Wanderlust: Japan

Kobe Beef at Royal Mouriya Restaurant in Kobe


I still salivate when I think about this.

For my final meal in Japan before flying back to humdrum and drudgery (SIGH), I decided to pull out the big guns and my final ¥10,000 for THIS.

It's a super huge deal to me to fork out RM315.00 for a meal (because I earn a third of that on a working day - you can calculate how much I earn per month), so I had to make the most of it by taking a lot of pictures.

I think the chefs in the Mouriya chain are super used to us tourists coming in for Kobe beef. I asked the chef if I could take his picture and he said "Sure, go ahead".

Oh word of advice for people who want to try Kobe beef at the Royal Mouriya - there is a 10% extra charge on top of your meal after 3PM, so try to go in before 3PM. I went in at 3.15PM and got slapped with the extra charge.


On the bright side I think they took pity on us and did not charge us for the extras we asked for like Oolong tea, coca-cola, and extra rice.

m(T_T)m thank you Royal Mouriya.

There are actually THREE Mouriya restaurants on the same stretch of road. The Mouriya Honten Restaurant is on the corner of the road. Two of the Mouriya restaurants are in the same building along the road, with the Mouriya Sannomiya Restaurant on the third floor and the Royal Mouriya Restaurant on the second floor.

They are all super near the Hankyu Sannomiya station, but as always get a GPS and you'll be able to walk to the restaurants, no problem.

I didn't know which Mouriya to go to at first, but I somehow ended up at the Royal Mouriya Restaurant on the 2nd floor. Okay, so maybe the name had a minor exerting influence... *shifty eyes*

As expected of a place that serves Kobe beef, the interior was fancy-schmancy. There were several gleaming grilling stations in front of a rectangular long table, flowers like the above on the rectangular table, and places were set with napkins and wine glasses.

There are three private rooms, but since it was only the two of us, we got shown to the seats in front of the grilling station. I was secretly excited about the fact that we would be able to see the chef make our food and flip it onto our plates.

As it was slightly after three (extra charge (T_T)), there were only four other people in the place, with two of them almost finishing.

Let me be the first to admit that I am unsophisticated in the arts of fine dining.

My normal meal a day consists of soup noodles for breakfast, nothing for lunch unless there is free food from an event, and home-cooked meals / something cheap-ish from outside that costs less than RM10. There are maybe six to eight times a month I'd splurge on myself and buy a meal that costs somewhere between RM20 to RM40 for dinner.

My tentative budget alone for bought meals per month is RM300 in Malaysia. 

I am such a cheapskate. Also I've spent only RM150 on food so far this month and it's already the 18th! I'm so proud of myself.

Right. Back to the Kobe beef and the fancy dining.

The first rule of fancy dining seems to be that the staff will be respectfully attentive and withdraw when they sense they are not needed.

At first, the waitress offers to take my coat away, and even gives me a basket to put under my seat for my belongings. She brings out the menus and explains the menu to us, telling us that apart from ala carte, they also serve meals in sets.

You can also see the menu on this webpage. We got the dinner menu because lunch hours were over. Apart from the Kobe beef, she said, they also sell Tajima beef.

A little lesson: Kobe beef is essentially from Tajima cattle too, but at a higher grade of A4 - A5. A5 is the best grade Kobe beef can attain. (I think I had the A4 grade beef, but I'm a food philistine anyway, as I mentioned. I still loved the A4 grade beef and I can't imagine how A5 grade beef can top it more.)

The waitress then leaves us alone to make our selection, and seeing that I only had ¥10,000+ left, I chose the Kobe Beef Set A at ¥9,600+¥960 for the 10% charge, asking for the rib steak. K chose the sirloin steak at Set A too.

After she's taken our order, she pours water into our wine glasses, and then disappears again, only to silently appear with our oolong tea and Coca-cola.

The Royal Mouriya Restaurant exudes a sense of class and quietness - indeed children below six years of age are not allowed into the Royal Mouriya Restaurant. The website suggests kindly that those with children adjourn to the other Mouriya restaurants instead.

Sorry, parents.

The first course was the amuse-bouche. It consisted of raw ham, a raw slice of salami, an olive, and a biscuit stick.

I usually detest raw food, but the amuse-bouche certainly led to an array of interesting (good interesting, not bad interesting) tastes on the mouth that prepared me for the next two courses.

I usually hate olives too, but this one was pretty yum.


Then there was the second course of hors d'oeuvre.

More raw food, fish this time. I was expecting to hate it, but I actually liked it. Again, not that I would want huge globs of it, but the fish was chewy and tender. Even the onion tastes better than other onion I've eaten WHAT DO YOU PUT IN THE WATER JAPAN.

The first and second course is fine and dandy and all, but the main star is, of course, the Kobe beef. Which I do want globs and globs of, if I could.

Look at that marbled beef of rib and sirloin goodness. Look at how the fat flows like a river through the meat, almost crystallizing the meat to the eye.

I just sort of stared at it mesmerized, when the chef asked us how we wanted our meat, and if we wanted to share the sirloin and rib (medium and yes). Then, he got to cooking.

Watching him cook the beef was like watching an artistic performance. The way he carefully sliced off the fat to be used later on to cook with the beansprouts, chopping the meat up delicately into pieces, flipping them just so they achieved the right amount of grilling on each side...

I almost felt like applauding.

He also grilled food items like pumpkin and garlic, and carefully each different food item aside on the plate while doling the meat into the center of the plate.

I don't understand how he made the vegetables taste so good! I don't mind veggies usually but it's not like I LOVE THEM AND I MUST EAT THEM. I could have eaten the pumpkin all day long.

For the beef itself, there are condiments like salt, black pepper, sweet sauce, wasabi, and garlic to go with each bite. So I took a deep breath, picked up a piece of beef, dipped it into the salt, put it into my mouth, and....

I could hear angels singing in my ear.

Okay, maybe not THAT, but oh, the meat was fabulous. Keep in mind I'm a fine-dining philistine, but I do know a great bite when I have one... and another... and another... and another after that.

That adage 'melt-in-your-mouth' is true for Kobe beef. One chew and I could feel the tender juices oozing out, the fat rolling around my tongue before melting away completely, filling my mouth with the sweet succulent taste of beef and whatever condiment I had the beef with.

Everything was just grilled to... the best state the vegetable/ beef can be in, I swear.

My personal favourite add-on for the beef is the pepper and sweet sauce. To me the different tastes blended well for both.

Can you see the beef glistening~ 

As I ate the chef just kept doling out the meat, and once he was done he got started on grilling the side fat he had cut out earlier with beansprouts. He cut the lard into tiny cubes, then mixed them together with the beansprouts, before transferring them over to the plate.

That was pretty good too. Both the lard and the beansprouts were crunchy in different ways (one in a fried way, one in a fresh vegetable way), just my kind of combination. At least even though I'm eating unhealthy food, I'm combining them with something super healthy.

Does that even work?

Anyway, it may not look much, but I was adequately full at the end of the meal. I thought it was only a few chunks of meat, but I guess I looked at it as 'small-sized bites' instead of the big steak it really was (see picture of raw slab of beef). I have a really small appetite, though, so I guess other people will find this adequate only with add-ons like rice or bread.

In the end, speaking as a Malaysian on a Malaysian salary, I felt it was RM315 well spent for a first trial / final meal before leaving meal. I finally tasted and had the legendary Kobe beef in Kobe, and I'd say that the hype surrounding it is pretty justified if you save the beef for special occasions.

Heck, if I was rich (oh, that familiar refrain), I probably won't object to eating it once every month, but yeah.

If you ever find yourself in Kobe, do try out the beef even if just for once. It is after all one of the quintessential things associated with Kobe. Even if a bit pricey, at the very least you can say you have tried authentic Kobe beef... and will hopefully love it, like I did.

I hope that I can bring my parents to eat at the Royal Mouriya someday, too. :) Thanks for a great meal before I left Japan, Royal Mouriya Restaurant.

I guess this is the last of my blog post about my 2013 Japan trip (sigh). I've had so much fun, and I cried so much when I left.

Like, the last time I left Japan in 2011  I cried in the airport. This time, I cried as I got onto the train at Osaka Station.


Tears rolled down my eyes like raindrops - I just could not bear seeing the end of my two-week holiday. After all, there were so many things that I still had yet to do, that I still want to do (such as trying Level 10 spiciness at CoCo Ichi...), but had neither the time nor money to do so.

Hopefully, once I've saved up enough money again, I'll go zooming back to Japan, and spend more time in Osaka next time round. Ooh, plus Hokkaido.. and Okinawa... and Hiroshima...

Wait for me, Japan. I'll come back soon. :)


Right before I went to the Royal Mouriya Restaurant I was hanging out in Loft Sannomiya, just looking at stationery when this... THIS... ABSOLUTE CUTEST RILAKKUMA just came walking by, before stopping to take pictures with the crowd.


I don't think the person inside could see outside, because they bumped into a pole for a bit.

Rilakkuma just waved at everyone, "looked" around slowly and curiously as they stood in the spot, and patiently waited there as people lined up to take pictures with him.

After I took the above picture, I said thank you... AND HE PATTED ME GENTLY ON THE ARM.


Can't stop crying from the cuteness of it all.  That is one seriously well-made costume, that I guess Loft keeps around in storage or something. I wanted to kidnap it home and just have it pat me on the arm daily when I feel crappy about stuff.

Oh Japan. Just one more reason to love you (all the cute things they come out with). Thank you.

Wanderlust: Japan

Osaka, Foodie Heaven


Short, but mouthwatering blog post! 

Unfortunately I only spent a day in Osaka due to time and geographical constraints from moving all over the place, but it was a day well-spent in Shinsaibashi, the heart of Osaka. 

There was shopping of clothes and beauty products, all of which I loved, but most importantly...

I finally got my omusoba (and 2nd) okonomiyaki fix! 

Omusoba is short for omelette soba, and okonomiyaki, which is basically 'anything that goes well in a pile of batter'. 

That's me almost drooling as I watched the okonomiyaki cook on top of the grill.

M and I were at a restaurant named Ajinoya, located at 1-7-16, Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka, 542-0076. You're welcome.

Look at the yolk, and the cabbage, and the prawns, and the bacon, and how everything comes together on this beauty. <3

The aftermath, before adding the fish flakes and mayonnaise. <3

And the omusoba makes an appearance on the grill, having been fried beforehand.


Two pieces of heaven, I'm telling you. Mouth-watering, grilled-to-perfection heaven.



This perfectly wrapped soba noodles, wrapped underneath a layer of fried egg, with mayonnaise and ketchup.


I just miss Osaka's food so much right now.

If you read this and you do not have omusoba and okonomiyaki in Osaka, you're heartless. Or visual tastebud-less. Something.

Wanderlust: Japan

Highlights from Kyoto


Ugh I can't believe it's NEARLY been a month since I left Japan.


My friends there are posting up autumnal pictures like no tomorrow, and I'm beating myself up internally for missing all those red maple leaves.

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 I mean, generally Japan is pretty all year round but this time I REALLY wanted to see a bunch of dying, colourful leaves, being from a tropical country and all.

I got some, but nothing as colourful as the pictures I'm seeing now HUMPH.

Soon my friends will start posting pictures of snow and I'd be like 'I hate all of you right now go away'.

When it comes to traditional Japan scenery, Kyoto immediately comes to mind. I got to stay there for my 5th to 9th day of my Japan trip.

Well, technically I spent my 5th day in Akihabara (which is... TOTALLY maid cafe central and I must have saw 5 - 7 maids just trying to get customers @_@), eating lunch, playing arcade games and the scoop machines (got a My Melody plushie keychain!).

Around mid-afternoon I took the bullet train back to Kyoto. I finally knew how to navigate Kyoto Station!

Rehashing a good old photo.

I was so tired when I got back I just ate McDonalds, showered, and slept.

All throughout my Kyoto trip I basically just played catch-up with my friends from university. On the 1st of November I got up late-ish, and went to meet my friends at their university, before adjourning to the Kyoto National Museum to meet yet another university friend.

Honestly, if you're going to Japan, please get a pocket wifi/ tourist phone SIM card. It will make life SO MUCH easier. I just went where Google Maps told me to go, and voila! I found myself in front of the Kyoto National Museum.

It cost me ¥1,300 a pop to go inside and look at... Qing dynasty ceramics, which I couldn't appreciate very much. I swear I must have been the youngest person inside that place.

The most interesting thing I was attracted to was the English translation/ description of a bowl, which said 'concave angels'. I was trying to figure out what 'concave angels' were by staring at the bowl, before I realised it meant 'concave angles'.

That made so much more sense.

I couldn't take pictures inside the museum, but since I paid freaking ¥1,300 (RM42) to go inside, I'd be damned if I didn't take a few pictures.

The entrance into the museum. The weather was so good that day! Luckily for me most of my days in Japan had good weather, with just two or three rainy days.

I think I need to go back to Japan soon. 

I got excited seeing this sculpture of the Thinker - I got reminded of my first Phoenix Wright game, and how sucked into it I was playing a lawyer on the DS. I don't even have time to pick up a game now, now that I have 'real life' and all.

After greeting my friend in hushed excitement inside the museum, and taking pictures outside, we then left to meet our other friends at Fushimi Inari shrine! *excited* I love my university reunions.

I'm not a shrine person at all - the most I can take in a day is two, maximum. Shrines are mostly for trekking and ooh-ing and aah-ing at the pretty structures, anyway.


This is the side-view of the entrance into the shrine.

Oh, and shrines are for buying o-mamori charms, praying, plus doing your omikuji (fortune-telling) if you're into that thing.

Which I am. I got a 大吉 result, which basically means I am having the best luck for the next foreseeable year THANKS FUSHIMI INARI!

We went inside and walked up past the torii gates, before reaching the lake then giving up and going back. There was no way we were going to trek all the way to the very top, but you are welcomed to if you want to try!

This was taken on our way back down to the train station. There are stalls here selling taiyaki and assorted snacks, but since it was so near dinner time anyway I didn't have any.

Also look at that measly shade of red at the top of the tree. I wanted more! *grumbles*

The next day we all set out to meet yet another university friend (who studies in Tokyo now) at Kyoto Station, before setting out for Arashiyama.

Our motley crew of Malaysian (me!), Chinese-Australian, Indian-Australian, African-Australian, and Caucasian-Australian people got on the bus from Kyoto Station, and proceeded to take a half-hour trip out to Arashiyama.

Arashiyama, in my humble opinion, is one of the prettiest places on earth.

We first made our way up to the Arashiyama Monkey Park. I'm not that big a fan of monkeys, but the view from the top was incredible.

Well. I'm glad there wasn't only ONE monkey at the park.

Hiking up several meters to get to the top. If you're planning on coming here, please wear sensible shoes. My feet was killing me by the end of the day, even though I was wearing Doc Martens.

Also, trees, why so green in autumn!?!?!

*foams at mouth*

We went into the little wooden house at the top, where most of the monkeys were pretty much like "So are you going to give me food, or what?", or just plain giving us the "GIVE ME FOOD NOW" look. Like the one above.

Outside the house the monkeys mostly left us alone - they knew that food could only be gotten from humans inside the house, not the ones outside. Here's one grooming another, one picking carefully through fur while the other was all "Yeah check out my personal slave, human."

Here's a view from the top of the city...

Whereas here is a view of more mountains beyond. You know how in pictures, people tend to paint far-off mountains as blue mountain-shaped bits? I always thought that it was just a quick simple way to signify mountainous terrains. Apparently they look like that in real life too, if they are far enough from the human eye.

Guess you learn something new every day. Or relearn, in this case.

After the trek up to the monkey park, we just wandered around Arashiyama looking for the bamboo forest.

The bamboo forest was pretty far away from the monkey park on foot, so that quickly took up most of the afternoon.

It was quite dark by the time we left the bamboo forest. We then got on the tram and navigated our way to dinner in the city, a tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) place, before going for karaoke then going back to collapse in our  beds.

On the 3rd of November we went to Universal Studios Japan. Ugh. Theme parks and weekends. Not if I can help it again. No pictures from me plus USJ is strictly in Osaka, so onwards to the 4th of November in Kyoto.

Luckily for me, the Kyoto palace grounds was opened to the public over the weekend while I was at Kyoto. The 4th of November was a public holiday as well, so the grounds opening extended until then.

According to that description (it was another sunny day, yay!), these three rooms were waiting rooms for guests of  the Palace. Which room you were received in indicated your rank and status as seen by the royal house. It's a pretty subtle way of telling people whether they were important or not, I suppose.

Palace grounds were seriously huge! I don't actually see the appeal in staying in a big place, though. So many other people to have to live with, plus cleaning must be a pain. Sure, life would be cushy if I was royalty, but more than likely if I were born in those times I'd be a chambermaid or something.

Okay, maybe a lady-in-waiting.

It's hard to tell from the picture, but this is where the Imperial Throne is.

I do, however, see the point in having a beautiful garden like this! If I had a garden like this (and hopefully an army of five gardeners to help me look after it), I'd just sit around in it all day reading books and looking at the lake. Bliss.

I can only imagine how it'll look like in autumn, since the above picture may as well have been taken in summer.


After walking around the building structures of the imperial palace, we went outside to take a walk around the palace parks instead (Kyoto Gyoen Park).

Behold, a photo that I adamantly took in Kyoto Gyoen to prove that I was in Japan during autumn.

You see that?!?! YELLOW LEAVES. Thank you for obliging my wish to see some dying leaves, dear tree!

I also took a picture along Kamo River (Kamogawa), with some red leaves peeking out from beyond.

I feel that if I live in Kyoto, I'd be imbued with this sense of tranquility and peace quite often, just looking at the beautiful scenery and gorgeous shrine architectures.

Last touristy place worthy of note that I visited before moving on would be Kiyomizudera.

I too, got my fortune told at Kiyomizudera.


I got bad luck.

So now I'm opting to believe the Fushimi Inari one instead. I will have GREAT luck for 2014, thank you very much.

Here's the view from Kiyomizudera after you've gone up the steps. :) Despite the lack of autumnal trees, the sun set pretty quickly in Japan. 5PM would roll around and then POOF! Wait, where did the sun go?

A view from the top. The place where people are congregated around is the Otowa waterfall, where three channels of waterways lead to a pond. Drinking from the water is said to have wish-granting powers.

I wish that my books will have the selling power of Harry Potter.

Actually I should probably wish that I can finish writing my novels first, instead of writing them all enthusiastically for the first 10,000 words, and then letting them trail off in the dusty recesses of my laptop.

Yep. Let's take baby steps first.

Here's how the waterways look like up close. I totally got in line and drank the water, of course. It was really fresh, cold, and tasty!

Oh, and for all you lovelorn people, Kiyomizudera is also popular for romantic luck at the Jishu Shrine. You can pray here and hope that your true love will come around.

Here it is! I didn't go there, because I have long assigned myself to the fact that I will most likely end up an eccentric hermit cat lady.

Plus it's kind of sad to head over there when no one else that is there with you is interested in praying for romantic luck.

Oh well.


I did catch one of the best views from Kiyomizudera, however, the sunset! I went too early to Kyoto - around the 15th of November Kiyomizudera opened up for nighttime autumnal viewing, and it was apparently really pretty.

That's it. Next time I'm going to camp myself in Japan from October to February (next time being when I have that kind of money, which may be a long time from now) and catch all the kinds of things that people from tropical countries can't experience.


But I digress.

I really loved watching the sunset at Kiyomizudera. Here's why.

Kyoto is definitely one of the best places to be reminded how beautiful Mother Nature can be. (^_^)v

The next day after a long sleep I went off to visit my host family in Akashi. Definitely felt like I had not seen enough of Kyoto - I still wanted to go to Gion and Ginkakuji, but didn't have the time or the energy to make it.


In any case, I'm glad I got to stay longer at Kyoto this time around. Scenery-wise, these were the best of Mother Nature I've seen throughout my trip. The other cities have their own charms, but Mother Nature does not come up tops there.

Thank you for the memories, Kyoto (and of course my university friends who made it all the more fun with our stupid in-jokes and reminiscing of days gone by)! Keep yourself beautiful.

Wanderlust: Japan

Japan Day 1 & 2 : From Kyoto to Tokyo


When I arrived in Japan from Malaysia, it was already 10.15PM. By the time I got through custom checks and baggage claims, it was already 11.00PM.

The train I wanted to take to Kyoto, the Limited Express Haruka, had stopped running - the last train was at 10.16PM. The first Limited Express Haruka was at 6.40AM in the morning. Besides, to get my JR Pass, I had to wait until 5.30AM for the JR Ticket Office to open.

This picture was taken at around 5.20AM in the morning, when I was cold and tired out from the night before.

For a brief while before, I had thought of staying at the Hotel Nikko Kansai Airport, which was adjacent to the Kansai International Airport (KIX). I even booked via the website early, which got me a booking rate of ¥9,450.

Eventually, after thinking it over, I cancelled the booking and decided to spend the night at the airport instead - basically meaning a night of not sleeping.

 I could not justify to myself spending RM300.00 on a night at the hotel, especially when I would check in at around midnight and then take the first train out to Kyoto to meet my friend. That would work out to about RM50 per hour, if I spent the night at the Nikko.

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Not being particularly rich or anything, I decided to spend the night at the KIX Airport Lounge instead, after having my measly late-night dinner... one Teriyaki Burger from McDonald's'.

Sad late-night dinner for one. 

McDonald's was near the KIX Airport Lounge (to the right of McDonald's, if you come up from the escalators). Lawson was there too, if you feel like convenience food as opposed to fast food.

Here are a couple of pictures of the Airport Lounge - I paid ¥2,600 for 6 hours of watching movies on Youtube, plus free drinks. Not too bad, huh?

Free drink bar, and snacks to buy too if you are feeling peckish.

Two of the private group rooms, for larger groups of people. 

I was the first in the JR Ticket Office as soon as it opened - it was WARM, praise the Lord. I got myself a reserved seat, then passed through the Kansai Airport JR Station, took the escalator downstairs... and then proceeded to wait some more for the 6.40AM train, just sitting inside this little booth for 40 minutes or so, wishing the train would hurry up.

It took 75 minutes to get to Kyoto - when my best friend M said to meet at 'Central Gate', I panicked a little thinking I would get lost in JR Kyoto station. Thankfully, there were signs everywhere pointing to it.

Tadah! Kyoto Station Central Gate. We then took the subway to get to another station.

I was honestly so tired at this point I was ready to slump on the floor - but I didn't. In fact, I spent the morning chatting to M and taking a very long, hot shower. After all, I had not showered for a full 24 hours, and I missed my hot running water.

Thank you, whoever invented Hot Running Water. Thank you. 

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Sourced from Tumblr. 

For my first day in Japan that didn't involve transportation, I just chucked my belongings at M's place, and went out to catch-up lunch and desserts with both M and my Japanese friend N for a good four hours. Not something very exciting for travelling in Japan, I guess.

N made us walk around Kyoto looking for a ramen shop named Ryukishin (龍旗信) in Kyoto. In fact, we insinuated that the shop probably closed down (due to M's past interaction with N, in which they walked around a lot before N checked on his phone and realised that the shop had closed down), but luckily, Ryukishin was there.

Ryukishin is also available at Kansai International Airport, but fat chance for AirAsia visitors to sample it there, unless you want to wait until 7AM the next morning - it closes at 10PM.

Ryukishin operates by having a ticketing machine in the front foyer of their shop. After you feed it money, this ingenious machine spits out paper with the names of your order on them. You then hand over the strips of paper to the staff / cooks, who will then start preparing your meal accordingly.

I can't remember what I ordered - probably either the store bestseller or the one that is most popular among customers.I am going to assume I ordered something chashu (pork)-related, since I have two pieces of meat in my bowl that looks like the bowl in the online menu.

I didn't get any seaweed, though. Hmm.


What I do remember is that, for an autumn day and a full 24 hours of not eating proper food, I devoured that Ryukishin bowl like a lion attacks its prey. The broth was light and slightly salty, as it was shio (salt) ramen. My favourite ramen is still tonkotsu (pork bones) ramen, though.

We then made our way to a cafe (didn't get the name, sorry!) for some matcha-related desserts, and proceeded to spend about 2- 3 hours just talking in the cafe. The waitresses topped up our water several times, and we joked about them bad-mouthing these customers who only ordered one dish each but stayed so long.

I loved finally meeting my friends after months of not seeing them. It's been so long since Australia, and my university days. It honestly felt like I was back in Australia, only in Japan, with the rapid-fire Australian slang we threw at each other and reminiscing about 'back in the day'.

Oh God, I'm old.

It was good to know that we could all still get along, and poke fun at each other the way we used to. It was the perfect start to my Japan trip, just meeting some of my closest university friends that I met while studying Japanese classes in Australia. I was living the dream that university me had!

Well. Thank you, puri-kura machine. You're one of the very few that thinks so. Also, I don't think anyone is jealous. 

We then took some puri-kura pictures (of course we did), and soon enough in the evening, I was on the Shinkansen AGAIN, hurtling my way towards Tokyo... this time having not slept for 30+ hours.I finally conked out on the train itself unknowingly. The seats were just so comfy.

Having arrived at Tokyo Station, I still had to find another train that took me to Ikebukuro Station, before finding my way to Hotel Sakura Ikebukuro.

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^This is fast becoming my new favourite gif image

I did not even have GPS at that point, seeing as that the courier dude could not find M's address. My B-mobile SIM card did not arrive before I left for Tokyo. As such, I had to use the old-fashioned way - asking people for directions.

What is human contact? 
(Being emotionally dead and all, I find it hard to talk to people I don't know - the thought of talking to strangers terrifies me. Funnily enough, my job as a writer makes it a requirement. Ah, life. )

It was not that bad, though. At Tokyo station, relying on my VERY BAD Japanese, I asked the transportation staff which train I should take to Ikebukuro Station. I took the JR Yamanote line, just to get more out of my JR Pass, and it took me an additional 35 minutes to make it to the station.

When you consider that the JR Shinkansen I took took 2 hours and a half to get from Kyoto to Tokyo, you start to appreciate how fast the Shinkansen really is.

At Ikebukuro Station, I asked the station clerk which exit I should take to find the hotel. I got out of the wrong exit (obviously) anyway. I then went to the 交番, a small neighbourhood police station, and asked there as to where Hotel Sakura Ikebukuro was.

I must digress a bit here.


The policeman was giving me directions and flipping this huge book of maps, which I did not understand at all when he showed it to me. The map did not correspond with the next page - he had to flip several pages after one instruction ("Go straight down here, then *flips pages* turn right") to show me where to go. I looked at the book with terror in my eyes.

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Sourced from Tumblr

The policeman was kind enough to repeat his instructions twice. I repeated his instructions after him at the end, and he said: "分かりますか?" (Do you understand [my instructions]?),  and I replied: "分かる。。。と思います。" (I understand... I think). He then smiled at me and said that the hotel should be easy to find, because there would be a huge sign.

>_> / <_<

I'm sort of geographically-challenged, so suffice to say I was really proud of myself when I found the hotel just a few streets away. (WHY DOES IT TAKE A FEW PAGES TO DEPICT THESE FEW STREETS?) I checked in, took another nice long shower, and then conked out on the bed immediately.

Day 1 of my Japan trip was over, just like that. The next time though, I'd probably just fly to Haneda Airport if I was going to go to Tokyo, and make my way down to the Kansai area again, or vice-versa. Hopefully with lighter luggage, so I don't have to suffer hauling things around.



Yeah not going to happen.

Day 2 was a day of more relaxation, catching up with my other best friend K, who kindly agreed to come along on the Tokyo leg of my Japan trip. More Australian friend meetups yay!

First on the agenda was lunch! Well, actually, first on the agenda was buying Studio Ghibli Museum tickets at Lawson, but they were all sold out for the day. The next day too. Not to mention, the day after. The 4th day? Nope, not a chance. Can't get into Studio Ghibli Museum during my Tokyo trip, at all.

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All sad gifs sourced from Mashable. Oh, the feels.

Sigh. So I gave the Studio Ghibli Museum a miss, and we headed out for lunch instead. Staying in Ikebukuro and all,  I Googled the place prior and found out that it was actually famous for 'ramen wars', that is, streets filled with ramen stores all jostling for customers.

It was impossible to head for all of them, so I headed for the ramen store which name I saw popping up frequently on websites and blogs - Mutekiya (無敵家). Here's a description from the website itself, if you're too lazy to click on it -

'The soup used in our restaurant is a pork-based stock made from pork thighbones, which have been boiled in a large pot on high heat for 16 hours, resulting in a thick tasty broth. The broth has drawn out the sweet succulent taste of the pork, and though the soup is thick, it has a light refreshing flavour. Please relish the flavour of this exquisite soup stock which is made fresh daily.'

Commas added by the English major in me. 


Funny story: 

I went looking for Mutekiya on K's GPS, and we were searching high and low for a ramen store that had the name 'Mutekiya' in it. At some point we stopped, and K said"Well, it says it is somewhere around here". I was looking across the street trying to find some ramen stores, when something made me turn around as K was still studying his GPS. I then clocked in the line that stretched around the corner for the store right behind us. I looked at the name - it said 'Mutekiya'.

Me: "K. It's right behind us." 


Funny story over. 

Joining the ramen-waiting fray!

We joined the queue, and soon enough one of the store's staff came out handing out menus. As a testament to how popular Mutekiya was, there were even English translations for the Japanese-illiterate tourists.

The line moved fast enough, and in 20 or so minutes we were already seated. Orders were taken while waiting in line; we both decided on the Honmaru Men, with Yaki Gyouza to share.

One of my favourite things about Japanese restaurants is how they hand out wet towels for all customers - in Malaysia, you would be charged RM1 for wet towel usage. Usually in Malaysia I'd hand back the wet towel to the cashier, just to ensure they won't add the RM1 to our tab. Japanese restaurants also usually serve free water, something unheard of in Malaysia.

My friend's N reaction upon hearing that you'd had to pay for water in Malaysia was, 'Are you serious!?', so yes, plain water is usually free at Japanese restaurants.

I am in love. 

The mouth-watering bowl of Honmaru men came out looking exactly like it did in the menu. I added crushed garlic (free!) to my bowl, took a spoonful of soup for a sip... and immediately declared it to be one of the best tonkotsu ramen I ever had, even before eating the ramen.

I just love pork bones broth so much. Thick, creamy, and strong-smelling, the Mutekiya tonkotsu ramen had my seal of approval, even if it does not have CNN's. What's wrong with you, CNN?!?!

The gyoza was pretty good too, but I preferred it with shoyu sauce rather than the dash of red pepper and radish spice.

After a satisfying meal, we ventured out to Ueno because I wanted to go to a Japanese park in autumn, thinking I'd see colourful leaves in late October.

Big mistake. 

THE LEAVES WERE STILL MOSTLY GREEN. The sadder part was that because it was a Monday, the Ueno Park Zoo was closed. SIGH. I want to see some dying leaves here!

What is this greenery?!?!

Koi fish in the Lotus Pond section of Shinobazu Pond. No lotus flowers, as summer was over. 

In the end we just wandered around Ueno Park looking at scenery, going to Starbucks, and then getting ourselves to the Shinobazu Pond's Boat Pond section for some boat-paddling.

Swan boats. Don't get them - their necks block views. Also they are the most expensive at ¥700 per 30 minutes. 

Admittedly, the scenery was still nice, even if the leaves were not dying.

Afterwards I insisted on going to Shibuya, because I wanted to see Shibuya 109 after seeing it heaps in fashion magazines.

Yeah, I'm superficial like that. I went inside Shibuya 109 and marvelled at all the pretty shop staff and cute clothes that were mostly out of my price range.

Oh, to be richer.

The shop staff were superbly pretty dressed in their shop's clothes. In the face of all these prettiness, I could suddenly tell why Japanese girls always had this image of looking so good. After all, if everyone around you cared about their appearances, and put in extra effort to look good, you would jump on the bandwagon too and strive to look your best as much as possible.

At night for dinner we travelled to Ginza to look for the elusive restaurant - Meikyuu no Kuni no Arisu Ginza restaurant, or, Alice in a labyrinth Ginza restaurant. It took us a while to find the building the Alice restaurant was situated in - nobody we asked knew where this Taiyo building was, but people definitely knew of the Alice restaurant.

We went to the 5th floor, and immediately the atmosphere transported us into the pages of a book. A waitress came out to guide us in. The waitresses were dressed in Alice uniforms, and were super courteous and helpful.

I went to visit the restroom on the way in - it was dim in lighting to fit in with the atmosphere. Actually, it was a little creepy, so I got out as quickly as I can :/. I was trying to figure out how to get the tap water to run, when I realised there was a button on the floor that I was meant to step on, in order to get the water flowing.

We walked past curtains that looked like the pages of an old, illustrated book - you can check it out in the gallery section of the linked website. We were then led to a table next to the cup in the Teacup Room. I'd love to have sat in the cup, but it wasn't for small groups, and it was already filled with a group of Japanese girls anyway.

The restaurant is pretty small, but looked bigger thanks to clever use of mirrors on the walls. My breath was taken away by the small details the restaurant had, such as the playing cards on the ceiling, the card themes on the tables, even the spider on the ceiling light.

The cutest thing had to be the box that the menu came in, though!

The waitress took out the closed menu from within that box, with actual clock ticking on the top right, and the cutest tiniest details such as a tiny light, and a table plus chair combo!

Let's be honest here, you come here for the ambiance, not the food really. The food was not 'bad' in any sense, but it's still edible. Kind of like a fancy cafeteria school lunch for rather exorbitant prices - I think I must have paid about ¥2,300 - ¥2,500 or so for this. Our 'Alice' waitress explained to us that each person must have at least one drink and one main meal.

Taking in payment for drinks, main meal, and the dessert, I must definitely have paid about ¥2,000++ for this dining experience. Look how cute the dishes are though!

Getting bread and tea, as one is wont to do in Wonderland / Underland.

Basically, biscuits and sweet jam. The waitress told us to look for a hidden Alice. Um, she's right there. ^

The main meal, Cheshire Cat's face on the spaghetti ragu. Of course, his face slowly disappeared, that cat (we ate him, oops).

Dessert! I believe this was chocolate cake with vanilla ice-cream and strawberries.

Would I go back to this restaurant again? Sure. Not all the time, maybe, but every once in a while, being transported to a different world in a physical sense (apart from my favourite other-world transport methods, reading books and writing) does my heart a world of good.

An advice - when asking for the bill, ask for 'check', not 'bill', as that will result in a glass of beer being brought to your table. True story. Lots of 'sumimasens' and 'gomenasai' commenced on both ends, for not understanding each other better.


Next up, Disneyland and DisneySea! Stay tuned. :)