Tokyo Fall Trip Report – Day 2

Following our first full day in Tokyo, we were up bright and early the next morning for tickets to Tsuta, another ramen restaurant. Actually, not just “another” ramen restaurant—the first Michelin-starred ramen restaurant. Luckily for us, it was only 15 minutes from our place.

The process of getting the tickets was much more straightforward than I expected; I had fretted that we’d mess up somehow and miss out on this delicious ramen. I’ll cover the nitty-gritty in a future post (I’m going to stop reiterating this with everything–just assume full posts are coming for everything major that we do). Suffice to say, we scored those elusive tickets at 7 a.m. and then headed back to our Airbnb to regroup.

Our itinerary for the day was pretty jam-packed, but due to the uncertainty of when we’d be having lunch, I knew a lot of things would have to be cut from the schedule. Among those things that’ll have to wait until our next visit to Tokyo are the National Museum of Nature and Science, Sōgenji Temple (Kappa-dera temple), and Kappabashi Kitchen Town. Still, it was a pretty jam-packed day…

Before anything else, we once again grabbed breakfast from the local Family Mart. Since we’d be eating pretty early, I went for a lighter approach of airy foods like chips and pancake desserts.

I also got the BIG! bag of pizza chips, with the plan of eating “only” half the bag for breakfast, and saving the rest for a late night snack. The perfect crime. 

Of course, I had to get a delicious vending machine beverage. Have to start the day with whatever essential nutrients melon float soda provides.

Our first stop was Rikugien Gardens. This is a Japanese style landscaped garden in Northern Tokyo that was within both walking distance of our Airbnb and of Tsuta.

Since our lunch was at 11 a.m., we didn’t have much time to do anything more substantial between the time we finished getting ready and ramen time. In hindsight, we probably should’v done lunch at 1 p.m. and gone to Ueno Park beforehand.

In any case, Rikugien Gardens was fine. If I had to describe it succinctly, I’d call it a poor man’s Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.

Still very pretty and meticulously designed, but not worth your time as a tourist unless you’re already in the area and need to kill some time and work up an appetite for some ramen.

When we returned to Tsuta, that’s when the fun really began. While the ticket acquisition process was smooth, Tsuta has its own confusing protocol and regimented practices for ordering and eating. It felt a bit ‘Soup Nazi-ish’ to the uninitiated.

Thankfully, this being Japan, the staff is incredibly gracious and helpful to those who make faux pas along the way. If not, they would’ve said “NO RAMEN FOR YOU” to me about 4 times during the course of our visit.

Tsuta’s Michelin Star is well-deserved.

Everything about the dish was perfect, but the highlight for me was the broth. It was relatively light, but nuanced and with truffle oil giving it added depth. The wontons were good on their own and had excellent texture, but something didn’t feel right to me about them being in ramen–I don’t think they added anything to the dish (everyone else in our party disagreed with me on that note).

Watching the two chefs work together was captivating—they prepared the bowls three at a time with precision timing and careful attention to each step of the experience.

The meal was well worth our effort, and Tsuta now owns the crown of being my favorite ramen shop in the world.

Our next stop was the Railway Museum. This is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, and it has just never worked out because the museum is located in Saitama City, which is about 90 minutes north of Tokyo from where we normally stay. From Tsuta, it wasn’t quite that bad, and we figured it was time to finally set aside the half-day and visit the museum.

Naturally, for a train ride this long, we needed some snacks. Even though we had just eaten filling bowls of ramen, we “must” eat every 60 minutes while in Japan, so we grabbed a box of Tokyo Bananas. Don’t worry, these aren’t the healthy sort of bananas–they’re dessert. Delicious, delicious dessert.

The Railway Museum did not disappoint. From the lower level filled with historic trains you could board to the working train diorama (absolutely mind-blowing) to the exhibit about the history of the Shinkansen, it was great.

Even though the diorama was awesome, the highlight for me was the shinkansen exhibit. I consider riding the shinkansen an “attraction” unto itself, and love the scenic trip between Kyoto and Tokyo. There’s a certain romanticism to it, and the journey allows you to decompress in a way I don’t really feel when flying. (Maybe that’s just me, though.)

Seeing how the shinkansen has evolved is truly remarkable. It boggles my mind that the shinkansen is 50 years old–America still doesn’t have anything on par with these bullet trains.

I’d love to see Epcot dedicate its exhibit space in Japan to something like this shinkansen exhibit.

Perhaps my favorite part of the experience at the Railway Museum was all of the people sleeping on the trains. (So authentic!) I’m guessing they are annual passholders who live in the area and just like to come to the museum and hang out?

While we got a chuckle out of seeing so many people sleeping on these parked trains, if I lived in the area, I’d totally take my laptop and work remotely there. (Which would inevitably lead to a nap, because that’s how my “process” works.)

Suffice to say, the Railway Museum was one of the best things we’ve done in Japan. The museum an incredible mix of different types of exhibits, all of which were engaging, informative, and entertaining.

It also was a distinctly Japan experience–the transportation network plays an integral role to the visitor experience in Japan, and this provides additional context and appreciation for the strides the country has made in railways over the last one hundred-plus years.

We’ve have an odd obsession with a store in Japan called Book-off. In some locations, it’s just your garden variety used book, game, and movie store. In other locations, they sell collectibles and other assorted junk, including old Tokyo Disney Resort merchandise. Not being particularly keen on the current character-driven merchandise at Tokyo Disney Resort, we like to stop at these to buy souvenirs.

Well, there’s a Book-off Superstore in Stellar Town, a huge mall located about 20 minutes from the Railway Museum. That was cool and we bought a couple of Tokyo Disneyland items, but by far the highlight was the 7-11 supermarket on the lower floor. We love Japan’s 7-11 stores, but had never seen anything like this, which was a full-sized grocery store that had 7 restaurants inside of it. Here’s a look at it:

I had another ramen restaurant in mind for dinner, but my party-pooping crew all seemed to think we were having ramen for too many consecutive meals, so we found a sushi place.

You know that “I want pasta?” shirt Aziz wears on Master of None? I need that, except for ramen. The sushi was fine, but nothing special.

As noted in our last post about vending machine finds in Japan, I’ve repeatedly made the boneheaded mistake of ordering creamed corn from these machines. Since I wrote that relatively recently, it was fresh in my mind this trip, and I resolved not to make that same mistake again.

These being the sentient vending machines of the future, they were presumably aware of this, and tempted me with new, even more bizarre options. Thankfully, I have not purchased any of these mistakenly…yet.

We finished up the night in Akihabara, which is the Selgas’ favorite area of Tokyo. We started at Sweets Paradise, a dessert chain in Japan, for cake that looked like ramen. It was delicious, albeit jarring. After that, we wandered around, inevitably ending up in a UNIQLO and Book-off. I don’t know what the UNIQLO winter scene is like stateside, but I was impressed by the prevalence of sherpa fleece in…just about everything. Now that’s a fashion trend I can get behind! I didn’t want to carry it all over Japan so I didn’t buy anything, but I’ll definitely stock up once we get to Kyoto.

In the next installment of our Tokyo Fall Trip Report, I’ll pick up with Day 3,  which we spent in Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku. I know in the last installment that I’d try to be more concise and consolidate multiple days into a single installment, but since we only had three full days in Tokyo and because it’s a common destination, I figured doing this stretch of the trip day-by-day makes sense. That approach won’t be sustainable when we get to Kyoto, so hopefully I can learn how to be more succinct between now and then.

If you’re planning a visit, please check out my other posts about Japan. I also recommend the Lonely Planet Japan Guide to help plan.

Your Thoughts

Any particular thoughts about the things we did during our second day in Tokyo? Does the Railway Museum look cool to you? Would you line up at 7 a.m. in Japan for tickets to a ramen restaurant? Do you hope one day 7-11 expands its empire to include supermarkets in the United States? Other thoughts about the things we did? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

14 replies
  1. Justin
    Justin says:

    Hi Tom!

    Did the Tsuta soup broth taste fishy at all to you? My wife and I are making a trip out to Japan next year and we’re interested in going to Tsuta, but she really doesn’t care for seafood. I know they make the broth with seafood, but typically if my wife can’t distinctly taste it, she’s good to go.

    Reply
  2. Ross
    Ross says:

    The train museum in Saitama is pretty good. But the new one in Kyoto is also great. And Maglev Park in Nagoya is even better for information about the shinkansen-it is basically right next to Legoland. The train museum is better than Legoland, even for kids.

    There are heaps of smaller railway museums and dioramas throughout Japan as well. Some highlights are the model train museum in Yokohama and the diorama in at Sagano Arashiyama, where you can control the trains going around the track.

    Reply
  3. Corey
    Corey says:

    I am loving following you guys on this trip! I stalk the different blogs for updates. I can’t even imagine eating somewhere you have to get up at 7 am and get tickets, but I guess it’s not that’s much different as those booking their ADR’s.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      A complete mix. Lots of kids with train shirts, but also many older people, too. Young-ish couples like us were probably the least represented demo, but it’s truly fun for all ages.

      Reply

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