My first trip to Japan was in 2012 with Mr Mode to Okinawa, which is actually quite different from the rest of Japan. In terms of culture, Taiwan, China and other East Asian cultures close to Okinawa had a much bigger influence on Okinawa than the rest of Japan did. Even the local Okinawan food and music are clearly different from traditional Japanese food and music. Here's more from our 2012 Okinawa trip!
So I’ve been to Japan, but not the mainstream part of Japan, you know what I mean? Someone once told me it’s like how Americans think of Hawaii, it’s part of America, but more exotic. Anyway, I’m glad to have been to Okinawa and finally to Yokohama and Tokyo! Experienced so many first-times during this trip and I wanted to share them with you so you might have ideas for your next trip to Japan. 😀
Watermelon That Doesn’t Drip
One of my favorite fruits is watermelon, and what a memorable way to start the trip with the best watermelon I’ve ever had! It was crunchy, very sweet and juicy, and yet the juice did not get all over my hands and mouth as normal watermelons do. How intriguing! I love the garden behind Mr Watermelon and me, it’s a shared space for people in the neighborhood who do not have their own gardens but wish to grow their own plants and vegetables.
Making My First Futomaki Sushi
Most people start by making simple sushi, but we jumped ranked and went straight into making Futomaki sushi rolls which required a lot more ingredients, steps, and skill. Luckily we had the friendly obasans to help us at every step of the way. Futomaski sushi rolls are thick Japanese sushi rolls primarily filled with vegetables and sometimes seafood. They're known for their beautiful presentation and well-balanced flavors. The designs implementable are limited only by one's imagination and we saw a variety of designs presented to us like flowers, panda, crab, and cherry blossoms! The outer tamago layer was my favorite, it was thick and perfectly sweet and salty. 😀
Carving Toothpicks Like A Ninja
We had zero expectations of how the activity would turn out since the itinerary merely stated ‘toothpick making’. I thought it would be us looking on as experts worked on their craft. Little did we know that we were to make our own toothpicks the traditional way! I learnt more than just carving toothpicks that afternoon, I learnt how to control my mind to keep my body cool, I learnt perseverance and determination, and I witnessed how passionate the Japanese are in keeping their heritage alive. I also understood why toothpick making was one of the essential trainings for ninjas and samurais.
I never was a blueberry fan, in fact, I was repelled by them coz those I’ve tasted were always sour. But the ones I handpicked at the blueberry farm in Yokohama were large, juicy and very sweet! Totally changed my perception about blueberries! I ate as many as I picked hohoho. Later, in the little cosy cafe in the farm we had blueberry muffins, blueberry smoothie (LOVE), and blueberry ice-cream freshly made before our eyes. If you ever visit Japan, don't miss out on harvesting your own organic blueberries in Yokohama!
Bamboo Groove Noodles
Childhood memories of watching Japan travel documentaries on TV flashed across my mind when I saw the half-pipes of bamboo carrying clear, ice-cold water. As the adorable old ladies prepared to send bundles of somen and organically grown tomatoes down the bamboo pipes, we waited in anticipation, chopsticks in hand, ready to catch them as they flowed by.
Nagashi Somen, or flowing noodles, are eaten in the summer. It’s a fun way to have noodles and a perfect distraction from the sweltering heat. It also brings people together! These ladies use this bamboo groove as the base for their activities, and also use the bamboo to make bamboo charcoal, bamboo vinegar, and bamboo charcoal soap.
Gelato Made From Fresh Cow Milk
What better way to beat the heat than a cup of home-made gelato made with milk from cows reared at the café’s own farm? At Augusta Milk Farm are 50 dairy cows that provide fresh milk every day to make creamy soft serve ice cream and gelato.
I LOVE Japan milk! There are only two things that Japan does not import - rice and milk. No country in the world is able to meet Japan's quality standards, so if you drink milk in Japan, it's all from home reared cows on their own farms.
Going Commando At Japanese Onsen
Definitely one of the most embarrassing - taking off my clothes and going around naked in the women’s hot springs - yet liberating moments of my entire life. I swore I would never do it, but I did, and I think I will do it again if I ever visit an onsen in Japan again haha. The extensive dinner and breakfast buffets satisfied my growling tummy after a relaxing dip at Ryugujo Spa Hotel Mikazuki. One of the largest and most elaborately decorated onsens in Japan, you'll be tempted to hop from one pool to another and stay longer than you should lol. Here's me commemorating my First Naked Onsen Experience At Ryuguji Spa Hotel Mikazuki.
Yukatabune - Traditional Houseboat
One of the best views from a hotel room I’ve ever had, courtesy of Intercontinental Yokahama Grand. <3
Little did I know that the pier right below would be where we would depart from to have dinner on a traditional houseboat! A yakatabune is a Japanese-style wooden tour boat on which one can host a party while sailing down a river. We were served traditional Japanese cuisine, with fresh seafood caught in the morning and a great variety of freshly fried tempura dishes.
Girls' night out with Jiehui, Mong and Yina! We wiped out every plate of tempura served. 😀
While some were entertained by a karaoke session, the rest of us went to take in the beautiful night view of Yokohama and very cold breeze at the deck.
ABC Cooking Class
I’ve always wanted to join a cooking class so it was with great anticipation as I awaited the day for my first cooking class at ABC Cooking Studio! The brightly lit, open concept kitchen made the place a conducive teaching and learning environment. I liked that each class is kept small so that participants have more dedicated time and attention from the coaches. We made Salmon Futomaki Roll and Chicken Teriyaki.
I’m sure many of you know by now that Japan’s popular ABC Cooking Studio has opened one in Singapore at Takashimaya, so if you’re interested to learn how to cook but don’t want to have to shout your questions from the back of a large class size (coz paiseh and cannot see), why not give ABC Cooking Studio Singapore a try? They provide trial lessons too, so call to make your reservation today! (Tel: 6694-6104).
Exploring Nihonbashi in A Summer Yukata
Because it was summer, we wore a yukata, which is a casual version of the kimono. It is a robe made of cotton or synthetic fabric, and unlined. The robe I wore at the onsen was also a yukata, but less fancy since it was more like a bathrobe. The one we got to wear at Nihonbashi was more elaborate and required two ladies to dress each of us for 15 minutes. The obi (belt) was also more complicated, as compared to a simple one I could tie on my own at the onsen hotel.
Dressed in our beautiful yukata, we witnessed the chef at Tsuruya Yoshinobu restaurant handcraft traditional confectionaries from Kyoto, sipped tea while having the precious sweets, roamed the streets for a bit, and visited the Art Aquarium that exhibited 8,000 live goldfish in various elaborate aquarium tanks under gorgeous lighting and music.
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Eating & Shopping At Odaiba
We spent our free evening at Odaiba, a popular shopping and entertainment district on a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. Had dinner with Jiehui and Lutfi at one of the restaurants in DiverCity, and left the place with stomachs filled with delicious tonkatsu and too much air inhaled from laughing.
The night view facing the Rainbow Bridge was especially beautiful when illuminated at night. The two-storey Rainbow Bridge connects Odaiba to the rest of Tokyo and is an iconic symbol of the bay. We returned the next day for lunch and it didn’t look that impressive, probably also because it was drizzling and foggy.
I was sad to leave, as always at the end of every trip, but I'm sure I'll return to Japan some day! Thank you ABC Cooking Studio, Japan Tourism, and everyone in the team who made this trip a fruitful and enjoyable one! ありがとうございました (thank you in Japanese) 😀