Restaurant

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: Saitama (Kawagoe)

If you think that in this day and age you would be hard pressed to find a place in Japan that still retains the ambiance of an old Edo period town, you may be mistaken. Located merely 30 minutes by train from Tokyo is the city of Kawagoe, often referred to as Little Edo or Koedo. Its old wooden houses along with the elegant examples of early twentieth century brick, cement and stone architecture inspired by Taisho Romanticism still draws tourists searching for a taste of old Japan.

Kawagoe prospered during the Edo period due to the over two hundred two-storied kurazukuri warehouses that were used to store goods on their way into Edo via the Kawagoe-Kaido highway. Today, approximately thirty of these ornate, earthen walled storehouses still survive. These historic buildings are conveniently grouped in an area about half a mile north of Kawagoe Station along Chuo-dori, the town’s main north-south street. Some of the kurazukuri were converted into small museums, such as the Kurazukuri Shiryokan, an old tobacco warehouse rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1893. Others serve as shops and restaurants.

Just 15 minutes away from the kurazukuri area are the ruins of Kawagoe Castle. Only one building, the Honmaru Goten, where the feudal lord dwelt, still remains and is open to visitors. The structure dates back to 1848 and contains amazing tatami rooms and a Chinese-style tiled roof.

Other famous landmarks include the Toki no Kane (Tower of Time), a 54-foot bell tower dating back to the 1890s, which was used to warn residents of a fire and the 1,200-year-old Kita-in Temple. The temple contains the only surviving structures from the original Edo Castle which were moved to Kawagoe along the Shingashi River. On the temple grounds you will find 540 statues of the disciples of Buddha and the Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan. In January of each year, the temple hosts a Daruma Matsuri, during which time visitors purchase their daruma for good luck. Additionally, there is a Setsubun Matsuri (Bean Throwing Festival) and a Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival).

The Kawagoe Matsuri Kaikan or festival museum houses several ornate floats, some reaching as high as three stories, used in Kawagoe’s annual festival. Behind the museum you will find Kashiya Yokocho, a charming street with fourteen candy stores and children’s gift shops dating back to the early Showa era.

If you happen to work up an appetite after touring Kawagoe, try to sample some of the cuisine the city is famous for including sweet potatoes, unagi (eel) and various Japanese confections.

You can access Kawagoe from Tokyo via the Tobu Line from Ikebukuro Station to Kawagoe Station. Alternatively you can take the Seibu Shinjuku Line Koedo Limited Express train from Shinjuku to Hon-Kawagoe.

Japan: Tokyo (Yutenji/ Niagara Curry)

I have to admit to being a bit of a “Tomboy” in that I have always been fascinated with trains, automobiles and things that typically would not be associated with the average girl. During my travels, I am always drawn to places where these themes are dominant. Having said that, I want to introduce you to a little hidden gem in Yutenji which fits that description and is every tomboy’s dream.

Named after a temple that dates back to 1718, Yutenji is just a little over 5 minutes away from Shibuya by train and offers a tranquil atmosphere away from the hustle and bustle of a big city. Many visitors come to the city to tour its museums featuring private collections of jewelry and costumes. But certainly a visit to Yutenji must include a stop at Niagara Curry , a charming restaurant featuring all types of memorabilia related to trains.

Niagara Curry was established over 50 years ago by a retired train conductor who worked at Yutenji Station. Over the years, he has collected train memorabilia from all over Japan including train tickets, train station signs, train license plates, train clocks, you name it. The restaurant is decorated from floor to ceiling with train themed items.

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Patrons purchase their meal tickets from a vending machine, which is not uncommon in Japan. What is unique is that your ticket is validated using a train ticket puncher and you are given a special boarding pass once you are seated at your table. The menu and the labels on the vending machine are only in Japanese therefore it may be beneficial to bring along someone who is fluent in Nihongo during your visit.

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The prices are quite reasonable starting at ¥ 720 and the restaurant primarily serves curry. You have your choice of katsu, hamburg, veggie and seafood curry which can be prepared using mild, spicy or hot curry sauces. The restaurant offers a kid’s menu and kid’s dishes are served in a shinkansen (bullet train) shaped container. If you have room left for dessert, ice cream is available for ¥300.

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There is a train that chugs along the perimeter of the restaurant. Your meal is delivered to your table on this train which adds to the child-like enthusiasm you feel when you dine at this restaurant. It is all fun and games. Taking photos is encouraged and you can even put on one of the train conductor hats as you pose.

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Niagara Curry is open from 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM. (Closed on Mondays and Thursdays.) It is a fun, family-friendly place that should not be missed when you are in Yutenji.

Address: 1-21-2 Yutenji, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-3713-2602

Website: http://www.niagara-curry.com/index.html

Japan: Christmas Traditions

Christmas was initially introduced to Japan with the arrival of the first Europeans during the 16th century. But it was only in recent decades that the event has become widely popular, despite the fact that Christians make up only about two percent of the population. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, therefore schools and businesses are open on December 25th. However, more and more people have taken up traditions such as decorating their homes, giving presents to friends, sending out Christmas cards and celebrating the event with a special meal.

Christmas is regarded as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration and Christmas eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas eve is a romantic celebration, when couples spend time together and exchange presents. In many ways it resembles Valentine’s Day. Couples go for walks to admire the Christmas illuminations around town and have romantic meals in restaurants. It is almost impossible to book a table at a restaurant or a room at a hotel on Christmas eve.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that retailers are the most enthusiastic about Christmas. Just as the Halloween decorations were being taken down retail stores and shopping malls started putting up Christmas trees and other seasonal decorations. Signs advertising Christmas cakes also went up at bakeries, department stores and convenience stores. The traditional Japanese Christmas food is the Christmas cake, usually a sponge cake topped off with strawberries and whipped cream. A traditional Japanese holiday feast features KFC and Christmas cake! Somewhat odd for those of us who are accustomed to turkey, ham and apple pie during this time of year.

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But not everyone in Japan has a significant other to celebrate Christmas with and it is impractical to purchase an entire Christmas cake for Christmas eve. For these folks, Christmas cupcakes are available or individual slices of Christmas cake can also be purchased. If you are not particularly fond of cake or cupcakes, stores such as Krispy Kreme offer donuts festively decorated for Christmas. You can buy one or an entire box to take home and worry about your weight goals in the new year!

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Christmas wreath pastries

Christmas wreath pastries

There is also the traditional Japanese wagashi, a confectionary typically made of mochi, anko (azuki bean paste) and fruit, which is served with tea. This time of year, the wagashiya-sans feature specially crafted wagashi in Christmas shapes and themes.

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Sometimes the Japanese tend to resort to extravagance. In 2007, there was a diamond encrusted fruit cake on display in Tokyo. Dazzling with 223 small diamonds the asking price was a mere $1.65 million U.S. The cake went on sale on Christmas.

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So whether you say Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas, Meri Kurisumasu, めりーくりすますor メリークリスマス, we all agree that this is a time of celebration. And what better than to enjoy celebrating around the world and experiencing different cultures and traditions! Happy travels and happy holidays!

 

Japan: Tokyo/ Tama City (Sanrio Puroland/ Hello Kitty Theme Park)

Along with Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, Sanrio Puroland, a theme park dedicated to Hello Kitty and various other characters developed by the company, is one of Japan’s most popular attractions drawing over 1.5 million visitors annually! Located just 30 minutes from central Tokyo in Tama City, the park is easily accessible via the Odakyu Tama Line, the Keio Sagamihara Line and Tama City Monorail (Tama Center Station).

The huge 5-story indoor theme park, which opened on December 7, 1990 is comprised of a fully furnished Hello Kitty house (much like Mickey’s and Minnie’s houses at Disneyland), amusement park type rides, three theaters where various musical productions are presented, a film theater and a gift shop offering unique and ultra kawaii (cute) Sanrio Puroland brand items and merchandise.

The park also offers several themed restaurants including a sweet shop, a cinnamon shop, a buffet style restaurant and an automated cafeteria style restaurant.

During the summer months there are parades, concerts and a fireworks display that takes place daily.

As Hello Kitty has been Sanrio’s most universally popular character and the inspiration for hundreds of products that generate millions of dollars a year in sales globally, the park enjoys a steady influx of visitors not only from all over Japan but also from overseas. For Hello Kitty lovers, there can be no better place than Sanrio Puroland!

Sanrio Puroland

Sanrio Puroland

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Theme park map

Theme park map

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Live performance

Live performance

Hello Kitty ride

Hello Kitty ride

Inside Hello Kitty's house

Inside Hello Kitty’s house

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Hello Kitty merchandise

Hello Kitty merchandise

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Other popular Sanrio characters

Other popular Sanrio characters

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Cinammondream cafe

Cinammondream cafe

Hello Kitty themed sweets

Hello Kitty themed sweets

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Roll cakes

Roll cakes

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Hello Kitty popcorn

Hello Kitty popcorn

Lunch set

Lunch set

Niku manju

Niku manju

 

Address:

1-31 Ochiai, Tama, Tokyo Prefecture 206-8588 , Japan

Phone:

+81 42-339-1111

 

Japan: Akasaka (Ninja Restaurant)

Continuing on with the theme of places in Tokyo frequented by foreigners, there is a restaurant in Akasaka that is almost certain to have a large crowd of foreign clientele at any given time. Located just 15 minutes from Tokyo Station and known simply as Ninja, the restaurant creates a fascinating and memorable dining experience for its patrons.

Chiyoda 2-14-3 Nagatacho

TOKYU PLAZA AKASAKA

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http://www.ninjaakasaka.com/top_main.html

From the outside the restaurant employs a dark, simple décor which seems rather uninviting but then again, ninja shelters weren’t exactly your Holiday Inns either. Inside, secluded private dining rooms offer creative ninja themed Japanese cuisine.  Diners are greeted at the entrance by a ninja who guides them through “ninja training”, creeping through a secret passage with a draw bridge and hidden doorways which lead to the dining area. The menu is written on a long scroll presented by your ninja waiter with a vast selection of unique dishes to choose from. Throughout the course of your meal, the ninjas ensure that you are thoroughly entertained with magic tricks and various table side demonstrations.

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The dining rooms are dimly lit and individually decorated in different ninja themes. The waiter is summoned by pressing a button under the table.  He will wait tableside until you complete your order. The menu includes unique items such as the vegetable and seafood soup cooked on hot stones and escargot bombs, served with a bang!  The restaurant is a bit pricey, as can be expected.  You will be able to sample a majority of the restaurant’s unique dishes by selecting one of the set course meals. The Yamato Spirit Course for example, is an 11 course dinner which includes the soup and escargot bombs previously mentioned and will set you back ¥6,999.

The menus

The menus

Your ninja wait staff

Your ninja wait staff

Soup being cooked on hot rocks

Soup being cooked on hot rocks

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Not so Japanese, French Onion Soup

Shuriken star-blades grissini. Throwing star / ninja star shaped grissini served on wooden branches with foie gras pâté.

Shuriken star-blades grissini. Throwing star / ninja star shaped grissini served on wooden branches with foie gras pâté.

Escargot Bombs

Escargot Bombs

Cheesecake made to look like a frog

Cheesecake made to look like a frog

Some may view the restaurant as a bit kitschy and may prefer to go to a more traditional place to get a flavor of Japan but for those seeking to immerse themselves in ninja culture with lighthearted entertainment, Ninja is the perfect place for you!

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