From the explosive food scene, to the affinity for nature, to the burgeoning technology scene – Japan has held so much appeal to me as a travel destination for longer than I can remember.
And so it made perfect sense to head here to celebrate the end of Jeremy’s studies in paramedicine to explore, eat and discover what this side of Asia held.
We started our adventures in Tokyo, flying in with Singapore Airlines and staying at a cute little Airbnb in Koto. As far as accomodation goes, it was a great choice – central, close to three different train stations and roomy enough to make our stay comfortable.
Jeremy’s best friend Steve lives in Tokyo, and one of my good friends Taka does too – so we knew our trip here would be fun to catch up with them.
The first thing I realised is that it is damn busy all the time. The hustle, the bustle, there’s just so much happening all the time. But attacking the city on foot is our favourite way to travel, and in our week there we clocked up over 100kms just by walking. Needless to say, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat all the fried chicken on offer when you’re doing that much movement. Win-win!
The food scene was exciting. There’s no other way to describe it – the sashimi is ridiculously fresh and diverse, the street food readily available at every turn of the neck.
Exploring Tokyo Skytree was a great way to see the landscape, even if it is on the cheesy side of tourist attractions. It’s Japan’s tallest structure at 634m, and is the second tallest in the world. So yep – my fear of heights was in great company here (kidding).
The floors are full of restaurants, shops, arcades and more. Enough to waste the hours away while navigating each level. Feeling a little shattered from travelling, it was a great introduction to the frigidly cold weather and the over excited greediness of my appetite.
Before we flew out to Japan I watched an amazing documentary on Tsukiji market as part of the Japanese film festival here in Perth. I laughed, I marvelled and yes, I cried because I always cry in movies – but ultimately it left me completely enamoured with the idea of the world’s largest wholesale fish and seafood market.
With over 65,000 employees, Tsukiji is a powerhouse. The restaurants lining it’s property attract long lines, and there’s some of the most notorious sashimi venues located here.
Keep on walking and you’ll find a cute little street market along one side, with bites to nosh on while strolling along. This is my kind of eating – grazing as I go. Tamago, grilled scallops with torched uni, barbecued corn… food on sticks might just be the best ever.
Discovering the throng of Shinjuku by day found us at a little ramen shop cleverly called Soba by night. As with all good things in Japan, there was a line but it was definitely worthwhile.
My chicken ramen was so creamy, it almost felt like a homely chicken noodle soup. The ramen noodles were silky and al dente, and I happily slurped up every last drop in the tiny venue. Jeremy’s drop noodles and porky broth went down a treat too – and we both agreed this was one of the standout meals we had on our holiday.
Since it was Autumn when we headed to Tokyo (and winter a couple of days later), the Rikugien Garden was a natural choice to enjoy the different hues of gold and red dotted amongst the lush green.
The staff there sell fresh mochi, brushed with sticky umami rich sauces. There’s also this incredible peace surrounding you even though there’s hoards of people. It was some kind of magic.
Taking on Shibuya is an absolute must when visiting Tokyo – and of course the most famous part is Harajuku. This is the heart of culture, fashion and overwhelming crowds of people, particularly young funky adults.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so overwhelmed when facing the hoards of bodies coming from every direction. But where there are people, there’s sure to be great places to eat. And we definitely munched our way through this part of the city. From ramen to tempura to all kinds of doughnuts, Tokyo delivers.
Jeremy and I were celebrating our five year anniversary when we were in Tokyo, so we booked dinner at Tapas Molecule Bar at the Mandarin Hotel. It was a celebration of Japanese ingredients, from the likes of Hokkaido scallops, crab, wagyu beef and more.
The chef, Ping, spoke excellent english and talked us through each course with so much enthusiasm, theatre and humour. While the night isn’t the cheapest (I think maybe around $350 each when we added in our drinks), it was so memorable. And most importantly, phenomenally delicious.
Nighttime strolls in Roppongi Hills brings you into the world of luxury cars, tiny stacked apartment blocks that cost a fortune and also house businesses (tip: look up at the roof of each venue to see the names of the places inside).
The streets are lit up in twinkling fairy lights – some of which can be synced to your phone to control the movement and colour. The restaurants are top end, the streets ridiculously clean. It might not be a place you’d normally consider checking out, but we really enjoyed an evening here.
Especially when we decided to try a local restaurant there which offered Japanese hamburg – a great example of the country’s once upon a love affair with America. This offers a hamburger patty served like a steak – with a demi glace and roasted veggies. Weird… but strangely tasty.
On our final night, and amid the seven degree weather, we warmed our bones with friends at a shabu shabu restaurant.
Similar to hot pot, you get unlimited vegetable options and pay for the meat to add in. Choose your broth, pick your selection of tofu, mushrooms, greens and sweet potato – and you’re in. It’s a social way of dining and while it’s not as flavoursome as other Japanese dishes, it’s still worth trying out.
There’s so many more moments of exploring the city I haven’t touched on. Like the amazing op shops that line the back lanes of Harajuku (you’ll find some wicked bargains there for lush brands), fairy floss the colour of the rainbow that’s bigger than your head and taking in still moments at the local parks and lakes.
I knew I would love it here, and I did. But our week soon ended, and off we went to Kyoto.
Arigato Tokyo. You were as amazing as I ever imagined.