Entering the ANA Intercontinental Hotel Lobby for the Strawberry Sensations Festival was beyond my expectations. The lobby was filled with the aroma of strawberries, probably because 150,000 strawberries were used to make all the desserts. There was a tower of 6,000 macaroons made from real strawberries standing at the center of the lobby. I enjoyed adoring all the sweets they had on display, including fresh strawberries in cute wooden crates. A woman was playing the harp while many people took pictures of what I could only describe as a small piece of heaven. After enjoying a little bit of champagne, everyone went upstairs for the actual tasting.
I was in immediate disbelief at what was before my eyes. There were perhaps about 100 types of desserts to choose from, all arranged so beautifully that I felt almost guilty for taking one and ruining the perfect harmony that each plate of desserts had to offer.
The most impressive was the strawberry macaroon. I’ve never been a fan of macaroons, but that may be because the ones I had eaten before were all made in America. They were always dry, artificially colored and flavored, and too sweet to enjoy. But at the Strawberry Sensations Festival, I was shocked at how soft the inside was, and how the taste of real strawberries was the main flavor.
I’ve never had such an amazing macaroon in my life, especially one that didn’t leave me thirsty. All the desserts were amazing as well, not too overpowering of strawberry-flavor, just the right amount. Many of the dishes used the strawberries as a whole (not mixed into the dough/cream) and gave a fresh taste to my palate. Some of these desserts that included whole strawberries were the dorayaki, shortcake, mont blanc, and berry tart, to name just a few.
The desserts that did mix the strawberries into the food (such as the vanilla-strawberry cream, cream puff, strawberry fondue or waffle cone) had such a light flavor of strawberry that I could taste its authenticity, as opposed to the artificial flavors I’m used to having in the States. Every single strawberry that I had was consistently sweet and never lost its flavor, even with the addition of the accompanying sugars.
A few of the shocking dishes were still quite delectable. There was a ham and strawberry pizza that did not taste like a dessert at all because the flavor of the strawberry crust was very subtly incorporated into the whole. The other strawberry oddity was a wrap of spinach and cheese. I think the salty flavors were stronger than the strawberry bread, and so it didn’t upset my taste buds. It was just shocking to see pink-colored bread and discover that it was savory instead of sweet. Perhaps this was made on purpose as a mind-game. Personally, I preferred the sweet strawberries over these salty strawberry treats but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
I especially enjoyed the white strawberries. Just the arrangement of the white strawberries in a glass bowl and on a 3-tier plate gave me the impression of elegance, luxury, and refinement. The white strawberries really looked like jewels that were on exquisite display.
I realized for the first time that food can really be a beautiful art that people can enjoy. I had never tried a white strawberry before this day, so to have finally tried one is a complete rarity that not many outside of Japan can experience. The difference was quite extraordinary! I was expecting a subtle and sour flavor, but to my surprise, it was delicately sweet with a pinch of tartness to it. It was honestly like a magic show of flavor happening. The burst of tartness was really something that I’ve never experienced with fruit, let alone any food. It’s an experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget for the rest of my life.
Strawberry Sensations Festival
Date: From 1 January to 31 March 2018 Place: Restaurants and bars at the ANA Intercontinental Hotel Cost: Each restaurant and bar offers different desserts individually priced, there are also unique tasting courses, for example, the “Strawberry Afternoon Tea” at the Atrium Lounge features several strawberry-themed desserts for 4,500 per person if reserved online. Address: 1-12-33 Akasaka Minato-ku Tokyo, 107-0052 Access: One-minute walk from Tameike-sanno Station (Exit 13) on the Namboku and Ginza Subway line. URL: Visit the hotel’s website here.
WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE
After graduating from the States, I came to Japan to teach English. I studied abroad in Yamaguchi for one year and loved it so much that I wanted to return to live here. When people ask me why I love Japan, it’s very hard for me to answer with a quick response. There’s so much- Where do I even begin? I love how considerate, generous and respectful the people are. I love the attention to detail Japan has to everything. I love the sound of the language, as well as the written combinations of hiragana, katakana, and kanji. I love the nature that Japan has to offer, especially the beautiful moss that grows in old places. I love the food, skill and care given to each dish. I love the feeling of cleanliness, heritage, and advancement that Tokyo encompasses. I love how Japan values quality, whether it be from a stationery set to a bag, you can easily find a good one anywhere.
But besides my love for Japan, I also have other things that I’m passionate about. I love to paint using watercolors, especially that of sweets(you can see my paintings on instagram). I also enjoy playing piano, especially Joe Hisaishi songs. I also really enjoy studying Japanese! MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITER ｜ ABOUT WATTENTION NINJA
Take a minute to answer our survey and win a unique present from Japan
Sento is a public bath often found in urban residential areas. Unlike onsen, which use natural hot spring water, sento has a more utilitarian role in Japanese society, and before private bathrooms became the norm in Japan, it was the most common way to take a bath after long day at work.
If you have ever visited one, you might have encountered unfamiliar situations or wondered about some of the culture associated with this kind of establishments. We want to know about your experience! So please help us by answering this brief survey. Three of the people who answer it will receive one of these original pens in the shape of a Japanese character!
You have until February 10th to submit your answer.
There is so much to see in Japan. You can look up at the skyscrapers of Tokyo, look in the distance to see the peak of Mount Fuji, look on every side of Kyoto’s ancient cobbled streets. But did you know that there is a whole lot to see right under your feet?
Japanese manhole covers aren’t everyone’s idea of typical Japanese art, but they’re certainly worth discovering. Creative and unique sewer covers can be found in most of Japan’s 809 cities and 47 prefectures. Each manhole design has been chosen to represent a certain aspect of the area in which it’s located, whether that be the environment, the history, and traditions, or the people. Some towns even have several different designs in the same city; you can go on your own art tour from street to street!
The most elaborate manhole covers are finely detailed and even colored. The process of decorating them goes back to decades ago, in an effort to make the sewage system more appealing. That’s truly an example of finding beauty in even the dirtiest of places! In their essence, Japanese manholes reflect some core values of Japanese culture; respect (of people and the environment), attention to details and presentation, and bringing opposing elements together. If you walk around the streets of Tokyo, it is not uncommon to see an old shrine lodged in between big modern buildings. These contradictions are what a lot of today’s Japan looks like, and it reflects the rich history of the country. The traditional and the modern coexist, and it’s probably one of the reasons why Japan is such an interesting country to visit (and why there is an endless list of things to see).
Along the same lines, Japanese manholes are bringing beauty to sewers. Tourist and Japanese people alike love to discover the many designs while visiting various regions. The idea of collecting manhole cover pictures is so popular that the Gesuido Koho Platform Group even released manhole cards, not unlike sports cards. Each card contains a picture of the cover design, the geographic coordinates, and an explanation of the design. Since the project launched in April 2016, more than 220 designs from 46 different prefectures in Japan are available for collecting, and more than 1 million cards have been issued to date. The cards are handed out by local city offices. They certainly make great collections and the hunt for the cards creates great adventures around the country.
The manhole craze doesn’t stop there. People online are dedicating entire blogs to collecting manhole cover pictures, some having gathered around 6,000 pictures! Furthermore, some tour companies even offer bus tours that take people around to see several manhole covers (and collect the cards of course), and there is even a yearly manhole summit open to the public. If these activities aren’t your style, don’t worry; you won’t have any problems encountering your fair share of manhole covers wherever you end up going.
Sanrio Puroland, an attraction park in Western Tokyo run by the well-known Sanrio co., has used the popularity of manhole covers to promote their park in the hopes of attracting more tourists. Each year, over 1.5 million people visit the park, home of famous character Hello Kitty and other Japanese friends. In late 2017, Sanrio Puroland unveiled 10 new Hello Kitty manholes near the park. Talk about designer manholes!
So as you embark on your Japanese adventure, don’t forget to look down once in a while. You might see some street art worth seeing and capturing with a picture or two!
Have you fallen in love with Japanese manholes? If so, you are like Kevin and Steven, two Irishmen who have lived in Japan for years. Just recently, they’ve started their own screen printing company with the motivation of putting the beautiful Japanese manhole covers on t-shirts for the world to see. If you’re looking to wear your love of Japanese manholes on your chest, 47Regions has got just the project for you. There are currently 6 designs to choose from, and the t-shirts are available in a wide selection of colors and sizes. If you’re interested, please check out the project here. You can also check out @47Regions on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Learn more about the history behind specific manhole covers by checking out this article.
Check out the interesting variety of manhole covers around Shibuya here.
Have been to almost all major tourist attractions in Tokyo and have no idea where else to go? If you want to escape from Tokyo’s hustle and bustle, visiting Kawagoe in suburb Tokyo will be a good choice. 35 minutes from Ikebukuro and you’ll feel like traveling back in time to the Japan of 150 years ago. Known as the little Edo, the nostalgic streets of Kawagoe exude a charming atmosphere of Edo, or old Tokyo. From old establishments boasting over a hundred years of history to modern stores offering the trendiest products, Kawagoe is a mix of new and old, past and present, and always offers something new and exciting for everyone at anytime.
Kawagoe discount pass premium: your best deal when visiting Kawagoe
If you want to travel in Japan as much as you like without paying a huge traffic bill, taking advantage of discount travel passes is a must! Tobu Railway’s “Kawagoe discount pass premium” and “Kawagoe discount pass” offers unlimited train travels between Ikebukuro Station and Kawagoe Station, as well as special discounts at participant stores in Kawagoe’s old streets.
On top of the above benefits, the premium pass includes unlimited city travel by Tobu buses within designated area. At only 950 yen, “Kawagoe discount pass premium” will get you to all major tourist attractions in Kawagoe. It is the best discount travel pass for visiting Kawagoe!
You can buy a discount pass at the central no.1 ticket gate of Tobu Tojo Line. The ticket makes a good souvenir because it is designed to mimic a traditional festival costume.
In Japan the day gets dark at around 4pm in winter, so it’s better to head out earlier so that you have enough time to explore Kawagoe. Today I got up early and from Ikebukuro I took Tobu Tojo Line’s express train bound for Ogawamachi. Though it was morning rush hour, the train wasn’t as crowded as the always packed Yamanote Line trains. The train ride was far more comfortable and I could even take a seat and relax.The ride was very smooth, with comfortable seats, power outlets and free Wi-Fi connection. Eventually, after a while of looking out the window, I dozed off and before I knew it, I was already at Tobu Nikko Station.
From Kawagoe Station you can take a bus to the Ichibangai bus stop of Kawagoe. Get on the bus from the rear door. Just show your “Kawagoe discount pass premium” to the driver as you get off.
Get off the bus at Otemachi station. Turn left, walk along the alley, soon the famous Bell of Time will be at sight.
Today’s art and culture trip in Kawagoe will start from the Bell of Time in the center of the old streets. Let me show you around!
Stop one: put on a kimono and take a leisure stroll along the historic old streets
The most exciting thing about visiting Kawagoe is the kimono experience. Put on a kimono and take a walk along the historic old streets is such a memorable experience that you’d feel like becoming an actress featuring in a historic drama and have your graceful appearance pictured at any corner of the streets.
Today I made a reservation for Coedo Vivian kimono rental shop, which is probably the oldest of its kind in Kawagoe. An all inclusive service from hair styling to kimono and accessories to getta wooden shoes costs only 2,160 yen. You may wear the kimono from 10am to 5pm. The price is rather reasonable in Japan.
If you couldn’t decide which color suits you best, ask the kimono dresser for her professional advice.
Wearing a kimono in winter can be a bit cold. To keep warm you may bring a big scarf and a few heat packs just like I did. Get changed and we are ready to explore the old streets!
The Bell of Time has undergone earthquake-resistant renovation in January 2017.
Walk from the Bell of Time to Ichibangai shopping streets you will see rows of historic Japanese warehouse buildings. These houses were designed to be fire resistant because a major fire disaster struck Kawagoe in the Edo period. Then the houses have been preserved to modern days. To preserve the precious Edo period cityscape, the Japanese authority has designated the area as Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings.
In Japan it’s a recent trend to put old houses to new uses. For example, you would see many old houses being turned into grocery stores or cafes, which you may not know what kind of shop it is simply by looking from outside. So it is also a nice surprise in your trip.
Take a closer look you will find a few western style buildings from Meiji or Taisho period standing among Japanese style ones without looking out of place. They seem to fit into the nostalgic atmosphere rather well.
Tired after a long walk? Why not stop for some desserts? Kameya is a famous Japanese confectionery shop with a history of about 230 years. Its main store is right on Ichibangai shopping street, and its Motomachi store has a limited edition turtle-shaped dorayaki pancake which not only looks nice but also comes with many flavors such as red bean, chestnut, and yam paste. I bought a yam paste dorayaki and started eating it in front of the shop. What a great experience!
Stop two: all kinds of local yam cuisine you can imagine
In Kawagoe you’ll find a variety of yam sweets sold almost in every corner of the streets. Even there are restaurants serving specialty yam meals. It is because Kawagoe was a prosperous river transport hub. Planting yam became popular as river transport got more and more convenient. As time went by, yam has become a specialty product of Kawagoe.
For example, restaurant Torokko serves a yam-themed mini Kaiseki cuisine that includes 10 dishes such as yam rice, stirred tofu with yam, fried yam with grated radish, udon noodles with baked yam, and yam croquette. Every dish has yam in it. Really amazing that a vegetable as simple as a yam can become so many different cuisines while maintaining yam’s unique flavor. Don’t forget to show your “Kawagoe discount pass premium” for a 5% discount and enjoy Kaiseki cuisine without paying a huge bill. And I reccomend you to make a reservation by phone or by mail three days in advance.
Next to the restaurant is a pottery workshop featuring atmospheric black tiles and white wall. If you’ve got some spare time, why not try your hands at pottery making and painting?
Stop three: recollect Japanese nostalgic sweets.
Walk from Ichibangai street to Candy Alley (Kashiya Yokocho), you’ll find several small shops that will remind you of your childhood. You know, it’s one of those small shops around the corner selling everything from candies to toys.
Check out how an amezaiku (a kind of traditional Japanese candy craft artistry) artist shapes malt syrups into various cartoon characters.
This Edoya store is located right at the entrance of Candy Alley. The pink exterior aroused my curiosity, so follow me and check it out.
Look at the shelves! So many different items! These candies are long sellers all Japanese people familiar with.
Check out these whistle candies, pop rocks candies, coke candies, juice and jelly candies. The store has got everything you can think of. There are even vintage toys that you seldom find in other shops. It’s really a one-stop shop for all kinds of candies and toys.
Located in the Candy Alley, Tamariki candy shop boasts more than a hundred years of history. As I walked into the shop, a group of primary school students flooded in and everyone was buying candies with great enthusiasm. I suppose they are here on a school field trip. Anyway they are cute!
Look at these colorful hand-made candies! The store owner recommended me this pack of Okinawa black sugar candies that was invented a hundred years ago.
This Inabaya Honppu is famous for its hand-made yam donuts. Their signature products are hand-made Japanese traditional confectionery such as purple taro yam buns and yam yokan dessert.
Stop four: a delicious combination of shrine and cafe
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine is famous for giving good luck for love. There is a café named Musubi in the building next to the shrine. Since some ingredients are prayed before putting to use, every bite of food you eat is as if instilled with Gods’ and Goddess’ blessings.
The café serves light meals and afternoon tea. All cakes and confectioneries are so delicately prepared. Because the shrine next door is known for giving good luck to marriage, the café serves berry mousse cakes decorated with a macaron, berries, and white chocolate. The cake looks like a bridal hair accessory and is so cute that I almost don’t know how to eat it! The sweet and sour berries and white chocolate mousse go so well with other. I could taste the different layers of ingredients inside it. A cake and a sip of hot tea, what a great duo to warm my body!
Enjoy an afternoon tea party with Gods and Goddesses. Maybe it will bring you happiness and good luck in love!
A visit to Hikawa Shrine is not complete without fishing up a fortune-telling paper strip hidden in fish-shaped containers and praying for good luck in love.
You may also try “Hitogata-nagashi“. You float a paper doll down a river so that all bad things are gone with it.
Stop 5: the night stays alive with its Taisho Roman glitter
Then I took a bus to Taisho-roman Street. As the name says, here you may see many buildings built in Taisho period and preserved until now. Everything from architecture style to signage exudes an exotic atmosphere.At night it was drizzling and the night sky of Kawagoe was kind of misty and illusory.
Most shops on Taisho-roman Street are about to close. By chance I passed by a Japanese confectionery shop that is still open. Being a food lover as I am, I have to drop in and have a taste!
The appearances of yam yokan dessert and baked dango sweet rice dumplings may not look as impressive as those modern pastries, but the flavor is for sure real stuff handed down from generation to generation. After eating, I have refueled my energy and ready to take a bus back to Kawagoe Station.
Through a day trip in Kawagoe, I have had many precious memories. Kawagoe is such a lively place where new and old coexists. Every turn at a street corner may bring you new discoveries. If you like traditional Japanese cityscape, historic buildings, and a slower-paced life, I promise you will fall in love with Kawagoe, just like I did!