Photo of the day: View from Tokyo Sky Tree.
We went for a ride along the Ginza Line to the terminal station of Asakusa to explore this area today. Looking through Foursquare recommendations, the place to eat here is Asakusa Unatetsu, a restaurant specializing in Eel or Unagi. When we arrived, there was surprisingly no line. It eventually made sense since we got there around 2pm and we were told they ran out of their lunch specials. Instead, we ordered one bowl of their unagi on rice in a box as well as some skewers. We had the assorted skewers plate with 4 skewers made of different parts of the eel. The first was just the meat of the eel. The meat was very tender and tasty. Next, was the skin of the eel which was a bit crunchy and slippery. Then, there were the intestines, which was squishy and which I did not enjoy. The last skewer we could not decipher which part of the eel it was. It was a bit more chewy than the rest. Finally, our eel with rice in a box came. To our disappointment, that was literally it. It did not come with any sides. The eel itself was very tasty and even the rice was delicious with the sauce mixed in to it. Our bill came out to be around $40 CAD, which is pretty pricey for the amount of food we got but eel is supposedly expensive.
After lunch, I went to see Senso-ji, while Aaron did some work at the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Centre, which had a cafe on the 8th floor with a really nice view. Senso-ji was, as expected, very crowded with tourists. There was a nice street lined with fake cherry blossoms with many stalls selling souvenirs. It reminded me of Insadong with the many young ladies wearing kimonos just walking around. The temple itself had a very different feel than the Buddhist temples we’ve seen in Thailand. There was no huge golden structures. The building itself was grand but the insides are more subtle. There was a division between the outside chamber, where most people were and the inside chamber, where people can pay their respects. This was nice as it gave them more of a quiet environment to do so. While there, I wanted to see the surrounding structures. Unfortunately, the Five-Storey Pagoda was undergoing construction so I did not get to admire its beauty. To the East, there was the Asakusa-jinja, where a wedding ceremony was taking place at the time of my visit.
There were multiple interesting practices I noticed people engage at the temple. Some drank water from a fountain using a wooden ladle. Others threw coins into a wooden apparatus before paying their respects by clapping their hands together. There was also lighting of candles to place in a lantern as a way to make a wish. One interesting practice was the paper fortunes. I was very curious to see all these little drawers as well as paper fortunes tied to rods. I later read all about these paper fortunes (Omikuji). First, you would insert 100 yen as a offering to a box. Then you can shake the Omikuji box until a little rod is revealed. You match the number on the rod to the corresponding drawer and then take out your fortune slip. If you have a bad fortune, you can tie the paper onto the rods on an apparatus built for this purpose, to leave it behind.
I also visited Don Quijote, a huge discount store. It looks really cheesy inside with bright pinks and yellow signs with cartoon characters but they carry brands like Louis Vuitton. It’s really quite bizarre. Down the street was a shopping mall called ROX. I’ve seen a few indoor shopping malls in Tokyo and they all have an open concept. Each floor had a few stores and there was not clear division of the stores. They just blended into the next. They were also a lot smaller than the regular independent versions of these stores. No wonder there are not as many people who shop here as they do at the independent stores.
I met up with Aaron and we walked over to the Tokyo Sky Tree before the sunsets. We were told it was not a busy day so it wasn’t necessary to get the fast pass. Even so, we still had to wait at least 30 minutes in line. I can’t imagine what the wait would be on a “busy” day. Luckily, we were able to catch the last few minutes of sunset on the 350th floor of the world’s tallest tower. Visibility was low today so we were only able to catch the faint image of the peak of Mount Fuji in the distance. We’ve seen our fair share of panoramic city views and I would have to say that this was the most impressive. Once the sun fully set and the city completely lights up, I can truly appreciate the density of this busy city. It was especially beautiful with the rivers running across and the bay in the distance.
We were getting tired and hungry, so we headed down but they very smart to strategically force us to walk through the mall before heading out. Here, they had everything from clothing stores, to restaurants, to desserts. We were lured in by having a sample of the Tokyo Brownie that we had to buy a box of. They also had white wine and earl grey flavours but we preferred the original more. There was a croissant Taiyaki stall, so of course we had to stop for one. It was as good as the ones we had in Myeongdong. I was more attracted to the cheesecake from Cheese Garden. Ever since I had Uncle Tetsu cheesecake from Toronto, I’ve been trying to find something that fluffy and light. This was not what I was looking for as I realized it was quite dense but it was still really good cheesecake.
After we stopped being distracted, we made our way back to Shibuya. Aaron’s been wanting to bring me to a “train sushi” place called Uobei and tonight is the night. There was a bit of a line but it moved very quickly as it was run really efficiently. We were given two little clipboards with numbers showing us where to sit. We found our stations beside each other. Aaron was showing me the ropes before I even got the chance to sit down. He showed me how to make my own tea using the green tea powder provided. He also shows me where I can find the little packages of wasabi. He then showed me how to order from the screen. And how to send the train back after my order arrived. It was all very new and exciting and I didn’t know where to start. I eventually decided to order some basic tuna and salmon nigiri for comparisons sake. We could order 3 items at a time so I also ordered some things that I’ve never had before – tuna with taro and minced tuna with green onion and salt sauce. Within a minute, my 3 plates of sushi arrived in front of me on the conveyor belt. The tuna and salmon were very fresh. The amount of fish given was definitely generous for the price. The tuna with taro was actually not bad but it was the minced tuna with green onion and salt sauce that blew me away. I am not sure what was in that sauce but it was really good. Next, I decided to splurge a little order some fatty blue fin tuna and fatty salmon. These only came with one piece per order. Aaron recommended the Bonito (as in the fish used to make Bonito flakes) so I added that to get my order of 3. I actually did not like the Bonito that much. It was a bit chewy. The fatty salmon was deliciously smooth but the winner would have to be the fatty blue fin tuna. I have never had a piece of raw fish that just melt in my mouth. I continued to experiment with things I can’t find in Canada so I had the fresh shrimp, scallops with Mentaiko mayo and the sea bream. The fresh shrimp had a nicer texture than the usual boiled shrimp we get in Canada. The sea bream was also not bad but my preferred way of eating this fish is still steamed whole. The scallops were very creamy, as expected. I was pretty full by this point but I wanted to try the fatty yellowtail. I am glad I did because this was my second favourite for the night, with the fatty bluefin tuna being my favourite. We always end our sushi meals with tamago, so I ordered one plate of the tamago by itself to share with Aaron since I did not think I can eat anymore rice at this point. After we were done, we submitted our bills on the screen, then walked to the front with our small clipboards to pay. I was also starting to appreciate the differences in eating culture here compared to in South Korea. Although Aaron and I sat next to each other, we basically ordered our own food and ate at our own pace and ended with separate bills. Many people came alone and it would not be awkward at all to eat alone here as you would just eat facing the conveyor belt. This is in huge contrast to Korea where most food was meant to be shared and eating alone is not common. Each order was 108 yen (~$1.30 CAD) with some special items priced higher at 220 yen (~$2.60 CAD). Our combined bill came out to be around $38 CAD, which is great value for the amount of food we had. One thing we noticed was that the quality of the rice deteriorated near the end. It actually became quite “al dente” which was inconsistent with the nice sushi rice at the beginning. Overall, it was still a great experience and they also had an impressive desserts menu for those who still had room to eat that after all the sushi. On our way home, we stopped by one of the many convenience stores nearby to pick up some breakfast items, then called it a night.