Tokyo last day and Day 1 Kyoto (Japan 2017

Tokyo last day and Day 1 Kyoto (Japan 2017

I lost my original post for these days.  Oh well, I’ll just re-start it and not try to re-create the old one that I had made.

So it was our last day in Tokyo and at the awesome Park Hyatt.  Before leaving Tokyo I wanted to try to get at least one run in while in Japan.  I decided to head up to the fitness center in the Park Hyatt.  This is located up on the 47th floor.  If you’ve seen the movie Lost in Translation, there is a scene where the main characters are swimming in this pool.  I didn’t get any pictures because you’re not supposed to take pictures in the gym area.  To actually get up to the fitness center you have to go through their spa (and actually tell them you’re a guest to get up there).  They have a row of treadmills that face outward towards their floor-to-ceiling windows.  You have this great overlook of the city and being so high up you get a bird’s eye view.  It was a nice way to wake up for the day.

After sadly leaving the wonderful confines of the Park Hyatt, we made our way back to Tokyo Station by way of Shinjuku station for the ride over to Kyoto.  Prior to taking the bullet train (Shinkansen), we needed some lunch.  Within the underground mall area of Tokyo Station is Ramen Street.  This was our first experience with ordering from a vending machine.  So you walk up to a vending machine and can choose the type of Ramen you want (as well as any extras such as extra noodle, meat, other things), put money in the machine and then it spits out a ticket.  You give the ticket to the attendant and wait in the line outside the restaurant.  Once there is an open seat, they take you to it and then your food shows up.  This place also had a paper bib for you to wear in case of splatter from the ramen.  It was very tasty.


We had reserved some seats on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto.  We had obtained the JR pass when we first arrived in country.  This 7-day pass allowed us to ride on the bullet train and other JR trains without paying during that time period.  We did not get the fancy JR pass that allows you to take the fastest bullet trains (they’re not faster, they just have less stops so your trips are shorter).  The distance between Tokyo and Kyoto is 514 km (or 319 miles).  If you took a regular train or a bus, it would take a LONG time.  The Shinkansen gets you there in about 2.5 hours or so.  I definitely recommend that as a way to get around Japan.  They have restrooms and on some trains also have a person with a cart of food/drink (including beer) that walks by every so often.  Most people bring their own food onto the train to eat.

We arrived in Kyoto and after a transfer ended up at the train stop nearest our Air BnB.  We had never stayed at an Air BnB before so didn’t exactly know what to expect.  Our hosts were great in communications before our arrival.  The place we were staying is closest to the Higashiyama train stop.  I believe our hosts actually had multiple small units in one building.  We quickly obtained our keys and found our way into the small studio.  While it was quite cozy, it had everything you needed in a place when on vacation.  The Japanese are great about fitting everything into a small functional space.

Our AirBnB was located near the Heian Shrine.  In fact, you could see the large Torii Gate of this shrine from the balcony of our AirBnB.

Torii Gate from our balcony

By the time we had settled into our place it was dinner time.  Our hosts were kind enough to leave us a list of local eateries along with what they had there.  Since we weren’t going to the surrounding areas of Kyoto known for their Okonomiyaki, we went to a local place that had it.  They had a set 2 person course menu where you split a Okonomiyaki, sauteed noodles with vegetables and meat, cooked radish, and a pork egg omelette.  I also had a highball (mix of Suntory whiskey and club soda).

Pork Omelette
Yam…I think
Stir fry

The Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake dish that can have a variety of ingredients.


Overall I thought it was good and very filling.  After dinner, while the sun had already set, there was a local temple that you could walk through.  They had lights set up so that you had a different perspective of how temples/shrines look like in the dark.  The Shoren-in Monzeki Temple was just a short 5 minute walk from our place.  By far this one of our favorite temples to visit.  Maybe it had to do with the lighting in the dark but also because you really walked through the grounds and absorbed the feeling.


Also behind the temple were some of the giant bamboos.  These are truly stunning – I’m glad that I was able to see it because I wasn’t able to make it to the bamboo forest in the later part of the trip due to my sickness.


We stopped at Lawson’s, one of the largest convenience store chains in Japan, on our way back to the AirBnb to pick up some water as well as some snacks and beer.  They have an ice bar that is “soda” flavored, which they also have in Taiwan and I got one just for kicks.


The long day of travel was finally over and we hit the sack.



Roasted Chicken

I want to make sure I have this recipe saved somewhere for future use.

After getting a Costco rotisserie chickens for awhile  (I read somewhere that the Costco bird is actually the only one that is most cost effective in terms of purchasing a cooked bird vs roasting your own), I decided to attempt my own roasted chicken.  I had come across a simple roasted chicken in a cast iron pan.  I like the versatility of roasted chicken because they can be used for various applications and in multiple recipes and last for more than one meal.

  • ~5 lb chicken from TJ’s
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Seasoning (thyme, rosemary)

I basically rubbed the chicken with the seasonings (salt, butter, thyme, etc).  The center of the bird was stuffed with some garlic cloves and whole sticks of rosemary.  I rubbed the outside of the bird with olive oil (another time I used butter).  I also did one where I would separate the skin from the meat and put seasoned butter in there.


Initially the oven at 450 F and dropped to 400 F when the chicken was placed in the oven.

Cooked for 90 minutes at 400 F.


And done.  Surprisingly you don’t have to cover it at all or turn it or anything.  The meat also comes out very juicy.

Very simple and easy recipe and you control what is in the bird.  I had read that one reason the Costco rotisserie chickens are so tasty is because the seasoning that goes into the skin contains MSG.  While I know MSG inherently isn’t necessarily super bad for you, the fewer ingredients in a dish I think is probably overall better for you.  I’m glad that I have this recipe in my arsenal now.


Tokyo Day 5 (Japan 2017)

Tokyo Day 5 (Japan 2017)

I woke up on Day 5 and was a bit sick (related to the previous night’s visit to the New York Bar).  The sad part is that we had ordered the Girandole Japanese breakfast.  Girandole is one of the restaurants in the building and the Japanese breakfast is supposed to be one of those “must haves” while in Tokyo.  Unfortunately due to how I was feeling, I only had a small portion of it but it looked amazing.


It was our last full day in Tokyo so I tried to get my sh*t together and we headed out before noon.  I wanted to see Tsukiji Fish Market and possibly get some fresh fish while there.  Since we were arriving so late, I knew we probably wouldn’t see as much as if we went super early like most people.  I learned that if you want to see the actual tuna auctions, you have to sign up because it was becoming too popular, that start super early like 4 am.  Next to the marker were some tourist-filled small alleyways that were lined with restaurants and other shops.  We ducked into a small sushi joint to get some lunch.  I will say that the fish was definitely fresh and overall good.  And for dessert, my wife had some taro ice cream.  yum!


Taro ice cream

From Tsukiji Market, we walked over to Hamarikyu Gardens, which sits near the water.


This is a good viewing area for cherry blossoms.  Like I had mentioned previously these first few days in Tokyo were not great for cherry blossom viewing because the weather had been cold and rainy, which is not conducive to blossoming.  There were still some trees that were blooming and people were definitely taking pictures.

To mix it up, the plan after the gardens was to check out the main Asics store in Tokyo because we were still on a shoe hunt.  Surprisingly the shoe store itself (supposedly the “main” store) was actually quite small.  There were some Europeans in the store trying on shoes.  Maybe it is cheaper in Japan than in the US.  I will say the shoes would be slightly cheaper to buy in the US so I didn’t seriously consider getting a pair (though I do like Asics as part of my running corral of shoes).

For dinner I wanted to try a Yakitori place.  We hopped on the subway and went to Ebisu.  It was a little early for dinner so we walked over to Yebisu Garden Place Tower.  Acclaimed chef Joel Robuchon actually built a Chateau in this shopping mall to house his Michelin-starred restaurant.  It was a bit out of place in the midst of Japan but was kinda funny to see as a juxtaposition.  The Japanese also have a bit of an obsession with the French as well, which is actually a good pairing because they both have great food and fashion.  We were going to try visiting the Yebisu beer museum but it wasn’t open.  Sad.  We did walk through some higher end store.


It was a bit difficult locating a yakitori place because some restaurants are downstairs in a basement and some upstairs.  We eventually settled on going down some steps into a non-descript dark staircase ending at a door.  Luckily once we opened the door, there was a yakitori restaurant with a long bar (by long it was actually small and sat maybe 12 people).  Luckily one of the employees actually spoke some English (and his other chef/coworkers allowed him to do pretty much all the interaction with us).  I ordered a bunch of weird things (chicken heart, liver).  They served the chicken medium-rare, which is something you’d never see in the US but it actually was very tender and tasty.  Overall I enjoyed it, though it wasn’t a ton of food.


Right next to the subway stop that we walked out of was a Shake Shack.  We never made it to Shake Shack when we were in NYC and since we still were a little hungry, I suggested we stop in and have a burger so my wife could experience it.  It was a little funny that we were halfway around the world to try a US based burger chain.  The wife said that it was a good burger.

On our way back to the hotel before turning in for the night we checked out one more sports store near our hotel looking for shoes.  I found it fascinating to walk through a sports store in Japan.  I took a picture of some socks because I thought it was funny.


Sacramento is the Farm-to-Fork capital and the socks have a funny name.

And that was the end of Day 5.


Carmel/Monterey (Big Sur Marathon)

Carmel/Monterey (Big Sur Marathon)

Since my marathon recap post was kind of long, I decided to separate out the actual weekend part of marathon weekend.  We decided to stay in Carmel because of the locations of the bus pickups to take us to the marathon start.  Right in the heart of downtown Carmel was one of the pickup spots.  Luckily there are a ton of small hotels, inns, and B&Bs in Carmel.  Rather than leaving the dog in a boarding place in Sac, I found a place that allows pets (Carmel is historically and well-known as an extremely dog friendly place).

We made a pit stop in Fairfield to get some lunch on our way down on Friday.  The wife found a sandwich spot called Joe’s Buffet .  They made a tasty sandwich – I had a combo of pastrami and corned beef.

Pastrami/Corned Beef

Once we reached Monterey and stopped to do my packet pickup, we swung by PeterB’s brewpub (right behind the expo area at Portola Hotel).  I had the Belly Up Blonde since I wanted to keep it light.


Prior to our trip, I had done some research on dog-friendly restaurants in Carmel.  A ton of places have outdoor sitting and allow dogs in their patio areas since so many people have dogs (either visiting or living there).  The Inn that we stayed at also provided us with a list of some of the nearby dog friendly restaurants.  Our living quarters for the weekend was the Svendsgaard’s Inn.  This place ended up being only about 4-5 blocks from the bus pickup.  The accomodations were nice and it was a small quaint little place.  They had a small grassy area in a courtyard with poop bags available.

That first night in Carmel (I still don’t understand how the official city name is Carmel-By-The-Sea…such a mouthful), we walked over to Bistro Beaujolais for dinner.


Billed as a French restaurant, we ordered with this in mind.  I had the French Onion soup, escargots, and sand dabs.  My wife had a lemon chicken soup and the Steak Frites.  The last time I was in the Monterey area is when I learned about Sand Dabs.  I guess they’re a local fish that is wildly popular and served at pretty much every restaurant (doesn’t even matter if it is American, European, Mediterranean, etc).  I was surprised and pleased to see that they had a Michigan beer and ordered the Founders Porter.


The meal overall was pretty good though the cut of steak my wife received wasn’t the best and had some tough and chewy bits.

We learned that the dog is actually good if you put her in her carrier while at a meal and so we continued this trend for the rest of our meals in Carmel.


After dinner we planned to walk down to the beach to watch the sunset.  I made a quick stop at some of the temporary bathrooms outside the shopping mall area where our restaurant was located.  I was quite impressed with the temporary accommodations compared to normal port-a-potties.

We then made the downhill trek along Ocean Blvd to the Coastal Trail Carmel Beach.  This place is quite popular especially at sunset because you get to watch the sun go into the ocean.  Surrounded by many strangers we stood and watched as the sun slowly set.


The following morning we made the drive into Big Sur.  I didn’t get any pictures while there.  I will say it is quite a big difference from the Monterey area in that you enter a forest with these magnificent coastal Redwoods that just tower over you.  We stopped at the Big Sur River Inn’s restaurant.  We had to order “to go” and could sit outside their restaurant since we had the dog.  We each had their chicken sandwich which wasn’t too bad.


Sign in Carmel

For dinner, I went with my normal pre-race meal of pizza.  I found this pizza joint that was located near the marathon finish (about a 5 minute drive from our Inn) called the Allegro Gourmet Pizzeria.  They were great with the dog and even allowed us to eat inside with the dog.  We kept her in her carrier and she was surprisingly very good and quiet.


After the marathon, we walked from our Inn just a few blocks to the Hog’s Breath Inn for a late lunch.  I thought I was hungry after running for 5.5 hours but once the food came, I could only eat a small amount.  I had the fried calamari to start and then went with their pulled pork sandwich with a salad.  I also enjoyed a nice light beer as a celebratory drink.  I ended up leaving a good chunk of my salad and kind of de-constructed my sandwich.


I took a nap after lunch and then we headed over to 17-mile drive.  This is a scenic drive that takes you through the ultra-exclusive community of Pebble Beach.  There are actually 3 (maybe more) golf courses within the community.  I had previously driven through on my last visit but my wife hadn’t been through so we made the drive and enjoyed some time on the beach (much less crowded since you have to pay to get into the community/drive) and driving right along the water.

17-Mile Drive
17-Mile Drive
17-Mile Drive
17-Mile Drive

We spent the sunset time at the beach again because why not?  So peaceful and pretty.

To cap off our time in Carmel, we walked (it was tough for me to make the trek considering how sore my legs were) over to The Forge in the Forest.  We of course were celebrating my finishing the marathon so had some cocktails to begin.  I also had a cup of clam chowder and then went with their steak.  This cut of meat was much better than that from the other restaurant.  It was very tender and cooked just right.  We topped it off with some yummy dessert (can’t remember exactly what it was).


And finally, on our way out of the Monterey area, we stopped at Phil’s Fish Market and Eatery (on recommendations from co-workers) in Moss Landing.  It was definitely worth it.  I had to try their clam chowder and then went with their iconic Cioppino.  It was a LOT of food and I ended up taking a bunch of it home with me.  My wife had their fish tacos but in reality they were huge tortillas that were quite filled and were more like two big burritos.


Fish Tacos
View from Phil’s

Overall a very good weekend of eating (along with the marathon).



Tokyo Day 3 & 4 (Japan 2017)

Tokyo Day 3 & 4 (Japan 2017)

After a restful sleep, we awoke and ordered some room service and then decided to head over to the Imperial Palace area along with Tokyo Station and the many things around that area.  The weather was still fairly overcast and rainy, my wife was very smart and brought an umbrella.

Tokyo Station

We walked around the outer perimeter of the Imperial Palace but didn’t try to go inside.  We started to get hungry and went looking for a snack.

Imperial Palace

Near Tokyo Station is the KITTE building, which houses a lot of stores as well as restaurants.

KITTE Building

I had read about it on a web site and since we were right there, we stopped in.  It was still fairly early in the day so they weren’t letting people go up onto higher floors.  So we headed to the basement and walked around where they had little shops of various food items and small trinket type things.  We got some Chicken Karaage from the convenience store.  This is essentially their version of chicken nuggets.  I also had an Onigiri (which became a theme of the trip).  Onigiri are triangles of rice wrapped in seaweed and filled with various items (I ended up trying some that had tuna salad, smoked salmon, fish roe, egg, etc).

We were really looking to snack on some Taiyaki, which is a fish shaped pastry that is filled with red bean.  This took us on a hunt through Tokyo Station’s many hallways of stores as well as the Yaesu underground mall.  I was following the directions on the GPS and it kept taking me to a set of restaurants but no Taiyaki.  After a frustrating time searching, we saw on the map that there was another stall/store that sold Taiyaki and found that relatively quickly and we had one.


The Japanese have this protocol that you aren’t supposed to eat while walking or what not.  This is very different than in the US where we walk and eat all the time.  We actually huddled next to some stairs to eat this and I could feel people’s eyes on us judging us for eating in the hallway of the underground market area.  Oh well.

And then it was lunchtime.  Because of how busy many places get, it is recommended to arrive at or just before opening (usually 11 AM) to be able to get a seat.  I had found a Tempura place near Tokyo Station so we walked over that way.  However, we arrived too late (it was only like 11:15 AM) and they said that they had no more tables.  They didn’t even offer a wait so I guess it is a “one and done” type of place.  We walked over to the Ginza district. This is more of an upscale area with fancy stores.  The wife wanted to check out COMME des GARÇONS, which I figured would be a French company but really is Japanese (again the Japanese love the French culture).  They have a whole building (6 floors of merchandise) in the Ginza district called the Dover Street Market.


We found a place to eat in the building next door (Kojun Building) to Comme des Garcons. The meal was pretty good.  It was a more traditional multi-course meal.  For some reason I wasn’t used to having so much food (even though it wasn’t a ton) and didn’t finish everything that was provided.  After lunch we perused the Comme des Garcons some more and also checked out Uniqlo (which had a building across the street and also took up 5-6 floors).

And then it was off to another tourist destination.  Our next stop took us to the Zōjō-ji temple, which is a Buddhist temple.


The temple was relatively busy with tourists – a lot of them from Mainland China.  Something I noticed was that there were a lot of women dressed in the traditional Japanese clothes but they were speaking mandarin.  We later learned that you could pay about $30-40 US equivalent to get dressed up in the traditional Japanese clothes for the day and so we were seeing tourists dressed up and not actual Japanese people.  The cherry blossoms were starting to bloom more than when we first arrived in country.

From the temple, we walked to the nearby Tokyo Tower.  It’s a communications and observation tower.  We didn’t go up to the top though.

Tokyo Tower

We had to get back to our hotel since we had reservations at the New York Grill on the top floor of our hotel.   On our way back, we passed by the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which has a suspension roof design.  There was some sort of concert type event going on and many people were flocking to one of the entrances.  On the outside, they had multiple football (soccer to us Americans) fields with people playing.

Yoyogi National Gymnasium

We walked through Yoyogi Park to get back to our hotel and saw many people picnicking under the trees.  Again there weren’t a ton of trees blossoming, but people were still enjoying themselves by picnicking.  I guess it is a big tradition to picnic under the blooming cherry blossom trees.  They also don’t have open container laws so I saw many people drinking beer.


Cherry blossoms
Yoyogi Park
Yoyogi Park

We had dinner at the New York Grill in our hotel.  We luckily had a seat by their floor-to-ceiling glass windows and had a lovely view of the city from 52 floors up.  We each had the Hokkaido Akaushi Sirloin steaks and had their Crispy Duck Fat Fries and Broccolini.  I learned that in Japan, they call the different levels of wagyu not on letter/number but based upon the location that the meat comes from.  Either way, the steak and sides were delicious.  Since we were at the New York Grill, we decided to share the New York Cheesecake, which was just all right.  Nothing to write home about.  Initially we considered moving over to the bar portion of the top floor but seeing as how busy it was, we elected to call it a night after a satisfying meal.

Enter a caption
Wagyu steak!
New York Cheesecake

Day 4

The following morning we woke up and headed way east of us to the Asakusa district to see the oldest temple in Tokyo, Sensō-ji temple.  I remember visiting this temple back when I came to Japan with  my family in 2003.

There is a long walkway lined on each side by shops leading up to the temple.  I thought the temple from Day 3 was busy but this placed was packed.  It felt like being canned sardines as we made our way through the stall-lined walkway to the actual temple.  We each picked up a nori-wrapped rice cracker, which was delicious.  Deborah also purchased a bag of these pastries filled with red bean.  They had fun bird and temple shapes.

After walking around the temple area, we popped into a small mom and pop restaurant for lunch.  I had the tempura bowl, which was a mix of squid/onion over rice and my wife had Tonkatsu chicken over rice.  Both were good.


Tempura squid and onion over rice

We jumped back on the JR and went to Ueno.  Located here is Ueno Park, which is a huge park that has multiple various buildings.  The cherry blossoms at this location were definitely blooming and the picnicking people were out of control.  Add to that the many tourists and it was another very crowded place (sensing a theme?).


Food trucks! Reminds me of Cali
The Japanese have a weird obsession with 1950s U.S. culture

At the northern end of the park is the Tokyo National Musem.  While there are multiple buildings all with their own unique things to see, we stuck to the main building.  Sometimes we tend to speed through museums and we actually took a little bit more time and made our way through all the various rooms of the main building.  I enjoyed seeing the armory exhibits with the different body armor and more importantly the different katanas and other swords.

National Museum
Reminds me of Michael Jackson


From the museum we tried to go get cocktails at a cocktail bar that I had read does flights of craft cocktails with local ingredients, Gen Yamamoto.  This bar is in the neighborhood Azabujuban, which I thought didn’t sound very Japanese.  Unfortunately, when we arrived, all the lights were off and the doors locked.  My phone said that they should have been open but they weren’t.  Disappointed, we ended up checking out Pizza Strada, which was nearby.  Since we love pizza, I had read about a new trend in Japan where they were putting their own twist on the traditional Neopolitan style pizzas.  Some Japanese chefs traveled to Italy and came back opening up pizza shops.  Over time they’ve adopted their own styles to the pizza.  I gotta say it was pretty good.  It was also a nice break from all the Japanese food we had been eating.  Normally at home we tend to vary our meals by eating various genres of food.


To work off some of the food and beer we just had, we jumped back onto the subway and went over to the Harajuku, which is a district in the Shibuya district.  This area has tons of stores and shops.  We were on a semi-hunt for some good walking shoes for my wife.  She wanted to check out the Onitsuka Tiger store.  I actually have some Onitsukas that I’ve been wearing for the last few years.


We ended the night back at our hotel at the New York Bar on the 52nd floor.  I did a flight of Japanese whiskeys.  Japanese whiskey takes after scotch.  The three that I tried were Yoichi, Yamazaki, Miyagikyo.  Some were peaty, some more smoky.  Overall they were all right but not my bailiwick.  Maybe when I’m older.


I also had a few other cocktails including a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned.  It was nice because they had a live jazz singer.  Overall a great atmosphere and drink (we also had some appetizers – chili and their duck fat fries).

Jazz Singer


View from the bar

I may have indulged a little much as I paid for it in the morning.  Oops!