The Heart of Tokyo
Shinjuku embodies the urban side of Tokyo: government building skyscrapers, upscale department stores, crowded streets teeming with bars and cafes, and the world’s busiest railway station. Since the weather is brimming on the beginning of typhoon season here, our first day out in Shinjuku is through the drizzle.
World’s Busiest Train Station
The Shinjuku station is said to have over 3 million people pass through daily and I don’t doubt it. I didn’t say it’s the world’s busiest station as an exaggeration: it’s registered as such with Guinness World Records! It’s so encompassing underground that depending on which exit you take to ground level, you could be over a mile away from another exit. According to Wikipedia, there’s over 200 exits (!!!) and 51 platforms in total.
It’s complicated yet very organized. It’s entertaining as you speed-walk to your next transfer, but overwhelming during rush hours. Our Airbnb is just two stops west of Shinjuku, so regardless of our destination for the day we basically always have to transfer through Shinjuku station.
Little Piece of Home
Our favorite local coffee spot at home, Verve Coffee Roasters, has been expanding beyond it’s roots in Santa Cruz to a handful of locations in Los Angeles and (to our delight) as of last month – Verve hits Tokyo! They couldn’t have gotten better real estate; the shop is in the heart of the bustling maze surrounding the Shinjuku railway station. I was excited to buy a silly souvenir, literally anything that said the two words “Verve” and “Tokyo” (or frankly any Japanese symbols would have been cool) but I was surprised when all of their merchandise only said Santa Cruz, CA! Santa Cruz t-shirts, mugs, hats… It was amusing to see our small hometown splattered all over a cafe in Tokyo, Japan. Go Verve!
Sushi In The City
In my post about Ichinomiya, I wrote about the surprising and devastating lack of sushi in the countryside. Today is a totally different story, because sushi is a Tokyoite specialty! To satisfy our craving from Ichinomiya, of course we hunted some down ASAP in Shinjuku. We’ve learned there’s three tiers of sushi restaurants in Japan:
- Fancy-ass sushi: fine dining with the freshest of the fresh among the richest of the rich- we’ve been told it’s up to $150 per person for dinner.
- Mid-range sushi: plated meals of nigiri, sashimi, miso soup, rice, etc. It’s more affordable for lunch and pricier at dinner (although the same exact meal?)
- Conveyor belt sushi: the cheapest, quickest and obviously the most fun option! We went to Shionzushi in Shinjuku to experience the sushi train and we weren’t disappointed. Plates were only ¥105 or ¥210 each ($1-$2 USD). Score!
Sushi in Japan is a lot more exotic than at home in the US, however, this doesn’t surprise me. It’s majority nigiri sushi- raw fish over rice. I’ve tried a handful of new things but I still steer away from raw octopus (because of the tentacles) or squid (because it’s too chewy). Salmon, tuna, shrimp and crab are my go-to. At home, Shaun always said he “didn’t like raw fish” but luckily his taste buds have adjusted appropriately and he’s been enjoying sashimi with me!
Sushi rolls (California roll, spicy tuna roll, Philadelphia roll, etc.) which are the norm at home, are available here but much less common. Something I have never seen it at home but see on every menu here is egg or “omelette sushi.” It’s a fluffy/chewy-like texture that’s bright yellow and it took us a while to determine what it was. I just assumed it was tofu or even a bland cheese, and didn’t realize it was egg until we put Google Translate to the test.
Just from the first few days, I can already tell how remarkably different Tokyo is from Western cities. Don’t get me wrong, I love LA, SF and NYC, but Tokyo is noticeably cleaner, friendlier, safer and so much more polite. I have not seen one piece of litter in this city of millions of people. The train stations are spotless. I have not seen a single homeless person or panhandler. People do not lock their bikes. Everyone forms incredible orderly lines for the escalator: stand on the left, walk on the right. When the train is packed to the point of feeling like sardines, everyone respectfully minds their own business regardless of having to rub up against each other. Every cashier we’ve encountered is extremely helpful and patient, even when they speak zero English and we may or may not have to resort to playing charades to communicate.
Tokyo is fascinating! Eastern culture is so intriguing and delightful to me. I’m falling in love with Japan and Asia as a whole. Much more to come from our 10 day stay in Tokyo!