids and grilled scallop with sea urchin (Forgot the name of the shop) and Miyako (みやこ) grilled seafood 
My initial plan was to eat grilled seafood on scallop shell from Miyako, however the shop was closed when we reached there! At 1000 yen, there are grilled tuna, scallop, sea urchin and crab claw on a scallop shell. 

So we looked for another shop that sold cooked seafood. The children had the stewed squids which cost 500 yen (~S$6+), and they like it. 

I ordered grilled scallop with sea urchin which was 600 yen (~S$7.50). I thought that the sea urchin was a tad wasted as it was overly burnt.

Marusai (丸焼きたこせんべい) takosenbei / octopus cracker
When we saw other visitors eating this crispy octopus cracker, we were very curious and bought one. It was quite costly though, at 600 yen each (~S$7.50). But it was quite an interesting experience to see how the staff prepared the cracker with the press machine.

Harajuku is very crowded! Especially along Takeshita Street, there are many eateries and shops that sell fashionable and cute items. 

This is our Harajuku food map:

base map: Google Maps

Totti Candy Factory 
The children thought they found the heaven when they entered Totti Candy Factory located at Takeshita Street. There are many different types of candy. 

It was interesting to see the staff preparing the giant candy floss 950 yen (~S$12). It was bigger than my head! 

Kebab Box J
The shop sells kebab and very long fries. This portion of long fries cost 500 yen (~S$6), not cheap though. The fries are crispy, but be careful as you eat the fries, they may break as they are too long!

Luke's Lobster
The branch at Omodesando was rather well hidden. There are also branches at Shinjuku and Shibuya. We ordered Lobster Roll (light) which cost 980 yen excluding tax (~S$13+). It is an interesting combination of warm bun with cold lobster meat. It is satisfying to have a big chunk of lobster meat. However the seasoning is rather strong for me, the garlic butter taste lingered in my mouth for quite some time.

There is a great variety of food at Ikebukuro. However as we only planned for one evening in this area, we could only choose to visit one restaurant.

Katsumidori Sushi 活美登利
I heard that the queue was crazy at Katsumidori Sushi 活美登利 located at Seibu Ikebukuro level 8. We were there early at 5+ p.m. on a weekday, so we waited for a short while only. After dinner, we saw the snaking long queue outside the restaurant!

You can either take the sushi from the conveyor belt, or order through the tablet and receive the sushi from a "train". The ingredients are fresh and delicious. 

otoro (tuna belly) sushi

sea urchin gunkan

Yonezawa beef sushi

Mutekiya (無敵家) ramen
We visited this ramen restaurant a decade ago, and I recalled that we queued for 45 minutes last time! The soup was very flavourful.

photo taken a decade ago

photo taken a decade ago

Tokyo Dome City (LaQua Area)
As we stayed near Tokyo Dome, we went to Tokyo Dome City LaQua Area very often to hunt for food.

Kaisen Misakiko (海鮮三崎港) sushi
Ordering sushi at this chain of sushi restaurant is very easy - there are tablets and you can choose English menu. Most of the food are delivered by a "train" except miso soup and chawamushi. The price ranges from 110 yen to 590 yen excluding tax (~S$1.50 to S$8). The sea urchin is fresh and sweet!

steamed scallop sushi

sea urchin gunkan

conger eel sushi

Seijoishi Supermarket (成城石井)
Seijoishi Supermarket reminds me of Cold Storage or FairPrice Finest Supermarkets in Singapore. Other than bento and some other cooked food, there are also our favourite grilled sweet potato (but it was only available every day). Visit the supermarket at evening to get the food at a discount price!

Although we have been to Tokyo a few times, it was our first time visiting Nagameguro. Other than Starbucks Reserve Roastery Tokyo, there are other cafes which I wish to visit next time.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery Tokyo
The building itself is like a tourist attraction, we spent some time walking around from the first level to the fourth level.

We bought Golden Sky Black Tea Latte (950 yen excluding tax) and genmai with cardamom peach tea (850 yen excluding tax). Golden Sky Black Tea Latte attracts people's attention. We have to use the chopsticks to mix the cotton candy floss into the tea, which makes it golden colour. How about the taste? Well, even a sweet tooth like me found it too sweet! Genmai with cardamom peach tea has a nice peach fragrance and is also quite sweet.

We also ordered Pantheon Blend coffee (630 yen excluding tax) and Pistacchio Mortadella sandwich (860 yen excluding tax). Pantheon Blend coffee is great for coffee lover, the aroma and taste is perfect!

Yes, Afuri has a branch in Singapore, but the one in Tokyo is so many times better! The char grilled char siew at Afuri Tokyo makes a significant difference. In addition, Afuri Tokyo offers vegetarian version of ramen, which Singapore branch does not.

Mitsuyado Seimen (三ツ矢堂製麺) tsukemen 
We visited the branch at Kawagoe, but there is also another branch at Nagameguro if you are not heading to Kawagoe. It was the first time that I tried tsukemen with cheese! The dipping sauce is also different from the typical one, there is a tinge of yuzu taste in it. 


Pablo cheese tarts
On our way to Caretta Shiodome to watch the winter illumination, we walked through Wing Shinbashi where I spotted Pablo, so I quickly grabbed one. Other than the cheese tarts at Kinotoya at Hokkaido, I think Pablo cheese tart is one of the better cheese tarts that I have ever tasted.

Marugame Seimen (丸亀製麺) udon
It is a chain of udon restaurants and you can find the outlets all over Japan. My eyes were attracted by the sign "limited edition" - udon with oysters and egg! The appearance did not look very appealing, but I like the oysters!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Tokyo, Mt Fuji Travel Day 7 & 8 Ikebukuro, Kawagoe, Sugamo, Koishikawa Korakuen, Bunkyo Civic Centre

On our last two days of this Japan trip, we explored places that are not so crowded - Kawagoe 川越, Sugamo 巣鴨, Koishikawa Korakuen 小石川後楽園, and Bunkyo Civic Centre.

Bunkyo Civic Centre is just a few minutes away from our hotel, and we managed to find time to go to level 25 on the second last day of our trip. There is a 180 degrees observatory. Most importantly, it is free admission!

Looking at the beautiful autumn foliage, we decided that we shall visit Koishikawa Korakuen 小石川後楽園 on the next day.

Harajuku in Tokyo is well-known as the fashionable shopping district for the youngsters and the young at heart. Do you know that there is also "Grandma's Harajuku" in Tokyo? Indeed, upon arriving at Sugamo , we saw many local elderly!

Well, the reason for visiting Sugamo is to purchase Japanese tea from a tea store 山年園 located at Sugamo Jizodori Shopping Street 巣鴨地蔵通り商店街. The friendly shop owners chatted with us and let us try different tea. Do you see the gold dust on the green tea?

Along the street, we saw a queue for Japanese traditional snack shio daifuku. Unlike the typical daifuku, shio daifuku has a slightly salty taste. It is well-balanced with the red bean filling that is not overly sweet.

We then visited Kawagoe , which is known as "Little Edo". Located at Saitama Prefecture, Kawagoe is an ideal place for a day trip from Tokyo because the train ride is only around 30 minutes from Ikebukuro or Shinjuku.

To get from Tokyo to Kawagoe, you can either take Tobu Tojo Line from Ikebukuro, or you can take Seibu Shinjuku Line or JR Saikyo Line from Shinjuku. We chose to take Tobu Tojo Line from Ikebukuro because Tobu Railway offers Kawagoe Discount Pass Premium (adult 970 yen, child 490 yen) which includes round-trip train tickets between Ikebukuro and Kawagoe or Kawagoe-shi stations, and unlimited train and bus rides in designated area.

We had our lunch at Mitsuyado Seimen 三ツ矢堂製麺 near Kawagoe station. It was the first time that I tried out tsukemen with cheese! The dipping sauce is also different from the typical one, there is a tinge of yuzu taste in it.

From Kawagoe station, we took bus W1-1 at East Bus Stop No.1. As the bus travelled along Kurazukuri Street 蔵造りの町並み, we felt that we were brought back in time to the olden Japan!

We alighted at bus stop W8 Fuda no Tsuji 札の辻, where we walked down the nostalgic Kashiya Yokocho Alley 菓子屋横丁. As the name implies, the whole street is lined up with Japanese sweets and snacks.

This fu snack made from Okinawa black sugar is 95 cm long!

The area is famous for snacks made from sweet potato. We tried imokoi いも恋 from Kasho Umon 菓匠右門, the outer layer is mochi-like, and the filling includes sweet potato and red bean. Other than imokoi, we also tried the warabi mochi.

We saw many visitors carrying a plastic cup with sweet potato chips, so we followed the direction and found the shop Koedo Osatsu-an 小江戸おさつ庵. At 500 yen, the chips come with a sauce, we chose salt butter sauce.

The iconic place at Kawagoe is Toki-no-Kane 時の鐘, which was built 400 years ago!

Along the street, we saw Starbucks that blended well with the historical area. The unique feature of this Starbucks is the small Japanese garden at the back.

Another interesting things that we spotted at Kawagoe were the animal statues.

What a pity that Kawagoe Matsuri Kaikan 川越まつり会館 was closed on the day that we were at Kawagoe! It is closed on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. I would like to know more about the Kawagoe Festival!

If you are travelling to Kawagoe, you can also consider exploring Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine 氷川神社 which is well-known for relationships and matchmaking.

We went back to Ikebukuro, and headed towards Pokemon Centre Mega Tokyo at Sunshine City. It was super crowded!

Since it was the second last day of the trip, we had a sushi treat for ourselves at Katsumidori Sushi 活美登利 at Seibu Ikebukuro. I heard that the queue was crazy, but we were thankful that we were there early at 5+ p.m., so we waited for a short while only. After dinner, we saw the snaking long queue outside the restaurant!

The sushi there is not really very cheap, but the ingredients are fresh and delicious. Look at the otoro (tuna belly), sea urchin, and Yonezawa beef sushi!

Finally, it was the last day of our Japan trip. As our flight was departing in the evening, we still had half a day to explore the area near our hotel. As mentioned earlier, we decided to visit Koishikawa Korakuen to view the autumn foliage.

We were blessed with sunny and warm weather! While I was taking photos of the autumn foliage, a kind local elderly shared with me some great photography tips!

The last meal of this trip is bento from supermarket! Well, after visiting Japan a few times, I figure out that supermarket is my favourite shopping place!

We took Keisei Main Line Rapid Limited Express to Narita Airport. After checking-in our luggage, we spent the remaining amount stored in Welcome Suica card at convenience shop! As usual, we did our last minute shopping of snacks at tax free shop at the transit area. We know very well what to buy as we find that the tax free shops at almost all Japan airports sell the same things! Calbee, Pocky, LeTao, Shiroikoibito, Tokyo Cheese Factory and so on, so basically you don't need to find them outside the airport!