The good things in life

Lady Borden

I just went to Kyoto yesterday and after another hot day, I thought I’d buy this cheap chocolate ice cream from a vending machine just to cool off. Much to my surprise, the ice cream was quite good. They were in the shape of 6 chocolate bon-bons and the brand was “Lady Borden”. The strange thing is that I can’t seem to find the brand anywhere else (ie. Combini). This is really strange because I’m pretty sure that just like any other ice cream in Japan, it’s made by Lotte and that brand can be found easily in any combini.

Earlier that day, I had a brunch inside Osaka station since I had missed breakfast. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get lunch once I arrived in Kyoto since I’ll be too busy walking from one temple to another. I can’t remember the name of the place but it’s a typical vending machine place. I ordered some kind of Chicken Katsu. Much to my surprise, it came not only with Rice and Miso Soup (which are typical of a set menu in Japan) but also with some pickles and soft tofu. It was tasty albeit a bit too much portion-wise.

Chicken KatsuOden
DangoGyuudon

I didn’t feel like eating another carbs-filled menu for dinner so I ended up just buying 5 pieces of Oden from the local Combini (convenient shop). Again, due to the cheap price (60 Yen per piece), I thought the taste would be crappy but it’s actually pretty good. I really like that you can actually self-serve yourself and choose what kind of Oden you want in your takeaway bowl. I think my favorite Oden would have to be this piece of fish cake. The fried tofu was pretty good as well.

Matsuya

Today, I decided to buy a dango for breakfast. Well, it wasn’t my kind of food. It’s actually salty and there I thought it would be sweet. I don’t regret that I tried it though and I did like the chewy texture. For lunch, I stopped at Matsuya and no, I’m not referring to the department store. This Matsuya is just a chain of eatery that is frequently visited by salarymen and students. You order using a vending machine and the foods are the Japanese/Korean variety. I ordered the Gyuudon and it came with this raw egg – which I didn’t eat.

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Miyajima/Itsukushima Island

Miyajima Island

Miyajima is a town within Itsukushima Island, South of Hiroshima. To get here, you can catch JR from Osaka to Hiroshima then from Hiroshima’s JR station, take a train to Miyajimaguchi station. Once you arrive at the station, take a JR Ferry which takes you to the island. This is why if you have JR Rail Pass, it’d make things easier for you and your budget. Anyway, Summer was the wrong time to go to Miyajima because the weather was unbelievably hot. I don’t even know how I managed to stay that long to take some photos because it’s impossible to stand there underneath the sun and not get drenched by your own sweat. In addition to this, due to the heat, the sea water drops down to below the usual level, making the place not as good as it would have been if the water level is normal. I think Spring or Autumn would be better times to visit the place. Winter would probably be good as well since everything would be covered in snow.

Once the ferry arrived at the Miyajima port, the first things that you see after exiting the dock would be a bunch of deers. These are relatively tame deers you can also encounter in Nara. I do feel sorry for some of them though because their antlers have been severed (to protect visitors). Having said that, they seem to enjoy the presence of the humans, who are more than willing to feed them all sorts of foods. In order to get to the Itsukushima Shrine and The Floating Torii, the Miyajima authorities have cleverly force everyone to go through the Miyajima shoutengai (shopping street), probably in the hope that you’d buy some souvenirs. I saw the world’s largest spatula here. I should have included that as part of the photos but it’s late night now and I’m too tired to process an additional photo. If you go through this shopping street, I’d recommend the Nigiriten (Nigiri Tempura). This is basically a very tasty Kamaboko (Fish cake) stuffed with other ingredients like onions, camembert cheese, bacon, etc. Obviously it’s high in calorie since it’s fried but if you just have one after walking for a couple of kms, I think it’s well-justified. :P

Miyajima IslandMiyajima Island
Miyajima IslandMiyajima Island
Miyajima IslandMiyajima Island

The main attraction of Miyajima Island is the Floating Torii (Gate) located at front of the Itsukushima Shrine. The Torii is basically half-submerged by sea water. When the tide is low during afternoon, you can see the marks of the highest water level. I really wish I had visited the place at a better time of the year because I would have stayed longer and shot some video. I did shot a video but it was very jerky since I couldn’t hold the camera still enough without feeling the heat and the sweat creeping up on me. I was also slightly disappointed to see the low water level since I think Itsukushima shrine would look better when it is half-submerged in water. When I got there, the place looks like it’s a barren wasteland. Well, not exactly, but it’s definitely not as pretty as it would have been if the sea water covers the Shrine’s foundation. The shrine itself is beautiful and is colored in bright red. I wish I had taken more photos of the place but my camera ran out of batteries.

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Ootoya and Touya

Ootoya

You can consider this a continuation of my Food Outlets post. This is mostly just for my reference but it’d great if it’s of use to anyone else. Unlike the last time I went to Japan, I tried to minimize the amount of time I eat from fast food outlets/combini. Not only they’re not healthy, its also kind of a waste of my time in Japan to eat the kind of foods that I can get easily back home (okay, so there’s no Mos Burger anywhere else but Japan but a burger is still just a burger). Anyway, there are actually many places you can eat good food in Japan without spending a fortune. The trick is to not go to restaurant but rather to eatery places which are frequented by either families or salarymen. This includes Ootoya and Touya. Expect to spend between 600 Yen to 1000 Yen by going to these places.

Ootoya
http://www.ootoya.com/

Many people often refer to Ootoya as Japanese ‘fast food’ chain. I don’t think that’s a correct way to describe the place because the foods are far from the kind of foods that are sold in fast food chains. Ootoya is one of those unbelievable place because not only the prices are reasonable (between 600 to 800 Yen), the foods are also great and good for your health. I think ‘family restaurant’ is probably a more accurate description for this place. Ootoya’s specialty is Japanese cuisine, the kind that someone’s mother or grandmother usually prepares at home. Regardless of what kind of meat you choose, the food set always come with decent amount of vegetables, pickles, and Miso soup. I’ve tried several of the menus and so far they are unbelievably good.

OotoyaOotoya
OotoyaOotoya
OotoyaOotoya

Ootoya is popular with both young people and office workers so they must be doing something right. The only annoying thing about it is that the chain is rather hard to find. I was lucky that when I was in Osaka, I stayed near one of the chains, which open until 11PM. If you don’t feel like eating inside, however, you can order to take away. Take-aways are generally cheaper since they don’t come with Miso soup. I’d recommend the Saba set for breakfast. That was really tasty and made me realized why Japanese people like to have fish and Miso soup for breakfast. And I really appreciate the generous amount of various pickles that usually come with each menu set.

Touya

If you love Chirashi-zushi/Sushi-don like I do, this place is a must. Although I only mention Touya in this post, there are actually many other shops which sells Chirashi-zushi kind of set menu. Chirashi-zushi is basically a bowl of warm rice topped with various Sashimi (raw fish), crab meat, fish eggs, etc. The price range from 600 Yen to 1050 Yen depending on what you order on your bowl. I personally love the “Toro, Maguro, Kani, and Bara” set. The “Hokkai-don” set was also good. Each bowl comes with a Miso soup, which surprisingly taste good and goes well with the raw fish. Obviously this place is not for those who hate Sashimi. However, for those who are adventurous, you have to at least give this place a try. My friend used to just eat the cooked stuff when he first visited a Sushi place. Now, however, he devours everything like a pro.

TouyaTouya
TouyaTouya

As a final note, with Ootoya, you have to order manually by speaking to the waiter/waitress, so if you don’t speak Japanese, make sure you point correctly at the menu. With Touya, however, you can order the menu that you want using the vending machine. The machine will then produce a ticket which you must hand over to the waiter. He/she will then give you a glass of water and re-confirm that you do want to order the menu that’s printed on the ticket. They usually will go “(your order), yoroshii desu ka?”. Just say “Hai” (Yes) and they’ll make your order. In a way, it’s less nerve-wracking to order food in vending machine type places than to order from a waiter if you don’t speak much Japanese at all. Having said that, I really recommend gathering your courage and give Ootoya a try at least once.

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Osaka: Shinsaibashi & Dotonbori

Shinsaibashi & Dotonbori

Since I ended up staying at Shinsaibashi during my stay in Osaka, I had a very close access to the Dotonbori shoutengai (shopping street) which has a variety of shops and restaurants. My first impression of Osaka is that it’s a very busy city similar to Tokyo but the people seem far more laidback. The Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori areas themselves are pure assault on your visual sense. You can see large neon signs and various ornaments adorning the shops that line up alongside the street. What makes the Dotonbori special is that the place has a little canal complete with colorful Ferris Wheel which circles around a tall building nearby. Obviously it looks pretty at night.

One thing that I couldn’t stand about Osaka, however, is the heat. Of course with this month still being summer, it’s expected that the weather will be hot. However, the heat in this city is inhuman in comparison to the heat in Tokyo. Actually, I find that the further West you go in Japan, the hotter the weather ended up being. I was soaked by sweat during a visit to Miyajima Island, which was 5 minutes away from Hiroshima. The bad thing about the heat is it makes you feel unmotivated to do any sightseeing. It’s hard to be excited about it when the weather is humid and makes you sweat every step of the way. So if you want to go to Osaka, I’d recommend not to do it during summer.

Shinsaibashi & DotonboriShinsaibashi & Dotonbori
Shinsaibashi & DotonboriShinsaibashi & Dotonbori
Shinsaibashi & DotonboriShinsaibashi & Dotonbori

Osaka is pretty famous for its foods. Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki are said to be originated from this area. The same thing can also be said for Warabi-mochi. I actually took some photos of the foods that I purchased while I’m here but I’ll save that for another post since this one is already filled with a lot of pictures of the city. The Dotonbori area seems popular with the young people. Despite the fact that the heat makes everyone sweat like there’s no tomorrow, it doesn’t seem to damp their enthusiasm to hang out and eat Takoyaki in the area. Ah, word of warning, if you do go to Dotonbori, do not enter the Dotonbori Gokuraku building. I think it’s a rip-off.

To begin with, you actually have to pay 315 Yen just to enter the building. Once inside, you’ll find out that all that the building have is just a collection of restaurants. The only difference is that the setting is a re-creation of Osaka during Showa period. If you’re really that desperate to see this kind of period re-creation, I’d suggest that you go to the Floating Observatory basement level. They have similar period re-creation but you don’t have to pay for just entering the area (unless you go to the observatory tower). Besides, Dotomburi itself is a street lined with lots of restaurants. If you go here, you should see this giant Takoyaki that one shop sells. Hmm, maybe I should buy that tomorrow.

Shinsaibashi & DotonboriShinsaibashi & Dotonbori
Shinsaibashi & DotonboriShinsaibashi & Dotonbori

How to go to Shinsaibashi: from Shin-Osaka station, take the Midosuji subway line stopping at Shinsaibashi station. Use exit number 6 to go straight to the Shinsaibashi’s shopping street.

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Osaka 2007

Toro, Kani, and Gari sushi

After my last visit to Japan, I promised that I’d go to other parts of Japan that I didn’t manage to visit the first time around. This includes Hiroshima and Miyajima island. The reason I couldn’t go before was because Hiroshima is too far from Tokyo. Let’s say I leave Tokyo around 10am in the morning using Shinkansen, I’d be arriving there around 4-5pm, which is kind of moot. Because of that, I decided to spend one week in Osaka so I can go to Hiroshima and lower parts of Japan more easily. This means I will be able to go to Kyoto, Nagoya, and Kobe without spending too much time inside the Shinkansen.

I just arrived in Osaka yesterday and I’m still a bit tired so I’ll blog about Osaka tomorrow. For now, I’ll just show some of the foods that I’ve had while I was in Tokyo for 2 days (to watch Evangelion 1:0) and what I had in Osaka yesterday. I had this really nice Inari sushi bowl. This is pretty much warm rice topped with your favorite seafood dish. I ordered the tuna, crab, and ginger set which included a miso soup. If you go to Japan, I really recommend this. Unfortunately I forget the name of the shop but I don’t think it’s important since there are many shops which sell this kind of dish.

Ice cream in Choux pieMackerel sushi
TakoyakiGreen Tea and Kuromitsu Haagen Dasz

If you go to Shinjuku station, there’s this stall that sells Hirota ice cream. This is ice cream encased inside a Choux pie. They’re pretty cheap (100 Yen) and comes in variety of taste from Green tea to Sesame seed. They’re pretty good too for a 100 Yen ice cream. Word of warning though, if you buy it to take home, make sure you properly guesstimate the length of time it’ll take for you to reach your fridge. The reason for this is because the sales assistant will put in some ice inside the bag to ensure that the ice cream inside the Choux pie does not melt. I had one melt on me because I didn’t eat it quickly.

I also had some all-you-can-eat Sushi. That was pretty bad although there were occasions where I got some good stuff like the Mackerel sushi shown above and the Wagyu Beef. In general, however, I’d avoid all-you-can-eat anything in the future. Unless…it’s all-you-can-eat Beef. Anyway, when I arrived at Osaka yesterday, I decided to purchase some Takoyaki. There are many Takoyaki sellers here and apparently the taste of the Takoyaki differs from one seller to another. The one that I had was pretty good (8 giant balls for 482 Yen). To washed the taste, I had a Green Tea and Kuromitsu ice.

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