27 April 2009

Tokyo 9-14Apr09: Day 1

Hubby and I sneaked a vacation to Tokyo recently. Yes, yet again (don't roll your eyes). All thanks to SQ having a good promotion and flying by A380 somemore! With the hot and humid weather in SG, we reckoned we could escape to somewhere colder and dryer. And Tokyo remains one of our top choices in terms of food, shopping and transport (convenience).

This time, we decided there wouldn't be a specific itinerary, basically just eat, shop, relax, chill and enjoy the weather and atmosphere. Since we have been to Tokyo for a few times and have admired sakura before, we won't be viewing sakura specifically as well.

We chose to take the midnight flight on A380 for the 'experience' (we call the midnight flight the OBK flight as usually we don't sleep much and tend to be concussed with dark eye circles by the time the plane touch down in the morning). So the much-raved about A380. The 'sliding reclination' of the seating is something new. If you choose window seats, there are side storage for small bags/items and once storage lid is closed, serves as side table space. I'm quite pleased with the 10.6" personal entertainment widescreen LCD along with the New KrisWorld. But still, decided to catch some sleep less I really turn into a panda :p Will leave the exploration for the return flight.

Touched down Narita Airport in the early morning, cleared customs, claimed baggage and proceeded to purchase tickets for the Airport Limousine Bus bound for Ikebukuro. Was refreshed and pleased with the nice, cool weather that welcomed us when we stepped out of the airport to await our bus. Full-bloomed sakura trees greeted us along the sides of the road as the bus headed towards the city.

This time, we stayed at Sunshine City Prince Hotel at Ikebukuro (as we were a little tired of Shinjuku Washington Hotel), which is directly served by the ever punctual and efficient Airport Limousine Bus (3000 yen, one-way, around 80-90mins depending on traffic condition).

There are a couple of criterias when we select our lodging in Tokyo - direct access by Airport Limousine Bus (not fun to drag luggage in busy train stations and streets, especially during return trip where luggage is 4 times heavier), price (of course, since lodging is not cheap if location is good), within walking distance to train station, preferably on the JR Yamanote Circle Line and facilities/amenities nearby such as malls and convenience shops.

After extensive search through several websites, managed to find a really good deal via http://www.agoda.com/, an online worldwide hotel reservation agency for about S$156 nett per room per night, no breakfast (which is a good deal considering the criterias above!).

Sunshine City Prince Hotel is directly linked to Sunshine City Mall, which houses a shopping mall, restaurants/cafes, an aquarium, an observatory (at 60th level), a theatre, Namja Town (indoor amusement park/centre) and even a museum. From the mall, it is linked underground to Sunshine 60 Street (a bustling street with eateries, shops, entertainment arcades, movie theatres) which is on the way to the JR Ikebukuro Station. It should take around 10 to 15 minutes from the hotel to the train station, provided you don't get distracted by the shops and sights =D
Anyways, it was too early to check in when we reached the hotel, so we left our luggage with the concierge and headed to Kappabashi Dogugai かっぱ橋道具街, a street between Ueno and Asakusa that houses more than 170 shops devoted to every kitchen/restaurant equipment/hardware/houseware imagineable!

Take the subway on Ginza line to Tawaramachi 田原町Station and exit at #3. Walk for around 5 to 8 minutes and you'll see a giant statue of a chef on top of the building. Turn right and that is Kappabashi Dogugai.

Ok, that was where I stopped taking photos and became totally immersed by all the cooking and baking ware. The last time I came here was back in 2003, my very first trip to Tokyo. Back then, I was more intrigued by the plastic food samples that look amazingly real and grabbed quite a few key chains and magnets.

This time, my focus was on bake ware. The range of baking equipment, utensils, instrument, apparatus, packaging is so extensive that I was once again overwhelmed and wished I could either buy all of them or just stay in Tokyo! No wonder the pastry/baking industry in Japan is flourishing, they have all the materials and ingredients! Ok, it is a demand and supply thing. But, what I wish to emphasize is, they have all sorts of shapes, sizes, colours... definitely promoting a conducive environment for bakers and cooks to explore their creativity.
Symbolic image of 'Kawataro of Kappa' (かっぱの河太郎) to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Kappabashi Street (I think).
Another interesting landmark building of Kappabashi Dogugai with giant teacups.

I lingered here for quite a while (till hubby's patience ran out :p). Looking at all the kitchen/bake ware and plastic food models induced our appetite and soon it was lunchtime. So, to appease hubby for his patience with me at the shops, I went along with his idea of eating Unagi-Don for lunch (although I was not really fond of unagi).
Hubby wanted to eat at this particular Unagi shop at Shinbashi. He had tried it during his last business trip to Tokyo last year and claimed that the Unagi-Don at this shop was one of the best he has ever eaten. I trust his taste bud since he is quite picky when it comes to food.
This eatery is located at one of the side streets about 5-8 minutes from Shinbashi Station. I wondered how he could even remember the way; he claimed he traced by sense of smell! LOL. Yes, we could smell the alluring aroma of grilled unagi from a distance as we approached the shop.
Quite a tiny shop that seats probably around 10 people. I guess most people order the bento takeaway at 500 yen.

Hubby naturally ordered the Una Don Double which came in 2 large pieces of grilled unagi (960 yen).
As I wasn't sure about the taste (repeat, I wasn't fond of unagi at all as I didn't like the 'muddy' smell), I ordered a regular Una Don (500 yen).

Surprise surprise! The grilled unagi glazed with a sweet kabayaki sauce tasted really good! The meat was succulent and tender, without any 'muddy' smell at all. The unagi was grilled over charcoal, fat from the unagi dripped onto the charcoal causing smoke and it was this smoke that added a great flavour to the unagi. Now I know how hubby managed to trace the shop, by the smell of the smoke! The kabayaki sauce also complemented the hot Japanese rice which was soft and fluffy. Both of us finished the tantalising rice bowl in no time. UMAII! I totally changed my perception of Unagi-Don (and secretly wanting a second helping)!
The pickled cucumber and cabbage we ordered as a side dish was also very refreshing and crunchy and helped cleared the grease from the unagi.
After the satisfying meal, we made our way back to Ikebukuro, Sunshine City Prince Hotel for check in. We booked a Semi-Double Room and was informed by the front office that they have given us an upgrade.

This was our Semi-Double Room on the 35th floor. By upgrade, we wondered if it meant a higher level or a bigger room (we didn't ask as it didn't seem polite). Anyway, this is the standard size of semi-double rooms in most Tokyo hotels. Though small, all amenities are provided. So, we were quite satisfied.
In fact, the room was slightly bigger than we would usually get at Shinjuku Washington Hotel. Only gripe, internet access was chargeable at 1000 yen per 24 hrs.
Typically size of Japanese bathroom.
Splendid view from our room.
There is a 24hr convenience store (Family Mart) at the lobby level and across the street to the hotel, a 24hr supermarket. So, no fear of going hungry or thirsty. Convenience stores and supermarkets in Japan are well known for their food/drink/snack variety and quality.

After resting, we walked around Sunshine City Mall and decided to have udon for dinner.
My Tempura Ebi Udon.
The broth is clear and soothing and udon cooked al dente.
For hubby, kitsune udon with yasai gohan.

After dinner, most of the shops already closed (shops close at 8pm). We explored the vicinity and dropped by the supermarket to stock up on some drink, snacks and strawberries which is in season now.

Thereafter, back to the hotel for a good night's rest since we didn't sleep very well on the plane.

Pretty night view from our room. The city seemed to be glowing. How nice to be back!



  1. Hi,
    love your travelling journal to Japan. especially the foods and dessert. Wow looks yummy!!
    Can you speak japanese to able to travel to that city by your own? Plan to go to japan as well but i cant speak japanese. pls advice. Thanks..

    BTW, congratz for your pregnancy...


  2. Hi lisa,
    Thanks for visiting my blog :)
    Actually realise that don't need know much Jap language coz most people can speak simple English. My Jap also very lousy due to lack of practice. Train stations and some signages have English now, so quite ok. And if you read Chinese, even better coz Kanji is identical to Chinese characters and meaning same, so can guess guess too.
    To go free & easy in Japan, I believe planning and reading up prior to the trip is important.