Good evening folks!
It has been a while since I last updated my blog but that does not mean that I have abandoned it. These past few weeks have been hectic with work and travel.
I have decided to celebrate my 24th birthday week this year in Japan with few of my special friends. The agenda was to spend 3 days in Tokyo and 3 days in Hokkaido. Japan is such a fastinating country with diverse and unique cultures that is why I will need to divide my blogs into two parts.
It was my second time in Tokyo, and the city never ceased to surprise me with its modernity yet still able to preserve tradition. I felt like it would take a lifetime to understand this vast metropolis properly.
Where to stay?
Tokyo is home to a population of roughly 15 millions, receiving thousands of visitors per day, the hospitality industry is therefore very strongly developed. Room supply is always available. Luxury hotels in Tokyo is close to perfection with well-crafted and precise design as well as top-notch Japanese service. Till date, I am still astonished by the Japanese hospitality with elaborate welcoming rituals, polished and comprehensive level of customer service.
However, this time, I decided to book an AirBnB because I wanted to experience more personalised service and understand more about the local home. The AirBnB belonged to Masami, well situated near the busy Harajuka station hence Shibuya area. The apartment is close to many main landmarks such as the Meiji Shrine, the Omotesando Hills and minutes of drive to Ginza shopping district.
Despite being small, the furniture were so well-organised that we did not at all feel stuffed. The host obviously knew how to utilise her space. Besides from the comfort of the apartment, the host also made an effort to wait for us despite our late check-in. Before our arrival date, she also sent a detailed guide of where to visit and eat.
One small touch that really made me feel special was that the host prepared a small gift for me as she knew it was my birthday 🙂
Where to eat?
This is probably the most exciting section. Everyone must agree that Tokyo is home to the highest number of world class Micheline-starred restaurants. Japanese cuisine itself is ranked one of the most popular, sophisiticated. Our must-eat list can go on forever.
- Imafuku Sukiyaki Restaurant
Strange enough, we did not go to a sushi restaurant when we landed in Tokyo, instead, we chose a different dish that would not be executed perfectly in any other part of the world.
Imafuku restaurant earned 1 Michelin star and you must reserve in advance in order to dine in. The host/hostess will not accept walk-in even when the table is free. This is because they must prepare the meat in advance – A5 grade beef and Wagyu beef cuts. The experience was a true eye-opener.
For those who do not know, Sukiyaki is a Japanese dish that is prepared and served in the nabemono (Japanese hot pot) style. This hot pot is however, completely different from any that you imagine (I’m pretty certain you’re thinking of the Chinese/Vietnamese hot pot where you dip anything and everything in boiling broth). Japanese hot pot is an elevated version where diners are limited to certain beef cut which will be served one by one.
The premium beef cuts were cooked to perfection then dipped in beaten raw egg yolks. The taste was unbelievable. The fine, thin and tender slices were combined with a succulent edge, it was like a party in my mouth!
We then moved on to the Shabu-shabu style. We were given several A5 beef cuts and two separate sauces which catered to specific cuts. The chef kind of stressed me out when he was observing if we listened to him and dipped each cut in the correct dipping sauce – so much sweats for such elevated cuisine.
The restaurant can be a bit expensive. Our meal cost approximately USD 300 for two people but to be honest, it was really worth the value.
2/ Ramen Hype
Many people would say their favourite Japanese dish is sushi. But for me, the first thing that I always do everytime I return to Japan is to find a Ramen shop. It is not just any instant noodle as many may argue, it is an elevated noodle version with sophisticated broth. When I attempted to make Ramen, it took approximately 5 hours, mainly focused on crafting the broth – to have enough flavours which do not overpower the whole dish.
While witnessing the queue for Luke’s Lobster painfully, my boyfriend and I decided to visit the Ramen shop in the opposite lane. It was a local feel as the shop was small and cozy like any other Japanese stalls. We pointed at the Ramen photo we wanted and they delivered two fat bowls of finest ingredients (meat, seaweed…), broth, noodle which were dancing happily in my mouth.
Another Ramen shop that I must recommend is the Afuri, located in Shibuya, a short walk from the Takeshita Dori. The Ramen shop opens at 10:30 and seats around 15 people. You must be there exactly at 10:30, otherwise the queue can get quite long especially during the weekend. Ramen was sold at very reasonable price (approx 2,200 yen per person – 22 USD) with exceptional taste. I ordered the yuzu tsukumen with a side of grilled chashu and it was what magic felt like. Hands down the best Ramen I have ever tasted.
The restaurant is ranked 2nd on TripAdvisor and there is a reason for that. We did not have a reservation so we had to wait until 10.00pm to eat. There were times I and my sister wanted to give up but thanks to my incredibly patient boyfriend, we were able to push ourselves. We would definitely missed the meal of our lives if we had gone somewhere else. Kaikaya had it all, from kobe beef sushi to the freshest sashimi. The exterior design is artistic, kind of like a Mexican feel. When we walked in our table, the place was fully packed yet it was still so organised and clean, it made me feel so cosy and like a local grabbing dinner & drink after work.
All waiters and chef speak good English. They were friendly and recommended the best dishes for us. We were so hungry so we almost ordered the whole menu.
The beautiful Sashimi, remember to order extra fatty tuna meat.
I highly recommend you to order the fresh fish – catch of the day. You can really learn to differentiate saltwater fish from freshwater one.
The price was extremely reasonable, roughly 30 USD per person including drinks, tax and 5-6 different dishes we ordered.
4/ Ron Herman Cafe
If you want a little touch of Western cuisine & ambiance, Ron Herman is a perfect start of the day with freshly brewed coffee and delicious food options. I like the minimalist style of the cafe, the exterior is well coated in white with windows opened for diners to view the street. Interior’s main theme is wood which adds a touch of luxury. There is a boutique store within the cafe itself.
4/ Luke’s lobster
We had to queue up for 45 – 60 mins to buy these lobster sandwiches. The kiosk is small in Omotesando but always busy. The concept is simple yet smart, serving only lobster and/or crab sandwiches. They used to be extremely great when I tried last year with hot, flavourful lobster meat. Now, I was a bit dissapointed with the cold meat.
5/ Sushi Zanmai
Sushi Zanmai is a well-known chain sushi outlets where fresh seafood is delivered regularly straight from Tsukiji market area. We ate at the one in Ginza and it was spectacular. The sushi here was one of the best I had in Japan, even better than the premium high-end places. Prices were very reasonable. Chef’s speed was also impressive.
Where to visit?
From Meiji to Hie Shrine
Tokyo is home to a lot of pagoda, notably the Asakusa. However during this visit, I focused on on visiting shrines. Shrines are places of worships of the kami. They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Humans become kami after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral kami. The kami of extraordinary people are even enshrined at some shrines.
Meiji Shrine was a short walk from our home but if you want to visit, you must be well equipped with trainer or flat (please, no heels) as you will need to climb up the hills. This prestigious shrine is surrounded by so much greenery which really bring peace of mind.
We were really lucky to witnes two traditional Japanese weddings at the shrine. The ceremony, the way the bribe and groom dressed were such eye-opener. The pairs were so beautiful and majestic in their traditional dresses.
On my wishlist, the task I wanted to do most was to be dressed in a kimono and visited a shrine. My wish got fulfilled this time and it took more than half an hour to be fully dressed in a kimono. As I wore each layer, I gained a deeper understanding as of why they were long admired for their beauty and rich history. I feel so honoured to wear such sophisticated traditional clothing with elegant patterns, stunning fabric. My boyfriend helped snap some photos at the majestic Hie shrine.
This park is absolutely stunning, especially for me visiting all the way from the sandy Dubai. Lakes and trees, sun and breezes, champagne (oops) and picnic etc It is a perfect way to chill, relax and have a long, deep conversation with friends.
Shopping in Shibuya, Minato and Ginza – Party in Roppongi Hills
The title said it all. Roppongi Hills at night is particularly fun and vibrant. Since we were on a tight schedule, we were not able to pass by this time.
Ginza is the place for luxury, branded fashion labels. Even if you do not want to shop, it is worth passing by especially at night to contemplate the architecture, the busy streets and light.
For me, as a fashion lover, it drove me crazy not being able to “shop till it drop” especially during the sales season! Too bad for my closet but my wallet can feel relieved. The purpose of this trip mainly focused on culture, nature exploration and food adventure.
Next part -> Hokkaido will be updated soon.
Good night xoxoxo
With love from Dubai,