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  • Yummy (ヤミー)

    Niigata Prefecture's best Gelato?

    You know a place is good if people drive an hour to get there, especially when there is a metropolitan area the same distance in the opposite direction.  What if I told you the reason for the trip was dessert?In the sleepy town of Minamiuonuma, there is a small mom-and-pop Gelato shop called, "Yummy," and it has quite the reputation in this area.  You wouldn't think much of this place driving up to it.  Sure, it is a cute, well-presented place, but it is quite modest, with only seating for 10 indoors and a few benches outside.Still, Yummy's reputation has grown thanks to its delicious homemade gelato blends.  It has traditional flavors like vanilla, chocolate, etc., but takes risks with other flavors including its signature Koshihikari Brown Rice Milk gelato.  Always boasting a variety of seasonal specialties (the latest and greatest was yairo watermelon--a local favorite), Yummy keeps things fresh and delicious.How delicious? Well, in spite Minamiuonuma being a pretty sleepy town, the store always seems to have business, much of it from out-of-towners. As for the cost, you have a choice between cup or cone with single or double scoop, which will only put of a dent of about 150-450 yen.So if you find yourself in Minamiuonuma (maybe just passing through on your way to/from Niigata), I recommend stopping in and enjoying a delicious frozen treat.

  • King George

    Fantastic tasty sandwiches - only downside is the price!

    I love Japanese food, and all the tasty things that it affords - but sometimes as an expat you just want a big tasty sandwich to fill the belly. There's a place in Tokyo that does fantastic, giant sandwiches - it's called King George Deli, and it's in the suburb of Daikanyama (just a stone's throw away from Shibuya). Some of the options on their menu include their namesake the King George (turkey and provolone cheese on rye bread), the Meat Head (turkey, pastrami, jalapenos and white cheddar on rye) and the Hungry Ewan (turkey, honey glazed ham, provolone, avocado and BBQ sauce). The sandwiches are big, and packed to capacity with all the fillings - but they are expensive sandwiches in my opinion - that's really the only downside. The cheapest sandwich on their menu is 1400 yen, the most expensive is 1900 yen - now I don't know about you but that's a once in a while treat for me, despite the fact that they are mighty tasty. 

  • La Bisboccia

    One of the best Italian restaurants I've eaten at - through several countries

    When it comes to Italian food I think I'm a pretty reasonable judge of what's good - I have a half Italian background so the cuisine is something I grew up around. Little did I know that some of the best Italian food I'd eat would be in the heart of Tokyo - sounds bizarre, but it's true!La Bisboccia is located not far at all from Hiroo Station, and is actually certified by the Italian Government for their authenticity to Italian Cuisine. The interior of the restaurant is both quirky but warm and inviting - it feels like a classy establishment without feeling snobby or elitist! Ask the waiter or waitress to run you through the specials - they should do this anyway, but it's a treat for the senses when they show everything to you before you order. As well - I'd recommend saving room for dessert if you do go! The picture is of one of the desserts hubby and I shared there - it was as delicious as it looks! Great spot for a date night with your significant other.

  • Japanese Ice Ouca

    An ice cream shop with a Japanese edge

    Tokyo has a number of great little ice cream shops that popped up during the years I lived there - and one of my favorites hands down had to be Japanese Ice Ouca. What sets it apart from all the other ice cream stores in Tokyo? It's ice cream but with a Japanese twist on it.Japanese Ice Ouca is also really big on seasonal offerings, which makes it a treat to visit no matter the time of year - there's always some fun new flavor popping up to try. Some examples of seasonal flavors in the past have been things like roasted sweet potato ice cream, black sesame soybean ice cream, and sakura ice cream. They also do fun takes on traditional desserts, such as super cute kakigori and dango topped with ice cream too. It's not the cheapest spot to stop for a treat to cool you down, but they are super tasty, uniquely Japanese, and presented adorably.

  • Gunma Safari Park

    Safari not So Far Away

    One of the things that has surprised me most about Japan is just how many cool places there are for animal lovers.  I'm not talking about zoos, either, which are reasonably priced but still are not the best that Japan has to offer.  One of the amazing places I am referring to is Gunma Safari Park in Tomioka city.It's a few hours drive outside of Tokyo proper, but worth the short road trip if you have a car.  If you do not have a car, you can use the bus services, but I would say that renting a vehicle would be worth it to make a special trip.In Gunma Safari park you get to drive at your leisure through a park where the vast majority of the animals roam free.  In the picture you can see how close the Zebra was, but there were many other animals that approached our car. I actually had an African antelope clean his horns on my side view mirror!  While it's not the best for insurance purposes, I am all about those kinds of experiences, and so if you are looking for an up-close-and-personal view of some incredible animals from all over the world, Gunma Safari Park is a must-visit location.The only downside is the cost, which is 2700 yen per adult and 1400 per child (3-14).  There is a tablet digital guide that you can rent for 500 yen that will give you descriptions of all the "zones" you drive through.So if you can find a vehicle and love animals, take the drive out to Gunma Safari Park and spend a few hours on a safari that's not so far away.

  • Sekai no Yamachan

    Japanese Buffalo Wings--Not as Crazy as it Sounds!

    If you've lived in Japan any length of time, you know that Japanese cuisine favors the dark meat chicken (especially the fattier bits) over white meat. So when you are looking for chicken options over here, the most common tends to be karaage, or deep-fried dark meat chicken.  Still, if you're like me, you crave a good buffalo wing every now and again, and while there are some western style restaurants (often run by expats) that offer decent wings, there is one chain restaurant that offers decent, Japanese-made chicken wings: Sekai no Yamachan. Sekai no Yamachan was born in Nagoya when a Yakitori vendor decided to try something different.  It turned out to be the right call, since there are now over 59 full restaurants and countless counter-style versions all over Japan, primarily in the big cities like Tokyo and Nagoya.  Yamachan offers two basic types of wings: karaage style and sauce style. The karaage style is similar to the traditional Japanese Izakaya dish (dry on the outside but deliciously seasoned and juicy on the inside), and the sauce style is the same but with doused in a sweet/savory sauce.5 wings will run you 430 yen, so budget about 1000 for food and drink.The location I frequent the most is just across the Kanda River from Akihabara, but there are branches throughout.

  • Seattle's Best Coffee

    Familiar, Sort Of

    Sometimes I'm hungry and can't really decide where to go because I just want to eat something and sit down for a while, but there are so many options. (This is, of course, only in a city of reasonable size.) Anyway, the plan was to go to a boulangerie I really like, but they were closed for a private party. Change of plans. I kept passing up places for reasons like too expensive, too crowded, not healthy, blah blah blah... About ready to give up and find the nearest convenience store for some 'tachi-gui,' I saw big posters showing pasta in front of the Seattle's Best, and thought, meh, it's not crowded, and I'm sooo hungry! I don't know if I've even been to a Seattle's Best in the states, honestly. It's sort of like a Starbucks with a different color scheme, less annoying music, and not as crowded. Still expensive for coffee, but the coffee was way better quality than Starbucks, so maybe well warranted. Why isn't Seattle's Best as popular or crowded? Marketing? Fewer locations?So back to pasta. Salmon pasta looked good for my brain function to return to normal, but then I saw a little smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich option. Yes, that one, carbs and omega 3 fatty acids please. Their lunch orders come with potential add-ons, like 200 yen for a small coffee, which I got. There are other add-ons, like a small croissant, or a salad, as well. Sandwiches are premade, but pasta is made to order and a good portion, although more expensive (600 yen and up).It was just what I needed and I got to sit and relax a little, organize my thoughts. It started to rain a little and the shop got a little more busy, but there was never a lack of seating while I was there. It was after the lunch hour on a weekday, so this location could get crowded at peak times. Well staffed and kept clean. Not what I had planned on, but a good option, even for a meal.

  • Salvatore Cuomo & Bar

    Fancy Pizza Dinner without Going Over-Budget

    Sophisticated and affordable, these words might not work well together, but Salvatore Cuomo and Bar made it possible. FOOD Before coming into this restaurant, I was a bit worried that it will be over our budget because it looked high-end. However, much to our surprise, the prices were pretty reasonable and we were more SHOCKED that their PIZZA was one of the most DELICIOUS I’ve ever eaten in Japan. The ingredients that they use in their MARINARA (Small: 880 yen/ Medium: 1,080 yen) tasted really fresh and healthy. Mind you, this is their cheapest pizza! Now, I wonder how delightful the expensive ones are going to be. We also ordered some ASSORTED CHEESE (1, 280 yen), but it didn’t include any bread. I highly suggest asking for it to fully savour the cheese. Last but not the least; this fancy dinner won’t be complete without wine! I’m not a big fan of red so we had GENTIMON BLANC (white wine: 1, 980 yen). Despite being one of the least costly, it was smooth and it didn’t give me a hangover xD SERVICE Some of their staffs are foreigners. If you can only speak English, no worries! We actually met one who could even speak FRENCH!SUGGESTIONSAll in all, if you want REAL pizza and you want to impress your date, without getting broke, I highly suggest Salvatore Cuomo & Bar.

  • Yairo no mori Park

    Fabulous park with great kids areas!

    When it came to moving to the countryside of Japan, part of me was a little nervous about having enough stuff to do here. Well, I didn't need to worry - the Yairo No Mori Park has plenty to do and is somewhere I could happily spend hours at every day!If you're a parent with young children, the park here is incredible. Inflatable giant balls to push around, a trampoline/inflatable pillow section, and several play areas tailored to different ages make this an excellent spot to visit with kids in tow.As well as the kids play areas, this is just a pleasant park to visit and take a stroll through. There are some beautiful mountain views, and best of all the park is free. Having lived in Tokyo before Niigata, there were a number of parks there with paid admission - so free parks are always a winner! We will absolutely be repeat visitors here.

  • Kinokuniya

    Excellent English language children's book section with PEPPA PIG!

    Peppa Pig is an extremely popular cartoon character from the United Kingdom. I have never seen Peppa Pig books or goods anywhere else in Japan. Kinokuniya had one shelf of Peppa Pig books and activities. They are quite reasonably priced too.Apart from Peppa Pig books, they generally have a great selection of English language children's books and educational material for native speakers. They also have a lovely Kumon play area beside the children's book section.  There is a reasonable selection of English language novels and educational material for older children and adults too. There is a PC Depot in the same shop as Kinokuniya where they allow kids play with laptops and smart phones. I did not see any English signs within the store itself and none of the staff spoke English to me, so I don't know if assistance is available in English, but the layout is quite easy to navigate without being able to read or speak Japanese: English books are toward the back of the store to the right of Kumon and in front of the Anpanman and Hello Kitty displays!Kinokuniya is located in Urban Dock Lalaport and is accessible from Toyosu station on the Yurakucho line. There is also parking in Lalaport on the upper floors.  

  • Yorozu Mart Official Yokai Watch Store

    Heaven for Yokai Watch fans

    My son has been itching to go to Yorozu Mart since it opened. Finally, we made the two hour trip last week. And we weren't disappointed. In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised. I had been reluctant to go, because I thought it was "just" a shop and we'd be in and out in half an hour. We spent three hours there and could have spent more!There are two many reasons you can spend so much time there. The first is that they have games you can play; either with Yokai Watch medals or Yokai Watch cards. It is free to play unless you get a "big good luck" on the lottery at the end of the game and you can put in 200 yen to get an exclusive Yokai Watch medal. The second reason is the activities they have. They have stamp rallies as well as special attractions. The day we were there, we were very lucky that Bushinyan was visiting the shop. The kids got to play with him (and a drove of other kids too) for about fifteen minutes. He gave them a Yokai Watch badge at the end too. What I liked is that they also have a play area with blocks and kinetic sand which entertained my two year old who had no interest in Bushinyan or playing the medal games. She did enjoy the stamp rally though. Yorozu Mart is on the 3rd floor of Urban Dock Lalaport. It is accessible by car or train. Toyosu Station on the Yurakucho line is only a couple of minutes walk away.

  • Urban Dock Lalaport Toyosu

    Shop in comfort and style

    On the very same day, the Sunday of Obon holidays, we went to both Sunshine City in Ikebukuro and Lalaport in Toyosu. We went to Sunshine City first and it was unbearably packed, so we were pleasantly surprised that there was room to breath in Lalaport. It was busy, but not chaotic like Sunshine City. We have a Lalaport in Saitama; it is mammoth and has a huge selection of shops. However, this Lalaport in Toyosu is far nicer even though it is only a quarter of the size. The building for one is designed better and is very stylish. There is also great views of the port from the middle section of the building, especially from the third floor. They have a really good selection of shops including a large Kinokuniya which has a fantastic English selection of books. There is also Yorozu Mart the official Yokai Watch shop. And of course it is the home to the hugely popular incredible play center "Kidzania".  They have a good selection of eateries across a wide range of cuisines and price ranges. There is parking on the upper floors, but it is very convenient to come by train. Toyosu station on the Yurakucho line (subway / underground) is only a three minute walk away.