Eat here: Shinjuku Asia-yokochō (rooftop street food market), Tokyo, Japan

Shinjuku Asia-yokochō
Rooftop of Dai 2 Towa Kaikan, 1-21-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku district, Tokyo

Time to throw it back to Tokyo for the day! Because I was scrolling through photos of the trip on my phone and I’d like to go back now. I found this place in the pages of my mini Pocket Tokyo Lonely Planet book, and loved the sound of a street food market set up on the rooftop in the middle of the city!

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It wasn’t the easiest to find – we had to stop into a few convenience stores to ask for help, so if you’re going to visit, I’d suggest saving the details (name, address, etc) in your phone so you can show that to someone in the area if you get lost like I did. When you finally find the right building, expect some dodgy looking guys offering to escort you up the elevator to the roof; they’re nice enough, but they’ll then try to steer you to their mates’ food stalls so you spend your cash there. A polite “thank you but we’d like to look around first” should suffice.

Once you’re finally on the rooftop, you’ll find all sorts of Asian food – Chinese, Indonesian, Korean, Thai, Malaysian… the works. And they’re all licensed, too, so it’s a pretty popular place for the kids to meet up and hang out at.

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We chose a Singaporean place, where we were served by an absolutely lovely Nepalese guy who was a heap of fun to chat to! Multi coloured prawn crackers to get us started…

Along with some fresh salmon and avocado + garlic bread…

Followed by absolutely amazing Singaporean dumplings (actual flavour bombs)…

And the most phenomenal bacon dish in the world – little sausages and veggies with thick, greasy, absurdly tasty and salty bacon pieces. I’d go back just to eat this.

It was cheap and tasty, the service was unreal, the atmosphere was SO much fun, and when they started rolling back the roof tarps and I realised I was eating this incredible food under the stars on a rooftop in Tokyo, well… I mean, get better than that!

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Through my eyes: Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo, Japan

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I’m going to end the week with a short and sweet post; a look at Shibuya’s mental and world famous crossing. Because, honestly, that’s what my brain feels like right now!

Big thank you to the wonderful friend who recommended heading up to Starbucks for a better view of the mayhem – absolutely the best view you can find! And for a time-lapse view of the crossing in motion, click on through to my Instagram account 🙂

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Through my eyes: doorways of Tokyo

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Monday morning. Bleh. You’re meant to feel well rested and ready to take on the week on Monday mornings; as I type this on Sunday night, I know that’s probably not gonna be the case.

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The past few weeks have been a little stressful. Mum and dad have been travelling (yes, I’m one of those kids who worry about their parents). We had Christmas. A sibling struggling with her health. Trying to do the work of three people alone (in an unexpectedly busy period) while the others took annual leave. Adjusting to some new medication. A few migraines. Lots of social engagements. Health issues. A seemingly never ending to do list. And it all came to a head this week, the busiest one I’ve had in recent memory. I’m spent.

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After spending the morning on the road, checking out Anglesea’s Riverside Market, enjoying some tea in the sunshine, and celebrating my beautiful little niece’s birthday, the washing and dishes are now done, house tidied up, dinner (and lunch leftovers) cooked, and I’m kicking back with a pile of travel magazines by my side to flick through after I’ve written this.

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Following a (just) stifled anxiety attack earlier today, I got to thinking about the things that calm me. Reading, writing, scrolling through the Instagram feeds that inspire me, taking photographs, being in new places, visiting chaotic markets, travelling… Funny that an anxious introvert finds so much comfort in foreign, often busy places. I thought of the last trip, to Tokyo, which was so good for me.

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Walking around, alone, with just my camera and my thoughts was relaxing, therapeutic. And some of the photos I most enjoy taking when I’m travelling are of doorways.

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I love the idea that I have no idea what lies behind them; the possibilities of the stories contained within are endless. And, as the owner of a fairly active imagination, that fascinates me..

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But today, it’s Monday again. I’ve got home made okonomiyaki for lunch and 73 sleeps until my next adventure. Sometimes busy gets uncomfortable, but that’s what life is all about. It’s about being busy and uncomfortable and stressed and overwhelmed, but also about the opportunity to learn and imagine and discover, to find your own peace and joy in amongst the mayhem. And I’m grateful for the chance to prove myself worthy of it every morning 🙂 Happy Monday! xo

Stay here: IBIS Tokyo Shinjuku, Japan

Last stop in this week’s whirlwind trip around the world; I found out at the Japanese Film Festival that Australian tourism to Japan has risen by around 20% over the last year or so, and when I thought about it, I realised I’m hearing about a lot more people travelling there now, so I thought this might be a good post to end the week on!

 

IBIS Tokyo Shinjuku
7-10-5 Nishi Shinjuku, Tokyo
http://www.ibis.com/gb/hotel-8620-ibis-tokyo-shinjuku/index.shtml

When it comes to accommodation, Tokyo isn’t the cheapest city to visit. Similarly to Europe, rooms have the reputation for being on the small side, and, like Melbourne, they come with a decent price tag.

After a bit of research, I found the Ibis in Shinjuku, which was pretty reasonably priced compared to similar alternatives at just under $1000 for 9 nights.

I arrived to a pretty modern foyer staffed by an incredibly friendly and helpful team. They had me checked in within a few minutes, and apologised for the renovations that were taking place. Half of Shinjuku seemed to be under construction during our visit, and I was assured that work would only be taking place strictly between 9am and 5pm so as to minimise any disruptions to guests.

As you can see above, my single room was pretty small – a king single took up most of the space, with my suitcase just fitting lengthways in the space between the end of the bed and the bar fridge. About three end-to-end footsteps were all that fit between the bed and wall. The bathroom was similarly small:

But space aside, I couldn’t have been happier with my temporary home, and it did instantly feel like home! Big positives about this property:
– free WiFi (duh)
– 24 hour front desk with staff who speak English
– restaurant on site for breakfast, lunch and dinner, should you need a quick and easy option
– super comfy bed
– hair dryer
– robe and slippers (wore these EVERY DAY!! Loved them!! haha)
– small bar fridge in room
– kettle
– TV with option to purchase extra channels
– complimentary Shiseido shampoo, conditioner and body wash
– air conditioning
– on site parking
– option between smoking and non-smoking rooms
– across the street is a Family Mart (mini convenience store)
– on the same street are a McDonalds and a Cafe Veloce, both of which open for breakfast/early morning tea and coffee (these are few and far between!)
– only a few minutes walk to Shinjuku station

While the room was small, it was surprisingly comfortable! The smiles and greetings each time I left and returned made it feel instantly homely, the room itself was very clean, and little things like having a kettle and fridge made an enormous difference to my stay. The location was incomparable as well; a few minutes from one of the biggest stations on the city, a heap of shopping malls, and beautiful parks in most directions, not to mention super safe – not once walking home from the station in the dark at night did I feel scared for my safety or well being.

The team at the front desk were also super helpful in terms of helping me with directions, and even getting me to an authorised seller for my Disneyland ticket! They had maps and public transport directions printed out and ready to go, and were genuinely more than happy to help with anything I needed. You just cannot underestimate how important and comforting that is, particularly when you’re travelling solo in a country where English isn’t widely spoken.

If you’ve read along here for a while and seen some of my other posts relating to accommodation (like the pub at Warburton that I prefer over the B&Bs), you’ll know I’m no princess when I travel. I don’t need a magazine-perfect resort, a king size bed, luxurious surrounds. I’m not travelling to enjoy time in my room. I need helpful staff, a comfy bed and a clean and functioning bathroom. A fridge for fruit and water, and a kettle with which to make my tea is a bonus. I got all that and more at the Ibis, and if you’re another traveller who’d rather spend your cash on the experiences instead of the sleep space, I’d highly recommend it for your trip to Tokyo!

Eat & shop here: Ameyoko Market, Tokyo, Japan

Ameyoko Market and shopping street
Wedged in between JR Okachimachi Station or JR Ueno Station (see below)

*** EDIT: Since writing this post I’ve visited again and written up a guide to the market – click on through to keep reading! ***

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I re-visited Chicago’s Christkindl Christmas Market last week; this week I’m crossing the globe and heading back to Tokyo for a very different kind of market…

The Ameyoko Market is essentially a mammoth maze of streets that are home to 500-odd stalls, selling everything from dried fish to nail polish. It was originally opened as a black market post-war, but it’s visited by what seemed like everyone in the city now.

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Crazy busy with an absolutely electric atmosphere, it was a really fun place to explore. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite the fact that most of the streets were full of shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian traffic. Heaps of delicious food stops on the way through, with a lot of the younger vendors having a bit of fun trying to convince obvious foreigners to stop and enjoy a meal with them in their limited English. As I keep saying, food is the great connector of people all over the world 🙂

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I got lucky and stumbled on a sushi house that had a massive line out the front, which to me screams “GREAT FOOD!”

I joined the line, pointed to the picture that had the bowl of what I guessed was a whole lot of tuna on it, and followed the waitress to a bench seat in a crammed, steamy little “kitchen”…

10 minutes or so later, this bowl of heaven was ceremoniously plonked in front of me. The most incredible, fresh, soft tuna I’ve ever had. Fatty tuna, minced tuna, belly tuna, it was all there, and it was all so melt-in-your-mouth soft you barely had to chew it. All laid on top of a generous serving of rice, it was the perfect lunch to fuel up for the rest of the afternoon exploring. Don’t be scared of the long lines at these markets – long lines = good food!

 

Winding my way around the market, I came across another line an hour later – taiyaki! Custard filled, fish shaped waffles. Yes please!

Again, I joined the line, pointed to the picture, and got my steaming hot custard sea creature. Easy to see what all the fuss is about – these things are unreal! Creamy smooth vanilla custard inside a golden crisp waffle, perfect hand held market food.

 

As for shopping, everything did have marked prices, so bartering didn’t seem to be encouraged or accepted at all. That said, the prices were all pretty reasonable; I certainly had no need to barter for anything I was looking at.

It was pretty easy to get to and find, only a short train ride away from my accommodation in Shinjuku, and well and truly worth a visit!

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Japanese Film Festival, Melbourne 2015

The lovely Mon from Mon’s Adventure got in touch with me a few weeks ago about the Japanese Film Festival only a few days after getting back from Japan with an offer I couldn’t refuse – she’d been invited to attend an opening screening at the Japanese Film Festival but couldn’t attend, and very generously offered up her place at both the pre-screening cocktail party and the movie itself to me! Yes please and thank you!!

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The pre-screening party, held in ACMI’s Lightwell space, was a good chance to mingle and nibble and drink; basically, a bit of time to unwind from the day and start to enjoy the evening! As one would expect of an event like this, the food was delicious (particularly those sliders), and when I realised the glasses being passed around were full of Choya Umeshu (a Japanese liqueur made from ume fruit, and a personal favourite of mine), I was a pretty happy little camper.

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This year in Melbourne, the Japanese Film Festival was being supported by Washoku Lovers, an organisation/club/community that is promoting authentic Japanese culture and cuisine here in Australia (mostly Sydney at this stage, but they are trying to break through in Melbourne, yay!), so I have them to thank for the kind invitation extended to myself and my good friend JV for the night  : )  After seeing the list of eateries they’re compiling for Sydney, I can’t wait to see the places that sign up for Melbourne – not only is it going to be a great little black book of dinner locations, you may get some discounts, too…

It all started back in 1997 with three little screenings; now, in it’s 19th year, the JFF  is enjoying much bigger crowds (almost 32, 000 people attended last year), showcasing the unique nature of Japanese film (through genres as varied as anime, samurai, food, classics and drama) in comparison to the standard Hollywood stuff we usually see – on Thursday night, the screening we were invited to was for BAKUMAN, which is pretty popular in Japan! We also got to hear from JFF 2015 Cultural Ambassador Adam Liaw (of MasterChef fame) who spoke about his first link to Japan not being food, but film.

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I’m going to be brutally honest here – the idea of seeing a movie about two teenage boys trying to become published manga artists didn’t really excite me much, but I found myself really getting into in 15 minutes into the film! Based on manga and publishing giant, Weekly Shonen Jump, the film tells of two kids who just want to be published (actually, now that I think about it, I should have been more into this  movie from the start as an amateur writer who’d love to be published…) and the struggles it takes them to get there. The themes explored were friendship, struggle and triumph, and this film perfectly captured all three.

The festival is still running right around Australia until the 6th of December, so if you’d like to get a little taste of Japanese film, head to the website for tickets! I never thought I’d be sanctioning a film like this, but seriously, Bakuman – go and see it!

 

And a very big thank you to the Japan Foundation for having me as one of their guests, for opening my eyes a little more and giving me a little more appreciation for their culture beyond just their amazing food!

Through my eyes: Hama-rikyu Gardens, Tokyo, Japan

Hama-rikyu Gardens
1-1 Hamarikyuteien, Chuo, Tokyo
Oedo line to Shiodome

I’m a little bit excited to be attending the Japanese Film Festival this evening, so I thought I’d head back to Tokyo this morning to get myself in the right headspace 🙂 After visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market for the first time, my friend pointed out that the Hama-rikyu gardens were a stone’s throw away and looked like they’d be worth a visit. We walked over, paid our ¥300 entry fee (AUD$3.50), and started weaving our way through the stunning grounds.

As the former family residence, garden and hunting grounds of the Tokugawa Shogun, Hama-rikyu also functioned as an outer fort for the Edo Castle. In the mid 1600s, a mansion was built on the land, which had been reclaimed from the sea, and years later the mansion had become a detached residence of the Shogun’s family.

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Years to come saw the grounds sadly damaged by both natural and man-made disasters (namely earthquakes and war), and the land was donated to the City of Tokyo by the Imperial Family towards the end of 1945. Less than a year later, after intense restoration work, it was opened as a public garden, which still entertains a heap of visitors each year; today, let me take you on a tour through it!

One of its most unique features is the sea water ponds that change levels with the tides – the pond is actually the only remaining seawater pond from the Edo era within the city.
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The 300-Year-Pine…
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Hinokuchiyama Hill…
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I didn’t catch what this gate was called, oops…
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The beautiful pine teahouse…
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Nakajima-no-ochaya, an operating tea house on the water…
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O-tsutai-bashi bridge
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And my favourite part – the flower garden 🙂
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