I am back!!
I know you were all worried, but holidays came for me as well. And what holidays they were! I was able to roam around Japan for 3 weeks! I will try and tell you everything about those 3 weeks, as always focused on food (plus trains, and Japanese nerdness).
Let’s go then!
After a very long trip (VERY long trip consisting of a jump to Amsterdam followed by an inexplicable jump to… Paris and a 12 hour flight to Tokyo Haneda) we arrived at our Airbnb in Asakusa. We dropped everything and decided to go exploring to beat the jet-lag. We went to the Sensō-ji, a very famous temple in the area, and then to dinner, where I experienced my first Japanese toilet. Of course, it was a fail. Sergeant Lunch and Lieutenant Cookie teased me for days after I headed back to our table defeated by the toilet and unable to flush it (It had no visible handles and at that moment, I could not figure out what all the buttons meant. Or else, I was just very tired). Most importantly, we had eel! Eel with rice (unagi), which was delicious.
And as a final treat for the day, we discovered a traditional dance festival near the river; we enjoyed the show before heading back for a well deserved 12 hours sleep.
The following day we started our explorations in earnest. Our routine always included breakfast bought at a local 7-Eleven, because as everyone knows, I can’t function without my coffee and something to eat. The status of Japanese convenience store pastries is good, although I must report that, since we usually bought them at night for the day after, the choice was limited.
Anyway, on the second day we explored Electric Town, Akihabara. We actually did not explore much, but we can say that we experienced it in the form of trying a lot of videogames in the neighbourhood’s arcades. 😀
I wish we had all those machines here in Europe. There was literally everything one could think of, from drum machines to dance games (old school ones and very modern ones) to a lot of rhythm games. One of the most popular was the “Washing Machine” one (I now discovered that it was called Mai-Mai, but our name is better and it gives a very clear description of the thing :D) to which we all became very attached. I don’t have to say how bad we were at everything, particularly in comparison with the locals, whose abilities with these things are almost supernatural.
As a snack, we had a lovely cheese cake, from a place called Pablo. Japanese people seem to be obsessed with cheese cakes, for whatever reason.
We then went to Shibuya, to see the famous crossing (and try and not strangle all the idiots filming themselves going from one side of the street to the other) and to have our dinner. Lieutenant Cookie pointed to us this lovely place, called Ichi-Ban-Kan (or something similar, I share with you the location on Google, so you can find it). Here we had a lovely and very cheap meal, destined to be repeated twice more. We really loved the “old men’s bar” atmosphere and the seemingly low quality food. The gyozas we had there were the best!
Our second day in the capital dawned very, very hot. After what seemed like an eternal morning spent in the Ueno park, we went to Harajuku, where we were directed by the Lonely Planet to a gyoza place. The Japanese customers could be counted on the fingers of one hand, but the food was very nice. It is worth noticing that in Japan food is very very cheap. We rarely spent more than a tenner each for a meal, often including either soft drinks or beer.
After lunch we walked through the crazy Takeshita Dori, then went to the government tower for a (free) view of the city, where we had a weird ice cream from the 7-Eleven (tasted like… yuzu? Probably? I am not 100% sure 🙂 ), and finally we headed towards Shinjuku, where we really, really wanted to try some karaoke.
After failing miserably to find one, and with our feet sore with all the walking, we headed towards the only place we knew was not going to fail us, the HUB. This is an “English” pub chain that you can find in the major cities. It is still full of locals, and it is worth to notice that they have a happy hour that finishes at 7 pm which allows you to have very (very!) cheap drinks (we are talking about less than 3 euros for a Gin and Tonic!). In Japan beer is often more expensive that a mixed drink or a cocktail. Of course, this became very quickly our point of reference during our stay in Osaka and Tokyo (more of this in the following chapters).
After drowning our tiredness in a couple of Salty Dogs (my cocktail of reference), we managed to find a place for our dinner. This time, it was an okonomiyaki. I was probably very tired and I did not think the world of it. I didn’t even take a picture of it!
Our last day of our first leg in Tokyo, we went to the Tsukiji Market, only to find it closed for a local holiday. We managed anyway to have a decent (not exceptional, but decent) lunch at a sushi place, a restaurant part of a very famous chain, called Sushizanmai. I just love the man in their signs, welcoming you to dine with them 😀
I ate some sea urchin, some cod roe and some raw squid, which I did not like at all! Not always the experiments come up right 😉
In the afternoon, we walked around the fancy Ginza and headed to the Tokyo train station to buy our train tickets for Yufuin, our trip for the following day. The station itself is massive and at its core you will find a lovely old building, surrounded by modern structures. Train station in Japan are endless (or so it seems).
Our last dinner in Tokyo was lovely tempura, after which we were all ready to head back to our apartment to get ready for our first train trip to Kyushu.