In the evenings, most of our group would leave Ikebukuro for the busier spots, such as Shibuya (entertainment district that appeals to the youngsters), Shinjuku (the busiest train station with the largest red light district) and Harajuku (know for street fashion, but I didn’t see anything but tourists). L and I preferred hanging around Ikebukuro, where it was easier to walk around, weaving in and out the quaint little nooks in the city. I much rather get to know a neighbourhood really well rather than seeing a little of a lot.
Going out to drink in Tokyo is more difficult and expensive compared to Calgary. Most bars fit ten people or so, so it’s not easy to get a seat for two during prime time. Smoking is allowed, so L will throw a fit and make me leave if our table is next to smokers. There’s usually a seating fee, even for the hole-in-the-wall bars. Tiny sleeves of average beers cost 800 Yen. Below average wines start at 1000 Yen. I’m not into drinking sub par drinks at a premium, which is why I chose to drink before I went out in the evenings.
TJ likes to describes herself as a thorough researcher, which is why she needed to buy every single sparkling sake she could find. Last year, she was really into plum wine, which I find much too sweet. Due to her deep love for knowledge, I’ve sampled 15 different sparkling sakes.
Single servings (100-300 ml) of sparkling sakes purchased from grocery stores/liquor stores range from 600 to 1, 500 Yen. The bottles of sake (750ml) I enjoyed ranged from 5000 to 6000 Yen. That’s dirt cheap compared to what I pay in Calgary.
I prefer “cloudy sparkling sake” over sparkling sake. Regular sparkling sake is sweet and in many cases, reminds me a delicious, one-dimensional soda. Cloudy sparkling sake is usually higher in alcohol percentage (15%) and taste more like regular sake. My favourite sparkling sakes are Chokaisan and Sparkling 39. One of the better sakes I tried is Dassai 39. I wanted to bring home a sake that was recommended to me (6000 Yen), but I was afraid it might break in my luggage and I didn’t know if it was worth the risk. I plan to buy a bottle to try at the beginning of the trip to ensure it is luggage worthy.
If you want to eat and drink at an izakaya (Japanese pub), it can get pricey. The exception being places like Torikizoku, a chain restaurant known for selling all its dishes and alcoholic beverages for a mere 300 Yen (plus taxes). L doesn’t like this place too much, but we’ll come after we get rejected by the better izakayas that only cater to locals.
We found out about Torikiozuku in the spring of 2017. Two members of our group found it by befriending a local on the street. They told us not to tell the rest of the group to prevent Torikiozuku from getting too busy. I kept my promise and only showed members of our group the one in Kyoto. I still got in trouble.
I’ve found the food inconsistent – sometimes it’s quite tasty and other times I find it lacklustre. I have a soft spot for this place because it was the first izakaya I went to and the staff are nice and accommodating to foreigners. For the price, I don’t care if some dishes aren’t that great.
You order from an iPad. There is an option for English too. The cabbage is all-you-can-eat. The cabbage is just roughly chopped up and tossed with soy sauce. To me, it tastes a bit like plastic. The ramen and rice bowls are below average. The best thing to get here are the skewers.
L and I accidentally ordered liver. This version was gross – the texture was gritty and tasted like clotted blood. Generally, I preferred the yakitori with sauce rather than just salt and pepper. The karrage is okay, though very dry. The deep-fried chicken knees were my favourite – little crunchy, munchy nubs. The meat patty skewers with cheese were also good.
There’s a low quality beer in a big mug and a slighter better beer in a sleeve, both the same price. L said the bigger sized beer taste like piss. I didn’t like any of the alcohol served here. You do pay for what you get. We can eat and drink here for about 20 US.
Seeing as how we’ve mastered Ikebukuro this year, next year I’d concentrate in a neighbouring areas. In Tokyo, we take the Yamanote Line – which loops around central Tokyo. Places we haven’t explored deeply include: Shin-Okubo (Tokyo’s Korea town), Shinagawa/Gotanda (high concentration of izakayas), Takadanobaba (college neighborhood that’s home to Waseda University) and Yurakucho (restaurants under the tracks of the Yamanote line).