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Mar 26, 2015

Japan Travelogue: Heading to the Land of Kobe Beef & Okonomiyaki (24 Oct 2015)

I could barely fell asleep; every alternate hour was a slow drift in and a jerk out. When the clock stroked 6am, I wandered to the bus stand where Japaneses were waiting for the next bus. Rushing cold breeze welcomed me. I clung tightly to my jacket, while strolling and listening to the morning breeze and roaming buses. The air was cold but fresh, a drastic change from homeland.

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Beautiful Morning @ Tokyo Haneda International Airport
In Tokyo Haneda International Airport, there are two trains stations: Keikyu Shinagawa Station and Tokyo Monorail Hamamatsucho Station. For those who want to get Pasmo card, you can go to Keikyu Shinagawa Station. Simply select English language at the self service machines, purchase your Pasmo at 1,000yen and top up accordingly.

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Coffee Milk @ Air Lawson in Tokyo Haneda International Airport
While waiting for JR East Travel Service Center to open, I had this coffee flavored milk on promo and a bowl of instant noodles from Air Lawson for breakfast. Flavored milk was all but unusual to me. Though most value for money, greedy me was having hard time finishing on my own.

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Exchange Order and Japan Rail Pass 
By 7.45am, tanner half and I headed to JR EAST Travel Service Center in Haneda Airport to hand in our exchange orders for 7-day Japan Rail Pass (29,110yen/USD275). For tourists whom are planning to travel between cities in Japan, Japan Rail Pass is the most economical way to go. All you need to do are:
  1. Order your exchange order at http://www.japan-rail-pass.com/ in your home country
  2. Wait for it to be delivered (USD19 delivery fee) 
  3. Upon arrival in Japan, head to any JR EAST Travel Service Centers 
  4. Fill in a form and collect your Japan Rail Pass on the spot
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14-Day OCN Mobile One Prepaid Sim (3,980yen)
To collect my OCN Mobile One prepaid sim, we then headed to Haneda Aiport Post Office, located in Terminal 1 Building, via shutter bus (free of charge). For those who do not want to pay so much for a pocket wifi/local phone, OCN Mobile One prepaid sim is a super economical option. For 3,980yen (including 200yen service fee), you get 100MB data per day, with maximum speed of 150Mbps. To get yours:
  1. Order your prepaid sim at http://prepaidsim.jp/
  2. Specify delivery to any address in Japan, including airports
  3. Upon arrival, collect your prepaid sim at specified address at (2).
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Soup of the Day @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
With both Japan Rail Pass and OCN Mobile One prepaid sim ready, we boarded our train in Terminal 1 Building, heading head first to famous Wakkoqu to have a lifetime experience of Kobe beef! There are two Wakkoqu in Kobe: one in Kitano, another in Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue. Wakkoqu in Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue, connecting to Shin-Kobe station, was no doubt our first choice.

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Salad @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
One thing you must know in Japan, lunch menu is always the cheapest, any day, everywhere. Yes, even in famous restaurants like Wakkoqu! Greedy us ordered all 3 on the lunch menu:
  • Lunch Wakkoqu Course (Tajima and Sanda Beef from Kobe) - 5,280yen 
    • Sirloin 150g, Grilled Vegetable(six kinds), Today’s Soup, Salad, Rice & Japanese Pickled, Dessert, Coffee) 
  • Lunch Course (Tajima Beef from Hyogo Prefecture) - 4,280yen
    • Sirloin 130g, Grilled Vegetable(six kinds), Today’s Soup, Salad, Rice & Japanese Pickled, Dessert, Coffee)
  • Lunch Set (Tajima Beef from Hyogo Prefecture) - 3,280yen 
    • Sirloin 130g, Grilled Vegetable(six kinds), Salad, Rice & Japanese Pickled, Miso Soup)
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Garlic Prepping Time @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
Soup of the Day and salad were both interesting: the soup was almost mash potato like but creamier, salad was citrusy and light. Before I finished both, the Kobe chef started prepping thinly sliced garlic in front of us. Piece by piece he examined to ensure all were coated in a gown of golden brown, I must say it was my first time seeing such intricacy being put into grilling a thin slice of garlic!

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Tajima Sirloin and Sanda Sirloin @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
While I was so engrossed with the garlic prepping, two big slices of sirloins were brought up to us. Gosh, look at the fat distribution! I almost melted on the spot, even the chef chuckled at our faces. If my memory serves me well, you are seeing Sanda sirloin at the front, Tajima sirloin at the back.

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Grilled Sanda Sirloin @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
Barely a second required, the chef deftly flipped the raw beef onto the grill and cut it into tiny cubes. The fat sizzled and the smoke swirled with triumph as the beef turned brownish. I fell in love with the beef already. Resistance was non existent, cube after cube of Sanda beef melted in my mouth. Grilled to such perfection, it was little surprise of its juiciness. Sanda beef had definitely pushed up the benchmark for Tajima to match.

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Grilled Tajima Sirloin @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
Being the cheaper beef on the menu, I had lower expectation for Tajima beef. But I was wrong. I was utterly impressed with Tajima beef! Though it had less impressive fat distribution, Tajima beef had richness so much more intensified. Personally I liked Tajima beef more as I am a person of taste.

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6 Different Types of Grilled Vegetables @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
To go with the beautiful Sanda and Tajima beef, 6 different types of grilled vegetables were served. Among these vegetables were tofu, brinjal, potatoes, and chilies. Rather bland on its own, I believed it was very much intentional to clear the palate. Being a Malaysian, I dipped mine into two different sauces served for beef, for a little twist.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 15,224yen

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View of Kobe City
Words simply couldn't illustrate the sense of fulfilment, having to try Kobe beef at last in the very land of Kobe, Japan! Wakkoqu had definitely lightened up my very second day in Japan. Reluctantly we left Wakkoqu, walked 1.2km to JR Sannomiya Station, took a train to JR Sumiyoshi Station, in hope to visit Hakutsuru Sake Museum.

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Waiting for the Train @ JR Sumiyoshi Station
However luck wasn't on our side. By the time we reached JR Sumiyoshi Station, it was 9 minutes towards the close of Hakutsuru Sake Museum. We figured out that it wasn't worth the run as it was a 1.3km walk from JR Sumiyoshi Station.

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Traveling with Crumpler & Nike
Dejectedly, we waited for the next train bound for Shin-Osaka Station. Upon our arrival at Shin-Osaka Station, friendly Japanese offered direction to us but it was of little help. We were so disorientated that it took us half an hour to locate Hotel Consort, many thanks to the unreliable Google Map (web version) that kept loading (yet missing current location marker!)

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Twin Room @ Hotel Consort, Osaka
After an almost sleepless night and a day of walking, finally seeing a comfortable bed awaiting was the best part. The twin room in Hotel Consort was rather small (14 sq. m) to Malaysian standard but it was well equipped: hairdryer, kettle, fridge, water heater, bath tub, Shiseido toiletries etc. After a long soak in bath tub, we were ready to hunt for our dinner.

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Queues @ Shin-Osaka Station
It was a 1km walk to Shin-Osaka Station but this time, we learned the easier route. Shortly after, we arrived at Shin-Osaka Station, which looked completely foreign. No doubt, it was a huge station with many exits. To ensure you catch the right train to your destination, you have to first check which platform, then you have to check which marker you have to queue at.

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Sunset on the way to Osaka
Even though it was a fast and furious day, we did not miss the sunset. So beautiful, I thought, more so in a foreign land where the air was fresh and cold. I couldn't wait for the days to come to explore this beautiful land.

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Entrance to Tengu @ Shin Sankei Building, Umeda
Located in Basement 1 of Shin Sankei Building, Tengu was a wild find. First of all, Google Map would neither direct you to the correct Tengu restaurant nor show any result for "Shin Sankei". Second of all, resources mostly state "near Hilton Osaka Hotel". But fear not, based on the full address of Tengu, just type in 2 Chome-5-2 Umeda and this would bring you close enough to Shin Sankei Building. Take the stairs down then locate Tengu, which was on the right of this picture.

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Scallop Okonomiyaki @ Tengu (780yen)
In Tengu, okonomiyaki is pre-made in the kitchen and brought to table grill, where you can keep it sizzling while graciously top the okonomiyaki with bonito flakes and mayonnaise. The scallop okonomiyaki was cooked to nicety: slightly moist but not undercooked. Paired with slightly crusty outer layer, it was a great combination of texture.

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Pork Okonomiyaki @ Tengu (830yen)
Though the filling was slightly varied, both okonomiyakis shared the same texture and flavour. Sometimes, it was quite hard to tell it apart as if one were to blindfold and taste.

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Sake @ Tengu (360yen)
Nothing can beat having sake with piping hot okonomiyaki. It was served in a nice clay flask, which was actually not that much (about 500ml or so). Between the borderline of strong and mild, it tasted like one of those expensive sakes you pay in Malaysia but much cheaper.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 2,170yen

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Dessert @ 7 Eleven
Now that we had our main course, it goes without saying dessert was a must! On our way out, we stumbled across a familiar convenience store, 7 Eleven. We checked every isle to see what they have in Japan which we don't in Malaysia, ended up bringing back an ice cream and green tea KitKat to try. Both were surprisingly good, and sure enough we bought more green tea KitKat as souvenir.

IN SUMMARY, my personal dining ranking based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 - 5 out of 5 (fine dining, no joke!)
    • Tengu - 3 out of 5 (it was a small establishment with tight seating)
  • Price
    • Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 - 4 out of 5 (lunch sets/menus are super value for money)
    • Tengu - 4 out of 5 (about 1,000yen is cheap for Japanese standard)
  • Food
    • Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 - 5 out of 5 (heavenly good!)
    • Tengu - 4 out of 5 (our only okonomiyaki experience but it was a good one)
  • Verdict
    • Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 - Strategic location, superb Kobe beef and value for money lunch sets/menus
    • Tengu - Tucked so tightly that it can be hard to find but it is cheap and good! Plenty of working crowd after work

DINING INFO:
Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店
3F Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue
1, 1-Chome Kitano-cho Chuo-ku Kobe-City
Operation Hours: 11:45 - 22:30 (Last order 21:30)
Tel: 078-262-2838
Credit Cards: VISA,JCB,AMEX,DINERS,DC,UC

Tengu
Toyosaki 3-15-19, Nakatsu, Osaka.
Shin Sankei building 2-5-2 B1F, Umeda, Osaka
Operation Hours: Not mentioned (should be opening until late nights)
Tel: +81 (0) 6 6372 7676
Credit Cards: VISA (tried!)

Feb 22, 2015

Japan Travelogue: Bound for Tokyo Haneda International Airport (23 Oct 2014)

The day before was a hectic one; last minute purchase for my tanner half in preparation for the chilly autumn weather and traveling. Bought a new Crumpler for day carry, Uniqlo's Heat Tech long sleeve shirt and padded long pants, and Cotton On's pull-on cotton jacket for the expected chill in Japan.

We were bound for Tokyo Haneda International Airport (HND) from KLIA2 (formerly known as LCCT) via AirAsia. Bought a year in advance, my flight costed RM933, including one-way add-on luggage, 3 meals onboard, return Skybus tickets and normal seat selection fees. Cheap, was the perk; odd, was the time; our flight was bound HND at 2.30pm from KLIA2, touching down at 11.30pm Japan time.

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Best Dry Pan Mee @ Black and White Kopitiam
A quick meal of my favorite Pan Mee at Black and White Kopitiam, Damansara Perdana - backing up with some Malaysian food before 11 days of Japanese instead - and a last check of luggage, we grabbed a cab to One Utama and boarded our Skybus to KLIA2. To my surprise, the bus arrived at KLIA2 15 minutes earlier than expected - traveling during non peak hours on normal workdays helped. It was by then 12 noon and we headed straight to check in and patiently waited for our departure.

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Terrible Donuts @ Dunkin Donut at KLIA2
Dunkin Donut was few doors away from our departure gate. To be safe, we grabbed a donut and some water for the flight. This particular donut might looked all tempting but felt like few days old. I regretted for even spending both money and calories on this.

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Seat Belt On!
Finally, it was time for boarding. It was my first time flying on a huge plane. Clever me selected the last rows of 2-seater near the window to have access to both window and alley, without realising it would also mean we had to wait for everyone in front of us took their seats before ours.

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Japan, Here We Come!
It took quite some time before all parties settled down and finally we took flight! I could already feel my grumbling tummy 30 minutes into the flight but I had to distract myself for another 30 minutes before my meal onboard was served!

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Pak Nasser's Nasi Lemak on the Sky
My first meal onboard was none other than the much promoted Pak Nasser's Nasi Lemak. Served with Pak Nasser's special chilli sambal and tender chicken rendang, accompanied with traditional condiments of fried anchovies, crunchy groundnuts and half of a hard-boiled egg, I was a little disappointed by the size and outlook of the meal and the meat portion. That aside, it was quite good as far as taste and texture went.

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Kimchi Chicken Duruchigi on the Sky
I spent some time reading onboard before sleepiness took better of me. By the time I woke up, it was time for my next meal, Kimchi Chicken Duruchigi. Similar to the Pak Nasser's Nasi Lemak, the size and outlook was equally disappointing. Taste wise, it was not bad though I prefer Nasi Lemak.

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Edo Market @ Tokyo Haneda International Airport
After 8 hours of flight, finally, we arrived at Tokyo Haneda International Airport close to 12 midnight. Starving we were. Guided by the airport map and helpful information counter staff, we headed to Edo Market at 4th Floor in seek of food. Most of them were closed, except Setagaya Ramen (5am - 12am). Our thought of exploring other options ended up in vain. By the time we wanted to give it a shot, we were rejected at door.

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24-Hour Yoshinoya @ Edo Market
That left us not much choice, at the very least, we found Yoshinoya. Menu was promising, plus they were selling beer for 380yen! We went ahead without hesitation. Best bang for buck so far - we spent a total of 1,380yen for two mains (1 big, 1 medium) and a pint of beer.

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Icy Cold Suntory Beer for 380yen @ Yoshinoya
It was hard to say no, both at the price and quality. Served icy cold, this pint of beer was easy and refreshing. Definitely need some of these after a long day in flight. If you do not wish to order any drinks, Yoshinoya does serve free flow of green tea. Help yourself with some!

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Medium Stir Fry Pork Don ロース豚丼 for 450yen @ Yoshinoya 
550yen for big, 450yen for medium and 350yen for small, I opted for medium while tanner half opted for big. The only difference was the pork portion. For 100 yen more, you get about 25% more pork, not too bad an idea. Taste wise, it was good, though I wished I had more gravy to soak up my rice.

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Everything You Need @ Air Lawson in Tokyo Haneda International Airport
After our satisfying meal in Yoshinoya, we scouted for a quiet place to crash in airport. Yeap, we spent our first night in Tokyo Haneda International Airport - something new and unusual. Our final pick was next to Air Lawson, within close proximity to both necessities and charging station.

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Midnight View @ Tokyo Haneda International Airport
So we thought it was a good choice to crash near Air Lawson, it turned out to be rather opposite - airport staff passed by intermittently, escalator kept speaking whenever someone walked near them - too much distraction for a decent crash. I ended up wandering in airport around 3am, which brought me here at the open. Despite the chilly air, condensed breath, I felt peace - it was quiet save for the usual night harmony.

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Haneda Nihonbashi @ Tokyo Haneda International Airport
I also stumbled across this Haneda Nihonbashi, which is a miniature version of Nihonbashi in Tokyo. On the wall, you can see 9 different pictures, illustrating different parts of Japan. As much as I wished to understand more, the sign board was all in Japanese (totally beyond my interpretation).

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Japanese Modern Toilet Functions @ Tokyo Haneda International Airport
Before it slipped my mind, I must say the toilets in Japan are really awesome - look at those buttons - there are everything you need, from music (to conceal the real businesses), to waterjet and dryer (for your bum) - I was speechless.

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Sleeping Time @ Tokyo Haneda International Airport
Okay, time to crash for 4 hours before the real journey began. Stay tuned!

P/S: I tried real hard but truth was I barely slept. What was your experience sleeping in Tokyo Haneda International Airport?

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