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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
(Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan)
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.
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.
(Preparing Sukiyaki at Ningyocho Imanhan in Tokyo, Japan)