Tokyo Part 2

 

Hello!

I’m happy to report that I’m on a roll and am posting part 2 of my Tokyo recap without another 3-month blogging gap {blush}.  You can find Part 1 of my Tokyo adventures here.  Now I’ll continue on with some of the things we ate, saw and did in Tokyo last summer!

Akihabara area

Akihabara is Tokyo’s hub of “Geek” culture – think all things related to electronics, video games, and anime.  I was really curious to check out this area but it was not at all what I expected.  I was wrongly picturing narrow streets lined with small independent comic book & video game stores.  Instead, I was surprised to find quite the opposite.Akihabara

I saw HUGE buildings filled with more action figures then you can imagine (including many, many pornographic ones), a multi-floored casino building full of nothing but Claw-crane game machines, and adult ladies dressed like baby-dolls trying to lure tourists into competing “Maid Cafes”.  It was interesting to see, but I’d say that unless you are an anime fan or techie, you could safely skip Akihabara.  Or if you’re curious like we were, just don’t plan to spend more than 2 hours exploring the area’s shops.

Komaki Syokudo

If you DO find yourself in the Akihabara neighborhood, you might want to check out Komaki Syokudo. (note that Google Maps had the incorrect location – use the directions in the Happy Cow listing!)

This shojin ryori (temple cuisine) restaurant is a teeny tiny spot tucked inside a corner of the cutest artisan food market.  The market is worth a visit in itself – I would have bought SO much more in the market if I could read the food labels!Akihabara 2

At the restaurant, we each ordered the sampler plate which included about 9 items plus unlimited bowls of both rice and the best miso soup I’ve ever had.  Some of the dishes were a little too unusual for my Western taste buds (i.e. a clear jelly cube that was not sweet), but my more adventurous husband enjoyed them all.  With so many dishes to try, I was still able to fill up even while passing him the items that didn’t please my palate.

For dessert, we split a Shaved Ice with Green Tea and Red Beans which was light and refreshing!

Shinjuku Area

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

For a good view of Tokyo, I believe there are a number of options, but we decided to check out the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s observatory since we were in the area and it is FREE!

We didn’t have to wait at all to get up to the 45th floor observatory which was huge and not crowded.  It was really cool to get a 360 degree view of the most populated city in the world.

Tokyo Sky Tree

Nightlife

The Shinjuku Area is known for it’s nightlife.  Unfortunately, I’ve never been a night owl, and I especially wasn’t while pregnant.  Though we definitely didn’t get the full Shinjuku experience, we did enjoy a walk through the area at night, pulsing with music, lights, and crowds.  We also got a peek at the famous Robot Restaurant (a crazy, crazy place)!Shinjuku

Ueno Area

The Ueno area is a bit quieter than the rest of the areas we visited.  It’s home to Ueno Park, which could be compared to NYC’s Central Park.  On the mid-June day we were there, it was too hot to explore the park for more than a few minutes, so we instead did a few indoor activities:

Tokyo National Museum

Mike was really interested in checking out the Tokyo National Museum, and I went along, not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.  Much to my surprise, I found the samurai swords and armors to be really fascinating, and of course I loved the beautiful display of kimonos, in addition to other more typical museum fare.  We even got to participate in a free craft – using stamps with traditional symbols on them to decorate a post card.

Tokyo National Museum

There was no food allowed in the museum, so Mike and I were famished by the time we were done browsing.  We sat outside on a bench under a tree to share a Larabar to fuel us up for our walk to our lunch destination…and wound up making a new friend in the process!  A kind Japanese man approached us – he had overheard Mike and I talking in English – and explained that he was a retired English teacher and would appreciate the opportunity to practice speaking with us.

After chatting for a while, we mentioned we needed to head off for lunch.  He said that he knew of the place we were headed and was happy to walk us, with his bike along side, from the museum to the restaurant to show us the way.  In some other places I’ve visited (cough: Bangkok: cough), this would likely be a ploy for a scam, but not so here.  He truly was just interested in speaking with us and declined our offer to join us for the meal.

Sasanoyuki Restaurant

Our lunch was at Sasanoyuki Restaurant, a 300+ year old restaurant specializing in Tofu!  We ordered their multi-course tofu tasting meal – in which all the dishes incorporated tofu in some way including a tofu salad dressing, a rice soup with tofu bits, and ending with a tofu ice-cream.  While it’s not a 100% vegetarian restaurant, our server spoke some English and was able to swap out the seafood courses for me.

It was a beautiful restaurant and an interesting experience, though I will say that I didn’t want to have tofu again for a couple of days after that tofu-heavy meal!

Tofu Restaurant

Ginza Area

One of the hotels we stayed in was in the Ginza area and I love, love, loved that area!  It had fantastic shopping & it was close to Tokyo Station.  In Ginza, we walked through the Imperial Palace Gardens, explored the underground web of shops and restaurants connected to Tokyo Station, and enjoyed a free “Mariah Carey Experience” at the Sony Building (they offer various experiences to demonstrate their audio/visiual tech).

In the midst of all our exploring, we escaped the rain and refueled at a lovely cafe.

Chaya Macrobiotic

Chaya Macrobiotic actually has several locations throughout the city, but we dined at the Ginza location which was hidden in the basement of a shopping center.  Despite it’s basement location it was surprisingly bright and airy and it filled up with a business lunch crowd shortly after we were seated.

The restaurant is 100% vegetarian (and seemed vegan too but I didn’t ask) except for their one daily fish option.  I had the daily lunch set which came with perfectly cooked brown rice, a salad, a cup of the soup of the day (minestrone), and three small portions of their daily specials – on that day, an Edamame patty (delicious!), a seaweed salad, and garlic broccoli.

I only wish we had saved room for one of the lovely items in their dessert display – I think I would have loved the Matcha Adzuki Soymilk Tiramisu!

Chaya

Traveling Spoon

For this recap, I saved the best part for last!  We booked an in-home food experience with a local in Tokyo through Traveling Spoon, a company that helps connect travelers to authentic food experiences in 14 countries, mostly in Asia.

We sent in our availability and food preferences and were matched up with Keiko the chef and Yumi the translator.  Keiko is the author of several seasonally-focused Japanese cookbooks.  We browsed through them and they were SO beautiful – if they are ever translated to English I would definitely want copies!

Travelling Spoon Keiko and Yumi (1)

Keiko picked us up at the train station in her neighborhood and then it was a short drive to her home.  Her home was designed by her architect husband and they put special attention into creating a very spacious kitchen, where she does all the photography for her books.  The rest of the house was much more modest, but airy and bright with the spaces all very thoughtfully utilized.

I love that Travelling Spoon is not just about trying authentic food, but also about getting to know the locals and seeing how they live.

Keiko then cooked a lovely lunch for us, explaining while she went, and letting us help where we wanted to.

Travelling Spoon Green Tea

As part of our meal, Keiko served us Matcha tea in the traditional way.  Rather than placing sugar in the tea, a piece of a special sugar candy is eaten before drinking the unsweetened tea.Travelling Spoon Favorites

My favorite courses of our meal were the two above:

  • On the left, lightly fried veggies which were unforgettably delicious!  The secret is that after they were pan-fried they were tossed in a mixture of 1 part mirin + 1 part soy sauce + 2 parts water + some grated onion.  So, so, so good!
  • On the right, a simple but wonderful dessert.  I wish I took better notes from this meal – I think the balls were made of rice flour, and they were sprinkled with a special nut powder and a fancy sugar.  We both had seconds!

Travelling Spoon Dishes

We also enjoyed several more dishes including (clockwise from top, left)

  • Rice with tofu, mushrooms/carrot/burdock root, sesame seeds, daikon sprouts, pickled ginger and rice wine vinegar (I took notes for that one!)
  • a delicious stew of braised tofu and veggies
  • a traditional soup that included konjac, a gummy vegetable substance that was interesting to try though it was my least favorite part of the soup.
  • and greens in a light tempura.  I forget what these greens were but she mentioned they were a hard-to-find seasonal ingredient only available for a short time each year.

Random Notes & Tips

While we were in Japan, we also were lucky enough to spend an evening with a friend of mine from college who is on a work assignment and living in the Tokyo suburbs.  In addition to catching up, we also enjoyed a meal at a small hole-in-the-wall Yakitori shop.  We would never have been able to eat there alone as the staff only spoke Japanese.  Even with our friend translating, it was still tough to get vegetarian fare there but it was a neat experience.

A couple other things we learned from our friends:

  • She and her husband took us to a grocery store and pointed out some very expensive fruits! It is not unusual to find $20 grapes or a $30 watermelon in Japan, in a store that also carries $4 grapes and a $5 watermelon.  The expensive fruit is supposed to be THE BEST, grown under the best conditions and often sung to by the growers.  My friend says these expensive fruits truly do taste different and are worth it for a gift or special occasion treat.  I love that!
  • They also helped us to get a Passmo card from a kiosk in the train station.  We were able to use this pre-paid transportation card in Kyoto and Tokyo for most busses and trains and it made getting around so much easier!

And one final tip – my friend Rachael suggested we bring these printable dietary restriction cards along with us on our trip.  They were a huge help for us at the many restaurants we dined at that weren’t exclusively vegan.

I hope you enjoyed my summary of my trip to Tokyo.

What questions do you have for me?

And if you’ve been – what were your highlights?