[Japan Series] Day 10 Cont’d: Okonomiyaki at Mizuno 美津の in Osaka

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After visiting Nara, we headed back to Osaka for the evening. We decided to go to the Dotonbori area again since it is always so lively at night. We walked around the Shinsaibashi shopping street first to check out some boutiques.

 

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As dinner neared, we headed towards the Dotonbori area and noticed a huge line forming outside this fairly undecorated restaurant called Mizuno. We quickly got in line while Googling what this restaurant was all about. Turns out this restaurant was featured on the 2016 Michelin Guide and is famous for their okonomiyaki. The restaurant has been running for 3 generations and over 60 years.

 

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The wait ended up being over an hour long. They give you a menu and take your order while you are waiting so there are no miscommunication issues with the chef. There are only around 8 seats at the bar, but some more seats upstairs. The bar is where you can see the action so luckily we got sat here. They prepare the okonomiyaki right in front of you, so it’s pretty fun.

 

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Okonomiyaki is popular in the Kansai region and Hiroshima. On this trip, we end up getting the chance to try both! Osaka-style okonomiyaki is probably what you are more used to if you’ve had it in North America. The batter is made of flour, a grated type of yam, water or dashi, eggs, and shredded cabbage. You can then add ingredients such as octopus, squid, pork belly, shrimp, or vegetables. It’s said that Osaka is where the okonomiyaki originated so it’s a must try here! The difference is that in Osaka, the okonomiyaki is prepared similar to a pancake and the ingredients are all mixed together. This is quite different from Hiroshima style, where the ingredients are layered. As you can see, at Mizuno, you can choose to have soba noodles.

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The okonomiyaki is not cheap here with most of them over 1,000 yen each. However, I think the high price is partly for the experience and show you get since you sit right in front of the teppan grill. We ended up getting two to share, which was a good amount since they are mostly carbs. We got one Mizuno-yaki with pork and one Modan-yaki. The Mizuno-yaki is what you would normally find but the flavours were way better. I have to say, this was probably the best okonomiyaki I’ve had. The okonomiyaki are dusted with seaweed powder and topped with mayo and a savoury sweet sauce. The Modan-yaki was also really good because it had crispy noodles. What I liked at the rsetaurant was that they give you a little metal spatula so you can serve yourself from the grill as you eat. The chef was kind to make sure our food did not get overcooked though when we ate too slow.

Overall, I thought the food was really good. Is it worth the 1 hour wait? Probably not if you are only visiting for a short period of time. But if you see the line pretty short, I would probably wait 30 minutes for this.

Mizuno
Address: 1-4-15 Dotombori, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0071, Osaka Prefecture

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[Japan Series] Day 10: Day Trip to Nara 奈良

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On Day 10, we set off to visit Nara 奈良. As we had the JR pass, we took the Yamatoji train from JR Osaka station to JR Nara station. This took around 45 minutes. If you don’t have the JR pass, then I suggest taking the trains by Kintetsu Railways which only take 30-40 minutes. The train we took was much older than the ones in Tokyo but gave it a rustic charm.

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A quick ride and we arrived at Nara station. You’ll be greeted by a tourist center where you can get a map of the majority of Nara. I suggest grabbing one so you can make your way around easily.

 

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The walk to Nara Park itself takes around 15 to 20 minutes, so be prepared to walk a lot. You will pass by many shops and a beautiful lake along the way. The greenery almost makes this picture look fake!

 

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Along the way, you will also find some temples. Nara was Japan’s first capital city back in the day so has lots of history. We came upon the Kofukuji (興福寺) Temple, which consists of the five story pagoda. I believe you need to pay an entrance fee for these temples, but since we personally aren’t very interested in temples, we skipped this. There are many other temples in Nara if you are interested.

 

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Finally, after a long walk, we arrived at Nara Park (奈良公園)! Nara Park is famous for the hundreds of wild deer that roam freely in the park. In Shinto religion, the deer are considered as messengers of gods so these deer are known as national treasure.

 

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The deer are usually pretty tame, but there are some that can be quite aggressive, especially when they see you have food. You can buy deer crackers for 150 yen at many stalls, but you better hide your stack or they will all flock to you like this woman experienced!

 

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Look how cute they are! There are some baby ones that are very tame. The older deer can be quite aggressive as they probably lack attention by the tourists!

 

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I bought a stack of crackers and had a good time feeding them. A tip is to break the crackers in half so you can extend the chances you get to feed them. Also, if you move the cracker up and down, you can usually get the deer to bow to you before eating which is super amusing to watch!

 

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The park warns you that the deer can be dangerous though. I thought this sign was pretty funny, but I guess it can be true. I got deer head butting me from behind which was not expected! If you have kids, I would make sure they are supervised, as the bigger deer can be less tame.

 

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If you venture east of the park, you will find the Ukimido Gazebo. It is known as the floating gazebo and we found it to be a serene area to take pictures, especially with the reflections on the water. This area was much more quiet as most tourists only went to see the deer.

 

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The trip to Nara can be done in half a day if your main target is to see the deers. We were able to finish the park in less than 3 hours (although keep in mind we spent a very long time taking pictures with the deers). As lunch approached, we decided to walk back towards the station to see if there was food along the way. One spot that is super popular is Nakatanidou (中谷堂).

 

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Nakatanidou is famous for mochi (Japanese rice cakes)! They specialize in yomogi mochi which is made with mugwort, a Japanese wild plant, which gives the mochi the natural green colour. The mochi are filled with red bean paste and dusted with roasted soybean powder. What is most exciting about this stall is that the workers will “perform” the pounding of the mochi every half an hour or when there are crowds of tourists. The workers use these pestles and rapidly pound the mochi while another worker stretches and flips the dough. Seriously, they do it so fast that your heart skips a beat because they are that close to pounding the worker’s hands! I forgot to get a picture of this, but be sure to give this a Google and you’ll be impressed!

 

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One piece goes for 150 yen, whereas you can get a pack for a cheaper price. This was seriously the softest mochi I’ve ever had. I highly recommend trying this!

 

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Tucked the corner street near the mochi shop is Mentouan. We noticed a small line forming so quickly got in as well. Turns out, they are famous for udon in a bean curd pocket.

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We waited probably close to 30 minutes before getting a seat. The restaurant itself is rather small, fitting perhaps only 25 people or so, but the main problem was that there are only 2 people out in the front. There is a elderly woman who is essentially running the whole dining area, so she has trouble keeping up with cleaning up the dishes.

 

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The menu is limited, so S and I both ordered the same dish. We got the No.1 which is udon filled inside a bean curd bag, tied with a seaweed tie and put in a delicious dashi broth.

 

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Poke a hole in the bean curd and your udon noodles spill out! Such a fun way to eat this but the udon itself was nice and chewy and the broth was sweet and savoury. I believe a bowl cost just under 900 yen. As there are not that many other restaurants in the area, I highly recommend checking this out!

 

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On our way back to the station, I also came across the shop called Izasa. They specialize in Kakinoha-zushi. Famous in Nara, this type of sushi is made with cured fish (usually salmon, mackerel, and trout) and are pressed into a mold filled with sushi rice. Then the sushi is cut into bite size pieces and wrapped in a persimmon leaf. This store sold a variety of boxes, but the lady kindly let me know I could try a single one as well.

 

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I got the Salmon Kakinoha-zuzhi which was under 200 yen. I unwrapped the leaf and revealed my sushi. To be honest, I thought this was quite average as I am not a fan of cured fish and the rice was also not as soft as normal sushi rice. I could subtly taste the persimmon leaf but it was not very strong. Still, something to try if you are in the Nara area.

Nara Park
Address: Nara Park, Nara, Nara Prefecture, Japan

Nakatanidou
Address: Japan, 〒630-8217 Nara Prefecture, Nara, 橋本町29

Mentouan
Address: Japan, 〒630-8217 Nara Prefecture, Nara, 橋本町30−1

Izasa
Address: 16 Kasuganocho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8212, Japan

[Japan Series] Day 9: Kuromon Market 黒門市場 and Umeda Sky Building 梅田スカイビル

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The next morning, I suggested we check out the Kuromon Ichiba Market (黒門市場). The covered market stretches over 500 meters and is a 2 minute walk from Nippombashi Station. Turns out this was only a 5 minute walk for us so we got here relatively early so we could brunch.

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The market is famous for its fresh seafood and meats. Many locals and restaurant chefs come here to purchase their ingredients. However, it has become a tourist spot so can get very crowded during lunch hours. What’s great is that the stalls can prepare the food for you right at the market.

 

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You will find stalls grilling seafood like crab, prawns, scallops, and oysters.

 

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Any many stalls with fresh sea urchin!

 

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One of the famous stalls is this tuna stall at the corner inside the market. They have all things tuna and you will find delicious fat chunks of tuna sashimi.

 

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Watching the chef cut the tuna is already quite fascinating. They have around 4 spots at this stall where you can sit. However, they have these ready made take out boxes as well. Turns out, they have some seating area around the corner, so when you purchase the take out box, just let them know you want a seat, and they will direct you to this other seating area.

 

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Look for this big fish head and you find this stall!

 

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There are many chirashi bowls, but also sashimi only plates available.  The price is quite good at around 2,000 – 2,500 yen for many of these take away boxes. Some are higher priced depending on the cut.

 

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I enjoyed tuna sashimi take away box which featured three cuts. Honestly, I don’t know exactly what type of tuna I got, but it was very delicious! The tuna is cut much thicker than restaurants though so some may find that it is not as appealing. Some of the cuts are also more of the “scraps” but they are pretty good for this price!

 

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Moving on, I found a small oden shop run by a granny. I got some daikon radish, fish cake stuffed with burdock and beef skewer. The radish was the sweetest I have had. The broth itself was light but sweet from the radish. Very homey and warming.

 

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Last but not least, we were told that we had to try the kobe beef at the market. Yes, kobe beef is famous in Kobe, but Kuromon market also sells it and at a relatively cheap price. There were quite a few stalls selling it and some were very fancy looking catering to tourists. My sister told me to try this stall though as they are not as decked out but still good. Prices are lower possibly because of less advertising.

 

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As you can see, there are a variety of kobe beef. Honestly, we didn’t really know how to choose them. My sister said to get the middle range and it would be pretty good. I think the ones we got were around 1,800 yen per 100 gram. They ask that you purchase a minimum of 200 gram. Many of the other shops will ask for more so this was also a plus.

 

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Look at that marble! They grill it for you right away. Because the meat is so fresh, they really don’t need much seasoning.

 

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They give you the plate of kobe beef and add some light soy and tell you to add the steak salt to your liking. At this shop, you will have to stand on the side to eat, but who cares because the kobe beef is much cheaper than at a restaurant. The beef was absolutely delicious and melted in our mouth. No regrets in spoiling ourselves for brunch!

I highly recommend coming to Kuromon Market if you are a food lover. Be prepared to spend much more here as the types of food found here are pricier but are considered a good deal for the quality you get.

 

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Up next, I wanted to check out the Umeda Sky Building (梅田スカイビル). It is not the tallest building in Osaka, but it has a very unique design. The closest station is Umeda station and even then you still have to walk at least 10 minutes to arrive here. But check out the architecture of the building! Pretty cool!

 

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Admission for adults is 1,000 yen but the 360 views at the top are amazing. The escalator to go up is also really cool. As you go up, look to your right and left as you can see views of the city as well.

 

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The escalator we were in are in these two bridges. The building has two towers and is connected by the Floating Garden Observatory on the 39th floor.

 

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Isn’t this cool? This is the middle of the dome and you can also go to the top for the outdoor observation deck.

 

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As you can see, there are seating area surrounding the observatory so you can get a 360 view of Osaka. Enjoy a cup of coffee here and you can literally sit here forever.

 

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The views are pretty amazing!

 

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I can imagine this being perfect at night time too.

 

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After taking in the views, we headed to Daimaru at Umeda station, which is a department store. Of course we had to check out the basement floor which is full of food. There, I found Rikuro りくろーおじさんの店 大丸梅田店 which is famous for their fluffy cheesecakes. The whole cake is only 675 yen! They bake them fresh and make batches at a time so sometimes you may have to wait a while once the batch is sold out. If you hear the bell ring, be sure to get in line because that means a new batch is ready!

 

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I bought the whole cake for myself…since S does not really like cheesecake, but for under 700 yen for a whole cake, I could not resist. A slice of cake here is already $7! You get the cute chef stamp on the cake and the bottom is filled with raisins. The cake was light and fluffy and melts in your mouth. Highly recommend trying it!

Kuromon Market
Address: 2-4-1 Nippombashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0073, Osaka Prefecture

Umeda Sky Building
Address: 1-1-88 Oyodonaka, Kita-ku, Osaka 531-6023, Osaka Prefecture

Rikuro Cheesecake at Daimaru
Address: 3-1-1 Umeda, Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-8202, Japan

[Japan Series] Day 8: Dotonbori 道頓堀 in Osaka 大阪市

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On day 8, we headed to Tokyo Station so we could catch our shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Osaka station. We had purchased the JR pass since it was a better deal given we were going to visit Hiroshima as our last stop. I only recommend using the JR pass if you are visiting over 3 cities and doing some calculations on whether the individual tickets are cheaper. For example, if you are visiting Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto only, then I don’t think the JR pass is that worth it. Anyways, because we had the JR pass, we were able to reserve our seats in advance at the Narita airport (or you can even do so on the day of or just take the non-reserved seats). The Tokyo station is huge and was a bit overwhelming at first, but we arrived early to give ourselves enough time and were able to find our platform. Then we headed back inside the station to see if we could grab some lunch. There are lots of bento boxes available, but to be honest, the items in the boxes didn’t really appeal to me. Instead, I got a quick sushi box that was already prepared ahead of time. Not the most amazing, but this was still fairly good for the price (around $15).

 

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We took the Hikari which is included in the JR pass and it took roughly 3 hours. The Nozumi is another bullet train which only takes around 2.5 hours but is not included in the JR pass. Finally we arrived in Osaka (大阪市) and we had booked an Airbnb in the Namba area. I highly recommend booking accommodation in the Namba/Umeda area as this is the central station for your trains, especially if you are planning on visiting Kyoto or Nara. Plus, there is so much to see around this area. Our accommodation was unfortunately a 10 minute walk from the station, and the streets in Osaka are not as luggage friendly, so it took a bit of effort to lug our huge luggage to our Airbnb. Finally, we arrived and this was the view from our apartment. Not the most amazing view, but we weren’t expecting much.

 

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Our Airbnb was actually closer to the Nipponbashi area also known as Den Den Town. Here, there are lots of electronic shops, similar to Akihabara in Tokyo. It was actually a pretty safe and quiet area and only a 10 minute walk to Namba station which we often took. Our flat was simple with a double bed, small kitchen, and a comfortable sized bathroom. Nothing really to complain although we wished we had lived slightly closer to the station as walking home can be tiring after a long day.

 

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By the time we settled in, it was getting dark and we were hungry for dinner. I suggested we take it chill and check out the nearby famous Dotonbori (道頓堀).

 

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Dotonbori is probably one of Osaka’s most visited tourist spots. It is best visited during the evenings as the neon lights are a sight to see and reminds me of a night market. It seems that the evening is focused on food, whereas the afternoon is more for shopping, although I believe both restaurants and retail stores are open day and night.

 

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I mean, look at the restaurants signs? Aren’t there already a sight to see?

 

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Love the 3-D type of signage they use here, which I felt like Tokyo didn’t really have much of.

 

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Pufferfish (fugu 河豚) sashimi is famous to eat here. This is a delicacy because it takes skills of a highly trained chef to prepare this fish. It has a toxin that if not correctly prepared can kill you! If you are going to try this fish, then Osaka is likely the place for you as they are rather famous for it. As S does not eat much sashimi, I didn’t want to eat this on my own, so skipped this.

 

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After wandering the streets for a while, I decided to try the grilled scallop. They prepare this to order and it involves some large flames!

 

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This was actually quite average as the scallops was slightly too chewy and it also had some sand in it. I guess it was not washed well.

 

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Continuing on, we tried Osaka Ohsho (大阪王将 道頓堀本店). They claim themselves as the king of gyozas and you will not miss this shop as there is a huge gyozo signage (a sight to see itself!).

 

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They seem to cater to tourists as there is English on the menu, but at 6 pieces of gyoza for only 240 yen, it is a deal of itself. As you can see, the shop is a standing gyoza bar though, and you must stand on the left where there is a bar table with some condiments to eat. The good thing is people eat this quickly, so you will find a spot easily.

 

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I wasn’t expecting much of these gyozas, but we actually found these to be really good. They are made fresh and there is a generous amount of filling. The bottom was fried crispy and along with the gyoza sauce, it was a perfect snack.

 

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Given Dotonbori has more street food, we had to give the Takoyaki a try. There are quite a few stalls but we settled on Kukuru (たこ家道頓堀くくる 本店) just because we saw a huge line up. Turns out, this is a spot that has been featured on TV. The line actualyl was quite long and we waited probably almost 30 minutes. They make batches at once but there are so many people, so we still had to wait a while. You can also sit in where you can try other flavours of takoyaki, but I believe the take out box is cheaper.

 

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We got the minimum order of 8 takoyakis which cost around 600 yen. Not super cheap, but I like how they make them fresh. It is topped with some japanese mayo, bonito flakes and seaweed powder. There was octopus in every ball and the inside was a nice gooey chewy texture. My only complaint is that I wish they were more crispy on the outside as I found they sort of stuck together. Would I line up for it again? Probably not. But if the line is short, then these are not bad.

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A must see in Dotonbori is the Glico running man sign! Head towards the center of the Dotonbori streets where you will find a bridge above Dotonobori river and you will find all these advertisements. The Glico man ad has actually been around for 70 years (longest standing ad, although there have been many versions of it).

 

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There are seriously so many eateries in this area. Even if you stray further away from the crowds, you will find many stores and restaurants.

 

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As we headed back to our Airbnb, we saw a fried chicken stall, and of course S wanted this. It wasn’t very busy but S craved it.

 

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We got a bag of Chicken Karaage which was piping hot. Chicken was moist and batter was crispy. Not bad.

 

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Heading back, we actually wandered into the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade. It is a covered area with boutiques, retail stores and restaurants. A less quiet area during the evenings, but very busy during the day time. With our tummies full, we headed back to rest and prepare for our next day!

Dotonbori
Address: Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0071, Japan

 

Osaka Ohsho (Gyozas)
Address: 1-6-13 Dotombori, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0071, Osaka Prefecture

Kukuru (Takoyaki)
Address: 1-10-5 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture

[Japan Series] Day 7 Cont’d: Namja Town at Sunshine City in Ikebukuro (池袋)

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Being the jam-packed traveler that I am, on the way back from Odaiba, I suggested to S that we check out one more district. This was Ikebukuro (池袋). It has the second busiest railway station in Tokyo and offers entertainment, shopping and dining. The destination this night was to Sunshine City (サンシャインシティ) though, a shopping mall near the station. I actually remember living in a hotel near here back when I traveled with my parents. We stumbled upon the Pokemon Center while walking through the mall. They feature lots of Pokemon merchandise, many which I think are exclusive to Japan. I swear S had a really good time looking at the merchandise here!

 

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The real reason I cam here was because my sister had suggested we visit Namja Town. This is an indoor theme park by the creator of Pacman and houses some interesting attractions. However, admission is 500 yen.

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One attraction is the Gyoza Alley. Inside, there is a lane of gyoza shops. However, when we arrived, there were barely any people (probably because it was dinner time). It felt like a ghost town. Gyozas were also quite pricey here, especially after paying the admission to get inside.

 

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Since we were here, we decided we should still give it a try. We shared a plate of gyozas, and they were pretty good. I feel like any gyozas in Japan are good compared to in Vancouver though…

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The second attraction that made me want to visit was the shop at Ice Cream City. This ice cream shop features the weirdest flavours. You can choose from a collection of 50! There are normal flavours too, but of course I had to go for the unusual ones!

 

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The ice cream here is not cheap. To get a tasting of 6 different flavours, it costs 590 yen. But as you can see, the scoops are quite small.  Here is what I tried: Hokkaido Shirataki Potato Ice Cream, Shark Fin Noodle Ice Cream, Miso Noodle Ice Cream, Japanese Berry and Chocolate, Homemade Ice Cream Corn, and Shizouka Cantaloupe Sherbet. And guess what? The ice cream literally tasted just like each description. The shark fin had some fake noodles in it, and the miso was like eating ramen. The Japnese Berry and Cantaloupe were delicious but the odd flavours were the highlight for sure. Would I order a whole scoop of these? Probably not.

Namja Town was a bit of a disappointment to be honest. All the games inside are only in Japanese and are not included as part of the admission price. The food inside is interesting but if you add the admission and the cost of the food, then it’s quite expensive. I would skip this unless you have kids or can actually read Japanese.

 

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We didn’t find that there was too much to do in Ikebukuro. The area was quite similar to other areas with lots of shops and dining. However, we were sort of craving some snacks and walked past a McDonald’s… Ok I usually don’t like to eat McDonald’s when I travel, but in Asia, the menu items at McDonald’s is always so interesting. Here, the Fanta Melon Ice Cream Float caught my eye. Fizzy and bright green, the drink was a bit of a disappointment. The soft server melted in quickly and the flavour was just average. Nothing special.

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S opted for the Shaka Shaka Chicken which is sort of like a shake shake fried chicken. You can choose flavours like cheese or spicy, and they give you this packet of power which you dispense in and you just hold the bag and shake it. The chicken cutlet was pretty good and this was fairly cheap.

 

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I suggested we try the Sakura Peach Pie. The pie is flaky and quite different from the ones in Vancouver. The filling inside was delicious. Don’t expect real peaches, but it tasted just like those Japanese peach candy! Probably artificial but I love that flavour!

And with McDonald’s to end our last day in Tokyo, we headed back to our Airbnb to pack up. Off to Osaka!

Sunshine City
Address: Sunshine City, 3丁目-1番 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima, Tokyo 170-0013, Japan

[Japan Series] Day 7: Toyota Mega Web, Miraikan, and More in Odaiba お台場

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Sadly, it was our last full day in Tokyo. The next day we would be traveling to Osaka. I felt like we had visited most of the districts in Tokyo but there was one area that I had visited in the past that S said he had not. This was Odaiba (お台場), a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. It used to be man made fort islands, but today it is a futuristic residential and business district famous for shopping and entertainment. For me, I find that this area is very modern and a relaxing spot for a date or with the kids. To get here, you need to take the Yurikamome, which is an automated elevated train (sort of like our sky train in Vancouver). You need to start from Shimbashi station and it will get you to all attractions in Odaiba. This is not covered by the JR pass, so you will need to pay the fare (which I believe is slightly more than usual). If you will take the train more than two times, then you can buy the 1-day pass. However, since we walked throughout Odaiba instead, it was cheaper for us to pay single fare as we only took the train round trip. What I really enjoyed was that this train crosses the Rainbow Bridge which gives you beauitful views of the harbour and waterfront. Unfortunately, it was drizzling that morning, but it is still beautiful to see. So be sure to grab a window seat or the head of the train! The whole ride will take around 15 minutes from Shimbashi.

 

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Once we got off the train, we immediately saw the futuristic looking Fuji TV Building. This is where the headquarters of the nationwide TV station. I believe you can go inside as they have some exhibits and shops, but we skipped this.

 

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Instead, because it was fairly gloomy out, we were worried that it may start raining. We decided to head towards Palette Town which is a complex that includes the Toyota Mega Web.

 

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Mega Web is perfect for car lovers as it is a showroom for Toyota’s latest models and technologies. Admission is free and you can check out some pretty cool cars here.

 

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I was in awe with these super futuristic cars. Seriously…I thought they looked like the vehicles in the Jetsons!

 

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There are also a lot of free activities that you can check out including this racing game. Many of the games are also free. There is a test drive of cars that costs 300 yen, but you also need a driving license that’s valid in Japan.

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They even have segways you can try out, but we opted to play this racing game instead. This is great for kids, but we had a good time playing it too!

 

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On the bottom floor, there are more consumer friendly types of cars. Cars that you would see on a normal day. But hey, this car I tried out was pretty cool! I guess this is perfect for the crowded streets of Japan!

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As we started getting hungry, we decided to grab lunch. Unfortunately, you will not find eateries on the street like the rest of Tokyo here. Most of the restaurants are inside these malls. We decided to check out Venus Fort which is a shopping mall that is decorated like Europe. Think Paris or Venetian Hotel in Vegas. They also have a Jelly Bean outlet store here if you’re into shoes!

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We went to their food court inside the mall and settled on one of the udon stalls. Prices here are slightly higher than outside, but still affordable for the quantity you get. S got a Hot Udon Soup with Tempura on Rice Set. Quiet a lot of food and surprisingly quite good for a food court stall.

 

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For myself, I got the Cold Udon Set with Tempura. The cold udon was refreshing and very chewy, just the way I like it. Tempura was not bad as the batter was quite light and flaky. Not bad!

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After lunch, S suggested we go to the National Museum of Emerging Science (日本科学未来館). To be honest, I was very hesitant about visiting the museum since it was a science museum and I was thinking “don’t we have a Science World back in Vancouver?” and “why am I visiting a science museum on vacation?” Well somehow, S convinced me to go and we ended up paying 620 yen for admission. The museum is also known as the Miraikan and is actually bilingual although many of the activities are mostly done in Japanese. However, I have to agree that the robot (Asimo) was pretty cool. I have never seen a robot in motion in real life, so this was definitely something cool. We also saw a lot of other robots that were made to replicate human beings and the technology has definitely advanced so much. If you are into robots and science, this is the spot to check out. I mean, Japan is known for robots, right?

 

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After the museum, I suggested visiting DiverCity Tokyo Plaza since I thought S would be interested in seeing the Gundam statue. This is a huge statue and it also blinks at certain times. I’m not an anime fan, but this is still very cool and worth checking out. My understanding is that this statue has now been removed and there is a new statue being built that will be released later this month! Exciting!

 

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To finish our day at Odaiba, I suggested we check out Decks Tokyo Beach, a shopping mall, and visit the Takoyaki Museum. I’ve been here before and knew there isn’t too much to see, but it’s still a fun spot and a place to sit down and rest after a day of walking.

 

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In the center, there are many stalls that sell different takoyakis. These takoyakis are by no way better than the ones you can get in the streets of Tokyo and Osaka. However, they have some creative flavours. We chose two which included the original and one with a soft boiled egg on top. They made a nice snack!

 

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As the evening came, we decided to head back to the station. We got a beautiful view of the Ferris Wheel all lit up which you can actually ride on. And be sure to take the skytrain back at night because you will be able to see the beautiful Rainbow Bridge lit up. I forgot to get pictures, but I really thought it was beautiful!

Note: I won’t list all the addresses here for Odaiba since the area is quite small with maps all around. It’s very easy to get around!

 

To read about my experience in Odaiba back in 2014, click here.

[Japan Series] Day 6 Cont’d: All You Can Drink at Yakitori Marukin やきとりまる金 新宿本店 in Shinjuku

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While we were on the train heading back from Hakone to Shinjuku, I decided to look for a place to eat dinner. Did some searching and ended up coming up with the idea to go check out an all you can drink spot. Actually, I was craving yakitori (Japanese grilled skewers) and this spot just came up. Yakitori Marukin is located just in the busy streets of Shinjuku and is popular among locals.

 

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It took a while to find the place because you actually needed to take an elevator upstairs. Actually, many of the good restaurants are often upstairs, so if you’re looking for food in Japan, look up! Anyways, the restaurant was filled with locals and when we arrived I think we got some curious looks. The staff could barely speak English but they were still very accommodating and welcomed us in. Luckily, they have an English menu, so I’m guessing they have a lot of tourists here still. With some pointing and nodding, we were good to go!

 

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I read online that this may be one of the cheapest all you can drink restaurants in the area. Plus, they have an English menu, so it really helps. For only 598 yen + tax, you can drink as much as you want for an hour! My understanding is that you need to do a minimum of one hour, but we chose to stay 90 minutes as it gave us more time to eat. Honestly though…that is dirt cheap! We can only get a beer…sometimes not even for this price back in Vancouver!

 

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So when you think of all you can drink beer, you must be thinking that the restaurant will just serve your drinks super slow so that your time is up. Well, not a problem here, because it is self serve! I was pretty mind blown at this concept! Along a wall in the restaurant, there are a bunch of bottles that dispense your liquor. The waiter will give you a beer mug and you just head over to the drink station and fill it up with whatever you want. The majority of the drinks were sochu (tastes sort of like vodka), plum wine, and I believe there were some whiskeys. There are also flavoured syrups that you can pump into your sochu so that it’s not straight liquor and gives it some more flavour. I suggest filling only a quarter or half a mug each time so that you can try other drinks if that’s your liking. Otherwise, you’re sort of stuck with that drink until you finish it! This was seriously lots of fun and the liquor is quite high in alcohol content, so you will for sure have a good night! No beers here for you beer lovers though!

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As for the food menu, they had one menu which listed all the yakitori items which had English on it, but there was also a menu for appetizers and other izakaya type food. Unfortunately, this menu was all in Japanese, but there are some pictures to help. As you can see, the yakitori is also relatively cheap here compared to other yakitori shops. The quality is not amazing, but it comes with this dipping sauce which is really tasty! There is a big jar of sauce on the table which is left there all night… Kind of sketchy since you have no idea if the previous diners did anything to the sauce, but they state on the menu that you are not allowed to dip your food in the sauce twice. Let’s really hope no one does that!

 

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First up, we got the Chicken Thighs. Pictures are really dark as it was very dim inside, but these were definitely not as charred as I’d like. However, I really enjoyed the dipping sauce and when you’re a bit tipsy, anything tastes great!

 

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There were a lot of intestines for yakitori on the menu, so we weren’t really a fan of that. Instead, we decided to try the Grilled Wing Tip. This was not bad but a bit difficult to eat as there is not much meat. I would stick to the chicken thigh next time.

 

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Then came the funny story… So we ordered off the all Japanese menu and I pointed at the picture thinking they were popcorn chicken. Turns out…we ordered a plate of Grilled Garlic! Yup…we did not finish this.

 

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Some other appetizers included this Squash Croquette. This was really yummy! And great with drinks!

 

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The Gyozas were also one of our favourites. I think we ended up with two orders of this! I love how in Japan, they cook all the gyozas together and the skin becomes super crispy.

 

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Finally… we got it right and ordered the real Chicken Karaage. Chicken was moist and batter was crispy.

 

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What a fun night at Yakitori Marukin! We probably spent around $25 each in total for the food and unlimited drinks. What a steal! After dinner, we wandered the streets of Shinjuku. It might have also involved taking some shameless sticker pictures… Last day in Tokyo next!

Yakitori Marukin
Address: Shinjuku 3-34-16 | Ikeda Plaza Bldg. 4F, Shinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo Prefecture

[Japan Series] Day 6: Day Trip to Hakone 箱根

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On Day 6, we decided to visit Hakone 箱根 since Tokyo appeared quite sunny. I wanted to make sure it would be a sunny day because I wanted clear skies to see Mt. Fuji. Hakone is less than one hundred kilometers from Tokyo so many tourists will visit this spot from Tokyo. It is famous for the view of Mt. Fuji which is nearby and their hot springs. Many tourists choose to stay a night, but I found the accommodation quite expensive and lugging onto our large luggage on transportation such as a cable car did not make sense for us. Instead, we did a one day trip, which I can assure you is sufficient time. I had done lots of planning ahead of time, and learned about the Hakone Free Pass.

The Hakone Free Pass is a discount pass for tourists traveling in the Hakone area and covers all modes of transportation. It is only available for 2 days or 3 days of unlimited travel. However, I did some calculations and if you are going to take the whole route with all modes of transportation, the 2 day pass is a good deal even just for a one day trip. We chose the 2 day pass and the price breaks down further depending on where you purchase the pass. This really depends on where you are departing from. If you depart from Shinjuku station, the 2 day pass costs 5,140 yen. However, if you have a JR pass like we did, it is cheaper to take the JR train to Odawara station on your own since the JR pass provides unlimited travel and covers this route. If you are like us, then once you arrive at Odawara station, you should go to the tourist info center and purchase the Hakone Free pass. This will only cost 4,000 yen. Check out our JR shinkansen (bullet train)!

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Once we arrived to Odawara Station (小田原) and purchased the Hakone Zone Free Pass, we quickly headed to the station for the Hakone Tozan Train. We didn’t get a picture of the outside since we had to rush on the train as it had already arrived. The Hakone Tozan Railway (箱根登山電車) is Japan’s oldest mountain railway, hence the train is operated by a train conductor

 

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To be completely honest, I was quite skeptical about taking this train as it looked really old and it was going really slow. However, it was actually such an experience and lots of fun! The train goes through narrow valleys, over bridges and even through tunnels. I hear that there are flowers during the spring, but unfortunately when we went, it was mostly just green bushes. The whole ride takes under 40 minutes.

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I think the coolest part was that switchbacks are required. The train makes three stops along the way because it will hit a dead end, and the train conductor then needs to get off and go to the other end of the train so that the train can go the opposite direction. Think about a zig zag sort of route since it needs to climb up a mountain. Definitely something I have not seen before. Along the way, there are a few stops where there are art museums. One of the most famous ones is the Open Air Museum. This actually seemed quite interesting, but since we had a tight schedule, we skipped this. Thinking back, I think we would have had enough time to stop by for an hour. The last stop on the Tozan Railway is Gora Station, where we got off.

 

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At Gora Station (強羅), you can choose to visit some other museums and parks. This is also where many tourists will choose to visit an onsen (hot spring). However, unless you are staying overnight, most tourists will continue on and skip this area. The next mode of transportation is the Hakone Tozan Cable Car. So many people were waiting for this cable car, so when we got on, it was extremely crowded! Luckily, it was only a 9 minute ride. The windows are very wide on this cable car so you can check out the mountainous views. To be honest, S and I found this part to be a bit underwhelming. The views were average compared to the ones we have in Vancouver. I think the views on the cable car at the Grouse Grind are much more impressive. This gets you to Sounzan Station. The Hakone Tozan Cable Car is 9 minutes of heaven and connects the town of Gora, with its many hot springs (onsen), and a popular sightseeing spot, with Sounzan Station.

 

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Again, there isn’t much to do at Sounzan Station (早雲山), so most tourists will continue on to the next mode of transportation. Next up was the Hakone Ropeway (箱根ロ-プウエイ). Before heading on, the staff will give you a wet towelette to cover your mouth and nose. This is because the air will get very gassy as there are active volcanoes here.

 

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The ropeway takes around 30 minutes in total, but there is one stop in between that most people will get off at. The views here are spectacular. Here you will see Owakudani’s sulfur fields and the volcanic gasses. On a beautiful day, you should also be able to see Mt. Fuji, but unfortunately we could not see it as the clouds were in the way. Was pretty disappointed since that was the main reason I suggested coming here, but it still ended up being a fun trip.

 

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Here, we are approaching Owakudani (大涌谷). Remember to get off at this stop as there are lots to see! Owakudani is an area around a crater created by a eruption of Mt. Hakone 3000 years ago.

 

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The area is an active volcanic zone where you’ll see sulfurous fumes. It is quite hot in this area and definitely very gassy. It smells sort of like rotten eggs. If you have respiratory problems, this is probably not the right place for you.

 

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In this area, there is also the Hakone Geo Museum, where you can learn more about Mt. Hakone.

 

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What a view from Owakudani! Too bad we couldn’t see Mt. Fuji in the background.

 

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There is not much food here, but since it was lunch time, we needed to get something to fill up. I read online that the black eggs are a must try. The eggs are cooked in naturally hot water and the shell is blackened by the sulfur. The myth is that if you eat one of these eggs, it will prolong your life by seven years!

 

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Of course we had to get these black eggs! I think they were around 600 yen for 5 and the minimum order was unfortunately 5 eggs. Oh well, since we needed to fill up. The eggs are really just hard boiled eggs. Didn’t taste any different, but the shell is black so that’s a bit fun! Piping hot! They also have black coloured soft serve but I read online that it’s not that good so we skipped it.

 

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The food around here is qutie pricey since there is nothing else to eat here. So we grabbed one more snack. This was deep fried potato. Pretty good actually!

 

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After grabbing a bite and snapping some scenic pictures, we decided to continue along to the next stop. We headed back to Sounzan Station and jumped onto the ropeway again which took us to the last station, Togendai. There is not much to do in this area again other than some souvenir shops. From here, you can take a bus back, but there is a more interesting way!

 

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Pirate ship? Yes! Okay, well I’m not sure if they are called pirate ships, but they sure look like one. The Hakone Sightseeing Cruise links Togendai with Moto-Hakone-ko and Hakone-machi. Included on our Hakone Free Pass, we are able to take this ship for free which sails through Lake Ashinoko. The boat ride takes around 30 minutes and was very windy!

 

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Lake Ashinoko (芦ノ湖) was formed from the eruption of Mt. Hakone back in the day. Again, on a clear day, you will be able to see Mt. Fuji, but I really could not see it. Along the shore, there are a few small towns and some lakeside resort hotels, but really not much. The ship took us to Hakone-machi, where we quickly hopped onto a bus so we could go back to Odwara. This took under an hour, so luckily we got a seat. There are many buses that can take you back to Odawara but it can be overwhelming. I suggest asking the staff when you are buying your Hakone Free Pass so they can circle it on your map.

 

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The bus ride actually wasn’t that bad. Soon enough, we arrived back in Odawara. The city does not have much to do. The most famous would be the Odawara Castle. However, we wanted to make sure we caught our train back to Shinjuku, so hurried back to the train station after getting off the bus.

 

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The shinkansen were so much fun to watch as they passed by. They really go at crazy speeds!

 

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The shinkansen were also very clean and spacious. Way better than sitting on a plane! They even have bathrooms on it due to the long distances they travel. By the way, if you have a JR pass, you have the choice to reserve your seats. However, since we knew this train wouldn’t be too busy, we just went to the unreserved seating. Each train will have a few carts that are for non-reserved passengers, so it’s first come first serve. I would suggest reserving seats if you are taking the train during peak times, but otherwise, they seemed relatively empty. Off we went back to Shinjuku for dinner! Stay tuned! Highly recommend checking Hakone out for at least a day if you want a getaway from busy Tokyo!

 

Detailed information including the map of this whole route can be found here: http://www.odakyu.jp/english/destination/hakone/#link-01