Tokyo Station: So much more than a train station

Tokyo Station is so much more than a train station. Inside is a maze of underground passages (or "streets") filled with retail shops, restaurants, cafes, and izakayas. In fact, Tokyo Station is quite a destination in itself. Inside the station is an area called Ichibangai (First Avenue), directly connected to the Yaesu exit, that makes up 3 floors of retail and restaurants that can keep an afternoon busy. Hanging out at a train station? Why, yes, it is possible at Tokyo Station. It is true when people say that there is nothing the Japanese have not thought of creating and doing.

*Tokyo Ramen Street*
Basement floor, South Street


On the basement level of Ichibangai is Tokyo Ramen Street where 8 renowned ramen shops congregate. The line of people standing and waiting outside Rokurinsha is perpetual and judging from this it is no secret that one of the best tsukemen (dipping ramen) in Tokyo can be found here. Once you get to Tokyo Ramen Street inside the station, Rokurinsha is really easy to spot-- you only have to look for the shop with the longest line of people to know that you are at the right place. This makes it pretty useful if you don't read Japanese and are not sure which shop is Rokurinsha. Word is that the owner of Rokurinsha previously operated the store in a neighborhood and because of the perpetual line that wrapped around the block, complaints from neighboring shops arose. As a result, the owner relocated Rokurinsha to Tokyo Ramen Street inside Tokyo Station's Ichibangai.

Rokurinsha opens as early as 7:30am for breakfast until 10:00am and reopening the rest of the day from 11:00am to 10:30pm. We get there just before 8:00am and despite the day being early, there is already a line for us to join. The line moves quick and we hardly feel like we are waiting much at all. People go in, slurp up the tsukemen, and then leave to go about their day, commute, and work in Tokyo. The system at Rokurinsha is like other ramen shops in Japan. We order, pay, and get our ramen tickets from the vending machine located at the entrance of the shop. An employee takes your ticket and hands it to the kitchen.

Tsukemen is a form of dipping ramen; the noodles and broth are served in separate bowls. The noodles are dipped into the broth and then slurped into the mouth. Because it is used for dipping and not so much for drinking straight up from a spoon, the broth for tsukemen has a more intense flavor than when the broth and noodle are served together in a bowl like the other variations of ramenRokurinsha's tsukemen is certainly not less than perfect. The thick noodles are al dente with the right amount of chewy texture. The noodles are boiled just long enough to achieve this right level, not any less nor more. The dipping broth has depth in flavor and with the complex burst of flavors there is a very slight zesty hint.

In the corner is a table with a pot of the dipping broth if anyone wants more. There is also a separate pot of warm water in the corner and a popular way to end the meal is to ladle some warm water into your bowl of remaining dipping broth to dilute it for drinking as soup. After having one of the best tsukemen here at Rokurinsha, we are afraid that our future tsukemen meals will have a hard time matching up. Who knew that we could eat something so great at a train station and that meal turns out to be the best in its kind that we've had? In Japan it is possible.

Menya Shichisai/Edoama

Also located on Tokyo Ramen Street is the shop that goes by Menya Shichisai by day and Edoama by evening. Shoyu ramen (soy sauce flavored) is served during the day and miso ramen in the evening. Like any ramen shop, customers order, pay, and get the ramen tickets from the vending machine at the entrance of the shop. An employee of the shop readily takes the ramen tickets and hands it to the kitchen. We visit for a late breakfast when shoyu ramen is being served. The chashu pork is tender and the optional addition of the tamago (egg) is skillfully made with the orange yolk soft and runny. The broth is very well balanced between its savory and light flavors, just perfect to start a cold December morning.

*Gochiso Plaza*
Second floor

Another section of Ichibangai at Tokyo Station is dedicated to izakaya restaurants. These drinking establishments serve a variety of food in small portions meant to complement the drinks and long conversations with your dining companions. Visit any izakaya in Tokyo and you will experience a part of life that is prevalent in the Japanese culture. Start with some sake, biru (beer), or shochu (distilled alcoholic beverage) and you are off to a great time. Order some food to share and take your time to eat your way through the food on your table. Izakaya restaurants are where casual moments come to stay.

We decide on sake and take our time through a plate of ika (squid) sashimi, a small bowl of konnyaku (Japanese root jelly) and tofu stew, and a serving of fried octopus legs.


The most unforgettable item is the beautifully sliced and presented whole fish sashimi-style. Just between the two of us, we have no difficulty in finishing every slice of fish on the plate and then dreaming more of it after. The next time someone says Tokyo is an expensive city, we get to say But we just had a plate of whole fish sashimi-style at an izakaya for only ¥780 (~US$8.30)!

Catching a train is certainly not the only reason one needs to go to Tokyo Station.


Dehbiru Okinawa, an izakaya on the sidestreets of Ginza

Sometimes the best things are when they are stumbled upon and unaccompanied by expectations. Among the sea of fine dining options that make up Ginza's reputation, we find this true gem of an izakaya (drinking establishment that serves food) that serves Okinawan food. Fine dining it is not, but good and affordable food and drinks here make good times.


We are led to the basement by a set of narrow stairs with walls filled with shochu bottles. Once at the basement, we open the door to the izakaya where a seemingly endless number of shochu bottles line the walls.

This place specializes in shochu cocktails as evidenced by the proud display of shochu varieties on the wall. We opt to stick with beer. We start with some Orion beer, an Okinawan beer, and then put in an order for some food to go with our drinks. At an izakaya, the general idea is that food accompanies the drinks rather than the drinks accompanying the food. A simple dish of cold tofu topped with tiny cured fish can be this satisfying. The tofu is unseasoned and just perfect to complement the cured fish. The purple yam croquette is every bit memorable with its outer fried layer that is more on the chewy crisp side instead of a light crisp. The yam inside is smooth and creamy. We can easily have a double order of the yam croquettes. We can't say no to purple yam. The other dish of whole fish is butterflied, resulting in a beautiful-looking fried fish with its curved shape. Whether the shape is artistically intentional or not, we do not know.

Little English is spoken here but we manage to get by with our basic knowledge of Japanese words with gesturing and pointing. They have an English menu but it does not represent the entire food selection from the Japanese menu. The Japanese menu has some pictures which are helpful. Towards the end of the meal we ask the server the name of the izakaya and he brings over the establishment's business card printed in Japanese. He then writes the romaji words (romanization of the Japanese language) "D Biru Okinawa" on the card. With these few romanized words we just learned, we now know the name to call this inconspicuous izakaya along the side streets of Ginza... the place where we can get a taste of Okinawa without traveling to the southernmost prefecture of Japan.

Dehbiru Okinawa
Asahi Building B1, 3-8-10, Ginza, 
Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 104-0061


Kinmaru Ramen

With a bigger reputation for luxury shopping and lavish dining, Ginza may not have earned a spot on the list of Tokyo areas for cheap eats or ramen shops. That is not to say that these gems don't exist in Ginza. They do. They just don't dominate Ginza. There is a place for excellent tonkotsu ramen in Ginza and that is at Kinmaru. Thanks to some web search and ramen blogs, this place is a wonderful find.

We walk in, select and pay for our choices at the vending machine located right at the door. Our ramen tickets are dispensed from the vending machine. We go up to the counter and get a seat for ourselves. Aren't ramen shops in Japan fun that way? As soon as we are seated, one of the two men working behind the counter (which is also the kitchen) walks over and takes our ramen tickets. He then proceeds to ask us a question in Japanese and of course we suddenly blank out on what he is asking. We say to him "Eigo o hanasemasu ka?" (Do you speak English?) and then to find out that he doesn't. He then proceeds to prepare our ramen behind the counter. We make ourselves comfortable on the high top seats and then of course only at this time we finally realize what he just tried to ask us: how firm we'd like our noodles to be. At Kinmaru, the noodles can be boiled up to 5 different levels of firmness depending on the diner's preference. We learnt about this from Ramenate before heading to Kinmaru and then only to forget to say bari (hard) to the young man working at Kinmaru. I imagine it to be quite a challenge for the young man, a Japanese-only speaking person, to attempt asking and describing in English the different al dente levels that can be prepared for the noodles! Note: According to Ramenate, the 5 options are: yawame, bari, bari bari (very hard), mecha bari (super hard), and kona otoshi (noodles are plunged into boiling water just long enough to remove the flour).

My bowl of tonkotsu ramen and T's order of tsukemen arrive, and the noodles are presumably boiled to a default level of the normal or popular choice. At Kinmaru, tonkotsu ramen is served with thin-strand noodles while thicker noodles are used for tsukemen. For tsukemen, the noodles and broth are served separately with the purpose of dipping the noodles into the bowl of intensely flavored bowl of broth before getting slurped into the mouth. The noodles for my tonkotsu ramen are somewhere between soft and firm; T's noodles for his tsukemen go toward the firm side. The tonkotsu broth is deliciously flavorful without the slightest hint of a porky smell that could be a potential turn-off. It's rich without being too thick if you wanted to drink the broth up until the last drop. In addition to the slices of chashu pork that have come to be expected of ramen, a spoonful of stewed pork belly is added to the bowl. The noodles for the tsukemen come with a good amount of different toppings instead of the usual plain serving of noodles. Besides the chashu pork, there are sprouts, nori (seaweed), and scallions.

How do you make a tasty bowl of ramen even more tasty? On the counter are bowls of condiments-- raw garlic cloves (with garlic press) and pickled vegetables. We press some raw garlic into our noodles and they noticeably perk up the already tasty broth. As for the pickled vegetables, I like to eat them straight from my spoon to my mouth without mixing them with my noodles. But that's just me.

1-13-10 Ginza

Look for the two standing white banners at the entrance.



Oh, the glamorous Ginza of Tokyo. A lot of things associated with Ginza is luxury-- flagship stores, prestigious departmental stores. Say the name Ginza and Tokyoites understand that the area is known for fine dining rather than cheap eats. This is the place to shop but if you're not looking to spend your money here, the fashion stores make good eye candy.


Join the very orderly crowds along Chuo-dori, the main shopping street of Ginza. On weekends and holidays, the street is closed to vehicles and the only traffic you'll see is the human kind strolling on Chuo-dori. Off the main streets is Namiki-dori, a quieter street where high-end designer labels and art galleries are.

Fine dining options abound our a stellar dinner at Sushi Kanesaka, a restaurant with two Michelin stars. Take time to wander off along the side and back streets and you will be pleasantly surprised to find several amazing affordable and cheap eats. They may not dominate Ginza but they make neighborhood gems. We wander into a standing-only udon shop for breakfast, a basement izakaya with Okinawan food for a late lunch, and a ramen shop for a soul-satisfying dinner of tonkotsu ramen. Make time for bakeries and cafes, another aspect that Ginza is known for. Kimuraya is not a secret and locals go there for the anpan (sweet bread with red bean paste filling). Maker of the original anpan, Kimuraya produces their bread by using sakadane which is the yeast that makes sake. There is something for everyone in Ginza.

Okinawa-style izakaya

Kinmaru ramen shop

Udon shop



The phenomenon at the world famous 5-way Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo is one of our favorite spots to capture in photography. As one of Tokyo's famous and signature spots, the Shibuya Crossing is also known as the world's busiest crossing. At each interval when the light turns green for pedestrian crossing, throngs of people make their way through the 5-way crossing. When it's the vehicles' turn, the crowds wait patiently and systematically until it's time again for pedestrians to cross. The cycle repeats. Watching and observing this phenomenon with the backdrop of giant billboards and video screens can be pretty captivating. It tells us This is Tokyo. Welcome to Tokyo.

The best spot to capture this on photography is on the covered pedestrian bridge and walkway located across from the Q Front Building. To help orient yourself, Starbucks is on the 2nd floor of this building. Go up to the covered pedestrian bridge and walkway that is across the street from Starbucks. You can watch the crossing inside Starbucks but only if you grab a cup of coffee.




A district popular among young Tokyoites for fashion and culture, Shibuya still appeals to people of all ages given the myriad of choices in shopping and eating. Center Gai, a narrow street located just off the Shibuya Crossing, is said to be the birthplace of Japan's youth trends. The clothing and music stores on this street add to the Shibuya vibe.

There's always a saying that the Japanese come up with all sorts of ideas for anything. Love hotels are clearly one of them and there is nothing sketch about love hotels. In Tokyo, space is tight and real estate so it is not uncommon for married couples to live with their parents. Sometimes these love hotels come in handy for them (or for unmarried couples for that matter!). Love hotels can be found along Dogenzaka in Shibuya. A very obvious identifying feature is a sign usually outside the hotel that advertises hourly rates. Some love hotels also display images of their rooms with different fantasy themes. And as we all know, the Japanese are quite into fantasy themes; perhaps not every one of them but a sizable number are. Again, this is another This is Japan moment.