Friday, August 23, 2013

Japan - Shibuya, Tokyo

Shibuya, Tokyo is definitely a hip and happening place. I always like to compare metropolitan cities that I visit with Hong Kong cities. Shibuya reminds me of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. People are trendy and there's lots of nightlife going on - bars, restaurants, dessert shops and more.

Filmmakers tend to shoot their scenes in Shibuya. I recognized some of the streets and shops in Fast & Furious 6

Shibuya crossing is claimed to be the busiest intersection in the world. All vehicles are stopped in all directions to let pedestrians cross. Pedestrians are coming from any and all directions - east, west, south, north, northeast! - you get the drift. Living in a suburban city in Los Angeles, this is such a rare occurrence. Downtown Los Angeles isn't even crowded during working hours. Even when I was in Hong Kong, there wasn't as much people at there were here.

Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing
As you can see, lots of people waiting to cross. And this was only one direction out of six!

Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing
We crossed the intersections many times and stood at different directions.

Shibuya Crossing
I think the picture above is a good depiction of the swarms of people crossing the streets.

Shibuya Crossing
Here we are at a different direction again. Lots of people waiting!

Here, I thought I'd give the photographer some credit :)

Shibuya Crossing - Shibuya 109 pictured
At another direction of Shibuya crossing, where we captured Shibuya 109. Shibuya 109 is a large department store that sells primarily women's clothing and accessories. Clothes are usually very trendy. I remember visiting it back in 2008 - I felt excited because I had read so much about the different shops located in Shibuya 109. And there were many choices to choose from - that's actually not good for me because I tend to get indecisive when given too many choices - anyway, back then, I did do some shopping at Shibuya 109. This time around, I opted to spare my man the boredom (and also my wallet!).

Inside streets of Shibuya
So finally, we left the Shibuya Crossing and did some exploring. It's a pity that our Japanese sucks. There were many restaurants that we wanted to try, but the language barrier was too difficult to overcome.

Our Tokyo Guide Book brought us to this building that was filled with izakayas. Izakaya is a restaurant that serves alcohol and Japanese styled tapas. When we reached the building, we had to take the elevator to the third floor. Upon exiting, we entered izakaya heaven. Unfortunately for us, everyone there only spoke Japanese. No English was spoken. No picture menus were available. All of the foods listed on the menu were in Japanese. With our limited Japanese, we tried to order by pointing at the dishes of people next to us, but our server only smiled and said something we couldn't interpret. After exchanging lots of smiles and hand gestures to no avail, we gave up and left. In retrospect, I wish we had tried harder. :(

Inside streets of Shibuya 
No worries, even though we didn't do izakaya in izakaya heaven, but we still did izakya and enjoyed the next favorite thing on our list - ramen!

Yummy ramen noodles
As previously mentioned, I really like ramen noodles. My Boyfriend loves ramen noodles. We each had a bowl everyday - no joke. My Boyfriend claims that we wouldn't be able to enjoy such a delicious bowl in Los Angeles. It's true - Los Angeles has its popular ramen establishments, but the ramen in Japan is tastier. From the soup, to the firmness of the noodle, to its fatty pork - it's not easy to cook a perfect bowl of ramen noodles!

Anyway, it's been a little over a week since my last post. Hope y'all are still holding tight for my updates - my goal is to blog a couple times a week or at least once a week... so until next time :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Japan - Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, Tokyo

I was surprised by the number of shrines that Japan has. In many corners and small streets, we accidentally discovered shrines. Especially in Kyoto. In Tokyo, there weren't as many shrines, but there are some that are famous and worth the visit. The Meiji Shrine is pretty famous and considered a touristy spot. Of course we had to visit this shrine!

The Meiji Shrine is dedicated to the deceased Emperor Meiji and his wife. According to what I read at the shrine, Emperor Meiji was loved by the Japanese and under his ruling, the country was quite prosperous. 

So how did we get here? We took the Tokyo Metro and exited at Harajuku station.

At the exit of Harajuku station
Harajuku was just as I remembered it from 2008. Not much has changed since then. Silly me - back in 2008, I had no idea what shrines were, let alone that there was this Meiji Shrine. Fortunately, I was given a second chance. Upon exiting the station, Meiji Shrine is on the right hand side.

Direct translation of the Kanji: Shrine Bridge

Walking towards the Meiji Shrine
At the entrance of the Meiji Shrine 
The torii leading to the Meiji Shrine
A torii is a Japanese gate. I learned that all Japanese shrines have a torii (pictured above) that leads to the actual shrine. It's also how I was able to tell the difference between a shrine and a temple. The buddhist temples don't have a torii.

The road leading to Meiji Shrine
I love how Japan is so modern yet so much of its culture is retained. The road to the shrine was very peaceful and calming. The road was lined with big, tall trees. It was like the city didn't even exist. It was the perfect weather because it wasn't too hot. I believe it took about 30 minutes to walk to the actual shrine. We visited this shrine around noon on a weekday, which worked out great because there weren't any crowds.

Beautiful sake barrels donated to the Meiji Shrine
Beautiful sake barrels donated to the Meiji Shrine
After a nice stroll, we finally reached the entrance of the shrine. Before entering a shrine, the Japanese believe that one must cleanse the mind and body. In order to do so, each shrine is equipped with water and mini water scoops for people to use at the entrance. The practice is to use your right hand to pick up the water scoop, scoop some water, and pour some water to rinse on your left hand. After you rinse your left hand, you switch and rinse your right hand. Thereafter, you cup your left hand, pour some water on your palm, and touch the water with your lips - not in your mouth and definitely don't swallow. Finally, you use both hands to hold the water scoop and hold it up vertically to let any excess water roll down. After those steps, I was cleansed!

Preparing to cleanse my mind and body before entering Meiji Shrine
Meiji Shrine
Meiji Shrine
Very simple architecture. I love the minimalist style.

Here I was trying to read that sign, trying to comprehend what the giant rope symbolizes. Alas, the three years of Japanese failed me.
For about ~$5.00 USD, you can write your wish down!
Writing our wishes down was my favorite part whenever we visited shrines. Most Japanese shrines sell wooden tablets (known as ema in Japanese) where people are able to write their wishes down. Meiji Shrine sold these for about $5.00, which is reasonably priced. Visiting the shrines are free and the sales of ema help to support the shrine financially. These wooden tablets are hung at a designated area where the god will receive the wishes. Many wishes I read touched my heart - people wished for their children, their loved ones, for a healthy life. Some even wrote hoping a lost loved one will come back to their life.

We bought an ema and wrote our wishes and aspirations down too. We also promised to come back again if our wishes come true - so Meiji Shrine, we hope to see you soon again :)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Japan - Shinjuku, Tokyo

For as long as I could remember, I've always wanted to go to Japan. I love the food, fashion and anything Japanese - I even learned three years of Japanese in High School. Japan was on the top of my list for countries to visit.

In 2008, andy (my best friend and lover) surprised me with a trip to Tokyo, Japan as a birthday present. I was stoked - he made my wish come true! We spent five days in Tokyo aimlessly wandering around the city, eating at restaurants we thought looked interesting, confused ourselves with their crazy subway system, and just taking in the city. But five days in Tokyo was not enough. As our plane departed, I whispered to myself, Japan, I will be back!

Fast forward to May 1, 2013. I'm jumping up and down all giggles in the living room after Andy tells me that our next destination would be... *drumroll* Japan! This time around, we would be staying a full two weeks! This time around, I was in charge of the intinerary, so I made sure we hit all the right spots and visit all the places we missed the first time around. In our two week span, we went to Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. I can't remember the last time I've felt more excited for a trip!

We stayed in Shinjuku, Tokyo for our first three nights. 

Shinjuku is home to a variety of restaurants, bars and entertainment. Everything is within walking-distance.

Entering Kabukicho, a street famous for its bars, restaurants and special services *ahem *wink
We stayed at the Sunroute Hotel in Shinjuku. It is rated 4.5 stars on,, and Expect hotel rooms in Japan to be small - imagine the size of those cruise ship cabins. This one was no exception, but it was very clean, conveniently located (subway was right next to the hotel!), and the staff were very friendly and spoke English (most Japanese people speak limited English).

After we settled down in our hotel, we were tasked with satisfying our growling stomachs! After a long flight, a ride from the JR, and a walk to the hotel, a bowl of comfort ramen noodles was needed. We came across a ramen shop with a pig logo - I thought that was cute. Also, there was a small crowd waiting to get in, so we thought, if there is a crowd, the food must be good! And it was!

My first official meal in Tokyo :)

Andy's bowl
I love ramen noodles, but I am not nearly as in love with it as Andy is. During our trip to Japan, Andy and I strived to have a bowl of ramen noodles everyday. The above pictured bowl of ramen is the BEST bowl I've ever had in my life. We think the soup base is key to a delicious bowl of ramen noodles. Following that, is the firmness of the noodles and the toppings. For me, this bowl hit every spot. The soup base is very creamy, like clam chowder creamy, but not as dense. And the noodles were just perfect in terms of firmness. I loved how flavorful the pork was, the seaweed that surrounded the noodles, the plentiful green onions and bamboo shots. My mouth is salivating as I recall how delicious it tasted. Andy enjoyed his bowl (so much that he ordered extra noodles!), but he didn't think it was the BEST bowl he's had. More on that next time.

It was a very small restaurant, smaller than the smallest restaurant I've seen in LA.
This is the inside of the restaurant. It was very small. We were seated in the corner of the restaurant with barely any room. Most ramen noodles are set up bar-style. Many people come and eat alone. Japanese people slurp their noodles quickly and leave promptly - these shops are usually not much of a 'wine and dine' atmosphere. I think this is considered their type of fast food restaurant. We were here for less than an hour and within that time span, many people came and left.

The outside of the restaurant - Hakaia Tenjin
I forgot to snap a photo of the restaurant the night of, but the next day when we passed by it again, I remembered! It's kind of hard for me to remember the Japanese name of the restaurant, but because of the pig logo, thereon I called it the pig ramen shop. We stumbled across this pig ramen shop by accident, but when we started looking through our Tokyo Guide Book, this restaurant was on the 'must-try list'! Lucky us!

Our Tokyo Guide Book also directed us to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to get a nice view of Tokyo. The Tokyo Metropolitan Building is located in the west side of Shinjuku, where all the skyscrapers are - imagine it like downtown LA or Wall Street in New York, except super duper clean. We were able to walk to this building from our hotel. It was a good 20-30 minute walk (partly because we kept thinking we found the right building, but we didn't :p). Here are some pictures of the city when we were finally on top:

View of Tokyo from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

View of Tokyo from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

View of Tokyo from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
The observation deck is at the 47th floor and admission is free. Unfortunately, we experienced hazy weather the day we went. I've heard that if the skies are clear and sunny, you could even see Mount Fuji! There were hardly any people at the observation deck (this could be due to the hazy weather). I enjoyed sitting down, relaxing and enjoying the hazy view with Andy.

Alright, to avoid overwhelming you, until next time :)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

An introduction to JOL

This is my first official (public) blog entry in years. And when I say years, I mean since my high school years! For a long while now, I wanted to start a blog to document my travels and eats and provide tips and/or recommendations on where to visit or what to expect. Unfortunately, my laziness has gotten the best of me – but better late than never, right?

On this journey dubbed “life,” there are a number of things that bring warm and fuzzy feelings to my heart. Traveling and eating are definitely on the top of my warm and fuzzy feelings list. 

Whilst studying abroad in college, the world opened itself up to me. I visited Beijing, China and breathed in all the history the forbidden city had to offer. I roamed the streets of Taipei, Taiwan and devoured all of their yummy street foods. And I visited Tokyo, Japan, one of the cities I’ve always dreamed about visiting, and it delivered more than I could have imagined. In short, I realized how BIG the world is and how much there is to discover, experience and learn – be it about the world, the people around me or myself. It was then that I found a new passion and joy in life – traveling.

My lifetime goal is to travel the world. I yearn to see new places, learn new cultures, learn the history, and eat different and yummy foods. Since I’ve graduated college, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to at least one new destination every year. I hope to reach my goal of traveling the world by continuing on that track – visiting a new travel destination every year, and hopefully, when I no longer have to work (or in my retirement years?!), I can finish traveling the world with the love of my life.

So for now, I’m a wannabe avid traveler. For now, my traveling quests typically last two or three weeks once (and if I’m lucky!) or twice a year to a destination of choice. And for now, since I’m not on the road or traveling as much as I would really love to, I reward myself with food – the other joy of my life!

As a food lover, I’m always open to trying new cuisines or new restaurants. I LOVE LOVE LOVE desserts and I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE anything spicy or cheesy! Living in Los Angeles, I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many different food choices.

Here's a preview of my trip to Tokyo this past June. So... stay tuned on a weekly post of my simple joys of life :)