In relative terms, breakfast is not a big part of the culture in Japan compared to other parts of the world where a full breakfast is almost ritualistic. In the U.S., there are places dedicated to serving hearty breakfast or brunch foods. Australians take their breakfast culture seriously that many of them can't begin their day without a proper breakfast. In Tokyo, many Japanese bakeries only open at 10am or after. Some kissaten (coffee shop) that only serve coffee drinks open at around noon. There are some bakeries in Tokyo that open as early as 8am, but they are European bakeries rather than Japanese ones. Travelers visiting Japan who are looking to start their day with a proper and full breakfast are usually directed to hotels where breakfast options are available.
Among other items, a traditional Japanese breakfast consists of items such as rice, fish, and miso soup though these are more commonly prepared at home (and served at a ryokan which is a traditional Japanese guesthouse). Of course, the word traditional is emphasized here. At present day when working people leave home early in the morning to join the commute, time cannot be afforded to eat such elaborate breakfasts at home everyday. So one might ask, how do the locals live and where would they go grab a quick bite in the morning before going off to work?
Hole-in-the-wall noodle shops open as early as 7am and early morning commuters go in, slurp up the bowl of delicious noodles in minutes, and are on their way. A bowl of hot steaming noodles in the morning especially in winter? We are sold. In fact we are instant fans. Jet lag means waking up early for T and I; we walk the streets of Ginza and then stumble upon a standing-only udon shop. We walk in and order our udon toppings. Tempura items are on the counter and if you'd like to add any of them, put them in your bowl; your bowl will be charged accordingly. We pay for our meal and stand by the high top tables with bowl in hand while slurping the slippery noodles that are perfectly al dente. What an inexpensive and satisfying way to start off the day.
Another morning we chance upon a diner which we like very, very much so. Located in at the Tsukiji Fish Market where Sushi Dai usually (and rightfully) steals the limelight from other eateries in the area, this diner offers non-sushi items at the fish market. Sitting on the high stools at the diner counter, we feel like we are transported to 1960s Tokyo. Lone customers come in (most of them are men) and grab a seat at the counter. After placing the order of coffee and their meal of choice for the morning, they open the day's newspaper which they bring with them.
People come here for an early morning meal and popular orders include butter toast, cucumber sandwiches, fried rice, and pasta Naporitan (Neopolitan). Lest you think fried rice or pasta are too heavy for an early meal, trust the Japanese diet-- how do they stay so thin? A simple pleasure like butter toast can be so tasty here. The Japanese in general bake their bread so well it's known to be soft and fluffy. Once it's toasted and slathered with butter and melted on the hot toast, it's heaven. Pasta Naporitan is a must-try in Japan even if not during breakfast. A very popular dish obviously inspired by Italian pasta but modified to suit Japanese tastebuds, the spaghetti noodles are stir-fried with ketchup, ham, onion, green peas, and mushrooms.
It's never too early to start our day with Pasta Naporitan, or a heartwarming bowl of udon.
The standing-only udon shop is located along Showa-dori, just off Chuo-dori in Ginza.
The diner at Tsukiji Market can be found in the Outer Market area along the narrow alleyways of restaurants and shops.