Japan, I am back!
In early June, I spent a week in Japan on a family vacation. The bulk of our vacation was spent in the Mt. Fuji/Lake Kawaguchi area, but first, we had a few days to explore Tokyo!
During our Tokyo stay, we stayed at an Airbnb apartment near Shibuya. (This was shortly before Japan issued a new law introducing new licenses and restrictions that went into affect on June 15th, resulting in thousands of listings taken off of Airbnb.) My dad booked our apartment, and he chose this particular listing because of its convenient location near Sangubashi Station and Yoyogi Park Station, so we could easily get around by train.
In this post, we visited: Harajuku, Akihabara, and Shibuya!
The first thing on our agenda was to secure our transportation to Lake Kawaguchi. My dad had already booked our hotels prior to arriving in Japan, but we needed to buy the train tickets in person. We headed to Shinjuku Station to purchase our train tickets to Hakone.
It’s a big station, and we had some trouble finding the Odakyu Sightseeing Service counter for foreigners, but we eventually managed to purchase our tickets! The people working at this counter speak many languages including English and Mandarin, so there wasn’t a communication problem at all.
Now that we got that out of the way, we headed to Harajuku!
Harajuku is a neighborhood famous for being a hub of pop culture and extreme fashions. We strolled down Takeshita Street, a fun and busy street lined with restaurants and shops.
Our first stop was at the Totti Candy Factory, a candy store that sells kawaii (cute) cake pops, candy, and those Instagram-famous rainbow cotton candies. Of course, we bought a rainbow cotton candy and had a full-on photoshoot in front of the store.
Is there any attractive way to eat cotton candy??? If so, please advise.
The next store that caught my eye was the Pom Pom Purin Cafe. Purin is a Sanrio character that I think is supposed to be a Golden Retriever dog but resembles pudding (or purin, as it’s called in Japanese.)
I’ve had a Purin piggy bank since I was young, so I really wanted to go in and eat some Purin themed snacks! But the line was too long so we gave it a miss.
Moving on, further down the street, we passed by a sign for an Owl Cafe and a Shiba Inu Cafe in the same building!
If you’ve read any of my other blog posts you would know that I freaking love ~*Animal Encounters*~ !!!
So of course, we had to go in. We decided to check out the Owl Cafe, because I’m a crazy bird lady.
This owl cafe works like this: You pay an entrance fee, sanitize your hands, and then you can walk through a winding path with owls chilling on branches on the way. You can repeat the path as many times as you’d like, so you can spend as long or as little as you want with the owls! They had all types of owls there – big, small, the snowy one from Harry Potter, etc…. I’m not an owl expert so I ran out of ways to describe owls, but you know what I mean!
They teach you to pet the owls gently with the back of your hand. I chose not to touch any owls, however, since most of them looked like they were sleeping and I didn’t want to bother them 😦 It was a dark and quiet environment, and I feel bad because there were kids running around, making noise and generally being annoying to the owls. Argh!
By the way, there were no drinks or snacks there. So I can’t really describe this place as an Owl Cafe. Just owls!
And because there were no food at the Owl
Cafe, after leaving, we stopped by a Crepe truck for a snack. Harajuku is known for crepes, and there are several crepe retailers on this street, so you can’t miss it!
The crepe truck had a crazy number of crepe fillings to choose from. I usually think of crepes as being more like desserts, but of course I’ve had savory options such as eggs/ham/cheese as well. But this truck also offered “salad crepes”, which sounded really weird. Eww!!
I kept it safe with an ice cream, whipped cream, and strawberry crepe. But my mom ended up ordering a salad crepe with shrimp and avocado!!
So I ended up trying a few bites of mom’s salad crepe, and it was not bad! It’s really just like a portable salad. The lettuce leaves already have some sort of dressing on it.
I was pretty disappointed because I thought I would be able to see the crazy fashionistas that Harajuku is known for, but I didn’t see a single
weirdly dressed fashion person! My parents, who lived in Tokyo 18 years ago, said it used to be that you would get off the train station and see them everywhere. So I think this place has become a little more touristy since then 😦
After we crossed the length of Takeshita Street, we moved onto the nearby Meiji Shrine.
Meiji Shrine, surrounded by a forest of trees, is a tranquil contrast to the bright and bubbly Takeshita Street.
Keep an eye out for couples taking their engagement/wedding photos in traditional Japanese garb!
We were getting pretty hungry, so we ducked into this nearby pasta restaurant. (It’s always interesting to see the Japanese take on Western food.
After lunch, we headed to Akihabara, an area known for electronic shops and being the center for anime culture.
Sunday is a great day to visit Akihabara because they close the street to cars. Which means, more photo ops for me!!!
We passed many flashy electronic stores that were advertising televisions, cameras, etc. I can’t help but wonder how these stores are faring in this age of online shopping and Amazon Prime?
I recommend checking out Don Quijote, a huge store that sells everything from trinkets to beauty supplies to snacks and groceries. It’s kind of like a super charged Daiso, and a great spot to pick up souvenirs! It’s a chain store but the location here is really large, I’m talking multiple levels.
By this point, we were getting pretty tired. The jet lag and general travel fatigue was hitting us, so we wanted to find a cafe to sit and relax at. We thought we could just walk down the street and stop at any random cafe, right? Wrong! We certainly passed many maid cafes, anime cafes, etc. But we literally could not find a regular cafe for the life of us!
Finally, after walking much further than we wanted to, we found a random (normal) cafe, and relaxed with some iced coffee and crepe cake.
Mille Crepe cake is basically a cake made of many layers of thin crepes and cream. I always try to get mille crepe cake when I’m in Japan. For some reason it’s really hard to find in the US and I tried making it myself once, and horribly failed. So I want to get my fill of crepe cake while I’m in Japan!
For dinner we went to Grandma’s house and ate sushi and yakiniku (grilled meat)!!!
The next day…
We decided to walk through Yoyogi Park on our way to the train station.
Next, we went to Shibuya Station, the big metropolitan center of the city!
I got a quick snap of the famous Hachiko Statue. Hachiko was a loyal dog who met his owner at the train station to see him off in the morning and pick him up at night every day. One day, his owner passed away unexpectedly at work. Hachiko continued to go to the train station to greet his owner every day… for over nine years. His story has captured the hearts of many, and he is commemorated here through this statue!
We ducked into the famous Starbuck’s to get a view of Shibuya Crossing. It’s basically a giant intersection with people crossing in all directions. This Starbucks location is on the 2nd floor, giving you the perfect view of the crossing!
Finally, we stopped by Pablo for cheese tarts!!! The Japanese cheese tart chain BAKE recently opened in San Francisco (where I live), so I was curious to try these out and see if they’re any good (spoiler alert: they were!!).
The Pablo stand is located inside the train station, and it took us forever to find. But we finally did, and grabbed a box of 6 small cheese tarts to go.
Finally, our last stop in Tokyo: the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building! We are here not to do government metropolitan business, but to take advantage of its observation decks for that nice bird’s eye view of Tokyo!
And we got to eat our Pablo Cheese tarts up here. yum!
Finally, we decided to splurge on a fancy (read: expensive) unagi dinner at Akasaka Fukinuki, located on one of the top floors of a department store.
Unagi is one of my favorite foods! I used to eat it as a child growing up in Japan. As I got older we started eating it less frequently because it’s so expensive here! 😦
The meal came with a heaping serving of unagi (eel) over rice, as well as optional condiments that you can enjoy it with (green onions, dried seaweed, wasabi, and tea).
This card above outlines three different ways of enjoying your unagi meal.
- Enjoy unagi and rice by itself.
- Add green onions, shredded seaweed.
- Add green onions, shredded seaweed, and wasabi. Pour tea on top.
I tried it all three ways, and I gotta say that I’m a purist – I like just unagi with rice! The wasabi/pepper thing(?) has a strong medicinal/herbal flavor to it, which was interesting, but a tad bit too strong for me!
That concludes a whirlwind two days spend in Tokyo. Catch my next posts about my family’s visit to the beautiful Kawaguchiko region!