Sunday, 14 January 2018

Travel: Japan 2017 Day 5 // Walk: Kawagoe // Stay: Tokyo Metropolitan Ikebukuro // Do: Sake Tasting at Kurand Market, Ikebukuro

10 December 2017

Today we checked out of Remm Hibiya Hotel and headed to Kawagoe. Kawagoe has a few rows of old buildings - retained from Edo era - now serving as functional shops and eateries. It feels somehow commercialized of course - the somewhat close proximity from Tokyo makes it a very popular tourist destination.
From Hibiya station it took us almost one hour by train journey to reach Kawagoe station,then another 20-1.5 hour brisk walk to reach the main street where the rows of old warehouse buildings were.

If you need neat (*pun intended*) souvenirs for your loved ones, there is a chopstick shop in Kawagoe - called きっちん遊膳 (Yu-Zen). It provides many kinds of chopsticks, chopstick stands, a few cute nick nacks for your kitchen & homes (cutleries, bowls, wipes, etc). And best of all, they can engrave your chopsticks on the spot FOR FREE! Our friends and families are so impressed with our chopsticks gifts for them (that works out only about $10-$20 per pair).
We bought only a few in this instance, as we had bought some a few years back in Takayama (there's another shop doing the same thing there, I can't recall if it's the same shop with different branch). Actually my parents ended up displaying the chopsticks I bought for them from the Takayama shop in their glass cabinet -_- I kept telling them to just use them - after all chopsticks are meant to be used. But my mom said "NOOOO, it's too nice". Lol.

If you need the exact address for google map search:
Japan, 〒350-0063 埼玉県川越市幸町5−4

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The chopstick shop
It is easy to spend a few hours in Kawagoe, admiring the structures of the old building...

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And of course, sampling food and snacks along the way... . How could I say no to some matcha soft serve and matcha warabi-mochi.

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A bit further - almost at the end of the old warehouse street, there's a small alleyway aptly dubbed 'candy alley', where you can find... candies... .
We bought a few candies (matcha flavor, haha), and had fun browsing the small stores.

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I'm telling you, the dogs in Japan are sooo spoiled. I had to take picture of these sausage dogs because I was missing my own :(

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Then I spotted a shop selling Studio Ghibli goods... Not ashamed to say that I burnt some money inside. >_<

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We had lunch at Unagi Hayashi-ya, a restaurant specializing in roast eel dish in Kawagoe. In fact Kawagoe is pretty well known for their eel dish, so do try one (or some) of them when you visit Kawagoe.

Unagi Hayashi-ya (林屋 川越店)

2-4 NakachoKawagoe 350-0065, Saitama Prefecture 
埼玉県 川越市 仲町 2-4

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please ignore the smiling asian boy - my 1/2heart

There is english menu available.

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We tried the local cider (Kawagoe-cider) & Sake. The cider was sweet & crisp, and the sake was sooo good, we were so tempted to buy a whole bottle to take home. But finally refrained because we had too many heavy shopping bags from our loot around Kawagoe. :D

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We ordered a standalone eel dish - shirayaki and kabayaki style mix (JPY 2580). The kabayaki style is probably the more familiar amongst westerners as they are the ones normally sold frozen in Asian food store - already drenched/basted in sweet sauce.
The shirayaki style is plainer, and somewhat crispier (as there's no sticky sauce I guess). It was served with a small dollop of wasabi. Put it simply, shirayaki style is more savoury in style.

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I was a bit apprehensive in ordering Kimo-yaki (JPY380), which was Eel livers.

Because. I. Hate. Livers.

But when it came and I took a bit of it, it's actually quite nice. No nauseating liver taste that I hate. Probably the only kind of livers I could eat. Thank you, eel.

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We ordered Hitsumabushi (JPY 3480), which was meant to be eaten 3 ways: as it is, with the wasabi/spring onions/ pepper accompaniments, then with the dashi stock.

I have to say, I much prefer the one I have eaten in Nagoya at Sanpuku a few years back (I didn't blog about it though as I lost the pictures -_-). Sanpuku's kamamabushi (the difference is the eel was served in a hot metal pot) was much sweeter, crispier, and fatter. Probably a mix of where the eel came from, and the method of grilling the eel.

HOWEVER, if you love eel and you get to go to Kawagoe, definitely give them a try. It will be one of the better eel dishes you'd ever had.

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And we also ordered Unatama-Don - regular (JPY 1750). They definitely were not stingy with the eggs. Delicious.

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After lunch, we decided to have a look at the well known temple of Kawagoe - Kitain. The walk was quite pleasant and as I like to see the temples & shrines' buildings, I did take quite a bit of pictures.

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A restaurant near the temple with an imitation of the bell tower. Cute.

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Entry to the main building of Kitain Temple (where they displays quite a bit of original items from the sect leader) costs JPY400 per person. Pictures are prohibited inside, however.

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There is a small section on the temple's grounds (not inside the main building), housing the Gohyaku Rakan statues. Gohyaku means 500, but apparently there are 540 statues inside the courtyard to be exact (I certainly didn't count). The entry fee to this courtyard is included with the entry fee to the main building.

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It's incredible to see these statues with their own expressions individually.

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For the rest of our stay in Tokyo, we made our base in Ikebukuro. We stayed at Hotel Metropolitan Ikebukuro (because they had a direct limousine bus to the airport which was ideal for us when we checked out a couple of days later)

Total price paid A$720 for 3 nights

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Room is bigger than Remm Hibiya, and with location so close to Ikebukuro station where you can so easily find places to eat and shop, this is a very good hotel to stay at.

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a gingerbread cake at Hotel's lobby

At night, we headed for our sake fix at Kurand Market. If you love sake, BOOK a spot here. Kurand also has branches in Shinjuku and Shibuya, as well as a few other locations (do check out their website for reservation and location details). We chose Ikebukuro as it's just 5 minutes walk from our hotel.

For JPY 5000 per person, we got to taste all the sake they provide, AND we also got a 720ml Kurand's produced sake as souvenir (it's a good sake, too). If you are in a group and you just want to get one bottle of sake as souvenir, book the JPY5000 package for one person only, and the rest can book the normal all-you-can-drink price for JPY3240 per person (because there's only 1 type of sake they give out).

Address: 171-0021 東京都豊島区 西池袋3-27-3 s&kビル4F

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Ideally you would drop by the closest konbini (convenience stores such as 7-11, Lawson's, etc), and buy your snacks to be consumed along with your sake on the night. I highly recommend this. You don't want to keep drinking alcohol ( and I may add, it will be A LOT )  with an empty stomach.
But if you don't want to, forget to, or just lazy to get into a konbini during your mid-drinking session, Kurand also provides some snacks on their menu.

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As for us, we bought some pon-de-rings donut from Mister Donut (there's a shop close to Ikebukuro station) and some fried chicken, salad, pickles, and fruit for the night.
Kurand provides all the plates, bowls, cutleries for your snacks as well.

I recommend to buy a wide variety of snacks/food to accompany your drinks - some drinks go well with sweet, the others go well with sour or savoury, and so on. The fun part of sake testing also involves consuming snacks/food that go well with them.

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Complimentary pickles also provided by Kurand when you have pre-booked your session prior... .

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The reception counter hold some cute shot and sake glasses, where you could (if my memory is correct) choose 3 to use all night.
Water is also provided at no extra charge at every table.

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But hey, of course you come here for the sake.

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Glorious sake.

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And more sake. Notice the metal receptacle thingy on bottom photo - it is for heating up sake if you want them warm. Neat.

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They have all kinds imaginable, from the crisp, dry, sweet, sparkling, and dessert sake.

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We arrived at about 6 p.m. (they opened their doors at 5), and we stayed until their closing time (around 11 p.m., and we didn't even get close to trying half of what they had.
But certainly a night & experience to remember.

Here is the sake we got to take home with the fee we paid:

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