Japanese style curry at Curry House CoCo Ichibanya in Shinjuku

One of the days in Tokyo we had been walking for ages in the rain. We were cranky, tired and hungry. That is usually not an ideal situation to start discussing where to eat. We stood outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building when it struck me; “Curry, I want Japanese curry”. After a quick look at Google maps, it was almost to good to be true, we were a block from one of the higher ranked curry places in Tokyo, the interestingly named “Curry House CoCo Ichibanya” which is part of a chain with the same name. After a approximately 30 second walk, we found ourselves in a small curry smelling paradise.

Japanese curry is a gravy like sauce flavoured with curry, served on top of rice and usually paired with some kind of deep-fried protein. We opted for deep-fried chicken with our curry which came with pickles, rice and mentioned curry sauce. The food was hot, savoury, crunchy, salty and just plain delicious. Price was really good too, and we left a lot happier.

Price ($) and website
I honestly can’t remember more than it was very affordable. They have an English website with a menu that you can find here. We had lunch at their Shinjuku location close to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (that by the way has free entry) and the Park Hyatt Hotel. Shinjuku station’s main hall is a 5-10 minute walk away.

Two really good tonkatsu restaurants we visited in Japan

One of my favourite Japanese dishes is tonkatsu. Tonkatsu or panko crusted deep-fried pork cutlets is a dish similar to a schnitzel with juicy pork covered by a crunchy panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) crust. 

During our recent trip to Japan, we had tonkatsu twice; once at Wako, where we went last time in Tokyo, and once at Maisen, a place I’ve been reading about a lot and what usually show up when you google “Tokyo’s best tonkatsu”.

Wako tonkatsu in Kyoto Station
We went to Wako in Kyoto Station, situated on the upper floors of the Isetan department store inside the station. Bonus trivia is that you can go outside from the restaurant floor where Wako is and up a couple of stairs/escalators to reach a nice rooftop area with views over Kyoto, although with a wall in the way of proper photos.

At Wako we opted to try one of the more expensive premium versions of pork for our tonkatsu. I believe the cost was around 1800 jpy, meaning roughly $16. According to the staff, it was juicier with a higher fat content and hence slightly more expensive. After a round of frosty beer mugs, our tonkatsu arrived. Since the tonkatsu came as a set meal, which it usually does in Japan, we also got rice, pickles, cabbage slaw and grated daikon radish. The tonkatsu pork cutlet was, just as advertised, nicely fatty and soft, as well as the breading crunchy. A nice thing with tonkatsu is that it, when done properly, lacks almost any excess oil. So given the relative healthiness of the sides, it doesn’t feel that bad to eat. Despite being a couple of hundred grams of deep-fried fatty pork. Wako’s tonkatsu is a really nice one and in my mind well worth a visit.

Price ($$) and website
We paid roughly 2500 yen a person with premium pork tonkatsu set meals and a beer. Website with sample menu in English (scroll down to Kyoto and then Wako JR Isetan for address): click here.

Next place to enjoy tonkatsu was, as mentioned above, the legendary Maisen or Mai-Sen. We went to their outlet close to Tokyo Station in Daimaru shopping mall, located on the 12th floor. Bonus trivia for this place is that the view from the restaurant floor’s restrooms is quite spectacular. We went quite late, so we could snap a few sneaky restroom pictures since no one else was there.

Bathroom views from the restaurant floor of Tokyo Daimaru shopping mall.

Anyway, the food. As per usual, we ordered a round of beers and a set meal each, opposed to Wako, this time with fillet instead of loin, meaning slightly less fatty meat and also a slightly smaller amount. I think it was 100 grams of fillet instead of 150 grams of loin, for the same price. The tonkatsu was served with rice, miso soup and cabbage slaw with a tasty lemony yuzu dressing. Once again, the breaded pork was not at all oily from the deep-frying. The meat was slightly less juicy compared to Wako, but that did not really matter as the crust was so crunchy and delicious. It actually felt more balanced than with the premium high fat content-pork tonkatsu at Wako, since it was almost overwhelming with both fatty pork and being deep-fried.

Katsusando from Maisen. Tonkatsu in white toast bread. Good stuff.

Maisen’s katsusando – tonkatsu sandwich at Tokyo Foodshow
Another thing we tried and that you probably should too if you like tonkatsu is Maisen’s katsusando. Katsusando is a tonkatsu sandwich, which means sliced cold tonkatsu in a white bread sandwich with some tonkatsu sauce spread on. We had Maisen’s katsusando that we bought at Tokyo Foodshow in Shibuya, a whole floor of food where different outlets sell their different types of food and where you can both pick up take-away as well as dine in at a couple of communal stand up tables.

Price ($$+) and website
Maisen is slightly more expensive that for instance Wako, and we paid about 1600 yen a person for one of the cheaper set meals on the menu. Maisen’s website, only in Japanese. Address (google maps link).

B-Mobile visitor sim card

I used B-Mobile’s Visitor sim card for surfing on the go while in Japan recently. Conveniently you can pick it up as you arrive in Japan, or order it to your hotel so it’s waiting for you when you check in (as I did).

Just a note, this is not sponsored in any way. We just very much enjoyed the easiness to order and pay the sim card online, to have it delivered to our hotel, and that it worked really well during the trip. 🙂

Usually when I travel, I try to find a way to have internet on the move. Since about 7-8 years back I’ve been purchasing local sim cards where possible, to avoid expensive roaming and to only be able to surf the web without wifi access. I want to be able to use maps, google restaurants I’m outside to see if they’re good, or just translate stuff. Or maybe post a picture or two on Instagram. 🙂

B-Mobile Visitor Sim Card
Anyway, before leaving Japan I googled how to solve this usual travel problem of mine and found B-mobile and their “b-mobile VISITOR SIM, 5GB, 21days”. We were in Japan for 19 days, so 21 days sounded like a good amount of days, and 5 GB like it would probably last if combined with a bit of wifi-surfing.

The price is 3480 yen, something like $30, which I found reasonable.

Convenient pick up
The nicest thing is that you can order it free of charge to the accomodation of your choice. You can also pick it up in the airport, but that did not work for us since they had limited opening hours and there was an extra charge for airport pick ups. We opted to have our delivered to our hotel, which it was.

We picked it up on check in, installed it in our phones (it took a little bit of work, but there were good instructions with the card) and that was it. We were connected, and both of us had remaining credit when we departed Japan 19 days later.

Here is a link to their website where you can order the sim card (nope, no comission for me 🙂 )

What to see and do during five days in Kyoto, Japan

During our Japan trip, we spent five days in beautiful Kyoto. Fortunately, my younger brother’s (who we were there to visit) school holidays coincided with the sakura, or the cherry tree blossom that Kyoto is famous for. This made Kyoto even more beautiful, adding a layer of pink, white and purple (from the also blooming plum trees) flowers to the temples, river, old buildings, mountains and generally awesome scenery that makes up Kyoto.

But what did we do except for admiring sakura trees, eating lots of tasty food and drinking Japanese beer in frozen mugs? We went sightseeing of course. I’m a born and bred tourist, and I think that if many people tend to visit something, there’s probably a reason for it. There might be lines, yes. But I find it usually worth it. Hence we visited most of the main attractions of Kyoto, and here they are:

Kiyomizu-Dera (清水寺) is a Buddhist temple complex close to central Kyoto. We just walked there from town, paid the reasonable entry fee of ¥400, which translates to roughly $5 or so. Unfortunately there was a bit of construction going on while we where there which meant a few of the buildings were covered in scaffolds. Did not matter that much though since the temple and views over Kyoto as seen above was pretty great regardless.

Visit Gion, Kyoto’s old town. Like many other, we had to visit Gion, sort of Kyoto’s old town with pretty old buildings, tea houses and restaurants. While there we walked right into the judge trio of Australia’s Masterchef which we have watched for the last 7 years or so. I am way too Swedish to ask for a picture or similar, but it was still pretty cool to run into someone you recognise on the other side of the world. Which I incidentally has done in Japan before, read more about that story here.

Fushimi-Inari shrine or Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is a Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto, quite close to where we lived. If you live in central Kyoto, you might need to catch a bus since it is quite a walk from there. The gates above are called Torii gates, and they lead the way to the top of Mount Inari, 233 meters above sea level. We somehow took the wrong way and walked all the way up following trails and the occassional collection of torii gates. I guess we took the backway or something because eventually we ended up with the crowds walking the proper route. At the top of the mountain we got awarded with below great views over Kyoto.

View over Kyoto from Mount Inari.

Picnic under the cherry trees and manage to tick hanami in Kyoto of your bucket list. Sakura is the actual blooming of cherry trees, and Hanami is basically “enjoying the sakura”. Hanami usually means to have a picnic under the blooming cherry trees, and hence enjoying the sakura. We did a couple of those picnics, as did the rest of Kyoto’s population.

Monkey around in the mountains. Very close to Arashiyama bamboo forest is the Arashiyama monkey park or Monkey Park Iwatayama. We walked there from the train station (the Hankyu line station) and very close to the Togetsukyo Bridge we found the monkey park entrance. The actual place where the monkeys hang out though (they roam free) is on top of the mountain. So you need to walk about 15 minutes or so quite steeply uphill to reach the place. The added bonus is an amazing view over Kyoto with great photo opportunities.

Monkey chilling in the sun. The entry fee to the monkey park was, as most other Kyoto attractions, quite low.

Visit the Arashiyama bamboo forest (嵐山). Arashiyama is a bit outside of central Kyoto, and we went there by train (with one change) from Kyoto Station in about 30 minutes. No entry fee, you just need to share space with a bunch of other people. We went quite late in the afternoon though, so it wasn’t that crowded.

Bonus: eat forest crepes. After visiting the bamboo forest we were about to leave when we found a random van in the forest with a line. Of course we had to check it out, and found out that it was a food truck with a Japanese girl producing these great crepes, stuffed with pretty much all things tasty such as whipped cream, fresh berries, marshmallows, chocolate sauce and toasted nuts. She handmade each one, so it took a while but it was really delicious. Never managed to get the name of this arashiyama bamboo forest creperie, so feel free to comment if you’ve also been and know it.

Kobe beef dinner at Gyu-an Ginza

One of the best meals of the trip, and probably one of my best meals ever was enjoyed at Gyu-An in Ginza, Tokyo. Gyu-An specialise in meat, as in good quality stuff, such as wagyu beef and the world famous kobe beef. After quite thorough research we decided that Gyu-An felt most bang for the buck for our relatively tiny kobe beef budgets and we managed to score a reservation with the help of our hotel concierge a few days later.

As we arrived Gyu-an, after a stroll through the neon lit Ginza district of Tokyo, they couldn’t find our reservation, and I had a few seconds of panic, before they found us a table, and my greatly anticipated steak dinner was, fortunately, a go. While prices are decent given what you get, there is still a considerable price for a meal, depending how you look at it. To have some reference, and to save some money, the two of us decided to share a slightly less pricey wagyu steak set menu as well as the swankiest of the kobe sets which meant you got 200 grams, 100 grams each of kobe fillet and kobe sirloin. Included was a couple of starters, a tiny dessert (below) as well as coffee or tea. Drinks were extra but was relatively decently priced.

We had a couple of starters, but the only really exciting one was this incredibly delicious beef sushi with a thin, fatty piece of beef covering the rice. A great bite that like the beef was washed down with house red.

The matsusaka wagyu beef was just a tad less delicious than the kobe beef. Hadn’t I had the kobe beef, this would’ve been the best steak I’ve ever had. Extremely flavourful and tasty with a great tender texture.

The steak of steaks. Kobe beef fillet and sirloin. Not really sure which one I liked the best. The fillet was of course a bit leaner and softer than the sirloin, but that was barely noticeable given how tender both were. The fat in the kobe beef is not at all chewy, but rather melts in your mouth. The best comparisson I’ve been able to make is, to think of how you bite into a ripe mandarin orange and how it kind of bursts with fruit juice when you bite into it. This was like that, only that the fruit juice was kobe beef fat. It was incredibly good. It was also incredibly rich, and it was almost a struggle to eat everything given the two starters, rice, soup and salad that you are also served. No doubt this was the best steak I have ever had. My expectations were really high. I’ve been eating some really good meat the last years, churrasco in Brazil, grilled bife de chorizo in Argentina and great French steak au poivre. But this beat them all, easily.

For dessert we were served three perfect strawberries. Although it is almost insulting calling this a dessert in normal cases, we were so full that we did not really mind. And the strawberries were in fact extraordinarily tasty.

Price and location
We paid roughly $280 for our two steak meals (one wagyu at 8500 jpy, one kobe combo at 15500 jpy), a caraff of red wine, and water. The restaurant is located in Ginza, easily accessible with a couple of subway lines.

Delicious sushi at Musashi kaiten sushi in Kyoto

The best sushi, and unfortunately one of the only times we had any during the trip, was at Musashi Sushi in Kyoto. The sushi is served kaiten style, which means the chefs make sushi and then put it on a conveyor belt which diners are conveniently placed around, and then you make your pick as it passes by you.

At Musashi, you can also ask the chefs to make you special ones if your favourite is constantly taken by the couple just before you. I’m not saying that this in fact did happen, just that it could have. 🙂

We sampled lots of different sushi at Musashi, for instance ones with roasted beef, melt-in-your-mouth fatty tuna belly, lobster in mayo, tuna and quail egg yolks and grilled unagi eel sushi. Everything was really delicious, the beer was as always served ice cold in iced beer mugs and the prices were quite good too. Your check is calculated by the number of plates of a certain colour you have on your table.

Lobster salad sushi.

Steak sushi.

Grilled sweetish unagi eel sushi.

With the Hikari Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto

After a first night in Tokyo, during my recent Japan trip, we took the Shinkansen bullet train to our next destination Kyoto.

The distance between the two cities is approximately 450 kilometers. With the high speed Shinkansen trains however, the trip is quite a breeze. We reserved our tickets the night before departure at one of the JR offices in Tokyo Station. We got issued a small paper ticket each that we together with our rail passes showed to staff at the station before departure next day. We went to the platform about 15 minutes before departure. No check in procedure was needed.

The Japan Rail Pass
Before we left for Japan, we purchased Japan Rail Passes. The rail pass can usually only be bought before arriving in Japan, but as we arrived they’re running a trial in which you during a limited time can buy the pass on arrival at some points of arrival in Japan. You could for instance do it at the Japan Rail (JR) office at Haneda Airport where we picked up our pre-booked passes.

Anyway, the pass can be bought for one, two, or three consecutive weeks and means you can travel freely on most JR trains, buses and ferries. There are a few exclusions such as the super fast shinkansen bullet trains Nozomi and Mizuho. The slightly slower (stops at a few more stations) such as Hikari, that we used, and Kodama Shinkansen bullet trains are included in the pass.

Why a Japan Rail Pass
If you’re only planning on only staying in for instance Tokyo, a JR pass is probably not worth it. Our first time in Japan we only went to Mount Fuji once besides hanging out in Tokyo, where the transport is mainly by subway and where many lines are run by other operators than JR, and hence we skipped the JR pass that trip.

This time however, we were to visit Kyoto where my brother lived. That meant either a looong bus trip, a flight to Osaka and train from there, or a 2,5 hour bullet train trip from Tokyo. Since a one-way trip with the Shinkansen is about $150 or 1400 sek, just our return trip Tokyo-Kyoto would be the same price as a one week JR rail pass (priced 29000 yen when we bought it in 2017), that we also used for several other short trips in both Kyoto, Osaka and Kyoto (such as on the Haneda Airport monorail and Shinkansen from Kyoto to Osaka).

Train travel in Japan is not painful at all, rather it’s a quite pleasant experience. The train runs smooth, there’s rarely a delay, and the train stations are packed with great food outlets meant for taking onboard the train. No one bothers either if you bring your own beer for instance, as several of my Japanese co-travelers did. Had beer onboard that is. And it’s quiet, oh so quiet. If someone needs to receive or make a call. They leave the seating area and stand outside the restrooms where no one is bothered.

For me the Japan Rail Pass was definitely worth it. Train travel in Japan is in my experience very convenient, easy and comfortable. Next time I’ll probably go for a two or three week pass to fully explore all of Japan. I might sound enthusiastic about this, so I should probably note that I paid for the pass myself. 🙂