I’m back in Japan for what I always think of, in my mind, as my roots trips. It’s funny though, because for as many times as I’ve been to Japan in my life, each trip always starts with a certain amount of anxiety amidst my anticipation for awesomeness.
Perhaps it’s because of my basic understanding of Japanese that I am keenly aware of what I don’t know when I’m in Japan. Even though I visit the same cities over and over, I never feel like I get to know any of them. And even though I look the part, I understand I am not “one of them”.
I know that its ingrained within me to act within the confines of “proper” in Japan, and it’s made me less adventurous when I visit than I am in any other country. Each time I plan for a trip to Japan, I do so with the intention that I’ll push myself out of these limits, but each time I feel I revert back. This time, maybe this time, will be different.
I was bummed that I lost 1 of the 2 full days I’d planned in Tokyo due to flight delays and missed connections. I had full days of eating planned and missing 1 meant missing out on a lot. My intention was to hit the ground running but being delayed a day took a toll on my sleep and when I finally arrived late at my hotel, I couldn’t muster any more strength than to go downstairs to the 7/11 to put together a meal.
I had intentions of doubling my meal intake on my one and only full day in Tokyo, but Mother Nature decided to make that difficult for me by serving me up with a downpour all day. I saw plan after plan, in my mind being cancelled, so when my dad told me that he was heading to Tsukiji Fish Market to do a bit of shopping, I jumped at the opportunity to have sushi for breakfast. Never mind that I had reservations for a sushi lunch just a few hours later, it was an opportunity too good to pass up.
I was turned off the Tsukiji fish market a few years ago when I witnessed how touristy it had become. On this trip, it was less crowded because we were there before 8am, but I still felt like it had lost the magic of my first visit more than 10 years ago. But my dad and I were at the market for a purpose and my main purpose was sushi.
I know that most people who visit Tsukiji look to Sushi Dai or Daiwa, but I’m not a long line stander especially when I think I can get just as good elsewhere. My dad has his favorite in the market, so I happily let him lead me into Sushi Zanmai. I was suffering a bit from exhaustion, so I let my dad lead the way with ordering, which is great because we were able to get a few things off menu.
One of the highest things on my list of things to do in Tokyo was to have another “Michelin” quality sushi meal. From my experience at Kanesaka last trip, I learned that high end sushi in Tokyo cannot be matched anywhere else. So with this in mind, I started making a list and trying to find a hotel that had a concierge that could book my reservations for me. On my last trip, 3 years ago it was no problem to find a hotel that would do this. In planning for this trip, I tried 4 different hotels and all of them told me that they couldn’t make reservations anymore. It’s funny because in Kyoto and Osaka, my concierges said no problem, so it seemed to an issue specific to Tokyo.
I was a bit discouraged about not getting being able to get a reservation anywhere when I had a light bulb moment, I would ask my cousin Tokyo to try to make some reservations for me. I didn’t think of this sooner because I hate to feel like a burden on people, but when my cousin said she’d happily help, I sent her my list. Unfortunately, I thought of this too late, and because I was also trying to get a reservation for a Monday at lunch (both working against me), my choices were limited. I was not able to get into my first through 5th choice, and just threw the option of Kyubei into the mix. While I’ve known about Kyubei for some time, it seemed to “chain-y” to be on my Tokyo list. But I was reminded of it as an option, after seeing it on an episode of “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” on Netflix the other day.When I’d secured this reservation, I wavered a bit, wondering if it would live up to my expectations of what I was looking for in a sushi meal in Tokyo, but in the end, I kept the reservation. I’m glad I did, because it was a great experience, one that I know can be beaten, but was deeply satisfying none the less.
Leaving the restaurant, the rain was coming down hard and jet lag was taking a hold of me. Lucky there was a coffee shop I’d read about in Rice, Noodle, Fish just a few blocks away, where I sat trying to wait out the rain drinking single origin coffee.
Coming to Japan, for me, means family obligations will sometimes take priority over food adventures.. So I knew all throughout my trip I’d have to leave much of my food list untouched. I’ve also come to the realization that while I want to push as hard in Japan as I might in other places I visit, I really don’t have to. As I mentioned above, family obligations will keep me coming back to Japan over the years, so if I miss out now, I know I’ll have another chance at it.
I woke in Tokyo to watch the sun peak out of the horizon, happy to be heading west to Kyoto to wander solo for a few days where I could start fresh without feelings of the time lost. As I packed my bag, I knew that there was 1 thing I could not leave Tokyo without eating. And although I have 20+ ramen places in Tokyo that I want to try, I knew because I was going for breakfast there was only 1 place I wanted to go to.
My post on Rokurinsha ramen in the basement of the Tokyo train station is one of my most popular posts and tsukemen is one of my favorite types of ramen. I knew I needed to return to see if it was as good as I remembered.
While I wish the noodles weren’t so cold, the broth is so complex and soul satisfying. I’m happy this was my last taste of Tokyo for this trip before I took the Shinkansen out west.
I am a Kansai girl at heart and Tokyo has always been a challenging place for me. As I sped west away towards Kyoto, I had mixed feelings on wanting to return on future trips. I hate the “big-ness” of Tokyo, but can’t deny that you can’t match so many things that Tokyo has to offer. But I know the pull of Tokyo will bring me back over and over, which is okay as a starting to point to better adventures ahead.