Sunday 8 October 2023

Tokyo ~ Japan

Ahhh, Japan! What an incredible place. Japan has been on my bucket list for a long time and I can 100% say the food was a major reason. Is Japan also on your travel list? Then you're in luck my matcha-loving, sushi-searching friend. I’m sharing all my favourites that we visited on our recent trip. Funny story is that we actually already planned and had booked flights and hotels back in 2020 before Covid hit the world. So finally 3 years later we rebooked our trip! This trip would be especially special as it was also my travel partner (mum’s) birthday while we were there!

We did and saw so much on our trip to Japan that I’ve decided to split my blog post up. First up is Tokyo! Tokyo is the perfect place to visit en route to another destination, or simply on its own! We stayed at The Hotel Musse Ginza Meitetsu which is in the heart of Ginza, Tokyo's most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district. It was a great location close to the Metro and JR. We had a comfortable room and WiFi and even had hotel pyjamas!

After a good night's sleep we were up bright and early excited to explore! I was super excited about our breakfast location…I did mention this trip was mainly about food right? Eggslut as you can infer from its name, is all about the humble eggs, but taken to new heights in a series of specialty breakfast sandwiches. Having already tried this chain in Los Angeles I was excited to get to try one of their famous breakfast sandwiches again. It was just as good as I remembered.

Meiji Shrine sits in beautiful Yoyogi Park and is located next to Harajuku Station. It’s definitely worth a stroll through. There is a display of sake barrels on the way into the shrine. Sake is Japanese rice wine and is a very common alcoholic beverage. The connection between sake and the shrines lies in the belief that people get closer to the gods when they drink sake. The barrels on display are empty, and are called “Sakedaru” meaning, you guessed it “Sake Barrel”. It’s a beautiful place to stop and take some photos.

What I really loved about our visit here is that we got to observe and take part in the traditional Japanese customs. It is important to be respectful when visiting the Shrine. Going through the torii archway, you will see the sando (the path leading up to the shrine). We had learnt before visiting Japan that we should not walk in the centre of the sando as it is considered to be a path where the gods walk.

Once we reached the shrine, it was time to cleanse ourselves before entering the shrine with the temizuya (water fountain). 

At the Shrine to show respect you may make an offering which is followed by two bows, clapping your hands twice, then making a wish, then one more bow. I loved watching and observing people as they did this before doing it myself. 

We also spent time buying charms or amulets which are for luck or to keep you safe, and you can even write a wish or prayer on a wooden ema, to be hung up at the Shrine.

It was time to explore Harajuku. Takeshita Street in Harajuku is known for its colourful characters and fashion, however, it is also known for its colourful and fun food, like the cutest gelato in animal shapes, crepes that look like they were made for instagram, rainbow cheese and fluffy pancakes – everything looks out of this world and extremely photogenic!

We went in search of the ultimate fun food…giant rainbow fairy floss! This fairy floss has to be seen to be believed! Totti Candy Factory is found about halfway down Takeshita Street and the perfect place for a sugar overload.

I'm a big Bubble tea fan so had to make a stop at Koi. I got there passionfruit tea which had real passionfruit pulp in it along with their famous golden tapioca bubbles.

We also went to Harajuku Takeshita-dori Yurinan for a quintessential Japanese dessert. They do fruit-filled mochi known as daifuku. Their speciality, however, is strawberries, and the shop uses fresh, seasonal strawberries and adjusts the flavour of the sweet bean paste coating so as not to overpower the delicate sweetness of the strawberries. They tasted as good as it looks!

We finished our time in Harajuku with the best Gyozas In Tokyo. When travel blogs and foodies all recommend one place, you know it’s going to be good. 

This was the most basic menu we came across in our whole time in Japan. They make two types of gyozas, original and with garlic and chives. Then you can choose whether to have your gyozas steamed or fried. 

It be rude not to have several portions! I’d book a flight back just to eat them again!

It was time to walk off all that food and there was nowhere better than Shibuya Crossing. The busiest intersection in the world, Shibuya Crossing is like a giant beating heart, sending people in all directions with every pulsing light change. Nowhere else says ‘Welcome to Tokyo’ better than this. 

Hundreds of people coming from all directions at once, yet still dodging each other with a practised, nonchalant agility. We spent a good amount of time here taking photos and videos.

If you've done your research like I had, you know L'occitane cafe not only has one of the best views overlooking the Shibuya Crossing and also sells refreshing ice tea! So you can observe the chaos below as you sip your drink or you can also get something to eat here too.

Ready to come see the best view in Tokyo? Stepping onto an ascending escalator 230 metres above Tokyo while the sun is starting to set, Shibuya Sky, took my breath away! It offers breathtaking panoramic views of Tokyo’s bustling cityscape. 

We spotted the iconic Shibuya Crossing, as well as other famous landmarks such as Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Skytree from up the top.

Visiting a standing sushi bar is a must while you’re in Tokyo and Uogashi Nihon-Ichi is one of the best around. You’ll find this chain eatery in a few areas around Tokyo, including its newly reopened outlet in Shibuya Dogenzaka. 

The best part about visiting this joint is watching the sushi chefs up close as they whip up your order at lightning speed.

 Such an awesome way to end our first full day here in Tokyo.

We had a relaxing morning editing some photos and also having a look at a few shops. Ginza is a really popular shopping area including a twelve story Uniqlo which had me pretty excited! Only a 12 Min walk from hotel was the famous Tim Ho Wan restaurant also known as "The World's Cheapest Michelin Star Restaurant" The main restaurant is in Hong Kong but when I found out they had a branch here in Japan, I knew we had to visit.

My family loves yum cha. Wondering what exactly yum cha is? It literally means 'drink tea' in Cantonese, where Chinese tea is enjoyed with dim sum at traditional tea houses. This place was dim sum heaven!

If we came all the way to Japan and didn’t see a Sumo Wrestler we would be very disappointed. It was high on our bucket list of things to do while in Japan. It can be quite hard to get tickets but mum was super organised and got us some. The excitement started outside the stadium where you could hear people singing and chanting and bright colourful flags.

There is nothing like watching a sport live. You can’t recreate the excitement at home, especially something as unique as Sumo Wrestling. Here is a brief Sumo 101 for you. Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling and it is Japan’s national sport. This is a sport that only men can participate in. Tradition as well as religion still play an important role in this sporting spectacle.

In short, how it works is that two wrestlers meet in the elevated “dohyo” that is traditionally made of clay and covered in a layer of sand. Matches begin once both wrestlers touch the ground with both fists at the same time, and a match is over when either wrestler is thrown out of the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body aside from the soles of his feet.

I’m not really into sport but I love experiencing things like this and getting to see and feel the atmosphere. It was a fascinating and entertaining sporting experience.

For dinner we went to Peking Kaoyaten, an authentic Chinese restaurant specialising in Peking Duck, one of my absolute favourite asian dishes. This place was just around the corner from our hotel and cooked perfectly, I enjoyed every bite!

The next day we went to one of Tokyo’s most well-preserved old neighbourhoods. Asakusa is a place to see the charms of “old Tokyo” and experience a very different vibe than the urban shuffle in Shibuya and Shinjuku. There are several old temples and streets with market stalls in Asakusa that we were excited to explore.

We made it to Sensoji Temple, Tokyo's oldest temple and one of the most iconic. We managed to beat the crowds and got there early. Felt special to have the place to ourselves with only a few other people around. Its entryway is marked by a signature large red lantern. With its beautiful red frame and green rooftops, it’s worth taking some time to explore the grounds and the temple itself. But first breakfast!

We found this great cafe called Suke6 Diner just around he corner from the temple and stopped in for breakfast. I'm glad we came here early as by the time we left there was a queue outside.

Loved the rustic interiors and they also did a yummy breakfast and smoothies too.

Back at the temple after breakfast the crowds has started to descend.

I spent some time purchasing a Omikuji, an ancient form of fortune telling in Japan along with buying a bundle of incense burners and lighting them before putting them in the large incense burner and waving the smoke over my body. This gesture is to cleanse the body and symbolise healing.

Sensoji has a purification fountain at the entrance, where water comes out from stone dragons. You should pick up the wooden ladle with your right hand, rinse your left hand, then hold the ladle with your left hand and rinse your right hand. Then pour the water into your left hand to rinse your mouth. Then you spit the water quietly into the bottom of the well. Next, you pour the water over the left hand your mouth touches. Finally, you should rinse the ladle and let the water run down the handle to clean it before returning it to the stand.

Just outside of the Sensoji Temple lies one of Tokyo’s most historically significant shopping streets Nakamise Dori. Here, you can find all kinds of Japanese goods and homewares, as well as many souvenir shops. We tackled the crowds and explored the shops before making our way to lunch.

Tempura Daikokuya is a beloved tempura restaurant located a stone’s throw from the iconic Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. We got there just as it opened and got a table straight away however this place is super so expect to queue. There was one going right around the corner when we left.

It was the first restaurant where we got to experience tatami seating which is a traditional Japanese restaurant seating with low table set on tatami flooring. 

Daikokuya Tempura is a long-established traditional restaurant, serving authentic tempura dishes for over 100 years. If you’re in the Asakusa neighbourhood in Tokyo, you must try the best tempura from Daikokuya. Highly recommended if you are looking for what to eat in Asakusa.

We also stopped in to Yanagi Chaya, a beautiful tea house where you can enjoy traditional Japanese teas and desserts. Great place to sit and people watch with the cafe’s ideal location nearby Sensoji Temple.

We practically went to Japan to eat everything and then some! For dinner that evening we went to Kagari a famous ramen shop in Ginza, Tokyo. With only 17 seats, prepare to wait in line. The line wrapped all the way down the tiny alley and for good reason; this was the best soba I’ve ever had! I would fly all the way back to Japan again for this dish. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

On our last night in Tokyo we had booked a tour of the Omoide Yokocho which is a cluster of tight alleyways in Shinjuku brightly lit with paper lanterns and crammed with small eateries.  How beautiful was this place?!

At the first place we stopped at I tired some authentic local street food, yakitori which is basically
Grilled Chicken Skewers and some fresh sushi.

We then went and explored Kabukichō is the biggest red-light district in Tokyo, where you can “buy” girls on an iPad, see Godzilla, or spend the night in a love hotel but we were just there for the food.

Got a fun picture of our tour group under the red light district sign. It was such a fun group and was nice to meet other tourist. We booked this tour through Magical trips and our tour guide was called Masashi who was amazing and knew all the best spots.  I would highly recommend this tour and food and drinks were included.

Can you spot Godzilla?

At the next resturant I tried some Gyoza and some tempura. Going on a food tour in Japan is a must if you want to participate in the Japanese drinking culture, and makes for a great night out right alongside the local people who are often regulars at these quaint alleyway bars.

A visit to Tokyo is not complete without a sushi breakfast and I knew just the place. Tsukiji Market is one of the largest wholesale fish markets in the world!

We were in for a very fishy experience!

The bustle of the market starts well before daybreak, when wholesalers set up their goods for the notorious tuna auction. At 5:00 in the morning, I choose to sleep in instead! We got up and made our way there at 7am which was a reasonable hour for me. We arrived with a bustling market vibe with amazing food stalls and restaurants.

 Thankfully I had done more research and found a hidden gem that was popular with the locals, Tsukiji Itadori Bekkan which you can find down a narrow alleyway.

We ordered their 9-piece omakase set. Omakase is a Japanese phrase meaning, “I’ll leave it to you” or simply put, a type of meal consisting of dishes selected by the chef. Omg seriously if you like sushi even just a little bit, you will feel like you’ve died and gone to sushi heaven here. We loved sitting at the counter and watching the chefs preparing all the sushi – it’s always fun watching the magic happen right in front of you.

The Tsukiji Fish Market breakfast is a dining experience I’ll never forget. Here is where you will never experience such melt-in-your-mouth sushi in your life again! Definitely one for the foodies!

Tokyo was amazing and I already cant wait to go back again! I want to go back in a couple of years when the kids are older and take them to Disneyland!

See you soon for the next part of our Japan trip!! 

1 comment:

  1. Took soooo many recommendations, thanks sissy! I can't wait for the foood!