Seollal Japan Trip: Tokyo (Feb. 6-8)

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Every year in February, Koreans celebrate the Lunar New Year, or Seollal. For me and my coworkers, this meant a 5 day weekend. For my Seollal long weekend, I decided to splurge a bit and visit my friend, Hiroko, who is working in Tokyo. Luckily for me, this made for an amazing 5 days. For this post, expect to hear all about my adventures with Hiroko, and a lot of pictures of the food we ate. Unfortunately, I can’t remember any of the prices.

Day 1: Saturday

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When I arrived at Hiroko’s apartment I was dirty, smelly, and tired, but buzzed with excitement at finally getting to Tokyo and getting to see my friend, Hiroko. So, Hiroko showed me to some of her favourite haunts in Miyamadeira including a grocery store, her local convenience store, and her apartment. After, we went on a walk to get some sushi at one of those restaurants where the food goes around the restaurant.

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Sushi, around ¥2500 for two – near Miyamadeira Station

It was delicious. Here’s how it works: the sushi chef makes the sushi in the centre. He puts it on the rotating platform. It goes around in circles, and you just take whatever sushi you want. The sushi has a variety of different prices, as indicated by the color of the plate it is on. If you want something that isn’t revolving, you can ask the sushi chef and they will give it to you directly.

There were also taps that allowed you to pour out some green tea to your pleasure, along with wasabi and ginger.

One thing to note, however, is that if you’d like your nigiri style sushi without wasabi underneath the fish, then you’ve got to order it directly from the chefs.

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For round two Hiroko took me her favourite local restaurant, where she usually gets cheap and late-night food. I forget what this was called, but it was a meaty tomato sauce surrounded by cream on a bed of red.

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We also ordered ourselves some escargot. We were stuffed by the time we got back to the apartment, but we sat together and ate some convenience store snacks until the early hours of the morning. There was a lot to catch up on for both of our lives, and I needed to hear all about Hiroko’s exciting life in Tokyo.

Day 2: Sunday

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Because Hiroko had an exponential amount of food that she wanted to show me and have me experience, but a limited amount of time, we found ourselves eating a frequently. While we woke up late, we began trying food immediately. First, she had me try this Pika ice cream. It’s ice cream in a chocolate shell that you pick up with that little blue pick. It was very yum and refreshing, especially since she didn’t have water in her apartment.

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Our first stop was Shibuya. She took me to this statue of a dog. This dog, Hachiko, met its owner every day at the station, until one day he died of a cerebral hemorrhage and didn’t return. Nevertheless, Hachiko waited at the station every day, and soon passersby began to notice him, until he became a local legend. Dog loyalty always deserves some mention, and loyalty is one of the world’s most beautiful attributes, so I felt all fluffy and we took a picture (“Why not?”).

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Next to the station is the Scramble Crosswalk, famous throughout the world for the overhead view, wherein the passenger crosswalk signs brights, and hundreds of people cross the road in a mishmash.

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We picked up fish waffles. I got one with a chocolate pastry crust with chocolate filling. Delicious, but I knew I had a lot of eating ahead of me so I only ate a little.

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There was also a cool music shop where we were able to listen to CD’s. It was very old-school. I haven’t seen CD’s in ages.

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This coco-agepan is apparently a favourite menu item in Japanese schools, according to their sign. Hiroko and I decided to try it out, and it was actually great.

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The coconut oil used to fry the buns made them delicate and soft, fresh and warm from the fryer, filled with a light coconut cream filling.

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On our way to Harajuku, we passed this photography session. We theorized that this might be an upcoming pop group. So, I’m putting this out there just in case they become famous I can say I saw them first!

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We walked from Shibuya to Harajuku along a path which is apparently a popular hangout for locals, and did some shopping on the way.

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I went a bit crazy for earrings, and also finally bought myself a laundry basket.

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Our next small feast was one of Hiroko’s favourite takoyaki spots. We got option 5, apparently “popular for ladies,” the mentaiko. It was delicious, my favourite of the two takoyaki we ate that day. Yes, that’s right, we ate takoyaki twice.

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Mentaiko Mayo Takoyaki – 500 yen, between Shibuya and Harajuku

Apparently there’s a famous celebrity in Japan who says that mentaiko and mayo are the world’s perfect combination. He says it is the solution to every flavor question. Broccoli? Mentaiko mayo. Bread? Mentaiko mayo. Rice? Mentaiko mayo. Takoyaki? Mentaiko mayo. This takoyaki in comparison to the second was was soft and gooey on the inside, still steaming when we got it. It was fresh and the simple flavour combination was perfect.

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The main street near Harajuku has some amazing department stores, and the one we went to was very shiny and had some amazing and unique stuff. Even just this entrance was stunning.

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We walked down the main street and passed by this little hole-in-the wall shop called Condomania. It’s a novelty shop full of condoms. Tragically, because of the manner in which things are shipped, the condoms are for novelty purposes only. In other words, they’re funny, but don’t actually use them, because then you might have an unexpected surprise in 9 months.

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Harajuku Station is so quaint and pretty that I just had to take a picture. Behind in the trees is the path to a temple, but we weren’t able to make it there.

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Harajuku’s main street is called Takeshita Street. Above the intensely crowded street is a huge screen. If you look carefully, you can see Hiroko and I filmed within it. If you stand at just the right place, you can get in the picture.

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Harajuku’s busyness was a bit overwhelming, so we took a break to get some more sushi, and also to finally insert my purple contact lenses that I had picked up from Don Quixote in Shibuya earlier in the day.

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I was in Tokyo, I was going to be crazy.

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The sushi was served similarly on trays that came to you. However, at this place each person was given a number, and you sat in that spot. You then order from a large selection on a computer screen, and your sushi will then come directly to you. As it seems is common, tea, soy, wasabi, and ginger were served in front of you.

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After sushi, we went for crepes. At home in Vancouver we loved Japanese crepes. They have an incredible amount of delicious options.

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However, we were shocked to decide that the Japanese crepes in Vancouver were actually better. Although they are made right in front of you, the Harajuku style crepes were crispy and a little dry on the edges, which made only the inside of the crepe appealing. We got cream, green tea cake, and green tea ice cream in our crepe, but we didn’t finish because we were not entirely loving it.

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Even at night, Harajuku is alive and bustling with shops. I bought some very cool Disney earrings from one store.Clearly, it’s a very cool area, but apparently it’s more popular with younger people, like teenagers.

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We walked back down along the main street beside Harajuku before our dinner in Shinjuku and passed by Omotesando Hills. Hiroko told me that this was where lots of scouting for teenage models, singers, and actresses was done.

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This is the famous Shinjuku Station, known as being Tokyo’s busiest train station and one of its central business districts.

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Down a side street in Shinjuku are dozens of small izakayas. These izakayas usually serve meat on sticks.

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They are tiny, seating up to about 10 people, all crammed tightly around the cooks. Some of them were scented by cigarette smoke as older men smoked in the crammed spaces while talking to their friends. We almost went into one, but we couldn’t find an izakaya with three empty spaces; they were all packed. It was an unexpected hint of a different time.

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Another fun surprise in Shinjuku is the giant Godzilla statue above a movie theater. We eventually went to eat on this street at a random izakaya. There were two men advertising their izakayas, and we chose between them by going “eeny meeny miney mo.” We pointed at the one, and the guy in front of it cheered. We then had to tell him that, actually, we weren’t going to his izakaya…. but then it turned out we were. Anyways, it was great.

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The izakaya was a feast. Above are small intestines in a sauce, accompanied by horse meat sashimi. The horse meat sashimi was a little tough, but delicate in flavor and was more savory in comparison to a beef tartar.

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The eggplant kebab was good, though not shockingly memorable. I love eggplant, though, so I quite liked it.

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I never have enough avocado in my life, so we also got raw tuna on avocado, which came with two dips. This was light, fresh, and tasty.

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We also had a lightly grilled beef, which also came with a dip on the side. This was grilled wonderfully, and I was very happy.

Monday

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Hiroko started our day by taking me to a famous scene from a Japanese drama that we both love, called Hana Yori Dango. In this scene, the love interest, Domyouji Tsukasa waits in the rain for the heroine at Ebisu Garden Place.

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After, she took me to Asakusa Temple where we feasted on all sorts of street food, much of it both unique and traditional.

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These were fried with a bean paste on the inside. The green one is green tea flavoured, while the pink one is Japanese plum flavoured. Personally, I preferred the green tea flavour.

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We came upon the gates to the Asakusa Temple, apparently one of the most famous in Tokyo.

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There, for the new year, we followed the instructions to get our fortune. Mine was good (or potentially average), though Hiroko’s was not so good.

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With bad fortunes, you’re supposed to tie them up on a rod and leave them behind at the temple.

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People burned incense leading up the steps to the temple.

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Looking back on the road to the temple.

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Our last stop was a quick trip to Akihabara and a maid cafe. Maid cafés are unusual places where the serves dress like maids, and treat the customer like a master. They will do small dance performances and they get the customer to participate by getting them to do cutesy actions. They start the event with an opening ceremony, even.It’s quite the interesting tourist experience. It is, however, very expensive, especially at the easier-to-find places by the station. We even had to pay 800 yen in cover, like we were at a nightclub or something!

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This guy seemed to have come there straight from the plane, luggage still in hand.

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On your way out they ask for a Customer Experience sticker. Hiroko said she was bored, though I thought it was quite an unusual and curious place, deeming it fascinating for me.

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On our way home, we continued to partake in our weekend gluttony with this glorious snack. No idea what it was, but it was AMAZING.

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After, I went to dinner with Hiroko. An interesting thing in Tokyo is just how isolated people seem. It’s not unusual at all to see people eating alone, while in Korea you feel extremely weird when you eat alone. In fact, there are many places where they just don’t let you.

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For our last meal together, Hiroko and I got hambagu, a more delicate version of a hamburger patty that’s popular here. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the real thing as that has pork in it.

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We ended our last night with this tasty dessert, and hung out until a reasonable hour because Hiroko had work the next morning, and I had to leave her apartment at around 5:30 AM. I was so lucky to have been able to stay with Hiroko. She treated me so amazingly well! But I am even more lucky to have had the chance to see her. I can’t wait until next time!

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