Our last day in Tokyo was a rainy one.
After FINALLY mastering the rabbit warren of tunnels and walkways under the city (and locating a coffee shop), we had to leave.
With umbrellas in tow (I came prepared), we headed to the Harajuku district to the Meiji-jingu shrine, a large Shinto temple that feels like it’s not even in Tokyo. We walked up the gravel path , passing barrels of sake left as an offering.
Up to the shrine complex, with its intricate wooden carvings—more natural-looking compared to the Buddhist shrine of the previous day.
Back in Harajuku we passed a sign for a cat café—so of course had to go in! This one was called Cat Cafe MoCHA.
There is not really a “café” in the cat café—you pay for time with the cats and can pay extra for things like treats and “unlimited drinks”—which were basically just teas and coffees from a vending machine (don’t bother with it!)
I wore the ears because Japan.
The cats were all friendly, mostly bouncing around on birdcage-looking platforms hanging from the ceiling.
Some cats didn’t feel like participating.
Of course Kevin wants this tree for our cats…
Ready for lunch, we headed to Shibuya.
The crossing is pretty famous. You can post up at the Starbucks across the street if you want to see the full visual.
We headed into one of the malls off the main intersection in Shibuya to Umegaoka Sushi No Midori Sohonten–a sushi restaurant very popular with locals. Expect a wait–we got stuck in the Japanese lunch crowds and it was about 1.5 hours.
But, on the bright side, the sushi is amazing. We had to go with the full plate.
We also had to get one more tasting of uni, and another minced fatty tuna that was amazing the day before at Tsukiji.
It was worth the wait–but we were cutting it a bit close to our next activity–a food tour with Oishi Tokyo of Shimbashi, the neighborhood where we were staying.
We met up with our guide, a young guy who was actually Japanese-American but had moved to Japan to take care of his ailing grandmother and ended up staying. There was only supposed to be one other person on the tour, but they never showed up!
We started the tour at the top of a building above the train station, getting a drink and learning about the Japanese businessmen (or “salarymen”) who work in the area—most of them come from outside of Tokyo to work long hours at offices where they may spend their entire careers.
Which makes sense as to why they need a surrogate family—or specifically—mom.
Down in the train stations are tiny nooks full of little restaurants all run by women—or “mamas”—who serve the salarymen food and drinks after work, listen to their complaints, and even tease and scold them–just like their real moms. The men will go to the same ones for years and years, so in essence you have a little family of regulars every time you go.
The little place we went to already had two regulars inside—they had both been going for 20 years, even after they retired!
The “mama” makes several small plates that you can decide whether or not you want—we started with a delicious little salad.
And some rare tuna from the head—all washed down with a spritzer that is so good yet so dangerous.
We next went to a more rowdy bar more along the lines of a pub.
Much beer is consumed, and little fried dishes help absorb it.
We got little bites of seafood and meat, along with ham tonkatsu.
Our guide had told us this tour would feature a lot of drinking since that’s part of the whole salaryman persona—so the next stop was a sake bar.
We got to try three sakes, one of which our guide happened to spot was a rare bottle. Each of them were so delicious and easy to drink, and obviously the rare one was the best of them all.
With barely any room left in our stomachs, we went to our final stop—ramen.
This ramen shop—a little tiny place—on a side of the neighborhood we didn’t even know was there, served us a chicken-based ramen instead of the usual pork base. I can’t even describe to you how amazing this ramen was—silky, creamy, rich but light, it was a literal crime we could not finish it all.
I cannot recommend this tour enough. They have several different ones (we just chose this one on a whim) but if you want to learn about Japanese drinking culture, this one’s for you. They only take small groups, but we were lucky enough to have basically a private tour, which allowed our guide to pick and choose certain things just for us. The tour took us to places with only locals that we never would have found. We also talked with our guide (Nimo) about Japanese culture, what it’s like growing up there, other areas of Japan, our own lives–it was very conversational. I recommend doing a food tour like this on your first night (especially when in Asia)—it will make you feel more comfortable going to local spots and show you the how and what to order!
Stuffed to the absolute brim, we headed back to the hotel to grab our bags for our red-eye to our main destination—Thailand! (Please remind me to never do multiple red-eyes on a trip again…)