Since we saved a lot of money by staying in an Airbnb, we moved to a plush hotel for the last two nights of our trip. We booked a late night flight on the Sunday, so it was nice to be able to leave our suitcases at the hotel while we explored and have a nice lobby to hang out in before going to the airport.
We got a ridiculously great deal on the Mitsui Garden Hotel Premier Ginza thanks to Booking.com and we loved the amazing view from our (teeny tiny, but super luxe) room. The hotel is at the south end of the main Ginza high street, literally two minutes' walk from Shimbashi station. In the end, this suited us a lot better as Shimbashi has its own unique environment. While Ginza is home to fancy shops and smart restaurants, Shimbashi seems to be the place all the city workers go to for lunch/after work shenanigans, due to its close proximity to Shiodome, the Canary Wharf of Tokyo. This means it's home to lots of standing ramen and udon bars and late night haunts.
After eating so much rich food for the past two weeks I was craving something simpler and I got my fix in the form of a hot bowl of udon for ¥350 (about £1.80!). Kitsune udon is one of my favourite things in the world and something I'm sad not to really see in London. The udon comes in a steaming dashi broth that I will definitely be making at home and comes topped with a sort of squidgy mattress of sweet, deep-fried tofu skin and a spoonful of crispy tempura 'crumbs'. And yes, I slurped it!
Ginza itself is a cool place to visit at the weekend; they close off the main street to cars so there's plenty of space to roam around. The only problem is it's full of Chinese tour groups which isn't a problem per say, except that they arrive in big tour buses and as a result are quite often clogging up the pavement waiting for their buses to pick them up again! Anyway, Ginza is home to the world's largest Uniqlo as well as Itoya, an incredible stationery department store which just got a new home on the main strip. My friend said the area is constantly changing and they seem to be knocking down buildings left, right and centre just to build new homes for the same shops!
Ginza is also home to the national kabuki theatre, Kabuki-za. This traditional form of Japanese theatre features an all-male cast and you can get tickets on the day for a single act, which is popular with tourists as you can get a taster for kabuki and just watch for an hour, instead of the usual 4+ hours. The new theatre, opened in 2013, was spectacular and less than 10 minutes walk from our hotel.
The world-famous Tsukiji fish market is also just a short walk from Ginza. The market is due to move outside of Tokyo soon, so we were glad to be able to visit, though we didn't go at the crack of dawn like some tourists do in the hope of getting in to see the famous tuna auctions. Instead, we just enjoyed wandering through the streets and had a delicious breakfast of sashimi-don. While you might be expecting to find lots of sushi here - and there is - don is also a traditional way to eat sashimi, simply served in a bowl on top of sushi rice. We went to a different place to the picture below, where we had big servings of fatty tuna and salmon for only about ¥1000 (about £6).
Tamagoyaki, a Japanese omelette made in the shape of a large brick using a special pan, is a lesser-known part of the sushi experience (in the UK, at least), but it's a vital part of any sushi master's repertoire and striking the perfect balance between flavour and texture is an art that takes time to perfect.
As I said before, the nearby Shiodome area is Tokyo's answer to Canary Wharf, so it was surprising to find the beautiful Hamarikyu Gardens nestled amongst the skyscrapers. Located at the edge of Tokyo Bay, the landscaped park features beautiful flower gardens and a unique saltwater pond home to plenty of fish you wouldn't usually see in a park! It felt very zen being there and is now probably one of my favourite Tokyo landmarks.
I'm about to wrap up this super long post and, actually, this is the last of my Tokyo neighbourhood posts! But first I have to tell you about one last place: Go Go Curry. Japanese curry is a strange and wonderful thing - thick, sweet, salty. I don't know. It's hard to describe but it's probably not like anything you've had before...if you've been to Wagamama and had the katsu curry then you might have an idea, but it really is an experience! We kept seeing a chain of shops called Go Go Curry (there's even a branch in NY that calls it Japan's No. 1 curry!), with a distinctive gorilla logo, and joked that it looked bizarre. So of course we had to try it and lo and behold! It actually turned out to be one of my favourite meals. There was this weird moment where I took the first bite and thought it was so grim, but the more I ate, the more I got into it. Maybe we were a little drunk - and it's definitely the equivalent to a late night kebab, rather than a special meal out - but it was smiles all round for this greedy bear!
Did you make it this far? Thank you for reading! I'm sad my Japan posts are pretty much done, but I have one last post scheduled for Monday with a few tips about visiting Japan so make sure to check that out if you're interested!