I arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday early evening and checked into the beautiful Royal Park Shiodome Hotel. Funnily enough I had actually stayed here ten years early on another business trip and had not remembered that until I got a sense of déjà vu while checking in!
Coming off a long flight and feeling yucky and tired, I wanted dinner to be quick and convenient. I headed across the street to an office building that had several restaurants to offer. Going on my colleague’s suggestion I ate at a Chinese dumpling place that specialized in Shanghai dumplings. Maybe an odd choice for a firs night in Japan, but my stomach wasn’t complaining as it was downing one amazing dumpling after the other!
Wednesday was to be a day spent working from the hotel. I documented how I spent my first morning in my post on the Tsukiji Fish market and sushi. After visiting the empty fish market I headed back to the hotel to work a few hours doing email and working on presentations, etc.
When lunchtime hit my colleague and I decided to headed out to highly regarded tonkatsu restaurant called Mai-sen. I am not a big fan of fried food, therefore I don’t have tonkatsu too often, but I figured if I was going to eat it, it might has well be from a really good place!
We took the metro over and walked a few blocks until we found it. After a short wait we were taken into the back of the restaurant, which had formerly been a bath house. I ordered the house special pork tonkatsu. It is served with the best miso I have ever had, a heaping pile of cabbage and a bowl of steamed rice. There are three different house sauces that you can use on it: one sweet, one sweeter, and one more on the vinegar side.
To me, all the sauces are based on Heinz 57, but they are tasty nonetheless! I really enjoyed my selection, and despite the fact that is was a deep fried pork cutlet, it was not greasy at all. Right before leaving I did notice a woman at a table nearby eating tonkatsu with Japanese curry on top, I had total food envy and if I ever go back to Mai-sen I will definitely try that version!
After the meal we headed over to the Meiji Jingu shrine, walking through Takeshita Street first. It was loud, crazy, an assault to the senses. I tried to take as many photos as I could of the girls walking through there as discreetly as I could:
I was happy to be off the street and into the park that was at the entrance of the temple. We reached the temple, partook of the cleansing ceremony, and walked the grounds. There was a couple of ceremonies going on, one for a baby, likely a baptism as well as a wedding. I took photos of the wishing area where people fill out wishes called ema.
Needing to go back to the hotel to work some more, I headed back. The tonkatsu was so filling and the jetlag intense that I skipped dinner and went to bed early!
The next morning I was up early and it was off to the fish market again which you can read about here.
After meeting with colleagues they took us over to Ropponji to look at some displays associated with my work. From there we went to a small ramen restaurant where I had vegetable ramen (I was trying to be reasonable when I could!).
Afterward we went to Naniwaya Confectionery for a very special dessert called taiyaki. It is a Japanese pastry shaped like a red snapper with red bean inside. They make these desserts all over the city, usually in huge batches, but at Naniwaya they do them all by hand with the maximum quantity of 1000 per day. The guys making these yummy fish pouches are loud and friendly and they allowed me to take a video of them in action, check it out here:
Back to the office for several hours of work and then we were off to dinner at the famous Kurasawa which I wrote about here.
Sushi breakfast three days in a row? Nope, fooled ya! It was a breakfast bar and tea for me, as I was again trying to be reasonable. After a 20 minute walk to the office I was feeling good. Presentations and meetings in the morning and then we were off to lunch again.
This time we went to a unagi restaurant. Most of the time in the U.S. we only get frozen unagi that is reheated so it is a real treat to get fresh eel. And this was very fresh. From order to serving on the table it takes 40 minutes because the eel are still alive before you order. They have to select, kill, skin and cook the unagi which takes some time (don’t all good things take time?).
It is served on a bed of rice with a small bowl of soup. I can’t describe the taste any better than to say fresh. It is light, delicate, not fishy. Lightly seasoned and superb, I could go on eating like this for days! On the way back we stopped at a bakery where we picked up red bean cakes to eat later with tea.
More meetings and afternoon snack and tea at hand the office began to get ready to head out to their holiday party. My colleague and I were honored to be invited guests. I had yet to go to a holiday party at my company despite being employed there for 2.5 years, so this was my first one!
The party location was next to my hotel in a luxury restaurant called Fish Bank. The food was seafood with French and Japanese influences, the drinks were varied and the evening was a lot of fun. It was the perfect cap to a fruitful visit.
Saturday morning I met up with a friend whom I had worked together at my previous company and who was now employed at my current company.
We were going to spend the day walking around and enjoying the unusually warm weather.
We first headed to the Asakusa temple where we visited, cleansed, got our fortunes (both bad and promptly left them behind), and did a little shopping at the many stores selling traditional goods. We stopped for lunch where we had soup with sticky rice followed by a red-bean and sticky rice dessert. This was actually a mistake on my part as that extra sticky rice would sit like a lump in my stomach for the rest of the day!
Done with our shopping for traditional goods we headed to the slick and modern up-scale mall called Tokyo Midtown in Ropponji. We walked around, shopped some more and stopped for a warm drink at an outdoor terrace above the shopping mall where we talked and people watched for an hour or so.
When it was dark we headed out behind the mall where there was a park that had been decorated for Christmas. All the trees were lit up and there was a light show on the ground. We walked and enjoyed and then grabbed a cab to head to the Tokyo Tower where we would be joining two more colleagues for dinner, which I have written about here.
It was a wonderful evening with funny stories and catching up on what we had all been doing as we had all moved to new companies and new locations. I had known my ex-colleagues and friends for more than ten years, I had transferred back and forth to Switzerland, they had all transferred back and forth between the U.S. and Japan.
I had spent time with them in all three places and was happy to meet up again. It had been about three years since I had seen two of my friends and it was like no time was lost.
Being back in Tokyo I could not have asked for a better evening, a better meal, or better people to enjoy my last night with. That’s thing about traveling, no matter where you go, there you are and if it is meant to be you will always cross paths again.
That is why I never say good-bye, I only say, until next time.
So, to you Tokyo, and my friends who live there I say, “au revoir.”
P.S. The next morning I received a final present of a clear view of Mt. Fuji from the plane as I was on my way to Beijing: