We had the pleasure of visiting Tokyo for 10 days over Thanksgiving. It was amazing, arguably our favorite city so far! The food, culture and scenery is delightful.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Being the foodies that we are, the first stop was Tokyo's world famous Tsukiji Fish Market (seen above). The highest quality fish, fruits and vegetables from all over the world are sold in this market. It does $14m in fish, $4m in fruits and vagetables every single day. Walking around (we did a walking tour) is captivating. We had so much fun.
Since Tokyo is 14 hours ahead of Boston, we arrived with some pretty serious jet lag. So we decided to visit the fish market at 3am for some world class sushi at Sushidai. Why 3am? They open at 5am and the line is several hours long all day. We figured we'd wait early and get the freshest fish we could. It was very much worth it. I doubt there's any sushi in Tokyo better than Sushidai for the price (about $80 total).
On the last day we couldn't help stopping by the market one last time for a famous beef and rice dish served by a small 2-person street vendor. I have no idea what made it so amazing, but for about $10 it was one of the most memorable meals we had.
It's hard to put this experience into words, so I'm not going to try. But the Robot Restaurant is worth seeing. The performance will leave a smile on your face for over an hour.
Typically the most affordable tickets are on their website. Also, I don't recommend wasting a meal there. Attend the show and enjoy the atmosphere! I thought Anthony Bourdain had a particularly great reaction to the show:
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
This beautiful park is worth spending an afternoon in if you get to visit Tokyo. It's so beautiful, peaceful and perfect on a nice fall day. It even has an indoor greenhouse with all sorts of flowers and plants worth checking out.
Aka chochin food tour
Japan is known for all sorts of culinary marvels. When in Tokyo, I think the only way to experience some of them is with a local. Almost every time we visit a big city, we try to do a food tour. The Aka chochin food tour was a wonderful sampling of 5-6 dishes that were casual, pub-type food. We had ramen, sushi, ice cream and a few things I don't even remember. We also had a couple sake drinks at every stop, so the night got blurry fast.
The highlight was the fresh sushi, served in a way I've never experienced. The chef fished a mackeral of of the tank, sliced it up right in front of us and he (we named him Freddie, RIP) was still moving as we enjoyed the meat. See the video for the full experience. :-)
Kaiseki was on the wish list when we arrived. It's a traditional multi-course meal that has a specific rhythm in terms of the ingredients and flavors.
As you can see in the menu photo below, it's personalized with your name when you arrive. Service-wise, it's the best experience I've ever had. We spent 15 minutes talking with the chef at the end of the night and he informed us that he received his third Michelin star that very day. He deserves it, the food and service was a work of art.
More fun in Tokyo
We walked 8-10 miles per day in Tokyo and could have done so for another 10 days without getting tired. The energy is awesome and you'll never run out of things to do. Highlights included Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, a beautiful shopping center with all handmade Japanese items, a Hawaiian-themed restaurant with incredible pancakes, a gorgeous flower market and tea house and life-altering Tonkatsu.
Traveling to Tokyo? Here's what we wished we'd known ...
Overall the trip was a blast. We had so much fun and would love to go back. If we did, here are the two things we'd do differently:
- Reservations - Tokyo not only has 12 million people, but there are 300+ Michelin star chefs, more than any other city in the world. Many of the restaurants aren't cheap as a result. I'd highly recommend doing at least 2 "splurge" meals (we did sushi and kaiseki). In order to get the perfect restaurant, I'd use a reservation service to get reservations 2-3 months in advance. I discovered Voyagin's reservation service about a week before the trip, too late for the most popular places. The people that did our fish market tour also provide a reservation service for about $35, cheaper than Voyagin.
- Wifi - We knew going in that everyone uses pocket wifi devices for internet, rather than a cell phone data plan. The pocket wifi we picked up at the airport wasn't good, though. So a couple days in, we returned it and got a much better device from the Wi-Fi rental store. Their service is awesome and the unit can be shipped right to your hotel.