Going around Tokyo: Kagurazaka (神楽坂)

Kagurazaka according to my grandmother was once part of the outer edge of the Edo castle. They were known for their geisha houses and until today you will still see people walking around in their Kimonos around the area, and there are still some houses and geisha houses that remain preserved here since the Edo period. The long slope filled with different Japanese shops are also known to have a lot of French influence as well. The  l’Institut Franco-Japonais de Tokyo is located near here and because of that there are many French living around the area. If you go up the slope you will notice plenty of french cafes and restaurants. My friend Solene will take me to the best one on Sunday since she says that they serve, and this is according to her “Real french food that you can’t even find in all of france”.

Along with french food, cafes and bakerys, there are also famous Japanese Ryoteis around the different streets. Ryoteis are places where you can eat inexpensive “kaiseki” or Japanese cuisine. On July they have a festival here along Kagurazaka road so if you are visiting Japan on July I believe that it is the best time to go here.

Try getting your omikuji here if you would like. ;)

Try getting your omikuji here if you would like. 😉


Its a very long street! Try walking it from Iidabashi and you will not get bored!

Its a very long street! Try walking it from Iidabashi and you will not get bored!

How to get there: If you would go down at Iidabashi you will soon find Kagurazaka street, you will see a Starbucks at the end of the street and going up hill will be Kagurazaka. Another way would be to use the tozai and toei oedo lines which gets down at Kagurazaka.

What to try: There is this famous Japanese “nikuman” shop called 五十番. I would recommend that you try their original Nikuman. Also after I visit the french restaurant that my friend is recommending here in Kagurazaka I will include it again in my blog. (wink. wink)

The red shop is the nikuman shop!

The red shop is the nikuman shop!


You must try their Nikuman!

You must try their Nikuman!

三社祭 (Sanja Matsuri), Asakusa

There are many festivals around Tokyo every May, and I could`t decide which one to go to but my obaachan (grandmother) was talking about how fun this festival was so I decided to go here with a meet up group. Sanja Matsuri literally “Three Shrine Festival”, it is held every third weekend of May in Asakusa. The festival is held in honor of Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakatomo, the three men who established and founded the Senso-ji temple.

We got here at 9:30 am for the start of the festival was 10am and we went around asking where we could see the Yakuza. It is rare to see the Yakuza to show all of their tattoos to the public and we even got a notice before going here that we might not see their tattoos due to the strict rules. As we turned the corner we saw this group of people almost naked and covered in tattoos. I was so surprised, when we asked for a picture they even requested that we take their back side as i am assuming it is something they are very proud of.

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Many Yakuzas and other people

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I got a picture with them too!

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He told me that I have to take his back side also.

The rest of the festival we spent going around the Senso-ji temple and eating all of the different Japanese food and delicacies. I wanted to try everything since they all looked so good, but I didn`t want to risk gaining another 2 pounds so I decided to just eat the butter potato and the ice tempura. My gosh, all the food here sounded so interesting, I would recommend that you share it with a friend if it is too much. Your experience will not be complete if you do not have a taste of the food they are selling in the stalls!

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Green tea and azuki shaved ice was so good.

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Potato butter!

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Tempura Ice

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Yen and his yakisoba!

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Eating her GIANT OKONOMIYAKI

Japanese festivals are always something that I look forward in going to and I learned so much from my Japanese friends about the Mikoshi they were carrying around and about the festival too. There is so much to learn about the Japanese culture and the best way to experience it is through festivals. My obaachan told me that this is probably one of the best festivals in Tokyo. If you decide to come here on May you should leave your third weekend free to come here. The matsuri starts on Friday-Sunday, and each day has different events. I wanted to come on the second day because it is only on the second day when you can see the Yakuza and the many kids carrying the Mikoshi. The third day they say is also a good day too.

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The pretty cat in front of Asakusa Sensoji temple, my grandma says he is always there!

Higaeri from Tokyo: Ashikaga Flower Park

Although it was a tiring day trip to Ashikaga, I will not regret my grandmas sudden decision to go with me today instead of tomorrow.  It was my first time to see a Wisteria tree. and this tree is now 145 years old.  Its known to be one of the biggest in the world and its become quite an attraction to many tourists. You won’t need much time going around the park but I advice that you go here with your friends. As you will enjoy the many different flower attractions.

The flower park entrance

The flower park entrance

The ticket will cost you ¥1600 to enter the park itself.

The ticket will cost you ¥1600 to enter the park itself.

How to get there: I read about many routes to get to Ashikaga but I decided that we take the most convenient way. From Asakusa, there is a Limited express train that you can take from Tobu Asakusa station to Ashikaga train station, which will only take you 70 mins for 2000 yen. I opted to take this route because you would not have to change trains and my grandma is too old for any inconvenience. From Ashikaga station there is a shuttle bus that will cost you ¥400

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The biggest one!

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Yellow wisterias

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White wisterias

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Some wisteria ice cream

I believe that the week after Golden week is the best time to come here to the flower park when the Wisteria tree is blooming nicely. At night you could enjoy the tree being lit up. There are a number of flowers you can enjoy and you could also try their wisteria ice cream, which I don`t really recommend but its worth a try if you`d like. You`ll be walking into tunnels of many different colors of wisteria. I would advice you to take your time and enjoy every site, most especially the largest scene where 2 wisteria trees are put into one place. It will cost you ¥1600 to enter the park, there are also a number of tour buses that you can join into which might cost you about the same amount that we spent. If however what you are looking for is to enjoy your time without any time constraint, this would be a great higaeri adventure with your friends.

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The purple ones don’t smell as good as the white ones, but they are prettier.

Guru Churro, Harajuku

Rie told me about how good these churros were and I couldn’t wait to give them a try the next time I was in Harajuku. Fortunately, I was going to meet my long time friend Timmy that day and we decided to try it out together. Its hidden but you won’t miss it as long as you read the signs, Its right across forever 21.

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Here are the list of their flavors

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Timmy is enjoying her churro… well technically I ate most of all the churros.

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We had the set with the ice cream to share too!

We got to try cinnamon, strawberry, matcha, honey, sugar and the set with the Ice cream. It was just heavenly! I have to thank my friend Rie for this suggestion! I will not regret coming here for some churros, so if you ever are in Harajuku you should come and try this place for a short snack after lunch. The place is also very secluded and nice so you can have some quiet time from the crazy hustle outside in Harajuku.

I will recommend that you try the cinnamon flavored churros and honey, those were my favorites. If you are a bit more adventurous I would recommend the Kinako, I heard the table next to us saying that it was good. Timmy and I were supposed to share but It really felt like I was the one eating all of the churros while she shared her stories.

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Its located right under charles and keith, so you just have to go down the escalator to the basement! If you get lost just look for Charles and Keith and don’t forget that its across H&M and Forever 21.

 

Getting the best views of Tokyo

You won’t really have to read the rest of my post because there was only one that was THE MOST beautiful observatory to view the whole of Tokyo. I will be rating  the places based on my visit, price and the ambiance of the place. I’ll be starting with my most favorite.

Note: Before going to these places make sure to check the weather report and go on a very sunny day. You will not regret me saying this because if you go on a cloudy day you will miss a lot of views. On a good day you could see as far as Mt. Fuji, so always go on a good sunny day.

1. Seaside Top WTC ( 60 floors up ) 

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My view from the seaside top was the best!

Price: ¥620

WORTH EVERY YEN I SPENT. I should have gone here instead of all the other places that I went to today. This was the best place to view Tokyo. I spent my evening here watching the sun go down from the east and it was so beautiful with the music and everything. This is a great place to go with someone you love.

How to get there: Its right on top of Hamamatsucho station. So you won’t miss it! There are many signs going to this place.

2. Sunshine Observatory Deck

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It was too cloudy to show any good view but It was really wide so you could see everything from every angle. Also they provide seats on one side.

Price: ¥620

Not so bad either, except that the ambiance is not as inviting as compared to Seaside. If you are going to be around Ikebukuro, its worth a go as long as its not crowded. I would suggest you go here if you will also go to the Aquarium

How to get there: Get down at Higashi Ikebukuro- Yurakucho line and you will not have a problem from there. Do not attempt to get down at Ikebukuro because you will get lost if you do so. Especially if you do not know Ikebukuro, its nice to get lost after going to Sunshine first.

3. Roppongi Hills 

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People come here for the star wars exhibit instead.

Price: ¥1600

54 floors high, although it was nice it was TOO CROWDED and the Star Wars exhibit made it even more crowded. The place isn`t bad and it included the west facing view of the Tokyo Tower. It was just overcrowded and I could not really enjoy the view as much as in Seaside. It was also very noisy here, people come here for the exhibit and not really for the view.

How to get there: Get down at Roppongi station and just exit towards the Roponggi hills gate.

4. Tokyo Metropolitan City Hall 

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It only has a good view on 3 sides because the one side it blocked by the second building. However it is also very nice to come here, plus its free.

Price: FREE

The best part of this building was that going to the observatory was free! Although it is a little lower as compared to the other buildings it gives a great view of the city in the South and West. The other two sides are blocked by the buildings.

How to get there: Get down at Shinjuku station and go towards Yodobashi Camera just keep on going straight. You will see maps going to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office and you will not miss the two tall buildings.

5. Tokyo Tower

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Glass bottom. Very nice view from here but not really of the city, there are too many bars blocking the way.

Price: ¥ 1600 Which includes both observation decks.

Of course I had to try going up the tokyo tower because it was so beautiful from Afar, and it was also beautiful up close. I was lucky enough to get there when there was no line. Not much of a view, but it is fun to look through the see-through glass. I think that it is prettiest to come here during the night.

How to get there: Get down at Akanebashi- Oedo Line and you won’t really miss the Tokyo Tower so follow the signs and walk towards it. I walked going here from the Seaside Top WTC, it only took me 15mins.

I will not be including the Tokyo Sky tree here on my list as it is so expensive and the last time I went there it was too crowded even to see anything. I really recommend the Seaside top World trade Center its the best place to go to and you can spend the whole day there without worrying about anyone sending you out.  I also bought my dinner downstairs and just ate there on the 60th floor as I watched the sun set on Tokyo.

Gaijin Friendly Ballet Classes in Tokyo

© Photo above was taken from Google Images Link here.

If you are looking for quality ballet classes with pointe and or pilates. I would recommend these two ballet studios. I am aware that there are a lot of places that you could try for ballet classes here in Tokyo but based on my Japanese friends recommendations, this is the closest you can get to good and professional training. Not much RAD the training here is closer to Vaganova training, but it still depends on the teacher that you get. My favorite teacher here is Teacher Lesli, try her classes if you get the chance.

1. Studio Architanz, Minato-ku Tokyo 

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Advanced Class, They have different levels you could choose from and their staff knows how to speak in English so you have no problem with communication
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Pianist while dancing, its a really nice feel.

Above is the link to their english website. Very much gaijin friendly, they teach classes in English here and they have great teachers. They offer classical ballet classes, contemporary dance classes, workshops and many other events.

LOCATION: ACCORDING TO THEIR WEBSITE ( I would recommend the first option because it is the easiest way to locate their place ) If in doubt ask people where PORT BOWL is.

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7min walk from JR Tamachi-Station

Tamachi-station Shibaura-exit. Go straight, then turn left at the first traffic light and straight on for approximately 5min. Enter Tokyo Port Bowl building at A-entrance. 4th floor.

7min walk from Subway(Toei-line) Mita-station

Mita-station A6-exit. After exiting, take right and then turn right at the first corner. Go pass the shrine and take the promenade that goes under the JR railway. Go straight, then turn left at the first traffic light and straight on for approximately 2min. Tokyo Port Bowl will be on your left,from A-entrance. 4th floor.

Cost: Yen 3000 per walk in one class, they also have a cheaper option for one month or two months of classes! Most of their information is now available online. Some classes are cheaper for the B classes and the C classes.

2. Maison de ballet, Minami Aoyama

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My class with teacher Mami who is a dancer of the famous ballet company in Tokyo was amazing! Definitely would come back to try her class!

Not as Gaijin friendly as Architanz but their staff can speak a bit of english and you will enjoy this if you are a fan of RAD style of dancing. Also ballet is ballet so you will of course have no problem understanding the exercises. The teachers here are part of one of the most famous ballet companies in Japan, the Asami Maki ballet. I tried Teacher Mami here and she really gave a simple yet complex class.


How to get there: Take the A4 exit from Omotesando station If you can see the star on the Map that is the exit. Head to the left and go straight all the way. On the next main road take another left walk a little further and you will see this building on the right side.

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Cost: ¥ 3100 for a regular CD class but they also have cheaper options for if you want to pay for a lot of classes.

Where to buy KitKat in Tokyo Station

I don’t really get the fuss about the KitKat flavors but I noticed that there are many people having a hard time looking for KitKat stores that sell more than just the green tea and cheesecake flavors. I would not recommend that you go to that new KitKat specialty store especially since there are many bad reviews about the place. I’ve been going to this KitKat place for about 4 years already and it never fails to bring out more flavors!

How to get there: Tokyo Station 

Don’t go walking around the station without asking the information office if you are not familiar with Tokyo Station, because Tokyo station is VERY big. Ask the information about where Character Street is and when you get to character street you will have to go to another information and ask where there is a Korean shop that sells KitKat. Its to the far right and its right beside the ramen shop past Garrets popcorn and Gundam cafe.  (Don’t ask for where they sell KitKat because there are many stores here that sell KitKat but not exactly all the flavors, unlike this store)

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Their KitKat flavors depend per season. Sometimes theres more Strawberry Cheesecake and other times its Blueberry cheesecake. My personal favorite is the Rum Raisin KitKat and the Orange KitKat. I also like the Chili KitKat. They don’t only sell KitKat at this store, they also sell various Japanese okashi that come from all places in Japan. So don’t just go here for the KitKat. This store has a lot to offer!

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I would suggest that you save this picture so that you can show someone the sign of this store. Enjoy all the flavors! Happy hunting and I hope that this helps satisfy all your KitKat cravings.

My favorite ballet store in Tokyo: Chacott, Shibuya

My mom took me here when I was 16 and every since this store has been my ballet heaven. I love Shibuya and its only because my favorite ballet store is here! What don’t they have? Well i can name a few brands although it really won’t matter, because everything you need to find for ballet will be here. I will admit that their leotards are quite pricey, they sell everything from Freeds, Chacott, ABT and other brand names I don’t even know of. Although they don’t sell Yumikos ( Yumikos can be found at the Architanz ballet studio in Mita-Tokyo, there are only two branches of Yumikos in Japan ) You can pre order the Yumikos but it would take 8 weeks.

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Every dancers ballet heaven ❤

Getting back to my point. I love this 7 floor ballet heaven! Only 3 floors are for their products, the 4th floor i think is their costume room and the next few floors would be the studio. I could come here from the time they open till the time they close. The first floor is all leotards, tights, warmers, skirts etc etc. Second floor is yoga wear, shoes, stretching goods, ballet technology things and make up technology. 3rd floor is you ballet shoe heaven and on the side are your sweats, tap shoes and mens wear. Then you can find all the music and ballet CD’s that you want in the basement, which is my favorite place because you can watch all these CD’s for free and listen to the ballet music. You can spend all day in there and no one will complain or send you out. Sigh. Sigh. (Sparkles in my eyes)

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1st floor for all the leotards you can dream of. In all colors too!

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Second floor for make up, ballet shirts and other ballet technology goods and hair accessories.

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3rd floor for ballet shoes, pointe shoes, resin, toe pads, warmers and etc.

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The basement is for ballet CD’s, DVD’s and books. Also keychains, calendars, ballet cases, ballet trinkets.

If cheap ballet goods are what you are looking for this is not the place to go to. A lot of other shops sell goods on discount. Although if convenience is what you are looking for, this ballet shop is definitely the most convenient. They sell a lot of interesting things too that I normally will not find in regular shops such as the resin spray and the pointe shoe hardeners, pointe shoe glues also all kinds of tapes and things for the feet. I could go on and on about this place, but it won’t be fun unless you yourself go and see the place for yourself.

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More of the basement. There is a section where you can listen to CD’s and watch DVDs

Where to find Chacott: Get down at Shibuya Station and exit out the Hachiko gate. Walk towards the famous Shibuya scramble crossing  ( you wont miss it). And go walk straight towards the big street right beside Starbucks. Just walk straight, you will cross two stoplights. Before you cross the second stoplight you will see a giant disney store to the left and across it you will see a green Chacott sign. You won’t miss it!

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If you’re a dancer and you’re in Tokyo, this is a place you must visit!

Overnight trip from Tokyo: Yatsugatake 八ヶ岳

I took a day trip this weekend together with my obaachan (grandmother) to Yatsugatake. The total trip cost ¥20,000 more or less which included our ¥2000 omiyage (gifts) for my mom and her friend. The place is good for a quick getaway and i think its more of a place for old people. Although we did take a side trip from there to Ina and we saw a lot of students taking field trips there.

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More sakura pictures for everyone!

The place is known for its beautiful stars, being far away from the city and everything. It is good for people who are looking for a quiet place to relax in away from Tokyo. The bus ride going there is not really so relaxing, it takes about 2 hours from Tokyo and another 30 mins from the bus stop to the hotels. On our way there we were able to see the Minami Alps (southern alps) and Mt.Fuji. My grandmother was very happy about this trip and I was happy too because of that and the food.

There was a soba place near our hotel/resort. It is best to go here a little after lunch or so, not too late because the place is known for its soba. A lot of people were eating here and they in fact run out of soba around 3pm. The rest of the day we spent swimming in Green hill Hotel and afterwards we went to the onsen and had some yatsugatake milk.

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The soba place late in the afternoon, inside the forest. It was very hard to find but it was worth the long walk

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We had some Zaru soba because this was what was most recommended on the menu ¥880

The next day we booked a tour to Ina which was 2 hours away from where we were staying. However we wanted to go see the Alps much closer and to see what was around there too. We saw a lot of flowers and all sorts of shops, related to food and vegetables. I love how the Japanese are always incorporating vegetables into everything. My grandmother always says that, vegetables are where we get our source of good nutrients so we don’t get so hungry. It was really a good place to go to. I would recommend that you come here with a friend or as a couple. It would be a good place to walk around in. Japanese provinces are very quiet and its very different from the city. At first it might be a shock but its nice immerse yourself into something different once in a while.

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Tulips have finally opened

Higaeri Trips from Tokyo: Nikko 日光市

Higaeri in Japanese means day trip, I feel like I need to come back to Nikko to really experience it. Based on our trip I would recommend that you stay here for at least 2-3 days. Our day trip was not enough to go around Nikko and in the end we were rushing to get back to the station and go home.

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Nikko train and bus station

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Yuba/Onsen Manju. I brought home some for my grandmother as requested

Nikko literally means sunlight or sunshine, it is famous for its Toshogu shrine, and the mausoleum of Tokugawa leyasu. A city in the mountains, There is so much to see here in Nikko and I was so disappointed that we only had time to go to  Lake Yumoto and back down to Lake Chuzenji and since the weather was so bad when we were here we could not even go and walk to the shrines and the gardens. We just passed and looked at them from afar.

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Walking around and near the lake

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So much snow that we were not expecting to see!

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First time of my best friend to go to an Onsen/ Public Hot Spring.

How to get there: We took a train from Ikebukuro which took us two hours to Nikko. There is also a train from Asakusa to Nikko, the Spacia. When you get there you could buy a bus ticket which could be purchased at the ticket office. You could buy the ride all you can bus ticket so that you could get on and off different bus stops and go around. Nikko is a big place, its kind of like Hakone except more complicated because there are only buses and there is traffic on the way down.

Where to go: The Kegon Falls is one of which I wanted to visit but could not go to. The Tobu world heritage square, Lake Chuzenji, Nikko Toshogu shrine. There are still a lot of places to see here and I am sure that after coming here you will realize that there isn`t a lot of time to do everything.

There is a Japanese saying, that you “Never say Kekko until you`ve seen Nikko” (kekko in Japanese means “i am satisfied”, splendid, wonderful or sufficient ) Hope I could go back again here for an overnight trip. It reminded me of the time I went to see the Kurobe Dam, which is one of Japans largest Dams. It was beautiful, just like Nikko. Japan has so much beauty to offer. As my mother always says, “日本は自然が奇麗だからね”, (Nihon wa shizen ga kirei dakara ne)