Saturday, September 8, 2012

Japan Trip Day 2 - Nikko and Ginza

Day two was spent at Nikko, a small town in Japan with many historical and cultural sites, and then the evening was spent at Ginza, one of the best known commercial districts in Japan. We were moving around quite a bit that day, so we didn't have a chance to stop for actual meals, but we still had plenty of chances to stop for snacks!

Day 2 - Nikko and Ginza


Nikko Train station
We took the train to Nikko, which is a small town with many temples nearby. Apparently, according to... people... you haven't been to Japan if you haven't been to Nikko. Well, so says my dad. But to be fair, there were a lot of posters in the Train station with the words 'Nikko IS Japan' written on it.

Shinkyo Bridge
We were a bit lost at first, since when you first exit the train station, all you see is a quaint little town, but no sign of temples or shrines. But after checking with our GPS, we found our way to the first site, the Shinkyo Bridge, which stands at the entrance of the shrine and temple area. You can't see it from this picture, but the water underneath the bridge is very clear, and areas of it are a very pretty aquamarine colour.

I won't go into too much detail about the shrines and temples, especially those with Buddhist statues inside. To be honest, as a Chinese person, I've seen plenty of Buddhist shrines in China, and they aren't that different from the ones in Japan. But what makes these shrines so special is the preserved woodwork, which I will show you through pictures.

Monkeys, the mascots of Nikko

Many of the carvings are very intricately done. Interestingly enough, you aren't allowed to take pictures inside temples, shrines and palaces. And again, you may need to remove your shoes before entering.

Passing under a Torii
I'm sure if you've done a project on Japan in high school, you would have come across the Torii, or the Shinto gate. These are situated at the entrance to every shrine, and signifies to passing from common to sacred.

We stopped for some snacks in between shrines. Some clever people were manning a dessert stand outside one of the shrines. They had a giant sign that read 'free matcha tea and iced water', which, of course, was only free with a purchase. Since the weather was very hot, many people wanted something to drink, and so the dessert stand ended up with a decent amount of business.

In any case, the desserts were these big mochi-like patties with different fillings, such as red bean, white bean and black sesame. They were quite good, if a bit sweet.

We stopped by a convenience store at the train station for some onigiri, which are stuffed rice balls with seaweed. This became a staple during our trip; if we couldn't find food, we would just much on one of these. They have different fillings, such as salted pickled plums, grated white radish, or cooked tuna. As simple as they are, I found myself missing these the most when I returned to Canada.

Pocari Sweat
Apparently, Japanese people really like drinking Pocari Sweat? Taste-wise, it's nothing special. A little sweet, a little sour - kind or like vitamin water. But it does quench thirst, which is what's important. You'll find a lot of funky drinks at the convenience stores. My friend really liked the 'Mitsuya Cider'.

We saw a shop selling these on our way back, but we have no idea what they are. Possibly stone/sand-grilled fish?

Coffee machine
Okay, these are seriously amazing. So at the train station, they have these coffee machines, which are a bit like our vending machines. They have all kinds of coffees and teas, including hot and iced options. You put in the money, choose your poison, and then the machine makes it on the spot. The little digital number at the bottom is the timer, and it takes around 45 seconds to make a drink. The drink comes out in a paper cup at the bottom.

I tried an iced green tea latte, and it was absolutely delicious. I still dream about it to this day. It was smooth, silky and creamy, and it even came with tiny little ice cubes in the cup! I know we have instant coffee machines here too, but they have so many more options here, and you can get iced coffees and hot coffees from one machine. Colour me impressed.

After Nikko, we headed back to Tokyo, and first visited the current royal palace. It wasn't open to the public, so we weren't able to go in, but the park surrounding the palace was very nice. It was clean and peaceful, something you wouldn't expect to find in the middle of such a busy city.

We also got to see droves of salarymen pass by (some with some really interesting sweat stains... on their butt?), as well as a jarring moment of seeing a white guy dressed in a typical salaryman fashion.

Afterwards, we headed over to Ginza. We ended up in a small restaurant underneath a department store. Yet again, I wasn't able to read the name, so I have no idea what it was called.

Grilled squid
We started off with some grilled squid. The squid itself was springy and chewy, while the outer layer was grilled to a crisp charcoal, which added a nice smoky taste to it.

We thought these were croquettes, or 'korokke', which usually have a yummy creamed potato filling. However, these turned out to be tonkatsu, or breaded pork chops. The outer layer is deliciously crunchy while the pork on the inside is piping hot and tender. It's served with a sweet BBQ sauce mixture, pickled vegetables and a bowl of rice.

Cold potato vermicelli
I ordered what is traditionally a Korean dish, which is cold potato vermicelli noodles in a sweet and sour cold broth. My friend and I were seriously amused by the two pieces of watermelon, but to be fair, we were so tired that rocks seemed amusing at that point. The cold noodles were pretty refreshing in the warm weather, but otherwise, it wasn't all that special.

Grilled steak
My carnivorous friend apparently can't go a week without eating steak, so she ordered a plate of grilled steak. What they do is grill the steak on a teppen in the kitchen, cut it up and then bring it out to you. The meat was juicy and tender, and definitely satisfied my friend's hankering for meat.

After dinner, we passed by a tea shop called 'The Darjeeling' that had some really cute-looking desserts on display. We decided to get two to go.

Mango and Black tea cup
The first was a mango and black tea jelly cup. This was one was pretty good, with the bold sweetness of the mango muted by the black tea jello at the bottom. But if I were to be 100% honest, I'd say that the presentation is very nice, but the taste is not that special.

Peach and guava cup

The second cup, peach and guava, was a little too perfume-y and artificial-tasting, in my opinion. My friend says that that's what guava tastes like. I did like the layer of mousse at the bottom of the cup, though.

So we enjoyed these little dessert cups in our hotel room while watching the anime 'Kuroko no Basket' (The basketball which Kuroko plays) on TV. We saw a commercial for it on the train, and were determined to watch this odd, odd show. Needless to say, we understood absolutely nothing. And apparently there's a live-action Rurouni Kenshin movie out in Japan?

Speaking of anime... Onto the next day, where we tackle Akihabara, geek paradise!


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