48 Hours in Yokohama + Tokyo

Back in late February, there was a two-day JET conference in Yokohama that I attended. If you are in the JET Programme, you’ll know exactly which one I’m talking about. For the uninitiated though — the conference was organized specifically for the people who are “graduating” from (a.k.a. leaving) the Programme after August.

Yep, I’m leaving JET and my home in Mie Prefecture.

A morning visit to Meiji Jingu for good luck during my job search

A morning visit to Meiji-Jingu for good luck during my job search

Most of the people I saw in that convention hall in Minato Mirai were preparing to return home to their respective countries, and most of the speakers & workshops were geared towards that demographic. I was/am determined to stay in Japan for a few more years, and there was nothing that really addressed my particular situation.

So, I skipped the next day’s workshops and explored around Yokohama and Tokyo instead.

Hundreds of years ago, Yokohama was a shipping and trading hub (the main business and shopping district still retains the Japanese word minato for harbour). Scattered around the port area are physical reminders of its history, like this ship's dock!

Since 1859, Yokohama has been a shipping and trading hub (the main business and shopping district still retains the Japanese word minato for harbour). Scattered around the port area are physical reminders of its history, like this ship’s dock!

It’s been on my bucket list for years to eat Chinese food and ride the Cosmo Clock 21 ferris wheel in Yokohama, so I made that my first priority. I arrived in town rather late the night before the conference, and immediately ate in one of the restaurants along the main road of Yokohama’s Chinatown.

One of the gates I passed under

One of the gates I passed under

The food was a bit heavy on the oil, but the smells coming from the kitchen! It was incredibly nostalgic...

The food was heavy on the oil… but the smells coming from that kitchen! It was incredibly nostalgic…

The area was rather deserted after 10 PM...

The area was quite empty after 10 PM…

The gate closest to the subway station

The gate closest to the subway station

The second morning I was in Yokohama, I finally rode the Cosmo Clock 21 ferris wheel! While it was a little lonely to ride by myself, my inner Honey & Clover fangirl was just squealing with happiness…

My ride ticket

My ride ticket

A (shaky) panorama from my iPhone

A (shaky) panorama from my iPhone

A better view of the Minato Mirai district

A better view of the Minato Mirai district

Tokyo Bay

Tokyo Bay

I also took the opportunity to meet up with a friend, MT — who departed from Toronto the same year as me — during this trip. We actually knew each other before JET, through a mutual friend (small world!).

She’s left JET already, but since then MT has been studying in a language school in Tokyo. I haven’t been back in Canada for three years now, so it was refreshing to have a conversation with a fellow Canadian who’s gone through similar experiences as me…

The lovely MT

The lovely MT

Since we were in Tokyo, I invited her out to an “breakfast-style” dinner date at Sarabeth’s. Seriously, people in Tokyo are spoiled for choices there…

Sarabeth’s was originally from New York (they first became famous for their homemade jams), and they have since expanded into the restaurant and bakery business. They’ve even opened up two branches in Tokyo too!

We ate at the Daikanyama branch (how I've missed you, guacamole)

How I’ve missed you, guacamole

We ate at the Daikanyama branch, which was ridiculously close to the station (literally around the corner from the entrance). According to MT, the area is rather hip and fashionable. At 7 PM, it was still lively and filled with young people in their 20s and 30s.  I was keen on trying the restaurant’s famous Eggs Benedict, and I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint!

My first time eating Eggs Benedict (yummy~)

My first time eating Eggs Benedict (with smoked salmon). It was well-made!

The rest of my trip I spent satisfying my different cravings (both cultural and gastronomical).

I only found out a week before my trip that Kengo Kuma (one of the few architects that both HZ and I like) had opened his newest building in December. I was super excited to see it for myself!

The Sunny Hills shop is a brand from Taiwan that specializes in selling pineapple cakes (a small and popular street snack). Honestly, I wasn’t sure how long the shop would last (are there really that many people in Tokyo who like Taiwanese snacks?) — but that was before I spent some time wandering around the Minami-Aoyama area…

Their cute mascot and logo

Their cute mascot and logo

A pineapple building for a pineapple cake shop

A pineapple building for a pineapple cake shop

Though it’s in a “residential” area of Aoyama, it’s nothing like your typical neighbourhood. It seemed like I would walk past several middle-class apartments and then suddenly come upon a minimalistic but incredibly expensive-looking store around every corner (I guess if shops like that can survive, a pineapple cake shop should do just fine).

That walk to Sunny Hills was a strange experience for me, after living so long in my little town. I wonder what Aoyama residents do for a living…

Interlocking beams reinforced by thin steel joints

Interlocking beams reinforced by thin steel joints

I didn't want to go up (because I'm actually not a fan of pineapple cakes), but the lady at the front door was kind enough to let me take pictures of the lobby!

I didn’t want to go up (because I’m not a fan of pineapple cakes), but the lady at the front door was kind enough to let me take pictures of the lobby and stairs!

Another craving I’ve been having recently was for bagels. The few times I’ve seen bagels in Japan they were all New York-style — thicker and with a blander taste. I grew up on Montreal-style bagels (hello, Tim Horton’s), and I desperately missed the particular sweetness and crunch of those bagels. Imagine my absolute delight when I found out about Poko Bagel Café!

A slim store hidden amongst office buildings in Hamamatsucho

A slim store hidden amongst office buildings in Hamamatsucho

I went at a rather awkward hour (4 PM) so I had the entire second floor to myself

I went at a rather awkward hour (4 PM) so I had the entire second floor to myself

The manager and the head baker had both spent some time in Canada on exchange, and when they came back to Japan and opened a cafe they tried to recreate the tastes they remembered from their time abroad. The full story is quite fascinating, and their desire to be authentic is very touching.

Memorabilia from Montreal

Memorabilia from Montreal

As for the bagel itself, how was the taste? Honestly, I think I teared up a little while I was eating it. I guess I missed Canada a little more than I’d thought…

I had a classic Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese bagel sandwich. It was sooo good

I had a classic Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese bagel sandwich. It was sooo good!

It was so delicious that I bought six more bagels to bring back with me to Mie Prefecture (I would’ve bought more, but frozen bagels never taste quite the same afterwards). I’m glad that Poko Bagel Café has been discovered by other people too — they’ve recently opened their second branch near Tokyo Station (in Otemachi Tower). I hope they continue to get more popular in the future!

A small mom-and-pop shop on the edge of Chinatown

A small mom-and-pop shop on the edge of Chinatown

I had to return to Chinatown once more, just to experience it during the daytime. It was much more crowded (naturally), but it was a little strange as well — the streets were a tad too clean, and everyone seemed to advertise very similar menus along the main road. As expected, the best food was hiding in the back streets…

Congee!! Youtiao!!

Congee!! You tiao!!

Quite by accident I found this small shop that mostly specialized in congee (or rice porridge, as some people call it). I was the only customer at 2 PM, and there was a single middle-aged lady in the kitchen. It really felt like eating comfort food offered by someone’s mom! The you tiao was very fresh and crunchy, and congee was quite flavourful (I ordered the house special, which was seafood-based). While it’s not quite the same as the congee I grew up with, it was still very familiar and helped ease a bit of my homesickness.

Not as good as the Portuguese egg tarts in Osaka, but I was happy to eat them anyway!

Souvenirs from Chinatown! Not as good as the Portuguese egg tarts in Osaka, but I was happy to eat them anyway

All in all, this trip was just what I needed during the cold, harsh month (in more ways than one) of February…

 

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