Japan – April 2013 – Day 2 (Tokyo)

Sunday April 14, 2013

Day one logistics. The subway is the easiest way to navigate Tokyo.  There are separate companies that operate all the lines around the city.  When out for a day of sightseeing your ideal choice would probably be a one day pass that covers the Tokyo Metro and the TOEI Subway for $10. Also don’t forget to download the Tokyo Metro app before you arrive.  It’s great for planning and gives you the most efficient route when you are on the subway.  Unlike US Subway systems the internet works on the subways.  

If you are visiting more than once major city on your trip, you may find it economical to get a JR Rail pass.  The cost of the JR Rail pass is $300 and only available to people who are not citizens of Japan.  The train from Tokyo to Kyoto cost about ~$300 so if you are doing more than one trip the JR Rail pass makes sense.  You must buy the pass prior to entering the country.  You can buy it online or at a local travel agent.  We purchased our seven day pass at a travel agent office in Little Tokyo and this was helpful as were were able to ask questions and pickup a couple local maps.  Once you are ready to start using your JR Rail pass go to any large subway stop and activate it.  If you have time, you can also booked assigned seating for long distance JR trains.  If you forget there are several unassigned seating cars on each train so it should be a big deal.  

01 Ueno Park - Wikipedia

This is what cherry blossom season should look like Source: Wikipedia

02 Ueno Park

This is what cherry blossom season looked like on our visit – Ueno Park

01 Ueno Park

hey, we found a cherry tree after all – Ueno Park

03 Ueno Park

Jen with the Tokyo police mascot, Pipo-kun

We wanted to come during cherry blossom season, but before we were leaving, we caught wind that the season had started unusually early due to warm winter.  By the time we arrived the season was over and I mean OVER. The cherry blossom flowers are so delicate that once they bloom they all fall off the trees within a couple weeks.  Our first stop was through Ueno Park and as you can see from the pictures that there was only one cherry blossom tree in bloom left in the entire park. So, if you plan to visit during cherry blossom season, plan ahead.  You need to know when the current season is expected based on weather patterns and book in the middle of the season.  That way if the the trees bloom a little early or late, you can still catch a few days of bloom.  Also keep in mind that the trees bloom at different times in each city.

We then headed to the Tokyo National Museum that is located in the park.  It houses a comprehensive collection of Japanese artifacts and art. We only spent about 30 minutes briskly walking though one of the many buildings and then decided it was time to move on and see the city.  Outside of cherry blossom season we didn’t find the park, or the museum for that matter, a must visit. 

01 Tokyo National Museum BW

Tokyo National Museum

02 Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum – Furisode – garment with long hanging sleeves, 19th century

03 Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum – seated Monju Bosatsu and Attendants, 1273

04 Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum – Katana Sword , 17th century


Due to some scheduling issues, we had to visit Kitchen Town on Sunday, but most of the shops are closed so another day would have been ideal.  The area is great for foodies and cooking or entertaining enthusiast.  It caters towards individuals and restaurateurs alike so you’re sure to find something cool to take back home with you.   

01 Kitchentown

Kitchen Town (Kappabashi), Tokyo, Japan

03 Kitchentown

Kitchen Town (Kappabashi), Tokyo, Japan

02 Kitchentown

Kitchen Town (Kappabashi), Tokyo, Japan

04 Kitchentown

Food brands in Kitchen Town (Kappabashi), Tokyo, Japan

Our first scheduled meal started out with a bang at Nanachome Kyoboshi, the most expensive tempura restaurant in the world. Shigeya Sakakibara’s 3 start Michelin restaurant aptly sits in Ginza where he’s been honing his skills for over 30 years.  We were leaning between the more reasonably price Kondo, but you only live once so we were hoping it wasn’t a foodie tourist trap.  The restaurant is cash only and seats about 10 people. There was another couple at our seating so no pictures were allowed.  I grabbed a few photos off of Tabelog, Japan’s answer to Yelp.  It will give you an idea of what we ate, but there are several blogs that have a full set of pictures.


Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi
Ozio Ginza Building 6F, 5-5-9  Ginza, Chuo-ku
http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130101/13002637/

01 Nanachome Kyoboshi - Exterior

Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan.

02 Nanachome Kyoboshi

Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan.

Chef Sakakibara came out to mix his batter, turned on the flame to heat the oil and began cooking about 10-15 pieces of tempura.  He obviously uses quality ingredients and the tempura is a lot better than what we get here in the US.  The tempura batter was much lighter allowing the ingredients to shine through.  On our visit we had the following items:

  • Baby Sardine 6/10
  • Unagi with Goba 6/10
  • Shrimp toast 10/10
  • Shrimp 5/10
  • Lotus root 6/10
  • Kiss fish 5/10
  • Ginkgo 6/10
  • Asparagus 6/10
  • Cuttlefish 6/10
  • Stonefish 5/10
  • Quail egg 8/10
  • Shrimp 5/10
  • Udo tree 6/10
  • Trout with wild grass vinegar 6/10
  • Onion 7/10
  • Shrimp 5/10
  • Bamboo 5/10
  • Matsutake beef 8/10
  • Shrimp 5/10
  • Baby corn 6/10
  • Potato yam 7/10
  • Sakura shrimp  6/10
  • Shrimp tempura with rice and green tea 2/10
  • Shrimp tempura over rice with orange zest and soy bean 6/10
  • Mango 5/10
  • White Strawberry 10/10
06 Nanachome Kyoboshi - Shrimp Toast

Shrimp toast, Source: Tabelog.com at Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan.

08 Nanachome Kyoboshi - Shrimp Saimaki Ebi

Shrimp Saimaki Ebi, Source: Tabelog.com at Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan.

09 Nanachome Kyoboshi - Lotus Root

Lotus Root, Source: Tabelog.com at Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan.

11 Nanachome Kyoboshi - Ginkgo

Ginkgo, Source: Tabelog.com at Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan.

13 Nanachome Kyoboshi

Fish, Source: Tabelog.com at Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan.

14 Nanachome Kyoboshi - Asparagus

Asparagus, Source: Tabelog.com at Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan.

25 Nanachome Kyoboshi - Potato yam

Potato yam, Source: Tabelog.com at Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan.

19 Nanachome Kyoboshi - Onion

Onion, Source: Tabelog.com at Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan.

Our favorites were the shrimp toast, quail egg, Matsutake beef and the potato yam.  After all the pristine ingredients, the dish that left a lasting impression was the single white strawberry served for dessert.  The best strawberry in the world.  As for the verdict on the mean, at $400 per person I would recommend that you head elsewhere.  There’s no need to spend that much on tempura.  It was a satisfying meal that we both enjoyed, but as others have said it’s definitely a one time experience. We’re not sure the quality of the ingredients is enough to justify the exponential cost difference.  Also, I wouldn’t necessarily consider a place like this a 3 Michelin start restaurant.

Business Cards

In Japanese culture, it’s customary to exchange business cards, accept them with both hands and study it for a few moments.  I forgot to pack a few and this not only happened at Nanachome, but also at Sushi Sawada. It was quite the embarrassment, so I quickly reached for my credit card and gave him that.  He studied it for awhile, but hopefully he didn’t remember anything.  Save yourself the humiliation that I put on myself and Jen, add business cards to your packing list.

05 Nanachome Kyoboshi

Our picture with Chef Sakakibara at Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan. Chef Sakakibara is the one in the center.

03 Nanachome Kyoboshi

Chef Shigeya Sakakibara’s busness card from Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan

04 Nanachome Kyoboshi

Chef Shigeya Sakakibara’s busness card from Nanachome (7chome) Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Japan

After lunch we headed to Shibuya home to some great shopping and one of the busiest Starbucks in the world.  We stopped first to grab a picture of the Hachiko statue, the loyal dog that always waited for his owner at this location, even after his owner’s passing.  We walked around the area and picked up a orange frappachino, which unfortunately wasn’t anything special.

01 Shibuya

Shibuya in Tokyo, Japan

02  Shibuya BW

Hachiko Statue near Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan

03 Shibuya

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan

(Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan)

04 Shibuya

Tamawarai
5-23-3 Jingumae,
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1306/A130601/13129390/

After all that walking, we were ready for a couple meals. We first went to Tamawarai, a well regarded soba restaurant that has 1 Michelin star. We got there a little after 3pm, so they only had two soba dishes left. Lucky us we were able to get both. We started off with a couple appetizers, a miso pancake we had seen on Tabelog and an egg dish they recommended. The pancake was better than the egg. For our entrees we got an order of the cold and hot soba. We probably liked the cold a little better. While soba can be bland, in the cold version we appreciated the texture of the noodles. Both dishes were good quality, but soba isn’t something we would necessarily crave the way we do ramen. I think a little Siracha could have come in handy. We may need to add it to the packing list for future trips. We were then given a cup of soba water to drink. It reminded me of one of those extras given for longevity or fertility. It tasted OK. We ended the meal with some hot tea and, in our usual fashion, headed out to our dinner reservation.

01 Tamawarai

Tamawarai in Tokyo, Japan

02 Tamawarai

Tamawarai in Tokyo, Japan

03 Tamawarai - Ginger with Mirin

Ginger with Mirin 7/10 – Tamawarai in Tokyo, Japan

04 Tamawarai - Miso Pancake

Miso Pancake 7/10 – Tamawarai in Tokyo, Japan

05 Tamawarai - Tamago

Tamago 5/10 – Tamawarai in Tokyo, Japan

06 Tamawarai - Cold Soba

Cold Soba 8/10 – Tamawarai in Tokyo, Japan

07 Tamawarai - Cold Soba Noodles

Cold Soba 8/10 – Tamawarai in Tokyo, Japan

09 Tamawarai - Hot Soba

Hot Soba 7/10 – Tamawarai in Tokyo, Japan

10 Tamawara - Soba Water

Soba water 3/10 – Tamawarai in Tokyo, Japan

11 Tamawarai - Tea

green tea – Tamawarai in Tokyo, Japan


Ningyocho Imahan
Nihonbashi Ningyo-cho 2-9-12 Chuo-ku, Tokyo|
http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1302/A130204/13003059/


Back to Ginza, where we were booked for two hotpot dishes at Ningyocho Imahan. We got our own private room, which tacked on another $20 to the bill.  We started with the shabu-shabu of “Quality Beef”, their second best grade of meat.  The table gets sets with cooper cooking pots, then comes the dipping sauces of sesame and soy sauce with daikon, the raw beef is presented along with an assortment of vegetables and then the cooking begins.  The shabu-shabu was better than expected.  The meat was tender and flavorful and went well with both dipping sauces.  The second dish was the sukiyaki of “High Quality”
, their best grade of meat. This meat is cooked in a skillet with soy sauce, mirin and sugar.  It was served with a small bowl that contained a beaten raw egg in which the meat is dipped.  Like the shabu-shabu, a side of vegetables also accompanied the sukiyaki.  The sukiyaki was our clear favorite, the meat melted in your mouth and the dish gave us our first glimpse into the quality of Japanese eggs.  
01  Ningyocho Imanhan

Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


02 Ningyocho Imanhan

Private room at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


03 Ningyocho Imanhan

Shabu-shabu pot at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


04 Ningyocho Imanhan - Sesame Sauce and Soy w Daikon

Sesame Sauce and Soy with Daikon at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


05 Ningyocho Imanhan - ShabuShabu (Quality Beef)

Shabu-Shabu – Quality Beef at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


06 Ningyocho Imanhan - Vegetables

Vegetables at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan

09 Ningyocho Imanhan - Vegetables w Glass Noodles

Vegetables with Glass Noodles at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan

08 Ningyocho Imanhan - ShabuShabu - Soy Sauce

Shabu-Shabu – Soy Sauce 8/10 – Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


10 Ningyocho Imanhan - Sukiyaki (High Quality Beef)

Sukiyaki (High Quality Beef) at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


11 Ningyocho Imanhan - Tofu and Vegetables

Tofu and Vegetables at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


12 Ningyocho Imanhan - Miso

Miso soup 6/10 – Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


13 Ningyocho Imanhan - Rice

White rice at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


15 Ningyocho Imanhan - Vegetables Sukiyaki

Cooking sukiyaki at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan

(Preparing Sukiyaki at Ningyocho Imanhan in Tokyo, Japan)

16 Ningyocho Imanhan - Sukiyaki wEgg

Sukiyaki with Egg at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


17 Ningyocho Imanhan Sukiyaki wVegetables

Sukiyaki with Vegetables 10/10 – Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


18 Ningyocho Imanhan - Pickled Vegetables

Pickled Vegetables 6/10 – Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


19 Ningyocho Imanhan - Noodle Soup

Noodle Soup 5/10 – Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


20 Ningyocho Imanhan - Green Tea

grean tea at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan


21 Ningyocho Imanhan - Deli

Adjacent meat market at Ningyocho Imahan in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is a sprawling city with skyscrapers as far as the eyes can see. With that in mind the city offers numerous observations decks to take in the view. The challenge for tourist is deciding which ones to visit. Some of the options within the city include the Tokyo Tower, Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and the Tokyo Skytree. For our first choice we selected the World trade center for it’s skyscraper views and the glowing Tokyo Tower in the foreground. It was completed in 1970, yet it holds its own against some of the newer structures. It’s a great option because it stays open late and only costs $10.
01 World Trade Center

View of Tokyo from the World Trade Center in Tokyo, Japan

01 Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower in Tokyo, Japan

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