If there’s any food in Japan that is truly deserving of a ritual aside from sushi, it’s Ichiran Ramen. Punch your preferences at their vendo machine as you enter, then have yourself a seat at one of the cubicles. It’s just so good, you’ll need precious, quality time alone with it. In a few minutes, the blinds you’ve been facing will lift up, and you’ll be handed your customized, umami ramen.
Take a sip of the spicy, thick soup. Slurp on the noodles- your choice of soft or al dente. But before you gobble it all down and burn yourself, throw in your soft boiled tamago, mushroom, seaweed, and best of all- the fatty premium pork shoulder. Everything’s so delicious, you’ll want to close your eyes to savour the taste, and top it off with a cold glass of draft beer.
After having the best ramen we’ve ever tasted, we took a stroll around Ueno Park. There were rows and rows of trees, waiting to be awakened by Spring. Found ourselves at a temple within the park and participated in the Buddhist hand cleansing ritual. The park was peaceful and it was great to be surrounded by nature amidst the bustling city.
Next thing we knew, we were on a pink swan pedalling away like excited children on a lake!
Then we were off to Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple built in 628 during the Edo period. It’s said to be dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy, and is the most widely visited spiritual site. Getting off the Asakusa station, you could already get the feel of old Japan with its stone cobbled streets and girls walking about in rented kimonos.
Once inside the temple, you’ll encounter various rituals and flocks of tourists and locals alike. Aside from the incense, water cleansing, and coin-throwing, there’s one where you pick up a silver cannister, shake it up and draw a wooden stick from inside, with a number that corresponds to the drawer from which you draw your fortune.
Then we took the train to the starkly contrasting Akihabara- Tokyo’s Electric Town. Stores with loads of toys, figurines and mangas attract anime fans/ otakus from all over the world. Women in corsets with wings on their backs and a headgear come as no surprise in this cosplaying side of the city. While those in maiden attire were giving out invites to the maid cafe, we chose to visit the owl cafe. The small fee of Y500 gets you a free cup of coffee and a few hours with these wide-eyed, nocturnal creatures.
They were all really chill. Some were gazing out the window, planning their escape into the city.
Others were plotting against the humans who’d pester them with their phone cameras.
The one who looked like Hedwig didn’t mind being petted, and most of them were asleep during the screening of My Neighbor Totoro. The owl that amused me most was the one turning his head at any strange sound- and he could do it at any point of the 360 angle!
Stepped out of the cafe almost as wide-eyed as the owls in it, when I spotted a tax free beauty/drug store with two floors- Matusmoto Kiyoshi. I found everything on my wishlist, including Cure, a popular exfoliant. Pumped some product out of the tester, rubbed it on my skin, and voila! dead skin along with a bit of dirt started to come off. Other affordable skincare recommendations would be Biore water-based sunblock (to prevent greasiness, plus it’s PA ++++!), and lululun everyday face masks which serve as a treat on a long, hot day.
After trying our luck at some stuffed toy catchers in the arcades of Akihabara, we decided to head home to Nakano and have dinner in the area. I was craving for sushi big time so I googled and let maps lead the way. Upon entering the tiny restaurant, we received strange stares from the diners, as if they were saying, “how did these tourists find us…”
Took a seat in the corner and browsed the menu. The waitress bursted in laughter as she flipped it to read up to down. Silly tourists, not reading Kanji the right way! We legit couldn’t understand a thing though. Even if we wanted to choose the cheapest thing on the menu and point to it, we couldn’t because there were no numericals- everything was in Japanese. Still, it was too late and too rude to leave at this point, so I told her, 1 chirashidon please! And she shook her head and put two fingers up and we said, no one only, since Josh isn’t a big fan of raw fish but wanted to know what else was on the menu.
Good thing, a man by the bar felt our struggle and translated for us. He said having just one is disrespectful, and we apologized immensely because we didn’t mean it. But also, we asked him how much one chirashidon was and he said, 5,000 yen. Gulped at the steep price and asked if he could recommend anything else, and he said the sushi set for 2,500 and we agreed and said, yes two please!
When our orders came, the waitress watched us eat. Of course, the sushi was naturally delicous and oh so fresh; I’m sure she could see that we were enjoying it. Little did we expect that she would come up to us and explain something in nihonggo that we couldn’t understand. We just bowed our heads respectfully and then the kind man by the bar told us, “you shouldn’t dip too much soysauce- only a little.” Oops, gomen nasai again from these two, tiny uncultured flies hehe.
One thing we didn’t do was walk out of that sumptuous sushi bar without saying, “Gochisosama deshita!”