A Taste of Tokyo

The diet of a Sumo wrestler is an interesting one. You would think that any professional athlete would start the day with a hearty breakfast but no, not Sumo wrestlers. They endure hours of training before tucking into an enormous lunch of chanko nabe, a stew full of protein and vegetables in a dashi broth.

This is just one of the things I learned on a recent trip to Japan. I visited Ryogoku Kokugikan, a 10,000-seater sporting arena and home of Sumo. In 2020, the venue will host the boxing competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Ryogoku Kokugikan is situated in Sumida, one of the 23 wards/districts of Tokyo, Japan, and it was also one of the venues I checked out during a recce ahead of the country’s hosting of the Rugby World Cup 2019 and Tokyo 2020.

I love to discover food and learn about new cultures and am inspired by the hustle and bustle of a different way of life. Japan did not disappoint.

I visited the Farmers Market at the United Nations University, a local hot spot that hits all the senses. It serves organic and local fare every Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm. You can even talk to the farmers, who are happy to provide details about their produce, and there were lots of opportunities to sample too! You’ll find a fantastic array of food and drink trucks and if you love to try new things, you won’t walk away empty-handed. I purchased beautifully made jars of vibrantly coloured pickled vegetables!

They were almost as brightly coloured as the rainbow candyfloss on Harajuku’s Takeshita Street. It is spun from seven colours, or you might appreciate Hokkaido cream puffs more. The queues for such sweet treats were huge.

Takeshita Street is known for its fashion craziness but it’s most famous for its crepes – there are stallholders on each corner competing for business and there is every filling you can imagine, as well as cake pops and freshly fried Calbee potato chips. The street could be described as 400 metres of fun, food and fashion and it’s one of the busiest and brightest shopping streets in Tokyo, with everything you could ever want, and plenty you don’t!

Harajuku’s Takeshita Street plays to the old adage that variety is the spice of life. The same could be said of Shinjuku, the pulsing heart of Tokyo. When you think of Tokyo, Shinjuku is probably what you imagine: Neon lights, vast crowd and tall buildings

Shinjuku really is one of the most vibrant areas of Tokyo, as is Golden Gai, a collection of mismatched, tumbledown bars that line alleyways in a darkened corner of the district.

While surrounding areas have been commercialised and developed, Golden Gai has a certain charm and remains untouched. It is dwarfed by high-rise buildings and is described as a “tiny fragment of old Tokyo”, a much-loved and revered area that didn’t burn down during war-time raids or fall down when the city experienced earthquakes. Instead, Golden Gai lures you in because it’s not what you expect from shiny Tokyo. Rather, it’s worlds apart.

Golden Gai is made up of six alleys, tightly packed with independent bars, and half the experience is wandering through. Each small entrance is completely individual, covered in stickers, pristine and painted, or aged and battered, and with many of the buildings housing more than one bar, the steep staircases can lead to the completely unexpected.

There are more than 200 bars to choose from and knowing where to start is easier said than done. You may want to take a couple of things into consideration though: Some bars do have signs saying “no foreigners”, “no tourists” or “regulars only”, which is their right, I’m told. Take notice of the signs and choose somewhere more welcoming but with all that Tokyo has to offer in terms of food, drink, culture and hospitality, there’s no need to worry; you’ll never be short of alternatives.

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