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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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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Tea time: Ippodo Tea, Tokyo, Japan

Ippodo Tea
Kokusai Building, 1F, 3-1-1 Marunouchi Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo
http://www.ippodo-tea.co.jp/en/

Friday. We made it, guys. But it’s not over yet – if your weekend is gonna be anything like mine, it’s gonna get a bit crazy. So before that happens, let’s head back to Tokyo for a few minutes and enjoy a little bit of tea time. To make this a more interactive experience, I’ll wait a few minutes for you to brew yourself a cup/pot/bucket/whatever you need.

It was around 9am on my last day in Tokyo, and it was raining. My plan to head back to Kagurazaka for the morning went down the drain along with the rain water; I decided to take my umbrella out and explore closer to the hotel. I ended up in the basement level of Isetan Department Store, which also looked strangely like food heaven – $400 bento boxes, French baguettes, Italian cured meats, 500 different types of noodles, animal shaped cookies, the most stunningly intricate cakes that would put even Zumbo to shame. Oh, and tea, coffee, wine, sake, beer… my God, it was amazing. I settled on a gorgeous little rice lunch box and a matcha cookie sandwich, and trotted happily home in the rain. Eating my delicious lunch on my crazy comfy hotel bed, I was pretty happy with the week I’d had in Tokyo; there was only one more thing I really wanted to do, and that was to spend part of my last night in a tea house. I did a bit of research, and the name “IPPODO” kept popping up – it wasn’t too far from Tokyo Station, where we intended to meet up later in the afternoon so we could visit Character Street, so I saved the address and finished my delicious lunch.

After shopping our way up and down Character Street and dinner on Ramen Street (and this is all in the basement of the train station, mind you), we made our way to Ippodo. Ever since drinking that incredible Gyokuro tea at Cha Ginza, I’d been on the look out for some of it – it seemed way too expensive at the time to buy (around AUD$50 for a 50g bag), but at the end of the trip I was left with a lot more spending money than I expected to have, so I decided to treat myself! I found a few different varieties at Ippodo and bought a bag to take home.

Tucked away behind the main shopping area of the store was the Kaboku Tearoom; there were quite a few different green teas on offer, which all came accompanied by a traditional Kyoto sweet to compliment that specific tea (the store was originally opened in Kyoto, but another was opened in Tokyo a few years later, as well as another in New York). I’d tried matcha and gyokuro and many times of sencha before, and would have happily had any of them again, but noticed one of my favourite teas on the menu – genmaicha. It’s a gorgeous green tea blended with roasted brown rice, originating from the poorer families who used to add the rice to their tea in order to make it last longer and therefore save a bit of money, as well as using it to cover up the taste of often stale tea. Properly done genmaicha is amazing; it’s got the lovely green tea taste, with the nuttiness of the roasted rice; T2 did a particularly beautiful version of this tea called Jade Mountain, which was a genmaicha (green tea + roasted rice) with cocoa husk, hazelnut brittle pieces, toasted almond flakes, blackberry leaves and chicory root (it was a special one off tea which I bought several boxes of because it’s that good, so if you missed out, sorry… not sorry!).

I enjoyed my pot, which I learnt could be re-filled up to three times if the following points were observed:
– use all of the tea provided (12g, I believe).
– use boiling water.
– pour into the pot, cover, count to 10 and then pour.
– do not let it brew longer than 10 seconds the first time, or it’ll have a bitter taste.
– empty the pot COMPLETELY into your cup – you don’t want to leave any water in there, or it’ll make the next brew bitter.
– leave the lid askew while drinking that first cup so the leaves can breathe.
– you’ll only need to count to 5 on the following refills.

And my sweet? A gorgeous little wafer flower filled with sweet red bean paste. Perfect match with the tea.

The teahouse itself was beautiful – clean and simple, unassuming and very peaceful. And my tea set only cost around AUD$13.00 – it was really the perfect way to end not only the night, but the trip  : )

A few tips for your day at DisneySea, Tokyo

DisneySea Tokyo
http://www.tokyodisneyresort.jp/en/tds/

If you’re reading this, congratulations on making it to Thursday! Almost at the weekend! To keep you going a little bit longer, let’s take a quick time out and go to DisneySea 🙂

I skipped Disneyland in Tokyo, because from all accounts it’s pretty similar to the Disneylands in Anaheim and Paris, which I’ve already visited. Also just realising this was my third Disney visit in three years – YAY!!! But being a ridiculously big Little Mermaid fan, DisneySea I was excited about!

A few things to know about DisneySea when you visit:
– Catch the train – it’s pretty easy! Follow this link to work out the lines you’ll need.

– The lines are MENTAL! All day long, every day – we visited on a Wednesday in off-peak season and it was nuts! Get there a good 45 minutes before opening time.

– Bring some of your own food. Because waiting an hour for a hot dog when you’re famished is not fun. This was the line for the snack stand, by the way. Follow it around the bottom of the frame, up the left side, and note that you can’t see the end of it because it keeps going up the top right corner. For cake.

– But, wait in line for the popcorn. It’s totally worth it. If you’re planning to eat your weight in it, buy a popcorn bucket – they come in all sorts of cute shapes and sizes (like Mr Potato-Head) and you can get them re-filled with flavours like black pepper, white chocolate or caramel. Also, wait in line for these in the Toy Story area:

– Bring sunscreen. It gets hot and there’s not always a heap of shade available.

– When you ride the carousel in the Aladdin area, take yourself to the top level and enjoy the view…

– Get yourself to Triton’s cavern and submerge yourself into the world of Ariel and buddies. I almost died of excitement. This is all underground. OMG.

– Don’t bother bringing your fancy, expensive DSLR camera – your phone will do, and it’s a lot easier to carry around!

– Stop stressing about getting on all of the rides, and enjoy just walking around a little. Take it all in. Sit on a park bench and stare at the castle. Eat some more popcorn. Watch the groups of teenagers in perfectly matching outfits. Just take a time out and be in Disneyland!

– Fastpass where you can. And do it early. By the time we’d realised how long the lines were for EVERYTHING it was around 10:30am. Fastpass return times at this stage were to come back at 6pm.

– Do not enter the park without a set of ears. I’m serious.

– The Mediterranean area is gorgeous – think “old” bridges, gondolas, open piazza spaces, and shopping! It’s a really beautiful spot to grab a drink and chill out for a while if you’re getting a little tired.

– And lastly, get into it. Get really into it. Because it’s Disneyland!!!!! 

Eat here: Dominique Ansel Bakery, Tokyo, Japan

Dominique Ansel Bakery
5-7-14 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://dominiqueanseljapan.com/en

A while ago I wrote about my January 2015 visit to Dominique Ansel in New York City; last month saw me visit another of their stores, this time on the other side of the world in Tokyo, Japan. You can read a little more about my New York experience here, but the Reader’s Digest version is that I was met with sass and attitude, sans cronut. Unimpressed, to say the least.

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Like my New York visit, I arrived at the Tokyo store around the same time, 9am-ish in the morning, not long after opening time. Also like New York, I was met with a wall of the most beautiful and colourful looking cakes and cookies and macarons. But, in complete contrast, the lady who served me this time around couldn’t get me my cronut quickly enough, or present it to me with a proud enough smile on her face! What a gem!

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Given that it was breakfast time, I’d already walked Takeshita Street, and had a pretty massive day ahead involving a LOT more walking, I decided to grab a beautiful green matcha cookie, too. I started on that, and it was perfection – a wafer like base filled with something closer to a dense cake than a cookie, the matcha flavour was every bit as incredible as you’d expect here.

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Then, finally, my much anticipated cronut. Which I’d been waiting 10 months for.
Every.
Bit.
Worth.
The.
Wait.

Wow. So, it was a sweet potato number spiked with whiskey and creme fraiche, with nutmeg spiced maple sugar. Rich and creamy with perfectly golden pastry. This is the cronut dreams are made of. This makes walking in the rain worthwhile. This is everything. When you visit, check out their Instagram for flavour of the month!

All in all, way better experience than the New York store, the offerings had a really disting Japanese flavour to them, the cafe itself was beautiful and light and fun, and the non-stop, smiling flow of traffic through the door was testament to how popular they are over there! Great move, Mr Ansel! Now let’s look at making the move to Melbourne!

Through my eyes: Yoyogi Park & Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

Yoyogi Park
2-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/english/

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Good morning friends  : )  I hope everyone had a great weekend – I’m absolutely exhausted! After checking the calendar, we realised that this weekend just passed was our last free weekend before Christmas (…!!!!!), so we hit the shops like possessed elves, and knocked out all our Christmas shopping in 7 hours on Saturday! I’m so glad it’s done, but my goodness it was exhausting… And the weather was so beautiful, and I’d have loved to head out for a picnic and a bit of outdoor sunshine time! So this morning I’m going to take us all to Yoyogi Park in Tokyo for a visit  : )

For such a big city, Tokyo certainly isn’t lacking in beautiful big green spaces. I’ve always loved spending time in big parks on my own, ever since depression started taking over my life in high school. Sitting quietly on fresh green grass under a beautiful leafy tree has always been something that’s calmed me, so after a pretty busy first 48 hours, my friend and I parted ways for the day and I made my way to the park to re-calibrate a little. And it truly was a truly remarkable space…

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Also within the park is the majestic Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine, tucked deep within the park. Shortly after the deaths of Emperor Meiji (in 1912) and Empress Shoken (two years later), 100, 000 trees were donated from well-wishers around the world to create this beautiful park. The shrine itself came to be in 1920. The main buildings were sadly destroyed in 1945, in the midst of the second world war, and we rebuilt in the late 1950s. You can learn a lot more about the Meiji Shrine here, so instead of telling you more, I’ll just show you…

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Drink here: Golden Gai district, Tokyo, Japan

Ohh Friday… so nice to have you around again! I’m hoping to have a quiet one this weekend, because quite honestly, I’m exhausted, but let’s have a bit of weekend party inspiration anyway for everyone else who’s still full of beans after the week we’ve just had! Shinjuku’s Golden Gai district was recommended to us by some lovely American ladies we met on our Kagurazaka walking tour, and those ladies were spot on.

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A few minutes walk from Shinjuku station and you’re transported to a completely different world; in stark contrast to the big shiny buildings and modern shopping malls, Golden Gai is comprised of 6 teeny tiny alleyways full of even tinier bars (most only a few feet wide) that remain as a testament to the good old days.

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Tokyo’s been hit by hard times – war, earthquakes, fires, and almost worst of all, re-development. The new friend we made at the bar we decided on, coincidentally a city planner, told us that the Golden Gai was pretty much the only area left in Tokyo that’s still as it was back in the 1960’s.

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Turns out it was also a pretty big area for artists and eccentrics not so long ago, with many painters, musicians and actors calling the area home. Now, this dicey looking area still attracts the artsy scene, as well as businessmen and celebrities and a few adventurous tourists and just every day folk just wanting a drink.

Most places have a cover charge in place, a few have English menus, and some even serve food. The one thing they all have in common is that they are tiny – the one we stopped in at seated maybe 10 people, and we were all but sitting on each others’ laps by the end of the night!

But our bar tender was such a great guy, we made some new friends who couldn’t have been friendlier or tried harder to speak English with us, and we had a fantastic night! When you visit Tokyo, make it a priority to spend a night in the Golden Gai!