One question most men ponder at some point or another is, what can I do to make up for staying out too late / drinking a bit too much / accidentally soldering some electronic components to the couch and slightly lighting it on fire because I was staying out too late drinking and decided to fix a speaker when I got home… Just for, you know, examples. So, I present to you the perfect apology vacation: a trip to see Sakura blossoming in Tokyo.
Tokyo is one of my favorite places to visit, simply because you can find something for everyone. Eating? Easily some of the best food in the world. Sightseeing? Shrines, palaces, historical landmarks and modern architecture. Drinking? Lounges, Itzakaya, dives, and clubs populate the city.
The idea behind this trip was to include all of the above in a mostly walkable distance. Our destination of choice was the contrarily, maligned and lauded, Shinjuku. A place that could certainly be described as “happening” but also “sketchy” all in the same sentence.
Let’s start with the titular topic.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Sakura are the absolutely beautiful cherry blossoms in Japan. Sakura make their mark in poems, paintings, and even beer. Since we are in Shinjuku, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden seemed like the ideal spot. The park is beautiful with plenty of Sakura. The park has small, tranquil lakes and winding paths through well maintained gardens. Keep in mind that during Sakura season, this place will be pretty packed… but every park is packed during the blossom season. Admission is an acceptable 200 yen. However, no booze is allowed, so if you are looking for a place to spread a blanket and get a buzz, read on.
This park will require a quick JR trip, but nothing too rigorous. The park itself contains a slew of museums and a zoo. So, if you want to wrap your Sakura viewing in with some cultural opportunities, Ueno Park is the destination. The primary road is lined with cherry blossoms and it is common to see locals lay out blankets underneath them and have a few beers. If you want to get your buzz on while accomplishing your travel goal, this is the spot.
The park itself is free and so are several of the attractions. Anything that does require a fee (the museums and zoo) are all in the range of 300-600 yen
What is a trip without gluttonously hammering down enough food to feed the entire British military? I understand if you are looking down at me from your throne of fitness and glorious abs… but, I’ll have you know I am perfectly happy being a chubby monkey. Sorry, I get defensive sometimes. Moving on.
Food! Japan is seriously the easiest way to eat yourself into an early grave. My personal favorites are yakiniku (BBQ), itzakaya (Japanese bar food), ramen (not that crappy Top Ramen stuff), Japanese curry, and yakitori.
This is just meat you barbecue yourself. It is typically marinated, but also is super high quality. My favorite in Shinjuku is https://goo.gl/maps/Dahh6HBX7Wz. If you are feeling adventurous, try some of the heart or horse meat sashimi. It’s supposed to be eaten raw, so be sure you can handle it. Less adventurous, try the beef tongue.
Beer, sake, and food. That’s all you need to know. Check out one of my favs: https://goo.gl/maps/GLNCD6DY23k . Since you are in town for the Sakura, try the Sakura sake, it’s silly good.
At this point, I was pretty far into my sake, so I forgot to take any photos… so just use your imagination or click on the link.
Late night ramen is an amazing snack after a night wandering the town. There are loads of them around Shinjuku. Try this super famous one: https://goo.gl/maps/yMqbTgJbti72.
OMG, yes. Just seriously… yes. If I get some Katsu covered in curry, I’ve arrived in heaven. I can’t describe how bloody good this is. So, just get it yourself. Now. And get me some… why are you still here? I want my curry.
Go get it here: https://goo.gl/maps/wtHNgPEvDdv. They don’t have katsu curry, but everything is seriously amazing.
Have you ever eaten something and said, this would be so much better on a stick? Well, everything is stackable. Ground chicken? Stickable. Eggplant? Stickable. Pork bell? Stickable. Miso Soup? Not stickable. Okay, not everything is stickable, but the best stuff is. At a yakitori, I met an executive chef who sagely said, it is amazing that in French style cooking we do so much to make food taste delicious, and here they just put it on a stick with similar results.
Try this one: https://goo.gl/maps/x1bcgNgyS9y. Small. Cramped. And SUPER busy. Get there before 6PM to eat.
Takoyaki is an octopus ball and it is waaaaay better than it sounds. There are takoyaki places everywhere. I haven’t eaten enough to tell you which is my favorite… so just try them all.
We’ve already covered itzakaya in the food section. I highly recommend drinking there… multiple times. Maybe all the time… why even leave?
But, for completionist sake, let’s cover some other bases.
Best Bar Street Ever
I love bar streets. Shinjuku has an awesome one. All of the bars are about the size of a queen size bed and fit 5 people if you REALLY squeeze. It’s fun, loud, and popular. However, the bars do tend to close a bit early for my liking. https://goo.gl/maps/f45AF1iP6Pw
A but further away than bar street, requiring a manageable metro ride, is another one of my favs (http://commune246.com). This is less a bar than a collection of shacks that sell beer around a common area. There are even some craft beers there, if you are into that sort of thing. Best yet, you can pay a dude to read comics to you while you “pound dem beers”. Best money I’ve ever spent. Here is a clip. It’s worth your 52 seconds.