Today, we had plans to visit my other aunt Echan, who lives in Yamanashi- a mountainous region close to Mt. Fuji. We planned to take the bus from Shinjuku station and head to Minami ALPS, which is 1.5 hours away from Tokyo.
We woke up at 4:30am to get ready to leave at 5:40am to take the train to Shinjuku station in Tokyo. After arriving at Shinjuku station, we exited at the West exit in front of Yodobashi Camera, picked up our reserved tickets at the Keio bus ticketing center, and waited until our bus arrived so we could board. The travel time was going to be 2 hours and 20 minutes from Shinjuku station to Minami ALPS where my aunt lived. It cost ¥2,200pp ($28).
We threw our luggage in the lower half of the bus, and boarded the bus to our seats. The seats were fairly narrow (not surprising- I felt like Japan had narrow seats everywhere). Luckily, the bus wasn't packed- possibly only 1/4 full (luckily, it was a Tuesday). Once we were on the road, we were instructed to press the red button (located above your seat) at your bus stop- if not, the driver would continue driving forward.
Here is what the interior of our Keio bus looked like
A small section were strictly marked "For Women Only"
I loved the footrests!
A mini-tray for each seat
The bus route and bus station stops are located on a TV screen at the front of the bus so you know where you are, and the colors of the bus stop location turn from green to white as we pass each stop so you know where we are in the route at all times.
The announcements were in both English and Japanese. There was a "restroom break" halfway during our route. Although our ticket says we would arrive at 10:06am, that is just an estimate. I was worried I'd fall asleep so I set an alarm for 20 minutes before arrival, and I am so glad I did, as we arrived about 15 minutes before "scheduled" time. We handed the driver our tickets, picked up our luggage, and the bus drove off.
Some beautiful scenery we passed on our way there
My aunt Echan picked us up at the stop. Another beautiful day today- 70 degrees, a bit cloudy but still sunny, and no humidity! My aunt Sumiyo packed us some bento before we left in the morning
We drove back to her house, and we started talking about what we could do that day. Echan suggested we could go grab lunch, see Mt. Fuji and take pictures, do some cherry (sakuranbo) picking, and then do some shopping after dinner. My cousin Ayumi (who is 22 years old) came home, and we all went out!
We were trying to pick a place to eat for lunch, and I suggested Denny's. Now, before you turn up your nose, let me tell you that Denny's in Japan is nothing like the Denny's here. The Grand Slam breakfasts and mediocre food are replaced by ramen, spring rolls, and avocado burger patties. The only thing that is similar is the name. Everything else after that is completely different. The menu is mostly Japanese food, and has lots of Japanese-esque drinks (Ume soda, CALPIS soda, Japanese iced tea, Bubble tea, etc). If you go there, make sure to get the CALPIS SODA (カルピスソーダ).
We took some pictures while we waited for our food to arrive.
My aunt Echan, Darin, and me
My aunt and cousin Ayumi
Darin and me
Ayumi ordered the Melon Soda. There is melon flavored everything here, and the soda is awesome
We started with a large Club salad to share with the table
Can't remember what dressing we got, but it was really good
Gyoza (potstickers)- meh, these were just ok. The wrappers were thick :(
Chicken Karaage (Japanese fried chicken)- Darin really liked these
Tarako (salted roe food) mayonnaise to dip the french fries- I dislike tarako, but my aunt and cousin love it
I ordered the ramen- delic! The best ramen I've ever had was in Japan... and maybe Ippudo in NYC
Echan ordered the Mexican hamburger- she loved it
My cousin ordered the salmon spinach alfredo pasta- she loved hers as well
OK, so wherever we ate for dinner, I don't remember seeing one person write our order down on a piece of paper + pen... they all have these tablet-type technology to place our orders
Even the dessert options were "different"- Green team ice cream, Mochi ice cream, Kiwi and/or Mango sorbet, Pineapple ice cream... Mmmmmm.
I ordered the green tea, mochi balls, and azuki (red beans) mini parfait- it was SO good!
Darin tried his classic- vanilla ice cream (since they didn't serve soft-serve)
After lunch, even though we were stuffed, we still wanted to go cherry-picking. Yamanashi is known for various fruits- momo (peaches), sakuranbo (cherries), budo (grapes), and kiwi. We went to the cherry farms, but all of them were closed :( I guess it was too early in the season to pick them, but I got a picture of them anyways. If you get a chance to try any of the fruits in Japan, you should- peaches (momo) are HUGE and sakuranbo (cherries) are super sweet. Both are ¥¥, but definitely give them a try.
We continued to move forward with our Mt. Fuji plans... but it was just too cloudy to see her :( Darn! My aunt felt so bad, but we just said "next time...". She took us to Fuji Kawaguchiko, and we took some pictures by the lake. We loved the serene atmosphere and lush mountainside
Darin, me, and my aunt at Fuji Kawaguchiko
Darin, me, and my cousin Ayumi
We saw a lot of koi swimming in the pond
Darin by the woods (doesn't it look like the forest like in the Twilight movies?)
On our way home, we stopped by a cakery called Chateraise and purchased some cakes. If you have never tried Japanese cakes, they are simply the best.
You've done yourself an injustice if you have been there and haven't tried it
We also stopped by the local grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner.
Japanese watermelon- this one was ¥1,980 ($25)
Japanese horseradish (daikon)
Japanese green onions (naganegi)- they are SUPER long and wide!
Japanese carrots- aren't they so thick?
We got home, and Echan started making dinner... after she did some initial prepwork, we all determined we were not hungry yet so we decided to do what we do best- go shopping! We went to a (newer) mall called the Aeon Mall. I felt like I was stepping into an American mall. It was really wide and had only 2 floors (unlike the ones in Tokyo where it wasn't super wide and have 10+ floors).
The Japanese Gap
We were planning to bring back Japanese treats for friends and co-workers- Strawberry Kit Kat bites (one of many that we ended up picking up that evening)
On our way out, I saw someone making takoyaki (octopus balls) and I had to have them!
So here is how they are made. Takoyaki is made in a special takoyaki pan that include lots of rounded wells. The dumplings are typically made with shredded cabbage, onions, diced carrots, and filled with diced octopus. Once the batter is made, it is poured into the takoyaki pan. Once the bottom is a golden brown color, the chef uses these (2) long metal "sticks" to turn the dumpling so the other side can get cooked
They continue to constantly turn the dumplings until the insides are cooked and it reaches a nice golden brown color
The dumplings are topped with Japanese mayo, takoyaki sauce (reminds me of tonkatsu sauce), and bonito fish flakes. Darin tried them but didn't care for them. He liked the batter, but couldn't get past the texture of the octopus in the middle.
Look at how cute the the baby strollers are!
Darin playing with Yuzu (Echan's dog)
Ahh, finally dinner time and we're all hungry!!! Here is what Echan prepared:
Shoyu-boiled eggs- Echan's favorite food is eggs, and these were phenomenal. Instead of boiling eggs in just water, she adds soy sauce (shoyu) and bit of sugar to the water. The eggs turn a light brown color (from the soy sauce), and the egg whites turn a bit of a browner color too. Cut the eggs into fourths, add a bit of the soy water, and you're good to go
Temaki zushi (Hand rolls)- These are great for parties and larger groups since you can make your own sushi. You take the nori (seaweed), add a layer of rice, and then add whatever sashimi, crab, etc. Then you roll and eat. Here is the sashimi for the temakizushi
Garlic Chili Shrimp
Echan's famous salt & pepper wings- I think Darin ate all but 2 of these
Tamagoyaki- Sweetened egg for sushi
Japanese potato salad (made with Japanese mayo)- delish!
Darin and I with "the feast"
Darin digging into temakizushi
Echan posing with her temakizushi
After dinner, we went straight into our cakes we purchased at Chateraise.
First- Melon Cake- Isn't the cake so cute?
Cream puff with Japanese pudding inside- the best of both worlds, in my opinion
Strawberry sponge cake- my favorite. No buttercream here- just fresh whipped cream
Dome cake- it's a sponge cake with a chocolate base layer and whipped cream with chopped fruit in the middle