[Japan Series] Day 3: Ippudo Ginza 一風堂 銀座店

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On Day 3, we trained to the Ginza district, which is home to one of Japan’s most expensive real estate. Here, you will find all your luxury retail stores, department stores, and fancy restaurants and cafes. Although I wasn’t expecting to purchase anything here, it is always fun to walk around and see the beautiful stores.

 

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There are your luxury stores here, but you can also find a huge Uniqlo store which has 12 floors! Uniqlo offers much more affordable prices and is perfect for every day wear.

 

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We didn’t spend too much time in department stores, but instead found Ginza Place, which actually opened in 2016, so was very new to us. Inside, it has a Nissan showroom, Sony showroom, and a few eateries.

 

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I am not a car person, but S is. However, I actually thought the Nissan showroom was really cool. They have some very futuristic cars including this one. I mean, how beautiful is this wooden interior? Other than cars, upstairs, we got to try the virtual reality headset, which was pretty cool. The Sony showroom also showcased many of their newest products. Worth stopping by if you’re interested in cars and to cool from the heat!

 

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For lunch, there weren’t too many options in the area since many are on the pricier end and we didn’t want to splurge too much. I suggested we try Ippudo Ramen. The restaurant is now a chain and has stores internationally (although none in Vancouver). Both of us haven’t tried it, so this was a great opportunity! The Ippudo Ginza location is located in an alleyway off the main street and can be a bit hidden. When we arrived, there was a short line up, but luckily there are a few chairs for us to wait outside.

 

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We waited around 15 minutes and got our seat at the bar right in front of the chefs. The interior is quite modern actually and the seating is rather comfortable. The table has some side dishes that go well with your ramen. My favourite was the spicy bean sprouts. So addicting!

 

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Gyoza

We ordered Gyozas to share and they came with a small dollop of spicy chili paste. The gyozas were small but packed with flavour and pan fried to a beautiful golden brown. Crispy on the outside and juicy inside.

 

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Shiromaru Classic – Special

I believe there are only 4 ramens to choose from. S and I ended up both having the Shiromaru Classic. This is their original tonkotsu ramen since their inception, so I had to see what it’s all about. The broth is cooked for over 18 hours and left to mature for 24 hours to extract the savoury taste of pork. It is served with homemade Hakata-style thin and straight noodles, cha-shu, black fungus and green onion. For 790 yen, you can get this basic bowl of ramen. However, we chose the Special which costs 1,020 yea and includes a soft boiled egg and a few sheets of seaweed. The ramen was good, but S and I both agreed we enjoyed Ichiran more. The broth is much lighter but still packed with a savoury pork flavour. My favourite was the egg though as it was cooked perfectly with the yolk spilling out. Not so sure if I would come back again in Japan again though since I thought it was quite comparable to some of the other ramen spots in Vancouver. Or maybe I’m just biased towards Ichiran!

After lunch, we walked around Ginza a bit more and began our long walk towards the Tsukiji Fish Market. To be continued…

Address: 4-10-3 Ginza | 1F Central Bldg., Chuo 104-0061, Tokyo Prefecture

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[Japan Series] Day 2 Cont’d: Conveyor Belt Sushi at Numazuko Shinjuku

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Conveyor sushi belt restaurants are usually not that good, but are always fun to try out. I did some searching on Google and found Numazuko in the Shinjuku area was highly rated. However, when we went for an early dinner, there were no line ups and the inside was not busy. Guess that should’ve been a sign already…

 

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Anyways, we sat down, and were given a menu of which I think you can order directly from or you can choose the plates from the conveyor belt. Honestly, looking at the dishes that went by round after round, nothing really spoke to me. The other problem was that there weren’t that many other diners, so I felt that the sushi might have been sitting around for a while.

 

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The plates are colour coded, which essentially tells you the price. I believe they start at 90 yen, but many of the sushi with fish cost up to 520 yen, which isn’t super cheap for a convey belt restaurant. Each plate comes with two pieces.

 

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After some slim pickings, I settled for the scallops and some salmon and tuna. Honestly, I didn’t think the seafood was very fresh and that we have much higher quality in Vancouver. It was quite disappointing, and I’m not sure why this spot is so highly rated. Perhaps if seafood is not readily available in your city, then this may be quite good, but compared to Vancouver sushi, this was below average. Wouldn’t recommend for Vancouver locals.

 

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After a disappointing night, we walked around the busy Shinjuku and enjoyed the night lights. I love how the streets of Tokyo are always so busy even late at night.

Address: 3-34-16 Shinjuku | 1F Ikeda Plaza Bldg, Shinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo Prefecture

[Japan Series] Day 2: A day in Shinjuku 新宿 – Ichiran 一蘭 and Wa Pasta

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The next morning, we decided to take it slow and just walk around the streets of the Shinjuku neighbourhood. First things first – breakfast! There are many options and fancy bakeries in our neighbourhood, but trying to stick on a budget, we decided to go to Family Mart to just grab some quick snacks. I absolutely love the Family Marts and 7-Elevens in Asia. There are so many choices to choose from! My all time favourite are the onigiris. I ended up having these each morning. They are usually under 150 yen, so under CAD$2.

 

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Shinjuku station is known as the world’s busiest railway station and home to the business and entertainment district. On a weekday morning, it wasn’t too busy as most locals were at work. Of course, it is still much more busy than the streets of Vancouver though! We decided to check out many of the famous Japanese department stores (because there is always so much to see even if we can’t afford it!) and also admire the tall buildings and towers in the area.

 

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Getting close to lunch time, I suggested we check out Ichiran 一蘭, one of my favourite ramen spots in Japan. It is a chain restaurant, but I don’t care, because I absolutely love their ramen! If you’ve had Danbo Ramen in Vancouver and like it, then I’m pretty sure you will enjoy Ichiran. We went to the Shinjuku location, but there are Ichiran stores in almost every district.

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Even though we went to the restaurant before the peak lunch time, there was already a line up, and it didn’t stop after. Once you get closer into the store, there is a ticket machine, where you purchase your ticket for your ramen. This is really common in Japan, and I absolutely love it, as you don’t need to worry about payment after. The hostess can help you out if you have some trouble with the Japanese menu, but usually you can sort of figure it out. Then you are taken down closer to the seating area, where you will see a light up board that shows which seats are available. It’s super high tech like that! The hostess will also give you a piece of paper so you can fill out your specifications of the ramen you ordered.

 

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The seating here is perfect for single diners as there are dividers separating each diner. However, you can easily close the divider so you can see your friend! This location only has 19 seats, but ramen is quick, so the turnover is usually within 30 minutes for each diner.

 

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Here is the ordering menu once you have purchased your ramen ticket. I like how they have an english version now, so no need to worry if you can’t read any Japanese. Here is my order! Once you are ready, you click the button on your table and hand your sheet along with your ticket you purchased to the person behind your table. I believe the ramen is 790 yen, and the soft boiled egg is at an additional cost.

 

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Once you’ve handed in your order sheet and ticket, the person will pull the blind down. You basically won’t ever see the people behind the blinds during your whole visit. I love this intimacy so you can just enjoy your food. There are also cups on the side, green tea powder, and a tap for hot water so you can make your own green tea. I ordered the marinated soft boil egg, and this comes with the shell and a packet of salt. You will have to peel your own egg, but it’s worth it!

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As you can see, the egg yolk in Japan is almost orange! Quite different from what I’m used to. The egg yolk is not really runny here, but more of a medium creamy texture. I still find it great with the ramen! You can also dip it with some salt to eat on its own.

 

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Here is my order of ramen. The broth is rich and flavourful, and the noodles are thin and firm, just the way I like it. The selling point here is the spicy sauce, which is not numbing spicy, but extremely flavourful instead. Even if you don’t like spicy, like S, he still really enjoyed the broth on its own.

 

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S paid extra to purchase the extra chashu ticket. However, we were quite disappointed with this and the amount you get. I would skip this next time. Even the chashu that comes with the ramen already is not anything exciting. They are not known for the chashu, but rather the broth, spicy sauce, and noodles. Definitely would skip the extra meat next time.

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After lunch, we continued to wander the streets of Shinjuku. We ended up inside Mylord, a trendy department store with 7 floors of shopping and 3 floors or restaurants. As our feet were getting tired, we decided to stop by a cafe to cool down and rest our feet. We ended up at Wa Pasta, which I can’t seem to find the restaurant name anymore. So not sure if the name changed, or if it no longer exists. I got the Yuzu and Orange Pudding which was creamy smooth and perfect with the citrus.

 

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S got the Hazelnut Chocolate Cream Puff. Sweet and beautifully presented, perfect for those who love chocolate.

Overall, a cute cafe with both pastas and desserts to choose from. Mylord has so many options to choose from, so is a great place to stop by after shopping.

Ichiran (Shinjuku Central East Entrance location)

Address: 3-34-11 Shinjuku | Peace Bldg B1F, Shinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo Prefecture

Mylord Shinjuku

Address: Mylord, 1 Chome-1-3 Nishishinjuku, 新宿区 Tokyo 160-0023, Japan

[Japan Seires] Day 1: Marugame Seimen Shinjuku Gyoenmae, Tokyo

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Almost a year later… I’m finally getting to my Japan travel posts. Last September, S and I did a 3 week vacation in Japan. Our first stop was in Tokyo and we booked an Airbnb in the Shinjuku area. Accommodation in Japan is expensive, so I highly recommend using Airbnb if you want to save some money. Hotels are obviously covenient, but can cost almost twice as much each night.

Our Airbnb host, Yopey, had a nice flat nearby Shinjukugyoenmae station. The station is 2 stations away from Shinjuku station, and around a 10-15 minute walk from the busy Shinjuku area. It is a residential neighbourhood, so not noisy at all. However, because it is a bit further away, we found that it was not as convenient, as we always had to walk at least 10 minutes after a long day or take the extra stations back. However, you definitely can save some money by living a little further away. The flat was also much larger than I expected for Japan, and everything was clean and modern. From past experiences, I would recommend staying in the Shibuya area if you enjoy shopping and the young lifestyle. Shinjuku felt more like a business district and shops were more high end.

From the Narita airport, it takes roughly an hour to get to the city center. Therefore, I actually recommend flying into the Haneda airport, if possible, as it is only 30 minutes or so away. However, most airlines fly into Narita and it is also usually cheaper as it’s their main international airport.

 

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By the time we got to our Airbnb, it was already around 8pm. And by the time we settled in, it was getting late. We decided to walk around the neighbourhood to find some quick eats. We ended up finding Marugame Seimen, which I later learned is a chain restaurant, known for quick, value and decent quality udon.

 

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You get to choose cold or hot udon, and you just let the chef know. I think there are more options, but clearly I couldn’t read all of the menu. The chef was very accommodating even though we spoke English. He then gives you your udon and you move down the line to the tempura station, where you can choose already prepared tempura to add to your udon. Then, the cashier will add up what you’ve got on your tray and you pay.

 

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S got a hot udon. They also provide a station where you can add green onion and tempura batter on top.

 

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For myself, I got the cold udon, which comes with a light soy dipping sauce. We were both surprised with the quality of the udon for such a quick convenient shop and low price. The udon itself is below CAD$5 and was extremely chewy!

 

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The tempura though, is quite average. The batter is rather thick and the oil is old from reusing it. The tempura is also lukewarm as it has been sitting around. I would probably skip the tempura next time, but you sort of want something to go with your udon, hence people will still purchase it.

Overall, the spot is great if you need a quick cheap meal. We found lots of locals here, many of which were businessmen who had just gotten off work.

 

Address: 1-4-13 Shinjuku, Shinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo Prefecture

Japanese Snacks

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Last post to wrap up my trip in Japan is going to be about all the random snacks I had along the way. First up, was MOS Burger near the Shibuya station. We grabbed a quick bite here while waiting for our Airbnb host. MOS Burger is a fast food chain and the second largest in Japan after McDonald’s. I got the beef, onion and cheese melt. Tons of flavour from the onions and the cheese was really good.

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In the mornings, we would sometimes go down to Family Mart to grab a quick snack. Family Mart is a convenience store, similar to 7-Eleven. We got the onigiris, which are rice shaped like triangles and wrapped with seaweed. Inside, they are filled with different ingredients, but ume or pickled plum is probably the most common. I chose the Spicy Tuna Onigiri, which was super delicious! It’s under 200 yen for one as well! Such a steal.

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At Family Mart, we also found many alcoholic beverages. We got this lychee cider, which was so good! Wish we have this in Vancouver. Only 4% of alcohol content, so the lychee fruity flavour really comes through.

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We also checked out Tokyu Food Show, which is connected to the Shibuya station. It’s located inside the Tokyu Toyoko Department store and offers many different stalls with food. We decided to get some nigiris at one of the stall. Here is the Tuna Nigiri, which was slightly disappointing. It wasn’t as fresh as the ones we had in restaurants and slightly overpriced.

 

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We also got the Geoduck Nigiri, but it was only alright as well. All the ingredients didn’t seem very fresh for the price we paid.

Address: 2-24-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

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Hokkaido Milk is very popular, so we had to give it a try. Hokkaido milk has a very unique taste and is very creamy, but light at the same time. It has to do with what they feed the cows. You could definitely immediately taste a distinct flavour, which was very good!

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While in the Harajuku area, we got hungry and spotted a crepe kiosk. It’s called Cafe Crepe Harajuku, and offers many pretty looking crepes. We chose the Matcha Tiramisu Crepe. The crepe was thin and filled with a slice of matcha tiramisu, topped with whipped cream and matcha powder. It was actually very good! Not too sweet!

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While in Yokohama, I picked up this super cute bag of ramen at a shop in World Potters. It features the Sapporo Maruyama Zoo Bear. So cute! I have yet to try it, but hopefully it’s as good as how the package looks!

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At the Cup Noodle Museum, we purchased this cute box of ramen. You add eggs on top of it, and it’s supposed to be sort of like a ramen pancake. However, we made it the other day, and it kind of failed. Definitely did not look as good as the picture. Perhaps it was because we couldn’t read the instructions properly. It wasn’t bad though.

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At the Narita International Airport, we did some Duty Free shopping. We picked up this bottle of Sparkling Ume Wine. The packaging definitely caught our attention. We had it on the plane and it was really good! Sweet and fizzy!

 

 

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We also picked up a box of the Yubari Melon Pocky. They were the giant Pockys, so they are individually packed inside. It actually had a very strong cantaloupe flavour. Yummy!

 

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At the Narita International Airport, after you pass security and customs, there isn’t much to eat in our terminal. We ended up having a last meal of Japanese food. K got the Soba Noodles which came with a side of fried potato croquettes.

 

 

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For myself, I got the Shoyu Ramen. It was quite salty and very oily! Not good at all…

 

 

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This probably shouldn’t be in this post, since it was a Korean snack we bought, but I’ll throw it in here anyways. These were banana puffs! Crispy and light chips with a strong banana flavour. It’s weird how Koreans make banana flavoured everything… So weird, but so good. We found it at Walmart in Vancouver!

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And here were our suitcase filled with our goodies. Just some of them actually… A trip to Asia isn’t complete if you don’t bring back tons of goodies!

Fukumame ふくまめ (Ueno) – Tokyo

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There’s tons of things to do in Tokyo, but during our visit, we coincidentally were there for the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival. This year, it was on July 26. The Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival is a huge event held every year and attracts millions of people. We decided to head to Asakusa to see this event. We knew it would be crowded, but I have never been in such a huge crowd in my life. Asakusa is quite a tourist area, with the famous Senso-ji Temple. It is a Buddhist temple and the oldest in Tokyo. Both women and men were all dressed up in their kimonos as well!

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We didn’t really know where we going, so we just followed the crowds. At one point, we saw the Tokyo Skytree, a very new addition and tall building. It’s used mainly for broadcasting, but also features an observation deck and restaurant.

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We finally figured out that everyone was trying to cross the Sumidagawa or the bridge that is over the Sumida River. You’ll literally be walking one step forward and stopping when you near this area. Here, you can see the Asahi Brewery buildings and that odd gold piece of art that is on top of the Beer Hall. Not too sure what it’s supposed to be… Anyways, there are tons of patrol here and the organizers assign groups of people numbers. The police will announce when each group can start moving forward. It’s super organized even though you are literally shoulder to shoulder to the stranger next to you. Now imagine this in 30 degree weather. Yup, sweaty arms brushing up against you.

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I couldn’t get a lot of nice firework pictures since I only had my iPhone, but it was pretty spectacular. Basically, the festival is very different from any of the ones I’ve been to. The idea is to let groups of people on the bridge so that they can experience the festival for at least 5 to 10 minutes. The displays are exploded from both sides of the river and is supposed to be a competition. The fireworks literally go on for 2 hours straight so that everyone has a chance to get on the bridge. Once you’ve had your time, they announce that you must proceed forward and let the next group view the fireworks. The fireworks are pretty crazy, with complicated shapes and colours that I’ve never seen. Apparently at one point, there was a Pikachu! Leaving the Asakusa area was also a nightmare. You could barely move and by the time you got to the train station, there are people patrolling the area to make sure not too many people crowd in the station.

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I wanted to meet T since she coincidentally was in Tokyo as well so we decided to go to Ueno station for a late snack. Ueno is roughly 2 stations away, but it took us over half an hour to get there because of all the commuters trying to go home! Anyways, we finally arrived at Ueno station, and there are streets filled with bars and izakaya type of food. We decided to go to Fukumame which was on the 4th floor of a building. The restaurant is very posh looking and you get a lot of privacy with lots of barriers between tables. They are famous for their Yakitori, which are chicken skewers. I ordered the set which came with 5 skewers. To be honest, I was sort of confused at what I was eating. It didn’t exactly taste like chicken because it was very moist and soft. I feel like it was mixed with some sort of bean and battered with egg. Some had a teriyaki sauce on it, while other soy glaze, radish, and guacamole. They were good, but not meaty enough for me.

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We also got a desert to share. It was the Vanilla Ice Cream with Mochi and Red Bean. A very typical scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with whipped cream and sweet red beans. I was sad that it only came with three mochi balls, but they were very good! I can’t comment too much about the food since we only ordered two dishes. However, based on what we had, it was decent and the atmosphere was really nice for long chats. And that ended our last night in Tokyo!

Address: 6 Chome−13−9 Ueno, Taitō, Tokyo

Sushizanmai (Shibuya East Exit Branch) – Tokyo

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C’s friend suggested that we should try Sushizanmai, which has several locations in Tokyo. A popular location is actually the one near the Tsukiji Fish Market. However, we decided to check out the one at Shibuya’s East Exit. Here, they are open 24 hours! When we arrived, there was a bar table and some tables, and all were empty but around two. However, they told us they were all reserved. We were only allowed to eat at the bar table.

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Plum Wine

I love plum wine and since I hadn’t tried it in Japan this whole trip, I decided it was time to try it out. Sadly, it was slightly different from the ones I’ve had before. It wasn’t that sweet ume plum taste. It was also quite pricey for a very small glass. Should have probably bought a bottle at the sueprmarket instead.

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Maguro Tuna, Squid Legs, Scallop

The nigiris here are a lot more pricey than the ones I’ve had so far. But by no means is it crazily expensive like Jiros. I would say it’s quite average pricing and similar to Vancouver’s. Since we were here for more of a snack, we each ordered a few nigiris only. I chose the Tuna, which was probably the best I had so far. Next were the squid legs, which were decent, but not the best. I wish they had added a sauce to it. Lastly, the scallops were very fresh.

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Blue Fin Toro Temaki

I also added an order of the Blue Fin Toro Temaki. The toro was very fatty and buttery. There was actually quite a lot wrapped in the rice. Yummy!

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Fried Squid

C ordered the Fried Squid for us to share. Grilled Squid which was then battered and fried. It was decent with the squid being very tender, but I thought the batter was just decent.

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Uni Temaki

K ordered the Uni Temaki, which is sea urchin. She said the uni here was much more fresh than the one at Sushi Daidokoya.

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Maguro Tuna, Fatty Tuna, Scallop

She also got a few nigiris. She got the Maguro Tuna and Scallop, just as I did. However, in the middle, she also got the Fatty Tuna, which she said was very buttery.

I believe they also have nigiri sets, which are probably a better deal. Good quality food, but I would settle for the standing sushi bar since it’s much cheaper.

Address: 2 Chome-22-11 Shibuya, Tokyo

Kirin Ichiban Garden – Ichiban Shibori Frozen Draft – Tokyo

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Walking around Shibuya, we somehow came across the Kirin Ichiban Brewery.

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There were tons of people sitting outside in the beer garden. Apparently, it only recently opened.

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There was also the Frozen Beer truck! We got in line to see what it’s all about. In Vancouver, they only recently began to sell it at Guu. They offer several different flavours for the frozen beer. You can get original, cranberry, lime, lychee, mango or cassiss (blackcurrent).

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Cassiss Ichiban Shibori Frozen Draft

We got the Cassiss flavour, which is essentially blackcurrent flavour. The beer is flavoured with blackcurrent flavouring, so it just tastes like a fruity beer. The foam however is the frozen part. It’s like a slurpee at the top. However, the foam doesn’t have much flavour. Apparently, the invention was so that the frozen foam can keep your drink cold for 30 minutes without needing to add ice. Pretty neat. Worth trying!

Address: 3-7 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya, Tokyo