Japan Travel Diary 2017 Kansai

The first time I went to Japan I actually only visited the Kansai region. The vibrant lights, the street food, the seemingly randomly placed Ferris wheels and the ports all left a deep impression on me. On subsequent visits, Kansai has been almost inescapable. It was one of the first places I went to with friends on exchange and also the first place I headed to via Shinkansen on our 2015 trip. Every time I go it’s like visiting an old friend.

Osaka – Kyoto day 6

There’s a reason why Kyoto is a tourist hot spot. The range of traditional buildings and culture makes it a must visit for first timers. I’ll be one of the first to admit that strolling around the wide streets of Kyoto in kimono has a lot of charm, but it is a bit hard to get around. The only way to get to a lot of the big tourist sites is by bus. They can get pretty cramped and some of the routes and stops are a little confusing.

 

Despite having been to Kyoto a number of times I had never seen the number one tourist destination: Kinkakuji. I thought that it was high time to rectify this situation and made it our first stop of the day.

Sure, the floating temple is very picturesque but in all honesty, I wasn’t all that impressed. The gold painted temple shone a little bit too bright, to the point where it almost looked fake. It doesn’t help that the throngs of people in the small space made it more difficult to see.

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Arashiyama is also another famous Koyoto destination that I have never been to. It’s actually outside of the Kyoto township. If you have a JR Pass, the closest station is Saga Arashiyama. The actual town is about 10 minutes walk away. Along the way, there are a few stores renting out kimonos and selling souvenirs.

 

Yojiya is famous for its oil blotting paper, but it is has since expanded into a variety of other things. The Yojiya café in Arashiyama had strong air conditioning and wasn’t full, which was the perfect combination. An ice cold yuzu lemonade slushie was a particularly welcome respite from the heat. Surprisingly, Ryan had a hot drink. He commented that the matcha latte was strong but also sweet. It also left his tongue a rather shocking bright green shade!

The curry rice with pork belly was surprisingly tasty. The vegetables were fresh and the fatty pork added a point of difference to the iconic dish. The Japanese style omurice rice was also rather different. Instead of tomato sauce, an almost soupy clear sauce.

 

Having eaten our fill and enjoyed the air-conditioning it was finally time to see the bamboo forest for which this area is famous. As with almost everywhere in Kyoto, the crowds stop it from being the serene contemplative spot that it could be. Instead, we enjoyed running amok the path and taking silly photos. The forest is fairly small and can be walked through very fast, but the cool breeze and occasional music players make it a nice place to linger.

 

As we made out way towards the river we passed by % Arabica. I had seen the cute cups on social media. As a sucker for marketing, I couldn’t help but line up for an iced coffee. Interestingly the ice coffee was just espresso with ice and milk, instead of a cold drip or filter brew. Despite the popularity of this place I honestly wouldn’t rate it that highly.

Even after the iced coffee I still hadn’t completely cooled down. Instead of walking up to the Monkey park, we slowly made our back to Saga Arashiyama. We took our time browsing through the stores and seeking out shade to make up for walking back, instead of taking the much closer Hankyu lines.

 

I will shamelessly admit that one of the reasons we were staying so close to the Umeda area was for Le Palet d’or. This chocolate store got its start in Osaka but is now also found in Tokyo. I was entranced by the images of decadent chocolate parfait that I had seen on Instagram. Our first parfait of the trip was one of the best. A sophisticated combination of well tempered dark milk and white chocolate with the house made red wine ice cream. The sugar flake topped everything off, adding a bit of crisp contrast and even more sugar!

Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, the wait staff forgot to give us the chocolate tasting plate that I had ordered. This meant that we got some extra freebies of their signature chocolate. All of the chocolate was smooth, rich and complex. My favourite was probably the signature dark chocolate and gold.

On the way back to the airbnb we picked up some takoyaki and joined in with the last of people going home from work.

Osaka day 7

 

After Ryan saw my photos of a sumptuous seafood breakfast at Kuromon market, he insisted that we do the same. I’m not sure if it was because it was later on in the day, and it was tourist season but the market was incredibly crowded. Although the sashimi breakfast was decent, the crowds and need to shove people to get through the shoutengai was definitely a massive detractor.

 

Disappointed with the market, Ryan decided to have something that would definitely make him happy. That being Pablo. Pablo baked cheese tarts has to be one of my favourite Japanese chains. Although it’s now expanded all over Japan, to me Osaka is Pablo. We made it a point to visit the new(ish) Pablo cafe and try the cafe exclusive mini tarts.

I remain unconvinced about the takoyaki choux cream mini tart and the warm strawberry tart. In spite of this I still rather enjoyed the ambiance and ability to eat pablo without first needing to take it home.

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Afterward I had plans to meet with Danielle, an American lolita living in Osaka. We met at Cafe Mingus. Google maps failed me and I was got terribly lost, but that worked out great for both of us in the end! I had a great time chatting and then shopping with her. I’m eternally grateful for her showing me where the Innocent World head store is and also telling me that there was a sample sale!

 

For dinner, I rejoined Ryan for a few rounds of famous Osaka street food. I’m not sure how we fit it in but we had takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushi katsu!

Himeji day 8

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We set out fairly early to avoid the rain that was forecast for later that day. On our walk to Tenma station, I picked up some donuts from this cute store. I insisted that we go to shin-Osaka station so that we could ride the shinkansen again, such is my love of those trains!

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From Himeji station, there is a bit of a walk to the castle. Buses and taxis also run the route between the station and castle, but we didn’t really see any point in catching one. As we walked along the wide boulevard the castle came closer and closer in sight.

 

Before getting to the castle proper we decided to explore the outer gardens and buildings. The West Bailey is most famous for the long corridor, but what I found more interesting were the various displays detailing the history and architecture of the castle.

Going up Himeji castle is a linear path of many steep flights of stairs. I had a bit of a knee injury from jogging, so it was a touch painful constantly going up and down stairs, but I still had a good time.

 

Just as we got to the top of the castle, we could hear thunder incoming. Our view of Himeji city fast became rather foggy. I’m sure it added to the atmosphere but it made me want to get out quickly and avoid getting rained on.

 

On our walk over to the castle, I had seen a sign advertising oden. At the time it was a bit muggy, but I soon became fixated on the idea of eating oden, even in the heat. Miraculously, the rain had brought the temperature down significantly and I could have a late oden lunch.

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We returned to Shinsaibashi to do my last bit of shopping in Osaka. Although I continued wandering around America mura nothing really caught my eye.

 

As hoards of tourists descended down upon Shinsaibashi we found refuge in Dalloyau. This French brand is one of the first purveyors of cake and tea in Japan. The Osaka location is special because it offers an all you can eat cake deal at certain times of the day. Alas, we had arrived a little bit too late, so instead, I got my sugar intake with the cake set. The half macaron was most curious. I wonder what they do with the other half. Whereas Ryan had his second parfait of the trip.

No matter how crowded and touristy it gets I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Osaka and Kyoto. On this trip, Ryan said that he doesn’t see himself going back to Osaka on subsequent trips to Japan, but I can’t help but disagree. Visiting Kansai is practically tradition and I’m not sure if my Japan trips will feel complete without it!

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Tips

We stayed in an Airbnb in the Tenma area. It is one stop away from Osaka station on JR lines. We found this really convenient considering how many day trips we took. It is also a bustling area in its own right. The shoutengai is considerably dated but has a lot of vintage charm.

In Kyoto, we bought the one-day bus pass just outside of Kyoto station. For a bus only pass it is only 500 yen for unlimited trips. Considering that the bus to kinkakuji is already 230 yen by itself this is a great deal. It also saves the need to fumble around for correct change.

Since 2015 Himeji is completely open to the public! It had been under refurbishment for the last several years. I highly recommend seeing it while everything is open. With a building as old and historic as Himeji, it’s probably only a few years until there is more construction.

Japan Travel Diary 2017: Koyasan

I first heard of Koyasan when I quizzed a vegetarian friend about her own Japan trip. When I asked her what her highlight was, she paused and said, probably Koyasan. I was immediately intrigued and bookmarked it for a future visit.

Koyasan is well known for a number of things, but of most interest to most foreign visitors is probably the chance to stay in a temple lodgings known as shokubo. Although I’m not religious in any way this was something new and different for both of us.

Kanazawa – Koyasan Day 4

 

We said goodbye to Kanazawa station, with a round of ice cream and bread. A series of long train rides and transfers later, we found ourselves slowly making our way up the mountain. The cable car up to the Summit is by far the steepest cable car I have ever taken in my life! I looked out at the scenery with a mix of fear and excitement.

At the top of the cable car station, there were station attendants who helped everyone get on the right bus to their lodgings. This is particularly important as pedestrian traffic is forbidden on the windy road between the cable car station and the actual town.

The temple we stayed at: Yochi-inn, was a little far from most of the other lodgings. However, it was by far the most reasonably priced temple lodgings we could find for our dates. As an added bonus, it was directly opposite from the main garan complex, which houses many of the most profilic temples in Koyasan.

 

One of the highlights of shokubo is shojin ryori, or traditional Buddhist cuisine. I was pleasantly surprised by just how flavourful the soup was. Despite being vegetarian it had a deep almost fishy flavour. I can’t say that I found the pickles that convincing, but the tempura and superb Japanese rice completed the meal.

 

Dinner finished rather early so we had time to do a brief bit of exploring. We wandered over to the Daimon and the start of a very long pilgrimage route. Seeing as the temple had a 9pm curfew, we weren’t too keen on starting a 4 day walking trail. Instead, we made our way back to the Garan temple complex and the rest of the town. Even by night the myriad of temples, small and large were incredibly impressive.

Koyasan – Osaka Day 5

At 6am it was already light but still very chilly. Somehow we managed to drag ourselves out of bed for morning service at 6:30am. 

If you’re expecting a completely authentic temple experience, this is not it. There are TVs in the rooms, the monks ask if you would like alcohol with dinner and there are even handy guide cards to help English speakers follow along with sutras. However, it is probably one of the only and best chances that foreigners have to interact with Japanese monks and experience life in a Japanese temple. At this morning prayer, the monk who oversaw it had excellent English and was more than happy to answer our questions on Buddhism and the path to becoming a monk in Japan.

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Breakfast was a very simple affair. Rice, tofu, pickles and miso soup. Interestingly, the monks that had breakfast with us, also chanted another sutra before and after eating. Their breakfast was considerable more spartan, with only soup and rice.

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Seeing as it was still early on in the day we decided to make the most of things and start our sight seeing early. We made our way back through the garan complex, towards the Tokugawa Mausoleum. Even though these two buildings commemorate the first two Tokugawa shogun they are surprisingly small and a little run down.

 

Kongo sanmai in was next on our list of places to check out. I was a little confused at first because it was marked as a rhododendron garden on one of the maps we received. Although the only rhododendrons I saw were starting to wilt, the temple has a lovely little garden and pagoda. I dare say it was one of the better tended gardens in all of Koyasan. I paid a rather modest sum to explore the grounds, but I’m fairly sure that you can also stay in the temple as well.

 

On the far east side of Koyasan is the Okunin temple walk. The grave stones leading up to the main temple feature memorials dedicated to a litany of famous figures, both ancient and recent. We were particularly caught up in the monuments dedicated to famous warriors and leaders in the Sengoku era. We also couldn’t help laughing at some of the more modern monuments, such as this one, which we supposed was commemorating the death of Panasonic.

Photos are not allowed at the main temples dedicated to Kobo Dashi. As a lay person without too much knowledge of esoteric Buddhism I wasn’t too sure what to expect. However, the sheer number of Japanese people, young and old alike making trips out to this area makes it pretty clear just how important this area is.

 

On our way back to collect our luggage we made a brief wagashi pit stop at Kasakuni.
This modest looking store only has a few simple varieties of wagashi, but everything we tried was pretty good. In fact the kurumi mochi was so good I good have easily eaten 5 of them. If it weren’t for all the extra travelling we would have to do I would have bought a box to eat later.

 

Our actual lunch was all the way on the other end of town at KadoGoma tofu. Although the variety lunch was exceedingly pretty it was the udon noodles that really made an impression. The soy milk dashi dipping sauce was far superior to any normal tsuyu I have ever tried.

With the afternoon heat setting in we made our back to Koyasan station. On the way to Osaka, we both slept so well that an elderly Japanese lady woke us up for the transfer! Getting to Osaka station was a sensory overload. The crush of people and maze like streets were almost too much! It was worlds away from the contemplative temples and flora of Koyasan.

 

Luckily, before too long, I tapped into my city girl roots and was ready for a round of exploring and dinner! Enya yakitori was just what I was craving. The highlights were definitely the cheese tsukune, shitake mushrooms and negi yakitori. As an added bonus it was also one of the first opportunities I had to practice my Japanese extensively. Somehow we managed to muddle our way through ordering and made a pretty good night out of things.

Koyasan is not the easiest place to get to, but by and large it is worth the hassle. It would be somewhat misleading to just label it as a place to experience temple lodgings. The austere aspects of monkhood are somewhat glossed over, giving way to a much more tourist friendly experience. Even with the tourist and car traffic this windy mountain town felt unique and just a little bit magical.

 

Tips
A trip to Koyasan is not fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass. We bought the Koyasan World Heritage ticket at Shin-Imamiya station. The regular ticket cost 2,860 yen and covers the round trip from Shin-Imamiya to Koyasan. It also entitles you unlimited bus rides in Koyasan and discounts to some of the attractions.

We were advised to leave behind bulky luggage in Osaka before proceeding to Koyasan. I can not recommend this enough. There are a fair few stairs on the trip to Koyasan. Not to mention the cable car up to the mountain can get very cramped and so can the buses in the town. We left out luggage in the Osaka station coin lockers, but there are also plenty of lockers in Namba station where you can easily stash things.

A nighttime tour of the okunin grave walk was much recommended. We were unable to do it because Yochi-in has a 9pm curfew. However, if you’re keen I suggest either staying somewhere much closer to okunin as many temple lodgings will shut their doors after a certain time at night. An alternate itinerary is to stay in a temple lodgings for one night to experience shokubo and to follow that up with a night in a guest house with no curfew.

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Japan Travel Diary 2017: Kanazawa and Shirakawago

My knowledge of Kanazawa mostly stems from stories that my friends have told me of their exchange days in the city. As a result, my impressions of Kanazawa are surrounded by a soft, warm nostalgic glow even though I have never actually been before. Needless to say, I was keen to finally see the city that made so many of my friends fall totally in love with Japan.

Kanazawa Day 2

Ryan has long reminisced about the fresh seafood bowls from Omicho market in Kanazawa. Although he no longer remembers exactly which store it was that he used to go to many years ago, some internet browsing pulled up a list of tasty looking stores. Yamasan has the advantage of opening at the early time of 7 am. This fit in perfectly with a day of sight seeing.

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We got there a few minutes before opening, but even then there was already a small line. Yamasan is a favourite amongst locals and travellers for their kaisen don which true to the store’s name features a small mountain of seafood! Although it was still very early in the morning everyone at the counter ordered a serving.

Honestly, I’m not too sure about serving some of the items like the crab when they are not in season but it still made for a very satisfying breakfast!

This proved to be the perfect fuel for the start of a long day of walking. Kenrokuen is touted as one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan.  The large clear expanses of water and soft looking moss were particularly delightful. In late Spring there are some lovely blooms along the water. I’m also told that it is beautiful in winter when everything is pure white and frozen over.

Kanazawa Jou is another popular destination. Although there isn’t too much castle left, the vast spacious grounds and towering walls are still quite the sight. We didn’t stay for too long as it was getting a little warm, but I get the feeling that this would be a nice spot to stay and have a picnic.

Not too far away is the 21st-century museum. Japan has a lot of traditional art and museums, but this is much more fun and whimsical. On the outside of the museum are already an array of interactive exhibits to run amok in.

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Whether or not you actually want to go inside and view the exhibits will depend on your individual tastes and what’s on now. We managed to luck upon Ikeda Manabu’s first solo exhibition in Japan; Ikeda Manabu: The Pen – Condensed Universe. Photos of the exhibit weren’t allowed (so this photo is pulled from the interenet) but being able to see his work in actual scale up close was simply breathtaking. I’ve long since liked his artwork for the fantasy elements and fine details, but being able to see each pen stroke up close was another matter.

We couldn’t leave Kanazawa without eating Sekai de ni ban me Oishi yakitate melon pan aisu. Ryan last fell in love with this ice cream filled snack back on our last trip. Back then we were surprised to learn that this store got its start in Kanazawa. The original store in tatemachi was just as good as it had been last time. Even the strange sounding blueberry cheese somehow worked!

At this point in time Ryan started to get rather sick. We decided to have an early night and sit in our hotel eating oden and other convenience store foods. I have to admit that this is one of our favourite things to do while in Japan when we have nothing else planned.

Kanazawa – Shirakawago Day 3

Still in the habit of waking up early, I made my way over to Curio vintage and café while Ryan slept. This charming cafe is run by an American expat and makes a lovely cup of cinnamon cappuccino. The guys sitting opposite me were also tucking into delicious looking sandwiches.

UNESCO world heritage site Shirakawago is roughly 50 minutes away from Kanazawa and a much recommended day trip. The area is famed for its thatched roof houses. The steep roofs are meant to help the houses stay warm in winter and cool in Summer.

Building and maintaining these houses are incredibly labour intensive so not many of these structures remain in the actual town. In fact, many of the houses from surrounding areas have been moved to the open air museum next to the main town. There’s a small admission fee to get in but in my opinion it’s well worth it. There’s a variety of buildings and far fewer people around, so we were able to explore and climb up to the top of many of the buildings in peace.

Seeing as we were up in the mountains, I was very keen to try some of the local produce. Not only was Inoriya still open late in the afternoon but it was serving up some very fresh vegetables from the region. I’ve never appreciated pickles as much as I did for that meal!

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Houses aside, the Shirakawago region is wonderful for a casual stroll. Although there are a fair few tourists, the remoteness of the region makes walking around very refreshing. For the best view of the town, I highly recommend the short walk up to Shiroyama Viewpoint. During Winter months the trail up is closed due to snow fall, so make sure to head up this way if you have the chance! There’s also a bus that goes up to the view point, but it’s a fairly gentle slope up so we didn’t see the need.

The greenery in this area is amazing and apparently so is the scenery when it is blanketed in snow. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to go back one day and stay overnight in one of the houses!

As it hit late afternoon we took the bus back to Kanazawa, napping the whole way. I realised that we had just enough time to check out Tsuntsun café, which I had seen the first night in Tatemachi. Little known fact: hedgehogs are illegal in Australia. This was the first time I had ever seen let alone touched a hedgehog in real life! Our hedgehog, name Tsunko was rather shy and reticent but very eager to eat all the snacks that we fed it!

I had been rather looking forward to seeing Higashi Chaya as I love traditional Japanese tea houses. However we only managed to visit at night, when it was already well and truly dark. The dimly lit lanterns and soft voices drifting out from some of the stores made the whole thing very atmospheric (maybe even a little creepy?) even though the majority of the stores weren’t open. I was placated by the thought that during the day, that it would be a bit too touristy and crowded, but even then I made a vow in my heart that one day I would be back during the day!

Just across from Higashi Chaya, Oriental Brewing caught my eye. This interesting looking building houses a bar and brewery. I figured that on this cold night, we could do a lot worse than cosy up with some bar food and local beer. The peppery jerk chicken and yuzu ale were definite highlights.

Kanazawa isn’t exactly at the top of most people’s Japan itineraries. However, with the new shinkansen route from Tokyo directly to Kanazawa, I predict that it will only get busier! And with good reason! My first taste of the West coast of Japan left me hungry for more. I would have loved to stay a little longer to better explore some of the more traditional and far flung parts of the town.

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Tips

In Kanazawa, we stayed in Hotel Resol Trinity Kanazawa(https://www.trinity-kanazawa.com/en/). It was about 10-15 minutes walk away from the station and right next to Omicho market. This is a new hotel and it shows. The amenities are new, clean and plentiful. The room itself is also rather spacious and well kept. We found it pretty, easy to walk almost everywhere in Kanazawa although it is well serviced by buses as well.

Getting to Shirakawago from Kanazawa is fairly simple. There is a direct bus from Kanazawa station. We booked online via https://japanbusonline.com/  but there a few JTB outlets near Omicho station and the station which will no doubt be more than happy to organise it for you. If you’re looking to leave Kanazawa early in the morning, it’s probably best to book well in advance as these tickets were all sold out when we tried to purchase them the day before. The bus departed from the platform in front of Forus shopping centre.

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Japan Travel Diary 2017

This trip to Japan crept up on me almost out of nowhere. Before I knew it, I was packing my bags and getting ready to take a 6am flight over to a country which I have visited many times. For me, Japan is both nostalgic and new. A lot of travel and a half year long exchange means that parts of the country are familiar, but every time I visit, I go to new and exciting places. Sometimes, even the familiar has already changed.

For this trip, I spent almost half of the time travelling from place to place, before finally settling into Tokyo for the last two weeks. I’ll be writing up my travels as more of a daily journal, but when it comes to Tokyo I’ll write posts about the more notable places I’ve been to and things I’ve done.

Let’s get into things!

Tokyo Day 0

After a brief stopover at Cairns airport we found ourselves in the new wing of Narita Airport. Terminal 3.

We stayed at Hotel Horidome Villa. This hotel was truly tiny, but the surrounding district was actually charming. Alley after alley of bars filled the streets. The roads were wide and there was almost no one around. In a way, it was refreshing to see this new side of Tokyo.

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I wasn’t up for much adventure on our first night, so dinner ended up being the very familiar Cocoichiba curry. Interestingly, for May their special was soup curry, which is one of my favourite dishes. The soup curry lacked the depth of flavour that a good Hokkaido soup curry will have, but it helped me get my vegetable, protein and carb hit all at once. This was also Ryan’s first time try Cocoichiba!

Although I slept for almost the entire plane ride over to Japan, I still managed to fall asleep like a rock as soon as the lights were turned off.

Tokyo – Kanazawa Day 1

Being the dedicated foodie that I am, I had some big plans for our very first morning in Tokyo.

Echire is a premium brand of French butter that also seems to have a big following in Japan. Half an hour before opening a sizeable line was already outside the tiny little store. Only 10 or so people were allowed in at a time. Every time the door opened the smell of baking and butter filled the air, making my mouth water. Thankfully the line moved rather quickly and within 20 minutes of opening I had a bag full of pastries in my hot little hands.

We bought the whole selection of pastries to share. The traditional croissant, croissant made with salted butter, croissant made with unsalted butter, apple pastry, pain au chocolate, raisin snail, madeline and financier. The 50% echire butter croissants were probably the best of the bunch. Incredibly flaky and very very buttery. It almost seemed like a waste to bake such good buttery into the croissants. However, the apple pastry was also nothing to scoff at either. For a rather pricey 780 Yen this was almost as good to eat as it was beautiful to look at.

My biggest qualm with these baked goods is that they would be significantly improved if served warm. It seemed a shame to see so many hot croissants coming out of the oven but not being able to eat them that way. This seems more like something that you buy to take home and heat up for a leisurely afternoon tea, or to enjoy with friends in the afternoon as opposed to eating it right there.

Straight after sampling these goodies I made sure that we headed straight to Hidemi Sugino to get first dibs on their mousse cakes. I loved these cakes so much they deserved their own blog post. 

Having eaten our fill of sweets it was time to get organised and leave for Kanazawa. Getting to Kanazawa from Tokyo is pretty straightforward with the new Shinkansen line straight to Kanazawa station.

Part of the charm of riding a Shinkansen is the ekiben. Tokyo station may be confusing to navigate but it also boasts a wide range of food options to choose from on your journey. It was impossible to go past the Ekibenya matsuri, located within the station gates on the 1st floor.  It sells specialities from all around Japan and Tokyo.

Ryan was easily convinced by the Shinkansen bento boxes irrespective of the food inside. I chose to go with the Tokyo station exclusive Tokyo bento. Interestingly enough my favourite component turned out to be the vegetables and various pickles. As always the bentos are a real work of art.

When we arrived at 5:30 the sun was starting to set. Kanazawa station is meant to be one of the most beautiful stations in Japan. To be able to see it in real life was really something!

We spent most of the night exploring tatemachi and katamachi. It seems with more new and revamped shopping malls in the area less people were wandering around the streets. Right next to the animate store in katamachi, I managed to find both an Angelic Pretty and Baby the stars shine bright store.

By chance we stumbled upon ABRI. Ramen shop by day and bar with ramen at night! I was attracted by the adorable cat logo, and in all honestly wasn’t expecting all that much from the food at such a random location. What we ended up having far exceeded my expectations.

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Shoyu chasu ramen was a simple dish, but done exceedingly well. The broth rich with umami flavour from a mix of seafood and meat, the noodles were thin, al dente and when combined with the chasu, served as the perfect re-introduction to Japanese ramen.

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The lobster soup ramen with cheese is without a doubt the most unique ramen that I have ever tried. This somehow tasted exactly like a baked lobster tail with cheese but in ramen form! Everything about this was like a strange French, Italian, Japanese fusion but somehow it all worked together. The lobster soup was also intensely flavoured, and I loved dishing it up with the accompanying rice and savouring every bite.

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As a bar ABRI also had a decent selection of craft beers, including beers from Kanazawa brewery on tap!

After dinner, the wind really started to pick up so we made the executive decision to go back to the hotel and get an early night’s sleep for an early start tomorrow.

I know it seems like I travel a lot from my blog posts, but the reality is, I spend far too long writing up travel posts! I’m hoping to rectify this situation by writing up more posts while in the country, like this one.

(PS. I’m currently back in Australia and let me tell you, that did not work out all too well!! Watch me write up many a blog post to make up for this backlog)

Tips
Pocket Wifi or sim card? Last time I went to Japan we decided on pocket wifi, but this time I picked up a sim card from the airport. As I’m staying for more days, the sim card seems more economical and allows more flexibility re: data use and duration. Although I picked up a card from the only provider in terminal 3, there’s many more options and deals in terminal 1. The main downside is that, I’m the only person with internet. If we need to check google maps or anything else, my phone has to be charged. Furthermore, only I have internet so we have to stick together a lot!

There’s multiple ways to get from Narita airport to inner city Tokyo. Although it is more expensive than the other options I’m a big fan of the keisei skyliner. It is speedy, the seats are all allocated and there’s ample room for luggage. As an added bonus, it is also possible to purchase a ticket that combines this with 24 hours of continuous subway use. We found this super useful since our hotel was closest to a subway line.

 

Padre Coffee East Brunswick

Padre Coffee is a big name in the Melbourne coffee scene. After a little bit of research, I also learnt that Padre means father in many languages. It seemed appropriate to be visiting their East Brunswick store where it all began with my very own father (and mother). As soon as I entered the store the heady smell of coffee beans filled the air. It all makes sense as soon as you see the coffee roaster on premise.

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The large latte arrived in a bowl! This is my mum’s favourite cup of coffee, smooth and strong without a trace of acidity. On the other hand, a regular cappuccino comes in a normal cup. The froth on top is just as beautiful as that of the latte!

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I had a Yunnan green tea instead of coffee because I was still feeling a bit unwell. I appreciated how they took the time and care to brew a proper pot of green tea, instead of just filling a pot with boiling water like some cafes are wont to do. It was a touch too cold, on the lower end of 70 degrees perhaps due to not sufficiently warming the pot or cup.

For such a large venue there’s not much in the way of food, but that’s just fine because the real focus is on the coffee. That’s not to say that the small selection of pastries isn’t delicious. We shared a flaky ham scroll that went perfectly with the coffees.

Adjoined to the cafe, there’s also a veritable cornucopia of coffee making supplies. If you’re in the market for anything coffee related or even just a cup (or bowl!) of coffee this is the place to go.

padre coffee

https://shop.padrecoffee.com.au/
Padre Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

By Josephine

I’ve never been to Paris before. However, if it is anything like By Josephine I can see why so many others are enamoured with it. It somehow manages to be effortlessly classy and whimsical all at once. The interior would look perfectly at home in a shabby chic Pinterest inspiration board. The pastry display is offset with a beautiful glow of light. I daresay it would be impossible to walk in and leave empty handed. In fact, I also bought a canele and pistachio and raspberry croissant for later!

By Josephine high tea

On this occasion, I was partaking in a leisurely high tea with friends. The high tea offers a wide selection of drinks, from tea (hot or cold), coffees and even juice. It’s hard to go past a traditional pot of hot tea when sweets are involved. The Detox Tea was pleasantly somewhere between green and herbal tea.

By Josephine tea

A selection of macarons accompanied the tea. The flavours were pistachio, chocolate and salted caramal. In terms of flavour the pistachio was my favourite, but it certainly doesn’t beat the black sesame that By Josephine also puts out. Impressively, all the macarons at By Josephine are made by hand rather than machine!

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As always savouries were on the bottom tier of the stand. The chicken & tarragon pain au lait looked incredibly inviting, with a glistening sheen to the pain au lait bun. I liked the bursts of tarragon but found myself wishing that the bread was a little bit warmer and softer. Palmiers remind me of my childhood. I loved going to the bakery with my parents and picking out the largest and flakiest palmier covered with sugar crystals to snack on. Biting into the tapenade & sundried tomato palmier was just like revisiting that joy but as an adult. The cheese gougère is definitely one for cheese lovers. The rich goat’s cheese sat neatly in the light choux pastry. I don’t entirely remember what the square pastry was, but I will say that it reminded me of a pizza in the best way.It wouldn’t be a French high tea without a buttery quiche to help round off the savoury plate.

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The top most tier contained a small pot of lavender infused crème brûlée and cubes of grapefruit marshmallow. I am a bit of a sucker for home made marshmallows and lavender so it was a nor brainer that I would love both of these. Thankfully the crème brûlée was flavoured with a light hand so it didn’t taste soapy.

By Josephine sweets

That just leaves the middle tier of even more sweet treats! Pistachio bread and butter pudding with raspberry coulis and custard on top was a wonderful twist on an old classic. I imagine this would be even better served warm straight from the baking tray. Spiced biscuits were a surprise hit! Crispy and full of warm cinnamon flavour, I could have easily eaten a handful. The raspberry and chocolate tartelette was probably the richest part of the whole tea. I struggled to finish everything else after eating this. So much so that I ended up taking the rose & raspberry tea cake home to give to my mum.

The 3 tiered stand was so full that our madeleines didn’t fit on! Sadly this means that I forgot to take a photo of them. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that they were small, cute and perfect dipped in tea.

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By Josephine also offers a vegetarian and gluten free high tea menu. The gluten free set that my friends shared looked likewise plentiful and delicious.

At $42 this high tea a real bargain for the incredible selection of food! In eschewing the usual scones and sandwiches By Josephine makes every item in the high tea seem exciting and different. My only real gripe is that it only includes one drink. In typical French style, there is plenty of butter and some of the foods are very rich so it’s a bit difficult to finish them without a drink to offset the heaviness. I found myself ordering another pot of peppermint tea halfway through tea service.

By Josephine display

P.S. On the website it states that high tea is only for the duration of 1.5 hours, but this doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced if the store isn’t busy.

http://macaronsbyjosephine.com.au/
By Josephine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tina’s Noodle Kitchen

Although it’s still Autumn in Melbourne it feels like we’ve suddenly been plunged into Winter. It’s such a shock to the system to go from an unbearably warm March to the biting cold in April. I must confess it has got me a little down in the dumps and also a little bit sick.

When it’s sick and cold there’s nothing better than a warming bowl of soup. Even better if there are noodles in the soup as well. It seemed like a few other people had the exact same idea as me, as there was a small line outside Tina’s Noodle Kitchen when I arrived. Not one to wait out in the cold I went window shopping in Myer for a while before coming back and being seated instantly.

Ordering and payment are done the same time at the counter. If you look Asian the staff will probably also speak Chinese to you.

Tinas noodles fish and mustard

Fish Slices with Pickles was exactly what I needed. Tender slippery pieces of fish and mustard greens were a great bite. Hidden in the soup were crunchy pieces of black fungus and soft beancurd. The rice noodles are very soft and consequently easy to slurp up.

Tinas noodle kitchen

Spicy Beef Noodles with added mushrooms are really very spicy. The layer of oil helps seal in the heat and makes for a flaming hot mouthful, heat and spice wise.

After a few mouthfuls of soup noodle, you will notice that both of the broths are very salty. They serve more as noodle flavouring than as a soup that you should drink up. I think this reflects the fact that heavy seasoning a la salt, pepper, pickles and probably a bit of MSG are used as opposed to the laborious process of stewing bones and vegetables for a particularly complex broth. Despite this, Tina’s Noodle Kitchen fills a gap in the city for Chinese style soup noodles. If you’re craving something warming on a cold night, it will probably hit the spot.

Tina's Noodle Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Operator 25

How do you keep in touch with people who you no longer see regularly? A sad part of adult life seems to be losing touch with friends. Sure, you can see what they’re up to on facebook, instagram or other social media but there’s nothing quite like catching up in person.

In a similar vein, how often should you touch base with a good cafe or restaurant? I’ve admitted time and time again that when it comes to food I’m not one for commitment. I can’t bring myself to visit the same places again when there are so many new ones to try. Even so, sometimes I feel that from time to time I should check up on places that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps it serves me right when after a year, they’ve totally changed the menu and replaced all the old favourites.

I didn’t have any of this in mind when I re-visited Operator 25 after a long absence. However, upon reflection, it seems appropriate that I would finally go back here with a good friend who I had also not seen for too long.

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Not only was it unseasonably warm, but I had also power walked over to the train station in order to get to brunch on time. As a result, I chose to eschew my usual warm tea with an iced elderberry tea with chia seeds and orange slice. The tea had a pleasant citrus taste and wasn’t too sweet. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of the chia seeds was, but they added an interesting if somewhat unnecessary textural element to the drink.

Orange Juice was ordered by both my dining companions. It was freshly squeezed, so if you let it sit for too long it would seperate a bit, but a quick stir and the taste isn’t really affected at all.

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I dithered between the chia pudding and the Japanese open omelette, before eventually settling on the omelette. What arrived was more of a thin pancake of egg with a generous dash of many of my favourite Japanese ingredients. I found that the octopus was a bit too tough and toothsome and the sauce a touch overpowering, but that aside the flavours were on point.

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As for the teriyaki benedict, the mizuna leaves weren’t a sell but the soft brioche and yuzu hollandaise definitely won hearts.

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My friend polished off the Balinese pork burger first. After the last bite, he paused and commented that it was ‘good, real good actually’. In my books that’s high praise. Although Operator 25 no longer serves this burger with a side of sweet potato fries, I’m not sure if you need them considering how indulgent this already looks.

Even though I hadn’t been to Operator 25 in years it’s funny how I trusted that it wouldn’t let me down. This visit was everything that I had hoped it would be; somehow striking a balance between the new and familiar. I’m inclined to hope that my friendships will be the same, even if time and distance keeps us apart.

http://www.operator25.com.au/
Operator25 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Two birds one stone

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for many reasons. It helps kick start your metabolism, sets the tone for the rest of the day and just helps you refuel. More importantly for me, without breakfast, I get real hangry, real fast. By the time I arrived at Two Birds One Stone, it was a little past 2 pm. I had already had a mini tantrum in the car ride over and was ready to eat almost everything in sight.

Never mind the beautiful high ceilings, large glass windows, and spacious booths, I only had one thing on my mind when I walked in: food.

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I get the feeling that Two birds one stone is not bringing their coffee making A game on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, but even so, the Flat white was rather ordinary. The Earl Grey Tea fared a lot better and instantly perked me up. A touch of milk and sugar helped round out the over steeped cups as the pot was almost emptied.

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Rare yellow fin tuna, with potatoes, green beans, olives, tomatoes, aioli and a crispy fried poached egg was really just a rather upmarket salad nicoise. Not that you’ll catch me complaining, seeing as I love salad nicoise. Biting into the fried poached egg was s bit of a pleasant surprise, as the crispy crust was well seasoned. You can’t really go wrong with so much fresh produce on a plate. As expected the vegetables were bursting with flavour if a touch too oily at times.

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The Reuben: corned beef, swiss cheese, and sauerkraut with seeded mustard mayonnaise on rye. This is one of the better Reubens that I have come across. The cheese was perfect with the sauerkraut. In fact, I happily ate the crusts of the sandwich with just the sauerkraut and rye and didn’t miss the beef at all. Each bite was a great balance of flavours, so much so that the gherkins weren’t needed for palate cleansing. Instead, they were just pleasant to munch on.

Both these dishes were on the pricier side for relatively small portions. It’s almost to be expected when you consider that Two Birds One Stone is located in South Yarra. I’m sure that if I was a local, who could afford the houses or the rent in the area I would be happy to make Two Birds One Stone my local cafe. For now, I’ll just bookmark it as a place that serves tasty and satisfying brunch fare, but there’s nothing that’s urging me to revisit.

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www.twobirdsonestonecafe.com.au/
Two Birds One Stone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hash Specialty Coffee

Hash is actually a cafe that I have brunched at many a time. This is pretty unusual considering that my ever growing list of brunch venues is always pulling me to unexplored places. On my first two visits to Hash I was rather underwhelmed with the food and service; but the last two times I was fairly impressed with everything on offer.

On one visit my mum ordered a Latte in a large cup. She was a bit miffed that a large coffee only comes in paper cups, but it would have to do! She commented that the coffee was not bad; nothing to write home about but not bad either.

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English Breakfast Tea is served in a very cute iron tea pot and with a timer. I find that sometimes the staff will tell you how long to brew your tea, and at other times they will just leave you to your own devices. I really appreciate the timer, but I wish that they would give you somewhere to put the leaves so that it doesn’t oversteep after the perfect first cup.

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No visit to Hash is complete without ordering their famous Hot Chocolate. Drinking this is a whole lot of fun. The fluffy cloud of fairy floss is quickly dissolved into the warm chocolate. The hot chocolate isn’t actually all that sweet, with most of the sweetness coming from the fairy floss. It is very chocolatey and rich, but not particularly creamy.

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Chorizo and Scallops. The Chorizo was smokey and slightly spicy whereas the scallops were soft sweet and tender. The herbed bread that sat underneath everything was a real surprise. It was soft but toothsome enough to hold the flavour of the egg and chorizo. This is the sort of bread I would buy loaves of, diet be damned. That said, although the individual components were great nothing in this really came together to form a cohesive dish.

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The Spiced Pumpkin Salad was a veritable mound of pumpkin, greens, pearl barley and pepitas. The sesame dressing really completed the whole dish, complimenting everything from the barley to the cherry tomatoes. It was a bit too early in the morning so I didn’t finish everything, but I’m sure that this would make for a very satisfying lunch.

Back when Hash first opened I actually had one of their first iterations of this salad. It was just large wedges grilled of pumpkin with little else of interest. The salad that I had on my latest visit really shows just how far they have come. The menu and dishes are a far cry from those early days.while the famous drinks have stayed largely the same.

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If I was the sort of person who was looking to learn lessons from my dining experiences, it would be tempting to conclude that I shouldn’t knock people or places back to a few bad first impressions. Even if the first few visits to a new cafe are a bit off, with some time, they may well have ironed out the kinks and been polished into a gem. Seeing as I seem to be rather resistant to life lessons, I’m just happy to conclude that Hash is another place that I would be more than happy to brunch at again.

https://www.facebook.com/hashcoffeeroasters/
Hash Specialty Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato