Thoughts from Japan – Tokyo

So, here we are! We did it! We quit our jobs, sold our possessions, said goodbye to family and friends and moved to Japan for the winter… I thought the transition from working girl to travel bum might feel strange at first but it’s amazing how normal it feels – I’ve loved every minute so far!

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We’ve spent the past few days living in Ninja Hostel and exploring everything Tokyo has to offer. It is a truly amazing city with so much to see and do. We’ve spent our time so far doing all sorts of touristy activities; from visiting temples and shrines to playing in games arcades and drinking sake. We’ve enjoyed the many Japanese gardens that are tucked away between the sky scrapers of the city – providing some much needed tranquility after the hustle and bustle of the city centre or the frantic chaos of the tuna market.

But mainly, we’ve enjoyed the food. Why did no one ever say how great the food was in Japan?! Well I’m sure they did but I’m not sure I ever understood quite how good until we got here.

According to Trip Advisor (a trust worthy source in my opinion) Tokyo has some 45,955 restaurants reviewed, compared to a mere 890 in Newcastle. So the choice of where to go is endless. Speaking almost no Japanese every restaurant is a gamble but so far they have paid off!

Tai Yaki

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Alex’s absolute favourite and a new staple in our diet! For just 150 yen (less than £1) you can pick up a little fish at a number of street food vendors. Our favourite was on the corner of the street next to our hostel. It is a sweet doughy batter filled with a sugar bean paste and ideal on the walk home after a few sake’s – the Japanese equivalent of Greggs perhaps?!

Yakitori

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The cheapest street food around! They’re basically meat skewers, grilled over charcoal as a snack or to go or to have on the side when drinking beer. We’ve tried a few – the least favourite being grilled chicken skin and the favourites being the grilled chicken or pork with spring rolls. They smell so good when cooking, it’s literally impossible to walk by without trying one or two – and for 50 yen a piece, they’re an absolute bargain!

Kobe beef

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We tasted this famous Japanese beef by pure chance! On one of our evening strolls looking for quirky places to eat, Alex spotted a restaurant with table top grills. With very limited knowledge of what we were ordering we pointed to what looked like a platter of Kobe beef and we’re not disappointed! The meat was marbled with fat and when cooked over the charcoals became melt in the mouth and utterly delicious. We also ordered some vegetables which were less successful as I think we ended up grilling cucumbers… The bill came to about 4,000 yen with drinks, so more expensive than our usual dinner but still only £25 and well worth it in the grand scheme of things!

Tom yum

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Steamed dumplings filled with pork and served in a miso soup with bean sprouts – simple, delicious and cheap.

Catsu curry

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A dish made popular in the UK by Wagamamas but so different in Japan! It is the fast food equivalent of McDonalds and served in brightly coloured restaurants – we went to “Go Go Curry” on recommendation from Jess! Everything about the meal is super efficient, from ordering at the vending machine, to the quick delivery of the food and the expectation to leave as soon as you finish eating. Having said that the thick soy bean sauce and the panko breadcrumbed chicken is really tasty and definitely fills you up.

Ramen

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A hearty, warming dish made from noodles, miso and vegetables and served with meat and a pickled egg. The Japanese slurp their ramen so loudly that it is really entertaining to sit in a long row of diners at the counter! However apparently that is the technique to stop the back splash from the soup, so they probably found it more entertaining to watch me leave the restaurant covered in spatters…

Sushi

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We’re not the biggest sushi fans in the world but couldn’t come all the way to Japan and not give it a chance! We went to a conveyor belt restaurant near Shibuya and our minds were totally blown away by the high tech-ness of it all! From start to finish it is an automated and pretty futuristic dining experience. Not your traditional yo sushi conveyor belt – you place your order on an individual iPad and wait for your food to come whizzing along the conveyor belt and stop automatically where you are sitting. It was so easy to keep ordering more and more and the sushi was fast, fresh and delicious

Banqueting, Japanese style

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Our best meal in Tokyo (and perhaps the world) was when we went out with our friends Kieran and Megan who have been living here for the last 3 years. We went to a traditional Japanese restaurant they know and ordered a set menu for 3,500 yen per head. The food was immense and the courses just kept coming (and the sake kept flowing as drinks were all inclusive!) Dishes included handmade cheese tofu, raw mackerel which was blow torched at the table, edamame beans with chilli and garlic, dumplings with shredded onion, fried rice, marinated pork…. The list goes on! We ate and drank so much but without that gluttonous feeling you would get in the UK because all the dishes were so fresh and light.

And that’s about all we’ve had time for in the first week! Next stop… Hakuba.

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