Easily the best part of our trip to the capital city of Japan was the fact that I had an old family friend who lived there. Many years ago, when Yoko was still a student, she stayed with my family as part of an exchange program and has remained in close contact with us for over two decades. She was gracious enough to be our local guide around the city but even more importantly meet us at the airport along with her sister, and help us navigate our way through the chaos to our hostel. I doubt we would have made it without her!
Upon arriving at our hostel, the combination of jet lag and adrenalin had us much too high to call it a night just yet, so we spent the next hour or so walking the streets around our neighbourhood. Turning back before losing our bearings completely, we stumbled across a tiny little bar with steam billowing out of the open door. Deciding it was time for a pre-sleep beer, we stepped inside, sitting down at one of the few stools along the bar. With absolutely no vocal communication, within a couple of minutes we were presented with two cold pints of beer and a small plate of salty, fried fish-balls. While not exactly what we’d set out for, it was not only a nice pairing, but more importantly our first major step towards our love of street food.
Over the next several days, we tried to get as much of Tokyo we could possibly cram into the short time available to us. First it was a day with Yoko and a friend of hers showing us a few of the sights around Asakusa – one of the main districts of the city, and the one we temporarily called home. We checked out Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple that is not only the oldest temple in the Tokyo, but also one of the largest. Near the temple grounds, Yoko introduced us to takoyaki, delicious balls of fried batter filled with octopus, ginger, and green onions.
While the takoyaki may have been a fantastic snack, it was only a tease. Next we were off to Shibuya for sushi. Lots of sushi. Over an hour was spent on what would most likely be the most expensive meal for the coming months, but was completely worth every cent. Bellies full of phenomenal seafood, we checked out a few shops and arcades before moving on once again. This time to Shinkuku, and one of the most cliché things one can do in this city: Karaoke! Not the sloppy Tuesday night from your neighbourhood pub, this is the real deal and it’s a whole different world! Small, private rooms with a couple of small couches, a large TV on the wall and a monstrous menu that includes both the song library and drink selection. A waiter soon comes to the door for drink orders and hilarity ensues for as long as you want.
Over the following days after parting ways with Yoko, we dove a little deeper into the newly familiar areas of the city. Returning to Shinjuku first to indulge in the seemingly endless alleys of noisy arcades and steaming restaurants; we sampled many different soups and snacks, each one more fantastic and unique than the one before. Every so often between snacks, we’d take advantage of the beer vending machines spread around the city for a quick refresh before moving onto the next restaurant.
And then it rained and everyone became a magician. A small thunderstorm came out of absolutely nowhere, as did all of the plastic umbrellas. One minute it was sunny while thousands of people moved about their day, the next it was torrential downpour and suddenly everyone was holding a small plastic umbrella, we don’t know where they came from or where they went once the storm soon passed. Out of the masses in the streets, I think Kylee and I were the only two standing hopelessly soaked in the rain.
On our final day in this incredible city we didn’t want to be moving around too much, as we didn’t need to be at the airport until late into the evening and our checkout was at noon. The afternoon was spent relaxing in Ueno district and a massive, beautiful park of the same name. Out for a snack mid day we headed into one of the alley markets just off the main street and stumbled across something fantastically unique to us and soon became one of our most-missed travel snacks: Okonomiyaki. Essentially a soft pancake mixed with a specific type of yam, cabbage, vegetables and meat – typically seafood; then topped with bonito flakes, mayonnaise and a unique soy-based sauce.
Comfortably full of the most unique food we’d eaten in our lives until that day, we eventually laid down on the floor of Narita Airport, awaiting our 6am flight to Bangkok.
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