- 29th October 2000
Wegener & Masayuki Arai
The aim of this expedition was to primarily taste a whole range of Japanese
and secondarily to see some of the main sights in Japan all within
A Whirlwind Tour!
Therefore, we have taken photos of the food so that everyone can see
what it looks like.
The expedition was carefully planned by us to optimize the variety of food
eaten and places seen.
Pre-Expedition Planning (Düsseldorf & Tokyo):
We started planning the trip 8 weeks in advance.
I checked return flight prices from DUS (Düsseldorf Airport) to NRT
(Tokyo International Airport at Narita) on the Internet and booked the
flight at http://ba-ticket-direkt.de/
for DEM 1,085 (which was cheap). I chose British Airways (via London Heathrow),
since it was cheaper than Lufthansa or KLM. I also bought a 7-day Japan
(DEM 600) exchange order at a local Japan Airlines Office
which I then exchanged for the actual Japan Rail Pass once I got to Tokyo.
This is only valid if one's passport is stamped with "Temporary Visitor".
We drew up a tight schedule and Masayuki booked the hotels and decided
on the food.
Day 1 (Friday 20th October) (Düsseldorf)
The expedition started at 08:45 when I left home
for Düsseldorf (DUS) airport in a Taxi. It was misty and rather cold:
8°C. I was traveling light with only a small pack, still permitted
as hand luggage (9 Kg total weight). I flew via Heathrow (LHR) to Narita
(NRT) airport in Tokyo, 1.5 hours to LHR and then 12 hours to NRT. The
British Airways 747-400 plane was excellent, since the economy class section
had individual LCD screens so I choose to watch Shanghai Noon and Erin
Brokovich from a selection of 12 different channels! Much better than Lufthansa
or KLM! The food was also good (for airlines), as was the 1999 Cuveé
Day 2 (Saturday 21st October) Tokyo
The flight arrived on time at Narita airport NE
of Tokyo at 09:10. I couldn't sleep on the flight, and waiting 15 minutes
at Foreign Passports was rather annoying. After a quick customs questioning
I came out and met Masayuki. The weather was sunny with 24°C, really
nice. In the car park I tried to guess which Masayuki's new car was. I
guessed wrong, he has a Toyota Aristo (Lexus GS300) with electric everything,
including voice navigation system with TV. We drove straight to the Takanawa
Prince Hotel in Shinagawa Tokyo (took 55 minutes). After reorganizing and
showering we headed out to explore Tokyo via train. The first stop was
the Ginza shopping area, where all the expensive fashion shops are. We
went in Mitsukoshi a posh department store, with a huge food section downstairs.
I have never seen such a large section of different types of fish. Also
in Ginza I was surprised to find a German restaurant/pub!
The Asakusa (Senso-ji) Temple, one of the largest in Tokyo, was our next
call. Near there, in front of the Senso-ji temple, we had Ten-don (a rice
bowl with tempura
(fish/prawns/veg in a fluffy non/greasy batter) topping, salt/sweet) in a traditional wooden style restaurant
called Daikoku-ya. Tempura (fried in batter) of prawn, small fish and scallops
- tasted similar to fish & chips from England. With that we had a glutinous
soup with yellow stringy egg sprinkled with ginger bits + Asahi beer.
Afterwards we bought some rice crackers (Sembei) from one of the many
market style stalls/shops near the temple, some were very spicy/hot. There
was a huge selection of different flavors to choose from.
All our travelling was via the Yamanote local train or via the subway
train. In Akihabara there were 100s of small and also some very large electronic
shops spread out over about 1 km. After that we stopped off at the Enoteca
wine shop where we had a glass of Taillevant Champagne. Nice. We had Oden
as dinner, at a small hidden away restaurant in west Ginza called Otako,
where they cook various types of fish cake and tofu fresh in a soup in
front of you at the bar. We also had as side dishes: soy sauce flavored
soup, raw chicken breast bits, Shiokara: slimy stringy squid strips in
innards sauce, mini octopuses and boiled squid
leg/suckers. Pretty extreme! But not bad.
In the evening we had a Starbucks coffee near the Yurakucho station
and then headed back to the hotel. At the shopping arcade toilet there
was an extremely efficient hand drier, which really does get your hands
dry in 15 seconds. The best one in Germany takes 60 seconds.
Day 3 (Sunday 22nd October) Tokyo
We left for the Shibuya area at 10:30 via train,
a trendy young fashion area. We looked at the most famous dog statue: Hatchko
- a place where everyone hangs around waiting, i.e. a general meeting area
for trendy young people. We checked out several shops and department stores.
One was called Tokyu-Hands where we saw a wall clock where the numbers
were substituted by models of different types of Sushi! I want one!! It
was JPY 24000 so I didn't buy it. We did come back later after lunch and
I got myself some bandannas.
At lunch time we found a Japanese curry
place called Pakumori, whose chef
has been on television. The curry is molded and sits as a half dry pat
on a tall plateau of rice. It tasted different from Indian curry; it was
superb, fairly mild. The restaurant is also hidden away down some steps.
We checked out Tower Records, a large CD shop. The average price for a
new CD was JPY 2000, so I didn't buy any, since they are 40% cheaper at
home in Germany.
We headed back to the hotel and then to Yokohama via train, to china
town. The buildings were all lit up with neon and the temple style arches
were very picturesque. We had dinner at a recommended Chinese restaurant
called Saikoh Shinkan, where we had to queue for 20 minutes it was so popular!
We had Ten-shin set meal with 11 different dim sum style bits, hot Chinese
rice wine was a good idea. It tasted like medium dry sherry to me, it was
a clear brown color. Grilled pork and pickles started off the meal, followed
by a high viscosity shark fin soup. Next were garlic flavored king prawns,
then fried prawn spring rolls, boiled dumplings of pork and shrimps. Continuing
with steamed dumpling things filled with grilled pork. Finally steamed
bread, which was soft and sticky, filled with pork. For dessert we were
served with tofu pudding - a sloppy white soya bean tasting jelly in wallpaper
paste texture with jasmin tea.
Earlier at Yokohama station we exchanged my Japan
Rail Pass voucher for a rail pass and reserved some seats on the Shinkansen
to Kyoto for Thursday. We were lucky since the issuing office shut at 17:00,
just after we got there. Almost every restaurant in Japan has wax models
of the food on display outside which were extremely realistic. Obviously
useful for foreigners who have no idea what on earth the symbols mean or
what the food looks like. Very noticeable in Japan is that on every street
corner there were loads of vending machines selling various soft drinks
(and outside liquor stores, also beer), especially different types of cold
Day 4 (Monday 23rd October) Nikko
We left the hotel at 08:00 and set the navigation
system in Masayuki's car for Nikko. Heading north we circled the Emperor
's Palace and then went on the motorway. The weather this morning was crap.
We listed to my music compilation of pop that I had put onto CD for Masayuki.
Some of them were good, the rest was just noise, he said. It started raining
from about 9:00 onwards, 15°C. We reached Nikko at about 10:30 and
we checked out the Tosho-gu shrine and then the three monkeys (they signify
do not speak, do not see, do not hear - then you won't have any problems).
We also saw the sleeping cat - sculpted by an ancient artist. It was raining
heavily and there thousands of local tourists there, a lot of old people.
In one of the annex temples we saw the barking dragon (echoing off the
ceiling). Which was nice.
Then we drove up this cool hairpin steep road up to 1350 m where we had
lunch near the Chuzenji Lake. We had soba (buckwheat noodle) with yuba
(Nikko specialty, topping for soba), which was made from soya milk, which
was really good. The side dish was only for advanced users: miso-oden:
boiled konnyaku with miso sauce. It was pretty gruesome ands tasted of
floppy milky jelly. Not compatible with most Europeans. We then got back
into the car, it was still raining, 11°C. The navigation system got
us to Aizu-Yunokami-Onsen (Japanese style privately run hotel with hot
spring). En route we stopped off at a 7-Eleven. Japan has hundreds of 24-hour
stores where people can buy everything. We bought snacks, some jars of
Sake and some cans of Sapporo beer. Good.
We easily found the Minshuku (small family run hotel) called Hoshinoi.
Our room was a typical small Japanese room with tatami (reed) mats. Our
shoes were left at the threshold and we donned some house slippers. We
had to share the mixed toilet and washing sink with everyone else in the
corridor. In the toilet room one leaves one’s slippers at the door and
steps into the cold plastic toilet slippers. We changed into our Yukata
(Japanese night gown) under which you usually wear your boxer shorts or
something. We went into the Onsen, hot spring bath (communal bath), basically
they are big hot rock pools, 42°C. You wash beforehand at mini showers
with low stools for sitting on next to the hot spring pool. No soap or
dirt is permitted in the Onsen. We had tiny towels to more-or-less get
dry with afterwards.
At 18:00 it was dinnertime in the big communal dining room (which hi-tech
laser-disk karaoke set). We sat with crossed legs on cushions on the tatami
mats at low tables. In total there were 40 guests there. I was the only
foreigner (especially since this hotel is not in any guide books). The
dinner was superb! To start with we had kiku flower petals (Chrysanthemum)
with mayonnaise - outstanding! Also sashimi of salmon, carp and scallop,
yama-imo with okura: stringy slimy snotty thin strings of potato - nice.
Continuing with aubergines (egg-plant) with miso topping and noodle soup.
As vegetables we had incredibly good potato (100 times better than potatoes
back home) with warm radish and tofu (the latter was the only thing that
got less than 6/10 on my rating scale). Butter sautéed mushrooms
and vegetables were good. The highlight was the raw horse slices with miso-garlic
paste. Which tasted like very tender game. Awesome. A hollowed out crab
shell was filled with a creamy crab paste - nice. For dessert we had persimon,
a yellow Japanese fruit, jolly nice. After the meal some drunk older people
started singing Japanese Karaoke, which was rubbish. The hotel smelled
of hydrogen sulfide due to the Onsen / volcano nearby. On television later on we
watched Mito-Komon a very popular program. The hero, the 3rd vice -Shogun Mito Mitsukuni,
beats bad men (scoundrels); stories in the Edo period.
Day 5 (Tuesday 24th October) Aizu-Wakamatsu, Yonezawa
Masayuki got up much too early, i.e. at 6:00 in
order to take an onsen (hot spring bath). I got up at 7:30. Breakfast
at 08:00 back in the communal dining room. We had cold half raw slimy egg
(Onsen-tamago), which was grim. Also we had kiku (Japanese purple flower
petals, Chrysanthemum) in mayonnaise, which was really nice, and grilled
salmon, nori (mini sheets of seaweed) that we wrapped round the rice. Also
miso (soya) soup with tofu, and natto
- very very slimy and unbelievable
stringy fermented soya beans which had a burnt slightly coffee like taste.
The weather this morning was superb, blue sky and sun. It reached 23°C
at lunchtime. We drove to Tsuruga-jo castle at Aizu-Wakamatsu - a large
town in the valley surrounded by mountains. We saw hundreds of small school
children on day excursions. At the castle we had macha-tea in traditional
tea garden. The tea looked green and frothy and tasted slightly like mushy
peas. The view from the top of the castle was spectacular.
We then drove to Kitakata, famous for Ramen Noodle
. We queued for 10 minutes
to get into a tiny restaurant called Matsu where we had Chashumen: ramen
noodles in soup with tender grilled pork slices. They have to be drawn
into the mouth with the chopsticks with air to cool them down with a loud
slurping noise. Outstanding! (8/10). I need to practice my slurping though;
I took twice as long as Masayuki to eat it all. 100s of Japanese tourists
were wondering around this town and they were queuing at every Ramen restaurant.
We got back into the car and programmed the navigation system to take us
on a scenic route around a lake (Goshi Kinoma) in the Ura-bandai area on
windy mountain roads. Masayuki was testing out his tiptronic style semi-automatic
gearshift. At the lake viewpoint I bought a packet of boiled/fried tsukudani
(grass hoppers) to take back to Germany. I have now tried these and they
are crunchy but ok to eat. They basically taste of the dark sauce they
are grilled with, a bit burnt/corn like.
We arrived at the Azumaso Ryokan (Japanese hotel) at 16:00. At the entrance
one takes off one's shoes and changes into house slippers, which are supplied.
We were led to our room, which had tatami mats (like normal) so one takes
off the slippers. Only bare feet or socks are allowed on there. The hostess
served us with tea at the low table and chatted a bit. This Ryokan was
much better than the previous night in the Minshuku, since we had our own
toilet and washbasin and mini?bar. Great! The room was also much larger
with a separate sitting area with a view of the mountainside. Later we
went into the Onsen (hot spring pool), which was even hotter than the previous
place, i.e. 43°C!
Dinner was served in our room. The main course was sukiyaki, raw beef
slices with mushroom, cabbage and tofu, all this is raw and we cooked it
in the pan in the middle of the table on a gas burner with soy sauce with
sugar in. The cooked beef is then dipped into raw egg and eaten. I was
rather skeptical about this raw egg, but I was fine and didn't feel ill
afterwards. As accompaniment we had charcoal grilled iwana trout, matsutake
mushroom soup with a small bird's egg and mushroom with ground radish.
To dink we had Kirin and Asahi beer. Nice (7.5/10).
After dinner was cleared away, the futons were brought out and made
up. We watched Japan vs. Iraq play soccer on television.
Day 6 (Wednesday 25th October) Yonezawa, Gyoda, Tokyo
I got thrown out of bed when the maid bloke arrived
to fold and stow the bed away at 07:30. The low table was put back in the
center of the room and breakfast was served, beautifully presented on a
large tray (each). As usual we had green tea to drink. The breakfast was
similar to the previous day; it tasted much better though.
We left at 09:00 and set the navigation system for Gyoda. En route in the
mountains we stopped off to take a few more pictures of the autumn leaves
and we stopped at a roadside market stall to buy some mushrooms for Masayuki's
parents. It took 3 hours to get to Fukiage (next to Gyoda) where we went
to a large shopping center. We had lunch in a sushi circle where you take
a plate from a conveyor belt. I've done this before several times at home
in Düsseldorf and London, but this was much better. The conveyor belt
was totally full with 10s of plates of a whole variety of sushi and a few
small deserts. All the dishes were the same price (JPY 100) each, i.e.
very cheap. The sushi tasted outstanding and was extremely fresh. Sitting
at the bar there were several hot water taps for making your green tea.
Chop sticks, soy sauce and a pot of fresh pickled ginger slices were in
front of us.
After lunch we looked round the shopping center, particularly the massive
supermarket. Compared to German supermarkets the main differences are that
in Japan the fresh food quality is much better, obviously there is a huge
selection of fish and seafoods, all the tills are opened to avoid the build
up of queues, the cashiers are pleasant and friendly, they are open until
20:00 each night and also on Sundays. I bought some items not available
in Germany: anti-crease clothes spray, an anti-fluff sticky roller and
inside/outside car wipes. We also went to a DIY store to get a multi-charger,
since my PSION REVO (a PDA) was almost out of battery and the charger I
had with it does not run on 100V, what a load of rubbish! We found a suitable
We stopped off at Masayuki's house nearby to drop some stuff off. His
parents were not there, but his dog was there outside. Its name is Yasokichi,
a shiba-ken dog, it was very polite and well behaved. It took 2 hours to
get into Tokyo by car. The distance is only 60km, but we were stuck in
Tokyo traffic for 45 minutes before we reached the Takanawa Prince hotel.
In the evening we met one of Masayuki's friends, Minori, near Tokyo station
where we went to a trendy Japanese pub (an Izakaya) called Ban-ya. Shoes
were placed in mini wooden lockers and we were led to a table. The tables
are normal height and were in small booths separated by wooden beams. The
pub had a comfortable "snug" feel about it. For dinner we ordered salad
with carpacio style red snapper fish (thin slices), mixed yakitori (wooden
skewers with meat on), fried pork with miso (soya bean paste), assorted
sashimi platter, raw horsemeat slices, big yakitori meatballs, shiokara
(raw squid in innards again) and fried shrimps. We also tasted several
different types sake (Japanese rice wine).
We took the train back to the hotel in Shinagawa fairly drunk (took
only 10 minutes).
Day 7 (Thursday 26th October) Kyoto, Osaka
This morning we boarded the Hikari Shinkansen at
07:21 at Tokyo station bound for Kyoto (a high speed "bullet" train). Beforehand
we bought some Bentos (specialty lunch boxes)
, which we ate on the train
with cold green tea. The Bento had clams (extracted from their sea shells)
and a small piece of chicken on rice. Tasted better than it looked. We
arrived 10 seconds early at 09:59 - the trains are incredibly punctual!
Outside the station were hundreds of school kids on organized excursions.
A small group of 14-year-old schoolgirls came up to me to practice their
English. We got some tour info from the tourist information office and
then walked the 20 minutes to our hotel - the Kyoto Tokyu hotel. The weather
was fine with some sun and 21°C.
After reorganizing we walked back to the station and went on a sightseeing
bus tour to the Nijo castle and Toei-Uzumasa-Eigamura Movie-land Park.
At the Nijo castle, which was built in 1603 for the 3rd Shogun Ieyasu,
we walked inside the large wooden structure Ninomaru palace and then the
gardens. The inside decorations were gold paint with various drawings.
At movie-land, which was partly an actual film set for the Japanese movie
company Toei, we walked round the sets and saw some Ninjas performing a
stunt fight show. There were loads of souvenir shops where I bought some
Ninja throwing stars and a beer bottle opener.
We got back to the station at 16:40 and got on a train to Osaka and
then changed to get to Tsuruhashi station from where the Korean restaurant
Soeul-ja. It took about 45 minutes in total. We went to this recommended
Korean barbecue restaurant where one grills the pieces of meat on the gas
grill built into the center of each table. We had ox tongue to start with;
it tasted very tender and extremely good. Following that we grilled several
different small pieces of beef, such as carbi (on the bone), Kim-chi, Na-mul,
and also intestine, the latter was rather tough in texture. All the meat
comes in a sesame, soy sauce, sugar and garlic sauce and is subsequently
dipped into a similar sesame sauce before eating. As accompaniments we
had namuru (mixed vegetable) and kimuchi (sour hot spicy pickle). The next
2 courses were Bibim-bpa rice and ice-cold noodle soup - reimen. It was
rather strange eating cold noodle soup, since I have had similar things
Our hotel room had a small bathroom with a luxury toilet with built
in bidet and bottom shower. Which was interesting.
Day 8 (Friday 27th October) Kyoto
We bought a one-day bus pass at the hotel lobby,
which was only JPY 500, which was good since a single would have been JPY220!
We looked on the bus-map and made our way to the Kinkaku-ji temple. A spectacular
gold foil covered temple (a pagoda). You can't go in it but we could walk
all round the gardens and up to the higher bits. Here were several souvenir
shops where we bought some tacky items, such as a golden temple key-chain.
Then we took the bus to the city center in Kyoto. In the Shin-kyogoku promenade
and surrounding area it was souvenir heaven! Hundreds of souvenir shops,
other trendy clothes shops and restaurants. We ate at an Okonomiyaki restaurant;
we were led upstairs where we sat on tatami mats. Each table had a large
central hotplate on which the Okonomiyaki are cooked. Okonomiyaki consists
of a batter mix of wheat flour, egg, water + cabbage, seafood and meat.
The liquid mixture is poured onto the hotplate and turned over when done
on one side. When it's ready you pour/brush the special Okonomiyaki sauce
over it + seaweed, dried bonito flakes + mayonnaise. It tasted like a delicious
After lunch I bought some more tacky souvenirs; a mini temple with thermometer,
mini pen sized Ninja and Samurai swords (paper knives). Then we got back
on a very packed bus to head to the Kiyomizu-dera temple. We walked up
a steep road with souvenir shops on either side, selling every conceivable
souvenir. Crazy, but nice. We reached the temple - a large wooden Buddhist
temple built on the side of the mountain overlooking Kyoto. A brilliant
view. Next to the temple we had sweet food for teatime consisting of zenzai
- azuki beans and mochi (texture like hot-melt adhesive). In the evening
we went to a huge food complex at the top of the Isetan shopping center
at Kyoto station. We chose Ten-ichi a luxury tempura restaurant. We sat
at the bar where we could directly see the chef preparing all the food.
We had various tempura (pieces of anything in batter) with were dipped
either in a small amount of salt, curry powder or soya type sauce/soup
with ground radish in. After loads of different bits we had even more with
rice. I couldn't eat anymore! Apparently the rice is just as important
as the fish or meat so it should all be eaten up, otherwise it's rude /
insulting to the chef, who might think his rice didn't taste nice.
Day 9 (Saturday 28th October) Tokyo
Reveille was so early again to get the 07:41 Shinkansen
to Tokyo. It was very fast and got in at 10:17, only 10 seconds late this
time. We took the local train to our normal hotel - the Takanawa Prince
in the Shinagawa area. We went to a restaurant near Shinagawa station for
lunch - tonkatsu (Japanese style schnitzel (breadcrumb covered meat)).
With special sauce, strips of cabbage and rice. It tasted excellent, rather
Western! With it we had pickles and miso soup (tofu and seaweed soup).
Then we headed to Ueno where we checked out the old wooden Kan-eiji temple.
One can't go in, but it's not bad to look at and has a large bell thing
out the front. Back past Ueno station was Ameya-yokocho (Ame-yoko) road
where there are hundreds of small shops and gangways selling everything
from food to watches to knifes and BB guns at reasonable prices.
In the evening we went to the Enoteca wine bar again in Yurakucho where
we had a glass of 1994 Chateau Haut Brion, and a 1983 Chateau Haut Bailly.
The first one was outstanding with a hint of blackcurrant and a tiny amount
of chocolate/coffee taste (8.5/10). Then we met Midori and Yoichi, friends
of Masayuki, to go sushi eating. We went to Edogin a high quality sushi
restaurant in the Tsukiji market area. To start with we had assorted sashimi
(raw fish without rice) including toro (belly of tuna), bonito, scallop,
crab, red snapper, sweet shrimp and octopus. Next was Shirako that looked
like monkey brain (well actually it was cod fish sperm sacs). It looked
like gooey white beans. In the mouth these beans burst easily to a slimy
creamy texture. The taste was ok. Next was liver of monkfish. Following
that - shiokara (squid in innards sauce) which I knew well by now. Then
various sushi including uni: sea urchin (the most expensive sushi in the restaurant).
We went to Starbucks after dinner where I had a caramel frappucino -
Day 10 (Sunday 29th October) Tokyo, London Heathrow, Düsseldorf
Masayuki came with me to Tokyo station from where
I got the Narita Airport Express at 09:00. It took 59 minutes to get there.
The flight back was again in a luxury BA 747-400, with personal displays
in scum class. It took about 12 hours to Heathrow where the landing was
rather scary since there was a 40 mph side wind from the south. The onward
flight to Düsseldorf was also delayed due to the bad weather; it was
2 hours late! I took a taxi back to my flat and eventually got home at
midnight, extremely tired. It was back to work in 7 hours time!
That's it, we had an excellent time on our whirlwind gourmet expedition.
Masayuki was excellent at choosing good places to visit and interesting/extreme
food to eat!
web-site has a list of other peoples travelogues and useful travel information.
has loads of useful information and a food guide
The Japan guide
from About.com is good for planning the trip.
If you have any comments or questions please e-mail me at:
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