Winter in Japan – Day 7 Yoyogi Park and NARISAWA

Today was supposed to be the sunniest day of our Tokyo time so we decided to reserve it for some leisurely time in Yoyogi Park. We headed to the train station around 9:30 AM to get some coffee and Andersen breads. We took the breads with us on the train planning to eat them like a picnic at the park, though we broke down and snacked on some as we made our way to Meiji Jingu since we took a long route. We got off the train at the Yoyogi stop which seems like it would be the best option for Yoyogi Park – but, turns out, Harajuku stop would’ve been better. We ended up on the north side of the park and had to walk down through the whole thing to get to the picnic area. It was no problem since we had beautiful weather, but we did end up hitting the Meiji shrine before the park so we opted to pass through the shrine quickly. We had been guided through Meiji Jingu with a group of local students on our last visit to Tokyo (2015) so we had a basic understanding of what we were seeing and didn’t plan to linger. We lucked into observing a wedding recessional pass right by us as we approached the area, that turned out to be quite special. We watched people cleanse and pay their respects at the main shrine before continuing on our way to Yoyogi Park.

At the entry to Yoyogi Park there is a big concrete area where vendors sell street food and street performers set up their acts, we were a little too early for all of the festivities today as there were only a couple of food vendors and the couple of street performers who were out still seemed to be warming up. We went into the park and found a bench next to a fountain to finish our Andersen breads and people watch. There were a group of kids playing digeridoos, a blind running club, various dance groups, many folks walking their dogs and families out for a picnic. This really is a nice park and we can imagine that it would be even more so in spring time when plants are blooming and it’s a little warmer. There were a handful of cherry blossoms already though, so we snapped a few photos along with all the other park visitors.

As we left the park we saw a man lying on the pavilion with a couple of bike cops standing over him; we heard sirens, saw a fire truck, and suddenly the man was surrounded by EMS crew. We were worried that he was dead, had a heart attack, or something serious – but a couple of minutes later, as they were trying to get the man onto the stretcher, he picked up his briefcase and stumbled away, quite obviously hammered drunk. It was a sight because he left behind a dozen emergency personnel, who all looked a little confused, though none pursued him. In America, this type of blatant public intoxication is a criminal offense, but in this scenario no one seemed phased by it.

Takeshita Dori (heh) is right outside of Harajuku station, we had read about it being an early teen hangout spot and decided to have a look. It is a lot of shops that look like Claire’s/Icing, Hot Topic, Spencer’s pre-teen shops in America, plus some candy/crepes/sweets shops. They blare pop songs into the street and it is wall-to-wall crowded, it was really interesting to see but we’d quickly had enough and darted down a side street to make our way back to the station. We headed north on the Yamanote line to Shinjuku, where we had been two nights prior but not yet during the day. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku offers free observation from the 45th floor which gives a great daytime view of Tokyo. Highly recommend taking advantage of this opportunity since you get expansive views of the city without any fee or any wait, we walked in and were allowed straight up on the elevator (would suggest this over Sky Tree for city views due to the time, cost and convenience). We spent about 20 minutes on the observation deck but you’re welcome to linger as long as you’d like.

After the government building we passed back through the train station and grabbed some sushi on the restaurant level of the station, $12 for the sushi set including matcha, miso soup and a large sampling of nigiri (fresh, delicious and cheap – per usual for sushi in Japan). We decided to check out the Kabukicho area that we had visited on Thursday night, it is much less “happening” and just seems dirty and dead midday. We hopped the train back to Shibuya and browsed a few local department stores before going back up to the apartment to rest for an eventful evening.

Ryan had read about Bar Ishinohana which is a fancy cocktail bar in Shibuya, written about as “Shibuya’s answer to the Ginza high end cocktail scene”. We had a reservation for NARISAWA at 7:30 PM so we checked out this bar on the way to the train station. It took a little while to find due to construction in the area but we instantly loved the place – they treat each patron like an honored guest and take identifiable pride in the appearance and quality of every second of your visit. They use seasonal, local ingredients to come up with an innovative and extensive bar menu. Ryan selected the Japanese old fashioned (Housemade shiitake mushroom infused whisky, Umami Bitters, maple syrup, shiitake mushroom garnish) and Amanda had the Smoky Espresso Martini, can’t remember the exact ingredients but mostly consisted of smoky scotch and espresso. Both cocktails were flawless and delicious, we were disappointed to only have enough time for the one drink but hoped to return at some point later in the week. There is a 500-yen cover charge so it’s worthwhile to allow the time to experience a few of their tasty creations. We had to rush off for our Narisawa reservation though and caught the train to Aoyama-itchome station, a smaller, quieter part of town.

NARISAWA is two Michelin-starred, San Pellegrino 8th best restaurant in the world where Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa has previously won “Best Chef Asia” and received boatloads of accolades. We had heard of it through Chef’s Table on Netflix (watch it!) and decided we had to go while we were in Tokyo. It is a “Satoyama” cuisine which refers to the mountain foothill area where they source sustainable, local ingredients for the 14-course tasting menu. We splurged for the beverage pairing as well and were blown away by sommelier Yoshinobu Kimura’s selection of sake and wine. The pairings were a fantastic complement to the dishes with both the beverage and the food being enhanced by the combination like we had never experienced. Before the meal, one of the servers asked us if we had any food allergies or if there was anything we wouldn’t eat. We were pretty excited and were basically like “bring whatever!” which he seemed pretty amused by… turns out we would end up eating turtle, sea snake, and puffer fish to name a few adventurous selections.

Some highlights of the menu were the “Bread of the Forest”, which was brought to our table as a doughy centerpiece that we admired as it rose and then cooked tableside in a covered stone pot, as well as “Ash 2009”, which was a grilled squid that was dressed with a sauce that created a smoking effect when mixed with the powdered olive oil concoction. Amanda was particularly delighted by the raw botan sweet shrimp, and yes, we did even eat the fried shrimp head. Ryan really enjoyed the Shimane beef, thinly sliced over flavorful mushrooms. And of course, we were both mesmerized by the infamous Kobe beef which Narisawa slow cooked to perfection and presented in carbonated leek powder to resemble a hunk of charcoal. We could write an entire post about each course but you can see the photos of every dish with included descriptions if you’re interested in knowing more specifics. All of the beverage pairings were spot-on as mentioned, but the highlight was certainly the ’98 Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe from Chateau Guadet. We were delighted that Chef Narisawa greeted us at our table during the meal and came out again to express sincere gratitude for our choosing to dine at his establishment as we left, a really impressive bonus for this memorable evening. This seating was a 3+ hour dining experience and the portions pictured are for a single person, so by the end of all this food and many drink pairings, we were very full and tipsy. We went back to our Shibuya apartment and went to sleep.

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