Tag Archives: Tokyo

Finding peace in the big city – Todoroki Valley & Little Venice

Tokyo never sleeps. It’s always been one of the busiest cities in the world. Luckily, this city has a valley in the city and it’s just 20 minutes away from Shibuya station Todoroki Valley is located in Setagaya area, and as I googled more, I learnt that the valley has a small river which runs along the trekking path and also a couple of small Japanese shrines at the end of the trekking course. Also, the valley is pretty close to a famous suburban neighborhood called Jiyugaoka. I heard that in Jiyugaoka, there are many delicious bakery shops and sweets shop scattered around the area. And, they also have a “Little Venice” which sounds like an interesting spot for photos! So, the plan starts at Todoroki station and moving to Jiyugaoka for afternoon sweets, followed by strolling to Little Venice before saying goodbye. However, we changed the plan a little bit and it turned out that it was a really good Sunday stroll

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The trekking trail runs along a small river.

A couple of small shrines and statues were seen along the pleasant walk…

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Though it’s spring already, we still feel the touch of autumn.

As we went up, there are bigger shrines…

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And a pleasant surprise awaits us at the end… a coffee and soft-cream vendor!

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Actually, we had planned to take a train to Jiyugaoka station that is 3 stops away but the weather was so nice so we decided to walk instead. It was great decision 🙂 Jiyugaoka neighborhood is known as  one of the best neighbourhoods to live in Tokyo. There are many zakka shops (handmade and knickknack goods) and delicious bakery shops in the area. It’s truly a great place to stop by and had a cup of coffee on weekends. This time we went to a place calls “Sweets Forrest” that has 5 or 6 dessert shops in one place.

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Jiyugaoka famous walk way to Sweets Forrest.

Upon reaching the entrance of Sweets Forrest, we face one of life’s most difficult decisions! Which shop should we go for this time?

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Super “kawaii” rabbit mascot is waiting for us on the way back.

After we had our fill of sweets and desserts, our next stop is “Little Venice” which is around the station. The place looks like a miniature of Venice canals and of course, a Gondola! Unfortunately, the gondola was out of service for now. Actually, this place is surrounded by cafes and pet shops, however, it’s pretty small that why it’s called Little Venice. There weren’t many shops opened on that day but we got beautiful pictures.

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On our way back to the train station, we found a quiet small shrine, which is out of the plan. The shrine was very peaceful and tranquil. It’s a good decision that we paid a short visit there.

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Discovered a new getaway spot in the city, made new friends and had lots of talk and laugh together – It has been a really good Sunday. When I need to take a break and find a peaceful place, Todoroki Valley will come up on the top of my list for sure!


by Jan. C

Takaosan Fire-Walking Festival

Takaosan or Mount Takao is a mountain located in western Tokyo and only about 50 minutes away from Shinjuku by train, making it a popular hiking spot and a pleasant day trip to a natural environment close to central Tokyo.

It has been regarded as a sacred mountain for a long time and every year on a second Sunday of March, the fire-walking festival or Hiwatari-matsuri is held. There is a traditional belief in Shingon Buddhism that fire has the power to cleanse. The annual festival consists of the ceremonious lighting of the pyre and participants walking across burning coals in order to purify body and soul. We were so curious when we heard about it and couldn’t resist the urge to witness this rare festival!

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Since the festival was in the afternoon, we took the opportunity to explore Takaosan and spent our morning getting to the summit. We decided to take the cable car halfway up the mountain and hike from there which took us about 50 minutes. It was a cold and rainy day but we finally made our way to the top with one stopping at Yakuoin temple to make a prayer for better weather for the rest of the day.

After an enjoyable lunch, we walked back to the station, took the cable car back down and excitedly went straight to the festival’s venue. Luckily, the rain had stopped by the time we got there and we managed to secure a good watching spot on a small hill next to the main stage!

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The grand Yakuoin temple located along the hiking trail
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On the top of Takaosan
 Before the festival started
Before the festival started
Arrival of the monks or Shugenja
Arrival of the monks or Shugenja

After a long chanting and some ritual processes, the pyre was lit and it was an exciting sight to see. We could feel the fire’s warmth even though we stood further away from the center. The walk began from the monks when the fire had reduced itself to smoking ashes. After the monks have crossed, the path was opened to the audiences who wish to try fire-walking. The line was incredibly long and we waited for nearly half an hour until it was our turn. Whether you are a Buddhist or not, or whether you just watch or walk the fire yourself, the ceremony can be enjoyed equally so make sure to give it a try next year!

The lighting bonfire
The lighting bonfire

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The monks (top) and participants (bottom) walking through the path of embers

by Kate P.

Kimono Rental in Tokyo

There are several places for Kimono or Yukata rental around Asakusa (浅草), a district in Tokyo, famous for the Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon.

Kimono (着物), which literally means a “thing to wear” (ki “wear” and mono “thing”), is a Japanese traditional garment. People tend to associate kimono with the formal robe typically made from silk and worn to formal occasions. Yukata (浴衣), with the same basic construction as kimono, are made from cotton, unlined, and usually worn to summer festivals.

I and my friends got to experience wearing Kimono at Asakusa. We rented Kimono from a shop called Asakusa-Shichihenge. (http://www.asakusa-7henge.com/) English is available on the website. The staffs at the shop also speak English. Therefore, it is easier to communicate and choose the rental packages. In summer, you can rent Yukata. But in winter, you can rent Kimono. I and my friends went to the shop in November so we could experience wearing Kimono.

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There are several rental packages from basic Kimono to Furisode Kimono. We chose the basic package. It is only 3,500 Yen (tax included) per person but if you go with a group of 2 or more members, the price is down to 2,500 Yen (tax included). If you do not have Japanese socks to wear with Kimono, you will have to buy the socks for 300 Yen. The package includes Kimono and Japanese shoes for all day (from 10:00-16:00). It takes around 15 minutes to dress 1 person. The shop also provides hairdo services but you have to pay 100 Yen for hairpin rental. (Please make a reservation in advance.)

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Do not worry about the size. There are many sizes of Kimono. And you can choose the pattern of the Kimono by yourself. If you cannot decide, the staffs will help you choose and match the color for you. Because we went in Winter, we could also rent the outerwear for Kimono.

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We went to the shop on the rainy day but it was really fun. We wore Kimono and walked around Asakusa area. We even went to the Japanese restaurant. It was pretty cool, wearing Kimono and eating Japanese traditional clothes. After having lunch, we went to the temple, took Omiguji, and took some pictures around Asakusa.

Untitled3If you come to Japan, I recommend you to experience wearing Kimono. It was really interesting and fun!


Written by Nanpun
Beautiful pictures by Rein Van

The many faces of Tokyo

Everyone’s image of Tokyo is that big metropolitan city, sky-scrappers, anime town, insanely-crowded scramble crossing, shopping, eating, partying… Over the weekend, we embarked on a trip like no others before! We had boarded the JR Yamanote Line, the famous loop line that goes around city, and explored the city in depth! We plunged into the quiet residential neighborhoods, walked down the narrow streets, peered into tiny little shops, went into the enclaves and experienced a different side of Tokyo!

We bought the JR Tokunai Pass which cost only 750 yen and gives you unlimited rides on the Yamanote line, making it a cheap and fun way to explore the city! So off we go!

Here is a map from JR East, with recommended attractions along the Yamanote Line.
Here is a map from JR East, with recommended attractions along the Yamanote Line. Reading on, you may noticed that we didn’t visit any of the above places at all, with the exception of Harajuku, where we went with the sole purpose to search for Japanese youths in the Coming-of-Age kimonos.
Off we go!
Off we go!

Station #1: Nippori Station

This area is said to be reminiscent of the old Tokyo, with its narrow streets, old houses, shrines and temples. We arrived at 9:30am, a little too early for the shops, but we could enjoy walking down the quiet narrow streets, something different from the hustle and bustle of the big city. We walked down Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street, which was lined with shops and bakeries.

Walking down the narrow street of Yanaka Ginza Shopping St.
Walking down the narrow street of Yanaka Ginza Shopping St.
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It’s quite rare to find a shop selling items from bamboo-weaving!
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This little shop customizes the hanko, the stamp bearing your last name, with cute little characters!
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Nippori is also famous for its stray cats.. Perhaps that explains this cat-themed shop?
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Notice how this bakery claims that their oven “is made of volcanic rock from Mt. Fuji”? Now, that’s got my curiosity!
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Another shop selling beautiful Japanese crockery
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A tiny little temple (shrine?) found along the streets, wedged between two houses. It’s quite rare to see such temple in the big city!

Station 2: Ueno / Okachimachi 

With the shops beginning to open for business, we left behind quiet little Nippori and headed to Ueno, where we walked along the tracks to Okachimachi. Along this stretch is the famous Ameyoko-cho, which was bustling with shoppers. There is a strange combination of shops… Don’t be surprised to find the fresh seafood stand next to the the handbag bargain shop, where everything goes for ¥3,000, or the kebab stand next to the sportswear shop. It seems like there is a shop for everyone!

A vast difference from Nippori, this area is bustling with activity! The maze of shops should be able to keep the shopper in you entertained for an hour or two!
A vast difference from Nippori, this area is bustling with activity! The maze of shops should be able to keep the shopper in you entertained for an hour or two!
Kebab shop with the aroma of roasted meat
Kebab shop with the aroma of roasted meat
You can also find shops selling dried products...
You can also find shops selling dried products…
All kinds of fresh seafood!
Or all kinds of fresh seafood!
And if you are hungry, you can choose to have some seafood on the spot!
And if you are hungry, you can choose to have some seafood on the spot!

Station 3: Harajuku 

We went halfway round the Yamanote Line to Harajuku.. not in search for fancy cosplay or the latest fashion trend in Tokyo, but in hopes of seeing some of the youths from the Coming-of-Age ceremony at the Meiji Shrine. The vibes from the temple grounds seem to be a world’s different from the busy Takenoshita-Dori on Harajuku, famous for its crepe stands, shops filled with Tokyo fashion, and cosplayers. It seems like a really strange juxtaposition to have the temple and shopping street right next to each other.. but I had to remind myself that anything is possible in Japan!

The Meiji Shrine is busy with people praying for the New Year! We joined in too to receive our blessings. ^_^
The Meiji Shrine is busy with people praying for the New Year! I joined in too to receive our blessings. ^_^
Entrance to the Meiji Shrine, with New Year blessings.
Entrance to the Meiji Shrine, with New Year blessings.
On the way to the Shrine, we see these lanterns, sake and wine barrels donated by various companies for the new year!
On the way to the Shrine, we see these lanterns, sake and wine barrels donated by various companies for the new year!
Beautiful young ladies clad in the Furisoude (long-sleeved kimono) for the Coming-of-Age Ceremony. Congratulations!
Beautiful young ladies clad in the Furisoude (long-sleeved kimono) for the Coming-of-Age Ceremony. Congratulations! (Photo courtesy of Neelu.) 
We also chanced upon a wedding ceremony in the shrine! How lucky!
We also chanced upon a wedding ceremony in the shrine! How lucky! (Photo courtesy of Neelu.) 

Station 4: Takadanobaba

We headed to Takadanobaba, an area populated by the students of Waseda University.  Walking along the streets, I noticed that the roads here are wider, compared to Nippori and Ameyoko-cho. The shops are also busier, with restaurants catering to the student population.

As it was a public holiday, we couldn’t go to the university canteen for lunch. However, we did find many small shops with relatively cheap food for lunch!

Walking along the wider and newer Waseda Dori, the street leading to Takadanobaba Station.
Walking along the wider and newer Waseda Dori, the street leading to Takadanobaba Station.
We settled for Monjayaki and Okonomiyaki for lunch in a small shop called Mu no Shison
We settled for Monjayaki and Okonomiyaki for lunch in a small shop called Mu no Shison
Our okonomiyaki after it's done!
Our okonomiyaki after it’s done! (Photo courtesy of Neelu.)

Station 5: Sugamo

Also known as the Harajuku of old grannies, this area is known for its shops catering to the older generation. Here you can find the famous Aka-Pants (red underwear) shop, meant to bring good fortune to the wearer! Also, there are plenty of traditional Japanese snacks, such as the Shio-Daifuku, a salted mochi.

The entrance to Jizo-Dori shopping street.
The entrance to Jizo-Dori shopping street.
A temple outside Jizo-Dori, dedicated to the 6 Jizos... I'm not quite sure about the history.. >_<
A temple outside Jizo-Dori, dedicated to the 6 Jizos… I’m not quite sure about the history.. >_<
Can you make a guess what this is???  So... it turns out that the mascot for this area is Sugamon, a duck named after the area. And it is said that if you touch Sugamon's butt, it will bring you and your family blessings and good health! So... instead of having people chase after Sugamon, they have encased Sugamon's butt here for everyone! How... strange!
Can you make a guess what this is???
So… it turns out that the mascot for this area is Sugamon, a duck named after the area. And it is said that if you touch Sugamon’s butt, it will bring you and your family blessings and good health! So… instead of having people chase after Sugamon, they have encased Sugamon’s butt here for everyone! How… strange!
Bringing in the new year!
Bringing in the new year!
The famous Aka-Pants shop!
The famous Aka-Pants shop!
Handmade Japanese snacks
Handmade Japanese snacks
Shio-Daifuku (Salted mochi..?)
Shio-Daifuku (Salted mochi..?)
Kokeshi (Japanese dolls)
Kokeshi (Japanese dolls)
Traditional umbrella shop
Traditional umbrella shop

Station 6: Shin-Okubo 

Stepping out of Shin-Okubo station, I had to do a double-take as it felt like I was in Korea! Known as Little Korea, the street was lined with shops selling K-pop merchandise, Korean cosmetics and Korean restaurants! And we could also hear the passers-by speaking Korean. It certainly felt different from the usual Japanese neighbourhood!

Wide streets of Shin-Okubo lined with Korean shops!
Wide streets of Shin-Okubo lined with Korean shops!
You can find all sorts of Korea-related shops here!
You can find all sorts of Korea-related shops here!
Countless K-pop celebrities merchandise!
Countless K-pop celebrities merchandise!
We ended the day with a meal at the Korean restaurant, served by Korean staff. Definitely feels like we are in Korea!
We ended the day with a meal at the Korean restaurant, served by Korean staff. Definitely feels like we are in Korea!

Although we only covered 6 out of the 29 stations, it was interesting and insightful to see a different side of Tokyo! I’ve always believed that walking is the best way to explore the city and what better way than to start with the neighbourhoods along the Yamanote Line?

Thanks to everyone who stayed with me from the beginning to the end! It was a great day!
Thanks to everyone who stayed with me from the beginning to the end! It was a great day! (Photo courtesy of Amani.)

 

Summer in the forgotten island of Izu-Oshima

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Everyone knows of Tokyo, the big crazy city that has everything any traveller can ever dream of – age-old shrines, tallest tower in the world, high-tech robot restaurants, a little strange maid cafes and owl cafes, and convenient rapid trains to other cities… But have you ever heard of the Tokyo Islands? Under the administration of Tokyo, these islands are part of the Izu Peninsula and are a world’s difference from the big metropolitan city! The island we visited for our summer vacation, Oshima Island, is the biggest and nearest to Tokyo (about 100km away). We spent three days basking in the sunlight of Oshima Island, cycling, fishing and diving! Another great place found in rural Japan!

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We took a night ferry from the Takeshiba Ferry Terminal, Tokyo. To my surprise, there were a lot other people on the ferry, mainly young adults. I’m guessing they are from the local college since the summer vacation just started. It seems like everyone is escaping the big city for a summer island vacation.

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Sailing right under the Rainbow Bridge
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Arriving at Izu Oshima and being greeted by a beautiful sunrise at Okata Port

After a 5-hour ride, we arrived at Okata Port of Izu Oshima just after dawn, too early for us to check-in to our guesthouse! We took a cab to the “town” of Motomachi and had breakfast of fresh seafood bowl at the only restaurant which was opened at that time. Despite its proximity to Tokyo city, Oshima island had a typical island-country feel. The architecture seem to suggest that it has stopped in time, left behind by the rapid modernisation of the big cities Tokyo and Yokohama. Everything seem to go at a slower pace, young and old men fishing by the ports, old ladies sitting in front of their shops, and children wading in the sea.

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Quiet and laid-back island life focused on activities in the sea…
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The buildings seemed to have stayed the same since 20-30 years ago.

Day 1 was all about cycling.

We rented bicycles near the visitors’ center and cycled along the amazing coastline. It was an easy ride on the Sunset Palm Line, with a spectacular view of the Sagami Gulf and the Izu Peninsula on the other side. We followed the coastline northwards and went to the dairy farm, where we had some fresh ice-cream just before the it closed at 4pm. Then we watched the cows for a bit before heading back to Motomachi for some hotspring.

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Cycling along the beautiful coastline…
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Delicious fresh ice cream!

Day 2 was spent fishing.

We rented cars (there are a total of three rental companies, book early!) and drove down to the southern part of the island where there were a few recommended fishing points. Another scenic drive on the island! We visited an isolated black sand beach called Sunanohama and spent the rest of the day basking in the sun trying to get some fish. Some of the locals stopped by to see how we are doing and gave us tips too!

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Gone Fishing!

The effort paid off and we had a total of 60 fish at the end of the day, including some saba fish (mackerel) and aji fish (Japanese horse mackerel). We celebrated with a feast of seafood BBQ and beer!

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Our catch for the day!

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Turned dinner!

Day 3 for Diving!

Our last day was spent diving at a beach called Akinohama in the north. It was blistering hot on land but the water was a chilling 20 degrees! The visibility was great and it wasn’t overcrowded with divers. There were also many other people just swimming in the sea or doing cliff diving from the rocks. image

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Into the deep blue sea we go!

So, cycling, fishing and diving on the quiet island of Izu Oshima. The island really reminded me of Okinawa and there was hardly anyone else around. The shops and restaurants are all very small and family-run, and everyone is friendly and just wanting to talk. Indeed, a well-spent summer vacation. And the best thing about it is that it’s almost right at Tokyo’s doorstep, just a ferry-ride away!

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We’ll be back!

 

Travel back in time with these candies

Last week, a group of our users visited a old-school candy bar in Ikebukuro! For a fee of ¥2,000, they enjoyed a 2hour all-you-can-drink and all-you-can-eat candy experience!

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The entrance of the shop and the decor are very retro, as though you’ve walked into a 1980s movie set.

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Our users were able to try traditional Japanese snacks such as

  • Umaibou (a corn snack that comes in many usual and strange Japanese flavours such as spicy cod roe, plum, octopus balls),
  • Cocoa Cigarette (chocolates that look like cigarettes, as the name suggests),
  • Su Konbu (vinegared seaweed sheets),
  • Ume Jam (red jam made of plums, can be sucked from the packet or used as jam spread.)… just to name a few.

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Perhaps the most popular snack among our foreigner friends is the Age-pan (literally, fried bread). It is a kind of fried dough coated in sugar. Our Japanese users will remember these from their school days where Age-pan is often served during school lunch. Perhaps it reminds us of those sugar-coated donuts back home?

(Pictures courtesy of N. Kogure, hotpepper.jp, and Dagashi Bar) 

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☆★ About Dagashi Bar ★☆

Address: Nishi Ikebukuro, 1-24-9, Toshima, Tokyo 171-0021
Tel: 050-5815-4395
Website: (Japanese only) http://www.hotpepper.jp/strJ000650222/
Opening hours:

  • Mon – Thu5:00 pm – 12:00 am
  • Fri – Sat5:00 pm – 4:30 am
  • Sun5:00 pm – 12:00 am

Plastic or real, you just wanna eat it!

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It’s something you will see outside almost every restaurant in Japan. It’s something that comes in useful when you are wondering what’s the difference between soba and udon. Sometimes you just want to poke your fingers into it just to test if it’s real. Yes, it’s plastic food models.

These food models were used to replace drawings which restaurant customers used to help decipher the unfamiliar Western cuisine in late 19th century. Today, they are used more to showcase the restaurant’s dishes and to whet the customers’ appetite. You can often here potential patrons saying “Oishi-sou” (meaning, “Looks delicious!”) when checking out these display food.

So it turns out that there is a shop, Ganso Food Sample, near Asakusa, where you can not only buy food models, but also try making them yourselves! For a mere ¥1,600, you can make your own lettuce and tempura from wax! (Nope, not for eating!)

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Some of the food models we saw outside the shop!
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I’m not sure which is more impressive – the fake tempura tower, or when the real thing is served
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From this part in town, you also get a pretty good view of the Sky Tree!

Now, to the serious stuff… How does one make food models?

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Step 1, pour some hot wax into water…

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Step 2, spread it out to look like a thin sheet of paper.

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Step 3, add some colouring as necessary. Afterall, lettuce ought to be green!

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Step 4, now it’s taking shape, roll it up!

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Almost there…

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Voila!!!!

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And here’s your freshly-made tempura to go with the crisp lettuce! And guess what? They never go bad! Fantastic souvenirs from Japan.

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Picture from http://www.ganso-sample.com