Japan Day 6 – Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture

Tips:

  • One thing that always stopped me from visiting Japan was the fear of not being able to read the language, therefore, not being able to get around. Don’t worry, if you stay in the main city areas, such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, etc everything is in multiple languages, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and English. On that note, it is helpful to be able to read Hiragana and Katakana, because sometimes at train stations it will take a bit of time before the text switches from Japanese to Romaji. Or a lot of train stations in between will not have English everywhere, but they will have Hiragana everywhere.
  • Feel overwhelmed in Tokyo Station? Don’t, before you get off the train to Tokyo Station make sure you know the following:
    • If you are changing to a different line, KNOW which line you are transferring to. Signs are very clear so you just need to follow the signs
    • If you are leaving the station to enter the city area look at your map and figure out which direction it is. The exits will be labeled such as East Exit, West Exit, etc.

Today was supposed to start off early, for some reason I’ve been waking up at 7:30-8:00 every morning without an alarm, guess I’m just really excited to get my day started. That being said, I really like hanging out in bed, so I stayed there much longer than I should have which resulted in me missing my train in Tokyo station to get to Ashikaga. Never fear! I have a JR Pass…yeah, that should be a tag line. I found the next Shinkansen going in the direction I needed (Thanks, Navitime Travel and Google maps) and caught the train I needed (Hakutaka 559). I got off at the Ashikaga stop and walked to Ashikaga Gakko.

Ashikaga Gakko is believed to be the Japan’s oldest educational institution said to be founded in the 9th century. I really love history so I’m sad that I couldn’t read all the signs around the old school, but I was really lucky that I got to witness people getting their wedding photos taken at the school. And…okay, a little weird that I took pictures of the bride and groom, but the bride looked so beautiful I couldn’t help myself!

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After leaving the school I walked over to Kongosan Banna Temple, which is just right around the corner. (Yes, I’m being much better about how I manage my travel time this time and I’m not hopping around). So what’s special about this Temple? It is a Buddhist temple that was built in 1197.

This is also where the Ashikaga clan (prominent Japanese samurai clan) ruled and resided in Japan from 1336-1573.  The temple itself, much like the school felt very peaceful.

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Next stop is Ashikaga Flower Park. I loved it when I came in December because they do an AMAZING illumination of the park, but…this time around, they did have beautiful flowers that they had planted, but the crowning glory of this park is really the wisteria and unfortunately, the wisteria doesn’t bloom until late April to mid-May…I’ll remember that for next time.

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I decided to also find a good place to eat…and this is going to sound odd, but I decided to return to Tokyo. I went to Shibuya as there was a specific place I wanted to try, but it is best to make a reservation as the space is very small and they apparently get very busy. I walked around and saw beautiful cherry blossom trees lining the streets (could you make me fall in love with you any more Japan?)

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And stumbled upon an Indian restaurant, which was awesome, and the flavors were so different from the Indian food I’ve eaten in London and in the States. I ordered a dinner set which came to ¥1,780 and came with: Daal soup (all you can eat), Nepalese marinade, sesame chutney (WHICH WAS AMAZING), curry (your choice, I chose almond chicken), rice (all you can eat), and one drink (I chose oolong tea).

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 I feel like my culinary experiences for the past 5 days has really spun around bentos and convenience store food, which is good, but I wanted to try something awesome. So I went in search of a dessert restaurant and I found…an amazing…restaurant Janice Wong Dessert Bar, located in Shinjuku. Go there. You really must…I lucked out and ended up sitting next to two women that were also tourists, one from Vancouver, BC, and the other from Calgary. The one from Calgary is a pastry chef and informed me that Janice Wong is actually very well known globally (I had no idea), which made me even more excited. I ended up chatting with the two women while we enjoyed our desserts together.
What made this a unique experience for me is that Janice plays with many different flavors, textures, and does a lot of molecular gastronomy…uh…yes…go, this place was right up my alley. Janice has many stores, but tonight I was lucky that she was in her Shinjuku one and I got to watch the master at work as she made some of my desserts personally.
I did the Special Dessert Set, which comes with 7 different tastings. First up:
Spring Cocktail Soup, this was shaken with cucumber juice, wasabi, and grapefruit juice. I know…it sounds SUPER weird, but…it was SUPER amazing.
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2nd, Asparagus garden, it may be hard to tell what some of the things are, but let me break this down for you. Green asparagus pudding (this can be found from where the line in the block is straight up), white asparagus (standing up like tree trunks), salt caramel (drizzled all over), white balsamic (the little pool on the left side), using CO2 they freeze dried raspberries… this all sounds really weird together, but somehow, it just all worked!
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3rd, Purple, this has cassis which you can see, mixed berry, lavender which can be found in the liquid dots, potato (believe it or not, it is the frozen pods), and purple sweet potato which is that smear right above the row of purple).
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4th, Green and Green, matcha and pistachio ice cream, green peas, saffron infused cake, hassaku orange (those little crispy, yellow dots…I don’t know how they were made, but trust me…they taste like orange)
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5th, Strawberry Caprese, strawberry, tayberry, tonka snow, chartreuse (gave it a nice herb flavor), Sakura pearls, and…this is the part where you’re like, “excuse me?”, burrata cheese…that’s the little white stuff that was like a fine powder at the top
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6th, cacao pods, bitter-sweet chocolate ice cream stufffed with lemon and bacon on top of (somehow powdered) truffle, and hazelnut sauce.
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Last…and I was full at this point but somehow, felt sad that the journey was over, petit fours, poundcake flavored with cassis and pistachio, and this bon-bon…which…I don’t even know how they got the flavors in there…I’m pretty sure I tasted pistachio, caramel…and something else I couldn’t put my finger on.
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But wait…there’s more…I didn’t eat this, but I saw them make it…and it is BEAUTIFUL
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Did I mention you need to go there?  Yeah…you need to go there.

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