Have you ever had takoyaki? It’s a ball of flour batter enveloping chopped pieces of octopus. It’s garnished with nori and bonito flakes, takoyaki sauce, and sometimes a dash of mayonnaise.
It’s one of my favorite snacks, something my grandma introduced to me when I was young, one Saturday when I accompanied her to Rustan’s Cubao. We bought it from this kiosk called Samurai. Nowadays I’m glad I don’t have to travel far whenever I crave for takoyaki, as it has become popular in Metro Manila.
Have you ever had monjayaki? First time I heard it I said “what-yaki?”. My Japanese companions had to spell it out for me, as they began preparing the ingredients on the grill. It’s a local Tokyo dish that resembles the okonimiyaki (Japanese pancake). It’s batter though is more watery.
See, on my last night in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago, we went to Dekunobou, an okonomiyaki restaurant near Tokyo’s Kanda station. It was a cookout – and our little group took turns grilling different yummy dishes. When it came to what was to be the highlight of the dinner, the making of the monjayaki, little spatulas were passed around for everyone in the group. A heap of chopped vegetables, fish roe, cheese and the batter were mixed together, and when they were almost cooked, the middle part was pushed outward, so the food became shaped like a donut. A new mix of batter was then incorporated into the “donut-hole”, making the dish more liquidy. I could smell the cheese as it melted, and as the monjayaki turned brown, that’s when I was told to cut a piece for myself using my little spatula. Wow, it was so good! I didn’t know there was such a thing as a monjayaki – I don’t recall ever seeing it in menus.
Monjayaki is best served and eaten with a group. The method of making it is also a good way to bond.
I’d say that moment was pretty special, as I learned something only locals are familiar with.
Every year since 2010, D and I go at least annually to The Land of the Rising Sun. A little over four hours away by flight from Manila, Japan is the number one travel destination in my list at any given time. It is where I can walk around without a solid itinerary on hand, as I am sure I would manage to get lost, stumble upon interesting finds and learn a few things. D and I are also always amazed at this country’s cleanliness, the order and discipline of the Japanese people, the way we feel safe walking its streets, and the people’s overall respectful nature. Our favorite seasons are spring (cherry blossoms!) and autumn.
During our first few visits, D and I had our share of tourist boo-boos. We’ve missed a couple of trains and platforms because of the complexity of the subway system. It was something easily rectified later on as we figured the different trains are color coded, and each station has their respective “codes”. In Tokyo, there is a massive underground network connecting the subway stations – and admittedly this is something that we have yet be familiar on. For now, we still just wing it every single time.
In the trains and buses, I always get overwhelmed by the silence – in a good way. It’s something that I only see in Japan – people do not talk on their phones. I was told that they do not make calls or keep their phones on silent when in transit out of consideration and respect to the people around them. I wish we can have that in my city.
Lastly, what I admire about the Japanese is the way they take pride in their work and craft. It’s always a treat to eat at the restaurants, or buy Japanese-made souvenirs because of the way they are carefully prepared. During my last visit a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of having a couple of multi-course Japanese dinners. Several small plate meals were served one at a time: a variety of colors, textures, and tastes. I thought I’ve already had a taste of all kinds of Japanese food, and boy that was an eye opener – Japanese cuisine is so vast. This makes me excited to discover more in our upcoming visit – that, and the fact that we go off the beaten track for a change.
Have you been to Japan? What do you like most about it?
For me, Japan is hands down the number one holiday destination. D and I go here at least once every year, and though in every visit we feel more and more at home, there’s always something to discover and learn in the amazing Land of the Rising Sun.
My favorite season to visit is Fall. Since we only have two seasons in the Philippines – wet and dry (and almost always hot and humid all year round except for a couple of our ‘cooler’ months), it’s a joy to witness the changing colors of the leaves in less than four hours’ flight away.
But then again, the magical effect of Sakura during spring never fails to astound me. It had been four years ago, more or less, since I’ve seen sakura up close (photo below), and D and I were lucky to having participate in hanami.
I kick off my first visit to Japan this year in a quite different fashion. I plan to see my usual sights after business hours over the next couple of days. On my first day I was greeted with dark clouds and rain, that I had to buy myself a big umbrella from Lawson. I nearly jumped for joy when I gt to see remnants of sakura!
It’s still raining now, and I’ve changed to my street clothes. I’m off to say hi to good old Hachiko at Shibuya station. Unless I get distracted by food, which is quite ok as I still have a few more days to catch up with Hachiko.
What I look forward to when traveling is experiencing the culture. On the other hand, if there’s any part of traveling that I’d rather skip it’s the wait time – from the boarding, to layovers, to the actual flight. To make good use of the wait time I would have my ebooks ready, or connect to the WIFI and surf away. So I usually end up having tired and strained eyes from all the reading.
It’s different, though, in the case of all my wait times in the Narita International Airport in Japan. I actually look forward to every couple of hours’ stay here, and I feel like I discover new places or things to do in this airport every time I check in or drop by for a connecting flight.
Just like most places in Japan, the Narita International airport is efficient, safe and clean. The airport staff is polite and accommodating. WIFI is free, and connection is fast. On top of these, here are what sets the Narita International Airport apart for me:
Information at my fingertips
Narita has a chatbot named Bebot that travelers can use as airport reference guide. I was able to use this on my iPhone during my last trip, when I asked how to get to another other terminal. The responses were quick, accurate and delivered in a conversational tone. After my questions were answered I was asked what I thought of the airport – and of course I gave it a thumbs up and said I loved it. Bebot’s response to this was rather very charming.
Bebot, the chatbot
A cute response from Bebot
Narita Observation Deck
In Terminal 1 we were able to access the observation deck where we could view the airplanes on the runway. Access is free and the deck is located at the fifth floor. The deck is enclosed with steel fence, and there were several benches.
NAA Art Gallery
Located at the fifth floor of Terminal 1 is the NAA Art Gallery. At the time, photographs of Mt. Fuji taken from different angles and seasons were being displayed. The photographers were friendly and even gave me and my husband a photo souvenir each.
NAA Art Gallery at Terminal 1
My last trip to Tokyo was for three days, and it was a stopover coming from North America en route to the Philippines. I did not want to tow my big luggage with me in the city, so I opted to avail of the baggage storage services of the airport. After paying the fee (around 520 yen per day for my medium-sized bag), I was given a claim stub and off I went. It was such a relief and convenience walking luggage-free to the city and to my hotel.
The post office is located at the fourth floor of Terminal 1. I was able to send the postcards which I bought from the souvenir shops to family and friends abroad.
Japanese cultural experience
Travelers can get to experience the traditional culture of Japan through dressing in samurai armor and having a photo taken as a souvenir; or hands on experience on Ukiyo-e printing. Allow for at least an hour before boarding to be able to participate in this as there may be a queue. I was able to take home my Ukiyo-e print, frame and display it.
My Ukiyo-e print finished product
Dressing in samurai armor
At Terminal 1 the Kabuki exhibit shows costumes, wigs, and accessories. I am always amazed by the colorful displays in this gallery.
Kabuki Gate at Narita Airport
I like Japanese souvenirs because they’re yummy, cute, colorful, and unique. My favorite purchases are green tea, doll-shaped rice crackers, Royce Nama chocolates, different flavored Kitkats, and Tokyo Banana. The stationery and pastries in the souvenir shops are packaged so nicely, I’m sometimes hesitant to take off the wrapping.
So far these are what I discovered and enjoy whenever I am at the Narita International Airport. I’m sure I’ll have more visits to come (Japan is my favorite holiday destination!) and I will find more places and activities to rave about.
Have you been to Narita International Airport? What did you think of it?