I have never been comfortable with the idea of travelling alone. But perhaps it was time to step out of my comfort zone, to challenge myself. What better country to do that than in Japan, one of my favourite countries, a safe haven where there would be almost no language barrier for me (at least in terms of getting around). But once I started this journey of self-discovery (ok, I’m being melodramatic here), the experience rocked my nerves and made me feel terribly self-conscious of the surroundings around me. I have never felt more alone, unprotected, and small.
Solo Journey for A Timid Soul
Also, as I took the Philippines Airlines, there was a transit at Manila before I reached Narita. Taking a plane at midnight, dozing uncomfortably in the cramped plane seat, being unable to sleep at all during the 2 plus hours of transit in the dead of night, before yet another gruelling journey towards the land of the Sun wore on me. All the exhaustion was forgotten though, the minute I stepped out of the plane and into Narita Airport. A fresh wave of excitement washed over me, and I felt ridiculously proud of myself for achieving this (tiny) feat of travelling alone.
But once I reached Narita, I had another mission; to quickly get the JR ticket I bought and board the Narita Express, which takes about 45 minute per interval during that afternoon. It would take me another hour and a half to reach my final destination, and I had already made arrangements in the evening. There was no room for mistakes. I couldn’t afford to get lost. Luckily, there was no queue at the JR office, and somehow, miraculously, for all my lack of directional senses, I was able to make it safely on time, though lugging my heavy luggage and bags around the streets made me utterly regret my decision to travel all alone. At that time I was thinking miserably, “What have I put myself into?”
Tokyo in Autumn
But all the pain was worthwhile as I managed to meet up with old friends, who kindly brought me around and sent me back safely. I no longer had to rely on myself for directions. Whee. So much for independence. Anyway, now I can finally focus on having fun. The scenery, the food. Yum. Tokyo’s scenery wasn’t much, since I was mainly in the city. The autumn leaves were beautiful of course, but I knew they would look like a painting in more traditional parts of Japan, which I was looking forward to.
But there is a particular street that I eventually realised is famed for its gingko trees in autumn, Meiju Jingu Gaien. When I went there, I had no idea what gingko trees were and that the avenue was famous. I only thought, “Wow, these leaves look very different from maple leaves but are equally gorgeous.” Little did I know, these very golden fan leaves were one of the iconic views in Japan’s fall.
Food in Tokyo – Tonkatsu, Mentaiko & Ramen
The autumn view may not be at its most enchanting in the cosmopolitan city of Tokyo, but the food was amazing, as per usual. Japan’s cuisine almost never fails to disappoint me.
My first dish was tonkatsu. It is at this shop called Katsusai Ebisu (かつ彩 恵比寿), which can be found in Shibuya. The tonkatsu simply oozed with cheese and the natural juices of the meat, which gave it a rich umami flavour.
My second dish was Kyushu cuisine. It was at a random shop so I didn’t take note of the shop name. It was my first time trying Kyushu cuisine. It is definitely quite different from the typical Tokyo food I have eaten. Apparently, Kyushu is known for mentaiko (marinated cod roe), so most of the dishes I ordered had mentaiko on them.
I also took a liking to sours in Japan, I was basically ordering a sour every meal. Sours are actually Japanese cocktails made with shochu, soda water, and the juice of a freshly squeezed fruit. As sours are a fruity drink, they are perfect for someone with a sweet tooth like me. There are many types of sours, but the most common would be lemon sour, which are less sweet and great as a thirst quencher.
And… drum roll for my final dish. Ramen. To be specific, tonkotsu-soup base ramen. A shop based in Ginza, Hakata Nagahama Yatai Yamachan (博多長浜屋台やまちゃん), the name of the shop is a mouthful, and it is a tiny nondescript shop filled with beer-guzzling men, but never judge a book by its cover. The pork broth is thick and silky, just rich enough to linger in my palate, but not overpowering. The chashu was cut in big, thin slices, with soft fat that melted the instant it touched my tongue. I ordered the noodles “katai”, which means hard, as I like my noodles, springy and bouncy, and also so that they won’t turn soggy fast. The egg was just the way ramen eggs should be, the orange yolk soft and runny on the inside. You will have the option of adding roasted sesame, pickled ginger, and some kind spicy pickled vegetable. I absolutely loved the spicy picked vegetable, it really added an extra pop of favour and texture to the ramen.
Best Dessert in Tokyo – Cremia & Bake
Now besides these main dishes, there were some other snacks like ice cream I tried. Despite the cold weather, soft serves are a must in Japan! I was introduced to this shop called Silkream by my friend, and they sold a particular brand of ice-cream called Cremia, which was soft, creamy and tasted like full cream milk. Just the way I love my soft-serves to be. My friend thinks the biscuit cone tastes like Shiroi Koibito, but I can’t quite remember how Shiroi Koibito tastes like, so I can’t confirm. But the biscuit cone definitely tastes much better than the usual factory-churned biscuit cones. It is sweet, and crumbles in my mouth. Usually people order take-away with the ice-cream in the biscuit cone, but we wanted to try other flavours too (and also because our feet were hurting so much from all that walking), so we had it in the shop, which was several hundred yen more expensive. Ouch to our pockets. One thing to note though: it melts really fast, so it was difficult to take a good photo of it.
We also tried another ice-cream, but it was not Cremia. As you can the the Cremia ice-cream is shaped differently from most other ice-creams. I think this is just a regular run-of-the-mill ice-cream. And it tasted predominantly of vanilla. It’s too vanilla-ny for my taste, but maybe fans of vanilla would like it. I can’t remember the crepe, other than it was soft, so it mustn’t have been delicious.
Finally I tried something I have always wanted to try in Singapore, but couldn’t get the chance to, because the queue was always so long. BAKE cheese tarts!!! Fluffy and soft, they tasted like a soft, creamy version of cheesecake. Not uncooked cheesecake, as they were warm from the oven. I love cheesecakes, so needless to say, the cheese tarts won me over.
Alright, my Tokyo travel has come to an end. Next up, Kyoto! Please keep a look out for my next post!