Yugawara Sekitei

We headed out of Kyoto to Yugawara, which is a smallish spa town in Kanagawa between Kyoto and Tokyo. A hot springs stay is a bit of an indulgence but well worth it after so many days of slogging around. Traveling can be such exhausting business! I was looking forward to a long soak and just sitting around doing nothing for a while. I think the problem with traveling is that you always feel like you have to be doing something. It’s too much pressure!

For our hot springs inn, my dad picked Sekitei, which has a few branches in various spa towns. This one was their Yugawara inn. My brother kept whining about how the inn we stayed at in Hakone a few years back was far superior, but whatever. I think every time he goes back to Japan, he just wants to revisit all the same places he loved over and over.

I will say that the food was less to my palate this time, but I’m not sure if it was just the selection of the ingredients or the culinary skill. Everything was gorgeous, at least. The package included a one night stay in their Japanese style tatami suite, 24-hour access to their hot springs (indoor and outdoor), one kaiseki style dinner and breakfast. Pictured above is the first course from the dinner. You’ll have to forgive my lack of commentary on the food, since I don’t remember a lot of the specifics! (^__^);;

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Bullet Train Bento

Aah, the train bento. I don’t think I’d ever done it before, on my other trips to Japan. This time, I intended to get a proper bento, especially since I’d be traveling in the Green Car of the Shinkansen. I found some really great bento packages in a Kyoto Station grocery shop, so we bought a whole bunch of stuff and set off for our next destination: Atami.

Pictured above is lemon tea, which I actually get at the Japanese grocery store in Maryland if I’m lucky. It’s so sweet but oh so good.

Corn salad, apple juice (sort of), and chawan-mushi (a savory egg custard). Yum!

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Arashiyama

Arashiyama is a sleepy little town on the outskirts of Kyoto, just a short train ride away. It’s quite lovely there. There’s a river, a bridge, a mountain, and a ‘monkey park.’ They had a bunch of cute shops en route to the park, so we stopped by for some sakura flavored soft ice cream. Yum! I loved it, but it might be a little surprising if you’re not used to salty flavored ice cream. There was definitely a hint of salt brined sakura leaf in the flavor.

I also got some sakura mochi, rice cake flavored with cherry blossom and wrapped in cherry blossom leaf.

And some pics from the monkey park:

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Mister Donut

While staying in Kyoto, we did a quickie side trip to neighboring Nara. There was a lot of walking involved. And temples. Not a lot of eating, however.

But we did end up at a Mister Donut, which are pretty ubiquitous in Japan. This was my first foray into this establishment. I think there was a doughnut craze here a few years back, with crazy two hour lines when they opened Krispy Kremes in Tokyo. I’m not sure if they’re particularly superior to the home-grown Misdo chain, but I guess a trend is a trend …

The seasonal flavor of ‘sakura’ was all over the place, including the doughnut shop.

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Cake & Akkun

So back to my Japan trip … where were we?

My brother really loves Kyoto. The last time he went, he strolled around his hotel one morning until he found a cute hole-in-the-wall type cafe for breakfast. Wishing to revisit that quaint little restaurant, he decided to go look for it again when we went to Kyoto with him last year. Of course, he had no idea what the address was, or the name of the place. We ended up walking aimlessly for many many blocks until we finally stumbled into a smallish cafe called “Cake & Akkun,” hungry and exhausted. It wasn’t quite the place he was looking for, but it was close enough, and I frankly didn’t care.

Thick pieces of toast and a side of egg seems to be a common breakfast ‘set’ all over Japan, and this place was no different. The “morning service” set consisted of butter toast, egg (boiled only: you cannot choose), and ‘etc.’ The etc. turned out to be coffee jello (mmm!) and potato salad. The set also came with your choice of drink:

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Jun Coffee

Day 2 in Kyoto started with breakfast in some coffee shop inside Kyoto Station called “Jun.” It was a tiny little shop and one of the only ones open so early in the morning. The service there was utter crap. I’m sorry they don’t have a Yelp page so I can properly rant at the incompetence of its staff and how slow and excruciating the service was. I suppose this blog will have to do.

At least the food was okay. The salad dressing was especially yummy. That being said, why is it that a western style breakfast set is always the same wherever you go in Japan? Buttered Texas toast. Egg (usually boiled, sometimes sunny side up). Side of salad. Coffee. Not much imagination at work. Good thing I usually skip breakfast…

Pictured above is their toast with egg and bacon set. It came with a small cup of coffee.

And some places have the Japanese style breakfast sets. Fish, rice and miso soup usually make an entrance… Healthier than bacon and eggs, at least! :)

27 Apr 2013, 11:24am
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Kyosendo

The first day in Kyoto was a busy one with tons of walking. After we stashed our stuff at the hotel and had a bite (or several) of tempura for lunch, we hopped on a bus to Yonjo street. I had a bit of an incident on the bus… I dunno about most buses in Japan, but in Kyoto, you have to pay upon exiting. The fare is 220 yen, and you pay exact change. If you don’t have exact change, you can convert your money at a machine on the bus. Now, the conversion machine is the same machine as the one where you pay. I inadvertently threw a 100 yen piece into the conversion machine, and it immediately spit out a bunch of 10 yen coins, much to the dismay of the driver lady. Hahaha…. But hey, it was confusing! The slot was right there, next to the payment bit! But now I know, I guess…

We got off the stop and walked across a river, past the kabuki-za theater and onward towards the sites. We hit Yasaka Shrine before ambling toward Koudai Temple. (By the way, it’s either Koudai Temple or Koudaiji. It’s a bit redundant to call it Koudaiji Temple). Everything was beautiful. There were a ton people there, including quite a few school groups… Maybe it’s that season of the year. We attempted to see Kiyomizu Temple but it was already evening and closing up for the day. Instead, we stopped in at a dessert shop called Kyosendo for a much needed respite. My feet were killing me at this point.

Kyosendo had a shop in the front to buy dessert gift packages and a cafe in the back for dining in. The colorful menu had all kinds of Japanese desserts listed, mostly in “sets.” A set basically meant it came with a drink. You could also order something “tanpin” or “individually” if you wanted an item by itself. There was some confusion when my brother ordered one set and one other thing individually, because the second thing wasn’t “individual” at all. It took a moment to realize that even the solo items come with a complimentary tea.

Pictured above is the sakura-mochi set, which came with a bowl of matcha – very thick green tea. It was just near the end of cherry blossom season, so a lot of places still had their sakura specials on the menu. :)

All of these pictures were taken on my brother’s Fuji X100, which means he probably took most of them.. I might’ve taken a few as well, but I don’t remember exactly which.

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Tea House Lipton

After crashing in Tokyo for one night, I was off to Kyoto the next morning on the Shinkansen (bullet train). The Green Car was very nice, indeed. It was roomy and comfortable, and I was feeling very relaxed after a long journey. The train I was on had no Wifi or power outlets, however. I’m not entirely sure I’d splurge on Green Car next time.

Kyoto Station is a behemoth, and it took me several days to get oriented on where things were. There’s the Isetan department store (11 floors of shopping), cafes, restaurants, book shops, food stores, souvenir shops…you could spend a whole day inside the station alone. There’s also the Porta underground mall adjacent to the station. We only ventured in briefly one morning, but almost everything was still closed. The Tea House Lipton was open, however, and my brother bought a few pretty looking pastries for the road.

…by the way, not all restaurants do takeaway in Japan. Most cafes do, I think, but it’s always safe to ask ahead.

Pictured above is the strawberry “candle” cake made with custard cream. We had this with a cup of Cafe du Monde coffee in Kyoto Station.

Also:

A cream puff! I think cream puffs need to catch on and be the next cupcake donut of the local fads. I propose a Beard Papa cream puffs branch for DC, pronto!

Photos in this post taken by my brother

Starbucks: Shinagawa Station

I feel like there were a lot more Starbucks in Japan than the last time I was here. The menu is pretty much the same except pricier. I got a tall cappuccino for 380 yen, or about $3.82. But unlike the cappuccinos I’ve been getting at the Starbucks in DC, it actually tasted more espresso-like. In the US, don’t usually get Starbucks espresso drinks without ordering an extra shot because it otherwise tastes like milk, not coffee.

You can supposedly get free Wifi service at Starbucks stores in Japan, but I wasn’t about to connect to it, myself. The Starbucks in Shinagawa also had some food items like this quiche – which I didn’t try – and a baum cake, which is pretty ubiquitous in Japan.

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Japanese Breakfast

breakfast

I’m usually not very hungry in the mornings, and a hot cup of java is all I need. So you can say that my morning meal at the Hakone inn was an atypical one for me. Look at this spread! All this for breakfast!

In my mind, a typical Japanese breakfast is just a simple rice and miso soup pairing with maybe a small helping of pickled cucumber. Not so at the full service inn, where they pulled out all the stops. Before the food, there was green tea with pickled plum to cleanse the palate. Next came fresh tofu, heated up and solidified right at the table on a single-serve burner. The food kept coming: grilled fish, several different kinds of pickled veggies, raw shirasu fish with shiso leaf and grated ginger, slices of kamaboko fish cake with pickled wasabi, sauteed burdock, Japanese style rolled omelet with ground daikon radish. And of course, rice and miso soup (with fresh clams!). So many lovely dishes, it was almost too pretty to eat. o(^__^)o

The highlight for me was definitely the fresh tofu, which actually reminded me of a similar dish I had at Morimoto in Philadelphia. Fresh tofu is just no comparison to the blocks of tofu you’ll find in your grocer’s fridge. There’s a subtle soy flavor that you can really taste and appreciate in freshly made tofu. Love it.

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Onboard the Hakone Romance Car

coffee and ice cream

About a 1~2 hour train ride outside of Tokyo, there’s a famous area of hot springs called Hakone. The private Odakyu line for Hakone departs from Shinjuku station, which was pretty convenient for me, since my hotel was in Shinjuku. It’s feasible to do a day trip, but I stayed overnight at a Japanese style ryokan to partake in the full experience. The room I stayed in had a private indoor bath, which is definitely the way to go for utmost pampering!

Speaking of pampering… There are two ways to get to Hakone from Tokyo via train – the commuter line or the “Romance Car.” You can take the commuter line using the Hakone Free Pass, but for the Romance Car, you’ll need to pay an additional ~700 yen each way. Do it. Trust me, the comfort is worth the extra money, and you’ll get there faster because it doesn’t stop at every station.

Plus you get decent in-transit food service for a reasonable price! I got a coffee and a strawberry “daifuku” (mochi) ice cream. So delicious! It had chunks of soft, chewy mochi that went very well indeed with the strawberry ice cream. Pic under the cut.

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15 Jun 2009, 9:44pm
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Depachika: A Foodie's Paradise

depachika1

If you are a foodie in Japan, one trip you must make is to the “depachika” – the basement of a department store. Department stores in Japan dedicate their basement levels to top grade food items, where you’ll find tasty foods you didn’t even know you wanted until you set your hungry eyes on them. Word of caution: don’t visit these places when you’re starving, or you just might blow your budget.

These are actually great places to buy gifts to take back with you to your friends and family, and you can count on them to gift wrap everything (and even give you spare bags complete with brand insignia) with your choice of ribbon color.

I don’t think I spent half as much time as I should have at the depachika, because looking back at the photos now, I’m realizing that I hardly ate any of these. (;__;)

My brother took these photos, since I was too busy staring covetously at everything. Most of the pictures here are of pastries, but don’t be mistaken. Depending on department store, you’ll find all kinds of foods, ranging from fish and meats to produce and hot prepared foods. =9

The rest of the pics follow. >>

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14 Jun 2009, 9:48am
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Daibo Coffee

daibo

This will be the first of several posts on my Japan trip from May ’09. I was there for a week and a half, staying mostly in Tokyo, but with a brief side trip to the Hakone hotsprings. Japan’s got some of the best food to be had in the world, and this trip certainly did not disappoint on that front!

Today’s post is on Daibo Coffee shop, a place in Aoyama that my Tokyo Time Out guide highly recommended. My brother and I had been wandering around Harajuku/Aoyama that day and after a long day of walking, we desperately needed a place to sit down and cool off.

Daibo is located on the second floor of a rather nondescript building near Omotesando station. It’s a real hole in the wall, a tiny little space covered in wood and (on the day we went) smoke. I’ll never really get used to the public smoking in Japan, but I would say that this place is well worth sucking up that second hand smoke…and the price! I had the iced cafe au lait, pictured here with the handy syrup (sugar water) for easy sweetening. This bowl of icy goodness set me back a whopping 700 yen, but it was probably the best cafe au lait I’d ever had in my life.

This coffee shop also offers liquor…and desserts. An odd combination, but no complaints here! The menu was filled with funny Engrishy wording. Pics under the cut.

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