Maybe if we’d come here straight from Australia, before seeing the rest of Asia, we’d be more impressed?
Don’t get me wrong, we were both in awe that we were in Tokyo, a place we’d been dreaming of for so long! The lights are bright and the city (rather, all of them!) are bustling heavily with people in business suits and couture. High end fashion is literally on every corner and it really seemed like a shoppers paradise. We’ve never seen so many Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co, Chanel, etc. so close to each other. There literally seemed to be one of each on every block!
Perhaps the best part about our entire stay in Japan was taking the Shinkansen, or bullet train, from Kyoto to Tokyo. You can check out our Facebook to see a video of it arriving at the station! It was so futuristic looking and went so fast. It only took 2.5 hours to get from the heart of Kyoto to the heart of Tokyo, less than half the time it would haven’t taken on any other mode of transportation.
We stayed in the Shinjuku area as we read that it gives the classic Tokyo feel. We opted for an Airbnb for a few reasons. First of all, we desperately needed to do some laundry! Airbnb is perfect for that need! Next and biggest reason, the hotel rooms in Tokyo are beyond tiny! Unless you’re willing to shell out some serious cash, get ready for a 100 sq. ft for you, your spouse and all your luggage. Not only that, but all the rooms we were looking at featured “semi double” beds which is considered a “large twin”. I’m sorry, but two people, regardless of your size, can not fit comfortably on that bed! The Airbnb featured a large apartment, given that we’re in tokyo of course. A spacious 282 sq feet to spread out! The bathroom on the other hand… FAIL! It was TINY! Dean literally could not fit in the shower he was so tall! The shower head came to his belly button! Realizing it could be way worse, we cut our losses and decided not to complain too much and enjoy the fact that we could actually move around in the apartment!
Tokyo is HUGE. It actually has many different cities within the city. There’s no real “Tokyo center” but many different ones. No matter which station you get off the metro at, you find yourself in a brand new center. With that being said, it’s a city just like any other. Aside from the fact that we couldn’t communicate with anyone, it was just that. We feel we’ve gotten a little spoiled by the rest of Southeast Asia. We’ve seen so many shrines, temples, and beautiful sights that we didn’t find anything here particularly interesting.
We checked out Shinjuku and loved seeing all the lights and shops. The music, which actually sounded more like early 90’s video game sounds, was loud there which was so different than the rest of Japan. Everything outside this area was extremely quiet. We also went to see Tokyo tower which was nice to see at night, all lit up.
We heard about the KitKat craze in Japan and I couldn’t wait to go to the KitKat store, the Chocolatory, to see all the flavors and try them all. Luckily, there were 2 stores pretty close to where were staying! We picked the easiest one to get to and were on our way. A metro ride and walk through yet another downtown and we arrived only to see that it was closed for renovation. Apparently this was the newer of the two stores that just opened in February (and apparently they were giving out SUSHI KitKat’s on their opening day.. can you imagine?!) but closed again in the beginning of May.. hmmm. Frustrated, we powered on to the other location. Tucked away in the corner of a high end food court in the basement of a mall was the small KitKat counter. They had maybe 5-7 flavors, two of which were milk and dark chocolate. None of them were particularly interesting and the prices were insane. A 4 pack of their “fruit flavors” was $23USD! I REALLY wanted some KitKats but $23 for 4 bars? No way! Luckily we found some fun flavors at a convenience store and stocked up there! We ended up with Matcha, Wasabi, Rum Raisin, Sake, (yes, Sake!) Strawberry Cheesecake, Chocolate Mint, Melon, Rose and Strawberry. We haven’t tried them all yet so the verdict on our favorite is still out! So far we’ve tried the Matcha which is a flavor we have had tried in other parts of Asia, if you like green tea.. you’ll love it! So good! We also tried the Melon… pretty interesting! It tastes like white chocolate mixed with cantaloupe. Not overwhelming but definitely prominent. I don’t know that we’d go back to buy more, but we polished the bar off pretty quick! The Sake was similar in that it was a white chocolate base with a little Sake flavor mixed in. That also was interesting. The familiar burn from Sake with and underlying alcohol taste but got rounded out by the sweet white chocolate. We’re excited to try the Wasabi and Strawberry Cheesecake, but we need to pace ourselves!
Many people told us to go to Golden Gai, a condensed area of about 6 alleys filled with mini bars. Each bar can seat about 3-4 people. There are about 200 bars packed into an area about the size of a city block. It was cool to check out an area so widely known and see the tiniest bars and how they functioned. They were all very different from each other. No two looked the same. Some had music while others had none. Some seemed to be serving food. Some had 2 seats and others were bigger with around 4. They all had their own feel and intrigue about them. While this is a big attraction, it surprised us how “anti tourist” it seemed. Most of the bars had a cover charge of about $10USD just to go in. Drinks weren’t too badly priced at around $5-7USD but the cover charge seemed outrageous. There was even one bar that had sign a stating that you’re not welcome there if you don’t speak Japanese. We were surprised that this area, one that has the potential of making a lot of money, was so unwelcoming. Needless to say, we spent our time there winding through the alleys and checking it all out from the exterior and didn’t waste our time or money getting any drinks there.
We were not blown away with the food in Tokyo. In fact, we weren’t that impressed with the food in Japan as a whole. Maybe it’s because neither of us eat fish, but there wasn’t one place or meal that essentially blew us away. Nevertheless we will, as always, go over some of the places worth mentioning.
Thai: We feel we have to mention this place not for the food necessarily but for the experience. Sorry, we don’t know the name.. but we’re happy to explain to you where it is! First of all, yes, we know.. we got Thai food in Japan.. don’t judge! We saw this place and all the amazing memories of Thailand rushed backed to us and the choice of what to eat was no longer. We were welcomed with open arms by the staff and seated right away, that’s when the fun started. We’ve become used to the fact that people are intrigued by us enough to ask where we’re from, and then even more intrigued to find out we’re from the states, but the staff and 2 other local patrons that were here were particularly intrigued! We’re sure the massive amounts of alcohol they seemed to have had was part of it, but they wanted to know all about us and we’re keen in sharing all about them as well. Right off the bat, one of them asked “Donald Trump?” Which is a question we get A LOT. That started a whole conversation right there. After that they brought out their phones and went through their photos, showing us their families and friends and trips they’d been on. One of the patrons was from Thailand and when she found out we’d just been there it brought an even deeper connection and conversation. By the end of the meal they told us we were their new “son and daughter” and wouldn’t let us leave without many hugs and many photos. The whole thing was, while very friendly, so bizarre! They seemed to be having the time of their lives talking and sharing with us as tons of laughter circled around the restaurant. The food was nothing to write home about really, Pad Thai for me that pales in comparison to the last Pad Thai I had… in Thailand. For Dean, Pork Larb, that minced pork dish with lots of basil, mint, chilis and garlic. He wasn’t too impressed either. But if you’re looking for a fun interaction, it’s definitely the place to go!
Ichiran Ramen: Not only was this another TripAdvisor find but we had a lot of blog/Instagram followers suggest that we go here. Right in the heart of Shinjuku, this classic ramen shop is open 24 hours and seems to always have a line down the block. We attempted for dinner one night but after seeing the line we opted for elsewhere and decided we’d come back for lunch the next day. While we still waited in line, it was much less and we were in within minutes. True Japanese style, you first order and pay at a machine. Ichiran only sold the classic ramen bowl with pork, but you could add extra meat, a soft boiled egg, drinks, dessert etc. After paying you’re handed a ramen customization sheet, we loved that part! You could choose the done-ness of your noodles, how spicy you wanted it, with or without pork, how much garlic and onion and deepness of flavor you wanted your broth (that part we didn’t really understand). You’re then brought to a private ramen cave. Essentially a row of stools along a bar that has separators along it. Fun concept! The ramen was delicious and it was fun to be able to customize it to our likings. Did it blow us away? No. But the process was fun and the ramen filled us for hours.
Go! Go! Curry: On our last day in Tokyo, we wanted to get one last traditional Japanese meal under our belt (or… drawstring pants at this point!) before heading to the airport. Similar to Coco Curry in Kyoto, Go! Go! Curry was a diner type atmosphere that sold… Curry! You walk in and order your meal at the machine. You choose how much rice you want, if you want pork or chicken, whatever additional sides you want and head to your seat and wait for your meal to arrive. Almost immediately our two silver platters arrived, Dean’s pork Kutsu curry with a massive 1lb mound of rice and my chicken Kutsu curry a mini mound of rice arrived at our seats. The curry was darker in color then CoCo Curry and the flavor was much better! We loved it! It provided the Japanese flavor of curry that both Dean and I have come to know and love. We loaded up and the meal was big enough to last us well into the night and fuel is for our long flight ahead. Bonus! We found out that there’s a couple locations in New York City as well! We might need to make a trip when we’re back in the states.
Honorable mention goes to, yet again, 7-Eleven! We wish the 7’s in the states were as good as the ones in Asia. Cheap beer, great snacks and here in Tokyo… delicious noodles! We also want to give a shout out to a shisha bar we visited here. If you’re ever in Tokyo and have a hankering for some hookah like we did, Shisha Tokyo was great. The owner was super friendly and it was pretty affordable. He also told us to mention that if you head there and mention the blog he’ll give you a free drink! Last but not least, we want to give a shout out to the Turkish Kebab shop right across from Shisha Tokyo. Being that kebabs are one of our comfort foods, sometimes we just can’t resist but to get one for dinner or late night snack. Hisar Turkish Restaurant has the Kebab spit right in the window for you to walk up and order to go, or tables inside if you want to sit down. Our kebab master hooked us up with a lot of meat and it hit home for us. Delish!
And that’s the end of Asia! Hard to believe how quickly Asia has flown by. We’ve seen some amazing things and been to amazing places. We will definitely be back to see more! Next stop, a VERY long flight into France! Paris for a day and then south to explore Provence and the Cote D’Azur before jetting off to Morocco.