One of the things I liked best about our trip to Tokyo was wandering through the city’s intricate web of side-streets and alleyways, finding unique sights and enjoying the different culture.
Our second day in the country was spent getting familiar with the streets of Shibuya and Harajuku, the two districts where we would spend most of our time. Along with the rest of our Portland posse, we followed our Japanese guides as they led us from the UNU farmers market (where we would be giving cooking demos) to Iki-ba (the event space for our big dinner) and on to Grain (our commissary kitchen) and back again. We walked the route so many times that my feet were aching and I’m pretty sure that even now, more than a month later, I could find my way from Grain to Iki-ba in my sleep.
But with the crazy traffic, walking was truly the best option, and exploring by foot allowed us to really get a feel for the area. And while it was awesome to be in the hustle and bustle of the city, it was all of the small whimsical touches (from business logos to street art) that won my heart.
One of my favorite games to play while we walked around was Spot the Avocado. I’m still uncertain why the Japanese (or at least those in Shibuya) seem obsessed with avocados but I really enjoyed seeing giant avocados everywhere.
I also really liked window-shopping and people-watching in the Harajuku neighborhood. This district is popular with the young, hip crowd (just typing that phrase makes me feel old) and is famous for its street fashion. Teenagers, mostly girls, often hang out in this area dressed up in wigs, colorful and outlandish outfits, and even cosplay costumes.
While we didn’t see any Harajuku girls, it was still fun to walk around Takeshito Street, Harajuku’s pedestrian-only walkway lined with cafes and boutique shops. It was here that we discovered the 100 Yen store, the Japanese equivalent of the Dollar Store, and immediately stocked up on Japanese candies, matcha chocolates and mini-marshmallows stuffed with strawberry jelly (which were surprisingly — unsurprisingly? — delicious).
By 5pm we had walked more than eight miles. Totally exhausted, my husband and I separated from the group and made our way back to our apartment to recoup.
A few hours later, refreshed and hungry, we made our way back toward Shibuya Station for a late dinner. We decided to try a yakitori place called Toritake that sounded promising online. The food and atmosphere seemed authentic and since we hadn’t yet had ‘things on skewers’ we figured it was time to make it happen.
Once we made it inside (it seems customary to wait outside until the host opens the door to wave you in) we could tell it was packed with Japanese salarymen and their companions, partying it up. I think we were the only people in the place who needed the English menu and we were definitely the only people not chain-smoking.
We ordered the biggest Sapporos possible to sip while perusing the food options. The servers were very nice and gave gentle guidance. With yakitori you often have your choice of “tastes.” You can do “tare” (more of a soy sauce flavor) or “shio” (which is salt flavoring). We weren’t sure which would go best with what so we told our waitress to mix it up for us. She seemed pleased with that and with our choices, giving us a nod and a smile when we selected one of the horse meat dishes.
After 15 minutes of frantic eating, we were completely sated and happy. Everything was so good! My husband’s favorite was the horse (of course, of course) but I fell in love with the chicken skin. It was crackly and fatty and just greasy enough. I also really liked the green peppers stuffed with chicken sausage. My picture was too blurry to post, but you can see a better one here.
Totally stuffed and a bit smoked out (I will never take non-smoking bars for granted again!), we began the walk back home…which wouldn’t be complete without one last avocado for the road.