Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tokyo Autumn

I love fall in Tokyo. As the weather cools down and the air starts to feel clean again I find myself making a point of spending more time outdoors and it puts me in such a good mood! The leaves haven't really started changing yet, but they will soon. The nights are coming early, and I know it will start to feel gloomy eventually, but for now I'm enjoying it as the evenings are now filled with bustling sidewalks lit by glowing streetlights.

Our neighborhood bar

Overgrown Walkway

Ichigo Daifuku - I've been all about anko (sweetened red bean paste) lately.

Pretty mural in Shimokitazawa

Strawberries are a winter fruit in Japan (thanks to greenhouses.) These are the first I've seen this season.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Weekend Getaway to Shimoda

Last week we had a three day weekend, thanks to Sports Day, and took the opportunity to go down to Shimoda, a little beach town at the bottom of the Izu peninsula.

I've been interested in the Izu peninsula for a while because it's supposed to have some of the best beaches with any proximity to Tokyo. It's also a pretty historical area because Shimoda is where Commodore Perry first landed and demanded that Japan open it's doors to the outside.

We were definitely visiting in the off season, so the town was a lot sleepier and not everything was open. But John and I talked about it and we thought we might like it better that way. One of the best parts of getting away from Tokyo is getting away from the crowds.

While Shimoda is known for the beach it was drizzly two of the three days of our visit so we never made it to the famous beaches. Instead we walked around Perry Road, a shopping street along a canal that reminded me of Kyoto, explored the beach near our hotel, and took a cable car up to Mt. Nesugata. We went hiking on the one sunny day on a cliffside ocean path, which was absolutely fantastic. The views were gorgeous, though some parts of the trail can be quite steep. Don't be put off though, Raku was able to do it, and she's seven months pregnant. (Eeek! Did you guys catch that announcement? Raku's having a baby!)

We also had some really nice food and drinks. If you're looking for coffee shops Cafe Pepe is a very relaxed spot with a friendly shiba inu and Jashumon is a great old fashioned coffee shop with a nautical vibe. On our last night we had the best sushi that John and I have ever had at Mimatsu. The owner and his wife were so friendly, chatting with us, showing us a New York Times article they were recommended in ten years ago, and even showing us some photos of their children.

The one activity I wouldn't recommend is the black ship harbor cruise. It's very brief for the cost, and the ship is so crowded with tourists! The ones near us were much more interested in feeding crackers to seagulls than the actual scenery. From the ship however, we did spot a little island in the harbor that appeared to have caves in it. After getting off the ship we found our way there, walking out a long jetty people were fishing off of to explore the area. It's not a must do, but it was interesting. From there we were able to walk back to our hotel, most of the way right along the ocean, as the sun set.

We stayed at the Tokyu Shimoda Hotel, and being the off season we only paid $79 per night as oppose to the $200-300 they charge in the middle of summer. While the rooms were nothing special the amenities more than made up for it. They have two onsen with the most gorgeous outdoor baths I've ever seen. Sitting in the hot water looking out at the mountains jutting up from the ocean with palm trees swaying nearby we felt like we were in Hawaii. The hotel also has a pathway down to the ocean, and during the summer a nice swimming pool. Another great thing was the free shuttle into town that we used several times. If you'd rather not wait for their schedule the front desk is also happy to call taxis for you.

It's taken us so long to visit because Shimoda isn't the most convenient place to get to in terms of trains. The odoriko is the only direct train from Tokyo and it stops running by 4:00 in the afternoon, making it impossible for a Friday night departure. There are a number of different options to get there, so it's probably best to use google maps or Jorudan to find the best route and price for your trip. If you are able to take the odoriko, try and get the super view train - we caught it on the trip home, and the enormous windows make for a really beautiful ocean view.

Tokyu Shimoda Hotel
Suzaki Hiking Trail
Cafe Pepe

Garden at the top of Mt. Nesugata
Jashumon Coffee Shop
Perry Road
Floating Torii Gate
Ocean Cave
The beach near our hotel, once the sun came out the colors were amazing!

View from our hike
The Tokyu Hotel's outdoor onsen (super against the rules, but we were the only ones there)
Onsen selfie

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Afternoon Tea at The Palace Hotel Tokyo

I can't believe it's taken me so long to post about this, but earlier this summer Raku and I celebrated my birthday with afternoon tea at The Palace Hotel.

We were excited about this tea because we had heard it had more of a Japanese twist than most here in Tokyo. Instead of being served on the typical three tiered stand it comes in a stacked lacquered bento box that opens out into three boxes and a plate. We had also heard that the servers wear kimonos, but at least for the summer they were not, I'm not sure if they do at all any more. The space itself was beautiful and very relaxing. We were seated indoors, but there were some lovely outside seats that would have been really enjoyable if it wasn't the middle of summer.

When we first arrived we were each served a glass of the best iced tea I've ever had. It was Des Alizes, a green tea blend flavored with white peach, which you should immediately buy on amazon because it is amazing! I will say that though the presentation is beautiful when the bento boxes are unpacked the table gets very crowded, and I actually managed to knock my silverware on the floor a couple of times. The menu was very inventive but didn't stray too far from a typical tea menu. The sweets included a wagashi (a sweet made from almond paste similar to marzipan) along with more typical things like an eclair and a macaron, and the savories included a piece of eel sushi along with the quiche and a mini hamburger. Strangely enough my favorite thing was a soy bean soup! 

The tea list didn't include anything particularly inventive, other than the Des Alizes which I made sure to order more of, but it includes all the classic teas, and you can order as many types as you like. Because it was my birthday Raku arranged a special dessert for me which was really good. We ate the whole thing before I even noticed they had misspelled my name.

All in all this was a really enjoyable tea. The menu was good, the ambiance was very relaxing, and I particularly the interpretation here. The Mandarin Oriental may always be my top tea in Tokyo, but this is a great alternative, especially if you're looking for a more Japanese experience.

The Palace Hotel Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea Hours: Weekdays 1:00-4:30, Weekends 2:00-4:30
Phone: 03-3211-5309
Address: 1-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

The bento box being opened up
The food 
Blurry Friend Photo
The took the double in W seriously
The Imperial Palace Moat
Read About Other Afternoon Teas:
The Kahala Resort Honolulu
The Aman Tokyo
The Metropole Hanoi
The Ritz Carlton Tokyo
Tokyo Shangri-la
The Peninsula Tokyo
The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo (second time)
Park Hyatt Shinjuku
Four Seasons Marunouchi
Hotel Chinzanso
The Mandarin Oriental

Friday, October 2, 2015

Utsukushi no Yu Onsen in Takaido

While Ellie was visiting back in June we went to an onsen I'd never visited before. We chose Utsukushi no Yu because Ellie wanted to be sure to go to one that had outdoor baths.

Utsukushi no Yu is a little bit of a trek from central Tokyo, but the facilities and proximity to the station are great. Admission is 900 yen for adults and 700 yen for children on weekdays. On weekends the price is 300 yen higher but you also get access to their swimming pool. There is an additional charge for towel rentals.

On the women's side there are three indoor baths, one with water jet massage stations, and three outdoor baths as well. From the outside baths you can also access the sauna. I obviously couldn't take pictures inside the onsen, but you can see pictures on their website. We went on a rainy day and I was worried that might mean the outdoor baths were closed, but that wasn't the case. It was actually really pretty to be outside in a rocky pool of hot water with a gentle rain falling.

If you visit Utsukushi no Yu it's about a three minute walk from the station. (Conveniently with a Mr. Donut in-between. Ellie and I definitely stopped for donuts on our way home.) There's no English signage for the onsen, but there is a sign for NAF Wellness Club. Turn into the entrance, ignore the lockers that are immediately visible and walk up the stairs, at the top you'll see the doors to Utsukushi no Yu. Once inside you'll need to leave your shoes in a shoe locker immediately to the right. Lockers cost a 100 yen refundable deposit.

Once you've dropped off your shoes you buy admission and towel rental tickets from a vending machine, which you then take to the counter. The vending machine is only in Japanese, but even if you can't read Japanese you can figure it out. (I've labeled a picture below) The orange buttons in the upper left are for admission. This is where knowing the admission price comes in handy - you can just match the price to the ticket you should buy. The purple buttons are for towel rentals - 110 yen for a bath towel (レンタルバスタオル)and 60 yen for a face towel(レンタルフェイスタオル.) I recommend both towels, the bath towel for drying off afterwards, and the face towel for modesty while walking around.

After you've purchased your tickets, take them to the front desk. They'll take the key to your shoe locker and give you a key for a locker in the locker room as well as issuing your towels. Then it's time to get naked! Remember it's important to scrub down thoroughly before getting in the water, and that while you can carry your modesty towel around with you it needs to stay on your head or at the side of the pools while you're in the water, it's not supposed to be submerged. If you're looking for a full guide on how to use an onsen I highly recommend this video - I made sure Ellie watched it in preparation. 

I thought Ellie was so brave to try an onsen! I wasn't nearly that brave when I was 17. I'm not sure if I've said this before, but as incredibly self-conscious as I can be about my body there is something really wonderful and healing about hanging out with a bunch of other naked people. Even as a curvy foreigner, by the end of the experience I always feel like bodies are just these great tools that let us live our lives instead of objects (often of disappointment) by which we should judge our self worth. So, if you're even considering going to an onsen - do it! It's an amazing experience.

The front of Utsukushi no Yu

The entrance to the onsen is up these stairs

Drop your shoes off here
Buy your admission tickets here. Enjoy!

Hours: 9:30 am - Midnight
Phone: 03-3334-0008
Location: 2-3-45 Takaido-nishi, Suginami-ku, Tokyo

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