Tohoku Photo Diary

After finishing my study this semester in Tokyo, I extended my stay to travel around before going back. And it's not that Tokyo was not cold enough for me by that time, I decided to travel up to Tohoku region,  northern part of Honshu island of Japan. This is not the part of the country that I have heard as a famous tourist destination. But after doing a little reading about the area and what it has to offer for the winter season, it actually seemed like an interesting place to visit. The region is made of six prefectures; Aomori, Akita, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata. However I only got to visit only two, which were Miyagi and Yamagata.

Living in Tokyo, I find Tohoku a little bit inconvenient to travel around, given their limited transportation, its time table to be precise. The area was a little hard to access, including the tourist attractions. Not all of the places were accessible with just public transportation (e.g: trains and buses). A lot of times I had to take a taxi because it's the only way to reach the place, or because it was already too late (it was 5 PM, for God's sake) that the buses were no longer operating. But the inconvenience was nothing compared to the places I got to visitpictures below. A hundred percent will go back here again  as I still have list of places I'd visit for the winter holiday.

Shiroishi Castle

Sendai is famous for their Gyutan, aka beef tongue.

View from Zao Ropeway

The snow monsters!

Zao fox village

Feeding the foxes!



Vintage Shopping in Tokyo

As a fashion enthusiast, all my life I've been reading blogs and watching videos on youtube about people and style, and how they got some of their finest items from a second-hand shop. A couple of years ago I tried to go to the ones in Jakarta, even planned to check some in Bandung. I've heard some famous places for thrift shopping like Pasar Senen and Pasar baru. But after my initial visit, I don't think I'd go there again. I bought some pieces that I never worn up until this day. Sure they are super cheapyou can get anything less than a dollar. I shouldn't expect so much from used clothing but there's something about it that is just not right for me. I mean you can always wash the clothes and all but I've decided thrift shopping in Indonesia is just not for me.

Living in Tokyo for roughly 5 months, I've had the best shopping, if not thrift-shopping experience. Unlike Jakarta, vintage shops in Tokyo are always well-decorated. They'd hang a deer head above the rack beside a wooden clock, or have their shop name written in neon lights. It gets better. The clothes are all curated. Meaning, they don't just throw away all clothes on the racks. They curate things that they think would fill your vintage needs. One rack is filled with vintage Levi's jacket available in all sizes, while the other rack gives you all the pattern you need on your midi skirts. Moreover, the shopkeepers are always well-dressed in vintage outfit as well, giving you an idea on what to buy in the store, if you haven't had one. The price, well, is most of the time more expensive than buying a piece of clothing from stores like H&M or Zara. Tokyo fashion appreciates vintage items so much that they put such high prices on them, sometimes unreasonably expensive. But it will never stop you from finding a nice tweed jacket or even vintage Versace briefcase.

I think the most famous area for these kind of shops is Harajuku. After all the area itself is famous for Tokyo street fashion, having not only the used-clothing shops, but also the Japanese local brands, as well as high-fashion brands. It would definitely take you more than just a day trip to conquer the area.  Another well known place is Shimo-kitazawa, which I first visited because a friend lived around the area. It's a lot quieter and less crowded than Harajuku, which gave me a more convenient shopping experience. Plus, there are a lot of cafes and coffee shops around to chill. The last one, which is by far my favorite, is actually an under-rated area for tourist. The name is Koenji. It's more like Shimo-kitazawa rather than Harajuku. I found a lot of smaller shops here which gave different vibes and styles of vintage.

Looking at all the things below, I just realised that the time I had spent walking around the area was far longer than the actual things I bought. But let me say this briefly, even if you're not buying anything, or not even a fan of trendy vintage outfit, it's still a worth-it place to visit! As I've been talking so much about the experience, let me share some of the things I bought.

This hat...which I don't know the name of (JPY 2000 or USD18.70ish)
The first thing ever I bought because I was way too excited seeing vintage shops in Tokyo, I just have to grab something. I think I got it from Flamingo in Harajuku, but this kind of hat can be found easily in any shop, really, I even found one in an actual store with the same price... LOL. But nothing beats the feeling of having something *VINTAGE* right? Right. I've only worn this hat once or twice, I think. Or three times tops. Which is why this is the only picture I have wearing it. Does it look good on me though?

Dr. Martens Ramsey Creepers (around JPY11,000 I think? or USD 102-ish)
I brought three pair of shoes from home,just becausebut this pair is definitely the one I wear the most while I was in Tokyo. I had a pair of dr martens boots back home which is really uncomfortable for daily wearseriously, I can never tell how do people manage walking in docmarts for hours? This pair, however, is so cozy! I can say that because I walked a lot and was able to survive with these shoes just fine. I love them ever since I laid my eyes on them. Plus, I don't think I had seen this type in store before,I checked, they do sell it online though. Since they were still in excellent condition, I immediately took them home.

Unbranded granny cardigan (JPY9000 or USD84-ish)
Ever since I discovered vintage shops in Tokyo I've been dying to get me a colorful granny sweater/cardigan. And although they always have a whole section for these, it wasn't easy to find the one I want... oh my gosh I sound like a hopeless romantic only not for a guy, but a damn cardigan. I found this in a stack of clothes in a store called "Big Time" in Shimo-kitazawa.  They also have another branch in Koenji. It's probably my favorite here, as it's beautifully decorated, and always playing The Chordettes everytime I came visit. It felt like I'm going shopping in the 50s, everything was just right to set the mood! Anyway, the cardigan was perfectly folded and I could only see a small part of it. I pulled it out and saw that the prettiest colors and pattern ever, so even when I checked the price and found out it was way unreasonable for an old knitwear, I still bought it. I have worn this countless times for the past few months that I swear my friends were already tired of seeing me in this hahah!

Vintage hungarian card (JPY300 or USD 2.80-ish)
When I was walking around Koenji, I stumbled upon a shop that sells a bunch of antiques. They sells vintage old lamps, teeth and eyeballs replica, and a lot of other things I wish I could bring home to add a little creepiness to my bedroom. I was interested in buying one of the vintage photographs, but on a second thought, I didn't think I want to keep a picture of a dead person who lived more than 50 years ago. So I picked this card because I like the pattern, and it happens to be my lucky number seven. Later when I got home I googled about the card. That's when I found out it was made by one of the most successful card company in Hungary back in the 40s-50s era. I couldn't believe I own something that is at least three times older than my age. Something about me and old stuffs.

Tartan skirt (JPY2000 or USD 18.70-ish)
Big vintage shops in Tokyo (e.g: flamingo, big time, etc) always have this one big section of mid skirt, and most of them were tartan. The thing is they put such a high price on this kind of skirts. The cheaper could be around JPY5000. I was right about to give up and just planning to get one from an actual store. But then I found this one from New York Joe and the price was just right (for Tokyo, of course). It's in the perfect length and thickness for Tokyo winter. But I was never appropriately dressed for the weather anyway so nothing mattered really haha.

Silver rings (price depends)
I never wear rings at all. But since Tokyo fashion has so many nice silvers to offer, and I happened to stumble upon a hippie store that sells a lot of nice rings, I thought I just have to buy one. These three rings are the ones I always wear. I bought the one with the stone from a random hippie shop in Koenji. I remember it was only a hundred yen, which is equal to a dollar I think. I don't wanna buy anything too expensive since I still wasn't sure with how it would look on me. Then the big round ring, which my friend said kinda look like a time machine at some point, is from my favorite store Big Time. Silver rings are usually above JPY5000, or around that price. I got this one half price on winter sale, and was the happiest kid for the whole day. And the other one silver onewhich I know you cannot tell because the picture is not clear, but it has a really beautiful carving on itI got it from this one store (the one with the deer head on pictures above) on the street in Shimo-kitazawa. I bought it because I passed the store a lot and just fell in love every time, I just had to get something. Since the used cameras in that store were pretty expensive, I thought I'd add a ring to the collection to remember this very shop. Oh how I miss it already!



Oishii desu!

I have never been so off from writing. Thanks to Tokyo for keeping me busy and amused for the past months. I have officially finished my exchange semester and now am as jobless as I could be. So expect a ton of posts as I'll be reminiscing about my experience in (by far) my favorite city in the world!

After roughly five months of living in Tokyo, I could say my general knowledge about Japanese dishes have increased, big time. From my experience, I mostly just walk around the streets and go into places that interest me. I love how restaurants here always have fake food dummy/replica (Japanese: shokuhin sampuru (食品サンプル), so I know exactly how my dish would look like before ordering it. How convenient! Speaking of, sushi is probably the most famous Japanese dish that could easily be found in every part of the world, so let's take that one off the plate. Today I will talk about several dishes that I have tried (and love!), including the price and where to get them in Tokyo-if I still remember hahaha!

Tsukemen (Japanese: つけ麺)
Where: AFURI Shinjuku
How much: JPY1100-ish or USD10-ish

The first time I tried tsukemen, I fell in love. It is basically a type of ramen dish where the noodles and the soup are served separately. The noodles are served in room temperature, whilst the soup is served hot. You have to dip the noodles inside the soup in order to eat it, unless it will be tasteless since the soup holds all the flavors. What I love about tsukemen is that the soup is usually thicker, if not, have more flavors than the usual ramen dish-and we all know just how tasty the normal Japanese ramen soup is. I could recommend this tsukemen place in Shinjuku called "AFURI" which later I found out as a pretty famous place. Here, you can choose between chicken or pork for the topping. Also, they put sesame seeds on the soup so it will give you the crunchy sound when eating.

Okonomiyaki (Japanese: お好み焼き)
Where: Sakura Tei Harajuku
How Much: JPY1500 or USD14-ish for lunch time

If Indonesia has "martabak" as pancakes, Japan has okonomiyaki. The dish actually comes from Osaka, which was also the city where I first tried it. Best topping for okonomiyaki is of course squid-believe me when I say the BEST. This place in Harajuku called Sakura Tei lets you pick your own toppings and, wait for it... cook your own okonomiyaki! They will give you a bowl of the mixture with the toppings you have chosen. Next step is, you mix all the ingredients in your bowl then grill it in the teppan (Japanese hot plate) on your table. Careful, because it's hot, and if your eyes are sensitive to smoke like mine, it's better to put on your glasses. Wait, there's more... here you can try Tokyo version of okonomiyaki called monjayaki. The mixture is a little bit more liquidy, which allows you to have an even thinner pancake. They have all the instructions on how to cook both dishes on the table. Also, I noticed some of the staffs were foreigners who spoke perfect English, so no need to worry about anything!

Where: some random place in Shinjuku
How Much: JPY700ish or USD6.50ish

I thought the Japanese only have one type of soup for ramen, in fact, they have four. Shio (literal meaning: salt), which is the oldest flavor of ramen soup, is based on salt. The soup tends to be clear and light-coloured. Shoyu ramen on the other hand, which is based on soy sauce, also has a clear soup but a little darker in color. And there's Miso ramen and Tonkotsu ramen, which are opaque in color. Miso is based on soybean paste, whereas Tonkotsu is based on pork bones which is boiled for hours until they dissolve into a cloudy white broth. I can tell it has a thicker and even creamier texture than the other types of ramen, super rich in flavor! I don't need to recommend a specific restaurant to try this since I've tried random tonkotsu places in the streets and they always taste amazing.

Yakitori (Japanese: 焼き鳥)
Where: Omoide Yokocho or "Piss Alley"
How much: JPY500 or USD4.70-ish for table charge, plus you have to order a minimum of 1 drink and 1 plate of yakitori. Drinks starting from JPY300 or USD2.80-ish and a plate of yakitori starting from JPY200 or USD 1.90-ish.

Yakitori comes from the word 'yaki' which means grilled, and 'tori' which means chicken. The meat is cut into small pieces then skewed into sticks before being grilled. This is so similar to Indonesian 'satai' only without the peanut sauce. But obviously you can get more than just grilled chicken; I ordered pork tongues and chicken wings as well. You can eat this dish for cheaper price but if you want to splurge just to eat on the streets, you can go to Omoide Yokocho as they have dozens of yakitori place. This place is both filled with the Japanese as well as international tourists, which makes it a little hard to find a seat sometimes. They'd require you a table charge, a minimum order, and time limit, so much for a street food experience, huh? But who would miss watching the skewers you have ordered being grilled over a charcoal fire and eat them while they're still hot!

Roast Beef Bowl
Where: Red Rock Harajuku
How Much: JPY880 or USD 8.20ish

This definitely doesn't look like normal beef bowls you get in Matsuya or Yoshinoya. The beef is thinly sliced and red in color, served on top of rice with yellow egg yolk and (what I think is) mayonnaise. I'm not sure what type of beef is this, but it has a very juicy texture, tastes super good, and very reasonably priced! Although, the place is quite small and chairs and tables are so close to each other. I don't think I spent more than an hour there since the place was a little crowded. But don't question the beef bowl as it is totemo oishii!

Cold Soba
Where: Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu
How Much: totally forgot... probably around JPY1000?

I've heard of cold-served soba before but the first time I tried it was at Gonpachi, a Kill Bill-themed restaurant. Yes, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, and I happen to have watched the movie so I thought i gotta come visit. It's a pretty famous place for tourists. In fact, a lot of international celebrities, also Tarantino himself, have visited the place. So I wasn't mainly there to try some specific dish hahah! The soba was served on a thin plate made from bamboo called zaru. Like tsukemen, you have to dip the soba noodles inside the soup before eating it. It was served with several types of tempura, was super good! I also ordered sake to complete my Japanese dinner experience.


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