Hey everyone! Here I am, once again, ready to drive you through my trip to Japan.
This time I’ll try to give you some advices on where to stay and where to eat in Tokyo to taste the very best of the local cuisine!
First of all, take a moment to read the strangest interesting facts I came across during my two weeks tour!
In Japan every worker or employee, no matter where or what he’s in charge of, is very rigorous.
You’ll be amazed at the supermarket by the way the cashier treats your purchase, making sort-of a chronicle of what he is doing: “You have to pay 1400 JPY, you have paid 2000 JPY, I’ll give you 600 JPY change”, and then he browses notes or coins as a true magician.
Or when you get on your first bus in Japan: the driver, fully-equipped with a headphones and microphone, will clearly show you he has controlled the left, right and rearview mirrors before departing after each stop!
They all behave like robots!
Japanese people are very friendly and helpful, and extremely polite. Get ready to infinite bows when you leave a store or a hotel or to the jubilant gratitude screams as you leave the restaurant after paying you bill: this is the way the entire staff (the owner, waiters and chefs) has to thank you for choosing to stop by and eat at their place!
Transport: while waiting for their train, Japanese people are always aligned following the rows drawn on the ground, that let you understand precisely where your carriage will stop before the train arrives, or where to wait for the non-reserved carriages on your train.
The bullet trains (shinkansen) have a line speed exceeding 300 km/h and are systematically cleaned every time at the end of each trip, the seats rotate (see video below!) and the passengers are only allowed to get in not before 4-5 mins to departure.
If you bought a JRP, and your trip requires a seat reservation, you’ll just have to pop by one of the JR ticket offices at the station and show your pass.
The operator, in a more or less understandable English will help you to select date and time of travel and pick your favourite carriage and side on the train.
Be careful: transport on Nozomi and Mizuho bullet trains is not included in the JRP, therefore, when planning your journey (I have always used the website Hyperdia) make sure you uncheck these trains.
Once on board of the train (very comfortable and quiet despite the high speeds reached), just relax and enjoy one of the famous ekiben (bento boxes), boxes of food (fish, meat or whatever you like) with amazing packaging as in the Japanese tradition that can also be purchased on the train.
Forget train delays: the shinkansen trains accumulated a total of 12 seconds delay over an entire year: O
As for local trains, on some railway lines, some of the train carriages are specifically reserved for women only: in this case, this is not due to the Japanese extreme courtesy and respect, but to rather avoid the phenomenon of Chikans (serial groper :O) during peak hours!
Smoking is strictly banned in the street: if you cannot help but have a cigarette, you’ll have to find one of the designed smoking areas, especially in big cities like Tokyo and Kyoto.
If you are a fruit-lover, get ready to dip into your pockets: the Japanese have a real obsession with fruit, especially seeking for the perfect shape and colour.
Fruit, meticulously packaged, is often used as a gift in the place of flowers, so don’t be surprised when you bump into 80€/kg cherries, or into perfectly spherical melons or watermelons worth over €100!
Where to eat
I must admit that me and my beardy boy reeeally love sushi, so my suggestions on this front will be a little biased! However, to be honest, I did not expect to find so much difference compared to the food in Japanese restaurants I’m used to find in Italy.
The main difference is not in fact flavor-wise, but in the shape of the sushi pieces itself: in Japan, when they talk about sushi (or zushi), they refer to “nigiri”, a small mound of rice with a bit of wasabi and a piece/strip of fish over it.
If you ask for sushi, you’ll rarely find sashimi (raw fish) or hosomaki (a small roll of nori seaweed, rice and an ingredient of choice that can be fish or vegetables) and even more rarely my beloved california rolls, spicy tuna rolls or salmon avocado rolls that we are used to find in Italy and Europe.
Nevertheless, the variety of fish species that you can taste will help you forgive this difference, and you will be really delighted in trying various tuna nigiri (depending on the amount of fat of the meat), seared eel nigiri, crispy skin salmon nigiri salmon with crispy skin, scallops nigiri, grilled oysters nigiri, clams nigiri and many many more.
You definitely have to try sushi, perhaps accompanied by tempura (battered vegetables or shrimps) at the Tsukiji Market: stop randomly by one of the stalls and buy some takeaway sushi, taste a freshly opened oyster and continue towards another stall few meters forward.
One of my favorite places in Tokyo to have takeaway sushi is Chiyoda sushi, a chain of small stores selling bento boxes at progressively discounted prices (up to 50%) as closing time approaches. The branch in Kagurazawa was definitely unmissable: maximum bangs for your bucks!
Make sure you try (at least once) one of the Uobei chain restaurants: you’ll sit around a conveyor belt where a single dish (two nigiri) costs less than 1€.
But the real gem is the way you place your order: everyone has his own tablet as for the menu, and the order is done using the device.
Few minutes later you’ll see the automatic belt delivering the sushi pieces you ordered on a tray right in front of you! Just take the small dish, and you’ll see the tray going back to the kitchen automatically! I simply loved it!
High quality and bargain prices right before closure time is what you’ll also find at the Food Market (close to Shibuya station), where you can buy sushi, ramen (not my favorite, as the noodles in broth look very much like the 20-mins overcooked spaghetti) and my mum’s favorite dish: the okonomiyaki. It is a Japanese dish similar to an italian “frittata” prepared with chopped cabbage, eggs and flour mixed together, topped with bacon, fried eggs or even seafood.
We had the very best okonomiyaki in Kanazawa and Hiroshima (I’ll tell you more in my future posts), but if you cannot help but trying this amazing dish in Tokyo, head towards (apart for the Food Market, which tends to be quite overcrowded in the evening) in one of the narrow roads crammed with restaurants close to Shinjuku and Shibuya districts.
If you fancy eating like a local, and you’re close to Shinjuku, try the traditional grilled salmon with rice bowl, soup and vegetables with bean sprouts as a side dish, here.
Finally, if you want to try something more European-style, have a go at chicken katsu with tonkatsu sauce, much like an Italian breaded chicken cutlet, accompanied by the usual bowl of rice and green tea on the house.
We tried it near Ginza, here, and it was absolutely mouth-watering.
Personal suggestion: although after a few days in Japan you will desperately crave pizza, please try not to do it, especially in restaurants that pretend to be Italian, but have weird translations on the menus they display on their front door 😀
Where to stay
During our trip to discover Tokyo, we have been kindly offered to stay in several hotels, with different style and prices and in different areas of the city, so here’s my recommendations!
1. UNPLAN hostel: Brooklyn-style modern hostel / hotel
An elegant and very clean hostel with a New York-style wooden interior design is the Unplan Kagurazaka. It is located in a quiet residential area, 5 minutes from the Kagurazaka tube station. Prices are reasonable when compared to the pretty high standards of Tokyo expensive hotels (from 31€ for a single bed in a mixed dormitory up to 140€ for a double room with private bathroom and livable terrace, where me and a boyfriend had our first candlelight sushi dinner <3). Every room is equipped with TV and bluetooth speakers. The common area is well-organized and adequately equipped, as well as the kitchen and laundry services area and public showers. The bar at the entrance of the Unplan hostel is also really cool, very bright during day and charming at night, with a welcome drink for the guests on Tuesday!
2. Hotel Homeikan Daimachi: traditional Japanese ryokan
They say that sleeping in a traditional Japanese ryokan is a must when you visit Japan. Of course, me and my beardy boy couldn’t miss the opportunity, choosing a 1-night stay at the Homeikan Daimachi in Tokyo. The staff working at the hotel is very welcoming and polite, but unfortunately they do not speak English. Slippers at the entrance, yukata for guests, stunning interior zen garden and several Japanese style tatami rooms for meditation, in a really suggestive, quiet and relaxing atmosphere. The ryokan is equipped with separate (men and women) communal onsens and a private onsen for couples. Unfortunately the building is quite old. On the positive side, this enables a full dive into Japanese traditions, but, on the negative, as the interior is a bit dated, it might require improved cleaning!
3. Hotel Graphy Nezu: modern hostel / hotel
Another hostel definitely worth staying is the Hotel Graphy Nezu. The staff here speaks excellent English and is always respectful and accommodating. The arrangement of the rooms and the white and blue corridors really look like a cruise ship interior. The common room is well furnished with sofas everywhere and a huge plasma TV. The kitchen can be used by all guests, being very spacious and super-equipped. All the rooms come with air conditioning and with/without en suite bathrooms. The bar in hostel/hotel is also very nice with free drinks for guests from 5 am to 10 pm and delicious homemade fries! Overall, the place is really tidy and clean, offering a pleasant stay in quiet area in the surroundings of Ueno Park and Zoo.
4. Hotel International by Strings Tokyo: luxury 5 stars modern hotel
If you want to spoil yourself, or maybe you are traveling to Tokyo for your honey-moon (best wishes to you!) I surely recommend the The Strings by InterContinental Tokyo, a 5-stars stunning hotel with 206 rooms in between the 26th and 32nd floor of the Shinagawa East Tower. All the rooms have stunning views (in the absence of fog can also see the Tokyo Rainbow bridge, fantastic!). The hotel has internal scenographic glass elevators facing the entrance hall, where you can find 3 restaurants and a fascinating bubble bar! In the evening you can dine in a very relaxed atmosphere with piano bar entertainment. You can even rent sports equipment at your convenience to use the gym (and sauna) inside the hotel! If you pick this hotel for your stay, make sure you try the buffet breakfast with hot dish: my favorite was the Japanese omelette, really creamy and tasty!
5. Ryumeikan Ochanumizu Hotel: luxury traditional boutique hotel
Moving on, another fabulous hotel is the Ochanumizu Ryumeikan Honten, a luxury hotel with only 9 rooms at a short 10 mins walk from JR Ochanomizu Station. At your arrival, while checking in, you will be offered a warm towel and complimentary green tea with delicious mocha chocolates. The hotel is equipped with an indoor ancient library, with Japanese literature accessible to all guests. Each room has yukata and Japanese sandals for guests, to be used within the hotel. All rooms have modern-Japanese style with tv, stereo with relaxing music, and free Nespresso machine with own coffee capsules and mini bar. Furthermore, every room has a desk with postcards made by local artists. Feel free to use them and let the hotel staff send them back your relatives, they’ll also take care of paying for your stamps! Don’t miss breakfast at this hotel: room service will bring you a divine Japanese breakfast with a Western twist.
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