A Japan Trip for Two

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Booking under: Nicole & Keith

How about something a little different this week? As you know, we’ve been dropping little tidbits about our Japan trip in the last few posts. This week, we’ve finally decided to stop teasing you and share our 13 favorite things about our trip. Why 13? We wish we knew too. Check out our list below!

13. Ramen

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From top-left to bottom-right: Ichiran, Kamukura, Kinryu, Shitennou, Araumadou, and Satsumakko

People say a trip to Japan is not complete without a good meal of ramen. We agree, and so we had six in Osaka alone (no worries we only had it once in Kyoto). Now, different people value different things in their ramen. For those of you who place broth above all else, Shitennou is the pick for miso broth while Satsumakko is great for those wanting a plainer taste. Kamukura also has a nice broth but we were more impressed by the lettuce they added in their ramen – not a usual ramen ingredient but surprisingly tasty! If you love egg (i.e. your name is probably Nicole), Araumadou is definitely tops, and they even provide unlimited delicious kimchi too! If you can only eat at one shop, try the most famous Ichiran – their sliced pork is delicious. We also tried Kinryu, but didn’t feel like they did any one aspect better than the others.

12. Hokkyoku Ice Cream

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Choco on the left, matcha on the right. Both taste more than all right.

As we traveled around and tried different street foods, we could not help but try Hokkyoku Ice Creams . They sell hand-made popsicles in a variety of flavors – we recommend the chocolate and matcha flavors. What’s particularly special is how the popsicles are sold on special wooden sticks from Nara, which give a slight aroma while also killing bacteria (we’re not scientists so please don’t ask us how). If you have 150 yen to spare, you can try some of their other flavors – including red bean, orange, and sweet potato!

11. Osaka Castle

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The live version is approximately 317 times more majestic. Approximately.

People usually say Kyoto is the place to go for history and Osaka is the place for shopping. But Osaka Castle is a good exception to that. The castle grounds cover over 60,000 square meters i.e. a very eventful day for our poor legs, and has been inhabited by famous warlords such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu (Keith used to play video games so he thinks he can throw these names around). It is one of Osaka’s landmarks and, as you might expect, they sold good street food downstairs too!

10. Takoyaki

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Tako means “octopus” and yaki means “grilled”. All makes sense now!

Ta-da! Look what we found right in front of the entrance of the Osaka Castle. Takoyaki (octopus balls) is another Osaka specialty and those from this food truck come with four flavors: garlic with sea salt, radish with mayonnaise, mentaiko, and original with ponzu and dried bonito. We picked the last two and thought it lived up to our expectation. Thumbs up for its crispy surface and the bouncy octopus piece inside. For 500 yen, you can enjoy a true culinary experience of the Kansai region. Pretty good value for money huh?

9. Pablo

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Kind reminder: the pink heart-shape is not edible.

When egg tart meets cheese cake, a delicious fantasy begins. We were overwhelmed by the long line outside of their shop but luckily it moved fairly quickly. While waiting in line, we watched the full baking process through the glass window to kill time. Pablo signature tarts come in two sizes: full or mini. We ordered six mini ones – three chocolate and three cheese. Soft and creamy custard. Flaky Crust. The right level of sweetness. Absolutely mouthwatering! The matcha flavor was recently introduced but we didn’t get to try it out. If you ever go, please give it a shot and let us know what it’s like. We heard it’s limited so hurry up and book your flight!

8. Matcha Garrett’s

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This is the third best invention of all time. After popcorn and matcha, of course.

Do you know Garrett’s popcorn? Yes you do. Do you enjoy matcha? Of course you do too. Did you know they sold matcha popcorn at Garrett’s Osaka? We didn’t either – but boy were we glad when we found out. It was so good we had to have it twice just to make sure it was real.

7. Nara

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1. Feed deer 2. Happy deer 3. Repeat

Fancy getting away from your busy city life? Want to get in touch with nature? How about something besides the usual grass and trees? If that sounds good to you, consider taking a quick train ride to Nara and spending a few hours with the adorable deer population there. They are very gentle creatures that don’t mind being photographed, and they’ll love you even more if you feed them some of their favorite deer cookies – on sale around the deer park for 500 yen. Just remember to raise your arms when you don’t want to feed them so they know not to swarm you!

6. Okonomiyaki & Yakisoba

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Okonomiyaki and Yakisoba look good together. But taste even better in your tummy.

Although not as well known as ramen and sushi, okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) and yakisoba (fried noodles) should be on everyone’s “to-eat” list in Japan. We found a nice little place along the river in Dotonbori that had no English name, but boy was the food good. The portions were big and we even had enough for breakfast the next day! Our only regret was not ordering some of the mixed beverages featuring Calpis – the well known Japanese un-carbonated soft drink. If you can, do yourself a favor and try okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and a Calpis beverage – you won’t regret it.

5. Kuromon Market

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We feel as hungry as you do. Not even kidding.

Who would leave Japan without filling their tummies with all the yummy sashimi? Certainly not us. We made the right decision to go to Kuromon Market in the early morning before the fresh fishes were consumed. Sanpei is the winner among the shops there. No worries if you aren’t sure where it’s exactly located, just look for the shop with the most crowds then you will know. Their toro and salmon belly literally melt in the mouth.  Just one bite of the jumbo scallop and sweet shrimp sashimi gives you a taste of freshness and satisfaction. Oh and one good thing about Sanpei is that they have a spacious dine-in area where you can sit and enjoy the goodies comfortably (almost no such luck for other shops!).

4. Fushimi Inari-taisha

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If you are good at Maths, challenge yourself to get the number of torii gates right!

Fushimi Inari is one of the must-go places in Kyoto if you are looking for cultural and photogenic exploration. It is also the place that drained most of our DSLR’s battery. We followed the people traffic and were so impressed by the (countless) captivating vermilion torii gates along the trail. Every corner is suitable for photo taking but just make sure you either go early or the photographer is skillful enough to avoid people in the frame. As we went up the mountain, the crowd thinned out and we finally managed to get a beautiful photo with the torii gate. Requiring only a twenty-minute ride, Fushimi Inari is easily accessible from Kyoto station. If you are visiting in a cold time and wish to warm your hands, we recommend you to get some hot corn soup or tomato soup from the vending machine at the station 🙂

3. AWOMB

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Sushi jamming on the palette.

Before getting seated in AWOMB at noon sharp, we waited for two hours outside the restaurant in the rain (not to mention the dry run on the day before). AWOMB is not a typical sushi “shop,” but a studio that offers an experimental teori (make your own) sushi experience. A specialist will give each table a detailed introduction on the ingredients. With the tools provided, you can then create the sushi of your choice. Situated with a groovy interior design, anyone would feel like an artist in AWOMB (even if you are not) and be as creative as you want with the food. There are not many times we would wait two hours for a meal but this is one where we certainly didn’t regret. The tip is always to do your research before visiting AWOMB, then you are guaranteed an uber-cool dining experience in Kyoto!

2. Mouriya

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Five minutes away from being the happiest couple on earth.

Mouriya is definitely the highlight of our trip to Kobe! We (especially Keith) are massive fans of the cow family and were looking forward to this meal. Depending on your preference, you can choose different level of the premium cuts, with A5 having the highest fat content (be mindful of the excessive oil dripping off the steak though). The steak is definitely top quality and their service is pretty good too. Our chef was friendly and prepared the perfectly seasoned sirloin and rib eye in front of us. The steak was served with a wide selection of salt, wasabi, black pepper, and crispy garlic slices. We certainly enjoyed this dining experience and wouldn’t mind going back for more bomb beef again!

1. Naoshima

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Yes, it is a pumpkin but not those that you commonly see in the supermarket.

Naoshima is home to contemporary art pieces and museums. It is often considered as Japan’s “Island of Art”. The giant yellow pumpkin sculpture with rows of black dots is the iconic image of Naoshima and its perfect setting with the sea prompted us to commute six hours one way just to witness this famous masterpiece by Yayoi Kusama. With a population of roughly 3000 people, Naoshima is a quiet art heaven that provides a rejuvenating experience to your trip. If you are looking for a leisurely and artsy island getaway, Naoshima is definitely at the top of the list.

Summing Up

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Not much in terms of learnings or action items this week, besides the fact that Japan is awesome and you should totally visit some time soon. We loved every moment in the country – the food, the culture, the scenery, and being with each other for an incredible trip.

Have you been to Kyoto or Osaka? Let us know if you have, or if your favorite place in Japan is somewhere else. Sayonara for now and see you next week as we resume our usual posts and talk about Leisure.

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