Tasting Tokyo: 8 hours and 1 empty stomach

by Rob Hoadley
Stripes Japan

 

Full disclosure, I’m a civilian high school English teacher, and I just spent three weeks wandering around Japan on my summer break.

 

I’m not into your hipster jean wearing, latte sipping, book-quoting literary scene.

 

My tastes are simple. I like a good beer, a great meal, and the more a place is off the tourist trodden path, the better.

 

No English menu? Bring it on. You allow smoking? Whatever. Crowds? No thanks.

 

Here’s my advice on a perfect afternoon of eating in Tokyo. The first thing you do when you get out of whatever station you pop out of, and there are hundreds, is find the closest Lawson. Walk in, get an egg salad sandwich, maybe two, and a Strong Zero to drink. Just be aware, Strong Zero is not for the kids. It’s like an adult beverage that comes in every skittle flavor. Apple banana kiwi? Pretty sure it exists, and if it doesn’t, I’m sure they’re working on it in a secret government lab.

 

This sounds insane; a convenience store chain? Believe me, I know. But there is something in that egg salad that is pure magic. A David Blaine sleight of hand between two ultra-processed bread slices. Bonus points if you consume it on the street in front of the store.

 

As soon as you finish paying your respects at the shrine of Lawson, take a ride to Koenji Station. Head north to the Craft Beer Market and grab a pint or two, making sure to sample some of the 30 Japanese brews on tap.

 

Then go directly under the JR tracks. Get off the touristy main strip at all costs. Under the south and west side of the tracks are great local haunts were you can eat all kinds of protein on a stick, on a Sapporo-crate table, in the street.

 

At night, the experience is even better with the trains whizzing by overhead and smoke wafting from the grills.

 

There’s also a great raw tuna spot where they don’t speak English well, but the food is stupidly amazing. Get in the door by telling them you just want beer, then point at the menu and order at random.

 

I would hope for your sake that your finger randomly lands on the majestic tuna tartare.

 

Finally, after dodging Koenji hipsters hawking skateboards, 90’s NBA paraphernalia, and esoteric English t-shirts, head to Shinjuku Station. About a block away to the east is Ougisushi. The salmon and tuna sashimi will elevate your consciousness to another plane of existence.

 

I am convinced the old sushi master behind the counter is down at the Tsukiji Fish Market every morning hand picking the best of the best. A few orders of otherworldly sushi and a couple ice cold mugs of beer later, I’m sure this is what one comes to Tokyo for.

 

After three weeks wandering the streets, these would be my absolute must-visits for any afternoon of food and beverage consumption in Tokyo. But, by no means do you have to strictly follow this advice. Maybe start at Lawson and see where the day takes you. That’s the beauty of Tokyo. The city is a vast sea of possibility. The fun part is experiencing where the currents take you.

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