You absolutely need to take a trip to Nara: The magical city of tame deer in Japan

While we were in Kyoto, we decided to take a day trip to Nara. This experience is why you absolutely need to schedule a trip to Nara during your time in Japan!

magical day trip to Nara, Japan - @thedashanddine

Mike: On our last full day in Japan, we took the train to Nara… or as we call it: “The Place with the Tame Deer.” I wasn’t sure if we wanted to take a day trip an hour out of town when we still had so much to see in Kyoto, but I’m glad we stuck to the plan, because Nara is awesome.

Megan: Nara was BY FAR my favorite part about the trip. I’d been itching to go since a friend of mine showed me a selfie she took with a deer. But I had no idea how completely incredible it would be for reals.

magical day trip to Nara, Japan - @thedashanddine

About five minutes after exiting the subway, you’re met with the cutest little deer! They’re just standing there on the sidewalk, like it ain’t no thing, near a man selling “deer crackers.” We bought a bunch and I started feeding them.

magical day trip to Nara, Japan - @thedashanddine
Deer crackers.

We were warned by friends and tons of posted signs, that the deer could be a bit aggressive: Continue reading “You absolutely need to take a trip to Nara: The magical city of tame deer in Japan”

Snow, swan boats and sulfur: Our quick trip to Hakone

Our quick trip to Hakone - @thedashanddine

Mike: Megan gets a little overwhelmed in New York, so I thought she might get triggered in Tokyo, being surrounded by endless skyscrapers. When we booked our trip to Japan, I scheduled a night in the mountain town of Hakone as a brief respite from the city. Turned out that Megan was just fine in Tokyo, but we’re still glad we hit this charming resort spot.

Megan: After our six days in Tokyo, we jumped on the RomanceCar (the not-really-appropriate name for the very-ordinary train to Hakone) and left the city behind…
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Drunk on kitsch and booze: Our first foodie trip to Tokyo

Last year, Mike and I decided to take a last-minute foodie trip to Tokyo. It was both of our first times in Japan. Here’s Part One of our oral history: Our time in Tokyo.

Day One: Shinjuku and Golden Gai

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo
Trying to find our way on the subway.

Mike: We got our first taste of Japan on the train from the Haneda airport to our hotel in Shinjuku. People were extremely quiet and extremely courteous (even offering to help as I bumbled through buying a train ticket). There was no litter anywhere. And every element of life has been intelligently considered and perfectly engineered. Nothing in Japan happens by accident.

Megan: I still don’t think I’ve had as big of a thrill as getting a can of coffee from a vending machine and finding it to be perfectly hot and delicious…

Oh wait, maybe my biggest thrill was meeting my first Japanese robot toilet. It was like a vacation all in itself, and quite the opposite of the first Tokyo toilet I came across, which was basically a hole in the ground. As my jet-lagged body met the comforting heated seat, and then the warm drying feature… sigh… I was reluctant to leave the bathroom to re-join Mike in the confusing subway.

Oh wait! THAT thrill was only rivaled by the discovery of heated subway seats. (I love heated seats!)

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo

When we finally reached the Keio Plaza Hotel we were too early to check in. So Mike and I had them watch our luggage and we headed out to wander about the city…

Exploring the Meiji Shrine

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo
Washing hands before entering the shrine.

Megan: We walked through side streets to the Meiji Shrine. It was awesome. I was really glad we got to experience a bit of old Tokyo right away, since the rest of our time in Tokyo was mostly city-lifestyle-based. We washed our hands in the bamboo water fountain. We offered up some coins, and clapped and bowed. We bought a little Japanese trinket for “good fortune.” We witnessed a wedding procession. And we generally enjoyed walking around the park.

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo
I enjoy this poorly-timed gust of wind photo at the Meiji Shrine.

Isetan Department Store lunch

Mike: For lunch, we wandered over to the Isetan Department Store, where there’s a thoroughly overwhelming collection of ready-to-eat food of all kinds, savory and sweet. Our friend Allen recommended it for good reason.

Turns out, most major department stores in Tokyo have basement floors that try to outdo each other with more and more extravagant food counters. “Depachika” is actually a portmanteau of “depato” for “department store” and “chika” meaning “basement.”

But FINDING a ridiculous array of delicious food options was only about a third of the battle. On day one in Japan, our communication skills were pretty weak, so we basically pointed and tried not to offend. Megan pulled off a few convincing renditions of “Do you speak English?” in Japanese, and somehow, we managed to procure a fun assortment of treats to try.

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo
Pickled Plum Onigiri on the Isetan rooftop.

Our next issue was finding somewhere to actually EAT the food, because 99.9999% of depachika customers purchase their items to bring home. As a rule, Japanese people don’t eat food on the street (it’s considered quite rude), so we had to eat our (tasty) plum onigiri, red bean rice cake, gyoza, chicken, and salad on the rooftop garden next to one lonely elderly lady in the low-40s cold.

The streets of Tokyo

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo

Mike: Our route back to hotel looked more like the Tokyo we expected. Megan gets anxious about the size/crowd/intensity of NYC, so we both wondered how she’d cope with an even bigger and even more packed city. But other than a few chaotic moments, she was just fine in Tokyo. Maybe it’s because the people and the traffic are so quiet and calm. When you hear the rare honk or siren, you realize just how quiet your surroundings have been.

Megan: It’s so amazingly quiet in Tokyo that if we were standing together on the corner of a massively busy street, you could actually hear one of us whisper to the other.

Heading out for the night in Shinjuku

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo

Mike: At night, lit up by neon, Shinjuku is gorgeous and pulsing with energy. I thought it would look a bit more futuristic — it’s more like the future imagined in the ’80s — but the size and scope is breathtaking.

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo
Our whiskey tasting flight at Zoetrope.

Drinks at a whiskey bar called Zoetrope

Mike: As our friends warned, finding specific establishments in Tokyo is a challenge, as street names (when they exist) are in Japanese, street numbers are useless (they’re numbered by when they were built, not geographical location), and you have to look in every direction, including up. But after some searching of the side streets, we found a small sign by a door, leading us to an elevator, and we walked into a tiny bar on the third floor.

Fatty Arbuckle movies were projected on the wall as Smashing Pumpkins played on the stereo — an oddly satisfying combination. We sat at the small bar and the bartender poured us a couple tasting flights of Japanese whiskey. My favorite was Nikka Single Malt Yoishi, which we’d enjoy a few more times soon enough.

Dinner at Sakura Sushi

Mike: Despite approximately one billion restaurant recommendations from friends, for our first dinner, we went to Sakura Sushi, a highly-ranked “kaisen” spot — one of those places where pieces of fish motor past you on a conveyer belt. Trip Advisor reviews said to order directly from the chef, instead of grabbing choices from the conveyer belt, so we pointed at various photos, said please (“kudasai”) a lot, and received some amazing sushi. Our favorite was the “tuna set” — a melt in your mouth selection of fatty, medium, and lean tuna.

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo
The marvelous tuna set.

Drinking in Golden Gai

Mike: We walked down to the Golden Gai to hit a couple more bars. These were even smaller than Zoetrope (which would have been the smallest bar in LA). Tokyo’s motto should really be “Fuck Fire Codes.” We really liked Albatross G, which was cozy and warm on a cold night.

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo
That’s a whiskey with a cat and a disco ball in the background. Albatross G is a weird little place.

That place also has the smallest bathroom of all time — the toilet paper dispenser is over the less-than-a-foot-wide sink. I couldn’t have sat down if I’d needed to. But the shrunken size of these bars breeds a fun camaraderie — every time a new person enters, everyone sounds off on how to cram another body into the establishment.

@thedashanddine's first foodie trip to Tokyo
I think this is the apple waffle.

Megan: Another thrill of the trip: Stumbling, perfectly whiskey drunk, home past a “Mr. Waffle” — a small shop full of waffles in every flavor. We grabbed an apple one and a chocolate one and wolfed them down on the walk. They distracted us for a minute from the stiff breeze and cold night.

Day Two: Our AirBnB in Shibuya and the Robot Restaurant

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