We Ate At A Random Resto In Tokyo : Out-Of-This-World Gyoza + Fatty Hotpot

Tokyo is home to an abundance of eateries, and it’s not unusual to stumble upon a hidden gem while walking through a narrow alleyway at night. Like this one:  

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Heavy on the tech noir feels.

I must be the worst food/travel blogger ever, because I snapped pictures of the place thinking it’d be easy to find later on Google Maps.

How. Utterly. Mistaken.  

Googling the few Romanised shop signs in the area yielded no results, but after much sleuthing, I managed to find the resto we dined at through the Street View function – I still dunno what it’s called because the sign is in Japanese, but it’s at the same row as An-Deux Kitchen (アンドゥーズキッチン) in Shimbashi.

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Store front. If anyone reads Japanese, I’d greatly appreciate if you could tell me what the name is!

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The menu was designed to look like a broadsheet newspaper, complete with ‘ads’ promoting special items. There were some pictures, but everything else was in Japanese, so we let Ken-san do the ordering. For appetisers, there was a spicy fish roe of some sort, served in a bamboo wicker tray. It was spicy and salty with an almost overwhelmingly fishy taste – might not be the best dish to order if you’re not familiar with pungent dishes.

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I think these were cream cheese cubes with a fermented bean sauce. Surprisingly addictive!

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The pork gyoza was served in a sizzling deep-dish pan, shaped like a blooming flower. Despite being quite oily, it did not feel greasy or cloying. The skin had perfect crispness, enveloping each gyoza’s juicy, meaty insides. Easily the star of the night!

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Ken-san said this is a local specialty – hotpot with very fatty pork. If you’re a fan of fatty pork then this will be right up your alley. I liked the pork, but not the massive amount of kow choi (chives) in it. After you’re done with the pork, they add tonkotsu (pork bone broth) into the pot and a round of ramen so you can enjoy the noodles with the soup.

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The soup was very hearty and comforting, and I liked the chewy, fatty pork. Not so much a fan of chives, and you know how chives can be – the flavour permeates through everything.

Ken-san ordered way too much ramen and we were practically rolling out of the door by the end of dinner.. but yeah. If you’re in the Shimbashi neighbourhood, look out for this resto ! The gyozas are to die for. Address below is the one for An-Deux Kitchen; the resto is just a few steps away.

Address: 〒105-0004 Tokyo, Minato City, 9, 新橋2-9-14三浦ビル3F

 

Visiting Senso-ji, Asakusa – Tokyo’s Oldest Buddhist Temple

Buddhism came to Japan very early – around the 6th century – and the archipelago is dotted with ancient shrines and temples. Unlike regions where the rise and fall of kingdoms have resulted in a change of the major religions (think the ancient Indonesian kingdoms which used to be Hindu, then Buddhist, and now Muslim), Buddhism in Japan has survived the influence of outside forces. Today, many Japanese practice either Shinto-ism or Buddhism, or a blend of both, as the principles tend to complement each other.

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One of Tokyo’s most important Buddhist temples, also its oldest, is the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. Completed in 645, it is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon, or Avalokitesvara, who is depicted as the female goddess Guanyin (the goddess of Mercy) in Chinese Buddhist beliefs.

The story of how the temple came to be goes that two fishermen found an Avalokitesvara statue while fishing near the river. The chief of their village built a shrine for it, and it slowly grew into a magnificent temple, with worshippers coming from far and wide. During the Tokugawa era, it was even proclaimed as the main temple for the Tokugawa clan.

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Entering from the South end, visitors will first pass through the outer gate guarded by two kami (Shinto deities) – Fujin and Raijin,gods of wind, lightning and storms – and the Buddhist gods Tenryu and Kinryu on the east and west, respectively.

The temple grounds house dozens of stalls selling everything from souvenirs and food to toys and clothes. After a long stretch, you will be greeted by the Hozomon, ie the ‘Treasure-House Gate’, or the inner gate before you enter Senso-ji’s main courtyard. Towering  two-storeys high with a wide berth, the structure is impressive to look at, and features giant lanterns hanging down each of the archways. We arrived right before a typhoon was forecasted for the night, so the main lantern had been rolled up and tethered for safety.

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The main temple is quite a sight, but what we’re seeing is actually a reconstruction – albeit a very accurate one. The original temple was bombarded by air raids during World War II,\ and much of the grounds and its buildings were destroyed. The roof, for example, is made from titanium, but retains its traditional architecture.

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Booths where you can get a fortune reading.

 

 

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Before entering the temple, you can cleanse yourself at a basin by scooping water up with a ladle. There is a proper way to do this with instructions written at the site, but I can’t recall – I think you’re supposed to wash your left hand, then your right, your mouth and finally the handle?

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The main hall, with the goddess Kannon in the centre. The original statue is kept hidden, similar to the one I visited in Nagano. You can make an offering by placing some coins in a large wooden container at the front, before paying your respects.

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SENSO-JI

2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan

Getting to Senso-ji 

The temple can be reached by the Tokyo Metro, by exiting at Asakusa Station. The temple is a one minute walk from the station. Alternatively, take the A4 Exit at Toei Asakusa Station, which will take you two minutes, or the Tobu Asakusa Station, which is 3 minutes away.

Opening hours (temple): 6AM – 5PM (Daily). Note: The temple grounds can be visited at any time.

 

Suzukien X Nanaya @ Asakusa, Tokyo – The World’s Strongest Matcha Ice-Cream

What do you get when you marry a venerable tea house with over 150 years of history, with a popular confectionery chain? If your answer is the world’s most intensely flavoured matcha ice cream, then you’d be right.

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Suzukien, located in the Asakusa neighbourhood of Tokyo (just across the road from Sensoji Temple), prides itself in serving Premium No.7, aka a gelato so packed with the flavours of matcha, your tastebuds will do a stop, drop and roll.

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There are seven ‘degrees’ of matcha flavoured gelato served here, each more intense than the last. You can tell by the colouration itself, with the no.7 boasting a rich, almost dark green hue. The store can get pretty crowded, but they do have a small space at the back where you can indulge in your ice cream for a bit (standing room only).

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I was a little apprehensive to go all the way, so I picked something in between – probably a 2 or a 3. The matcha flavour was pretty pronounced, but mildly sweet, cool and refreshing – perfect for the summer heat.

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Aside from ice cream, you can find a variety of matcha products and tea souvenirs for sale here.

Suzukien @ Asakusa

3 Chome-4-3 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan

Opening hours: 10AM – 5PM (daily)

 

Review: Tsukiji Sushidai Honkan @ Tsukiji Outer Market, Tokyo

On my last trip to Japan, I was fortunate enough to experience many off-the-beaten path gems, from visiting thatched-roof villages in Gokayama to strolling through one of the country’s most beautifully landscaped gardens in Kanazawa.

This time around, I had a couple of days in Tokyo – the country’s modern, bustling capital. While most of it was spent on a work-related assignment, our group managed to squeeze in time to visit a couple of places – many thanks to our guide Ken-san, who brought us to both popular attractions and little spots that only the locals would know.

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After a morning work briefing at his office, Ken-san brought us to the site of the old Tsukiji Market. Many visitors to Tokyo would have visited (or at least heard) of the iconic Tsukiji Market, a sprawling wholesale seafood market located in the heart of the city. Opened in 1935, it replaced an even older market nearby called Nihonbashi, and was famous for its tuna auctions.

The market shuttered and moved its wholesale operations to the newer Toyosu Market, some two kilometres away, in October last year, citing better facilities and hygiene. The restaurants and shops outside Tsukiji, however, have remained – and they still get their seafood fresh from Toyosu (from the same wholesalers that were operating at Tsukiji) each morning.

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One of the area’s most famous sushi restaurants, which has since moved to Toyosu (you gotta line up for 2-3 hours to get in) was called Sushi Dai. I was initially confused when looking up the name of the restaurant we dined at, because it sounded so similar, but have now confirmed that they’re not related. That is not to say that Tsukiji Sushidai Honkan is not worth a visit, because we found the sushi to be excellent. No long wait as well!

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You know a place is good when it’s mostly locals. I think we were the only foreigners dining in during lunch time. The space was rather cramped (as it usually is with many Japanese restos), but cosy, with multiple floors. We settled into a corner and let Ken-san do the ordering while we sipped on green tea.

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Our first platter of five nigiri sushi. I can’t even recall all of them (lol), but from second left, tuna, ika (squid), ebi (shrimp) and hotate (scallop). Needless to say, everything was very fresh, and the nigiri was expertly done with no flaky rice bits – just firm balls of rice covered by beautifully sliced fish and seafood.

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Next, grilled anago (eel), ikura (salmon roe), kampachi (yellowtail), and maki rolls stuffed with sliced cucumber and tuna, plus sweet egg rolls. Don’t let their simple appearance fool you – the egg rolls are laborious to make and require much skill, as they have to be folded in a special pan with minute timing.

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Ikura – glistening, briny bubbles that burst when you pop them in your mouth.

While I have not had the good fortune to try Sushi Dai (ie ‘the best sushi in Japan according to some travelers), I think this is a good alternative if you, like me, can’t stand queueing up for hours just to have a meal! Prices for the platters vary, from 1,000 yen to 2,000 yen depending on the number and variety of items.

TSUKIJI SUSHIDAI HONKAN 

6-21-2, Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan

Business hours: 10.30AM – 4.00PM (Mon – Sat), 11AM – 10PM (Sun)

 

Ocean Park Hong Kong Is Having A One Piece Summer Bash – Check Out The Adorable Food Items!

Hey guys! 

I’ve been following the Japanese anime/manga series One Piece since my teens, and while I haven’t been updating myself religiously (blame it on how long and draggy the series is – they first published in 1997 wtf), I’ve always loved the art, characters and great storyline.

This summer, the iconic Ocean Park Hong Kong is having the Ocean Park Summer Water Battle, in celebration of One Piece’s 20th anniversary.  Running from 13 July to 1 September 2019, this is a One Piece fan’s mecca – with exhilarating water battles and setups, exclusive memorabilia to take home and items inspired by the comics/anime. The Waterfront Plaza will be transformed into a water battle zone, and there will be seven encounters and photo spots, such as the Thousand Sunny Ship by the Park’s lagoon, wanted posters, a super-sized fountain in the shape of Luffy’s signature straw hat, and many more.

Of course, being a foodie, what really drew my interest is the unique Instagrammable food creations for the One Piece Summer Adventure Feast at The Terrace Cafe, which is available for a limited time only. Luffy would have gobbled them all up in a second!

Departure from Grand Line

Departure from Grand Line – creamy seafood chowder

Fresh Fruits Jelly with Strawberries Marshmallow

Fresh Fruit Jellies With Strawberry Marshmallows

Gum-Gum Devil Fruit Dried Fruits Butter Cake

Gum-Gum Devil Fruit Dried Fruits Butter Cake

Luffy Crispy Puff with Cookies and Vanilla Ice-cream

Luffy Crispy Puff With Cookies and Vanilla Ice Cream

Mini Devil Fruit Macaroon

Mini Devil Fruit Macaroon

Mysterious One Piece Snacks Combo

Mysterious One Piece Snack Combo

One Piece Snacks Treasure

One Piece Snacks Treasure

One Piece Summer Journey Bento Box

One Piece Summer Journey Bento Box – (can I get Sanji to make this for me?) 😀

Powerful Franky

Powerful Franky – Franky’s strong punches have left a deep trench in the tomato seafood risotto!

Soul King - Brook

The appetizer Soul King – Brook features a crispy deep-fried shrimp cake with Brook’s face on top and greens arranged in the shapes of music notes.

Sunny Boat Snacks Combo

Sunny Boat Snacks Combo

Supernovas Luffy

Supernovas Luffy – Luffy’s signature straw hat has morphed into a potato croquette atop tender and juicy wagyu beef cheeks braised in red wine.

Wanted Butter Cookies

For desserts, Wanted posters of the character made with charcoal chocolate mouse cake served with butter cookie.

Chopper Raspberry Cupcake

Chopper Raspberry Muffin

For more information on Ocean Park Hong Kong, visit oceanpark.com.hk/en.

Travelogue Japan: An Unagi Dinner in Nagoya City

Our five days in Japan was coming to a close. We spent our last night in Nagoya, a bustling metropolis and Chubu’s largest city. There was finally some time for free and easy (our schedule had been so jam-packed, it was difficult to even shop for souvenirs!), and I spent an evening wandering around my hotel, popping into convenience stores and malls to see what I could get for fam and friends back home.

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View across the street from our hotel. The tall, modern buildings, neon lights and flurry of activity was definitely a big change from the rural countryside and quaint towns we had been visiting for the last five days. I’m a city girl through and through, so this was a comforting, familiar sight. Restaurants and shops were open til late instead of closing at 6PM and the streets came to life with malls, cafes, karaoke joints and izakayas as the sun set.

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Our guide Mariko-san took us to a local izakaya (unfortunately the place didn’t have an English sign so I can’t tell what it’s called) around the bend for our last dinner together. Like many traditional Japanese restaurants, the tables were low with a space for guests to place their feet underneath, or kneel on the pillows if they chose to.

Since Nagoya is a port city and close to the sea, fresh seafood is readily available. We ordered fried ebi tempura, which were some of the largest I’ve ever seen. The batter was light and crisp, sealing the moisture and juiciness of the springy shrimp on the inside. The cabbage on the side helped to reduce the greasiness.

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Mariko-san had some coupons, so we redeemed a plate of fried sesame chicken wings, apparently a specialty in Nagoya. The wings didn’t have much meat on them but the flavour was really good – sweet and slightly salty – with the fragrance of sesame.

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Squid sashimi. The naturally sweet flavour of the seafood was brought out when dipped in a hint of soy sauce.

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Fried squid with shisho leaf, also lightly battered and fried to perfection.

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Another local specialty that we tried was the Unagi (eel) on fluffy Japanese rice, served with pickles. The eel had a slightly smoky, charred flavour as it had been grilled over a charcoal fire,slowly basted with a sweet sauce on top. Muslim travelers should note that the sauce has sake (alcohol) in it – a fact my colleague was unaware of until he had eaten more than half lol (I didn’t know either).

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Night view in Nagoya.

Japan has been an amazing experience, and I hope that it wasn’t ‘once-in-a-lifetime’, because I definitely plan on revisiting other places!

 

Travelogue Japan: Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, Nagoya

Nagoya is an interesting blend of old and new. On one hand, the city has a rich history that dates back to the founding of Nagoya Castle, once the Tokugawa Shogunate’s stronghold. On the other, you have the city’s current status as the fourth largest city in Japan and a major maritime port.

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After the war, which reduced many old parts of Japan to rubble, the country was in shambles – but from the ashes, a new Japan arose –  through its manufacturing sector, especially in the field of technology and robotics. A fitting last stop to our visit, then, was to the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology. 

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Nagoya is the birthplace of Toyota, but did you know that the brand did not start as an automotive manufacturer, but rather a textile factory? (I didn’t). Also, they were first called Toyoda, after Kiichiro Toyoda, its founder. The museum, which pays tributes to its early roots, can be found in an old red brick warehouse built in the 1910s.

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The first section of the museum is dedicated to its early days as a textile manufacturer. As such, visitors will find looms, threads and textile-related machines on display.

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Spacious exhibition hall filled with old models.

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The 1930s saw the company breaking into the automotive sector, taking its first step into becoming the automotive giant we know of today. A large section of the museum is dedicated to showcasing the technology used in the manufacture of its cars, from the casting of the body to the components. Some machines on display are operational, so that visitors can see how everything is put together!

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A giant press (?), which roared to life at the push of a button and filled the hall with clanking.

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How the outer shell is fitted together.

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At the end of the day, there is a violin performance by the museum’s resident robot – the company’s foray into advanced robotics. The robot played Canon in D and another classical song. While it lacked the oomph that is human emotion, it certainly had technical prowess!

TOYOTA COMMEMORATIVE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY AND TECHNOLOGY 

4 Chome-1-35 Noritakeshinmachi, Nishi-ku, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture 451-0051, Japan

Opening hours: 9.30AM – 5PM (closed on Mondays, last entry 4PM)

Phone: +81 52-551-6115

Admission: 500 yen

 

 

Travelogue Japan: Nagoya Castle, Nagoya

You know the saying ‘time flies when you’re having fun’? I couldn’t have agreed more – our five days in Japan felt like it was coming to an end too soon! Our last overnight stop before flying back to Tokyo was Nagoya, the country’s fourth largest city and a major maritime port.

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We caught a mid-morning train from Takayama, a three-hour ride away. Mariko-san bought us these adorable sarubobo (baby monkey) -shaped lunchboxes for lunch. Every meal in Japan that we’ve had so far was meticulously presented – bentos bought from any regular convenience store were no exception.

I had the stir-fried beef with shredded egg and fried fish cakes on a bed of fluffy white rice, served with half a boiled egg, some pickles, boiled prawn and some kombu (kelp).

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View as our train cut through the countryside. We saw swathes of green paddy fields and vegetable farms, quaint villages and in some parts of the journey, beautiful river gorges running through valleys and hills.

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Arrived in Nagoya in the afternoon.

Compared to the small towns and rural cities on our itinerary, Nagoya was massive and very modern. We stayed in the city centre, which was surrounded by tall buildings, malls and offices.

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Had a quick rest and then it was off again to Nagoya Castle! Built in the 16th century, it was the ruling centre of the Owari clan, one of the three branches of the powerful Tokugawa Shogunate, and therefore ranked among the grandest castles in Japan during the Edo era. Unfortunately the original structure was bombed to bits during World War II, so the building we see today is a reconstruction made from concrete, built in 1959.

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We were lucky that we got to visit in the summer,because the Japanese government decided to close it in November this year for a major undertaking – to restore the main keep to its original wooden state. As such, the keep will be closed until 2020.

Fret not though – the castle’s palace (Honmaru Goten), which is in front of the main keep, will be completed in Spring 2018 , and will be open to the public for viewing. The palace, which was also destroyed during World War II, was rebuilt using traditional construction materials and techniques.

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Mythical golden tiger-headed carps called Kinshachi are a symbol of the castle and two of them, one male and one female, top either end of the castle roof. They were believed to be talismans to prevent fires… ironic, seeing that the originals were destroyed in a fire (can’t win against the evil of man) and their gold colouring, a symbol of the wealth and prestige of the Tokugawa empire. The carps we see today are reconstructed models, each weighing over a tonne with 40+kg of gold plating.

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Although we knew it was a reconstruction, we couldn’t help feeling awed at how majestic the castle looked! It must have been even more impressive during its heyday. Sitting atop a high stone wall and surrounded by a moat, it would have made mounting an assault on the keep exceedingly difficult. The main keep towers five storeys-high, with curving green roofs and white walls.

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Interesting tidbit: Building of the castle was not done by the Tokugawa family alone. Instead, they portioned it out to daimyos (lords) under them, each in charge of one section of the castle. The lords would leave carvings of their crests so there would be no dispute over who built what. Pretty ingenious.

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Since it’s a popular tourist attraction, visitors will find costumed-actors roaming around the courtyard, like ninjas…

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And historical figures.

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The inside of the castle has been converted into a museum, where you will find exhibits like the above, which details how the giant slabs of rock were hauled to the site by labourers.

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We climbed to the top which has a small observation deck with 360 degree views of the city! Surrounding the castle are the imperial gardens, a huge green lung in the midst of all the developments.

GETTING THERE 

From Nagoya Station, hop on the Higashiyama Subway Line to Sakae Station. Then, change to the Meijo Subway Line to Shiyakusho Station. The total journey time takes 10 minutes. From the exit, it is a three minute walk to the castle.

By bus, the castle’s main gate is accessible by the Meguru tourist loop bus (25 minutes).

Admission : 500 yen (RM18 – USD4)

Hours: 9AM – 430PM (last entry 4PM)