5 November 2012

V in Japan - Day 3

Day 3 – The Ghibli Museum & Shinjuku

  • Date: October 15
  • Weather = sunny
  • Mood: Up and ready to kick some ass!

Next Challenge - Japanese Breakfast!

The next morning (a Monday), we all woke up quite happy and re-energized. We decided that we should try a Japanese breakfast and checked the map of the environment we got from K's House. We spotted a restaurant marked for "breakfast" and walked towards it, taking in the environment.

Getting a meal in that small restaurant was a bit confusing at first. But after an awkward minute we got the clue that we had to buy a meal ticket at the vending machine at the entrance and only had to give the resulting ticket to the waitress (oooh, so that's how it works?).

We looked at the vending machine and spotted what appeared to be the breakfast variant buttons. We all pushed on the complete Japanese Breakfast, to experience it all!

The breakfast we ordered ended up as follows: a cup of rice, a raw egg (to put on the rice?), miso soup, a piece of steamed salmon, some seaweed slices and natto beans.

Most of it was quite enjoyable, safe the natto. I've known from several anime that natto is not exactly the haute-cuisine of Japan and is mostly ridiculed for its stickiness. I truly felt like that Gintama character that fights with natto (ref: Ayame Sarutobi). Chopsticks were still kind of weird to use and the sticky beans didn't help. The taste itself was... not bad, but not that great either.

Japanese Breakfast

A visit to the Ghibli Museum

After breakfast, we wanted to visit the Ghibli museum. Take note: You can order these tickets in advance (click the previous link) to save some expenses and avoid language barriers (we ordered ours in advance).

We walked from the breakfast restaurant to the nearest JR station and took a look around to check the neighborhood a little (Yeah, you can call us tourists. But it IS a totally different world to experience if you know what I mean). In the JR station we hopped on a train to the Mitaka station (the station most close by to the museum). Once in Mitaka, we got off the train and chose to walk to the museum (instead of taking a bus), because of the good weather.

Trust me, the walk is worth the effort. The walk goes by a nice environment and you can experience nice, real Japanese neighborhoods, similar to what you see in animes.

After a nice walk, we got in line for the museum (lots of people, considering it’s a Monday and not a holiday). And after a short period of waiting, we got in.

It was a really nice museum. If you’re fan of anime and/or Ghibli movies in general, you should go there. You're not allowed to take pictures inside, but you can take a few outside, with the giant from one of the Ghibli movies (Ref: Laputa, Castle in the Sky) and a stone with cryptic language (Francis mentioned it looked like the stones of the Void Century from One Piece).

Group picture of us three at the giant apparently failed (*sadface*).

The entry ticket is a few frames from a random Ghibli movie (quite original), which also grants you access to a short Ghibli movie, only available in the museum. It was a nice movie, with only sfx and audio, but no voice acting (so that people from all around the world could enjoy it). After the tour of the museum and the movie, we went to the Ghibli shop (too crowded) and back outside.

After the museum, we took a walk in the nearby Inokashira park and spotted some stuff of the Tokyo Green 2012 exhibit. After a refreshing walk through the park, we walked back to the station.

Steven and I walk in the park in err... in style.

Go into the crowd - a visit to Shinjuku

Next on our plan, we decided to take the train to Shinjuku.

Once we arrived, I tried to explain the 2 different areas of Shinjuku to Steven (the office buildings area & the shopping area), but he walked off in one direction without listening (okay, I guess I should praise his sense for adventure, but still...). Too bad the direction we walked into ended up to be the office area.

After a while we realized we hardly encountered people and the number of shops were replaced with big office buildings. Steven realized our mistake and we turned back (*facepalm*).

We did pass by (and entered) one (our first) manga/anime shop on this route and saw some nice stuff inside (including Yugioh-stuff). We also noticed the typical shout of the shopkeepers (irasshaimase, and abbreviated as irrashai). Once a certain employee spots you getting closer he shouts it, and it automatically echoes throughout the shop as all employees repeat it. At first I was baffled by it, though you get used to it if you hear it a few times (believe me, it can be quite surprising if you're checking the shelves and a shopkeeper behind you suddenly yells "Irasshaaaaaaaai!").

After we passed the station again (*sigh*), we then walked into the right area of Shinjuku. This area DID have lots of shops, buildings and people. This was a nice first experience with the crowded side of Tokyo. After crawling through the streets for a while, we were starting to get hungry. We noticed a lot of KFC shops and Mcdonalds, but we all decided we would NOT visit any Western kind of restaurants, only Japanese restaurants. So entered another Sukiya shop and we had another beef bowl (hurrah for repetitiveness).

Walking around in Shinjuku

Back at the hostel and checking a local pub

In the evening, we went back to the Hostel to chill for a while. Now that I was clearly awake, I had to test all the buttons on the Japanese-Western toilet. Spraying water, mimicking flushing sounds, it has it all (try it, it's really fun :-D ).

High-tech toilets you can't find over here.

In the late evening, we checked out a local pub (really local, they couldn't understand a word of English) to have a drink and some meat sticks.

Service was kind of slow, they hardly understood us and they got the orders wrong several times (even after pointing it out on their menu card). But in the end, it was a nice experience. And we walked back to the hostel quite happy(-drunk). Francis even tried the innards-stick (eww). He said "The taste is okay, but quite rubber-like". For drinks, Francis went back to beer, Steven had a local liquor and me, I tried the sake for the first time. The waitress said you could try it either ice cold, or hot. I tried the hot version and it was quite good.

Francis trying the innards (left) and my first saké (right)

Tips for visiting Japan - Restaurants

There are different kinds of restaurants in Japan. And no, I don't just mean the food they serve. I mean the way in HOW you're served.

  1. Local (family-run) restaurants. If you're in luck, the restaurant will have an English menu card. If they don't immediately show it, ask if they have one. We only had 1 restaurant (and 1 bar) where they didn't have an English menu in our entire trip. Even if the people in the restaurant don't understand you (and vice versa), pointing to the correct location on the menu is often good enough to get the food you want.
  2. Restaurant chains, like Sukiya. They more often have plastic folding menu cards with pictures you can choose from on all the tables. They won't necessarily have English translations on their menu, but the pictures and random description often gives you a good enough impression as to what the food item really is.
  3. Restaurants with ticket vending machines. The vending machines are more tricky. You enter money in the slots, push the desired food button and get a ticket you can give to the waiter/waitress. But each button is only 3-5 square centimeters big and has a small picture and a small Japanese text. If your eyes are good, you can make out what's on the picture. Otherwise, it's a gamble...

If you do have an area map, like the ones K's House provide, the marked restaurants will have either an English menu or a vending Machine. Randomly entering restaurants that are not marked on the map may have "varied results".

In the case where the restaurant does not have an English menu, you're going to have a little trouble explaining yourself. But this challenge can be quite fun too, right?

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