Visiting Japan is a feast for the senses, so if you haven’t yet made it to that part of the world, look into booking your cheap flights to Tokyo, as nowadays getting there is really inexpensive, especially from Australia.
Restaurants Have Picture Menus
It is true that communicating in English around Japan can still be a bit of an issue, but fret not. Tokyo metro system is very well signposted and gets you wherever you need to go. Conveniently, restaurants have picture menus, so you can point to what you want and order. Some small eateries even have special machines, where you press a number next to a photo of your choice, pay your money into the machine and take the ticket to the counter. Hey – if I managed to figure that out without being told, so can you!
The Japanese people are lovely, courteous and very, very forgiving of all the terrible faux pas that foreigners constantly make, so don’t worry about mistakes or upsetting people. Also, if you think you cannot use chopsticks, just wait and see how quickly and efficiently human beings can pick things up when hungry!
Tea House For Green Tea
In between visits to the Imperial Palace, Asakusa Shrine, various temples and museums, shopping sprees in Shinjuku (famous for its dressed up teenagers) and Akihabara electronics wonderland, I relished the opportunity to sit down in a tea house for a traditional Japanese green tea: it comes in a powder form, gets swirled around a bowl with a brush and tastes simply divine and energizing when you finally get to savour it, almost like a small meal in itself.
I was also very lucky to have been staying with Japanese friends, have many local home cooked dishes such as oden, and be invited to a posh and nostalgia filled traditional restaurant Echikatsu, established in 1871, where guests dine in separate rooms divided by paper screens and sit on tatami mats. The restaurant is also surrounded by Japanese gardens with lanterns, little bridges and the whole shabang! So if you have funds to spare, I’d head straight there.
Food As Art
Foodies should not miss having a look at the seemingly never-ending strip of shops along Kappabashi-dori or Kitchen Town, devoted to life-like plastic models of every imaginable Japanese dish, from shark fins to sushi. This is where restaurants get their window displays from, and the more mouth watering they look, the higher the price. In Japan everything seems to be an art form, from food preparation, through eating and even dish sculpting! If you are a fan of Japanese pottery, you’re certainly bound to find something to your liking here as well, from mass produced contemporary designs to handcrafted more unique pieces.
Last Food Stop
At the airport I invested in a final authentic Japanese meal: a huge bowl of soba (buckwheat) noodles in veggie soup with mushrooms and tofu. I was about to get on a red eye flight back to Australia and I was really hungry, but when I saw the sheer size of the bowl, I doubted myself, for maybe a second. Once the first spoonful was in, I knew I would have no problem polishing it off.
It is not only the exquisite flavours but also the simplicity, wholesome healthfulness and incredible and sophisticated balancing of traditional Japanese cuisine that impressed me most.