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    A shopping center with all the shops but little of the fun

    You can find shopping mall SUNAMO about a 5-min walk from Minami-sunamachi Station (Tozai Line).As shopping malls go it's got enough of the shops one would need to get by; UNIQLO, a bookstore, stationary shop, MUJI, Lush, drug store, food court, AEON supermarket.  The list goes on.  It must also be an important resource for a station area that has almost no distinct features.  To be brutally honest, this is the kind of place I hate to spend a Sunday afternoon.  It's very much full of families, but when the idea of quality family time is to spend hours/a day in a place like this, it makes me not want to start a family.  There's little reason to go out of one's way to come here, but if you're in the area and in need of a UNIQLO or some warm air conditioning, then maybe it'll do.SUNAMO does have a few interesting restaurants on the 4th floor, which is also where you'll find the food court.Maybe I've been a bit harsh with this review.  SUNAMO is spacious, clean, warm, and has a range of stores, but on a personal level, it just isn't for me.

  • Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine

    For luck in love! Plus lots of seasonal attractions

    If you are looking for love this year, you might want to visit Hikawa Shrine in Kawagoe. Frequently listed as one of the nation's top shrines to visit for good luck in love in Japanese travel and leisure magazines, Hikawa Shrine is conveniently located a short walk from the tourist area of Kawagoe.It happens to be one of our local shrines and we use it for all big events such as 7-5-3 and omiyamairi (1 month after a baby is born) celebrations. The shrine and its grounds are much bigger than most shrines in the area, but still smaller than the average temple. You can easily walk the perimeter in 10 minutes, but it is what the shrine has to offer that attracts millions of visitors each year. The biggest pull is of course the shrines association with the prospect of love and the amulets they sell to boost your love chances. However, they also have some great seasonal attractions, not to mention that the grounds and the buildings are very picturesque. They have a coffee shop to boot and facilities for babies adds to the convenience for families. Currently, for New Years they have a number of paper fortune draws you can try, including the unique and very popular fishing paper fortune draw. You use a fishing rod to pick up a wooden fish with your paper fortune inside. You can keep the fish as a souvenir. In spring you can take a boat down the Shingashi river under the cherry blossoms and if you time it right you get to see the petals covering the water making it look like a river of pink. In summer, they have their annual wind chime and tanabata festivals as well as some music performances.

  • Koraku-en (後楽園)

    Koraku-en - one of Japan's best gardens

    The Koraku-en (後楽園) is one of the best known sightseeing spots in Okayama and ranks within the three best gardens of Japan (日本三名園 Nihon Sanmeien). The garden was already commissioned in 1687 by feudal lord Ikeda Tsunamasa. Construction finished 14 years later in 1700 and is still remaining in its form except some small changes. The garden was used by the ruling to entertain their important guests, but also was opened to the public occasionally. In 1884 the garden became property of Okayama Prefecture and was completely opened to the public. With 130.000 m² Koraku-en is a large landscape garden, including many Japanese elements, just like ponds and streams, koi carps, plum, cherry and maple trees or tea and rice fields. You also can find tea houses, small pavilions and bridges. Okayama castle, which is just situated next to the garden, can be seen in the background. Take some time to walk through the whole area and enjoy the whole scene.   Koraku-en is around 1.5 kilometers east from Okayama station. You can walk there within 25-30 minutes or take public transportation. The entry fee is 400 yen, however there is also a combination ticket with Okayama castle if you plan to visit both the same day. So, if you come up to be in Okayama one day, don’t miss to visit Koraku-en!

  • Nagomi Chaya

    Fudan Kaiseki Nagomi Chaya

    The Nagomi Chaya restaurant is just on the way from Nikko Station to the Toshogu Shrine. The restaurant has a very nice charming interior. There is an tatamiarea but also you can sit on normal chairs. The restaurant is very popular even around the locals, so you should expect some waiting time.At the Nagomi Chaya you can eat the traditional japanese Kaiseki Yuba Set. Nikko is very popular for "Yuba" (tofu skin). You can try that dish in many diffrent combinations like in the soup, as dessert or just natural style. There are diffrent sets available which they serve step by step. But the waiting between the dishes is short, so you don´t have to spend that much time in the restaurant if you don´t want.

  • The Ark / Joysound Karaoke

    Floaties included in drinks for free

    (Drink bar in a karaoke room, to be exact .)I wanted to sit and drink a bunch of coffee and work on scheduling for a while between a couple lessons. In Kurumeria mall, there's a restaurant I've been to before, for their all you can eat lunch. I remember seeing signs that they had a drink bar only option for an hour or so, for 250 or 300 yen, and that sounded good. The Ark had really good teas (similar to Bamiyan) in addition to the usual soft drinks and cheap coffee machine drinks you'd find in any family restaurant drink bar. When I asked about drink bar only, the staff didn't know about that, so it must have been a seasonal thing. He mentioned the karaoke side includes drink bar for 300 an hour, and I figured, sure, I can sit in the booth for an hour and get my work done. No really nice tea, but I wanted coffee anyway.I remembered hearing about a teacher who was renting out karaoke booths by the hour to teach freelance English lessons, so it was a good chance to sort of check that out as an option. Sure, karaoke rooms could be used for plenty of things other than singing karaoke. They're really slow during the day, so it's nice and quiet and can be a good meeting place with more privacy than a restaurant. After paying for an hour, I received a little basket with a tiny clipboard and receipt showing the time I arrived and a remote control for the air conditioner. I was asked if I wanted the mic, but I declined as I had no intentions of singing. Pros of working in a karaoke booth are: Privacy. I can space out and talk to myself, as well as spread out my materials on the the table. Cost. For the price of a drink bar in a cheap family restaurant, I also get my own little room. Quiet. Other than the cranked up ads playing on a monitor in another room, the heater, and the ventilation fan, with the door closed it's quite quiet compared with a noisy cafe. Free lozenges? Cons of working in this specific karaoke booth were: Not the best service. Staff were not around for the most part, as there was almost no one else on the karaoke side. Not the best quality. Other than seeing a bug on the drink machines and finding what looked like a dead cricket floating in my drink... gross, the coffee (why I went there in the first place) machine was out of order (see photo), but staff was nice enough to bring me a cafe latte from the restaurant. Too bad it tasted really bad. (Worse than Joyfull.) The space. Sort of busy patterns everywhere and not the best working environment – very low table doesn't work well as a desk. Time limit. It's probably better to do this in a family restaurant when it's not busy so I don't feel the need to get things done within a time limit. I thought The Ark restaurant was good when I went, but now I'm sort of scared to go back there, based on the buggy quality of the karaoke side drink bar.

  • Traindor Tosu Station Location

    Sort of like 'Train Door,' but looks more French

    Right outside the ticket gates of Tosu station, there's a bakery cafe called Traindor, fitting as it's sort of like Train Door, but looks more French. It looks like the company is a chain in Kyushu (and Yamaguchi Prefecture) with lots of locations near JR stations. I think I've seen a location in Tenjin as well. I thought I'd pick up some dessert after work, and I really wanted to try their 'kabocha tart' which looks like pumpkin pie, but made with Japanese pumpkins. I also got 'ki no mi caramel cake' just because that sounded good as well. Sort of a dense nutty cake, and although it said 1/4th of a cake, it's a very small piece, maybe from an 8-10 cm cake. They were packaged up nicely for me as I said I'd be taking them home, but there is a small seating area in the shop. The space is shared with some sort of sports wear shop, which just has a tiny corner of the space. When we opened up the bag at home, the tart was still in good shape, still super glossy on top. Even after a big dinner, we were excited to taste them and I made some hot green tea to drink with the cakes. The kabocha tart was not at all the same as an American pumpkin pie, as I expected, but it was sort of close. The texture was different and it wasn't as sweet, but it did have almost the same spice combo that is so popular with pumpkin pies. I think it was lacking sweetened condensed milk, but it wasn't trying to be a pumpkin pie after all. The crust was similar, although heavier and not crispy or flaky like the ones made with shortening. The caramel nut cake was really tasty. It was sweet but not much, and more like a heavy bread texture than the typical sponge cakes in Japan. It was nice for a change. I might have to stop by Traindor again when I'm in the area.

  • Tabasa Tepanyaki

    Witch Themed Tepanyaki Cafe

    I had been to Tabasa once before, to meet friends who wanted to try it. It was really good and I was in the area looking for katsudon with no luck, so I settled for something else I could put sauce and mayonnaise all over. This cafe is super charming with lots of weird Americana and homemade decorations – especially with witches on them. They also play country or twangy old time music all the time. The lunch set menu is a great deal at 1000 yen and includes one of three popular okonomiyaki, a side like rice, soup, or salad, a drink, and a dessert. The first time I got the yakisoba, not realizing it's not really okonomiyaki. I just wanted Hiroshima style, but got only noodles. This time I got 'Samantha (samansa) Power,' a Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. I ordered mine with a side of rice and was happy to see it was brown rice, a rarity in Japanese restaurants. The dessert is lovely, a small rolled sweet or koucha zeri, an interesting twist on coffee jelly – black tea jelly with condensed sweetened milk instead of the usual cream. They also have a dinner set menu for 480 yen more, and it comes with two sides and the option to order beer for your drink, in addition to ice cream as a dessert option. Of course 'tanpin' or separate orders (not set menus) are always available too. Tabasa is on a small street behind Bunka Dori, across the street from the area where Ishibashi Bunka Center is, and near a big karaoke/bowling alley. You can find the witch painting on the outside of the shop. They close for a break between lunch and dinner time, from 14:30-17:00.

  • Klee Blatt Patisserie

    Mini-Parisian Vacation

    I had heard about this patisserie from a student, as the recommended or favorite place to go, although there are several locations in the Tosu area. Their tagline is, 'yakitate pan koubou,' or freshly baked bread shop.I had some free time before work and this location is right outside of Nishitetsu Ogori Station. I had seen it before and wanted to try, but was often there when it was closed or I was in a hurry. I had about 30 minutes to spare so I went for it. Inside, the smell of freshly baked bread (as well as the sight of chefs preparing bread in back of the small shop) gave me a good sign. In addition, Klee Blatt was playing Parisian style accordion music. I sort of felt like I went on a ten minute vacation to Paris. There were several cute kid-friendly breads like 'three piglets' and 'anpan man pan' in addition to pizza, sandwiches, and traditional breads. I went with the classic croissant, as it's been a while since I've had one and I thought they could do a good job. There's no seating in the shop, so after paying, I headed towards work, then ate it tachi-gui style. It would have been much nicer to eat while sitting at a table with a cappuccino, maybe on a sunny day in patio seating. As it was, I had to brush off some crumbs and take sips of coffee from my thermos while standing and eating. Still, the croissant was so nice. It had a solid butter flavor, crispy outside and soft inside, and airy texture – it was so light in the bag. I definitely look forward to trying other items from Klee Blatt and might even make it a habit to catch the early train for that reason.

  • Mei Raku

    Handmade Chinese style gyoza restaurant

    I had made plans to go to another restaurant, but because of rain, my friend had an idea to visit a favorite in the station that I had never been to. If you like Chinese style gyoza, or any type of dumplings, it's a good place for that. Shu mai and shou ronpo (or dumplings with soup inside) are available in addition to fried or boiled gyoza. The restaurant has a similar feeling to places in Hong Kong and staff are Chinese. Most dishes are 500 yen or less, for fried rice or six gyoza. There are set menus available any time which include salad, rice, and soup. There are also spicy soups with soup gyoza inside. I got the set menu with a variety of fried gyoza for 1000 yen. It came with salad, egg soup, pickles, fried rice (with cha sui), and two each of the five fried gyoza flavors. I was curious to try them all, especially the shiso gyoza. The other flavors are nira, cheese, beef, and ebi. There's a similar variety plate for boiled gyoza, but there are just four flavors (including celery) and the price is 850 for the set. (Both of those dishes are available without the set menu.) My husband ordered spicy soup with the small amount of spiciness, but it was still spicy for us. It was a huge bowl of red broth and pork gyoza. The amount of food with the set menu was good for the price, and I was full even after sharing almost half of mine. I commented that we should get some soft cream afterwards to cut the spiciness, and literally a second later, the staff brought us each a tiny vanilla ice cream. I think that was just to be nice but not normally included. Open 10:30-21:00 daily.

  • Shizuya (しづや)

    Shizuya – modern stylish hostel in Kyoto

    In October 2016 I made a short trip to Kyoto, just staying for one night. However, when I finally set a date and wanted to book an accommodation, the one’s I stayed before were already booked out and most other alternatives quite expensive. I suddenly found Shizuya via Newly opened in April 2016 the inside of this hostel looks pretty modern. There is a female only area and a mixed area. You can decide between dormitory room, private room, double room, Japanese style room and more. I ended up with the only room left: a small private room with a sleeping space reminding me of a capsule hotel. But hey, you are just there for sleeping? Anyway, it was a pretty unique style! There is a shared bath area, which was clean and also looked modern. The shower room was equipped with everything needed. Hairdryer and towels are provided inside your room and you have free internet access. They have a large common room and a small kitchen. However, there is also a restaurant belonging to the hostel just next door. Only negative thing: the futon was a bit thin, so if you like to sleep on a soft mattress like me, you will probably have a little pain in the back next morning *laugh* The hostel is only a 10 minutes walk away from Kyoto station, hidden in a narrow alley. It’s pretty quite there and good atmosphere for relaxing. I recommend it for short stays of single travelers. Website: Note: The website is only in Japanese. I also spoke with the staff in simple Japanese, so I don’t know about the English language skills.


    Bits n bobs for the home with a slightly alternative vibe

    I had no idea ZARA were in the business of dressing up peoples' homes.  I wasn't actually looking for this place, rather I stumbled across it while I was trying to navigate my way around the massive LaLaport Tokyo Bay.The store isn't as large as some of ZARA's clothing branches and there's not a huge amount of variety but it might be a step up from a typical home store or somewhere like a MUJI.  Not in terms of price, but in terms of a bit of flare.  It you're looking to try and inject a bit of style into your soap dish holders, or pizazz into your place mats you might find something here.The shop (at the time of visiting) seemed to have separated things mainly in terms of 'style theme' rather than location in the home; for example there would be a section of stuff all based around the color pink, or a section where everything was shiny/silver/gold.The goods here are smaller in scale (you won't find beds, sofas, arm chairs etc).  This is more about trinkets, holders, mats, cups and other items of that ilk (although I did spot some curtains).Prices kind of reflect the ZARA brand; not expensive but a bit more than UNIQLO (if UNIQLO were to sell stuff for the home).ZARA HOME LaLaport couldn't be considered an essential home-shopping resource but it does make a refreshing change from the 100 yen store or a lot of the awful homeware crap that you can find dotted about Japan's suburban retail locations.ZARA HOME is on the first floor (1F) of the South Building (南館) of LaLaport Tokyo Bay in Funabashi.

  • Aogaki (青柿)

    Traditional Japanese restaurant Aogaki

    We have been invited to the New Year's Meeting of my Japanese husband's family and went to the Japanese styled restaurant Aogaki (青柿) which is located around 10 minutes by foot from the station Aobadai (Denentoshi line). The restaurant is a big building with bamboo trees outside and Japanese styled walkway. The staff is wearing kimono. Our group of ten people had an own room with tatami floor, flat chairs and tables. We had a menu with many different dishes. All were very delicous and it took over two ours to have all the food. After the staff was informed that I don't eat fish and seafood they made an extra dish for me with steak which was pretty soft. All the dishes were beautiful decorated. However, as you might can expect, it is not cheap inside. I don't know how much we had to pay in the end (because we were invited), but I think ¥ 5,000 for each person must be the minimum. We have been there for lunch time. I was told the dinner plan is even more expensive and it's normal to spend between ¥ 15,000 ~ ¥ 20,000 at night time. So if you plan to go there, take a lot of money with you.