How to Treat Your Post-vacation Blues

How to Treat Your Post-vacation Blues

It’s only your first day back, but you’ve begun to feel the symptoms.

A sense of unease that starts tingling in the pits of your stomach, before slowly spreading its tentacles to your limbs, making them weak and trembly. You lose your appetite—not even that slice of rich, fudgy chocolate cake can restore it. Sleep is elusive; you spend hours tossing about in your bed, wishing you could be somewhere else.

Somewhere a little further from where you are now. It could be as near as Indonesia or as far-flung as Iceland. The exact geographical distance matters less than the psychological state you were in: on vacation.

Why do post-vacation blues occur and what does it tell us about ourselves and our relation to travel? How do we get over the blues?

In this article, Doctor<* Discoverist.sg diagnoses the three most common types of post-vacation blues and suggest some remedies for them.

*Not a real doctor.

1. Cultural-alienation Post-vacation Blues

Photograph by Toa Heftiba via Unsplash

Symptoms:

You have roti prata egg for breakfast but tell yourself you are having dan bing fried by a friendly Taiwanese matron. For lunch, you pick lots of fishcake, radishes, tofu at the yong tau foo store to replicate the sensation of eating oden on a wintry night in Tokyo, making sure to pair it with a bottle of Calpis soda.

While on your commute home, you grumble at the disorderly manner in which people shove their way into the queue for the escalator, so unlike the smooth flowing lines of other countries. There is also a hollow silence in the train station, before you realise that you miss the lively busking so common in the stations of New York.

No one on the streets offers to give you a free hug, or sell you a personalised poem written on the spot, or persuade you to fight against inequality, social injustice, rampant capitalism.

You cringe when the cai fanauntie asks you if you want to 打包 your dinner—you think 外带 makes so much more sense. The same thing happens when the McDonald’s uncle asks, “takeaway?” instead of “to go”?

You have immersed yourself so fully in a foreign culture that you are now a cultural alien of your own. You feel like you no longer fit in your society, giving rise to cultural-alienation post-vacation blues.

Treatment:

Use your feelings of cultural dislocation as an impetus to find out more about the country or culture in your soul is still residing, beyond the superficial veneer of how it functions on a day-to-day basis.

Start reading its daily broadsheet to find out about the issues that concern its citizens. Pick up a book on its history to delve into its past and find out how its present is founded upon these buried sediments. Listen to its popular music, then listen to its independent scene.

Learn to speak its language, literally and figuratively, and drape it over yourself like a safety blanket until you get the chance to the country of your soul as a full-fledged citizen.

2. Cessation-of-activities Post-vacation-Blues

Photograph by Tommy Lisbin via Unsplash

Symptoms:

As you wash your hands after lunch, you realise that your palms are unusually smooth. What happened to the calluses that formed during the week you went bouldering at Marabut, Samar? The only calluses that you have now are the ones on your pinky toe caused by your one-size-too-small leather shoes pinching it.

Or perhaps you simply miss being able to breathe while strolling among an unending green meadow under a blue sky unblocked by any HDB flat.

This yearning is especially strong now that you are in your office—your workspace is designed to be “open-concept” but it is a travesty of the idea of “open”. Instead of cubicle walls, you are hemmed in by people.

You wish you could once again feel that sense of peace that descended upon you when you were visiting religious sites while abroad. Stained glass installed metres high under wood-beamed ceilings instilled in you a serene awe; soaring minarets and grand domes carried your eyes to the sky; pagodas, with their angular and geometric beauty, granted you rootedness in the current moment.

But back home, everything you do gives you anxiety. You get on a packed train, you sit in the fluorescent indoors, you get lost in a labyrinthian maze of reflective office towers.

You’re not doing what you were while on vacation: you have cessation-of-activities post-vacation blues.

Treatment:

This is probably the easiest strain of post-vacation blues to treat. If your blues are not tied to a particular place or culture but to what you were doing, then it’s simply a matter of finding opportunities to weave these activities into your life at home.

We tend to see vacations as opportunities to try new things or visit places we haven’t been before, but why don’t we adopt this same adventurous spirit locally?

By reframing your mindset and the way that you interact with the world, and it doesn’t matter where you are—you can be a traveller for a day, a month, or the rest of your life.

Want to feel that same sense of wonder you felt at Hagia Sophia? Do some research on your local religious sites and take a trip there. It’s also a great way to build bridges with groups you don’t normally get exposed to. Or plan a trip to a climbing gym during the weekend, instead of staying at home trying to watch all the endings of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Go for a stroll at your neighbourhood park, this time absorbing the arboreal awe and ignore the Abra nest>

Sure, these local places might not replicate those that you had abroad. Bouldering in an indoor gym can’t compare to bouldering in the sea breeze, for instance. But it would be the ultimate touristy folly to visit only places that are well known or considered exemplars of their class. Everyday exposure to these monuments just leads to normalisation, and we lose our sense of wonder for them.

Better, then, to participate in the activities you miss, regaining some sense of your self, and saving the highlights for your next overseas trip.

3. Returning-to-work Post-vacation Blues

Photograph by Raw Pixel via Unsplash

Symptoms:

You’re actually glad to return home. As much as you enjoyed your two-week backpacking trip around Mainland Southeast Asia, the sight of your room and bed fills your heart with a pure, uncomplicated happiness.

Novelty has its charms, but so does familiarity. The taste of your local cuisine brings you back to the days when your mother used to cook for you. You lie in bed, the grassy scent of the night air lulling you off to a peaceful sleep.

But when you wake, the blues set in. Colour leaches away from the world. You can’t bear the thought of returning to the office so soon after your trip. You wish you were back on vacation, opening your eyes to a new adventure each day. You spend your day enclosed by three partitions, feeling miserable, regularly refreshing flight tickets to the nearest international destination.

You tell yourself: “I am born a vagabond. Staying stationary is anathema to my constitution. All I need is a new trip to look forward to, and my post-vacation blues will be cured.”

While not necessarily untrue—a new trip to book, plan, and anticipate is, after all, a universal panacea to all travel-related withdrawal symptoms—in this particular form of the blues, it is merely a symptomatic treatment. In other words, if your thoughts revolve around this theme, you’re not actually suffering from post-vacation blues per se.

Even though your vacation was fun, thrilling, enriching… You valued, and long for, your vacation more because it provided an escape from your daily work than any factor intrinsic to it. You have returning-to-work post-vacation blues.

Treatment:

Find a new job.

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For sake’s Sake: the History of sake in Five Stages

For sake’s Sake: the History of sake in Five Stages

I’m a teetotaller, but I make an exception for sake. Admittedly, this propensity might be due to my rose-tinted glasses more than an appreciation of the drink itself. I first tried sake on a windy winter night in Nara, Japan. Desiring to have dinner at an eatery that wasn’t another outlet of a chain restaurant found across the whole of Japan, I wandered around the alleys of Nara, deliberately avoiding the main shopping street.

It was a good—or rather, bad—forty-five minutes spent with a leaky nose and numb ears before I stumbled upon a tiny, one-woman café. Upon stepping foot into it, I felt like I was entering the kitchen of a friend. It was a small space, barely larger than a typical HDB bedroom, but that was exactly what I was looking for. (Unfortunately, as this trip took place more than five years ago, I can’t recall the name of the café, and have no idea if it is still operating today.)

The friendly proprietor noticed me shivering and offered me a glass of sake before I had even taken off my jacket. Feeling too polite to refuse it and too illiterate to explain in Japanese that I don’t drink, I took a sip. A fruity sweetness filled my mouth and I was immediately warmed from within.  

That memory has stayed with me since, and whenever I drink sake now, my mind transports me back to that warm kitchen of Japanese hospitality, sheltered against the biting cold outside.

Sake, I was pleased to discover, plays a similarly ceremonial and symbolic role in the lives of Japanese people. They call “sake” “nihonshu” in their language, which means 日本酒 or “Japanese liquor”, suggesting a pride in sake’s Japanese provenance, one that distinguishes it from “ordinary”  liquor.

Indeed, sake is the only alcoholic beverage to be used in many traditional Japanese festivals and ceremonies. For instance, sake is offered to Shinto gods, and is called omiki (お神酒) when used for this purpose. After the offering, omiki is drunk by propitiators to purify themselves and pray for good fortune the following year. During the New Year, a special sake called toso, which is blended with a mixture of herbs and medicines, is consumed to purify oneself of the previous year’s illnesses.

Sake even has a specific earthenware vessel in which to serve it and porcelain cup from which to drink it, called the tokkuri and sakazuki respectively.

“How did the Japanese develop such a rich tradition around sake? How did sake come about in the first place?”

The history of sake can be segmented, very roughly, into five broad phases.

The Earliest Drinks & Drunks

The first brewing of sake, as a liquor fermented from rice, naturally coincided when the cultivation of rice took root in Japan. But the first mention of sake in recorded history occurred centuries later, in a third-century Chinese history book known as the Book of Wei. In it, the author describes how the Japanese have “fondness for sake” and dancing—clearly, some practices endure across millennia and cultures.

The Japanese have their own accounts of sake drinking and brewing as well. The existence of alcoholic beverages was first mentioned in the Kojiki, a chronicle of Japan’s history that was compiled in 712. Similarly, the Fudoki, a report of ancient Japan’s culture and geography that is presented to the Japanese emperor as a sort of survey of his lands, details sake 

brewing methods using rice and mould stretching all the way back to the eighth century. These records tell us that sake is almost 2000 years old—or even older!

Sake Becomes Religious

Just as Trappist monasteries brew their world-famous Trappist beer within their religious grounds, so do Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples with sake. This practice started in the 10th century, and continued for the next 500 years.

In fact, these religious institutions were the main breweries of sake during this period, and were responsible for many of the modern brewing practices that are still being used today, such as pasteurisation and the multiple parallel fermentation process necessary for the rice in starch to be converted into sugar. 

These procedures are recorded in Tamon-in Diary, a 15th-to-17th century diary written by abbots of the Tamon-in temple who wanted to preserve the steps of sake brewing. (This is one religious text that I would want to pore over carefully.)

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The Sake Boom

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 modernised virtually the entire socio-political structure of Japan, and the brewing of sake was one beneficiary of it. During this period, the laws regarding sake brewery operation were relaxed: as long as you possessed enough capital and technical knowledge, you could open your own sake brewery. 

Taking advantage of these lax laws, the number of sake breweries exploded exponentially, with 30,000 opening in just a year. Most of the successful breweries that still exist today were founded by landowners, who could use their surplus rice harvest as raw material for their sake breweries—perhaps the first Japanese conglomerates.

The dawning of the 20th century also modernised sake brewing techniques. In 1904, a sake-brewing research institute was founded by the Japanese government, which allowed advances in yeast and mould cultivation and selection. The wooden barrel in which sake was traditionally left to mature was replaced by enamel tanks, which the Japanese government promoted as more hygienic and efficient (as sake is less prone to evaporate in it). Sake was also bottled first the first time, allowing it to be transported further without spoiling.

The Sake Bust

The boom years never last. Realising how much tax revenue they could gain from the sake-brewing industry, the Japanese government started to impose an increasingly high amount of tax. From a high of more than 30,000 breweries, the number of breweries fell to around 10,000 by 1920 as they were gradually squeezed out of the industry by the high tax rate. In addition, home-brewed sake, which was then a popular pastime, was banned by the government because they rationalised that they could not collect tax from these private pursuits.

Compounding these pressures was the outbreak of World War II. The agricultural industry was devastated by the war, and rice supplies plummeted to the extent that there was a shortage of rice. The government prioritised rice as a food staple, and imposed heavy restrictions on the use of rise for sake brewing. 

The silver lining of this hardship, however, is that the resourceful sake brewers of that time realised that adding pure alcohol to the sake-brewing process not only increases the output of sake, it also enhances and extracts flavours from the rice mash.  

 

Photograph by momoramenhh via Instagram
While this technique was known since the 17th century, it was only because of the scarcity of rice during the war that it began to be used on a wider basis. 

 

For Today’s Sake

Post-war Japan experienced the same the globalisation of economies and trade everywhere. Imported beer and wine poured into Japan, and, in the 1960s, for the first time in its 2,000-year history, consumption of sake fell beneath that of beer.

Still, this statistic does not spell the end of sake. Paradoxically, because they do not have to focus on churning out huge volumes of sake, sake brewers today have the luxury of investing their time in more artisanal brewing methods, such as revitalising old fermentation recipes or simply as a means of refining the quality of their sake.

While sake consumption in Japan has decreased because of global trade, the converse holds true as well. People outside Japan (like me) who encounter sake for the first time in the 21st century have begun to develop a taste for it; correspondingly, sake exports from Japan have experienced a year-on-year increase. To keep up with burgeoning demand, sake breweries are even being set up overseas in countries like China and across Southeast Asia, Europe, and America. 

For our sake—and sake’s sake—let’s hope that this 2,000-year-old tradition and liquor continues enjoying its current global popularity. To this end, keep the 1st of October free in your calendar: it’s the official Sake Day in Japan, and what better way to celebrate it than enjoying a glass of sake with your friends and family. For me, while I sip my sake, I will give silent thanks to the chef whose kitchen I shared, and who warmed me up with a glass of sake on that cold night—and also to the sake itself, which has forged this bond, if temporary, between two strangers.

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The Timeless Beauty of Mt. Fuji

The Timeless Beauty of Mt. Fuji

The first person to scale Mount Fuji was an unnamed monk, who undertook his expedition in 663. More than a thousand years later, we are still tracing his literal footsteps. In 2009 alone, more than 300,000 people climbed Mount Fuji. Furthermore, this is a figure that excludes hikers during non-peak months and people who ascend the mountain by bus, so the total number of annual visitors, in all probability, exceeds 500,000.

This number does not necessarily represent 500,000 discrete individuals, however. For some, Mount Fuji is a destination that warrants repeated pilgrimages. As of 2014, Yoshinobu Jitsukawa, a local septuagenarian, has completed a mind-boggling 1,673 ascents up Mount Fuji, a number that is officially a world record. Explaining his motivation behind this feat, Jitsukawa-san says, “Every effort I have made in climbing Mount Fuji is worthwhile” because each time offers a different experience.

Photograph by Japan Bullet

“Every effort I have made in climbing Mount Fuji is worthwhile”

Why does Mount Fuji cast such a huge shadow on the cultural imagination of locals and travellers alike, such that it has even been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site? What explains its magnetic—and almost mystical—allure?

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash

The answer to Mount Fuji’s enduring legacy is perhaps simply that Mount Fuji is breathtakingly, and almost otherworldly, beautiful. Its near perfect symmetry, a feature rare among mountains, gives the impression that some divine being sculpted Fuji with a careful hand, before encasing its peak with the whitest, most pristine snow: a literal crowning glory. It rises in the midst of five lakes that mirror its beauty—the watery reflection of Fuji the symphony that sounds sweeter on second hearing.

Photograph by felix_f3lix via Instagram

Unsurprisingly for a mountain (and such a beautiful one at that), the most common and popular activity conducted on Mount Fuji is hiking. At 3,776 metres, Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, offering a sweeping, uninterrupted panorama of the surrounding expanse. The most magnificent view arrives at dawn, so most people scale Mount Fuji at night to catch the sunrise from its summit—Japan is, after all, the land of the rising sun. Standing on Kengamine Peak in the still moments before sunrise, you get to watch the sky lighten from the darkest black, to a deep purple, to Homer’s “rosy-fingered Dawn” creeping in at the edges of this darkness.

“…watch the sky lighten from the darkest black, to a deep purple, to Homer’s “rosy-fingered Dawn” creeping in at the edges of this darkness.”

But even Homer could not put in words the almost spiritual experience of witnessing, atop Mount Fuji, the sun emerging slowly from the horizon. The Japanese term goraiko (ご来光), which literally means the arrival of light, is an attempt to capture this moment; its plain and succinct rendering of something so ineffable, in suggesting depths beneath this stripped down surface, almost succeeds in doing so. It is precisely the inarticulable—hence unspoken—connotations embedded in this term that approach the profundity of this experience: the gratitude of another day and the affirmation of life, but also, the loss of the previous day and the ineluctability of time.

Perhaps, then, Occam’s razor is an inadequate principle in providing an explanation of Mount Fuji’s imprint on our minds. As the paradox inherent in goraiko suggests, it is driven by something more symbolic, more contradictory, and more unconscious. It is not simply Mount Fuji’s beauty that contributes to our obsession with it. It is our apprehension of its sublimity.

“Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless,” Immanuel Kant wrote in Critique of Pure Reason. “[T]he mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt.”

The “immensity” that Kant refers to, in this case, is not literal—after all, we can surmount all 3,776 metres of Mount Fuji’s peak—but symbolic, taking root in our mind. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge puts it, “[n]o object of the Sense is sublime in itself; but only as far as I make it a symbol of some Idea”. Following Coleridge, the “immensity” of Mount Fuji, then, is not its inherent beauty, but our contemplation of its beauty—or, to be more precise, our contemplation of it as a symbol of beauty.

Photo by Chris Fowler on Unsplash

 

What is in our contemplation of Mount Fuji’s beauty that makes it sublime? Though, as aforementioned, it is not the mountain’s literal size that makes it too immense to contemplate, this physical attribute is undeniably a contributing factor. Wordsworth purports to “see a World in a Grain of Sand”, but beyond this poetical fancy, a perfectly beautiful grain will hardly strike us as so overwhelming that it is ungraspable, whether literally or symbolically. Mount Fuji, on the other hand, overawes with beauty on so grand a scale that our mind struggles to contemplate it in its entirety, forcing us to ask, “How does something so enormous look to be crafted so exquisitely? Can there exist even more immense objects that embody such perfection? Is there a limit to either quality?”

experience of pure time, compels us to think about the idea of eternity, the questions that arise from contemplating Mount Fuji’s sublimity drive us inevitably to the limits of what our mind can experience. Then—at the very edge of this consciousness—our ability to comprehend such notions fails, but this failure brings about “pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt”. Such is, arguably, the basis of Mount Fuji’s grip on our collective consciousness.

In this light, Jitsukawa-san’s 1,673 journeys up Mount Fuji seem understandable. Contrary to the popular Japanese maxim that “a wise man will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice”, Jitsukawa-san’s repeated attempts exemplify our relation to the sublime. Each step set on Mount Fuji is a failure in encompassing its totality; each step a pleasure in this failure; each step compelling a return to the inexhaustible sublimity that is the quintessence of Mount Fuji.

Photograph by japan_inside via Instagram

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Why We Travel

Why We Travel

The dizzying Ximending district offers lots of surprises… including sometimes tragically misrepresented accommodations. Photograph by liuliuliuxinwei on Instagram

On my last trip to Taipei, I checked into a room that would prove to be more than I could handle. 

Advertised as an ‘executive’ room, the photos on my booking app presented a clean, spacious and bright room – ticking off three items on my very short list of requirements for overseas accommodation.

Assured, I went ahead with the booking.

When I arrived at the property, I was confused. The room was clad in marble lined with steel trimmings, looking like the secret backroom of a particularly adventurous nightclub. The windows weren’t helping things; they were partially blocked by a signboard outside, leaving only the top quarter for me to peek out of – handy for spotting police raids maybe?

Look, I swear I went to a fully registered, family-style hotel. But I felt like I had booked myself an underground den in somebody’s illegal establishment. The dark green marble of the bathroom looked straight out of a seedy mid 80s gangster movie.

I marvelled at the gulf between the photos and the actual room I was now standing in, and later found the answer. The fluorescent lights in the room made everything oppressively bright, handily altering the feel of the room in the photographs.  

I was scheduled for a three-day stay in this room, so I shrugged and strove to make the best of it. That night at 4am, the lights in the room started flickering on and off. By themselves.

Between profuse apologies and harried mutterings of faulty wiring, the night manager moved me to another room on their property – this time a gaily coloured family-style room featuring two beds and more pastel shades than I ever thought existed.

I’m not superstitious but I left my luggage case open on the bed I wasn’t sleeping on.

The entire Downtown Bangkok comes alive with fireworks at the stroke of midnight, Jan 1. Photograph by Andreas Brücker on Unsplash.

I’ll never know for sure what really happened that night, but that’s not the point.

The thing is, travel has enriched me with more adventures and experiences than I could ever hope to have if I had kept to my own little corner of the world.

Take, for example, the last time I was in Bangkok, which coincided with the New Year.

Getting ready for a night out, my friends and I were distracted by the sounds of fireworks going off from the houses situated just across the road from our hotel.

We drew back the curtains to discover flashes of heat and colour perilously close to us; with every burst followed by a chorus of high-pitched laughter, and occasionally, throaty guffaws and cheers of ‘Happy New Year!’

With a wry smile and a slight shake of my head, I reminded myself this was Bangkok, and things were done differently here. And as if to drive home the point, the entire street erupted into a countdown… “10… 9…. 8….” the voices went, growing in number and volume by the second.

When the voices reached “0”, the entire scene in front of us exploded in an orgy of fireworks stretching as far as we could see. The streetside displays were mere opening acts; just behind, the riverside district, studded with gleaming skyscrapers, shot off the largest, brightest and longest-lasting fireworks of the night.

Photograph by Yuiizaa September on Unsplash.

Caught unprepared, I found myself snatched up in a surreal moment, thrust into a magical land where the river Nagas had arisen to shower their blessings onto the good people of Bangkok.

As we left the hotel to join the city-wide celebrations – hurried along by never-ending cascades of New Year toasts and some scattered instances of Auld Lang Syne – I couldn’t help but give thanks for what I had experienced. Trust me, you haven’t experienced the full joy of fireworks until they are literally close enough to touch.

To say that travel broadens our horizons is to state the obvious, but the trick is, only fellow travellers will understand the depth and richness that can only come from taking the journey yourself.

Strolling by the river at the tail-end of spring in the verdant city of Hangzhou (watch out Singapore; here’s a serious contender for the title ‘City in a Garden’), it was the fragrance of osmanthus flowers in full bloom that made the experience at once real and surreal.

A city in rapid development – much like Singapore was maybe 20 years ago – Hangzhou offers unabashed juxtaposition between its historic past and the prosperous future it doggedly pursues.

The sight of old riverside warehouses that front the placid waters of the Westlake Historic District – no doubt centuries old – nursing top international high-street brands within their history-drenched bosoms offered a startling glimpse of the city’s past and future. 

But it was the sweet, lilting fragrance that wafted full tilt at that instant that rooted me into the moment in a way no documentary or Insta-story ever could.

Photograph by Ivy Tears on Instagram.

Later, sitting and sipping Hey Tea in a similarly historic building just meters away, I felt a sudden spring of pride and appreciation for my Chinese friend – a Hangzhou native graciously playing host to this clueless Singaporean.

So why do we travel? What compels us to leave the comforts of home and explore parts unknown, putting us at risk of uncomfortable situations?

I humbly propose we travel because we can’t help ourselves.

Photograph by pkbtran on Instagram

On the drive to the airport on the night I left Hangzhou, I was stunned into silence when the central business district came into view.

For a glorious twenty minutes, skyscraper after LED-studded skyscraper swung past in an endless parade of logos and brands, representing commercial and capital forces I could never hope to comprehend.

But unlike the densely packed character of our beloved Marina Bay, the Hangzhou Qianjiang CBD lies sprawled along the langurous Qiantang River, dotted almost carelessly with commercial skyscrapers across its span.

The unfolding panorama told a story of an emperor getting dressed, each gleaming property a priceless jewel affixed to silken robes.

Awed at the sight, I made a silent promise to travel farther and more often.

I had no other choice.

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Food Guide: Tokyo After 22:00

Food Guide: Tokyo After 22:00

Can you get a good meal after 22:00 in Tokyo? Absolutely. Approach any business-attired men and women, and they would gladly point you to the nearest ramen stall. And for the jet lagged who fancy a drink at 3am, head over to Shinjuku Golden Gai and find yourself making new friends in one of the tiniest bars along the neon-lit alley.

And considering what is on almost every corner of the street – the ubiquitous vending machines and 24hrs convenience marts which offer a wide array of food – you’ll find no problems scoring a 3-course meal for ¥2000 or less.

Japanese convenience marts may be the stuff of legend (Lawson’s egg salad sandwich is recommended by no less than Anthony Bourdain himself), but bento, instant noodles and sweet pancakes can only get you so far before you start wondering where the locals go to satisfy their late-night hunger pangs. Try these recommendations.

  1. JOMON ROPPONGI

Because no trip to Japan would be complete without smelling like the rich, charcoal-edged fumes of proper yakitori, we recommend dropping by Jomon Roppongi for their momo negima. The alternating pieces of juicy chicken thigh meat and Japanese leeks – grilled and basted with the cooking style’s signature savoury-sweet sauce – will leave you wanting more.

 

But the world-famous, crowd-pleasing dish nearly wasn’t to be. In Edo Tokyo (1603-1868), Buddhist influence saw the populace rejecting burning meat as a cooking method, regarding the smell distasteful.

Photo by Josh Wilburne on Unsplash

Instead, poultry would be cooked nimono style – simmered in broth – a preparation style still popular today. Thankfully, the Meji Era (1868 to 1912) saw the revival of sweet and salty tare, preserving the yakitori we know and love today.

Yakitori can be enjoyed at any time of the year. It is known for being the salaryman snack as there is always a yakitori-ya (grilled chicken skewer shop) near train stations for the tired men in suits to enjoy an after-work snack with beer.

So what sets Jomon apart from the other smaller yakitori joints that dot the streets of Tokyo?

Located away from the bustling main street of Roppongi, it’s easy to miss this local gem. There is no signage to catch the eye, and the stack of crates piled against the shop front doesn’t help either. But don’t be quick to dismiss Jomon based on its exterior. Instead, let your nose take over – the rich aroma of charred meat that waft off the grills has tempted countless passers-by, and you’ll find yourself joining the queue.

Despite its lack of décor, the cosy ambiance and congeniality of Jomon staff more than make up for it, explaining their popularity with the locals. Take the bar seat for an authentic yakitori experience: watch as the experts grill skewers of meat in front of you on an open fire until crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside. There is also a wide variety of fruit wines and sake to pair with the grilled dishes which the staff will gladly recommend.

And here’s a tip from the locals: The authentic yakitori-ya grills their skewers over Japanese white charcoal called binchotan. If you find a yakitori-ya grilling over gas, move on to the next stall.

Address

5-9-17 Roppongi | Fujimori Bldg. 1F, Roppongi, Minato 106-0032, Tokyo Prefecture

Opening Hours

Mon to Fri: 5:30 PM – 11:45 PM

Sat to Sun: 5:30 PM – 5:00 AM

2. AFURI RAMEN

Ramen is the quintessential fast food of Japan and a culinary hit worldwide. You can find countless high-quality ramen shops offering their own take on the broth-and-noodle combination in Tokyo. Like many others, your first ramen encounter probably took place in the hallowed, history-drenched halls of long-standing franchises such as Ichiran or Ippudo, with the chains’ thick, rich and creamy tonkotsu (pork bone) broth serving as your initiation. But to be a true ramen devotee, you need to pay Afuri Ramen a visit. 

Afuri’s signature yuzu-shio ramen has a light and refreshing broth made from chicken, seaweed and seafood with a hint of yuzu. Each steaming bowl of edible art comes with a seasoned soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots and a slice of melt-in-your-mouth grilled pork.

 

A clue to the popularity of Afuri Ramen may be discerned in the eatery’s name and logo. Fresh spring water from Mt. Afuri in Kanagawa Prefecture features as an exclusive ingredient in both the broth and noodles, which are made in a central kitchen at the foot of Mt. Afuri.

Photo by Leanne_Koh on Instagram

The original Afuri Ramen outlet, debuted in 2003, is a few minutes walk from Ebisu station. Tucked on a side street of the trendy Ebisu neighbourhood, the eatery features a minimalist, chic industrial exterior.

Ramen restaurants in Japan are designed to be utilitarian – Afuri can accommodate 15 to 20 diners, and one is expected not to hoard the seat after a meal. Upon entering, our presence was fervently acknowledged by young chefs donned in black shirts moving like clockwork in the open kitchen to assemble the perfect bowl of ramen. 

Like most ramen eateries in Tokyo, the ordering is done via an automated machine which can be nerve-racking, especially if you have people waiting in line behind. But fear not, the menu is also available in English. Each bowl of ramen in golden broth can be customised with different toppings and types of noodles. Add that extra slice of chargrilled pork, don’t hesitate. But take your time to savour it – each glistening slice bobbing in your bowl of Afuri ramen is freshly grilled over an open fire upon order.

In the mecca of ramen, Afuri is refreshingly unique, well worth the wait and the extra calories.

Address

1-1-7 Ebisu | 117 Bldg.1F, Ebisu, Shibuya 150-0013, Tokyo Prefecture

Opening Hours

Daily from 11:00am – 5:00am

3. TAKIZEN

Oden is a Japanese one-pot wonder – which seems deceptively simple – made using several ingredients like fishcakes, konjac, hard-boiled eggs, and white radish simmered in dashi, a savoury stock made from seaweed and dried bonito flakes. The key to a good pot of oden is the quality of dashi that brings out the umami taste.

Traditionally, oden is a warming winter stew and usually savoured with warm sake. When trays of oden can be seen in convenience stores, you’ll know winter has arrived.

Is there a place to enjoy oden all year round in Tokyo? Enter Ginza Corridor – a street that runs under the rail tracks which link Yurakucho Station and Shimbashi Station. Here is where you can find just about anything on this street, from chain gyoza restaurants to specialist Japanese wine and whiskey bars.

Look for an inconspicuous bar along the Ginza Corridor – spotting a black wooden door and an outdoor display stand. You’d think that this is yet another drinking spot – but you’d be only half correct. 

Photo by 77aresmars on Instagram

Inside, you’ll find the soothingly lit Takizen, where conversations and laughter dominate the smokeless atmosphere, and the smell of dashi lingers in the air. Follow your senses and you’ll soon spot the the simmering centrepiece at the bar – a large open metal pan of oden. Or, as Takizen fondly described on its menu, the soul food of Japan.

Sidle up to the open pan and pick and choose from different vegetables, tofu and fried fish paste – simply point and smile at the bartender. If you’re overwhelmed by what to order, a slice of daikon and konjac served with mustard on the side makes for a delicious and piping-hot introduction. The humble daikon, bursting with umami after simmering in dashi for hours, takes centerstage here, customary to its position as the one key ingredient no oden can go without. Meanwhile, konjac a gelatinous cake made from elephant yam retains its characteristic flavourlessness, but becomes oddly delectable when consumed with dashi.

To fully appreciate oden – its contrasting flavours and textures – it is best matched with sake. Check with the staff of Takizen for recommendations.

Be sure to try at least one of the tofu products like fukuro (fried tofu pouches stuffed with mushrooms and noodles), ganmo (fried tofu patties with vegetable bits) or atsu-age (fried tofu pieces) – doesn’t it all sound delicious?

Load up your bowl, take a seat at the bar counter, and watch the bartender and patrons keeping the place bumping through the night.

Address

7-108 Ginza, Chuo 104-0061, Tokyo Prefecture

Opening Hours

5:00pm -3:00am Daily (5:00am on Fridays)

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