Thursday, 7 April 2016

Tokyo 2-Day Itinerary: Ghibli Themed!

Day 1

Ghibli Museum

Learning that Ghibli Museum is going to be closed for renovation from May to July 2016, I made a trip to Tokyo(東京)which is 580km from where I live in Japan. I took a night bus from Kobe(神戸) to Tokyo which departed at 9:40pm and arrived at Shinjuku Central Park(新宿中央公園)at 6:45am the next day. Each seat on the bus came had a blanket, electric outlet and hood that can be pulled over the head. Bringing my own ear plugs and an eye mask, I was able to get adequate sleep and was ready for a full day of exploring!

Willer Night Bus
It was a wonderful contrast to be in Shinjuku on this crisp, sunny spring morning because it was so quiet and peaceful before the work rush. I walked to Tochomae Station (都庁前) and bought a metro day pass for 1000 yen. The day pass included unlimited rides on the Tokyo Metro and Toei Lines.

Tsukiji Market
Long queues at 8am
My first stop of the day was to Tsukiji Market(築地)for some sushi breakfast. The ride was about 20 minutes long. I was not early enough for the famous tuna auction but I still enjoyed the relatively quieter market in the morning. Of course, being such a famous landmark, relatively quiet was still very busy and active. I avoided the long queues at the more famous locations because my rationale was that any shop will have very fresh seafood in Tsukiji. I just wanted to enjoy my meal and not have to wait 3 hours for it. I did queue for kaisendon(海鮮丼)for 2 hours back in January.

Tsukiji Kagura Sushi
I came across this tent that was like a street food ramen shop. Peeking inside I saw that all three of the small tables and two seats at the short sushi bar were occupied. The chef saw me looking and motioned for me to wait a moment. Less than a minute later, a table of three left and I was seated. I ordered the special nigiri set and enjoyed the intimate setting of the small shop. It was just the chef, food and his customers.

Small but good shop
Very fresh nigiri set
Two of the three tables were occupied by foreign tourists and when their sushi came, they immediately asked for wasabi when they saw it wasn’t on the plate. Actually, the chef already placed the right amount of wasabi under each piece of sashimi in the nigiri. Remember to trust the chef! The shrimp and scallop nigiri were so fresh and I tried to eat slowly to make my meal last longer.

After a wonderful sushi breakfast, I was off to Sugamo Station (巣鴨) to visit Tsuta Ramen(蔦). The restaurant name is actually Japanese Soba Noodles but if you Google Tsuta Ramen, the same place will also show up. This is the first ramen restaurant to receive a Michelin star and is therefore very famous with long queues. They have a queuing system where you get a ticket by giving a 1000 yen deposit and you come back at the time indicated on the ticket. You will get the 1000 yen back to make your ramen purchase later.

The restaurant opens at 11am and at 10am, I was only able to get a 1pm ticket! I wonder how early the other people came to get 11am tickets. With three hours, I went straight to my next destination which was Ueno Park (上野公園). There were two cherry blossom trees at the entrance and many people were taking photos with them. Walking further into the park, there were a few more. I was happy to see them because it was still a tad early for cherry blossom season at the time.

Ueno Park
Cherry blossom trees at Ueno Park
Leaving Ueno Park by 11am, I took the Ginza Line (銀座) to Asakusa (浅草). I first went to find Kagetudo (花月堂)to eat melopan because I didn’t want it to spoil my appetite for ramen later. Kagetudo is one of the shops that claimed to have invented melopan. I briefly walked down Denbouin Street(伝法院通り)when I was looking for Kagetudo and the Edo style old shops were charming. The large bun was 200 yen each and delicious! It was much less sweet than the usual ones, still warm, smelled buttery and was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Kagetudo melopan shop
Melopan
After my snack I walked down the side of Nakamise-dori(仲見世通り), the souvenir shopping street, to get to Sensoji Temple(浅草寺). There were a lot of people here and it was pretty with the huge red lanterns and sight of Tokyo Skytree in the background. On a time restriction, I made sure to leave Asakusa by 12:20pm to make it back to Sugamo in time.

Nakamise-dori
Tokyo Skytree from Sensoji
Sensoji
Inside Sensoji
I returned to Tsuta Ramen by 12:50pm and still had to wait behind four other people to get into the shop. Once I was in the quiet shop (everyone was eating quietly) I was returned the 1000 yen deposit and ordered the famous ramen ajitama shoyu soba 味玉醬油そば for 1250 yen from the machine. I waited some more for an open seat at the ramen bar. In total I think I waited about 50 minutes before I was finally served my bowl of noodles. I didn’t mind waiting but I wanted to let readers know that they should definitely allot more time if they want to eat here.

Tsuta Ramen aka Japanese Soba Noodles
Chefs at the Michelin star ramen shop
The ramen grew on me the more I ate. The broth was flavourful but not greasy, the noodles were al dente and handmade. The egg was perfect and the four pieces of chashu had a chewy texture with some fat marbling and was not greasy at all. It retained its meat texture unlike the typical fatty, melt in your mouth type of ramen chashu. The black truffle dollop was fragrant and heightened the delicious taste. I am salivating just describing this ramen again. I definitely think it is worth the wait if you can afford it in your schedule! Everyone who worked there was pleasant and spoke some English which made the wait easier.

味玉醬油そば
I left Sugamo around 2pm and took the 40 minute metro with two transfers to Tokyo Skytree. I hadn’t planned on going in my itinerary but it looked worthwhile to see the tallest tower in the world when I saw it in Asakusa. I was impressed by the height when I was finally at its base.  

Tokyo Skytree
Next, I took the metro to Tokyo Station to see the Imperial Palace. Walking through the large garden took a while and at the entrance of the bridge to cross the moat, I found out that the palace closed at 4pm. It was 3:59pm at the time. I hadn't realized it would close so early but the surrounding area still made for a pleasant walk.

Tokyo Station
Outside the Imperial Palace
For dinner I met up with friends at Shin Okubo Station (新大久保站) on the JR Yamanote Line. This area was the Korean town of Tokyo and we went to a Korean BBQ place and ordered the fatty pork with cheese dip and lettuce wrap. It was pretty darn delicious and we were given large paper bibs to protect our clothing from the spitting oil from the grill.

Korean BBQ
Instead of taking transit, we walked to Shinjuku to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building to see the night view. There is a free observatory on the 45th floor over 200 metres above ground level. The windows here were even cleaner than the ones at Tokyo Tower and offered a superb view of the city from all around. I could see Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower glowing in the distance from different windows. It was a great budget friendly option to see the night view of this metropolis and its famous landmarks.

View of Tokyo Tower from the Tokyo Metropolitan Building Observatory

Day 2

Ghibli Day! The proximity of locations worked out to be a Ghibli-themed day and that made my second day in Tokyo even better. Since most of the places I was visiting didn’t fall on the Tokyo Metro or Toei Lines, I didn’t get the day pass.

I took the Keio Line to Shin Daita Station(新代田)and followed Google Maps to walk through a residential area to find Tolo Bakery. The route wasn’t difficult but could be a bit confusing going for the first time. Tolo Bakery is a place for good coffee, baked goods and handmade pasta but it is most famous online for its Shiro Hige Totoro Cream Puffs. I arrived at 10:30am just as they were opening and letting people in. Three of the four tables were tourists who were probably attracted by the photos online like I was.

Tolo Bakery
Regardless of the Totoro cream puffs, I really liked the ambiance of this second floor shop with the bakery kitchen on the first floor. It is in a quiet residential area where you could slow down your pace and really take in what they have to offer your taste buds.

Adorable Totoro cream puffs
I ordered a hot chocolate (550 yen) and two Totoro cream puffs (440 yen each) – custard and strawberry. The custard one had a leaf on Totoro’s ear and the strawberry one had a sakura. They were so adorable I almost didn’t want to eat them! But I am glad I did because they were delicious. The cream inside was slightly sweet and rich. I could tell the strawberry one was flavoured with the actual fruit instead of essence. If I didn’t have to rush off, I would have loved to spend a chill afternoon here but instead I paid and left by 11am to take the train to Kichijoji Station(吉祥寺).

My Ghibli Museum entrance ticket was set for 12pm, so I took the bus from Kichijoji Station to a stop nearby the museum. I arrived by 11:50am and was admitted right away. I was told by many others that the museum is small so I adjusted my expectations accordingly. I took my time exploring each of the three levels and was actually grateful for the no photos indoors policy because there were a lot of people in the small space and the cameras would have blocked the view.

Ghibli Museum entrance
Ghibli Museum outdoors from the third floor
It was fascinating to see Hayao Miyazaki’s(宮崎駿)sketches and how the movies were made from individual panels and frames. There was a 15 minute movie which is exclusive to the museum. I left the museum a satisfied Ghibli fan and opted to walk back to Kichijoji Station to find Satou Steakhouse.
 
Robot from 天空の城ラピュタ Castle in the Sky
I learned of Satou Steakhouse from Simon and Martina on their YouTube channel, Eat Your Kimchi, and they made it seem so good! It is actually a shop that sells raw meat and croquette in the shopping arcade behind Kichijoji Station. There was a queue for the famous pork croquettes but it didn’t take too long. Each one was 150 yen and I understood why others bought 10 at a time because they were excellent! The freshly fried croquette was extremely crispy and the ball of fatty pork mixed with onion inside was juicy and flavourful. おいしい!

Satou Steakhouse
Super juicy pork croquette
From Kichijoji I took the train to Shibuya (渋谷) and transferred to Harajuku (原宿). Walking down the famous Takeshita Shopping Street(竹下通り) was interesting and crowded. It seemed to be targeted at teenage girls with the many pastel, heart, girly things and crepe shops. I saw the Pompompurin Café from outside but the queue was too long.

Takeshita-dori
Pompompurin Cafe
Harajuku was my last stop on this trip and I took the train to Haneda Airport(羽田空港) for my 6pm flight. Overall it was a short but jam packed trip and I was able to see a lot because I could move along quickly as a solo traveler. 
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