Mt. Fuji or Fujisan is probably one of the most iconic landmarks in Japan, much like Uluru for Australia, and everyone has their own way of checking it out, from seeing it from afar on a Shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto or get a close up view from a lookout in one of the towns located around the foot of Mt. Fuji. You can even hike to the summit, but unfortunately that is not allowed during the winter months, as the hiking trails are covered by snow. We took a fairly novel approach when it comes to a close up view of Mt. Fuji – we’re going to get an unobstructed view from the top of a roller coaster ride.
Still, we should always start the day right with some breakfast :). Trying out the neighbourhood 7-Eleven this time, I got myself an all-bread breakfast with a meronpan (melon bread, L) and a fish burger (R).
When westerners think of amusement parks in Japan, it’s either the Disneyland & Disney Sea in Tokyo or the Universal Studios in Osaka, since they are more internationally well known. I’ve been to the Tokyo Disneyland many years ago during my first trip to Japan and also the Universal Studios in Los Angeles, and while they are both fun there’s plenty of criticisms to be had. Disneyland was a little too childish for me, especially as a fob who did not grow up with any of the characters so there were no nostalgia factor. Universal Studios was more entertaining for teenagers and young adults, but none of the rides are very thrilling or satisfying if you’re an adrenaline junkie. Both are VERY expensive for a day out and you can expect ridiculous crowds, especially around holiday season or school holidays, both of which are currently happening. Therefore, I made the executive decision to ditch these American amusement parks in favour of something more local.
Instead, today we’re going to Fuji-Q Highland, an amusement park very popular with domestic tourists in Japan but almost unheard of by anyone outside of Japan. This amusement park’s claim to fame is its insane record-breaking roller coasters that I’m sure was designed by sadistic engineers who wanted to test the limits of what a human body can handle short of being inside a rocket launch -_-. The 4 most famous roller coasters within the confines of Fuji-Q Highland all hold various types of Guinness World Records, although some of which have been overtaken by other roller coasters since. The other benefit of this place is that it’s conveniently located at the foot of Mt. Fuji, near the town Kawaguchiko, one of the famous lakes in the Fuji Five Lake region. This means that not only can you get a great view of Mt. Fuji at the top of a roller coaster (if you’re not shitting yourself), there are infrastructure in place to get you to and from Fuji-Q Highland conveniently, which Lillian and Jasmine completely failed at 😀.
Fuji-Q Highland, or if you want to visit any other part of the Fuji Five Lake region, lies about 2 hours bus ride outside of Tokyo. Both trains and buses connect Tokyo and the Fuji Five Lake region, but JR Pass are not available on these train lines and trains usually require more transfers, so I’d say in most cases buses are the best way to get there. Most highway buses that connect Shinjuku or Tokyo Station to the Fuji Five Lake area will stop at Fuji-Q Highland along the way. But if your sole purpose of coming here is to visit the amusement park like us then it’s best to purchase a combo ticket that includes both transportation and admission to the park, and this is what I want to talk about for the next paragraph.
Fuji-Q Highland QPack Guide
Because not many tourists come here, I really couldn’t find too much information online about Fuji-Q Highland, like how to get there or what’s the cheapest way to visit. But after some research, I believe the most cost-effective way to visit Fuji-Q is through the QPack combo ticket, which cost 7800 yen for an adult and provides return bus transportation from Shinjuku directly to Fuji-Q as well as entrance and unlimited rides. The pricing structure for Fuji-Q is a bit weird, you can pay for an entrance fee but also separately for each ride, although you can get all-inclusive tickets that cover entrance fee and rides, and if you’re really pay2win you can buy fast tickets that gets you to the front of the line. I don’t want to deal with buying individual tickets to each ride, so I think this combo is worth it and I’m pretty sure if you can get a couple of rides in then you’ll be saving money compared to paying for each ride individually (which are ~1000 yen each for the main rides). However, it’s a bit confusing to actually secure this ticket so I’ll give a step-by-step guide below:
- Go to the official website here to see the latest information regarding price and conditions, as they may have changed since I posted this
- Under “Internet reservations” click the highwaybus.com icon, and follow the links to reserve a seat, otherwise just click here. Note that this online reservation does NOT guarantee anything. Basically you can’t actually buy this ticket online, it’s availability is tied to whether you can get a seat on the buses that’ll get you there. So first you must reserve a seat on the bus then personally show up at the bus terminal to pay for your reservation and you’ll receive the tickets for both the bus and Fuji-Q (the bus is a public bus and not a Fuji-Q private shuttle, hence why they operate kinda separately)
- Once you have made your reservation for the return trip, head to the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal on the 4th floor at the southern end of Shinjuku Staion.
- Tell the reception you’re here for the Fuji-Q tickets or just show then the confirmation email and they’ll know what’s up. Then they’ll direct you to a counter where you can hand over the confirmation email and money in exchange for your Qpack tickets (2 bus ticket and 1 voucher to exchange when you arrive for entrance and unlimited rides). If you want to be safe then go a day or two before the reservation like we did, so you don’t miss the bus – because Shinjuku Station is huge and finding the bus terminal took us a while, plus you have to wait in line before a counter can serve you
With our tickets in hand, we headed to Shinjuku Station nice and early for our 7:35 am bus. Knowing it’s a ~1.5 hour trip, I decided to stock up for my stomach before we left from the Family Mart within the bus terminal.
After a nice nap we arrived at the gates of Fuji-Q, where upon a short walk we were greeted by the sight an ENORMOUS roller coaster.
To me roller coasters fall into two categories, fun ones and scary ones. Fun ones are usually the type you’ll find at Disneyland, family and kids friendly with just enough g-force to scare you a little bit. They stop being actually fun when you get into high school. Scary ones are the ones where the amusement park management just told the engineer to fuck shit up and left them to their own devices. I love the scary ones since it’s rare to get that much adrenaline and excitement but at the same time know that you’ll (most likely) be safe. Thus I’m already gleaming with anticipation at the sight of this thing , but also slight fear at the same time, because while that shit looks fun as hell and I love these roller coasters, I DO call them the scary ones for a reason. Although by this time Karl is already freaking out so I gotta be brave and hold down the fort as the man here kappa.
Fuji-Q opens officially at 9 am but they seem to open the gates slightly earlier, as by time time we exchanged the vouchers for our tickets people have been trickling in for a while already.
Based on my research (remember there wasn’t a lot out there), in summer this place gets packed just like Disneyland but in winter the crowds can be scarce, however sometimes when it’s too windy some rides are shutdown for safety reasons. Since we are in both holiday season and school holidays, I picked 27th as the day to go, hoping there might be a slight reprieve in crowds between Christmas and New Years. I can’t tell if that worked or not because on our left directly behind the entrance is where people start lining for that giant roller coaster we saw earlier, and the line is LONG. It took us almost 1.5 hours to reach the front of the line, so it wasn’t Tokyo Disneyland level (2-3 hours is the norm) but it was still pretty long. Bring other forms of entertainment if you don’t wanna die from boredom.
This first roller coaster we lined up for is one of the four main roller coasters in Fuji-Q, each of them even have their own Wikipedia page! The Fujiyama, named after Mt. Fuji, is 79m tall with a top speed of 130km/hr and when opened in 1996 it was the world’s tallest roller coaster and had the steepest drop at 70m (shit). Technology has obviously moved on but even now it sits at 8th tallest, 5th longest and 10th fastest in the world, so not bad still.
It was exhilarating, easily the best roller coaster I’ve been on I think, better than the one’s I tried at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast which were pretty scary in their own right. This one mainly focuses on steep drops and puts you horizontally at times going around the corner, so you better hold on to the handrails properly. We tried going hands-free but that didn’t last very long LOL. Also, the slow descent up to the 79m peak not only prepares you mentally for the shitfest that’s about to happen, but also gives you plenty of opportunity to admire Mt. Fuji, provided the weather is good. Fortunately for us the weather was perfect, most of the day was nothing but clear blue skys.
I didn’t bring my action camera for this trip, and there was 0 chance I’d risk my phone, so I have no footage of any of the rides but here’s PoV video I found on Youtube. Even watching it at home is scary…
At the end I looked over to Karl and he legit had tears coming out of his eyes, you know this shit is scary when it makes you cry (he had an excuse but I forgot). One ride and we pretty much forgot all about the arduous waiting we had to do. We both had to take a short break after getting off to catch our breath, if we weren’t fully awake before from the bus ride we definitely are now…
Next up is the Dodonpa, which opened in 2001 as the fastest roller coaster in the world. While it no longer retains that title, it’s still the 4th fastest and has the fastest acceleration at launch. The launch is what it is known for, going from 0 to 180 km/hr in just 1.56 seconds and destroying it’s passengers with 3.3 G’s of force. By comparison, astronauts at lift off only experience 3 G’s, although for much longer duration.
The wait was less for this one but it was still an hour before we sat in the car. Then the car is driven to the launch point where a 3 second countdown prepares us for the launch. And holy shit was it a fast launch, the only way I can describe it is it feels like your face is peeling away as your head is tugged backwards. Wikipedia even says “To keep riders on their toes, designers added a false start feature, so occasionally riders will experience a “failed” launch, signaled by loud ringing alarms, followed by a surprise “accidental” launch“, I wish we got that but at the same time I’m perfectly fine not having to experience that LOL. The rest of the ride was also very fast but the track itself isn’t that complex or scary, although to be honest anything felt like a relief in comparison to the initial launch.
Then we joined the the line in the adjacent roller coaster, the Takabisha. The newest ride out of the big 4 at Fuji-Q, this one isn’t known for being particularly fast or anything but rather it is the steepest roller coaster in the world. You might think a steep fall would be something approaching 90 degrees but nope the designers of this ride just said screw it, it’s go hard or go home. The Takabisha starts you off with a 121 degree free fall, yeah that’s right it’s not just perpendicular but it actually bends inwards as you fall, so there’s literally a few seconds where you’d be hanging upside down…
I gotta hand it to Japanese for originality, I’ve definitely never seen a ride like this before, definitely some innovative shit. While we waited in the line they even had posters on the wall that outlines all the complicated maths that went behind this ride’s design.
The absolute worst part is the ascent, the car goes up really slowly at 90 degrees so all you can see while you’re in the seat is the clear blue skies. Then as the car goes over the top of the “R” shape, it hangs out there just enough that you can look down and what’s about to happen. What a goddamn tease -_-
The rest of the ride is no slouch either, they really invested in the theme of inversions. Multiple stomach-churning loops await after you survive the initial 120 degree drop, which was the exact reason we decided to line up and do this before going to lunch. Rather not send all the food back out while I’m up there…
That knocks off 3 of the 4 main rides at Fuji-Q, but by now it’s already 1:30 pm so we decided to get something to eat before tackling the last challenge. There’s quite a bit more on offer at Fuji-Q apart from the crazy roller coasters, believe it or not there’s a lot of family friendly stuff too. There’s an giant outdoor ice rink in the centre of the park, which makes for a nice photo with Mt. Fuji in the background.
Too bad we didn’t really have enough time to waste on things like this, since we can ice skate anytime back home but pretty sure Luna Park ain’t gonna offer the “death by roller coaster” experience.
I think we all know food is a bit of a rip off at places like amusement parks, since they got all the power as it’s limited supply vs. massive demand. That’s not much different at Fuji-Q, but there is one decent value option here – MOS Burger, a Japanese fast food chain, has a branch here. MOS burger, which stands for “Mountain, Ocean, Sun”, is the second largest fast food chain in Japan after Maccas and has been really popular around Asia, even opening a few stores in Australia recently. They specialises in burgers but IMO their offerings seem to be bit more on the healthy side compared to western fast food burgers. The Fuji-Q branch actually offers a burger called the Fujiyama Burger that cannot be found in any other MOS Burger branch in the world, so naturally we went ahead and got that.
Unfortunately, this burger was more about the novelty factor rather than actual taste to me. Actually it was just the regular MOS burger with 2 patties, so nothing outrageously special aside from the fact that you can’t get it anywhere else. Maybe I’m just a unhealthy fatshit, but this isn’t as good as Maccas burgers taste-wise. The only thing that stood out for me was the salsa, bread was also decent but the patties, the star of any burger, weren’t that great.
PSA: we initially wanted to go to Lotteria, the other fast food chain in Fuji-Q, which also had a burger that can’t be found anywhere else. Lotteria originated from Korea so Karl really wanted to try it, since he’s a huge koreaboo. However, we couldn’t find it after looking around for a while so I asked the information desk and was told that it closed down :(.
Nevertheless, the Fujiyama Burger gave us enough energy to march onward to the last boss, Eejanaika. The name doesn’t have a direct translation per se, but in the Guinness World Records the translation is “ain’t it great!”. Why is it in the Guinness World Records? Well it is the world’s fastest, tallest and longest “4th Dimension roller coaster”. Don’t worry when I first heard it I was like wtf is a “4th Dimension roller coaster” too. According to Wikipedia, it is “a design in which the seats can rotate forward or backward 360 degrees in a controlled spin“. This is what it looks like:
The lines weren’t very long either probably because it’s in the afternoon so some people have left, so we made it to the front in about 40 minutes. But neither of us were prepared for what’s about to come. Our first “wait a minute” moment was when we had to take our shoes off before getting on, and we realised there’s no “bottom” to the car so our feet were dangling in the air as we sat in our seat. That quickly became an “oh shit” feeling as we also strapped onto the car with our backs facing the front, so when the car started moving we could not see where we were going…
Then the ride began and holy shit that it was INSANE. The bottomless seat and backward starting position meant that the seat can actually rotate on it’s own. Oh yeah I forgot to mention, the Eejanaika also has the most inversions, i.e. upside down loops, of any roller coasters in the world. This means that while the tracks are going upside down, our seats are simultaneously also rotating, and because there’s no “ground” to place our feet on it literally just feels like we’re being tossed around in a blender. I have NEVER even thought this concept existed for roller coasters, so my mind was re-blown once again after doing the Takabisha. It was EPIC and easily I think the best roller coaster I’ve ever been on, an insane combination of fun and scariness.
So having done all 4 of the main rides here at Fuji-Q, it’s time to rank them. My picks in descending order of how thrilling the rides were are:
- Eejanaika – insane rotations and loops makes this one the only one I basically just gave up trying to figure out what’s going on during the ride
- Fujiyama – fast and a ridiculously long drop means plenty of thrills and variety
- Takabisha – the R shaped track was awesome, but it was over quickly
- Dodonpa – initial lift-off was great but again it only lasted the blink of an eye and the rest of the ride was average
You can probably spot a pattern in my rankings, I tend to favour rides that are consistently awesome the entire ride over those that blows it’s load too quickly. Still, each ride had something unique to offer and I’d definitely recommend not only coming here if you’re in Tokyo, but line up for at the very least these 4 rides.
There’s a few other rides in the park, but we weren’t that keen on doing them as we were running out of time and the 4 main rides have set the bar too high.
Something that I think is definitely worth doing but we didn’t have time for is the Hopeless Fortress 2. It’s like an escape room on steroids, where teams of up to 4 players attempts to infiltrate the fortress and recover a key without getting caught by various security apparatus such as cameras, lasers and robots. It is known for being ridiculously hard, with a 99.99% fail rate and only a single team of 2 people have successfully recovered the key out of the 500,000+ people who have tried. That’s some crazy fail rate, and that’s coming from someone who does Part III actuarial exams T_T. Equally ridiculous, the original incarnation before being upgraded in 2015 only had 2 teams of 2 winners out of 1,200,000+ contestants. Apparently one of the winning players had attempted the challenge every week for over 2000 (!) attempts before, and the achievement was so rare they got to keep the key they retrieved, of which only 30 was ever made in the first place.
Instead of an almost guaranteed failure, we spent our remaining time at the other thing Fuji-Q was known for that isn’t a roller coaster – the Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear, otherwise known as the Haunted Hospital. I’ve only ever been inside a haunted house once before, a few years ago in Universal Studios Hollywood, and that was really really fun & scary at the same time. But that experience only lasted like maybe 10 minutes, although it probably felt longer since I was trying not to shit my pants every 10 seconds. On the other hand, the Haunted Hospital is the largest haunted house in the world that could take between 40 minutes to 1 hour to complete, depending on how much of a pussy you are. That is a LONG time, and you don’t truly appreciate just how long that is to spend in a haunted house until you get inside and the atmosphere sinks in. They start scaring you even before you get it with this creepy ass doll at the front, so don’t just walk around paying attention to your surroundings (a tip equally important inside).
This attraction is not included as part of the unlimited ticket, so we gotta fork over some extra cash to do it. It also doesn’t have a line, but instead you pay for a particular session that’s not full, and come back at the stated time. There are instructions at the front in English so you can’t mess it up.
Once you enter, you have to sit through a short live action video that sets the mood, think of those Japanese horror films, it’s pretty scary.
Then you enter the huge maze inside the hospital for up to 1 hour of terrifying fun. But don’t worry, if you’re legit too scared and can’t continue there’s various doors along the way where you can retire from the game. The rest of this paragraph I’ll talk briefly about what’s inside since we obviously can’t take videos, so ***SPOILERS ALERT***. You’re given a handheld torch and enter the hospital in small groups, following a linear path so you can’t get lost. Every room has lots of well made props, some of which are a bit scary or gory. The main scare factor are the jump scares from actors, the kind that spring to life as a dead body or jump out of a closet and chase you. A word of warning, if you’re a pussy like Karl and makes me go at the front while cowering behind me, you’re not guaranteed to be safe as a few times people have appeared from behind us too. Overall, I think the whole thing was too long and there weren’t enough actors to cover the whole place, so a lot of rooms had nothing except props and ominous music. While that was enough to keep us on our toes constantly, ultimately the actual scary parts were few and far between. When the jump scares did come it was pretty fun, but I do prefer a shorter haunted house where the scares are always coming at you. So at a price of 1400 yen, I can’t completely say whether it was worth it or not, but I don’t regret trying it out.
So why did we choose the Haunted Hospital over the Hopeless Fortress 2? Firstly we didn’t have enough time to do both, since we’d definitely do that otherwise. Secondly, as smart as we think we are, 99.99% fail rate is not something that gives us confidence LOL. Therefore, the Haunted Hospital provided 40 minutes of guaranteed entertainment and a definitely entry time, so we didn’t have to wait in line and could go try out other things. But who knows with the Hopeless Fortress 2, we could just fuck up in 5 minutes and be booted outta there, that’s not a good return on investment for waiting more than an hour to get in. Also, I’m not completely sure but I think Hopeless Fortress 2 also requires additional payment on top of the unlimited pass to get in, but it’s cheaper than the Haunted Hospital, although cost wasn’t that important. These are the logic behind our decision in going with Haunted Hospital, take it with a grain of salt.
By now, the sun has begun to set and a lot of the rides were shutting down. Most people were on their way out, but we still had about 40 minutes until the bus we booked comes. In hindsight the Haunted Hospital runs a lot later into the night compared to the roller coasters, so we could’ve done the Hopeless Fortress 2 and then come back for the Haunted Hospital if we booked a later bus :(. No biggie, with our remaining time we walked around trying to find a ride that was still open and wouldn’t take more than ~20 minutes, and it just so happens that the Ferris wheel was still going strong. After a whole day of getting mentally rekt, we thought it’d be a good opportunity to relax a bit and enjoy the views from above.
After about 20 minutes we were back on the ground, so it was perfect timing for us, and thus it was time to head back from this awesome place. But before that we got a few shots in to commemorate our time here.
Did you know Fuji-Q has it’s own lineup of mascots? They’re known as Fuji-Q Rangers and they are basically a clone of Power Rangers with the Fuji-Q logos. Throughout the day you can actually spot people wearing these costumes walking around, so it could be like a real life Where’s Wally game 😀
When we got to the bus stop we were told our bus was delayed, which surprised me as everything is usually so on time in Japan. That gave us a chance to look around at the souvenir shop and it is here that I first found the Kit Kats Japan is famous for. Everyone’s seen Kit Kats before, the chocolate wafer biscuits in red packaging ubiquitous in nearly every supermarket. But in Japan, like many other things, they take it up a notch with over 300 different flavours of Kit Kats sold in Japan since they were introduced. First came the original flavour we’re all used to, then in 2004 they introduced the green tea flavour which most people have heard of. Since then, the crazy people at Nestlé Japan have come up with flavours like soy sauce, wasabi and baked sweet potato, Kit Kats have basically become the Japanese version of Harry Potter’s Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. A lot of flavours are also unique to a particular region based on a produce the region is known for, e.g. Shinshuu region’s apple flavoured Kit Kats, which makes these regional specialties a favourite amongst those buying souvenirs for their friends and family. Just like the rise of KFC in Japan detailed in an earlier post, Kit Kats benefited from an insanely successful marketing campaign that played on the fortune of it’s name, which sounded similar to “kitto katsu” when pronounced in Japanese, which means something like “you will surely succeed”. Japanese people are very superstitious people who like auspicious things, so Kit Kats quickly became a popular gift item or good luck charm for students ahead of exams. Based off that successful marketing campaign and the huge variety of flavours Nestlé continues to expand upon, Kit Kats have catapulted ahead to become the most popular confection in Japan, and obtained legendary status amongst travellers from around the world.
I got too lost in checking out the Kit Kats and didn’t realise that I couldn’t find my bus ticket, and the counter was already closed. Thank god the bus is late, the one time a dent in Japanese efficiency is actually useful, so I ran my ass off to backtrack to the entrance of Fuji-Q where I last remembered taking out my tickets, which was legit like 500m. But even then I couldn’t find it, so in fear of missing the bus I had to run my ass back to the bus stop. Good thing I did because a bus just pulled into the bus stop and it’s sign said it was heading to Tokyo. With a wealth of experience in pulling a shifty when it comes to public transport, I quickly formulated a plan to get us both on the bus with only 1 ticket. I took Karl’s ticket and tried to distract the bus conductor who stepped out to check people’s ticket before letting them board by asking questions in broken Japanese about where the bus is going. That created enough of a diversion for Karl to sneak onto the bus, then I pulled out Karl’s ticket and tried to board like a honest passenger. It almost worked perfectly but the bus conductor looked at my (Karl’s) ticket and said this is the wrong bus, then pointed to another bus that was just pulling into the bus stop. Oh shit ggwp time to jet, I just ignored the bus conductor and ran onto this bus to tell Karl to get the fuck out, the bus conductor was so confused. Then we walked over to the other bus as people were boarding with me trying to come up with another plan to sneak on. But I was out of ideas, Karl was before me, showed his ticket and got on the bus. When it came to my turn to show the ticket that’s when things got blurry. I’m still not 100% sure what happened because it happened so fast and I just ran with it, but I *think* I saw some random person who’s not a passenger hand the conductor a bus ticket then walk away, so reacting quickly I was like YUP THAT’S MINE I DROPPED IT, basically grabbed it and gave it back to him and just walked on the bus. I don’t even know if that is my ticket or if they bus conductor bought my story, but he just got on the bus and started driving so I ain’t complaining. And that’s how we both made our asses back to Tokyo.
Almost 2 hours later we were safely back at Shinjuku Bus Terminal, and when we walked out side there seems to be some kind of special event going on with a beautifully illuminated garden. I have no idea what it was for, but it was really easy on the eyes so we stayed around to check it out.
Both of us are pretty hungry so it’s time for some real authentic Japanese food! I had a place in mind so we went back to Shibuya, through the Shibuya crossing at absolute peak hour.
A bit of weaving off the main Golden Gai and I found our destination for dinner. The Chitose Kaikan building contains on it’s 2nd and 3rd floor what’s known as Niku Yokocho. Niku means meat and yokocho refers to small alleyways packed with stalls for drinking and eating, so this place is literally called Meat Alley. That’s a pretty good description to be honest, as the floors are absolutely packed to the brim with small izakaya specialising in meat and a sea of rowdy customers drinking and eating. The cosy and lively atmosphere really made this place seem like where young local Japanese people go for a night out.
Obviously we had no idea which stalls are good and which ones are bad, so we just picked one that was in the centre of the floor rather than hidden in the corner, and had space for 2 people. As we were in the Meat Alley, we had to try the meat dishes. But one thing on the menu stood out to us, something we’d definitely never ever tried before – torisashi or chicken sashimi. That’s right, raw chicken!
I’d consider myself a fairly adventurous eater, having tried some weird stuff over the years like big fat worms or balut (duck embryo), but this is one dish I would never touch unless it’s in Japan. Eating chicken raw anywhere else in the world is pretty much asking for free salmonella, but in Japan so much effort and care is put into the entire supply chain for chickens to keep it as fresh as possible and minimise bacteria and parasites such that it’s actually okay to eat them raw. Note that this is COMPLETELY different to the a trend earlier this year where dumbass white people posted videos of themselves preparing and eating raw or under cooked chicken, that’s just survival of the fittest at work weeding out all the retards -_-.
It doesn’t taste too bad either, I’ve eaten countless chicken and this was exactly how I imagined raw chicken would taste like. It was cool and had a fresh taste and a slightly chewy texture with not much flavour, so the soy sauce and wasabi definitely helps. Verdict: I liked it, and we’re also still alive :D. That being said, I’m still not too convinced this is completely safe and I think most experts around the world aren’t either, but the Japanese restaurants that serve them swears by their safety and hey, I haven’t heard of anyone in Japan getting sick from eating torisashi yet so…go for it at your own risk!
The rest of our orders were less adventurous, starting with quite possibly one of my top 3 dishes of all time – fried chicken. Japanese fried chicken or karaage is well known across the world and considered a slightly healthier alternative to western fried chicken such as KFC. Karaage actually refers to the cooking technique, but it’s most commonly used for chicken, and the process involves coating small pieces of chicken with seasoned wheat flour and then deep frying. Unlike western fried chicken, karaage is almost never made using chicken meat on the bone but rather chunks of chicken no more than 2-3 bites big. It’s also almost always served with mayonnaise as a dipping sauce.
The one we got was perfectly fried to a golden brown colour, with lots of crunch but nowhere near as oily as western style fried chicken. I really do feel less guilty eating karaage :D.
Our next dish was another izakaya staple – yakitori. Yaki means grilled or BBQ’d and tori means chicken/bird, but put it all together and yakitori is the Japanese word for grilled chicken skewers. No parts is wasted when it comes to yakitori, with chicken hearts, kidneys and livers all commonplace among any izakaya menus.
You really can’t go wrong with grilled chicken, so not much to say here it was delicious. Our last order was a bit unusual but not quite as out there as chicken sashimi. Nankotsu or fried chicken cartilage is probably a dish most non-weebs are unfamiliar with and probably don’t sound too appealing to either. There’s not much to say really, it’s exactly as the name implies. Eating cartilage is something people outside of Japan aren’t really used to, but in Japan it’s a very common and popular snack to go along with alcohol.
The texture is very chewy and crunchy, as you’d expect from cartilage. It’s kinda like eating the tip of the wing, you know it’s bone but sometimes you eat it anyway. It definitely takes some getting used to. Probably my least favourite dish out of the 4, but it was still okay, you might as well try it since you’re in Japan.
Our total bill including seating charge came to about $35 all together I think, so it wasn’t very cheap but the food was interesting and delicious so can’t complain too much. Meat Alley is a highly popular place with locals and tourists alike so go check it out if you’re around Shibuya and you want to eat somewhere with a nice atmosphere and good food.
I didn’t really have anything planned for tonight so we just walked around seeing if anything caught our interest. That’s when we saw a pachinko parlour that we’ve walked pass en route to the station almost every day, and we thought why not check it out?
What’s a Pachinko?
If you haven’t heard of it before, pachinko is the Japanese equivalent of pokies or slot machines. It’s an arcade game/machine that’s mainly used for gambling purposes. The gameplay itself kinda resembles a pinball machine, but the field is vertical. To play, you need to first exchange your money for small steel balls, which you launch into the pachinko machine just like you would with pinball. Now once the ball is launched into the playing field that’s when things become confusing, even I don’t really have any idea what actually goes on. I think the basic gist of the game is the ball will drop through the field and its various obstacles before falling into one of the many holes. The holes the ball lands in will determine the bonus or prizes you receive, which will be in the form of more steel balls. I think the aim is to keep launching balls until one falls through a gate (usually the middle one) that activates a slot machine, then keep spinning the slot machine until you hit the jackpot, upon which if you manage to get your balls into a certain place then machine will spit out a large number of balls as the jackpot payout. The specifics vary from machine to machine so I’m not going to get into that. As far as I know, there’s no actual skill involved, you can’t control in any way how the balls drop through the field or where it lands, there aren’t any levers that you flip like pinball, and obviously the slot machine aspect is pure RNG.
The next question is obviously what do you do with those balls, I did say this is gambling game after all. However, gambling for cash is strictly against the law in Japan. BUT that doesn’t stop the Japanese from getting around this law using loopholes, just like they do with the sex trade. You see the law only forbids gambling for CASH, so what pachinko parlours do is they have prizes you can exchange your pachinko balls for in store just like what you do at arcade centres. Then you go down the alley to an affiliated side shop that will gladly take that prize off you in exchange for cash. This way you’re not exchanging the pachinko balls for cash with the pachiko operator, but rather just selling the prize for cash to an *ahem* independent third party that totally doesn’t just give the prize back to the pachinko operator.
Pachinko is extremely addicting and basically a national obsession in Japan, it’s Japan’s largest leisure activity by employment and revenue. I can see how it can be mindlessly method of entertainment or stress relief just launching those little balls and watching them fall over and over again. The fields are also highly customizable so there are endless variations of machines possible using different anime or games as themes, which keeps people interested and coming back to play new machines. If you see any pachinko parlour in the morning, most will have a line outside waiting for the store to open, and most of these people will sit at one machine for the entire day rinse and repeat launching those little balls and watching them fall.
A trip to a pachinko parlour can be extremely intimidating for a foreign tourist (like us). The building is usually brightly decorated from the outside but also at the same time very uninviting. There’s no windows at all or they’re the blurred kind, so you can’t tell what’s going on inside. Once you take a step inside it’s like a whole different world, it’s very loud with all the sound of row after row of pachiko machines, but also eerily quiet at the same time as there’s literally no conversation going on. Everyone is just sitting at their machine, completely quiet and focused on their game, putting in their steel balls one after the other like a zombie. The clientele ranges from young adults who are probably unemployed if they’re playing during the day to old retired grandmas who probably have nothing better to do.
Every once in a while, you’ll see someone stand up ready to leave. They’ll call over an attendant to help them bring their buckets of balls to a counter machine that will swallow up all the balls exchange for a ticket that shows how many balls the player has won.
This is the corner where you can exchange your ticket for a prize, all looks very legit. But rest assured none of these guys here are just playing for fun.
I don’t actually know whether you can make money from playing pachinko like you can with poker, or it’s like pokies in that it more often than not becomes an addiction that ruins people. From my research it seems to be more towards the latter, as I’ve seen people talk about how they think they can beat the machines, like by looking for a “hot” machine that’s been paying out a lot. That’s typical of a problem gambler’s mentality, thinking they can beat the house. Sorry but the games are programmed to deliver a certain edge to the house, and the house (or in this case statistics) always wins. The prevalent attitude in Japanese society seems to consider pachinko as a game or hobby rather than gambling, which prevents the problem from being acknowledged and addressed. Furthermore, the “shame culture” runs very deep in Japan, all the way back to the samurai, so people are usually very hesitant towards admitting they have a problem to not bring shame upon themselves and their family, which means problem gamblers seldom seek and receive the help they need. So while it might be interesting to look around in a pachinko parlour, when you really think about the industry as a whole it’s quite sad – so many people are helplessly addicted and spends their days glued to essentially a random number generator. All the while pachinko operators profit from a simple loophole that could be easily dealt with by the Japanese government if they had the will, but we all know the Japanese are notoriously against change.
Pachinko parlours are also incredibly stuffy, so we jetted not long after. I have no idea how these people can stay inside for hours on end -_-. To get some cool fresh air, we tried to go up to the top of Tokyu Department Store above Shibuya Station. At the top sits the Adidas Futsal Park, a rooftop futsal field that overlooks the Shibuya Crossing. You probably seen this place but just don’t remember, it was featured in a scene in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift when Han and Sean talk. That’s how I knew about this place and we thought it’d be a good place from which to observe the Shibuya Crossing. However, since the movie’s release in 2006 it seems like too many people have had the same idea, as now they have a sign saying basically unless you paid to rent the futsal field you can’t go in. Rekt.
With my brilliant idea to get a good view of Shibuya Crossing defeated, we headed back down and tried a pedestrian walkway over one of the roads that leads into Shibuya Crossing.
There’s a glass wall in between, but otherwise the view is pretty good and there aren’t many people, so you have plenty of time to film a time lapse if you want to. Getting a good viewing spot for Shibuya Crossing that’s free and empty is very difficult, so I’m pretty happy with this.
You may have noticed that our meal earlier at Meat Alley wasn’t very big, as everything was shared between Karl and I except for the yakiniku platter, which we got 1 each. That was tactical for both budget reasons and to keep our stomach ready for something else, and we decided that something else shall be ramen. Not just any ramen, some say the best ramen restaurant in Japan – Ichiran.
As a chain restaurant with many stores around Japan, it’s pretty impressive that they’ve garnered enough praise to have a legitimate claim to having the best ramen in Japan. Usually when we talk about the best in something food related, it’s usually only fancy places and Michelin starred restaurants in the conversation.
However, Ichiran isn’t just famous for their ramen, people come from all over Japan and the world for their unique service too. One of their concept seems to be minimising human interaction and instead letting their food be the star of the show. There are no waiter to take your order, only a machine (although we’ve already seen that on our first day)
After you get your order is probably the only time you’d have face to face contact with a human at Ichiran, as a staff member will direct you to one of the available seats.
Unlike most restaurants, Ichiran is the perfect place for solo diners. The whole place seems to be set up so that people who are eating alone can be in complete peace, as solo eaters are often self conscious about being alone in a restaurant. At this location there are only counter seats (some locations have tables for groups), and you can put up a barrier between you and the adjacent seats to have some privacy, or put them down if you want to talk to your friends.
There’s only a small opening at the front of your seat where the chefs behind will stick out their hand to take your order, without ever showing their face. Don’t worry, it’s not a robot there’s an actual person behind there, I managed to stick my hand through and take a picture 😀
Once the mysterious hand takes your order away, you also need to fill out piece of paper to specify how you want your ramen to be made. They get pretty specific here…
Few minutes later, your delicious looking ramen will arrive, ready for you to enjoy.
The soup was very rich in flavour but not too thick and the noodles were cooked just the way I like it. The half-boiled egg was a good addition too, make sure you dunk it in the soup to soak up all the tonkotsu flavour! Japan seems to be the only country that really like their eggs half-boiled such that the yolk is still runny but the egg white is solid. As a side note, you actually have to crack the egg yourself here, which was a problem since I’ve probably cracked less than 10 eggs in my lifetime LOL. The pork slices were tasty but once again they were pretty thin, and to think I ordered an extra serving of pork too. Skimping out on meat is a problem I’ve seen with all ramen, as I’ve ranted about earlier. The entire meal including the extra meat was about $15, so again not the cheapest but similar to Sydney prices. Still, this is the best ramen I’ve had thus far in Japan, and thus by extension anywhere, but I’m not ready to declare it the best just yet, still got plenty of meals left in this trip!
After what I can only describe as supper, Karl still hasn’t given up on getting the best footage of Shibuya Crossing yet so we went to pretty much the best spot possible, the Starbucks directly in front of Shibuya Crossing. This is probably the most popular Starbucks in the world in terms of foot traffic and much of that is owing to it’s prime location. They’ve taken full advantage of that with the second floor being extremely narrow to presumably save rent, but all along the window there are seats for people to look out to the crossing below. That means these seats are pretty hard to come by and once you find one you generally don’t let go. We got lucky finding one empty seat sandwiched between the wall and a group of 2, so I gave it to Karl for his Instagay time lapse. Please remember to like, comment, favourite, share, subscribe to Karl kappa.
I instead went to check out Tsutaya, the shop that shares the building with Starbucks. Tsutaya sells everything from vinyls to DVDs to magazines to manga, but of all that manga was the only thing that I had much of an interest in. Their manga section is tucked away in the giant basement floor, and the collection here is impressive!
It’s too bad the internet has made manga so easily and freely accessible that I don’t think any manga readers outside of Japan still purchases hard copies. Although in Japan, the origin of manga, sales are still going pretty strong for both magazines where new chapters of various manga series are first published, e.g. Shounen JUMP, and tankobon, which is when multiple chapters of a single manga is collected into one book. Everything you see in these pictures are tankobon.
A whole day of travelling, walking, waiting, eating and not to mention being thrown around like a rag doll in mid air has us pretty much drained. Time to hit the sack in preparation for another loooong day tomorrow :).