A Big Slice of Culinary Heaven that is Japan

My first trip to Japan with hubby was nothing short of wonderful.  I did expect it to be very enjoyable, having read and studied about the Japanese, their language and culture, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the sensory overload, the cultural experience.  The weeklong experience deserves several posts, but I’ll try to keep them few and cohesive.

Back in university and when I started traveling around the country and across Asia was when I realized that the best ways to learn about and immerse in a culture was to learn the language system and culinary influences.  But who has time to learn a language before every trip, right?  That makes food the best and most enjoyable starting point, at least for me.  Oh, I know plenty (or some) about Japanese food and language alright, but that’s nothing compared to experiencing Japan on the ground; the sensory impressions will have you stay or at least, come back for more.  Let’s start with the food crawl (part 1).

Tempura course, Edomae set plate from historical tempura restaurant Tsunahachi in Shinjuku

tempura platter
Tempura at its finest

The tsukemen (special dipping noodles) and special ramen from Fu-unji were quite unforgettable

fu unji
Discover umami in a bowl

fu unji2

Probably the cheapest Michelin star meal you can get in Tokyo, but nothing short of fantastic, from Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima

nakajima

sardines
Sardine sashimi and fried sardines.  Super fresh and tasted soOo good!

Try one of the best gyoza in Tokyo from Gyozaro/Gyoza lou in Harajuku

gyoza

In Tokyo, you will not run out of good food at reasonable prices; you do not have to search long to find good chow, you just bump into it.

Satisfy your Takoyaki cravings at The Gindaco. 

Gindaco

takoyaki
Takoyaki cravings satisfied

You’ll never go wrong with rotation-sushi or sushi-go-round

sushi go round

Try the lava rock roasted coffee and lava hotdog from Lava Café in Mt. Fuji Heritage Center

lava meal

Learn the proper way to enjoy matcha

Matcha
It’s all in the preparation

Japan’s food game is strong, period.  And street food is no exception

street food2

Hoard-worthy street food during tours

street food

Sushi fest at Midori Sushi

sushi platter
Don’t miss that sushi experience unlike any other

If you need a break from Japanese food (but who would wanna…??), check out Shin-Okubo, Tokyo’s Korea Town for some Korean food well-loved by the Japanese.

dak galbi
One of the current faves at the time of our visit — Cheese Dak Galbi

There goes part 1.  Itadakimasu! 🙂

Wandering in Japan

It was decided a month or two before our wedding, ‘why don’t we go to Japan?’.  Sure, new hubby and I both studied Japanese in school, we both were (still are) anime fans, we are familiar and greatly admire the trust culture and discipline that is the Japanese brand.  But I was still pleasantly surprised to learn that this country is both in our bucket list.  That’s it, then, our honeymoon (series, I might add) will start in Japan.

Blooms pictured in Ueno Park

Spring blooms

Hubby and I are both city people, but I have a frequent yearning for the outdoors and nature, and will probably survive if not love living in a farm given the chance.  We’re both foodies, and love to localize.  So we decided to stay mostly in Tokyo for food crawls and spend a day touring Mt. Fuji.

Long Walks in Shinjuku

On our first day we decided to check out the train systems, navigate the streets near the hotel — in the process, tried to practice our very rusty Japanese — and enjoy our first meal in Japan.  We weren’t disappointed; Tokyo IS a culinary heaven.  More details on our food stops here  😉

Harajuku Bargain Shopping

Takeshita

We didn’t expect it to still be very cold when we arrived (3-16 degrees Celsius) days before the cherry blossoms start to bloom.  We took this as an opportunity to explore and maybe score good finds in trendy Takeshita Street in Harajuku, said to be the hub of Tokyo Street Fashion.  I scored a pair of low-heeled boots for $4, some souvenirs good for family and colleagues for less than $5, an irresistible black coat for me and leather shoes for hubby.  At this point we knew it was time to go and resist temptation.

Now we heard and read from a lot of people that Japan and Tokyo in particular can be very expensive, and so we were both surprised to discover that it’s not, If you knew where to book and dine.  More on this in another post 😉

Gindaco

Shibuya Crossing aka The Scramble

The Scramble

Since Harajuku and Shinjuku are not so far apart, we just had to check out what the Scramble was about 😉

We can’t help but admire how the Japanese revere their elders, history and culture in the way they preserve and frequent shrines and museums.  Not only were there a lot of foreigners (us included) visiting the parks, shrines and museums, there were many locals visiting as well.

Meiji Shrine

Meiji2

Meiji

We devoted a day to explore the parks and museums near Ueno Park, the 1st public park of its kind in Japan.  It is surrounded by government museums (Tokyo National Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, Shitamachi Museum), Ueno Zoo and Shrine and is a good viewing spot for cherry blossoms.

National Museum2

Tomb covers

Picture wall

National Museum

The next day, we booked a day tour to Mt. Fuji that included a trip to some nearby villages, 5th Station and some outlet stores.  Mt. Fuji is so majestic, my photos don’t do it justice…The country’s tallest peak, it’s commonly called Fuji-san, and is one of Japan’s 3 sacred/holy mountains.  It’s snow-capped about 5 months in a year and best time to hike or at least, most hikers visit from July to August.

Mt. Fuji

Mt Fuji

How ingenious!  Lava sugar and lava hotdog from a café in Fujisan World Heritage Center

Lava coffee and hotdog

Matcha Ceremony in one of the villages near Mt. Fuji

Matcha

We were so lucky to score free overnight stays in Grand Hyatt for the first 3 days of our time in Tokyo, after which we decided to check out Airbnbs nearby.  The law legalizing airbnb rentals in Japan will take effect in June 2018, but we heard there are more restrictions set by many local government compared to other countries.  So best to coordinate with your airbnb host prior to booking and book in advance.

Exploring Tokyo’s Korea Town in Shin-Okubo

Dak Galbi

On our last day, we explored Korea Town after packing up.  We had to check if our luggage can still be closed and not exceed our limit at this point 😉  I’m not very much into make up, but finding Japanese and Korean skincare products and even make up at 20-50% less than what I normally pay for it is such a delight!  Japan being an expensive city to visit is such a myth.  Just do your due diligence and plan your itinerary (loosely or not) to have some sort of guide while you’re there and check out travel blogs for tips.  Or you can always opt for tours to be on the safe side, but at a higher rate.

Overall, our stay in Japan was so refreshing, it provided us with the needed relaxation, interesting cultural experience and time together after all the wedding fun and excitement and, let’s face it, stress that came along with it.  All the good things you’ve probably seen in social media or heard from other people are true; the clean streets, great food, high tech toilets, respectful people, beautiful cities and countryside, and then some more.  It’s a place and culture you have to see and experience at least once in your life.  It’s becoming our favorite city so far, and maybe country, but check back with me in a year and we’ll see 😉

 

 

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