June 14, 2007

5 colourful days in Japan!

5 days covering Tokyo and Osaka is definitely an overly ambitious idea! *laughs*
We tried to do everything! ....trying has left us exhausted!
A hectic holiday indeed...but a fantastic and memorable time nonetheless. I have my major exams for first semester of uni in a couple of weeks. I do apologize for the late email responses, I'm getting through them soon.

Here's my list of 40

...of the things I've seen, flavours I've tasted and the lessons I've learnt.
**in no order of importance

1. Lights! Neon lights! BLinking lights! Flashing SiGNS! MassiVE TV scrEENS! crazy bright streets! nothing says Japan like crazy lights.
2. Sushi and sashimi isn't cheap street food. They take pride in their famous raw seafood delicacies. Good sushi is sold like precious gems.

3. Japanese girls are obsessed with being tall. High heels to work, to play and in rain or shine! High heels; specifically tall and pointy sexy stilettos are a must. I felt so pressured to buy a pair myself~

4. Unfortunately the largest size is a 7-8....I'm a 9...apparently pretty shoes aren't meant for big monster feet like mine *sniff*...My sneakers kept me cozy in the rainy days we had.

5. See thru clear umbrellas are the 'in' thing. Almost every person on the street is armed with one of these. It rained 3 out of 5 days of our trip...we didn't let that bring us down.

6. The 7/11 convenience stores in Japan have a wide variety of funky fresh food on the go. I'm not talking bout a cup of instant noodles and some cold sandwiches. I mean salads, bento boxes, burritos, omelets, pastries, creme brulee, tiramisu's, puddings, rice cakes, fried chicken, meat filled buns...the list goes on.

7. The stuff in convenience stores and underground 'food halls' are cheap and delicious. They were life savers for us with tight budgets.

8. Everything Japanese people consume must look good. Much effort in put into every culinary creation to create a work of art. From simple sushi, to bento box displays and cakes/desserts....they were all creatively adorned with trimmings and colourful edible treats on the side.

9. I take my hat off to the Japanese working community. We could always spot offices still lit from our hotel rooms with Japanese men and women working till weee hours in the morning. I know its a tough life, and business is hard to do....but their dedication to their job and careers are amazing.

10. Japanese people are the nicest, most polite and courteous people I have ever come across. Throughout my 5 days of constant interaction with Japanese strangers...I didn't meet a single nasty person. Tourists feel so at home...even when they don't speak the language.

11. 4 Japanese phrases took me through my whole 5 days in Japan with no dramas.
"Arigato" - thank you; 'Sumimasen'-excuse me; 'Gomehnasai'-sorry; 'Konichiwa'-hello

12. I have great interaction skills...*laughs* I'm so proud of myself...I can fit in anywhere! my facial expressions and sign languages gets me by so easily! It got me what I wanted...they answered my questions and got me the help and information we needed to get around. I bet I'll do great in any other non English speaking country too.

13. The level of service in Japanese retail shops are fantastic! I was impressed at how they take the time to make you feel welcomed in the store and attend to you like a princess as you poked around the shelves. The way they help u put on the clothing items...wrap up your purchases in tidy packages and walk you out with your bags before seeing you off with a bow and a thank you! It's mind blowing...outstanding...
14. You take your shoes off where there is carpet! Even in clothing store changing rooms... you take off your shoes before entering...and you put on this face mask that's provided as not to stain their brand new clothing with your make-up. I've never seen this 'face-veil' etiquette anywhere else in the world...I guess in Japan, it makes sense; which brings me to my next point.

15. Japanese girls wear too much make-up. *laughs*
They are all too beautiful and petite...which makes me bitter *pout* :P

16. Sticker photo booths are FUN!! and oHh so~ cheap in Japan!!

17. I was eager to try out Whale, Turtle and Fugu fish while in Japan...but with our budget and my not very 'foodie' group; my suggestions to blow insane amounts of money on cuisine was voted out. I was outnumbered *sniff*

18. Creampuffs and mochi filled with Icecream are the BEST desserts EVER!

19. Japanese people make killer tasty baked cheesecakes!20. Lotteria is a Korean version of Mc Donalds...I had to give it a go; I was pretty impressed. The Koala mascot is just a little confusing though. Koala's aren't anywhere else but Australia. I guess the Koreans thought it was a cute enough bear for branding purposes.
21. All toilet seats come with warmed seats, bidets and bottom sprays. Even in shopping malls, train stations, hotels and public toilets on the street! They have cleansing sprays, wipes and seat covers in most of them! So very hygienic...I love it! I must admit; it was the 'flushing' music buttons which top the "WAHH" list for me. I was confused at first...but it eventually came to me why toilet seats needed flushing sound effects without the actual water flowing. You see;....it muffles the sound of wees and poos as the shy girls carry out their business. *grin*

22. Subway and train inspectors actually do help shove people into the trains before the doors shut at peak hour!! It was crazy!!!! I watched a lady's face smashed up against the glass as the train came past. I trembled at the thought of needing to fit into that tiny cramped space. Sardines are an understatement.

23. The intensity of Sunday afternoon shopping in Shibuya; Tokyo is incomparable with anything I've seen in my life. At the main intersection of the famous retail district; thousands swarm in opposite directions from all corners. You couldn't see pavement looking from above.

24. Vending machines are cool... I think I've almost tried all of Japan's variety of various fruit drinks and soda's. I'm not certain of what exactly is it I'm drinking half of the time! *laughs*25. Deep-fried gnocchi ain't too bad! *grin* I was a skeptic at first...but after having a couple of these golden soft centered gnocchi nuggets laden with parmesan and oregano; I was hooked! I might try making these some time soon...doesn't look too complicated.26. Pachinko slot machines are EVERYWHERE!! Its something about trying to get as many metal balls into the slots. The Japanese version of a slot machine.

27. Wasabi is a root...and when pulled straight out of the ground and bitten; it isn't pungent...it's sweet!
Octopus marinated in wasabi is yum.... might try making this one too.

28. Takoyaki (octopus dumpling ball thingies)...famous in Osaka; I had my share @ Doutonburi markets... The place is great for tourists and bargain hunters alike!29. Hello Kitty haunts you as you walk around each City

30. The Shinkansen (interstate bullet train around Japan) is fast... expensive *wink*; but fast...
31. Can someone tell me what beans these are? THey are SOOO good!
32. The Japanese edo period streetscapes are very well kept in Iidabashi, Tokyo. Most of these little lanes are now made into bars and expensive sushi bars. They are called "hide and seek" alleys. Some of these lanes were less than a meter wide. I would have insisted we dine in one of them quaint little themed restaurants...but there wasn't any we could afford *tear*

33. How to eat Shabu-Shabu. First the a pot of water is brought to a boil. Condiments such as vegetables, mushrooms and noodles are thrown in. Sauces are brought to the table. As pot begins to bubble gently again....you 'shabu' the thin slices of meat in the pot with your chopsticks. "shabu-shabu" means to dunk and wave the meat around in the hot liquid till its cooked. We had lots of fun having authentic Japanese Shabu-Shabu. Goes well with beer *wink*

34. Markets are the best place to try traditional Japanese Street snacks and desserts. THese glutinous rice ball covered in bean flour were amazing! definitely going to try to make some on my own. Doesn't look too complicated.
35. Many Japanese desserts are filled with red beans. They just love their red bean. From pancakes to glutinous rice balls and deep fried dumplings. I would expect red bean with every new bite! *laughs* Not complaining though...red bean is the BEsT!~ *grin*

36. Japanese rice crackers from our local Asian grocery stores are nothing compared to the piping hot fresh ones at the hawkers. I had mine laden with chilli flakes and Japanese seasoning. It was probably the best rice cracker i've had in my liFE! Though i admit...the burning sensation of chilli on my lips was hard to ignore *laughs*
37. Gyoza's were cheap and so very delicious! Most of the locals had them as snacks but with the amount we ate...they were more like full meals! They come pan fried, steamed and deepfried.

38. The excitement is over at the fish markets after 8 in the morning. Those with me refused to drag themselves out of bed to watch fishermen haggle and trade their early morning catch. *sigh* at least we got there in time for some good sushi.
39. The Japanese have a thing for fake food displays. Almost every restaurant had a display shelf of fake plastic food. I suppose it doubles up as a menu for those of us who don't speak the language. To order; I would point and say "ichi"-one..."ichi"..."ichi"..."arigato!" *grin*

40. Modern Japanese bento boxes have PASta inside!
...we even spotted some sandwich loaves with soba noodles and spaghetti! I wasn't brave enough to try one of them though *laughs*

Japan is an absolutely fabulous place to have a holiday. The city scape's are magnificent...the people are kind and courteous....and there's a great holiday in store for almost every budget; ranging from high end luxury to tight a$$ travellers..there's so much for everyone to do.
I had a pleasant 5 days....pleasant but exhausting; i've made time to recuperate and it's back to work for this bludging University student now. *sigh*
Catch ya guys soon~ XOXO


Anonymous said...

under 31. I ask myself what that beans are?
after all this is wonderful blog

Anonymous said...

I can't begin to explain how excited this post has made me. I'm a fledgling foodie and spent three weeks in Tokyo last November - so much fun.

6 - Convenience food stores - YES, YES, YES. Did you try the bread roll-ish-cake-things with the custard? They were my supercheap, superunhealthy breakfasts. Those and strawberry, kiwi, peach and cream sandwiches. So wrong but so right.

10 - polite people - again, yes. The one night I was there that it really rained, it was POURING and it was so cold, and this random Japanese couple at the dorm we were staying at drove us to McDonalds. I don't even know who they were.

15 - Japanese girls are my biggest source of insecurity ever. Forget catwalk models - they're so teeny and petite. Did you try to go clothes shopping at all? I tried and it just didn't happen, and I'm only an 8 over here.

21 - you liked the toilets? I mean, the warmed seats were awesome, but the bidet was a bit much. ._.

24 - did you find any vending machines with a 'lucky dip' slot? We found some, and it seemed to just be filled with whatever they had leftovers of - much fun! Also, best hot chocolate ever in a can.

25 - that gnocchi looks GOOD. o.o

31 - were those beans really salty, kind of like Vegemite? I never tried them - the smell made me gag - but if they are, they're nado (nato?) beans.

32/25 - glutinous rice balls! The rice takes a LOOOOT of pounding to get to that form - I was lucky enough to watch it happen (and give it a try) and it takes a lot of work to get the rice so..not ricey.

Glad you had a nice time there - I'm absolutely in love with the place. >.>

Anonymous said...

wow! Those delicious food. I have to go to Japan soon.

Anonymous said...

interesting post. but disappointing you could think to eat endangered species while you were there, such as whale.

Unknown said...

Wow - what great photos and looks like you had a fantastic time. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post! I've always been fascinated with Japan (as well as their food), and this was a great little glimpse into their culture.

Also, to the person who complained about wanting to eat whale. Don't you know that the more endangered a species is, the more delicious it is? :) But, not all whales are endangered.

cheebee333 said...

21: Yup I heard a lot about the female toilet in Japan. Not the "wahh" sound bit (LOL)

31: Those black beans i remember our high school teacher told us that it is one those of food the japanese ppl have during new year. I have to try em next time when I go to JP.

Here is another japanese word "Ganbatte"! (work hard)

cheebee333 said...

typo for my last comment Ganbatte actually means "do your best" :þ

Julz said...

hey xu!!!

omg those pictures make me so want to go back to japan... i'm sooo jealous!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Nikki - I've just finished reading your archives, and I absolutely have to post in response to this! I went to Japan for three weeks last year, and lately I have been having the biggest pangs of sadness over not still being there- hunger pangs!

I had my fair share of nice meals out (my brother lives there at the moment), but what stole my heart completely and utterly was the convenience store food. They had everything! And I love the way the onigiri (I see you had them! The triangle rice snack!) was so cleverly packaged so that it wouldn't get soggy.

One of your pictures from a department store has the 'mont blanc' dessert (it's the bottom middle shelf of the first picture after #8). Did you ahve this? It was, without a doubt, the most amazingly delicious thing I've ever had in my life.

Okay, I must stop myself from responding to everything... But I wanted to say, about the umbrellas, I don't think it's really that they're 'in', but they are the ones that are sold cheaply in every convenience store. So what people do is just buy one when it rains, then leave it somewhere when it stops (my brother told me how many get left in the subway each year, I can't remember the number, but it was a ridiculous amount).

And the dressed-up girls? They made me feel so dumpy too - and it was also because of them that I realised I love Japan, but I could never live in somewhere like Tokyo. No way I could spend seven hours a day on make-up. Plus, my brother has talked about how annoying it is when you're out with those girls and they spend the whole night looking in their mirror.

Sorry this is so long, but thank you for the memories! Your blog is wonderful.

P.S. Coincidentally, I was eating green tea pocky while I read this - birthday present!

Unknown said...

hey, I was so looking forward to reading your post about your trip to Japan. As expected it was great, so interesting. I have lived in Japan for 3 years, and have spent the last 2 years back in my home country of NZ, but Im moving back there to live for work in August...and you have really got me that much more excited about it......it brings back sooo many memories to read your post. The first palce I am going to go to eat is a proper sushi restaurant, and the 7-11 onigiri rocks too!!!


Unknown said...

wow u went to japan..thats so cool... why there is no pictures of petite kawaii girls.... how petite are they? sounds so drastic in ur bloggy.u must tell me ya... and good luck for ur exams...cheers sue

marias23 said...

What a great trip you had! I can sympathize with you how un-foodie-like some of my travelling mates can be. They have no idea what they're missing :) Anyway, sounds like you had fun and that's all that mattters. Yay!

Anonymous said...

Nice pictures=) its as if you brought us along on the trip too! The sushi shots are colourful! And the ones of the shopkeepers are good. But i gues the food still tops everything:P

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! Most enjoyable read and it has given me ideas on where to go and what to eat when we go to Japan soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Su-Yin~!

It's Fiona here~ :) Just read your Osaka entry and it seemed SOOO exciting!! ^^ I haven't been to Osaka yet~ Only the area around Tokyo & Hokkaido...

I understand how you feel~ When I went to Japan we just felt a bit isolated becoz of the way how they dress and interact. It feels like no matter how 'in' you try to dress, you will never be like them... ^.^" However I still enjoy shopping there~ Especially EATING!!! Isn't it just wonderful to eat all day at Japan? XD

I am now saving as much $$$ as possible for my September trip to Hokkaido again :) Good luck to ya exams too!!! XD We'll catch up some time~

Anonymous said...

wow i had so much fun reading your post! it's kinda like i was there myself! makes me want to go there too!!

Anonymous said...

i love this food blog so much. i've been back from tokyo now for about 6 months and i really miss it sometimes. especially the FOOD! so cheap and delicious. but it is very tough to cook there (no ovens!).

anyway, your pictures were great and i wish you the best with your exams!


Anonymous said...

wow.. it makes me want to go to japan

The Overworked Barista said...

Heh. Commented in the wrong button.

Lotte Company made Koala Cookies {in those awesome hexagon boxes) and later Pocky (Pero Pero Stix) as their first big commercial hit. They own Lotteria, so using their first real hit as a mascot works I guess.

chris said...

Been reading your blog for a while now and thought it's best I drop you a line on this post.

Without a doubt, Japan's the best! Was in Osaka last Dec with my family and we had a blast (feel free to check it out on my blog). And after reading your post, I can't wait to go back to Japan again, Tokyo this time. =)

Those black beans I can't remember the name for it. My mom bought a package home. They're sweet and we sometimes have them as a condiment on the dinner table.

Oh how I wish to be back there....

Su-Yin -Décorateur said...

Wow...so many people have shared the same experiences as tourists in Japan. It's so interesting to hear other stories! Thanks for sharing guys!
For those interested on visiting the place...i say go for it!! Put aside money for tasty roadside treats...in summer; soft serve cones are EVERYWHERE! love the green tea soft serves.

thanks daniel; on backing me up on the "not all whales are endangered" bit ;)

Im glad everyone enjoyed the photos and random comments of mine.. as KOH commented; I should have taken photos of the petite little 'kawaii' girls *laughs*

overworked barista: Hmm...I've heard that the lotte company started off in Japan; but was owned by a korean... I guess that makes it a Jap company still *scratch head* LOL...I didn't know bout the koala cookies though, thanks for that bit of info! I loved eating them when i was little! Pocky sticks are awesome too~ I still use them in my cakes these days :P hehe

nice to hear from you Chris :)....popped by your blog; interesting stuff~

extra kudos to nikki, just-hannah and fiona for your thoughts ;)

pascale said...

Hello, first of all, I love your site! Beautiful cakes. I bet they are so beautiful because you enjoy making them so much!

Looks like you had great time in Japan, lovely photos. I am glad you had good time here (I live in Tokyo) :)
Not only are you talented in baking and cooking you are a good camera-man too :D

Just wanted to let you know...

31. Those beans are called Kintoki mame. They are regular black beans soaked in water for a night then cooked in sugar and little bit of salt. If you want, I can send you the recipe for it :)
Drop me a line at my site and I would be honored to share it with you.

Good luck with your school!

pascale said...

Awe... sorry-
I didn't see the comment come up so I think I sent you 2 comments looking alike...

my fault.

Anonymous said...


the black beans are kuromame (literally black beans) and are served during new year's day osechi. Here in the usa, you can buy them canned or if you google kuromame, a recipe should pop up.