22 March 2012

Tokyo/Kinugawa Onsen March 2012 - Part I

Hubby and I slipped to Tokyo and Kinugawa Onsen for a quick 4D3N getaway earlier this month :) (Couldn't be longer since it'll be tough on my MIL to take care of the monster). It's been 3 or 4 years since our last onsen trip and we missed it terribly. So we decided to go while the weather was still cold (below 10 degree celsius) for the best onsen experience. Anyway, hubby's frequent flyer miles were sufficient to exchange for 2 free tickets and the air miles were expiring. And of course another reason was to celebrate my birthday in advance :p LOL, do we need more reasons to justify our trip?
Basically, we spent 2 nights in Tokyo (covered mainly Kappabashi-Dougugai, Jiyuugaoka and Shibuya) and 1 night in Kinugawa Onsen. So I'm breaking this trip recap into 4 parts, the first part (which is this post) talks about food and shopping in Tokyo itself; part II and III are about Kinugawan Onsen, lots of photos on the ryokan we stayed in, the food and of course, the onsen. And the final part which is my favourite, my shopping haul!!

We took the midnight flight aka red-eye flight and landed at Narita Airport early Sat morning. Clearing customs was quite a breeze and we were out in the arrival hall within 30 mins which was superb, just in time to catch the next bus to Shibuya Excel Hotel. Chose to stay in the same hotel as last trip as the hotel is located literally next to the station, with abundance of shopping and food around the area. And it's also easy to get to Jiyuugaoka, just a few stops away by taking the limited express subway.
The limousine bus journey took about an hour. As usual, it was too early to check-in, so we left our luggage with the concierge and immediately headed to Kappabashi-Dougugai at Asakusa area (which sells all sorts of cook and bakeware). The weather was colder than we expected (probably about 6-8 degree celsius) or probably coz our body hadn't adjusted to the temperature. After browsing a few shops, we couldn't continue anymore due to hunger and cold so went in search of something hot to warm our body. Managed to find this family-style Soba/Udon shop near Asakusa.

My special Spring set consisted of a bowl of Soba and a half-bowl of vegetable tempura with rice. And it cost only 500 yen (around $7-8), very value-for-money!

Hubby ordered a Tori-Karaage set, consisted of a half bowl of Tori-Karaage with rice and bowl of Udon. The udon was different from the usual thick type that we are familiar, and tasted more springy.

Not sure if it was due to the cold weather which made us very hungry (had skipped breakfast on plane which was served at 4am!) or the food was yummy, we finished everything in no time. So with our body nice and warm, we continued our shopping at Kappabashi for the next 2 hours.

After we were done, we headed back to Shibuya for check-in. At Shibuya station, I saw a counter for ticket booking/collection and decided to collect the tickets for our trip to Kinugawa Onsen. Had booked the limited express JR train bound for Kinugawa Onsen online, but there was some confusion over the price stated in the booking system. The ticketing officer tried to explain to us in her limited English and we ended up spending more than 30 mins at the counter trying to clear the confusion. So it turned out that the online system stated only the limited express seat price but for every train ride, a basic fare is payable, something which I didn't know. Why don't they just state an overall price to be paid instead of just stating the limited express seat price? Anyway, she advised us to purchase this Nikko-Kinugawa Excursion Ticket which includes 2-way limited express train between Tokyo Wards Area and Nikko-Kinugawa, as well as taxi and bus coupons. Price is the same as what we would have to pay for a basic fare + limited express seat. In the end, we took the Excursion Ticket in case we need to take taxi or bus while in Kinugawa Onsen area.

Anyways, finally we checked into our room at Shibuya Excel Hotel at around 4pm. I refreshed a bit and went out shopping again while hubby stayed in the room to sleep. We agreed to meet back in the room at 8pm. When it comes to shopping, women certainly have more stamina than men! Time was short so I had to maximise all that I had. I started with Shibuya Mark City, which has a few zakka shops like Afternoon Tea, Natural Kitchen, Keyuca, Timeless Comfort etc. Next, went to Uniqlo which is quite near to Shibuya 109. Only bought a pair of leggings, as I found it a hassle to change, you know removing boots, coat, sweater and put them back on. Next stop, Francfranc and then Tokyu Hands, both a short walk away. By 7.30pm I was hungry and exhausted and couldn't go on anymore. We landed at 7.30am and it was like a 12hr marathon! So I went back to the hotel room to rest while waiting for hubby who had gone out.

It was even colder at night as we walked the streets in search of dinner. Settled at this steak place.
My steak with lemon sauce. The meat was tender and juicy, perfect for this cold weather.
Ordered some greens as a side. Rice was included with the steak. It is usually a practise for Japanese to eat steak with rice.

After dinner, we wandered around Shibuya and decided to go back to the room after a while as it was getting too cold. I think I was so tired that I quickly took a hot bath and fell asleep promptly.

The next day, we woke up at nearly 11am! Wow :p had drawn the curtains completely so didn't even know that it was morning. I guess we were just too tired. Not wanting to lose anymore of my precious shopping time, I quickly washed up and headed out to Jiyuugaoka. As for hubby, he was still sleeping in bed and would probably shop at his favourite fishing tackle shops when he decided to wake up. LOL.

It took just 15 mins to reach Jiyuugaoka by taking the limited express train of the Toyoko subway line, and I was back in my beloved Jiyuugaoka! Decided to take lunch first for stamina :p Had a pasta lunch at this fast food restaurant opposite the station.
My eggplant and tomato spaghetti with prawn salad and tea. Noticed that the open space in front of the station was converted to parking lots, previously there was a statue. Anyway, the pasta and salad were yummy, but I couldn't finish the pasta, portion was too big!
Started my shopping spree at about 12 noon. Here we go! Waiting at the train junction to get to Trainchi, which housed several zakka shops like one's terrace, karel capek, arivee at depart, Natural Kitchen.

After spending an hour there, I strolled by a different route from my usual and discovered some new shops and areas which I didn't manage to find previous times!
Slow House.
Tokyo Sweets Factory. I've been trying to find this restaurant for the longest time! Apparently, they featured specialty desserts from several famous pastry shops in Tokyo. They also had lunch sets which included dessert! I should have dine here for my lunch. Oh well... next trip I promised myself.
BALS Tokyo.
My lost-and-found new love. I mean, I used to like Muji, then not, then again. Coz they sell baby and toddler clothes at really affordable price! A striped short-sleeve t-shirt for toddler cost only 500 yen (about $7-8) and the material is nice and soft type. Okay, I have a thing for striped tees these days and Muji sells a lot of striped tees. During my previous trip to Hiroshima in early winter, an outlet there had sale and each t-shirt was only 250 yen, where to find such bargin! Even FOX t-shirt cost more and it was only during sales that you can find a t-shirt for $9. I really regretted not buying more t-shirts of all colours and sizes at Hiroshima. *heart-pain* What was I thinking the other time? Anyways, as it was still considered winter, they sold only long-sleeve t-shirts which cost 700 yen. The friendly sales assistant told me that short-sleeve tees would only be available late March onwards. Boohoo....
More zakka shops as it started to get dark.
By the time I decided I had enough, it was already close to 7pm. Quickly took a train back to Shibuya. As I had 45 mins before meeting hubby, decided to spin by Loft first. And finally back in the hotel at around 8.15pm to unload my bags before heading out for dinner again.
Craving for some curry, so this looked like a good place.
My Chicken Katsu with rice. You can choose the amount of rice and spiciness of curry for different pricings. Curry is really a comfort food during winter.
Some refreshing salad to cleanse the palate.

After dinner, we walked around a while, browsed at some bookstores and went back to the hotel.

The next day was a wet wet wet day. Here's the view from our hotel lift lobby of the Shibuya junction. We were bound for Kinugawa Onsen for a well-deserved break after 2 days of intense shopping. Our train departs from Shinjuku Station at 1.30pm, so we had a couple of hours to spare. First we packed our luggage, then I went to Tokyu Food Show once the department store opens at 10.30am. Shopped for 30 mins, then back to the hotel for some last packing and checked out (left our big luggage with the hotel).
Early lunch at a ramen shop near the hotel. Saw this shop the previous day and had KIV it for our lunch.
As usual, purchase ticket from vending machine first.

Here's my ramen, the shop's specialty apparently. The noodle was very springy and I love the onsen soft eggs. But the broth was a tad too salty.

The gyoza was nicely done. Somehow the combination of ramen and gyoza just seemed perfect.

With that, we proceeded to Shinjuku using the Yamanote line; the fare was covered in the Excursion Pass. We were early by an hour as we wanted to make sure we got the right departure platform. Shinjuku station is very big and we didn't want to dash about last minute. Decided to go outside the station to browse at some shops but apparently the Excursion Pass doesn't allow exiting. We were supposed to stay within the station and go directly to the platform. Anyway, a nice attendent at the exit gates allowed us "special permission" to exit :p

So we wandered around the shops near the station for a while, bought some bread for snacking on the train and headed to the platform for our train to Kinugawa Onsen.

Stay tuned for Part II which covers Kinugawa Onsen!


  1. i'm drooling now :D

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  2. Jiyugaoka is one of my favourite parts of Tokyo. Love all the yummy food pics. I have stayed at Tokyu Excel hotel twice. It's a great location for a tourist.

  3. Ah.. i love Coco house (the curry place). They opened a branch in Singapore in 313 Somerset but the quality here isnt good. They are very good in Japan (all cities) and also in China (Shanghai) :)

  4. dimas geel: thanks for the info :)

    Lisa: Yes, love Jiyugaoka so much!

    OKC: Haven't tried Coco house in Singapore, probably will go try one of these days to compare :p But the experience is totally different for sure.