a few amazing places to eat in Tokyo

a few amazing places to eat in Tokyo

Here are three ‘Tokyo’s best….’ experiences I’ve found. NONE of which you’ll find in the Lonely Planet. There are many far more fabulous bloggers than I who have amazing detail. So please visit the links for more info. Also check my Google Map of Yokohama and Tokyo for locations. Mutekiya in Ikebukuro was described as Tokyo’s best ramen. No arguments here. It was fabulous and cheap.  Considering the quality for about $12 Australian I felt like I was robbing the place. Frankly I didn’t like it as much as Yokohama’s best ramen (their pork was way more smokey and BBQey), but it was amazing. Even with typhoon heavy rain, there was still a 20 minute queue to get in this little place. It seats about 16-20 people also. So don’t expect to waltz straight in or enjoy a few quiet beers. There were a few repeat visitors in the queue too, always a reassuring sign. It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from the Ikebukuro subway on the JR line, so is it accessible?  Hell yeah. See the link above for full details. My advice, get there for about 11am and have a big bowl or ramen to keep you full all day. Maisen Tonkatsu is the opposite of the ramen rush. I’m told it is a chain store, but you’d never guess. It’s in the very posh Aoyama district area near Harajuku, so this ain’t no sloppy Burger King. It’s the kind of place posh mums take their daughters out to for a long, leisurely lunch. It’s down these tiny back streets full or markets and boutiquey stuff which is very entertaining...
two big tips for visiting Japan

two big tips for visiting Japan

A few things have changed for the better since my last trip to Japan. Train travel First things first, get yourself a PASMO card. The card requires a 500 Yen deposit then you can top it up as you go. Just look for the pink ticket machines at the subway stations. Why is this card so good? Tokyo has so many train networks, some government some private. On my last trip in 2012, you had to buy different tickets for all of them. The PASMO card now works on well every train network. On this trip  we went right to the outskirts of Tokyo, so I can vouch for that. You can even buy food at some supermarkets and pay for taxi fares with it. So whatever money you put on it, you will use. As we traveled a fair bit, I probably spent about 1000 yen a day topping up my PASMO. Topping up can be done at any station. The machines work in English. Note: DON’T personalise your PASMO. Because I did and I couldn’t return my card and get a refund. My wife with her normal one got the 500 Yen deposit back plus all credit on the card too. Mobile phones Your non-Japanese phone will only work for data in Japan. Apparently their mobile network works on a different technology. But the good news is that you can still buy a data SIM and use Viber to text and call your travel buddies. My wife and I bought pre-paid SIMs from SO-NET at Narita Airport. It cost us roughly $50 Australian dollars for a 4G...
three different places to visit in Tokyo

three different places to visit in Tokyo

If you’re after some different places to visit (perhaps it’s not your first trip to Tokyo) here’s three suggestions: Koenji, Shimokitazawa and Meguro. They’re all on train lines you can use your PASMO card on and easy to get to. Be ironic and cool in Koenji Koenji I popped out to briefly. It’s approximately 12 stops out from Shibuya on the JR Line. It’s alleged to be the hipster capital of Tokyo. I can’t confirm that but there is plenty of cool stuff going on there. It has plenty of little alley ways packed with bars, quirky stores, yakitori joints and nightlife in abundance. It reminded me of Kyoto a little bit, which is my favourite Japanese city bar none! There’s meant to be heaps of second hand stores and designers around here too. I came too late for the designers and too early for the nightlife, so it’s hard to tell. But the place is definitely cool! You could easily spend a day out here. There’s little in the way of Tokyu Hands, Uniqlo and H&M which because frankly nauseating after the 18th visit. Apparently they are on their way with developers in tow. So the time to check out Koenji is now! Go thrift shopping in Shimokitazawa Shimokitazawa (it’s a mouthful I know, that’s shi-mo ki-ta-zawa) is something quite special. It’s maybe a few stops from the Shibuya Crossing train station yet worlds apart from Shibuya, or indeed Tokyo. When you wander around a bit it feels a bit more like smaller town Japan. The draw card for Shimokitazawa is antique and second hand stores. Everything from...
a day out in Yokohama

a day out in Yokohama

Tokyo is enough of a draw card to Japan in itself. So if you’re like me you’re probably wondering why bother with Yokohama? As it turns out there’s heaps to do. For a start Yokohama is significantly more family friendly. The Yoshimuraya Ramen store is well worth a visit. Allegedly Yokohama’s best ramen. No arguments here. It was sensational. Easy to find too, just look for the courtyard full of people out the front. It’s at least a 20 minute wait to get in and the place runs like clockwork. Whole sections of the bar entering and leaving at the same time. It’s all orchestrated by a guy in a white suit and gumboots that very politely orders everyone around. A very Japanese experience. It’s not a place to sit and ponder the world Parisian style. Just enjoy some bitchin’ ramen and get on with your day punk rock style. Honestly the broth might be a tad salty but that must be a Yokohama thing. You haven’t tried ramen until you’ve been to this place. The ramen though is only part of the fun.  Just watching the team of chefs make the ramen broth and noodles is an attraction in itself. They cook ‘in the round’ and have these massive stock pots, probably 150 litres on the go constantly. Watching these five guys prepare a dozen bowls of noodles at a time, while working these massive pots in sauna like conditions is truly a sight to behold. Little wonder these guys stay so skinny and muscular. Other than that Yokohama’s been getting a whole lot of love in the...
Finding Maru restaurant in Aoyama

Finding Maru restaurant in Aoyama

My wife grabbed a book from the library ‘Where Chefs Eat‘. It had several pages on Tokyo. Turns out the Japanese like to play hard ball when it comes to finding restaurants.  That’s where I come in. Two things I’ve learnt about chef’s recommendations. One, chefs clearly never pay. These guys aren’t paying the $300 a head before drinks we have to pay. Secondly, they get lead wherever they’re going in a drunken state by locals and have researchers and publicists that can retrace their steps. We wake up with delirium tremens, they wake up that plus a story and a pay check. At the very least they still have coin in their wallet. It’s a hard knock life. This realisation came as we started to look for Maru. Seemed legit. It was on the Google map. On a main road. The hotel verified the address. No big deal so we thought. Thankfully we found it. But of all the spruikers on the street promoting bigger restaurants, yeah there were polite but none had ever heard of it. I chatted to at least 8 of them from 2 different restaurants. iPhones came out in abundance but no Maru was found. All we could find was a sign to a Whiskey Bar. We went down the stairs and the Whisky Bar wasn’t even open yet. Then I noticed a red curtain that I thought was to a broom closet or a cloak room (see pic below). Thankfully I looked in that cloak room and it was Maru. Thank god we found it. Easily one of the best meals of our trip....

Tokyo’s guitar street Ochanomizu

I love Japan. I mean truly, dig up a spoon of that soil and I’ll eat it. The place is just so much fun. Judging by Shibuya crossing on a Saturday night I’m not the only fat white guy that does either! But on this trip I had a mission: hunt down awesome guitars. That search took me to Ochanomizu. It’s a station one stop down from freaky-sleazy-businessman-centrel Akihabara and had a stretch a few hundred metres long of door-to-door guitar stores. If you’re a six stringer it’s a great day out. Just leave the wives and girlfriends back at the hotel. This is for the die hards only. So what kind of stuff do you find? Mostly new stuff. For some reason the Japanese think lowly of themselves. The ground floor is usually Japanese and cheap guitars. Heaps of quirky Fernandez type things. My favourite was a lime green, see through plastic guitar. An imitation of a BC Rich Mockingbird. Yours for around 60000-80000 Yen, or about 600 – 800 Aussie dollars. Sadly plastic (or acrylic) is heavier than wood. Oh yeah and there’s actually a guitar called the ESP Throbber. I guess mity penis had already been taken. There’s also heaps of the cheaper ESP brands. Grass Roots and Edwards. I think the Grass Roots looked great. They’re all well under $500 and are made in China or the Philippines or somewhere. The Edwards stuff looks mad. They’re ASSEMBLED in Japan but I understand all the hard work’s done in China. You’ll get a lot of change from $1000 with an Edwards and they look as good...