Let me just preface that we LOVED Japan so prepare for some really long posts.
For our flight from Taipei to Tokyo, I purposely booked a Hello Kitty flight on Eva airlines because why not?! I also just really wanted to see B in a sea of Hello Kitty 🙂
Yokochos – Asia loves their little alleys, especially Japan. And we love them too. They are usually filled with small narrow restaurants with bar seating serving yakitori and izakaya. Some famous alleys: Omoide Yokocho (Piss Alley), Nonbei Yokocho
Senso-ji – the oldest temple in Tokyo. About 50mins on subway from Shibuya. The fun part is exploring all the shops and alleys leading up to the temple. Warning that the fortune at this temple cannot be trusted because B and I got total opposite fortunes about our marriage!
Also at Senso-ji: Kagetsudo Melon pan – it’s like a pineapple bun but 100x better! A must-have!
Tsujiki Fish Market/Tuna Auction
We got lucky because when we first booked this trip, the fish market was scheduled to move to its new location in early Nov but then got pushed back to next year and it’s unclear if the tuna auction will still be open to the public after the move. So we just had to make ourselves wake up at 2:30am to go to the tuna auction.
Tuna auction: the fish market is sometimes closed on Weds and Sundays so make sure you check the calendar before you go. But if it’s open, the tuna auction is open to 120 people a day – one slot at 5am and one slot at 5:25. We cabbed (subway not open until 5am) to the Fish Information Center (おさかな普及センター 資料館) and arrived around 3am. The first time slot was already filled. The last slots were filled around 4am so you can go later but it’s pretty risky especially with the move coming up, more people are trying to go see the auction. You wait inside the waiting room and a fish wholesaler (with a sense of humor!) comes in to talk about the auction process which made the time go by faster. There’s also a vending machine with canned hot coffee and milk tea outside which made my morning 🙂 America, please get those vending machines.
Now onto the food!
Kiraku Ramen (喜楽) – Stumbled upon this hole-in-the-wall while walking around Shibuya and there was a short line outside with all local people so decided to try it. This is not your typical shoyu/shio/miso broth. It’s more of a garlicky broth and noodles were the perfect texture. B and I didn’t have typical ramen until our last night in Japan so if you are looking for normal ramen, you’re going to have to wait until Osaka 😉
Katsukura – we went to the Shinjuku location but they got multiple locations throughout Japan. There was a line outside for dinner but went pretty fast. The tonkatsu was fried perfectly, not oily at all, and the meat was so tender. You can pick your own cut of meat (recommend tenderloin) and also mix your own sauce at the table. I wasn’t feeling great that day but B said this is definitely one of the top meals in Japan!
Gyukatsu Motomura (Shibuya) – We went for a late dinner to avoid the long wait but there’s basically a wait at all times of the day. They only serve one thing – gyukatsu (fried beef cutlet), where the outside is perfectly fried but the inside is still rare. There’s a personal stone grill for you to cook each slice to your own liking.
Decided to go camera-free that night so no mouth-watering pictures here…sorry!
Uobei Sushi (Shibuya) – this was our first sushi experience in Japan. Didn’t have high expectations since it was a conveyor belt type of place but the food wasn’t bad! And so cheap – each dish usually with 2 pieces of nigiri was only 100 to 200yen ($1-2)! It was so much fun ordering on the tablet and then watching your sushi get delivered straight to you on the conveyor belt. Most “efficient” meal we ever had!
Sushi Daiwa (Tsukiji market)– we knew there would be a wait so we rushed to this right after the tuna auction around 6am. We thought it was hard to find and had to ask the locals for directions. We only waited about 30mins, which is better than the typical 1 to 2-hr wait. The fish was super fresh and the cut was generous but the temperature of the fish was on the colder side and the rice was falling apart a little, probably because they try to rush through the 10-piece omakase in 30mins. We didn’t mind it since we knew there were still a lot of people waiting in the cold rain outside.
Sushi Iwa – I purposely ordered our sushi experience in Tokyo from conveyor belt to fish market to Sushi Iwa, which had one Michelin star. And I’m so glad I did that because all sushi places after this was so bad in comparison. Chef Hisayoshi Iwa was so precise with everything and while he spoke very little English, he was very patient when explaining each fish to us. Each piece of fish was at body temperature, which surprisingly made a huge difference.
I used Visa Infinite concierge to help me book this about a month in advance. Also lunch is much cheaper than dinner: 13-piece omakase was around $80/10-piece omakase for $50. Compared to $220 for dinner. If you are not able to book Iwa, look into Ryu Sushi and Ki-zushi. They were also on my list but didn’t have time to try.
Airport: We landed in Haneda airport which is much closer to downtown than Narita. Definitely recommend flying into Haneda if you can. Our Airbnb was in Shibuya so we took the Monorail to Hamamatsucho Station then transferred to the JR Yamanote line to Shibuya. Took about 30mins.
Money: We actually ordered Yen from our bank before we left and that made it so much easier than finding ATMs that won’t charge us a fee. While most established restaurants will accept CC, local trains, food stands, temples, etc. only accept cash so make sure you always have cash on you.
Suica card: make sure you buy a Suica card at the Monorail station and load it up because you can use this card at convenience stores/vending machines and you can use the same card for ALL subways/trains in Japan. America, please get on this too.
Coin lockers: there are coin lockers at most subway stations so we stored our luggage for around $6 for big/$3 for small luggage since we couldn’t check into our Airbnb until the afternoon.
Ta-Q-Bin: America, pay attention here too. This is the most amazing service we discovered in Japan. Since we were taking the bullet train to Kyoto, we didn’t want to lug our big 50lb luggage with us so we shipped it to our hotel in Kyoto with next day delivery for $14! You can find this service at just about every convenience store and the cashier can help you fill out the shipping form, just have your destination address in Japanese ready. Our luggage was at the hotel next day perfectly wrapped in plastic without a scratch.
[UPDATED]Data plan/wifi: It seems that pocket wifi is more popular and cheaper than SIM cards in Japan. You can book a pocket wifi before your trip from sites like Global Advance or Pupuru and it can be set to be sent to your arrival airport, hotel or even your Airbnb. After you are done, you just put the pocket wifi in a pre-stamped envelope and drop it at any mailbox so don’t need to go out of your way to return it. If you are renting an Airbnb, many hosts will also have pocket wifi as the wifi for the rental so you can also bring that around in the city. It’s convenient because many people can use one (assuming you won’t be traveling separately most of the time).
We’ll be back, Tokyo.
Next stop: Kyoto