Eating Our Hearts Out On Our First Night in Tokyo

After a much needed nap, Tony & I forced ourselves out of bed in search of a 100 Yen shop and some dinner. We were still feeling pretty groggy (I may have resorted to slapping my own face once or twice in an attempt to wake myself up) as we stumbled from the hostel, but we knew that if we kept sleeping, we'd be guaranteeing ourselves that we'd be up again at 4 am (even without the help of rowdy roommates).

While she was living in Japan, L’Ell constantly sung the praises of the restorative powers of the 100 Yen shop, so we decided to see if we could find one in order to replace our travel-size toiletries with some larger ones and maybe pick up a few snacks as well.

Navigating off of a map our hostel had given us, we soon realized that in keeping with the whole notion that Tokyo is the city of the future, this map was also from the future: after searching for a good 15 minutes, we realized that the 100 Yen shop that was indicated on the map was not actually slated to be built until 2013! There were some signs suggesting this 100 Yen shop of the future might be located in one of the surrounding buildings, but when we tried to follow the signs, all we found were video game and indoor sports arcades. Fun, but not quite what we were looking for.

There was another 100 Yen shop on our map that did turn out to exist in 2012, which had what we needed (and so much more! Like heated toilet seat covers!). We were so exhausted that we seriously considered picking up dinner here so that we could eat a quick, hassle-free dinner at the hostel and then go back to bed. In the end, however, the combination of the fact that none of the dishes looked particularly appetizing AND eating convenience store food for our first dinner in Japan was just too pathetic made us suck it up and look for a real place to eat.

The neighborhood around our hostel was made up of tiny streets just like this. Pretty, but discombobulating (note the distinct lack of any English)!

Now, I hope it goes without saying that on this trip Tony & I really want to try our best to avoid the usual “ugly foreigner” stereotypes. So it pains me to admit this, but at this point in our day I was so bushed that all I wanted was to find a place where I could point at pictures in a menu and grunt to order. Like I said, jet lag does crazy things to a person and I am not so proud as to pretend that I didn’t gaze longingly at a few of the McDonald’s we passed along the way.

Fear not, gentle readers! We did not succumb to the soothing glow of the golden arches, but instead wound up stumbling down a little alleyway (surprise, surprise!) that was filled with izakaya (Japanese bars) establishments. The friendly hostess of one such place named Daikatsu beckoned us over and showed us a menu. Without really taking the time to read it, a cursory inspection showed that there was English on it and the prices were reasonable, and that was good enough for us.

The proprietress—and cook—at Daikatsu

We were ushered to a small table that was on an elevated platform and I experienced a moment of panic and embarassement regarding the proper etiquette about footwear. It looked like there was tatami and we would be sitting on small cushions, which I thought meant I should take off my shoes, but we were in what was little more than a ramshackled bar and there was no obvious place to put my shoes were I to take them off that wouldn’t pose a tripping hazard. I looked around trying to get some clue, but seeing none, began to climb up on the platform, shoes firmly in place. A high-pitched squeak and the rapid flapping of the proprietress’s hands told me I had chosen wrong. I quickly slipped my shoes off and dropped them to the floor before any damage was done, but I did feel wretched for a few minutes as I worried that I had come across as a culturally ignorant Westerner.

When it came time to order, despite having been drawn to the restaurant because of its English menu, we probably couldn’t have made odder choices had we been given a menu entirely in Japanese and selected our food by tossing darts at it. We wound up ordering a bowl of stewed offal, pork & kimuchi, and a side of rice. Yes, you read that right: we knowingly chose to order a bowl of stewed pig parts! We’re not entirely sure what parts were included, but there was definitely some stomach/intestine and some heart (which was so tasty that Tony remarked that he wish there had been more of it!). We’ve eaten various “off cuts” before, and while there definitely is a bit of a mental block at time when you remember that you’re eating innards, it was really very good. For us, the biggest gamble was the pork & kimuchi, because we had yet to learn that the “u” is often skipped over in Japanese words, so we had no idea that “kimuchi” was actually “kimchi”! Luckily that too was delicious! Despite the shaky start, and the fact that this was probably the polar opposite of the meal I had expected to have, it was a really great meal and a wonderful way to cap off our first day in Tokyo. Probably the only downside to the meal is that as tired as we were, we still waited at our little table for about 20 minutes after we were done because we didn’t know how to ask for the bill! Eventually another couple finished and we realized that we had to go up to the counter to pay (this seems to be the standard protocol in Japan – they don’t drop a bill off at your table, you just go up to the cash register when ready to pay. I suppose they may not want you to feel as though they are rushing you out after your meal?)

All in all, not a bad start to our trip! Yes, I did have some grand plans for things to see and do on our first day that didn’t quite pan out, but I keep reminding myself that this trip is a marathon, not a sprint and we need to pace ourselves. There’s no point pushing ourselves to see everything that is available to us, making ourselves miserable in the process. In the end, I think it’s best to do less but take the time to really enjoy those things. And really, I think it’s safe to say our first day still offered up plenty of adventures, and one meal that was offaly good (wah wah!).

Our first dinner in Japan!

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19 comments Leave a comment

  1. Laura

    HA! This post is hilarious! Oh man, I can just picture the waitress’ face when you stepped on the tatami! Don’t stress, we’ve all done that! And really, don’t worry too much about looking like foreigners – just show them you’re trying! It’s the tourists who think things should be just the way they are at home, that are obnoxious when travelling.

    I used to just say ‘gomennasai’ (sorry) and then gesture to the plastic food in window and drag the waitress over and point and use my fingers to indicate how many of each! As long as you say thank you and don’t cause too much of a stink, I found most of the waiters/waitresses were more than happy to help and even go out of their way to make me happy!

    You guys have a lot of travelling ahead in places where language will be even more of an issue. Take it easy in Japan and use the plastic food and point and everyone understands a bit of English (even if some pretend otherwise!). Really, when it comes down to it, when the Japanese see you trying to communicate and appreciating their food, sights and culture, they’ll be happy.

    This was only your first day? Wow. Can’t wait to hear what happened next!

    Aug. 16 2012 @ 6:18 am
    1. Laura author

      One of the words we have learned to use quite a bit is “sumimasen”, though thus far I have mostly used it on the subway… I think I will just start saying it all the time (along with “sumimasen, nihonga wa hanasemasen” –> I don’t speak Japanese… because we have a lot of people speaking to use in Japanese and looking at us like they expect us to understand).

      Right now our issue is that we haven’t been finding very many restaurants with plastic food! Even worse, we’re finding a lot of places that don’t even have the prices listed in Arabic numerals, so we have no idea how much things are going to cost. I admit, it’s been really frustrating and I have come close to melting down a few times. Generally we just keep searching until we find a place that has something we can order. Of course, after we order something at random, then I see delicious food come out that I immediately wish I had ordered but didn’t even know was available… Sigh.

      Aug. 17 2012 @ 7:14 am
  2. Sounds like a great, if exhausting, first day! I LOVE the look of the street near your hostel – it’s exactly what I’m looking for; tiny places to eat, no english, no clue! I, too, wouldn’t worry about making mistakes – it’s inevitable, and you learn, right? What a great first dinner – strange, unexpected, and tasty! I’m loving your stories, and your writing – making me smile and laugh. Cheers!

    Aug. 16 2012 @ 7:56 am
    1. Gillian @OneGiantStep author

      We chose the Asakusa area of Tokyo for our hostel, mostly because it seemed to be the cheapest area, but in the end we really liked it for other reasons! We were really well located in terms of subway access, and our little neighborhood got pretty quiet at night which was great for catching some shut eye. It may not be quite as bustling and busy as Shibuya/Shinjuku, but I think it can be nice to get away from the action at the end of the day.

      Aug. 17 2012 @ 7:16 am
  3. Sounds epic so far! I hope you guys got some good sleep though; just reading everything you did exhausted me. 😉

    Aug. 16 2012 @ 9:52 am
    1. Eva author

      We never did get great sleep at the hostel, but after we got out of Tokyo, things definitely improved! We’ve had private rooms the past 2 nights and that has been a delight (and much needed!)! 😉

      Aug. 17 2012 @ 7:18 am
  4. I think that looks delicious! Intestines can be a little hard to swallow at first [cue rim shot], but usually are super flavorful and good for you.

    I would imagine it would be hard to start your travels in Japan, a country filled with a lot of etiquette customs and traditions. It sounds like you’ve studied up quite a bit and are handling it well so far. I anticipate the many times I’m sure I’ll look like the idiot Westerner and I just need to get over that. Perfection is not the name of the game. Nor is rushing, you’re right about that.

    Can’t wait to hear about more adventures!

    Aug. 16 2012 @ 9:56 am
    1. Carmel author

      We have had offal before, but generally in the Mexican style, so this was definitely a new experience for us! Definitely delicious, but every so often, I was like “Oh my gosh… I’m eating organs… I don’t know how to feel about this!”

      Also, thank you for this “Perfection is not the name of the game.” You are so right. Inevitably I am going to blunder, because all of this is new to me, so all I can do is try my best to not offend, but I have to accept that mistakes will be made, but that is how we learn!

      Aug. 17 2012 @ 7:21 am
  5. Sounds like a great first day to your trip! Definitely no point in trying to exhaust yourself from the very beginning. When Dave and I went to Greece for our vacation last year we ran around like crazy and truly came home more exhausted than refreshed but it made sense to us since we figured we could sleep and rest at home. With an extended trip that’s no longer an option so sometimes you just have to take it easy!

    Aug. 16 2012 @ 1:08 pm
    1. Vicky author

      I have actually been really surprised at how tired I have been this past week… The last time I backpacked, my friend Laura and I did a marathon 7-week jaunt through Europe and I never really felt the brisk pace we set. Now, when we have to leave a place after 2 days, I groan and wish we could have another day so I can just lollygag in bed!

      But I do think that long-term travel requires a totally different mindset, because you really aren’t trying to cram all of your experiences into 1 week and you’ll deal with catching up on sleep, etc., when you return home to your real life. We have to set a sustainable pace, although Japan being as pricey as it is, we can’t afford to go any slower. But definitely a good learning experience for when we hit cheaper places!

      Aug. 17 2012 @ 7:24 am
  6. Your stomachs are so much braver than mine! And I love little confusing streets…looks like they’re car-free.

    Aug. 16 2012 @ 7:06 pm
    1. softdrink author

      Yes, the little alleyways were mostly car free, though occasionally one would seemingly come out of the blue, but we were largely in a pedestrian/cyclist neighborhood which certainly made it nice for exploring (one less thing to worry about since they drive on the “wrong” side of the road here!).

      Aug. 17 2012 @ 7:25 am
  7. This is a great post! We are always lost in foreign land and dont generally know their customs and traditions, but learning them slowly is one of the joys of travel.
    And I did not eat out mostly, until I was with my blogger friends in Nara and Kyoto who guided me to vegetarian restaurants.
    Its so wonderful reading your posts, I am reliving my Japanese Journey 🙂

    Aug. 18 2012 @ 9:40 pm
    1. Arti author

      I have heard it is RIDICULOUSLY hard to be a vegetarian in Japan and I believe it! There is so much hidden meat (especially fish!) in things that unless you can speak Japanese very well, it would be very hard to eat out if you have important dietary restrictions. I am glad to hear that you did get to experience some of the wonderful restaurants eventually, though!

      Aug. 19 2012 @ 7:20 pm
  8. Jet lag really does take you out of yourself. I’m glad you found a good way to end your first day!

    Aug. 19 2012 @ 12:40 pm
    1. Amanda author

      Yes, I would say better to end on a high note than to start on one and have it go downhill! 🙂

      Aug. 19 2012 @ 7:22 pm
  9. It’s so funny that your map sent you in search of a place that hadn’t been built yet — that’s the exact opposite of what often happens with guidebooks, when you spend hours in search of a place that closed a year ago!

    Feb. 20 2014 @ 4:13 pm
    1. Cassie author

      It was our one instance in Tokyo where we really felt like we were glimpsing the future! You’re right that we’ve never had that happen since then.

      Feb. 20 2014 @ 10:47 pm
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    May. 16 2018 @ 12:45 am

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