#SPRUNTINGINJAPAN: airbnb, shinsen + shimokitazawa

Wednesday, 7 October 2015
The best thing about staying in an Airbnb is that you can feel completely at home, wherever you are in the world. We saved a lot of money staying in this cute little apartment literally 5 minutes walk from Shibuya's crazy scramble crossing and it made a world of difference being able to do laundry and have space to spread out (Tokyo's hotels are notoriously small and expensive).

We arrived from Kyoto early in the evening and scouted out our nearest supermarket. Our first night we bought a selection of goodies from the deli section (I have very fond memories of dinners like this from when I was younger) - including hot rice fresh from a rice cooker! It was nice to get some fresh vegetables too, as by this point it felt like we had ramen coming out of our ears!

While we chose the apartment for its proximity to Shibuya (more on that in another post), it was a nice surprise that the neighbourhood of Shinsen, a minute's walk away, is a nice destination in its own right with the aforementioned supermarket, cute little coffee shops and nice restaurants. We visited a little restaurant called Kaikaya By The Sea on our second night as we'd spotted it during the day. I think it must be in a guidebook somewhere as it was full of tourists, but it didn't detract from the atmosphere and the waiters were a lot of fun!

A lot of Japanese restaurants don't have menus outside and as we just walked in, we weren't sure what to expect! Most of the dishes were fusion style and a little more expensive than we were expecting, so we ordered sparingly but the two dishes below stood out: a plump prawn and sweetcorn kakiage - a sort of deep fried tempura disc - and tuna spareribs, the restaurant's signature dish.

One of the best things about our visit was that two of my best friends - Mariko, from uni, and Ayumi, who I met at school in Japan 15 years ago (!!) - are now both living in Tokyo and also happen to be friends. I was so grateful to have our own personal tour guides, as they introduced us to so many places we wouldn't have found on our own. Shimokitaza is one of those places - it's two stops away from Shinsen and I'd never heard of it, but apparently it's a very popular neighbourhood with tourists and locals alike. There's a low-key vibe and it's much quieter than Shibuya, but there are street upon street of little restaurants, vintage shops and arcades.

On one of our first nights, Ayumi took us to an izakaya serving yakitori. The Japanese drinking culture is very different from the UK - it's actually really hard to find a bar where you just go to drink. Usually, you'll spend an evening in an izakaya, an informal restaurant, drinking and eating small plates. I suppose it's similar to parts of Europe, where everything is enjoyed together and as much emphasis is placed on the food as the drink. Yakitori is classic izakaya fare - grilled chicken skewers. There are plenty of different varieties, from hearts (which became Darren's personal favourite!) to juicy chicken thighs with spring onion or minced meatballs served with a raw egg yolk - by the way, salmonella doesn't really exist in Japan and on one night we even had raw chicken, which was surprisingly delicious and tasted like the most soft, tender sashimi!

Most of the places we went I didn't write down the names as 1) some restaurants didn't even seem to have signs! and 2) in most cases I wouldn't have been able to write them down for you anyway. One place I made sure to make a note of, though, was Katsu. This super-informal izakaya was probably our favourite place from our whole trip and even when we went back alone without our friends, the staff remembered us and were so kind and helpful trying to explain the menu and giving us things to taste.

If you're looking for somewhere to stay in Tokyo, I really loved both our apartment and the neighbourhood and I'm still dreaming of that kara-age (the Japanese fried chicken above!).

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