Sat, Dec 14, 2013 (Day #5)

I-Land Patio

I-Land Patio is an 660 square meters large patio area within the vicinity of the Shinjuku I-Land Tower. There are a variety of restaurants and shops at I-Land Patio, so it's a great place to relax if you're ever in Shinjuku. For those who enjoy eating outdoors; there is an open courtyard area with chairs and tables available.


Address: 6-5-1, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Open Hours: 10:00 am to 8:00 pm

The L.O.V.E Sculpture

The LOVE sculpture is an iconic sculpture based on a pop art image by artist, Robert Indiana. There are countless versions of the sculpture worldwide, and luckily there was one in Tokyo. It is located right outside of the Shinjuku I-LAND Tower in Nishi-Shinjuku, and it's definitely not hard to miss.


Welcome to Akihabara


After finishing up taking photos of the LOVE sculpture; it was time to head to Akihabara. Akihabara is a district that is well known for their otaku culture (anime and manga), and a central shopping area for the latest electronics. It was unbelievable as to how many shops there were that was devoted to anime and manga.

Lunchtime @ Chimney

Date: Saturday, December 14, 2013    
Meal: Lunch
Location in Japan: Akihabara, Tokyo

Before exploring Akihabara and all of its glory; it was time for lunch. We randomly picked Chimney; an  izakaya that was along the route to Gundam Cafe.


The izakaya is located in a small alley a few steps away from the JR Akihabara Station, and it's right next to a 7-11.

They didn't have an English menu available but their menu consisted of beautiful colored photographs of the food items. I love how Japan displays their food menus; with photographs of every item, and also using fake plastic food at the front (which I will explain in another post).



I ordered the yakitori platter (¥819) which came with five skewers of grilled meat. I absolutely loved each skewer as the meat was tender, and flavorful. My personal favorite was probably the grilled chicken and sausage.


The soup base for the Japanese hot pot (¥680) was pretty, but there were a lot more veggies than seafood in the pot.



 We were both curious about this fish head dish (¥714 x 2 = ¥1428) so we decided to order two (one for the both of us). The sashimi pieces were different but I found the head to be quite hard to eat.


The chicken udon (¥580) was a decent dish but nothing too spectacular. Instead of alcohol, we decided to order two cups of coke (¥600).

The total cost for lunch was ¥4107 for the both of us.

Desserts @ Gundam Cafe

Originally, I wanted to have lunch at Gundam Cafe, but the menu didn't really appeal to me. Therefore, we decided to go to the Gundam Cafe for some desserts after lunch.

Exploring Akihabara

It was already getting dark in Akihabara when we decided to go exploring the district. However, the district is extremely bright due to the illuminating lights from all of the shops and buildings.

UDX Building of Akihabara Crossfield.
Gashapon machines are everywhere in Japan; prices vary between 100-500 yen.
I spent about an hour exploring K-Books and the other stores in the same building. The fourth floor was entirely dedicated to selling gashapon toys and figures. The toys here were a lot more expensive than what you'd find in the machines though as the higher-priced items were 800-1500 yen each (popular/collectible items).

Don Quijote

Don Quijote is a huge discount store in Japan and there are multiple locations in various cities. They offer a wide selection of Japanese products such as food, kitchen and cleaning supplies, costumes, figures, candies, cosmetics, health care and so much more. The Akihabara branch has 8 floors in total, and you can literally spend hours shopping there.



Quick snack @ Home Cafe (Maid Cafe)

Located on the 5th floor of Don Quijote is the @ Home Cafe; a popular maid cafe. Unfortunately, photography was strictly prohibited inside so I couldn't take any pictures of the interior. It was definitely an interesting experience having the maids addressing me as "mistress". However, like a majority of novelty and themed restaurants; people usually come to these places for their atmosphere and ambiance, and not the food. I opted for the @Home Cafe Special Omelet Rice (¥1,1000). I thought that my omelet was pretty overcooked but I did like the cute heart drawings with the ketchup on my egg.


Dinnertime @ Tsubame KITCHEN Marunouchi

Date: Saturday, December 14, 2013    
Meal: Dinner  
Location in Japan: Akihabara, Tokyo

 We decided to head back to our hotel after Akihabara. However, we were still hungry so we decided to look for a quick bite to eat. We definitely ate a lot more meals than we would in Toronto. Anyways, our last food adventure of the day was at Tsubame KITCHEN Marunouchi in Marunouchi Oazo.



Tsubame KITCHEN Marunouchi specializes in German sausages.


I ordered the grilled sausage (¥890) and a side order of bread (¥210). Had I known that the portion of this dish consists of nothing more than one piece of sausage; I'd probably gotten another dish. However, the sausage was definitely delicious and full of flavor.


My boyfriend ordered  the homemade vienner sausages & eisbein (¥1100).

After dinner, we decided to call it a night and headed back to our hotel.
Miga Korean & Japanese BBQ is a fusion restaurant located up in Mississauga. The original plan was to go to Sushi 168, but the estimated wait time for a table for two was 1.5 hours. That was a really long wait for an AYCE, so we decided to go next door to Miga Korean & Japanese BBQ.

The price for the weekend (Sat) AYCE dinner was slightly steep as it was $26.95 per person (drinks are not included). However, I am rarely in Mississauga so I'm not sure if that's the normal price range of AYCE places in the area. Looking through the menu, I noticed that a majority of the cooked food is traditional Korean dishes. The only Japanese food that they do offer are rolls and udon. The list of rolls wasn't extensive as they only offer 15 different rolls; many are basic rolls too. I am a huge Korean food fan so I was happy with the selection. However if you prefer Japanese food more then you will surely be disappointed.

The great thing about uptown restaurants is that it's usually free parking. There is an allocated parking in the front of the restaurant with a decent amount of space. Additionally, I thought that the rule regarding any leftover food was rather excessive as you'd be charged $5 per unfinished dish. That sounds pretty crazy to me considering the portion for each dish is pretty small. However, we ate everything that we ordered so I am not too sure how lenient they are with this rule.
Seafood selection was not that great
The seafood selection was not that great -- it was pretty much limited to crab legs and very small shrimp.  I think there was probably something on t - See more at: http://www.goodeat.ca/2011/09/im-sucker-for-mashed-potatoes-eagles.html#sthash.mXqZY55m.dp


The menu was conveniently on a single laminated sheet.


The side dishes that we got were vinegar radish, kimchi, seaweed and potato. Nothing special, just standard bachan dishes.


The Miga salad was a lot larger than I expected. It was probably twice as large as what you would regularly get at sushi restaurants as a complimentary dish. The salad was lightly dressed in a tangy sauce, but some pieces of lettuce were quite large.


The udon soup portion was extremely small; I had to order three of them. The broth was average and it came with a few pieces of udon noodles, one mushroom and one piece of fake crab.


The bulgogi (marinated beef) was soft and marinated perfectly with a sweet sauce.


I didn't like the pork at all as I found it rather bland and a little on the dry side. 


The chicken was coated in a thick marinade and it was sealed in nicely with the meat. Additionally, I liked the contrasting slightly spicy and sweet flavor of the chicken.


Whenever I order noodles, I must have it spicy. So I was happy they had stir fried spicy noodle with beef on the menu. For those don't take spices very well, there is a non-spiced version of the same noodles. The presentation was rather plain but I enjoyed the dish a lot.


The fried calamari was horrible and I had to force myself to finish the dish. The batter was absolutely tasteless and the calamari was overly chewy; making it difficult to chow down.


I don't think anyone can really screw up tteokbokki (rice cakes) as it's quite a simple dish to make (from personal experience in the kitchen). Anyways, I enjoyed the tteokbokki a lot here as it had a lot of flavor and there was a nice spicy kick to it.


Bibimbap is a signature Korean dish that is served in a bowl of rice topped with assorted vegetables and a fried egg. The presentation of the dish was rather nice looking for an AYCE and it also tasted good.


Another personal favorite of mine was the kalbi (marinated beef short rib) dish. The meat quality wasn't the greatest since it is AYCE but I thought it was grilled well.


I was too full from all of the cooked Korean dishes that I didn't order many rolls. I opted for the spicy salmon roll (3 pcs) and crab roll (3 pcs). As expected, it was very plain tasting and the rice was a little too sugared down.

As for service, our waitress was friendly without being intrusive, quick, and attentive. It was a nice change compared to the lack of service that are often found at many uptown Korean restaurants (based on personal dining experience). Additionally, the food arrived quickly to our table and our empty plates were constantly being cleared.

RATINGS:

Quality of Food: 3.7/5
Service: 4/5
Overall Dining Experience: 3.8/5
Price: $

Address: 2382 Dundas St W, Mississauga, ON, L5K 1R7

Miga Korean & Japanese BBQ on Urbanspoon

Miga Korean & Japanese BBQ

by on Saturday, February 01, 2014
Miga Korean & Japanese BBQ is a fusion restaurant located up in Mississauga. The original plan was to go to Sushi 168, but the estimate...
If you're traveling to multiple cities throughout Japan then I'd highly recommend getting the JR Rail Pass. The pass is issued by the JR Railways Group, and it cannot be purchased inside of Japan. You have to buy an exchange order through an authorized sale agent in Canada. There are a few located in the GTA and I also know of one place in Markham. You have to purchase an exchange order in Canada, and then exchange the voucher for an actual pass in Japan. You must show your passport in order to get the actual pass and photocopies are not allowed.

We got two (14 days) (ordinary) pass for $966 CAD. In the long run, it was definitely worth the investment as we traveled a lot with it. The seats in the ordinary cars were quite spacious and many Hikari and Kodama trains don't have green cars, so there was no point in getting the green one. We spent our savings on Kobe beef =D

The prices are as followed:

07 days: ¥ 37,800 ($405) [green car]                      07 days: ¥ 28,300 ($303) [ordinary]
14 days: ¥ 61,200 ($656) [green car]                      14 days: ¥ 45,100 ($483) [ordinary]
21 days: ¥ 79,600 ($852) [green car]                      21 days: ¥ 57,700 ($618) [ordinary]

The prices might look expensive at first but it's really an economical and flexible way to travel in the long run. The pass allows you to have unlimited travel on all JR trains except for two which are the NOZOMI and MIZUHO Shinkansen (bullet trains). If you get on either of those two then you will have to buy the full price ticket. Other perks of buying the JR Rail Pass is that you can make free seat reservations on the trains.

What transportation services can I get on using the JR Rail Pass?

The JR Rail Pass is valid on all JR JR Group Railways-Shinkansen (bullet trains) except the NOZOMI and MIZUHO Shinkansen. The four Shinkansen (bullet trains) that you can take using the JR Rail Pass are Hikari, Sakura, Kodama, and Tsubame.

Other transportation methods that is valid with the pass are buses, Tokyo monorail, Miyajima ferry, limited express trains, express trains, and rapid or local trains

Can I reserve seats before arriving in Japan?

Unfortunately you can't reserve seats on the bullet trains until after your arrival in Japan. The reason is because you need to exchange your voucher for the real pass first, and that can only happen once you are in Japan.

How do I make seat reservations?

You can make seat reservations at no additional cost as it comes with having a JR Rail Pass. To make a reservation, you need to go to any reservation office at a JR station or travel service center. You need to show your pass, select the seat/time that you want, and get your reserve seat ticket. 

JR Rail Pass

by on Thursday, January 30, 2014
If you're traveling to multiple cities throughout Japan then I'd highly recommend getting the JR Rail Pass. The pass is issued by ...
HUSH Restaurant, Bar & Patio is a casual-upscale restaurant located directly across from the TIFF Bell Lightbox. While walking around King St W, a friend and I stumbled upon the restaurant, and decided to go in for a quick bite to eat. HUSH Restaurant, Bar & Patio was dimly lit inside, and its modern and stylish décor seemingly provided a nice ambiance.

The menu has a decent selection of food that are normally found at bars and patios such as various appetizers, salad, burgers, sandwiches, and steaks. Additionally, the prices are on par with the offerings of other restaurants located in the same area; most notably O&B Canteen

After looking through the menu; I opted for the lobster grilled cheese ($16) and a glass of coke. All sandwiches are served with your choice of either hand cut Yukon fries or a chef's salad. If you want to substitute for a Caesar salad or sweet potato fries then it's an additional $2. 



The sandwich arrived cut into four slices which I can appreciate as it made it easier to eat. The ratio amount of mozzarella, cheddar and brie in the sandwich was sufficient without being overwhelmingly cheesy. I thought that the Langostino lobster meat was quite delicious and buttery. However, there was not enough lobster given relative to the amount of cheese in the sandwich. The Yukon fries were served in a miniature deep fryer basket which added a nice touch to the presentation of the plate.


My friend's 7oz tenderloin (center cut filet) ($29) which he paired with sweet potato fries.


 RATINGS:

Quality of Food: 3.7/5
Service: 3.7/5
Overall Dining Experience: 3.7/5
Price: $$$ || Online Menu
 
Address: 303 King St W, Toronto, ON, M5V 1J5

HUSH Restaurant, Bar & Patio on Urbanspoon


Tokyo is an incredibly populous city with no shortage of food, shopping and entertainment. Originally we were only going to stay there for 4 days but I extended it to a full week as there are a lot of districts in Tokyo to explore. Below are some tips that I thought could be helpful before visiting Tokyo.

Affordable Eateries

Eating out in Tokyo doesn't have to always be expensive. There are several budget friendly restaurants all throughout the city. Places with affordable eats are sushi belt (kaiten-zushi), machine operated restaurants, ramen houses, convenience stores, and underground food market in department stores. You can have a filling meal for under $15 per person.

Amenities in Hotels

There are certain items that you don't need to pack in your suitcase as you can (a) buy them in Tokyo or (b) they're provided by the hotels. All of the Japanese hotels that we stayed in provided the following amenities: pajamas or yukata, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, razor, soap, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, alarm clock, hair dryer, iron (on occasions), and slippers.

Basics

Aiport: Toronto Pearson International (YYZ) to Narita International Airport (NRT)
Ambulance/Fire 119
Country code: +81
Currency: Yen (¥)
Electricity voltage: 100V 
Language: Japanese
Police: 110
Time zone: +14 hours ahead of Toronto

Comfortable Shoes

I can't stress this enough as it's so important to wear comfortable shoes in Tokyo. There's a lot of walking involved as even some line transfers on the subways are 500-900 m away from one another. 

Credit Cards + Cash

Credit cards are widely accepted in many restaurants and all (large) department stores. However, there are some places that only accept cash so it's best to have some on hand. I've found that many of the souvenir shops nearby popular sites only take cash for smaller purchases.

Don't forget to inform your credit card companies that you will be overseas so that they won't flag the charges as fraudulent. 

Don't Eat and Walk

It is considered rude to eat while you walk in Tokyo (and all of Japan). It is also highly not recommended as there are hardly any garbage cans on the streets of Tokyo.

Escalators

The (unspoken) rule of taking the escalators in Tokyo is the exact opposite as that in Toronto. In Tokyo, you keep to the left if you're standing on the escalators, and walk on the right.

photo credit: yahoo news
Free Wifi

About 85% of the hotels that we stayed at offered free wifi in the rooms. Wifi was available only in the lobby of the other 15%. I found that the wifi signals were pretty good for most of the trip. Starbucks also offered free wifi but we weren't able to connect to it as you have to be a member (site to join was all in Japanese). Lastly, Tokyo Metro offers free wifi at 30 subway stations so you can surf the internet while underground. You can only access the service five times per day and use it for only 15 minutes per connection.

Hotels

Hotel check-in varies between 2 pm to 3 pm, and check-out varies between 10 am to 11 am in Tokyo.

Rush Hours

Try to avoid traveling during rush hour as it can be difficult to get on the trains. The peak rush hours are between 8 am to 9 am in the morning, and 5 pm to 6 pm in the afternoon.

Shopping in Tokyo

Shinjuku is a great place to buy clothes, books/magazines, souvenirs, beauty, stationary, crafts, and electronics. Some popular places to shop in this district are Isetan, Takashimaya, Odakyu, Yodobashi Camera, Bic Camera and Tokyu Hands.

The district to shop for the latest Japanese fashion trends has to be Shibuya. There are several department stores in the area, along with specialty stores catering to both the locals and tourists. Some popular places to shop in this district are Shibuya 109, Tokyu Hands, Don Quijote, Shibuya Mark City, Seibu, Parco, Marui, and Loft.

There is a street called Takeshita Dori in Harajuku where you can find trendy fashion shops, and boutiques (catering to the younger generations). 100 yen stores are also very popular in Tokyo, and the popular Daiso has a large branch here.

Located nearby Harajuku is an upscale shopping area called Omotesando. Here you will find tons of luxury brand goods such as Burberry, Chanel, Dior, Emporio Armani, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. For the kids and those who are kids at heart; there is a multi-floor toy store called Kiddy Land with a lot of amazing products.

Akihabara is well-known for their large selection of electronics, and toys. It is also a central area for otaku culture, so you will find a lot of anime and manga related items here.

Ginza is an affluent district in the city of Tokyo, and is known for its high-end shopping worldwide. There are countless numbers of luxury stores, and large department stores offering high end fashion and products. 

Smoking Indoors

Smoking in Tokyo is permitted indoors. Therefore, many restaurants have both smoking and non-smoking areas in their establishments. However, there are rarely any barriers to block the smoke from entering the non-smoking areas.

Subways

 The subway system in Tokyo is both a convenient and inexpensive approach to traveling around the huge city.

Taxis in Tokyo

We took the taxis in a couple of the cities that we visited for many reasons (constant hard rain, got lost, getting to the JR station was faster than taking the transit, etc ...). We found that taking the taxi in Tokyo was the most expensive of them all. The meter started at ¥710 (nearly $8 CAD). I was feeling slightly sick one day, and needed to return to our hotel.

Our 16 minute ride from Meiji Shrine to our hotel cost about $25. To compare the cost; our 10 min taxi ride from our hotel in Hiroshima, Japan, to JR Hiroshima Station was under $10.

Our friendly taxi driver in Tokyo.
Tea Bags are Provided in Hotels

All of the hotels that we stayed at provided us with an in-room kettle, packets of instant coffee and green tea bags. These were refilled daily when the maids clean up your room.

Tipping

Tipping isn't practiced nor expected by the wait staff in Tokyo (actually all of Japan).

Tissues

Many public facilitates in Tokyo don't have any paper towels or hand dryers in their washrooms. So it's highly recommended that you bring yourself a hand towel or tissue papers when you go to the bathroom. Don't go wasting money on buying tissues; as you will see plenty of people handing out free packet of tissues on the street (used as a form of advertising).

Tokyo Metro (Subway)

The subway systems in Tokyo may look super complicated at first, but it's so efficient. Many of the main sights are very close by to the main stations, so traveling to each tourist destination is easy.

If you plan on traveling a lot in one day using the subway then I'd recommend getting the Special 1-Day Open Ticket. The ticket gives you one day of unlimited subway travel in Tokyo. However, this is only valid on the Tokyo Metro lines and not the Oedo lines. For visitors from abroad, you can buy the tickets for ¥600 each but this price is only available at either Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. 

If you didn't buy enough passes for your travels at the airport; it is also available at every ticket machines located in all subway stations. However, you will have to pay the full price as the locals do at ¥710 per pass.

Vending Machines

There are an abundance of vending machines everywhere in Tokyo that dispenses cold or hot drinks, snacks and food. I was taken surprised when my canned Tulley's Coffee (130 yen) came out of the machine pipping hot!


Bon Voyage :)

Travel Tips - Tokyo, Japan

by on Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Tokyo is an incredibly populous city with no shortage of food, shopping and entertainment. Originally we were only going to stay...