This was our last full day in Tokyo. Tear! There are so many things we didn’t get a chance to see yet – the Tokyo Tower, the Tsukiji Fish Market, Ginza, and on and on – but instead of seeing brand new parts of town, we decided to return to the Akihabara area, one of our favorite places on the trip. We wanted to pick up extra gifts and see a few things we didn’t have time for the first time around including a visit to the Pokemon Center in the Sunshine City Mall!
The place was decked out for Halloween with loads of specialty items. This place is like Candyland for Pokemon fanatics, so of course I picked up a haul of plushies, socks, hats, cards and other gifts for my Pokemon-crazed family back home. Love this place!
Ueno is home to Tokyo’s cultural treasures. The Tokyo National Museum (pictured above), The National Museum of Nature and Science and Ueno Zoo are all located on the grounds of Ueno Park – a famous cherry blossom spot in the spring.
After four straight days of racing around the city, we decided to slow down the tempo in this massive and picturesque park, starting with a visit to the Tokyo National Museum. We admired the incredible collection of Samurai swords, Buddhist statues and Japanese antiquities. We’d heard that if there’s one museum you decide to visit in Tokyo, make it this one, and it did not disappoint.
We spent the rest of the day meandering along the tree-line paths, stopping here and there to view the temples, people-watch on the benches, and take-in a random and rowdy baseball game at the sports fields.
Before heading home, we had to make a stop for eel in the business district just outside the park. Mandatory!
The grounds of the Imperial Palace are stately and vast. So vast, in fact, we actually got lost looking for the palace itself, and I’m not entirely sure that we ever found it. The grounds that we did see, however, were impressive and perfectly manicured. The Imperial Palace is the residence of Japan’s Imperial family. TOURIST TIP: The east grounds are open to the public, but a guided tour of the inner grounds require a reservation ahead of time, which we didn’t have.
After leaving the grounds, it’s worth taking a short walk to view the facade of Tokyo Station (if you haven’t passed through already). It’s one of Japan’s busiest railway stations. We walked through the business district and stopped for lunch at a yakitori restaurant where we slipped into the culture by slipping off our shoes. The restaurant catered to the working crowd and the staff spoke little English. We fumbled our way through as humbly, and politely, as we could, pointing at something on the menu and hoping for the best. Luckily, we were in Tokyo and every meal was amazing, this one included. We walked away completely happy and grateful for the experience of being totally out of our element. It gave me a new perspective on the challenges facing foreigners to my country.
For the most part, Diver City is your run of the mill shopping center with one notable (and larger-than-life-size) difference: a giant-ass statue of the robot Gundam. The mall is located on the man-made island of Odaiba. If shopping and robots aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other tourist attractions including a ferris wheel, a statue of liberty replica, and a beach.
This was one of my favorite days in Tokyo. Clothes, cosmetics and souvenir shopping in Shibuya! We walked across the district’s famous pedestrian scramble, which is known as one of the busiest crosswalks in the world (pictured above). It was a totally shameless, grin-inducing tourist moment. I think we went back and fourth 2 or 3 times and then – just like they tell you to do in the travel books – we went up to the second floor of a nearby Starbucks to get a timelapse video of the insane, walking-every-which-way mob of people.
Before the shopping spree began, we made a stop at the statue I have been so desperate to pay my respects to: the Akita Hachiko. He’s remembered for his steadfast loyalty, and the story goes that for nine years after his owner’s death, Hachiko would go to Shibuya station every day to wait for his beloved master, just as he had done when his owner was alive. It was an emotional moment for me, and I’m so grateful that I finally got the chance to see the statue in person.
If you’re into fashion or clothes, you have to make a stop at Shibuya 109 in Shibuya. It’s one of the trendiest places to shop in Tokyo. It’s like a mall for boutique shops. Makeup, shoes, clothing, and accessory stores spiral around inside the tower. It’s eye candy for the fashionista. There’s also a separate tower just for men’s clothing. Some other stores I’d recommend include Uniqlo (for clothing) and Loft (for beautiful stationary and souvenir home goods like chopsticks and sake cups).
This was an awesome sushi spot for lunch. You can order on a touch screen at your table (in English) and, like magic, your sushi appears in front of you on a conveyor belt. It was our favorite sushi spot in all of Tokyo!
From ultra-modern electronics to ancient temples, we covered a lot of ground – and many centuries – on our second day in Tokyo.
One of the biggest goals of this trip was to track down elusive video games in Akihabara Electric Town, the “nerd capitol” of Tokyo. This district of the city is famous for its stores dedicated to video games, gadgets, anime, j-pop, k-pop, and – for some reason – a whole lot of claw game arcades. The cramped shops run for blocks and they’re stacked several stories high. After some intense hunting and exploring my huz finally struck gold and found the game he came for.
After making our contribution at the temple of modern gadgets, we traveled west – and back in time – to the Sensō-ji Buddhist Temple in the beautiful Asakusa district. It’s the oldest temple in Tokyo, pre-dating the modern city. From the oldest temple in Tokyo to the tallest tower in the world, we hoofed it across the river to take in the enormity of the Tokyo Skytree. I regret not making the trip up, but between the lines and our aching feet, we decided to leave it for the next trip.
They talk about beginners luck, but we experienced some serious travelers luck right off the bat in Tokyo. On our first full day, we walked from our hotel to the the Meiji Shrine early in the morning on a Saturday, which happened to be the perfect time to see a traditional wedding ceremony pass by.
Harijuku: Takeshita Street
Cue the Gwen Stefani. Hey Harijuku girls, hey! The neighborhood’s famous fashion district is just a short walk from the Meiji Shrine, and a stroll down the teen pop rue was high on my Tokyo bucket list. Keep your head on a swivel to take in all the colorful shops, eateries, clothing, and billboards. And for heaven’s sake, get yourself a crepe while you’re there.
Nothing quite prepared me for the funhouse I was about to enter at the Robot Restaurant. From the moment you step foot into the labyrinth, you encounter a dizzying hall of wall-to-wall lights, mirrors and colors. Think Willie Wonka meets Liberace on acid. It’s everything you imagine Tokyo will be. The show itself, featuring dueling animatronic robots, gave me a perma-smile. It was an hour of pure joy. But perhaps my favorite part was the pre-show room where there was a robot playing pop hits on a guitar. Day One Mission: Accomplished.
Headspinning neon, to-die-for fashion, orgasmic food, offbeat entertainment, zen tranquility, time travel (I’ll explain), and lots… and lots of people.
The stories about Tokyo are all true. My husband and I just returned from a week-long vacation to the most populous metropolis in the world. Having missed the summer tourist crowds in the last week of September, we felt very much like strangers in a strange (and intimidatingly large) land, but at the same time, it was a land packed with welcoming, gentle, kind, and patient locals.
We debated taking a day trip during the week to escape the throngs of people, but we quickly discovered that there is so much to experience in Tokyo itself, including surprisingly expansive quiet spaces. Seven days wouldn’t be enough to see it all. So we decided to give ourselves plenty of time to get lost exploring the vast Blade Runner-esque city, starting with our home base on Day One: Shinjuku and Harijuku. First, some nitty gritty (and hopefully helpful) details about our arrival.
We took a direct ANA flight from Seattle to Narita airport, located about 40 miles outside Tokyo. It’s about a 9.5 hour flight. We left on a Thursday at 2pm (Seattle time) and arrived at 4pm on Friday (Tokyo Time). The mind-blowing part was on the flight home when we literally traveled back in time, leaving at 6pm Friday (Tokyo time) and arriving at 11 am Friday (Seattle time). International date line: you so crazy.
One of the most stressful decisions we had to make was how to get from the airport to our hotel. The rail lines are direct, but complex, and it wasn’t something we wanted to figure out after a long, exhausting flight. We opted to bus it. The Airport Limousine Bus Service took a little more time (about 2 hours) due to rush hour traffic, but the ticket counter is easy to find at the airport, the buses run regularly and they’re prompt. Expect to pay about $60 for two people.
The bus dropped us off at Shinjuku Station, and from there it was a relatively easy walk to our hotel, the Tokyo Stay Shinjuku. Probably our biggest tip to you future Tokyo travelers is this: Google Maps is your best friend. We would have been lost in the maze of neon alleys, but my husband used Google Maps to expertly direct us through the twinkling concrete jungle. The app was also incredibly useful in navigating the tangle of train routes. We just input where we wanted to go and it told us exactly which stations to enter and which lines to take. Stay sharp though, we still got confused and frustrated several times along the way.
When the calendar hit September, I went all in on fall. I don’t even care that the forecast is calling for high 70’s next weekend. I replaced sandals with booties, iced coffee with PSL, and colorful shirts with gray sweaters, and I’m not turning back until April. The PSL gave me a taste for pumpkin that I couldn’t shake, so I broke out the can of pumpkin I had left over in the pantry from last year – and I got to baking. I feel like I’m definitely going to “pumpkin” myself out before we actually hit fall, but look at me not caring! (Recipe Below)
INGREDIENTS For The Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 large eggs
1 cup Pure Pumpkin
8 oz. vanilla greek yogurt
For the Cream Cheese Filling
8 oz cream cheese, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar.
2 to 3 tablespoons milk in small bowl
stir until smooth
1. Pre-heat oven to 350. Grease bundt pan well and set aside.
2. In a small mixing bowl, add all ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Set aside.
3.In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.
4. In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, beating well.
5. To the bowl, add pumpkin and greek yogurt; mix well.
6. In small batches, gradually beat in flour mixture until thoroughly combined.
7. Spoon a third of the batter into bundt pan.
8. Pour the cream cheese filling over the batter in the pan.
9. Cover the filling with the remainder of the batter.
10. Bake for a an hour until sharp knife inserted in cake comes out clean.
11. Cook for 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack.
12. Invert cake onto wire rack to cool.
13. Once cool, top with glaze (optional, not pictured)
This no-frills breakfast bake is definitely a guy-pleaser.
My husband recently hosted a morning Magic game with his friends and I wanted to make something easy yet tasty for the boys. You can’t go wrong feeding a group of guys hash browns, eggs and sausage in the morning, but I wanted to assemble it in a casserole to make it easier to serve (and eat between rounds).
If you don’t want to rush in the morning, you can assemble this casserole the night before so it’s all ready to pop in the oven by the time the crowds come calling. That’s what I did and it worked out perfectly!
5 cups frozen, shredded hash browns
8 links pre-cooked sausage, sliced in small pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1 green pepper diced
2 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1. In a large pan, saute onion and pepper in oil until they begin to soften. Remove from the pan.
2. In the same pan, lightly brown the frozen hash browns according to the packaging instructions. Add in the onions and green peppers and mix.
3. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg and 1 cup of cheese together.
4. Heat oven to 350. Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray.
5. To assemble casserole, layer the bottom of the casserole dish with the hash brown mixture. Top with sliced, pre-cooked sausage pieces. Pour egg mixture over the top. (At this point, you can cover the casserole and refrigerate overnight until ready to bake)
6. When ready to bake, top the casserole with remaining cup of cheese.
7. Bake uncovered at 350 for about 45 minutes until casserole is puffed and golden brown
It’s harvest time for my early blooming lavender plants. I’ve been bundling and drying my beauties for a couple weeks, and now I have a healthy collection of dried lavender buds to craft with.
Last year, I showed you how to dry lavender and collect the buds for crafting or to set out as a fragrant decoration. This year, I wanted to put my lavender buds to use in the laundry room as an all-natural replacement for dryer sheets. My sheets and towels come out of the dryer smelling like they’ve been hanging in a lavender field all day. I LOVE it!
Here’s a step-by-step guide for creating your own lavender dryer bags:
Step One: Dry Lavender Buds
As I mentioned, you can harvest your own buds if you have lavender growing in the garden. For a how-to CLICK HERE. If you don’t have a garden, you can buy pre-dried lavender buds through Amazon or a local lavender farm. Once you’ve separated the dried buds from the plants, you’re ready to create your dryer bags.
Step Two: Fill Bags
Since you don’t want the lavender buds to spill into the clothes dryer, it’s important to make sure they’re secured.
I started by filling a small drawstring organza bag with lavender buds. I had luck finding organza bags at the craft store in the wedding favor aisle. (NOTE: Don’t fill the bag too full. Make sure you can pull the drawstring and knot it securely without any buds peeking out).
2. I double bagged my lavender buds by putting the organza bag into a larger cotton muslin drawstring bag. You can find them HERE through Amazon. Make sure to pull the drawstring tight and knot it securely.
Step Three: Ready for Laundry
It’s time to freshen up your laundry! Give your lavender buds a few squeezes through the bag to release the scent. For a little extra pop, sprinkle a few drops of lavender essential oil onto the bag, then pop it in the dryer with clothing or towels and let the lavender do its thang! Each bag should be good for 3-4 laundry cycles.