Finding Cheap Food in Tokyo isn’t simple


We woke this morning to a sunny sky and warm(ish) weather. Our room hadn’t gotten any larger overnight of course – but the bed was comfy, and the AC worked a treat. So all in all – a nice night.

Breakfast was included in the rate if you recall – and it was well worth it! I was quite impressed with both the quality and quantity of food on offer at the APA Narita.

We’d wondered if they were going to go Japanese on us – or offer a more European take on Breakfast, and the answer was that they did it all. There was a lovely coffee machine with two different types of coffee – robust and mild. And a multitude of ways to prepare the coffee – ranging from plain black to Cafe Vienna – an almost 80% milk version that was quite delicious. I tried several options, and decided the Cafe au Lait was my favorite.

Breakfast included a simple cereal bar and two huge rice pots – one with plain and one with Shrimp fried rice, There was a bowl of orange slices, a bowl of grapefruit slices, and several different kinds of yogurt. There was tofu prepared 3 ways, egg omelets that were delicious, and some fried croquettes of potato. There were slices of smoked mackerel, a selection of salads, and even a European collection of rolls and butter. Something for everyone I suppose – and a hit with all. We took our time over breakfast, and eventually got asked to leave as they were closing the dinning area to prepare for lunch.

We went back to our tiny room, packed our bags and headed out to make our way from Narita to our lodgings in Tokyo. The night before they’d explained that we needed to walk thru one train station to get to the JR line – and they were exactly right. We found an information booth and were able to buy our tickets from them. Signs in both English and Japanese were everywhere – so it was simply a matter of reading them all to decide where we should go to catch our train.

Strangely the streets and the train seemed empty – it was only in mid-afternoon that we realized today is an official bank holiday in Japan. But it is much easier to get around when most folks aren’t trying to get to and from work – so this makes traveling on a bank holiday a pleasure.

Our trip into Tokyo was uneventful – if a tad long. The train travels thru part of the ‘rice’ belt of Tokyo – and we passed rice field after field being planted. Soon enough we started to hit the city proper – it is simply amazing how crowded the area around Tokyo has become. The Intrepid Traveler’s son had told his mom that the population of Tokyo is the same as all of Canada! And I believe it.

Our goal was a stop called Shiinamachi. As is the norm in Japan – if you look lost for even a second, someone is highly likely to come and offer you some assistance! Three times on our trip into the city, a local person would decide we looked confused, and offer to help. Once the help consisted of calling a friend on her phone – and him trying to FaceTime to help us. Amazing the Japanese.

But we were armed with a set of photo directions to guide us to Yuuto Village – an Air BnB listing that is to be our base in Tokyo.

A traditional style home dating back to the 70’s – it was tucked behind other homes, barely rating an address. But our hostess had worked hard on her photo guide, and we found the house with little problem. I just wished she’d told us to walk past the children’s park – that tiny landmark would have made us a lot more comfortable. But I digress.

The home is a single house with 4 bedrooms – not quite built in a traditional style, but of wood. – with sliding glass shoji screens on the windows and a distinctly Japanese feel to the space. There are no ‘chairs’ in the western sense of the word, but there are lots of cushions – some of which pile up high enough so that Jill and I aren’t quite sitting on the floor – a position we would find difficult to get back up from.

The main floor consists of a lovely open living area on the first floor, with 3 bedrooms upstairs – accessed up a rickety and very steep iron staircase. Downstairs, along with the living room area, there’s a small kitchen, a single bedroom, a toilet, and a ‘bath’ room that contains only a bathtub and a shower. A separate sink provides for ample washing up options. Up stairs there’s a second smaller toilet – so at least we won’t have to navigate the iron staircase in the middle of the night.

The upstairs toilet is a design I’ve never seen before – there is no sink in the space – instead the water to fill the toilet when you flush it (up for light flush, down for serious flushing) comes from a spout about 8″ above the tank of the toilet. So it’s an all in one operation. Do your thing, flush, and then hold your hands under the spout to rinse. And don’t forget to bring your wash cloth – or you are wringing your hands to dry them!

I haven’t described our room. It’s fairly large, with 2 futons on the floor and 3 huge windows for plenty of light. There is no storage – none. There is a shelf which we’ve decided to use for our suitcases – although getting to it means stepping on Jill’s bed. I think two of those folding suitcase holding thingys would be greatly appreciated. But it’s large and airy and has AC. Not that we’ve needed it – but good to know I suppose.

We have arrived too early – and housekeeping is still working on our 2nd floor room. That means we must leave our suitcase in the living area – and check out the neighbourhood. I brought prunes with me from Canada – which I put in the fridge on the shelf with our unit number – and we head out.

The neighbourhood is decidedly residential – and as I’ve never seen a residential area in all my trips to Japan – quite a lovely surprise. The nearest roads – if you want to call them roads – are one and a third car widths wide, with ‘pedestrian’ sections – can’t call them sidewalks – on each side. It’s quite lovely strolling. There’s a fairly large children’s park nearby – and it is being well used.

We find a Yakiton – a very small, very local restaurant that serves grilled Pork meat on skewers. Options include heart, tongue, colon, meatballs, and kidney). We try 2 of the offerings, but our favorite is the egg roll. Not a Chinesse egg roll – this is an omelet – and it is delicious. But despite the casual look and feel – this super light repast costs us 840 Yen. That’s a lot on a budget trip – we are going to have to be super careful. The problem was the tea – 2 glasses cost us 400 Yen. That’s pricy for hot water…

After that refreshment, we decide to head back to the train station. While the local station is just that – a train station, we’d gone thru a huge station called Ikebukuro just one stop away. There we’d spotted a department store and a lovely noodle restaurant. It costs 150 Yen one way per person to go just one stop – but we figure it will be worth it. We know that this station is open, and around our Air BnB – lots of things seemed closed for the bank holiday.

Ikebukuro doesn’t disappoint us. It’s bustling and lively – and while not packed – thank goodness – it’s fun to wander. There is a huge double supermarket on the first basement level – actually 3 huge supermarkets joined by a serious of corridors. We wander the one called ‘The Gardens’ – it is a very upscale shop, with lots of free tastes. I love the sautés meat that one gal is handing out – and there is another gal with two different kinds of cakes. You’d think that we’d be easily identifiable – we’re almost the only Westerners in sight – but at least the cake gal is willing to hand out tastes every time we walk by.

We select about 1300 Yen worth of food for dinner – a pre-cooked chicken cutlet, two different kinds of breads (one turns out to be gently stuffed with ham and cheese, the other is sweet. (Oops)). Plus I spot a lovely looking sponge cake loaf. We search the veggie section for something reasonable – but 3 Asparagus are almost 400 Yen, and a single ear of corn on the cob (which admittedly looks perfect) was another 300 Yen. I’m worried about my normally veggie oriented diet. I think that lettuce might be the only veggie we can afford.

We leave ‘The Gardens’ and realize that there are actually 2 more supermarkets attached. One is a ‘premium’ 7-11 – and the only thing 7-11 about it is the name. It’s huge. There are a line of people waiting for something, but with all the signs in Japanese, we can’t figure it out. We wander all the isles of this store, then head into the third supermarket. This is a ‘fish’ store – selling all kinds of fish and seafood – and seaweed. Piles and piles of seaweed. I think they might have been offering tastes – but I’m not that interested… Silly me really.

We finally decide it’s time to head home – but I can’t resist asking what the line-up is for. Turns out that at 5:00 PM every day they sell sliced Roast Beef at half price. You get a ‘card’ from the guy holding the ‘this is the end of the line’ sign, and tell him how much you will be buying. He deducts this from the total available, and lets you join the line if there will be any left. No – I didn’t learn how to speak Japanese overnight – a kind lady in line explained all this to me – along with a mention that the Roast Beef is delicious. Not ones to miss a bargain – the Intrepid Traveler and I join in. Eventually it’s our turn to order our mini portion – we are now down another 460 Yen – and it is definitely time to head home.

Back at Yuuto Village – our fellow guests finally appear. There are two guys from Germany who speak quite excellent English, 2 younger ladies from Australia (a mother and a daughter) – plus a couple of Asians who speak no English at all.

We spend a bit of time discussing who has done what that day – and then eat our independent dinners. The Intrepid Traveler and I decide on our plan for the next day – we’re going to hit the Showa Memorial Museum – a history museum focused on the effects of post WWII, and a neighbouring garden – assuming weather permits. It is at this point that I discover that the Prunes I carefully put in the refrigerator have disappeared. I’m shocked. Who would steal Prunes.

Turns out that the cleaning lady, as part of her duties, cleans the kitchen. And since the guest in 201 had checked out that morning, and despite her knowing that we’d already arrived – she assumed that my prunes were left overs and removed them. I’m disappointed of course – but what can I do. They are well and truly gone.

I’m definitely going to have to buy more veggies.

Our cash expenses for day, mostly for food – and a bit for travel are almost 40,000 Yen – that’s $40 Canadian – and right at the tippy top of our budget. There’s enough food left for maybe one meal – but we are going to have to find a way to get food for less. But that is a struggle for another day.

Tonight we climb the steep staircase to our traditional room – 2 futons with comforters and not much else. One of the German gentlemen carries both of our bags up the stairs in one go.. (sigh – to be young and strong) – so at least we are saved that challenge.

Tomorrow is another day.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Day 1 – The Adventure begins in Narita


The Intrepid Traveler and I are off on another of our adventures. This time we’ve chosen Japan. I know that the idea of a budget trip to Japan seems completely crazy – and I admit to being concerned – Japan is hardly considered budget traveler friendly – but here we are.

To make a budget trip these days of raising costs, no travel agents, and internet reservations requires not only confidence, but also a fair bit of bravery. The Intrepid Traveler comments here that Stupidity probably helps too. Not for us the well known brands – the closest we are going to get to a Hilton, a Marriott, or even a Comfort Inn is going to be the bathrooms!

So for the past 6 months I’ve been scouring Air BnB to find the right combination of price, location, availability, and facilities to meet our needs. We want to stay under $50 a night per person for lodging, and to be honest, it’s better for our budget if we run at around $25 a night per person. Canadian. And we want places that are close to public transit, walking distance to main sights, and highly recommended. We know from past trips that having access to a Kitchen is critical for keeping costs down, so that’s high on our list of need to have. We also enjoy meeting people, so a place that has more than just us as guests is automatically given a higher priority.

We do not need a private bathroom, although it’s preferred. And we can handle stairs – as long as it is not a 6 floor walk-up like we got hit with in Russia.

As all trips must – we started in Montreal by getting on an airplane. The lowest cost option was to break our flight in Dallas – so we flew first to Texas to enjoy some BBQ, then got on our flight to Narita.

To our amazement, the economy section was empty. I mean like – empty. I had a full row of 4 seats to myself, and the Intrepid Traveler, who is shorter than I am, took a row of 3 for herself. She was able to put her back against the side of the plane, and stretch her legs completely out.

Service was blisteringly fast. There was a full crew for about 1/3 the normal number of economy guests – so the crew could literally race down the aisles.

Interesting to note – the tiny section of ‘Option Plus’ was full – not an empty seat. So we were far more comfortable in budget economy. And on a 13 hour flight – you definitely want to be able to stretch out. I chatted with some of the attendants – and they told me this was a rare fluke. The flights out of Japan this week are over-booked. So they too were relaxing a bit before the hard work of the return trip began.

We arrived in Japan feeling, while not 100% – not completely 0% either. I’d booked what I’d hoped was a proper hotel (the APA Hotel in Narita) for our first night, knowing that after getting off that flight I wasn’t going to be able to cope with complex navigation problems. It is the most expensive place we will be staying – at a whopping $118 Canadian a night – but I figured I wasn’t going to be up to handling language challenges after the flight.

And I was right. On the booking confirmation were the times and location of the free shuttle from the airport to our chosen Palace – and while the line for check-in was surprisingly long, after about 45 minutes we were given the keys to our ‘Small Double Room with Bath and Breakfast Included’.

Small doesn’t really describe our room. It has all the essentials squeezed into the smallest possible space. The room is a rectangle – barely twice the width of the door. Actually – I think it is less than twice the width of the door.

There is a double bed that fills most of the space, with a desk featuring a 55″ TV that takes up all the rest. You can’t walk straight down the space between the desk and the bed – you must slide down sideways.

There is absolutely no closet, no drawers, no storage of any kind. The tea kettle is on the floor under the desk, and there are 2 mugs on a shelf. The required bathrobes – generally provided at all Japanese hotels – were on the bed along with the ‘Ruses for using the public bath’. There were 2 hangers on hooks in the space opposite the bathroom door. When we put our door key card in a slot, the electricity went on, and lights glowed, a most welcome sight.

The bathroom was almost as large as the bed. And was fully equipped with a 1/2 size deep soaking tub, a sink and a proper Japanese toilet with bidet functions. That said – the toilets in the Airport had bidet functions! This is Japan – proper toilets are a must.

Our first challenge was to just slide open the floor to ceiling drapes that covered the far wall of the room. I always like to see the view, and I prefer ‘real’ light. I think I might have been the first guest to do so, the dust from moving the drapes was considerable. But never mind, I found a shelf – and that was perfect for putting my purse. And our view was acceptable – over the center of Narita towards a forest of trees.

Our next challenge was to locate the light switches for the bathroom. Ok – I know – they should be near the door to the toilet – at least they would be in Canada. But diligent searching found no trace of a switch near the bathroom door. No switch on the outside of the bathroom, nor on the inside of the bathroom. Where could they be hidden? Diligent switching on and off of all switches in the room finally identified them. They were above the bed!

Also above the bed was a built-in clock radio and room control unit. Labels were in Japanese and English (thank goodness) or we’d have never figured things out. All the light switches for the room were on this unit – except the bathroom and ‘hall’ lights. Those were independent switches. The ‘hall’ switch was right near the door – it’s only the bathroom switch that proved a bit odd. And the knob on the radio (it might not be a radio actually – I can’t see a tuner) controlled the night light.

Being really good friends, the Intrepid Traveler and I worked out how to get our clothes out of our suitcases (a challenge when there isn’t enough room to put our tiny carry out bags sideways to open them), and got into bed.

I’m going to sleep – and deal with my lack of time zone correctness in the morning. Which explains why I’m blogging at 2:00 AM Japanese time!

On the bus ride here we spotted Cherry Blossoms – and the promising buds of flowers of all kinds. Tomorrow will be another travel day – we have to get to our lodging in Tokyo, but once there and settled in – we can begin exploring Japan.

Signing off to go back to bed…

The Soup Lady

Travel by Train is so – elegant!


I adore traveling by train. There is something about trains in Canada that is both glorious, relaxing, stunningly beautiful – and elegant. I’m reminded of times gone by when life was lived at a slower pace. When we had time to smell the roses, admire the deer peeking out from among the bushes near the tracks, spot birds – large and small – hidden in trees, and glaze in wonder at the remarkable countryside that is Canada.

Or at least the part of Canada that lies along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Toronto.

I”m traveling business class – which is roughly the same price as economy air – and totally enjoying the morning out my window of the train. I’ve been welcomed with a smile and ‘can I help you’, been given a quite nice breakfast with lots of hot coffee, and am now just watching the scenery go by.

There is the predictable evidence of severe flooding out my window. This is standard in the ‘lowlands’ in the spring – as the ice and snow melt, and the ground remains frozen below that, there is no where for the water to go. And I suppose that the farmers whose fields I am flying past are well accustomed to this yearly ritual. The rivers are also in ‘flood’ mode – filled to their high banks by water that has to get to the ocean. I’ve never understood why folks persist in buying houses that yearly are in damaged of flooding – but perhaps high risk is it’s own form of adrenaline.

The route from Montreal to Toronto – by train – goes thru low gorges cut into the rocks, and as we near Toronto, will actually run along side the St. Lawrence itself. There are hiking/biking/walking trails visible when we are near towns – but right now I”m in the middle of the ‘wilds’ of Upper Canada. Not actually ‘Upper’ of course – but that’s what they called this part of Canada before they knew just how upper Canada really goes.

My purpose in taking this trip (as differentiated from my reason) is to participate in a Regional Bridge Tournament in Toronto. I actually have a friend from Alabama who drove 4 days to meet and play with me in Toronto. I really hope that I don’t disappoint her! My Reason however was to enjoy the elegance of train travel.

I do love being on the train. Canada is a remarkably clean country, as viewed thru train windows. In comparison to what we saw from the train in South Africa – we are spotless. Even homes that might be considered worthy of a de-clutter are clean and neat in comparison to the horrors I saw out of the train windows going from Pretoria to Cape town. We here in Canada really have no idea how blessed we are.

But back to the elegance of train travel. There is something – well – Harry Pottersque about this trip. I feel like I’m heading to a new adventure – and that getting there is half the thrill. A gaggle of wild Turkeys just fled from our noisy passing, and I’ve seen plenty of Canada Geese stopping over on their way further North. And there was a deer grazing in the bushes near the tracks that watched our passing with suspicion. I haven’t spotted any Eagles yet, but there have been Hawks sitting proudly on top of trees with they eyes searching for rabbits or mice stupid enough to make a dash for it out of their burrows.

And we pass homes and condos and Solar Fields aplenty. This part of Canada varies from the barely cultivated to the intensely inhabited. As we are now approaching Kingston, the ratio between untamed and highly cultivated and well built is moving towards the inhabited. I”m reminded of train trips I took in England where everywhere was highly inhabited – and there was no ‘untamed’ left. This isn’t the truth in Canada of course. While real estate values skyrocket in the ‘cities’ – in the countryside one can still imagine land being given away from basically free.

I do wonder about the lack of Blue Hoses. For those who don’t know – blue hoses are the way Maple Sap is pulled from Maple trees these days – suctioned to the Sugar Houses, then boiled to create that signature Quebec Product – Maple Syrup. But along this section of Canada there is a distinct lack of Maple Groves. I suppose a person more knowledgeable about these things than I could explain it. I’m guessing we’re talking a climate difference that makes the area around Montreal prime Maple country – and keeps the Maple trees at bay here in Southern Ontario.

The train whistle blows, a train going the other way flies past, the other passengers chat – and time slowly passes. Soon enough we will be in Toronto, but meanwhile I’m going to relax and let the world pass me by.

Signing off – The Soup Lady