This post contains the stories of my Japan trip on day 2, 27 March 2017: Kawagoe day trip and Shinjuku.
You can read about the previous day of my trip (Asakusa) here.
Remember what I said about the confusing train system in Japan? I downloaded both Tokyo metro system and JR + other trains companies maps but they’re all too confusing. Take an example, in Shinjuku station. Train lines such as JR, Tobu, regular metro, subway, Romancecar for Hakone and other things I cannot remember intersect there. Each of them has their own railway and if you were to transfer to the different (company) line, you have to switch your map. (At this point I feel really embarrassed of my writing abilities. I cannot really describe this. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you’re in Tokyo. Or you can just look at this). There is actually a really comprehensive combined map but no normal person can read it.
Anyway, Google Maps rocks.
We slept at 01:00 because we talked and planned things until late, and woke up at 05:00 because girls apparently take about 1-1.5 hours to get ready. The weather was crazy cold running at 3 degrees celcius with (again) lots of wind and light rain at 06:30 in the morning. We went through this confusing state (again) to get to Ikeburuko station and immediately bought a JPY 950 (US$ 8.60) Kawagoe Day Pass and immediately got confused (again) about the trains and platforms and stuff. Finally we managed to arrive in Kawagoe at 09:30.
Kawagoe is a small town about an hour from of Tokyo and it specialises in sweet potatoes. Almost every street food we encountered contained sweet potato as their main ingredients. The stores and buildings were all picturesque and felt Edo-like. We spent about 30 minutes to take pictures on our way to Candy Alley and finally went to a unagi (eel) restaurant called Unakko. This was the only unagi restaurant we entered to in Japan.
When our lunch box arrived, the pleasant smell of the unagi infiltrated our entired smell receptor. It came with a small bowl of clear miso soup and a set of pickles. There were small diced sweet potatoes above the rice. I finally took a bite. The unagi was really soft and savory and the miso soup was marvelous. All in all, everything was tasty.
Note that at this point each of us had eaten a whole lunch set. But as we strolled through the candy lane, we bought this sweet potato ice cream for JPY 300 (US$ 2.70) and packaged sweet potato chips to be brought home (damn it, just realised that I forgot to take the pictures). Later on our stroll, we bought packaged sweet potato cakes and tarts. Back to the main lane there was a chopstick store that offered to engrave your name on the chopsticks that you bought. My friend bought some while I thought I’d easily lose them, so I didn’t buy any.
These are some pictures of the Kawagoe streets.
We continued to walk around the main street to find one of the city’s landmarks, the Bell Tower. Suddenly the smell of dango lingered and of course we bought one for JPY 100 (US$ 0.90). Didn’t really like it, to be honest. Not surprisingly, my friend liked it. As she savoured the rest of her dango we finally arrived at the Bell Tower. Underneath the tower, for the first time of my life, I saw a sakura tree. A very small one, though. Then we went to the Kawagoe Castle and took few pictures.
It was already 13:45 and we decided we had to go back to Tokyo for our next plan. After a cup of amazake (a sweet non-alcohol sake made of fermented rice which tasted a lot like cereal drinks) for JPY 150 (US$ 1.45) and a small sweet potato doughnut for JPY 70 (US$ 0.63), we made our way back to Ikebukuro. My friend have never tried the worldly famous BAKE cheese tart so we bought one at the station for around JPY 250 (US$ 2.26). From Ikeburuko station, we headed to Shinjuku station and made our way to Shinjuku Gyoen, while whoa-ing everything on the Shinjuku streets. It turned out that the park had already been closed for new visitors at 16:00. Aaaaand once again our plan was ruined.
A rash decision had to be made. How should we utilise our time in Shinjuku? We were still kind of full and entering Uniqlo or H&M did not seem to be a great idea as I usually spent a minimum of 2 hours in clothing apparels. Thankfully there’s a small building that has Sanrio store and Kinokuniya inside. We decided to head there when my friend saw the Animate+ building.
Needless to say, looking around didn’t seem to be a bad idea. To my disappointment the shop building was targeted for female otaku. I knew nothing about Shoujo stuff. Every single person in the building was female, the majority of them are the pretty ones. There were lots of yaoi (gay manga and anime). There were also many large sections on 2D boybands. That, I cannot understand. I drew a conclusion that this is just a part of their normal life. Maybe it’d take a lot more to be an “otaku” in Japan. I honestly don’t know.
Finally, we headed to the Sanrio store and my friend Sonia squealed a lot inside the store as she’s obsessed with Hello Kitty. I bought some goodies for my friends then we went to Kinokuniya, a regular book store. Of course, because it’s Japan, there were lots of adult goodies. DVDs, Blue-Rays, magazines, and manga were sold openly with their abnormal covers. We looked around for a while, got interested in the books yet I understood nothing except the fact that the words in Doraemon comics were mostly written in Hiragana because obviously it was written for kids. There’s an artbook for every famous anime movies and games. The book store was simply fascinating.
It was already dark and we finally get in the line for the very famous, every-Indonesian-recommended, Gyukatsu Motomura, just about 600 metres from the Kinokuniya building. The temperature was around 7 degrees celsius with winds (seriously, winds double the coldness) and everyone felt cold as we have to wait for an hour on the street. They only have 20-something seats and everyone spent a lot of time inside. We finally got in at around 19:30.
I don’t know if I could decide whether the wait was worth it or not, but the food was really, really great (actually, there were better ones in the following days). You would be given a set of a rare beef katsu, salad, rice, grated yam to be poured on the rice and sauces. The grated yam was one the best things you could ever put on the rice. I love the potato salad as well. You can cook the meat first on a clay (?) if you’d like them on the medium or well-done side, or you can just eat them directly. As for me, I like my meat on the medium side. The dinner costed each of us JPY 2100 (US$ 18.95) Maybe if I were to come back I’d enter the restaurant at around 17:00 to avoid the queue. Otherwise the wait was quite torturous, partly because of the weather.
We immediately went back to Asakusa and I fell asleep while sitting inside the train. I realised that for the upcoming days, we’d only get 4 hours of sleep every single night.
Disclaimer: All of the photos above were taken by my friend and me using Nikon D5500 and iPhone 5s. I reduced the quality of the pictures and videos to save my WordPress storage.