Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Namco Namja Town, Ikebukero, Tokyo

This weekend, I had a chance to visit the mini-theme park, Namja Town, located in Sunshine City in Ikebukero.   What a pretty cool experience.  Before law school, I had lived in nearby Myogadani and now regret not visiting this cool little theme park in the early 2000's.  Well, what is Namja Town?  Namja Town is comprised of four lands, Gyoza Stadium, Ice Cream City, Dessert Kingdom and Ghost Town.   Within each of the lands are restaurants, attractions, games and shops.  General admission is 300 yen, and like carnivals, the attractions and games each require an additional fee, paid in the official currency of Namja Town, the Namja.  20 Namja equals 200 yen.  However, I believe that there is a day pass that'll get you into most of the attractions for 3,500 yen.

Here is a breakdown of the three lands we visited (we ran out of time and didn't get to Ghost Town):

Gyoza Stadium

Gyozas for dinner at a Chinese restaurant- great.  A whole themed land for gyozas?  Even better.  Well, to start, if you don't know what a gyoza (餃子) is, let me explain.  Gyoza are little meat dumplings from China.  Americans know them as pot stickers. 

Within Gyoza Stadium, there are 12 different gyoza shops, and the assortment seems never ending- kimchi gyoza, shouronpo gyoza, mentai mayo gyoza, cheese gyoza, fried shrimp gyoza, steamed gyoza, thin gyoza, ball gyoza, pizza gyoza and so on. 

With all the choices, this time we chose the ball (丸満) gyoza.  We were not disappointed.  The ball gyoza had a slightly crunchy outside with an almost pizza crust feel to them.  The pork filling was juicy and well-seasoned.  They were pretty hot on the inside, so please carefully eat them.  4 set us back 480 yen. 

Gyoza Stadium is themed like Showa Era Japan (although it lasted from the late 20's to the late 80's, the 50's is particularly known as Showa) with black and white televisions, 50's movies ads and candy stores reminiscent of the 50's.  There were 4 attractions in Gyoza Stadium, 2 of which were tours, and 2 of which were shooting games.  We did not go on any of them. 

Ice Cream City

Above Gyoza Stadium lies Ice Cream City.  As the name implies, it is a city where you can buy innumerable types of ice cream. 

Gelato, Turkish ice cream, soft serve ice cream, container ice cream, Coldstone-like ice cream and Taiwanese shaved ice cream are all here. 

We were tempted by the container ice cream place with over 300 varieties (eel, beef tongue and wasabi included), but ended up just going with the soft serve ice cream. 

Our group chose six great flavors- ramune, Japanese grape, chestnut, vanilla, green tea and wasabi.  The cones were 350 yen a piece and the 4 flavor sampler was 580 yen.  They were all delicious.  Next time, I'll try the Turkish ice cream.

Ice Cream City is themed like a futuristic metropolis and features a large game center and a laser tag arena.

Dessert Kingdom

You can get gyoza at Gyoza Stadium and ice cream at Ice Cream City.   That said, it is no surprise that Dessert Kingdom features desserts, cakes, crepes and puddings of all shapes and sizes.  Thoroughly sweets-full after visiting Ice Cream City, we did not enjoy any of the beautiful desserts.   We did ride the wooden carousel (20 Namja each) though and enjoyed walking through the Italian-themed streets of Dessert Kingdom.  Along the streets of Dessert Kingdom are numerable fortune tellers, fate games and future indicators.  I have a pretty good feeling that Dessert Kingdom is good place to bring a date and ask the fortunes about your future together!

As stated earlier, we were not able to visit Ghost Town.  We quickly passed through it though, after using the elevator and it seemed pretty scary.   Next time.

Next time sums it up about Namja Town.  Next time we will go to Ghost Town.  Next time we will try the fried shrimp gyoza.  Next time we will get the Turkish ice cream.  I can't wait until next time...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Girl band performing at Sunshine City, Ikebukero, Tokyo

Japan loves its girl bands.  Girl bands generally comprise of anywhere from 10 to 50 girls from the age of 14-23 that dance and lip-synch the songs they have recorded.  Some popular Japanese girl bands are AKB48 and SKB48.

A girl band performance occurred at Sunshine City in Ikebukero last weekend and I was able to observe parts of the performance from the third floor.  What struck me as pretty disturbing was the fact that the majority of the fans of the particular girl band I watched (and girl bands in general) are Japanese men in their late twenties to forties.  Gross...  To see this first hand, please check out the video of the crowd in the performance I saw.  The guy in white in the middle of the crowd mirror-image dancing to the girls on stage absolutely cracked me up.  He is really getting down to the music and the girls.  I wonder if the girls can keep a straight face if they see the dancing guy in white.   

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Halloween at Tokyo Disneyland, Maihama, Japan

Starting early September, one can experience the Halloween festivities at the Tokyo Disney Resort.  These festivities include Halloween decorations, special Halloween parades and shows, seasonal Halloween foods and beverages, and of course, limited edition Halloween goods.  The latter two categories, limited edition foods, beverages and goods, are hallmark to Japan.  As the seasons change, so do the menus and selection of things.  For example, during cherry blossom season, you can get cherry blossom flavored Kit Kat bars.  Or during the fall you can get chestnut flavored doughnuts.  Or mango flavored Starbucks drinks during the summer.   The list goes on and on and Disney is no different here with limited edition pumpkin flavored mont blanche pastries, pumpkin sundaes, and black colored gyoza dogs.  Other than the limited edition ghost shaped popcorn bucket we got (for 2000 yen/25 dollars each, ouch!), we did not enjoy any of the Halloween specialties.  However, for your viewing pleasure, please enjoy viewing some of the Halloween festivities we saw:

The Halloween décor starts at the monorail station.

Another Halloween themed monorail sign.

Just outside the park lies a haunted coach ready to take you to the afterlife.  

Even ghosts can be sexy!

Bet this guy isn’t too heavy for his steed.

Due to occurrences of native American massacres and battles like Little Big Horn, there are more than a few ghosts like these two combatants.

Even Toon Town and its kid-friendly atmosphere have gotten Halloween treatment. 

Ah!!! The scariest of all, Captain EO aka the late Michael Jackson!!!  Actually, it was quite nostalgic seeing this movie again, the dancing and costumes warped me back all the way to 1986.

Even the Country Bears have gotten into the Halloween act.

Since Disney (well, OLC in this case, but since Disney controls the theming at TDL, I guess Disney is appropriate here) is king of theming, no need to rate it on that one.  The food at TDL is well, as anyone who has visited a Disney park knows, above average quality at well above average prices.  The music of the Halloween parade was extremely catchy and I almost caught myself spending 2000 yen for the CD.  Luckily, I ran out of money and didn't feel like going to the ATM.  Back to Halloween theming, the Haunted Mansion features a special Nightmare Before Christmas theme, and this will last until Christmas.  So please make it out to TDL if you can to enjoy the Halloween fun.  On an unrelated note, please see my updated Enchanted Tiki Room post.

On a last note to all you boys and ghouls, here is a very eerie bear controlling the popcorn...

Muwahahahahahahahahahahahahaahhaaa!!!  Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ikspiari (TDR's Downtown Disney), Maihama, Japan

I had a chance to visit Ikspiari this weekend, which is the Tokyo Disney Resort’s answer to the Downtown Disneys at the Disney World Resort and the Disneyland Resort.  Ikspiari definitely has the Disney feel (although, like the rest of TDR, it is owned and operated by another company via a license from Disney) with its themed shopping areas and music.  Ikspiari features some shops/restaurants familiar to Americans such as Gap, Godiva, Starbucks, Rainforest Café and T.G.I.Fridays, and of course, has many Japanese stores such as Shinseido music, Monsoon Café and Lupica Tea.  Like its Downtown Disney brethren, Ikspiari has a multi-theater cinema.  Here are some Ikspiari pictures for your perusal. 

For our lunch, we decided to dine at the food court at Ikspirari, which features about nine restaurants, and you can eat everything in the food court from Italian to British pub to Japanese fare.  Here is a sampling of the restaurants’ food:

We went for udon and ramen.  Here are some pictures of the ramen shop as a well as one of the food court itself.  

Our group ordered plain udon with tempura chikuwa, tempura pumpkin and inari from the udon restaurant, and tonkotsu and shio ramen from the ramen shop.  As you can see from this picture, we greedily wolfed down our food. 

Our lunch totaled about 3,000 yen which is about 35 dollars U.S., not bad compared to the rest of the restaurants at Ikspiari.  Rainforest Café is particularly expensive here in Japan.  To be honest, the food was nothing too spectacular, and the speed we ate was mostly due to us being really hungry.  I personally find udon rather consistent from place to place, having a clean flavor and light broth.  My ramen, the tonkotsu ramen, was particularly garlicky and a little too salty.  The ramen noodles had a chow mein quality to them and I prefer thicker noodles.  As a result, I give our noodles three slurps out of five slurps.  

One note, like most food courts in Japan, there is limited seating space at Ikspiari's food court.  Accordingly, since lunch and dinner at Ikspiari’s food court are quite busy, it is best to eat a little before or after the meal rush.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Koshigaya, Saitama

For those Americans here in Tokyo, please raise your hand if you miss getting your giant chocolate covered apples from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.  (Everyone's hand is raised.) Well, you do not have to wait for your next trip to the States to eat the apples because Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory now has a Japanese store, which is located at Koshigaya Laketown Mall.  I talked a bit about Laketown in my last post, so I'll spare you the details.

In all of my experience with RMCF at malls and airports, I have never purchased RMCF's fudge/chocolate but rather have only bought the caramel/chocolate covered apples.  Accordingly, this is a review of the apples.

Let's get down to the details now about RMCF in Japan.  The store is somewhere between a stand and a store, something like those Starbucks in the mall.  Here is a picture:

Like in the U.S., the apples are big and beautiful.  They cost a bit more though.  The chocolate marshmallow apple set us back about 800 yen which is a little over 9 dollars U.S.

The most popular apples are conveniently ranked by the store to help you make your selection.   Further, the store is even nice enough to cut the apples for you, which can be difficult because the apples are so big.  

Since we had a lot of shopping to do, we brought our apple home and cut it there.   So far so good as it looked identical to the U.S. RMCF apples.  Upon tasting the apple, however, we realized that everything was the same to the American counterparts except for the fact that the apple was....  a red sweet apple instead of the green granny apples that we were accustomed to eating!  Still tasted great though as the chocolate and goodies were absolutely delicious and the apple was fresh.  I have to admit though that I feel that the green apples go better with the coatings since the additional sourness is a better contrast with the sweetness of the chocolate, caramel, marshmallows, etc.   Also green apples seem a little more firm than their red counterparts, and I prefer such firmness.  Perhaps RMCF Japan uses red apples because green apples are harder to come by in Japan.  Oh well, it definitely won't stop me from buying an apple every time I visit Laketown.

As a result of the difference in apples, I give Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory's apples three and a half apples out of five apples.

UPDATE: As of August 16, 2015, I learned (first hand experience) that Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Laketown is no longer there:(