Sakura viewing – Hanami in Tokyo!

This year, sakura (桜) started to bloom a bit earlier than it usually does. Normally, sakura should be in full bloom around early April, just in time for entrance ceremony (入学式-nyugakushiki) for schools in Japan. But this year, the season has started from mid-March which is around the time for graduation ceremony (卒業式-sotsugyoushiki). This probably explains why there are a lot of girls in “Hakama (袴)”, a Japanese costume for graduation ceremony, taking photos with beautiful sakura scene.

I used to live in Beppu city, a small city in Oita prefecture, for about 3.5 years. Every year, our only option was always Beppu park (別府公園). So I got a bit excited when sakura started to bloom this year having heard that there are so many good spots here in Tokyo. Last year, I was also away for a company training in Nagano (長野県), a famous city for skiing and winter activities. Therefore, I can say that this year is actually my first time for sakura spotting in Tokyo.

When we talk about going out picnic under the sakura trees or just simple going for a walk along the river with beautiful sakura and others, the word ‘hanami (花見)’ is used. This word literally means ‘flower-viewing’, hana (花)= ‘flower’ and mi (見)= ‘see’ from the verb ‘mi-ru (見る)’ . Thus,  in other words, it means flowers viewing which is particularly imply to sakura.

This time, I visited two places for hanami in Tokyo: Naka-meguro and Yoyogi park.

  • Yoyogi park

Yoyogi park is a famous park in the city center of Tokyo. The closest JR station is Harajuku- one of the most famous shopping area so, it is always packed with people during this season. This time, my friend and I decided to walk into the park just to see the sakura. We did not expect to sit down and have a picnic under the sakura tree at all since we can predict that the park is already full of people. We took a lot of pictures. It was enjoyable just to see beautiful sakura and people having fun with their families and friends. 🙂

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  • Naka-meguro

I have heard a lot of good things about Naka-meguro. It is located in meguro-ku and is only one station away from Shibuya on a rapid train on Tokyu-Toyoko line which is the line I use to commute everyday. The sakura view here is famous since there are sakura trees are along both sides of meguro river. It is an amazing view. 🙂 I had the best time there. I can say it was the best hanami I’ve ever had. The whole area was so beautiful with all the sakura in full bloom. It looks kind of like a sea or a huge cloud of pinkish-white sakura. I can just walk there all day. There are many interesting shops, cafes and food carts all around, too. So the hanami experience in Naka-meguro is definitely worthwhile.

Moreover, in Naka-meguro, they have lanterns hanging on the branches of sakura trees. They light them up at night during sakura festival. This year the festival starts from April 7th which is too late for the season this year. All the sakura will probably be gone by then…

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Some other good spots I have heard of:

1) Shinjuku Gyoen, 2) Ueno park, 3) Sumida park, 4) Inokashira park

…and so many others. Enjoy your hanami everybody!

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Tokyu Toyoko Line – Shibuya Station Park – 3/22~3/24

After a Goodbye to Tokyu Toyoko Line (東急東横線) at Shibuya (渋谷) station on March 15th and an introduction to the new platform and route from March 16th, my morning commute has become a lot less convenient than it used it be.

Tokyu Toyoko line, a train line that used to run from Motomachi-chukagai (元町中華街) or China town in Yokohama to Shibuya station is now connected with Fukutoshin line( 副都心線) all the way to Shinjuku-Sanchome (新宿三丁目) and Ikebukuro (池袋). With this new change, the platform at Shibuya is shut down and Tokyu Toyoko line at Shibuya station went down to B5 floor under the mall Hikarie. For my morning commute, I always change my train to Ginza line (銀座線 ) at Shibuya station so the two lines have become a lot further from each other, about 10 minutes walk! But other than this inconvenience, the new platform is great and I can get into Tokyo easier. 🙂

After this change, it didn’t just end there. The platform at Shibuya station that is shut down is turned into an exhibition area for 3 days (March 22nd-24th). The entrance fee is only 120 yen so I went in to see what it was all about. Inside, there are some models of the area around Shibuya station that the line used to locate in, some live music event, photos showing a plan to create a DREAM TERMINAL (if I understand it right), etc. I thought this is a very smart way to turn something into an event.

Check out the event details here.

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Hikarie – The mall that Tokyu Toyoko line is now located under.

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4 days in Taiwan (Taipei)!

I was so desperate to make an excuse to get out of the office for a couple of days. So I thought of traveling somewhere.  Some of my friends said it’s even cheaper to go to a nearby country than within Japan so I thought of Taiwan having heard that Thai citizens with a valid Japanese visa are exempted from Taiwanese visa. And I can brush up my Chinese, visit new places and EAT all the delicious food there.

I booked a package for H.I.S. – 4 days 3 nights for 30,000 yen with hotel and air tickets included. We got a super great deal. I personally would recommend H.I.S. for international travel package. We picked 自由 (ji-yuu) plan which means no tour is included and we are free to travel by ourselves. Airport pick up and sending are set up by H.I.S. which is very nice. However, with this price, we knew we couldn’t expect the hotel to be Grand Hyatt or anything fancy. The hotel turned out to be quite small but nice room in a nice area so I guess that’s more than enough. But the plane…that’s another story.

Now let’s get to the travel part!

Day 1: Tokyo -> Taipei, Ximending, Shilin night market

We left Tokyo in the morning by an airline called ‘Sccot’ スクート, a low cost airline I’ve just first heard of. My impression with this airline is NOT good at all. They plane was not very stable. It felt as if I was in a roller coaster ride for about 15 minutes when it started flying.  After everybody got to sleep, they also woke us up by ringing bells to sell ice cream.

We finally got to Taipei airport in 3 hours. There, we exchanged our money. We thought that the rate would be cheaper there but actually exchanging at Narita airport gives better rate. We exchanged only 15,000 yen for the trip.

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Our hotel is located in a shopping district Ximending- Ximen MRT station. They say it’s like Harajuku/Shibuya of Taiwan. We  walked around and ate a few things before heading to the famous Shilin night market!

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We tried a lot of food at the market and bought a lot of souvenirs. The food was great. We also found so many strange things as well.

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And the bubble milk tea, my favorite drink, is so good in Taiwan as it’s the origin of bubble milk tea.

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I have to say the MRT is very convenient and it’s quite easy to get around in Taipei. Lucky that we can also speak Chinese so that helps a lot too. If you visit Taipei, Shilin night market is a place you MUST visit. It’s full of interesting food and stuff that you don’t see very often. This picture is an example- a massage using knives at a shop called Alien study center!? It’s actually  not as scary as it looks and felt a bit good somehow.

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Day 2: Chiang Kai-Shek, Tamsui, Zhonghsan area (mall), Taipei 101

Staring off our day at Ximending since we had to get on the MRT from Ximen station. Everything was still closed at that time. But we found this amazing food on the street. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s made of flour..kind of like Roti (Indian food) and we can order eggs or pork and so many other toppings to add to it. I ordered the original one with eggs. My friend ordered a pork one. It was delicious and very cheap!

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After that we went off to Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall (國立中正紀念堂). There, it locates a monument in the memory of Chiang Kai-Shek, former President of China.  Next to the monument is a National Theatre and National Concert Hall. The area is surrounded by a big park. We were a bit surprised to see all the teenagers gather to dance and practice their performance at the memorial square. Unfortunately, the memorial hall was under construction. But the whole area was still beautiful. The weather, however, was extremely hot. Bring a hat when you visit this place!

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After visiting Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall, we decided to go to the last station on the red line, Tamsui (actually it is read as ‘Dan-Shui’). It took us around 40 minutes from Taipei city center. It is  located by the seaside in Northern Taipei. It is popular for Fisherman’s pier/wharf, the food, water activities, and the outdoors such as clycling.

We went straight to the market for lunch and found so many interesting food. The picter below on the left is fish balls with noodles inside and the right picture is pork…it was our lunch!  Other than this, we found interesting food and drinks such as almond drink, black eggs, and so many others. I bought some of them back to Japan. 😉

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After lunch, we headed for a walk around the beach. The sea breeze was so refreshing despite the hot weather. Many people were cycling, taking a boat ride and others. I was very impressed with this place locating close to the city and so peacefully lively at the same time.

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Even with a full stomach, you can’t go wrong with another cup of bubble milk tea. I recommend this shop with the nuber 50 in the logo. It is a franchaise all over Taiwan. There is another shop I like called Cha Time but I prefer this one more since you can personalize your own cup. You can choose from the jelly or the stuff to put inside, the size of the bubble(pearl?), then the sweetness from 10% to 100% (I personally chose 70% every time). The taste is very good. I personally like the normal size of pearls in the bubble milk tea and the grass jelly is also a very yummy one.

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After Tamsui, we went back to the city center. We wanted to rest a little since it was such a hot day so we decided to go to the big mall in Zhongshan area. This area has a feeling of Shinjuku-sanchome. We went to Mitsukoshi mall having heard that it is one of the biggest malls in town.

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Then, we headed to Taipei 101! The landmark of Taipei which is a skyscarper with a mall inside. It used to be the tallest building in the world as well. I love the exterior and interior design of the building very much. It is unique and very grand. There are many offices in the building as well.

We got there by shuttle bus from Taipei city hall station. We went to eat first. The food court in the B1 floor is AWESOME. Various choices to choose and not expensive either. We went to the restaurant on the same floor where they have dumplings and real Taiwanese/Chinese style food. The best I’ve ever had!

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Then, we went up to the observatory of Taipei 101. Waited in line about 40 minutes till we got to go up. The night view of Taipei city was beautiful. The observatory is wide and organized. We could see the whole city and how it is nicely arranged.

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We took a taxi back to our hotel in Ximen that night  since we stayed until the building closed and there was no more shuttle bus. Even around 20-30 minutes on a taxi, it only costed us 280 yuan (less than 1,000 yen).

Day 3: Longshan temple, Sun yat sen memorial hall, Taipei 101, Shida night market

Starting off very relaxing on the 3rd day because the flight on the next day was very early. We went to Carrefour supermarket to see some interesting products they sell in Taiwan. I got a lot of instant ramen, snacks, sauces and others.

I couldn’t wake up to have breakfast at the hotel so I went to a convenient store and bought Taiwanese oden. This is the bag they gave me. Reminded me of my art class when I was little.

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After a full stomach, we headed to Longshan temple but before we got there, we passed a place which is some kind of a historical center. We couldn’t read all the Chinese explanations so we only knew that the area used to be a school and an important place for ceremonies in the past..also related to the period when Japan colonized Taiwan.

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Finally, we got to Longshan temple. Again, it was very hot. We prayed and stayed for a while before another cup of bubble milk tea and lunch at Taipei 101 food court.

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After lunch at Taipei 101, we went to Sun Yat Sen memorial hall. It is a memorial hall for Dr. Sun Yat Sen, China’s national father. Inside the hall, Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s life and legacies are displayed there with an enormous monument of him similar to that of USA former president, Abraham Lincoln. There was a small ceremony for changing military officers as well.

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Outside the hall is like a square- a multi purpose ground for people to exercise, fly their kites, walk their dogs, etc. The place was lively and sort of bright.

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We could see the Taipei 101 building from this place as well. It is only a station away and it is actually within walking distance.

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Another great day in Taipei!

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Finishing off with Shida night market. I had the best pork bun (?), fried chicken and so many other food at this market. My friend also tried the smelly toufu, too. After eating like it was our last meal, we went back to the hotel and get ready for a 6 AM flight.

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The flight was too early. Maybe we should have paid a bit more for them to arrange a better flight. I would definitely do that next time.

We had a great time this trip. So glad to be able to travel again. Taiwan was great and I hope I get to go again someday.

Just FYI – Taipei MRT map

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Company food (社食-shashoku)!

This is one of the things I love about my company – the food! We have a cafeteria where we can have lunch and dinner in a very cheap price. Not to mention that we don’t have to go out, find restaurant, order, eat and run back to the office. We can eat right away and still have a bit of time to do something else like going to the bank or convenient store.

The food here is great. The price is also very good-always less than 500 yen (mostly 400yen in my case). They also care very much about our health. Moreover, they do take requests, too! I requested for kimchi fried rice once and they actually made it. Sometimes they also have special occasions such as gratan week, Indian curry fair, and others. This is so cool since eating good, cheap, and quickly is so helpful in a working life. Big Japanese companies usually have this support. They also give a small amount of money every month to support our food expense.

My colleagues told me that company’s food is called “社食” (shashoku). Not all companies have this so I consider myself very lucky. Eating out everyday in Tokyo would cost me tons of money!
Also, remember that taking care of your health is super important!

Here are some photos of the cafeteria food I’ve been collecting. 😉

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CUP NOODLES MUSEUM – Make your own Cup Ramen!

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This museum is the coolest museum ever! Everyone who visits here would definitely enjoy the experience at this cup noodle museum. This museum was established by Nissin, a company that produces many of our favorite instant noodles such as Chicken Ramen, Cup Noodles, UFO, and even the space ramen for astronauts!!

The inventor of instant noodles is Ando Momofuku, one of the Japanese heroes! He was well-known all over the world as Mr.Noodles. His story is inspriring. I really enjoyed learning about how he created this invention very much. I have heard of him many times before since he was a PhD graduate from Ritsumeikan University, a mother university of my university and Nissin gives scholarship called Ando Momofuku scholarship to our students. But I’ve never really knew who he was and it was very interesting to hear about his stories!

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I live very close to this museum which is located in Minato-mirai, Yokohama but I’ve never really got a chance to visit since it is always full and I couldn’t make my own cup noodles every time I went there. This time, we went early in the morning around 10.30 and there was not many people so we got in a paid 500 yen for the tickets. Then we went upstairs to reserve a session for making our very own CUP NOODLES! We decided to go for the cup noodles and not chicken ramen since Chiken ramen takes a lot of time making it from the scratch. And cup noodles are fun!

So, let’s talk about how to make your own cup noodles!

First, after getting our 整理券 (sei-ri-ken), we waited a while and went up there when it was our time (11:30). We got in line and paid 300 yen for a blank cup, wash our hands and then we were led to our seats where we can decorate our cup noodles.

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It didn’t take very long to finish drawing and painting our cups. It was very fun! Here is the front part of my cup noodles.

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When we finished, we took our cups and lined up to get the cups filled. First, we put the noodles into the cup! This one is another one of Ando Momofuku’s big innovations.  He thought of how to put the ramen in the cup in a good shape and he came up with the idea of putting the cup over the ramen, then roll it over so that the ramen goes in nicely. We got to experience this as in the pictures!

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After putting in the noodles, it was time to choose flavor and toppings! There are many choices of stuff to put in but we can only choose 4 toppings with 1 flavor (normal cup noodles, spicy tamato, curry, seafood!). I chose the original flavor with shrimp, eggs and others. 🙂

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After filling in the flavor and the toppings, it’s time to put the cover and the package! The first put on the cover and then a plastic bag that became flat and stick to the cup after heating it up.

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And then…Tadaaa! We put our cup noodles inside a plastic bag and pumped some air inside and then it’s done. 🙂

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After making our own cup noodles, we went to look around the museum for exhibitions. It was very cool to see the development of instant noodles from decades ago. I found many that I absolutely love including instant ramen in other countries as well!

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The room next to the instant noodles showroom is Momofuku Theatre. There, we watched the origin of Momofuku’s life and how he invented this instant noodle in a cartoon version. It was pretty impressive! After failing everything with only his house left for him and his family, he still able to find ideas right out of the kitchen when he saw his wife making tempura which sparked the idea of frying the ramen and then put in water again.

We got to see the model of his house where all the ideas happened too. 😉

20130306-104114.jpgAfter that, we saw many stories on the wall in chronological order. Apparently, Ando Momofuku san lived a very long and happy life after all his hard work and died when he was 96!! We got much information about instant noodles industry…It’s unbelivable how so people people in the world are consuming cup noodles these days.

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Having seen all the exhibitions, we went up to get some lunch. There is a cup noodles park right beside the restaurant.

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The restaurant was quite fun as well. I never imagine a restaurant in a museum would be like this. In front of the restaurant, there is a Tuk Tuk (three-wheel car), the famous vehicle from my homeland-Thailand. Inside the restaurant, everything is decorated as if it was Thailand or somewhere in South East Asia. I have to admit that it really felt like home. We had a few cups of noodles-Tom Yum noodles, Mi goreng, etc. *happy*

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We can go out to the balcony and see the view as well!

Don’t forget to visit this cup noodles museum in Yokohama if you have a chance. You won’t regret it! 🙂

More information on the Website –> Click here

For interesting discounted day tour of Yokohama from Klook, click here! (Also, get free credits from their app download & input L2AI9 to get bonus credits)