JR Rail Pass

If you're traveling to multiple cities throughout Japan then I'd highly recommend getting the JR Rail Pass. The pass is issued by the JR Railways Group, and it cannot be purchased inside of Japan. You have to buy an exchange order through an authorized sale agent in Canada. There are a few located in the GTA and I also know of one place in Markham. You have to purchase an exchange order in Canada, and then exchange the voucher for an actual pass in Japan. You must show your passport in order to get the actual pass and photocopies are not allowed.

We got two (14 days) (ordinary) pass for $966 CAD. In the long run, it was definitely worth the investment as we traveled a lot with it. The seats in the ordinary cars were quite spacious and many Hikari and Kodama trains don't have green cars, so there was no point in getting the green one. We spent our savings on Kobe beef =D

The prices are as followed:

07 days: ¥ 37,800 ($405) [green car]                      07 days: ¥ 28,300 ($303) [ordinary]
14 days: ¥ 61,200 ($656) [green car]                      14 days: ¥ 45,100 ($483) [ordinary]
21 days: ¥ 79,600 ($852) [green car]                      21 days: ¥ 57,700 ($618) [ordinary]

The prices might look expensive at first but it's really an economical and flexible way to travel in the long run. The pass allows you to have unlimited travel on all JR trains except for two which are the NOZOMI and MIZUHO Shinkansen (bullet trains). If you get on either of those two then you will have to buy the full price ticket. Other perks of buying the JR Rail Pass is that you can make free seat reservations on the trains.

What transportation services can I get on using the JR Rail Pass?

The JR Rail Pass is valid on all JR JR Group Railways-Shinkansen (bullet trains) except the NOZOMI and MIZUHO Shinkansen. The four Shinkansen (bullet trains) that you can take using the JR Rail Pass are Hikari, Sakura, Kodama, and Tsubame.

Other transportation methods that is valid with the pass are buses, Tokyo monorail, Miyajima ferry, limited express trains, express trains, and rapid or local trains

Can I reserve seats before arriving in Japan?

Unfortunately you can't reserve seats on the bullet trains until after your arrival in Japan. The reason is because you need to exchange your voucher for the real pass first, and that can only happen once you are in Japan.

How do I make seat reservations?

You can make seat reservations at no additional cost as it comes with having a JR Rail Pass. To make a reservation, you need to go to any reservation office at a JR station or travel service center. You need to show your pass, select the seat/time that you want, and get your reserve seat ticket. 

HUSH Restaurant, Bar & Patio

HUSH Restaurant, Bar & Patio is a casual-upscale restaurant located directly across from the TIFF Bell Lightbox. While walking around King St W, a friend and I stumbled upon the restaurant, and decided to go in for a quick bite to eat. HUSH Restaurant, Bar & Patio was dimly lit inside, and its modern and stylish décor seemingly provided a nice ambiance.

The menu has a decent selection of food that are normally found at bars and patios such as various appetizers, salad, burgers, sandwiches, and steaks. Additionally, the prices are on par with the offerings of other restaurants located in the same area; most notably O&B Canteen

After looking through the menu; I opted for the lobster grilled cheese ($16) and a glass of coke. All sandwiches are served with your choice of either hand cut Yukon fries or a chef's salad. If you want to substitute for a Caesar salad or sweet potato fries then it's an additional $2. 



The sandwich arrived cut into four slices which I can appreciate as it made it easier to eat. The ratio amount of mozzarella, cheddar and brie in the sandwich was sufficient without being overwhelmingly cheesy. I thought that the Langostino lobster meat was quite delicious and buttery. However, there was not enough lobster given relative to the amount of cheese in the sandwich. The Yukon fries were served in a miniature deep fryer basket which added a nice touch to the presentation of the plate.


My friend's 7oz tenderloin (center cut filet) ($29) which he paired with sweet potato fries.


 RATINGS:

Quality of Food: 3.7/5
Service: 3.7/5
Overall Dining Experience: 3.7/5
Price: $$$ || Online Menu
 
Address: 303 King St W, Toronto, ON, M5V 1J5

HUSH Restaurant, Bar & Patio on Urbanspoon

Travel Tips - Tokyo, Japan


Tokyo is an incredibly populous city with no shortage of food, shopping and entertainment. Originally we were only going to stay there for 4 days but I extended it to a full week as there are a lot of districts in Tokyo to explore. Below are some tips that I thought could be helpful before visiting Tokyo.

Affordable Eateries

Eating out in Tokyo doesn't have to always be expensive. There are several budget friendly restaurants all throughout the city. Places with affordable eats are sushi belt (kaiten-zushi), machine operated restaurants, ramen houses, convenience stores, and underground food market in department stores. You can have a filling meal for under $15 per person.

Amenities in Hotels

There are certain items that you don't need to pack in your suitcase as you can (a) buy them in Tokyo or (b) they're provided by the hotels. All of the Japanese hotels that we stayed in provided the following amenities: pajamas or yukata, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, razor, soap, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, alarm clock, hair dryer, iron (on occasions), and slippers.

Basics

Aiport: Toronto Pearson International (YYZ) to Narita International Airport (NRT)
Ambulance/Fire 119
Country code: +81
Currency: Yen (¥)
Electricity voltage: 100V 
Language: Japanese
Police: 110
Time zone: +14 hours ahead of Toronto

Comfortable Shoes

I can't stress this enough as it's so important to wear comfortable shoes in Tokyo. There's a lot of walking involved as even some line transfers on the subways are 500-900 m away from one another. 

Credit Cards + Cash

Credit cards are widely accepted in many restaurants and all (large) department stores. However, there are some places that only accept cash so it's best to have some on hand. I've found that many of the souvenir shops nearby popular sites only take cash for smaller purchases.

Don't forget to inform your credit card companies that you will be overseas so that they won't flag the charges as fraudulent. 

Don't Eat and Walk

It is considered rude to eat while you walk in Tokyo (and all of Japan). It is also highly not recommended as there are hardly any garbage cans on the streets of Tokyo.

Escalators

The (unspoken) rule of taking the escalators in Tokyo is the exact opposite as that in Toronto. In Tokyo, you keep to the left if you're standing on the escalators, and walk on the right.

photo credit: yahoo news
Free Wifi

About 85% of the hotels that we stayed at offered free wifi in the rooms. Wifi was available only in the lobby of the other 15%. I found that the wifi signals were pretty good for most of the trip. Starbucks also offered free wifi but we weren't able to connect to it as you have to be a member (site to join was all in Japanese). Lastly, Tokyo Metro offers free wifi at 30 subway stations so you can surf the internet while underground. You can only access the service five times per day and use it for only 15 minutes per connection.

Hotels

Hotel check-in varies between 2 pm to 3 pm, and check-out varies between 10 am to 11 am in Tokyo.

Rush Hours

Try to avoid traveling during rush hour as it can be difficult to get on the trains. The peak rush hours are between 8 am to 9 am in the morning, and 5 pm to 6 pm in the afternoon.

Shopping in Tokyo

Shinjuku is a great place to buy clothes, books/magazines, souvenirs, beauty, stationary, crafts, and electronics. Some popular places to shop in this district are Isetan, Takashimaya, Odakyu, Yodobashi Camera, Bic Camera and Tokyu Hands.

The district to shop for the latest Japanese fashion trends has to be Shibuya. There are several department stores in the area, along with specialty stores catering to both the locals and tourists. Some popular places to shop in this district are Shibuya 109, Tokyu Hands, Don Quijote, Shibuya Mark City, Seibu, Parco, Marui, and Loft.

There is a street called Takeshita Dori in Harajuku where you can find trendy fashion shops, and boutiques (catering to the younger generations). 100 yen stores are also very popular in Tokyo, and the popular Daiso has a large branch here.

Located nearby Harajuku is an upscale shopping area called Omotesando. Here you will find tons of luxury brand goods such as Burberry, Chanel, Dior, Emporio Armani, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. For the kids and those who are kids at heart; there is a multi-floor toy store called Kiddy Land with a lot of amazing products.

Akihabara is well-known for their large selection of electronics, and toys. It is also a central area for otaku culture, so you will find a lot of anime and manga related items here.

Ginza is an affluent district in the city of Tokyo, and is known for its high-end shopping worldwide. There are countless numbers of luxury stores, and large department stores offering high end fashion and products. 

Smoking Indoors

Smoking in Tokyo is permitted indoors. Therefore, many restaurants have both smoking and non-smoking areas in their establishments. However, there are rarely any barriers to block the smoke from entering the non-smoking areas.

Subways

 The subway system in Tokyo is both a convenient and inexpensive approach to traveling around the huge city.

Taxis in Tokyo

We took the taxis in a couple of the cities that we visited for many reasons (constant hard rain, got lost, getting to the JR station was faster than taking the transit, etc ...). We found that taking the taxi in Tokyo was the most expensive of them all. The meter started at ¥710 (nearly $8 CAD). I was feeling slightly sick one day, and needed to return to our hotel.

Our 16 minute ride from Meiji Shrine to our hotel cost about $25. To compare the cost; our 10 min taxi ride from our hotel in Hiroshima, Japan, to JR Hiroshima Station was under $10.

Our friendly taxi driver in Tokyo.
Tea Bags are Provided in Hotels

All of the hotels that we stayed at provided us with an in-room kettle, packets of instant coffee and green tea bags. These were refilled daily when the maids clean up your room.

Tipping

Tipping isn't practiced nor expected by the wait staff in Tokyo (actually all of Japan).

Tissues

Many public facilitates in Tokyo don't have any paper towels or hand dryers in their washrooms. So it's highly recommended that you bring yourself a hand towel or tissue papers when you go to the bathroom. Don't go wasting money on buying tissues; as you will see plenty of people handing out free packet of tissues on the street (used as a form of advertising).

Tokyo Metro (Subway)

The subway systems in Tokyo may look super complicated at first, but it's so efficient. Many of the main sights are very close by to the main stations, so traveling to each tourist destination is easy.

If you plan on traveling a lot in one day using the subway then I'd recommend getting the Special 1-Day Open Ticket. The ticket gives you one day of unlimited subway travel in Tokyo. However, this is only valid on the Tokyo Metro lines and not the Oedo lines. For visitors from abroad, you can buy the tickets for ¥600 each but this price is only available at either Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. 

If you didn't buy enough passes for your travels at the airport; it is also available at every ticket machines located in all subway stations. However, you will have to pay the full price as the locals do at ¥710 per pass.  
Vending Machines

There are an abundance of vending machines everywhere in Tokyo that dispenses cold or hot drinks, snacks and food. I was taken surprised when my canned Tulley's Coffee (130 yen) came out of the machine pipping hot!


Bon Voyage :)


[Japan] Gundam Cafe

Date: Saturday, December 14, 2013  
Meal: Desserts  
Location in Japan: Akihabara, Tokyo

  Akihabara is a district in Tokyo, Japan, and is known for its Otaku culture. There are several themed cafes in the area, and one of the more popular ones has to be the Gundam Cafe. This specific cafe is themed after the Gundam series, and they offer a decent selection of food, snacks, and drinks. Many of the food and drink items are based off of the series, and there's even a small souvenir shop next door for your Gundam needs.

Personally, I am not a fan of the Gundam series, as I have only watched a few episodes when the original one aired years ago. However, despite not being a fan, I was still curious about the cafe when I read up on it. So I added the Gundam Cafe to our itinerary since Akihabara was already on the list to explore.

The "Gundam Cafe" sign shines brightly at night.
We arrived in Akihabara for a very late lunch at Chimney; an izakaya that was outside of the JR Akihabara Station. After finishing our meal, we walked about 5 minutes to the Gundam Cafe for some desserts. There was a small line-up outside of the cafe, and we waited about 15 minutes before being escorted inside.

A gundam statue greets you at the front door.
I am not too sure if the specials change monthly or what not.
Gundam Cafe serves alcoholic drinks at night so make sure that you have your I.D on you.
You can enjoy watching episodes of the series on the big screen TV while eating and drinking.
The menu.

I opted for the fondant au chocolat (¥590). The dessert was a simple yet warm chocolate cake topped with 3 pieces of Smarties, and decorated with peach sauce. The size of the cake was pretty small, and I finished it up pretty quickly. Overall, I thought that the chocolate cake was good but it's nothing to write home about.


The Haro latte (¥380) on the other hand was disappointing. The drink tasted lackluster, and there was a lot more foam than milk in the cup.


The boyfriend decided to go for the Heero & Relena dessert plate (¥890). It was a dish of mille-feuille, mixed berry, vanilla ice-cream and with a shot of espresso. He wasn't particularly too happy about his dish as the mille-feuille was just three pieces of tasteless crackers, instead of being three layers of puff pastry.

Service was pretty slow as it took them about 30 minutes to bring out our two desserts. Naturally, I took the time to take a few photos of the interior while we waited. Even though the desserts and service were both disappointing; it was still a nice experience to try out at least once.

Gunpla Yaki (a baked pastry with red bean paste inside).
Gundam Cafe seats 60 people.
Haro!

Canoe Restaurant & Bar

This is a belated post from a dinner that I had with my bf at Canoe Restaurant & Bar back in early September 2013. I started writing the review about two months ago, but forgot to complete it until this weekend when I read an article on the upcoming Winterlicious 2014. I have quite a few posts backlogged but they'll all be posted up soon along with some of my blog posts about Japan.


Canoe is one of Toronto's critically acclaimed restaurants offering upscale Canadian cuisine. It is located on the 54th floor of Toronto Dominion Bank Towers in the financial district. As it is relatively high up; its beautifully designed dining room offers a spectacular view of the city's skyline. I also thought that the wood accents add a warmer feel to the restaurant.


Our meal started off with a basket of complimentary bread. The slices of bread were served warm alongside with fresh butter.


For my appetizer, I went with the pan seared Quebec fois gras ($28.00) - Niagara peaches, Ontario peanuts, and toasted bulrush brioche. Fois gras is a culinary delight that I don't often get a chance to eat in Toronto. As you can see from the picture; effort in the presentation was clear. It looked lovely. The seared fois gras tasted like how it should be; simply fatty and rich. As for the fruits, it definitely helped to enhance the taste of the fois gras
oie gras cured with Sortilège Maple Whisky and served with a wild berry jelly, and an Ontario white peanut purèe ($19 – about £12.20) was also very enjoyable. The jelly was great and the purèe was very tasty, although the sprinkling of some crushed peanuts turned out to be a little salty. The accompanying brioche could also have been a touch softer and more buttery. - See more at: http://agirlhastoeat.com/toronto-restaurant-reviews-canoe-acadia-pure-spirits-oyster-house/#sthash.yr58tXcK.dpu


 My bf got the bison carpaccio ($24.00) - brined elderberries, cedar jelly, allegretto dandelion puree.


As for my main course, I opted for the 45 days aged Ontario rib eye ($49.00) - roasted carrots, portobello pickles mustard aioli, crispy layered potatoes. I chose medium for my steak, and the dish was well-executed. The quality of the cut was good and the steak was seasoned well without being overly salty. I also liked how both of my dishes were served in a more creative way than just on a white plate. No discredit there as the presentations for both of his dishes were also well-presented; I just liked mine better ;)

There was a lack of a complimentary side dish as there were only three slices of potatoes. I usually like to order a side of fries or mashed potatoes with my steak, but didn't this time. The reason was because that I had filled up my stomach with all... yes ALL of the slices of bread that were on the table.What can I say? I love my carbs!!

The bf ordered a glass of Ravine Meritage St. David's Bence Ontario 2010 ($16.00) as per recommendation from our waiter to get red wine with our meal. I don't drink alcohol (as I am allergic and I don't like the taste of it anyways to take a risk and get hives). So I ended up ordering two glasses of coke ($3.50 x 2) for myself. 


 My bf went for the healthier option which was the wild west coast salmon ($38.00) - Asian pear compote, buckwheat spaetzle, zucchini stinging nettle puree.


Luckily, I still had room for dessert. Looking through the menu; everything sounded good as I also love sweets a lot!! I ended up ordering the red velvet cake ($12.00) - salted chocolate ganache, sweetened cream cheese, smoked marshmallow ice-cream. The cake was slightly harder than I would have liked but the smoked marshmallow ice-cream was definitely refreshing after the heavy meal.


I believe that Canoe pride themselves on service, so I wasn't surprised by the attentive attention that we got. The ambiance provides a good mixture between a classy and warming environment. Which makes it a great place for business lunches, birthday dinners, and romantic dinners with your significant other.

The dinner can be quite expensive at Canoe but the great news is that Winterlicious (January 31 to February 13, 2014) is only two weeks away. You can get a three course meal (dinner) for just $45 per person; that's about the cost of an average main. Reservations may be sightly harder to get as their phone lines get really busy in the first few days. If you like the Winterlicious meal this year, then I'd recommend you coming back for their regular dinner service.

RATINGS:

Quality of Food: 4.5/5
Service: 4.6/5
Overall Dining Experience: 4.6/5
Price: $$$$

Address: 66 Wellington St W (54th Fl), Toronto, ON, M5K 1H6


Day #1 & Day #2 in Japan [Narita]

The 23 days that I spent in Japan was absolutely amazing; one that I will always remember for years to come. I got back into Toronto about 2 weeks ago, and slowly working on my blog posts about my vacation. I started my itinerary about one month prior to my trip and I am happy to say that I managed to complete at least 85% of the things that were on the list.

I was talking to a few friends of mine who are interested in going to the Japan in the future, and they wanted to see my itinerary and planning. So I have decided to post up a small guide for anyone who is interested as well, and hope that it will somewhat help in their planning (coming soon)!!

Tues, Dec 10, 2013 (Day #1)

My boyfriend and I landed at Narita International Airport (NRT) on December 10, 2013 around 3:30 pm. Going through customs and baggage claim didn't take as long as I thought; about 30 minutes or so. However, we were both exhausted from our 13.5 hour flight, and was pretty much starving. So we decided to go to the food court located on the 5th floor of the airport with a fellow passenger whom we were seated next to on the plane.

Since we were in Japan and will be eating a lot of Japanese food in the days to come. I decided to order some pad thai at a place called Jai Thai located on the 5th floor (terminal 1). The shrimp pad thai was ¥1000 and the glass bottle of coke was ¥250. The noodles were decent except that the pad thai dish wasn't spicy at all, even though there was a pepper sign beside the item on the menu.


We finished our meal and went upstairs to catch the complimentary shuttle bus to our hotel, Mercure Narita Hotel. We quickly checked into the hotel, took a shower, and then went straight to bed due to our exhaustive state.

Wed, Dec 11, 2013 (Day #2)

Bayashi Ramen (lunch)

I was really surprised that I didn't suffer from jet lag after we landed as I was able to wake up at 10 am the next morning.

So anyways, we woke up around 10 am and got ready to explore the downtown area of Narita. The first thing that was on my list to explore was the shopping street, Omotesando. Luckily, it was only a 5-10 minutes walk from our hotel. We started walking towards it when we came across a small ramen shop called Bayashi Ramen.


The menu had a small selection of ramen, fried rice dishes, appetizers, and drinks, and all are reasonably priced too. Their customers consist of both locals and tourists, so I was very glad that they were able to provide an English menu.



I ordered fried rice with chicken and small salad (¥800) and a side order of deep-fried gyoza (¥420). I really enjoyed the fried rice but some pieces of the gyoza were slightly burnt on the bottom. Overall, it was a very filling meal and a good way to start the day.

red chili pepper soup noodle topped with sliced pork (¥980)

Address: 533-9, Hanazakicho, Narita city
Hours: 11:00 am to 8:30 pm
Transit: A 5-10 minutes walk from Keisei Narita Station
Payments: Cash only.


Omotesando

The Omotesando is a pathway between JR Narita Station and Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. It is a shopping street full of vendors and restaurants, and they normally open until 5:00 pm. We went into the nearest souvenir shop, and bought a couple of things for family and friends. Most of the key chains and charms were on par with the prices found at Narita Airport which were between ¥350 to ¥600 each item.


The mascot for the city of Narita is an airplane crossed with an eel named Unari-kun. His name is inspired by both the Narita International Airport and Unagi (grilled eel) which is a local food here. There are several souvenirs available with the mascot imprinted on them.


Compared to the Omotesando that I have visited in other cities; I found this one to be rather quiet. We explored the area around mid morning to afternoon so I am assuming that people were working or attending school; hence why the area wasn't crowded at all. Tokyo wasn't like that this at all; it was crazy packed at all hours of the day and night, but I'll blog more about that later on.

Naritasan Shinshō-ji Temple

 Naritasan Shinshō-ji Temple is a large Buddhist temple founded in the mid-10th century and dedicated to Fudomyo-o. It is located a short walk from the Omotesando street in Narita, Japan. The temple grounds are free to explore, and it was a spectacular view to me. I was amazed at the structural design of the three-storied pagoda. If you happen to be in Narita, and have some free time, then this is a great temple to check out. 

Address: 1 Narita, Narita-shi, Chiba
Hours: 24/7
Fee: Free 
Transit: It is 15 a minute walk from JR Narita Station or Keiseinarita Station.

 The Sōmon entrance at the front of Naritasan Shinshō-ji Temple.

 Naritasan Shinshō-ji Temple (Great Main Hall).

Three-storied pagoda.

Shotoku Taishi Hall.

AEON Narita Shopping Center

Aeon Mall is a large shopping mall located in the heart of Narita; it boasts over 160 shops. If you want to drop by the mall from the airport, there are direct shuttle buses that takes you straight to Aeon Mall.

Address: 24, Wing Tsuchiya, Narita, Chiba. 286-0029, Japan
Hours: 9 am to 10 pm
Transit: Take the train to Keisei Narita Station, and go outside to board a pink colored Aeon Mall bus that depart every 10-2 minutes. The ride costs ¥200 per person.

Saizeriya

Since we were already at the Aeon Narita Mall; we decided to stop by Saizeriya for dinner, and then head back to the hotel to rest. Saizeriya is a chain Italian restaurant with multiple locations throughout Japan. They specialize in providing Italian cuisine for the family. The prices are amazing for its value and the food was really good for a chain restaurant. I was very surprised that they had a separate non-smoking and smoking areas, as there is no smoking indoors allowed in Canada. This turned out to be a very common thing in Japan, and smoking in restaurants is more than acceptable.

Address: 1st floor inside of Aeon Narita Mall
Hours: 10:00 am to 11 pm (LO is 10:30 pm)
Payments: Cash and credit cards are accepted

 The logo outside of the restaurant.

 Salad with sliced porchetta (¥499).

We order three orders of grilled mussels with veggie salsa (¥399 each) separately as wanted them to be hot from the kitchen.


Both of us got an order each of seafood spaghetti with tomato and cream (¥499 x 2). It was a simple dish but it was delicious nonetheless. For 1 salad, 3 appetizers, 2 main courses, and 2 drinks; the total was only ¥3000 (there's no tipping as the Japanese don't practice this customary).