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November 6, 2010, Tokyo

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These photos are one year too late but I would still like them up here because it was really an enjoyable and unforgettable trip. I was clearing out my camera and when I saw these photos, the memories were as fresh as if were there yesterday.

November 6 was a day of food.

We went shopping at Tokyo Station. First Avenue Tokyo Station fully opened in the middle of this year, but when we were there, we already managed to visit the Rilakkuma Store at Character Street, queued up for delicious Hirugao ramen along Ramen Street, and had anmitsu along Gourmet Plaza.

In the evening, we met our Japanese friend Kazu-san, who brought us to a DIY yakitori plave for appetiser and a shabu-ya for dinner. We tried horse sashimi for the first time. As you can see from the shaky photo, I was rather upset about it. But it tasted like raw beef so it was actually all right, though I will never order it again. Once again, Kazu-san was too kind to have come all the way to Tokyo to bring us to dinner.


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November 20, 2011, Sunday at 16:56

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November 5, 2010, Tokyo Part II

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After all the UFO Catching, gadget browsing, and sushi, we were still up for a little more action before we end the night, so I suggested we check out this place I’ve been researching on the net. It’s in East Shinjuku, a rather seedy area, but I heard the Tokyo branch we’re going to is the largest, and its “employees” are very famous. Many lonely locals have travelled to this place to spend time with them late into the night. It took a lot of walking before we found the place, as it was situated on the sixth floor of a building that is sandwiched between all the pubs and karaoke palours at Kabuki-cho. After I timidly asked for directions from two sexy club hosts, we finally found it.

The building housed a pub and a mahjong parlour as well, and it also has a cover charge, depending on the services you’re after and how long you intend to stay there. I was rather excited because there isn’t a place like this in Singapore and it’s my first time, and I hoped it lived up to my expectations. When the lift door opened, all we saw was a normal apartment door with a poster of its services. It was fairly quiet and we could hear some murmuring from the other side of the door. I took a deep breath and turned the door knob.

This is Cafe Calico, a brothel cat cafe. You decide how long you want to stay in here, pay a cover charge, which may or may not include drinks and food, put away your stuff, sanitise your hands, and be welcomed into two floors of pussy bliss. We took many, many pictures.

We spent about an hour and a half there, had a nice chat with the only English-speaking staff there, and had a lot of time stroking and playing with the cats. There were house rules, of course. No waking of cats that are napping, no carrying, and no feeding, except with the cafe-provided food at feeding times. You can sneak in some treats, though. We saw a man feeding a particularly shy feline, and the staff told us that this kitty was especially friendly with that guy because he’s been bribing her with treats.

I wish we had something like that in Singapore. Imagine how safe all the stray cats will be.

It was about 1am when we left, and he was hungry after all that groping, so we stopped at an all-night soba shop on the way back to the hotel. Even an inexpensive, nondescript bowl of soba was so delicious. Maybe it was the hunger. Maybe it was the country. Maybe it was the company.

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March 13, 2011, Sunday at 12:45

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November 5, 2010, Tokyo Part I

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Today was going to be a rather relaxed day. He had some work to do which needed the Internet, but we decided against staying in the hotel room, so we went to a Wired Cafe nearby at Mitsukoshi Alcott. Honestly speaking, I wasn’t very impressed at the menu, but they had affordable and healthy set lunches, and free wifi.

After the late breakfast, he stayed in the cafe to work while I went to shop nearby. Shinjuku is serious shoppers galore. For about two hours, I rushed from H&M to Forever 21 to Muji, all within five minutes of one another. I used the word “rush” because they were having mega sales and there were too many things to browse. Especially since I’m a budget shopper in Tokyo, the five-step process of spotting something nice, looking at the price, converting it to Singapore dollars, deciding if it’s worth buying, and considering if I should try it on, takes up too much time. And then there’s the size problem.

I ended up buying two pairs of boots, immediately replacing the old one I was wearing as the outer layer was peeling off in a rather unsightly manner. It felt so normal to be wearing a pair of black, knee-high, suede boots with four-inch heels in Tokyo because everyone else was wearing the same thing! I gave it as much mileage as I could, knowing it’ll be stashed deep in the shoe cabinet once I get home.

With work and shopping done, and almost half the day gone, we decided to stick around the Shinjuku area, knowing we have got lots to see. We trawled cafes, visited every single Yodobashi branch in Shinjuku, and descended upon the UFO Catchers. There was a really sweet staff who, seeing that I was eyeing a cat plushie for the longest time, charmingly unlocked the transparent case and adjusted the plushie so that just a little push would tip it over.

On our last trip together, he had tried the UFO Catcher for the very first time and was delighted to have caught me something, so when he came around the corner and saw me with the plushie in my hand, he got all excited. He pointed enthusiastically at a huge cat plushie almost half his size in another case, and asked me to go seduce the staff again. I caught the guy’s eye and smiled as sweetly as I could, poked at the case, and whispered, “お願い?” He grinned, then adjusted the hook that held the plushie at the very tip of the pole, then ran off to make some other girl’s day. Just as we were about to insert a 100-yen coin into the slot, the plushie that was swaying precariously at the end of the pole dropped into the exit hole right in front of our eyes. We looked at each other for a a brief second, before he deftly pulled the plushie out through the flap and ran out of the arcade. WIN! (Watch: How to win at UFO Catchers)

Exhilarated from the loot, we walked around the streets and chanced upon a kaiten sushi shop. There was a short queue, but it was moving fast. We were so glad we decided to try it. The sashimi was so fresh, which is usual in Japan, and the chefs were affable. The one serving us tried speaking to us in Mandarin (“這個好吃!”), and made the tourists and locals around us giggle. And look at the size of the sushi.

It was still early when we left the sushi shop, but most of the shops were beginning to close. Having not done much today, we weren’t tired and were wondering if there was anything else we could do. Where could we go to rest our feet, take shelter from the cold, and ogle at some eye candy?

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March 13, 2011, Sunday at 11:24

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November 4, 2010, Tokyo

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Having rested well the night before, we started our second day early. There would be a lot of travelling to do because of the places we’ve chosen to visit but it was well worth it. We started the day at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography at Ebisu, a place I have yet to visit.

We wanted to have breakfast before we visited the exhibition, but before that, we stopped at the museum gift shop for a look. It wasn’t a big shop but there were very interesting items. It was still too early to start my shopping gear rolling, though, so we just ended up buying photography magazines on Tokyo. We stepped into the museum cafe, Chambre Claire. I was deeply disappointed, both at the size of the place, and at the menu they offered. Still they had a widely stocked bar, and apparently, they serve the best Belgian beers. I ordered a croque monsieur. It looked like something I could have done at home, so I wasn’t very impressed. Oh well.

We paid and entered a hall for an exhibition on portraits and were out in about half an hour. This, and about three other exhibitions were the only things going on at the museum, which is rather small. I suppose the museum was meant more for archival reasons than anything else. Anyhow, we left Ebisu with greater hope for our next destination: Yokohama.

I have been to Yokohama several years ago and I loved it. As soon as you step out of the station, you cannot miss the skies, which were the perfect shade of blue. You’ll see tall, modern buildings that were unintrusive, unlike those in Tokyo. If Tokyo were like Shanghai, then Yokohama would be the friendlier Beijing. I had planned a few things to do in Yokohama, and visiting the Red Brick Warehouse was one of them. Originally used as a customs warehouse a hundred years ago, it is now a shopping and food complex. After doing some shopping and eating, we went outside for the view of the port. The weather was perfect and the sky still blue, even though less than half an hour later, it was going to turn dark really quickly.

While walking around the back of the warehouse, I discovered a 100-yen tram service that picks up passengers from more than 20 stops around the main Yokohama area. Because we had time to spare, we hopped on the tram and did a tour of Yokohama. It went past the Motomachi area where Chinatown is, but it wasn’t on my itinerary today. Nothing in Chinatown I really wanna see. I fell asleep on the tram but he woke me as we were approaching the Osanbashi Pier. You could see this pier from the Red Brick Museum and earlier, I had said to him that I have always wanted to visit this place, even though I didn’t know how to get here. Quickly, we decided to get off because it was as if we were destined to see it. And boy, was I glad we did. The view was unforgettable.

Our last stop of the day was the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum. I’m not a fan of ramen, but I have to say the place was cute. It is a food court, sort of, as it houses a selection of renowned ramen establishments from all over Japan, nine in total. However, it’s not just any food court. It was designed as an amusement park of the 1950s era, with authentic looking shop decor and street performances. What was more important was the gift store. It has, in packed form, all the ramen that is featured in the museum so you can bring them home. So we did. We managed to taste the ramen from two different stores before we got filled up, but we particularly like the last Tsukemen we tried.

It was gonna be a long way home. What never fails to amaze me is how the Japanese have managed crowd control. It is as if they knew, intrinsically, that in a place where the population is large, the only way to be efficient and to get where or what you want quickly, is to queue up. Man, if I ever live to see a sight like this in Singapore…

We were really tired when we got back to the hotel, but for some reason, I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it had suddenly dawned on me that I was really in Tokyo and the excitement was keeping me awake. Or maybe I realised that actually being in Tokyo meant that I was going to leave in a few days and sleeping too much was just a waste of time. So I picked up my magazine and grabbed one of the several corn potage snacks (yes, I was determined to try them all) and read until my eyes couldn’t take it anymore.

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January 2, 2011, Sunday at 12:27

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November 2, 2010, Tokyo.

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It was the trip of my dreams – almost. I’ve finally learnt, after having travelled to Japan so many times, that while a person can definitely visit this beautiful country on a budget, one must have deep pockets to really have a good time. To be honest, this trip almost didn’t materialise. If it weren’t for the special rates I was so privileged to have received, there wouldn’t be an Autumn Tokyo this year. Thank you, JAL. Love you muchly.

JAL started a new flight on October 31 headed for Haneda’s new International Terminal instead Narita, its old home. It was my first time landing at Haneda, as far as I can recall, and I was a little pouty about having to adjust to the new arrival time and the time it would take to reach the city – 17 minutes instead of an hour and a half! What are we gonna do so early in the morning?

We took the Monorail—again, my first time—out of the terminal, and switched trains at Hamamatsucho to get to Shinjuku. The sun was just starting to peep out from the clouds, so although we were tired from staying awake on the plane all night, the beautiful view from the Monorail was a sight for sore eyes. There are trains and buses that can get you to the city too, but I’d recommend taking the Monorail at least once. (Tip: you get a really good view of the Rainbow Bridge.)

I have to say I am incredibly impressed at how the Japanese have put away their disdain for the English language and learnt to speak it so well. 10 years ago, they ran away shyly when I approached them for directions, but we were incredibly lucky this time to encounter a cabbie who spoke excellent English. I was at first dismayed that I was unable to show him the map that I had saved on my phone, but he heard the name of the (not yet famous) hotel and immediately knew where it was. I could have kissed the back of his white-gloved hands for his cleverness.

Unlike all other times, I planned this trip around food. I decided I had enough of substandard 500-yen ramen and meatless kare raisu, and shall, from hereon, always treat myself to good Japanese food. After all, I can always get the former anywhere in Singapore. So, expect quite a bit of food pics.

We started our food-filled day at Sendagaya. From my research, I found a cafe, called Good Morning Cafe, that opens at 6 a.m., which was perfect for us. I ordered a simple breakfast set that didn’t really fill me up, but it was pretty and it was a really nice cafe to hang out for a while. One of the guys there spoke perfect English. I’m definitely going back. We then went to nearby Shibuya for a Hachiko and Domo-kun pilgrimage. Reminder to self: must try taking the Hachiko Community Bus next time. And we tried Freshness Burger. I can’t believe I’ve never had it! But oh well, they’re opening at NEX Shopping Mall, so I can have it anytime I want now.

We went back to the hotel after lunch so that we could check in and take a nap. Sleep came really easily. It was a struggle to wake up when the alarm rang but we couldn’t waste the day! We went walking leisurely around Shinjuku trying to get our bearings, since this was going to be our neighbourhood for the next few days. For dinner, we settled for an izakaya. We would have passed it by if it weren’t for the staff handing us brochures and speaking rapidly in Japanese. 和民 has always been my go-to izakaya because they have many outlets all over Tokyo (don’t bother about the ones in Singapore) and the food is always varied and plenty. We tried somewhere different this time. This place is slightly more expensive, but the food’s good. I don’t know if I can find my way there again, though, Shinjuku being the labyrinth it is. The good thing is, food’s never scarce in Shinjuku.

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December 2, 2010, Thursday at 21:56

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September to December 09: In no particular order

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February 22, 2010, Monday at 10:38

Day 3: The Day of Firsts.

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October 19 2007, Friday.

We started out the day with a delightful traditional Japanese breakfast. Sitting down in a very quiet restaurant on the second floor of the hotel, it was a nice change from the usual spread and boisterous crowd we get from the buffet at the cafe… save for the Mainland Chinese tourist behind us who was talking so loudly down his mobile I think the person he was speaking with could actually hear him from where he was.

I dragged my parents to Shinjuku, telling them very mysteriously that there was something there that I just HAD to buy home or I would regret it very much. However, unable to control my excitement, I blurted it out to them while we were on the train. Both of them looked at me skeptically. “Is it really that good? Better than the ones back home?” I nodded sagely.

When we arrived at the place, they were both surprised at the queue that was snaking its way outside the entrance of the store. Triumphantly, I pointed to the right of the small building, where a bridge was. Another straight line of people, a continuation from the queue in front. Don’t you just love Japanese and their crowd-control intelligence? We stood in the pleasant cold for about half an hour before we almost reached the front of the line. Then, unannounced, a staffer holding a huge tray stepped out through the doors and politely handed us each a piping hot Original Glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut, and apologized to us for having to wait. I didn’t think any of us in the queue were complaining at all.

We had them for lunch, and brought home the rest with plenty to spare.

Dinner was an extravagant affair. “Let’s have a lavish dinner tonight”, my dad said generously when we were deciding where to go for dinner after walking around Shinjuku. We walked, probably the length of 200 football fields, asked for directions three times, and got totally drenched in the rain, before we finally reached the restaurant my dad was looking for.

It was a restaurant specializing in Fugu (Pufferfish). We each ordered the full course, which includes: Yubiki, a salad made from the skin of the fish, with its spikes removed, of course; Fugu Sashi, or Sashimi; Fugu Kara-age, which means deep-fried; Fugu Nabe, sort of like a steamboat; Fugu porridge, where rice is poured into the remaining stock after we’ve finished the Nabe; and finally Fugu Ice-cream. No, I’m just kidding. It’s Vanilla.

Fugu in its raw form tastes like very tender squid, bland and rather chewy in texture. Its cooked form, though, reminds me of frogs’ legs. When we got back to the hotel room, my mum started complaining of nausea. That got my dad worried. Fugu poisoning can be fatal. But I knew it was just indigestion; fugu is so commonly consumed now some restaurants actually prepare them in such a way that a little bit of poison is left on the flesh so that it leaves a prickly feeling on the lips and tongue.

After much farting and burping, and finally a visit to the bathroom, my mother was fine again.

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October 26, 2007, Friday at 23:36

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