Another in our OBT series of articles.
We had some interesting food and drink experiences in Japan. In fact, they were so interesting, food is mostly what this article is about. There are definitely challenges to eating in Japan, especially if you want real Japanese food away from tourist areas. Google translate has been a big help, but sometimes it just doesn’t work well. Here is a summary of the main varieties of Japanese food restaurants: sushi, izakaya, yakitori, soba, udon, ramen, tempura, teppanyaki, and okonomiyaki. Our goal was to try everything.
Of the three of us, I’m the only on who has been to Japan before and I didn’t think too much about the food on my previous visits because I was here on business and I just followed my hosts to various restaurants. I do, however, recall eating a lot of Chinese food, but I wasn’t choosing where to eat. This trip, we were on our own.
Besides the food, the other major challenge in Japan is figuring out the public transportation system because that is what everyone uses. We managed to get from the airport to our hotel using our JR rail pass (purchased in advance) and the metro, in fairly decent time. I was pretty proud of us.
After dropping off the bags and taking a long shower, we went in search of dinner, which turned out to be more of a challenge than expected. After one” fail” trying to find a place using Google maps, we wound up at an Osaka-style okonomiyaki place, featuring a savory version of Japanese pancake made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat and topped with a variety of condiments, but we didn’t know any of that when we walked in. Having no idea what this type of food was about, the woman at the restaurant helped us order and then she kindly cooked all the dishes at the large griddle on our table for us. I think she felt sorry for us. After 20 hours of travel from Melbourne to Tokyo, we really appreciated the help.
The next day, we did an all-day walking tour of Tokyo with our private guide, Kenji. I arranged the guide through www.cityunscripted.com just a few days before we got there. In addition to the requisite Meiji Shrine, we went to the old Tsukiji Fish Market and ate the best sushi I have had since arriving in Japan (we have had sushi several times since).
After walking more than 10 miles that day, Kenji left us at a shopping mall in Shinjuku for dinner. Shopping malls in Tokyo have whole floors full of good restaurants and we decided to try soba, which is buckwheat noodles. The noodles were cold so this wasn’t our favorite meal, but as we frequently say, “it’s an adventure.”
A day in Hakone and Mt. Fuji
We decided to take a day trip to the Hakone/Mt. Fuji area, even though we knew the weather wasn’t going to be good enough to see Mt. Fuji. Part of the appeal of this day trip had been a ropeway with dramatic views of the mountains, but it was closed due to volcanic activity in the area and we smelled plenty of sulfur to prove the point. The highlight of the day was a walk along a path lined with giant cedar trees that marked the 300 year old road to Edo Castle in Tokyo. There was also a floating Torii gate in the lake leading to another Shinto shrine.
Back in Tokyo
After returning to Tokyo, we really wanted tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) so using www.trulytokyo.com, we found a highly recommended place in Roppangi called Butagumi Dining. This was definitely one of our dining successes because we identified a restaurant, we managed to find the place, and the food was awesome, as promised.
By the last day in Tokyo, we still had some local foods we wanted to try and I had been trying to find an Izakaya place (Japanese bar food) the entire time and continually failed. We did finally succeed in finding Izakaya in Nagoya and it was awesome. We had some tempura, sushi, fried chicken, salad and it reminded me of Chili’s in the U.S., they had some of everything.
Back to our last day in Tokyo. We went to Ueno park and saw an interesting museum about working-class life in Tokyo before 1945. Later, we did something on Josh’s bucket list: we visited a hedgehog café. The way these places work, you order a drink and then you have 10 minutes with a little, frightened hedgehog. After 10 minutes, you must pay by the minute per person to continue visiting with the hedgehog. The experience certainly was unique and hedgehogs are quite spikey.
That evening, we found a really interesting bar, Iron Fairies, to have a cocktail before dinner. How about an octopus garnish?
For dinner that night, we tried Udon in Ginza. We decided the thick, slippery noodles are difficult to manage with pointy chopsticks.
What type of food would you like to try in Japan?