I wanted this trip to Tokyo to be different.
We decided to base ourselves in the Shimokitazawa neighbourhood, known for its hipsters, creatives, and unusual restaurants.
We were not disappointed!
In my previous line of work I visited Tokyo three to four times a year.
This was the first trip without any business in nearly 10 years!
It was exciting to be a true tourist with time to linger, and really steep myself in the culture, eating at all kinds of different establishments.
When there on business you are usually taken to high end places only.
Not that that is a bad thing but it closes off all the places where the average Japanese person goes.
Many of those places have delicious menus foods that are unique to those places.
Being in a new area of Tokyo made all the difference to this trip.
We stayed at an AirBnB which was situated in a quiet neighborhood only minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Shimokitazawa proper.
As a member of the OneWorld frequent flyer program, I always try and use member airlines for my travel.
It is very handy for us that Royal Jordanian Airlines is a part of this alliance.
We booked our tickets flying with Royal Jordanian and Qatar Airways.
We love to travel and yet felt a bit of dread for the first leg of our trip which was Amman to Doha.
The reason being that the departure time was scheduled for 00:55, which meant we would not get much sleep!
We arrived at Queen Alia International Airport with plenty of time to spare, and after check-in headed to the lounge.
My wife, Harriet, had some issues with getting her new passport back in time from the UK so she had to travel on an Emergency Passport.
We expected it might delay us as things in Jordan can be a little slow and backwards at times.
But luckily for us, it didn’t take too long and we were on our way!
The first flight was a very easy 3 hours although we flew through the night to Doha, arriving at 3:25 AM!
I’d never flown through Doha before, I was really impressed with the airport.
At that time of the morning, it was relatively quiet.
But that was probably the hardest part of the trip, sitting in the lounge trying to get some rest while not falling fully asleep, so we didn’t miss our next flight.
Having lived in London for the last ten years I was used to flying point to point and very, very rarely having to connect through airports.
This reminded me of when I used to fly as a young person, always connections for the cheapest fares.
But for the traveler this is fun.
My favorite quote by Lao Tzu is ‘a good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving’ which about sums it up for me!
Being airplane enthusiasts, we were very excited to try out Qatar’s new Business Class product – the Q Suites.
A brilliant product, and by far one of our favorite Business Class seats that we’ve ever experienced!
The seat is fully enclosed with a sliding door for full privacy.
We were offered champagne as we settled in, which we gladly took.
I guess it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!
Their entertainment system was impressive, with a big screen and large selection of movies and TV shows.
On this flight, the crew were operating an ‘eat when you like’ system.
We weren’t guided by a set meal time and I really liked this option.
We did end up eating right after take off so we could get some sleep!
I had Fuul, which was very good!
As well as good food, the service was really excellent.
Over the years, I’ve seen a decline in the standard of service on most airlines.
But I was really happy to see that Qatar hasn’t sacrificed this yet.
How do I buy train tickets in Tokyo?
Tokyo is quite an easy city to navigate, given that many signs and instructions are also in English.
The self service ticket machines in the train stations have English language options.
The best value for underground train travel is to use a ‘Suica’ or ‘Pasmo’ card.
These are prepaid cards that you can charge and use as needed.
Or you can go to the ticket office for bullet train, or airport train tickets.
As we arrived late into Tokyo, we decided to stay at an airport hotel.
This was the perfect opportunity to check out the JAL Factory Tour Sky Museum!
If you love aviation or just looking for something different to do, you have to try this free tour.
Unfortunately, you can’t just show up like you would a normal museum.
Due to its popularity, its reservation only.
Trying to navigate the website to reserve tickets was a struggle to say the least.
But with the help of Google Translate and some guessing, I managed to get us successfully booked on.
The tour starts with a short 30 minute presentation about Japan Airlines, it’s beginning and general aviation knowledge.
It’s important to note that this was conducted completely in Japanese.
However, the tour guide tried her best to translate important information for us.
Following this, we got to tour the museum part which was full of historical memorabilia of Japan Airlines dating back to when they first started flying.
Then on to the really interesting part – the factory tour!
We got to see their fleet close up and if you’re an aviation buff like me, you’ll be in for a treat.
Luckily for us, during our tour the engineers were testing the emergency slides.
That was a show!
Where to stay in Tokyo?
After our experience at JAL, we headed to Shimokitazawa.
There are so many options of places to stay, depending on budget and where you want to stay in the city.
We stayed at an AirBnB which were plentiful enough that we had a good choice of places.
This idea served us well this time, and I would definitely do it again.
Once in Tokyo we took the Monorail from Haneda Airport into the city, changing trains twice before reaching our AirBnB.
Other than lugging suitcases it was seamless and easy to get around.
Once in our new neighborhood we wasted no time getting acquainted with our new surroundings.
We had read about Izakayas and there were plenty to check out in Shimokitazawa.
After a little exploring in Shimokitazawa town, we decided to grab dinner at one.
What is an izakaya?
An izakaya is a traditional Japanese informal pub, where people go after work for a few drinks.
These places evolved from sake shops as they started to serve bits of food to customers.
You can identify them by the unique red lanterns hanging outside the premises.
We had read up about a restaurant called Shirube we wanted to try and we were really pleased with our choice.
They have low bar style seating that wraps around the kitchen.
There is other seating if you are not keen on keeping an eye on the kitchen.
I was, so this style seating was perfect.
We could watch everything as it was being prepared.
We had sashimi, sushi, shrimp tempura and an amazing tuna tartare with avocado served with garlic bread.
It was so good that we ordered it twice!
The sake was outstanding.
We chose what was called the ‘mystery sake’ it was a nice dry variety served cold, which is always my favorite way to drink sake.
The other two standout meals we had that I also want to mention were at Kokera which had a knack for creating a modern twist to traditional Japanase food.
A deconstructed sushi, a wonderful fish salad, and amazing tempura, all paired with wonderful sake.
This izakaya is definitely worth a visit.
What is sashimi?
Sashimi is slices of raw fish often served with wasabi and soy sauce.
It’s one of the most popular and famous dishes in Japan.
The main difference between sashimi and sushi is the rice.
Sashimi is served without rice whereas sushi is served on a bed of rice.
The really wonderful thing about eating sashimi in Tokyo is the variety of fish you get to try.
They have many seasonal fish here and I’ve tried fish that I’ve never even heard of before!
On our sashimi platter below, you can see that we tried: Maguro (Tuna), Saba (Mackerel), Kanpachi (Yellowtail), Ika (Squid) and Amaebi (Shrimp).
It was delicious!
You really cannot beat the freshness of the fish in Tokyo.
And the other amazing meal was at Totoshigure, another izakaya, where we had equally good food, and I even had fresh oysters that were incredibly delicious and large!
One issue that we experienced in most restaurants here was a lack of English menu.
Some places did have an English menu but you could see that not all dishes were included.
It didn’t worry us though and instead we took to good ol’ fashioned tourist pointing!
I love being able to sit at the counter and watch the oysters and our other food being prepared.
Whether you’re a foodie or not, it’s an enjoyable show!
How to eat oysters
Hopefully the oysters will be delivered to you already open and detached from the shell.
Using your fork, or chopsticks as in this case, swill them about in their own juices in the shell.
Put hot sauce, or vinegar and shallot sauce on them.
Lift them into your mouth wide side first, chew a couple of times and swallow.
We also had an amazing meal at Yazama which is a yakiniku style restaurant, which in Japanese translates as ‘grilled meat’ and that is exactly it is.
You grill your own meat at your table.
These restaurants were derived from Korean style restaurants that popped up in Japan in the mid 1940’s.
We had a nice choice of different cuts of wagyu beef, and enjoyed the whole process, not least of which was eating the deliciously marbled selection of meats.
What is wagyu beef?
Wagyu translates into English as ‘Japanese Cow’ and has a lot of marbled fat, with much finer meat texture than other beef.
This meat is famous for literally melting in your mouth.
We also visited Zakoya, which had one of the best atmospheres.
You felt very much in the thick of it sitting at the counter whilst they prepared food.
And the chefs and staff were really friendly.
Everything here tasted amazing.
One of most favorite dishes had to be the Japanese aubergines.
Dripping in a delicious light broth, they just melted in your mouth.
Just around the corner from here was a wine bar called Hagare that we frequented a few times.
In Amman, things like wine are very expensive due to the high taxes.
So we made the most of having access to delicious wine at a reasonable price again!
One of our aims for this trip was to visit neighborhoods that we hadn’t come across before.
We ideally wanted to stay off the tourist path as best we could.
So we headed over to a little neighborhood called Nakameguro.
The whole area is very interesting to walk around but the crowning glory has to be its picturesque canal.
We had a very leisurely stroll up and down the streets either side, dipping into the quaint shops on offer.
Eventually, when hunger called, we stopped into a a little joint called Taco Fanático.
These were honestly some of the best tacos I’ve had in my entire life.
The care and attention to detail really shone through in the flavors.
What a treat!
They also served some very tasty margaritas.
It can be hard to find that balance between salty and sweet but they hit the nail on the head.
Another neighborhood we checked out was the charmingly old Yanaka.
It has managed to avoid most modernization having been spared during World War 2.
Situated not far from the station was the Tennoji Temple.
This is by far not the largest temple I’ve seen in Tokyo but it was quiet and peaceful.
We were able to appreciate the sereneness usually missed in busier areas.
We took a stroll through one of the cities most famous cemeteries – Yanaka Cemetery.
It was surprisingly beautiful.
You always have negative associations with cemetaries but this felt more like a park.
With lots of gravestones of course.
On the otherside of the cemetary, we walked a little further to find Sushi Noike.
Here we enjoyed a traditional lunch of sushi.
What is sushi?
Early forms of sushi began to appear in Japan around the 8th century.
Originating in Southeast Asia as a method of preserving fish in fermented rice.
The fish would keep for months using this method.
The fermented rice was thrown away and the fish consumed.
The sushi of today evolved as a fast food, allowing people to eat on the go.
It is now uncooked fish served on top of rice, and often dipped in soy sauce.
We had several sushi and sashimi lunches.
On our last day, we tried a conveyor belt restaurant, where the dishes go past your seat on a conveyor.
The plates are different colors that determine the price you pay for that particular bit of sushi or sashimi.
It was a delightful way to have lunch!
Eating and drinking to our heart’s content, sadly our trip came to an end and soon it was back home.
Flying back overnight via Qatar Airways in our Qsuites was a welcome way to travel.
We slept and ate and arrived in Qatar refreshed.
A little duty free shopping and we were back on board RJ for our flight to Amman.