Taiwan Festival in Ueno Park

It’s rainy season at the moment so the weather consists of thick clouds and the odd shower. I didn’t want to sit in the house all day though so we went to Ueno Park, about half an hour away from our house by subway, to the Taiwan Festival.

It was actually surprisingly busy, but most places in Tokyo are at the weekend. There was merry music and an exotic, sweet smell of Chinese cooking in the couple of rows of stalls.

We started with a drink. Ken got some Taiwanese beer and I bought some mango juice. 500 yen felt like a bit of a stretch but it was thick, not too sweet, and very refreshing.

Ken got all excited so we went to get some food as well. Due to the sweet sauces they use, although it was a chicken and rice dish, it tasted very different to Japanese food. We sat on the damp steps of the park and people-watched while we ate. It wasn’t the most glamorous day out but I was full of happiness because I was with my favourite person.

We went to get some dumplings too but upon getting to the front of the line we saw the guy emptying a bag of frozen ones onto the grill! They weren’t fresh, so Ken got some noodles instead and slurped them while I drank a matcha tapioca milk drink. We listened to some taiko drumming, lined up to throw away our trash (which would probably never happen in other countries) and wandered back.

There are a lot of cool little shrines and things in Ueno Park, and we found ourselves at Hanazono Inari Shrine. It’s a cute row of torii gates and apparently a place to visit to strengthen your relationship, whether its friendship, family, or romantic.

We walked down hand in hand down this path and rang the bell to make a wish. Then, overcome by lethargy from food and the drizzling weather, took the long train home.

Little adventures like these are everywhere in Tokyo if you know where to find them by doing some research first. I happened to find the Taiwan Festival on Tokyo Cheapo, one of my favourite sites for finding events in this great city.

Though it was a little far, it was a nice date. Festivals are always done well in Japan so be sure to check one out when you visit… so long as you don’t mind the crowds.

Delicious Monja-Yaki in the Heart of Asakusa

My boyfriend grew up in Asakusa, East Tokyo. Since it’s almost an hour away by train from our house in Meguro Ward, we don’t go there very often. When he was in high school, he’d climb over the fence and dash off to the local monja-yaki place, where he’s good friends with the owner. She’d let him sleep, smoke, and even drink beer there when he was fed up with school. She’s been like a cool aunt to him for years.

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We went to that restaurant together about two years ago when we first started going out. This time, I walked in and she grabbed my hand, saying “I remember you. Welcome back!” We also met one of Ken’s old friends and her two children, and ate delicious food (and got very drunk).

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So what is monja-yaki?

Monja-Yaki

Japan enthusiasts might have heard of okonomiyaki – the savoury pancake from Osaka that is a tasty and popular street food. Monja-yaki is Tokyo’s version: ingredients mixed together before they’re fried on a large grill. Okonomiyaki was also served here as well as other foodie bits. We started with sausages and cabbage, nom nom.

Monja works by mixing up all the ingredients in a bowl.

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I don’t know all of what was in there, but monja typically contains cabbage, meat, spring onions, beansprouts, and other things. Water, flour, and soy sauce are added so that you can pour it onto the plate.

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Put the ingredients in a circle then pour the watery part in the middle. It’ll all start to bubble and boil.

After that, you use a little scoopy thing to grab some, press it to the plate to cook it almost to burning, and shovel it into your mouth. It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it’s absolutely packed with flavour. My mouth’s watering just remembering it.

We ate some other things, including the heavenly buta kimchi (pork and Korean spicy cabbage), some weird fish cakes, and scallops. I’d never had scallops before and put the whole, chewy thing in my mouth, which took about eight years to swallow. Won’t be trying that again.

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Food always seems to be better when made by an old dear who’s been doing it for years. The monja-yaki was mind-blowingly good and it was a lot of fun eating and drinking with good people in my favourite city.

The restaurant is super local; I didn’t see any tourists, and we had to walk through residential areas for ages before we reached it. The owner is awesome – would you believe that she is 82 years old?

If you visit Tokyo, do try monjayaki. It’s one of the city’s best dishes! You can often get both monja and okonomiyaki at the same restaurant, so try them both and see which you like the most. They’re both delicious and are both cooked in the same way, but are quite different.

Video Games, Music, and Ramen in Tokyo

There’s a ramen restaurant near our house. Because of its location, it’s almost unknown, but it’s really trendy. It’s somewhere between a bar and a restaurant and has a theme that’s sort of a mix between music and surfing.

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This time, the owner got out his old SNES console and asked us if we wanted to have a go. Food and games?? I’d just spent the past nine hours on the PlayStation 4 but nobody needed to know.

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He set it up and we had enormous fun playing Super Mario, Tetris, and Street Fighter 2.

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On top of that, we of course got to eat yummy ramen! I like this place because although there isn’t as much variety as other ramen restaurants, the guy can make killer tonkotsu (pork) ramen.

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We also had some gyoza dumplings and it was yummy. What a nice evening!

If you find yourself in Meguro, definitely give this place a try. It is right next to Kushi-Katsu Tanaka and it’s called Iki. Here’s the location on Google Maps.

Guys I Just Had Ramen That Blew My Mind

Today I was craving ramen, and my boyfriend can never say no to ramen. So we found this place near our house.

It’s called Mame-kin Gyoza and it serves Chinese noodles. They had a spicy hotpot with which you can have gyoza (dumplings), or tsukemen (that you can dip into the hot soup.)

I chose both, naturally. The picture had five little pictures of peppers and wooooo it was spicy indeed.

The hotpot thing had vegetables, pork, shiitake mushrooms, chili peppers, and even some fish ball stuff that you find in oden.

It was super hot and spicy and tasty. I chucked in the cold noodles and gobbled them all up. The gyoza dumplings had also soaked up all that lovely soup.

The waiter put two small bowls down so my boyfriend and I could share but he underestimated my power. I shoved all that in my belly and it was D E L I S H.

If you like ramen, visit Mame-kin Gyoza for yummy spicy tsukemen noodles! ❤️

Snow in Tokyo

Day 22 [New Year’s Resolution]: Snow in Tokyo

“INSTAGRAAAAAM!” a workmate of mine bellowed when our boss informed us that it was snowing.

Everyone gets excited at the first snowfall of the season. It was really only a matter of time before it hit Tokyo, but I don’t know if people were expecting it to come to suddenly or to stick for long.

Our boss sent us all home early and I’m really glad I did; the trains were packed and that wasn’t even during rush hour. But look how prettyyyy!

Tokyo kind of shuts down if there’s even a bit of snow. Anticipating train delays was one of the reasons our boss sent us home. Luckily my train takes less than ten minutes, so if all went wrong we still could have walked. It was super packed and I ended up apologising profusely to some poor woman who probably had my laptop bag sticking into her stomach.

According to the news, the station near my workplace is incredibly crowded now – like, hundreds and hundreds of people are stuck waiting for the train. I hope they get home soon and safely.

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We got back to Gakugei-Daigaku and were cold and stressed, so naturally, we bought alcohol. I’m really grateful to have been sent home because waiting among other cold and tired workers at 8pm at night would not have been fun.

Have you got snow in your country yet?

Winter in Tokyo

Day 14 [New Year’s Resolution]: Winter in Tokyo

It’s really really really cold today. The snow has made things a bit mental in other prefectures; a train in Niigata was stopped for fifteen and a half hours, trapping over 400 people on board, and one or two elderly people have died because of collapsing houses under the snow.

Tokyo doesn’t have snow, thankfully, but it’s still pretty biting. Insulation here is awful, so if you don’t have the heater on, cold air penetrates your room whether you’re in a house, a block of flats, or the office.

It really makes me miss home. At least when it’s cold, you’ll feel the warmth as soon as you walk inside. Right now, we get inside our house and have to turn the heater on as soon as we walk in, waiting around fifteen minutes before it’ll heat up the room. Just that room. No central heating here.

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Every time I feel like I hate winter, though, I remind myself of the cockroaches that found their way into our bathroom (not an infestation; there are just a lot of them around when it’s hot) last summer. Cockroaches are terrifying, so maybe cold fingers, and taking twenty minutes to get your bed warm at night is an acceptable alternative. Maybe.

At least I’m not dealing with snow. I shudder to imagine the amount of yuki gakki (snow shovelling) is going on near my old place up in Nagano Prefecture. Still, there are many great things about winter, too: hot beverages and soup inside vending machines, winter sports, heat-tech wear, winter illuminations, etc etc etc.

Bottom line is that it’s cold.

A Day in Kita-Senju

Day 7 [New Year’s Resolution]: A Day in Kita-Senju 

I met my homestay family today! I first met them in November 2012 as part of the study program at Toyo University and we’re still close now.

Since Kita-Senju in east Tokyo is about halfway between their house and mine, we decided to meet there. I’d never been, but it turned out to be a nice little shopping spot.

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We has a nice meal (super cheap – beer for 300 yen and Jim Beam and soda highball for just 200) and I got NieR: Automata on PS4, yay!

Even though I’m still a bit sick with a cold I had a lovely time with them and my friend Leo. Then I took Krispy Kreme doughnuts home. Today was a great day!

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Tomorrow is Coming of Age Day in Japan which means a bonus day off as well. Hopefully it’ll be enough to get completely well before it’s back to work.

Have you ever been to Kita-Senju? What did you do today?

A Bit About My Home in Tokyo

Day 3 [New Year’s Resolution]: A Bit About My Home in Tokyo

Writing one blog post a day for 2018 is all well and good, but it’ll just get boring if it’s a constant daily diary. Day three and we’re still going strong; at this rate, we’ll be a week in, and that’s longer than 95% of most new year’s resolutions.

Since Tokyo is a pretty big place, I thought I’d tell you a bit about where I live.

This is Gakugei-Daigaku.

Some of you will know that means “art university,” though the actual Gakugei Daigaku University of Arts moved to a different area long ago.

Gakugei-Daigaku has a town-like, local atmosphere, even though it’s just four stops from Shibuya Station on the Toyoko line. It’s got restaurants, cafes, a small BOOK OFF store, a shoe shop, and a Starbucks, Baskin Robbins (locally called “31 Ice,” KFC, and McDonald’s. It is part of Meguro Ward.

I love it here! People have asked, in various levels of sarcasm, whether living in Tokyo means that I’m constantly around massive crowds as if we’re all bunched together like sardines whether we’re crossing the road or on the toilet. No doubt they’re thinking of places like Shibuya Crossing, Shinjuku, or Ikebukuro during rush hour. Shibuya Crossing, for example, sees around three thousand people per minute during peak time.

There are a lot of places, though, that are spacious and beautiful, and you’d never guess that you were just a several-minute subway ride from metropolitan areas. I’m talking about the Imperial Palace area, Yoyogi Park, and of course, small community areas like Gakugei-Daigaku.

That’s enough from me right now anyway, as I have a lot of other writing tasks to get on with. If you have any questions about Gakugei-Daigaku or Tokyo in general, feel free to leave a comment! 🙂

New Year’s Day 2018

Day 1 [New Year’s Resolution]: New Year’s Day 2018

Where were you at midnight last night? More specifically, that insane moment of excitement between the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018?

I remember exactly a year ago, I was busy watching a Japanese comedy show called Waratte wa Ikenai (Laughing is Forbidden) which is a special New Year show that’s played from around six in the evening until twelve. Naturally, I expected it to end a couple of minutes before midnight and then for someone on TV to be like, “All right, it’s nearly time, let’s countdown!”

That didn’t happen, though. It ended, I looked at the clock and exclaimed that we’d missed it – it was twenty past twelve! Embarrassed and annoyed, I entered 2017 in a bad mood.

NAWT THIS TIME.

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As residents of west Tokyo, we usually hang out in, well… west Tokyo. Asakusa, famous for being one of the most visited spots in the city ever because of the lovely Senso-ji Temple and the like, was the last place I expected us to go.

But he looked at me and he said, “Let’s go. We’ll have a great time.”

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Asakusa is almost an hour away, so we chilled on the Ginza line, me thinking about how much work I had to get done and how comparably hot the train is after the biting ice of outside. Upon getting out, it was a lot less crowded than I expected, and we walked up to Senso-ji without the usual difficulty.

Apparently, they’ve hiked up the prices for the stalls so a lot of the shops on Nakamise Street have closed down. There were still a lot open selling the usual touristy stuff, though, as well as a healthy amount of food stalls selling yakisoba, skewered meat, chocolate bananas, and all kinds of stuff.

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It was still only 9pm so I was excited to see what the evening had in store. After a quick look at the temple, we went just a street or two away, where the flow of people just seemed to end. He grew up in Asakusa, see, so he was having a nice stroll down memory lane; near the horse racing was a street where he used to go to eat and chat with local people.

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We entered this super shabby and super charming establishment with plates of food everywhere and the jolliest owner I’ve ever seen. She and the two drunk guys there were so happy it was infectious.

He knows I love maguro katsu, so he asked them to make it so they did. It was sooooo good!

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We also tried sake the traditional way and umeshuu, plum wine. I asked for it and they got this massive bucket of it out!

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It was still only ten o’clock so he took me to Hanayashiki, one of the oldest theme parks in Tokyo. It’s full of kids’ rides and because it was New Year, there were illumination lights all over the place. Everyone had this happy glow about them.

We only rode two rides, but it was fun chatting and looking around and drinking in the excited atmosphere. One of the best things about Japan is that it’s nearly always safe. There were local Yakuza actually patrolling the streets – subtly, of course – just in case there was trouble. Their presence, inexplicably, is reassuring rather than intimidating.

We made it down near the stage where a comedian was performing just a few minutes before midnight. We counted down and “Yayyyy Happy New Year!” Then we got some food from the food stalls; a chocolate banana, a box of yakisoba, skewered beef, and some weird okonomiyaki on a stick later, we headed back to the station.

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The train back felt like it took forever. Trains in Tokyo usually stop at around midnight, but on New Year’s Eve, they run all night. A friend of mine who was staying over didn’t know this and he said he spent 8000 yen on a taxi getting back to my place. He wasn’t happy when I told him he could have got a train for literally a tenth of the price.

Now it’s New Year’s Day, and after a sausage and egg sandwich, a cup of tea, and a shower, this year is already looking good.

I’m writing one post a day as 2018’s new year’s resolution, which was inspired by the success of my friend Cindy Smith, who managed to write one poem a day in 2017. Congratulations, Cindy, and thank you for the inspiration!

I hope your New Year’s Eve was as grand as mine, and I wish you a wonderful new year.