harajuku

Day 05 –

Sauntering the streets of Harajuku is always a good way to spend your day. Lot’s of shops, people and, of course, delicious crêpes. We began our day by eating croque madame with onion soup and a berry smoothie, upstairs in a little café. If we didn’t eat breakfast at the hotel, personally, I found it quite difficult to find anything suitable. Most eateries open in the morning looked to only serve dinner style food and there wasn’t really any difference between breakfast, lunch and dinner. For someone that is used to eating eggs and cereal, I found it hard to eat noodles and seafood for breakfast. I digress, the croque madame was delightful and set us up for the day.

After looking in little trinket shops and finding a street completely dedicated to fancy stores full of second hand items, we decided to munch on a crêpe and make our way to Yoyogi park. This area of Tokyo is very alive with stalls, music and people of all ages.

_mg_2366As the sun started to make it’s way behind the buildings, we made our way to Korakuen for a ride on the giant rollercoaster, Thunder Dolphin, and some dinner. A mini theme park in the middle of the city, with lots of rides, a shopping centre and plenty of eateries. The Thunder Doplphin, in my personal experience, is on par with the Superman rollercoaster at Warner Brothers Movie World, on the Gold Coast. It’s a long ride that travels along a track that weaves around the park rides and shopping centre. If you can get over the extremely high and steep ascent, there are many beautiful views, before you plummet very quickly back down to Earth. Jordan and I were on an adrenaline rush for a couple hours after we stumbled off the ride.

Craving some westernised food, we ate burgers for dinner and finished up at Starbucks with a caramel frappucino.

tsukiji fish market

Day 04 –

On all the past trips to Tokyo, I have never ever been to the Tsukiji Fish Market. Jordan had been looking forward to this in the weeks leading up to the trip and it was finally here! What an experience! A chaotic and magical place. I have never seen so much seafood in my life. The colours, shapes and creatures were captivating. The narrow walkways lined by fishermen selling all things imaginable. Very early in the morning there is a tuna auction, where they only allow a certain amount of people into the venue and you have to line up a couple hours before as well! We didn’t go to that, but there was plenty of giant tuna to be seen around the market. Some used bandsaws to cut the frozen tuna down as they were so big. The octopus were my favourite.

After the fish market, we wandered through the vegetable and fruit market, and ended up at another little market full of food, trinkets, clothing, crockery and lots of people. We tried some odd tasting but somewhat delightful Japanese candy, and some sweet omelette cubes  on a stick.

 

Whilst we were in the area, we went for a stroll in the Tea Garden nearby. I love the contrast of the peacefulness of nature, and the hustle and bustle of the city and the buildings in the photographs above. The way these large parks are maintained and left untouched by the city, and are still a sanctuary, is incredible.

 

After the pleasant walk through the tea garden, we took a train to Tokyo station and made our way to the beautiful Imperial Palace Gardens. Here we ate some lunch on the lawn that we had picked up earlier at Natural Lawson. It consisted of Gyu-Don, peach iced tea and some dark chocolate (that I was hesitant to share).

Next was the National Museum of Modern Art. A short walk from the Imperial Palace Gardens exit, we were there, pondering the art work and making sure a breath was not heard. My favourite pieces were from a collection of large war-time canvas paintings. They were very entrancing and showed a lot of storytelling and movement.

a day exploring

Day 03 –

The first priority of the day was to get to Hiro-o to meet a flamboyant personality, namely Yuka Mazda, that would show us the Japanese cooking ways and some popular staple dishes. Once at the Hiro-o train station, I whipped across the road to a small bakery and collected a handful of sweet and savoury goods. We ate them for breakfast as we watched out for more confused wanderers also taking part in the class. Once grouped, we walked to her home. In the nice, modern apartment, she showed us her kitchen, tools and the recipes we would be learning in the class.

We started by making a mix for pork Gyoza and learnt how to roll the dumplings. We took turns cooking, learning the tips and tricks of the Japanese chef. We prepped a stock to be used for Gyu-don and made the best miso soup I have ever tasted. After eating the fluffiest rice and tasting some matcha tea, we gave our thanks and jumped on a bus to Shibuya.

We had planned to all go to a popular bistro for dinner located in Shibuya, but after wandering around for a little while, Pop unfortunately fell ill and needed to return to the hotel. After offering to go back with him, he insisted that Jordan and I still go to the bistro ourselves, as we wouldn’t make it back to Shibuya this trip. We agreed and said goodbye.

After a little shopping, we stopped off at Starbucks and sipped on caramel frappucino’s whilst browsing google maps for the bistro, 35 Steps. After determining the general direction, we quickly looked for a bathroom. Starbucks was on the first floor and the next couple floors looked like shopping areas. We caught the lift to the seventh floor (lucky number), where a lavatory sign was present. Walking out of the elevator, we saw we were in a completely different place. A magazine (super)book store combined with a stylish bar and eatery. I must say it was an interesting experience – I would spend so much time here!

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We explored well into the night, immersing ourselves in all the chaos and bright lights. We walked and walked until we were sure we were going the wrong direction. A lit up Natural Lawson (convenience type store) stopped us in our tracks as we stumbled in looking for some hope. The man at the counter nodded as we spoke of our destination and reached for something underneath. Out he pulled the oldest, dinged up street directory I have ever seen and began to search. This started an intensive investigation of speaking to the other employee, using different maps and even calling the bistro. Eventually he gave up, took of his apron and just started walking. We followed as he spoke to us in perfect English about the time he spent in Perth and of how much he loved Australia. We even learnt some Japanese! On the way he pointed out another Natural Lawson store, which he owned as well. After a solid twenty five minutes of walking, we ended up at our destination, of which we wouldn’t have found without him. A hole in the world and absolutely no English in sight. He waved us off with a giant smile and disappeared into the night.

Lost for words. This place was awesome.

We descended down a spiral staircase that looked to be leading down to a dungeon. Down 35 Steps, we reached a door, entering into a short hallway – we were in the right spot! We took off our shoes and the waiter placed them into one of many compartments in the wall. He then proceeded to tell us, as we didn’t have a reservation, that we only had an hour and  a half. We agreed politely and sunk into the floor behind the bar that followed the outside of the kitchen. The chef in front of us took our drink order and recommended us some dishes. There was not one other soul in the entire venue. We started with a share plate of sashimi, which came out more like cutlets of fish. Open minded, we began to try the several different types of fresh fish on the plate. Surprised and delighted, we tried most of the food on the menu, including freshly “blow torched” mackerel and of course more gyoza. Every time someone walked into the bistro, all of the chefs and waiters would greet them with loud shouting exciting. I loved how close we were to the cooking and plating up. We got to see all the different dishes, ingredients and tools they used. Every table was filled with locals by the time we were leaving.

We wandered back to central Shibuya, aimlessly, talking about our day and in a food coma. As we continued, we passed a cute little shopfront, that had many little ornaments, statues and pictures of owls. I peeked my head in the window to find an owl staring back at me. Confused at whether it was real or not, I looked closer, another owl looked up at me from the floor, an owl café! We spent half an hour patting and admiring the beautiful creatures in their home.

Sad to leave the buzzing area of Shibuya, we strolled back to (what I thought was) the train station, until, once again, we ended up at Natural Lawson. I don’t know why, but I just feel drawn to the store. Like a homing pigeon! So we walked the opposite direction, found the station and got on a train, heading  back to our hotel for a well deserved sleep, ready for Tsukiji Fish Market in the morning.

mt takao

Day 02 –

Our trip out to Mount Takao was one of my favourite days in Japan.

Mount Takao is very peaceful with many hiking trails, temples and glorious views. We decided to take the cable car up the mountain, though you can take many trails up, most of them rocky and rugged. We wanted to come down a trail so we saved our energy for the climb down.

Once at the top of the cable car, after eating a bag of delicious ginger-snap type biscuits from the markets below, we followed the paved path. The atmosphere is fresh and full of energy. As you get closer, there are more temples and a number of locals visiting, praying and even going for their afternoon jog. Red lanterns line either side of the path. I loved watching Jordan explore. He was so intrigued by everything. It made me smile.

After going up a couple of flights of stairs to checkout another temple, we came back down to ‘no-sight-of-Pop’. After literally a couple hours looking for him, and quite worried, we decided to follow an extremely beaten track with no signage to what we thought may be the top of the mountain. We walked for about twenty five minutes and at the top, you guessed it, there is Pop! Sitting on a bench, waiting patiently with one thing to say ‘I thought you knew I was going to the top?’. To be honest, it’s pretty funny looking back on it now.

We spent five minutes looking out at the rolling mountains and, as it was a clear day, you could see Mt Fuji. Though, it would be dark soon, so we quickly set off into the forest down track six. This track follows a small stream from Biwa waterfall, which was slightly icy and made some of the rocks a little slippery, but still, nonetheless, a beautiful hike full of breathtaking scenery and tranquility. I love the way the roots of the trees weave themselves across the pathway, stretching out, naked and skeleton-like.

It was truly dark by the time we reached the bottom and some very hungry tummy’s (if you haven’t realised yet, I am always hungry) drove us straight onto the train back to Shiodome Station we’re we ate (a little unusual) yummy food in a cute little eatery filled with groovy interiors, condiments in little patterned tins and somewhat hipster waitresses.

disney sea

Day 01  –

Disney Sea; a place of fairytales, adventure and everything in between.

Disney sea was one of the places I was really excited to take Jordan, my fiancé. I’ve many good memories there with my Pop and it’s always been a special place. The park is well designed, with multiple worlds in one; archaeological and Egyptian to old school 1950’s New York. There’s even a giant volcano in the middle of the park overlooking a lake. Spending the entire day here is easy as there is lots of choice for food (and a different flavour of popcorn every 100m!) and places to relax as well as the hour long queues – even though it’s the ‘off season’!

We spent the day trekking the park with caramel popcorn in hand and scarves tightly wound. An extremely talented marching band playing disney tunes greeted us as we boogied through the gates, setting spirits high. Collecting fast-passes and perhaps a fly or two as we (I) screamed our (my) way through each ride. We spent mid-morning through to approximately closing time enjoying the cheerful atmosphere.

Once we were back at the hotel, it was Pops birthday wish to go to Venus Fort (a really cool shopping centre that has a ceiling that looks and changes like the sky) and dine at his favourite Italian Restaurant that we had spent a lot of time at on previous trips. A special dinner that consisted of colourful gnocchi and, pops favourite, soup!

pickle in the middle

What a groovy place I chose to spend my Friday lunch.

I had been eyeing this place off for over a year and finally decided to venture. It’s easily said that after I strolled in with my camera and took fifty or so photos before even looking at the menu, the interiors are very aesthetically pleasing. Rustic furnishings and quirky light fittings against modern abstract colours, shapes and designs. The lazy Sunday music soothed the soul, whilst sipping on an iced latte.

After having a squiz of the menu, I went with the waiters suggestion, roasted and pickled fennel and zucchini salad. It’s done with candied lemon, roasted almonds, mizuna and fresh mozzarella. I found it thoroughly enjoyable with lots of different textures. I found the menu to be reasonably priced and with an abundance of optional extras and able to cater to many dietary options and requirements. Mainly an all day breakfast menu but some lunch selections are available and all go down well with house made cocktails or a drop of wine. They also run pickling workshops approximately once a month where you learn what pickling is, how to do it, an introduction into fermentation, among many other things. These book out extremely quickly and cost $90 per person. One of the things that I am passionate about is fresh, local produce and this café ticks all the boxes. From D’Angelo coffee, to milk from the Fleurieu Milk Company, to all the fresh locally sourced fruit and veg.

All in all, a very impressive café with an often-changing menu full of locally sourced ingredients, friendly, knowledgeable staff and really cool interiors. There wasn’t really anything to fault at Pickle in the Middle, only a café bursting with character, serving good food and a very inviting place to meet up with friends or simply pop in for a bite yourself.