This post is very near and dear to my heart. Every time I visit Japan, I make sure to stock up on beautiful, quality stationery. Because I do a lot of calligraphy and hand lettering, I’m always interested in trying out new tools and surfaces. I love the product design in Japan, and there are a lot of specialty stores for people who get giddy over pens and paper like I do. There is no shortage of them in Tokyo, so let’s dive in and get your haul on!
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.
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!
One of our most memorable dinners was at Kani Douraku. There are a bunch of locations in Japan, with the honten (main store) being in Dotombori, Osaka, but we went to the one in Shinjuku. Actually, it felt like there was one Kani Douraku for every few storefronts at Dotombori. The restaurant always has a giant 3D crab in the signage. Here, you remove your shoes before entering the dining area. I recommend getting a reservation before coming, as I hear there’s usually a wait. Lots of Chinese people seem to love eating here.
Back in April, we stayed at Shinjuku in Tokyo. There’s a lot to do there; we did not anticipate walking as much as we did in Japan. Eventually my feet hurt so much that later on during our trip, I had to make a stop at Muji to buy some comfier shoes. This time, I’m sneakering it all the way (except on rainy days). Here are some pictures.
One of our favorite ramen shops in Tokyo was Ramen Nagi. As with most of the bars in Golden Gai, this one is super tiny. Probably seats about 7-10 people max, and your back is literally against the wall. We came here during lunch and there was a short line of salarymen in the tiny alley next to the restaurant. Once it’s your turn, you walk up the narrow stairs and order your food through a vending machine (another wonderful feature of Japan – just put in your money, make your selection, and hand the cook your receipt). Ramen Nagi’s specialty is a dry fish-based soup. A lot of the ramen places we went to in Japan typically specialize in one type of broth, and you get to choose how strong you want it to be, unlike the multi-flavored ramen here in New York.