Tag Archives: Octopus

Escaping the hustle and bustle of Tokyo

May 31, 2017

We set out early to see the famed Tsukiji fish market. Being vegetarian, I had my apprehensions about visiting an all fish market. We were told by friends who had visited Tokyo that this was an attraction worth going to. We had originally planned to attend the tuna auction however we learned that we had inadequate planning. In order to go to the auction, you must find a hotel close to the fish market as public transportation doesn’t operate during those hours and cab/ubers are costly in Tokyo. Nevertheless we were in Tokyo so we at least wanted to see what the hype was about. We arrived bright and early around 7am to the fish market only to find out it was only open to private buyers until 10am. We decide to use this time to find some breakfast in this cute mom and pop shop with literally 5 seats. After filling up on some breakfast sandwiches, we stroll around some of the shops on the outskirts of the market and pick up some matcha.

We also try some Daifuku, a glutinous rice cake stuffed with sweet filling, most commonly anko, sweetened red bean paste made from azuki beans. As we had some time to kill, we find the Tsukiji Hongwanji Buddhist temple nearby and pop inside to explore. After sitting for a bit, we head back over to the Tsukiji fish market that is now open to the public. As we arrive, we realize many of the vendors are already packing up, clearly these people start and end early. Many of the vendors still have some fish available and it was truly a sight to see. We see beautifully colored octopus, eels (live and dead), small and large fish, sea urchins. We even catch one of the vendors cutting up a large tuna. Walking through the market, its easy to see the fascination and I can only imagine what it is like in its true glory.

We explore the fish market for a bit more and head back to Shinjuku station to pack up our things. After checking out of our hotel, we walk over to the main Shinjuku station stopping first at the Shinjuku Toho building where a large Godzilla figure pops out between 12 PM – 8 PM at the top of the hour. I had been planning this as something to see however was never able to fit it in. By chance we happen to be walking through Shinjuku at the right time and place. We reach the Shinjuku station and have a couple minutes for a quick bowl of ramen. We order through the vending machine and join the locals in quickly slurping down our ramen before catching our train to Hakone. I am pretty sure Sanchit had a plate of fried pork (he had tried to order chicken) along with his ramen. He claims it was one of the best meals he had in Japan and the meat simply melted in your mouth.

As usual we are running late and barely make it to the Odakyu station where we quickly grab tickets on the Romance car to Hakone, a serene little town about 100 kilometers outside of Tokyo. The journey is short (about an hour and a half) but the ride is beautiful as we zoom past the country side. We are told that we may be able to catch a glimpse of the elusive mount Fuji however we aren’t lucky to see it. I guess we have an excuse to come back to Japan. After a short journey, we arrive in Hakone and decide to obtain a Hakone free pass to maximize our time in Hakone. The Hakone free pass is a great deal and covers all local buses, trains, cable cars, ropeways, and the cruise. The pass even includes the train ride to the Odawara station, which is where you can hop onto the Shinkansen bullet train to travel to Kyoto and other parts of Japan. Note: There is no Shinkansen bullet train service from Hakone.

We catch a bus to our Ryokan, Yojokan Haru No Hikari and are greeted by a quaint but beautiful lodge. The hotel concierge gives us a tour of the Ryokan and shows us the 2 different onsens and the restaurant. Dinners are typically included in the Ryokans for a fee and are highly recommended if you are looking for the traditional Japanese experience. We get changed into our traditional Japanese garb called the Yukata and head down for the dinner. The ryokan we chose caters to vegan and vegetarians (highly recommend the Ryokan btw, especially if you are a vegetarian). The dinner was an amazing experience with a full 7 course meal served with warm sesame tea. Suddenly, we wished we had stayed in Hakone for 2 nights to enjoy the dinner again.

Since the dinner is early in the night, we head over to the onsen after dinner to wash away the day’s fatigue and relax in the hot spring water. Next, we walk outside in the beautiful weather and stop at a small local convenience store to pick up some local snacks and sake for the night. We call it a night after enjoying some sake.


A day filled with Macha, Ramen, Sake, and Sushi

May 30, 2017

We start out the day at Momi and Toni’s for some breakfast crepes. After enjoying a light breakfast we head over to the Imperial Palace. The Imperial palace houses the emperor of Japan and has several large gardens surrounding it. Although only part of the actual castle remains, the Edo Castle, the palace gardens are quite expansive. While strolling the palace’s gardens, we stumbled across a summer concert series featuring a full Japanese Orchestra/band. We sit under the shade of a nearby tree and enjoy the music.

After strolling through the gardens and taking pictures of the castle, we make our way over to Hamarikyu gardens. Here we enjoy a nice stroll through the gardens. We come across a preserved 300 year old pine. We stop for a cherry blossom ice cream puff and sit on a nearby bench. We witness a Japanese couples’ wedding photoshoot. As we stroll down the garden we arrive at the Nakajima no Ochaya tea house and enjoy a cup of piping hot Macha with Wagashi (translates to Japanese sweets – in this case sweet yam dumpling). The tea house is overlooking a pond and we peacefully drink our Macha and enjoy the nice breeze.

After all the walking, we have worked up an appetite. We choose T’s Tan Tan in the Tokyo Station which we hear about from our friend Chirag (thanks Chiru!!) and has also been suggested online to offer tasty vegan ramen. The entire menu features several varieties of all vegan ramen. Going from struggling to find vegetarian food to having an abundance of choices made our decision tough. The ramen was amazing, and we both choose sobu noodles this time which we both realize we prefer over the thicker udon noodles. We both add a lot of hot sauce to our ramen which led me to say “if its not red its not fun” which Sanchit thought was quite amusing.

After thoroughly enjoying our lunch, we attempt to book our next days travel for Hakone since we are at the Shibuya station. We decide to buy our ticket the following day leaving us with more flexible travel plans. We head over to our hotel to freshen up. After resting for a bit, we find a nearby Sake market in Shinjuku called Kurand Sake Market.

The Kurand Sake market is actually a chain with several locations, but they offer all you can drink sake tasting for 3000 yen. I had seen this on Trip advisor and both of us wanted to try sake. The Atmosphere in the market quickly picks up and most tables are filled with young college aged people. The market allows you to bring food thus we notice many people bring their dinner while enjoying all you can drink Sake. As tempting as it was to continue drinking, after trying several types of Sake, we make our way around the Shinjuku area looking for Sushi.

Kurand Sake Market

We pick sushi as we have mainly been eating Ramen for most of our meals and are looking for a change. We pick a restaurant called Zanmai as they offered veggie sushi as well. Sanchit was able to try octopus, tuna, and salmon while I opted for some pickled veggie sushi. The sushi was good but we weren’t too impressed. We realize that this is likely due to the Caliber of the restaurant as later on the trip we do see some better looking sushi places. Also we realize that sushi isn’t actually that big in Tokyo and many people eat Ramen or sashimi, or probably the freshest catch from the fish market.

We walk back to the hotel, pack and get ready for bed as we have plans to see the Tsukiji fish market in the morning and hop on a train to Hakone after that.

Konnichiwa Japan!

May 27 – 28, 2017

Some people never learn from previous experiences. I guess Akshita and I are those people. One would think that after the missed flight during our trip to Colombia (even though that was a weather related issue “mostly”) we would be well prepared this time around. Umm nope, after a long day of work we both pass out at around 11:30 PM the night before our trip without packing our stuff. Luckily we wake up at 5:30 AM and scramble around the apartment for the next 3 hours to pack our stuff for the 2 week trip to Japan and South Korea. This time around we decide to go with backpacks instead of carry-ons as we didn’t want to deal with roller bags on trains and public transit. Once all packed, we take care of some last minute things in the apartment and head out for LAX airport. Once at the airport we check in and enjoy the United Airlines lounge before heading to our gate for boarding. Turns out one of us gets the upgrade courtesy of United Airlines. Since this is Akshita’s first time, I insist that she sit up front and enjoy the experience.

United Polaris - Enjoying all alone!

After a long 12 hour flight, we finally arrive in Tokyo’s Narita airport. After immigration and customs, we quickly grab our MiFi (pocket Wi-Fi) and buy train tickets to Shinjuku station, the area where our hotel is located. Narita is more than 50 kms from central Tokyo and the train ride costing about $30/person takes a little more than an hour. In comparison, a cab ride from Narita airport to the city can cost one close to $300. We quickly find out that cabs are very expensive in Tokyo and trains are the most cost effective way to commute.

Note on trains in Japan: “Green Car” refers to business class and typically costs about 1.5-2 times more than a regular ticket. “We” (meaning Akshita) almost bought green car tickets to the city from the airport since we were unaware of what that meant. Thanks to some prior research, we had a good sense of how much our travel to the city should cost.

Narita Express - Tokyo Arrival

After reaching Shinjuku JR line station, we open our handy-dandy google maps and start walking towards the hotel. While walking, we quickly experience the hustle bustle of the city with shops, restaurants, and people in every direction. The place is very vibrant and we are finally excited about being in Tokyo. We book Hotel Granbell Shinjuku for our 3 night 4 day stay in Tokyo.

Note: Hotels in Japan can get quite pricey. If you are just looking for a place to crash after a long day of sightseeing, I suggest you look for something in the Shinjuku or Shibuya area. These areas are close to metro stops and are well connected to the rest of the city. Hotel rooms in Tokyo are typically very small (similar to NYC) but very well designed. Rooms have everything you need and you can find a decent hotel in the Shinjuku/Shibuya area for about $100-150/night. We are satisfied with our pick of Hotel Granbell Shinjuku.

Around Shinjuku

After a quick shower we walk down to the reception to ask the hotel staff about places to eat. They tell us about the 3 day Hanazono Shrine festival in a nearby area. We head over to the festival area and are amazed by the row of food stalls with vendors selling all sorts of Japanese food (dried/grilled fish, takoyaki (wheat-flour-based ball shaped snack typically filled with minced octopus), ramen, pancake filled with nutella, octopus sticks, etc.). We even see drinks in lit up light bulbs and liquid nitrogen fruit. There isn’t a shortage of cool things to try at this city festival. We walk around the street, try the pancakes and decide that we probably need to find another place that is a little more vegetarian friendly. Tired after a long flight, we settle on Thai food and call it a night.