Of all of the places on our 2 month journey abroad, visiting Japan was most special to me. I was actually born in Misawa, Japan on account of my Dad being in the Air-force. Unfortunately we left 1-2 years after I was born, so as you might guess, I don’t remember anything about my time there. I grew up being reminded of that period of my life through pictures of me dressed in kimonos (that I still own) and festivals galore.
I always knew I wanted to visit Japan as an adult, but I had no idea it would be this soon. Sometimes I still can’t believe it happened! Anyways, I enjoyed Japan for a lot of reasons. Not only are the people really friendly, but it’s extremely CLEAN! Being that Tokyo is such a large and heavily populated city, I thought it might be similar to visiting New York. Skyscrapers, lots of people, and debris everywhere you turn. Y’all, I’ve never seen a city so clean. It was truly amazing. In addition, their transit system is really easy to navigate, which is saying a lot coming from a person who doesn’t have a lot of experience with public transportation outside of traveling.
As with most places we visited, there’s so much to see! Unfortunately I didn’t get to do everything I wanted, but without hesitation, I can say for sure we’ll definitely be visiting again. Here’s where we visited and ate!
On our first day in Japan, we arrived at our hotel around lunch time. Unfortunately it was too early to check in to our room (early check-ins are not a thing in Japan), so we decided to drop our bags and find something to eat. Khana Pina is an Indian restaurant that was a quick 4 minute walk from our hotel. It’s an intimate restaurant with a fair amount of seating. Lucky for us, it wasn’t very crowded so we were able to be seated right away. A man that appeared to be the owner (or at least manager) immediately brought us a cold towel (VERY convenient!) and ice-water.
As I browsed over the menu, the manager was very kind in helping me figure out options that suited my dietary needs. I was impressed that he was familiar with the term “vegan”, as people in other countries were not (many equated it to vegetarian… yikes!). I kept it pretty basic and decided to go with the Chana Masala and Rice. It was delicious and tasted very authentic! I knew I would be visiting again.
During my second visit, I decided to go with something different and opted to try the Aloo Palak and rice. This time I was a bit nervous because the manager didn’t seem to be working that day and I was worried that the other staff members might not understand my dietary restrictions. To my surprise, the cook recognized me from my visit a few days prior and even remembered what I ordered! I was both impressed and relieved!
The pricing was also reasonable. Each meal was about 1300¥ ($11.50) and very filling. Would I return? Absolutely!
Before I go on any trip, I do some research to get a feel for the vegan scene. T’s was one of those places I kept running into. I won’t lie, I’ve never been a huge fan of ramen. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I generally don’t care for “soupy” dishes. However, I wanted to try it anyways. YOLO, right? Besides, Japan is known for ramen. It’s the ramen mecca! I knew I couldn’t leave without trying it out.
Because the restaurant is in a subway station, you have to be passing through, or willing to pay for a ticket in order to get to their location. With a little help from google, I was able to find them (the line out the door was a dead giveaway, apparently this is common). T’s is the ideal place for a vegetarian or vegan to get ramen because they’re entirely vegan, which means they don’t use animal broth. It’s always exciting to be able to visit a restaurant and you’ve got the whole menu to choose from. Options galore!
For my entrée, I decided to go with the Gold Sesame meal along with rice, gyoza and a side of fried soy meat. I know, I know… I’m greedy! But i knew I wasn’t going to be visiting again during my trip, so I had to go all out! From start to finish, everything was delicious! I was so proud of myself for eating the entire meal with chopsticks! I wanted to try ice cream, but I was stuffed! If I ate another drop of food, my husband would have had to roll me out of there.
My total came up to 2050¥ ($18). Not bad for all of the food I got! On the way out I noticed they even have to-go options that include their legendary ramen and soy meat. I’ve read that they’re delicious!
Good Town Doughnuts
I heard this place had some pretty good vegan doughnuts, so I had to check them out! In addition, we needed someplace to get some work done and Good Town Doughnuts fit the bill. It’s a cute little coffee shop tucked away on a street with only foot traffic, lined with lots of restaurants and small shops. After walking in, I couldn’t help but notice their music selection; US country music radio. As an American, it just seemed like an interesting choice.
It’s my understanding that the doughnut selection is constantly changing, so the offerings might differ from visit to visit. I decided to go with one original doughnut, a mango doughnut, and a glass of lemonade. The doughnuts were pretty good, but a little sweeter than I would have liked. If they offered almond milk, I would have been set! My husband ordered one of their regular doughnuts and he enjoyed his too. The lemonade was a little off. I can’t exactly pinpoint what was wrong with it, but it didn’t taste like the lemonade I’m used to at all.
For 3 doughnuts, coffee, and lemonade, our total came up to 2000¥ ($17). Yikes! It was a little pricey, but I would visit them again.
On this particular day we were headed to visit the Senso Ji. I actually planned to dine at the Kaemon Asakusa, but when I arrived they were closed (google said they were open), but one of the ladies there was kind enough to help me find other vegan friendly options in the area. I was a little bummed because the internet spoke highly of this place and I was excited to try it. It may have been a blessing though, because I was a little uneasy about paying $18 for a buffet where I was unsure of what would be served.
On what felt like the hottest day of the year, I walked into the Sekai Cafe and was greeted by a very cool, open, and inviting space. The waitress directed me to my seat and quickly brought over some ice cold water.
Sekai Cafe serves a variety of different foods, so there’s something for everybody. Oh, and free wifi too! After browsing over the menu (which has clearly labeled vegan options), I decided to go with the Fuzin Set- a veggie burger that came with potato wedges, a salad, and a drink. For my drink, I ordered mango juice. I could taste the freshness! The veggie burger was good, but not life changing. The bun on the other hand was focaccia (I think), and was honestly the best part of the burger.
As I browsed over the menu for a dessert, I noticed that they also offered soy milk for other beverages on the menu like coffee. The matcha scone sounded appealing so I decided to try it. Also, anything “matcha” is all the rave in Japan, so it seemed like an appropriate choice. As soon as the matcha scone hit the table, I could smell it immediately! I enjoyed the addition of the raspberry sauce, a tasty accompaniment.
My husband and I were in the mood for sushi, so we searched Google for a few local options within walking distance of our hotel. Tochino- Ki was actually the runner up, but we ended up here because our first choice was either closed for a private event, or they didn’t speak English and didn’t feel like dealing with American customers. This actually turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to us on this trip.
Tochini- Ki was a God-send. Both me and my husband had an amazing, authentic sushi experience here that we’ll never forget. A lot of these sushi places have little sliding doors and are fairly small in size. After being rejected by the first place, we were a little nervous about the same thing happening here. We slid open the door and slowly walked in and headed toward the bar where there was open seating. I could tell that this was indeed a very local spot because everyone (salary men) seemed shocked that we were there. It almost felt like one of those movie scenes where everyone freezes as someone walks into the room. All eyes were on US!
To avoid confusion, I came prepared with my order already translated to Japanese. It was simple: avocado and cucumber sushi roll. I knew I couldn’t go wrong with that. Our waitress (also the sous chef) spoke some English, but was excited to see that I prepared a translation for her. She gathered that I only wanted veggies, then started bringing out things she thought I might like such as tomato+pesto, pumpkin… at this point I wasn’t sure what I was going to end up with!
A few minutes later she came out with this amazing plate of different veggies: pickled cucumber, an assortment of green beans. Our waitress truly made our visit memorable. She was SO kind! She even sent us home with plum juice and a pamphlet about the origin of sushi! Apparently a lot of Japanese drink it on hot days in order to cool off. It’s not just plum juice, it’s actually mixed with a few spices and sweeteners. So tasty! My husband and I walked away in complete awe. We just couldn’t believe how much we enjoyed ourselves!
Organic Table by Lapaz
Organic Table by Lapaz, was a neat little restaurant with a a cool vibe. Instead of plain water, they had a pitcher of infused water (Japanese grapefruit, lemon, and mint) waiting at each table. This was a lovely refreshment, seeing as though it was so hot.
For my entree, I decided to go with the tempeh burger because it was most “Japanese” as noted on the menu. I was really torn between ordering the rice bun (literally made of rice) and the wheat bun. At the last minute, I punked out and decided on the wheat bun out of fear that the rice bun would be too weird. Both their ketchup and mustard were homemade which was impressive! I like them, but had mixed feelings about the ketchup. With my burger I got to choose a side so I decided to go with the nuggets. They were soft inside, not so much of a “meaty” texture, but they had a nice crunch.
The staff was very attentive and seemed fascinated with my visit to Japan. It was cool to be able to chat with him about his own travels and my own. I would certainly visit again.
Ain Soph Ripple
Ain Soph Ripple is the vegan friendly “fast food” joint of Tokyo. It’s a small restaurant on a side street that probably only seats around 20 people. I ordered the Ripple Burger topped with onion, tomato, guac, and lettuce. They were having issues with the cheese distributor so I wasn’t able to try their mac and cheese (BUMMED!) so I ordered a side of fries instead. My husband decided to go with the crispy soy chicken burger that’s topped with red cabbage and tartar sauce. I thought this was a little interesting because in the states, tartar sauce is typically paired with fish. Not sure what to make of it, but it was tasty nonetheless. I also ordered ice cream which was delish!
Ain Soph Journey
Ain Soph Journey was probably one of the highlights of my dining experience in Tokyo. It’s a cute little spot in a pretty discreet location. In fact, I probably would have walked past it if there wasn’t a family in front of me looking for the same restaurant. It’s a two story restaurant with seating on the first and second levels. It’s quite a cozy space so it fills pretty quickly. I was on a solo mission, so I was quickly seated at a community table upstairs. To the right of me was a complimentary self-service water dispenser that held infused water. The water of the day was strawberry, cranberry, and rosemary. YUM!
The service was prompt. Ordering was a tough decision with all of the amazing options. I’d read good reviews about this place so I knew I couldn’t go wrong. I decided to go with a side of soy meat (by far the best I’d had on my whole trip) and the pesto. It included tomato, green beans, and eggplant. The side salad was nicely tossed in a tasty dressing and the carrot salad was delicious too even though I only spotted one walnut and three raisins. Would have been nice if there were more, but oh well.
If you’re headed to Tokyo, definitely make this a mandatory stop on your list. You won’t regret it! But also note that they only take cards if your purchase is more than 3,000 yen. Thankfully I had cash on me!
Funny story- the first time I tried to visit this place, I couldn’t find it! According to Google Maps, I was only about a 15 minute train ride away and the walk from the train was minimal. Feeling confident in my skills to conquer public transit, I got on the train and headed in the direction of the restaurant. I even managed to get off at the right place. The tricky part was actually finding it.
What was tricky for me was the fact that it was located in what I call a mini shopping mall called the Lumine. It was late, they were about to close. I walked around for at least 30 minutes trying to find it. At this point, Google Maps was no help either. I gave up and headed back to the hotel in disappointment.
The next day, I woke up determined to find this place! I did some more research online so I would have more information about exactly where this place was and headed back to that area and retraced some of my steps. It turns out, I was in the wrong shopping mall (there are a few in that area). It’s located in the Lumine 1 building on the 6th floor.
This place isn’t totally vegan, but they do have quite a few vegan offerings (just look for the “V”). I decided to go with the Strawberry Cream Parfait and my husband ordered the Berry Berry Crepe Brûlée. The parfait was layered with what appeared to be granola, rice krispies, strawberries and a berry compote. Every bit was like a taste of heaven. Of course I tried Deryle’s crepes and they were every bit as delicious as mine. The presentation was totally pic worthy! If I had time while I was there, I would have gone again!
Wired Bonbon is definitely a place to splurge. The parfait was 1280 yen and the crepes were 1180 which comes to a total of 2656 yen. $23 for dessert is a bit steep in my book, but I don’t regret a single bite!
Things to See:
If there’s one thing that’s for certain, there are ALWAYS festivals going on in Japan. ALWAYS! The Japanese love to celebrate and I am here for it! During our visit, the Mitama Matsuri festival was happening. During this festival, the spirits of the
ancestors are celebrated. The Yasukuni Shrine walkway is lined with 30 thousand yellow lanterns and guests are entertained with a mini parade including floats and traditional dancing (I even joined in!). In addition, there’s food, LOTS of food! Because there were so many people (super crowded), it was hard to gauge what my options were. I kept it simple and decided to try a mini watermelon for the first time and I enjoyed every single bite!
It was really cool to be able to participate in such a cool event. I’m so glad I found out about it! Thank God for social media! It was amazing to see so many different generations participating and joining in with the dances that seemed so commonly known. I won’t lie, I was jealous!
Karaoke is HUGE in Japan! In fact, many people do it as a way to relieve stress or just have fun with friends. It’s a bit different than it is in the States however… Typically you do karaoke in front of a crowd, you know, at a bar or something. In Japan you have private rooms instead. You pay upon entry, then you’re escorted to a private room where you can order drinks. I decided to be adventurous and order saki. When in Rome…right?! Well folks, I found out I don’t like sake. Deryle and I stayed for about 30 minutes or so, then continued roaming around. It was a neat experience, but doing karaoke alone in a room kinda takes the fun out of it.
Shibuya is home of the busiest crosswalk in the WORLD! I found this out years ago and was determined to get here to see it for myself. At peak times it’s been said that over 1,000 people cross at a time! It’s also surrounded by lots of shopping, restaurants and nightlife so it’s a great place to be if you wanna be “in the mix.”
I crossed it a few times during our stay in Japan and I expected it to be way more crowded than what it was. I’m not saying it’s a hoax, but because the crosswalks are so wide and there are four of them it makes it feel almost normal. Don’t get me wrong, there are always tons of people crossing, but I was expecting to have to walk shoulder to shoulder with people and that wasn’t the case.
Visiting the Senso Ji area was pretty cool! I started in this area by trying to find Sekai Cafe (mentioned above in the food section), and it was quite the experience going through areas of Tokyo so rich in history. After eating, we walked around for a bit. There are aisles full of shopping and we even saw a few people in their traditional kimonos. If you’re into souvenirs this is probably a great place to find one (or maybe not because it’s very touristy?). I’m not into trinkets so I didn’t bother to check out the prices, but if that’s your thing I’m sure you could find something really cool here. One thing I did buy in this area was some shaved ice. It was terribly hot and the thought of one seemed undeniable at the time.
While walking, we were approached by a younger guy who offered us a ride on a rickshaw. At first we declined, but then thought well… we’re here so we might as well. Low on cash, we opted for the short tour. I think it was about 15 minutes or so. I was thoroughly impressed that he was able to not only carry both me and my husband’s weight, but run too!
He took us through some of the older, more traditional parts of Asakusa and shared with us the history of the area. Not to mention, he was super personable and shared with us that he actually goes to college in the states, but comes back to Japan in the summer. He was the first person we met outside of hotel staff who spoke enough english to actually have a conversation with. It was great to be able to finally connect with a local.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observation Deck
Looking for great views of the city on a budget? This is where you wanna be!
Since we had been traveling throughout so many different cities and countries, it was really important that we found ways to maintain our budget and not go broke trying to see everything. One thing we didn’t want to miss out on was visiting one of the many observation decks around Tokyo. If you google “Tokyo observation decks,” a lot of options will come up. A lot of them are really fancy and some even roofless. As tempting as it was, we decided to go with the free version. Yep, FREE! The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building allowed us to be able to get amazing views of the city for free.99.
There are two areas of the building, north and south. You’re able to access both of them from this building. Each time you’ll have to go through security and take a trip up a pretty swift elevator. Once you get to the top you’re surrounded by windows overlooking the city. This is also a great place for souvenirs as well. Would you believe I even found a keychain with my name on it?! As a kid, this was extremely rare so of course I had to buy it!
As we exited, we noticed there was a little mini museum with some artifacts from past olympics in celebration of the 2020 olympics that will be hosted in Tokyo. We got to have a look at some of the items in the area and take a few flicks in some neat robes. All fo free!
Since we couldn’t make it to the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, I figured the next best thing was the Hie Shrine. I dreamed of visiting those famous orange gates, but a trip to Kyoto just wasn’t in the budget. I tried to make it work, but it just didn’t make sense. Although locating it was a little tricky, the Hie Shrine made for a great alternative. It’s located in more of a business oriented side of Tokyo and getting there from public transportation involved about a 15-20 minute walk. Luckily I was traveling with a photo of it on my phone, so if I needed to ask for directions, I would just pull it out in hopes that they would point me in the right direction.
With a little help from the locals, we made it. The Hie Shrine is located on the top of a hill so the first thing we were greeted with were a ton of steps (photo below). After we made it up the steps, we were able to walk freely around the shrine and observe. Whatever you do, don’t sit on the steps, it’s not a resting area. We may or may not have learned this the hard way… Toward the back of the shrine is where you’ll find the orange steps. What I liked about this area is that it wasn’t at all crowded. You could stay and take as many photos as you’d like!
I could go on and on about how amazing Japan was. There’s so much to offer and I love that for a culture whose food is so heavily meat-based that there were so many amazing vegan options that were still so cultural and authentic. Not to mention the million and one things there are to do. There’s truly something for everyone! Have you been to Tokyo? What was your experience like? I’d love to visit during Cherry Blossom season!