On JET, my days started early and ended early – I was finished by 4:15 and had plenty of time after school to make dinner, watch TV, read and write. I could take my time. Moving to Tokyo, however, made my free time much more valuable. I spent more time commuting and had to work longer hours. For a long time my Tokyo life strategy was to eat meals as quickly as possible, meals that required little to no prep time so that I could get back to a productive activity. I am now a master of the 30-minute bowl of lentils and the 5-minute tuna fish sandwich. I have also eaten my fair share of bento.
As my time in Japan has started to wind down, I’ve found myself a little restless. I can’t really start or even continue many of my projects; I’m not working full time anymore; and I also feel a strong need to fill my Japan-sensors to full capacity before I disappear myself back to New Orleans. So I’ve been wandering a bit recently in search of small neighborhood restaurants – 食堂 or ramen restaurants, anything really. I’d always sought out great beer, but now I’ve been taking my time with food.
I have three trusty allies. The first is my map, which I wrote about here. I’ve had it for a long time but have never used it as thoroughly as Brian has. After hanging out with him a while, I’ve realized he carries it with him constantly, and whenever anyone has a recommendation for ramen or a museum, he marks it down on the map for future reference. Respect.
The second is Ramen Supleks Database. This I found via Ramen Adventures. Just plug in a station name and up pops a list of restaurants with reviews and pictures. Great Japanese reading practice. I’ve found a couple tasty places including an evil-good 家系 place in Omori and an interesting modern place near 戸越公園 – that gives you the full extent of my wanderings.
Another less reliable restaurant listings website is Tabelog. This site has more than just ramen, but it also has a bunch of restaurants that are promoted by ads. Basically you can always ignore the first two or three restaurants on any given search because they are ad-supported.
So my advice to Tokyo residents is this: Force yourself to explore the 20-minute vicinity around your apartment on foot. You might find a useful train line you never considered using before. Or a great restaurant. (Or at least a mediocre one run by really nice people.) Or just some cool neighborhoods that help you fill up your Japan sensors.