Tokyo 2017

Konnichiwa! I’ve finally visited Japan once again. I didn’t get to go at all in 2016 and in January this year, I only had 8 hours in Narita during a layover before heading to Seattle. This time in Tokyo, I only had 3 days and it is indeed a bit too short, but I enjoyed nonetheless!

I had my first night’s accommodation at Ikebukuro which is pretty much a self contained district. It has almost every shop you need and the station itself is huge with as many as 7 different metro and rail lines you can take.


Keisei Skyliner – quickest way to get to town

I arrived at Narita and took the Keisei Skyliner to Nippori Station. This ride was a cool 36mins! I then transferred to the JR Yamanote Line to Ikebukuro. Nippori is a pretty small station to the transfer was easy and seamless. It took me just 45mins in total! There was also the option of Limousine bus direct to my hotel, but that journey would take almost 2 hours and I had no such time to waste.

I also got a 72 hr Tokyo Metro pass which is available to use on all  Toie Subway and Tokyo Metro lines (JR and train lines NOT included) together with one-way Skyliner ticket and this cost me just ¥3500. It would be ¥2700 and  ¥2470 respectively so this is definitely a great deal. I was intending to get just the Skyliner ticket initally (it’s ¥2200 if you buy it online), but for just ¥1300 more I will get 72 hrs unlimited metro rides so why not? You can purchase this online here:

http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/skyliner/e-ticket/en/subway/index.html


Tax-Free Shopping in Japan

After dropping of my bags, the first activity was shopping at Ikebukuro! The first targets were Muji, BIC Camera and GU before time ran out as I only had 2 hours before the lunch reservations.

Beginning in 2014, Japan has progressively expanded and improved on the tax-free shopping options for foreign tourists. Nowadays many shops in Japan are Tax-Free, including the 3 shops I mentioned above and so many others including 7-Eleven! However, you need to hit the minimum of  ¥5000 (for items with price listed before tax) or ¥5400 (for items with listed price inclusive of tax) per category – they’re grouped as consumables or non-consumables (general items). A huge tip to take note of is to be smart and consolidate your shopping with your companions so that you hit the minimum amount. You should also buy everything at once, rather than for eg. get a lipstick here, an eyeliner there. 8% of savings is indeed a lot! For some stores like Tokyu Hands or BIC Camera, you can check the stock availability of all items online, so you can plan which outlet to get all your stuff from before heading down which is a life saver. It saves so much time and hassle!

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The tax-free procedures will be done in stores, instantly, and compared to 2 or 3 years ago, the process is so much faster. None of that queuing up for tax refund at airports and risk missing your flight like in Europe!

https://tax-freeshop.jnto.go.jp/eng/shopping-guide.php

Another tip I have is to always look online to see if there’s discount coupons. For BIC camera they have 5% discount for Alipay or Hong Kong’s Octopus card (no idea why…), but on Facebook they have a 7% off coupon free to use for everyone. Combined with the tax-free shopping, I essentially get my items 15% cheaper!


I’ll talk about my shopping hauls in a different post, but for now, my first meal in Japan was an epic good wagyu feast at Omotesando Ukai-Tei which I have written about this this post. It’s so good, it needs a whole post dedicated to it.

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Wagyu beef steak from Ukai-Tei

My next activity for the day was a Cake class at ABC Cooking Studio Tokyo Midtown. I am member of ABC Cooking in Singapore, and I got the ABC International Passport which entitles me to one free class in every country they are in! My first usage of the passport was in Japan and I was so happy that this came in timely – they only started this Passport thing in October 2017!

It was a Monday afternoon and the studio was pretty quiet. For my class, there was only 1 other participant and we became quick friends! The class is a regular lesson, so it’s conducted entirely in their local language. The recipe provided is also entirely in Japanese. The instructors at the studio spoke essentially no English at all. They do have 1 or 2 English speaking instructors which mainly conducts the special 1 day English lessons at this studio, but you won’t always catch her around. ABC Members interested in taking regular lessons in Japan, take note of this!

I really enjoyed my class and the cake was very delicious.

ABC Cooking Studio Plus International Tokyo Midtown
9-7-4 Akasaka, Tokyo Midtown Garden Terrace 2FMinato 107-0052, Tokyo


Day 2 in Tokyo started by shifting hotels. My second hotel for the trip was Rihga Royal Hotel and I got a Luxury Twin room for just S$180/night per room! The usual rates are around $600! The size of the room is a whooping 38sqm like an international standard of good hotel room, nothing like those small typical business hotels which are only 11 – 16 sqm. The toilet was a of luxurious size as well. The hotel was nice and classy with good service. They are located next to Waseda University, and even though it’s still within Shinjuku district, the hotel is not super close to the skyscraper district but they do provide a free shuttle service to Takadanobaba (known as Baba to locals) JR Station (pick up point is right outside Donki at Takadanobaba), which is only 2 stops from Shinjuku making it decently convenient. The hotel also had their own beautiful garden which I unfortunately, had no time to see because my time in Tokyo was very limited this trip. I’ll definitely stay here again (if I get such good rates for the Luxury room!)

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Photos are from Expedia, the site which I got the amazing deal from.

Rihga Royal Hotel
1-104-19 Totsuka-machi
Shinjuku 169-8613, Tokyo Prefecture

From the hotel, a public bus goes to Shinjuku station – bus 77. Japanese buses are one of the most reliable in the world because they have specific timetables for all their bus trips. Always check in advance.

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Shinjuku Gyoen was the first activity of the day. This huge city park is like NYC’s Central Park, expect that you need to pay to enter (¥200). I entered from the Sendagaya Gate (5mins walk from JR Sendagaya) and exited from the Okido Gate (5mins walk to Shinjuku Gyoenmae Metro). It was a pity that I did not have enough time to spend here, because it is really beautiful. There were a few gardens that I didn’t manage to check out, but next time for sure!

It was only the very beginning of Autumn and the colour changes are not yet at it’s peak.

Still, it was a very clean, serene and lovely park! The weather this trip was perfect leather jacket weather. Not too cold, not too warm. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Shinjuku Gyoen
09:00 – 16:30, closed on Mondays

I had my lunch at L’Efferversence, which I’ll write about in a separate post. After lunch, it was shopping time at Shibuya. Shibuya is huge and honestly a bit intimidating – there doesn’t seem to be a systematic way to comb the district and I haven’t even stepped into most of the buildings! I found a nail supply shop to get my Tins nail polish, and thankfully just 2 mins away there’s a branch of the pancake shop that I initially made reservations for at a later time, in Omotesando. And thankfully again, the wait for A Happy Pancake in Shibuya was pretty short!

These souffle pancakes were sooooo fluffy. I felt so happy even before eating them.

They there incredibly light and fluffy and so addictive, I ate more than expected even though I just had a filling lunch. It’s totally worth the hype! They do accept reservations online for a small percentage of their capacity if you’re afraid of waiting in line.

For the Shibuya shop, it’s located in a building at the corner of the stretch, and you take the lift up to the 3rd floor. Look out for their sign!

A Happy Pancake 幸せのパンケーキ
3F, 1-18-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 

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During my last trip to Tokyo, Luke’s Lobster at Omotesando had a super long queue. This time, I checked out the shop at Shibuya and there was totally no queue and no customers too. Weird, but I like it this way.

Luke’s Lobster Shibuya Park Street
1-15-5 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku Tokyo

As mentioned, Shibuya district is way too big. To get to the other side, thankfully they have community buses so we do not need to walk. For Shibuya, the buses are called the Hachiko bus. How cute is that? Only ¥100 per ride!

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Hachiko Bus Jingumae-Sendagaya

Strolling through Takeshita-dori, the iconic street of Harajuku.

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Nanban Chicken flavoured chips at Calbee+

These chips are freshly fried but I find it not much different from packet.

Calbee+
1-16-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 


On to Day 3 and my last day in Tokyo for this trip! I wanted to try this modern wagashi cafe, Kuriya Kashi Kurogi, for their  warabimochi and thankfully there was a direct bus from Rihga Royal Hotel to take me there. When I got to the location, I realised it was actually within the University of Tokyo aka Todai!

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Warabimochi ¥2500

Yup, that’s S$30 warabimochi, but I believe this is the real deal, from bracken starch. Hon-warabimochiko (translates to real warabimochi flour) is actually very expensive. Those packets costing ¥200 claiming to be warabimochiko usually has little to no bracken starch at all, using all sorts of other starches like potato starch and starches of other root vegetables.

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It was really good. And I love the vibes of this modern wagashi cafe. It takes it’s food seriously with a very short menu.

It was a chilly morning because of light rain, but I noticed that everyone else in the cafe was having kakigori (shaved ice) as if it’s still summer. This kakigori craze in Japan beats me! In 2015 when I had my sweets at a wagashi restaurant in Tokyo Midtown, every other local customer was having kakigori too.

厨菓子くろぎ Kuriyakashi Kurogi
7 Chome-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyō, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan

Since I was already there and there was ample time before my lunch reservation, it was good time to explore the campus of Todai. It was beautiful.

Autumn vibes in the University of Tokyo Hongo Campus.


Pocket Concierge – booking service for restaurants which do not take reservations from foreigners

Lunch was Sushi Kanesaka Palace Hotel. I had my reservations made through Pocket Concierge and it cost me ¥10450 inclusive of tax and service charge for the middle sushi course of 13 pieces. It seems that there was no extra charge on top of the usual restaurant pricing despite using the service from Pocket Concierge! The price seemed to have went up though now. I have no idea why. If you do not wish to go through Pocket Concierge, you can try your hotel’s concierge service or your credit card’s but that can be a long process.

Pocket concierge was very easy to use and I just had to fill in my request online. I got a confirmation email for my reservation (and I was lucky to they had vacancy!) within a few hours. No other correspondence was needed.

Register now through this link and get a ¥2000 coupon to use on your first reservation!
Pocket Conceirge

I’ll be writing about my lunch experience in a separate post.


After lunch, I made my way to Shinjuku Nomura building for a 1 day English lesson at ABC Cooking Studio. The menu I chose was Nerikiri wagashi. I’ve always wanted to learn how these are made! It’s actually pretty simple, but takes practice to get it to be beautiful. The 1 day lesson is open to members and non-members and cost ¥6500. That is the price of a regular lesson so I find it quite reasonable! They have a few different menus to choose from and you can find out more here.

For those who are confused, 1 day lessons are not claimable with the ABC International Passport. The Passport is only usable against regular lessons.

ABC Cooking Shinjuku Nomura
Shinjuku Nomura Building B2F, 1-26-2 Nishi Shinjuku Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Stashed the heavy stuff in a coin locker at Roppongi station and off to Snoopy Museum, something I’ve been really looking forward to! On the way there, I spotted the beautiful Tokyo Tower.

I’ve just been to the Charles M Schultz museum in Santa Rosa in January this year too. Tokyo’s museum is the only other one in the world and it is different because it’s in the city, where many people visit. Santa Rosa has much fewer visitors in general and it’s more like a tribute to the cartoonist and his personal gallery.

This museum’s exhibit changes every now and then and there isn’t any permanent I suppose, unlike the one in Santa Rosa. It is also much smaller.

The theme for now is “Love is Wonderful“, from October 7th, 2017 (Sat) – April 8th, 2018(Sun).

The museum’s gift shop, Brown’s Store is probably the highlight of it all. You need a proper admission ticket (¥2000 for adults at the door, discounted ¥1800 if bought in advance) in order to enter and purchase stuff from the gift store, and popular items have limited no. purchase per person! Some people purchase tickets to the museum just because they want access to Brown’s Store.

The museum’s cafe, Cafe Blanket had pretty interesting refreshments. I had a Charlie Brown milkshake which was delicious and every diner gets a complimentary sangria, choice of alcoholic or non.

For months I’ve wanted the special snow globe but the original release was sold out. Just a day before my visit, they actually announced on Facebook that a new winter version was to be released on 8th November, the day of my visit! I am a very proud owner of this snow globe.

Snoopy Museum Tokyo
Roppongi 5-6-20, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Dinner was also near Roppongi, which my hotel concierge kindly helped me with. Since my previous Tokyo trip in 2015, I was sold by Tonkatsu from Maisen. The Tonkatsu was simply different from anything I’ve ever had. I had actually wanted to try the most famous Tonkatsu restaurant at Takadanobaba, Narikura, but the thought of queuing outside put me off. Butagumi was another famous restaurant, known for their super wide selection of pork cuts and made famous by Chef David Chang.

The restaurant was situated in a rather secluded spot, like a house, and the seating was traditional and intimate. I like such restaurants.

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They had so many pork sources on the menu (not like I really know what all these pork tastes like) and I had the staff narrow it down for me to Gifu pork. The only choice I had to make was Hire (leaner) or Rosu (fattier). I chose Rosu because pork is nothing without fats. Overall, Butagumi was not bad, but their rice stood out more than the pork. I found myself liking the batter from Maisen more than Butagumi. The rice however, was the best rice I’ve ever eaten. Each grain was so shiny, firm and flavouful. I’ve recently learnt to discern and appreciate Japanese rice and this rice is so far the most memorable I’ve had!

Butagumi
2 Chome-24-9 Nishiazabu, Minato, Tokyo 106-0031, Japan


So that’s 3 days of Tokyo, next up would be Hakone. Stay tuned!

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