I came back recently from a trip to Japan and fell head over heels for the country. Although I’d always been interested in the Japanese culture and language, I had no idea that I would love it there so much. Since my return to Sydney I’ve been nursing an unfortunate and miserable holiday hangover. Except for a few places, the majority of restaurants and cafes that we ate at in Japan were unplanned and spontaneous. Despite that, 99% of the places we ate at served delicious, top-quality food. J and I remarked upon what a pleasant change it was from having to constantly research restaurants to eat at in Sydney.
I arrived in Tokyo early on a Thursday morning in July. Alone, exhausted and confronted by the unexpected humidity, I used my feeble Japanese skills to buy a ticket to Keisei Tateishi station where my AirBNB was located. It was my first trip to Japan, and on top of that, my first time staying in an AirBNB place. AirBNB is a website that was recommended to me by a friend, who said it was good for cheap accommodation and privacy. AirBNB places can range from staying in shared rooms, private rooms in a share house or whole apartments or houses. The places are rented out to tourists and most have a minimum length of stay required (mine was 2 nights for the Keisei Tateishi place). For wary tourists, the host’s identity is verified through a number of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Linkedin, and are also reviewed by their guests. The Keisei Tateishi AirBNB place that I stayed in had numerous good reviews, and was rather affordable, being about $48 AUD per night for a private room.
As well as being affordable, there are many benefits of choosing an AirBNB for accommodation over a hotel or hostel. For one thing, AirBNB can offer a more personalised experience if you’re staying in a share house, as the hosts can give you advice about where to go and what to do. AirBNB accommodation can also offer services that traditional hotels and hostels don’t do, such as the provision of free pocket wifi for personal use while using their accommodation. In my situation, the provision of pocket wifi was the deciding factor in choosing between two places that I had narrowed my choices down to.
The AirBNB host had provided me with detailed instructions on how to reach the house from Narita Airport, so I really didn’t have any trouble reaching the place. Before arriving in Japan, I noticed that the majority of hotels and AirBNB accommodation had late check ins (by Australian standards). My check in for Keisei Tateishi was around 3pm, but I arrived at the place around 9 or 10am. One of the hosts was there to welcome me, and said that it was fine for me to leave my luggage and shower and get ready while the room was being prepared for me.
The atmosphere around Tateishi was retro and quaint. It was a surprise to me as I thought all of Tokyo was rather modern. I didn’t see a lot of young people in this area, which was later explained by the distance of Tateishi from the popular, more urban parts of Tokyo.
Being my first trip to Japan, I had no idea about the geography of districts in Tokyo, and in hindsight, being rather naive, I assumed that everything in Tokyo would be within 10-15 minutes of each other. How wrong I was. Regrettably, I had chosen an accommodation that was not too far in distance from Narita Airport, but was shockingly far from all the places I had planned to visit in the first two days, such as Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku.
It took me about 50 minutes or an hour to reach Shibuya. I had decided upon an easy day for my first day, as I was suffering from lack of sleep, so I decided to see the sights, do a little bit of shopping and enjoy my first meal. My first stop was American Apparel, which I was lucky enough to find by chance, in a little alleyway. Shibuya’s American Apparel had two separate stores for females and males. It was in American Apparel that I first experienced the genuine kindness of Japan’s citizens. I had asked one of the shop attendants that I had been chatting to for directions to Shibuya Crossing. Instead of directing me, she said she’d walk me there. During our walk, we chatted about our studies. She was a student at the prestigious Keio University in Tokyo, and had attended an international school, which accounted for her slight American accent and proficiency speaking English. When we got to Shibuya Crossing she told me she hoped I would have a great time in Japan and even gave me a hug. It was totally adorable.
After getting to Shibuya Crossing, I didn’t really have any plans so I decided to walk around and see what stores they had. They had lots of European stores such as H&M, Zara, and Bershka. In Sydney, we don’t have Bershka, so I ducked in there and bought a few items, then decided to look around for somewhere to eat lunch.
Buta No Kakuni was described on the English menu as ‘sweet and sour simmered pork’, while teishoku means a set meal. I had never had Buta No Kakuni before, and was delighted by the subtly sweet sauce and the tender pieces of pork. The rice was soft and perfectly cooked. The poached egg was cooked just the right amount. In addition to my teishoku meal, I ordered two sides of natto and umeboshi.
Umeboshi is not very commonly found in Sydney, so I was eager to try something new. It’s basically a pickled plum, but is very, very sour in flavour. As it was my first time trying it, I didn’t take a fancy to it straight away. I would describe it as more of an acquired taste, as I enjoy eating them now. When I tried it at this restaurant for the first time though, I found it overpoweringly sour.
Natto is a by-product of soybeans. It is a fermented product, and therefore has a strong, distinct smell. I had tried before coming to Japan so I was already used to its unusual smell and slimy texture. At the restaurant, it was served with sliced shallots and mustard. Natto has a sticky, slimy texture, and is very salty. It is usually served with hot mustard, but I don’t mind eating it on its own.
After I finished eating, I decided to head to a different area of Tokyo known as Asakusa. Asakusa is on the other side of Tokyo, located closer to my accommodation in Tateishi, so it took me some time to travel there. Once I got there, it felt as if I had come to a completely different city. The buildings and atmosphere were completely different to Shibuya, which was modern and trendy.
As Japan’s oldest shrine, there were plenty of tourists around this area taking pictures with the shrine. I walked around the area for a short while, and got a soft serve nearby.
While walking around Asakusa, I came across a restaurant specialising in fugu. Fugu is a pufferfish that is particularly dangerous to eat, as you can die if you eat the wrong parts. I heard chefs in Japan have to study for 4 years before they are allowed to work as a fugu chef. I had planned to eat this when I got to Japan but chickened out at the last minute.
For dinner, I caught up with a family friend just in the local area of Tateishi. If it was any other day, I wouldn’t have chosen to eat in Tateishi, but I was still rather tired and couldn’t be bothered travelling out to Shibuya again.
We ate at a sushi restaurant situated on the left side of Tateishi station, known as Suni Zushi. The restaurant was empty when we came in and it took us a few minutes to find anyone. The restaurant was owned by an elderly couple. The husband was the sushi chef, while the wife managed and served as a waitress.
There was a variety of sushi available that I couldn’t have eaten in Sydney, such as kujira (whale), which I was particularly happy to eat.
The sushi rice was soft and crumbly, and cooked to perfection. The pieces of raw fish were all of a superior quality, and had a melt in your mouth texture that I’ve only had the occasion to try at high end Sydney restaurants.
Although the kujira was not the best tasting of the nigiri that I had that evening, it was the one that I was the most excited to eat. It had a stronger and more intense flavour of all the sushi I ate that night, almost as if it was tainted with blood. Despite that, it retained the soft, melt in your mouth texture of all the other sushi, yet it had more of a fleshy texture.
I was lucky that I came to the restaurant with my family friend, who speaks fluent Japanese, as the couple didn’t speak a word of English. Overall, our dinner was excellent, as I used my meagre Japanese to communicate with the sushi chef, and another Tateishi local who was dining at the restaurant that evening.