***This is part 13 of my “Fat and Furious” trip report detailing a recent trip to Japan which included stops in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Matsuyama***
2. Star Alliance First Class Lounge at LAX
3. Singapore Airlines Suites Class Los Angeles to Tokyo
4. Conrad Tokyo
5. Eating Tokyo Part 1 – Department Store Hopping in Ginza
6. Funaya Ryokan In Matsuyama
7. Living The Onsen Life In Matsuyama
8. The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
9. Eating Kyoto – The Search for Matcha and Geisha
10. Kaiseki Dinner at 3-Michelin Star Kikunoi Honten
11. The Peninsula Tokyo
12. Eating Tokyo Part 2 – Maids, Robots, and Cosplay
13. Eating Tokyo Part 3 – Cherry Blossoms and THE BEST STEAK EVER
14. ANA Business Class Lounge at NRT
15. ANA Business Class Tokyo to San Jose
On the initial stop in Tokyo we were hoping to take advantage of our jet-lagged body clocks to wake up in time for the daily fish auction at Tsukiji Fish Market. Based on our research, we had read that you really need to be there by 4AM at the latest to secure a spot. But we ended up going 0 for 2 on our attempts, although I fully admit that I only gave it a half-hearted effort. After all, while on vacation there’s no way that you should be forced to wake up earlier than you do for work.
We decided to give it one final attempt on our last full day in Tokyo, but the black-out curtains served their purpose too well, and we didn’t end up waking up until closer to 10AM. I would make a terrible, TERRIBLE fisherman.
Nonetheless, we decided to head over to Tsukiji around noon to check things out. By that time, the morning haul had long been packed up.
But the outer market was still jam-packed with hungry people in search of fresh seafood.
We made our way over to the inner market where all of the popular sushi spots already had lines stretching around the block. Given how small these restaurants were and the ridiculous number of people in line, I calculated that we’d be looking at 2-3 hour wait times.
As much as I wanted to eat there, I’m the type of person that gets annoyed when my fast food takes longer than a couple minutes to come out. So there was no way in hell that my patience would last that long.
So instead we walked back to the outer market and snacked our way through, tasting all the interesting catches from the day.
It’s a strange feeling when the sight of a decapitated tuna leaves you drooling more than it disturbs you.
While we may have missed out on the popular sushi spots, there was no shortage of good eats. For example, this plate of super fresh tuna.
And my wife’s choice of a bowl of roe topped with uni. I graciously passed on this one.
Next, we turned our attention to the beautiful cherry blossoms that had begun blooming all over the city. There were many good places to see them, and the public parks in particular were the most popular places to have hanami, or flower viewing parties.
Our first stop was Ueno Park which was one of the most crowded places we encountered, but for good reason.
There was a long walkway where the cherry blossoms hung overhead, which really allowed you to feel complete immersed in them. Of course, it was jam-packed with people, but in some ways I didn’t mind since that made it easier to walk slowly and take pictures.
Another great public park was Yoyogi Park, which was probably just as crowded, but was so large that it didn’t feel quite as claustrophobic.
Yoyogi had a ton of open, grassy space, and there was no shortage of people camped out.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I’m the type of person that doesn’t like to sit in one place for very long while traveling. But this was such a beautiful and relaxing sight that even I had to take a moment to sit on a bench and soak it in.
There was a lot happening at Yoyogi, including an outdoor festival that featured a DJ and full-on dance party, along with an amphitheater where a rock concert was also going on.
With all the street food vendors in the area, it was a perfect time to grab a snack. I opted for some delicious yakitori which was grilled on-the-spot.
Afterwards we summoned our energy and walked over to one final cherry blossom viewing spot located near the Tokyo Dome.
The screams from the roller coaster could be heard from far away.
Normally, I try to avoid eating Western fast food while overseas, but 1) dessert doesn’t count and 2) this looked too good to pass up on a hot day.
We arrived at Koishikawa Korakuen and found a line at least a couple hundred people deep. Thankfully, it moved very quickly and the bottleneck appeared to be the ticketing booth.
This was the only paid park that we went to for cherry blossom viewing and the main feature of this park were the water views.
Similar to feeling “templed out” after several days of back-to-back temple visits in Kyoto, we were “cherry blossomed out” at this point and turned our attention back to the food.
On our 2nd to last night we decided to treat ourselves to the famous Japanese wagyu steak. After some research, we settled on DONS de la Nature steakhouse which is one of the premier steakhouses in Tokyo.
We walked over from the hotel through Ginza, which really lights up and comes to life at night.
DONS is located in the basement level of a nondescript building, and only has 6 tables in the entire restaurant. The menu makes In-N-Out’s look complicated, because essentially there are just 2 choices – steak or steak.
That choice changes nightly, and for tonight we had the option of sirloin (bottom) or tenderloin (top). Of course, we went with the much fattier sirloin, which looked marbled to perfection. These particular cuts of Omi wagyu beef from Hokkaido happened to be among the chef’s favorites, and he described how he preferred Omi beef over Matsusaka and Kobe since despite the high fat content, the steak doesn’t come out oily after being cooked.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the meal was interacting with the chef, who you could tell just lives and breathes steak. He explained the process by which he selects his beef at auction, and from there, his beef gets 2 full months of aging. Specifically, he dry ages his beef for a month, then wet ages for another month.
He also invited us to watch him cook the steak in a special grill that heats up to 1,500 degrees F. The steak is seasoned with only salt and pepper, then cooked for just 2-3 minutes on each side to a perfect medium rare. Although I prefer my steak rare, he recommended medium rare since the additional cook time allows the fat to melt which is important for a steak with such high fat content.
And the finished product. O. M. G. As promised, I lifted the steak off the plate and shockingly there was barely any oil at all. I’ve never tasted anything remotely close to this before. The steak seriously tasted like meat butter, and literally melted in my mouth.
On the portion size, while I’m the type of eater that can take down a 24 ounce tomahawk, this steak is all about quality over quantity. You actually purchase your steak by the ounce, with a minimum of 400 grams or approximately 14 ounces at a cost of 30,000 JPY (~$250 USD). My wife and I spit the minimum size steak roughly in half (mine was slightly bigger), and I thought that I’d be hungry afterwards with such a small piece, but the steak really fills you up because it was so fatty.
And after the meal we got a little souvenir to take home, along with a signed copy of the menu. Overall, this meal was just as special and unique as our kaiseki meal in Kyoto, and I’d highly recommended giving it a try especially if you’re a beef connoisseur.
While DONS did have a selection of desserts, we decided instead to self-cater dessert and picked up a green tea cake from Henri Charpentier to eat back at the hotel.
On the final night, we wanted something casual and decided to eat across the street from the hotel where there were a couple small side streets filled with restaurants. My wife calls me a pig of an eater, so this restaurant looked tailor-made for me.
But instead we hopped into a small ramen restaurant for our last meal which was a perfect opportunity to use all the loose change I had accumulated over the past week.
For the non-Japanese speakers, just remember that the vending machines will be your best bet to easily order food, especially the ones that have pictures of the food on them. All my loose change was converted into food tickets, handed to the chef, and without having to speak a word we had 2 plates of gyoza and 3 bowls of ramen in front of us in minutes. Of course this was WAY more food than necessary, but I didn’t care since it was our last hurrah. Afterwards we waddled back to the hotel fat and happy.
While the food was a major highlight of our trip, I think my biggest takeaway was just how friendly and hospitable the Japanese people were. Due to the language barrier I thought that we’d have some trouble figuring things out, but even when we did, total strangers were more than happy to take time out of their days to help and in a couple instances even escorted us for blocks.
So don’t let the language or cultural piece intimidate you from taking a trip here – I absolutely fell in love with this amazing country and can’t wait to return.