Tokyo was our favorite stop on our Asian Pacific teaser trip. There are more places to eat and drink there than I’ve seen anywhere else (yes, including NYC.) Restaurants and bars are literally stacked upon one another on each highrise-filled block, and no alley is without a series of ramen, sushi, or skewer joints. To paint a picture for my American comrades: imagine the vastness of LA’s sprawling cities, except that each city is attached to one another by multiple subways and train systems. Add to each city a NY bustle – such is Tokyo.
The density and massive nature of Tokyo’s cities are balanced only by the contents within. The majority of restaurants and shops you find are small mom & pop-esque, cozy, and occasionally cramped by local business people throwing back a cold Asahi beer and bite before they head home. When you’re in an establishment you feel very small town, when you walk out it is all big city.
We ate a ton. One of the most memorable experiences in Tokyo was eating Sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market. Truth be told, all the sushi in Tokyo we had was AMAZING and fresher than I have ever had before. But the idea that we ate sushi 100 ft from where it was bought and butchered was mind blowing; site, taste, and sound. It is quite possibly the freshest, purest sushi we will ever have in our lives.
In addition to all the individual restaurants and shops, Tokyo was filled with departments stores (about one every few blocks.) The class and quality of goods sold within changed from one to the next, but the setup was fairly cookie cutter: first-floor beauty and jewelry, the few floors above made up the women’s sections, above that men’s, and the two floors below were the supermarkets, restaurants and produce. Imagine if you went to Macys to get fresh fish and dinner. By American standards it seems odd, but the food selection in these malls were great. It was like a Whole Foods (or two) in every basement. There was one restaurant in Tokyu’s basement in Shibuya that was cheap and delicious called Uoriki Kaisen. It was the only place on the entire trip we ate at twice 😉
Our trip to Japan was primarily a gastronomical one, we had fresh tempura cooked right in front of us, we had high-class sushi at Kyubey Sushi in Keio Place Hotel (very “Jiro dreams of sushi” style,) I had a delicacy or two I’ll leave untranslated for the faint of heart (shirako,) Kobe Beef cooked on a small personal grill atop a bar, and the list goes on and on. From $12 fruit desserts overlooking the famous Shibuya Crossing (the Japanese seem to love fruit desserts, by the way. Shops were strewn across the cities) to a $5 strawberry (yeah, A single strawberry. Just one.) to Ramen you select from a vending machine. We ate it all!
Our strategy was to sift through all the “best places to eat” lists we could find online and did our best to hit them all. Luckily for us many of them were nearby in Shinjuku or the Neighboring towns Shibuya and Goya where our hotel was. We had to be sure we tried the best. After our tanks began to run low, running from spot to spot, we broke down and started to stumble into any place we saw – and you know what? … Some of our best experiences wasn’t eating the web’s best-of, but it was with our serendipitous finds.
There are so many lively spots n Tokyo you would never know of if you didn’t take a chance on a random street elevator to an unknown floor and open the door.
I think the need to run off a list when you get to a new city is expected, you have to get a benchmark to know what counts as what counts for “good” or “bad” when you travel. Not only that, but Japan is a bit intimidating to expect to just throw yourself in. Few places are marked in English, and many spots are tucked away on the 2nd-7th+ floors of buildings. There isn’t the ability to “window-shop” your way into all Tokyo has to offer. So, if you have never been to Tokyo before I won’t try to convince you to stumble through the city, but you will realize soon, as I did, and as others told me, the beauty of Tokyo will not come from a list but your ability to take chances in any place you have the guts to stumble into.
Remember, you can see a summary of tips and notes on Tokyo here, or check out my experience in Kyoto here.