Ok this place is just fun and for two reasons. The guys working there all look like they are out of the new Willy Wonka movie for one. The other reason its so much fun and reminds me even more of the Willy Wonka movie is that they make CANDY! And its so good! They are making it right there in the store so its gotta be fresh. And it is! The place smells amazing! It smelt like cotton candy pina coladas in there. These guys are real artists or caramel artesans as they claim. There were all sorts of things made out of candy in the store. It was all so cute. I didn’t think the toothbrush candies were that cute, but maybe it will get the kiddies to brush their teeth after eating a ton of this stuff. No message there, right? They make those old fashioned lollipops, the ones with that swirl around and around, too.
I’ve always been more of a hard candy girl myself, not to say I don’t indulge in chocolate, but I love biting down on hard candy. I can’t suck on anything for long. I like that crunch and the pop that it makes as I grind my teeth into it. It’s that simple. And when you have something as flavorful as papabubble pop in your mouth you’ll too understand.
Needless to say I didn’t leave the store empty handed. I got a lollipop and a mixed pack of bite-size hard candies. And I’m not sharing!
Looking for a place to relax? It’s not easy to slow down in a city as busy as Tokyo, but you would be surprised that you don’t have to go far to enjoy some hot and relaxing therapeutic water. The city offers its own geothermal concoctions of which you would expect only from a pricey resort further up in the mountains. Onsens in the city are nothing new, but there are a few newer places that are worth the visit and the experience. The list below is of some of the most relaxing soaking spots around the city.
Note: Tattoos are not popular in onsens as they are associated with criminal activity. So, if you have one, you may be asked to leave. Best to cover it up with a bandage or heat patch, if possible.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a breath of fresh air and is a beautifully landscaped and maintained park. It has a long history that can be traced back to the beginning of the Edo period. The grounds were the first residence given to Kiyonari Naito, a hereditary vassal of the shogun, leyasu Tokugawa. It was in the Meiji period that the government established a Naito Shinjuku Experimental Station to promote modern agriculture on the land. The Station was used to study western methods of growing fruits and vegetables, silk raising, and stock farming.
The area, in 1906, became the Imperial Garden. In 1949, the garden was opened to the general public and named the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and is controlled by the Ministry of the Enviroment.
the park contains an English Landscape Garden, French Formal Garden, and a Japanese Traditional Garden. Besides gardens there are some interesting architectural finds and facilities as well.
The Kyu-Goro-Tei (Taiwan Pavilion) was built in 1928 to commerorate the wedding of the Showa Emperor(Emperor Hirohito). It’s an authentic example of Chinese Minnan style architecture and was named one of Tokyo;s Historical Buildings in 2004.
The Kyu-Gokyu-Sho was built as a rest house for the imperial family in 1896. It’s wooden design is based on American Stick Style architecture, popular during the late 19th century. In 2001 it was designated an Important Cultural Property.
The Rakuu-tei is a tea house located in the Japanese Traditional Garden and you can enjoy a cup of tea while taking in the beauty of any season.
Of note is the Shinjuku Gyoen Eco-House. The design of this facility is environmentally-friendly and has its own solar panels to generate electricity. The halls of the Eco-House include exhibits that aim to promote environmental awareness.
There is also a spacious restaurant located within the Shinjuku Gyoen Eco-House facility.
The Greenhouse is currently under reconstruction.
The park is open during all seasons and something to offer in each. In Spring, there are 75 different varieties of cherry blossom and a giant yulan magnolia tree said to date from the Edo period worth seeing. In Summer, the French Fomal Garden and water lilies bloom among the songs of cicadas. Autumn brings a change in color of all the tress and an annual Chrysanthemum Exhibition. Winter offers bird watching and the sweet smells of narcissus flowers.
Hours 9am – 4:30pm
Closed: Mondays(Tuesdays when Monday is a national holiday)
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is closed for New Year from December 29 to January 3.
Open continuously including Mondays during:
-March 25 thru April 24 for cherry blossom viewing.
-November 1 – 15 for its crysanthemum exhibition.
200 yen if over 15 years old
50 yen for 6-14 year olds
Free for under 5 year olds
Group discounts start at 30 persons
Parking is available from 8am-8pm
-to the park’s Shinjuku Gate from JR Shinjuku Station (south exit), about 10 minutes walk; Shinjuku Gyoen Mae Station, exit 1, on the Marunouchi subway line, about 3 minutes walk; Shinjuku San-Chome Station, exit C5, on the Shinjuku subway line, about 5 minutes walk.
-to the park’s Okido Gate from Shinjuku Gyoen Mae Station, exit 2, on the Marunouchi subway line, about 3 minutes walk.
-to the park’s Sendagaya Gate from Sendagaya Station on the JR Sobu line; Kokuritsu Kyogijo Station on the Oedo subway line, about 5 minutes walk.
Toy Kitchen is a great local bar(izakaya) with a great crowd of regulars. Mostly a younger crowd with a few older, wiser, and maybe hipper neighbor characters thrown into the mix. It’s a tiny bar, but has a way of accommodating more in its jovial space. The owner and master of Toy Kitchen is Shingo-san. He’s laid back and cooks some mean eats. The bar is open when he’s not playing with his band. Usually opening around 6 or 8pm and closing whenever. The place is hard to miss. There’s a large glowing lamp, which the owner puts in the middle of the street, when open for business. It could blind a bat, so run into the bar as fast as you can before you actually do go blind. Once inside you will begin to feel much better.
Shingo-san keeps his bar full and plays a mostly rock soundtrack from his speaker enabled walkman, which he tediously DJ’s from his massive selection of CD’s spanning the length of the bar three shelves thick behind him. He’s apt to play a request and even up to hearing something new, if you bring it in with you. The bar is full of friendly people. But knowing a little Japanese helps. It’s easy to find someone to talk to and most of the folks there are regulars. Go and don’t forget to ask what’s on the menu.
More info can be found in the map below. Click on the martini glass.
A few decades ago, the café was just a place for having coffee, talking, smoking cigarettes, and so. Cafes in Japan have changed into a variety of styles lately.
Internet and Manga cafés are very useful places. They normally charge you per hour, and once you sit down on a nice sofa, you can do anything like having free drinks, reading comic books and magazines, using the Internet, watching DVDs and playing video games. You can also order food and take a nap. If you miss the last train after drinking too much, you can even go there and spend the night.
Maid cafés have made a big success in Akihabara in Tokyo, too. The girls with maid costumes serve you nicely. They are different from hostesses and the price is about the same as normal cafes, so you can have a good time without worrying about the bill. Some places serve liquor at counter tables. And if you are a girl, you might like Shitsuji(butler) Café. It is the opposite of a maid café with the men acting as butlers.
Cat cafés are getting popular among animal lovers. They are the perfect place for people who can’t have pets in their small Tokyo apartments. When you want to play with them, you can just go to the café and meet a variety of cats.
There are more varieties of cafes in Tokyo. If you are tired of going to StarBucks Coffee or Excelsior Caffé, why don’t you look for your favorite café in Tokyo?
Ikebukuro – ignored, ashamed, malcontent. On most tourists’ to-do list, Ikebukuro ranks next to last (the lowest one being the unlimited number of McDonald’s so-called restaurants) and has little to offer to your average visitor. There are nothing but chain stores, more stores, your arcades and camera shops, suit companies and sub-par pizza shops. The supposed jewel of Ikebukuro, Sunshine City, collects a large number of foreign brand name stores that will do little to excite even the most consumer-hungry westerner. When a shopping district’s biggest attraction is its Burger King, you know that your time may well be better spent elsewhere.
This isn’t to say that Ikebukuro has nothing to offer – darker elements will find plenty of their special brand of enjoyment here. Once a former hub of Yakuza activity, Ikebukuro features a thriving sex market, gaggles of pachinko parlors, and a sense of despair that can only be created by the number of homeless wandering between the metal clanks and cherub-skinned hostesses. It is a ironic situation for these forlorn souls – living by the very institutions that had filled their greatest fantasies but took everything they had away from them. However, these ominous individuals do not scare away the crowds and long lines waiting patiently every morning for the pachinko stores to open, many of them young and clearly still in school. Gambling in Japan is a fruitless enterprise – the odds are worse than Vegas and the costs substantially higher. There’s not even a roller coaster around to fill the void of dumping hours of wages into a hyperactive neon version of plinko. And yet, with so many reasons to avoid places like this, it is as if the mere brainless activity of throwing balls offers some sense of security, a place of comfort, away from the hum and drum of daily life, adding brightness and colors to an otherwise black-and-white suit, concrete city. And despite all this, tucked away in seemingly random buildings next to unrelated stores and dodgy characters, lies some of the finest ramen shops in Tokyo.
A group of individuals as hungry for ear-crushing cacophony and cigarettes will no doubt require and equally suitable meal to go along side their downward destruction. What this entails are late night eateries that feature the fattiest and the juiciest, the savory and the salty, and above all, the cheapest eats. These restaurants have little to do with community – their aim is to satisfy in ten minutes or less. Besides, one can only spend but so many hours of the day to gamble or cozy up with a wage girl. To that effect these tiny establishments challenge conventional wisdom and rotate customers like an assembly line – buy your ticket, sit down, eat, and go. Anymore than that and you risk ruining the entire operation. Talking is kept to a minimum, and the joy of the food to come kept in confined ecstasy. Nothing exemplifies this more than a certain ramen shop that holds a cult-like status with its regulars. Ramen Jiro not only caters to this aesthetic, but embodies it in whole, enough to drive people from all walks to take the Jiro challenge.
As I walk down the street where Ramen Jiro is located, I take a moment to reflect on my surroundings and what I had just encountered. I had walked by occupied cardboard coffins and a man who had all but removed his pants entirely scratching his belly incessantly. In a town as strict on image as it is on discipline, a grown man with no regard to standing butt naked on the sidewalk is a resounding bitch slap across Japan’s infamous modesty. The street was littered with ramen shops, some with fanciful signs and traditionally designed interiors, offering all variety of ramen and desires before you even step within their door. The only marker that would indicate the presence of Ramen Jiro, besides the 20-person, male-dominated line waiting outside, is a dimly lit yellow sign with “Ramen Jiro” written across it in Japanese. The interior leaves little to be desired, only an assortment of former patrons leaving their business cards tacked along the walls. Patiently I wait in line for almost 20 minutes before arriving at the familiar ticket vending machine, but presented with only a few real options – little ramen, big ramen, with pork, without pork, 700￥ or 900￥. I continue to wait and warily look upon the ramen that I expect to receive – a large bowl, with a mountainous pile of vegetables inversely reflecting the depth of the bowl. Things began to heat up inside, with so little wiggle room and no A/C. I already began sweating, and I began to worry about eating such a hot meal on such a hot night. Most people seem to be able to finish their bowls, but several unfortunate people leave half of what they received, feverishly wiping their foreheads with tissue. Before I can decide if that is in good or bad form, I finally get a chance to sit down and eagerly give my ticket to the server.
What is set before me is a familiar site – a scene of Mt. Fuji, as envisioned using the medium of bean sprouts, lettuce, crushed garlic, and broth. All around this massive pile of stuff is a moat of light brown soup, with white globs floating on top. I had seen someone order extra fat in their bowl; I wasn’t interested nor had the constitution to order extra fat just yet. I puzzle it out in my mind how to approach this dish, and begin to pick at the vegetables until I could make a suitable pool to begin dunking the vegetables and even beginning to try some of the ramen noodles deep within. I swirl the large pile of garlic into the pool, grab some noodles, and swallow. The taste is immediate – salty, savory, brothy. This soup has been sitting in a deep vat of pork meat for quite some time makes no illusions about it. The noodles slip about uncontrollably, as they are thick and resemble something closer to udon than the stereotypical spring-coiled thin yellow noodles of Cup Noodle infamy. There’s only a slight hint of ginger underneath it all. I wonder where it comes from? Out of the corner of my eye, I see in the lone fridge bottles of ginger ale but no one drinking it. Is this perhaps a secret ingredient? Steam begins to fume out of the bowl and covers my face as I continue to dig and chew my way through the mountain. This is ramen, good ramen, but undeniably a depraved ramen. My coronaries were tightening ever so slightly with each greedy gulp of noodle and soup. Eventually I came upon a cheap cut of stew pork, carefully held together by a thick white sheet of fat. Eating around it, the brown meat fell apart like silk strings. And in this order, I stuck with this method as I carried out my attempts to finish the ramen.
I had finally reached half way through the bowl. My head was throbbing and I was sweating uncontrollably at this point. The combination of close-quarters eating, an unending steam bath for my face, and the disastrously hot soup coursing through my body, it had my glands pleading for a cold breeze of any sort. The un-iced water they provided was of little relief to me. And I was beginning to feel full. What was the appeal of this? Why were people willing to wait more than a half-hour for a torturous battle with a bowl that could one day end up on the “told-you-so” side of a heart attack? And why would you even dare smoke a cigarette after doing this kind of damage to your body? What were people getting out of this? I didn’t know, but I didn’t care. It was the taste, the decadence of the pork fat greedily sticking to each noodle, the almost absurd amount of garbage packed into a single dish. But it wasn’t an offensive bowl of ramen – they stayed within the bounds of traditional ramen and kept it simple and hearty. I don’t think I felt any sort of nostalgia or sense of home while eating, but maybe in its excess and savory flavor comes a deeper feeling of safety and satisfaction that something of this magnitude can provide. We gouge into the bowl, knowing full well on the other end we come out alive and free, safe from the frigid outside world, sharing a silent appreciation with those sitting around us, and most importantly, enjoying a well made dish. You test your own gastronomic limits, and your body happily accepts what could be a monumental mistake, but it doesn’t matter, because your vixen of a tongue is lasciviously engrossed in being covered in fatty brown stew. Fettered to her every will, that next bite is only in anticipation of the tastes to come.
And then I was staring at an empty bowl, with only a tiny pool of brown soup sitting at the bottom. I got up and grabbed a yogurt milk from the convenience store, went to a bar, and proceeded to drink the night away.
The Vingt et un restaurant cruise in Tokyo Bay was a great bit of fun for this posters birthday. I won’t tell you which one it was though. But I will tell you about the cruise and food. The best time I think to go is in July or August during the Hanabi Season in Japan. Almost every Saturday there are firework festivals throughout parts of Tokyo which you should be able to spot from the ship. We were lucky enough to see one that seemed like it was in Odaiba, but even if you can’t see a fireworks show the skyline of Tokyo is fun and filled with such attractions as Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, and a giant multi-colored ferris wheel.
The Vingt et un Cruise lives up to it’s name. “Vignt et un” means twenty-one in French, like the game of Black Jack. But I think its more like 21st Century as the entrance to the ship made me feel like I was walking into a scene from Star Wars.
There are two cruises available one is 120min the other 140min. The 120min cruise was just time to eat, so if you want to get up and look around go ahead and do so.
The food was great and came in courses. There was a Hawaiian theme to the music complete with Hula dancer, which made the night a little more interesting. I got a few giggles out the dancer and ukulele player/singer, I will admit. Wine is extra but not so much as its under $10 a glass. And since it was my birthday, I did get a great tasting cake with my name on it followed by even more dessert.
For more information you can visit their site or call 03-3436-2121. www.vantean.co.jp. Sorry I think it’s only in Japanese.