DAY TWO: Ghibli Museum and Roppongi
– Ghibli Museum (Shimorenjaku 1-1-83, Mitaka-shi; 0570-05577; website; 10am-6pm, closed Tuesday; JR Chuo line to Kichijoji Station; Adult ¥1000 (S$15), child ¥100-700 (S$1.50-10.50). If you’re a fan of Miyazaki Hayao (Spirited Away, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, Totoro, etc), this is not to be missed. I am not a fan but this is one of the highlights for me for the Tokyo trip. The place is enchanted and magical. Tickets to be bought at Lawson’s (convenience shops around Tokyo) before going to museum.
After visiting Ghibli Museum in the morning (10am), stay around for lunch.
From Ghibli Museum, walk back to the Kichijoji station along the main road, Kichijoji dori. Opened in 1928, Iseya Yakitori (Gotenyama 1-2-1, Musashino-shi; 0422 43 2806; website) is highly praised by many pundits. But it is average to us. See Facebook for more restaurant and food photos.
While walking along Kichijoji dori back to Kichijoji station, you’ll come across this quaint very authentic mochi shop (Gotenyama 1-2-4, Musashino-shi; 0422 42 8871), which I don’t know the English name. The mochi is made freshly everyday and can last only one-three days so you must eat on the spot. Wrapped individually in leaves, the mochi is delicious but a bit too sticky. Is traditional mochi supposed to be sticky? See Facebook for more restaurant and food photos.
At Kichijoji Station, there is a station-based chain mall, Atre. If you missed out on eating Takashimaya and Isetan basement food, this is a cheaper alternative. Again, there are no seats nor tables so you have to sit and eat.
At the Atre basement supermarket, we bought Gindako takoyaki (or Tako balls), a popular chain. 8 piping hot huge balls–twice the size of Singapore’s balls–topped with potato salad for only ¥600 (S$9)! The best balls I tasted in my life.
Day Two – Suggested Itinerary (Continued)
–Roppongi Hills (Roppongi 6-chome; 6406-6000; Hibiya or Toei Odeo Line to Roppongi exit 1). Nothing much to see here except modern architecture buildings. Can skip this.
–National Art Center (Roppongi 7-22-1, Minato-ku; 6812-9900, 10am-6pm; website; Chiyoda line to Nogizaka exit 6)
–Zoji-ji (Shiba-koen; 3432-1431; free admission) and Tokyo Tower (Shiba-koen 4-2-8, Minato-ku; 3533-5111; website; adult ¥820 (S$12) child ¥460 (S$7); observation deck 9am-10pm). The Tokyo Tower is a tourist trap so skip it. You can see it towering behind Zoji-ji temple anyway. Zoji-ji is the most tranquil, solemn and magnificent temple I’ve seen. Very peaceful here. The main gate, Sanmon, symbolizes the three stages of nirvana. The child idols by the side is to offer prayers for unborn children.
–Japan Sword (sells samurai swords. Toranomon 3-8-1, Minato-ku; 3434-4321; website; 9.30am-6pm; Ginza line to Toranomon exit 2).
–Axis (art books, cutting-edge furniture, and objets d’art. Roppongi 5-17-1, Minato-ku; 3587-2781; website; 11am-7pm; Hibiya or Toei Oedo line to Roppongi exit 3).
-Don Quijote (sells everything, like Mustafa, including French-maid costumes. Roppongi 3-14-10, Minato-ku; 5786-0811; website; 24hr; Hibiya or Toei Odeo Line to Roppongi exit 3).
Where to Eat – Soba
Matsugen (Sendaizaka Oak Hills 1F, Azabu Juban 3-11-12, Minato-ku, tel. 03 3457 5690; website; Oedo Line or Namboku Line to Azabu-Juban exit 1) is a neighborhood restaurant that only Japanese know. The signboard is tiny and very discreet; the modern decor is fantastic but best of all is the food! Their specialities are grilled items and soba. We ordered grilled kinki fish (¥3000 or S$45 but so worth the money!!), grilled anago (white eel), sake, two sobas (I highly recommend the Matsugen soba as seen in the photo above), and two desserts, brown sugar ice cream and warabi mochi for a total of ¥9500 (S$140) for two. The Kinki fish is so sweet and fresh and amazing and you can’t get it in Singapore. The Matsugen soba–they even knit the dough and make the noodles themselves–is absolutely refreshing. Even the two desserts are divine! The more you eat the ice cream, the more you want to eat it. Warabi mochi is different from mochi and this one has such a layered taste–from sweet to less sweet to sublimity–that it is spectacular.
DAY THREE – Asakusa, Ueno and Ginza
–Sumo Stables: visit Tomozuna Stable (Narihira 3-1-9, Sumida-ku; 3624-0242; website; 8am-1030am; Toei Asakusa or Hanzomon lines to Oshiage Exit A2), established in 1757, to watch sumos in training. Email: email@example.com to reserve a spot. Limited spots. Even though we made reservations and went there at 8am, we were still rejected at the door. Be prepared. But as we glimpsed at the sumos for 10 seconds, we felt like we were in the presence of greatness. Amazeballs if you can get to watch.
–Senso-ji (Senso Temple. Asakusa 2-3-1, Taito-ku; 3842-0181; free; 24hr; Ginza line to Asakusa exit 1 or Toei Asakusa line to Asakusa exit A5).
–Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Koen 13-9, Taito-ku; 3822-1111; website; adult/student/child ¥600 (S$9)/¥400 (S$6)/free; 9.30am-5pm, T-Sun; JR Yamanote, Ginza or Hibiya Line to Ueno (Ueno-koen exit)) The museum combines the history of Japan with the art pieces. Very accessible to laypersons who have no inkling of Japanese art or history. Worth going.
–Advertising Museum Tokyo (Higashi Shimbashi, Minato-ku; 6218-2500; website;free; 11am-6.30 T-Fri; Sat and PH till 4.30pm; Ginza line (exit 4), Toei Asakusa or JR Yamanote line to Shimbashi (shiodome shio-site exit), Toei Oedo line to Shiodome (Shimbashi Station exit). Who doesn’t like advertisements? Ads as art? Gold. All the way from wood-block prints from Edo period to TV commercials.
– Best to visit Ginza on a Saturday when the roads are closed to cars. There is nothing interesting to eat around this area to go to Ginza for lunch. There is nothing much except shopping at Ginza: There are Uniqlo and Muji but you can get them in Singapore. If you’re an electronics geek, visit the Sony Building (Ginza 5-3-1, Chuo-ku; 3573-2371; website; 11am-7pm; Marunouchi, Ginza or Hibiya line to Ginza exit B9). Concept shops such as House of Shiseido (Ginza 7-5-5, Chuo-ku; 3571-0401; website; 11am-7pm T-Sun; JR Yamanote line to Shimbashi (Ginza exit), Toei Asakusa Line to Shimbashi (exit 1 or 3) and Chanel can be fun. Chanel has a rooftop garden, that overlooks the area, where you can sip champagne and nibble on Laudree macarons.
–Onsen at Ginza. Hard to believe that the Japanese are so crazy about onsen (hot springs) that they manage to dig up mineral water at Ginza, the shopping district. Make sure you enter Meiji-era Komparu-yu Onsen (pictured above. Ginza 8-7-5, Chuo-ku; 3571-5469; 2-11pm M-Sat; ¥400 ($6) admission) at the right entrance. Right side for men, left for women. The onsen is split into two by a wall but a matriarch sits perch in the middle, collecting money and keeping a watchful eye. If you’re embarrassed to be naked in front of an old lady, this is not the place for you. You remove your shoes (keep your socks on) at the door and leave it at a very old-fashioned locker using wooden boards as keys. Enter the establishment, pay money, and you’re given another locker to put your clothes and wooden key in. Bring towel, shampoo and body wash or risk paying another ¥450 to buy. It is a run-down establishment with only the squatting showers and two hot water spas. If you’re squeamish about being naked, this is not for you. But I went and had an awesome experience.
-Kabuki theatre at Shimbashi Embujo Theatre (Ginza 6-18-2, Chuo-ku; 3541 2600; website; tickets from ¥2500-16000 (S$40-250).
Where and What to Eat at Ginza
Ginza is a Michelin-star studded area so we had three Michelin restaurants here! Best to make reservation through your hotel concierge but if your hotel is as niao niao as ours at Shinjuku Park Hotel and refuses to make reservations for you, try walking in. We were lucky for all three times.
Tip: Go for lunch. Lunch is sometimes 10% of the price for dinner!
Sankame – Traditional Japanese food, one Michelin star.
Sankame (Ginza 6-4-13, Chuo-ku; 03-3571-0573; Website; 12pm-2pm, 5pm-10pm; Closed on Sun) is my favorite of the three Michelin restaurants we visited. It basically serves cai-fan a la Japanese version. You can pick one to three dishes, ranging from ¥1600-¥3900 (S$25-45) for lunch (dinner costs ¥15000 (S$250) depending on the number of dishes you pick. No reservations so come early for a seat. Eat and leave because people are waiting. The tiny homely establishment; the wonderful and friendly staff–we were early at 11.45am and they were still having their lunch but they quickly finished up to serve us–and the mind-blowing food make this trip an unforgettable experience. The restaurant is more like you visit someone’s home to eat their food.
The food, seemingly so simple, is so amazing. Simplest food is the hardest to cook. My eating partner repeated over and over and over, “How is it possible that even fried salmon tastes so good??!” Even though the fried salmon is drizzled with soy sauce, it remains amazingly crispy outside, moist inside and the taste is supreme and better than any salmon we have ever eaten.
The simple, home-styled restaurant really warms one’s heart. Highly recommended. See facebook for more photos of restaurant and food.
Sushi Aoki – Sushi, one Michelin-star
Handsome Chef Aoki serves one of the most expensive sushi in Tokyo. Sushi Aoki (Ginza Takahashi Bldg. 2F, 6-7-4 Ginza, Chuo-ku; 03-3289-1044; 12am-2pm, 5pm-10pm; closed Sun) has limited seats, just a sushi bar counter of about 10 people and a table for 6. Lunch set (or rannchi setto, I kid you not) costs ¥4000 (S$60) for 7 pieces or ¥6400 (S$95) for 11 pieces. Dinner can cost up to ¥20000 (S$300). Of all the sushi I’ve eaten in my life, I’d rank this 4th, even after Ginza Sushi Ichi in Singapore, because Chef Aoki is too heavy-handed. Too much wasabi, making the sushi choking or too much vinegar, making the sushi sourish. See facebook for more photos of restaurant and food.
Kondo – Tempura, two-Michelin-stars.
Hard to imagine that a tempura restaurant can get two Michelin stars. Kondo (Sakaguchi Bldg., 9F, Ginza 5-5-13, Chuo-ku; 03-5568-0923; 12pm-3pm, 5pm-10:30pm; Closed on Sun) definitely requires reservation with only two rooms sitting about 8 people each room. We were lucky as we walked in on the two last remaining seats. Set lunch starts from ¥5000 to ¥8400 (S$75-$130). We got the expensive set that comes with an extra bowl of rice with tempura scallops. You can either have it as a don (with seafood miso soup) or ochazuke styled (pour tea into the rice). The ochazuke is popular but since I found it strange to add tea into rice, I got the don and my eating partner got the ochazuke. We both found the ochazuke does nothing to the flavor and decided the don is a better choice.
Is it worth paying S$130 for tempura? We thought this is the best tempura we had. The ingredients are freshly prepared in front of us and the food immediately goes into the frying pan with sesame oil. There is not a single drop of oil on our lips–but on our hips, we are not so sure. While my eating partner was gushing over it, I played the devil’s advocate, saying the food, while perfect in every way, lacks the WOW factor. He thought about it and agreed and decided the meal wasn’t worth the price. I flipped my tune and said that this is the best tempura can ever get. It cannot get better. But he still wasn’t convinced. To me, I thought $130 is a good price to pay for such quality ingredients. The mushroom tempura is spectacular, complex with different layers of taste and texture. Mushroom! Such a simple ingredient.
If you like tempura sweet potato, order it right at the start of the meal because it takes 45 minutes to cook. Sweet potato is not in the set lunch. My eating partner was so envious of people eating the sweet potato but it was too late to order. We needed to rush off. Heng, I don’t like sweet potato.
Besides, this is the best service we had in Japan and in our lives. It was drizzling when we were leaving and the manager presented us with an umbrella. We couldn’t accept it since we weren’t returning and she said she was giving the umbrella to us. WOW. We are tourists, we are not returning customers, we probably will never return again and yet she is giving us an umbrella.
Ginza Okaki (Ginza 5-6-15, Chuo-ku; 03-3569-2925; website) perfected the traditional Japanese snack, taiyaki, a waffle pastry with red bean paste. Such beautiful and exquisite mould, thin waffle walls with abundant red bean paste; and one of the best red bean I ever had in my life. 12 pieces of ¥1000 (S$15) in a beautifully wrapped box–definitely worth the money! It was so good I returned THREE TIMES to buy more, until the service staff recognized me. Warning: Can only be kept for a week.