B by B: Fancy-Pants Cafe in Ginza

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Not my picture. From the “B by B” website: bbyb.jp

I’m not really a cafe kind of guy. First of all, I can’t drink coffee. It gives me a stomachache. And generally, I avoid spending money whenever possible (i.e. I’m cheap (or poor?)), so even if I wanted some tea, for example, I’d just have some at home.

However, today I was with my girlfriend, and since we hardly see each other these days I figured we should go to nice places and eat nice things. One of those places we went to was the chocolate shop and cafe called “B by B” in the Ginza district, on a backstreet behind the Apple Store. They sell chocolates made by Michelin-star chef Bart Desmidt and master chocolatier Jan Verleye, though honestly I had never heard of them before as I’m not really in-the-know with regard to the world of gastronomy.

I saw this cafe on TV a year ago and had been planning to take my girlfriend there, but never had the chance until today. The cafe, which was at the back of the store, was smaller than I thought it would be. There were basically only about 6-ish seats. That picture you see above, that’s almost the entire cafe.

The main thing I wanted to try at B by B was this heavenly-looking dessert called Babelutte Ice Cream (900 yen, or roughly $8.50):

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Babelutte Ice Cream (picture from bbyb.jp)

The presentation is amazing. Like you see in the picture, two scoops of ice cream are in a glass container with a flat piece of chocolate on top, and then warm chocolate is poured over it until it melts and drips onto the ice cream. Below is a video my girlfriend took of how it’s served:

Pretty fancy-schmancy, eh? With matching fancy-schmancy music to boot. Yet all this fanciness would have been for naught if it were not delicious, so it is very fortunate that the Babelutte Ice Cream was actually really really good!

I’m sorry, I’m not a food critic. “Really really good” is all I got for ya.

With that wonderful treat we also ordered some Flemish Waffles (700 yen, or about $6.50) which are basically stroopwafel, but instead of the regular syrup used in stroopwafel, it’s filled with babelutte. And if you’re wondering what babelutte is, it’s apparently a kind of caramel.

No one was at the cafe when we were there. It doesn’t seem to be very popular, unfortunately. It is a pretty expensive place though, so I suppose the store usually doesn’t get a lot of customers.

There were still a couple other items on the menu I’d like to try. I think I’ll be back.

Hanami at Chidorigafuchi – Cherry Blossom Season

Security guard directing traffic during cherry blossom season

It’s that time of the year again when the sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom and everyone gets drunk in the park. I’m not particularly into the drinking part since it’s still too cold outside, but I do like to go out and see the flowers.

Cherry blossoms at Chidorigafuchi

I usually go to Sumida Park (隅田公園 – Sumida Kouen) to see the sakura in Asakusa, where I used to live. Last year I went to Rikugien (六義園) for a change. It’s considered one of Tokyo’s most beautiful landscape gardens.

This season I decided to check out Chidorigafuchi (千鳥ヶ淵), recommended by some of my clients who say it’s the best place to go on hanami (花見 – cherry blossom viewing) in Tokyo. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so impressed. It was probably the weather, though. When I went last Friday, it was a very cloudy, dark and gloomy day. I had to boost the saturation on my pictures to give them more color.

Shinagawa Yajiro with the cherry blossoms
Statue of Yajiro Shinagawa. I don’t know who he is.

Chidorigafuchi is the name of a moat that is part of the Imperial Palace grounds. Sakura are planted along the walkways surrounding the moat. You can also rent a rowboat and cruise around the moat. A palace, trees and flowers, boats… it all sounds picturesque, except a highway runs beside all this, which sort of ruins the atmosphere in my opinion.

Boats at Chidorigafuchi in cherry blossom season

Funny story. A section of the route has a long stretch of road with no crosswalks except at opposite ends of the road, and there were a lot of tourists who were jaywalking to cross. An angry police officer posted within the walls of the Imperial Palace kept barking on the loudspeakers telling them not to cross the road, but he did so in Japanese, so obviously none of the tourists understood what he was trying to say. And without exaggeration, this lasted ALL AFTERNOON. You could hear the frustration from the police officer’s voice. I kind of felt sorry for him, but it was also pretty hilarious.

Hanami cherry blossoms sakura
Tayasu-mon (castle gates)

Midway my hanami walk, I found this guy selling nikuman (some kind of dumpling). I bought one (it was good!) and asked if I could take a picture. We had a little chat after that. He said that during the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912), when people in Japan started seeing cameras, many people did not want to get their photos taken as they thought that it made their lives shorter. Interesting.

Nikuman dumplings
Nikuman!!!

Nikuman seller

A few more pictures from my hanami walk:

Funny kid hanami sakura cherry blossoms
Kid with his funny pose
Statue somewhere in Japan
Statue of Prince Kitashirakawa
Boats at Chidorigafuchi during cherry blossom season
Boats at Chidorigafuchi
Some lady at the castle walls
Lady using steps as a seat at Tayasu-mon. Overheard some Japanese people not happy with what she was doing.
Some kind of artwork behind a museum in Tokyo
Sculpture behind the Crafts Gallery building of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Some tough guy going through the castle gates
Tough guy going through Tayasu-mon

Zojo-ji Temple vs DJ Krush

I try to write something at least once a week, but this week I don’t really have anything. Instead, I’m writing about a video I got today from YouTube.

I subscribe to a YouTube channel called Vice Japan. They have some pretty interesting content . The video above was uploaded yesterday, and is of DJ Krush at Zojo-ji Temple (増上寺) performing Sonic Temple. Actually, I have no idea who this guy is, but I thought the video was very interesting. It’s an example of the melding of technology and contemporary culture with tradition and history, a striking characteristic of modern Japanese society.

Zojo-ji is a famous temple near Tokyo Tower. It was built in 1393, and then moved to its current location (Minato, Tokyo) in the 16th century. Pictures of the temple often have Tokyo Tower juxtaposed in the back, the image of which is another example of “old meets new”.

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From http://www.japan-guide.com

The song itself also uses contrasting elements, combining music from traditional instruments and modern electronic music. It’s an awesome, well-thought out music video. Best viewed with a decent pair of headphones.

Photosphere of Nagatadake (Mt. Nagata in Yakushima)

I got an email from Google the other day saying that my photosphere picture from the peak of Nagatadake (永田岳 – Mt. Nagata) has received over 300,000 views. Yay! I wish I could earn money from that, haha.

In case you don’t know what a photosphere is, it’s basically a 360 degree panoramic photo that you can take using the Google Camera app. On the photosphere above, use your mouse (or your finger) to move the viewpoint around. If you move the photo all the way sideways 180 degrees, you’ll see my friend next to the peak marker, looking out into the ocean.

She and I climbed this mountain last year in the spring. It’s on the island of Yakushima (屋久島), a world heritage natural site famous for inspiring the setting of Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke.

Nagatadake is not a popular destination among visitors of Yakushima. Most folks seem to have not even heard about it at all, and the typical itinerary is:

This was actually what our itinerary more or less looked like initially, but we ended up adding Nagatadake on the suggestion of a hiker we met along the way. He said that the views from the top were much more spectacular than on Miyanouradake. And he was right!

If you’re hiking up Miyanouradake, you might as well check out it out. Nagatadake is only about a 30 to 40 minute detour (one way), so it’s relatively near. In fact, in the photosphere above, you can see that it’s pretty close. That mountain in the distance is actually Miyanouradake.

Here are a few more pictures from the trip:

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On a big rock called Taiko-iwa at Shiratani Unsuikyo
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Flute player inside the remains of an old tree called “Wilson Kabu”. It’s on the way to Jomon Sugi.
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Jomon Sugi – a giant tree around 7,000 years old
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Me on the way to Nagatadake, on our second day on the trail. If you look closely in the distance, you can see a big rock. That’s where those guys in the first picture were sitting.

 

Nihonshu ( Japanese Sake) Kit Kat

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Last month, Nestle launched the Nihonshu (or “sake”) Kit Kat, and I saw it making the rounds on social media.

This and other exotic Kit Kat flavors are actually quite hard to find. Green tea is probably the only one that is easily available at convenience stores and supermarkets. To find the more interesting ones, your best bet is the airport or souvenir shops, or at a certain store in Ueno that specializes in Japanese snacks and candy called Nikinokashi (二木の菓子). It’s a big store located in a popular district in Ueno known as Ameyoko, a market town and one of very few places where you can haggle with shopkeepers in Tokyo.

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Ameyoko – I took this photo about three and a half years ago

Anyway, back to the Kit Kat…

So I was at Ameyoko last week (Actually, I go to Ameyoko every week. That’s where I do some of my grocery shopping) and found it at Nikinokashi. The box contains only 9 individually-wrapped “mini” Kit Kat bars. It’s a pretty big box for very little Kit Kat. The packaging is just for show, and kind of makes you think there’s a bottle inside it. Since it’s a big box anyway, I wonder why they decided on putting in just 9 bars instead of 10. It’s not like you couldn’t fit another one in there.

Here’s the packaging of one bar:

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This is how it looks undressed. It’s white, of course, to match the image of nihonshu:

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And finally, how it looks when cut in half. It basically looks like a white chocolate Kit Kat:

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The box says that it contains 0.8% alcohol. You’re going to have to eat several boxes full of this stuff to get drunk on it.

As for the taste, it really does taste like nihonshu! I can’t quite tell if the nihonshu flavor comes from the chocolate or the wafer (or both), but essentially it tastes like chocolate with nihonshu… which I actually don’t really like. It’s not bad, but I’m not into chocolates with alcohol.

I’m glad I picked it up though because today when I dropped by to do some groceries, they were sold out.

 

 

 

 

Solo Weddings in Japan

Solo Wedding pictures

Notice anything unusual in the photos above?

Yup, the groom is nowhere to be found. And why? Well, that’s because there isn’t one!

Introducing SOLO WEDDING:

Solo Wedding website banner

No fiance? No problem. You can still can still get married solo via Solo Wedding.

Actually, this isn’t what it sounds like. You’re not really marrying yourself. Rather, this service is for women who want to have a wedding photoshoot but don’t necessarily have someone to marry. Sounds sad, doesn’t it?

Here’s the logic behind the service…

Some single women hope to get married one day, but aren’t sure exactly when that’s going to happen. It could be in the near future, or perhaps a couple of decades from now. Should the latter become reality, by the time they do get married, they’d be a bit old and wouldn’t look as stunning in a wedding dress as they would have if they’d gotten married in their youth.

And so, that’s what this service is for: to have a collection of “wedding photos” while they’re still young.

It’s also probably for women who simply want to have a set of wedding photos even though they don’t necessarily intend to get hitched.

The service is run by a travel agency called “Cerca Travel”, which specializes in solo travel plans for women. Again, this sounds kind of sad. But come to think of it, I do like traveling alone and I don’t find it particularly sad.

A Solo Wedding is a 2-day package, and this is what the schedule is like:


Day 1 – Wedding Preparations

1:00 pm – Meet with the wedding planner

2:00 pm – Arrive at the wedding dress rental shop, choose a dress

4:00 pm – Meet with a “bouquet sensei” to decide on and make your bouquet

6:00 pm – Arrive at hotel


Day 2 – The Big Day!

9:00 am – Pick up service at the hotel

9:30 am – Get hair and make-up done

11:30 am – Wedding car pick up, move to wedding location

12:00 pm – Arrive at location, the pretend wedding and photoshoot begins

13:30 pm – Remove make-up, return dress, choose which photos to have printed

14:00 pm – End of service

The photo album and all photo data are delivered after a month.


Prices:

¥320,000 ~ ¥520,000 ($2,800 ~ $4,500)

Rates depend on whether you have the shoot on a weekday or weekend, and the kind of dress you wear. There’s also a special 3-day package that lets you wear 2 dresses for ¥660,000 ($5,800).

Quite pricey, huh?


 

If you’re interested, you better hurry. The service is only available until May 31, 2017!

Nissan’s PSA about Cats

I saw this today on YouTube. It’s a public service announcement about making sure your car has no cats hiding in it before you get in.

The video says that cats love warm places, and in the winter they sometimes take shelter in cars. So, before leaving, you should bang on your hood a bit and check. You might save a cat’s life.

This is a great marketing campaign. It’s a PSA and at the same time acts as an ad for Nissan, and it’s sure to generate views because everybody loves cats, except for jerks like Hitler maybe. And cats basically power the Internet with lolcats and stuff like that, so obviously this video is teaching us something super important.