MonthJuly 2014

Ise

This is my last post from my trip to Asia, where we took a day trip from Nagoya to a town, known for its Shinto shrines, called Ise.

Unlike Shinto shrines in other places, these ones are quite simple in their architecture.

These people were trying to “listen” to the tree. I thought stethoscopes were needed to do that. Anyway, that tree trunk was huge.

Random chicken on the road. Doesn’t seem to be afraid of people.

And of course, lunch! Ise is famous for its udon, so that’s what we had at a restaurant called Ise Udon Okunoya. My lunch also came with a rice bowl with sashimi from local fish.

And I also had one piece of sushi that costed ¥1,000 (~$10). The main ingredient: Matsuzaka beef, a kind of beef that rivals even Kobe beef in quality. The beef is very soft and tender. When I put it in my mouth, I felt it melting apart by itself. $10 well spent.

Oharaimachi is a street with many traditional buildings and restaurants. There also lots of shops that sell different types of sake, and local foods for tourists.

Played this game where I shot a gun that shot out a small cork at towers of candies. Whatever I knocked down, I got to keep. Went home with a bag of candy 🙂

Links to photo albums: here

Nagoya

Next stop, Nagoya! Or as the train announcer says, “次は名古屋です!”

As usual, food was the goal. Miso-Katsu, a kind of Japanese schnitzel with with miso sauce, is a specialty of Nagoya. Yabaton was the name of the restaurant and it is one of the most famous places in Nagoya for Miso-Katsu.

Nagoya also has the largest planetarium in the world at the Nagoya City Science Museum. And they have palm trees! We went to the planetarium show too, and they showed us how various constellations and planets looked in space, but unforunately, all the explanations were in Japanese. Still, it is worth a visit for those who enjoy stargazing.

Some crazy stuff they were able to do with bubbles too.

And I found the dome and helix fossils. I just need to go to the lab in Cinnarbar Island… Now I am wondering if the museum people put those two fossils together on purpose.

I wanted to walk inside this tornado so badly.

Another specialty of Nagoya is Hitsumabushi, which is grilled eel on rice. Probably many non-Asians may think that this is weird to eat, but regardless it is very very good, but expensive. According to the local culture, there is a “standard” way to eat this. First is to eat a quarter of it as is. Second, is to add various spices like green onion, and wasabi to it and eat another quarter. Third is to mix it with the given broth and eat another quarter of it. Lastly, it is to eat the last quarter with the favoured method of the three.

In the downtown district of Sakae, I saw a Ferris wheel attached to the side of the building. I should get one for my house too.

Not sure if this is a thing in Nagoya, but someone had the great idea of mixing melon in their spaghetti batter. Step 1: Make spaghetti with melon batter. Step 2: Add whipped cream. Step 3: ???. Step 4: Profit! Apparently, the kiwi one was better, according to a friend.

Another speciality of Nagoya is Tebasaki, Nagoya-style fried chicken wings. I believe it is deep fried with a coating of sweet soy sauce. It tasted okay, I guess.

Not exactly a specialty of Nagoya, but this is raspberry Kit Kat. It is not good. Don’t try it.

As expected, epic food often makes appearances in my travelling 🙂

Links to photo albums:

Universal Studios Japan

The last time I went to Universal Studios was in California when I was 12. It was nice coming back years later and seeing the same rides that I had such fond memories of as a child. Even though this one is in Osaka, it felt like it took the best rides from the one in California (at least from 10 years ago) and put them in Japan. Warning: lot’s of spoilers for the rides!

Back to the Future is definitely one of my favourite movies and since USJ had this ride there, I had to go (even if I saw it as a kid). It was a motion simulator ride where everyone sat in a Delorean that shook as the car traveled through time to places like Hill Valley in 2015 and eras like the time of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the dialogue was all in Japanese!

The Delorean outside the ride definitely attracted a lot of attention too.

Parts of the park was designed to look like an American city, but with one big difference: the streets are much cleaner in Japan. Part of this pseudo-American town was a recreation of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

The big gate into Jurassic park with the vegetation was a really nice touch too.

They really did a good job in making people feel like they were actually there – complete with a 10,000V electric fence, a broken jeep and raptors.

The Jurassic Park ride was really awesome too. As the roller coaster passes the destroyed gate and electric fence, dinosaurs begin to appear, and they are screaming and roaring. The acid spraying dinosaurs spray water at the visitors, and of course at the end, the almighty T-Rex appears as the roller coaster goes through a steep drop into the water, making a huge splash. I was soaked at the end of the ride.

I forgot how awesome Terminator 3D was when I was a kid. It was cool to see Terminators at the side of the theatre light up and start shooting things. Even cooler was when the screen showed Arnold riding a motorcycle and then having a real motorcycle come out of the screen and appear on stage fighting another actor playing T-1000.

At the Jaws ride, naturally there’d be a large shark on display right outside of it. The ride took visitors on a boat ride as the shark attacks. The boat driver, wielding a shotgun, begins to defend the passengers. Lots of splashing, with a fiery ending.

Because it is Japan, there has to be cute stuff and that is Snoopy. There aren’t many things cooler than flying Snoopy’s.

If people like old school American-style diners, they have that here too!

Definitely worth a visit if one is willing to spend 7000 yen. I certainly enjoyed reliving the same things I saw when I was a kid as an adult and it gave me quite a huge feeling of nostalgia.

Links to more photos: here

Osaka

In Osaka, we began by visiting the famous shopping and food areas like Shinsaibashi, Dotonbori, and Namba. I wasn’t really there to shop so we mostly walked through the shopping streets. I’m also told that at night it is not very enjoyable walking through this area alone as there are many shady characters trying to get “business”.

The best food we ate in Osaka was definitely Yakiniku at a place called Sora (空), which means “sky”. Pieces of pre-marinated meats are cooked on the grill, and everything was delicious.

Even though we were not in Hiroshima, we got to eat Okonomiyaki again. This time, there was a grill at our table and a server at the restaurant cooked it for us while we watched.

Osaka is also famous for deep fried skewers using different foods like chicken, squid, and veggies. The skewers are served with a special sauce and according to the local culture, double-dipping is highly frowned upon. We at this at a famous Japanese skewer restaurant called Daruma (だるま) with some friends in Osaka. My personal favourite was the kind with intestines.

Osaka Castle is another well known landmark in the city. Since the many wars that the castle has been involved in since its construction in the 16th century, the castle has now been restored and the inside has been converted into a museum with a rooftop observation deck.

We also visited the Osaka Science Museum. It was full of interactive exhibits that taught various concepts in the natural sciences, like magnetism, sound, air drag, and chemical reactions. The best exhibit was definitely the one on nuclear fission.

Takoyaki, another one of Osaka’s local delicacies, was also something we had to try. The ball is made of a batter and inside it, there are bits of octopus meat, and the entire thing is cooked in a special Takoyaki grill. After it is cooked, Takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise is added. It is interesting to eat since the outer shell is quite soft, but the octopus is not. The sauce also adds some sweetness to the flavour.

While I was no stranger to Takoyaki since I have had it previously, we got to try a kind that used egg for the outer shell rather than the batter. It was definitely new and special, but I have to say the regular kind was way better.

We also stumbled onto a restaurant called the “International Beer Museum” that had different beers from around the world on tap. It had been a long time since I had a Helles, so that’s what I got. I also realized that I haven’t been posting much about Japanese beer and the reason is that it is quite easy to get the same name brands in Vancouver (with the exception of Suntory Premium Malt’s) and they taste the same too!

I also didn’t think I’d be able to eat Currywurst in Japan either. Needed way more sauce though, but I understand that kind of sauce is probably hard to come by in Japan.

And I also didn’t think I’d see an Asian person wearing Lederhosen either.

Links to photo albums:

Kyoto and Arashiyama/Sagano

Arashiyama and Sagano

Visiting Arashiyama and Sagano just outside of Kyoto was probably one of the best parts of the trip. We rented bikes and leisurely biked around the area looking at the natural scenery.

And biked through a forest of bamboo.

Passing by ponds with water lilies.

And hiked up a mountain while listening with Pokemon walking music.

To see monkeys at the top.

And also to be rewarded with a mountain-top view of Kyoto.

Kyoto

In Kyoto, our trip was much more cultural, when we visited the Kinkakuji (金閣寺), a temple with gold-plated exterior walls. It is by a small lake, so one can see a clear reflection of the temple in the water.

In downtown Kyoto, we stumbled upon the Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine. The entrance was illuminated by beautifully lit lanterns.

In the Higashiyama District (if I recall correctly), we saw more of the traditional architecture. Many shops here sell small trinket items and ceramics for tourists and was definitely a huge shift from the modern Japanese metropolis.

Our accommodations was quite traditional as well, complete with sliding doors, floor mats made of bamboo and futons.

Links to more photos:

Hiroshima

Hiroshima is a city in Japan that is probably most well known for the reason that it was destroyed by an atomic bomb in 1945. I had two reasons for visiting Hiroshima: the first was to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and the second was to eat Okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) is a sort-of pancake that is made with batter, soba noodles, cabbage, meat, mayo, and really anything that people want in it. The “okonomi” part of the word means “whatever you like”, and “yaki” means “grilled”. This was at a place called Micchan (みっちゃん), which is one of Hiroshima’s most famous okonomiyaki chains, but my friend who has lived in Hiroshima for a bit told me that there were definitely better places to eat Okonomiyaki.

We visited the Atomic Bomb Dome (原爆ドーム), which is a building that symbolically represents the destruction of the atomic bomb. When the bomb exploded in the sky over the city, over 70,000 people died instantly. Some buildings managed to remain standing, and this was one of them. On one hand, it is a sad reminder of the history’s tragic past, and on the other hand, it speaks of the horrors of the use of atomic weapons. It was quite rainy that day, which added to the depressing effect of the history of the tragedy.

At the Children’s Peace Monument, there is a statue of a little girl holding up an origami crane. It commemorates a Sadako Sasaki, who was two years old at the time when the bomb dropped. Before her death from Leukemia at the age of 12, she folded 1,000 origami cranes, which according to an ancient Japanese legend, would grant her one wish. On the day we visited, a large group of people gathered around the statue reciting something together, presumably, the story of Sadako Sasaki.

Behind the statue are display cases full of origami cranes.

Another monument, the Peace Flame, has been lit since 1964 and will continue being lit until the world is free from nuclear weapons.

At the Peace Memorial Museum, a quote reads:

War is the work of man
War is destruction of human life
War is death
To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future
To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war
To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace

The purpose of the museum is to tell the story of Hiroshima, so that the same thing does not happen again anywhere else in the world. One of the artifacts at the museum is a simple watch, but it is stuck at the time 8:15, which is the time of the detonation.

This scale model shows the magnitude of the destruction. The red ball represents the location where the bomb exploded.

As a plea to end the use of nuclear weapons, every mayor of Hiroshima sends a letter of protest to the country that performs any nuclear testing. There is definitely still more work to be done before this goal is reached.

Link to photos: here

Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima

Miyajima is a small island close to the city of Hiroshima and it is well known for its Itsukushima Shrine that is built over the water. Some deer also live on the island, I was surpised to see that they were so accustomed to people. The area around the shrine looks quite traditional and the architecture seems relatively untouched by modern styles.

For a few hundred yen (a few bucks), we were able to walk around the inside of the temple and admire its architecture.

While we were there, there was some sort of ceremony going on too, but I don’t know what it was.

Miyajima seems to be a quieter part of Japan that has less of the busy-modern-life feel even though it is so close to Hiroshima.

I had a “it’s coming right for us!” moment when I saw this deer approaching me. The deer then proceeded to chew on my friend’s shirt thinking it was food or something.

Humans and deer coexist here quite peacefully unlike in many urban areas where the animals are constantly starving.

Link to album here: here

Hakata, Fukuoka

The Japan Railpass made it very convenient to travel to different parts of Japan by Shinkansen, a network of high-speed railway lines. Even at speeds of ~260 km/h, it took us six hours to reach Hakata, Fukuoka, which is about 1000 km away from Tokyo (by rail). We didn’t spend lots of time here, but the little time we did have, we spent eating the famous foods of Fukuoka.

Hakata Style Ramen

The soup in this ramen is made from boiling bones at high temperature, which transfers the pork fat, meat, and flavours into the soup. The noodle is also thinner and straighter than the typical style of ramen. We went to a ramen shop called Ichiran (一蘭), which is a well known chain of ramen shops. Each person sat at a booth regardless or whether they were a party or not.

Motsunabe

It is essentially a type of hot pot with a specific type of ingredients. In this case, our hot pot had pieces of pork/beef organs (probably intestines) cooked in the soup with chives, and various veggies.

Beef Heart and Horse Sashimi

I don’t think this is a food local to Fukuoka, but it is still different enough to be worth mentioning. Despite being beef heart, I thought it tasted like beef. The taste didn’t change just because the meat was from the cow’s heart. As for the horse sashimi, hose meat definitely isn’t as flavourful as beef, and is a bit chewy. After trying so many kinds of meat from different animals, it is clear to me why beef is the popular choice.

Pokemon Center Fukuoka

Not really related to food, but I came across this while walking around the mall inside the train station. Lots and lots of Pokemon plushies. In the picture, there are even Pikachu’s wearing Japan’s 2014 World Cup jersey!

Link to album here: here

Tokyo

Never before have I ever been to a city with so many people. There are so many things to do here too. For example, there’s a lot of good food, shopping, entertainment, technology – pretty much everything. I’ll do my best to sum up the places that I visited and the stuff really stuck out to me here.

Let’s Cross The Street… Diagonally!

This is no surprise really. There are lots of people in Tokyo. The crazy thing is that at the Shibuya crossing, the lights for cars can be red at the same time for all directions, and allows pedestrians to cross the intersection in any direction they want.

Their Metro System Is Complicated

That picture there shows only the metro lines operated by the JR Railway Company. There is another set that is run by other companies such as the Tokyo Metro Company. Route planning apps save the day!

Nintendo Is Big Around Here

Akihabara has many shops that sell used gaming consoles like Gameboys, Super Nintendos, and N64’s. They even sell tons of used games for them too. I managed to pick up a used copy of Tetris DS before I left.

I Finally Played TGM3 at the Arcade

TGM3 is a Japanese variation of Tetris that is designed to be very very hard (see this). The video starts getting crazy at about 3 minutes and becomes completely insane at about 5:08. Ever since playing lots of Tetris during my undergrad and learning about this game, I finally got the chance to play this at the arcade and not on an emulator. This was at HEY (Hirose Entertainment Yard) in Akihabara.

People Still Like Pokemon

I don’t think kids today in North America still watch Pokemon, but in Japan it’s still popular – popular enough for Pokemon themed stores.

Japanese War History

Yasukuni Shrine is a shrine that commemorates those who died serving the Empire of Japan. Some of these commemorated people happen to be considered war criminals, where 14 of them are A-Class war criminals, which makes this place quite controversial. It was reported that Shinzo Abe, as the Prime Minister of Japan, visited this shrine, which angered the governments of China and Korea. Near the shrine itself, there is a museum that chronicles Japanese war history, known as the Yushukan, where visitors can see various relics and artifacts from the different wars that Japan has been involved in.

The Future Is Here

The Miraikan, also known as the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, displays the latest cutting-edge technology from Japan. Asimo, the Honda Robot is one of the main attractions here, as well as the display of humanoid android robots (like the picture below).

Odaiba, A Less Busy Part of Tokyo

Odaiba is an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, and has lots of attractions like scenery, museums (like the Miraikan), shopping, and amusement parks (like Legoland and Joypolis).

Lots of Temples and Shrines

Tokyo has no shortage of temples and shrines. The Sensoji Temple in Asakusa is among the famous ones. To me it is that Japan is to temples and shrines as Europe is to churches and cathedrals.

Scenery at High Places

Tokyo Skytree is the tallest structure in Japan and features an observation deck that allows visitors to see the surrounding area. I felt my ears popping as the elevator took me to the top because of the sheer height of the building. At the observation deck, there are touch screens that give information on various landmarks that can be seen. On a clear day, it is possible to see Mount Fuji from here.

For Collectors of Figurines

The Akihabara Radio Hall has a collection of stores with lots and lots of figurines from various anime series. Other stores even sell models of tanks, battleships, etc. There was one in particular that sold giant models from blockbuster Hollywood movies like Robocop, Batman, and Terminator. Would have liked to take a better picture, but they had a strict no photography policy.

WTF

It’s true. Japan has lots of weird stuff. That picture below is for a place called the Robot Restaurant. It’s hard to explain. It’s better to watch this (it starts off pretty weird and just gets weirder).

Links to more photos:

Food in Tokyo

Naturally, food was the first thing that came to mind first when I thought of Tokyo. In this post I’ll try to summarize the different food I got the chance to eat while I was here.

The best sushi I’ve ever had was at the Tsukiji Fish Market. The place was called Daiwa (大和) and there is always a line up to get in. In Canada, we are used to eating a lot of raw salmon, but in Japan, it is all about tuna – especially bluefin tuna. We were also served sea urchin too and I would say that was the only time I’ve ever had sea urchin that was delicious. (More info here)

Sashimi by itself is definitely very delicious too. This sashimi platter was from a restaurant called Uokin (魚金), near Shinbashi Station in Tokyo.

At the same restaurant, we also ate cooked fish head. I’m sure it doesn’t look that appetizing to a lot of people, but it definitely tasted very good, and I’m someone who does not normally eat fish head, but I tried it since our hosts had ordered it. Good thing I tried it too!

This is probably a lesser known dish in Japan, but we were served assorted shellfish that were still alive along with a grill to cook them in. I thought that was pretty special. That was from a seafood restaurant chain called 鈴木水産.

And of course, there is ramen, a classic Japanese noodle soup dish. My favourite was from a place called Ramen Shokudo Ikinaisshou in Akihabara. Some people even like to mix the soup with rice too, and that’s really good too.

Lastly, here is a type of Japanese food known as a teishoku, or a “meal set”. This one, from a chain called Yayoiken (やよい軒), has a bowl of rice, soup, and various side dishes in a tray. This is more of a fast food place though.

Link to photos from Tokyo: here

Link to photos of just food: here

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