It’s been a lazy afternoon for the Marasiaks, recovering from a gathering we had last night to watch the Olympic opening ceremony. I have been undeniably neglecting the blog in favor of preparing for said party, but I’m back with some more of our time in Japan last week!
For the next part of our journey, we met up with our friends Erin, Ryan, Amy, Annie and Brian, all American expats living in Korea whom we have met through J’s work. We had some time before our dinner reservations, so we walked the city a bit and decided to make a pit stop at Tokyo’s largest street intersection, Shibuya Crossing, which some claim is the busiest in the world. A good spot to watch all the traffic go by is the Starbucks on the second floor of one of the buildings overlooking the intersection. The hustle and bustle of the city is most definitely obvious from this vantage point.
This is what happens when the walk light turns green at Shibuya.
After being wowed by the crowds as well as a very talented beatboxer/singer one-man show, we were faced with the task of navigating to our dinner location, Hotel Okura. We got off at the closest Metro stop but we weren’t in a busy area of town and for a moment had a little trouble finding the place. It was well worth the effort of walking a few extra minutes from the subway stop, as this dinner was full of delicious surprises.
Reading the menu, our meal set-up, professional sushi prep, and a palate cleanser of tasty fresh ginger.
Erin recommended Hotel Okura for freshly prepared sashimi from prior experience and had made reservations in advance for us to sit at the sushi bar. Before we could get started with the tasting, we all had to choose what type of meal we wanted to order. They had a few different pre-set options, or you had the option to order a la carte. I chose the pre-set menu, given my lack of familiarity with fish beyond tilapia and the occasional crappie (yes, you read that right) I caught with my Dad many years back. I trusted that the sushi chefs weren’t lying when they said they choose the best selection of fish from the market each day. J went with the bolder option of a la carte, ordering a selection of tuna, shrimp and scallop sashimi and sushi.
Yummy tuna, sea bream and shrimp.
It was amazing to watch the sushi chefs slice, assemble and roll the sushi and sashimi right before your eyes. They must go through some pretty intense aesthetic training to make the fish look incredibly appealing to eat. Knowing we were foreigners, they were extremely accommodating, but that just may be my perception of politeness and better customer service in Japan versus Korea. The chefs were interactive and fun, and helped us get the most out of our experience. Most of all, they weren’t bothered by my camera, which I really appreciated as I try to develop my skills.
I was nervous about taking my first bite, but the sea bream was incredibly delicious and ended up being my favorite. Seafood can get a bad rap with its pungent smell, but this stuff was grade A. Grade A++++, maybe, if I had to rate it. It was melt-in-your-mouth fantastic! Man, if I could eat sashimi like that every day, I’d be incredibly healthy. My second favorite choice would be one of the types of fatty tuna they served. The shrimp was great as well, and I am not ashamed to say I went for the boiled option over raw. J agrees that this is most definitely the best Asian meal of our lives so far, and would make my list of best meals ever.
Ryan with his freshly-killed shrimp, some tuna roll pieces and enjoying my meal!
The only drawback was the sea urchin. Oh, sea urchin. I knew the moment Chef put the roll in front of me that I was going to have a hard time eating it. Shame I didn’t get a picture of it, but I don’t think you’d really want to look at something that looks like it was regurgitated. I also wish I would have had a shot of my or Annie’s reaction to eating it – it took all we could do to swallow. It was worth the experience though, because I can say I ate it and even with that, it was still a fantastic meal. We tried scallops, yellowtail, and Ryan even ordered the raw shrimp! We all had a slightly different experience with our meal, but all came out in agreement that our trip was off to a wonderful start.
The drink options were plentiful too, including a variety of wine, some fetching prices of over $1,000 USD per bottle! Did I mention this place is a little expensive? Amy and I selected a wonderful “cheap” red wine, which I wouldn’t normally recommend with sushi, but it all tasted fantastic so it didn’t really matter. Erin and Ryan tried some sake and really enjoyed it as well. Bottom line: if you’re in Japan for an evening, get on the phone and make a reservation NOW! You won’t regret it!
After dinner, I suggested we go back to East Shinjuku to check out the nightlife that we had so eagerly tried to seek out the night before. Plus, I was raving about our “crah-pes” from the night before and got everyone excited about those. First, we walked around the area a bit and stumbled upon an interesting Japanese venue that seemed to be some sort of combination between a casino and an arcade. The idea was to sit and play some type of betting game that reminded me more of Magic Mountain than a casino, but if you could figure out the game, you won silver balls worth yen! Annie had a lot of fun and won five-fold! We were impressed that she could even figure out how to work the game.
Annie certainly had the game figured out, and some other patrons seemed to have spent quite some time winning!
Our last stop of the evening was the “crape” man, who made us all delightfully fresh and light crepes. We went with the strawberry ice cream version the second time around, and it was fantastic. A sweet ending for an adventurous urban evening with friends.
The machine at the top was used to take payment and dispense exact change while the chef prepared your cr(a)epe. Our strawberry ice cream crepe was so delicious we fought over it!
To snooze the night away, we headed back to our unusual accommodation for the evening – a capsule hotel. What is it, exactly? Given its appearance, some may compare it to a morgue with live people, but it’s exactly what it’s called, a hotel of capsules. Capsules are pods stacked together to inexpensively house individuals (or in this case, couples) in the expensive city of Tokyo. For only $40 per night, you can snuggle up to your loved one (or have a little more space for yourself!) in a pod, mere feet above a stranger, or in our case, some good friends. They are typically for men only, catering to the Japanese business traveler who misses his last train home for the evening, we assume due most likely to intoxication. Thanks to TripAdvisor, we found Tokyo Kiba Hotel, which allows both individual women as well as couples. Don’t worry, the couples capsules are a bit bigger.
We cozied up in our tiny “hotel rooms”!
It was surprisingly comfortable, and the tall guys were even able to stretch their legs out completely. Each capsule was equipped with a TV, too! Though there were only shared bathrooms available, it was just like a college dorm without the weird smell. A great option for the budget traveler! We woke up well-rested and ready to hop on the bullet train to our next destination: Nagano!