Day 2 started out with us getting French pastries in a cute little bakery. The baker is French and originally started in France. Japanese breakfast didn’t seem to fit our appetite. My favorite was the little cube cookies that melted in your mouth. Unfortunately, the store has closed all its Tokyo locations :(, but maybe you can visit them on your next trip to France?
After we went to Maricar, which is a company that basically recreates Mario Kart, but in the streets of Tokyo! You need a International driver’s permit though. It cost us ~$20 and you can find your closest location here. You got to dress up as your favorite Mario Kart character, or other random cartoon/Japanese characters. We drove through the streets of Ginza, across a highway, and got to see sights like the Tokyo Tower (below) and Skytree Mall, along with some historical parts like Asakusa. We stopped at a park midway through and took a group picture — they later gave everyone a print as a thank you!
Driving at 60 kilometers an hour in a small go-cart is super fun. Especially when you’re alongside cars on the highway. People would stop and stare, wave, and take pictures. We would wave back and do the Asian peace sign. I think our drive was 3 hours long and we went to the Akihabara #1 location, as it had the best sights we felt. Along the way, we took some pictures with our iphones, but we didn’t need to.
The 3 employees who accompanied us (always one or two in front and back, so we would never get separated from them) took pictures for us. They would get out of their cars at long traffic stops and take pictures of us. At the end, since everyone had an iPhone, the MariCar employees airdropped the pictures to us. They were super nice and we had so much fun — I can see why they’re rated 5 stars on Tripadvsior.
After our adventure, we needed some delicious ramen. If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with Tonkotsu ramen. I could really eat it every meal forever. It’s pork broth with a bit of chicken fatback. Unfortunately, it takes 20+ hours to make the broth and that’s a bit too long for me to handle. The fancy ramen places in the US charge $12 + tax + tip for a bowl. Fortunately, literally every Tonkotsu ramen place in Tokyo was delicious. We tried to pinpoint a place on Yelp with high reviews and found a place that had it with Mentaiko included! I was in heaven. I don’t remember what the place was called… If I get really rich one day, I’d like to bring it to the US. I feel like it would do really well. But mostly, so I could eat it everyday.
In the afternoon, we journeyed to find a maid cafe. Kind of a weird concept outside of Japan. In the street there are maids, ninjas, and other characters who dress up and try to entice you into going to their cafe. The concept isn’t dirty and I wanted to go (I’m an Asian woman). There aren’t any pictures allowed though, but this one guy has a good video inside the cafe (and Maricar!). You walk in and choose a bunch of cute food, and you also get a picture with the maid, and a song by her. Imagine a really cute anime character walking around, all happy. She sang this song for us: Maid Dreamin’. No clue what it meant, but it was adorable, and we sang this song randomly throughout the entire trip. We also took a polaroid picture with her, where she drew a bunch of hearts.
We did find out a shop had opened in NYC for a bit as a popup shop, but it seemed creepy to go visit from the press coverage.
At night, we decided to head to Yakitori Alley to get some skewers. They were pretty delicious for a few dollars a skewer. The alley is small and only a few hundred feet, so circle back to find your favorite looking place. They all served pretty much the same kinds of skewers though.
After Yakitori, we hit the hay as soon as we got in the door. In the morning, we set out to visit Harajuku and the surrounding historical area. We decided to start off with a Western breakfast at Bill’s and then going to a small cafe called Gram with the world’s fluffiest and jiggliest pancakes. So good! Beware that they only serve pancakes 3x a day and they’re limited to 20 people per serving. So if you’re really gung-ho about getting them, be sure to get tickets on time!
After the meal, we checked out Harajuku. It’s basically one street that sells the cutest things in Japan. The dress style was totally different from what you’d see in Shinjuku. We wandered off to the Meiji Shrine after, as it was literally across the street.
The Meiji Shrine was constructed to honor Emperor Meiji, who changed Japan from an isolationist country to a more capitalist society that became a major world power. We walked through the Torii gate first. The Torii is a traditional gate in Japanese shrines that symbolize a passing from normal to sacred ground. We passed by brightly colored sake, which is a form of Japanese alcohol, barrels that were covered with cloth and decoration on our way to the shrine. They’re donated each year by sake companies who wish to honor Emperor Meiji. Prior to entering the shrine, you needed to cleanse your hands and mouth to become more pure.
Afterwards we walked around 15 minutes to Shibuya, where we stopped at Book Off, a book store with mostly Japanese books, though it did have a bunch of interesting American books for $3-$4 each. I ended up buying 3 I think. What? I love books. Through another consignment store I picked up a Chanel wallet for $50 to resell back in America. It always fascinates me that the prices of luxury goods in Japan are so much lower than they are in America. Apparently in Japanese society, adults gift luxury items to their kids when they turn 18. I guess it depresses the price there since there are so in demand? Why no arb then between Japan and the US? Perhaps tax reasons if we ship the items back and forth.
After visiting the bookstore and consignment store, we stopped and noticed an Ikinari, which is a Japanese steak-house where you can only stand. We had eaten at the NYC location previously (they do have a few sit-down seats there) so thought it was fun to see the original place! Rotary sushi was the winner, because when in Japan, right? We went to Kaiten Zushi Katsu, which was on the 8th floor of a popular department store in Shibuya and then felt a bit bad because this one rotary sushi place had a line wrapped around the floor with chairs lined up against the wall (really nice of them to set out chairs!) while no one else had any business. We were told the wait would be 2 hours, but we didn’t feel like it would be that long and had our books from Book Off. Sure enough, it was only 20 min.
Rotary sushi in Japan is usually characterized by free green tea with a little spigot at your seat, along with a giant conveyer belt with different colored plates. Each plate corresponds with a dollar amount. For example: Red = $1, Blue = $2, Gold = $5, etc. The secret is sitting next to a sushi chef and asking filling in the order paper with your order. That way he makes them for you FRESH. Also, the things on the conveyer belt are the most eaten, but they might not be the best. Get the Otoro, Mackerel, Uni (an acquired taste according to my non-Asian friends), Ikura and Yellowtail. So good. At the end, they had a electronic wand that scanned the stack of plates. How high-tech! I imagine there are RFID chips in each plate. The dinner cost us $15 each — I don’t really remember, but I think USDJPY was 120 at the time. This rotary sushi beat some of the $60-$80 each omakase dinners in NYC. Fresh is where it is at!
The next morning we headed off to Ichiran to try out the ramen! We had been to the Brooklyn one in NYC and didn’t like it very much compared to the other Tonkotsu places in NYC. Turns out, Ichiran is amazing in Tokyo. Not sure what is different about the Brooklyn one — maybe they are shipping the food across the ocean and it doesn’t travel well?
If you’ve never been to Ichiran, it’s a pretty interesting experience. First, there are no waiters to take your order. You pay with cash through a vending machine and take the tickets to your seat. You are handed an order form where you can chose your noodle texture, broth richness, spiciness level, garlic level, etc. and then you hand the sheet and ticket to a headless person. Everyone sits in a one-seat little booth where you are left to experience your ramen in silence. I guess it enriches the experience when you’re just focused on the broth, and you eat faster because you’re not talking to other people.
SHEER. DELICIOUSNESS. It was only $10 unlike the $18 I spent in Brooklyn (no tipping place, but rent wasn’t that expensive there, c’mon). I miss it already. In case you are wondering the black slices are kikurage (woodear mushrooms) and they’re good for your health!
After breakfast at Ichiran (24 hours!) we headed off to Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.