Rice House Hopping in Tokyo

On our second day in Tokyo, it rained. Frankly, we weren’t disappointed, because we didn’t book the trip hoping for sunshine and beach time. We really wanted to dive into the insanity of Tokyo, a feat that could be accomplished rain or shine. That said, some of the activities we had planned for the day did involve outside time, and while we still did a clipped down version of the day, I didn’t take as many photos (wet DSLR make Ali sad) and we definitely spent the majority of our time hanging indoors.We started the day by hopping on the metro and heading over to Harajuku. Harajuku is a district in Shibuya known for youth fashion, and it’s the hub of ‘kawaii’ (cute) culture in Tokyo. There are funky vintage stores, adorable candy shops, hedgehog cafes (where yes, you can snuggle little hedgehogs!), karaoke bars, and lots of cool independent boutiques. The heart of the madness can be found on Takeshita Street, which is lined with an overload kawaii. We popped in and out of shops, dodging umbrellas, and ultimately decided to come back at a later time after almost losing an eye one too many times to a pesky umbrella! So we wandered over to an OWL CAFE (!!!!) where we drank warm tea and mingled with some majestic birds. More on our owl adventure in my next post!!

After all of the umbrella dodging and owl cuddling, we were famished. So we stopped at Matsubara An for lunch. Inconspicuously tucked away on the fourth floor of a corporate building, Kamakura Matsubara-an Keyaki has wonderful views of Harajuku and an even better lunch menu!Upon arrival, Amie and I were asked to take our shoes off at the door. Our jackets were whisked away, and we were shown to cozy spot at the sushi bar. The ideal table for curious and hungry eyes! We both sprung for the lunch special, which included a beer, tea, a small tasting plate of seafood starters (below) . . . . . . and a steaming bowl of soba and tempura! And a cute, sweet black bean dessert.Lunch was epic, and it was the perfect amount to feel satisfied, but not stuffed.

After lunch, the rain had picked up, so we ducked into Island Vintage Coffee for a drink while we waited for the rain to die down. Dazzled by my crazy coffee the day before, I splurged on the Hawaiian Honey Latte, which was okay, but didn’t quite stack up to the brew at Sarutahiko Coffee (where Amie and I wound up going back to four more times on the trip!!)Once it stopped raining, we ventured out once again. While in Shibuya, Amie and I knew we had to check out Shibuya Crossing – the world’s busiest crossing.  From the ground, it was chaotic, but unimpressive. So we headed up into an adjacent Starbucks, where we were treated to a manic arial view. It was insanity!

We ended the day at the Nezu Museum, followed by dinner at Kaikaya by By the Sea. An outstanding dining experience and a really lovely museum. Both of which I will tell you about in the comings posts :) For now, here’s a little sneak peek:On day three in Tokyo, Amie and I ventured to a few new neighborhoods: Mitaka, Minato, and Daikanyama (in Shibuya). However, we started out with a beautiful coffee concoction from my favorite, Sarutahiko Coffee. This time around I got the matcha latte, which was just as life altering as the rose-strawberry! Almost too pretty to drink!Sarutahiko Coffee is located at the entrance of Beams, one of the coolest concept stores we visited in Tokyo. This place is definitely worth a gander if you want to pick up some quality souvenirs or a hip Japanese fashion item for yourself.Amie and I found ourselves wandering through the many floors of Beams multiple times on our trip!After our coffee, we hopped onto the metro and headed south, once again towards Shibuya. We got off at Daikan-Yama Station, and walked to Isshin Rice House for our second rice house lunch of the trip. The menu concept at Isshin was simple – select a main dish, and it will be served with rice, miso soup, Japanese pickles, and two small sides. Mains ranged from grilled fish to sashimi to tempura.I was a fatty and went for the sashimi AND tempura plate. After having the best tempura of my life the day before (a food I would have sworn I didn’t even LIKE before coming to Japan!) I knew I had to try it all!And I did not regret that decision one bit!If you’re not a seafood person, look away now . . . but wow. The beauty!The tempura in Japan is delicious AND a work of art.We finished the meal with a creamy, petit serving of creme brulee. My all time French favorite, somehow perfected and even better in Japan!When we left, the Isshin was empty! But it had been FULL upon our arrival, and we loved watching the lunch rush wave in and out over the course of our meal. I didn’t take a ton of additional photos that day, as we were mostly shopping, and I hate to take photos in stores without asking first – and the language barrier in Japan made that a bit tricky!

But here are some places we stopped at that I would recommend:

Mitaka – Hara Donuts Kichijōji Shop
Great donuts :)

Mitaka – IORI Concept Store 伊織 吉祥寺店 
Adorable concept store!

Mitaka – Ghibli Museum
The Ghibli Museum is a museum showcasing the work of the Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli. It is located in Inokashira Park in Mitaka, a western city of Tokyo, Japan. Make sure you book tickets online, well in advance of your trip!

Mitaka – Parco Kichijōji
An ENDLSS department store with all kinds of knick-knacks.

Mitaka – Inokashira-Koen
Park where you can rent swan boats :)

Daikanyama Tsutaya Bookstore
A crazy cool concept bookstore where we found my Amsterdam Hunt Guide all the way in Japan!!

Saturdays NYC Tokyo
Cool surf store to stop by for coffee and terrace out back.

Bonjour Records
A great record store to browse through.

Maison Kitsuné Daikanyama
Hip and minimal clothing store.

My recommendation is to start at Isshin for lunch, and then head south to the canal (where you can see see some fantastic cherry blossoms in the spring!!) and wander in and out of the upscale concept stores along the canal!

After our full day of shopping and gobbling up sashimi, Amie and I decided to get even more local and hit up an Onsen. Onsen is a Japanese hot spring. As a volcanically active territory, Japan has thousands of onsens scattered throughout the country! In addition the price of admission, you must get naked with a bunch of old Japanese ladies. Amie and I were dubious about the whole thing (we knew the language barrier and the completely foreign custom would make for a humorous experience!) but having already had some nudie spa experiences in Turkey on prior trips, we decided . . . when in Rome!!

Tokyo Somei Onsen is a modern spa with indoor hot-spring baths, a sauna, and a Japanese cafe. It wasn’t too far from our hotel, so after a long day of shopping, we got a cab over to the Onsen and then . . . got naked!! We dipped in and out of spas, giggling at how insane and antiquated the whole experience seemed.

When we first checked in, we were given a locker where we packed away our clothing. Before entering the spa, we had to walk through a large bathing area with small, individual faucets, each set neatly with a low stool and wooden wash bucket. We weren’t allowed into the hot springs until we had bathed, so we sat – buck naked – on little stools with all of the other naked Japanese ladies and scrubbed away! Then, we wandered into the onsen, where we scurried from steam room to hot spring, mingling amongst the nude locals! It was a crazy experience, which we ended with a filling meal and a cold beer at the onsen’s cafe, to reward ourselves for doing something so far out of our comfort zones!!On our way home, we hit up the local 7/11 where we got Japanese candy and snacks to devour in our hotel room. Rice houses, shopping, naked spas and snacks – what a crazy ride in Japan so far!!

xo Ali

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