Thursday, 30 April 2015

JVlog #16: Tokyo Tower & Zojoji Temple

Good Day Everyone,

On Saturday Hubby had an early appointment in Tokyo and it turned out to be very close to Tokyo Tower so we decided to make a day of it. To get to Tokyo Tower we got on the Minato Mirai Line from near our home to Naka-meguro, and then changed onto the Hibiya Line to Kamiyacho station. From Kamiyacho station we took exit 1 and once we got to street level we turned left and followed the road up a slight hill. As we approached the traffic junction we could see Tokyo Tower to our left on top of a small hill.

By the time hubby finished from his appointment it was lunchtime and we'd not even had breakfast as we'd left home in such a rush. So we headed down the hill from Tokyo Tower to behind the Prince Hotel to a place called Le Pain for some lovely brunch. Along the way to Le Pain we noticed something that looked like a temple or shrine and so we went to explore once we'd refueled our bellies.
Sangedatsumon Gate as viewed from inside the temple grounds
Zojoji Temple is the head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism. The temple was built in 1393 and moved to this current location in 1598. Most of the buildings on the grounds are reconstructions except for the main entrance gate which dates from 1622, and has survived many earthquakes and fires. The main temple gate, known as Sangedatsumon, which means a gate (mon) for getting delivered (gedatsu) from three (san) earthly states of mind - greed, anger and stupidity, is very imposing and quite magnificent to look at. The Zojoji Temple and surrounding grounds are open all year round from 9-5pm and admission is free. You can watch our day out to Tokyo Tower and the Zojoji Temple in the video below.
Daibonsho (Big Bell)
There is a giant bell within the temple grounds that was completed in 1673 and is renowned as one of the Big Three Bells of the Edo Period. The bell is tolled twice a day and weighs a whopping 15 tonnes. We spent quite a while walking around the temple grounds as there was quite a lot to see.
The main hall Daiden (Hondo)
Enshrined in the main hall, Daiden, are three images which are greatly revered by people who worship at Zojoji. There is a large main image of Amida Buddha with an image of Great Teacher Shan-tao at its right and an image of Honen Shonin at its left. There was a Japanese wedding whilst we were there and the bridal party were having their wedding photos taken. They were happy for visitors to take photographs of them. Below is the bride in white with a female friend/relative in blue. It was really interesting to see what a traditional Japanese wedding dress looks like.

Within the temple grounds there was an area, kind of like a memorial garden, with lots of Jizo statues. Jizobosatusu is the protector of children, and people who have lost an unborn child can dedicate a statue of Jizo and decorate it with toys and baby clothes. At the time that we were there I recognised these as being Jizo statues, the protector of children, but it was only whilst I was researching for this blog post that I discovered that each statue represents an unborn child. It is very heartbreaking and sad.
Jizo statues of unborn children

After walking around Zojoji Temple we headed back up the hill towards Tokyo Tower. The small road that runs between the temple and the Prince Hotel is an ideal photo opportunity with Tokyo Tower in the back ground.
Tokyo Tower stands at a height of 333m and has not one but two observatories. The main observatory is up at 150m and is a two storey deck with a cafe on the lower floor, as well as a small performance stage known as Club 333. Whilst we were there we saw a female Japanese singer and a boy band perform. I've no idea as to how famous these singers are but the predominantly Japanese crowd seemed to love them and were bopping along, as you can see in the video above. A ticket to the main observatory costs ¥900.  Whilst it wasn't a particularly clear day, the view over Tokyo was still impressive nonetheless. On a clear day you can even see Mount Fuji in the distance.
Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge
Once at the main observatory you can then purchase a ticket to the special observatory which is 250m high for an additional ¥700, which we did. Tokyo Tower is open from 9am - 11pm and the tower lights up at sunset. 
In hindsight, we should have gone up Tokyo Tower a couple of hours later than we did because whilst there, we decided that it would be cool to watch the sunset from the special observatory and watch the night lights come on. However, that meant that we had to hang around for quite a few hours. 
The tall building is the Tokyo Skytree
In my opinion, the best time to go up Tokyo Tower would be an hour before sunset. This way you can see all of Tokyo in the daytime, and watch the sunset and night lights without having to spend hours hanging around like we did.
Currently, at the ground floor entrance to Tokyo Tower, there are 333 koinobori (carp streamers) adorning the entrance. This is in celebration of Children's Day which is on May 5th. On this day, it is tradition for people to display carp shaped streamers in their gardens as a wish for their boys to grow up healthy. This is based on the legend about a carp that swam up a waterfall and turned into a dragon. Families wish for their boys to grow up strong, just like this carp.
After several hours at Tokyo Tower we were well and truly ready for some dinner. As we were both feeling really tired, not surprising given that we'd been up since 5.30am, we decided to head back to Le Pain for a bite to eat. The food at Le Pain was just the kind of food hubby and I like to eat, it was healthy, light, fresh and tasty. We even picked up a couple of croissants to take home with us for breakfast the next day.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post and video about our day out sight seeing in Tokyo :o).

Love Sheen xxx
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Monday, 27 April 2015

JVlog #15: Tokyo Dining - Gyumon (Yakiniku aka Japanese BBQ)

Good Day Everyone,

Hubby and I recently headed out for dinner in the Shibuya area of Tokyo to a yakiniku restaurant. Yakiniku literally means grilled meat in Japanese and is the term used to describe a Japanese BBQ where you grill bite sized pieces of meat at the table - a kind of do it yourself concept.
We had read really positive reviews on TripAdvisor about a restaurant called Gyumon which uses halal certified meat and given that halal meat is quite difficult to come across in Japan, we were super excited to try this place out :o).

Gyumon is a good 10mins walk from Shibuya station. To get to the restaurant you head towards the Shibuya Police Station and walk along the main road that runs parallel to the Tokyu Toyoko train line on the map. Once you pass the Police Station, after about 5mins of walking there is a 7-Eleven convenience store on the left, and just after that there is a narrow little side street, still on the left, that you turn into and Gyumon is on the right, just before a shoe store. If you walk past the 7-Eleven and come to a large cross road junction then it means you've passed the little side street that you needed to turn into. Here is a Google map link, in case you ever wish to find it.
Gyumon is a tiny little place which you can easily miss if you blink. As you can see from the photo above, it has no obvious name on the front in English, but there is a little board with newspaper/magazine cuttings and the halal sign in front of the restaurant.
The restaurant is spread over two floors but despite this there is limited seating. I'd recommend making a reservation if you can or getting there when it first opens, which is what we did, otherwise you will have to queue outside.

The interior of the restaurant is kind of basic and sparse with posters and drawings on the walls, but don't let that put you off because what it lacks in visual aesthetics, it more than makes up for in it's food :o).
Above each table is a long silver extraction flute and underneath that is where the BBQ grill containing the charcoal is placed.
 Like the interior, the menu itself is also pretty simple.
We opted for the set menu which comes with three different types of beef (beef shoulder, beef round meat and beef rib loin), a bowl of rice, a bowl of salad and a drink, all for ¥4,000 plus tax. We then supplemented this with a second bowl of rice as we were unsure of the portion size. We also added a portion of vegetables for the grill because my hubby isn't much of a meat eater.
The meat portions were quite generous as was the portion of rice and in hindsight we could easily have done without that second bowl of rice. The meat comes lightly seasoned and with two different types of sauces; chilli and BBQ.
Now hubby and I are no meat experts, but I can honestly tell you that this was some of the best meat we've ever tasted. It was very tender and juicy but also very flavoursome without the chilli and BBQ sauce. It was great fun cooking the meat ourselves, as and when we wanted to eat it, thus ensuring it was always nice and hot. You can see us in action in the short video below.
We thoroughly enjoyed our first experience of a yakiniku restaurant and would highly recommend Gyumon. Although the food is very simple, it is extremely tasty and satisfying with generous portion sizes. Plus the staff are really friendly too.
Have you ever tried a yakiniku restaurant? Are there any restaurants in Tokyo that you would recommend? I'd love to hear your suggestions :o).

Love Sheen xxx
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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

JVlog #14: Yokohama Street Performance Festival

Good Day Everyone,

On the weekend we finally got a break (for the most part) from the April showers, just in time for the annual Yokohama Street Performance Festival. This is a 2 day festival which showcases and celebrates the talents of a huge range of street artists and performers, ranging from mime artists, singers and belly dancers to acrobats, tight rope walkers and jugglers.
The festival involves not only Japanese performers but also artists from other countries. Whilst it is a free event, donations are collected at the end of each performance and we were only too happy to oblige given how fantastic all the performances were. 
The event takes place at various locations around Yokohama, including where we live in Minato Mirai 21. There were two designated special stages which showcased some of the more complex acts such as synchronized trampolining and tight rope walking. You can watch these and more in the video below :o).

As you would expect, the map/brochure detailing all the performances was in Japanese but using specific landmarks we were able to decipher exactly where the events were. Also the index border with photographs of all the different performers proved to be most useful in determining what their talent even though we cannot read a word of Japanese...where there's a will there's a way ;o).
Luckily for us the two special stages were located near where we live and we prioritised watching the artists at those sites as the performances looked particularly exciting. On Saturday we watched an entertaining mime act who did impersonations of a Rocky fight as well as some Michael Jackson and super heroes inspired performances.
We then wandered across to the special stage located outside the Yokohama Museum of Art to watch a duo from Colombia do a number of performances whilst tight rope walking. These men did an amazing, and somewhat nerve wracking job given that it was very windy on Saturday. They didn't appear to be wearing any harnesses but there were a couple of men moving an inflated mattress along the length of the tight rope, just in case. We ended our little outing on Saturday by watching some belly dancing at one of the nearby malls.
On Sunday, we went to the second special stage but by the time we arrived all the best spots were taken (the joys of being vertically challenged;o)) plus it was starting to rain. So we headed into the nearby mall to pass the time until the next scheduled performance.

Whilst at the mall we found an area by the stairwell that proved to be a great viewing point for the special stage. We watched some truly fantastic performers who did the most amazing things with their bodies. I cannot even begin to imagine the kind of physical and mental strength, determination and focus those movements required.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into our weekend and that the video gave you a little taste of the Yokohama Street Performance Festival. Now that the weather is starting to warm up I think there will be a lot more fun activities and events coming up.

What fun activities/events have you been to lately? I'd love to hear about your weekend :o).

Love Sheen xxx
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Monday, 13 April 2015

Weekday Breakfasts

Good Day Everyone,

Our breakfast eating habits in Japan are somewhat different to Singapore. In Singapore, we would start the day with a fresh juice (e.g. green apple, cucumber, celery, carrot and fresh ginger), however, as our juicer was on it's last legs we didn't bring it with us to Japan, thinking we'd pick up a new one. Once here though, we realised that the voltage is completely different and given that juicers are quite the investment (and electronic items are more expensive in Japan!), we didn't want to buy one which we then couldn't use once we left Japan. Also there's no guarantee that had we brought our juicer it would have worked, given that my hairdryer and GHD straightening irons wont work here. So now we start our day with hot water with fresh lemon juice, ginger and honey. This is a great way of hydrating the body after a nights sleep and, on an empty stomach, it's also a great detox.
I don't know about you, but what we eat for breakfast during the week tends to be quite different to the weekends. During the week, we like to eat something that is nutritious and not too heavy (hubby and I find it difficult to eat much in the mornings as we are not morning people), but just as important, quick and easy to make. On the weekend we take things more leisurely and make something that's a bit more complex and filling as it often ends up being brunch, rather than just breakfast.

If you follow me on Instagram then you will have seen the numerous photos I post of my smoothie bowls and that's what we eat most weekdays. They're very quick and easy to make, and a great way of incorporating fruit into our diet (which is important to me as my hubby isn't much of a fruit eater). We make ours quite thick and then top them with lots of nuts, seeds and even more fruit which is why we eat them out of a bowl. In a blender these take just a few seconds to whiz together. Unfortunately, our blender broke when we left Singapore and we've not replaced it in Japan for the aforementioned reason. Strangely though, our little hand blender does work with the voltage in Japan and so that's what we currently use. It's not ideal as the smoothies are always a little on the chunky side but it'll do for now.
A typical smoothie bowl
Smoothie bowl toppings
When I first started making smoothie bowls I was using regular milk, then I moved on to natural yoghurt, but as I started to reduce my dairy intake (for health reasons) I moved onto almond milk. If I have too much dairy it can aggravate my arthritis but I find it almost impossible to give up cheese or the splash of milk that I have in my daily coffee. So I balance it by eliminating the yoghurt/milk from my smoothies. Also, almond milk adds a nice nutty taste to the smoothies and hubby really likes it. In the past we've also used hemp milk which we like.
A tropical drinking smoothie
Sometimes for a change we'll make drinking smoothies and you can see the fruits we use for that in the video below, as well as our other weekday breakfasts.

If it's a cold wintery day then we will sometimes have porridge topped with, you guessed it, nuts, seeds and fruit ;o) Occasionally I will have a simple fresh fruit salad, although that is a bit of treat given how expensive exotic fruits like mangoes and melons are in Japan!
A warm breakfast on a cold day

Fresh fruit salad
If you're a long time Glistening Sheen follower then you'll know that I love to make my own granola. However, as we don't have a proper oven I've not been able to make that since we moved to Japan. Unlike British people, the Japanese don't tend to use ovens much for their cooking. Hubby and I used to use our oven almost daily in Singapore and I cannot tell you how much I miss having an oven! You can find my granola recipe here if you're interested :o).

I will try to follow this vlog/post with one on our weekend breakfasts so keep an eye out for that in the next few weeks.

What do you like to eat for your weekday breakfast?

Love Sheen xxx
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