Lost in Tokyo
I was 23 when I first hopped on an overnight bus from Nagoya to Tokyo. I arrived to the big city at 3am without a place to stay. It was exciting to be young and spontaneous at the time but the feeling quickly faded by the early hours of morning. I was hungry and tired from wandering around Shibuya. Somehow I ended up at a Korean restaurant and met three Japanese-Korean guys who had just survived a night of partying. We shared a meal and had some really great conversations about life in Japan and it's citizenship policies. After breakfast, we said our goodbyes and parted ways. While I don't recall any of their names or faces, I never forgot that moment when our lives briefly intertwined. That was one of my more vivid memories of living in Japan.
Fast forward a decade and I'm back in Tokyo. We arrived on Wednesday, September 9, 2015 and just in time for the fury of typhoon no.18...yay. We spent two days getting lost and exploring this bustling eastern capital. Here is where we went:
Tonkatsu Ramen Ichiran (一蘭) in Shibuya, Iwamoto Building B1F: This was our first meal in Japan and it was glorious. They specialize in classic tonkatsu ramen served with a dollop on their signature red pepper sauce. Order that with a cold beer and it totally hits the spot. They are planning to open a location in NYC this year! (fantastic photo below)
Shibuya Hikarie: You can catch a nice view of Shibuya even on a rainy day. There also have nice coffee shops, specialty stores and art galleries.
JBS Jazz Bar (渋谷JBS) in Shibuya: This small hard-to-find place is tucked away on the second floor of a small street near Shibuya station. The owner, Kobayashi-san, is a quiet middle-aged man who owns 11,000+ records. This is the spot for good jazz, soul, gospel, blues, and hip hop music. I absolutely fell in love with this place.
Maruhachi (マルハチ 渋谷店) in Shibuya: A boisterous and fun Okinawan izakaya located just five minutes from Shibuya Station. They have a nice selection of shochu and english speaking staff and menu was a plus. We ordered the Russian Roulette Sushi for just for fun. Two of five pieces contained a chunk wasabi and I was glad I didn't get those pieces.
Murugi Curry (ムルギ—) in Shibuya: This curry shop first opened in 1951 and is famous for it's tamago-iri (hard-boiled egg) curry with the unusually tall triangular shaped rice on the side. The curry is served with red ginger and yellow pickled daikon radish. Option to order this with cheese, which was pretty damn amazing in my opinion. (fantastic photo below)
Omotesando Koffee in Shibuya: Personally I am a tea girl but I have learned to appreciate coffee more on this trip. The exterior of Omotesando Koffee looks like an ordinary traditional Japanese home, but on the inside, it was a minimalist coffee haven. I ordered the Bailey's Iced Cappuccino and it was just deliciously rich in flavor.
Harajuku Area for shopping: Harajuku is arguably one of the best places to window-shop. There are tons of small specialty stores and it is easy to get lost wandering the alleyways.
Meiji Jingū (明治神宮) in Harajuku: This is a beautiful shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. There is an air of tranquility the moment you walk into the garden. It's a beautiful place to come to when you need that moment of stillness.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories (東京都庁展望室) in Shinjuku: It's is a 10 minute walk from Shinjuku station. There is no admission fee to get in and the panoramic view of Tokyo is amazing!
Omoide Yokochō (Memory Lane) in Shinjuku: This is a narrow alley way lined with small yakitori bars. You will see business men eating there after work and crowds of tourist wandering around. There are 50+ places to choose from and it was a challenge to choose the more "authentic looking place". Be aware that not all places are owned by Japanese people. We ate at a random spot owned by Chinese people and the food was great!
Albatross in Omoide Yokochō Shinjuku: This tiny place was lost in between the sea of yakitori stalls. Anthony Bourbain visited this narrow three-story bar in 2013 so it was automatically a must-go when we found out. The second floor was a small lounge with sofas and interesting decor on the walls. There's a hole on the floor next to the sofa where you can order drinks from the bar. The bartender would pass the drinks up through that hole from the first floor. We loved everything about this place!
Golden Gai in Shinjuku: This is another alley about an eight minutes walk from Omoide Yokochō. There are mostly bars here and some have a cover charges. Be mindful that some of the bars here are not too keen about people talking photographs of their place and few will not welcome tourists.
Casablanca in Shinjuku: We came here on a whim because the night was still young and no one wanted to go back yet. It's located in the basement of a corner building with a cover charge of 1000¥ for girls and 2000¥ for guys with two drink tickets. The place was dead on a Thursday night. Music wasn't too bad and eventually more people came in as the night went on.
Tokyo Imperial Palace in Chiyoda: Located about a 10 minute walk from Tokyo Station, it is the residence of Japan's imperial family. The grounds is incredibly spacious and well maintained. The Nijubashi Bridge is a beautiful sight when not over crowded with tourists.