Stinks of cigarette smoke. I was the only customer, but the lady in the cafe told me that it would be rude if I typed on my computer. Interesting interior with a beautiful marble countertop, but I would only go back for a serving of attitude and mediocre coffee.
Absolutely fantastic traditional coffee shop in Jimbocho. They play excellent jazz on a top notch sound system, and serve fantastic coffe and homemade sweets. The owner is very nice and many of the staff speak English. It is a bit out of the way, but well worth your time to find.
For vacationers, families, or people freshly in love, taking a ride on the Tokyo Harbor Water Bus is a really great way to spend a few comfortable hours together. I took the ferry to Asakusa, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. The boat departs from Hinode pier. When you arrive at the pier, look for a modern building. That's where you can obtain a ticket. While you're at the pier, you might want to take the opportunity to get a bite to eat and use the restroom. There's a really nice sitting area where you can wait for your ferry to come. The ferry itself is pleasant. I sat on the top deck, which allowed a panoramic view of the harbor. Since I rode the boat to Asakusa, most of my trip transversed a river. As such, the waters were calm. One of the main reasons that I liked the ride so much was because it afforded a view of Tokyo that I don't usually get. When you only ride the subway, as I do, you don't really get a feel for the city. This ferry gives you a taste of what Tokyo really looks like. There a recorded commentary that explains important sites in English. If you speak Chinese or Korean, the track indicates a number which corresponds to a written commentary. Some of the cites were interesting, such as the garden where Basho was inspired to write his famous haiku about the frog jumping into a pond. Some are decidedly less interesting, though: several of them only give the names of bridges the boat passes under. On that note, the boat does pass under a considerable number of bridges. This particular ferry course affords a good view of the Asahi beer hall. Even if beer isn't your thing, the building is extremely eye catching. For lack of better words, the building has a large gold thing on top of it. The thing is shaped a little like a nose, a little like a carrot, and a little like a dollop of icing squeezed out of a pastry bag. It kind of defies words. You can see it well from the river though. The ferry deposits you near the celebrated entrance to Sensoji.
Fonda De La Madrugada is a great place to satiate a deep longing for real Mexican food. At least, it's probably as close as you're going to come in Japan. From the outside it's kind of small and uneventful looking. A small staircase winds down several stories to an underground Mexican paradise. Old movies were playing soundlessly on a screen on the wall, which lent a really nice ambiance to the restaurant. The night that I went, a live band was playing. Instead of having a stationary set up, they wandered to different parts of the restaurant and serenaded different tables individually. As you might expect, Fonda De La Madrugada serves only Mexican beers, tequila, and mixed drinks. The restaurants were bound with floppy leather covers, which told me as I ordered that I was in for a treat. We ordered all the standard Mexican fare; Enchiladas, Burritos, and quesadilla, among others. I had forgotten that I missed guacamole before that meal, and Fonda De La Madrugada's was absolutely sublime. The rest of the food was incredible, too. Everything was a really comfortable spicy; you could still taste the food. This is a great place for a party or large get together.
If you find yourself thirsty near the Meiji shrine, you might want to check out Koots Green Tea. Personally, I get a bang out of the name because it reminds me of being “in cahoots.” In any case, though it's a corporate restaurant, it's still worth a look.
The inside feels like a Japanified version of Star Bucks, which is kind of cool and refreshing on a summer day. There's even a pocket garden in the back, which offers another little visual oasis.
I had green tea and mochi. The mochi was unusually jelly-like and covered in mizuami. My tea was more of a tea smoothie than plain green tea, but it hit the spot.
Though this cafe doesn't have AC, it's a great place to cool your heels and have a beer if you've been trekking though the streets of Meguro.
The interior is a lot of things that other coffee shops try to be and fail at. One wall is entirely made up of bookshelves, and filled with art books (some in English). The light fixtures are made of steal wool that floats in a halo above an exposed light bulb. Cafe Shift offers most of the regular Japanese beers and beverages, and has a food menu as well.
I didn't try the food when I was there, but the handwritten menu is in Japanese. If you're learning Japanese, the staff is very friendly and most likely very curious about why a gaijin has just wandered in. They seemed utterly delighted when I spoke to them in Japanese. While it would help to know a little Japanese to go here, I think you can make yourself understood without it.
Cafe Shift is a great place to go if you write, because you can sit ninterrupted in a great atmosphere. While the cafe itself isn't that much of a draw, there are a couple of famous yakitori shops down the street, and some interesting temples in the area. If you're in the area, you should definitely stop in.
The Honganji temple that stands today in Tsukiji is a modern reconstruction, and its history dates back to 1617. Originally it stood near Asakasa, but it was destroyed in a fire and subsequently rebuilt in Tsukiji. That building was leveled in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and reconstruction began in 1931. This goes a long way toward explaining the atypical architecture of Honganji. I've gotten used to expecting temples and shrines to conform to a single style. Honganji blew that expectation out of the water. It was reconstructed in a graceful India style. Perhaps in part because the style is so different, this temple seems more like a church to me. There were little racks with information about the temple and the Buddhist way of life, which I don't usually see. Unfortunately, there was a funeral being preformed the afternoon that I visited the temple, and because of that, I was unable to see the alters. There is an English guide that to the site available downstairs, and if you speak English, the people who work in the temple are more than happy to talk to you.
Ukiyo-e images are common in the west, and almost everyone is familiar with Hokosai's famous woodblock series featuring Mt. Fuji. That being said, the (Ukiyo-e museum) isn't for everyone. When I went there, I was about thirty years younger than everyone else. The people who were there seemed to deeply appreciate the prints. Still, it's an interesting place to visit if you know anything about art, Tokugawa culture, or classical Japanese culture.
The prints are displayed in a dim gallery where a reverent hush pervades. When you enter the museums, you have to leave your shoes in a lockable cubby and exchange them for slippers. Thus, when you go into the main gallery, there's a raised platform in front of several scrolls. First, you take off the borrowed slippers and kneel in front of the print you want to admire. This hearkens back to one step in the complicated process of tea ceremony. Then you stand and kneel again in front of the next one.
The names of prints are displayed in English, but descriptions of the scenes are written solely in Japanese. If you're familiar with classical Japanese literature, you can work out most of the meaning of the print from the title. Without some prior knowledge, though, a great deal of meaning is going to be lost on you. The prints are worth admiring for their artistic value alone, and the Hokosai prints are definitely worth a look. This is not a good place to take your young children.
Admission is 1,000 yen for adults and 700 yen for students. If you're a student, you'll be pleased to know that the student discount extends to students studying at foreign universities.
From the outside, Sake Kyouka is the kind of restaurant that the eye tends to skip over. It's frightfully plain. There's a small rock display and an unassuming menu board. The interior is also sparse, but it's sparse in the traditional Japanese style. There are exposed rafters above head, and shadows drape down from them. Also, there's a miniature shrine and a traditional alcove along the back wall. The restaurant truly captures the traditional Japanese ascetic, and it's a visual haven from confusion and heat of the city.
I ordered “inaniwa udon to kinoko gohan” which was a teishoku that came with the thinnest udon I've ever seen, rice mixed with mushrooms, tofu and pickles. The tastes were so light, it seemed like Kyoto style cooking. I was particularly impressed with the thin udon, which was served cold in a light broth.
When my meal arrived, I feared that the portion would be too small, but there was a very generous amount of udon.
JACS Institute offers a free trial lesson, but you have to call in advance. If you're just interested in visiting for a brochure, it still might be a good idea to call. The school seems to be kind of casual; instead of a classroom, classes are taught in a living room. That may sound kind of sketchy, but the school caters to professionals who want to learn functional Japanese. The school has two instructors. Their goal is to tailor instruction as close to individual needs as possible. They offer several different ways to study, such as group and private lessons and study at home. Several different nationalities of students study here. All in all, it does not seem to offer the most intensive program available, and the focus seems to be on spoken Japanese. It is possible to have your class in your own home, provided that you live within one hour of the office. Their schedule is very flexible, and they seem willing to work out a meeting time that's best for you. Both group lessons and private lesson are offered.
It is incredibly difficult to find. It's located in Noah Mansion: an apartment building. The building is about as far off the beaten path as possible.
Visiting the observation deck of a hospital just for kicks strikes me as rather odd, but there are a couple of good reasons to visit St. Luke's if you're in the Tsukiji area. The observation deck is on the 47th floor: take the elevator to the 46th , and then climb the designated flight of stairs to the 47th floor. First and foremost, it offers a spectacular view of the Tokyo Tower, Odaiba, and Kasai, and it's not likely to be crowded. You can watch party boats cruising up and down the Sumida river. Unfortunately, it's not a panoramic view; you can't see the northern parts of town. I recommend that you go at night, since the Tokyo skyline gets lost in the midday smog.
When you don't speak the language, or don't speak it fluently, a trip to the doctor's office is an emotional trial. There are several “international clinics” in Tokyo that try to circumvent the language barrier problem. Even then, I wondered how proficient the doctor would be with medical English. I've read that doctors in Japan are notorious for saying little and giving patients even less time and attention. Before I went to the doctor, I knew perfectly well that I had bronchitis, but bronchitis isn't exactly something that you can get over without the help of an antibiotic. I went to National Medical Clinic in Hiroo. It's close to the National Azabu Market, and it has an obvious sign out front, so it's really easy to find. Take note of the instructions for buzzing the office in the entry way; the sliding door won't open otherwise. Like every other Japanese clinic that I've visited, there was a small genkan, and I swapped my street shoes for slippers. I went to the reception desk, collected the requisite forms and had a seat in the lobby. Oddly enough, when I had finished with the forms, one of the nurses took my temperature there in the lobby. Being an American, I expected an extensive wait; my wait time was a staggering thirty seconds. I was ushered in to an examination room where the doctor was waiting and was offered a seat in an office chair. Again, this was congruent with my previous experiences in Japanese clinics.
The doctor was Japanese, and while his English wasn't perfect, his bedside manner was. He let me explain my ailments to my heart's content. He concurred with me that I had bronchitis and gave me a medicine that I was familiar with. I was relived that he took the time to make sure I knew what medicine I was being prescribed; the last doctor I saw in Japan didn't take the time.
It's worth noting that National Medical Clinic takes Western style appointments. My visit cost me about 15,000 yen, which was less than I was expecting. That price included my medication, which the clinic gave me. I payed in cash. Also, the clinic gave me a receipt printed in English.
I went to the National Museum of Emerging Technology to see the planetarium. I've been to both planetariums and science museums before, and planetariums always outranked science museums in my book. During high school, I went on a trip to the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey. Don't get me wrong; it's cool. But it's not that cool. The National Museum of Emerging Technology is that cool. It is, in fact, downright incredible. It's also terrifically easy to get there. All you have to do is ride the Yurikamome line to Telecom Center Station, which is fun in and of itself. When you get there, take the exit to your right. Go down the right hand flight of stairs and turn left. It's a strait shot from there, and you can't miss the signs. Once you arrive, there are attendants waiting to help you purchase your ticket. If you want to go to the planetarium, you need to mention it at this point. You'll be directed to a kiosk where you can obtain a ticket for the planetarium. It's terrifically popular, so you need to get there in advance. Trust me, you'll want plenty of time to explore the museum, which by the way, is very English friendly. At the kiosk where you got your planetarium ticket, you can ask for an English ear piece. They give this vital piece of equipment to you at the planetarium door.
From there, go to the third floor. One of the best things in the world is waiting for you there. As I said, I went with the sole objective of seeing the planetarium. It's in the Guinness book of world records for having the most stars. So my mind was tingling with anticipation when I wandered around a corner and found myself face to face with Asimo. I went from anticipation to delight in no time. Asimo, if you haven't really connected the name with the mechanical face, is Honda's humanoid robot. I had absolutely no idea that the museum featured one, so I was taken completely by surprise. It has to be recharged periodically, so you have to catch a show where it displays its abilities. They take place every hour or so.
There are several very interesting, very hands on exhibits to see. Breakthroughs in nanotechnology, quantum mechanics, seismology, and medical science can be explored through hands on exhibits, which are in English as well as Japanese. Don't miss these: they're really cool. They also have model space capsules that you can crawl into, an enormous LCD globe suspended from the ceiling, and an ecology exhibit.
The planetarium itself was also really cool. One of my common complaints with planetariums is that the chairs don't lean back far enough. These, however, were perfect. What I wound up seeing was basically a movie about how rare earth is in the intergalactic scheme of things. That was nice, but I would have rather looked at constellations.
If you have children over the age of five, this would be a really great place to spend an afternoon. This is a place for the curious, so bear that in mind. I highly recommend the experience.
There's something about Namiki Yabusoba that makes it feel like you've just walked into a soba restaurant in old Edo. Or, at least, there's something about it that makes it feel like the set of a well designed samurai movie. Perhaps it's because Namiki Yabusoba is in eye shot of the Kaminarimon gate. Perhaps it was because over half the restaurant is devoted to traditional seating on a tatami floor. Perhaps it was just the poor lighting. In any case, the atmosphere was nice. The soba, though, was even better. Of all the soba I've tasted, this was probably the best in terms of the quality of the noodle. They had a truly exquisite texture, though the sauce was plain. There weren't too many noodles on the zara, though. I had two orders. There is an English menu, as well. It's a popular place to go for lunch, so be sure to go early in order to avoid the rush.
Personally, I'm a fan of restaurants that have a high level of participation involved. If you're out on a dismal date, it's nice to have something else to focus on. Of course, if everyone is having a good time, it is still a lot of fun. Shabu shabu falls into that participation category. I tried it for the first time at Nabezo in Ginza. Having shabu shabu isn't just a meal; it's an experience. No matter which way you look at it, you're only eating poached meat dipped in sauces. Still, Nabezo does it fairly well. There's a large English menu with plenty of pictures. The little pot that we were given to cook in was divided in to two compartments: one for shabu shabu and one for sukiyaki. There were a variety of sauces to dip your tidbits of meat into: ponzu, gomadare and even raw egg. A note on the raw egg, I can't eat in ramen, but it's quite good with the sukiyaki. On the whole, it wasn't the tastiest thing I've ever eaten, but it was good. The atmosphere was an odd mix of styles. Most of the walls were covered in faux rocks, but one was decked out in textured glass. There were also several European style botanical illustrations hanging on the walls. Also, our meal was very inexpensive. It was about 1400 yen per person.
If you're not looking to break the bank in Ginza, stop in Itarian Bar La Viola for lunch. It's conveniently close to the station, and the prices are very reasonable. The restaurant is best described as a ritzy bistro. Its mahogany wood paneling and glittering bar are obviously meant to appeal to finer tastes, which shows in the clientèle. Expect to see men in snappy suits and women in nice dresses. That being said, the food is fairly uncomplicated. I had a panini sandwich with mozzarella and ham for 750 yen. The portions are on the small side, however. My sandwich didn't come with any side items, either. Though, it is not bad for lunch in Ginza. My sandwich hit the spot because the taste was very American, and it came as a nice break from Japanese food. More than that, it was just plain good. If you're not comfortable with a stuffy, upper class atmosphere, give Itarian Bar La Viola a wide berth. However, if you're hankering for a good panini, this is a good place to stop. The menu has English, but it helps if you have to have some knowledge of European cuizine. Also, the wait staff here is incredibly helpful.
I've known for a long time that there are Denny's restaurants in Japan. I can say honestly that Denny's never topped my list of places I just had to visit. In fact, embarrassing though it may be, I had never been to a Denny's in my entire life before I went to the one in Akasaka. Had one of my friends not suggested it, I probably would have gone the rest of my life without eating at a Denny's. My parents were never the Denny's type, and because of their views, my image was that Denny's was something of a greasy spoon. In Japan, at least, this is not the case. Denny's falls into the “family restaurant” category, which basically means that they serve several different kinds of cuisines. For instance, when you look at the menu, you'll find soba, tempura, Italian style pasta, hamburgers, and stakes. The idea here is that though the tastes of the entire family may vary, everyone can still eat at the same restaurant. Thus, Denny's is a good place to go when you find yourself hungry, but not hungry for anything in particular. As with American restaurants from twenty years ago, there's a smoking and a non-smoking section. After being seated, you'll have as much time as you want to look over the menu. When you've made your selection, you push the buzzer on the table to summon the waitress. If you don't speak Japanese, Denny's might be the simplest place to eat: each menu item has a picture next to it. The food itself is good. It's not fantastic, but it's good. Since I had a bad image of Denny's, it was much better than I expected. On top of that, it's not all that expensive. I've had cheaper lunches in Tokyo, but not by much.
Asian Kitchen packs a lot of spice and flare, in both the food and the atmosphere. A staircase decends from street level to the basement level restaurant. The walls of the staircase, though are made to look like cave walls, and the rest of the restaurant continues this theme. Gauzy curtains drape down from the ceiling, and there are several intimate booths that look like small nooks in the cave walls. I'm not sure what the effect is supposed to be; I felt like I was in South America rather than Asia. However, the atmosphere was eclectic and relaxing. Asian Kitchen is an izakaya style restaurant; order a handful of small dishes and split them among the members of your group. Many of the people in the restaurant seemed to be couples, but there were several groups of friends as well. I went with a friend, and we ordered spring rolls, fried shrimp with mayonnaise, Chinese dumplings, and Turkish spicy adana kebabu. The fried shrimp with mayonnaise was, much to my surprise, delicious, though it was really spicy. We also had two drinks. Our dinner cost us 4200 yen.
The Dubliners' Irish Pub is an Irish bar in Shinjuku. While it's got a distinctly Irish feel, it also feel slightly American. On an average night, you can expect a crowd of foreigners speaking loudly in American accents. Most of them seemed like business people in their mid thirties. They didn't have the most extensive selection of beers, but they did have two of the most important: Guinness and Samuel Adams. All of the drinks and menu items are listed in both English and Japanese. Expect a crowd, even early on a Thursday night.