This is a bit overdue, but I’m finally getting a chance to write up my trip report for my solo Tokyo trip back in April.
Tokyo’s always been on my bucket list - I’ve flown through Narita Airport countless times on my way to/from SE Asia and India, and always told myself that I needed to check it out. My husband encouraged me to take a solo trip since it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. So, I went for it!
Tokyo was my first stop on my trip. I arrived in the late afternoon. After a bit of night time exploring, I was starving and decided to grab a tonkatsu bento from a small shop at the Shinjuku Metro station to take back to my hotel room. It was fine, nothing memorable.
Vending machine at airport NEX platform - I love japanese vending machines!
Tonkatsu bento from Shinjuku Metro station:
Next morning, i woke up early to go exploring Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, and Shibuya. I’m not a big breakfast eater, so I walked across the street from my hotel to Family Mart and got a steamed pork bun and iced tea. (Since I was a kid, I’ve always preferred this kind of breakfast over cereal and eggs anyday!)
I saw crazy crepe places in Harajuku, but I’m not a big sweet eater, So I decided to take pass. This was a display window at just one place:
Lunchtime was in Shinjuku. I had bookmarked restaurants I wanted to check out in Tokyo before I had left on my trip, and one of them, CoCo Ichibanya, was right around the corner. I’m a fan of Japanese curry, so I wanted to try the real thing. I popped in and only had to wait about 5 minutes for a seat at the counter to open up. It’s a small place, with about 6 counter seats and 3 booths. I read online that the wait to eat here could be long, but I think the time I arrived (1:30), plus it being a weekday, helped with the wait time.
The ordering system is good - the cashier took my order and I paid while I waited for a seat to open up. By the time I sat down, my food arrived 3 minutes later. I ordered the pork tonkatsu curry plate, which was delicious, and a large portion for the price. It really hit the spot after a long morning of walking and exploring.
Kitchen view from my seat:
Tonkatsu curry plate - approx. USD $8
CoCo Ichibanya menu on the door:
Dinner that evening was simple. I was exhausted from the 10 miles of walking I did that day, so I decided to head over to the nearby Isetan basement food hall to see what I could grab to eat. So many choices! I’m familiar with the Singapore Isetan, but this one was far beyond that one choice wise! I ended up walking around for 20 minutes before finally settling on some gyoza and a small mandarin orange jelly cup. The jelly shop was amazing - they packed the jelly with a small spoon and an ice pack to keep it cold. Such a smart idea! The gyoza were fine, although the skin was a bit tough for my taste. The jelly was delicious - not too sweet, with nice chunks of mandarin orange. I was regretting not buying two! I had also picked up a sugar butter bun from one of the bakeries there for my breakfast the next morning. It was nice and soft, and not too sweet.
Mandarin orange jelly with ice pack! Cost USD $2.50
Some of the food hall dessert offerings
Fresh produce items - everything was in great condition
Gyoza - approx USD $7
Sugar butter bun and tea
I was off to the Tsukiji fish market. I didn’t want to get there at 5am for the fish auction (I am on vacation, after all!) so I arrived around 9am. It was busy, but not as much as I expected, which was nice. I walked around a bit, then decided to stop and try some sushi. I actually don’t eat fish, but I do eat shellfish, so I walked around until I found a shop with a line and an interesting menu. No pics of the actual sushi, as the shop did not allow photography inside. I had some scallop and shrimp sushi, and a couple of oysters as well. That was all the sushi I could take at 10am! The quality was excellent, but it also made me realize that we do get good sushi here in Los Angeles as well. I paid about $24 for my 6 pieces of sushi and some green tea. A bit pricy, but worth the experience.
Pics of Tsukiji market area:
Japanese sweets made by hand
Knives! I wanted to get one but the prices were marked up considerably due to it being a tourist attraction.
From the fish market, I went to Ginza, and then to to Akihabara. My original plan was to have lunch in Ginza, but I was still full from my sushi brunch. In Akihabara, i got some takoyaki for a snack from a small shop at the Metro station. They were good - freshly made, and not oily at all.
For dinner, I wanted to have ramen. I had Ichiran Ramen bookmarked, which was near my hotel, so that was my destination. There was a line when I got there. I waited about 20 minutes on the sidewalk, and then about 15 minutes inside. Here, you order your food via vending machine. You put your money in, press the buttons for what you want, and it gives you your change and receipt. You then line up for a seat. While waiting, you fill out a paper stating how you’d like your ramen - heavy or light dashi, garlic, spice level , noodle softness, etc. Being solo, I got seated within a couple minutes. Ichiran has single seat counter seating, so there are dividers between each person. Groups can fold the dividers, but for a solo diner like me, it was nice to enjoy my ramen without worrying about socializing. You are seated, and give your receipt and customizing paper to the server behind the curtain in front of you. After a few minutes, they bring your custom ramen to you.
The ramen itself was good. I’m not a big ramen fan (I prefer the robust spicier noodle soups in Singapore and Malaysia) but I enjoyed this. I kept mine simple - basic ramen with cha siu and green onion and low spice. I wanted to taste the noodles and broth without overpowering them with heat. The bowl was filling, and I didn’t need to get a refill on the noodles (which was an option for a low cost).
Ichiran ordering machine
Ramen - approx USD $9
Instructions posted on the counter seat divider
Ichiran Ramen exterior shot
I skipped breakfast the next morning to head out to the Sensoji Shrine and Tokyo Skytree. The shrine was amazing. There was a small outdoor mall type setup, with souvenirs and food stalls. I stopped a got myself a red bean and chestnut taiyaki, which is a small fish shaped cake filled with assorted fillings. I love red bean desserts, amd the chestnut added a nice flavor.
For my final night in Tokyo, I wanted to have beef. I had bookmarked Gyukatsu Motomura, in Shinjuku, and decided to go there. No regrets - my meal was wonderful. There was a line when I arrived, but after about 10 minutes, the line supervising employee asked if there were any solo diners in line. I quickly raised my hand and was taken to the front of the line. There, I was informed that they were out of the 200g beef option, but everything else was available. Since I had only been snacking all day, I decided to go with the larger 260g portion, with no yam and no cod roe (Option 3). Like earlier places, you order and pay up front, which is nice. No waiting for the check to arrive. It’s such an efficient system!
They give you a card showing you how to eat the food. The gyukatsu is breaded and lightly fried, and served rare, but each seat has a small hot stone on which you can cook each piece to your liking. The meat is served with fresh wasabi, soy sauce, and a horseradish onion sauce. There is dressing available for the cabbage. If you order the yam and/or cod roe, the card explains how to eat those as well.
The meat was delicious - it was super tender. I like my steak medium rare so I only cooked each piece for a couple seconds on each side. The wasabi/soy and horseradish onion sauces gave a really nice flavor to the steak. The miso soup and scoop of potato salad were both good, but nothing amazing. This is a place to come to for the gyukatsu and I definitely enjoyed it! Initially wasn’t sure if I’d be able to eat the whole thing, but I polished it off!
Gyukatsu Motomura exterior shot
Gyukatsu English menu
Option #3 - 260g steak, no yam, no cod roe. You can see the hot stone behind the tray on which to further cook the meat. Including beer - approx USD $27
The following morning, I grabbed a piping hot curry bun and hot tea from Family Mart and enjoyed them at the nearby Shinjuku Gyoen Garden. Very peaceful and relaxing. It was a nice end to my trip.
Overall, my Tokyo trip was great. I saw lots, I ate lots (I snacked along the way too, just no pictures). One benefit to being a solo traveler was that Tokyo is very solo diner friendly. It was very easy to get a solo seat at restaurants. In many cities, being a solo diner is awkward, but not here! It was nice to feel comfortable eating alone, because so many others were doing the same thing. And being solo meant I didnt have to wait in the lines like group diners did, which was great.
Next stop - Kuala Lumpur!