Food and Fun in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo was everything I thought it would be and more.

I was so very happy to go on a week-long trip with my family to Japan last month (read about my first impressions of Japan here).  We spent five amazing days in Tokyo and as all great vacations go, five days didn’t seem like enough! There were so many things to see and do (and too many things to eat) but we managed to do plenty (and eat more than enough). I had the time of my life and would love to do it all over again.

We arrived in Tokyo via the shinkansen or the bullet train, so-called for its appearance and speed. Those high-speed trains are really impressive – they’re spacious, clean, comfortable, super fast, plus it reminded me of some scenes in The Wolverine.  Traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo during the winter gave us some pretty sights, and it was cool seeing the landscape change as we entered Tokyo, with the bright lights and big city feel.

I always imagined Tokyo to be bustling and filled with people, very much like Times Square, and while that was definitely true for some areas (like the Shibuya district pictured above, which is one of the busiest areas and known for the affordable shopping and great night life), there are also other parts of Tokyo that were just quiet and serene (like the Nihonbashi district, where we stayed).

I also always imagined Tokyo to have incredibly delicious food, and that is something that I can personally say is absolutely correct.

On our first night, we went to a kaiten restaurant, or conveyor belt sushi. These are casual restaurants where plates of sushi are in a rotating conveyor belt. You just pick up whatever plate you want before it moves past you, and the bill is tallied by the number and color of plates you have. Technically this is considered fast food and yet everything was so good!

Some tips to remember when eating at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant: 1) most kaiten restaurants are now modernized with individual touch-screen order tablets, where you can order special items like uni, or street urchin, and bacon sushi. Yes, bacon. 2) the green powder is NOT wasabi; it is matcha green tea. Please do not sprinkle it on your salmon like I did. 3) Japanese fried chicken is very good. 4) If you see a plate with scorched salmon nigiri with a strip of mayo on top, get it. Get it fast and eat it good.

(One other tip for Tokyo in general: Read up! One of my favorite “guide books” was Pretty Good Number One and it really helped me prepare and know what to expect. Except for that part about mistaking green tea for wasabi…)

Over the course of five days, we were able to take in a lot of beautiful sights in while partaking in some touristy activities:

Number one was seeing the majestic Mt. Fuji. We went on a day trip from Tokyo (I highly recommend this one), and it included a visit to Mt. Fuji, a cruise around Lake Ashi, and a cable car ride.

Number two was the shopping or more specifically: visiting the department stores. I mentioned in my previous post that the department stores in Japan are huge, and the ones in Tokyo are especially dazzling. I found my happy place in Mitsukoshi, which is like Barney’s on steroids. It has designer goods on several floors, a food exhibition hall at the top floor, an Eataly, a depachika (a gourmet food hall in the basement) and an entire floor section dedicated to chocolates and pastries.

We also ate a lot of soft serve ice cream. And by we I mean just me and my sister Monica, because my parents and Patty thought it was too cold for ice cream (winter? psh!)

We went to The Sky, a new revolving restaurant on the very top floor of one of the major hotels, which gave us great panoramic views of Tokyo. At first I thought I would get dizzy, but it was rotating pretty slowly and the food (buffet style) more than made up for any initial fears of dizziness and height. Just thinking about the tender steak grilled to order and sashimi sliced on the spot is making me want to come back there immediately. But primarily I want to come back because I could see how much my two sisters loved it. Monica, in particular, even though she couldn’t see the sights, really enjoyed feeling the restaurant “move” – she would stand at the center area where the buffet stations are located because that was stationary, and put out her foot to touch the floor so she could feel the restaurant revolve around her. She thought it was so cool, so I did, too. Aren’t vacations made even better when you can see your travel-mates so happy?

We also checked out another popular tourist spot, the Tokyo Sky Tree, which is entirely different from The Sky restaurant. The Sky Tree is the tallest building in Japan, and actually the tallest tower in the world!

So far, we’ve covered sushi, shopping, ice cream, and tourist spots, so what else is missing in a Tokyo vacation? Sake and yakitori, of course. Yakitori means grilled chicken, but it’s also a common term for grilled and skewered meat. I met up with Maiko, one of my friends who used to live in Boston, and we went to a small yakitori bar called Tori Suzu.

We had a couple (several) drinks, and I downed some (a lot) of cocktails made with sake. We ate boiled spinach topped with bonito flakes and tried different parts of the chicken: grilled chicken thighs, chicken tails, chicken “hamburg” (basically chicken meatballs), chicken heart, and chicken neck. You read that right: tail, heart, neck. All delicious. However the best thing I ate at the yakitori restaurant was not grilled, it was boiled. The boiled chicken livers, sprinkled with sea salt and chives, were so so creamy and rich, very much like foie gras. It was easily one of the best things I ate in Tokyo.

And THE best thing I ate?

This. A traditional unagi (eel) bowl with broiled unagi served on top of rice, and an egg quiche with slivers of silken tofu and more eel in the center.  We went to this tiny restaurant, Unatomi, which only serves eel. There’s no menu, so you just specify either small, regular, or large. Specializing in just one thing (i.e. eel, sushi, udon, yakitori) lets the restaurant really hone in on making things perfect, and this really was perfect.

Ultimately, my enjoyment wasn’t so much because of the destination, but because of who I was with. Going on vacation with my family meant the world to me. I loved spending each and every day with my sisters and my parents, taking photos of them and with them, eating together, helping each other navigate the unfamiliar streets, even going to Family Mart (ah, Japanese convenience stores… that’s another thing of marvel). Tokyo was extra special because of that.

And obviously I really loved all the food. (Even the fake plastic food looked delicious!) If you’ve been to Tokyo, what was your favorite thing about it?

If you’d like to read more of my travel adventures, please check out my Travel Page.

PS – there’s still time to enter my Stuffed giveaway!

   

23 Responses to “Food and Fun in Tokyo, Japan”

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    christina posted February 10, 2014 at 9:41 am

    i love all this! everything looks great! so glad you had a nice time. :)

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    Colleen @ Culinary Colleen posted February 10, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Looks like a dream trip! I would be in heaven with all of that sushi!

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    Monica posted February 10, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Tokyo is such an amazing city! Glad you had such a blast with your family. I love the fake food at the windows! : ) When we went, I adored everything – from the crepes on the Street to grape ice cream, their amazing Italian food, chestnuts on the street, and a million things in between! : )

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    whatjessicabakednext posted February 10, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Tokyo looks like real fun! Would love to visit Japan- the culture, people and food are all amazing! All the food you tried looks great :)

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    Michelle Lahey posted February 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Looks and sounds like an incredible trip!!

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    Pamela @ Brooklyn Farm Girl posted February 10, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Tokyo is my #1 dream location to visit. Hopefully one day soon! Until then I will live through your pictures!

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    Tiffany @ Snack Snark Bark posted February 10, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Wow, I feel like I’ve been to Tokyo now through this post! This sounds like an amazing trip, I wish my family and I would do stuff like this (adventurous they are not). I’ve always pictures Tokyo to be people atop one another so it’s funny you mention that….and the Shibuya district is the background on my computer so it’s a sign I need to go there! I adore unagi so your dish looks absolutely amazing. Like I’m drooling….and my stomach is growling. Great pics :)

    • Bianca Garcia replied February 10th, 2014 at 8:25 pm

      Thanks, Tiffany. It really was such an incredible trip. I hope you get to visit Tokyo someday, too! And yes to unagi!

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    Sues posted February 10, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    I’m so jealous! Tokyo is one of my dream spots to visit!! Your family is so cute! :)

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    Chocolate Shavings posted February 11, 2014 at 6:13 am

    That plethora of food looks so good! And good tip about the matcha -/ it totally looks like wasabi do i would certainly have assumed that it was!

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    Joanne posted February 11, 2014 at 8:10 am

    I love that I get to travel vicariously through you! Looks like you had such an amazing and delicious time!!

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    Matthew Amster-Burton posted February 11, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Ha! Thanks so much for mentioning my book. Believe it or not, I’m working on a new afterword with a big section about conveyor belt sushi, and it even mentions the tea. Should be out (including a free download) in a couple of weeks.

    Honestly, I think salmon with a bit of powdered tea on it sounds pretty good. :)

    • Bianca Garcia replied February 11th, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      Thank you, Matthew!! Or should I say domo arigatogozaimasu? I’ll be on the lookout for the free download :)

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    The Squishy Monster posted February 11, 2014 at 10:56 am

    What an incredible trip–and how awesome to have your family with you! I probably would’ve liberally sprinkled that matcha on my sushi too, lol. The sushi looks wonderful! I’m salivating and want to reach through the screen…

    • Bianca Garcia replied February 11th, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks girl. Haha everytime I look at the pics I get hungry, too!

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    Molly Galler posted February 12, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Love this trip recap! I felt like I was right there with you and you can see the love pouring out of the whole Garcia family! Clearly you all love being together.

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    Sacha posted February 13, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    I loved reading this. I’m not sure how you went back to everyday life after that trip. The matcha/wasabi confusion made me chuckle, too. I totally would have done the same thing. Maybe you came up with a fabulous new flavor combination :).

    • Bianca Garcia replied February 14th, 2014 at 11:05 am

      I’m still adjusting to everyday life, and I’ve been back for 2 weeks haha. Yep the green tea on the salmon was actually pretty good ;)

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    Ashley @ Wishes & Dishes posted February 14, 2014 at 1:27 am

    I’m so glad you had a nice trip with your family!!

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    Amy (Savory Moments) posted February 14, 2014 at 6:31 am

    Wow – what an amazing trip!! I’m glad you had a great time. All of the photos are lovely, but the food looks so good!

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    Daisy posted February 15, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Tokyo sounds amazing. what a memorable trip with your fam. I’ve love to travel here someday!

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    Elizabeth posted April 18, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Love the pics! I’m going to Tokyo soon and reading this (along with Pretty Good Number One) is really helpful. Which kaitenzushi place did you go to? I was pleasantly surprised to see English words on the touchscreen. ;)

    • Bianca Garcia replied April 18th, 2014 at 8:42 pm

      Hi Elizabeth, I’m glad you like it! The place we went to was in Nihonbashi, and (I think) it was called Kaisen Misakikou. Have fun in Tokyo!

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