Hidemi Sugino

Who is Hidemi Sugino? In Japan, he is revered as a master cake maker, famed for his mousse cakes and being the first in Asia to win many prestigious awards, but outside of the country, I’m not too sure how many people have heard of him. This may be because unlike other patissiers he has not expanded his cake empire overseas, choosing instead to have a small simple store down an unassuming street in Ginza. Furthermore, almost as an anathema to current social media trends, no photos are allowed of the cake display or dining room. Instead, the cakes are plated and eaten in a sort of sedate and hushed reverie.

In spite of this, it seems that people were in know and ready for cakes at their opening time of 11. When we arrived 10 minutes before opening there was already a small line outside. We were each ushered into the store to pick cakes for dine in, take away or both. I highly recommend dining in because there is a selection of cakes which can only be had in the café. According to the staff, they are too delicate to be transported. Of the cakes that can actually be taken away, even then, it is recommended that most of them only travel for an hour or so, to preserve their integrity.

The cakes are well and truly tiny. Even the super slim Japanese girls sitting on either side of me ordered at least 2 cakes each. If I was feeling a little bit more ambitious I probably could have ordered up to 3 or 4 cakes for myself but for now, we stuck with 4 to share.

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The Ambroise (Left) is arguably the cake that made Hidemi Sugino famous. A dark chocolate glaze and tempered chocolate rounds cover a delicate multi-layered cake. The slick chocolate makes this cake look incredibly rich. In a way it is, the cherry taste of dark chocolate seems a little overwhelming at first. However, it gives way to a much gentler berry and pistachio flavours and layers, well suited to a Japanese palette that doesn’t enjoy things that are too sweet.

The Sous Bois (Right) was Ryan’s favourite. Embedded into this cake are more berries! The sourness of the berries offset the sweetness of the mousse, making each mouthful a surprise. It also goes without saying but each of the fruits on all of the cakes tasted exceptional. In particular, the raspberries weren’t tart, and instead the flowery, almost perfume like taste of raspberry exploded in my mouth.

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The Everest (Right) was more to my tastes. It’s easy to see where this cake gets its name from. The peak of white cream at the top was sweet and soft. In fact, I would hazard to say that eating this was akin to eating a cloud. Every bite, soft and airy, with a little bit of juicy berry flavour from the hidden juice inside. Ryan commented that it tasted like a very soft and subtle cheesecake.

I thought that it would be impossible to top but the Sicily (Left) was even softer than the Everest! A strong pistachio flavour permeated the outer layer of green mousse. This is tempered by the peach and raspberry mouse inside. The texture was halfway between cream and panna cotta. I think I detected a light alcohol taste in the sponge at the bottom that made me smile a little. The taste of pistachio and alcohol definitely reminded me of southern Italy.

The beverages come at rather eye-watering prices. My single cup of apple tea was 780 Yen and Ryan’s tiny cup of espresso set us back 540 Yen. Thankfully, they were both well brewed. After dining at a number of Tokyo cafes, this beverage pricing, although shocking for an Australian is very much in line with most other premium cafes. I suppose these prices are part of the air of exclusivity and luxury that is inherent in dining in the hushed back room of the café.

Although I was ready to make the pilgrimage to Hidemi Sugino, I was also ready to be disappointed because I find that I simply don’t like mousse cake all that much. However, the delicate balance of flavours and soft set mousse at Hidemi Sugino has well and truly made me a convert. I only wish that there were more places which had such stringent standards for their own mousse cakes.

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Japan Travel Diary Part 11 Final

Japan Travel Diary part 11

Finally, this is the last part of my Japan 2015 travel dairy! It only took me almost all of a year to write up… Just in time mind you, considering that I have another holiday at the start of next year.

Day 18

Tokyo

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We flew back to Tokyo early in the morning for a whole day of shopping and more shopping.

I started the day, exhausted with a parfait from Denny’s in Ikebukuro before heading straight off to Harajuku for some bargains.

I picked up some great pieces from Closet Child, which have since become staples in my wardrobe. We then meandered along cat street, stopping at La Fee Delice for lunch. La Fee Delice strays away from the typical Japanese style Harajuku crepe and instead serves French style galettes, which to be honest I prefer over Japanese crepes. The savory egg and ham galette was perfectly cheesy and surprisingly filling. Luckily, I had just enough stomach space left for a caramel crepe.

We continued shopping all the way to shimokitazawa. Last time I visited I had been pretty impressed at the selection at Grand Bazaar, but unfortunately this time I didn’t see anything that caught my eye. Instead I was content to just wander and soak up the hipster-ish atmosphere and pick up some coffee from the legendary bear pond coffee, with its slightly surly staff.

Finally, shopped out for the day (with my funds running at an all time low…) we returned to Ikebukuro via Shinjuku. One of my greatest regrets from this trip is not picking up a cute red Mary Magdalene coat that I saw at the Shinjuku Closet Child. I’m still grieving over it now.

Moving on from that, the cold weather and all the walking had made us peckish again. This Shabu shabu warmed me down to my toes!

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Day 19

Tokyo and Yokohama

Surprise, surprise, we started the day with another round of shopping. However, this time we went looking for gifts for other people in Ikebukuro. Sadly we just came away empty handed after playing around in the costume section of Tokyu Hands for a little too long to be self respecting adults.

As fans of the manga Honey and Clover, Yokohama holds a special place in our hearts. Also, as the title of this blog alludes to, I’m really fond of Ferris wheels. There’s just something special about those stupidly giant wheels, and the time that you spend on them, slowly watching the changing scenery. So for our last night in Japan decided to splash out a little and stay somewhere a little bit fancy, in a hotel overlooking Minato Mirai and hopefully the Cosmo Clock Ferris wheel.

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When we arrived we couldn’t check in just yet, so we left our bags in the hotel and returned to the main Yokohama station area to continue my shopping spree. Unfortunately the Yokohama closet child was really… underwhelming and although there were some sales on at the lolita stores in Vivre department store, I was fairly conscious of my lack of funds and luggage space and elected to just pick up some socks and go for some ramen at the famous ichiran.

Once again, we spent a little too long shopping and only got back to our hotel in the evening. Sadly, we couldn’t see the bay from our hotel room, but the view was still pretty stunning. Although there were some difficulties we rode the wheel and went to a random sushi train for dinner. For some weird reason I was starving again, but luckily this meal ended up being pretty cheap despite the luxurious items we ordered.

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Luckily, or unluckily, I’m not sure, Ryan also enjoys Ferris wheels and the Cosmo Clock in particular. So off we went at almost midnight, to take photos of the wheel on the bay, just as it struck 0:00. This is also when we learnt that shortly after midnight the lights of the Cosmo Clock turn off, so we were left with a very dreary and dark city scape in the cold. I tried to deal with the blistering wind for as long as possible, but before too long we were rushing into the nearest conbini and then back to the hotel for some much needed warmth and cake.

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Day 20 (final)

I woke up in the early hours of the day and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sunrise over the bay. It felt so serene and peaceful, watching the slightly orange glow of the sun slowly creep over the city skyline onto the almost empty streets.

We took the train back to Narita airport, and reluctantly said goodbye to Japan.

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Tips

On the way back from Hokkaido we flew with ANA’s Experience Japan Deal. (https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/ejf/ ) If you’re a foreigner flying into Japan, this lets you fly anywhere within Japan for 10,800 yen. This is really useful during peak times, as even more budge airlines like Jetstar and Vanilla air can get pretty expensive when there’s a big event like the Snow Festival.

We stayed in Yokohama Royal park hotel (http://www.yrph.com/index.html). This was definitely the most traditional Western hotel that we stayed in during the trip. As expected it was spacious and had that feeling of old world luxury. If you see a special for it I would definitely recommend staying for at least a night.

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And that’s the end! Thanks so much for reading about this trip. Going through all the old photos made me want to revisit Japan but I have other new and exciting plans for 2016 that I hope to be able to share with you soon.

To be honest, I feel pretty happy about being able to actually finally finish this blog series and I really hope that in the future I’ll be able to update much more often. I hope you’re all having a happy holidays!!

 

Japan Travel Diary Part 10

Japan Travel Diary Part 10

Day 16

Sapporo and Otaru

I had decided that during our stay in Sapporo, we were going to eat some more of the local specialties, which of course included crab and uni (sea urchin). And what better way to consume this than in the form of sushi? With that in mind we set out to Nijo market in the morning for a refreshing seafood breakfast. Nijo market is a small, mainly seafood based market located close to Odori station. Most of the stores seemed to be selling pretty similar things, so we just popped into one of the largest and made my luxurious seafood breakfast dreams a reality.

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Before this trip I had always erred on the side of dislike for uni because I just found the flavour a bit strange. However, the uni in Hokkaido is on a completely different level. It’s incredibly sweet and creamy. Now I can finally understand how people have a bowl of rice with just uni on top!

We had already checked out of the hotel and weren’t too sure what to do after eating breakfast so we decided to take a short break at a cute café and plan out the rest of our day. Of course, more food was had.

Initially we had planned to give Shiroi Koibiti Park a miss, but we felt that we had done most of what we wanted in central Sapporo. So we decided to head a bit further out and see what the park had to offer.

As an Australian who rarely ever sees snow, I thought that the snow in Odori was already pretty intense, but it was just a prelude for what was to come. I almost slipped several times just walking to the park. There are several sections in the park and we took our time exploring them all.

 

There is a general introduction to chocolate and chocolate packaging at the start, before moving onto more Ishiya factory specific things. On one of the upper levels there is a lovely café with windows that look out onto the park gardens. Being the gluttons that we are, naturally we decided to have another snack.

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We had a parfait, roll cake and hot chocolate. Interestingly, you were meant to mix some jam into the white hot chocolate to make it berry flavoured. It was sweet and comforting either way and I preferred it with the jam whereas Ryan liked it more without. While we were relaxing, right on the hour, suddenly music started playing. Turns out that it was a cute little display out in the gardens. Bubbles came out of some of the buildings and some of the plastic figures started to move!

After being treated to that little scene, we continued to explore the museum. The rest of the park was mostly not related to chocolate. There was a gramophone exhibition and an impressive collection of old toys. In spite of the cold we also frolicked around in the gardens and probably had a bit too much fun playing in the tiny houses. Somehow, we managed to amuse ourselves for hours and were finally ready to leave, but not without first picking up some tasty souvenirs

Then we were on our way to Otaru! Otaru is a quant town about 40 minutes away from Sapporo by train. It was snowing heavily by the time we arrived and I wanted nothing more than to get into the hotel and rest for a little while. Luckily, the hotel was just across from the station.

Ryan was keen to get exploring so we went off into the cold not that long after checking in. I grabbed a walking map but it was a bit hard to read in the dark, so we just went downhill and followed other people. We got a little excited upon seeing the beginning of the snow light path and snow sculptures and even decided to make our own little snowman! Before too long we reached the canal area.

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It was simply stunning. The photos do not do it justice. Lights were tied up across the water and all along the walk way there were delicate and cute snow sculptures. There was also quite the crowd, but most people were happy to shuffle along slowly and enjoy the sights.

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Initially we thought that the canal was the entire lights festival, but how wrong we were! As we were walking back towards the hotel we noticed some more small ice sculptures and an inviting looking path. There were so many sculptures and lights along this path. It went through multiple blocks and there was always something surprising. There weren’t as many people and because the path was so long it wasn’t crowded either. As a result it felt a lot more intimate and private than the canal before and also the Sapporo snow festival. It was nice to point at all the small things and look at them together.

Some more photos, because it was just stunning.

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Otaru

Another day, another luxurious seafood breakfast! Next to Otaru station there is a small seafood market called sankaku market which offered many breakfast rice bowls with fresh sashimi on top. We went for rice bowls and then grilled sea food at a different restaurant! As to be expected of Hokkaido the uni was once again spectacular and the grilled scallops were also juicy and sweet. My only regret was not getting a bowl with more uni!

After that, it was time to get exploring again. We returned to the canal to see it at a different time of day. We were thrilled to see that our little snowman friend had survived the night! Although the lights weren’t lit up it was nice to see a different side to the canal. Although not as romantic, you could really appreciate the tiny little details in the ice and snow sculptures that were difficult to see in the dark. There were also street artists and performers on the pathway complaining about how it was difficult to do business in the cold season!

This time we also headed further out from the canal towards other major tourists spots around Sakaimachi Street. We chose to follow the high way instead of the more scenic routes so there aren’t many photos. On the plus side, we stopped for some famous multi layer soft serve. This was just as delicious as it looked. It was fun eating all the different layers and trying to guess the flavours!

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We spent the rest of the day exploring Oraru landmarks around Sakaimachi street such as the glassworks museum and music box maker. Although to be honest my favourite part was probably walking into the omiyage stores and trying all the delicious snacks that they were offering. We also ate a cream puff the size of my head for lunch but unfortunately the photos weren’t all that great!

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Before we left Otaru to go to a hotel closer to New Chitose airport, we decided to check out the snow lights one more time and grab a light seafood dinner.

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I was extremely reluctant to leave Otaru but alas we had an early flight the next morning, so we picked up our luggage and took the train to another hotel located much closer to New Chitose airport. If I had the opportunity I would love to revisit Otaru and see more of the sights and just enjoy the ambience of this charming town.

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Tips

Shiroi Koibiti park is accessable by Miyanosawa station. It’s about 20 minutes away from Odori station and trains come fairly often. You can reserve ahead of time to make and decorate cookies. If you want to do this there is an additional fee on top of the entrance fee. The gift store is open for a little longer than the actual museum, but it is usually rather packed.  During Summer there is a rose garden, instead of snow all over the exterior and the Soft ice cream house in the garden is open for business. More info on the website: http://www.shiroikoibitopark.jp/english/

We stayed at dormy inn premium in Otaru. (http://www.hotespa.net/hotels/otaru/) It is located just across from Otaru train station, which is great for tired and cold travellers looking to quickly offload their luggage. However, getting to the main sites such as the canal was a little bit of a treck in the blistering cold. The actual room was Japanese styled with sliding doors and there were additional amenities such as a relaxing onsen and free tea in the lobby. This is one of the hotels that I’m pretty keen on staying at again for even longer next time!

The Otaru Snow Lights festival happens at roughly the same time as the Sapporo snow festival. The dates don’t coincide exactly, so be sure to check the site to see what the best time to visit is. The festival is held in two sites, and the lights are lit by tireless volunteers! For more information about the otaru snow lights festival http://www.welcome.city.sapporo.jp/event/winter/otaru-snow-light-path/?lang=en

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Phew, thanks for getting through all of that! The next entry will be the last one for my this Japan trip! I hope you’re looking forward to it!

Japan Travel Diary Part 8

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Japan Travel Diary Part 8

What is this? A sort of timely update? I know. I’m shocked too. Now that I’m on holidays I should be updating much more and will hopefully be able to finish up all these posts soon!

Day 13

Sapporo

Unfortunately there aren’t many from this day because I don’t tend to take many photos when I’m by myself. Due to some poor organisation on my part I was also pretty stressed for a good majority of the day which meant that the photo taking was even lighter!

I had a very very very early flight to Sapporo this morning. I woke up super early while it was still dark and somehow walked to the wrong train station, thinking that it would take me to airport. Consequently I had a very very very panicked morning wherein I spent the whole time walking really quickly to where I was meant to be.

Luckily, I managed to board the flight to New Chitose airport just in time. Feeling confident (probably overconfident in fact) I took the train to Sapporo station and started to look for my hotel. I accidently walked to the wrong hotel because it has two branches in Sapporo. Once again, I spent a lot of time and energy dragging around two suitcases in a very panicked state. This time it was even harder because I was dragging luggage through the snow!

Thankfully, once again I made it! After checking in I got changed into my lolita clothes in the rather spacious hotel bathroom! I had changed my flights to Hokkaido so that I could take part in the Sapporo lolita festival held by the Kita Loli group. Unfortunately, I also had a hard time locating where they were holding the event but after another round of lost wandering I realised that it was in the underground walkway in Sapporo station! My weird combination of good and bad luck continued as I stumbled upon the event!

However, I think that this event was really more for non lolitas, as there wasn’t actually much socialising and there weren’t that many things to do apart from trying on lolita clothes and taking photos. Although the organisers were nice I had the feeling that they really didn’t know what to do with a foreigner like me. So, after taking a photo with some of the girls I left and decided to go shopping!

Now onto the main reason why we were in Sapporo: the snow festival! Every year Sapporo has a snow festival with amazing snow sculptures and activities. As this was the first night I just wandered around the main odori park a bit because it was freezing and I wanted to wait for Ryan to see everything in detail!

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I think all that worrying and walking made me tired and that night I passed out with the TV still on!

Day 14

Sapporo

Day 14 was a big deal! I was going to get my hair cut and permed! I had wanted a short wavy bob for a while now and figured that Japan was the perfect place to go for it since all my previous hair styles had also been done whilst in Japan on exchange.

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But first, a quick and filling breakfast from MOS burger to get me through the long hair appointment!

The hair salon I went to was pretty centrally located and although I was super nervous before going in, everyone was so friendly and accommodating. The guy who cut my hair was an actual hair magician and incredibly friendly. I usually hate the awkward small talk that comes with getting a haircut, but even though it was in Japanese I still felt at ease consulting him about my new hair style and also just chatting. In another example of amazing Japanese service, it started snowing when I was going to leave the hairdressers. I had forgotten my umbrella, so the staff kindly gifted me one of theirs!

Incredibly satisfied with my new hair, I decided to check out some of the cute cafes in the area. Out of all the cafes that I’ve been to, I can safely say that Le Vent et Le Soleil is one of the most charming. The décor is unbelievably cute and atmospheric, transporting you into a relaxing fantasy world. What’s more, my inner tea lover was happy with the menu which had multiple pages dedicated to tea. The lunch sets are pretty reasonably priced but a touch on the smaller side. There was only one girl working on the day so it took a while for the food to come out but I was perfectly content to just sit and scribble things in my dairy while I waited.

The scones in the oven smelt delicious but somehow, I managed to resist the allure of dessert and instead chose to leave and once again go shopping.

Now, this was a pretty exciting day not only because of my hair cut but also because Ryan was going to rejoin me! I spent what felt like, and actually probably was, an eternity waiting for him in the lobby of the new swish hotel that we were staying at. I almost fell asleep because it was so warm and cozy. As night fell, Ryan finally arrived and we quickly checked in before stepping out into the cold again.

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Dinner was ramen with butter and corn! Apparently this is a must have dish in Hokkaido. It was exactly what we needed, warming, hot and comforting. Luckily, the ramen alley which we had dinner in was just around the corner from the Susukino site of the Snow Festival. Suskino is a bustling downtown area of Sapporo in its own right, but during the snow festival ice sculptures are set up on the road for passer bys to admire.

Many of the sculptures seemed to have been sponsored by various companies. I particularly enjoyed this drink one. Unfortunately, it had also been a bit unseasonably warm in the first few days of the snow festival which meant that most of the sculptures had already started melting. In fact some of them were already destroyed!

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Exhausted from another day I think it’s safe to say that I slept well that night.

 

For more information about the snow festival check out the official English site: http://www.snowfes.com/english/. The sculptures change every year so it’s always going to be interesting. However, it is also peak tourism season so I suggest booking hotels in advance as it can get full fast.

We stayed at Tokyo Dome Hotel Sapporo: https://www.tokyodome-hotels-sapporo.com/english/ This was one of the cheapest places that we could find a few months in advance. The location is pretty central and perfect for looking out onto the park. Unfortunately we didn’t have a park view but I don’t think we could really complain considering the price in peak season. The room was actually pretty roomy though a touch aged.

 

Japan Travel Diary Part 7.5

Japan Travel Diary Part 7.5

Tokyo: Eating Out Edition

I apologise for my long long long absence. For a little while university took and various other personal things took over my life but now I am back!

As I mentioned in my last post, this post is going to be about some of my dining experiences in Tokyo. Although these can be classed as fancier places the prices are pretty reasonable if you go for lunch as they often have special deals. I picked these restaurants based off of how easy it was to book and also their English friendliness.

Unfortunately I forgot to take notes and the menu has long since changed so I won’t be able to go into great detail about what we ate, but hopefully this should give you a bit of a feel for the dining experience as a whole.

La Table de Joël Robuchon
Ebisu branch

I originally wanted to dine at Joël Robuchon but unfortunately all the days we were free were booked out. Not one to give up easily, I figured that dining at La Table would help save our wallets a bit and also give us a bit of a glimpse into the Robuchon empire in Tokyo.

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First things first, the location of the Ebisu restaurants is utterly stunning. From afar, the restaurant seems like some important government building or historic landmark, but no, this mansion in the midst of Tokyo is actually a restaurant! My excitement kept building as I walked towards it!

The reception area of the restaurant is lovely, light and airy. As for La Table, the restaurant itself was rather bold and feminine, with purple everything. It felt a little more moody than the outside.

I picked the 3,300 yen fixed meal course, whereas Ryan picked the 4,200 yen main course.

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A cute little pumpkin amuse bouche to start the meal. The colour was so vibrant!

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Continuing with the cute theme, the bread is adorable mini breads from the bakery downstairs. As someone who is used to crusty breads with butter as the standard for most restaurants, I was a little surprised at how this tasted. It was distinctly Japanese tasting. That is, on the sweeter and softer side when compared to European bread. I also felt a bit perplexed at being served oil instead of butter, as all the fancy restaurants in Melbourne have really jumped onto the flavoured and hand churned butter thing right now. That said, it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

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My entrée was a simple shrimp salad. My favourite part of this was the crunchy cheese and guacamole. I found some of the salad a touch too bitter but I’m sure that it was really good for me.

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Ryan chose the egg plant soup for his entrée. Despite being vegetarian the flavours came through really strongly and the whole thing was just a wonderful umami hit.

For mains, I had a fish dish that unfortunately did not photograph well. I assure you, it was cooked very well and the greens were some of the most vibrant looking greens I had ever seen in my life.

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Ryan’s foi gras risotto main was utterly addicting. It was so creamy, rich and lush tasting.

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As for desert, we shared a tasting plate of 3 different desserts for a little bit of extra yen. There was a bit of a fruit theme going on. It was clear just from looking at this, that the plate was lovingly crafted and a lot of detail had gone into it. My favourite part visually and taste wise was the cute little apple.

As a word of warning, the dishes are rather small and if you’re hungry you should go for the more substantial offerings. However, we were content just to line our bellies without stuffing ourselves. Moreover, the meals and all the different crockery was just this amazing visual feast.

At the end of the meal we were presented with the bill and a coupon for the bakery in the basement level. To coupon could only be used today, and gave us I think 10-15% off baked goods. We were escorted to the elevator and happily picked up some delicious smelling pastries for breakfast tomorrow before leaving the building.

I’ve dined at the Taipei branch of l’atelier de Joël Robuchon before but to be honest I don’t remember all that much about it. This was a perfectly pleasant re-introduction to the world of Joël Robuchon and just a really different experience from the usual hustle and bustle that is Tokyo. With this location, it really feels like you’ve just entered some fairy tale world.

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Website: http://www.robuchon.jp/en
Please note that the restaurant will call the hotel that you are staying at a day or two before your booking to confirm. So don’t be confused when the reception staff call you and ask about a restaurant reservation. We had a bit of a mix up with this, but happily still managed to dine at La Table.

Beige by Alan Ducasse
Ginza

From the people that bought you Breakfast at Tiffany’s, we now present, lunch at Chanel! Jokes aside, Beige by Alan Ducasse is also located in a rather extraordinary place. It sits on top of the Chanel store in Ginza, and you enter through a secret side lift. The view from the top is lovely. From where we were sitting we could see Tokyo Tower. I imagine that this would be a really romantic spot at night time.

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To start, four little vegetable tartlets. They were crisp and sweet, a perfect opener to the meal

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Our dining companion was this cute little frog! Each table had a slightly different one.

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I believe this was a mushroom soup, although my memory is failing me a little.

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Check out how pretty the butter knife is!

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My appetiser was another shrimp dish. This single shrimp was out of this world in terms of freshness and sweetness. I thought that the beetroot stewed daikons were a really interesting touch and the perfect example of the restaurant’s East meets West sensibilities.

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Ryan had another foi gras dish as well. I guess we are just predictable people. This time, it wasn’t as rich and the vegetables helped cut through the fattiness.

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In the interests of trying something new I picked the pheasant for my main. The sauce was the standout component of this, more than the pheasant to be honest.

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Ryan’s lamb. Interestingly, this was completely devoid of the distinctive lamby taste that lamb usually has and instead was incredibly soft and tender. I think this might have to do with the fact that a lot of Asian people don’t really like that lamb taste, and this dish is trying to win them over.

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Some petit fours before dessert. Flawless macarons and chanel shaped chocolates! I wish they sold these chocolates so I could buy them as gifts for people.

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Unfortunately the desserts that I really wanted to try weren’t available on the day so I settled for a floating island with meringues and berries on top. Though a touch tart for my personal preferences, this was really refreshing and a nice light way to end the meal, along with a cup of tea.

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On the other hand, Ryan had the signature Chanel tweed cake. It’s so named because the gold leaf on top of the cake is meant to look like Chanel’s signature tweed pattern. This was unswervingly rich and almost the complete opposite of my dessert. The caramel nuts on top were also amazingly fine and delicate, but unfortunately I didn’t get a very good photo of the whole thing because it was too tall!

Maybe it was because we were in Ginza, or maybe it was the important looking people who were having lunch all around us, but for one of the first times ever when it comes to dining out, I felt rather outclassed. The service was beyond anything that I had ever experienced before! Whenever there was a new dish, it was presented by 2-3 of the perfectly dressed wait staff who placed the plates in front of us in unison. Whereas fine dining in Melbourne has recently become more of a casual affair I feel that Tokyo has very much kept with tradition. Both have their merits, but it was great to be able to experience both!

We both had the cheapest lunch set which was 5,500 yen. I thought that this was incredible value for money, taking into account the amazing service and how much a comparable meal would have cost in Melbourne.

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Website: http://www.beige-tokyo.com/en/
You have to send a confirmation email after the initial booking.

Something interesting that I noticed was that a lot of the fancier Japanese restaurants have dress codes! This was and still is a pretty weird concept to me, because in Melbourne you can go to some of the fanciest restaurants in jeans and a t-shirt. That said, don’t be intimidated by the dress code, just think of it as an excuse to dress up a little and join in with the fashion fun with the rest of the Tokyoites.

See you soon! I hope to eventually finish writing up on this overseas trip before I go on my next one!

Japan Travel Diary Part 7

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Japan Travel Diary Part 7

At long last an update! I’ve been really busy with uni work lately, but things have slowed down enough (for now!) to write up a quick blog post.

This post just roughly goes through what I did for a few days in Tokyo. It’s going to be pretty light on description and more of an image post. This is because… I really didn’t do much the next few days except for catch up with people and relax. Additionally, I hope to do a separate write up on my tips to shopping in Tokyo which will cover a lot of what I did.

Day 9

Tokyo

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This day was actually pretty exciting! We were going to visit a fancy restaurant that I had booked a few weeks before our trip. This was one of my first visits to Ebisu and there were a few mishaps with our booking but everything worked out surprisingly well. I won’t go into detail, because to do the whole thing justice I’m going to do another blog post on it.

After a hectic few days of travel and activities Day 9 was surprisingly tame. Apart from lunch we didn’t have much planned except for a catch up with some friends who were in Tokyo at the time. We had a GIANT parfait from the famous Shibuya Nishimura fruits parlour and further indulged at an izakaya which specialised in chicken dishes. The night was perfectly rounded out by a boisterous round of karaoke, which I will not post any pictures or videos of, to save everyone’s dignity and hearing ahaha.

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Day 10

Tokyo

This was also another fancy restaurant day which will also be the subject of another blog post! This time we hit up Ginza. We didn’t stay long, though I would have loved to take photos in front of the famous Sukiybashi Jiro and pick up some sweets from the world famous patisseries.

I had organised to meet up with a good friend that I had made while on exchange. Catching up with her again was just unbelievably lovely. It’s strange and wonderful to think that thanks to exchange I know all these people from all over the world and had the privilege of sharing my life with them for 6 months.

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Enough of the sappy stuff now, in more important news, she also told more about Shirokuma café. In a lovely circular way, I introduced her to the manga (which is about a lazy panda and a cafe that is owned by a polar bear) and she introduced me to the real life version of the café in the manga! Shirokuma café is located in a fairly nondescript part of Tokyo that is a bit off the beaten track. It is a bit of a walk from Takadanobaba station, which is a university area.

The café itself is unbelievably charming, even for people who may not have seen the anime or read the manga. The theme is rather restrained, but somehow still everywhere. When you walk in there is shirokuma café paraphernalia on display, and cute character hats that you can try on and take photos with. A little further in, there are giant plush toys of penguin and panda sitting at the counter, just like they do in the manga!

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Unfortunately there is no table service, and you have to order at the counter but the cuteness of the food more than makes up for it. It was also surprisingly tasty and well priced for a themed café.

If you’re interested in checking it out see the website for their seasonal menu and exact location: http://www.shirokumacafe.net/

Inspired by the tasty food I had eaten and photos that I had seen on instagram, I suggested that we go check out sky tree by night. Typically, I quickly lost motivation when I realised that getting to sky tree was going to be on the expensive side and a bit of a hassle. Instead we settled on taking photos around Asakusa with sky tree in the distance!

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Day 11-12

Tokyo

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At this point my bf had to leave to attend a wedding in the Philippines leaving me alone for the next few days. Happily I used this time to meet up with even more friends and shop my heart out!

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One of my senpais from tea ceremony club invited me out for soft fluffy Japanese style pancakes in a fairly cute little residential area close to Koenji. She also won the cutest fluffy hamster from a claw machine!


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Soon after I met up with another group of friends for Japanese style pasta and dessert with plenty of conversation. Before heading back to the hostel to get ready for a super early morning flight to Hokkaido the next day!

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Japan Travel Diary part 6

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Japan Travel Diary part 6

Back to our regularaly scheduled programming with more travel posts!

Day 7

Tokyo

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On the shinkansen ride from Osaka to Tokyo we passed by some areas that were snowing like crazy. Luckily we were inside the train, riding smoothly with a errr, nutritious breakfast of Pablo and green tea. The premium Pablo is unabashedly cheesy and rich making it difficult to consume the whole thing in one sitting, unlike the usual ones.

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As it was a long train ride we also tucked into some train bentos, which we bought at the station.

Somehow we managed to navigate the always busy and always confusing Tokyo station and ended up where we needed to be, leaving our luggage with the front desk. I was keen to start shopping and decided to go somewhere that even Ryan could enjoy.

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Koenji is a fantastic place for vintage shopping, especially for vintage men’s wear. There are a tonne of guides online as to the various stores but I think it’s nice just to wander around the main streets and walk into any and every store that you find interesting. Luckily for the caffeine addicted Ryan, Koenji is also home to some fairly good coffee at café Amp. We also picked up some cute donuts from Floresta donuts.

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That night we decided to buy the tickets to go to Disney Sea the next day. The closest Disney store to us was the one in sunshine city in Ikebukuro. The queue was surprisingly long just to buy tickets for future visits. Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with parfaits and sandwiches from Milky Way Café. As always the parfaits were perfectly istagrammable and went down a treat though the fruit they use is usually on the frozen side.

Day 8

Tokyo (But really Chiba)

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Disney Sea! We had both never been to any of the Disney theme parks before so this was new for both of us. Naturally we decided to visit Disney Sea because it’s unique to Japan. To be honest I don’t really remember much about how to get there, just that I overslept and that you change trains at Maihara station. Although, at this stage there were already plenty of people with Disney paraphernalia who were also clearly going to Disney land. It would be just as easy to follow them instead of looking up directions yourself ahaha.

When we got there, there was already a massive queue outside the park gates even though they hadn’t even opened yet. The funniest thing was that once the gates opened everyone was running into the park (no doubt trying to be the first to secure fast passes) despite all the staff holding signs and repeating over and over that guests shouldn’t run.

As for Disney sea, it was really stunning visually with amazing architecture and lots of little hidden Disney secrets everywhere. The lightshow at the end of the day on the water was unlike anything else and the theatre they had on was also amazing. I’ll leave you with a few (by a few a mean, a lot) of photos just to labour the point even more. Ahahaha. We also ate a lot of popcorn.

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Tips

We stayed at the My-stays in Inaricho. This was actually fairly far from Ueno station (around 15 minutes from Ueno) but really close to Inaricho station on the metro. This was a little inconvenient as walking in the blistering cold was painful but for trains there were also usually line changes.

Site: http://www.mystays.com/e/location/ueno-inaricho/?_ga=1.131314956.2039490190.1438176940

In comparison to the Kyoto one this was a lot older and also a bit more cramped. The building is an old converted apartment and when you’re living there it clearly feels like it, with a kitchenette and the fact that you need to take out the trash by yourself.

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Disney sea

Official website: http://www.tokyodisneyresort.jp/en/tds/

At Disney Sea be mindful of the park’s opening and closing times. We went on a day when the park closed earlier than usual which was fine by us as we were exhausted and freezing, but if you want to get the most out of the day keep an eye on opening times.

If you’re dead set on going on a particular ride make sure you also check the maintenance for rides as some of them might be out of order on the day. I was a little bit bummed that we couldn’t go on Journey to the centre of the earth that day as it was closed for maintenance.

Make sure you use the fast passes to save yourself some time in line. Keep in mind that you can only get another fast pass when you’ve finished the fast pass t hat you’re on. With the more popular rides like tower of terror you may be waiting for some time if you get that as your first pass and by then the other fast passes may already be done with for the day!

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Japan Travel Diary part 5

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Travel Diary: Japan 2015 Part 5

Finally a multi day post! This should help speed things along.

Day 5

Something else that we had been planning for a while now! Visiting an onsen town: Kinosaki. In my opinion Winter is one of the best times to go to Onsens/hot springs because they warm you up instantly.

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Kinosaki is an onsen town about 2.5 hrs away from Kyoto and it is also one of the most famous Onsen towns in the Kansai region. So with that in mind, we decided to check it because neither of us has ever been to an onsen town before. What can I say? Walking around in the town when we first arrived, it felt really surreal. The architecture seemed even more traditional than Kyoto, despite all the modern conveniences. When combined with the out of the way location, it felt like we were in some sort of story book.

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We were staying in a ryokan, but the rooms weren’t ready yet as we had arrived a bit early. This place was seriously old school in that they still used a paper logbook which we signed to confirm our sign in and there wasn’t a computer in sight at reception. With a few hours to kill we giddily wandered around the town taking in the sites and in my case, buying all the snacks. This warm mochi was a speciality. It was perfectly chewy and sweet. Even though we had snacks, lunch was still a necessity, especially considering how the area speciality, crabs, were in season.

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The town is pretty small, but there are a few walking trails and a ropeway with a temple in its midst. From memory you need to go through the temple gates to get to the cable cars but you don’t need to actually enter the temple. The observation deck at the top is meant to give you some pretty amazing views on Kinosaki but instead we had a view of the very very misty mountains. Interestingly, there was also an old playground here. It was strangely desolate but relaxing.

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At this point my feet were thoroughly wet and I was ready to check into a warm room. I had read that in Kinosaki it’s pretty popular to walk around the town centre in yukatas but I assumed that since yukatas are really summer gear that we wouldn’t be able to do that. However, after checking in, the staff helped me pick out a cute yukata to wear about town. There were also simple cotton yukatas in the rooms which were a lot easier to put on and take off.

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The staff helped me change and prepared some tea and snacks for us. After warming up it was time to explore the town again! Kinosaki is full of ice cream and beer places. Apparently, going to multiple onsens and stopping for ice cream and beer is quiet the past time. In spite of the cold the ice cream was delicious by the way, so smooth and creamy.

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We choose to have a slightly earlier dinner so that we would have some time after dinner to explore more onsens. This was a bit of a mistake because there was so much food! And so much crab! We had to rest for a while before we could go anywhere.

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After nightfall Kinosaki is also beautiful. It has that Spirited Away vibe and the onsens open until pretty late. It was pretty fun getting extremely warm in the baths and then going out in the cold and snow temporarily immune to the elements. We also picked up a giant pudding from the convenience store between the onsen and the ryokan. Despite the heavy dinner, R (Finally giving my bf a name!) managed to finish it all, with a little help from me.

Maybe I was exhausted, but the futons were amazingly comfortable and I quickly nodded off to sleep after watching a few minutes of Japanese talk shows.

Day 6

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Breakfast was bright and early at 7:30am. To be honest, I thought that breakfast was even better than dinner last night. There wasn’t nearly as much food but everything tasted so fresh and nutritious. Somehow, it felt like this was exactly what I needed to start the day.

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The reason for such an early breakfast was of course, so that we could hit up another onsen before we checked out. Onsens in the morning are a whole lot less crowded. I think I was one of the only 4 people in the massive onsen that morning. So, if you want to visit an onsen but are a bit self conscious about being naked with heaps of people, it’s probably a good idea to visit in the morning.

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Originally we had planned to take an overnight train to Tokyo that night but all the cabins were booked out. On top of that, it was snowing like crazy and we were both frozen to the bones. At this point we were both a bit cranky at each other and decided to take refuge in a café to figure out what to do. Eventually we settled on going back to Osaka at a cheap hotel so that we could continue shopping.

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Before that, a quick visist to another onsen and some snacks for the long trip ahead. The onsen was probably the most average out of all the ones we had visited but on the plus side it did the trick and warmed me up. This was also the best pudding that I have ever eaten by the way. Thinking about it now makes me wistful.

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I can’t in good faith recommend that hotel that we stayed at. I also can’t remember what it was called apart from the fact that it was close to shin Osaka station.  The best thing about this place was really how cheap it was and that fact that it was close to matsuya, which has the best value for money beef bowls out of all the major chains. In Japan even the cheap 450yen beef bowl with miso soup and pickles is super tasty.

We shopped in Shinsaibashi again. I found some second hand lolita stores and visited some of the lolita brand stores, but unfortunately, as always when shopping, I forgot to take photos!

Tips

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In Kinosaki we stayed in Morizuya. They were really well priced and well located. The biggest plus is that they had their own private onsens that you can use if you’re a bit shy or just want a bit more privacy. As with most ryokans they are a bit more dimly lit and the stairs are numerous and steep which is probably not ideal for young kids and the elderly. The staff didn’t really speak much English, but most things were pretty self explanatory and as with most places simple phrases and body language goes a long way.

As with most ryokans in the area they offer an onsen pass, which gives you access to the 7 major onsens in the area as part of your stay. We went with a half board plan which includes dinner and breakfast. The dinner by itself is on the pricier side (from memory around 5000 yen) but breakfast is rather cheap.

Website: http://www.morizuya.com/

If you’re interested in lolita shopping, most of the stores are located in America Mura. I recommend this guide for a general intro to the shops and where they are. https://teatwosugarsplease.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/lolita-osaka-lolita-shopping-guide/.  I found some pretty good deals at maiden clothing, which I’ll share with you in my final loot post!

Japan Travel Diary part 4

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Travel Diary: Japan 2015 part 4

A shorter post this time! Thank goodness for you and me

Day 4
Kobe

I had a vague idea that we were going to Kobe, because it’s pretty easy to get there from Kyoto and we wanted to eat Kobe beef. The lovely receptionist made a booking for us at Ishidaya, a rather nice Kobe beef restaurant with great lunch time prices.

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Before that, breakfast at the station, in another bakery. It was pretty early so we just sort of sat and collected ourselves, wandered around nijo market again and then off we went.

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Once we got to Kobe, we realised that there were multiple Ishidayas. We haphazardly walked into one, but it turned out that the booking was for the main store. As Japanese service is usually impeccable, the staff walked us over to the right restaurant and we had the most delicious meal.

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With full stomachs we decided to wander around the historic parts of Kobe. As Kobe was a merchant town it’s full of houses in various styles from all over the world and from all the receptions and wedding dress stores also seemed to be a really popular area for weddings. If you choose to enter the buildings most of them charge an admission fee, but there’s a pass that can be bought for a collection of houses. There seemed to be a flower exhibition on in some of the rooms with pretty detailed dresses and table pieces made out of flowers.

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Unfortunately, as Kobe is a port city it was really really cold and in another commonly reoccurring theme on this trip I was soon freezing and longed to be inside with heating. So, we decided to visit the Starbucks which is also a bit unique as it is situated in, and looks like an old house.

Then, on my boyfriends suggestion we went to the harbour at night, for some more last minute shopping and just to enjoy the sights.

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There is a funny story behind this day. We went to Kobe because I told my boyfriend that I had never been before and was interested in checking it out. Upon standing on the harbour looking at the ferris wheel, it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I had been to Kobe before. In fact, this was the first place I went on my very first trip to Japan many many years ago. I just wasn’t aware that it was Kobe because I was with my parents on a Chinese language guided tour and they have totally different names for places. After sheepishly telling my boyfriend this, he laughed and called me an idiot…  I did manage to buy a warm and toasty scarf though!

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We could have left it at that for the day and gone back to the hotel but we had picked up some brochures earlier in the day, at the tourist centre at Kobe station and it seemed like there were still a few Winter light shows around. Interested in catching one of those we went to a nearby aquarium. To be honest, the show was pretty lame and low budget but wandering around the (warm) aquarium by night with almost no one else around and fairy lights outside was in itself a little bit magical.

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Stay tuned for another post soon!

Japan Travel Diary part 3

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Travel Diary: Japan 2015 part 3

Day 3 
Kyoto

Remember what I said last post about getting dressed in kimonos? This was the day! I got up much earlier than the previous day to do my makeup and make sure that we had plenty of time to get to the rental store.

We hopped onto the bus and got off at the Gion stop. We picked up a quick breakfast from a nearby bakery and walked a few minutes, guided by our friend google maps, to the store. Once we were there we just went up to the reception and they told me to see what I liked and asked my boyfriend to wait as they prepared the mens kimonos.

Initially I was really overwhelmed by all the choices. Before coming, in my mind I had planned to look like a cool classical beauty, but when confronted with all the choices I began to doubt myself and wondered what I would actually suit. I asked an older lady to help me and she did a wonderful job explaining to me all the different types of kimono prints, from the more classical to retro, pop, showa and more. We held up various prints and tried to match them to my face and eventually we picked a ‘pop’ styled one that I would have never chosen on my own, but really suited me I think.

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Sorry I don’t have any photos of the getting dressed process! I think I was just too distracted to remember to take any photos. There were a few other people getting dressed by the staff so it took a little bit of time to get ready. I also took forever choosing a haori. Eventually, we managed to go outside and I lost it, because just as the staff were taking a photo for us it started snowing. It was so unbelievably beautiful and I felt like I was in a Japanese period drama with the traditional architecture, snow and kimono.

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After my initial excitement we wandered along into a temple area and then back to the main Gion area. I was pretty starving as I had only had a little bit of bread for breakfast so we decided to have some food at tsujiri, which is a chain famous for matcha foods.

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The green tea udon was just what I needed to warm myself up and the parfait was heavenly. Just thinking about it makes me drool. My bf got a cake and tea set which had so many instructions that we were both utterly dumbfounded as to how to actually make the tea. Luckily one of the waitresses kindly helped us out. The tea oddly enough tasted a little like seaweed and was rather savoury, but not in a bad way. Everything was so vividly coloured and was so fresh tasting!

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With full stomachs we decided to go to ginkakuji, the silver temple that isn’t actually silver. I actually wanted to go to kinkakuji, but my boyfriend has been before and after some consultation we figured that it would be too far away and crowded. Ginakuji was very relaxing and it started snowing again!

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There was a lot of wandering a meandering this day. As I have said so many times before, Kyoto really is a beautiful place making it the perfect place to just stroll aimlessly. From kinkakuji we went down philosophers walk. I found a basket of cats and my bf got excited when he saw high school boys leaving school to go home because it looked exactly like it does in dramas and animes ahaha. The path ends at nanzenji which is pretty impressive with its large imposing wooden gates.

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At this point I was freezing and had been freezing for a while now. So we decided to make our way back to the main Gion area and return to the kimono rental store. It started snowing like crazy on our way back! I was super excited but also even more freezing than before!!

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People wearing kimonos sure had it tough. Even with all the layers it was still much warmer with my coat and jumpers.

For dinner we went around Kyoto station. (My boyfriend read somewhere that it is a thing for couples in kyoto to hang around the station area?) Apparently this is some sort of famous Kyoto dish. All the things go into a steamer raw and then after a while you open it up and everything is cooked. It was pretty magical. Walking around Kyoto station is also really stunning. Unlike Tokyo, the streets are wide and seem to just exude this sense of class. I suppose that the brand shops dotting the streets and soft lamps sure help.

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Lastly, but not least sweet pancakes before bed! Some Japanese pancakes are so large, soft and fluffy, just like cake!

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I’m so glad I finally managed to dress up in kimonos in Japan. I own a yukata and have gone to matsuris in my yukata before but the traditional kimono is just something else. Next time I would love to try furisode or a modern/retro hakama style outfit.

For a kimono rental we went with Okamoto Kimono: http://www.okamoto-kimono.com/english/

They seem to be one of the most popular and biggest companies for kimono rentals. They also have a full English site, though the English isn’t perfect you can understand everything just fine. There are numerous locations, though the Gion Kodaiji shop and the Bettei are right next to each other. We chose the Kodaiji shop because we didn’t feel like going around kiyomizudera because we’ve both already been there on past trips.

The rental plans are very straight forward and comprehensive, though things like hairstyling cost extra. I chose the 5000yen full scale attire plan and had by hair done while my bf went with the men’s kimono plan. He said that the choice of kimono for men was also pretty good although obviously not as varied as the women’s.

In my opinion, if you want to have the full choice ok kimonos, this is a good plan to pick. It’s also better to go for an early session so that no one else picks the kimonos that you want before you and so that you have more time to wander around all dressed up and take heaps of photos.

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To conclude, another photo of me, because I took so many ahahaha.