I first visited Tokyo when I was 15 years old as part of a high school exchange program. I enjoyed Tokyo as any other tourist does; thoroughly mesmerized by the differences between Tokyo and the rest of the world. Now, as a resident of Japan, I flee to Tokyo to find the opposite. I go to Tokyo to find the things that make Tokyo and the rest of the world similar.
The image people have of Japan as an ultra futuristic bustling metropolis is only true of the urban centers; seeing as 45% of the Japanese population is concentrated in three cities: Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. I, however, don’t live in any of those cities. I live in a semi-suburban semi-rural city about 2 hours from Tokyo by bus. In my city, there are two malls and most stores close at 8pm. Grocery stores open at 9:30am and most close by 9pm. I am lucky enough to live near one that closes at 11:30pm. If I want to escape the constant bombardment of Japanese culture, I have two choices: McDonald’s and Starbucks. Some of my friends aren’t so lucky, and have no way of “getting a taste of home.” See, the thing is, no matter how horrible the coffee or food maybe, when you live in another country you will miss anything that reminds you of home. In the rural parts of Japan, there are fewer chances to get those tastes, so you accept the options you are given or you get fed up and seek out the tastes yourself. This brings me back to Tokyo, a city filled with a cornucopia of such chances.
Since moving to Japan, I had traveled to Tokyo twice a month to practice yoga and to see the sights. In the past couple months I have not had the time to make my bi-monthly treks and I noticed it had taken its toll on me. So, this past weekend I got on the bus and spent my Saturday in Tokyo to find the comfort of home. And I will share with you some of my favorite spots in Tokyo to enjoy as an expat.
Now, if you are going to Tokyo for the first time, I would not recommend any of the places I frequent, only because you are traveling. Travel is all about reaching out of your comfort zone and experiencing something new and amazing. However, if you are living in Japan or any other Asian city and happen to find yourself in Tokyo, these places might make your day depending on what you are looking for. (Please note I am vegetarian.)
Farmer’s Market – Farmer’s Market at UNU
This weekend farmer’s market is a great place to find produce that you might be missing from home. I have found beets and artichokes. There are tons of farmer’s market staples like fresh baked goods, cold pressed juices, and delicious coffee. You can also find food trucks galore.
5 Chome-53-70 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Burgers – Shake Shack
Yes, there might be better burgers out there, but as a vegetarian you can’t beat the ‘shroom burger at Shake Shack. Being an American franchise, walking through the doors at a Shake Shack you feel like you can be eating lunch in New York. Burgers, dogs, fries, shakes, and beer make this one of my favorite spots. The only downside would be the price. So this is usually an annual affair and not something I do every time I visit Tokyo. There are three in Tokyo, so it is easy to find one that fits your needs.
Mexican – Chiles
Now, real Mexican food is VERY difficult to find. But this place is as close as you can get. It is run by Mexicans, but serves what most people would call Mexican food; the good ole Chipotle-style Mexican fare of burritos, bowls, quesadillas, and nachos.
Pizza – 800 degrees
Now, if I was totally honest I would say that the best pizza is at Costco. But, since not everyone can eat there I went the other way. 800 degrees is more of a high end pizza joint. You can build your own pizza with a variety of toppings you won’t find anywhere else. They also have kale salad and truffle cheese bread that are to die for. This is a great place to share food and really indulge.
5-24-55 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku
Salad – Vegeteria
Oddly enough, a good salad is hard to come by in Japan. However, I have found that you can find amazing take-away salads at Vegeteria, inside many Tokyo train stations. These salads change with the seasons and have included goat cheese and fig as well as grapefruit and walnut. They come in a handy cup so you can grab one and be on your way. I tend to frequent the one in Shinjuku station as it is the most convenient. You might want to try a juice while you are there!
5-24-2 Sendagaya Shibuya-ku
Pancakes – Kissa Mimosa
Here you can find a stack of 5 pancakes that is fluffy and crispy on the outside with REAL maple syrup; a delicious treat for all of those who miss breakfast foods.
4-38-6 Asakusa, Taito-ku Tokyo
Donuts – Good Town Doughnuts and Coffee
Here you can find the fluffy American style doughnut in a variety of flavors. The doughnuts are big and not as dense as their cakelike Japanese counterparts. The doughnuts are made on site and the flavors change regularly.
6-12-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo J-cube B 1F
Pie – The Pie Hole
For those who are like me and love pie more than cake, this place is for you. The Pie Hole is a famous eatery from LA and offers both sweet and savory pies. This is a counter service spot, so easy to be in and out in a jiffy. They offer classics like apple crumble as long as some interesting creations like mac ‘n cheese pie.
1 Chome-1-5 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Paletas (Mexican Style Popsicles) – Paletas
Every Mexican grows up eating paletas. They are basically gourmet ice cream on a stick. Unlike their American counterparts, paletas come in a myriad of flavors. I happened to stumble across this store after I went to see some illuminations. There are many locations around Japan, but I find this little nook in Tokyo to always deliver that bit of home I am missing. You can find all sorts of flavors like chocolate raspberry, cassis, and earl grey peach.
B1F Tokyo Midtown Galleria 9-7-3 Akasaka, Minato-ku