A sunny Saturday in the nether regions of Tokyo.
We awake on our first morning in Tokyo to find a rippa view from our hotel. And an even better view down the corridor: a booze vending machine and free ice. Now this is civilization.
A morning caffeine hit at chain Cafe Veloce. It's ok but at around $3.50 for a crappee au lait we decide to invest in a jar of Nescafe for the morning jolt, save the coffee shops for morning\afternoon tea. Coffee shops are much more than a novelty in Japan, an essential place for a little bit of personal space and quiet-time. The smoking sections can be as pleasant as an airport smoker's lounge.
We hit the streets in search of breakfast. Saturday morning the feeling is a bit more casual than the rushed work day, and a lot of places are either closed or open later.
Now that's breakfast! Sausage, eggs and fried pork cutlet in curry - these gals are powering on it.
This is more like it - a noodle soup is one of the word's most underrated breakfasts.
Order using the vending machine and give the ticket to the nice, invisible man behind the counter. Sometimes the vendos have pictures to make it easier. In this case there was a lovely, lovely, lovely staff lady who helped us out.
Noodles with tempura veggies - 350 yen. Noodles are dunked in the sauce. When finished dilute the dipping sauce with hot broth from the little red pot to make a soup. Delicious and ingenious.
Noodles with sweet burn curd 320 yen.
Tiny weenie little umeboshi plums and Japanese leeks for extra toppings. They prefer to use the white part here, something we saw varied around the place form the usual green tops.
We do the tourist thing. And go up a big pointy building to look at other pointy buildings. The free ride to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building is worth every cent.
A homeless dude's pussy posse. They're well loved and cared for but less than impressed with being tied up. Poor pussycats.
We jump on a random bus with no idea where it's going just to see where we end up...
A random bus trip turns out to be a great way to see the city and it only cost a couple of bucks. Kabukicho looks a little less grungy in the daytime.
You see heaps more tops old ladies on the bus.
We get off at Mejiro Station cause it's groovy, and it looks like there might be some interesting places to eat.
Mejiro turns out to be an upmarket neighbourhood, it even has trees, as well as the odd Mercedes and ladies-who-lunch.
We choose a random diner style joint for lunch.
It's not a gourmet joint but is a clean, comfy place to take some time out. You call the wait staff by pressing a button on the wall, it makes a super terrific happy sound. The piped music sounded like the incidental piano music from 'Here's Humphrey'.
The menu features just about anything you could want - ramen, beer, gyoza, fried tasty morsels, even some vegetables.
A side of hot, salty broadbeans - 160 yen. You suck the soft squishy insides out and leave the tough exterior behind.
A side of fried squid with mayo and grated veg - 290 yen. Simple and well cooked, bargain. Alison learnt not to shove squid tentacles down her mouth spindly legs first - they tickle the back of your throat in a weird way.
Shio ramen - 390 yen. Light and simple, not a mind blower but it's refreshing and a great deal for five bucks.
Ramen with spicy minced meat and a poached googie - 490 yen. We soon learn that you can get just about anything with a bit of bolognaise sauce on it, bloody tops.
In a supermarket we discover this magic invention - potato chip tongs, essential for the thinking executive.
We wander around getting slightly lost, enjoying the backstreets of Tokyo. Vending machines are everywhere.
This is pretty much what Japan looks like, in our minds at least: midrise sprawl and train tracks.
Urbanity getting you down Johnny?
Then grab yourself a saki bong! Popper for grown-ups. Skoll one of these for an enjoyable train ride back to Shinjuku. Available at supermarkets and convenience stores everywhere, around 100 yen.
Back in Shinjuki we spy the infamous piss alley.
Piss alley is a collection of ramshackle bars and eating houses. Apparently it's earmarked for demolition so we're very happy to find it.
Shawn suggests this bar but Alison thinks not.
We settle on this joint, it's busy and happy. It looks a bit blokey but actually it's a place for everybody. We shared our space with some lovely well-to-do ladies in their Sunday finery and fancy hair dos. One lovely lady in her tennis whites pulled up a pew next to us and ordered a shoyu ramen, telling us this place was famous for ramen, as well as fried tofu. The blokes in charge are kurt but polite. It's a sheer joy watching them cook.
We settle in for an afternoon of hard research, just for you.
Once again we order by pointing at other punter's dishes to order. This slightly pickled eggpant is sensational, not overly salty and you can still taste the fresh veggies. Served with a dollop of hot mustard. So simple, yet perfectly prepared. We had a version of this at Menya Oiden back in Sydney but this is lightyears apart.
Yakko - a block of chilled tofu with grated ginger, bonito flakes and finely chopped spring onion.
Many of these bars have a house stew, we love them. These taste very western, like mum's beef stew. This one features lots of konnyaku (or devils tongue jelly) and burdock root.
See, even posh ladies like piss alley, bring the kids!
More piss alley...
More piss alley...
More piss alley...
More piss alley...
We head home ensuring we don't have any elephants upon our persons.
We hit Shinjuku again later for a light snack.
It's lady's day at Burger King, how romantic.
This one has us stumped...
We stumble upon some real Japanese street food. This guy sets up his one man street stand in front of the bus shelter, ready for some hungry travellers.
Ramen, a clear soy broth, simple, old skool and refreshing. This one seems quite the Tokyo style.
The master at work. He has everything close by, even a little generator to turn on the lights.
Optional oden extras.
We reckon if we breath in we can squeeze in something from McDonalds, but there's nothing exciting on the menu. Screw you Ronald. On our first visit to Japan McDonalds was making amazing hot cinnamon scrolls but they're long gone.
We love Japan.