January 11th, 2017

Postcard From Japan

Bringing you the very first post of the year- a throwback to November 2016- a Postcard from Japan, where my boyfriend and I were  in Japan for two weeks, eating our weights in okonomiyaki, slurping our way through different cities one ramen bowl at a time, walking more than we’ve ever accumulated in our whole lives, admiring the Japanese history and architecture, embracing the madness… Well, I guess you got the picture, we did A LOT and I have so much to share with you! Without further ado, here’s the first part of Postcard from Japan series!

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After spending two weeks in Tokyo back in 2015 we knew we had to be back for more! Fast forward to November 2016, we were so ready for our “crash course into Japan” trip- rather than a quick visit to the holy trinity- Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, we instead opted for something better; Japan through train for 2 weeks. Starting from Tokyo, we would make our way down to Fukuoka, Beppu, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji, Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka, Hakone and finally go back to Tokyo.

You may or may not know that Japan ain’t that cheap, especially when it comes to travelling with fast trains, but all thanks to Japan Rail Pass (only available to foreigners) it is possible to do so without losing your mind! We got the two week pass, which allows to you take shinkansen (bullet trains) and most other JR trains unlimited amount of time to (almost) any A to B.

We finally came up with this route that consist of sleeping in big cities more than 2 nights (Tokyo, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and back to Tokyo) and covering as much neighbouring cities as we want visit in between! It is already extensive and does look rather overwhelming considering the distances we did but it worked out just perfect and we did have one hell of a good time in Japan! Every single trip, including the train rides, was beyond-our-wildest-dreams amazing. Japan won our hearts in every possible way AGAIN and we are already so looking forward to going back for the third time to see more!

TOKYO

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Kicking off the first part of Postcard from Japan with Tokyo. Starting the trip in Tokyo gave us a very comforting welcome, it almost felt like we never left… and it definitely felt like the best thing we’ve ever done 2016- I also know this by the constant reminder of my boyfriend, telling me how much ear-to-ear grinning I did in Tokyo. Tokyo also felt like home, maybe because it’s the feeling of coming-back and probably also being Tokyo-chaos-savvy… but whetever that was it was stronger than our jetlag- we were so ready to discover more of Tokyo and kick off our the-most-exciting-trip-of-2016 (and possibly of our lives, too).

Spending 3 days Tokyo before heading down to Fukuoka was the best kind of tease! On the first part of our Tokyo days, we decided to stay in Shinjuku (again, because we loved it here the first time) since we love our late night purikura, 3-am-gyoza, that 7/11 right downstairs at our hotel, walking past Robot Restaurant (and having to listen to the song screaming at your face day/night) on our usual walk, being so close to Golden Gai, and… all the things that you expect Tokyo you to offer and beyond basically. I’m not going go all the details of Shinjuku, but you can read more about it on my first post here and here.

In those 3 days, we spent more time at those neighbourhoods that we couldn’t as much on our first time… Ginza and Roppongi, and re-visit to Asasuka. Ginza is an upscale area in Tokyo, your usual big designer brands everwhere type of place with a twist- the Ginza Yakitori Alley, aka Blade Runner meets delicious food hub! If you’re in Ginza for dinner, just follow the salaryman, they will lead you to the yakitori haven of Tokyo! The alley is situated under the rail tracks, and you just keep on walking through the mouth-watering grill smoke until you find a table. It is common that you will share table with others, and if you’re lucky enough you might even have a chat with some Japanese folks (the Japanese don’t mind the language barrier if there’s enough alcohol).

Shinjuku Highlights 

Arcades! I love going to the arcades in Shinjuku or wherever really. But because in Shinjuku we were surronded by these, it quickly became a daily thing where we would go in, played some games, got some purikura (Japanese photo booths) taken. I have a collection of purikuras where
we did almost one each in every city- best souvenir ever!

-Again, try purikura! Laugh at your most-photoshopped ever self and have fun editing
your photos in the most Japanese way ever!

– Brick French Toast. Or Honey Brick Toast. Basically french toast tower inside a bread brick
that’s usually filled with cream and jam!  You can find this culinary master creation almost everywhere.
Make sure to starve yourself prior to this beast, it will not go down easily!

Golden Gai. If you don’t go out in Golden Gai and drink with the locals,
I don’t know what you’re doing in Tokyo at night!

Ramen! Ramen! Ramen! It’s everywhere, just walk in, order your ramen through
the vending machine and slurp it quickly!


Ginza Highlights 

Ginza Yakitori Alley

– Try some yakitori (lit. grilled-chicken)!
Be mindful, all the chicken parts are worth the penny here. (tail, heart, etc.)

– Skip beer, try umeshu (plum liquor with pickled plum) instead- new favourite!

We came to Roppongi with two things in mind, the view that we couldn’t check out the last time and Shabuzen. We tried on our first time but we weren’t lucky enough, but this time we were not going to leave it to luck! Roppongi Hills should be anyone’s must-visit list, you can check out the mall and the lovely surrondings, and head up to the tower to appreciate the craziness that is Tokyo from up above. We also went to the Rabbit café, close to the Hills but I’m still not sure how to feel about that one. It definitely wasn’t like how I imagined (dog café) to be.

Roppongi Highlights

– The best wagyu beef in town- hit up Shabuzen for shabu shabu or sukiyaki!

Roppongi Hills for one of the best views of the city

– If you want to buy some random bits, souvenirs, KitKats, sheet masks or anything really,
head to Don Quijote in Roppongi (least crowded one- avoid Shibuya & Shinjuku chains)

Asakusa was not nothing new to us, we were mainly there to check out the unbeaten track but of course it wouldn’t make sense to go all the way there to without seeing the majestic Senso-ji- worth every time.
While wandering around, we ate ridiculous amount of street food, simply because I can’t resist the temptation. Taiyaki was a favourite the first time, so this time we tried the non-conventinal ones.
Also, tried melonbun, which is basically like pineapple bun of Hong Kong (nothing to do with melon nor pineapples, it’s just a sweet/crunchy pastry). I also picked up the most kawaii canvas tote bag, which has different sushi types imprinted on it- got so many compliments from the locals throughout the entire trip.

Asakusa Highlights

– Visit Senso-ji (and have a walk around the area surronding the temple,
but mind that it’s all a bit tourist-trap-y)

– Grab some fresh melonbun around Senso-ji.

– Try taiyaki- the most popular one comes with red bean paste.
I recommend the black sesame one, too.

– Go to Tokyo Skytree and enjoy the one of the best views of Tokyo!
Tokyo Skytree is a good spot for some shopping and kawaii food- Tokyo Solamachi
(which is connected to the tower). While we were there looking for a quick bite, we discovered the opening of PPAP (Pen Pineapple Apple Pen) pop-up café– if you don’t know what I’m talking about
please watch this first. The meme was super fresh when we were in Tokyo, so we coming across this café was beyond hilarious and random. We obviously had to go in, try to make some sense and try something from the menu, but no luck- out of pineapples! While we were there, my boyfriend was approached by a Russian news channel camera people for an interview
(AND he happens to speak Russian,). At this point I had no idea what was going on anymore
because it was all too random. I’m still cracking up just thinking about it.
So now we have this incredibly random and funny story… “Remember that time when we were at
Pen Pineapple Apple Pen Café and you got interviewed by a Russian news channel?”

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FUKUOKA

I have two words for Fukuoka: Yatai and Hakata ramen. We didn’t get to see much of the city, as we were basing ourselves here to travel to the smaller neighbouring cities for day trips. But we made sure to indulged ourselves in Fukuoka’s finest food scene!

Yatai is one of the things that we absolutely loved about Fukuoka. It means small mobile food stalls scattered around the city, which offer ramen or yakitori style food. These small food stalls are situated on the sidewalks, allowing maybe not more than 10 people in one sitting. Sitting in a cosy atmosphere with total strangers, while chowing down on amazing Japanese food was an absolute eye-openning experience. We met incredibly friendly and funny locals in one of these stalls and ended up eating + drinking with them, which followed endless selfies and group photos, and many lost in translation moments that we will forever cherish! For that and many other reasons, Fukuoka was a city that stood out for us and we definitely hope to go back to again!

You cannot talk about Fukuoka without mentioning Hakata (or tonkotsu) ramen! If you want to have next level ramen experience both in taste and well… how Japanese things can get, you must try it at Ippudo (my personal favourite) and at Ichiran (second favourite) for the best Hakata ramen you’ll ever slurp! The real deal that is Hakata (name of the region) or tonkotsu ramen , a recipe that is from Fukuoka, absolutely changed my world! Above last two photos are from Ippudo, where you eat your ramen in these isolated/secluded 1 person-only sections in peace and quiet.

Fukuoka Highlights 

Yatai. Treat yourself to a dinner that you’ll never forget in one of these stalls,
where you can enjoy some classic Japanese food like ramen, gyoza, yakitori, etc.
served with beer, sake, umeshu!

– Slurp a bowl of Hakata ramen at Ippudo and/or Ichiran

BEPPU

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Only 2 hours train ride away from Fukuoka, Beppu is a small city of real life sci-fi movie set of hells or hot springs. We only spent the day in Beppu to see the hells and got back to Fukuoka at night. In Beppu, we did the Jigoku Meguri (or Hell Tour), where you get to visit 8 hells (above pictured) all around the city. It’s a walk, a walk that takes WHOLE.DAY.

My favourite hells were Umi-Jigoku (blue hell) and Chinoike-Jigoku-Mae. Chinoike-Jigoku-Mae was extremely serene and peaceful- I didn’t want to leave! The most entertaining one was definitely Tatsumaki-Jigoku (Tornado Hell), a geyser that squirts every 30 minutes and the craze that it attracts- people running around screaming out of fascination and trying to score the best selfie with the geyser- an experience to sure file under lost in translation experiences.

Beppu Highlights 
Beppu Jigoku Meguri or Hell Tour

And with Beppu, that makes the quarter of our trip. I will continue sharing the rest in the upcoming posts, as this one is already reaching new heights in length-wise. I will talk about Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji, and more in the upcoming Postcard From Japan posts. Please keep your eyes peeled for those if you have already enjoyed reading my adventures in Japan.

What was your utmost favourite trip of 2016? Have you already planned any trips? I’m looking for new destinations and have already booked a trip! If you have some travel posts, please do share- I want to discover new places! Hope 2017 is treating you all well already! 

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