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January 03, 2017

Off to Toyko - Part II

Let’s continue where we left off last year - with Part II of our Tokyo venture, exploring parks, towers, and the eclectic beauty of Shinjuku.


Colors & Coordinates has already taken on many different viewpoints in it's short lifespan - all part of figuring out my own blogging style. My initial creation of Colors & Coordinates was for my own lifestyle blog inspired by outfits, interior design, and traveling, which then expanded to include food and Dan and I’s spontaneous adventures.

To ring in 2017, one of my New Year resolutions is to focus more time on the blog, and to do so, I’ve decided to include my husband, Dan, as part of my blogging venture! He will be helping me write the posts, turning Colors & Coordinates into a focus on traveling together, since we like to document and reminisce our unique and unplanned experiences together. We think we have finally found our niche since I love the creative, visual aspect and posting with a positive spin, and he’s the more technical, detail-oriented writer of us two. Opposites truly attract. Here’s to a new beginning of Colors & Coordinates!

On to Tokyo!

On our second day, we woke up ready for breakfast. Today, we wanted to try a traditional Japanese breakfast since we opted for a western style (aka US-style) breakfast the day before.What’s our stance on the traditional Japanese breakfast? Avoid!

We would say this is a unique experience, but not for the faint of heart. We tried the traditional breakfast in a small local café down the street from our Airbnb in Shin-Okubo to experience what the locals eat in the mornings here. No hash browns, country sausage, bacon, biscuits, pancakes, (or tourists) here! We take brunch seriously, so this was a big adjustment for us. We ordered a traditional breakfast with fish and the other with a fried egg and salad.

What struck us first was the huge variety of items brought to our table – steamed rice, a raw egg cracked into a small bowl for Dan, a fried egg for myself, miso soup, salmon, omelette (tamagoyaki), dried seasoned seaweed (nori), fermented sticky soy beans (natto), cabbage, small hot dogs, and Japanese Pickles (tsukemono).


First question, what do you do with the raw egg? We had no clue and we couldn’t exactly ask the server since we couldn’t speak fluent japanese. We looked around and saw a guy next to us pour the raw cracked egg onto the slightly warm rice, and stir. Does this cook the egg? No. It makes the rice into a yellow, runny, uncooked mess. Not the best start to this breakfast. Add some soy sauce, and power through. Let’s try the salmon – this looks pretty good. Dan took the first bite, but discovered 15 tiny bones to pick out of his mouth. This is getting worse. Let’s try this natto, which is the fermented soy beans – which look like small, hard pinto beans covered in marshmallow fluff. Unfortunately, I am very familiar with Natto and hated the food growing up, but I was eager to have Dan try it, knowing full well he would hate it. I was right. His reaction was no bueno.

The saving grace was the small omelette (they included a side of mayo for this – interesting), fried egg, miso soup, and small hot dogs, which resembled Vienna sausages, to get us through this. Luckily this entire meal set us back less than $10 (1,000 yen). Since we weren’t completely satisfied with our first meal of the day, we stumbled into a nearby cafe for something to help take our minds off of the first breakfast. Onto this trendy Insta-worthy café across the street, which turned out to be a Boy Band themed Café (so Tokyo) where we ordered a Yogurt Parfait and Matcha Tea Latte – delicious end to the food experience we won’t soon forget.


We then wandered through the nearby red light district in Shinjuku (aka Golden Gai) during the day to walk by the skyscrapers, narrow alleys, flickering neon lights, suited businessmen, street music, brothels (for both men & women), sketchy massage parlors, hundreds of small bars, and trendy restaurants. Think a more-professional Amsterdam planted in Japan. Plenty of photo ops here.

   

   


One thing that we both love about Japan is the fact that most restaurants have a picture of each dish on both their menu, and a replica of each menu item outside the window to attract customers. This makes the ordering process easy for us tourists too with the point & finger raise of quantity. If there were follow-up questions to our order anywhere, we would nod and say arigato.


Walking through Shinjuku lead to one of our favorite random stops, which was a rotating sushi bar. We were not hungry, but hey - cheap & quick sushi around a circular bar where the sushi doesn’t stop coming is too good to pass up on. As a bonus, each seat was armed with a hot green tea tap.

     

HIGHLY RECOMMEND. Two colors of plates with each plate consisting of two pieces of sushi. Blue plates = $1, white plates = $2. Grab your plates off of the conveyor belt as you wish and stack those plates up.. Flag down a waiter when finished and he will yell to the cashier how many plates you have stacked up of each color. I spotted our favorite sushi (and most people’s favorite, toro - fatty tuna). Lookup toro before coming, so you know what the good stuff looks like to pull from the conveyor belt before the guy next to you snags it.. Pretty soon we had a stack of 7 plates, as this sushi was fresh, cheap, and incredibly delicious. So much for not being hungry.

One of my childhood favorites from living in Iwakuni and Okinawa is Mister Donut, so obviously we had to stop. Again, not hungry, but I’m not one to pass on donuts.


After aimless wandering we finally made it to Yoyogi Park, recommended via TripAdvisor. Parks in Japan are absolutely beautiful - a must see. Yoyogi Park is a relaxing spot that we happened to time well for great fall weather, occasional sunshine, and falling leaves. Perfect spot for a nap by the shooting fountains in the lake, and a break from the busy sidewalks in the city and overcrowded subways.





  





Next up, TripAdvisor and a Time Travel article also recommended that we check out the Meiji Shrine which just so happened to be IN Yoyogi Park. It was a Sunday, which is a day of marriage at the Shinto Shrine, so we were lucky to see the end of a wedding taking place in the courtyard. This is where you can see the thousands of years of traditions carried out.





We walked about a half-mile to the cleansing station, where you dip an old wooden ladle into a communal water tank, and pour on your hands to signal ‘purifying’ before offering up a prayer. They say you can drink the water too to purify your mouth, but we skipped out on that part. From there, there are two options for prayer. You can hand write your wish and tie that wish to the prayer wall, or you can pay your respects by walking up to the shrine window, throw a few yen into the shrine, bow your head twice, clap twice, and bow once more. Watch an old local do this first to see it in action. Every traveler should see this.







One part of the shrine that I thought was particularly beautiful was where people write down wishes on tiny wooden boards and hang it. Glancing at the wishes you could see that there were languages from all over the world.


After aimless wandering, we still had 4+ hours until our show reservations for that night, so we thought we could squeeze in a stop at SkyTree Tokyo.




We did so little research on Japan prior to going, that we didn’t even know about the modern SkyTree Tokyo, which at 2,080 ft is the tallest ‘tower’ in the world, and 2nd tallest structure behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. How did we both not see this?? It was actually recommended by the employee in the local cell phone store who sold us an extra charger (since Dan forgot to pack his unique USB Type-C charger, not surprisingly). Breathtaking views, similar to looking down on a massive city from an airplane.




Prepare to wait in line for 30mins-1hr to buy tickets before being guided to the elevator to the 350th floor. It’s around $20/pp to get you to that 350th floor, and another $10/pp or so for the second elevator to get you to top on the 450th floor. SkyTree is a tourist thing and overcrowded, but a must do when in Tokyo just for the astonishing view. We recommend going all the way up, then coming back down to the 340th floor to the casual, quiet cafe for a champagne, beer, and snacks for a toast to Tokyo overlooking the sprawling city. There’s an upscale restaurant on the 345th floor as well (make advanced reservations, they were booked up when we got there) if you are feeling fancy. We also recommend going at night. The city lights seemed to go on forever and it was simply magical to see.




Once you exited the tower, you were immediately placed into a Christmas wonderland!  There were lights and beautiful trees everywhere!  One thing we noticed during our time in Japan is how into the Christmas season Tokyo gets.  They love their lights and I was NOT complaining!




After Skytree we still had less than two hours to kill before our reservation for the infamous Robot Restaurant Show. So we took the 45 minute metro ride back to Shinjuku where the show was. Stopped at a small restaurant for a bowl of ramen and gyoza (cheap and delicious!) and walked to the show with 15 minutes to spare.


Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown inspired us to book tickets for the Robot Restaurant, which is an INSANE Japanese live show filled with fighting, fire-breathing robots, over-the-top drummers, and go-go dancers on massive robotic floats - all squeezed somehow into a basement of a building in the crowded city of Shinjuku. We had these late night tickets booked in advance, and were not prepared for what was about to transpire. FYI, not a good place to go at the end of the night when exhausted from sightseeing and walking 20K+ steps. Expensive tickets ($80-$90/each), drunken American tourists like us (but who pre-gamed), and our new definition of a sensory overload made up this crazy indoor parade of Japanese madness. We wouldn’t try this one again, but hey live & learn, and definitely something you can only experience in Japan. The tickets do give you a complimentary cocktail, so there’s that.









After the show we were spent. I was practically falling asleep during, which is saying something given the crazy sights and sounds of the show. Earlier on in the day we were so optimistic, claiming we would go experience a traditional Japanese Izakaya after - an informal gastropub.

Didn’t happen.

Us being the cool humans that we are, we headed back to our Airbnb, and went to sleep. Sleeping is fun in my book.

Be sure to check back soon for a post of Tokyo Travel Tips, and Part 3!

Until then,


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