The most densely populated city in the world, Tokyo is a fascinating mix of modern fads and old-fashioned tradition. The crowded cityscape swarms with both ornate shrines and slick skyscrapers, while entertainment ranges from gentle geishas to kitsch karaoke. Tokyo can be an intimidatingly tricky city to navigate, but a great – and appetising – way to tackle it is to sample its vast dining options. Whether you’re sinking your teeth into sashimi or sipping a steaming bowl of miso soup, you’ll soon see why the metropolis is so unique.
Many a gaijin (foreigner) visiting Tokyo may not be accustomed to eating with two sticks of bamboo, which can be a dangerous territory for the slippery fingered. Probably the most famous cuisine to arise from Japan, sushi is traditionally finger food (think of it as a breadless sandwich) but is commonly eaten with chopsticks. Tokyoites can enjoy sushi in a number of settings, from takeaway bento boxes to eat-in kaiten-zushi restaurants, where dishes are whizzed around a conveyer belt for as long as they can be resisted. Those after a more upmarket sushi dining experience can head to Kyubey , where fresh ingredients and impeccable service make the restaurant one of the most popular in the Ginza district. Whether you master chopsticks or not, remember it is regarded as highly impolite to leave a grain of rice on your plate.
Not for the squeamish, faint-hearted or vegetarian, the Tsukiji fish market is the world’s largest seafood market. Freshly-caught fish from the tiniest of sardines to the hugest of tunas are meticulously weighed, cut, packed and sold, with live auctions kicking off at 5:30am and lulling by 9am. If you’re an early riser (or find yourself at the market in a confused state of jetlag), head down to catch the spectacle before indulging in a sushi breakfast from the market shops. Fish doesn’t get fresher than this!
Legend has it that eating kuro-tamago, a black egg from Owakudani (the Great Boiling Valley, just under an hour from Tokyo) will prolong your life by seven years. The eggs are bubbled in the stifling valley’s hot springs until they reach boiling point and turn black. If you don’t sample this local specialty, you should at least take the aerial gondola up the mountainside to see the volcanic action up close. Sulphur may fill your nostrils and steam might burn your face as it’s breathed upwards from the bubbling pools, but the views across the valley are unforgettable.
If you’ve tried a kuro-tamago in an attempt to delay death and would like to cleanse your palate of any lingering taste, then the best way to do so is to visit a traditional Japanese teahouse. Homely tea shops provide welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, but if you’re after more than just a cuppa, it’s worth taking a day trip to Kyoto on the bullet train. The ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto is a sublime paradise of gardens, secret temples and vivid shrines, where geishas are spotted shuffling under cherry blossom trees. Join a tea ceremony in a townhouse such as Nishijin Tondaya to experience the traditional ritual for yourself. You’ll be left feeling cleansed, revitalised and truly Zen.
To try Tokyo for yourself, check out our seven-night tour on Wow Go!
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