The Big City, Thanksgiving in Tokyo, Part 3

Day 3 started with some American style breakfast at Starbucks.  I thought Europe was bad (only second to the US of course) with how many Starbuck's locations, but boy, I think Tokyo might have those other cities beat.  I think here the competition too seems greater.  Like every block had a Starbucks and a Tully's or similar.  What's even stranger is that the Japanese are not really ones to eat and drink while on the move, so they will sit down and read or something while enjoying the coffee, and then go.  In Tokyo I did find that some people did take the coffee to go, and they had to-go cups.  But, one thing I do like is that if you are going to stay and drink it there you get an actual mug.

So back to breakfast at Starbucks.  I had a grilled tuna sandwich, which was pretty good.
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Ryan had a nice blueberry scone.  I will admit, the menu labeling did influence my choice.  I wanted that scone, but it had 100 more calories than the sandwich, and I knew the sandwich would fill me up.  Although I also knew I needed to fuel up for a full day of walking, so in the end the tuna won because of the carbs AND protein.
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The game plan for the morning was to find an antiques mall in the Omotesando section of Tokyo, which was just a few stops away on the subway line.  So we get to the stop, leave through the exit the book said to go, and we could not figure out where this building was located.  So we entered in Google maps (yeah, we both have iPhones and sometimes they really come in handy) and it showed it on the other side of the neighborhood, so we headed there.

These are some pictures of the building along the way as we walked all over the Shibuya area.  You can definitely tell it is a big city.
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They even had American restaurant chains.
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Let me point out the below crosswalk pattern.
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Wondering how this works?  All lights stop and people can cross the street in all directions.  Yes, you can cross diagonally so you do not need to cross one side and then turn and head down another.  So smart!
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Really crazy!  I think we did it once just to see.
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While that Indian restaurant looked good, we did not stop.
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Wait, did you forget that we were searching for an antiques mall?  Well it wasn't where the iPhone told us to go, so that was disappointing.  So we kept walking in hopes of going back to where we started and trying again.
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With a few stops to look in stores and shop.  Oh yes, I did get to go shopping in a real store.  Totally bought some things in H&M.
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Then we stumbled upon the Farmer's Market located at the United Nations University campus.  I was so excited because I had read about this.  I had almost forgot it was a weekend and it was open.  I was so happy when we came across this, and even happier that Ryan shares my love for fresh produce and all that farmer's markets have to offer.
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The concept of organic is just picking up in Japan, and pretty much outside Tokyo is unheard of.  So, Tokyo is really the spot if you are looking for organic produce.  This market is mostly organic, although I think it becoming more and more.  The main focus is local, and getting the farmer's to connect with consumers.  Needless to say, I was in heaven.
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Maybe this is why I was in heaven.  Not kidding, I almost peed my pants when I spotted bagels.  Real bagels made by a Japanese bakery.  
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I will also mention there was a Japanese lady selling Portuguese sweets and that really sent me over the moon.  While home will always be the US, I feel a connection to Portugal as well, and seeing things like that make me a little homesick and nostalgic.  She was beyond amazed that we knew about Pasteis de Nata (a small tart with flaky crust filled with cream, that is nata in Portuguese, and served like creme brulee kind of).  In fact she was very excited that we could read and pronounce the Portuguese words.  My excitement must have been very noticeable because an English speaking tourist came over to ask me what that was because he could tell I knew about it.  It was a fun moment.  But I had to let her know that I do not speak that much Portuguese before she tried talking too much to me.  The Japanese and Portuguese are very closely linked, and in fact without the Portuguese, they would not have bread in Japan (ok, they would, but it would have had to come from some other country).  There is also a Brazilian population here so there are some Portuguese speakers around.

Here is some of the items for sale.
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Ryan got a carrot ginger soup, which he said was awesome.  It was made with chicken stock, so I didn't try it.
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We split a pumpkin (kabocha) bagel.
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I thought about getting some fresh juice.
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I also considered eating just tomatoes because they looked so good.  I have never seen the colored cherry tomatoes sold like this.  I have seen them mixed, but not sold in separate color packages.
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Ah, and I settled on this.  Obviously this sign caught my attention.
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I ordered this homemade apple ginger soda.  Woohoo!  This was filled with fresh ginger.  I loved it!  Unbelievably delicious.
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Then for my meal I tried the ma po tofu.  Amazing!  It was the first time I was served brown rice in Japan.  I can't wait until my sister visits because I need to take her here.  She will love it.
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Some more veggies for sale.
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So, after that brief stop from our search, we made it back to where we started and decided to try again.  This time we asked a police officer (well he looked like one at least) or guard guy by this construction sight to point us in the right direction.  He looked at the picture, scratched his head, ran over to a map, and really tried to help us.  So we headed off again, but after no luck a few minutes later I looked online again at the address and realized there was a thumbs down/negative comment left by someone on the page.  So I read it.  Yeah, that place closed in 2009, and was torn down and they are rebuilding it.  So much for checking a Japan travel book out from the library!  So to make a long story short, we turn around to head back to the subway, and I notice that directly across the street is a gapping whole where they are doing construction (yes, this is exactly where that guard was working that could not figure out the building we were looking for), and on one side is Gucci and the other is Tod's, just like the two building that were on the sides of the department store we were looking for. 

Now, see this picture, yes, that is where the building should have been.  Turns out we were in the right place all along, just that the building was not.  But the positive from this experience (other than being able to laugh at ourselves for a long time) is that we got to see so many things by walking around this area, including the farmer's market.
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Then we were back on the subway and headed over to the Roppongi neighborhood to hit up the Hard Rock.  You know me, I collect the t-shirts.  If you missed why I do this it is because I was watching Jeopardy, the college edition, and Alex asked this girl about her collection of Hard Rock shirts, and he asked which one she would likely never get to.  She said Reykjavik, and right then I knew I needed to collect shirts too because my collection would have to be better than hers since the next week I would actually be in Reykjavik and could get a shirt.  Not sure where Reykjavik is...no worries, many people don't.  It's the capital city in Iceland.  Yes, I did get my shirt, and yes I still have it, although that Hard Rock has since closed.  So goes the tradition of collecting shirts.
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I just couldn't resist this one.  It was to perfect for a Tokyo Hard Rock shirt.
We did not eat lunch there, but we did eat at a Wolfgang Puck burger place.
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Ryan had a burger.
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I had a mango fish sandwich.
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It was alright, but not the best.  We are thinking Wolfgang needs to go check this place out and whip it back into shape.  The music was dull (like elevator music) and the floor was dirty.  Overall, the food was decent, but I wouldn't eat there again because there are so many other great places in Tokyo to try.

Nighttime was a trip over to the high end shopping area of Ginza.  Shibuya did feel like we were in NYC but this really felt like it too.  Maybe more like Champs-Elysees in Paris meets NYC.  Our first stop was the Sony building, but we came up from the subway into the building so I did not get a picture.
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Yummy looking cakes.  These are very popular in Japan.
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You can see they are in the Christmas spirit.
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It was very pretty with the tree lined streets lit up.
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Lots of big buildings had lights on the outside.  Mostly it was to look like gift wrapped presents.
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Oh, and there was even a Harry Winston here.  Notice the guard at the door.
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This building was neat.  It was all TV screens making a big TV to show ads for the product.
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Here we are inside a department store (in Japan a department store may really be more like a big mall with many "departments" inside), and you can see a 4 story long wreath.  That thing was huge!
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More pretty buildings.  This was across from that department store.
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What really caught out eyes here was this cake.  We even stopped to watch the video on how it is made, although they only gave the secrets for the flat edged cake.  This one has ridges.  We were fascinated, and the line was out the door, so we decided to get in line and wait to see what all the fuss was about.
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The cake shop is called Nenrinya.
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The cake Ryan purchased (it was Ryan, he gets all the credit for waiting in line, since I slipped away to find the bathroom) came in a perfectly wrapped box.  This is very common in Japan.  They take their presentation very seriously and everything is always packaged so nicely.
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This is what the box looked like under the wrapping.
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Here is what we got inside.  Don't even ask how much it cost for these 2 slices (ok, if you are curious it was about $16-17)!  I can say that we have since eaten them, and OMG, I see what all the fuss was about.  This was really, really good cake.
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We headed back to Akasaka for dinner.  I searched online and found this place called Yasaiya Teppanyaki, which was advertised as vegetarian friendly, English staff and menu, organic, and most importantly was just a few blocks away.  So I made a reservation, and we headed out to find it.  Yeah, we got lost.  Why did we get lost?  No, not just because that was fitting for our day.  It was because the front looks like this. 
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No sign in English.  Oh, and the Google map was a block off and we were on the back side of it.  I can honestly say that this restaurant has the best service ever.  I called to find out why we could not find it and the server (the only one there who spoke English) asked us where we were and told us to stay put.  Moments later we saw him running up the street to greet us and take us back to the restaurant.  Right then I knew this was a genuinely awesome restaurant committed to customer service and the whole dining experience.

The server sat us down right at the teppanyaki grill.  Since they serve people at tables too I am glad he saved us some seats by the action.  He wanted to show us a good time and let us experience the true Japanese teppanyaki meal.  He also let us know that we were better off ordering off the menu and not getting a set because we had different food preferences and he said it might be too much food.  He gave us an idea what amount of food would be right for us.  Then we explained in Japanese to out chef that I was a vegetarian (ok lacto-ovo-pesco-veggie) and my food preferences.  They checked that egg and butter were ok, and then the shef stated he understood and would cook all meat on the other side of the grill.  He was even careful and washed his hands if he touched something with meat and used separate utensils for out veggies and my seafood.
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Without further ado, let me present to you an exquisite Japanese dining experience.

We each were served this piece of diakon (Japanese radish that doubles as a weapon), served hot in a broth.
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Veggie time.  We ordered 4 different veggies off the veggie menu.
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The server brought us 3 sauces and explained them each to us.  One was spicy, one was sweet and the last was sour.
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Look at the chef go!
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We did peppers, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and eggplant.
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Check out the colors on this plate.  Wow!  Plus, they were all cooked to perfection.
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Next up was my tiger prawn.  Now, this is a sad tale for me.  See, this tiger prawn was actually not already dead, but instead in a cold induced deep sleep.  When it went on the grill the antennae twitched and I freaked and Ryan was like, it is just that it is cooking.  Nope, this sucker was alive and woke up to discover itself on fire, and took off running.  Well, shrimp can't run, but that thing moved.  Too bad it hit a road block of veggies.  This was a tad traumatizing for me, and I am proud of myself that I got over it quickly because I really didn't want to offend the chef (as he promptly chopped the head of the little guy, oy vey!).  
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But the good part was that I got more veggies, including some green cauliflower.

Here the chef is taking the shell off, but they do eat all parts, so this was saved and placed on my plate.
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Here we go:
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It tasted as good as it looked.
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Next, the chef moved over and started on Ryan's beef.
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Look at that!  This was the first time Ryan has had steak since we got to Japan, and boy was he happy.
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Steak is hard because many restaurants that serve steak specialize in steak only so there is rarely anything I could get to eat, and with the language barrier it is hard to figure out what they have that might work.

Last up with this meal was the garlic rice.  This is all garlic cooking here.
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Then the rice was added.
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Sweet, we have some amazing smelling garlic rice, which tasted as good as it smelled.  I am just happy that Ryan also ate this rice.  You never want to be the only one on garlic overload.
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QUESTIONS:  Have you ever found yourself lost because you were searching for something that did not exist?  Have you were been to a teppanyaki restaurant?  What was the best service you ever received at a restaurant?

6 comments:

Sook said...

I love big cities like that sometimes - just cause there are so many things to look at! Looks like you had fun!

Gina; The Candid RD said...

I can't imagine any place having more Starbucks than America!
And, that crosswalk system is brilliant. HELLO, why haven't we installed these everywhere?!?

Astra Libris said...

WOW! So much amazingness!! I always settle in to read your posts like a book chapter so I can linger and gaze at each of the photos for a long time! Thank you for this gorgeous tour!

P.S. I SO hope we're both stationed at the same base one day!! :-)

sophia said...

I love love love it when you share your travels, Melinda. You are so thorough and I was riveted throughout the whole Tokyo series. I've never been and you've stirred the wanderlust in me.

I'm not surprised about the bagels in Japan. It's a big thing in Korea, too. Funny that people will sit inside Starbucks to finish their drink though! So fascinating to see the minor but significant differences in culture.

Tiffany Youngren said...

Wow! Fantastic photos - the food is gorgeous. What a great post!

Ameena said...

I know you skipped over that particular Indian restaurant but some of the best food I had in Tokyo was Indian. Shocked the heck out of me! If I can recall the name of the 2 places I visited I'll let you know in case you want to try them too....

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