Return to Asia (part 4: Tokyo)


After the sheer hedonism of the previous night’s dinner, we kept our breakfast light, getting coffee from the Pierre Gagnaire patisserie in the lobby and eating the small cake provided by the restaurant as a parting gift to two stuffed people. We were also determined to get out and see Tokyo on foot (partly to start working off all that food).

Why did this happen? I don’t know.

We walked north to the Imperial Palace complex, intending to go into the Gardens and at least look at the Palace buildings. As we rounded the corner to get close to the entrance, we saw two things. First, it was closed; so much for our plan. Second, there were police blocking people from walking in the path coming down from the complex. As there were quite a few people milling about, we decided to hang out and see what might happen next. That turned out to be a procession of horses and carriages, not too different from what you might see in Europe. We waited until that ended, and then sat down to figure out what we were going to do now that the complex was off limits for the day.

Kabuki-Za Theatre.

We decided to get same-day tickets to a single act of kabuki; neither of us had seen kabuki before and we didn’t know whether we’d like it. We figured we’d enjoy it like we did the Silla performance in Gyeongju. So we walked to Kabuki-Za Theatre in Ginza to find same-day tickets could be purchased only with cash. No problem — Google Maps shows us two ATMs nearby, including one in a bank. So we try both and neither work. Virginia does some quick research to find that Japanese ATMs basically don’t work with foreign banks, despite the country’s stature in the global finance world. She also found that 7-Eleven stores have international ATMs, so we found one about one kilometer away and made the round trip. Cash in hand, we got our one-act tickets with about an hour to spare.

After all that, we really needed lunch. I had noticed a place around the corner that seemed to attract a crowd, so we went. Nair’s Restaurant turned out to be a small Indian with a tasty lunch special (chicken curry with rice, leafy greens, and chickpea flour). That got us full and ready for the theater.

Except that the theater wasn’t quite what we expected. Same-day ticketed seats are up at the top, and the tickets we bought earned us a place in line. So we got in line when told, and we were early enough in the line to get decent seats. We had read a brief synopsis of the act while waiting, so we figured we had enough information to follow along. Not so much. We hadn’t reckoned on how much of kabuki is told rather than shown, so much of it was lost on us. But it was beautiful to see and hear, and very well performed by actors and musicians alike.

After the act ended, we walked back to our hotel to relax, get a pre-dinner drink, and figure out dinner. We looked for a place in Roppongi and decided Joumon was our speed. They specialize in grilled skewers, and it sounded great and different from the previous night. The concierge made a call and told us they could fit us in at 7pm if we agreed to an outdoor seat (which we did).

The view from my crate.

When we got to Joumon, we realized the outdoor seat wasn’t a table on the sidewalk as we expected. Instead, they set up a wide board in the window, and that was our table. Virginia sat inside at the window while I sat on a large crate on the sidewalk. It was packed inside, so I’m glad we were outside in the fresh air. We ordered four skewers (scallops, bacon-wrapped lettuce and cheese, and bacon-wrapped rape blossom, and fried noodles wrapped in bacon and grilled), seared beef, and a large chicken wing, along with glasses of an inexpensive Spanish red wine. The wine was served chilled, which was actually perfect with the food. And the food was amazing, especially the seared beef and grilled bacon-wrapped fried noodles skewer.

We took a leisurely walk back to the hotel for a nightcap and bed.


We both had work we needed to get done, and I had read about how coffee culture had started to gain traction in Tokyo. We located a well-regarded spot — Toranomon Koffee — and took our laptops there for breakfast, coffee, and work. The good: great coffee and food, and plenty of space to sit and work. The bad: no power or wi-fi. So we stayed about an hour, got done what we needed, and walked back to the hotel to drop off our computers and head back out as tourists.

Virginia wanted noodle soup for lunch, and I found a place called Kisurin not too far away. We got there to find a short line to get in. Once we got to the front, we could see why. Kisurin has a single U-shaped bar with nine stools. When you get to the door, you use a vending machine to select your food and pay for it. You’re getting noodles, so your options are:

  • Broth or no broth (Virginia did broth while I did no broth)
  • Spice level for broth (Virginia went medium)
  • Whether to add a pork cutlet (neither of us realized this until after we paid, so we didn’t get one)

We then gave the tickets from the vending machine to the guy at the door, who waved us into stools when they became available (serendipitously, they were together). We were handed bibs (which we definitely put on), and a minute later had our big bowls of noodles, topped with ground meat, vegetables, and sauce. It was outstanding! We didn’t talk much, as this was a place to eat and get moving. So we ate and got moving.

Getting to our lunch spot took us around the other side of the Imperial complex, so we decided to enter from the north near the museums and the gardens. That worked out a lot better. On the way, we happened upon a shrine before walking past many government buildings toward the gardens.

Once we got to the gardens, we just kept walking around. We looked at the Science Museum but decided not to go inside, and Virginia’s not into modern art so we avoided that as well. The gardens themselves were lovely and we were struck by how peaceful they were, even though many people were there enjoying the afternoon.


We exited through the East Gardens, ready for a mid-afternoon snack. We found an Italian restaurant –Pariatcho Marunouchi Naka-dori — and stopped there for tiramisu and coffee, sitting outside despite the threateningly dark clouds. The rain never really materialized, and we were able to enjoy our snack and walk back to the hotel.

By this point, we were ready to take the easy way out and stay at the hotel for dinner. Virginia suggested sushi, so we ate at Sushi Kenzan. We were early, so we had the place mostly to ourselves. We sat at the bar and thoroughly enjoyed our meal. We then went across the hotel to the Champagne bar to wind down the evening.


Travel day! We went back to the patisserie for a baguette, butter, and coffee. We also made reservations on the shuttle bus to Narita airport, which worked out really well. We took our goodies back to our room to enjoy with an orange marmalade the restaurant had given us Friday evening. After breakfast, we packed up, checked out, and got on the shuttle bus. It turned out to be easy and stress-free, taking us right to the terminal.

After getting through security, we went to Sushi Kyotatsu. It’s known among travelers as some of the best sushi in any airport in the world, so of course we needed to try it. We weren’t disappointed — it was fantastic. Again, we ate at the bar. Virginia’s came out all at once, while mine came out a piece at a time.

After lunch, we found out our flight back to Seoul was delayed, so we decided to window shop — we were at Narita airport, after all. A couple of ties caught my eye, and after walking past them a couple of times and learning about the maker (Giraffe, a Japan-only brand), I bought them both. (They continually get compliments by my colleagues at work now.)

Finally, we got on the plane to Seoul. I was flying home to Chicago while Virginia was staying in Asia for work. Once we arrived at Incheon, we tried to figure out how to stay together while waiting for my flight (Virginia’s flight was scheduled for the next morning). Unfortunately, she had to leave the secure area and try to get back in, and they didn’t allow that. I ended up solo in the airport lounge before getting on my long flight home.


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