Eat & shop here: Tsukiji Fish Market and outer market streets, Tokyo, Japan

Tsukiji Market
By train: Oedo line to Tsukijishijo or Hibiya line to Tsukiji
http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm

Another day, another market in another part of the world… For someone who’s inherently shy and withdrawn and has a bit of a hard time with social anxiety, there is almost no where in the world I’m more comfortable than in crazy, bustling foreign marketplaces. I know, I’m weird.

I couldn’t tell you why, but there’s something about being able to blend into the crowd and observe the mayhem that I find really comforting. And to that end, the Tsukiji Market area was the perfect place for me! I’d read that you have to be there really early (like 5am) to see the actual fish market in action; we rolled up around 8am though, which was just in time to see everything being packed up, which was still pretty cool to watch…

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After a bit of walking around and a bit of shopping (found a little stall selling the most beautiful tea pots and tea cups), I was getting hungry. Being one of the world’s premier fish markets, I couldn’t leave without a traditional sushi breakfast, but the lines were insane! 50 minute wait with a few dozen other tourists?! Not a chance! Just as defeat was looming, I saw this place with an A-frame out the front; a quick peak through the window showed not a tourist in sight, which meant that’s where I wanted to eat.  As fate would have it, great decision.

Comfortably some of the best sushi of my life. For around AUD$25.00, I received a bowl of hot miso soup, an enormous piece of teriyaki grilled eel, and the amazing spread you see below. It was the smallest breakfast option on the menu and it was massive! I couldn’t quite get through it all which I didn’t think was too bad, until I looked around and saw everyone else around me plowing through bowls twice the size as mine with ease! The Japanese are BIG breakfast eaters!!! Like a lot of other places, no English was spoken and I ordered by pointing to the laminated menu handed to me, and it was such an awesome experience which I feel really fortunate I got to enjoy!

 

After breaky, we went our separate ways, and mine took me through the outer market streets on the way back to the train station. I made a mental note to return, and that’s exactly what I did a few days later. The outer markets are amazing, and you’ll encounter them on the left side of Shin-Ohashi Street walking from Tsukiji Station towards the fish market. Food galore for the most part, with plenty of other goodies thrown in for your shopping pleasure! I’d recommend starting with the most magnificent omelette you’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring, from one of the many folded omelette stalls than line the streets…

And then, just walk. Enjoy the people watching. Let yourself melt into the market and take it all in.

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Tea time: Aoyama Flower Market Tea House, Tokyo, Japan

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House
5-1-2 Minamiaoyama, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://www.afm-teahouse.com

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Yay Wednesday! I actually really like Wednesday, because it’s generally my work from home day, which means that I can enjoy perks like singing along to my favourite music loudly as I work, walking Marley on my lunch break, and drinking any tea from my extensive collection that I want, all day long! Today’s post is brought to you by tea, by the way…

Being a premature nanna/tea lover, this was by far one of my favourite experiences in Tokyo, and probably one of the first places I’d visit when I go back  : )  But before I tell you about this magical flower and tea haven, let me tell you how I actually got there…

So, there’s Jess, tall (comparatively), auburn-haired, freckled and tattooed foreigner that I am, sticking out like a pink polka-dotted emu on the streets of Tokyo. I’d successfully navigated my way from my hotel in Shinjuku to the Yoyogi Gardens, to the general region of the Aoyama Flower Market Tea House. I knew I was close, but after 10 minutes of wondering the streets, I couldn’t for the life of me find it. I swallowed my pride and approached a young woman around my age to see if she might know where I should be going; she had no idea and apologised profusely. All I could do was smile back – no problem, I’ll keep looking, arigato!

Off I walk, up the road, to complete another circuit in search of the elusive tea house, when I hear “excuse me, miss!” behind me; the English-speaking friend the lady I approached a few minutes earlier was waiting for at the train station had arrived with her elderly mother, and she promptly sent them running up the road after me to help me find the tea house! The young girl and her mother walked me back down the road to the tea house and waved me off, and it absolutely made my day  : )  If there’s one thing I can say with certainly about the wonderful people of Tokyo, it’s that they are the kindest, most generous, friendliest people I’ve ever come across. Even if they can’t speak English too well, they’ll do their absolute best to find a way to help you out anyway!

Finally arriving at the tea house 3 minutes before opening time, I joined the already lengthy cue, and was promptly seated along the communal bench by the window. On the way through, though, I got to take a good look at the stunning flower arrangements, because the Aoyama Flower Market is in fact a florist…

Imagine the most breath-takingly beautiful indoor garden/green house, the most intense colours and floral smells, and the most perfect tea cafe you could possibly imagine, and you’re half way there.

I was seated along the communal table by the window, which was picture perfect, decorated with both the flower of the month (rose) and Halloween inspired miniature pumpkins…

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They even managed to make a witch’s hat and broomstick look elegant and classy!

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After a quick read over the menu (they have menus in both English and Japanese) and weighing up a dozen or so options (herbal, black, green…), I finally decided on a sweeter, dessert-y tea – a black tea with vanilla, caramel and nut flavours. A few minutes after ordering, I was presented with the tea set of my dreams; a big glass tea pot containing an over sized tea bag floating in boiling water, a matching glass tea cup and saucer, a little jug of milk, sugar cubes, a tiny rose and an hour glass – it came with strict instructions to let the hourglass run its course before pouring the tea, so that it was perfectly steeped when I drank it. Wow.

The tea, as expected, was magnificent. And sitting there at the window in the warm mid-morning sun, all alone (and yet surrounded by softly giggling women enjoying tea with their friends), I couldn’t have been more content. It was one of those perfect moments that you know will stick in your mind forever…  : )

After my tea was gone, I made my way out past the pumpkins and roses, and onto the next adventure…

Eat here: Suzume no Oyado, Tokyo, Japan (okonomiyaki)

Suzume no Oyado
Maruyamacho 9-3, Shibuya
Open from 5pm

 

We’ve all been there; an idea lodges itself within you, just a little side thought to start off with, and before you know it, that idea has taken on a life of its own and holds you hostage until you find a way to bring it to life, come hell or high water.

This category of ideas combined with my insurmountable stubbornness has been responsible for some of my bigger achievements in life, like self-publishing a cookbook, saving $10,000 in a year to use on travel while never missing a mortgage repayment, earning my taekwondo black belt, and having a new house built/getting engaged/getting married in the space of 12 months. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows though; that same volatile mix has also been the source of tears, heart break and a lot frustration on numerous occasions.

Anyway, it happened again while I was away; I had to find some good okonomiyaki in Tokyo.

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Unbeknownst to me, okonomiyaki isn’t really a Tokyo thing; it’s a lot more popular in Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima. But I love the stuff, and Tokyo is a lot closer to Kyoto than Melbourne is, so I resolved to find a place that specialised in it. Easier said than done. After much Googling, one place kept popping up – Suzume no Oyado. And, unlike a lot of other places, it wasn’t far away from my Shinjuku hotel – located in Shibuya. My Googling said it opened at 11am, and I was already planning on revisiting Shibuya the next morning, so I added the address into my nifty little Tripomatic app and went to sleep, dreaming of Japanese pancakes…

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The next day, after a good morning out, I eventually made my way in the direction of the promised land at around 12pm. For someone with no sense of direction at home, I navigated my way there like a pro, though some dicey looking back alleys and past a string of night/strip clubs. I made it to the front door, according to the blue dot, but couldn’t see anything that even remotely resembled an eatery. I was stuck between a high gate and a small, rundown apartment block. I walked to the end of the street and showed the address I had on my phone to a guy watering his garden – yup, back the way you came from, it’s right there!

On the next pass, I noticed a small, neatly typed sign in kanji (Japanese letting) with only a few numbers wedged in between – 17:00 (more kanji) 23:00. I garnered that meant Google had led me slightly astray and hoped that it would re-open at 5pm. I left disappointed by not deterred.

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After a day of solo travel, my travel buddy and I decided to catch up for dinner. “I think I found an okonomiyaki place… we have to go through some dodgy-looking alleys and strip clubs to get there, but I reckon I can find it again. Keen?” My friends are idiots, and have blind faith in me when I say I know somewhere to eat, regardless of how dicey an area it may be in – off we went!

If the are looked a bit off during the day, it was text-book “what are you doing here?!” by night. And yet, the idea of getting okonomiyaki had me by the throat and wasn’t letting go. We pushed on, me leading like I knew what I was doing, my friend following only slightly apprehensively. Much to our relief, I actually found the place again without a problem, and this time, the gate had been slid open, lights on and red flag out. Thank goodness.

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Through the giant red curtain we went, ending up in what looked like someone’s (immaculately beautiful) front yard on the other side. We made our way up the path and through the front door, into the most vibrant, red foyer. A lady rushed to meet us before we crossed the threshold; despite not sharing a common language with which to communicate, she very clearly indicated that we were to go no further until our shoes had been removed and placed into one of the lockers provided.

Once that formality was observed, we were led up a staircase into a beautiful dining room, laid out with tatami mats and floor cushions. My travel buddy, quite a tall guy by their standards, promptly smacked his head on a low roof beam, starting the evening with a light concussion. Bloody foreigners…

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After lowering ourselves onto the floor and trying to fold our long legs under ourselves in a manner that would make a caravan of camels look graceful, our patient waitress handed over our menus. In Japanese. English? Her shaking head and pointing back to the menus we already held indicated not.

With no idea what the menus said, we waited a few minutes, then pressed the little bell on our table for service. The only part of the menu in English was the wine list, so I pointed to a glass of the house white; my friend used the one word he knew in Japanese, birru. And two okonomiyaki please, pork and prawn. We thought she understood, but it was anyone’s guess what we were going to get. She fired up the grill which took up most off the table and left us again.

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A few minutes later we had a bowl each of prawns, and another bowl with everything else, including the batter and egg. Having watched the girls sitting nearby, we mixed of all up, threw it on the grill, and cooked up dinner!

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While my favourite accompaniment, mayo, was missing, we had plenty of others to choose from – a rich BBQ sauce, bonito flakes (my other favourite), chili oil.., the works. And once they were cooked up and dressed, they were some of the best okonomiyaki we’d ever had!

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After committing the embarrassing faux pas of putting our shoes back on outside of the designated area and apologising profusely on our way out, we agreed it was easily one of the best dining experiences either of us has had – the fun of DIY, the danger of essentially using a hot grill as your dinner table, the deliciousness of the food and the process of actually finding the place makes for one hell of a night!

Through my eyes: Jomyo-in Temple, Tokyo, Japan

Jomyo-in Temple
2-6-4 Sakuragi, Taito-ku, Tokyo
(Closest stations are Nippori, Uguisudani and Ueno)

It’s Monday morning again. Travel inspiration required to get through the day. This was one of those places you come across in your travels completely by chance, and you know you were meant to be there exactly at the time you stumbled upon it.

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This beautiful, other-worldly temple area is home said to be home to 84, 000 Jizo images, the Shinto god known to be protector of children (and, some say, travellers). There’s actually not a heap of information about this temple widely available online, and a lot of it is conflicting, so to save further fruitless searches for anyone who comes across this post and is interested in finding out more, I’ve copied this information from a photo I took of a placard inside the temple area:

     This temple was founded in 1666 and called Joen-in temple. Its present name, Jomyo-in temple was adopted in 1723. The front gate now standing built some time from 1716 to 1735.
A priest called Myoun, who became the chief priest of this temple in 1876, had faith in the guardian deity of children (Jizo) and decided to erect one thousand stone images of Jizo. After having completed one thousand images, he reset his goal to eighty four thousand images.
The great bronze image of Jizo in the precincts was built in 1906 in memory of those killed during the Russo-Japanese War.
The religious service for Hechima (sponge cucumbers) “Hechima Kuyou” is performed every year on the 15th of August according to the lunar calendar. A lot of people attend because the religious service is said to bring about miraculous cures of illness such as coughing and asthma.

 

That’s what it’s about; nothing I can say will do justice to how beautiful it is, though, so once more I’m going to let my photographs do the talking…

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Through my eyes: Takeshita Street, Harajuku, Japan – the early morning streets before the mayhem begins…

Harajuku. It’s often referred to as Japan’s kawaii (cute) centre, shopping heaven, alternative fashion mecca, and home to some of the most deliciously extravagant crepes in the world. And the gateway to Harajuku is Takeshita Street, the narrow half kilometre street stretching out from Harajuku train station towards the rest of the area.

We visited Harajuku on a rainy morning , around 9am; unbeknownst to us, nothing actually opens until around 11am. We decided to have breakfast at Dominique Ansel to kill a bit of time waiting for the mayhem to kick in, but enjoyed a pretty quiet walk down Takeshita Street to get there.

It’s fun and exciting and crazy and chaotic late afternoon, but walking the street with no one around bar a few delivery people, the store roller doors still down and the sky looking like it was still only just waking up itself was an incredible experience in a completely different way…

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And for later in the day?

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Shop here: Kiddy Land & Character Street, Tokyo, Japan

I’m writing this at the end of my work day (working from home) and am surrounded by cute Japanese cartoon paraphernalia which now adorns my home office/book nook – socks, tea cup, pens, the works; I figured now would be the perfect time to write this post! If you saw my Instagram account last week, you may have noticed this post, featuring (some of) my new Gudetama paraphernalia . I’m not much into the typical pink sparkly cutesy crap so often associated with Japan, so he’s the perfect cutey-pie cartoon for me – he’s a fat, lazy, grumpy egg. My spirit animal.

But there is a LOT more to Japan’s kawaii cartoon scene than just Gudetama (although how you could possibly go past a lazy egg that uses a piece of bacon as a blanket, I do not know), and they take it seriously. And it’s infectious – even I got totally into it, even though I really didn’t recognise many of them other than other than Hello Kitty, Kirby and Miffy. And the best places to shop for your cartoony goods? Kiddy Land and Character Street!

 

Kiddy Land
6-1-9 Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
http://www.kiddyland.co.jp/en/

This place is not a store. This is a palace of cartoon. And that photo above is just the start of the line to get in. It’s several levels of everything from Gudetama and Hello Kitty to Pokemon and Miffy. There’s an entire level dedicated to Snoopy, and there are even Star Wars light up lightsaber chop sticks. AMAZING!

The prices are surprisingly not horrendous, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you’ve got no chance!

 

Character Street
Basement of JR Tokyo Station near Yaesu exit

So, the basement of Tokyo Station is like a small city in itself – not only is it home to Ramen Street, it’s also home to Character Street, over 20 stores, each dedicated to different characters from various Japanese TV networks.

90s children like myself should particularly love the Tamagotchi, Miffy and Pokemon stuff. And also, more Gudetama!!!

 

Are you ready to get your shop on yet?!

Eat here: Heart Bread Antique, Tokyo, Japan (bakery)

Heart Bread Antique
3-4-17 Ginza | OPTICA 1F, Chuo 104-0061, Tokyo
http://www.heart-bread.com/shop

I came across this place in Ginza after arriving at Cha Ginza, only to find out that their tea house actually opened an hour after their retail store. While I was wandering the streets killing time, I realised my stomach was audibly grumbling, and resolved to stop at the next cafe I found; a few meters later, I looked over my right shoulder to see a giant glass door with what looked to be giant donuts stuck to it..

I still can’t say with absolute certainty what exactly Heart Bread Antique are purveyors of. Absolutely mammoth wheels of pastry, approximately the size of a small tyre (or almost the height of an iPhone and with a circumference of a standard dinner plate) were lined up and collected at surprising rate by customers flying in and out the door.

A quick walk around uncovered a small rack of “minis” – curiosity got the better of me, so I grabbed one to fuel myself with until the tea house was ready for me…

… Wow. Basically, a croissanty, puff pastry donut, layer upon layer of crunchy golden goodness, with chocolate chips and walnuts tucked in there. I still don’t really know what it was, technically, but it was DELICIOUS!! And the crazy amount of people filing in and out of the little store purely to pick up the giant versions as they passed through the otherwise quiet street made it pretty clear this place was popular with the locals, too.

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If you’re in the neighbourhood, definitely worth a visit! And if anyone gets into one of those mega ones, tell me what it’s like!