Kit-Kats in Japan

Akihabara

This is the candy shelf in a convenience store in Japan. I check this shelf almost daily in search of new flavors of Kit-Kats. This summer, the seasonal flavors are Strawberry Hazelnut and Cookies ‘n Cream. Both are delicious, but the Strawberry Hazelnut is by far one of my favorites I’ve ever had. I was hoping to find Salted Caramel like I did last year, but my search was unsuccessful. I wonder if they’ll even make that flavor again. On another note, I ate a new flavor of Häagen-Dazs ice cream here called Melty Caramel, and it was amazing. I really love caramel. Strangely, though, I hate caramel popcorn.

What is your favorite flavor of Kit-Kat?

KING KONG, Ikebukuro

King Kong, Ikebukuro

Following the advice of Ramen Adventures, we decided to check out a tsukemen shop in Ikebukuro, Tokyo called KING KONG. It’s located about 5 minutes away from JR Ikebukuro Station. It’s about 1,000 yen to get the King Kong Tsukemen, which you see in the photograph above. That’s Nick’s bowl, which he ordered with 400 grams of ramen noodles.

King Kong, Ikebukuro

I actually opted for just the tsukemen with 200 grams of noodles because I wasn’t so hungry, but I regret not getting the King Kong one because it came with extra toppings such as nori (seaweed), egg, etc.

For me, a real make-or-break is how the chashu pork is cooked. The chashu at this place is superb. It’s juicy and flavorful; it tastes nothing like the meat that comes in a package from the supermarket. The truffle broth is thicker than a normal tsukemen broth, but it also very rich in flavor. Ramen Adventures states that the flavor is on the sweet side, due to the addition of blueberries.

Nom nom nom… my mouth is watering just looking at these pictures. I am thinking of coming back here again the next time I visit Tokyo.

Address: 1-32-2 East Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, Japan (東池袋1丁目32−2)

A Travel Planning Journal

My friend suggested I start a travel planning journal to make notes about restaurants, places to see, things to do, etc. in all the places I’d like to travel to. The following year will be quite busy, as I’ll have to research which countries I’ll actually be able to visit (time-wise, and money-wise), which countries may require a special visa before entering, how much time I should spend in each country, etc.

I opened up my Japan Travel document to see how much progress I’ve made. After the big summer trip I just finished, there isn’t much left for me to visit. These are the places remaining on my list and my reasons for wanting to go. What do you think?

1. Kyoto
I love Kyoto. I’ve been there four times already, and I’m still not done. I want to go in the fall to see the red leaves, and perhaps get my photograph taken dressed as a maiko. I plan to go again in the springtime as it will be my last spring in Japan to enjoy the cherry blossom season. I still want to see Sanjuusan-gendo, a Buddhist temple which Hiroshi Sugimoto photographed. It is famous for its 1001 statuse of Kannon. It’s too hot in the summer, yet so many people tell me that I must not miss the Gion Matsuri. Should I go see it? Do I really need to visit Kyoto three more times over the next year?

2. Mie
Technically, I’ve been already since I traveled to see Ise Jingu. However, Nick still hasn’t been to see it, and I’ve been wanting to visit my friend Amber!

3. Okayama
A small town, but my friend Gemma is living there and I’d love to see it while she’s teaching there.

4. Aomori
Another small, rural town. Again, I want to go to visit a friend who is teaching there.

5. Kamakura
Originally, I wanted to see the Buddha of Kamakura, as it is famous from poetry. Is it worth seeing, after visiting the large Buddha in Todai-ji, Nara? Jerome and my friend Ken both enjoyed biking there. Perhaps I should try it?

6. Kanazawa
This is a place that has been recommended to me by more than three people now. Located in Ishikawa Prefecture, it is the second largest city (after Kyoto) to escape destruction by air raids during World War II. It’s nick-named “Little Kyoto”. Should I visit it, although I may see Kyoto a total of seven times in my 2-year stay here?

どうしようかな。。。

Tadaima!

Tadaima! I’m home!

Since the 28th of July, I have been non-stop traveling with Nick, my younger sister, and my younger brother-in-law throughout Japan. I just got back yesterday, and we saw them off today at the station. They’ll be flying out of Narita tonight and I can’t believe the trip is already over! Summer vacation is almost over!!

I’ve got tons and tons of photos to edit and sort through before I can blog and post about these past three weeks. I shot completely in RAW and filled up my 32GB card. Which, by the way, I want to complain heavily about! I bought a Transcend 32GB compact flash card, since the Sandisk cards were out of my budget. I regret not buying the Sandisk cards. The reviews about the Transcend cards were mixed. Most were good, but some people commented about writing errors or damaged/corrupted files. I test-shot with this card a few times during dinners and weekend trips, and didn’t have any problems. However, going through the thumbnails of the images I shot from this trip, I found a lot of files are corrupted and can’t be opened. I shot a few photos with RAW+JPEG option on, and the JPEGs can’t load thumbnails, or can only load partial thumbnails. Data is lost. It totally blows! I guess I’ll be saving up my 500-yen coins to buy a new card in the future.

I blew threw a ton of cash during this trip. Traveling in Japan is more expensive when you live here, since residents don’t qualify for the JR Rail Pass. Our siblings basically had this magic pass that let them ride shinkansen everywhere. They could even get reserved seats without paying extra. Meanwhile, Nick and I traveled partially on local trains using the seishun 18 ticket and paid full price for most of out shinkansen fares. On top of that, I got a little carried away at the Taito Game Station arcades, improving my UFO catcher (crane game) strategy and actually walking out with prize bags. Luckily, we booked all our hotels online and in advance so we got some discounted rates. Most hotels, like “The B” chain hotels, were under 5,000 yen a night per person. The cheapest hotels were First Cabin in Osaka for 3,300 yen for a private room, and 2,500 yen at 9h Capsule in Kyoto for our siblings who received the student discount.

Tip: If you are a student, bring your ID! Some places only give discounts to junior high or high school students, while other places will give discounts to college students as well.

All in all, we had an amazing time. I am glad to be alive, living my dream, traveling, enjoying life.

P.S. I made a public Twitter account for this website. Let’s see how this goes. You can follow me @sharofhearts.

Kanzanji Lantern Floating and Fireworks Festival

Kanzanji Floating Lantern and Hanabi Festival

Summer in Japan: heat, humidity, mosquitos, cicadas, sweat, mugicha, and hanabi. I hate most things about Japan, but there are two things I really love: mugicha and hanabi.

Last weekend, we visited Kanzanji in Hamamatsu for the Lantern Floating and Fireworks Festival. It was truly magical. It took place near Pal-Pal Amusement Park and the Kanzanji Temple last Sunday. We took Jerome with us as a send-off before leaving Japan, and also as a belated Happy Birthday! Jerome is now in Indonesia surfing the waves.

Kanzanji Floating Lantern and Hanabi Festival

Kanzanji Floating Lantern and Hanabi Festival
All the lanterns on boats being prepared for floating.

Kanzanji Floating Lantern and Hanabi Festival
And off they go!

Kanzanji Floating Lantern and Hanabi Festival
Happy Birthday, Jerome!

Kanzanji Floating Lantern and Hanabi Festival
And then here they come!

Kanzanji Floating Lantern and Hanabi Festival

Kanzanji Floating Lantern and Hanabi Festival

See more photos on Flickr!

Rilakkuma, the Relax Bear!

Meet Rilakkuma! He’s my favorite character in Japan. He enjoys sleeping, lying around, watching television, listening to music, and soaking in hot springs. Just like me.

I <3 Rilakkuma

This is seriously the cutest, softest Rilakkuma plush I have ever seen. I didn’t buy it because I had just spent the last of my money at the movie theater, but now that pay day has passed, I am thinking of going back and getting it!

The same day, I found the best purikura machine in a small arcade in Zaza City. It’s a Rilakkuma purikura booth, and it is by far my favorite booth in all Japan.

Rilakkuma Purikura Rilakkuma Purikura

My daily items are covered in Rilakkuma: a passbook/card case, my inkan (personal seal), my lunch bag, and during the wintertime, my kairo holder is even the face of Rilakkuma! Winter is also a great time to wear Rilakkuma and Korilakkuma pajamas.

Rilakkuma Costumes

During my first visit to Japan in 2008, Nick bought me this adorable Rilakkuma plush for our anniversary. I picked up the book, 自分でできる!手づくりリラックマ (jibun de dekiru! tedukuri rirakkuma, “You can do it yourself! Handmade Rilakkuma”), at Kinokuniya in Tokyo as well and made a little Rilakkuma friend.

Rilakkuma Amigurumi

I also try to win Rilakkuma goods from gachapon machines and arcade UFO catchers.

UFO Goodies

Do you have any character obsessions?

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