17 Days In Japan – Part 1

Japan, oh, what a country.

Its culture is something I grew up with, its charm something I yearn for.

For 23 years I dreamt of going to the country I have seen and learned so much about from Doraemon, Crayon Shinchan and Keroro Gunsou, not unlike O & A’s passion towards all things Korean. That was why, when my friends told me in June 2012 that AirAsia launched their new budget flights to Japan, it only took me 2 hours to convince another good friend, Rizky, to purchase a ticket for a December trip. And purchase we did. That impulse decision turned out to be one of the most memorable experience in my life.

On 21st December 2012, I, with 4 other friends, Rizky, Valentino, Timothy and Matias, embarked on our 17-days-long adventure in the country of the rising sun. A sixth member, Stanford, joined us as we arrived in Japan.

We spent a total of 17 days in Japan, Trying to visit as many places as possible. On December 21 to 26 we were in Tokyo, December 26 to 27 in Sapporo, 27 to 29 in Niseko Ski Resort, December 29 to January 1 in Osaka, January 2 to 4 in Kyoto, and finally the last 3 days, January 5 to 7, back in Tokyo again.

japan-map01b
Our journey started at Tokyo in Kantō region and ended there, but not after visiting the snowy cities of Hokkaido and also famous landmarks in Kansai.

 TOKYO

DSC_6226

Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is a place of endless discoveries. A busy city, it’s always bursting with colour, vibrant life and strangely intertwined cultural heritage and futuristic inventions. And the food. Yeah, we came for the food too.

In late December, the temperature was about 8° in Tokyo. Of course, we came prepared.

DSC_7859 DSC_7870

We arrived after midnight, and at early morning the next day, we went to one the most exciting fish market in the world, the Tsukiji shijō. Oh yes you know what’s coming.

Tsukiji Fish Market

DSC_7890
Various knifes sold in specialty shoppes around the market.

Various sea produce, many of which are highly sought after by top dining establishments worldwide, are sold in the market daily. For decades, one of the most famous ‘attraction’ in Tsukiji is none other than the Tuna Auction. As the fishermen and tuna dealers get down to brass tacks, tourists are allowed to stay and observe – and strictly observe – the ongoing auction at around 5AM everyday. Unfortunately, I myself have never had the chance to come on time for the auction. 🙁

Shishamo (柳葉魚) sold per 100gram.
Shishamo (柳葉魚) sold per 100gram.
Tako (蛸) can't get fresher than this!
Tako (蛸) can’t get fresher than this!

We did visit Sushi Dai to try their famous sushi! But I will share more about it in a separate post, due to the overwhelming amazingness of the whole experience.

Next, we went to the very core of Japanese pop culture in Tokyo, which also happens to be the natural habitat of many otaku. Welcome to:

Akihabara

Also known as Akiba by locals, the district houses numerous electronic shops, with even more dedicated anime and manga establishments sprawling the area.

DSC_8107
In the middle of the road. Every Sunday, the whole strip of Akiba shopping district becomes car-free.

DSC_6549_1

Just the sheer number of shops in the area is enough to knock you off your seat. Endless mascots, toys and trinkets adorn your surrounding as you walk around in what seems like a giant, open-air maze to first-timers.

Totoro mini plushie from the legendary Ghibli animation My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ)
Totoro mini plushie from the legendary Ghibli animation My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ)
Taito Station. One of a number of arcades around Akiba.
Taito Station. One of a number of arcades around Akiba.
Adult shop selling DVDs and other adult things. Tee hee.
Adult shop selling DVDs and other adult things. Tee hee.
Go! Go! Curry! (ゴーゴーカレー) Tender pork cutlet with secret Ishikawa-style curry recipe. It's black and it's big and it's amazing.
Go! Go! Curry! (ゴーゴーカレー) Tender pork cutlet with secret Ishikawa-style curry recipe. It’s black and it’s big and it’s amazing.

We spent the next two days exploring Tokyo; Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku and Roppongi are must-visits.

  • Shinjuku is arguably the heart of Tokyo, where you will literally find everything you see in most J-Dorama. It is where many of Japanese commercial, business and entertainment activities come together, with an abundance of malls and night clubs.
  • Shibuya is hugely popular among the young people in Tokyo, mainly thanks to its rows and rows of shopping establishments and cafés.
  • Harajuku, especially its Takeshita Street, is the place of Japanese youth culture. Hip local snack vendors, gothic fashionista and maid cosplayers sprawl the area especially during weekends.
  • Roppongi is where you will find some of the most amazing skyscrapers in the middle of Tokyo. Visiting Roppongi Hills during Christmas will also mean an impressive Roppongi Illumination where millions of LED bulbs paint the region with pretty lights.
The signboards and flashy neons as Kabukichō (歌舞伎町), the red-light district in Shinjuku, comes alive at night.
The signboards and flashy neons light up as Kabukichō (歌舞伎町), the red-light district in Shinjuku, comes alive at night.
An izakaya in Omoide yoko-cho (思い出横町) or the Memory Lane in Shinjuku.
An izakaya in Omoide yoko-cho (思い出横町) or the Memory Lane in Shinjuku.
Yakitori (焼き鳥) served with cold beer to end our exhausting day.
Yakitori (焼き鳥) served with cold beer to end our exhausting day.
The curry rice at the station I had for breakfast.
The curry rice at the station I had for breakfast.
Kōban (交番), a small neighborhood police station.
Kōban (交番), a small neighborhood police station.
With doraemon!
With my favourite character, Doraemon! When in Tokyo, do make some time to try to visit Doraemon Museum (officially Fujiko F. Fujio Museum or 藤子・F・不二雄ミュージアム) in Kawasaki, 20 minutes by train from Shinjuku.
Shibuya girls. In some dino costume?
Shibuya girls proving that fashion is indeed hard to comprehend sometimes. Jokes aside, they look cute!
Sunset overdrive.
Sunset overdrive near Mitaka.

To end part 1, right before we fly over to Hokkaido in my next post, let me introduce you to the wonderful world of Japanese Ramen.

Harajuku: Kyushu-Jangara

Just 2 minutes away from Harajuku train station, you will find this scrumptious Kyushu-style Ramen.

DSC_8039 DSC_8040

DSC_8042
The signature Kyushu-jangara ramen. I ordered one with everything and it was about ¥1,100 (SGD16 at the time but around SGD12 today). Try this before you die.

Get ready. Firm springy noodles in a thick, creamy soup from pork broth and some special sauce, topped with generous slices of pork belly, barbequed pork, mushroom, bamboo shoot, spicy cod roe (Mentaiko [明太子] See that reddish goo right there? It’s fantastic.) and spring onion. We had it when it was cold and raining outside and dear lord was it delicious.

Kyushu Jangara Ramen (Main Branch)
 Address: 1-13-21 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan
 Phone: +81 3-3404-5572
 Hours: 10:45 am – 12:00 am

That ends part 1 for us, and we will fly over to Sapporo, Osaka and Kyoto next time! Stay tuned!

You may also like

2 comments

  1. Wow this is absolutely amazing! The way you photograph really makes it feel like I could BE there. I’ve never given much thought to traveling East, but now you’ve definitely convinced me! Really really cool. Looking forward to your new stuff.

    1. Hey Cam! Thanks a lot of your kind words, and I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures. Of many of the countries right here in the East, Japan is definitely a must-visit. Read more about the other places I visited in my next posts!