Friday 29 March 2013

Sakura!! Cherry Blossom time and shopping in Japan - Yoyogi Park

I know I took some photos of cherry blossoms last week, but this week they were better!!  They were at their peak a few days ago, and I took the opportunity today to track some more down.  

Before that, however, I went to an area in central Tokyo to grab a bite to eat.  I was looking for a specific ramen (soup noodles) restaurant that I had read a review about on a blog, so armed with a photo of google maps on my phone I went in search of it.  Unfortunately, being that I am in Japan, the map was also in Japanese which made the task of finding the restaurant that much more challenging.  I arrived at a point where I knew I was in the right general area and stopped to look at another ramen restaurant.  I knew it wasn't the one I was looking for but I stopped to have a look at their menu anyway.  It was in Japanese but it also had pictures so I was able to see what it all looked like.  As I was standing there, one of the staff came out and showed me a copy of their menu, in English and invited me in.  I asked him what flavour soup they used (generally there are 4 main types, miso, salty, soy sauce and tonkotsu or pork bone soup).  He told me they use the pork bone soup, which happens to be my favourite, so I went in and ordered "chashumen" which is soup noodles with pieces of roast pork, it also came with an egg, seaweed sheet, bean sprouts and spring onions.  Sorry, but I didn't take a photo.  I also ordered a serve of gyouza (dumplings).  It came out and I got into it.  Near the end, I was filling up real fast, and could barely finish it.  I sat there sipping water and trying to let it all settle before I attempted to move.  The shop door opens and this petite young Japanese lady comes in and orders her food.  She ordered a large size, so I waited around for her food to come, just to see the size of it.  I kid you not, her bowl was twice the size of mine!!  I sat there with a bemused look on my face wondering where she was going to put it all!!  She put on her paper apron/napkin to catch all of the soup splatters and got to work.  I didn't wait around though as I am sure she would have finished it and put me to shame, so I sloshed my way out the door and headed back (slowly) to the train station.

Before getting on the train I stopped to take a couple of photos of the worlds busiest pedestrian crossing:

Depending on what time of the day it is, it can be a real adventure getting across.  As you can see, all traffic stops and pedestrians cross from all directions.  In the building on the left hand side of the photo, there is a Starbucks coffee shop and it is the busiest Starbucks in the world.  No wonder with all of those people!

I made my way to nearby Yoyogi Park which used to be famous on a Sunday for young people to come dressed in gothic clothing, and all kinds of different cosplay outfits.  It seems to have died off though, which is a shame as it was always so colourful and interesting.  I remember my sister coming to visit one time when I lived here before.  My sister had interesting coloured hair at the time, all natural mind you.  Her hair was a rainbow of different streaks of grey, light brown and dark brown.  We were at this park, and she was taking a photo of someone dressed in a cosplay outfit and I noticed someone was taking a photo of her.  I swear, next time I went there on a Sunday, I saw a Japanese girl with similar coloured hair to my sister!!  My sister had influenced Japanese Pop culture!!

But, I digress.  I went to this park today as it is one of the more popular spots for viewing cherry blossoms and for having Hanami parties.  I think I explained in my last post that Hanami parties are enjoyed by friends or co-workers.  Much alcohol and food is consumed while enjoying the beauty that the cherry blossoms bring.

Being that it is around the peak time for cherry blossoms, there were quite a few parties in progress:

Parties were in full swing, and everyone was enjoying themselves.  The cherry trees are simply amazing when the blossoms bloom, and in some cases look like they have a coating of snow on the, the blossoms are such a pure white colour.

Anywhere there are trees in Japan, you are bound to find huge black birds.  I am sure they are Ravens because they are a whole lot bigger than crows, and I am sure they could fly away carrying a small child!

At the end of cherry blossom season, the ground looks like a whole lot of weddings have taken place as the petals from the cherry tree coat the ground like confetti:

I headed home after blossoming myself out and thought I had better go to the supermarket to get some groceries for dinner.  One of my housemates, Dustin, is leaving this weekend and moving to Osaka to start a new job.  He will be in Osaka for three months of training and then will move back to Tokyo.  We decided to have nabe (hotpot) for dinner tonight as kind of a farewell dinner.  One of the really interesting things about being here is the supermarkets.  Very different to supermarkets back in Australia.  Shopping can be one big adventure here, especially when you don't understand what you are buying!!  My lack of Japanese has caught me out on a few occasions!  I thought a pictorial tour of a supermarket might be interesting.

When you first walk through the door, you are greeted by the fruit and vegetable section which is not so different except for some of the prices:

That's a $5 apple there!

A little further along is where it starts getting interesting.

Umeboshi, or sour plums.  These are as sour as lemons!  I remember the owner of a local restaurant in the area I used to live in loved giving me a free bowl of these each time I went to his restaurant because he loved seeing the expression on my face as I tried to eat them!  I had to eat them though, he was giving them to me without charge!

Near the umeboshi are a big selection of pickled vegetables.

Everything from cucumber to radish to eggplant and a whole heap that I don't know the names for!

Next to the pickles is the natto or fermented soy beans.

If you only ever take one thing away from reading my blog, please let it be this.  If a Japanese person ever asks you if you want to try natto, be prepared for a culinary experience like no other.  The word fermented should give a slight clue as to the experience you are about to enter into.  Nearly all Japanese people eat natto for breakfast.  They mix it with soy sauce, mustard, egg and have it on rice.  Nearly all Japanese people will tell you, with a barely perceptible hint of a smile on their faces, that natto tastes great.  I have only met two people here who have admitted that it tastes terrible, but they eat it because it is very healthy (which is true).  So what does it taste like?  Well, imagine wearing the same pair of socks for 30 consecutive summer.  At the end of the 30 days, you hold up your sock and take a big sniff before eating it!  That is what natto tastes like!  We Australians take great pleasure out of watching someone from another country try Vegemite for the first time (I did it tonight actually with one of my housemates!).  I am sure Japanese people have just as much fun watching someone from another country try natto for the first time!  Don't get me wrong, it is a very healthy food, but as with most things that are good for you, it does have its drawbacks.

So, back to the supermarket tour.  After the natto, we come to the kimchi.  This is actually a Korean food that is popular in Japan also.  It is basically spicy pickled vegetables of different varieties.  Cabbage, cucumber, radish etc.  The Japanese version is a little sweeter and milder than the Korean version which is much more spicy and has a stronger vinegar taste.

Kimchi is great to sit down and watch sport with while enjoying a beer.  Further along, we come to the seafood section with a lot of different kinds of seafood, and also freshly prepared sushi.

An entire section devoted to tofu!

Next I encounter something I couldn't find when I lived here previously:

Australian beef steak!!  About $3.50 for a 184 gram piece of steak!

In this supermarket, you could buy eggs by the half-dozen, dozen, or

individually!  I think they were about 35 cents each.

Then you get to the aisles where there are all kinds of interesting things:

a whole row dedicated to sauces of different kinds,

many different kinds of miso, for making miso soup etc,

some things are just popular no matter what country you are in!

Canned tuna, which is called "sea chicken" here.  I guess it is a white coloured meat, and does come from the sea.

Of course!  Japan is home to the instant noodles!  Next row, curries of different kinds.  I swear there is as much curry in Japan as there is in India!

Next was the snack aisle.  Dried fish,


dried cheese sticks.

In the smallgoods section, we find the wiener sausages.

I like the anime characters advertising the first one!  

Some things don't change from country to country.  A pizza party!

This is the section of the supermarket that sells different kinds of prepared meals to take home, heat and eat.  Takoyaki (octopus balls),

different kinds of noodles,

assorted mixed dishes

lots of fried things!  Pork cutlets, breaded and fried, mince meat patties, breaded and fried,


and pasta salads,

fried chicken and calamari rings.

An assortment of different drinks,


iced coffee (but sadly, no Farmers Union...).

I even managed to find some Australian wine!

So, there you have it, a tour of a Japanese supermarket.  Like I said, it can be quite the adventure going grocery shopping.  What did I buy, you ask?

Which eventually ended up as this:

Cheese curry nabe (hotpot)!  It went down very nicely!

Well, that's it for another week.  A long post, I know, but I hope you enjoyed it.  See you next time.


  1. Hi Jason.As you say the supermarkets are amazing much variety.I use to wander around one in the basement at Nagoya Eki and as I wandered around,I was able to sample quite a few things..actually enough to stave off my hunger.I preferred Udon to other types of noodles and this together with sushi,tofu(skewered with teriyaki sauce) and okonomiyaki(almost non existent in Adelaide) became my staple diet and yasui too.
    To experience sakura time in Nihon is indeed worthwhile.I well remember whilst I was in Kyoto,having an icecream on the side of a canal,the cherry blossom catching the wind and coming down on me like snow and floating away in the stream..magical honto ni.

    Like you said, the fruit prices in these "flash" supermarkets are exhorbitant...the quality superb though...everything shiney..spotless..without a blemish and no touching of course.

    You have certainly gone to a lot of trouble..well well done!Omedetouu gozaimasu.

    Speaking of do you get on teaching the "r" and "l" sound in English?I too have difficulty with the "r" sound in Nihongo and even more the "Ryo" sound..perhaps you have mastered these sounds by now, having lived in Nihon for several years.

    At the moment there are many female high school students in Adeaide, all wearing their sailor like tops.I can only presume they are here for a short period of time to study English,before returning home to commence school again.Dewa mata!

    1. Hi Noel,
      Near where I used to work when I lived here previously there was one of those food halls underground. They are amazing places. You are right, you can nearly have a whole meal just from trying the samples that they offer. The staff there are very friendly and don't mind if you don't purchase something after trying it. Just tell then it was delicious and they are happy. I was walking through one the other day and started walking past a sushi place. The lady who was touting her sushi suddenly went quiet as I neared her shop then as I arrived suddenly said in English "Try my sushi, it is very oishii!". In the little thinking time she had she mustn't have remembered that oishii is delicious in English and just cam out with what she had. Of course I had to stop and buy some sushi from her!
      You are right, teaching the difference between "l" and "r" is very difficult. You literally have to show your students how to position their tongues with each letter. I am slowly getting my Japanese pronunciation back again, but there are still ones that I find difficult. One of my sudents name is Ryo, so I have to practice that one constantly!
      Thanks again for taking the time to read the blog. I hope you are enjoying it.
      Mata ne!

  2. Hi,Jason!
    What a nice explanation of Japanese supermarket.
    You are good at observation of arrangement in supermarket.

    Cheese curry nabe is looks tasty!
    But You ate nabe with Fanta?
    I think it goes well with "Barley tea" or "Beer" :)
    If you eat other kind of nabe,You shold try.
    Thankyou for your great blog!

    Mariko Suzuki

    1. Hi Mariko, Thanks for reading! I love supermarkets in Japan. Shopping is like a big adventure!! The cheese curry nabe was good. It was Co Co Ichiban curry brand, so it tasted very good. I have never tried barley tea. Does it taste good? You are right though, maybe beer would be better with Nabe. I will have to have it again soon or the weather might soon be too warm to eat nabe, right? I am glad you are enjoying reading the blog!