Friday, August 22, 2014

My Favorite Place in Asia: Japan! Part 2 =)

My hair is redder than the color of this temple! I'm on fire, baby!
Two of my favorite things in life: Matcha green tea and Mochi! (In the wood basket!)

Here, I'll be continuing on my journey in Japan for the next two days. On my first day, my cousin Aiko-onechan (愛子お姉ちゃん) decided to bring me to Sensoji Temple (浅草寺) to see the wonderful sights around it along with trying out the amazing street food that they have around first. We had to see this one first as it was the farthest. First thing that came onto my mind was, WOW! The whole place was filled with tourists and things to sell! There was a lantern in the area called Asakusa Shrine, and that was one of those things that I always saw on TV. It was a rather hot day there so I decided to get a drink. The good thing about Japan is that there are vending machines that sell drinks everywhere. They even have vending machines sometimes that sell cigarettes and underwear! It's all about convenience. But in this case, I saw a bunch of ladies selling iced Matcha Green Tea (アイス抹茶) so being the green tea addict that I am, I decided to get some! Along with that, I got to see some street food such as kinako (黄粉,きなこ) mochi with toasted soybean flour and mochi dango balls (団子餅,だんごもち) coated in sweet miso or shoyu sauce. Now those were super addicting! I should probably mention that I am also a mochi fanatic! I cannot get enough of that chewy, gummy texture along with the sweetness!

Asakusa Shrine! This is the huge lantern I've seen on TV!
Look at all those ice cream flavors! Where else are you gonna find that?!

Now a lot of people are scared of Japan for many reasons, which are very silly to me of course. A lot of them are scared because of language barriers since not many know how to speak English in Japan apparently, and that everyone speaks only Japanese. Others are afraid because of earthquakes, natural disasters, and radiation from nuclear powerplants. I find it silly because I've been in Philippines for 22 years, and sometimes I feel like Philippines is much more dangerous than Japan! But one thing I was afraid of when I was going to Japan was this: EXPENSIVE. Tokyo, Japan is notoriously known as one of or if not, the most expensive city in the world. For me, that part was ABSOLUTELY TRUE! Hahaha! Oh my goodness is it expensive in Japan! Sometimes more than America. The prices for food and drinks on average are alarmingly high in terms of being in Asia. A drink in a vending machine in Japan can cost up to ¥150 (approx. Php75 or $2) per bottle. A meal in a fast food restaurant can cost up to ¥1000 (approx. Php500 or $10). That may not be a lot for others around the world, but in terms of Filipino prices, that's already so expensive for a Filipino person. Wait until I mention how expensive fruit can be here! But I guess I shouldn't be comparing prices since technically I was on vacation that time. But wow was it overwhelming at how expensive Japan's stuff is. But really, don't put a price on something on a place that's so much more amazing than your own!
Me and my cousin Aiko-onechan by the Sensoji Temple!
Anyways, after viewing the Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine, we decided to go eat something so I got us some sweet potato bread, takoyaki, and this juicy meat patty coated in Panko Japanese breadcrumbs that tastes similar to Sukiyaki, but more concentrated. Then, Aiko-onechan decided to head on to the mall next to the Tokyo Skytree area for me to view the wonderful things available along with viewing the Tokyo Skytree Tower itself. At that area, I got to try some amazing Matcha green tea drinks and got to see all these wonderful things such grilled eel, artistic display food, and yes, amazing real food! It was a culinary haven. So much food and bright colors all in one place!
I present to you Tokyo Skytree Tower!
I swear Japan has got the best green tea products! Matcha addicted!
After that part, we went on the subway to ride to one of Aiko-onechan's friends house and have strawberry shortcake. I got to meet two people there: her friend, Noriko-san and an American woman whom she was helping out, Jessica-san. Noriko-san was so nice and hospitable. Her son is one of Aiko-onechan's best friends, which is why they are so close. What Noriko-san had in store for us was a wonderful meal consisting of Italian salad, Japanese-style paella, and caramel flan. It was so comforting especially after such a long trip to her place! Then, Noriko-san dressed up in her kimono and gave us a personal performance of playing Japanese instruments such as the shamisen and then a geisha dance. One thing I should have mentioned before was that Noriko-san (典子さん) is formally trained to be a geisha teacher, so if there's anyone that knows the deeper parts of ancient Japanese culture and traditions, it's her! When she finished performing with the traditional Japanese instruments and dance, Aiko-onechan and I would say sugoi-ne (すごいね!) which means amazing in Japanese.
Japanese style Paella made by Noriko-san! Oishi desu ne!
Trying on kimonos here. Japanese, Filipino, American. We respresent modern day Japan!
After we saw Noriko-san's performance, we checked out her instruments and my goodness were they so difficult to play! My favorite in particular was the shamisen since I used to play a bit of violin and guitar. I listened to Yoshida brothers and they make the instrument look so easy. It's extremely difficult! The pick for it is made of ivory and the shamisen casing is made of cat fur, which is this along with the other instruments are incredibly priceless. Much respect for someone who still manages to keep her art alive for all to see! Well anyways, Aiko-onechan and Noriko-san decided that I should stay for the night since I was so tired from walking there so I did. I got to try the onsen style bath that she had there! It was refreshing and relaxing, something my feet needed from all the walking.

Classic custard flan is simple and makes everyone happy!
The shamisen is much harder than you think!
I'm happy that my cousin brought me here and also guided me!
The next day, Noriko-san welcomed Jessica-san and I with a wonderful breakfast and then after, we rushed to get to the train to meet up with my cousin. We went to an area called Engaku-ji and a flower garden to see all the beautiful sights around there as well as this place called Kamakura. There, we saw so many ancient landmarks, had pure matcha green tea with sweets, saw amazing flowers and colorful dojos, and got to talk to native Japanese women. It was kind of hard talking to the people since I only knew basic Japanese, but I got by and helped my American friend as well. It was nice bowing to them and saying the polite sentences like "Nice to meet you." in Japanese. At this point, I changed into more comfortable clothing, and then we all waited for the train to arrive to go to Kamakura area. That was the area where I finally realized how good the food could get!
What a beautiful morning in the land of the rising sun!
Green trees and colorful flowers galore in Engaku-ji!
Look at the beautiful matcha green tea and sweets! Refreshing!
Arriving at the Kamakura district, the three of us went to a restaurant that served the yummiest tempura, sashimi, and karaage at that area. And my goodness, was it so delicious! Everyone was amazed at how good the food was especially me! Aiko-onechan, Noriko-san, and Jessica-san decided to all get the tempura and udon box set, while I decided to get the sashimi set. We all ordered chicken karaage first, and I'm a choosy type for chicken karaage! When I took a bite, it was exactly how I wanted it to be: crispy, salty, moist, and with the flavors of lemon and ginger shining through! When the sashimi set arrived, I was just amazed at how bright and colorful it was! All raw fish and seafood beautifully plated on top of rice mixed with salmon fish roe. Everything was raw, even the baby shrimp that was on top. With the piping hot rice blending in with the intense flavor of the salmon roe, I was in sashimi heaven! I had no idea how on Earth baby shrimp could taste so good and melting in texture! All of the pieces of sashimi were like that! The scallop and octopus was so tender to the bite. I asked my cousin to take a video of me eating it just because that was one of those moments where I just zoned out from the food! Hands clapping with a big smile on my face. That was memorable!

A dish light but so wonderful and right in many ways!
This sashimi dish is exceptional: the best and freshest in one piece!
After that place, we decided to go around and explore. I got the chance to get some Sakura and strawberry dango mochi and also some Strawberry Daifuku (いちご大福) since it was the first time I saw it. We explored all the stores, took pictures and bought Jessica-san a pair of Japanese hair chopsticks to tie around her hair as souvenir. At this point, we said our goodbyes, and then Aiko-onechan and I went to Harajuku district to explore Takeshita-Dori (竹下通り). This place was well known for its unique sense of style and costumes as well as colorful outfits, stores and decorations. I was excited since I had a costume that I wanted to wear for this occassion!

This vending machine is a giant TV! Only the most creative in Tokyo, Japan!
Welcome to Takeshita Dori! Look at that crowd people!
I wore red African style leggings I got from American Apparel back when I lived in United States. I just love it! There are so many people there wearing the whole Harajuku style costumes with so many wonderful characters! While there, Aiko-onechan and I explored all the places around there such Daiso, clothing stores, food stores and best of all, the crepes! One of the popular crepe brands there is Marion and you must get a crepe while you are in Takeshita Dori! I recommend this popular tourist spot during your time in Tokyo! The Japanese people usually wear costumes on a Sunday. You'll be shocked and amazed at the sense of style that they have! All in all, Japan has got probably the most different and unique sense of blending cultures, style and technology into one beautiful piece. That's what makes Japan so special, and that's what appeals to me!

Falling in line to try this patisserie in Harajuku! Yum!
Yummy blueberry, strawberry, and chocolate crepe wrap!
*To get to Kamakura, take the JR Yokosuka Line, JR Shonan Shinjuku Line, or the Odakyu Railways line. Information on all this in English and Japanese is available at the monorail and all train stations.

*To get to Harajuku station, take the Tokyo Train JR Yamanote Line and then get off at Harajuku Station. It is two stations south of Shinjuku, and one station north of Shibuya. The moment you get off the Harajuku station, you will see the Takeshita Dori sign. It can get crowded so watch out!

No comments:

Post a Comment