Originally planned to make it out to Tsukiji Fish Market by 8 am, but we ended up sleeping in until 11… Still, we made it there for a lunch of delicious, fresh sushi. No pics because I was too busy devouring all of it.
My set lunch included: o-toro (fatty tuna), hirame (olive flounder), chuu-toro (medium-fatty tuna), saba (mackerel), kampachi (yellowtail), maguro (tuna), ebi (shrimp), aji (horse mackerel), hotate (scallop), awabi (abalone), uni (my favourite, sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe), unagi (eel), and tamago (egg).
Hopped on the Yurikamome train and crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Odaiba, a man-made island full of shopping malls and commercial buildings. From the Tokyo side of the bridge, you can spot a huge red ferris wheel and the Fuji TV headquarters with its spherical observation deck. We walked over to DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, a shopping centre that also houses the Gundam theme park, Gundam Front Tokyo. In front of the mall stands a RG 1/1 or “lifesized” model of the RX-78-2 Gundam from the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime. It’s certainly a sight to behold.. We spent a few hours shopping around the mall and buying souvenirs from the GFT gift shop. W and I spent quite a bit at Tokyu Hands buying random skincare and makeup oddities, but I was most pleased with my BB Gundam model of the GFT version RX-78-2 – basically a chibi/cute version of the lifesized model. Got one for A too, since I lost that bet before leaving Seoul. >.<
Rushed over to Nihonbashi to meet up with N and J, who we’d met at the teahouse the day before. We joined them and their friends K and M to see the Art Aquarium exhibition, which showcased a blend of glasswork, lighting, art, and live goldfish. Afterwards, we had an amazing, memorable dinner at an izakaya where we joked around and chatted for a long while. We must have looked like the strangest ethnic mix of people conversing in Japanese, Spanish, and English. The food was delicious, and we even tried horse and whale sashimi – both of which were a little jarring, but an experience nonetheless.
Headed into Shibuya and had to say goodbye to O and M before running off into a labyrinth of a residential area in search of a party. N had been invited by a fellow DJ friend to hear his set at “a trendy hairdressers’ party”, so we tagged along and found ourselves in a dark, underground, and extremely sound-proofed club named Air. I was a little alarmed at first because it was so dark and there weren’t that many people on the dance floor despite it being around midnight already. Of the few people who were there, every single one of them was facing the DJ booth and swaying like some kind of cult-ish zombie gathering. Turns out midnight is still early for Tokyo clubbing…
Doing some research after the fact, we discovered that Air is a popular Tokyo club where part of the club scene in Lost in Translation was filmed, and that the headlining DJ that night was Yasutaka Nakata of the group Capsule who has produced albums for Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. We, however, were there to meet DJ Kouichi Hirose, who had some amazing sounds in his house/techno set; he had a unique vibe that was a huge contrast from some of the other DJs that night. We had a ton of fun dancing up a storm and being hypemen/girls for him. The crowd seemed quite young and a little wary of the random bunch of foreigners in their midst, but a few people came and joined our dancing circle! The club really started to fill up around 2 am and we found ourselves slowly pushed to the back. My knees were killing me after only 2.5 hours, and I’m not sure if it was because I was wearing Birks (ha! clubbing in sandals, can you imagine?!) or going hard on the dance floor. W and I were pleasantly surprised when two Japanese guys, who we thought were approaching us for not-so-savory reasons, came by just to say that they had fun dancing with us. It was nice to see that the crowd was more about enjoying the music and having fun than about picking up potential partners. Our night was proof to the party animals that sober and innocent clubbing is still freaking amazing (sorry if I sound lame : P).
Met up with our new friend G who we met at Mickey House. G’s been working in Japan for a year and had friends visiting from HK and London so he invited us along for a tour!
While waiting for his friends to arrive, we climbed up the stairs of nearby Atago Shrine to feed the koi fish. These koi fish were way bigger than any koi I’d seen before and they all crammed at the edge of their pond, sucking at air, and fighting for any food that went their way. After much pleading with the staff, G took us up to the roof of his building. Magnificent view of the city, nearby Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Skytree, and a glimpse of the Imperial Palace.
Walked over to Hamarikyu Garden and enjoyed the traditional Japanese garden in the middle of the city. Sweltered under the hot sun and threw some stones in the ocean while talking about life and work. Interesting that even though Tokyo is such a densely populated city, many people still feel lonely. Eventually, caved and went to the garden’s teahouse for a cup of iced matcha and a traditional Japanese sweet. G’s friends finally arrived and while we were having tea, we made friends with the tourists who were sitting across from us. Exchanged details using J and N’s handy portable Wi-Fi so we could meet up with them later.
Lunch was an adventure at Maidreamin, a maid cafe in Akihabara. A little weird, but fun at the same time! I ordered a cute dish dubbed “Floating bear in the curry pool”, O couldn’t bear to eat his riceball head. (hohoho, punny) One of the maids performed a song and dance, while the other maids (and some other guys who we thought were just patrons) clapped and danced along with glowsticks. One maid went absolutely crazy with her glowsticks like she was at a rave even though the song was super cheerful and bubbly. LOL
As the sun went down, we walked around Yoyogi Park in Harajuku where locals go to hang out and practice their hobbies on Sunday. Saw a tap dancer, a couple of glowstringers, a man making giant bubbles, a man playing Indian drums, etc. Sat down by the pond, had a couple of drinks from the convenience store, and chatted with our new friends. It was fun discussing and comparing our lives in Toronto, Tokyo, London, and Hong Kong. They were intrigued that I went to school in London, Ontario because apparently it always comes up before the real London in Google Maps searches.
At Harajuku station, our group took on another member, S, who was also from London and had been teaching English in Japan for 2 years. The others were planning to have dinner at the robot restaurant in Shinjuku, but they had to make it there earlier before showtime to make sure they got seats, We made a mad dash to the restaurant from the station through the streets of Kabukicho, which was exhilarating and hilarious. I felt like I was in an action movie chase scene trying to catch up to the person in front of me, while avoiding all the bewildered tourists and locals on the busy street.
After dropping off half of our group at the robot restaurant, G brought O, W, and I to Shinjuku Golden Gai, a historical red light district that was preserved by locals and converted to a drinking area comprised of narrow alleyways and short buildings that house tiny bars that can seat a maximum of 5 people. We went to G’s regular haunt, a tiny bar named Kangaroo Court Decision. So amazing, I cannot get enough of that name. We had a round of shochu grapefruits and a great chat with the bartender, which gave G and W a chance to practice their Japanese. Our bartender was really friendly and interested in chatting with foreigner to practice his English skills, so we suggested that he visit Mickey House.
Quick dinner at a great tempura restaurant that offered different salts and sauces to go on our tempura. Tried eel, fish, lotus root, egg yolk, pepper and shrimp, and ice cream tempura too! Met back up with G’s friends at the bar in the Park Hyatt Hotel from Lost in Translation (which I finally watched). Amazing night view of the blinking red building lights of Shinjuku. While the others planned to continue their barhopping, O, W, and I were exhausted so we decided to call it a night.
Ventured out to Saitama Super Arena for the Tokyo Girls Collection Autumn/Winter 2013 Fashion Show. Thought the show would run about 2 hours, but it turned out to be 8… Actual fashion show content was probably around 2 hours, and the rest were sponsor stages, ads, and lots of talking. Sponsors had booths set up around the arena where they had photobooths and free samples. W and I almost got interviewed by a reporter but when he realized we couldn’t speak much Japanese, he backed away… : ( At least that means we looked oshare.
Not too familiar with local Japanese brands, but saw collections from a few I know like moussy, CECIL McBEE, and jouetie. Live performances by HKT48, Nishino Kana, Shota Shimizu, and others. Recognized a few models like Anna Tsuchiya, Yamada Yu, and Lena Fujii, Lola, Sara Marie, Elli Rose, and Reina Triendl from Vivi. Really excited I got to see Reina up close, as she’s my favourite from Vivi : )
Also, special guests that were exciting included Yamamoto Yusuke (ghost boy from Hana Kimi), Haruna Ai (famous tranny), Masuwaka Tsubasa (creator of the Dolly Wink makeup line), and a finale performance by Akanishi Jin (formerly of KAT-TUN)!
Not much to say about today except that W and I spent a whole lot of money at Shibuya 109 – the trendiest department store in Tokyo for gyaru fashion. We found a lot of local Japanese brands like moussy, Liz Lisa, Cecil McBee, Emoda, Luxe Rose, Egoist… The shop attendants are pretty nice, but kept talking to us in Japanese even when they know we barely understand. They all wear 5-6 inch heels, full makeup, perfectly styled hair, and coordinated outfits from their store. We saw one girl getting ready and curling her hair with an iron at the cafe where we were eating lunch…
Tried to get pedicures but were refused by all salons because we were wearing closed toe shoes and they want the polish to be able to dry for 3 – 4 hours. Next level customer service – maybe they’d rather refuse business than do a botched job.
Met up with O before heading home to drop off our shopping. Back to Shinjuku to try and look for an “authentic” izakaya, but our idea of an izakaya is probably a bit skewed by those we have back home. Ended up in a fancy, expensive one where we struggled to order from their picture-less, only- Japanese menu. Different waiters cycled in and out of our table to try and communicate with us in Japanese, Mandarin, and a little English. Was stressful at the time, but such an interesting experience to have to use a limited amount of three languages to order a meal… Luckily, the kitchen closed before we could throw more money at tiny, expensive dishes. Grabbed a Mos Burger to bring back home. Still good…
Started off the late morning with intentions to go straight to J-World Tokyo in Ikebukuro, but got sidetracked when we saw the Animate store.
There was a small Shingeki no Kyojin, or Attack on Titan, exhibit on the 8th floor. O and I went into a minor otaku mode and fancrazed over everything. They displayed some original sketches from the manga, sold tons of goods, and had a section where you could vote for your favourite character. Interesting to see that Jean and Captain Levi were winning the poll. I voted for the potato girl Sasha, mostly because she reminds me of myself. HA.
I bought a replica of Eren’s key necklace. ^^ There were also some weird goods… like body pillows of Captain Levi and Eren in sexy poses…
Finally made it to J-World and had some lunch – Naruto’s favourite Ichiraku ramen! The J-World cafeteria also serves other Shonen Jump anime-themed food, like buns in the shape of Majin Buu from Dragonball Z and soup with a bun in the shape of Luffy from One Piece’s hat. As we were eating lunch, Naruto, Goku, and Luffy came out to interact and take photos with the guests! Super giddy after doing the Kamehameha move with Goku, eating meat with Luffy, and making jutsu hand seals with Naruto. They have some interesting rides at the theme park, but they’re quite expensive at about 800 yen per ride. We chose to go on the One Piece Soldier Dock Adventure, but it was quite short and all you do is sit in a cart and point flashlights at things… but fun nonetheless! There are designated areas for the 3 most popular Shonen Jump series: One Piece, Dragonball, and Naruto, but there is also a large Heroes Arena area where you play games at booths for other Shonen Jump anime like Bleach, Hunter X Hunter, and Prince of Tennis. We spent quite a while taking silly pose photos and buying capsule toys. Where did all our money go..?
Had a little tea break in the station at Ikebukuro before heading to Shinjuku for some basics shopping at Uniqlo. Walked around Shinjuku and stumbled across Kabukicho, the red light district, while it was still early and not so sleazy. Weren’t really sure what else there was the look at, and our feet were sore from all the walking. Relief flooded through me when we found a Mos Burger where I enjoyed one of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life. The chili balanced perfectly with the cheese and tender patties in my burger. Soooo yummy!
Didn’t have much else to do in Shinjuku, so we made our way home for a break before going to Mickey House – a language cafe run by the owner of our guesthouse. He invited us in for a free drink and introduced us to the customers at the cafe. The concept of his language cafe is to give people an opportunity to practice having conversations in different languages, so naturally it draws in many foreigners living in Japan. We got there pretty late, most of the local Japanese had gone home for the night. Nevertheless, we met and spoke with many friendly foreigners and traded stories about life in Japan and our home countries. I’m not usually one to jump at a chance to talk to strangers, but it was actually extremely fun! “Please enjoy.” XD
Before leaving Osaka, we had brunch at the Kuromon Ichiba, a local fish and produce market. Many of the vendors sold sashimi or sushi bentos that were cheap, but very fresh. We also came across tempura, yakitori, croquette, and mochi vendors. The local market was a nice contrast from the tourist trap areas that we visited previously.
Reached Kyoto in 15 minutes by shinkansen, checked our luggage at the storage counter, and took a local city bus to Higashiyama-dori, the street full of souvenir shops that leads up to Kiyomizu-dera. Interesting to see how nothing had changed since my last visit four years ago. Even the two shops where my mom and I ate soft ice cream looked the same.
We visited Jishu-jinja, the Shinto shrine for love and matchmaking that is adjacent to Kiyomizu-dera, which is a Buddhist temple. Too bad it was too crowded to try and walk between the love stones. Pretty interesting how the Japanese believe in two religions, although it seems to be more like a superstition thing than worshipping gods.
W and I drank from the Otowa-no-taki, the waterfall with three streams representing health, longevity, and success in studies. Also drank from this waterfall last time, so hopefully I picked a different stream this time. Supposedly, it is considered greedy to drink from all three streams at once.
Unfortunately, the facade of the main temple building was under renovation, but the stage was still open. Luckily, I still have tons of photos from my previous visit. I would have enjoyed walking around the beautiful temple grounds, but my feet were being tortured by my sandals. Super unfortunate because I really love scenic walks! : (
Up bright and early for our flight to Tokyo. Really sad to say goodbye to A who couldn’t join us for the Japan leg of our trip. Also, unfortunately lost a bet to him right before my flight >: (
JAL was amazing – gave us a sandwich box and drinks even though it’s a 2 hr flight AND could play Street Fighter 2 on their entertainment system. Too entertained to nap…
Caught the shinkansen to Osaka and ate a train bento for lunch. My bento included a little slip of paper that described where in Japan each ingredient was sourced. Reached Osaka Teikoku Hotel and mayhem ensued. O lost his wallet in the cab and we had a bit of a panic trying to figure out which taxi company we had taken. The front desk staff were very helpful and the cab driver found the wallet and came back to return it within an hour, with nothing missing. A miracle! A bit later after shopping, I realized I had left my camera in a changeroom at Monki. Panicked a bit, but called them and they kept my camera safe until I could pick it up the next morning. Double miracle!
Of course had to eat regional food – takoyaki and okonomiyaki. The area around the Dotonbori river is famously lit up at night by neon signage on surrounding buildings, making some of the trademark signs into tourist attractions, like the Glico man. I was also pleasantly surprised to look up into the giant face of Ninomiya Kazunari (my favourite from Arashi) on an ad.
After dinner, we shopped along Shinsaibashi street, famous for shopping. The fashion here is very different from in Korea, and trendy people walk around in fully coordinated outfits, heels, and heavy makeup. Had some fun laughing at guys we think are hosts – basically male escorts – and their flashy and cheesy style. There were SO many hosts and karaoke girls along the streets looking for business. Store attendants are very loud and yell “Irashaimase~” in a very nasally tone at everyone. Cringefully annoying.
Bonus for the nerds like me:
Our last day in Seoul, we ventured out to Samcheong-dong to see the restored hanok or Korean traditional-style houses. It seemed to be a peaceful neighbourhood, except when masses of tourists wander around. After walking around for a bit, we quickly tired of the heat and sun and headed to the N Seoul Tower in Itaewon. Had to ask for directions, W and I were tempted to ask “Do you know Namsan Tower?” and “Wheeere is Namsan Tower?” like in UV’s MV for Itaewon Freedom. It’s kind of the best thing ever, so if you don’t know it already, watch it here.
There was a steep uphill climb from the bus stop to the base of the tower, but we saw a gang of grannies in their electric scooters zipping past us. It was also interesting that they installed a TV screen in the ceiling of the elevator and play a short video as you’re ascending/descending that makes it seem like you are travelling through space. The video ends just as you reach the top or bottom of the tower. It’s a nice distraction from potential awkwardness of being in a crowded elevator with strangers, and also keeps everyone engaged in enjoying the tower. Very cool!
Visiting the tower seems to be mostly for tourists or for couples, because the majority of the activities and attractions are aimed at couples – love locks, love tiles, love wishing well, love coins… I tried to make a wish at the love wishing well but failed miserably. You buy a plastic love coin from the gift shop and you try to throw it into a small well from a specified distance. I only bought one coin with my spare change, so my one chance was ruined as my coin bounced off the outside of the well and landed near the entrance…. Luckily, A convinced the attendant to let me pick up my coin and try again… But I still failed. Guess love was just not meant for me.
Headed back to Itaewon and chatted for a while at Holly’s Coffee, before having dinner at Gecko’s Avenue – a beautiful patio restaurant that we had discovered earlier. Itaewon is an area that caters to foreigners due to its close vicinity to the US Army Base, so we had no problem communicating here. We loved Gecko’s because it was well-decorated with a pleasant ambiance, had lots of greenery to block out the city around us, served amazing food with excellent customer service, and – most important of all – played good music.
Decided to try out a jjimjilbang or Korean sauna, so we walked over to Itaewonland. I saw the telltale sign that signals that happy endings are on the massage menu, but we figured it couldn’t be that sketchy, since a couple of dramas had filmed there. I liked sweating out the toxins from my body and just relaxing after 5 days of hectic walking. The others didn’t want to eat anymore, so A and I ate some boiled eggs and played games to see who would have to break it on their forehead. Boiled eggs are HARD. Also, I thought it was very odd that there were statues of penises in the women’s bath/shower area. The shapes weren’t obvious, but there was no way they could be mistaken for anything other than male genitalia. There were even holes for the spring water to leak through! D:
Intending to head home, we mistakenly took a bus that ended its route at N Seoul Tower and although it was a hassle to find our way back down the mountain and cab back home, it was refreshing to see the beautiful night lights of Seoul spread out below us.
Back to Hongdae to look around for some brunch, but found Song Baekkyung’s Abiko Curry restaurant so immediately dropped all savoury crepe cravings and ate lunch there. SBK was W’s favourite in 1TYM : ) Found the Trick Eye Museum and the newly opened Ice Museum, and had tons of fun taking photos and sliding down the refreshing ice slide.
The heat was unbearable, so we ventured to Teddy Park’s Twosome Studio & Cafe. Teddy being my favourite from 1TYM : ) Ordered Teddy’s special punch – the Peach Tree – but didn’t realize there was alcohol in it, though I had my suspicions at first… We’ll just pretend 1TYMleader bought me a drink on my birthday ; )
Unsettled by the quickly consumed cocktail, my stomach churned in the heat, so we found a nearby cat cafe to sit down. My strange reactions to alcohol caused me to fall asleep in a chair with a cat napping next to me. How embarrassing… I hope the others didn’t mind playing with the kitties while I took a nap. Sorry!
Refreshed and feeling much better, we met up with my friend C again at Garosu-gil in Gangnam – a trendy and fashionable street that’s a little more upscale than Hongdae. Shopped for some handmade jewellery by friendly fashion school students. Cute how they associate Canada with Justin Bieber and Drake.
Walked down to Hangang Park beside the Han River and enjoyed the night skyline of Seoul. C helped us order fried chicken and beer and had it delivered to us at the park. Sat on the free promotional Hyuna mat provided with our meal, and even had cake with candles representing my Korean age. Large candles to represent the first digit, and small candles to represent the second. Genius! Koreans know how to live a good life. An amazing and memorable birthday meal : )
As I’m writing this, I have the funny little jingle that plays before subway announcements stuck in my head. Most adorable thing ever… we love to dance to it like fools on the subway. One day will make a dubstep remix and use it as my ringtone.