03 November 2011

Tokyo Tour Day 4 - Minowa, Asakusa, Odaiba, Shimbashi, Piss Alley

Udon-bog, old man ramen, rissole sandwiches, pussycats and more romance in piss alley.

Good morning Shinjuku! We're out the door before 9am which is a holiday record for us. Shawn had planned on daybreak photography walks, but hadn't planned on the beer vending machine outside his room...

The masses are walking the other way, every morning we walk against the tide of office workers.

Golly, that's something you wouldn't see back home...

After walking around the whole of the south and east side of Shinjuku station, we find this noodle place at the edge of the Kabukicho, the naughty part of town. In the morning, there's not a lot else going on.

Finding menus in English and pictures means we'll have no problems ordering. Will it be noodles, noodles, or noodles? I also think they are making it clear there is no table service, it's get your own.

Like most of the noodle places we have been to, its a Woolies cafeteria style slide the tray along and fill up on deep fried goodies and noodles of your choice. It's just like the wonderful Menya Mappen in Sydney.

Shawn chooses plain udon with grated yam and a poached egg. Load up on tempura sprinkles and green onion at the end. The udon noodles are sensational: flat and thick with plenty of chew. We saw many places making them onsite.

Fried pumpkin pieces 90yen, little sushi pockets 60yen. The fried pieces are great to dip into the eggy goodness left behind at the bottom of the bowl.

Mince and poached egg on udon - Japanese Spag bog. Not exactly a heart tick breakfast, but it hits the spot. In our travels we noticed bolognaise sauce is hugely popular.

Travellers can't live on noodles alone and we need a coffee fix. For our next breakfast we head to Choco Cro, which as readers of this blog will by now know is our favourite coffee joint in Japan. The pastries here are good quality and the coffee is cheap and nowhere near as bad as Detour.

This eggie pastry is Alison's favourite, but there's already been one egg down the hatch today.

So instead we extend our heart foundation approved breakfast feasting and have French toast.

We decide today to head out to Asakusa via Minowa, the suburb we stayed in on our last trip to Tokyo. Then it was a cold November, and the place was grey and miserable. Today its...grey and miserable. The building above is where Alison chucked her guts after a big night on the turps seeing a Japanese blues band in Ueno, much to the disgust of the locals. Sir Les Patterson would be proud.

Most backpacker hostels in Tokyo are outside the main train lines in suburbs like this. Our tip to avoid the suburban blues is to find a good cheap business hotel or apartment closer to the action, they are often as cheap as a hostel room for two.

Minowa does have some charms. The wide main drag was perfect for cycling, no matter how old you are. It was quiet, there are a few interesting shrines nearby and you can walk to Asakusa.

Mind your poos and wees, please.

Heading closer to Asakusa there were small suburban vegetable stores, no big supermarkets seem to have crept in around here.

I am not here, you can't see me.

Asakusa is a suburb that still maintains some old world Edo charm, including girlie bars. Looks like Miss Piggy has opened a nightclub here.

The backstreets in the day are slow and quiet. We sensed at night this area puts on its make up and party pants and changes into a humming little strip.

The long covered shopping strip sends you through to the big Shrine.

We retrace some steps from our last trip in 2008 to find a noodle bar we loved. The photo makes the joint look far more modern than it does in real life. The joint looks like it had been here thirty years or so more, and so did the customers and the old man behind the counter.

The vending machine makes the ordering simpler, as long as you can read Japanese characters. It becomes the matching game you played as a kid. We take a guess, and at least the choice is limited.

Noodles from a old time chef in a resto full of old time customers. Simple shoyu broth, small piece of pork and a few bean sprouts and nori. This is fast becoming Shawn's preferred ramen. He was once obsessed with thick, rich tonkotsu (pork bone ) style ramen, but tonkotsu is too full-on to eat every day, these lighter styles are becoming the new fave.

The old man must have been making ramen for decades but still used a timer so the noodles are cooked perfectly with just the right amount of chew. It's this sort of attention to detail that defines Japanese cuisine. Even the simplest dishes cooked in the lowliest of franchise stores by pimply teenagers are cooked very, very well.

A gyoza snack on the side, freshly cooked on a hotplate, tasty with some greens and pork inside.

The souvenir stalls outside the shrine are packed with tourists, mostly Japanese. Autumn is here and its time to buy presents.

Down toward the river Asakusa loses its old world charm and becomes like just another town.

We head over to find the Asahi building thinking there might be beer and all we find are boiled sausages. Doesn't it look delicious?

We decide to get the boat to Odaiba thinking a river cruise down the Showa river would be nice. The day starts getting drizzly and the nice option starts to fade. Looking for the cheap ferry option we pass through a mass of old men who seem to be waiting for something. It's not the ferry - it doesn't run on Mondays. Yet another mystery...

After booking a ticket on the more expensive ferry (1500 yen is a lot for a half hour boat ride) there's time for more snacking. The Daily Yamizake (like a 7-11) reveals the glory of tonkotsu white bread sandwiches to us at 140yen. We quickly become fanatics.

The perfect marriage - breaded pork cutlet, brown sauce and white soft bread. They remind us of the rissole sandwiches with tomato sauce we had as kids.

After restraining ourselves from heading back and getting another sandwich, we go back down to the covered shopping mall to while away some time before the ferry comes.

These rice crackers are made fresh on the spot, dipped in soy and handed over to eat straight away. Definitely number one.

50 yen for a plain one and 80 yen for a sesame one. Sure beats Sakata in a box.

Fan photos for seventies stars. Love the hair and suit. This shop was full of them.

One last snack before the ferry. While standing waiting outside this shop a dapper old man sidles up to us (with a slight tinge of plum wine on his breath) and tells us the name of this shop translates to ship and that it had been here making sweets for over 200 years. No need for any further encouragement.

The first specialty is a little pancake, made fresh and filled with red bean paste and a dollop of green tea ice cream.

Their most famous specialty (every shrine or special town seems to have one) is a sweet potato and sugar sweet, kind of like fudge. Sweet potato becomes a recurring sweet treat on this trip after this taste.

Time to get on the ferry. Designed by a famous Manga artist, they failed to design an interior where you faced out to the windows. Our seat left us looking inwards at the other passengers or twisted at a strange angle to look at the bridges we passed under and buildings we passed by. After all those snacks, Shawn had a little kip and missed most of it anyway.

Arriving at Odaiba its raining and we head inside. Strangest find appears to be the Tokyo outlet of bills. It's stuck in a mall kind of like a DFO or the boring side of Darling Harbour. Many of the shops are closed and the place is a bit of a morgue, nothing like the glamour of Shibuya or Double Bay or cool of Harajuku or Darlinghurst. We debate if we should go in and try it, but decide we're not here to eat overpriced scrambled eggs. We're here to see pussycats!

The Nyan de Cafe is like many cat cafes in Tokyo. We had been to the Tokyu Hands Nekobekuro before, but this one was much better. One whole hour of patting cats, and Monday is Ladies day so its half price for Alison. And you get a free drink. Joy!

The cats are well looked after and don't seem to mind the attention. They have lots of hidey holes to crawl into if they want to clock off the patting roster, or they can just sit there and enjoy.

Am I patting the right end?

After heading back on the train (much cheaper than the boat and a spectacular trip across the Rainbow Bridge) we get off at the end of the line and find ourselves back in Shimbashi. It's time to eat.

At 5.00 pm here are a few places starting to open up for the evening, and we are welcomed into this little place with smiles.

A couple of shochu's are ordered - lemon and umeboshi plum. You smoosh up the plum into the bottom of the glass and the soda and spirit become infused with the sour plum taste.

In this bar, everybody knows your name. Or at least the name that's written on your own personal bottle which you can leave behind and drink as you will when you return. Don't forget to add pictures of your dog to remind you to go home.

I think they like dogs here.

We start with some grilled skewers, pork meat and tongue, half in soy and half in salt at 130 yen each.

Really have to learn some characters for next time. Probably by then an app will be invented and we can just scan over it. Until then, the helpful little pictures of pigs and cows will have to do. We realise our Japanese language skills are about the level of a two year old - yes, no, gimme.

One sign we could make out was for a fish (because it had a picture of a fish on it). It was for grilled samma, and we ordered in a flash.

The chef sprinkled the fresh fish with salt and popped it on the charcoal grilled and really fanned the flames up.

The result is a tasty crispy skinned fish served with grated radish and lime. Add a little soy to taste.

The fish flesh is easy to pull off from the bones.

Using the When Harry Met Sally method of ordering (I'll have what she's having) we order a bubbling hotpot.

Pork, mushroom, chives, tofu, grated carrot, tomatoes and chilli on top. Italian in flavour with a little Japanese twist and great with a few more beers.

Back home to Shinjuku with the hoards.

We head back to Piss Alley for some more beers and food.

There's so many places to try but the best ones seem to be full, isn't it always the way? So we walk along and try and decide where to eat.

This one looks okay...

This one is full...

Just in case we need it...

We find a spot in the corner in this joint...

You can see the food on the counter so it makes it easy to order.

Edamame starters

Grilled squid tentacles and garlic bulbs grilling. Hurry up!

Oden with taro, carrot, mushroom and tiny bits of pork. A lovely heartwarming stew.

Tentacles served with a dollop of mayo.

Grilled garlic with a ball of miso.

Grilled chicken mince sausages served with a raw egg yolk. Break them apart and swish in the yolk.

Afterwards some more beers and a short walk home. Ah, thank goodness we didn't have to head back to Minowa.

We love Japan!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks EpdeFur - we often read back through these ourselves to relive our trips - they really transport you with better views than the Asakusa ferry.

  3. Oh darn, the secret is out about my double life as a strip club owener in Japan! Seriously though I'm a bit keen on owning a pussycat cafe - what an awesome idea. That and an udon bar and I'd be one happy piggy.

    PS - nice of Mr Shawn to documnet your hurl spot for future generations.

  4. Even a photo of a city/suburban street manages to look exotic and completely foreign. Can't wait to go back to Japan and get lost again.

  5. Oh man... This makes me want to go to Japan immediately! I'd love to just be able to sit down and feel like a local in one of those bars/eateries in those alleyways. Seems cool and old skool!

  6. Great post and pictures! Made me miss Japan a lot

  7. We went to the same udon restaurant!

    I'm only just writing up my Japan travels from 2013, and we followed much of your itinerary! http://www.lucylovestoeat.com/search/label/Tokyo
    Miss Japan so much!


    1. Love seeing your photos of your trip, it's like being there again. We have another trip planned to Osaka for later in the year - can't wait to head back.

    2. Thanks Alison! Amazing, cannot wait for your Osaka posts hehe. I have to recommend this amazing beef restaurant in Osaka! I'll let you know once my Osaka posts are up :)

    3. Oh, sounds great. Will look out for it!


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).