Eating in Tokyo

Despite the high prices, you will probably need to eat while in Japan. Sorry.

Breakfast

Most of the big hotels will serve you a “western” breakfast, charging you about the cost of a new Buick in the process (Japanese breakfast foods are usually a bit cheaper at hotels, say, a Pontiac maybe).

Where to get your “western breakfast”? If your kids want/need pancakes, juice and eggs, the best place to go is McDonald's. Their restaurants are everywhere, they are obviously kid-friendly, they have sort-of clean toilets and for picky eaters, they are Home. They are also cheap, meaning in a land of no free refills, Mom and Dad can afford to buy a second cup of coffee to battle against jet lag. Prices are posted, most counter folks know the food names in English and there are pictures on the menus if all else fails. Figure on (in 2001) about US$3-6 a person. Food's the same, for better or worse.

If you are ready to take a step away for breakfast, look around for a coffee shop outside the hotel. You can usually find a “morning set” for between US$5-10. You'll get toast, juice, coffee, maybe an egg. Some places are more kid-friendly, while some places are designed for office workers to rush in, grab food, stoke the furnace and be gone to Coronaries ‘R Us or wherever they work. Don't go at the peak of rush hour, but don't wait too long as many places offer their morning set for a limited period of time.

If you stay in a traditional Japanese hotel (ryokan), breakfast may be included in the room cost. Check to see what options you have"€some places can substitute coffee for tea, rice for toast, etc., if you wish. Japanese breakfasts can be quite good but may not appeal to all. The menu would likely consist of miso soup, perhaps some tofu or fish, green tea, rice and salty pickles. Our kids, though pretty good eaters in general, wanted consistency at breakfast, not adventure.

Department Stores

Almost every big department store offers you two great eating and entertainment options. In the basement you'll find a huge supermarket. The places are jam-crowded in the late afternoon as folks swoop in for the night's food, but you can also get tasty samples then that allow you to try before you buy, worth fighting the crowds for. They also sell bentos and pre-made stuff, often of better quality (and a higher price) than those from convenience stores.

The kids will enjoy the displays of live fish and squiggling eels, as well as the amazing displays of fresh but non-alive fish for sale. Beats the aquarium on most days. I'll bet you and your kids will see at least ten things that Mother wouldn't recognize (unless you have a really cool Mom), all excellent fodder for stories if not for a meal.

The department stores almost always have a collection of kid-friendly restaurants on their top floors; indeed, the places are designed to attract mothers out shopping with their own kids. Every place has plastic models of the dishes they serve in the window, with prices marked, so you know what you're getting and what it costs. If you have language problems, you can always invite the waitress out to look in the window as you point (they must love that).

You can buy the actual models of food that you see in restaurant windows all over Japan, though the real ones are quite expensive. They're sold on Kappabashi street in Asakusa, though you can get cheaper plastic versions in some gift shops.

Look for the “kid's special” in most every place. This is often a meal of rice, fried stuff and soup served on a plate resembling a bullet train, a space ship, a princess' carriage and the like. Expect to pay about US$10 per person, but watch the drinks. Most meals do not include a drink and most places will charge you US$3-5 for a Coke. Stick with water and buy the Coke later from a vending machine for about US$1.00.

A lot of the department stores also have roof top play areas in warm weather, so the kids can run off some energy; most are free, but some have lame amusement park rides that cost money.

User Feedback

here are a few of our tips from 10 days in tokyo with a picky 3 year old and 6 year old (who do eat some sushi).

7-11’s carry onigiri (big rice balls with something inside and wrapped with sushi paper called nori) totally decent and cost about 200 yen. we also found some “niku-man” there, which are big white boiled dough balls with something inside. the dough is puffy and sweet and they even have some with pizza stuffing. also about 200 yen.

noodle shops are good, particularly just going with the plain kind for the kids. or some potato croquettes which are everywhere.

for blowing the budget, there is a restaurant called “ninja” which i think is in akasaka, where you are served in a mysterious labyrinth by faux ninjas. they have a ninja magician, appetizers that appear in a fog (hidden dry ice) and my 6 year old particularly liked pulling a sword out of a chicken dish. just minimally cheezy, it was actually fun. cost for 2 kids and 2 adults was about 20,000 yen.

eileen

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