What we ate:
Eating in Japan ended up being the biggest hurdle to overcome, which was completely unexpected given how much we love Japanese food and how good the quality of food in Japan is! It was difficult largely due to two factors: 1) difficulty in actually locating the intended restaurant (or, in some cases, determining whether a restaurant was even located on the premises) and 2) many restaurants, particularly in Tokyo, were openly hostile to the notion of dining with young children.
The Japanese address system is extremely complicated and, as this website states, “anyone who can read Japanese may be able to identify any address within a 2 or 3 minute walk. The most detailed bilingual ones are not as good. Of course even a bilingual map as detailed as the Japanese ones would still be very hard for foreigners to use, because the signs are in Japanese only.”
As luck would have it, we do not read Japanese and had only a bilingual map that didn’t correspond with any of the signs which were all in Japanese. Frequently, we would arrive at what we *thought* was the address for a particular restaurant only to encounter a building with 5 or 6 signs in front – all in Japanese and no obvious signs that there was a restaurant on the premises. We were further limited by the fact that we had a 4 year old who wasn’t as keen on walking an extra mile to find *the* restaurant we had underlined in our tour book and that on occasion, when we did finally find the restaurant we wanted to dine at, we were informed at the door that children were not welcome (usually, this was done by the host pointing at our son, and shaking his head at us).
There were two restaurants that really stood out in terms of experience:
Eel! Who doesn’t love eel? This is a large, popular restaurant both for locals and tourists with a few locations in Japan. They never batted an eye at having a child, and I love me some eel, so this was a perfect lunch spot during our day in Ueno.
Our day in Ginza, we popped into this popular yaki tori restaurant and enjoyed sampling all the different offerings.
One of the experiences my husband and I definitely wanted to have was to dine at an authentic izakaya, which wikipedia describes as “an informal Japanese gastropub.” Having been turned away by a number of restaurants due to having a young child with us, we reached out to our concierge at the hotel and explained the situation to us. A few hours later, we checked in with the concierge, and he informed us that he had located an izakaya that was willing to accommodate us and that we had a reservation for that evening! Although the name of the izakaya escapes me, we had a fabulous time that night. Upon arrival, it was inquired as to how much we were willing to spend on dinner (we basically said, whatever it costs and until we’re full), and then were presented with small plate, after small plate, after small plate.
I highly recommend the experience and suggest that you seek out the assistance of your concierge if you are unable to find an izakaya on your own! Also, because izakayas are so small and people tend to spend a few hours snacking on small plates, reservations are absolutely imperative.
Finally, no trip to Japan would be complete without:
(1) Vending machine ramen!
I was enamored with the idea of vending machine ramen but quickly learned that it’s not as exciting as it sounds nor is it very good/high quality. Basically, there’s a machine with the various options, you place your order and pay at the machine, grab a table, and someone brings you your ramen. I was expecting the ramen to pop out of the machine somehow, but alas, it was not meant to be! I wouldn’t waste another meal on vending machine ramen, but it was a fun experience, and I’m glad to have done it.
(2) local McDonald’s offerings!
Being that we were in Japan during prime cherry blossom season, it was no surprise that there were themed offerings at McDonald’s!
Of course, we were left with no choice but to try both. The drink was some kind of sickeningly sweet soda, and the “burger” wasn’t terrible, although also sweeter than your usual American burger. We were all amused by the pink bun!
Continue to Part VII – What I Wish I Knew