Omotesando

Japan: Tokyo/ Omotesando/ Gluten-Free (Natural Cream Kitchen)

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If you have food allergies like I do, you know how daunting traveling may be, particularly when it comes to overseas travel.  But, a great man once uttered, “Nothing is impossible,” and indeed with growing food allergy awareness, traveling with food allergies is becoming much easier than it used to be.  The only caveat is that you must do your homework ahead of time, which many of us who have allergies are accustomed to doing anyway.

In this new blog post, my purpose is to introduce you to a wonderful little café located in Omotesando, which offers all natural, gluten-free items on their menu.

Natural Cream Kitchen opened in spring of 2015 and bills itself as an “additive free sweets café.” However, sweets are not the only things offered on their menu. Here you will find delicious items such as chicken and roast beef entrees, meatloaf, pasta, sandwiches, quiche and salads.  Their drinks menu includes soft drinks, herbal teas, beer and wine! They even have a brunch menu featuring oatmeal and omelets among other items!  Everything is prepared using natural ingredients, no sugar and no additives.  Their tarts, breads and cakes are created with rice flour and sweetened with amazake  (a traditional sweet, low- or non-alcohol Japanese drink made from fermented rice) and sugar beets. Their signature roll cakes come plain and in chocolate cake flavors and are available in sizes up to 50cm (19.6 in). For Christmas you can order the Christmas cake version. Oh, and did I mention their sweets sampler tower?

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You can choose to dine in the cozy café decked out in a bright and soothing décor or take your food out. There are large vases filled with white flowers, white washed tables and chairs, exposed white brick walls and a giant chandelier comprised of eating utensils.

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The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, able to answer any questions you may have regarding the menu (provided you speak Japanese.)  Even if you can’t speak Japanese, the menu has pictures of the items available so you can just point to what you would like to order.

Whether you have food allergies, are health conscious or just want to try delicious tasting foods, Natural Cream Kitchen should be on your list of places to visit when in Tokyo! The café is open Mon-Sat from 10AM-8PM, Sun & Holidays 9AM-8PM. It is easily accessible via the Meiji-Jingumae Station (Chiyoda, Fukutoshin Lines) or the Omotesando Station (Ginza, Hanzomon, Chiyoda Lines).

 

Web page:                        https://naturalcreamkitchen.com/

Location:                           GYRE B1F 5-10-1 Jingumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001

Japan: Tokyo (Magnolia Bakery)

If you are a fan of the TV shows, Sex & the City or Gossip Girls, you are probably familiar with Magnolia Bakery. The West Village, New York bakery famous for its cupcakes and old fashioned icebox cakes was featured on these popular shows and even had a role in the film, The Devil Wears Prada starring Meryl Streep! Well, enough name dropping, the bakery opened in 1996 and in June 2014, introduced its first shop in Tokyo! Located in Omotesando, which is already a sweet lover’s haven, the Japanese Magnolia Bakery serves the same menu items as it does in its New York store: cupcakes, banana pudding, cheesecakes, icebox cakes and more (150 types of sweets to be exact)!

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The bakery’s vintage interior is decorated in pastel colors affords a cozy ambiance popular with the predominantly female clientele. The shop operates between the hours of 11:00AM to 8:00PM and lines begin to form well in advance of the opening time. There are large glass windows inside where you can watch these delectable desserts being created.

Banana Pudding

Banana Pudding

In addition to the regular menu items, you will find some limited seasonal items, cook books, t-shirts, aprons and caps bearing the bakery’s design. The shop will be happy to gift wrap and custom decorate your purchases making your items a perfect omiyage choice for your girlfriend who may be a fan of the Devil Wears Prada film or just American sweets in general!

Magnolia Bakery is easy to access vis the Tokyo Metro train. Exit at the Omotesando Station (Exit A1).

Web Page:      http://www.magnoliabakery.com/locations/tokyo/

Address:          Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 5-10-1, GYRE, B1F

Japan: Omotesando (Omohara White Christmas)

Omotesando is a popular neighborhood of Tokyo and its main street, Omotesando-dori is a tree lined thoroughfare featuring international brand boutiques, museums, art galleries, small restaurants, bars and quaint cafes. Each year from early November through December 25th, the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando, a luxurious six-level department store, hosts a holiday promotional event known as Omohara White Christmas.

The event is held on the Rooftop Terrace, which is beautifully illuminated in accordance with the selected theme, from sunset until 9:00 PM each day. A brief music and light show is presented in 30-minute intervals where the lights change color creating a different mood each time.

The terrace features a large wooden deck where chairs, couches and swings are spread out throughout the entire space. This affords both public and semi-private seating where couples can cozy up and enjoy the beautiful illumination. After all, in Japan, Christmas is a time of romance!

On the opening day of the event, a musical performance featuring a popular musician/ idol is presented as the skies above Omotesando darken. At the conclusion of the live event, the celebrity flips a switch illuminating the entire rooftop terrace to the delight and admiration of all those present.

The department store is located 4 minutes on foot from the JR Yamanote Line’s Harajuku Station. Shop hours are from 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM, if you want to get in early to do some Christmas shopping before settling in to enjoy the holiday lights. The restaurant, Bills, is open from 8:30 AM to 11:00 PM if you want to grab a casual meal before or after the event.

Tokyu Plaza Omotesando

Tokyu Plaza Omotesando

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Leo Ieiri

Leo Ieiri

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Address:              4-30-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku

Web page:          http://omohara.tokyu-plaza.com/

Japan: Shibuya (Cha Cha no Ma Teahouse)

I enjoy writing about Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s most colorful and busiest districts. It offers countless shops, restaurants and nightclubs serving swarms of visitors that pack the district each and every day and now there is one other establishment worth writing about, the Cha Cha No Ma Teahouse, the brainchild of Japanese tea expert Yoshi Watada.

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Cha Cha No Ma is a beautifully simple Japanese teahouse located between Omotesando and Harajuku offering an extensive menu of 40 different types of Japanese teas. Yoshi san, a tea sommelier will prepare and serve the tea to his clientele personally. It is said that Yoshi san decided to dedicate his life to tea studies after personally experiencing the benefits of drinking an abundance of green tea. Chacha No Ma is the result of his life’s obsession.

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Iced tea served in the hot summer months

Iced tea served in the hot summer months

For those fortunate enough to be fluent in Japanese, tea seminars are held at the teahouse on a regular basis. For those who do not speak Japanese, Yoshi san is able to explain the differences in the teas in English, helping you to have a better understanding of the product you are consuming. Green tea is highly regarded in Japan and its proper preparation is considered an art form.

Teas for sale

Teas for sale

If you are unsure of which tea to choose, Yoshi san will assist you in making your selection. Once you have made your selection, you will begin by chewing on a few tea leaves so that you can experience the raw flavor of the dried leaves. Afterwards, you will be served your first steeping of the tea. This has quite a rich flavor and is the most concentrated form. Your second steeping is more akin to the usual cup of tea and very refreshing. It is really fascinating to note how the flavor of the same tea leaves changes over the course of the different steepings.

Subsequent steepings may be made according the tea you have chosen. Finally, the tea is brought out in a full pot for you to savor and enjoy. Be sure to allow plenty of time for your visit, as this is not something that can be done in a hurry.

Cha Cha No Ma also offers an amazing array of delicious Japanese desserts to enjoy with your tea. The Japanese style parfait served with Azuki beans and mochi is very popular as is the ice cream which comes in traditional Japanese flavors of maccha and black sesame as well as vanilla. I prefer the warabi mocha, a jelly like confection made from starch and covered or dipped in kinako (sweet toasted soybean flour). It goes very well with tea. If you are unfamiliar with Japanese desserts, this is a good place to gain an understanding.

Japanese parfait

Japanese parfait

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Stamina curry

Stamina curry

Stir fried spicy pork

Stir fried spicy pork

The teahouse also offers a healthy lunch menu with a signature ten vegetable miso soup. Lunch is served from 11:00 AM – 2:30 PM.

Address: 5-3-14 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-5468-8846

Hours: Tue-Sun, 11 AM – 7 PM

Web page: http://www.chachanoma.com/index.html

 

 

Japan: Tokyo, Harajuku (Takeshita dori)

Takeshita dori

Takeshita dori

Takeshita street map

Takeshita street map

Located within the Harajuku district in Tokyo, Takeshita-dori is a narrow, 0.2 mile pedestrian only street (between the hours of 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM) lined with a wide variety of trendy shops, crepe stands, fast food outlets, used clothing stores and fashion boutiques featuring the latest visual kei, gothic and lolita fashions. It is also home to Daiso Harajuku, one of the largest ¥100 shops in Tokyo!

Situated directly across from JR East’s Harajuku Station, Takeshita Street is very popular with teenagers visiting Tokyo during school excursions and local young people shopping for small kawaii (cute) goods. Harajuku itself is the center of Japan’s most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles therefore, it does not come as a surprise to see many of the fashion and trend conscious teens wondering the street dressed up in eccentric costumes to resemble anime characters, punk musicians, etc.

Shops along Takeshita-dori tend to stay open daily from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM and it isn’t uncommon to find aggressive store clerks who call out to lure customers into their shops. The area is also famous for what is known as nama shashin (unofficial or paparazzi photos) of popular idols such as AKB48, Arashi, etc.

Takeshita-dori also draws many tourists who view it as a fun place to look around the many reasonably priced, one-of-a-kind shops.

Just south of Takeshita-dori is Omotesando, a broad, tree lined avenue sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysees. Here you can find famous brand name shops, cafes and restaurants catering to the fashion conscious urbanites in their 30s and 40s. Not too far away is the Ota Memorial Museum of Art (http://www.ukiyoe-ota-muse.jp/index-E.html ) featuring amazing ukiyo-e paintings from Seizo Ota’s personal collection. To the west of the railway tracks lies Meiji Jingu, one of Tokyo’s major shrines.

Centrally located and easy to access, Harajuku provides many options to help plan your day and immerse yourself in the local culture.

Daiso Harajuku

Daiso Harajuku

Inside Daiso

Inside Daiso

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Luring customers into their shop

Luring customers into their shop

Shop selling "nama sashin"

Shop selling “nama sashin”

Music Shop

Music Shop

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Santa Monica Crepes

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Marion Crepes

Marion Crepes

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Ota Memorial Museum of Art

Ota Memorial Museum of Art

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Ukiyoe

Meiji Jingu Gate

Meiji Jingu Gate

 

Japan: Tokyo, Omotesando (Kotori Cafe/ Bird Cafe)

Animal cafes are very popular in Japan and Tokyo has its share of cat cafés, owl cafés, penguin bars and now, a bird café!

Omotesando, Tokyo

Omotesando, Tokyo

Opened on February 10, 2014, the Kotori Café is inhabited by a diverse flock of parrots, parakeets, sparrows and cockatoos. After finishing their coffee, tea and special bird-themed pastries, patrons can spend five minutes in the interactive bird zone located at the back of the café for a nominal charge of 500¥. A staff member will provide assistance by explaining the shop’s rules and demonstrate the proper handling of the shop’s more than 20 resident birds.

Kotori Cafe

Kotori Cafe

Kotori Cafe gift shop

Kotori Cafe gift shop

The café is relatively small and your time is limited to one hour, unfortunately. The menu items range in price from 800-1,500¥ and are very tasty. There is a gift shop associated with the café that sells numerous bird-themed paraphernalia.

One of the 20 resident birds at the cafe

One of the 20 resident birds at the cafe

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Bird art

Bird art

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Gift shop offerings

Bird candy

Bird candy

Bird ramune candy

Bird ramune candy

Bird themed jewelry & accessories

Bird themed jewelry & accessories

The Kotori Café has proven to be so popular with patrons that a second café was opened in trendy Kichijoji in June this of this year.

Whether you are a bird lover or you just have a passion for discovering the unique places in Japan, this is one of those places that you must add to your bucket list!

Bird themed pastries

Bird themed pastries

Olive oil and tomato roll cake

Olive oil and tomato roll cake

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Address:

6-3-7 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Telephone:

03 6427 5115

Hours:

11am-8pm daily

Access:

Omotesando Station (Ginza, Hanzomon, Chiyoda lines)

Web page:

http://kotoricafe.jp/

Japan: Tokyo: Musashi Koyama Shotengai (shopping mall)

If you want to shop like the locals in Tokyo, avoid the trendy touristy places like Akihabara, Shibuya and Omotesando and seek out a traditional shotengai (shopping mall). The shotengai are typically located near train stations and offer just about everything you would need at reasonable prices. Located in the Shinagawa District of Tokyo you will find perhaps the most famous of these shoutengai known as Musashi Koyama or as the locals call it, Musako.

Musashi Koyama opened in 1956 and stretches half a mile with approximately 250, mostly privately owned shops. The covered shopping arcade is just off of the Musashi-Koyama Station, on the Tokyo-Meguro Line.

Inside the thriving shotengai, you will find ¥100 shops, sushi restaurants, cafes, clothing stores, appliance stores, real estate offices, video arcades, pharmacies, pachinko parlors and shops selling all sorts of goods including Japanese pastries, vegetables, books and kimonos!

Interestingly, the shotengai is frequented mostly by locals who know that the further you walk away from Musashi Koyama Station, the cheaper the goods offered seem to become. But the mall also attracts people from adjacent areas in search of privately owned shops, which are quickly disappearing from the Central Tokyo landscape.

Although Musashi Koyama may not be on most people’s travel itineraries when visiting Tokyo, for those who dare to visit, it does afford an opportunity to experience a real slice of Tokyo life and perhaps walk away with one or two bargains in the process.

Musashi Koyama station

Musashi Koyama station

Musashi Koyama Shotengai (shopping mall)

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Entrance

Inside

Inside

One of the 250 shops

One of the 250 shops

Yakitori shop

Yakitori shop

Electronics

Electronics

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Household goods

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Florist

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お菓子/ okashi/ snacks

Bakery

Bakery

 

Web page: http://musashikoyama-palm.com/