Japan, day 1

After leaving Shanghai, I flew to Tokyo, Japan for 10 days of learning, sightseeing, and, of course, eating.

This was the first photo I snapped in Japan, travelling from Narita Airport to Shinjuku, where I would be staying. Narita is about two hours from Tokyo and a shuttle bus is about $30 per person.

When the shuttle bus was pulling away from the airport, I saw the attendants all stop and do a perfect bow. I knew Japan was a polite country before coming here but would still be surprised by the efforts people went to.

I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Tokyo, a short walk from Shinjuku Station. It’s an older, but well-maintained hotel, with Japanese touches such as folded yukata for wearing in the hotel and heated toilet seats. (I actually forgot that heated toilet seats are common here so it was a very nice surprise to experience them for the first time.)

I really like the nightly tasting menus served in Hyatt Club Lounges because of how they incorporate the cuisine of whatever country that hotel is in and add a modern twist, making the food unique and interesting. The scallop in beet puree in the lower right-hand corner of the picture above was memorable. However, from several past experiences, I am pretty sure Hyatt Club Lounges serve frozen food at night, meaning these dishes aren’t as high quality as they could be. Also, the creativity used in preparation and presentation means this food isn’t authentic – while it’s inspired by a culture’s cuisine, it’s not representative of it.

For authentic, I headed out into Shinjuku’s noisy nightlife to look for an izakaya, where I had yaki onigiri for the first time. Izakaya are casual gastropubs open into the night (Japanese office workers work late) and are stuffed with the work crowd even at 10 pm.

Yaki onigiri are grilled rice balls. Yaki means grill (yakitori is grilled chicken, yakisoba is grilled noodles, etc.) and onigiri (or omusubi) are cooked rice shaped into single-serve balls that fit in one hand. They are usually triangular, although other shapes are seen. All you need for onigiri is rice, but you can also fill it with things like umeboshi (preserved sour plum) and fish. They can also be wrapped in seaweed.

The company which dubbed Pokemon for English-speaking audiences was not sure American children would understand rice balls so they dubbed them as jelly donuts. In this clip, you can see the characters eating “jelly donuts” which are white triangles with black squares on them.

Back to non-cartoon food. The yellow thing in the back of the yaki onigiri is a warmed hand towel. The yellow things on the plate are pickled daikon radish. The yaki onigiri is brown because it had soy sauce applied to it.

The white bundle in the top of this photo is finely grated fresh daikon radish. It came on the side of my order of tamagoyaki, Japanese rolled omelette.

Sometimes tamagoyaki is sweetened and sometimes it isn’t. I’m used to the cold yellow slabs which come on tamago sushi so I asked for it to be sweetened. This was my first time having freshly made tamagoyaki by someone other than myself. It was looser than the tamago sushi I’m used to, and warm.

Sashimi also made an appearance. Everything on this plate is edible – the white shavings (daikon), the leaves (shiso leaves, which are slightly spicy), and the seaweed on the side. I don’t think I’ve seen seaweed served with sashimi before.

Much more eating was to come. Surprisingly, I didn’t gain any weight during this trip.

 

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