We woke up this morning, looked out the window, and it was snowing! Not the magical white fluffy snow, but more of the wet icy type of snow. Tim checked the forecast yesterday and saw it was going to snow a bit today, and he was excited. I think he thinks it’s really magical (and romantic) when it snows.
We bundled up even more today and headed out. For lunch, we planned on going to a yakitori (grilled skewers) place we saw on our first night that looked good. We didn’t eat there that night because the wait was too long so we passed. When we got to the restaurant, they had a lunch menu displayed and it was all tonkatsu lunch sets. We then realized that yakitori isn’t lunch food, and thought to come back for dinner (third time’s a charm, right?).
Since it was cold out we decided to check out “ramen alley” in Susukino. We had watched Anthony Bourdain’s Hokkaido episode on our first night here and wanted to check it out. Instead of walking outside today, we headed straight for the underground (like the rest of Sapporo). When we got to Susukino and found “ramen alley”, half of the restaurants were closed. It’s Golden Week in Japan right now, so a lot of people are on vacation. The restaurants that were opened were not very busy, some were even empty (it was 12:30pm). We did pass by the restaurant that Anthony Bourdain went to, it was also pretty empty. We didn’t see anything that seemed too interesting and since we had ramen yesterday we decided to find something else (Tim: I should note here that while some of Kaitlyn’s posts might give the impression that I love ramen, I actually don’t like it all that much. There’s a very small subset of ramen I really enjoy (Tonkatsu broth, thin noodles, no bamboo shoots), otherwise most bowls of ramen fall way down on the noodle-soup rankings for me).
We walked around the block from ramen alley and found a tonkatsu restaurant that looked interesting. It is part of the Matsunoya chain, which serves mostly donburis, but this restaurant just specialized in tonkatsu. The prices advertised were extremely reasonable so we decided to give it a try.
Everything at Matsunoya was very good. It’s quite easy to find good quality cheap food in Japan. That’s something that we’re going to really miss when we leave Asia for Australia. After that filling lunch, we headed back to the underground and did a bit of browsing and last minute shopping at Muji, Uniqlo and Don Quijote, as our time in Japan is winding down.
While walking through Pole Town, we noticed a line up outside a bakery that made cheese tarts (similar to the ones we had at Pablo) and they also served Hokkaido ice cream. Before coming to Sapporo, everyone told us we had to have Hokkaido ice cream, as Hokkaido produces high quality dairy products. We got in line at Kinotoya Bake and ordered one cheese tart and an ice cream cone to share.
The ice cream cone was huge! The soft serve is different than what we’re used to. It’s a lot creamier and not as sweet (if you’re comparing it to Dairy Queen). The cheese tart was like a warm cheesecake except a bit more gooey. It was good, but we both thought the cheese tart from Pablo was better.
We came up from the underground and saw it was sunny and there were blue skies. It was the first time we’ve seen blue skies in Sapporo. I guess being underground for most of the day, you don’t get to see what’s going on outside. We went to the Former Hokkaido Government Office and walked around inside. It’s free to visit and there are rooms filled with Sapporo memorabilia – like letters from world leaders who attended the G8 Summit in Sapporo in 2008. The building is a beautiful red brick building and looked very western inside.
We went back underground and went to Sapporo Station to browse around at the stores. The Uniqlo at Sapporo Station is one of the better ones I’ve been to this trip. Since it’s Golden Week, there are a lot of sales going on. After trying on a lot of items, I restricted myself after thinking about my bulging backpack.
From our shopping today, here are some snacks that were interesting but we didn’t/couldn’t buy. Too bad all the specialty Glico Pockys are always in such big boxes. I knew that Hokkaido was known for its dairy products but I didn’t know they also specialized in cantaloupe/melon flavoured treats.
It was time for dinner so we walked back towards the yakitori restaurant, Kushidori. There were two other groups ahead of us and had to wait about 15 minutes. We got seated at the counter and ordered 15 skewers, edamame, and two drinks (ginger ale and a beer) for 28,000 JPY = $33 CAD. Everything was really good, I think yakitori is one of my favourite types of Japanese food. Grilled meat is so simple but it tastes so good. My favourites from tonight were the bacon wrapped mochi and the classic chicken and leek skewer. Most of the skewers we ordered were 130-140 JPY = $1.50 – $$1.65 CAD.
The restaurant is a block away from our hotel, so it was a short walk back. My favourite meals in Japan have been izakayas or yakitori restaurants. I guess I like bars in Japan even though I don’t drink. The only downside to eating at these places is that smoking is allowed, which is not something we’re used to.
It’s our last day in Japan tomorrow. I’m a bit sad to be leaving. There’s so much more to see and eat!
For our last day trip out of Osaka, we decided to go to Kobe. I’ve always wanted to try Kobe beef in Kobe and to be honest, that’s basically all I associated with the city (I know, I’m an ignorant North American). The only thing I did some research on (half an hour before we left) was where we should have lunch so we could try Kobe beef. Once I found some options and Tim starred their locations on Google maps, we headed for Osaka Station.
The train ride to Sannomiya Station took about 30 minutes from Osaka Station. We arrived perfectly around lunch time and decided to go to the Kobe beef restaurant called, Ishidaya. The restaurant was located about 5 minutes by foot from the station, but we had a bit of trouble finding it, so it took a bit longer. The restaurant is tucked away from the main road and on the second floor of a narrow building. It was good that we decided to try it at lunch as many restaurants offer much more reasonable pricing than during dinner service.
When we walked up the stairs a woman opened the door expecting our arrival. We later figured out that every time someone opens the door downstairs there’s a subtle chime that goes off, so the waitress is prepared to greet diners. Ishida prepares their Kobe beef teppanyaki style, which was perfect because Tim and I have always talked about going to a teppanyaki place together. Tim used to go more frequently while on business with his American coworkers (Tim: Whatever you’re imagining right now about teppanyaki places in the States is probably accurate). But something told me this experience would be a different one than an American teppanyaki restaurant (mostly we wouldn’t be seeing any cheesy flat top tricks) (Tim: to be fair though, those tricks can be fun :P).
After looking at the menu, we decided we would try two different Kobe beef sets. One of them was sirloin (150g for 5,800 JPY = $68 CAD) and the other was a round steak cut (130g for 3,300 JPY = $39 CAD). Each of the lunch sets came with salad, grilled vegetables, rice (we upgraded to fried rice for 500 JPY = $6 CAD, miso soup, pickled vegetables, dessert and coffee/tea. The whole meal was delicious and eating the sirloin Kobe beef was amazing. It definitely did melt in your mouth as a lot of people say. The round cut Kobe beef was still very tender but it was a lot more lean than the sirloin, so it didn’t melt in our mouths as much…
After we were done, we left extremely satisfied. Our plan for the day in Kobe was to just walk around and explore a bit. Kobe has a different feel compared to other cities we’ve been to in Japan. We noticed there were a lot more ethnically diverse restaurants in the city and some of their street had a European feel to them.
We walked towards the Kitano area of Kobe, which is a historical area set up on a hill. The Kitano area is full of former foreign residences and is a quaint little area to walk around. About 5 minutes up the hill is an observatory area where you can get nice views of the city and the Port of Kobe.
Along our way towards Kitano, we found that the city is not only diverse in its buildings and restaurants, it also has various places of worship besides Buddhist or Shinto shrines. Most notably we passed by Kobe Mosque and a Synagogue. Being one of Japan’s major ports to the west, it makes sense that there is much more diversity here than the rest of Japan.
We made our way down the hill back to the more central area of Kobe. Our next stop was to walk through Chinatown, which is only one of three designated Chinatowns in Japan. I was craving Chinese BBQ meats (duck, cha-su, and roasted pork) on rice, so I was hoping to see some on our way through. Granted we only walked through one of the main streets within Chinatown (Tim: there really was only 1 main street), we only saw the same peking duck wraps and steamed buns over and over again (none looked very appetizing).
After walking through Chinatown, we continued to head towards the Port of Kobe. At the port, there is a memorial for the earthquake that happened in Kobe in 1995, which was one of Japan’s worst earthquakes in the 20th century (magnitude of 6.9). Walking around the port was really nice since it was a sunny and clear day. We just sat close to the water and chilled out for a while.
We eventually headed back towards Sannomiya Station, but this time we decided to walk below the train tracks as I read there are a lot of restaurants and stores there. In particular, there was a gyoza only restaurant, called Hyotan, that is supposed to be quite good, so we wanted to go there before heading back to Osaka.
Before finding the gyoza place, we stopped by a bakery called, Pablo, which specializes in cheese tarts. We’ve seen this place around Japan as well as in Taipei and they almost always have a huge line up. I wanted to try one and this location only had about 5 people in line, so we decided to buy a tart to share. Compared to everyone else in line, who were buying dozens or them or cakes, we had the smallest order. The tart was very well done and the cheese is like a fluffy Japanese cheesecake, I can see why people would line up for them. But at the same time, I think Asian tourists go crazy for any dairy product in Japan because they don’t have many dairy based desserts or products in Hong Kong, for example.
We finally found the gyoza place. There was no big sign that says “Hyotan” so it was a bit difficult to find. It’s a very casual looking restaurant, full of Japanese businessmen (there were no other female diners) having a beer with a plate of gyozas after work.
The gyozas were hot and juicy. We read after that they are known for their red miso paste for dipping. Luckily, I wanted to try it in my sauce, Tim on the other hand didn’t use any (oh well). The waitress did not speak English and was trying to tell us that the minimum order was one per person in Japanese (although there are signs on the wall in English, we didn’t see them). Tim’s Mandarin came in handy when she first said no English, then she started to speak Mandarin to him. It was an interesting experience to eat with a bunch of businessmen after work. Tim always asks if I feel okay going into a place like that when it’s all men. I think he feels more uncomfortable on my behalf than I actually do.
We took the train back to Osaka Station and headed straight to Dotonburi (via JR Namba Station) to meet William at around 8pm for a late dinner (snack for us).
Last night, we were watching Anthony Bourdain’s episode in Osaka and wanted to try kushikatsu (deep fried skewers). We learned they are unique to Osaka, and it just so happened that William said he wanted to try them too before we even suggested it. We found a place in Dotonburi that was pretty busy (seems like a good place to start). Tim and I shared a combo of skewers and ordered a different ones to try. They give you a plate of cabbage that you can dip in the tonkatsu-like sauce. At these restaurants, there are communal dipping sauces at each table and there is no double dipping allowed since they don’t change the dip after each customer.
The majority of skewers are 120 JPY = $1.40 CAD and could go up to 360 JPY = $4.25 CAD for more speciality items. My favourite kushikatsu were the quail eggs. It was a good experience and I was happy we got to try it in Osaka. However, this would not be a very healthy thing to eat every day after work.
After a heavy dinner, we went to the melonpan ice cream bun truck. We had told William about it last time we met in Kyoto and he wanted to try. We got one and he agreed, it was very delicious. This dessert makes Tim very happy.
We said our goodbyes and said we’d meet up again in Tokyo. William was leaving for Tokyo tomorrow and we’ll be there a day after him. I like hanging out with William because he knows a lot about what restaurants to go to or what kind of food to eat in each city as he’s been to Japan quite a few times.
We walked back to our hotel and relaxed for the rest of the night. I wasn’t able to finish my blog post for tonight because I was getting a bit tired. While I was sitting at the desk, I heard a slight banging noise and felt a bit of movement. I asked Tim if he felt that and if it was an earthquake. He said he didn’t feel anything (while laying in bed) and it was probably nothing. So I thought I was just imagining things since there was a large earthquake in Kumamoto the day before with a magnitude of 6.4. (Tim: It might of been a pre-tremor that hit the area just before midnight.)
At about 1:25am, I got into bed and we turned off the lights to sleep. Then all of a sudden, everything started to shake really hard and you can feel the building swaying and hear the structure of the building making large creaking noises. Since we have two double beds, I stayed in my bed for a little bit thinking the shaking would stop soon. But then after it continued to shake even harder, I went to Tim and hugged him until it stopped. The shaking seemed to have lasted for about 30 seconds (Tim: possibly felt longer because the building continued to sway for a bit). It was the longest earthquake I had experienced, and being on the 18th floor, the amount of sway in the building was unsettling. (Tim: This was the first earthquake where I think felt the 2 distinct waves you learn about in elementary school. One big shake, followed by lighter shaking and swaying in the building, followed by another bigger shake that made the building sway for a while.)
We turned on the Japanese news and tried to go online for more information about what just happened. We found out there was a 7.3 magnitude earthquake again in Kumamoto (which is about 700 km south of Osaka). The fact that we felt such a strong tremor was crazy since the epicenter was so far away. We are lucky that we left Kyushu (island where Kumamoto is) last week. Fukuoka and Beppu are both on Kyushu island and Beppu, specifically, is in an area more affected by the earthquake. Since the big earthquake on Thursday (which they now know was a pre-tremor for the earthquake last night), there has been over 100 earthquakes of 3-5 magnitude in the Kumamoto region, many higher than what we have experienced in Vancouver.
As we’re heading east in the next couple of days, hopefully we won’t experience any more tremors or earthquakes while we’re here. I was scared and a bit shaken up last night. Thankfully, Tim and I had already left the area most affected last week, and are okay.