Wednesday, December 23, 2015

One Last Adventure in Tokyo!

Hi there and Happy Holidays from Japan lovely blog readers,

So my time here in Japan is dwindling down, I go through move out inspection tomorrow evening and will be checked out of the dorm early Sunday morning! Then it's back to Haneda International Airport for a very very long trip home (approximately 29 hours including my layovers). However, I'm still trying to make the most of the last few days here! I finished my last final exam on Monday the 21st, bright and early Tuesday morning I headed out to Tokyo where I spent 2 days seeing everything I could see, trying new foods and hitting up my favorite places from the last time I was there. I was also lucky enough to get the chance to meet my online pen pal for the first time in person! So this week's topic is a recap of the very exciting (and tiring) adventure in Tokyo!

Day 1:

The highlight of day one was not waking up at 6:00am to catch the train, nor was it the chilly weather, it was a long awaited trip to Ikebukuro to visit the Pokemon Center!

Entrance to the Pokemon Mega Center.

This was a destination I had been waiting to go to all semester, but it seemed that every time I was in Tokyo, this kept getting pushed to the end of the list, mostly because Ikebukuro was more than a little out of the way of the other destinations that I wanted to see. Regardless, we made it this time!

Me and Pikachu!

The Pokemon Mega Center is primarily a gift shop with some very rare (and very very expensive) Pokemon merchandise, some of which is only available for very limited times. So, if you're a big Pikachu fan, you're in luck because this little guy is everywhere here! From plushies to chopsticks, you name it and the Pokemon Center has something with Pikachu, however, they also have merchandise of lots of other Pokemon. My personal favorite Pokemon is Growlithe/Arcanine, but he's not really one of the big popularity Pokemon so I did have difficulty finding him, but if you love any of the starters, you have plenty of options.

Really the only /Growlithe/Arcanine stuff I found was this amazing (but extremely expensive plushie of Arcanine and a coin pouch shaped like Growlithe's bum (still expensive).

So, for any Pokemon fans studying in Japan, even if you don't feel like shelling out the money for the pricey goods, do yourself a favor and just stop by the Pokemon Center, it's a really cool unique store, and you might find some things that are more in your budget range, but even if you don't, the photo opportunities are worth it in their own rights!

Me and Mega Charizard X, Mega Lucario and Mega Mewtwo Y.

Some more artwork around the center.


The wall of Pokemon, every single Pokemon from Generation 1 up to the Megas!

Me and some favorites, can't go wrong with fire types! :)

After the Pokemon Center, we went into Akihabara to spend the rest of the evening shopping around the anime district.

Figures from various shops around Akihabara. (starting from the top: Kaneki Ken from Tokyo Ghoul, Erina and Soma from Food Wars, Rin Miku and Len from Vocaloid, and Black Rock Shooter.)

Quite possibly the best musical group to ever exist, Lady Baby. Please do yourself a favor and check out their music video for the song Nippon Manju. haha :)

We ended day 1 with katsu-don (pork cutlet over rice)
After dinner, we went back to the hotel and crashed, but started day 2 bright and early ready for more crazy Tokyo excitement!

Day 2:

The only plan for day 2 was meeting up with my pen pal around 1:00pm for lunch, so Tyler and I met at Shinjuku station around 10:00am and took a trip to Yasukuni Shrine, which is very famous in Japan. Yesterday (December 23rd) was a holiday in Japan, the emperor's birthday (which I didn't realize until we were halfway to the shrine), so it was exciting to see a small motorcade and enjoying all the festivities happening around the shrine.

One of the side entrances to Yasukuni Shrine and the main gate.

I love Japanese shrine/temple architecture, and it was great that I got to learn about it in my Japanese Art History class this semester, while also getting the opportunity to see it firsthand.

Yasukuni Shrine and the War monument within the shrine's compound.

Some statues from the war monument: a dragon fish and the Gunken (wardog) memorial statue.

After seeing the shrine and the museum attached to the war monument, we headed back to Shinjuku station to meet my pen pal Michika. She and I started talking on Twitter about anime and learning foreign languages about 4 and a half years ago, we've sent each other gifts and at last we got the chance to meet in person!

Michika and I.

The three of us (Tyler, Michika and myself) spent the rest of the day sightseeing together, but first we went out to lunch for sutameshi, a pork dish that I had never even heard of until yesterday, it was incredibly delicious and I highly recommend trying it if you ever get the chance... I'm really going to miss authentic Japanese cuisine!

Sutameshi is fried pork, onions, etc. served donburi style (in a bowl over rice) and a raw egg is an optional addition (one I did not want to try).

After lunch, we went to Harajuku, to look around and I got one of my favorite sweets, a Harajuku style crepe. :)

Tyler and I at the entrance to Takeshita Street (one of the most popular shopping/tourist sites in Japan) and I got a crepe!

After making our way through the crowded Takeshita Street, we went back to the Line Friends store (since I liked it so much the last time I was in Harajuku!)

Brown (the bear mascot for the social media/texting app Line) is my favorite, so I have lots of pictures of/with the statues of him.

A plushie and Brown's counterpart mascot Cony the bunny.

So many cute things in the store!

I know what I want for Christmas! Now... how do I get this in my suitcase? I guess I'll settle for some stickers this time, haha! :)

So after Tyler and Michika were able to drag me out of the Line Friends store, we walked around Harajuku a little longer before heading to the station, bound for Asakusa (another revisit since it's one of my favorite places in Tokyo).

Harajuku station and me standing next to the gate leading to the Kaminarimon! (look how small I am in comparison!)

Another picture of the Kaminarimon because it's such a lovely example of old Japanese architecture.

We spent the rest of the time looking around Shinjuku until it was time for my train home, said our goodbyes and split up.

Overall, this trip to Tokyo was definitely my favorite, it was really exhausting and a little cold/rainy, but I got to experience/see everything I love most about Tokyo one more time, while also getting to try new things and meet a great friend in person. Tomorrow is Christmas here, but I think this trip was enough of a present, so I'll probably spend it recovering from all the traveling from the last 2 days... 3 more days until I head to the airport, it's getting more and more bittersweet the closer it gets.

Next week's post will be coming from back home in Pennsylvania, I think it'll just be a final wrap up of my once-in-a-lifetime experience in Japan.

Until then, I must finish packing and get ready to say goodbye to friends and a country that's really become a home to me,

Monday, December 21, 2015

Japanese Snacks and Candy

Hi there loyal blog readers,

It's final's week here at iCLA and I'm down to single digits before I head to the airport for my very long flight back to Pennsylvania. I'm a mix of stress and excitement and it's a little bittersweet too. So since I've had plenty of time to gather a lot of pictures and try a lot of new things, this post is about all of the wacky, wild, weird and totally unique Japanese snacks and candies! If you know even a little about Japan, you probably know that it's home to an insane variety of snacks and sweets that are like nothing we have back in the states. One of the most famous Japanese snacks is Pocky, which is essentially just a biscuit stick dipped in chocolate (or a variety of other unique flavors). Back in the states it's easy to find the two classic pocky flavors at most super markets, those being chocolate and strawberry, however, in Japan Pocky comes in so many different flavors.


Midi pocky are shorter, but have more of the flavored coating on the outside, these are the only flavors I've seen of midi: Strawberry latte, butter cocoa and caramel latte.

A few kinds of Pocky at the convenience store: almond, salted chocolate, mint, chocolate (original and thin stick), milky chocolate, strawberry hearts... And these are just a few.

One thing that I can't get over about Japanese snacks is the packaging, as a graphic design/art student, I can't get enough of it! They're designed in such a colorful way, but at the same time they're simple and really appealing. Also, aside from the packaging, the snacks themselves can be incredibly cute.

Some of the bright and adorable packaging of Japanese soda candy and panda cookies.

Japanese snacks aren't always cute and sweet, however, they have quite a few odd flavors that are sure to intrigue foreigners too.

Shrimp and salami flavors are popular among savory snacks.

Perhaps one familiar snack that Japan is most famous for is KitKats. KitKats are popular, but here in Japan they are nothing like back home.

(from the top) Pumpkin pudding, cheese cake, matcha (green tea), dark chocolate, strawberry cheesecake, cookies and cream.

These are just a fraction of the KitKat variety you can find here, other popular kinds include: purple sweet potato, sakura (cherry blossom), edamame, pear, strawberry (everything comes in strawberry flavor here, seriously), red bean (same deal as strawberry, everything), wasabi and many many many more. There are actual KitKat botiques located throughout Japan, you can even "bake" some of the varieties to add to the flavor!

Sweet potato KitKats are one of the kinds that recommend baking for a short time.

If you're a fan of ice cream, and seriously who isn't?! I recommend that you try as many flavors of mochi ice cream as possible, because not only are they delicious, they're super convenient. Mochi is a sort of dough made from rice powder (it has an almost marshmallow-y taste in my opinion) and then ice cream in placed inside the dough. They're usually sold in packs of two, but at some stores you can buy a box of nine. These also come in a lot of flavors (some limited to seasons, etc.) and there are always new ones popping up.

A few different kinds of mochi ice cream: chocolate and caramel filled, vanilla, cookies and cream and cream cheese icing with cookie bits.

There are also a TON of vending machines all over Japan that serve way more than drinks. Some serve hot or cold beverages, some serve hot food, some even serve ice cream!

Ice cream cone from a vending machine and quite possibly the best ice cream treat I've ever had, it's just way too convenient! Definitely recommend!

Super markets here often have small snacks for cheaper prices too, definitely take advantage of those aisles to try some new things or get familiar treats you miss from home.

So, I initially thought I could be pretty thorough on this subject since I've been seeing and trying these crazy unique snacks for months, but I realize now that even after all this, I've barely even scratched the tip of the iceberg! Japan has so many one of a kind snacks and candies that it's something you really need to experience for yourself if you get the chance one day. If anyone is considering spending a semester or more in Japan and would like to ask me any questions (be it about snack recommendations or anything else) I'm more than happy to answer anything I can, I can't say enough good stuff about Japan as a whole.

Well, I'm preparing to head over to ICC for their Christmas party now, next week's post will likely be about my last trip to Tokyo (aside from when I head to the airport that is).

Until then,