Tokyobling's Blog

Eating in Tokyo Like The Locals Do

Posted in Places, Shops by tokyobling on July 2, 2015

One of the most daunting – and at the same time most interesting – aspects of travel is eating. The local cuisine can be both the curse and the blessing of any trip, a fabulous dinner can excuse the most boring city, and a terrible kitchen hovel can damn the finest resort spot in the world. I do not know how other people travel or how they eat when visiting Tokyo, but I was daunted myself. Having spent decades in Tokyo I am still slightly daunted by entering a new restaurant or trying out food and nothing I do seems to change this. I can only imagine how other (as nervous as me) travelers feel when visiting this country. While it is true that almost everywhere you go you are likely to get good food in the Japanese capital, tourists tend to be drawn towards the first floor establishments with the bright signs, photo menus in English and prices clearly marked! This, however, is not how locals eat out in the capital.

Today I had an errand in Shinagawa, which in the last few years seems to have attracted hundreds of times the number of tourists it had when I first visited many years ago. I saw scores of them, in small groups, families, couples, singles, young men that reminded me of myself, walking around by themselves with a camera and a guidebook in each hand. I started thinking about them, where do they eat, what kind of experiences do they have here? Passing through the station every restaurant I saw with even a barely understandable menu in English had at least a handful of foreign tourists seated inside. I thought I should write something about the other side of Tokyo eating that few tourists ever see.

Take this tiny neighborhood eatery for example, the Marusanshokudo (丸三食堂) in the Shimbamba district about 30 minutes walk from Shinagawa station (or three minutes from Shimbamba station). There is no sign, outside, not pictures and not a word in English or any other western language. I would forgive anyone for passing this kind of building (and there are tens of thousands of them all over Tokyo) and not understanding that there was a restaurant inside. If you can summon the courage to enter though, you will be lucky sometimes to even find a Japanese menu with prices. Sometimes there are just a few tables and a kitchen in the back. The Marusanshokudo has the menu written in Japanese posted on the wall, with everything from 50 to 600 yen. Restaurants like this would not be in business if they did not know what they were doing and Marusanshokudo has so far lasted over 80 years in this location! If you can read Japanese you can pick your favorites, if not you can just point at a few things with reasonable prices and hope for the best. The times I have had the courage to do just this I have always had interesting food – at best, a fabulous meal, at worst a cheap adventure. The Marusanshokudo however served up fantastic dishes followed by more fantastic dishes, even the simple edamame was superb enough to order in a second plate and the restaurant’s choice in sake (Japanese rice wine) was perfect for the season. Slightly chilled, sweet and fruity.

If you are ever in Shinagawa or Shimbabma, I recommend trying this place out, but these kind of mom and pop restaurants are absolutely everywhere in Japan, and almost always able to serve up a great meal, or at least an interesting experience far from the glossy chain store menus you see around the major stations. The address here is 2-12-11 Minamishinagawa Shinagawa Tokyo, 東京都 品川区 南品川 2-12-11 コーポマルサン 1F.

I am in no way a food snob and to be honest even the most glaringly obvious chain store cafes around the biggest tourists attractions of Tokyo almost always serve great food. Some people (like me) prefer to spend their few available hours traveling looking at dusty old statues in remote temples, for some people it is the opposite and I know many who travel only to try local food, some just want the experience of eating in a foreign country others are complete gourmands searching for the most obscure culinary experiences. It is all good.

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Shinagawa Matsuri – Omikoshi

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on June 18, 2015

The Shinagawa Matsuri a couple of weeks ago has some pretty interesting omikoshi, well known for the attached drums, which are beaten continuously during the parade. The movement style of omikoshi is also quite peculiar and has a very interesting rhythm and style. You must see it to appreciate though, as the photos do not do the movement justice! I took these photos at the shopping street leading up from neighborhood just below the shrine itself. Accompanying each omikoshi is not only the drummer, but also one or two flutists, which makes the festival even more festive than usual!

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The Mount Fuji at Shinagawa Shrine – Fujizuka

Posted in Japanese Traditions, Places by tokyobling on June 11, 2015

If you have visited a few shrines in Tokyo you are likely to have come across the concept of the Fujizuka (富士塚), which literally translates to “Mount Fuji Mound”. These mounts that are made to resemble the famous Mount Fuji are anything from a couple of meters to the biggest one at 15 meters, here in Shinagawa Shrine. The common theme is that they all contain more or less original lava stones from the real mount fuji, usually these genuine rocks are in very visible locations, more or less covering the mound. The first Fukizuka was constructed in 1780 at Takada in modern day Nishi Waseda (later relocated), and this Fujizuka in Shinagawa Shrine was built very late, which perhaps explains its size. In the old days all of these were built in locations where you could actually see the real Mount Fuji from the top, but due to the construction of tall buildings this has been lost. I think it is possible to see the mountain from this very tall Fujizuka though, but despite dozens of visits I have never managed even a glimpse.

If you visit the Shinagawa Shrine and the small and quite terrifying footpath to the top is open I recommend a climb, the views are quite good, and you can almost see down to the old Tokaido road, the main highway of old Japan. Another thing you will see a lot of are trains, as they pass right on top of the little Shimbamba Station, and if you have a keen eye you might spot the dozens of jets coming in for landing or taking off from Haneda Airport to the south west of the shrine!

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Hydrangea – Ajisai – At Shinagawa Shrine

Posted in Nature, Places by tokyobling on June 9, 2015

It is not often the Shinagawa Shrine looks this picture perfect – not only is it spruced up for the big annual festival or matsuri, it is also full of flowers in bloom right now, not least the giant and very colorful hydrangea (or Ajisai, 紫陽花). These large flowers are one of the most beloved flowers in Japan and the semi-official symbol of summer (in the same way that the cherry blossom flowers signals spring). Hydrangea is a species with a vast number of different flowers, some as small bushes, other as tall as trees. The flowers can be as small as your fist or larger than your head. The ajisai blooms as summer starts, but it is not the only flower at the shrine, there were even a few potted water lilies. More photos of the shrine and the festival to come!

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