So we stumbled upon Memory Lane (Omoide Yokocho) by chance while we were strolling Shinjuku. Mike and I were both undecided where to eat. Memory Lane is an alley filled with eateries and bars serving Japanese street food mainly yakitori, beer, sake and the like. It is near JR Shinjuku train station's east exit. The ambiance is like old-world Tokyo. The locals refer to this place as Piss Alley (Shonben Yokocho) because the area originally had no public restrooms until it burned down in 1999 and got rebuilt. During the early post-war days, they say it was a drinking den frequented by criminals. Foreigners call this place Yakitori Alley and was also featured in A Mind of a Chef, one of my favorite TV shows in TLC.
While deciding among these places to eat, a cook from one of the bars approached us and said "Mazarap". (Masarap means delicious in Tagalog) Apparently, he identified us to be Filipinos. We had to squeeze in with the regulars mostly men wearing business suits and carrying briefcases often referred to as "salarymen". The place can seat about 6 - 8 persons. We ordered a big bowl of ramen and gyoza to share. We got our wishes. The food was delicious. I literally felt like one of the locals. This is a perfect place to soak up some Japanese culture.
Best. Gyoza. Ever.
The smells here are enticing. The prices are affordable.
The sakura also known as cherry blossoms were in full bloom while we were in Tokyo. It was a spectacular sight to behold. Walking under clouds of pink petals was like being in a fairy tale. I couldn't get over on how beautiful they were. The appearance of these pink blooms signify the winter season is almost over.
During springtime in Japan, flower-viewing parties are held called Hanami. Hanami is a small party or get together held outdoors to appreciate the prettiness of these pink trees. This custom is centuries-old.
Sakura up close.
A weeping cherry tree at a Shinto temple near Mount Fuji.
Many parks and gardens in Tokyo are great spots to view cherry blossoms or host a hanami. I suggest checking the cherry blossom forecast if you're planning a trip to Japan's vast urban sprawl in springtime. After this experience, I have new found respect for flowering trees. I'm excited to see these again most probably in Kyoto.
Mike and I have been eating Japanese cuisine non-stop during our Tokyo trip.We decided to have Western food one night and found ourselves at Wolfgang Puck Express' doors since we were already in Harajuku. The restaurant is located in Takeshita Street just across the JR Yamanote Line train station. This is more of a casual dining experience compared to it's Michelin Star sister, Spago.
We received warm greetings from their friendly staff. We were seated at a non-smoking table. I ordered margherita pizza while Mike chose spaghetti bolognese.
The margherita pizza is somewhat the size of a dinner plate but can be shared unless you're super hungry. The combination of cheese, basil and tomatoes are just the right amount which tastes perfect!
The spaghetti bolognese is creamy and incredibly tasty.
For its quality, great service, cleanliness and reasonable prices, Wolfgang Puck Express deserves another visit. This designer fast food experience is something we will never forget. Looking forward to eat at Spago when we visit the West Coast soon.
One of the best places to people watch in Tokyo is Harajuku. It is a small district in Shibuya and is also known to be Tokyo's epicenter of pop culture for young girls. An area where outrageous fashion is present. We visited Harajuku and the surrounding neighborhood of Omotesando and Aoyoma in our first two days in Tokyo. This is another photo heavy post.
Mike and I were staying in Sakura Hotel Hatagaya. To get there from our place, we had to ride the Keio New Line in Hatagaya station, go down Shinjuku station, walk for about 6 minutes, transfer to the JR Yamanote Line then hop off to Harajuku Station. The whole commute takes 17 minutes and costs Y260.
Our first stop, Nike's flagship store. My 14 year old nephew wanted a Kevin Durant shoe for his birthday too bad his size was not available. There are plenty of Japan exclusives too!
Then TopShop. I was delighted to witness a hip hop event. You gotta love those Japanese DJs.
According to Time Out, Tokyo loves a culinary fad. That explains the long line at Garrett, a gourmet popcorn shop originally based in Chicago that recently opened in Harajuku. I'm not a big fan of popcorn but when a co-worker brought some of Garrett's from Singapore, I couldn't stop munching.
Harajuku Street. For Mike, I think it should be called Heaven Street. Lol.
A lot of skater shops that sell Nike SBs and Nike Roshe Runs can be found here. Oh and did I mention bike shops?!
They say the best day to visit Harajuku is on a Sunday afternoon. Sunday is the busiest time for this place where you can see Japanese teenagers in Lolita Doll fashion, goth, punk and cosplay. Cosplay means wearing a costume of your favorite anime character or movie star. We did see some girls dressed in costumes but it was too dark already to have a good photo taken with them. Anyway, I took photos of shops that sell costumes instead.
While strolling this street, a line from Gwen Stefani's song popped up in my head. "Harajuku Girls, you got the wicked style, I like the way that your are, I am your biggest fan."
Next, Takeshita Street. Another famous street in the Harajuku area. You can find Wolfgang Puck Express here. I'll discuss more about it in another post.
The Japanese are crazy about crepes and pancakes. The demand for crepes are high.
The neighborhood is surrounded by beautiful architecture.
My favorite building in Aoyoma: Prada. Every line the brand has produced can be found here. Omotesando and Aoyoma areas are where you can find the more affluent crowd.
Inside Omotesando Hills...
Another store that caught the husband's attention.
Photos taken using Canon 550D and iPhone 5. Some information from Wikipedia and TimeOut.
Our Tokyo trip would be incomplete if we didn't walk along Shibuya Crossing. It was an amazing sight and the feeling of crossing the world's busiest pedestrian intersection is overwhelming. Let me tell you a secret, I cried happy tears. Lol! I'm not really the dramatic type but there was something magical about the place. We crossed eight times the first day and twice on another day. The pedestrian scramble is the perfect epitome of organized chaos. We did not experience one single bump. You just gotta love the Japanese culture.
We went all the way up to Starbucks Tsutaya to get this view. This is not even rush hour. To get here, take the JR Yamanote line, go down Shibuya Station and exit at Hachiko Exit.
We were pressed for time on our first visit so we decided to come back and explore the area in more detail. This time it was raining. While people watching in Starbucks Tsutsaya, a fellow traveler mistook Mike for a local.
Fellow Traveler : What an amazing view! Do you get to see this everyday?
Mike : You're right, it is amazing. No, I'm not from here. I'm from Manila.
Does this view remind you of Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation or The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift?
A short, unedited clip taken by Mike. The music playing in the background was perfect timing.
This experience is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Photos taken using Canon 550D, iPhone5, Video taken using Canon 550D