The Kiyomizu-dera temple overlooking Kyoto.
Japan can be a land of great culinary adventures. Japanese cuisine is so distinctive and unique that you should absolutely experience an authentic Japanese dish while in country. Here are seven recommendations.
If there’s any food in Japan that is unmistakably Japanese, it is sushi. This rice roll with different types of fillings can be considered Japan’s national dish because it represents Japan in the culinary world. Forget about California rolls, sushi in Japan is different and you will find sushi types that you haven’t seen before.
Curry is a dish that you can find in many places but Japanese curry has a taste that is quite unique. There is a smokiness and sweetness to Japanese curry that makes it stand out. Try out their curry rice and many curry variants.
While not really a food but a liquor, Sake is nevertheless crucial in experiencing Japan through your taste buds. Sake is a rice based wine that, depending on the season, is served chilled, in room temperature or heated. This alcoholic beverage is the traditional drink for ceremonies and other celebrations.
Traditional desserts in Japan can be great unique experience. One of the more popular desserts is manju, a sweet bun made from flour, rice flour and buckwheat and with a delicious filling of red bean paste. The red bean paste is made from azuki beans and sugar. Other fillings are also put in the manju like orange cream fruit fillings. Sometimes the manju itself is flavored.
This food is not for those with delicate stomachs. Natto is fermenting bean paste that has a rotten smell. This food is usually eaten during breakfast. It may smell bad but many people say that it actually tastes quite good. A good tip when eating natto is to just eat it quickly before the smell gets in the way.
The Japanese love noodles. Some people may say that you should try eating yakisoba, which is fried noodles. Yakisoba is indeed very tasty but for a wonderful noodle experience nothing can beat eating ramen. Ramen is noodles in soup. There are many variations of this popular dish, starting with the soup itself. For example, you can get a soy based, miso based, or salt based. Then you get different toppings depending on where you eat it.
Each prefecture, or region, actually has its own variation of ramen, which makes traveling to these places all the more exciting because you get to eat a regional ramen specialty.
Three Tokyo videos. Found on Alexandre Gervais’ blog.
The cherry blossom season, the most beautiful time in Japan.
Tokyo at night.
Little did I know that Tokyo could be this serene.
In today’s interview, the Swedish freelance writer Linda Iliste shares her travel tips and experiences from the Japanese capital.
Specialized in travel, cultural phenomenon and human right’s issues, Linda has written for various Swedish newspapers and magazines as well as international development organizations such as ActionAid. Linda currently resides in Stockholm, Sweden. In the summer of 2008 she will return to her former hometown of Tokyo, Japan.
Erica Johansson: When did you first travel to Tokyo and how come you decided to live and work there?
Linda Iliste: I initially came to Tokyo in June 2006. The reason for this – other than a previous interest in Japan and Japanese culture and a strong desire to go there – was that my boyfriend, Andreas, was granted a spot for his master’s thesis at Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo. To stay in Sweden when he moved to Japan seemed down right stupid. So two months after he left Stockholm I also went.
For someone who has never been to Tokyo before, can you recommend any must-see attractions?
Tokyo is the world’s largest city, with a total of 35 million inhabitants, so it’s not easy thing to do to recommend certain “musts” that are written in stone. There are just so many of them!
But the districts of Ginza, Shibuya, Harajuku and Akihabara are, in my opinion, without similarities anywhere in the world. Just being there, taking in all the sights, the people, the shops, the atmosphere, is well worth a trip! Any visitor should try bathing at a onsen (hot spring), watch the city from one of its many skybars (for example New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo in Shinjuku) and sing karaoke in a themed booth (for example in the Candy Suite at Lovenet, Hotel Ibis 3F-4F, 7-14-4 Roppongi, http://www.lovenet-jp.com). Also, The Studio Ghibli Museum, featuring the animated work of Hayao Myazaki and Studio Ghibli, in the western suburb of Mitaka (1-1-83 Simorenjaku, Mitaka-shi) is fantastic!
Apparently Tokyo is a great city for people who like karaoke bars, have you ever been to any? If so, which one is your favourite?
As almost already mentioned, karaoke is BIG in Japan. You can hardly say that you’ve been to Japan if you haven’t sung in a karaoke booth before you leave… There are a lot of chains operating around almost any Japanese city. At most places you rent a room by the hour and free drinks are included. A favourite is the already mentioned Lovenet, but I also really like Karaoke Kan in Shibuya (K&F Building, 30-8 Utagawacho, Shibuya-ku) where you can pretend to be Bill Murray and sing “More than this” in room 601 or 602 as he did in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 movie Lost in Translation.
How much Japanese do you know? How easy is it really to only talk English in Japan?
My Japanese is very basic, hardly even that. What little I’ve learned, I’ve learned being in Japan and having no choice but to try and pick up some of the language to be able to get by. So no, it’s very hard to get around only on English. Most Japanese people, even the younger generation, have a very poor knowledge in English. So if you don’t speak any Japanese you’ll have to – in most cases – depend on body language, pointing and your own good luck. Fortunately Japanese people are extremely friendly and will almost always try their best to help you out. And at places like train stations, signs are often in English.
I’m a vegetarian and love to discover new restaurants. Do you know any good vegetarian (or vegan) restaurants in Tokyo?
I’m also a vegetarian and sometimes that can be hard, even in big cities like Tokyo. The Japanese kitchen isn’t exactly based on meat, but a lot of fish. A lot. In almost everything. On the other hand, healthy wonder stuff like soybeans are everyday ingredients – dairy is not – so once you get past the immediate difficulties even a vegan can find the Japanese capital to be a culinary paradise. My best tips in Tokyo are…
The chain of Ootoya which can be found in over 100 places around Tokyo. Their interior design leaves much to be desired, but their fried tofu is heavenly!
At 3F, 4-27-15 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku you’ll find Cafe 8, a trendy hotspot which serves vegetarian (an a lot of vegan) food.
The Pink Cow, at B1 Villa Moderna, 1-13-18 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, is another restaurant which mixes vegetarian food with various art displays.
Aoyama’s very posh, very vegan Brown Rice Café (5-1-17 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku) is lovely!
Check out http://www.vegietokyo.com/ for more tips!
(If you head out to Kyoto the local kitchen is actually very vegetarian friendly!)
Which is your favorite area in Tokyo?
My favourite area in Tokyo… Wow, hard question!
I really like the backstreets of Harajuku. Yes, they’ve been written and sung about again and again – but hey, they are composed of an impeccable charm that the hype can’t rub out of it. I love to hang out around Odaiba at night, sitting in the grass with bare feet eating sushi and drinking Asahi beer, watching the sun set on the magnificent Tokyo skyline on the other side of the bay. Another favourite spot is the delightful suburb of Shinkoiwa which is buzzing with genuine Japanese life and commerce amongst the low houses and narrow streets.
I read on your blog Tokyo - A lovestory… that you will return to Tokyo in June, how does that feel?
To be returning to Tokyo feels amazing! I don’t even think I’ve really understood it yet. Soon we’ll begin searching for an apartment which feels very exciting. Last time we lived in Tokyo we shared a small flat in Nihonbashi, between the districts of Ginza and Akihabara. We love that part of the city but this time around I would really like to try out living in Hiroo or Shibuya.
Don’t miss Linda’s blog Tokyo – A lovestory… (Japan Madness and Tokyo Radness). Even if you don’t know any Swedish, head over to the blog and look at the pictures. I couldn’t help but laugh at these guys’ funny photo poses.