Friday, 31 October 2014

The Japanese Food Adventure - Day 16

Day 16 - 6000 miles back to reality

We left the airport hotel feeling very sad to be leaving Japan. Our decision to stay in this hotel paid off though as it avoided the need to try and get across Tokyo in rush hour which could well have been quite a nightmare.

On our journey here at heathrow the check-in had felt a bit hectic but here at Narita it was a totally different story. The check in staff lined up and bowed before calmly opening check-in, a final reminder of how polite everybody we had met here had been.

I decided one last trip to a vending machine was needed. This time I went for a Nescafe iced coffee, I may as well familiarise myself with home again I thought. My wife wanted an iced tea but pressed the wrong button and ended up with something completely different!

We had a few hours till take off so went through security to find somewhere to eat.

We looked inside the duty free shop and my wife left with bottles of plum wine and boxes of banana cakes, we had heard that the ones sold at the airport were delicious.

This gift shop housed an origami exhibition, my wife bought some to make on the plane.

This place looked quite futuristic and is a rare sight these days at airports.

A smoking lounge! I spotted four in the departure lounge before boarding the flight.

We found somewhere to eat and learnt something new about Kit Kat, a good luck charm in Japan apparently. I have never seen so many different flavours of Kit Kat before visiting Japan, whilst here we tried green tea flavour (not for me) and strawberry cheesecake flavour (very nice!)

We ordered a pizza and shared this whilst we waited for the pizza to cook.

A sweet chocolate cake with a bread like texture, nice but a bit dry.

The fish sausage was a bit like a fish pate, I quite liked it!

The Tokyo banana cake we had heard so much about, it was time to try one.

A soft sponge with a banana creme filling, really delicious!

The pizza was pretty good, a bit of a wider spread of topping would have been nice though!

This was it the last chance saloon for buying something before boarding the flight, my wife bought a load more sweets, we may have been leaving Japan but she was determined to bring some of it back with her. Whilst doing this I made the most of the smoking lounge and had a final puff on my ecig.

This was it, after all the saving and planning for this trip we were now about to leave. Luckily it had felt like we had been here for a nice amount of time and done everything we had wanted to do (apart from trying Kobe Beef!) 

The flight home doesn't have that same exciting feeling as the flight out. A brief exciting moment did happen whilst passengers were boarding the plane though, I looked up and thought Richard Branson was doing a meet and greet! Ok, so looking at the photo now I can tell it isn't him but in a panic I took this photo at the time convinced it was, excitement over..

This was my last glimpse of Japan, my thoughts turned to food.

Before any food arrived a feel good kit was handed out, I didn't put the socks on this time but the toothpaste and toothbrush was handy.

Next the menu arrived, I studied it in detail and waited patiently.

This combination worked well on the way so I enjoyed it on the way back too.

Milky sweets, what an excellent packet!

There was still no sign of food so we tried our hand at origami.

After 20 minutes I still wasn't really get the hang of it..

The main meal arrived served with a side salad, a really dry roll and some butter.

I went for poached cod in a pesto cream sauce served with mashed potatoes and veg, not bad at all!

A fairly standard side salad but the Japanese soy dressing I added after taking this pic livened it up a bit.

The beer was handed to me like this, a good job as there was so little space on the tiny table.

We had another Tokyo banana cake and continued with the origami.

My wife had got the hang of it nicely, I gave up in frustration though.

Coffee was served with the dessert, panna cotta and mango jelly.

My wife didn't like it so I ate both, I'm not a big dessert fan but it tasted pretty good to me.

My wife created a crane next.

I pulled out a giant bag of Mitsuya Cider sweets.

The flavour was just like the drink, really nice!!

My wife was becoming quite an expert at origami. I was slightly envious and watched Dawn of planet of the apes to take my mind of it.

During the film this ice cream lolly arrived, loving these movie snacks Virgin Atlantic hand out. Most the other passengers were sleeping but I was determined to stay awake on food watch.

Whilst others slept I tucked into a cheese and coleslaw sandwich, it seemed staying awake was paying off!

My wife pulled out some milky chocolate in a pretty and glittery box.

They tasted great with a nice smooth fondant vanilla centre.

No time for colouring in, the food trolley was making its way up the aisle once more.

This time chicken with noodles followed by a financier cake, both better than I was expecting. The financier cake was really moist with an amazing almond flavour.

Eventually the lights in the cabin were turned up and we prepared for our landing.

The last food offering was a small packet of love hearts, Virgin Atlantic certainly seemed like a good choice of airline to fly with and they impressed me much more than British Airways.

Through the clouds down below I could just make out the skyline of Canary Wharf.

It really was over now, back to reality..
I can honestly say that Japan is by far the most incredible place I have ever visited. I expected amazing and experienced mind blowingly excellent. Being in an alien world far different to any other place I have ever been to but being surrounded by such polite and helpful people was a combination that resulted in the trip of a lifetime. As I am writing this we have already started saving up to return to Japan again. Although there are many other places to visit in the world I feel a really strong need to return and explore more of this amazing country.

If you are thinking of visiting Japan I would consider this:
  • Everybody told us it would be very expensive but this wasn't the case. Our flights cost just £640 each and our guesthouse in Tokyo £22 per night for a double room, hotels in Kyoto and Osaka about £40 per night. A meal (ramen or okonomiyaki) cost no more than £6 and a pint of beer £3. Be aware of service charges in some places, this can become expensive if you are having a drink in many bars, not everywhere charges it though.
  • It is well worth getting a Japan Rail Pass, our 7 day passes cost £160 each and enabled us to explore the country by bullet train (an amazing experience in itself) for that period. We based our entire trip around the dates we were going to use the pass to ensure we made good use of it.
  • If you make lunch your main meal you will find lots of restaurants on the back streets serving a lunch menu at a great price.
  • Some amazing food can be found in the department store food halls, usually in the basement. Buy a selection of things and find a park to eat lunch in, affordable and delicious.
  • Be sure to visit Kyoto, the most stunningly beautiful place I have ever been to.
  • Don't just dream about doing this, make it happen, pop some money in a tin each week and it soon adds up, book those flights and its all systems go!

This meal deal I bought before boarding the train back to Norwich isn't really of much interest. I did however promise myself that I would be featuring everything I ate during the trip so couldn't leave it out. Having eaten so many amazing things in Japan it all tasted quite bland really..

The cats were pleased to see us when we got home and crazed us for days for some of these Crispy Kiss treats.

Click here for
The Japanese Food Adventure - Chapter 2

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Japanese Food Adventure - Day 15

Day 15 - Fruit for breakfast, an amazing lunch and back to the airport..

My wife headed off on a mission a few miles away by train to buy some Japanese sweets as a gift. I decided to stay in Koenji to explore the streets on my own. I started off by heading to a big supermarket for some breakfast and was feeling like some fruit. The strawberry milkshake was well nice and the fruit sandwich amazing, kiwi fruit and peach sandwiched between the bread with lots of cream. Ok, so not the healthiest fruit breakfast but certainly delicious!

Walking around on my own felt so different to when I had been walking around with my wife. I really felt that I stood out and people were discreetly looking at my tattoos, perhaps they had been all the time and I just hadn't noticed until now. Despite this it was quite an experience walking these streets on my own. I couldn't have been much further from home and despite feeling quite alien I knew I had fallen in love with this place and I was so glad I had got to visit Japan during my time on this earth.

On the back streets of Koenji I spotted some incredible and quirky looking restaurants and shops.

I wasn't particularly hungry and had only just eaten my fruit based breakfast. This chicken, cheese and egg sandwich was calling me though so I run to the rescue and stored it safely inside my stomach. It was designed to be microwaved but tasted great straight from the fridge, a tasty combination and those amazing eggs with rich orange yolks are always a pleasure to eat.

Feeling guilty about eating two sandwiches in the space of an hour I decided action should be taken so I downed a can of Miracle Body V. Sadly I still looked the same afterwards though..

This was the restaurant we had eaten at last night, all the crates were neatly stacked until they would be assembled as tables and chairs again at lunchtime.

I headed back to the guest house and waited for my wife to return, when she did we headed onto the roof terrace to share stories of walking the streets on our own. She too had found it to be a much different experience, we were glad to be together again and decided to venture out for some lunch.

We had read about a restaurant called Hattifnatt, it sounded unusually cute and quirky so we waited outside until they opened for lunch. 

It was like being in a children's nursery rhyme complete with pop songs being sung by toddlers on in the background, quite surreal!

The walls were colourful and the furniture beautifully handmade.

The menu was embroidered and only in Japanese so ordering could have been a nightmare.

We were quite relieved when we were offered an English version of the menu. We were told that when we were ready to order we should place press a button on a post and speak into an intercom. The lunchtime special menu was reasonably priced with no dish costing over 950 yen (about £6) and a drink was included in the price too.

Whist waiting for the food to arrive we spotted some steps leading up towards the roof. We popped our heads up there and discovered a secret eating space.

My coffee arrived first, look at the sugar lump wrappers, my wife liked them so much she popped them in her bag!

My wife ordered the aubergine, cheese, potato and rice pie served with a salad. I tried some and it was excellent, amazing value for money too as the portion was very generous.

I ordered the avocado taco rice, beautifully presented and also fairly healthy!

Ok, so maybe not that healthy but really delicious.

A layer of octopus and rice was covered in salad and cabbage, on the top sat a mound of egg and cheese topped with avocado, this was smothered in salsa sauce and mayonnaise.

We decided to share a desert, how could we say no to this!

A delicious chocolate cheesecake served on a crocheted place mat.

Garter in Koenji (Lady Gaga has shopped here) deals primarily in used clothing, original brands and items crafted by young designers. Much of what you’ll find is ’80s and ’90s-style pieces or one-off items, such as redesigned leather jackets adorned with jewels and studs. In addition to clothes, Garter also sells shoes and a wide range of accessories.

Just beside a display of jackets coated in concrete we spotted the steps up to the next level in Garter. This place is definitely worth a look if you are visiting Koenji.

I noticed a vending machine selling some of the grape jelly drink with marshmallow lumps and fruit pieces, I just had to try it again!

This angry looking chap was outside the entrance of a temple in Koenji.

Inside was a small pagoda.

The temple was beautiful as were the gardens surrounding it.

This was surrounded by homes in a residential area of Koenji, we could have so easily missed it.

We decided to take another look inside an amusement arcade as I wanted to try and win something on a grab machine. This one covered four floors and smoking was allowed inside so it was a bit smelly.

There were no grab machines here but there was a massive horse racing arcade game that seemed to be very popular.

With very little free space in Tokyo this was something we saw a lot of, it allowed 24 cars to be parked in a fairly compact space.

The pharmacy elephants were a regular sight too. I discovered that
Standing outside drug stores all over Japan the elephants are often dressed in different costumes depending on the time of year. Sato-chan the orange elephant first appeared outside stores in 1961 sitting astride a rocket. His sister Satoko-chan joined him in 1995. The siblings are modelled after the Indian elephant, which the creators believed to have a calm and gentle nature. Elephants also appealed to Sato Pharmaceuticals because they live long lives, something the company would like to emulate.

As we walked passed a mobile phone shop we noticed a robot inside speaking to the customers, we went inside to take a closer look.

This is just the kind of thing you would expect to find in Tokyo, the robots movements were quite incredible.

We continued looking around Koenji, I still hadn't found Bar Rumholic which I had looked for on so many occasions.

It was only when I took a photo of this bar that we had visited on our first day in Japan that the Bar Rumholic mystery was solved. Look closely at the awning and you will see what I mean, sadly it must have closed down some time ago and changed hands.

I couldn't believe how rickerty these steps were, each one felt like it would collapse as you stepped on it. We made it to the top though and entered another quirky boutique.

This was the changing room inside the boutique.

This place was pretty cool inside, a motorcycle shop that also sold clothes and collectible toys.

I couldn't believe my luck when I found this in a Koenji record shop, I have been after it for nearly 4 years! I snapped it up and added it to my collection when I got home.

This was the moment I had been dreading for days now, we were leaving Koenji and heading to Narita Airport..

We stopped off to buy some food before getting on the airport bus, decisions decisions.

A went for the hot dog, sadly a bit bland.

We couldn't believe how spacious the room was at the airport hotel, even a small table to eat at.

There was a choice of 2 different green teas, we put the kettle on.

Whilst waiting for the kettle to boil we ate our bento boxes we had picked up before getting on the bus. A nice selection of rice, noodles, prawns in a tangy sauce and a spring roll. The highlight of this box though was definitely the gyoza.

The kettle had boiled and we discovered that this particular green tea from sachets was very grim indeed..

You can always rely on a box of chocolate mushrooms though!

We ate some of these fruit sweets whilst catching up on the BBC News. There were reports of a typhoon on it's way for the weekend, it seemed like we were leaving just in time.

We headed downstairs to explore the hotel and discovered this smoking area. The device sucked in all the smoke when you pressed the button.

I wasn't particularly hungry but decided to try something else from the hotel vending machine.

This looked interesting and only cost 100 yen so I got one to try later.

The selection of vending machines were supplied by Family Mart and all the prices were really reasonable, not bad considering they were in a hotel lobby.

This turned out to be a very dry roll topped with a slither of minced beef and egg. 

I thought this was going to be a creme caramel milk drink, it turned out to be a creme caramel in a tin though designed to drink, strange texture but pretty nice!

Click here for Day 16
6000 miles back to reality