From Asakusa area (where I started my Japan adventure), I picked up some bearings of Japan along the way as I mixed with my friends in my Sakura Hostel.
By the 5th day, I had to move out of Asakusa to Ikebukuro since I managed to get myself a discounted ticket on the famous overnight bus; the Willer Express to Osaka. As usual the bus ticket booking was last minute, but it turned out well as it got me qualified for a discounted ticket to Osaka 🙂
The bus station at Sunshine City is nearby, so I figured that I might as well uproot myself from the Asakusa area and force myself to explore other areas of Tokyo.
My train ride from Asaskusa to Ikebukuro cost me 230 Yen – RM9.20.
Lugging around my huge heavy 15kg luggage in the subway is no joke. Well, that’s solo travel for you.
However, throughout my 12 days adventure in Japan, I met the most helpful and courteous people I have ever known. There were about 4 -5 incidents where I was assisted by strangers (both men and women) who actually voluntarily carried my luggage for me up the stairs in the subway. I’m forever grateful!
Ikebukuro Station is the city’s second biggest train station and it connects to major departmental stores from underground. There’s almost 40 exits from the station. Yes, it can be overwhelming.
Ikebukuro is not Tokyo’s best reputed district, but its location is wonderful. There are some places of interest here as well as good, affordable accommodation for the budget conscious. I’m now in the in heart of Ikebukuro where within walking distance are two of Tokyo’s major department stores; Seibu and Tobu.
BELOW: In dark blue are the major shopping malls.
* map from http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3038.html
Because I was very tired, I retired early in the hostel. Sakura Hotel Ikebukuro is bigger and just as comfortable and clean as the one in Asakusa (Yes, it’s a chain).
I stayed in a total of 5 hostels in Japan in both Tokyo & Osaka and Sakura is firmly on my recommended list for anyone looking for private rooms as well as hostel style accommodation. There will be dedicated blogposts on these hostel as I think it would be really helpful to those planning to go to Japan, but do give me some time to get to them. 🙂
Moving on, I woke up the next day refreshed and ready to tour the city. A quick walk to the nearest Lawson took care of breakfast.
Breakfast: 377 yen = RM15.
Frankly, at 7.30am in the morning Lawson’s your best bet for food. It was there and then that I miss Malaysia and our pop-up random nasi lemak stalls at the roadside on weekday mornings.
But Lawson’s variety and fresh cooked food section made me forget nasi lemak soon enough.
For the western stomach, go for the cereal packs with yogurt.
And for snacks, Japan is tops for their selection. For example, there’s cheese/caramel Oreos in Japan! Unfortunately I forgot to buy a pack home. 🙁
If all fails, there’s instant noodles. I’m sure you can imagine the sheer amount of choices when it comes to instant noodles in Japan. 🙂
My breakfast filled me up for a bit while I wait for the rest of the shops to open. In Japan, most shops are only open after 11.00 am so there’s really not much to do before 11.00am. I’m an early riser so in the morning I usually hang around the hostel and check on my blog/work.
One of the many people that I “met” today was this little cutie pie in the luggage room of my hostel. She has somehow attached herself to this bag and won’t leave the room!
I asked her parents if it was hers; & they replied it’s not hers or even theirs! Hahah.. If her parents weren’t around I would have hugged & squeezed her to death! She’s too cute! 😀
Once the clock hits 11.00 am I set out on my exploration of Ikebukuro.
Tokyo buildings are generally very colourful and overly plastered with signboards.
In some ways they looked disorderly but that somewhat adds to the charm.
I have mentioned this in my 1st post on my very first day in Tokyo and I’ll be repeating this quite often in my Japan blogposts; these vending machines are everywhere!
Japan is the cleanest country that I have been to; beating even Singapore thanks to its efficient people/system/government/culture. Everything is very orderly and timely.
These arcades are everywhere in the cities in Japan too and extremely popular with the young generation.
By 12.00 pm I was hungry. At one busy junction near the station, a corner shop caught my eye.
Or should I say, the signboard advertising its lunch deals did.
Not being able to read a word of Japanese nor Mandarin, I rely on the visual a lot. After staring at it for a long while I decided that I couldn’t possibly be mistaken and walked in for my lunch. Being a typical Japanese joint, it’s expectantly narrow and small but this shop takes it to another level. It’s a stand only outlet!
As usual nobody speaks a word of English. Fortunately, there were pictorials menus.
Pictures and numbers. This should be easy! 🙂
Ordering is simple. Walk up to the counter and tell them your number. Then pay. After that wait as you would in our local food courts.
Once your bowl is ready, the cashier will set it down on a tray and you are free to choose your spot in the shop to STAND and devour your meal. Add-ons of fried items (mushrooms, chicken, tofu, potatoes, etc) are available for the price as shown.
I took a No. 11 set which was Yen 390 (RM16). That was the cheapest full sized meal I have had so far.
Water is free. Self service please.
Look at my lunch!
390 Yen for this was astounding. I couldn’t finish the noodles nor meat.
And it was delicious.
Superb soup base, generous amount of meat, fresh seaweed, green onions and more noodles than I can handle.
I was happy sated after chowing this down. Energy and good mood restored, next was exploring and shopping. Photography are not allowed in the malls but I managed to grab some shots with my iPhone. The department stores displays and layout are pretty standard.
Nothing is cheap in Japan. And I don’t mean because of conversion. A normal cardigan or top is about RM200 with run-of-the-mill designs. I couldn’t find anything worth buying.
Even worse was when I saw some of the items are made actually in China. Heck this pair of shoe sure doesn’t command a RM400 price tag!
A pair of socks like this is RM40+ – (Yen 1,260). Would YOU buy?
I guess not huh? But stock-wise they have everything in every design imaginable. And this is just the socks/stockings section.
I got bored of seeing things that I couldn’t or wouldn’t buy after a while and stepped out to explore the streets.
Unlike Harajuku or Shibuya, the streets here are less crowded and the shops less flashy.
I saw quite a few shops that offers massages like the below. It came as a surprise to me as I have always Japan to be very “proper” and discreet. 😀
Other than those, the others are mainly food outlets.
600 – 1000 Yen (RM24 – 40) for a bowl of curry non-inclusive of rice. You better not be having Indian food craving here in Japan.
I stumbled upon this famous Malaysian food restaurant by chance and I couldn’t resist checking out the menu.
Frankly I was appalled by the amount of half-truths I read on the menu. Now I know how locals in a country gets all the wrong information about another country’s cuisine. Also, prices were crazy; Yen 900 (RM36) for a plate of stir-fried vegetables? Thank god I never had Malaysian food cravings when I was in Japan! 🙂
But business being business it’s understandable that it’s profit-oriented. Moving on, I saw many more promising food joints and I wished my earlier would digest faster.
The “tea houses” or coffee joints were almost Parisian-like. A peek inside shows a chiller of rows and rows of dainty cakes and young Japanese ladies sipping on their coffee. Sometimes traveling alone can be a bore, as there was no one to share my food with, limiting my ability to try EVERYTHING ON SIGHT. Hence, my upcoming 2013 trip to Japan. I got to try all those that I’ve missed! :DD
The young uns of Japan even goes to kindy in style. These are their standard backpacks. Would you believe it?
Here’s more food outlet to tempt you.
Japanese pasta with all sorts of toppings.
A popular local chain for the Japanese curry rice bowl.
Please select your poison. I was very intrigued with the Saigon spice chart. Saigon??
In Japan, the shops are on every ground imaginable; from underground to sky-high floors.
Done with the streets, I went into the 2 linked departmental stores within the Ikebukuro station.
Other than Tobu and Seibu, Parco, BIC Camera and Sunshine City are a must for the shopaholic. Though I’ll iterate my sentiments earlier about Japanese fashion and prices, I’m aware that not everyone has the same taste in shopping/fashion so I’m sure there are some of you who would enjoy shopping here.
For me? I headed straight for the basement levels where all the Japanese sweets and desserts are!
If you’re lucky, some of the shops do hand out samples but don’t count on it as that seldom happens.
I think chestnuts were in season when I was in Japan (October) and there were many sweets/pastries and cakes with the element of chestnuts in them.
Again, nothing is cheap. Expect to pay Yen 2310 (RM110) for a whole cake and about RM24 (Yen 600) for a slice.
This is another chestnut delicacy with a soft, crumbly powdery texture. Don’t ask me what is it exactly. Everything is in Japanese and the service staff can’t really speak English.
In Japan, you can’t escape from the Azuki (red bean).
These soft, chewy, thick cakes are popular as well. Anyone here can tell me the name and what are they exactly?
To be honest photography are actually forbidden here. These are some shots I took with my iPhone before I was stopped. For more pictures on Japanese sweet delicacies you can refer to my post on Tokyo Station HERE.
If you think Theobroma is only about chocolates, you’re forgiven. I thought so too, till I saw these macarons at their kiosk inside the mall.
Even better, these macarons are fat and brimming with fillings!
Macarons packed this way ensures they remain intact in shape; no need to worry about them getting crushed or chipped during transportation. Each box of 4 below is Yen 1050 = RM40+.
Henri Charpentier has the most gorgeous desserts.
Look at that! I very nearly drooled over the chiller.
Gateau Festa Harada has a long queue fronting its shop the entire 1 hour I was in the basement. A closer look revealed it’s basically selling rusk, crunchy and sugar-coated. I couldn’t understand the attraction and the prices are not cheap either!
There’s a few variants – with white chocolate, etc but it’s still just plain old rusk biscuits! What could possibly created such a demand?
Oh jealousy! There’s Pierre Herme right here too!
Now could you understand my need to visit Japan again in 2013? I’m planning to eat every single one of these delectable desserts this time! 🙂
Last but not least, I learnt that Ikebukuro is referred to as ‘bukuro’ by the locals, as a play on words. “Fukuro” means owl, and ‘bukuro’ is a switch from the Japanese consonant ‘fu’ to ‘bu’.
Next post of my Japan trip –> departing Ikebukuro to Osaka via the Willer Express!
*Read more on my travels and also Nepal and Japan chronicles HERE –> http://www.rebeccasaw.com/travel/