Japan Trip 10 of 10: More As Seen on TV

Check out my first post about some places we visited in Japan that you can check out in better-filmed things on TV or online.

Sushi Yasuda

It was like teleporting into the Parts Unknown segment. The restaurant looks the same as when it was filmed. Yasuda say he misses New York, where he lived for 27 years. He misses walking around the city and still loves his annual visits. Also, he’s very happy to take pictures flexing with customers.

Nishiki Market —Mind of a Chef

David Chang described it as one of his favorite places in the world. There’s a lot to see. (Though you can also see the end of a different journey at a sushi counter at any high end restaurant in many cities.) Nearby Pontocho alley was great too.

Tsukiji Market — Jiro Dreams of Sushi and like every food show with a Tokyo episode

I have a separate post with more about Tsukiji Market. We did go to the market but we didn’t get into the auction. One of my favorite places on the trip.

A bento box on a bullet train — A Cook’s Tour

Train stations have all sorts of food. On the way to Kyoto we saw a couple businessmen with bento boxes full of seafood. On the way back we made sure to pick up some boxes of our own. We tried a beef cutlet sandwich and a beef bowl.

Then I tried checking the train speed with Snapchat’s mph filter. The highest we hit was 171 mph.

Japan Trip 09 of 10: Tsukiji Market

“Too late.”


Huh? It was 3am, it couldn’t be too late.

“Fish? Fish market? It’s too late.”

I guess it was too late. We didn’t get into the tuna auction. That’s one thing. 3:15 wasn’t early enough. Not even close to early enough. That might be because the market is closing and moving so people are really trying to visit in its current location. Still, there’s a ton to see later in the morning. Or when morning starts, because 3:15am is still the middle of the night to me. That’s the kind of time when I wake up and think about all the spooky things about 3am and then go back to sleep.

We thought about going the following night, but there was always the chance that we wouldn’t get in again. Planning around something where you have to wake up at 1:30am and actually head out can really put a wrench in a schedule1. We decided not to go.

Outer market

There’s an outer market with plenty to see. I think if you plopped the outside market somewhere else in Tokyo or any other city in the world, it’d get a good amount of traffic. I bet the more oblivious visitors have no idea there’s an inner market, because this was cool to see on its own. Lots of vendors. Meaning lots of different things to eat.

The first thing we tried was grilled scallop. We walked into the market and saw a woman grilling skewers with scallop topped with sea urchin. The contrast in texture is nice. Though uni probably contrasts with everything that’s not a sauce texture-wise.

Some kind of squid roll with cheese inside: I mean, if you like squid and you like cheese this is going to be a hit.

Mochi stuffed with various fruits: Not exactly a seafood market exclusive but still good for my mochi craving. I went with strawberry.

I went back to get another one of the scallop and uni things. on the way there we saw a couple people doing something where there was a crab shell with a scallop with an oyster with fish roe and also crab miso2. they take all of that and then they blow torch it.

Tamago on a stick: I wish I tried this. I don’t know if that’s really what they refer to it as. but there was definitely a long line for this. When we walked by it we were on our way out and, more importantly, stuffed to the brim.

The actual market

We figured out that the actual market is past a gate. It looks shrunken aircraft hanger, especially with all the different vehicles moving around. In the somewhat open lot in front of the market, scooters go by you in all directions. Then there are these things that look like a person is standing and steering a keg. Like a flatbed keg. You gotta stay alert.

With it being such a tourist hot spot, it’s easy to forget that so many people are actually working. The inner market still functions as a place for professionals to buy fish more than a place for tourists to buy their souvenirs.

Right outside the hangar, type building (but still inside the gate), there are about half a dozen long buildings and each of them has probably 8 restaurants and almost all of these serve sushi. Almost exclusively between 6am and Noon. Breakfast sushi.

You could spend a few mornings here no problem. Especially if you enjoy photography. Everything is photogenic.

I’ve seen pictures of the tuna and read how much they weigh and thought I had a good sense of their size. Walking around, I saw pretty big chunks being cut up and was starting to get a better sense of scale. Then I almost bumped into a tuna head on the ground and thought I was seeing some kind of mistake. The thing was huge. Its body probably was being cut into huge blocks and then into medium blocks then smaller all the way down to a small slice sitting on a ball of rice.

Walking around was like seeing one of your omakase meals getting it scaled up to Costco size. Along with the tuna, your single slice of geoduck turns into a seafood sausage shop. That piece of uni turns into rows and rows in a big wooden box that seemingly retires as a pencil container at Muji. That mussel gets some HGH (as muscles are wont to do) and turns into a shell bigger than my head. Then there are crabs of all sizes with all sorts of shell patterns I’ve never seen. Your plate of grilled squid has been enlarged to cover a dining table.

It was too late to get into the auction but just in time to see something incredible.

  1. Plus the auction is supposedly twenty minutes. I realize that if I got in I’d probably say, “Best 20 minutes ever.” I’m being a hater.

  2. Crab miso has nothing to do with miso soup. It’s crab fat or crab innards or crab mustard or crab guts. Whatever you prefer to call it all I care about is that I prefer eating it. Just about perfect.

Japan Trip 08 of 10: Rico! Osprey!

Ever since we booked tickets to Japan, I wanted to go to a New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) show. In the past year, I’ve slowly, somehow gotten back into wrestling1. It was a pretty big part of my childhood. The extent of my knowledge is that AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura are from NJPW. And that they’re closer to NXT shows size-wise than they are WWE shows. I’ve wanted to go to an NXT show so this would be close.

Getting tickets was a more complicated than expected. The expectation being you go to, say, Ticketmaster Japan and order with like 8 clicks. Not quite. After giving up on the machine at the convenience store, we asked a hotel attendant if he knew anything about tickets for the show. When or where it was. He made some calls, wrote things down, wrote them down again phonetically, and explained that we’d need to go to the box office. Early.

I’m not entirely sure how ingrained in Japanese culture pro wrestling is. Before leaving, we asked the hotel attendant if he was familiar with NJPW, and he replied about the same as you might expect a friendly hotel attendant in America to: I know some characters because my friends watch.

After getting to Tokyo Stadium2, we saw a gigantic gigantic line. Like hundreds of people long. For a second I thought that was for the wrestling show. Then I remembered it was a wrestling show and knew that definitely wasn’t the line. (It was for a Giants/Tigers game — think Yankees/Red Sox.)

The Tokyo Dome reminds me of an old Hulk Hogan video tape that we had with some of his matches. I won’t even say it was the best of compilation. Because if it has a match with Hulk Hogan and Stan Hansen in Tokyo then I can think of five bigger leg drops without much thought. but it always gave me the impression that wrestling was huge in Japan.

2000-seat Korakuen Hall is great venue. The only other wrestling show I’ve been to is Monday Night Raw, which was in the 18,000 seat Honda Center. Korakuen Hall is the size of a large high school gym. I understand why people say NXT shows feel so cool because of the small venues.

I was surprised how… normal everybody looked in the crowd. A couple guys in suits. It’s not still real to them.


I knew the Bullet Club was some kind of nWo-type faction with better shirts. I didn’t expect them to be a bunch of cowards. Pretty much doing a good job being heels. I can picture AJ Styles there. He’s the right size and it’s pretty apparent what people mean when they say Vince McMahon is a body guy. NJPW doesn’t have as many guys with that kind of body type.

The matches

There were a couple of matches involving 8 to 10 people. Good matches usually aren’t composed of random people put together as teams. These weren’t good matches, But I was happy to see all the different characters. Wrestling is different in Japan but heels are heels and the baby faces are baby faces and it was pretty clear who’s who.

There weren’t many promos being cut and there wasn’t much story progression. From what I gather could gather, most of the matches were part of an ongoing tournament, sort of like King of the Ring.

The match

Ricochet and Will Ospreay wrestled and it was the highlight of the night. They brought the house down. Meaning the crowd clapped vigorously. I mistakenly thought this kind of match was routine for NJPW main events.

Afterward, I was trying to find highlights from the match and started to the tweets and articles about how great the match was. Later followed by former wrestlers arguing amongst each other about whether it was a good match or not. My two cents: it was awesome3. I’m a casual fan. My girlfriend is the girlfriend of a casual fan, meaning she watches more wrestling than anyone probably should. It was one of the highlights of the trip.

  1. I’d say it was a pretty major part of my childhood. Pre-Monday Night Wars, I thought it was real. I was into it through the Monday Night Wars and slowly stopped watching. In the ticket office line, we happened to be standing in front of another group from New York. One of them had just about the same story: they’ve gotten back into wrestling in the past year or so and came because it’s supposed to be like an NXT event. There must be dozens of us.

  2. The area around the Tokyo Dome was pretty cool also. It was sort of an amusement park and mall mashed together.

  3. Especially when a guy about ten rows back yelled, “THIS IS AWESOME.” and got the chant going. He was absolutely right.

Japan Trip 07 of 10: Cheap eats

Beef bowls at Matsuya and Sukiya

I was looking for a beef bowl. And I knew that Yoshinoya was available in California so I didn’t want to get that. (Similar reason for not going to an Ippudo.) We had just finished at Nishiki Market and getting some yakitori in Pontocho Alley. We wanted a little bit more food so we wandered around trying to find shaved ice. We had a place in mind but didn’t have our compasses straight so we got turned around a few times. And we realized we still wanted something savory. That’s when we ran into a Matsuya.

It doesn’t have english signage like you’d find at Yoshinoya or Sukiya. You order from a vending machine. All these places have beef bowls, but it seems like the other choices are where things get different. Matsuya had Dan Dan Noodles on the menu. I’ve had cheap Dan Dan noodles before that weren’t great. These weren’t that. These noodles were delicious. It’s one of my favorite dishes because my parents call my brother Dan Dan.

Takoyaki at various places

Takoyaki are octopus balls. They seem to be served super hot. In most cases, you order them either at an outdoor stand or through a store window. We tried them in Akihabara, Osaka, and in Tokyo. They’re not deep fried but that might be amazing. Instead, they start with a griddle with a bunch of golf ball sized holes1. They drop a few cubed pieces of octopus in and then fill it with batter. Then they just go down each column turning the balls until they’re cooked through.

It’s covered with sauce and bonito flakes.

Curry at CoCo Curry

We had curry a few times. They’re all over the place. And plates of curry with pork or chicken cutlets are only 600 or 700 yen. It’s great. I really love curry. Major comfort food vibes. I think I’ve said that I could eat curry every day in the past. I had it probably three times in a week and have changed my mind. I still love the stuff. But it’s so heavy. I had it on the plane and one morning in Tokyo before heading to Muji (which was huge and I’d also like to write about in some way).

This curry was better than what we got on the plane. I can get about the same in New York, but for a few more dollars. That’s how I felt about a lot of the cheaper eats. If you’re sticking to the main portion of the menu, you can get something similar in America for a little more money.

Mister Donut

Oh boy. My friend recommended Mister Donut. It was one of the places we seeked out on the first morning. Then it was available in Kyoto Station and we dropped by every day. Then the streak became a thing and there was one near our second Tokyo hotel so we kept going. There were still plenty of donuts with green or in shapes that didn’t seem like things we’d see in America so we kept going.

Their signature donut is this thing that looks like it could be one of Akuma’s bracelets. The normal one is glazed or frosted. The real champ here is the matcha one where each sphere is cream-filled.

There were matcha cake donuts half dipped in chocolate. And chocolate cake donuts with some kind of matcha glaze.

There was a round donut but instead of being jelly-filled, it had red bean, some kind of matcha2 cream, and a small square of mochi. I hope they call it Mister’s Matcha Mochi.

There was a French cruller half-dipped in chocolate that I couldn’t get enough of3.

  1. Somewhere, there’s a manufacturing belt with a bunch of molds in it then that belt turns reaches a fork and the molds go on separate tracks. One gets filled with molten iron and then other gets dimpled then the tracks come back together onto the same belt where they’re eventually sprayed alternately “golf ball molds” and “takoyaki griddles”.

  2. For all these matcha-optioned donuts, there was no matcha latte. That said, having I really enjoyed having an iced cafe au lait with all the matcha flavored donuts.

  3. As I’m writing more, I’m getting a better sense of when a footnote seems appropriate. I don’t currently have the posts dated. And if I’m writing something very time specific, then it might be better in a footnote. For instance: I’m currently writing this on a plane. And I bought a cruller at Dunkin’ Donuts in the airport before this flight but it just wasn’t the same. Now, I’m not giving up completely, because the flavor was there. It was missing the crisp outside and soft inside. I think this might have had more to do with the ‘in the airport’ part of that sentence rather than the ‘Dunkin Donuts’ part of that sentence.

Japan Trip 06 of 10: Five more thoughts

Here are some more thoughts on my trip to Japan.

I didn’t know the language: I thought this was going to cause more issues than it actually did. Especially not being able to read anything. There are enough English subtitles on the more important portions to make things manageable. Plenty of restaurants have english menus — many more have pictures you can use when ordering. At the Tsukiji gate, I was able to just type things into my phone to ask what time to come back the next day. And at a yakitori place I was able to ask if beef tongue was available.

NJPW show: Never would’ve guessed that’s what we were walking into. They basically express their excitement through how quickly they clap. And then you’ll hear a lot of accented “Rico!” and “Ospreay!” scattered throughout. It was a little bit of work trying to figure out how to get tickets. There are guides online saying you can just get them at a convenience store. Using these without reading Japanese is pretty hard. Or maybe I gave up too quickly. As far as I could tell, there was an option for viewing the help tutorial in English but no option to use the search and ordering interface in English.

We chatted with one of the attendants at the hotel and he made some calls to explain things. Go to Tokyo Stadium and there will be tickets at the box office. It opens at 4pm but there will be a line so get there earlier. Somehow, this all actually worked. It seemed like people reserved their spots in line with newspaper or something. But there were plenty of tickets to go around.

Fushiri Inari temple: I went with my parents to the Grand Canyon before. I had seen photos of the Grand Canyon before. You hear “pictures don’t capture it” for a lot of things, but rarely do things live up to that. The Grand Canyon did. I’ve never felt that kind of impact from just looking out at something.The torii gates at Fushiri Inari felt similar. But I guess at a different scale. Or I’m not sure what the word is to describe the difference in feeling. Walking through it felt like nothing I’ve experienced before. There are a lot of gates.

Arcades and crane games: I think we spent around $60 total in various crane games with nothing to show for it. Something I hadn’t seen was the style of crane game where there’s one big item to win. I learned you can’t really plan to win this with one go. You put the 500 yen in and get a 6th try free, and then you try planning different moves to eventually get that one item.There was also this sick setup of my life in 3rd grade.

What you can learn about UX from bidet UIs

Japan Trip 05 of 10: Ramen

Ramen is one of my favorite things to eat. I’ve said that I could probably eat ramen every day. I’ve changed my mind on that. While I like eating ramen (and other food), I’ve never gotten really nerdy about food.Andy Greenwald does a much better job explaining that New York has too much tonkotsu. I should appreciate what we’ve got available. It was good to try different kinds of ramen.

Ichiran: We had one of the more interesting eating experiences at Ichiran. There are a few locations and we went to the one in Roppongi. You get a tickets from a vending machine (not as novel as the first time, but always fun) and then sit in booths. Each booth faces the kitchen, but there’s a curtain with a small opening at the bottom. So you can see torsos moving but not much else. If you’re a tourist with no idea what to do next, someone will duck down to explain how things work. Very friendly. I can completely see how regulars can go through without speaking at all. Select noodle type, richness, spice-level, other toppings, and you’re good to go.

Rokurinsha: I wrote about this in my As Seen on TV post. Really enjoyed this place. Completely worth the wait (about 25 minutes in our case). There was food I enjoyed but knew I could get about the same in New York. This wasn’t on that list. The broth is exceptional. They only serve tsukemen. Most New York ramen places offer it but don’t specialize in it.

Gyogo: Most photogenic of the bunch is the burnt ramen from Gyogo in Kyoto. Their specialty is burnt ramen. I know some other ramen places do burnt leeks for flavor in their ramen, but Gyogo broth comes out nearly pitch black. It doesn’t taste as burned as I expected based on the color. Tasty though. We ordered some of their pork belly. Reminds me of the best parts of tocino without being overly sweet. Really worth trying.

Japan Trip 04 of 10: As seen on TV

Aka Places we visited with better things you can watch online.

Osaka in general — No Reservations

We watched this episode on the flight to Japan. I wish they just had all Anthony Bourdain Japan-related episodes of various shows1.

We didn’t go to any specific place he visits on the show in Osaka. Actually, we did go to one of those places that has a bunch of battered and fried stuff. The episode was from 2006 and man I can’t believe it’s been 10 years.

We had similar food though. The battered and fried sticks mentioned above and also takoyaki. And we saw the street with the statue that people take pictures with.

Tsukemen place from Mind of a Chef — Mind of a Chef

Watch: Lucky Peach: Inside Tokyo Ramen Street’s Rokurinsha

There it is, right in the subway station. What isn’t shown on Mind of a Chef is that the shop is part of a line of restaurants in the station nicknamed ‘ramen row’. The wait was about 25 minutes and when you’re near the front you’re pulled out of line to order at the vending machine.

They’re very good about storing your luggage while you eat. The noodles are good and the broth is amazing. I said no to a bib because I believe in myself. Then I proceeded to cover my shirt with broth droplets.

After you finish the noodles, they add hot water to your tsukemen broth so you can have it like soup.

Also, while trying to find the Mind of a Chef clip of this, I saw that YouTube has a similar Lucky Peach episode. Then I remembered on the Bill Simmons podcast, David Chang mentions his foray into TV with Lucky Peach. They shot footage and then it was cut into some episodes of Mind of a Chef. The Lucky Peach episode is like watching the red band trailer of a PBS show. F-bombs abound.

Lawson — appeared on Parts Unknown, but in an Okinawa episode, which we didn’t visit

Anthony Bourdain is better with words than I am. On Lawson:

But there’s… one thing that still has an unholy grip on me. For no reason I can gather, it’s the convenience store, formerly of near-Akron, Ohio, that mutated into a massive Japanese chain. Behold, the wonder that is Lawson. What exactly about this place has its tentacles so deep into my heart and my soul?

I experienced it and love Lawson too. Growing up, we had a convenience store right off base. I think it was a 7-11 but I can’t remember for sure. What I do remember is that it was the pre-field-trip ritual. My mom would drive me there and we’d pick some snacks up. Usually that meant a rice ball and what then didn’t have a name but now we know as Uncrustables.

On this trip, we went to Lawson just about every day. 7-Eleven was another option, specifically when I needed an ATM. We would stock up on water for the hotel room at Lawson. Japan also has the game sort of locked on canned or bottled ice coffee.

I was also able to find Real Gold, though it comes in a Red Bull type can now instead of the small glass bottle that I imagine is what Elixir would be kept in if Final Fantasy were real life.

Also, me and my brother talk about how we used to always drink so much Real Gold when we were kids. And have guessed that it probably had a bunch of caffeine or nicotine or something so it never made it to the US market, even though it’s a Coca Cola product.

I remembered that David Chang has as segment in Lawson. I was scrolling through the Mind of a Chef episode descriptions, then I remembered it was from a No Reservations episode about Cook it Raw. He like, really loves Lawson.

  1. We watched a couple other food-related shows available on the flight. It reminded me how good a host Anthony Bourdain is. Watching the other shows was so cringe-y.

Japan Trip 03 of 10: Airplane food

I read Andy Greenwald’s food diary and it reminded me that 1.) I don’t write as well as he does but 2.) I can try to eat as well as he does. (I’d love to capture a night out as well as he writes about attending a wedding and the aftermath.)

I think you’re supposed to take notes. Which I didn’t do. But I did take pictures. So I’ll have to just go off those when my memory fails me. Which is right about now.

The first meal we had was at a yakitori place a couple blocks from our hotel. Wait, I’ll get back to that. I think the first thing really was the airplane food.

The thing about airplane food

Japan Airlines served food three times on the flight. A 14 hour flight is longer than it sounds. I mean, I did NY to JFK flight a week before and that’s six hours and that already feels long. Once you hit six hours and see that there’s still a full day of work worth of time you start realizing just how long the flight is. Then you think of how long a full day of work is and that even with work to do there’s still time to stare at the clock.

But this is about food. They start with full lunch service. I picked the pork katsu curry. Which I mean sort of says it all. It’s delicious. And it’s on a plane. Right now I’m fine not knowing the adjectives to describe fancier food. This isn’t that. [I don’t know that something breaded and deep fried can ever deserve all the adjectives that I don’t have knowledge of.] Basically, its pork katsu curry on a plane. If you’ve had the two separately, you can imagine them together.

I’ve fully enjoyed housing three bags of popcorners on domestic flights. So you know this was better. And you know the basic palette I possess.

The real enjoyment is in the bento setup. In three other boxes, there’s a potato salad with smoked salmon, mixed fruit, and tofu with pickled vegetables. And a salad. Then they come around with tiny cups of Haagen Dazs.

That set the bar high. Then they teleported me in from 3rd grade to put together a ham sandwich for the second meal.

After watching Concussion, various episodes of No Reservations and other worse travel shows, sleeping, reading a book about writing, writing a little bit, and watching half of The Martian, breakfast came. Shrimp congee, yogurt, crackers, and fruit.

Now for a bait and switch. If you came to read about yakitori, this post is getting too long so I’m separating it into its own post. I’ll update this link when that’s written.

Japan Trip 02 of 10: DIY Mos Burger

I wanted to write ten posts about Japan. That would hopefully be more focused than the initial random thoughts post. Each of the ten posts will probably have one picture and some thoughts related to that picture. We’ll see how that goes.

Here’s a burger from the Japan Airlines flight.

"Mos Burger"

It’s a meal from Mos Burger that you assemble on your own. I wish I took a picture of the instructions sheet. Before Japan, I heard that Mos Burger is known for their rice and veggie burgers. I wasn’t too keen on trying it, because what I think is a pretty open mind for food shuts down when it comes to fake meat products. And we didn’t stop in when we passed by them on the street.

This was one of the meals on the flight back. And it was delicious so now I wish we tried out the real thing while in Japan. There’s always next time.

Japan Trip 01 of 10: Five quick thoughts

I’m back from my trip to Japan. There’s a lot to process — including literally processing photos. Well, the 2016 sense of “processing”1 meaning toggling things in Lightroom but wishing I just had Instagram filters instead.

Anyway, here are five unsorted thoughts2 about the trip to Japan3.

  • Man, the food. It’s so good. I’d say especially on the lower end. Having good bowls of ramen, udon, and curry around for $6 or $7 was great.

  • I’m realizing I don’t know enough about sushi to say much more than that I enjoyed it there. I’ve enjoyed it in New York and Seattle and plenty of other places and will continue to. I’ve heard and read that sushi is about the rice (aka I’ve watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi like everyone else). But, I mean, it still seems like it’s about the fish.

  • Cash only and no tipping. I like it. Get a debit card that refunds any ATM charges and then withdraw at 7-11s.

  • Convenience stores and vending machines really really are everywhere.

  • A lot of what I liked reminded me to appreciate living in New York. We have nearly the same amount of convenience.

  • Bathrooms are everywhere4. If I’m walking around New York, I know that finding a bathroom won’t always be easy. And any of the common choices (read: Starbucks) will have a line. With all the drinks to try from convenience stores and vending machines, it was always good knowing a restroom was nearby.

  1. But not the 2016 sense of *literally*. Is this how *nonplussed* changed its definition?

  2. Probably inspired by the AV Club Game of Thrones recaps with extra thoughts at the end of longer articles. Except I’m starting with the random thoughts and can’t promise anything well thought out.

  3. Was scrolling through the autocomplete in Webstorm for list-style-type trying to reset to the default dot. Then I saw hiragana. I’ll take it. But then I realized it’d change things globally if I Update it in the CSS file. Then I tried putting \

  4. I’m an aisle seat guy when booking plane tickets.