Monday, April 23, 2018

Ginza and the Amazing Ginza Six Mall

Ginza, like most other parts of Tokyo is always undergoing change.  In the last couple of years, a few famous landmarks have been demolished and new ones built.  A new luxury mall, Ginza Six has opened up.  Ginza Place has replaced the building with the big Sapporo Beer sign on the top that was diagonally across from Ginza Wako at Ginza's central intersection.  Ginza is a luxury shopping district, which suits it as its name means "Silver Mint" where money used to be minted.

Even if you don't plan on spending a pile of money here, the district is worth visiting even just to window shop for a bit.  Not all stores sell luxury goods like super expensive jewelry, fashions, or handbags either.  Stores for more modest budgets include Itoya for stationary of all kinds, the Uniqlo flagship store, Tokyu Plaza, the Sony showroom, the Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan radio shop (for regional Japanese products), the Muji flagship store, various bookstores, etc.
Ginza Wako and the central intersection of Ginza.
Kabuki Theatre
Ricoh Building at night.
Just south of Ginza Wako is Ginza Six.  If you look above the goldish part of the building in this picture, you will see a level with restaurants where there is balcony seating that overlooks the street for a number of restaurants.
Fancy Christmas bell when I was there in December.
Inside the impressive atrium.
Ginza Six is a really nice mall, with an great atrium area that has some awesome looking white and red pumpkin decorations by Yayoi Kusama.  There are like over 240 luxury brands represented in this mall.  Other than window shopping, there are also art exhibits, a small museum, and a pretty multi-story digital waterfall.  However, I was there to check out the rooftop garden, the dining floor on the same level as the really impressive Tsutaya Books store.  There is a food floor in the basement and even lower down is an entire Kabuki theatre which is only open for shows unfortunately.  This mall is posh.
Tsutaya Books
This is a really nice bookstore.  Lots of light, open spaces, woodwork, well curated book selection, and beautifully arranged and decorated.  I really liked this store and bought a number of photo and Japanese culture books here.  Even got a Godzilla retrospective showing all of the Godzillas to date.  Nice Murakami art books too.  The restaurants on this level share a common dining area and you can even get seating out on a narrow balcony area that overlooks the street.  All of the restaurants share one common menu that allows you to order from each of them (more than a half dozen establishments here).  There is also a good Starbucks here.
Impressive Japanese Starbucks baked goods.
More Starbucks baked goods.  Note the matcha cake.
Tsutaya also had some interesting jewelry on display.  This is a crown or head dress I think.
Great looking Star Wars models.
Replica light saber.
Finally, I went up to the roof top of Ginza Six which has a garden and walk that goes completely around the building giving you a 360 view of Ginza from up high.  It is also a relaxing place to take a break.  There is a beautiful reflecting pond, seating, and even a living wall.  I think it is worth visiting Ginza Six just to visit the garden and have a walk around while taking in the views.
View over Ginza.
Garden and pool area.
Pool area.
View down to the street.
Small Shinto Shrine
Historical plaque.
Tokyo Skytree view.
After visiting Ginza Six I across the street to visit the Uniqlo flagship store.  This is a great store.  I like a lot of their fashions, and their T-Shirt floor is amazing in both decor and in the many shirts that are tie-ins to other media franchises.
The Uniqlo flagship store.
Front of Uniqlo
Lobby of Uniqlo
Ginza also lights up at night pretty good and the window displays are way more apparent.  I miss the Sapporo beer sign at the top of the old building that is now replaced by Ginza Place.
Old building with the Sapporo Beer sign on top and the Ricoh building to the right.
Ginza Place is a new building that houses the new Sony showroom and a Nissin automobile showroom.  There are some fancy dining establishments too, including a Kobe beef place.

Ginza Place replaces the old building with a very sleek and well designed bigger building.

Fancy exterior metal work.
Low the sakura flower man hole covers.

A fancy window display.
And now I'm onto baked goods again.  These are Famina Bakery products found at Familymart convenience stores.  All the konbini have pretty nice baked goods.  Probably as good if not better than your local supermarket back in North America.
Baked goods.
Donut anyone?  Goes with canned coffee!
My last stop in Ginza was at the Muji Flagship store.  Muji has some great clothes and housewares to that show their minimalist design aesthetic.  They also have a great selection of food and snacks.  This Muji also has a good cafe and bakery in it with lots of seating.  On the main level it is mainly gardening, a fresh vegetable shop, and they have their minimalist cabin on display.  This "Muji Hut" is like $27,000 USD and you can buy it from Muji for your rural property or your backyard getway.  On the second level is the rest of the Muji greatness.
Muji Hut
Muji Cafe food.
These freeze dried strawberries covered in green tea chocolate are sooo good.
Pumpkin chips.
Muji seafood crackers are really good too.

More travelogue posts here.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

CoCo Ichibanya Curry Cup of Noodles with Fried Chicken

Curry is a Japanese staple.  Ramen is a Japanese Staple.  Curry x ramen = Japanese food power squared, so curry ramen should be pretty tasty.  I tried this Coco Ichibanya Curry Cup of Noodles with Fried Chicken and Cheese totally expecting this result.  This one is made by Ace Cook in conjunction with the Coco Ichibanya Curry House chain of restaurants, and it met expectations.
Front of the cup.  Lots of CoCo brand typography in English and Japanese, and even their logo is on the cup.  Acecook branding is also fairly prominent.
CoCo is a pretty famous curry house chain in Japan, so I'm pretty sure a good product was going to be produced as good PR is better than bad PR, and any PR is better than no PR.  The colouring on the cup is primarily in a bright yellow with black lettering and some red lettering for emphasis.  The cup name and branding run right through the middle, and the photo on the top half of the cup shows some tasty brown coloured curry sauce with chunks of fried chicken in a big spoon.  In the background are noodles in sauce along with green onions and some cooked ground pork.  A very attractive package with appealing food visuals.
Clearer shot of the food picture on the front of the cup.  Emphasis here is on the fried chicken pieces.
Logo and branding are very clear on the lid of the cup.  You know there is fried chicken and even cheese present.  The noodles in the cup are presented on chopsticks with the curry sauce glistening on them.
Logo and bonus cheese graphic.
Back of the cup with nutritional information, ingredients, and cooking directions.
Side of the cup with preparation warnings, website information.
So I popped open the lid of the cup to reveal nice golden looking ramen noodles with a dusting of curry soup powder (most of the powder was at the bottom of the cup).  Present were all sorts of other ingredients, especially the fried chicken pieces.  Other ingredients included red chili pepper, green onion, onion slivers, and ground pork.
Red chili pepper, green onion, onions, ground pork, fried chicken pieces.
Also inside the cup was a foil packet of cheese powder.
I added boiling water and waited three minutes.  It is often better to undercook the noodles a bit as they get soggy if they rehydrate too long.  After rehydrating, I added the cheese powder on top and stirred everything up well.  It definitely needed the stirring to mix in all the curry powder and make sure it thickened up.
I added just a little of the cheese powder to show how finely ground it was, took the picture and added the rest.  The pieces of fried chicken looked really good.
The curry and noodles after mixing.
Another shot of the soup and noodles.
The soup looked a little thin at the start, but it thickened up to the right consistency as the noodles absorbed more water.  When I peeled the lid back after adding the water, there was a nice curry smell wafting out of the cup.  The curry had a slightly sharper, slightly spicier flavour profile than the regular Nissin Curry Cup Noodle, but was very nice.  Most Japanese curries are mostly savoury and a bit of sweet at the same time and this was no exception.  The added heat from the chilies and other spices made this curry flavour distinct.  The noodles were quite firm too and had a good chew to them - definitely felt different than some other noodles I've had.  The fried chicken pieces were quite good, and fried chicken seems to be showing up more in instant noodles lately.  While they are mostly breading, you can definitely taste and feel the texture of the chicken.  All in all, this was a tasty curry noodle cup, and expectations were met.
Closeup of the noodles and chicken.

More cup noodle / ramen reviews and Japanese pop culture.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Tokyo and Kamakura Visit and Sights

I recently returned from a trip to Tokyo and Kamakura from the end of November to early December in 2017.  It wasn't one of these trips I just absolutely had to do, but I do like visiting Tokyo and getting a fix of Japanese culture once a year.

The special things that happened this trip were:
  1. My first visit to Kamakura
  2. Catching the red autumn foliage just past their peak
  3. Visiting the International Robot Expo (IREX) that only runs once every two years.
  4. Seeing the new Gundam Base and the giant Unicorn Gundam out in front of Diver City.
  5. Seeing the Christmas light shows at Caretta Shiodome and Tokyo Midtown.
In addition, I revisited old haunts and saw a number of new areas and things too.  A big part of the trip is always about eating Japanese food (always want ramen!) and snacking at konbinis too. I managed to spend more time in Akihabara than normal to do my anime sightseeing and shopping, visit the new Hokusai Museum, and see the new Ginza Six shopping mall too.  While I wasn't able to hit as many bakeries this trip, due to the poor proximity of hotel to bakeries with seating, but I had plenty of good food otherwise.  My feet we pretty sore from all the walking.  By the end, I was ready for a nice rest.

Unicorn Gundam
Day 1 - IREX / Odaiba / Tori-No-Ichi / Gundam
Giant Unicorn Gundam and IREX Robot Exhibition in Tokyo 2017
Asakusa Tori No Ichi Shrine Festival
  • Odaiba
  • Int. Robot Exhibit (IREX)
  • Tokyo Big Sight
  • Gundam Base + Diver City Gundam Docks Festival
  • Odaiba Unicorn Gundam
  • Aqua City / Decks Mall
  • Takoyaki Street in Decks
  • Sensoji Temple
  • Oootori Shrine
  • Tori-no-ichi III Festival

Day 2 -  Shibuya / Shinjuku / Godzilla
Shimbashi Scenes Both Night and Day
Giant Godzilla Head Up Close and Godzilla Store Shinjuku
Christmas Illuminations in Tokyo (Fantastic Lights at Caretta Shiodome and Tokyo Midtown)
Hello Kitty Shibuya Station Xmas Decorations
Tokyo Banana Kit Kats (+ Japanese Treats From My 2017 Trip)
Snacking on the Go in Tokyo - onigiri, sandwiches, karaage, ...
  • See Shibuya
  • Hachiko Statue
  • Scramble Crossing
  • Starbucks
  • Mega Donki
  • Boul'ange Shibuya
  • D47 Design Travel Hikarie 8F
  • Production IG Store / One Piece Mugiwara Store
  • Takashimaya Times Square - Food Floor
  • Katsukura 14F Takashimaya
  • Shinjuku
  • Godzilla Head
  • Godzilla Store
  • Omotesando
  • Tokyu Plaza
  • Kiddyland
  • Oriental Bazaar
  • Shiodome Caretta Xmas Lights
  • Ootoya Shiodome

Day 3 - Daytrip to Kamakura
My Kamakura Highlights - Part 1 (Engakuji, Kenchoji, Hachimangu)
My Kamakura Highlights - Part 2 (Great Buddha, Hasedera, Zeniarai Benten)
  • Exit at Kita-Kamakura Station
  • Engakuji
  • Kenchoji
  • Tsurugaoka Hachimangu
  • Hokokuji
  • Enoden Train to Hase Station
  • Daibutsu Great Buddha
  • Hasedera
  • Enoden to Kamakura Station
  • Zeniarai Benten
  • Return to Tokyo
  • Ichiran Ramen Shimbashi

Day 4 - Skytree / Hokusai / Akihabara / Roppongi
Morning Views of the Tokyo Skytree 
Hokusai Museum and the Skytree Town Pokemon Center
Around Akihabara
Bandai Tamashi Nations Show In Akihabara Dec 2017
Akihabara Girls Und Panzer Display at Gamers
  • Hokusai Museum
  • Views of Skytree
  • Solomachi Mall
  • Pokemon Center
  • Macross Valkyrie
  • Akihabara
  • Bandai Tamashi Nations Exhibit
  • Mori Tower/Mori Museum
  • Doraemon Art
  • Maman Spider
  • Tokyo Midtown
  • Tokyo Midtown Christmas Light Show
  • Tokyo Station
  • Tokyo Station Ramen Street / Character Street
  • Ramen Dinner

Day 5 - Tsukiji / Ginza
Ginza and the Amazing Ginza Six Mall
Camp Curry (Camp Express Shinagawa) For A Tasty Meal
Granblue Fantasy Popup Store And Final Fantasy YL Collab
Anime Goods Stores in Tokyo
  • Tsukiji
  • Namiyoke Inari / Tamago Shrine
  • First Yoshinoya
  • Ryu Sushi
  • Ginza
  • Ginza Six / Ginza Six Rooftop
  • Muji Flagship Store
  • Watch Bullet Trains From 3rd Floor Kotsu Kaikan
  • Tokyo International Forum
  • Akihabara at Night
  • Shinagawa Station + New Sony Aibo
  • Camp Express For Curry Dinner

Day 6 - Korakuen / Yanaka
Late Autumn Colors at Koishikawa Korakuen Garden, Tokyo
Old Yanaka and Its Cemetery
Delicious Tokyo Ramen at Ippudo, Ichiran, Chiyogami, Kamukura, and Soranoiro NipponB-Kyu Food of Japan (aka Tasty Everyday Food) 
  • Korakuen Garden
  • Old Yanaka Neigbourhood
  • Yanaka Cemetery to look for cats unsuccessfully - must have been in the wrong part.
  • Tokyo Station / Oyakudon For Lunch
  • Marunouchi
  • Shinjuku / Yasukuni Dori Main Street at Night
  • Omoide Yokocho Memory Lane
  • Shibuya at Night
  • Ramen at Kamukura
  • Shopping at Mega Donki / Tokyu Hands

Day 7 - Last Day / Imperial Palace
Atago Shrine and Toranomon Hills in Shimbashi
Imperial Palace East Gardens + Fortifications On A Fine Morning
47 Ronin Real World Locations
Go Go Curry In Akihabara
Nikujirumen Susumu Akiba Cup Noodles
Famous Ramen Shop Konjiki Hototogisu Cup Noodle
Japanese Emergency Rations (Disaster Prevention Goods)
  • Around Shimbashi
  • Toranomon Hills
  • Atago Shrine / Stone Steps of Success
  • Imperial Palace East Gardens
  • Akihabara / Go Go Curry / Shopping
  • Kanda Myojin Shrine
  • Tokyo Station Again / Soranoiro Nippon Ramen Chuka Ramen (Umami dashi ramen)
  • To Haneda Airport