After watching an online video about nagashi somen, Tie and I knew we had to try it on our most recent trip to Japan. It’s a dining experience where somen noodles flow down a bamboo shoot for you to catch with your chopsticks and dip into a savory sauce to eat. Because the noodles are cold, it’s usually only available during the summer months of May – September, where diners sit on a deck overlooking a waterfall for a refreshing meal. We just made it at the beginning of May, even though the weather was still slightly brisk.
Because Japan is so densely populated and real-estate is scarce and expensive, especially in Tokyo, many of its “theme parks” are actually indoors. We went to one inside Tokyo Tower during our last trip. If you haven’t noticed by now, Tie and I are huge fans of the anime, One Piece. It’s currently all the rave in Asia, so unsurprisingly, they have their own theme park, even if it’s only two stories tall. But since you’re reading this post, you probably already know what One Piece is. Let’s check out what’s inside!
Asakusa is a bustling part of Tokyo, popularized by the Kaminarimon Gate that leads to the Senso-ji (oldest temple in Tokyo). Many tourists also go there for shopping at Nakamise Street, a line of shops right past the gate. There, you can find traditional souvenirs such as masks, clogs, and cloth. Running perpendicular to Nakamise Street is Shin Nakamise (or “New” Nakamise), which is a covered arcade of stores. Lots of great snacks such as senbei and taiyaki (I wrote about it here).
If you’re looking for a unique dining experience in Tokyo, look no further than kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurants. “But we’ve already tried that before,” you say? Not quite the same. In the states, conveyor belt sushi is pretty standard – plates of food spin around and you just pick up whatever you like. Certain Japanese chains, however, take it to a whole other level. It’s efficient, cheap, and delicious for what you pay. We tried two of the more popular chains: Kura Sushi and Uobei. Almost every dish is only ¥100. Because of that, these restaurants are also very popular with locals and there are long queues during dinnertime. The wait is definitely worth it, though.
In Tokyo, we typically do a lot of walking. The metro stations are massive so it’s not like you can just go underground and quickly hop on a train. And yet, we decided adding hiking to our itinerary would be a good idea for our legs. No regrets, though! Mount Takao was only a 50 minute train ride away from Shinjuku Station on the JR Chuo Line. It’s one of the most popular treks in the world, so expect to see a ton of people there, especially around foliage season. Get an early head start so you give yourself plenty of time to really enjoy the hike.
When we went to Kyoto, it was during cherry blossom season so we were hoping to get some beautiful sakura in our photos. But as we quickly learned, even though it was in full bloom in Tokyo, that was not necessarily the case in Kyoto. It’s pretty tough to plan a trip right around that season because the sakura are only really up for about two weeks before the leaves come out and they all drop to the ground. So whenever I see them, I always try to get them in the frame!
Yokohama is a port city only about 1.5 hours away from Tokyo by train, and has shopping, sightseeing, amusement parks, and museums. One of our favorite attractions was the Cup Noodle Museum. On a weekend, there were a bunch of tourists – Japanese and foreigners alike. Whether you’re a kid, a kid at heart, or just a plain ol’ adult, you’ll enjoy it.
This past trip to Japan was full of One Piece-related activities. If you are not a follower of the manga or anime, feel free to completely ignore this fangirling post. Actually, Tie’s friend got me into the series. He insisted I watched at least 10 episodes to try it out. Needless to say, those 10 episodes eventually became close to 800 episodes… Anyhow, our first stop was at Sanji’s restaurant, the Baratie.
When we first arrived in Shinjuku, it was really late at night. Originally we were planning on having a late dinner at Omoide Yokocho (aka “Piss Alley”), which is known for their yakitori (grilled chicken skewers). But all the stores were closing down so we opted for Coco Curry instead. Japanese curry isn’t like the yellow curry you might be thinking of. I feel it tastes more like mildly spicy beef sauce. And it tastes great with a meat patty, eggs, and rice. Coco Curry is a chain restaurant in Japan, so I’m not too sure how the quality is compared to regular restaurants. We’ll be back for more curry this time so I’ll let you know then! Japanese curry is actually something that’s less common here in New York, but you can definitely find it in the East Village.
The delicious dry fish broth ramen we had at Ramen Nagi.
Usually when we’re finding a place to eat in New York, we would use Yelp for recommendations. But since it’s not very popular in Japan, we had to kind of wing it and do some research online beforehand. We’re lucky that there’s good Japanese food in our city, but there’s still definitely a distinction between ramen here and ramen there. In NYC, we usually just order a specific ramen from the menu. In Tokyo, at least from what we’ve experienced, many places specialize in one type of ramen. And you get to select the firmness of the noodles, the amount of oil, and how strong you want the broth flavor to be. Best part is, oftentimes you can order from a vending machine first. There’s no tipping in Japan, so basically you’re paying for your meal in the beginning. Once you’re done eating, you can just get up and leave. Saves so much time!