Tokyo: Oct. 13-18, 2018
To celebrate the middle of October… we packed up our bags and headed to Tokyo for 3 nights! I had never been to Tokyo before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. All I knew was that I was in for a quite a bit of a cultural shock!
Tokyo is the most Michelin starred city in the world, and for good reason. No matter what the cuisine is, the dishes are well thought out and executed with the utmost precision.
One of the more interesting aspects about traveling to Tokyo is trying to book reservations at restaurants. At most places, you’ll need someone who speaks Japanese to book the reservation for you. Typically, your hotel can do this for you. But if you’re looking to get into one of the more high end or exclusive restaurants, be sure to start planning months in advance, as these restaurants are already difficult to get into to begin with. As a westerner, it can be almost impossible.
If you’re ever afforded the opportunity to fly Singapore Airlines First Class, it’s a must. Vintage champagne, full omakase style dinner, and a complete bed and flatscreen. What more could one need to travel? I typically get super bad jet lag, but I slept like a baby on this flight. That is except for the 45 minutes of “the worst turbulence” our flight attendant of 15 years had ever experienced… Having my stomach drop 100 feet felt really great!
Narita Express into Tokyo
I was dreading having to take a train into the city. I’m used to Europe where the trains are typically not so nice, pretty hot, and just a generally not fun experience. After traveling for 11+ hours on a plane, who really wants to get on a train?! Low and behold, Tokyo had the nicest general train transit I’ve ever been on. For an hour long car ride, this train way totally over the top.
We were the only people in our entire car, and with free wifi I was able to catch up on some work before getting into the city. I could take the train everyday if it was this nice!
On a side note, if you ever go to Tokyo, you need to go to the Starbucks. The difference in sizing between the US and Tokyo is just wild. I thought they messed up my medium cold brew order when they handed me a baby cup. But, that’s the sizing there!
The subway system in Tokyo is super awesome & convenient, provided you can navigate your way around. It’s one of the largest and most complex in the world, but totally eliminates the need for taxi’s or any other type of transportation to explore all of the city.
SUICA Smart Card
For a deposit of 500 yen, you can get a SUICA smartcard. The Suica is a prepaid e-money card for moving around and shopping. It’s not cheaper, but it will save you a ton of time by not having to buy tickets every-time you go and ride the subway. Just tap your smart card at the subway (and most railway) turnstiles to deduct the fare off your card.
It’s pretty much usable throughout the entire country. Pick one up at Narita Airport, use it on the Kyoto subways, and most other cities throughout the country.
Most rides throughout Tokyo will cost you about $2-$3. If you have money left on your card at the end of your trip, just return the card where you bought it to get your money back minus a ¥220 fee (about $2).
The Ritz-Carlton is located in the city’s tallest building, beginning on the 45th level with floor-to-ceiling windows framing the skyline. And, most importantly, with all the eating I was doing, they had a pretty nice gym.
A must stop in Tokyo is the Mitsukoshi department store. I went to the popular Ginza one, but there are a few scattered throughout the city. I’m sure the shopping is great, but the two levels of food courts they have here were the real winner. Some of the best food you’ll find in the city is here, and I’d definitely recommend a quick lunch here. A warning: if you go hungry, it can be overwhelming! 🙂
Hakuhinkan Toy Park
One of the largest toy stores in Tokyo, located in Ginza, this 100+ year old shop has one of the most impressive toy collections in the world. Hakuhinkan offers overs 5 floors of different toys and items!
- 1st Floor: Cute and Colorful Party Goods
- 2nd Floor: Over 20,000 Plush Toys
- 3rd Floor: Toys & Trinkets for Younger Children
- 4th Floor: All Games (cards, boar, action & video) + Slot Car Racing!
- Basement: Doll Floor
All of the floors were awesome, except the basement, dolls freak me out. But you can create a 3D doll of yourself via 54 cameras taking your picture, should you desire…
Pablo Mini Cheese Tart
Honestly my least favorite dessert of the trip, the Pablo Mini Cheese Tart was all around Japan. Despite being a to go place, expect to wait upwards of 10 minutes. That’s because everything in Japan is done at such a ridiculous level of precision.
So what are these? They’re basically a baked cheese cake and egg tart combined into one. It’s an egg tart outside but with cheesecake filling for the inside. Not my thing, but I’m not a cheese cake fan.
If I could eat these everyday without getting diabetes it’d be a no brainer. Manneken is a small Belgian waffle store with a few locations throughout the city. They offer an assortment ranging from waffles with cream cheese to the classic, yet still delicious, plain waffle. Because self control is overrated, we tried the sweet potato (seasonal flavor), plain, chocolate, and matcha waffle.
If you’re there around October when they have the sweet potato flavor, it’s a must try. Not too sweet, it’s a savory waffle with hints of purple sweet potato flavor. Absolutely delicious.
Akihabara is a central Tokyo district famous for its many electronic shops. From SEGA to Sony, all of the major players are here. A ton of the shops are devoted to anime and manga, and you’ll even find a bunch of pachinko games.
I can’t even begin to describe what the hell pachinko is, other than the loudest and craziest sight I’ve ever seen in my life. I’d recommend checking one out just to see what it is, but if you want to stay and play bring some ear plugs.
Akihbara is also famous for it’s maid cafes, cosplay themed restaurants where guest are served by waitresses dressed as French maids. Not my thing, but they’ll be all over the street soliciting you to visit one of their cafes should you wish.
We went total anti-Japanese for food and headed to a street falafel vendor that was supposed to be very good. It’s about 3 blocks off the main Akihbara street, but if you can find it you should definitely go!
Sengakuji Temple: Graves of the 47 Ronin
After exploring Akihabara, we headed over to Sengakuji, a small temple in Tokyo. It’s located near the Shinagawa Station and is easy to get to. This temple is famous for its graveyard where the “47 Ronin” (otherwise known as Akoroski, the “masterless samurai from Ako”) are buried.
There are plenty of shrines and temples in the city, but this one is definitely one of the more unique and interesting ones. There’s even a head-washing well…
Azaba Yukimura (3*)
For dinner the 2nd night, we headed to Azaba Yukimura, a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Minato-ku, where Jun Yukimura uses generous quantities of seasonal ingredients in original Japanese fare. Everything is slow roasted using distinctive charcoal cooking techniques that were developed in Japan in ancient times.
We went in late-Autumn, so the charcoal-grilled matsutake wrapped in hamo was on the menu. The most innovative & precisely prepared piece of food I’ve ever eaten. Watching them prepare it was mesmerizing.
We were the only foreigners that were there which is generally a good sign! All of the food was immaculate, and it was truly a culinary experience I won’t forget.
Day 3 was apparently the day we decided to really go for a sugar rush. By 1PM, I needed a defibrillator and a nap.
We started out with a very nutritious “breakfast” after a long walk over from the Ritz to the Dominique Ansel in Shibuya. A few of our French friends had told us that the Dominique Ansel’s in Tokyo were actually BETTER than the ones in France!
They weren’t lying. We got the DKA, a chocolate croissant, and the flourless chocolate cookie to go along with our iced latte and iced americano. The DKA was tasty but pretty disgusting, if that makes sense. It’s basically a caramelized croissant, with another sugar to kill someone. Does the taste of it outweigh the guilt of eating it? You’ll have to decide. The flourless chocolate cookie & chocolate croissant were tasty, but at 1130AM I wasn’t feeling to great afterwards.
All in all, the Dominque Ansel location in Shibuya was super modern and elegant, with delicious pastries fresh out of the oven. But I’d recommend going at a more appropriate time than breakfast.
We continued Day 3 with a lot of walking. We explored the whole district of Harajuku, which is the area between Shinjuku and Shibuya on the Yamanote Line. It’s super hipster and full of trendy fashion, while offering some historic sites. Takeshita Dori and its side streets are the focal point of Harajuku’s hipster culture.
There’s a lot of cool shopping to be done in Harajuku, but if you head onto the main tourist street you’ll find a bunch of wild and crazy souvenirs like animal masks. By far, the weirdest thing I saw was the Harajuku Owl Forest. For ¥680, you’re free to pet all different types of owls that are sitting amongst you on tree branches in an enclosed space. I didn’t have time to go in, but this definitely seems like a unique experience.
This was an unexpected stop in Harajuku. The golden rule in Tokyo is that if there’s anything with a long line, it’s probably pretty good.
After 10 minutes, we finally got to take a look at what was inside – Zaku Zaku’s Croquant Chou, or “crispy cream puffs”, with ingredients from Hokkaido. Incorporating seasonal ingredients into the fare is pretty common across Tokyo, so they were offering a special purple sweet potato croquant chou as well. We opted for one of each: the plain vanilla & the sweet potato.
The crouqant at Zaku Zaku is made of almonds coated with sugar and egg white, as well as a blend of flour from Hokkaido. The cream filling is made from fresh milk, and in the case of the sweet potato filling, sweet potato!
The coolest thing about Zaku Zaku is that they are so popular it’s almost guaranteed your croissant chou is going to be made and filled right in front of you. That’s as fresh as it gets!
We took ours to go and ate while walking around, which is NOT what everyone else was doing. It’s considered rude to eat while walking in Japan, so just beware.
After passing through Harajuku, we headed in to Shinjuku, one of the 23 city wards of Tokyo. Shinjuku is a massive entertainment and business center, like the Times Square of Tokyo. There’s a massive Starbucks in the middle of the main intersection, Shibuya Crossing, and is pretty commercialized.
Shinjuku is home to Kabukicho, Japan’s biggest and craziest red light district. Features numerous bars, nightcubs, pachinko parlers, love hotels, and the usual red light district stuff.
For lunch, we headed over to a random restaurant tucked away in a Shibuya side street that was filled with only locals. The menu was about 8 pages long! Unfortunately, this was in all Japanese, so we got the English menu instead that only happened to have 5 items on it. We went with the classic pork ramen and fried chicken, washing it down with some Sapporo premium malts. The Sapporo premium malts are basically a full mean on their own, but we still managed to head over to a snack shop afterwards.
The best chicken snack in Shibuya, we headed over to try these legendary chicken fries after lunch. I never thought I’d call fried chicken fresh, but these were tender and juicy and needed no sauce. You won’t miss their location, just look for the cute anime chicken signs above their shop.
“Center Gai” or Basketball Street
Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at the basketball street. This was a bit of a let down, as there wasn’t a ton of basketball stores here, but apparently the name was changed to Basketball Street in 2011 to represent the new passions of the younger generation. And the street leads to Japan’s most famous sports stadium, National Yoyogi Gymnasium. On the bright side, we got to see a Tokyo Drift promotional event, so that was super cool!
Oniku Karyu (1*)
Oniku Karyu serves wagyu beef… and wagyu beef. This restaurant is the ultimate meat lover’s restaurant. Coming in at around 11 courses, they use A4 and A5 wagyu in all of them. From a savory perspective, this was probably my favorite meal of the trip. The flavor of the wagyu was so complex and beyond anything I had tasted before. The chef was clearly adding on to the complexity of the meat with his own signature touches.
As a meat lover, Oniku Karyu was sensational. And unlike some of the sushi restaurants, you’ll leave feeling very very full.
The Iron Fairies
After dinner, we headed over to The Iron Fairies per recommendation of a friend, “A cool Tokyo bar friendly to foreigners.” Tucked away in Ginza, this spot is open to 4am, serving a large selection of Japanese whiskies and craft beers, as well as some signature cocktails. According to the internet (which never lies), they never charge a cover or seat charge. But I guess we got the Westerner treatment as there was a cover charge for us.
Because I always get anything with Tequila in it, I opted for the Fire Smacker: Tequila, Strawberry, Lime Juice, Honey Syrup, Chocolate, Shishito, and Himalayan Salt. I was a little hesitant because of the chocolate, but it ended up just being a delicious piece of dark chocolate served on top of the drink. If you go here, order this!
Pizza in Tokyo? Pizza Strada
As if we already hadn’t had enough food, I was dead set on trying some Japanese pizza before we left. Why? In the last few years, there has been a wave of Neapolitan craft pizza shops opening in Tokyo. Just like everything else in Tokyo, the attention to detail that is put into making these pies is unlike anything you’ll find in the US.
We tried to get into Savoy, one of the top shops in the city that had been recommended by a fellow diner a few nights ealier, but it was closed. So we opted for Pizza Strada, one of the shops highlighted by Eater Tokyo.
Chef Hiroaki Kaneshiro has actually never been to Naples of New York, so all of his pizza knowledge begins and ends in Japan. It’s truly a Japanese style influenced pie!
Starting the day off right, we headed over to Turret Coffee in Ginza, “the most outrageous coffee shop in Japan.” The roast on the beans was just right, and they offered milk substitutes like almond milk so I could avoid a dairy meltdown at 10am. A lot of other shops in Tokyo base their lattes on the strength of the roast and short shot there coffees leaving you with a warm milk drink if you order a latte, but not this one!
To squeeze in another Japanese meal, we headed to Sushi Keita for lunch on the day of our departure. We opted for the full nighttime omakase with otsumami option at 1130AM, and we were the only ones in the place who did so, but it was well worth it.
The food was delicious, but we almost never had any idea what we were eating, as the chef didn’t tell us what the dish was, even though he spoke English. Aside from that, the shari had a stronger vinegar taste than any sushi I had tasted before, but not in a bad way. Overall, it was pretty good, so long as you’re okay with not knowing what you’re eating I’d recommend eating here.
Narita Express “Snack”
After lunch, we packed our bags and departed the Ritz for the Narita Express. We stopped at the Mitsukoshi on our way out to grab snacks for the train, and ended up getting a full dessert spread. One thing you’ll realize in Tokyo, is that all the desserts are super delicious.
Flying back to LA
After a crazy 4 days, I settled into the lounge at Narita International Airport to wait for our flight. I was so full from the trip, I couldn’t even bring myself to eat the delicious tasting menu Singapore Airlines has. A little less than 10 hours later, I was back in LA and back to reality.Loading Likes...