How to have an epic adventure in Japan – part 2

I’ve slightly updated the first post as I forgot to mention that Japan is pretty much a cash-based country. Some places accept credit cards but it’s best to make sure you have lots of cashola with you!

I still have a tonne of reviews to write up for all the places we visited, so I can’t do a city-by-city post just yet. So this post is about using public transport (trains) as well as some train etiquette.

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Nozomi (fastest bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto

Public transport
This is primarily about trains as we only caught a bus once the whole time we were there! (I hate buses. I feel like they’re really inefficient. I won’t go into a bus rant here though.)

We flew into Narita airport (Tokyo) and used the Keisei Skyliner to get into Tokyo. I believe it’s the quickest option and is also the most expensive, but it went to Nippori and Ueno which was perfect for us. Buying tickets for this is easy as there’s a counter and the staff speak English.

Using the trains to get around while in Tokyo (and other cities) can be challenging at first but once you work it out, it is super easy.

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Here’s what you’ll be faced with – map at the top, and ticket machines (image via randomwire.com)

Step by step:

  1. Look at the map first. The station you are currently at will be marked in red with an arrow or large circle. Then work out which station you are going to and the fare will be indicated underneath. So looking at the map below, you are currently at Gojo station and you want to go to Kitaoji (K04). You can see two amounts – 260 and 130 – bottom amount is for children. So you will need to buy a ticket for 260.

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    Kyoto Subway Sytem

  2. Now you can use the ticket machine and get your ticket/s. I’ve annotated the picture below with a step-by-step. (1) Put your money in first – machines take notes and coins. Some machines are totally electronic whereas others are the olden style like the picture immediately below.  (2) You can also buy more than one ticket at a time. (3) Make sure you put in all the money for the fare for the correct fare to light up and once you push this button, the tickets will be issued.
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Older style ticket machine (in Kyoto)

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More common ticket machine (via Essential Japan Guide)

If you get the fare wrong, don’t worry too much – they have fare adjustment machines at the station so you can pay the difference at the end of your journey (genius!).

Other tips:

  • If you have a JR pass, you don’t need to buy a ticket on the JR lines – you just show your ticket to the person at the gate.
  • You can also buy a Suica card which you top up with credit. We were happy to just buy individual tickets for each journey though.
  • Always wait until you’re at the correct gates for the line you’re using before buying a ticket – different companies operate different train lines and we sometimes wasted a ticket by buying it from the wrong company.
  • Always keep lots of change as you can get rid of it on the ticket machines.
  • Keep a hold of your ticket as you need it to exit the gates again. And if you need to pay an extra fare, go to the fare adjustment machine just before the gates.
  • The operation of the subway will be slightly different from city to city but mostly we didn’t have any issues once we remembered how to use the machines (it hasn’t changed in 7 years I was glad to see).
  • If you can, wait until after 9am to use the subway to avoid peak hour.
  • Save your home location (accommodation/hotel) on Google maps by dropping a pin and marking a star.

Train etiquette:
On the platform there are marked areas for waiting in queues to get on the train. Make sure you stand in the queue as otherwise you might be in people’s way as they get off the train.

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See the marked area on the platform showing where to queue?

You’re not meant to eat/drink (on local trains), and there’s announcements about not using your mobile phone. Keep it on silent and don’t speak on the phone – you can use it for texting, browsing etc. I’m not quite sure why but speaking on the phone is quite a big faux pas in Japan and people will get up to leave restaurants etc to take a call etc. Don’t sit in the areas reserved for people with priority needs and give up your seat to older people/someone who needs it more than you.

Longer train trips (e.g. between Tokyo and Kyoto):
We didn’t have JR passes so instead we paid to get the super fast Nozomi from Tokyo to Kyoto. The downside was that was had to wait in a queue for about 20 minutes to buy a ticket. It’s best to get reserved seats for longer journeys.

If you do have a reserved seat, your ticket will indicate the car number. When you’re on the platform, look for the signs on the ground/walls to indicate where to wait for your car when the train arrives at the platform. This will make life so much easier if you have luggage as you can get right on the train where you’re sitting.

Eating and drinking is ok on longer trips. So make sure you buy a bento box before you get on the train! Each station will have a selection of bento shops and I made sure we had plenty of time so that I could get one for the journey. They didn’t seem to be selling them on the train and literally every person on our carriage had one – I’d have been crying if I was the odd one out (and starving).

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Bento box (jar?!) heaven. Graeme’s was a self-heating one!

Again though, the phone thing is a no-no and people will move to between carriages to take calls. You’ll also see the train staff moving between each carriage and bowing as they enter/exit.

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Some of the stations have great art installations/ads! 

PHEW!

I was going to write more in this post but I think that’s already pretty epic so I’ll leave it there – thanks to everyone who asked questions on the first post so please do let me know what you want answered in upcoming posts! I will answer everything the best I can and have started a list of all your questions. I’m really enjoying re-living our amazing holiday and if you really can’t wait to hear more about it, you can read my reviews over on Yelp – I’m adding a few new ones every day! I might also write a whole post about Japanese stationery if anyone might be interested in that?

How to have an epic adventure in Japan

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Shibuya

We are just back from our big holiday of the year to Japan. Graeme and I met in Japan in 2009 when we were travelling, fell in love and I moved to Glasgow not long after. It was our 5th wedding anniversary at the start of June so we decided to go back to Japan for a 2 week holiday. We went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya, Sapporo and back to Tokyo.  We’d done Tokyo and Kyoto before but decided to try a couple of new places, too.

I started making notes while we were away because my best friend is going to Japan for the first time in a few weeks (hi Gemma!), so I thought I might as well turn it into a detailed series of posts.

We had such an amazing adventure in Japan and even though it might seem like a challenging place to visit, it really is worth it. We came home feeling like we’d done our trip properly – not like tourists at all (IMO), so I wanted to share some advice and recommendations about how we did it. Of course, I’m not an expert on Japan so remember to do your own research, but all this information is correct as of June 2016.

What to do before you go?
So if you’re planning a trip to Japan, here’s what we arranged before we left.

Flights
Obviously. We booked with KLM who were having a sale and got return flights from Glasgow (via Amsterdam) for just over £400 each. I’d never flown with KLM before but would highly recommend them – all our flights were on time, the food was delicious and they have decent movies.

[Where I’ve included links, it will mostly be to my more detailed Yelp reviews]

Accommodation

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We did have a nice stay! Thanks, Granbell Hotel Shibuya

I booked most of our accommodation through Airbnb. Japan has really amazing public transport so look for apartments near a station. We rented whole apartments through Airbnb for around £60-£70 per night which is a much better price than most hotels. If you want a referral + credit for Airbnb let me know. 

We booked into hotels for Nagoya (Airbnb listings in the city were scarce) and our last two nights in Tokyo.

The hotels we stayed at worked out to be a wide range of prices for mostly the same standard. In Nagoya, we paid £92 per night for a compact double which I’m pretty sure is only meant to sleep one person, so we had a cosy two nights there! And in Tokyo, we paid £150 per night for a modern double room. When we checked in, they upgraded us to a room worth more than £450 per night so we were over the moon! 

We also ended up booking into a hotel in Sapporo. The Airbnb we booked was disappointing – bad area, mouldy bathroom and just not up the standard of other apartments we’ve stayed in. As we’ve used Airbnb for 10 separate trips now, we were pretty peeved and I was fretting that it would ruin our time in Sapporo. Within an hour, we’d booked to stay in a hotel instead, and got a very good price of £66 per night for a twin room. I complained to the host and to Airbnb, and got our money back which was great – I was really pleased with Airbnb’s assistance.

I’ll post more about these apartments + hotels in the coming posts.

Wifi

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Gion area of Kyoto

Who wants to pay for roaming in Japan? No one. We booked a “wifi walker” for the duration of our stay – we dubbed him the White Walker and it was so, so useful while we were wandering around each day. We used it for maps, for finding bars and restaurants on Yelp, Google Translate and more. Last time in we were in Japan (7 years ago) there wasn’t the option of hiring a router so we made do without the internet and got lost many, many times.

We booked our router through Wifi Rental Store. They post the router either to the post office at the airport so you can collect it off the plane, or to your accommodation. We chose to have it sent to the airport and simply needed to show my passport to collect it. The cost was under £5 a day and it worked perfectly – except if you let the battery drain completely, it would take a few hours of recharging to come back on. You can connect multiple devices/phones to it and the one we got had unlimited data and worked in Sapporo. To return it, you just post it back in the bag they provide and they’ll email you to confirm receipt.

 

Money
We arranged our travel money through the Post Office which was offering the best price and took ¥150,000 (£1,000) as initial spending money. In Japan, you can use the cash machines in 7-11s to withdraw money. 

We really weren’t sure how much money we needed for while we were there so we waited until we’d spent all the Yen we’d gotten from the Post Office and did a rough calculation of how much we’d need for the rest of the time. We took out another ¥120,000 while there which lasted us right until we were getting on the plane at Narita with only small coins left over. But we did put some costs (two expensive meals + shopping) on credit card.

Japan is mainly a cash country – some places do take credit card, but it’s easier to pay in cash.

 

Restaurant Reservations

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Wagyu beef at Steak Otsuka


We only made one. Most restaurants in Japan don’t take bookings online and only after we were there did I discovered there is an online service called Gurunavi you can use to do this, but we never used it.

I booked lunch at Steak Otsuka after a friend’s recommendation. Please note that they don’t take reservations year round so you might not be able to book. They emailed to confirm the reservation and on the day it meant we could walk straight in past all the people waiting outside in the heat.

 

That’s it! That’s all we arranged before we left. Australian and UK citizens don’t need to arrange a visa beforehand, you get issued a 90 day visa upon arrival.

I’ll pop up another post in the next day or so with the details of what we did in each city. Let me know in the comments if you have a particular question!

New discoveries this summer

Well, it’s not been much of a summer, I’ll admit. This is the most dismal summer I can remember having in Glasgow – coming up to my 6 year anniversary of living here (4 September, put that in your diaries!). But we’re off to Australia in November for a couple of weeks of sunshine so I’m hanging out for that.

It’s been a while between blogs so I thought I’d do an overall recap of some of my favourite summer finds in Glasgow. I actually made a list on Yelp if you want to read my full reviews, so just consider this the abridged version.

Tabac, Mitchell Lane, Glasgow City Centre

I actually didn’t totally love Tabac on my first visit here but once they opened up the windows again, like the former Bar 10, it really won me over. And then I fell in love all over again when I tried the chicken salt fries – a very Aussie dish which I never expected to see here. Chicken salt tastes like a crumbled stock cube, if you’re wondering. That, and the scallops are my two favourite dishes.

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Scallops with avocado and lime

Chicken Salt Fries at Tabac

Chicken Salt Fries at Tabac

10 Week Cafe by Dear Green, The Briggait, Glasgow

The name says it all – a cafe that’s here for only 10 weeks (until 4 October). I love this space, it is so bright, airy and relaxing that you could forget it’s in Glasgow. It’s just off the river and does all the things you’d expect of a coffee shop, with food supplied by different indie Glasgow cafes each week. This week it’s another favourite of mine, Babu Bombay Street Kitchen.

Juice Warrior & tea

Juice Warrior & tea

Head through this door (or you can enter from Clyde St)

Head through this door (or you can enter from Clyde St)

Sunshine No 1, Glasgow’s South Side

Not a food destination, but a lovely new wee gift shop in Mount Florida. I’ve only been once (so far) but they are going to be offering workshops and they have SO much lovely stuff you won’t be able to resist buying something for yourself. The shop stocks items made in Glasgow or across the Central belt.

Tote-ally beautiful totes

Tote-ally beautiful totes

So much awesome stuff!

So much awesome stuff!

Of course there are many more amazing discoveries but these are just a few which really got me excited. Promise the next blog post won’t be quite so far off!

Sweet Potato, Coconut, Lime & Coriander Soup

This was a super quick soup I whipped up on Sunday to see us through for a few days of lunches. It’s very simple, and I didn’t really follow a recipe, but here goes:

Sweet Potato, Coconut, Lime & Coriander Soup

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Sweet potato, coconut, lime & coriander soup (with a toasted cheese & piccalilli sandwich!)

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (the smaller, the better!)
1 can of coconut milk
1/2 can of water
1 vegetable stock cube, crumbled
2 tbs of Thai red curry paste
1/2 lime, juice
Bunch of coriander, chopped

Simmer the sweet potato cubes in the coconut milk, water and stock. Add in the Thai red curry paste and allow to simmer for around 10 minutes until the sweet potato is soft. Blend until smooth, and stir in the lime juice and chopped coriander.

Chicken & seeded mustard pasta

This is one of my all-time favourite recipes – the dish I turn to when I’m in need of comfort food (alongside macaroni cheese, of course!). I used to work at a law firm in suburban Melbourne and a local cafe had this dish on their menu for about $5AUD (£2.50) – crazy cheap by today’s prices but this was in about 2002. I got the dish most days of the week (interspersed with korma from the local Indian) and the owners were kind enough to write out the recipe for me so I could make it at home:

Original recipe jotted down from Gee Jaiz Cafe

Original recipe jotted down from Gee Jaiz Cafe

I’ve barely changed the recipe if I’ll be honest, and I think the above is enough of a step-by-step to follow easily (if you want an exact recipe, just comment and I’ll add it up). My couple of tips are: penne pasta is essential – it just doesn’t taste as good with spaghetti or linguine. Spring onion is also known as salad onion in the UK. Cut the chicken breast up nice and small. It’s not the healthiest dish, but I always feel so much better after I’ve had a bowl.

The finished dish

The finished dish – I didn’t have much spinach left!

Do let me know if you try it, and if you love it as much as I do!

Work from home but have nothing to eat?

Note: today is my 5 year bloggy-versary! That’s right; on a whim 5 years ago I started up The Glasgow Food Blog and I never expected it to grow so much – I’ll write a full post about the adventure in the coming weeks!

My kitchen tips & tricks post got me thinking about working from home. Before I started working from home full time (or at Yelp Glasgow HQ as I like to call my office) I imagined that it would be a feast of slow cooked meals on the stove and lots of homemade snacks to keep me going through the day.

And at first, it was. I was able to make sure I had a proper lunch organised, or at worst I would be able to knock something up on my lunch break while still having time to watch Neighbours (don’t laugh, it helps me keep my accent). But then as work got busier, and there was more and more events, things changed. I stopped eating properly and would rely on whatever was fast and simple to keep me going – ranging from Doritos and goats cheese to ready meals … or worse still, pot noodle (side note: pot noodles in the UK have nothing on 2 minute noodles from Australia).

It doesn't get much quicker than scrambled eggs with ham and spinach.

It doesn’t get much quicker than scrambled eggs with ham and spinach.

I came to the slow realisation that my diet was killing my ability to function as a human being, and resolved to do a bit better. So I wanted to share some of the lunch and snack ideas that keep me going – these aren’t really just home working meals, but also adaptable for an office environment (or where ever you work!).

Juices/Blends: 

Not just a healthy option, but a great way of using up leftovers hanging around your vegetable crisper. My personal favourite is inspired by a juice I had in San Fran called “prescription”. Juice two oranges, add to a blender with one apple, a handful of kale (stalks removed) and mint. Blend. I don’t have a juicer so I use a Magic Bullet but this should be easy to adapt to a juicer.

I have a go-to smoothie which I always have after roller derby training, but it makes for a great breakfast smoothie or mid-afternoon pep up. Add one banana and about 200mls of almond milk to your blender with a tsp of raw cacao powder (cocoa powder works too). For an added health boost you can add chia seeds.

Snacks:

I try to keep snacks simple: miso soup, apple with peanut butter, Bounce energy balls (but these are pretty pricey!) I’d love more snack ideas if you have any to share!

Boing!

Boing!

Meals: 

I find batch cooking is the easiest answer to be short on time.

This week I made chilli con carne and portioned it into 200g bags (probably 150g is a better size if you’re having it with rice). I also purchased Tilda bags of rice that go in the microwave. I’d never tried them before, but for a 2 minute answer to rice, I found them quite tasty. The lime & coriander flavour was a little odd though, if I’ll be honest.

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Warm up the chilli and rice and chop some lettuce and coriander while you’re waiting. Whip it out of the microwave, top with salsa, cheese, yoghurt/sour cream and the lettuce and coriander. For an extra treat, add some crushed up Doritos (I’m an addict, ok?)

Otherwise I’m really getting into soup. Graeme made a tomato and lentil soup the other night from The Medicinal Chef which was absolutely delicious and filling enough to have without bread.

If you work from home, I’d love to know how you keep on track with your meals!

Papercup Coffee Co inspired Baked Eggs

I eat out a lot (too much) and one of my fav spots to visit to is Papercup Coffee Co on Great Western Road. There’s a lot of things to love about Papercup – the friendly staff, the delicious coffee (even for me, a novice drinker) and the cool decor – but one of their biggest drawcards is their baked eggs.

The real deal, available at Papercup Coffee Co

The real deal, available at Papercup Coffee Co

As I’m a southsider I have made up my own version for lazy weekends when I can’t manage to get over to the West End. This recipe should be enough for two people (or one really hungry person):

Baked eggs with chorizo

My version – this one has kale rather than spinach

My version – this one has kale rather than spinach

1 red onion, sliced
Some chorizo (as much as you want), chopped into small dice
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 handful of spinach (other leafy greens are good too, like kale)
Small amount of feta cheese, chopped
2 eggs, cracked individually into a cup
Some nice bread, lightly toasted and topped with butter and z’atar spice

In a frypan, melt some butter/oil. Add the red onion and cook for a couple of minutes, then add in the chorizo. Allow it to cook over a medium heat until the chorizo is nicely coloured and oozing oil. Add in a tin of tomatoes and the greens and allow the tomato to warm through and the greens to wilt. With a spoon, make two holes in the sauce mix and add in an egg to each hole. Keep the temperature low and allow the egg to cook – if you have it up too high, the egg white will go rubbery. Top with feta when the white is cooked though, the yolk should still be gooey.

Disclaimer: I have no idea what the actual official recipe is – mine is definitely missing *something* special that comes with eating out rather than cooking for yourself!