Sunday, 18 October 2015

Japan Holiday Day 12-14 - Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea

We decided to do Disneyland a day earlier because weather was good and also because less queues on the weekdays compared to the weekend. Our friends were going out for dinner so we could only spend the day there and not hang around for the night show. So we decided to do Disneyland on Day 12, DisneySea on Day 13 and catch up on the bits we missed on Day 14.

Disneyland in Tokyo is similar to Disneyland in Los Angeles, so the rides were all the same, but this time the kids could ride everything in Disneyland.

English was spoken in both parks by at least some of the attendants so you could get by not knowing any Japanese. If you ask, you can get a map in English.

Disneysea can definitely be done in a day - but Disneyland still takes us 2 days if we wanted to do everything. We went back to do our favourite rides again (Splash Mountain, Canoes, Speedway) on the third day and caught two parades and also the DisneySea light and water show.

Halloween was a very prominent theme and the park was decorated heavily with Halloween stuff, as well as having special Halloween parades and props and accessories.

This is my favourite picture - the night picture of Cinderella's castle. It just look so magical and the Halloween 2015 makes it look even more special!

Everything looks great at night. I couldn't take pictures of the show - I found that I was spending more time trying to get nice shots instead of watching, so I gave up and just watched the show instead.

So what are my recommendations for Disneyland? I think that Disneyland is great for the under 10s - both parks. My children were still too small to go on the big roller coasters in DisneySea but even those rides were quite mild and not too scary. As I have gotten older I find I get vertigo and car sick a lot more, so Space Mountain and a few of the visual rides with lots of veering around made me feel unwell.

Food is outrageously expensive so it's not a bad idea to eat at Ikspiari for dinner instead of in the park. If you have to, lunch is probably the meal you should eat there.

I got a monorail pass for 4 days which turns out to be cheaper. If you catch the monorail at least twice a day then it will be worth it.

Weekdays are definitely a better option for visiting Disneyland. It felt so much less crowded than Universal Studios, and if you have young children, waiting in queue will be a horrible nightmare.

Fast passes are free which is good but they are time limited - you can only have one every 2 hours or until you do your ride. Make sure you choose your fast passes wisely! Don't fast pass anything with a queue less than half an hour, you might as well line up.

If you like dressing up/cosplay then Japan is THE place to do it. So many people cosplay and wear souvenir shirts (we all wore Disney shirts on the second day) that you won't feel like a dork.

There is child-switch available in Disney as well, and it works out well if you go with friends. Someone lines up and they get a child-switch, they get on the ride and you jump in after you swap kids and skip the line. Something to think about when there's a few of you at Disneyland as you can get more rides in.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Japan Holiday Day 11 - Tsukiji, Oedo Onsen and Dinner at Narisawa

Hubby and I had fancy dinner plans tonight, so I wanted a relatively easy day.  We headed out to Tsukiji markets, too late to see the tuna auctions (they don't allow kids anyway and it's at 530 in the morning limited to 120 visitors per day) and too late to wander around the fish market, so we hung around the outer Tsukiji market looking at the stalls and trying to find somewhere good to eat.

We had only gone in a small distance and we came across Sushizanmai, which is a sushi chain that I had seen in Dotonbori in Osaka, and it had quite good reviews.  We went in and ordered some of the best and freshest sushi we could find.

I don't know why I ordered crab miso. I don't particularly enjoy cracking open crab legs to get meat out but the miso did have a slight crab flavour to it. It was probably because I didn't get to eat crab at Dotonbori.
We ordered some hand rolls of prawn and cucumber and a blue fin tuna, and nigiri sushi otoro and herring roe. The otoro (tuna belly) just melted in your mouth, it was so fatty and yummy!
This nigiri sushi set was for hubby, but the kids were helping themselves to it.
We got these salmon, avocado and salmon roe rolls for the kids but they wouldn't eat them so we ate them.
I felt like something different, as I had already had a chirashi sushi so I ordered this rather cholesterol heavy chirashi sushi with salmon roe, crab and sea urchin. Yum! I think I have more than satisfied my salmon roe craving.
Our friend ordered a tuna chirashi sushi and the otoro on it looked so yummy I had to take a photo of it. It made me wish I had gotten this instead!
At the end of the meal the kids got a little gift - these sushi lollipops! They are just striped candies on top with a white candy on the bottom, but they did look great, this photo doesn't do it justice.
The second floor had people sitting around a sushi bar. It would have been fun to sit there if the kids weren't with us.

When we went outside there was now a queue outside the restaurant!  When we first arrived we got straight in, hopefully it was because we were a bit early for lunch, but boy were we glad we went early.
The sushi was very fresh, the salmon roe was so soft which is different from the roe you get usually, and the fish was all very fresh, which is what I would expect from eating at the fish market. It was a shame we didn't go into the market directly to look around, but not sure if the kids would get underfoot at the market, because it is still a working business area and it must be annoying to have people wandering around whilst you are trying to work!

After that we went to Odaiba, which is a shopping and entertainment district on a man made reclaimed island in Tokyo Bay. Our friend wanted to go to Miraikan, also known as the National Museum of Emerging Science, but it was closed on Tuesdays! The Fuji TV building was interesting to look at, as was the Maritime museum (which was a big boat building). So we decided to go to Oedo Onsen Monogatari, which is an onsen (bath) theme park. The park has onsens from water they drilled out of the ground, and they are all outside public baths.

If you haven't been to public onsen before in Japan there are several rules, or rather, etiquette that must be followed.
  1. Wash before you get into the onsen. Onsens are for soaking only, and everyone is sitting in it so you shouldn't be dirty.
  2. You have to be naked to go into the onsen. No towels or clothing. That's because you should be clean when you enter, not dirty and clothing is considered dirty.
  3. No towels in onsen water. You can put it on your head if you're sweaty.
  4. Many places frown on tattoos. So no tattoos in some of the big famous public onsens. In Oedo Onsen there were LOTS of signs 
So I couldn't get into the onsen but everyone else could, which was a bum, because I was the one who really wanted to go. There is a foot bath that I could go to and they do the fish therapy where they nibble at your feet. I thought that would be fun.

Everyone gets changed into yukata after you enter, so you get a locker key, and you can put your clothes in and change into yukata.  There are lots of different ones to choose from and kids are welcome too.  There is also an entertainment area with food, tables and games to play in a shitamachi style old Edo-period environment.

There are a few baths around the central big bath, some with nano bubbles so it's like a spa - I think there are 14 baths all up with 7 on each side.  Onsen are separated into male and female sides. Hubby took my son to the onsen and they had a great time, my daughter and I walked around in the foot baths yelping as we walked on rocks that should be massaging but felt rather painful instead, and indulged in the fish therapy which tickled and was probably more a novelty than any real exfoliation.

There were a some non Japanese people there.  Koreans, chinese and caucasians - I could hear them talking but there were a lot of Japanese people too, groups of girls and groups of boys, couples, families with young children - it seemed to be a place for everyone.

There was free tea and water to refresh and rehydrate after the onsen, and I had some strawberry and mango shaved ice with the kids.

After that we had to head back because hubby and I had dinner plans at Narisawa. Narisawa is a two Michelin Star restaurant that was featured on SBS Destination Japan with Adam Liaw. It also was placed at #8 in the World's Best 50 restaurants (sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Aequa Panna). With a pedigree like that, I was expecting a lot.

Fortunately I wasn't disappointed. I was asked how the food was compared to the 3 star kaiseki cuisine I had in Kyoto. The difference was that I expect kaiseki to be the best of Japan's seasonal foods, with the excellent service that traditional Japanese are famous for and have authentic traditional flavours that epitomise the culture and cuisine of Japan. From Narisawa I expected a Heston Blumenthal or perhaps Sepia's Martin Benn type of menu - where ingredients I don't expect to come together do so in a surprisingly pleasant way.

This is the entree serving plate. This glass with Narisawa's name embossed can be seen from the side as well, which I thought was cool and took a photo of it.
The bread of the forest was interesting. They brought out the uncooked dough, which was fermenting with its yeast in a glass in an arrangement reminescent of the forest. They took it away afterwards and put it into a hot stone bowl which was heated to 300 degrees or something and then left there for a period to cook.
I could appreciate the use of wood in this forest theme, and the result was a dough that was more like asian steamed bread than crusty french bread. The addition of chestnuts inside bread was a surprising flavour that I enjoyed a lot.

The Essence of the Forest was a essence of oak in a Cedar cup (tree stump), with deep friend burdock (twigs). The green powder (moss) was ground spinach with a bit of matcha (green tea) - but the matcha wasn't strongly featured because there wasn't a bitter taste in the green powder. The dark powder (soil)was charcoal bamboo. A little bit of soy yoghurt was underneath the mound which you eat together with the ground powders. It was interesting and fun to eat, and I could appreciate the art put into the dish. I enjoyed it.
After our bread of the forest they brought out a crust bread and a special butter to eat it with. More forest themed plating, witht his slice of wood serving platter.

This rock with moss growing on it and a plant is actually butter, covered in ground olives and ground spinach and some herbs placed on top. The butter is so pleasing to look at I hardly felt like eating it, but once I started eating it with my bread I couldn't stop. I wish I could just eat it by itself! It makes so much sense to put olives and butter together since we sometimes dip bread in olive oil - I loved this idea, and the taste.

Fried yuba (tofu skin) with horse mackerel.
Deep fried minced leg of soft shell sea turtle done karaage style. The meat was actually very red. I wondered if they cooked it karaage style because everything tastes like chicken. The bone they stuck in it to make it look like a drumstick suggests that.
This was not on the menu - charcoal leek on sweet onion. It's interesting how charcoaled leek doesn't have that burnt taste, it has that slight smoky taste without the horrible charred taste. I did wish we had the "coal" though, which was charcoal leek on beef.
Broth of sea snake from Okinawa. Sea snake is a delicacy found in Okinawa in a few places. There is pork broth in here also with wintermelon and sweeet potato.
They showed us a dried and preserved charcoaled sea snake so we could see what we are eating. Voluntarily, of course.

Tai, sweet shrimp and salmon roe on a kombu and tomato broth with a bit of butter. Those are shiso flowers decoarating the plate which go nicely with the sweetness of this dish.
Clam in kombu buttered broth with tomato. Fantastic.

Deep fried lobster with grilled tomato sprinkled with vanilla and a vanilla bean. Vanilla and tomato is actually really tasty! The lobster was superbly cooked, I hate tough lobster but this wasn't tough.
Eggplant prepared 3 ways, sauteed, minced and deep fried, with seasonal flowers, shiitake mushroom, cheese from Nagano topped with a clear tomato jelly. Beautiful presentation and tasted amazing too.
Suckling pork with gingko nut and onion. The pork was done rare but the crackling was crisp, with a sauce of essence of pork with sherry vinegar. Must have blow torched the top...
Hamo (conger pike) deep fried, seasonal greens with sesame dressing and roasted buckwheat. A nice combination of textures there!

Kyoto duck cooked Peking styloe with sweeet orange, honey and coriander sauce. Sauteed beetroot with berry and beetroot sauce. Of all the dishes this was my least liked though I still liked it but it wasn't really peking style to my palate, but rare duck nonetheless.
This dessert is peach sorbet in ume (Japanese plum - a bit sour) jelly and caramalised shiso.
Pear overdose with this pear shaped dish and pear sorbet with pear, awabe mochi flavoured with yuzu and topped with pear puree. I think they could have done with less pear puree.
OMG when they brought out this petit four selection, I didn't know what to choose! I asked how many we could have and they said we could have all if we wished. WOW. So of course I had one of everything!
This is the top row which isn't shown well in the other picture. To be honest I can't remember all of them...
Mohito jelly with rum foam and mint, Kuzu walnut, awabe matcha, green grape, red grape (from tokyo), taro souffle in the taro skin (a large taro bud), green mochi covered in poppy seed, grape maccaroon, puffed brown sugar, saffron with pumpkin custard, lime flavoured orange with mochi, mountain cherry.  There are a few I've forgotten, but each dessert was delicious! I felt so greedy eating all of them.
I washed my decadent dinner down with a mint tea, but that was after the menu desserts and before I realised there was petit fours coming out. I probably needed a matcha tea afterwards to refresh the palate, but the lingering sweetness in my mouth was divine! Narisawa was an excellent restaurant and the food was surprising and delicious in its combinations and presentations. The duck was the most disappointing of the dishes, I wished I had asked for the beef instead or the pigeon (alternative offerings) but it doesn't matter, I would have wondered about the duck if I hadn't had it. A fantastic dinner that will be hard to match!