On 3rd December 2016, Japan Rail Cafe opened it’s doors for a special pre-opening event for the media and interested fans of the cafe! The cafe officially opened it’s doors to the public on 4th December 2016, but currently the kitchen only operates from 12pm – 2pm daily for the time being.
I arrived early, before some the media session ended (morning), and ended up accepting a random interview. No idea where is it going to be aired!
I was here for the second pre-opening event for the public (1pm – 2pm), which was only by registration and the seats were snapped up really fast, within a day!
The event started of with an introduction of what JR East company was about, the businesses beyond just the trains that they run, and of course an introduction to this cafe. JR East actually operates other F&B within some train stations in Japan, but this is the first cafe they set up outside of Japan.
The cafe menu is in the form of a newspaper! I reckon they will change this often to feature monthly special items.
This ABC burger’s recipe is taken from Becker’s restaurant, a subsidiary of one of JR East Food Business in Japan.
This was all I got to see today as it wasn’t a food tasting session, but on the menu there’s a Chicken Nanban Don ($16.00++) which really piqued my interest because I love fried chicken, especially if it’s Chicken Nanban. Based on what I tasted, the food is legit.
They will also be selling Asanoya bread here at Japan Rail Cafe. I love Asanoya bread! They’re worth the carbs. They had cheese tarts too but all were snapped up before my camera could snap. I’ve tried Asanoya cheese tarts before and I really like them. Glad to know that we now have one more location to get those cheese tarts.
This cafe is intended not only as a place for food & drinks, but is also a space for like minded people to get together through special organized events (like today). They will organize various events from time to time and you can find out more from their Facebook.
And of course, they also have a Japan Rail Pass counter which operates beyond cafe dining hours (12pm -8pm) and sells passes for ALL JR routes within Japan, not just JR East!
There is also a retail corner where the items change from time to time. Currently they are selling Aomori apple juice. I’ve tried this one before and it’s good! Naturally really sweet and not so sour.
This venue is truly one of a kind and is a great idea knowing how so many people love travelling to Japan with a passion!
They also arranged a special appearance by Cheesie of Cheeserland, who is famous for her love of Japan! She turned up with her 6 month old baby Sakura. I was so excited to get to meet her in real life! You know they say that bloggers are all heavily photoshopped thus they probably look better only in pictures, so you need to discount from your expectations? But Cheesie looks just like her pictures – even prettier in real life actually! Plusshe’s so gentle, and SO SLIM. Can’t believe she just gave birth for the second time few months ago!
Presentation by Hungy Bird
I was invited to share my experience travelling in Tohoku since Tohoku is their featured region during this opening month. My topic for today was FOOD! That’s what I do best and my top interest when it comes to travelling. I try to cover as much food as possible each trip and eat like 4 -5 meals a day (breakfast, lunch, tea break, dinner, dessert), especially if my trip is short.
It was great to see so many people! I reckon all of you love Japan as much as I do. But seriously, who doesn’t? Once you’ve been to Japan you’ll be a convert forever. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why so. It started from a “I need to save up A LOT for that ONE trip to Japan” to a “I’m going to Japan every year!” kind of thing. You can’t just have ONE trip. And I believe the members of the audience think so too, and would like to cover all 47 prefectures of Japan if they could, because every part of Japan has it’s own charm. I myself have covered 13 out of 47 so far (woo hoo! 28% done) and 3 of them are from Tohoku.
Still, I do know of people who has NEVER heard of Tohoku.”What is Tohoku? Is that in Japan?” “I heard of it but don’t know where it is…” (I did not make that up, that’s what I heard from different people!) So I do hope that my sharing helped introduce the area. Do check out my Japan travel posts to learn more about it.
Basically, Tohoku is a region in Japan (7 prefectures) that is more rural, hence it’s scenic, peaceful and relatively inexpensive compared to the more famous places because like anywhere in the world, places which are less crowded are always less expensive. It has it’s own unique food and is rich in culture and full of hidden gems not very well known to foreigners.
Getting to Tohoku
Some of you may be wondering how to even get to Tohoku since no planes from Changi flies there! Getting a JR East pass will cover all train rides you’ll ever need, from the Tokyo Monorail from Haneda, to the local JR train lines within Tokyo and various places in Tohoku, and the Tohoku Shinkansen. Tohoku is a very large region, but the Tohoku Shinkansen uses the fastest Hayabusa trains which goes up to 300km/h! You’ll get from Tokyo to the end at Shin-Aomori in less than 3 hours. Train otakus will love this…
JR passes are only valid for foreigners like us, never to domestic Japanese tourists! And by buying it before we leave our country, we’ll get a discount too! A 5 day pass (any 5 days out of 14 days) costs just ~S$250, so that’s basically ~$50/day for you to travel anywhere you like in Tohoku. There are some scenic train routes as well if you’re lazy to walk but want some coastal view – and it’s all covered. There’s so much you can do and see by train.
Travel Tips for Tohoku
I also included some travel tips during my presentation, like how I planned my free & easy trip for this region – a region less well known hence definitely tougher to plan.
Tip 1: Use Tabelog for planning your food, since it’s reviews by real people (more trustworthy than tourist brochures!), Japan I Can for accommodation, because they have more listings including ryokans, and Japan Guide, because it is in English and has a comprehensive list and information of attractions.
Tip 1.1: Most people in Tohoku do not speak English at all, and food places may not have picture menus. Life hack: you can go to Tabelog, find a picture of the food you want from that particular restaurant and show it to the chef and viola! you can order your food easily! (do get a pocket Wi-Fi for convenience sake!) Generally they do not get foreign tourists often so they will be extra patient and friendly to us and try their best to communicate, which I received various times during my trip. Very thankful for the good hospitality!
Tip 2: Check the train timings beforehand because local trains in rural area operates infrequently. But good news is that Japanese train timings run very accurately so it will not leave early. Google maps has information but you can also use apps like JR-East Train Info or Japan Trains to check on the go (second reason to get pocket Wi-Fi!).
Tip 3: Japanese fruits are insanely delicious and in Singapore we are lucky that they are stocked in selected supermarkets, BUT super expensive. Thankfully, Singapore is one rare country in the world where you can bring fruits through the customs, meaning you can buy crates of Japanese fruits home! Some fruit shops in Japan have TaQBin service which sends your purchase straight to the airport, convenient for you to check in straight.
Tip 3.1: While fruits can be purchased all year round, picking your own is more fun and fruits are only available for picking during certain months. Eg. Apples in Oct – mid Nov, cherries in June – July etc.
Food in Tohoku
For the benefit of you guys who didn’t get to attend the event, here are some of the food I talked about:
And I also introduced food from other Tohoku prefectures which I have not visited yet, but would love to eat. Takahashi-san from Sendai who was with me during the presentation helped explain more about these!
After my segment, we had a live Facetime session with Seafood Bistro Yamarai Ichibancho, one of the top rated restaurants in Sendai.
Sakurai-san introduced some of their unique flavours of grilled oysters and ate some of them in front of all the hungry people (and birds) here in Japan Rail Cafe! I’m definitely trying this the next time I go to Sendai.
Years ago while reading Cheesie’s posts about Japan, it inspired me to go there myself. I clearly remember how I thought it wasn’t easy to travel there – since I, like many other people, think that Japan is expensive and untouchable, and often choose easier options within Asia (you know where) because it definitely costs less. But Cheesie said something along the line of: Save hard! If you want to spend on clothes then save on food. Eat convenience store food. Stay in cheap accommodation.
And that’s right – you don’t have to do it like a traditional holiday (like what travel agencies propose) like booking your flights on SQ, staying in full facilities hotels, eating at a proper restaurant every meal, taking taxis to and fro and visit only the famous big cities – doing that will definitely cost a bomb!
Instead you can plan your own trip – book a budget airline (it can be under S$300!), decide what’s more important to spend on- food, shopping or attractions (it helps to go with like minded people so you all agree), stay in tiny hotel rooms or even capsules, go to places which are less touristy and hence accommodation and food will be cheaper, and take only public transport like the trains by using a train pass to cover all your transport expenses. Remember: never take taxis!!! Major train stations always have lockers to store your luggage so bringing it around isn’t that impossible as it sounds. And trust me, of all my 6 trips to Japan (all of which I love), it is the trips to lesser known places, doing relaxing things like staying in a ryokan and plucking fruits that I love the most. It is truly an experience you can’t get anywhere else.
I know some people may be afraid to plan their own travels especially to not so well known places- thinking you will get lost or lost in translation hence end up paying the full price of $3000 – $5000 for a 7 day trip in a city which you saved up 10 years for (I really know of someone who told me her family saved up 10 years just to go to Japan for a holiday). But if you follow my tips I’m sure you’ll be fine and you can keep going back every year!
People, don’t be afraid and just go. Once you go to Japan, you won’t want to go anywhere else! The food, scenery, shopping, culture has no competition. I’m not exaggerating, even my family keeps wanting to go back ever since the first trip in 2013. This situation never happened to any other country before.
Another favourite advice from Cheesie’s blog was to BUY ALL THE UNIQLO HEAT TECH. If you go north during Autumn or Winter, it’s going to be really cold. By wearing all sorts of heat tech, you can wear your fashionable clothes instead of piling up thick jackets. You can always trust Cheesie when it comes to looking fashionable all the time. Currently I have:
- 1 camisole
- 2 opaque stockings
- 1 leggings
- 1 tights
- 4 scoop neck long sleeve in various colours
- 2 extra warm long sleeve in various colours
It is necessary to buy them in every colour so even if it peeks out of your cute sweater it won’t be obvious!
/end of side track
For those who missed out on this event, not to worry! There’s another session where I will be talking about the culture of Tohoku and of course a bit of food because food is a culture. Every Singaporean agrees.
Date: 10th December 2016, Saturday
Time: 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Venue: JR Cafe
Registration: Sign up right here
I hope to see you there!
Japan Rail Cafe
5 Wallich Street, #01-20
Tanjong Pagar Center